Healthy Living in the North

The Northern Table: A balancing act with processed foods

A selection of canned foodsWhen you hear the term “processed foods,” what’s your first thought? Does it bring to mind memories of canning salmon or making jam? What about a childhood comfort food (like that bowl of mac and cheese with hot dog wiener slices) or visiting the carnival? Does it evoke positive or negative feelings? My guess is that “processed foods” is more likely to be seen in a negative way.

What are processed foods? 

A simple definition is that processed foods are foods that are purposefully changed before eating. This broadly includes three different types of processing:

  • Primary processing, which changes raw materials into food products. For example, when tomatoes are cleaned, sorted, and packaged into cartons.
  • Secondary processing, which turns ingredients into food products. For example, when tomatoes become tomato sauce.
  • Tertiary processing, which includes commercial production of ready-to-eat and heat-and-serve foods. Often extra sodium, sugar, fat and additives like colour and flavour are added in this step. An example of tertiary processing is when tomatoes become ketchup. The food products that result from tertiary processing are often called highly processed or ultra-processed.

A selection of processed foods.What does the new Canada’s food guide say about processed foods?

Given these different types of food processing, we can see that “processed foods” represent a wide variety of foods. How do we determine if and how we should include processed foods in our diet? The new Canada’s food guide makes two relevant statements:

  • Nutritious foods to consume regularly include fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.” Examples include apple slices, frozen broccoli, canned chickpeas, or dried pasta.
  • Limit highly processed foods.” Note that Health Canada doesn’t say “avoid” or “never.” I think this reflects an effort to balance the benefits that Canadians may experience by including processed foods in their diets with the potential drawbacks. For example, processed foods may be lower in nutrition quality, and there is an association between eating frequent amounts of highly processed foods and risk for disease. That said, processed foods, especially in the broadest sense, may have a place in your diet.

What are some advantages associated with processed foods?

  • Convenience: Pre-cut vegetables, a pack of tofu, a ready-to-serve sauce, and ramen noodles help a stir-fry come together quickly for a weeknight dinner.
  • Variety: Grocery store shelves and freezers are filled with a tremendous amount and range of tastes and types of foods. Some of this variety is perceived versus real; for example, whether it’s all dressed, buffalo wings, loaded baked potato, or black pepper and lime, they’re all potato chips, which is one type of food.
  • Access: Locally grown and seasonal foods can be put away to enjoy later in the year. Our ancestors used dried oolichan, moose jerky, canned peaches, dehydrated cherries, pickles, and many other foods before the time of full-service grocery stores, refrigerators, and freezers.
  • Cost: Processed foods may appear to be lower in cost. For example, a frozen lasagna that is on sale for $6.99 is economical, compared to the cost of the individual ingredients, including noodles, vegetables, sauce, cheese, and ground beef.
  • Shelf life: Processing can extend the life of a fresh food, through canning and/or the use of salt, sugar, or vinegar.
  • Portability: Commercial or home dried meals may make sense on a longer hike or canoe trip.
  • Traditions: Celebrate traditions and connections to our environment by making sausage, smoking fish, pasteurizing juice, and canning pie filling, or participating in a multitude of other food traditions.

How do you balance the risks and benefits associated with processed foods?

If you’re considering whether and how to include processed foods in your meal planning, here are a few things to think about:

  • Consider your personal definition of healthy eating. How much and how often do processed foods fit within that definition?
  • Which processed foods offer you the most value and enjoyment? Make room for these.
  • Use food labels to compare processed foods and make informed choices.
  • Does your grocery store offer nutrition tours? These are led by a registered dietitian and can be a great support.
  • Experiment with traditional recipes to modify the salt, sugar, and fat. Be sure to keep it food safe!

Healthy eating isn’t “one size fits all.” YOU get to decide if and how best to incorporate processed foods into your usual way of eating. For me, that means having a few ready-to-eat meals and pizza in the freezer, a jar or two of ready-made sauce to pull together spaghetti or butter paneer, and a box of KD, for those nights when there is no time or energy to cook. It also means enjoying cultural foods like blood pudding and salt beef when I visit family in Newfoundland. What does healthy eating look like for you?

 

Editor’s Note: We have transitioned our old “Foodie Friday” series to the new “Northern Table” series. We hope you’ll be as excited as we are to read this series, which will feature stories on nutrition, recipes, food & lifestyle, and more!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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Life’s balancing act

small playhouseLife is challenging. Some moments are amazingly beautiful while others are just tough. This holds true for both our professional and personal lives. As the years pass, I have found it more and more important to ensure that time is taken each day for myself. When your profession revolves around helping others, it can be difficult to consider your own needs.

As a mental health clinician, whose job it is to engage with individuals who have experienced multiple traumas, I’ve found it’s imperative to be fully present while working. To do that, I need to be mindful that I do take that time and actively engage in self-care. If I make time and engage in self-care, I’m better suited to manage my own emotional responses and maintain a therapeutic connection.

Over time, I’ve incorporated a few rituals and routines into my workday that support my ability to be present for people I’m trying to help. During my work day, I read an affirmation from one of the three sets of inspirational cards that I keep nearby. I have a small dish of chocolate covered coffee beans and ginger near my workstation. The “feel good” Wednesday yoga class offered through the Northern Health Wellness program has become a part of my work week. I snack on whole, fresh foods at work, and when time allows I go for a brisk walk or a run during my break! I also have a bird feeder hanging outside my window and when birds appear I can’t help but take a moment and smile.

I try to utilize these same practices outside of work. Physical activity, healthy eating, spending time in nature, gardening, and practicing mindfulness are all very important to me. Also, I enjoy working on special projects with my other half in the shop; my latest project was a house bed for our two-year-old granddaughter. Sharing time with my grandchildren is definitely a feel good thing that keeps me recharged!

For myself, healthy living is about balance. I’m grateful I’ve found this in my personal life with my other half, and at work with my mentor and team lead. If I could give any advice for someone seeking that sort of balance, here’s what I’d say: Be present in the moment; sleep well; get active; take time to appreciate the moments that are enjoyable; and allow yourself to feel what you need to feel when the moments are painful. And, above all, remember that tomorrow is a new day and it will be different than today!

During a particularly stressful time in my life, I discovered The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, written by Don Miguel Ruiz. The book is based on principles inspired from the Toltec culture, aimed at creating the conditions for love and happiness in your life. The principles are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

The principles are challenging to put to work, but attempting to do so has generated an unmatched level of personal satisfaction for me. The lessons have reinforced my belief that when faced with stress, problems, and difficult situations, the way that we react is based on our attitudes and ourselves, not anyone else.

You can also view this article in Northern Health Spring 2018 edition of the Healthier You Magazine, Wellness by Professionals.

About Sandra Galletti

Sandra works as a NRMHST Clinician / Social Program Officer Supervisor with Northern Health.

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Wellness at Work: Tips from your Recreation Therapist

jaymee webster on a bridge in the woods with her dog.In the world of recreation therapy, we often think of wellness as not the absence of disease, but rather on a spectrum. As such, there are many factors – physical, social and psychological – that have an impact on someone’s ability to reach optimal wellness. Optimal wellness is personal and it changes throughout the lifespan; it looks different for everyone.

As a recreation therapist in the rehabilitation setting, I work with those whose well-being or independence has been compromised due to multiple health or social problems. I provide leisure education opportunities for individuals to learn the benefits of leisure involvement, how it can have an impact on well-being, and what opportunities are available to them in their home community.

My work has an obvious link to wellness and I am passionate about leisure and recreation. In my spare time, I love exploring the many trails in the Prince George area with my dog, Juno. However, focusing on your well-being doesn’t have to stop when you get to work. We spend a lot of time at our work place.

Here are some things that I try to make a priority for keeping well at work:

  1. Pack a lunch and eat it too.
    Bringing food from home tends to be the healthier and the most cost-effective option. And don’t forget to eat it! The only way to give yourself the energy to perform your job effectively is to actually eat the food.
  2. Take the stairs.
    Take any opportunity to get yourself moving during the day.
  3. Get a good night’s sleep.
    I know this one’s easier said than done, but try to make it a priority. When Netflix asks if you want to continue watching… click “No.” It will set you up for a much better work day. Your body will thank you!
  4. Make a list.
    Managing your time and prioritizing tasks helps reduce workload stress. Take a deep breath while you’re at it!
  5. Have a laugh.
    Professional boundaries are important, but so is being yourself. Get to know those around you. If you’re in a helping profession, get to know the individuals you’re working with. Sharing an inside joke does wonderful things for the therapeutic relationship! Smiling and laughing can be contagious but that’s okay, it’s good for you!
  6. Balance.
    Leisure is defined as time free from obligation, an activity that is freely chosen and as a state of mind. Engaging in meaningful recreation and leisure activities in your personal life has the ability to improve overall well-being, which will spill over into your work life as well.

Wellness is a dynamic process that encompasses body, mind, and spirit. I challenge all of you to set an achievable wellness at work goal this spring, because a healthier you leads to a healthier work environment!

You can also view this article in Northern Health Spring 2018 edition of the Healthier You Magazine, Wellness by Professionals.

About Jaymee Webster

Jaymee Webster is a Activity Worker Recreational Therapist at Northern Health.

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Mindfulness at work – a positive mental health strategy

I remember the day clearly. It was a snowy Monday morning, and I arrived at work only to learn that the company was being re-structured and the project I was working was cancelled due to budget constraints. Our team was given two weeks’ notice to leave.

As the words fell on my ears, my heart began pounding against my ribcage and my eyes glazed over. As a single immigrant mother of two young boys, things were, shall we say, a bit uncertain.

Fortunately, over the years I had learned some good mindfulness and breathing techniques which I continued to practice daily. I knew that now was a good time to use them to manage my mind and emotions. I went back to my desk, sat down, closed my eyes, and took several deep breaths in and out-my awareness on my breath only.

Those few simple minutes of awareness and slowing down my breath, saved me from a whole range of emotions. Later, it also helped me to see the situation from a more positive perspective.

Mindfulness is a mental state

So what is mindfulness? Very simply, it’s a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, often accepting and acknowledging one’s bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Through mindfulness and breathing techniques, we can actually influence our emotions which often control us.

Breathing can help give an emotional lift.

Emotions and breathing are closely connected

Emma Seppala Ph.D., Science Director at Stanford University, and a workplace wellbeing researcher, explains:

 One of the reasons why breathing can change how we feel is that emotions and breathing are closely connected.”

In her article, Breathing: the little known secret to peace of mind, Seppala discusses a research study by Pierre Phillipot. The study showed, that different emotional states are associated with certain breathing patterns. During the study, when the participants felt anxious or afraid, they breathed more quickly and shallowly, and when they felt happy, they breathed slowly and fully.

Try this simple mindfulness technique

This technique is by far one of the simplest mindfulness practices I know. Try out it the next time you need to manage your mind and emotions.

  • At your desk, sit with your back straight, feet firmly on the ground and your hands on your knees.
  • Close your eyes and bring awareness to your breath. That’s all, just your breath.
  • Notice the pace of your breath.
  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, noticing how it fills your lungs and the temperature and texture as it passes through your nostrils.
  • Hold the breath for a second, before slowly breathing out through your nostrils. Again notice the sensations of the out-breath.
  • Continue to repeat this sequence, for 5 minutes initially.
  • When you feel comfortable, you can increase the length of time to 10, 15 or 20 minutes.

More on mindfulness

Jennifer Koh

About Jennifer Koh

Jennifer, an Organizational Development Consultant with Northern Health, is a Certified Professional Coach, yoga and meditation Instructor and an Equine Facilitated Learning & Wellness Coach. For the past 20 years she has been assisting organizations with change management, organizational culture, executive and team coaching, employee engagement, wellness and leadership development in South Africa, Asia and Canada. She has taught yoga, mindfulness, breathing techniques and meditation with the non-profit Art of Living Foundation since 2010. Jennifer immigrated to Canada in 2006 and lived in Calgary for 10 years before moving to Prince George in 2016. She was born in Swaziland and spent most of her childhood and adult life in South Africa.

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Mental wellness inside and outside of mental illness

During Mental Illness Awareness Week, we want to explore the message of hope, resiliency, and understanding that there is wellness inside and outside of illness. Whether you live with a physical illness, a developmental illness, an injury, a mental illness or no labelled illness or disorder at all, your mental health can be appreciated and supported to flourish by recognizing the pieces that you can influence.

Living with a diagnosed mental illness or not, the reality is that every person on the planet will have moments, periods, or situations in which their mental health is or was, less than they would like it to be. Here are some examples of things to look out for – and things you can build skills to make changes to:

  • Trouble focusing attention.
  • Finding your thoughts stuck on one track – that just won’t stop running.
  • Struggling to tell what is real or not.
  • Feeling sad or vacant when good things are happening in your life.
  • Finding yourself isolating from friends or avoiding activities that usually bring you joy.
  • Sleep trouble – too much energy to get to sleep, or sleeping all night and not feeling rested.
  • Impulsively making decisions about money or activities that put you at risk.
  • Change in appetite or exercise patterns.
  • Feeling like you can’t make decisions when you usually make them with ease.

All of these things contribute to the overall experience of mental health, as do many other factors (jobs, finances, social networks, family breakdowns, life events, spirituality, etc.). The great thing about this list is that we can all learn to interrupt thinking patterns, practice better sleep hygiene, or adjust our schedules to promote balance in our days. We can invite new activities and people into our lives, we can change our environments and engage in our community, and we can seek help if we are struggling to make changes that can support growth. In doing these things, we can all see improvements to our mental wellness and in turn, satisfaction with our lives – dealing with challenges productively as they arise.

Have you checked up on your mental health?

Pieces of the puzzle, things to try:

  1. Have a look at your thinking patterns.
  2. Practice sleep hygiene.
  3. Recognize your strengths – try starting your day with writing out 3 things you are good at.
  4. Spend time with loved ones – build a social network.
  5. Volunteer.
  6. Exercise 30 minutes most days.
  7. Learn to manage and reduce stress.

Fast Facts:

  • Mental health, like physical health, has a range whether we live with a diagnosis or not.
  • We all have mental health and have days/periods where our thinking patterns, emotions, and behaviours are not at their best. We can learn skills to enhance our mental and emotional health.
  • Recovery is a journey, and there are many paths to get you there. Choose a route that makes sense for you.
  • Similar to physical health, mental health has elements we can influence to reach our wellness goals.

There is hope! Here are stories of recovery from around the world:

Looking to find some help? Head to your primary care home, local physician, walk in clinic, or check out:

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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Promoting mental wellness: 10 tips!

Quote from article over a background image of a snowy branch.

How can you promote mental wellness in your community?

I grew up in a household with parents who faced mental health issues at many points in their lives. To the outside world, they tried very hard at looking perfectly “normal”, even when they had their down episodes. They were very functional and had decent jobs.

Talking about and promoting mental well-being is important because one can be mentally unwell and not be diagnosed with an illness. This is a common issue in our society. The reality is that 1 in every 5 Canadians will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives. Despite this, there is huge stigma associated with mental health. For more information about the scale and reach of mental health issues in Canada, check out this report by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Evidence also shows that sustaining our positive mental health in rural communities appears to be harder compared to urban environments. This is not because there is more mental illness in rural communities, but rather because there are issues such as personal factors with stigma and low mental health literacy. In order to reduce this barrier, it is important to increase awareness about how to promote mental health. Talking openly about these ideas can also reduce the stigma of mental health issues.

So, I researched some ideas to promote mental wellness and here’s what I found. I’ve included a list of my research at the end of the article if you’d like to read more!

Healthy eating and physical activity

  • A daily intake of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables was shown to decrease psychological distress.
  • Exercising has been shown to increase hormones that make you feel happier like endorphins and monoamines.
  • Exercising can also act as a distraction from negative thoughts that may bring down a person’s mood.

Find an emotional balance

  • Balance your emotions through emotional expression of a range of emotions.
  • People who are firm and rigid about their opinion and refuse to change their views can develop mental health issues.

Make time for self and others

  • People who have healthy, supportive relationships are also able to balance how much they spend time with themselves and others.
  • Time spent at work, play, sleep, rest, and exercise, should all be balanced equally to avoid mental stress.

Reflect on your emotions

  • Having emotional literacy helps an individual to maintain mental health; this means that it is important to be aware of our emotional triggers, find ways to manage our emotions, practice self-motivation, and have empathy.
  • Try talking to a friend, counsellor or reflecting upon yourself to find out what brings out negative emotion, and make a list on how to reduce stress.

Have a positive lookout

  • Having a positive attitude is very important to mental health. Positive attitude and healthy thinking go hand-in-hand; it’s about thinking about something in a balanced way – looking at a situation in all aspects then deciding how you feel about it.

So … can you think of any other ways to support mental wellness?

If you want more information or the chance to talk with someone, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association. If you’re in Prince George, their office is at 1152 3rd Avenue.

Thanks for listening, cheers to happy thinking!

References

  • Austin, W., & Boyd, M. A. (2010). Psychiatric and mental health nursing for Canadian practice. Ontario: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  • Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K. M., & Christensen, H. (2010). Perceived barriers and facilitators to mental health help-seeking in young people: a systematic review. BMC psychiatry, 10(1), 113.
  • Cattan, M., & Tilford, S. (Eds.). (2006). Mental health promotion: a lifespan approach. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
  • Mental Health Commission of Canada (2010). Making the Case for investing in Mental Health in Canada.
  • Paykel, E. S., Abbott, R., Jenkins, R., Brugha, T. S., & Meltzer, H. (2000). Urban–rural mental health differences in Great Britain: findings from the National Morbidity Survey. Psychological medicine, 30(02), 269-280.
  • Richard, A., Rohrmann, S., Vandeleur, C. L., Mohler-Kuo, M., & Eichholzer, M. (2015). Associations between fruit and vegetable consumption and psychological distress: Results from a population-based study. BMC Psychiatry, 15.
  • Stuart, M. (2004). Promoting a family’s physical and mental health and well-being. Promoting the health and well-being of families during difficult times. The University of Arizona Cooperative extension.
  • Talen, M. R., & Mann, M. M. (2009). Obesity and mental health. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice, 36(2), 287-305.
Grace Gu

About Grace Gu

Grace is a fourth year nursing student at the University of Northern British Columbia. Grace stays healthy by eating healthy, exercising daily and listening to music and singing in her car. She enjoys going to church and staying in touch with her spirituality to find deeper meaning of life. She likes to spend time with her cat and family and enjoys helping people out in any way possible. Grace wants to work in the mental health field as her nursing specialty focus.

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Healthy living for healthy aging

Woman on a boat

“Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.” Judy Gerow shares her thoughts on health and aging.

Judy Gerow is member of the Kitselas First Nation and has been in Band Council for over 20 years: two years as Chief and the rest as Councillor. She is a mother of six, a stepmother of an additional six, and is also raising her granddaughter. Throughout her whole life, her health has been on her mind. I had the privilege of asking Judy a few questions about her experiences of health and aging and am excited to share her thoughts and story below.

Do you believe that health is a journey?

Yes, absolutely, I think it’s a journey! Your physical and mental health play a big part in your well-being and need to be in balance to be truly healthy.

When did you start really considering your health?

Even though I have always been thinking about my health, it was after I became a mother that I realized how important it was to take care of myself so that I was here for my children.

My kids are a real motivation for me. Now that I am raising my granddaughter, I want to take care of myself to make sure I am here for her until she can be on her own.

What things are you doing to keep you healthy?

I try to watch what I eat and I don’t drink alcohol or smoke. I keep myself involved in various activities, many of which are physical such as my volunteer role in the fire department. I like to fish and hunt and through this, challenge my body to keep up with others and carry what I can. I garden, too.

Family is also very important to me; we are a large and close family and look forward to getting together for family dinners. As I get older, I spend more time thinking about my life, what matters, and how I can live this to the fullest.

How does this healthy lifestyle make you feel?

I feel a sense of pride that I can still pull my own weight, even though I can’t carry as much as I could in my youth. My role model is my mother. She is 84 years old and she’s still going strong. When she was in her 60’s, I had a hard time keeping up to her. She would get up at dawn and preserve fruits and vegetables until late at night. She is slowing down now due to health concerns. She has macular degeneration but she still cuts fish, even though she does it now by feel.

When I’m out on the river or in the bush, I have time to reflect and focus on the land and the environment. I find that very spiritual and I get a sense of belonging when I’m out there. It’s like I can feel the presence of my ancestors who walked before me for thousands of years.

How do you think having a healthy lifestyle now will support your health in the future?

I think it will help me to live longer and to remain active. I couldn’t imagine not being active. I want to be just like my mom! When I was growing up, I used to tell my friends that I didn’t want to be like my mother. It’s ironic that no matter how hard I tried to do things differently, I end up like her! My mother is always there, a focus in my life.

What are you most looking forward to about being healthy as you age?

I look forward to being active and having a fulfilling life where I can do what I want and not be a burden to anyone. I want to remain independent as long as I can.

If you could share one message with others about your journey, what would that message be?

When you are younger, you don’t think about what it’s going to be like when you’re older. Choices one makes when they are young do matter in the future, that is the message I would like to share.

Every summer was like bootcamp for me. I was busy keeping up to my husband as we hunted or fished together. I wasn’t paying attention to my body. Parts of my body are starting to give me more problems now – like my knees and my elbows – from pushing myself too much then, packing heavy loads, and jumping off rocks.

My husband passed away five years ago from lung cancer. He was a smoker and a drinker. I chose not to so I could be there for my children. My current partner has diabetes and heart disease from not taking care earlier.

Everyone needs to start taking care of themselves and be more conscious of what’s around them. Food, lifestyle, getting back to the land, going for walks, being at peace and enjoying what’s around you – these do matter.

I never had an interest in gardening even when I had watched my mom do it. Yet, last year, we planted a garden and what came up was wonderful! I found it so relaxing; I could just get lost in it. I could sit in that garden, pulling weeds and not think of anything and before I knew it, four hours had passed! Work and other things in my life slipped away. We all need to do more of this. Life is too fast-paced. I’m going on a vacation soon. My partner and I are taking our motorhome and just going – no destination or timeline! Stress-free!

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Learning to listen to your body

Balance Rock

Just outside of Skidegate, Balance Rock is one of the pictures that might say it all …Finding balance. (photo credit Tony Carter)

For years, I had used exercise, in particular running, as a way to relieve stress, get calm and refocused. I welcomed seasonal changes: running past shrubs laden with hoar frost on icy roads, running on muddy trails, or trying to dodge mosquitoes in the early morning; these runs were my time. Before long, I was training for my first marathon. Then I started in on the V series, traveling to cities that started with a V, like Vancouver and Victoria in BC, or Vienna in Austria. Yes, this does sound a bit obsessive compulsive. If running one marathon per year seemed like a reasonable goal to me, running two or three per year seemed even better. Acquaintances would often ask me about my knees, but my knees were fine. What eventually did give me grief was the area around my Achilles tendon. Taking a week off did not result in lasting improvements, and I knew that I had to dial back my efforts. A few physiotherapy appointments provided me with exercise suggestions, and I set right to them, but there was no way that I was about to hit the pavement any time soon.

As a healthcare worker whose job involves a fair amount of deep listening, I seemed to have been doing a poor job of listening to my body. Luckily, I had also taken yoga over the years, and its subtle message helped me to deal with the restlessness and irritability that came with having to slow down. Initially, I couldn’t even do any of the standing yoga poses. Once the Achilles was healed, bursitis of the Trochanter dogged my efforts for another year and a half.

I am not unfamiliar with grief and loss; once I had reached acceptance of my physical state, I was able to recall what else gave me joy in life. I didn’t have to look far as our living room was built around a piano. A lot of people’s effort went into getting it there, but it hadn’t been played in years. An itinerant piano tuner gave it some love and attention, and I was able to coax a few sounds from it. Research on the aging brain suggests that important lifestyle changes can help us to keep ourselves in the best possible cognitive shape. Learning to dance, a new language, or playing an instrument all are fun ways of challenging your brain. Your local Alzheimer Society has a host of tips.

Once again, acceptance was critical. Beginner’s mistakes help me learn; and my partner, who has a solid musical background but no longer plays the trombone, remains remarkably tolerant. Now that I am back on the road, I can go for a short run, come home and play myself a lullaby.

“By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean.”

-Mark Twain (1835-1910) U.S. humorist, writer, and lecturer

Astrid Egger

About Astrid Egger

Astrid Egger has been working with Northern Health since 2002 and is currently Team Leader for Haida Gwaii mental health and addiction services. She is active in the Haida Gwaii Arts Council and enjoys the changing wind and wave patterns on the inlet.

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Bringing back play

Slow...adults playing

Play isn’t just for kids! Adults, bring back play.

Play is just for kids….right? Wrong! As adults, it’s sometimes easy for us to get bogged down in the stresses of everyday life and responsibilities. We may find ourselves being caught up in personal and professional duties, such as being someone’s parent or being someone’s employee, and losing sight of ourselves as individuals. We may forget the importance of self-care, and living a truly balanced life.

For me, play has become an integral part of my life. There is something about devoting time to just having fun that helps create a sense of light-heartedness, that feeling like I’m a kid again which keeps me positive, smiling and happy. Often when I come home from work, I feel exhausted. Instantly, my mind and body go to battle as I try hard to resist the urge to pull on my sweats, curl up on the couch with the remote and a bowl of popcorn, watching some mind-numbing reality TV. Instead, I walk through the door, my kids come running, they wrestle me to the ground, and somehow I am instantly transformed into a human horse, toting a three-year-old around the house on my back as she laughs hysterically. I can feel the stress leave my body and I begin to relax, recharge, and revitalize. Other days, play may take the form of camping trips, kayaking, team sports, building blanket tents with my kids, summer BBQs with friends, and above all enjoying life surrounded by the people I love, doing the things I love to do.

Experts seem to agree that free, open-ended, pointless play is important to people of all ages. We stand to reap several benefits from play such as release from stress and anxiety, enjoyment, and enhancement of memory and imagination, all of which can help us to stay mentally fit.

I encourage everyone to start looking at play differently and not as something that is exclusively owned by children. Give yourself permission to have fun and make it part of your daily routine. Your body, mind and spirit will thank you in the end.

When was the last time you truly played?

Maria Bunkowski

About Maria Bunkowski

Maria Bunkowski is the Community Response Nurse for mental health and addictions services in Prince Rupert. She has been nursing since 2006 with a background primarily in internal medicine, and is really enjoying the challenge that this new position brings. When she isn't working, Maria enjoys spending time with her young family, interior design, and exploring the great outdoors.

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A balanced lifestyle for balanced mental health

mental wellness

Kerry’s key to mental wellness is being self aware – what’s yours?

When asked to write a post about staying mentally healthy, I initially thought I was going to write about an intense fitness program I recently completed or my new running schedule that allows me to burn off some “steam.” However, with a little more thought I realized that exercise alone is not what ensures my mental wellness; instead I determined that the key to my personal mental health is finding a healthy balance of lifestyle.

I’m the first to admit that having a healthy balance is very difficult to achieve especially with all that life entails – children, partners, family, work and everything else in between. Often, I might be overly concerned with making sure I get in a certain amount of exercise throughout the week not realizing that I have neglected other important aspects of my life, ultimately leaving me feeling mentally and physically unbalanced.

Therefore, I think the most important way that I ensure that I stay mentally healthy is by considering all facets of my life and ensuring that I am inclusive and thoughtful  of each of these areas in a balanced way. Some areas I consider are:

  • Quality time with loved ones and friends
  • Quiet relaxing time – time to let my mind rest
  • Physical exercise
  • Eating healthy
  • Connecting with my environment/mother nature
  • Finding time to laugh
  • Ensuring a healthy sleep schedule
  • Having a realistic work schedule
  • Being creative
  • Making space for music
  • Remembering to generally slow life down to provide time for gratitude and appreciation for all that I have

When I notice that I feel off balance, I do “a check” – what in my life is missing or what area is taking away from other important areas – where is the imbalance? I then ask myself: what needs to happen to achieve a sense of balance and how do I go about making this happen? In general, I think my key to mental wellness is being self-aware and remembering that we have to care for ourselves in order to have the ability to care for others. So keep running, but remember to stop to have tea and a good laugh with an old friend as well!

What’s your key to mental wellness?

Kerrie Scott

About Kerrie Scott

Kerrie Scott is a clinician within mental health and addictions services in Prince Rupert. She has a bachelor of Social Work from the University of Victoria from which she graduated in 2004. Kerrie keeps very busy and enjoys spending time with her two young children.

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