Healthy Living in the North

Running towards balance

Running decreases stress and increases energy.

Exercise assists with low mood, it helps with stress and anxiety, it improves self esteem, and it can actually increase your level of energy.

I’m not a runner. At least, that’s what I thought. Until a few months ago, the only circumstances I imagined doing any intense cardio were usually wrapped up in fantasies I had while watching The Walking Dead. I’m sure this resonates with many people, but by the end of my working day, I felt I simply didn’t have any extra energy to devote to exercise. I was content with shutting the blinds and jumping into some Black Ops matchmaking or watching TV in my evenings until I decided to call it a night.

I had plenty of excuses, too. Living in a new community, I didn’t know anyone to exercise with. I felt self conscious at the thought of being around strangers and exercising. I had too much stress, the last thing that I thought I needed was to add to that by trying to add an exercise regimen. Subtly, as the weeks went by, these types of excuses were easier to justify. However, one thing I was noticing was that I was becoming more and more unhappy and unhealthy. Even though I avoided my Wii because it called me overweight (we’re still not good friends), I was conscious of the fact that I was becoming larger and had lower energy. As a healthcare worker with knowledge in the field of mental health, I was doing the exact opposite of what I recommended to the people I worked with and it was showing in my physical and mental health.

You don’t have to look far to find information on links between exercise and mental wellness. The Canadian Mental Health Association and the Here to Help website, resources I would often share with individuals to promote mental wellness, have plenty of information about physical activity and the positive effects it has on our mental wellness. Exercise assists with low mood, it helps with stress and anxiety, it improves self esteem, and it can actually increase your level of energy. Even with this knowledge in my toolkit, the decision to remain inactive was easier (and less scary to me) than the alternative.

The catalyst for my change was hearing the experience of others who had made healthy changes and recognizing that the potential exists in all of us to make improvements in our lives. It came down to recognizing that I had the information, the tools I needed, and an activity where I could dictate my own pace. I started visualizing the changes I was hoping to make and that gave me my incentive. I started running in small increments – it didn’t matter that I was only running a couple hundred meters before I needed a break. I didn’t have to wait very long to notice some improvements. Taking on a new challenge and finding some success improved my outlook. I wasn’t winded by climbing a set of stairs anymore. I discovered for myself, that on days where I was particularly stressed, being active relieved some tension and also created a safe space where I could be productive with my stress and think things through before I took action.

After some considerable weight loss and some strides forward with finding balance in my lifestyle, I hope that by sharing a little bit of what I’ve found, others might find something that sparks a thought or resonates with them. I’m no fitness expert, but I can definitely attest to the fact that you stand to gain much more than you might initially think by increasing your level of activity.

So think it over. Take a walk, go for a hike, or give jogging a chance. Nido Qubein, author and motivational speaker, is quoted as saying, “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.”

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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Finding mental wellness for Mental Health Week

Terrace Mountain

Jessica, Jasper the Dalmatian and Elizabeth enjoying the beauty of Terrace Mountain.

Arriving in Terrace in December 2005 was the culmination of a stressful period for my family. After two years of planning our move from England to Canada, we did not anticipate the ‘hiccup’ that threatened to derail everything.

In October we had shipped our furniture, given up employment and taken the children out of school. Out of the blue, the sale of our house looked very likely to fall through; and this would have thrown a ‘big spanner’ in the works.

With four children aged 7 to 14 years, sleeping on the floor with most of our home packed into a container on the ocean, life was certainly interesting!

After eight weeks of living under these conditions, we took a leap of faith and boarded the plane to Vancouver, one week before the sale of our home was due to complete. Two adults, four children, a Dalmatian and 21 suitcases!

I feel sure that everyone reading this will have experienced something in their own life that tested relationships, resilience and flexibility. These things factor heavily in our ability to enjoy positive mental wellness.

Richard Branson, the entrepreneur, described in a recent interview how he “only remembers the good things.” What a great way to think – as long as we learn and grow from our mistakes!

When I reflect on that period, I recall the evenings spent as a family. The removal of toys and video games allowed us to become closer as a family. It also provides stories that still get an airing when our children are reminiscing about leaving England.

While I consider myself fortunate to have been able to navigate these challenges, I recognize through self-reflection that some of my actions over that period directly resulted from my response to the situation.

With the stigma associated with the label ‘mental health,’ it can be difficult for people to reach out and ask for help and support before things reach a crisis point.  Working in this area of healthcare may have given me some advantage. Although, thinking back, I am not sure if I would have been able to reach out and seek support.  It would most likely have been at a point of crisis before I took that step.

As we celebrate Mental Health Week from May 6 – 12, this is a great opportunity to raise awareness and bring the mental health message to the broader community.  The focus is on mentally healthy lifestyles and positive attitudes, as well as a source of information and support. This campaign organized by the Canadian Mental Health Association has been celebrated in Canada since 1951.

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

This quote from the World Health Organization supports the general move within our community mental health and addiction programs to provide support to individuals and communities towards achieving a state of mental wellness. In doing so, this will contribute to healthier northern communities.

How do you provide balance in your life and strengthen your resilience and flexibility to navigate the almost inevitable highs and lows?

Michael Melia

About Michael Melia

Michael Melia is the director for northwest mental health and addiction services. He is a registered psychiatric nurse and has a bachelor’s of science in nursing and has recently completed a master’s in business administration. Michael is serving as an elected board member for the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses. When not working, he enjoys spending time with family, keeping fit and exploring rural B.C.

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