Healthy Living in the North

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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I am not just the reflection in the mirror

Label on mirror reading: "Warning: Reflections  in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of "beauty"

“I am a whole person; I am not just a reflection in the mirror.” Mental Health Week is a great opportunity to share Darri’s warning label for mirrors and other suggestions for improving body image, self-esteem, and mood.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.

This is a phrase I have unfortunately said to myself over and over, trying to talk myself down from a junk food ledge. My reasons for eating or overeating have never been restricted to one particular feeling – it’s a cycle of emotion, whether it be sadness, happiness or celebration. Feel, eat, guilt, restrict, repeat – for me, it’s a fairly predictable cycle.

The feelings I have about my body image at any particular time are also variable. I have always struggled with my weight, how I look to others, how I feel about myself. Placing value on who I am as a person solely on how I carry the weight of my body. Body image is complicated.

“I know that once I am thin enough, I will be happy.” These thoughts, whether rational or not, have been foremost in my mind most of my life. But I have been “thin” and I have still been unhappy. The thing is, changing my outside does not change how I feel on the inside. This is not a groundbreaking epiphany, yet it has taken years for me to accept that my value as a human being is not based on my weight.

So where did these ideas come from?

I could talk about my family and the emphasis that was placed on appearance. My mom and sisters were constantly riding the yo-yo diet train. The messages I received were subtle and self-esteem shaping. But where did my family members get these messages themselves? I can’t ignore the fact that we live in a superficial world full of glossy magazines and blockbuster movies oozing with sexuality. The basic message that we seem to hear all the time is that your successes in life can equate to how you look. The better looking you are on the outside, the more success, health and happiness you can attain.

In a 2004 paper titled The Impact of Exposure to the Thin-Ideal Media Image on Women, Hawkins and her colleagues found that:

Exposure to thin-ideal magazine images increases body dissatisfaction, negative mood states, and eating disorder symptoms and decreases self-esteem. Exposure to thin-ideal media images may contribute to the development of eating disorders by causing body dissatisfaction, negative moods, low self-esteem, and eating disorders symptoms among women.

The impact of body image on mental health and overall well-being is undeniable. How we see ourselves impacts how we feel about ourselves and how we interact with the world around us. What can I do to improve my body image and lessen the impact on my daughters? I can choose to eat healthy, not restrict, give myself permission to eat a variety of foods without shame or guilt; I can be active and do things that energize and motivate me to feel good about the body I live in. I can be kind to myself and all aspects of which I am.

I am a whole person; I am not just the reflection in the mirror.

As a mental health and addictions clinician for Northern Health, I see how body image directly impacts the mental health of the clients with whom I work. Here are some practical suggestions for improving body image, self-esteem and mood:

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. You are unique and need to celebrate your positive qualities.
  • Practice self-care. Go for a walk in nature, have a bath, read a book, reignite an old hobby you once enjoyed, take time for yourself. Self-care should not be confused with being selfish, it is important for your mental health to take time to re-energize and refresh yourself.
  • Create a support system. Spend time with those who lift you up and support you. They have a positive impact on how you feel about yourself. It’s OK to ask for support!
  • Pay attention to lifestyle. Small changes over time can add up to a large shift in mental health in the future.
  • Seek help from community resources such as Mental Health and Addictions Services. You can contact us through the Northern Health website. For more information on body image, please visit the National Eating Disorders Information Centre or the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Darri O'Neill

About Darri O'Neill

Darri has worked for Northern Health in the position of mental health and addictions clinician for the past six years. Darri enjoys her work and also knows the importance of getting outside to enjoy time with her young family. In the summers, they like to camp at the local lakes and have recently purchased snowshoes which they hope to use to explore the trails around their home in the winter. Darri and her husband were both raised on Vancouver Island and moved to the northwest 10 years ago. They’ve grown to love the area and appreciate that they can raise their family in such a naturally beautiful part of B.C.

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Devote time and energy to mental wellness

Graphic reading: How do you really feel?

Like physical wellness, it is important to devote time and energy to developing your mental wellness. What can you do to foster mental wellness each and every day?

For me, one of the exciting things I’ve seen when we’re talking about health is the increased attention on wellness and protective factors, instead of solely on disease and symptoms.

It’s no surprise that this extends to the field of mental health and mental wellness.

This year, for Mental Health Week (May 4-10, 2015), I would encourage you to give some thought to the things that keep you healthy mentally. Similar to physical wellness being more than the absence of disease, mental wellness is a state of well-being. What it looks like for you might be different than what it looks like for me, but the important part is that we dedicate time and energy to keeping ourselves well.

I’ve gotten better at recognizing when I am not doing enough to support my wellness: I am quicker to become irritated, I start to notice some physical symptoms from stress, and I am generally not a whole lot of fun to be around. These are indications for me that it might be time to take some affirmative action. Personally, I know that I sometimes need to give myself some extra time on the drive home to process after a difficult day of work. I also need to maintain my healthy sleep habits. Regular exercise is also important for my mental wellness.

Another similarity between mental and physical wellness relates to coping tools or what may be referred to as “resiliency factors.” If we have a large range of these tools, even if we do become unwell, we may be sick for less time or not get as sick as we otherwise would. Visit the Canadian Mental Health Association for a self-assessment and some tips on resilience.

Another way that we can enhance our mental wellness is by opening the dialogue about mental health. By having a week to increase attention on mental health, we can address one of the most pervasive things that impedes mental wellness: stigma. Negative attitudes, beliefs, and actions spread misinformation and fear about mental health issues.

The bottom line is that mental illness may affect any one of us over the course of our lives, so let’s do what we can to support one another and help increase the overall level of knowledge and inclusiveness in our home, work, and social environments. To learn more about reducing stigma, visit the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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It’s more than the blues

A snow man slumps over.

For some, the holidays were less than a joyous occasion.

Christmas is finally over.  The tree is down, the last carols have been sung and, finally, all of those Christmas displays have been taken out of the stores. Yes, it’s true that Christmas can be a great time of year – we eat too much and exercise too little while we enjoy the company of family and friends; at least for most people.

For others, the holiday season and the start of the new year can be something completely different. It can be a time of loneliness and sadness, filled with anything but good will and hope. It can be a time where the blues turn into something much deeper.  It can be the start of depression.

While there are many mental illnesses that can have an effect on your mental health, mood disorders, particularly depression, affects 11% of men and 16% of women over their lifetimes, according to Health Canada. Depression can have a profound effect on a person’s life, taking a toll on relationships, productivity at work, and quality of life. Serious depression can lead to other health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or, in some cases, it can lead to suicide.

Although a person may be genetically predisposed to depression, there are usually other risk factors, such as stress, family issues, work issues, or personal losses. However, just because someone has a history of depression in their family doesn’t necessarily mean that they will suffer from it. Depression is usually the result of a few risk factors that are working together rather than a single root cause.

Depression is treatable, usually through a combination of medications and counseling. It’s important to remember that no two depressions are alike and there can be different options for recovery.

Recognizing depression and seeking help for the person who is suffering is key. Some common signs of depression are:

  • A loss of interest or a lack of pleasure in activities.
  • Withdrawing from social situations and a tendency to isolate.
  • Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, worthlessness, or guilt.
  • Change in appetite.
  • Change is sleep pattern.
  • Loss of focus, increasing forgetfulness, or difficulty concentrating.
  • Thoughts of committing suicide.

Remember, it’s possible to experience some of these things and not be depressed. We all go through times when we’re a bit down and gloomy; however, if several of these signs are present and persist for several weeks then you should talk to your physician. If you have thought of suicide, or someone you know has expressed thoughts of suicide, take it seriously and seek medical help.

Depression can present itself in other forms as well. It can present itself as anger or irritability, particularly in men. Children suffering from depression may complain of being sick, attempt to avoid school, or not want to be separated from their parents.

You can make an appointment with your physician or contact mental health and addictions services.  If you don’t want to speak with someone in person, then call 8-1-1 and speak with someone at HealthLink BC.  It doesn’t matter what route you take as long as the person who may be depressed gets the help they need.

What depression is not:

  • It is not simply a case of the blues; telling someone to “cheer up” is not going to get them out of a major depression.
  • It is not a sign of weakness.
  • It is not something to be ashamed of.
  • It is not something to be ignored.

If you want more information about depression or other mental health issues, then check out the Canadian Mental Health Association for more information.

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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