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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October is Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month

While October is a very busy month for a variety of health promotion topics, one definitely worth talking about is Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month®! What began in 2001 as Canada’s Healthy Workplace Week has now grown to a dedicated month with a year round website, promoting the importance of workplace health in organizations and the well-being of employees in workplace settings.

The website serves as a resource where organizations of all sizes can inspire and share their accomplishments with others, as well as access a variety of tools that can support the promotion of healthy workplace practices. With the majority of the population (60%) spending their waking hours at a workplace setting, we should make it a top priority to ensure that most of those hours support health in a positive way!

The main goals of Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month® (CHWM) are to:

  • Increase awareness of the need for a comprehensive approach to workplace health in Canada that is influenced by the four elements of a healthy workplace:
    • Healthy Lifestyles
    • Workplace Culture and Mental Health
    • Physical Environment
    • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Provide healthy workplace tools, resources and best practice examples, through Healthy Workplace Month, to help organizations create healthy workplaces with benefits for employees and themselves
  • Increase the number of healthy workplaces in Canada

    Taking our meeting outside for a change of scenery!

At my workplace, we have a really great group of staff that work together to make each day a positive experience. When an opportunity arises, we take our meetings outside or for a walk around the block. A handful of staff also have a friendly competition going to see who can get the most steps in each week. The numbers have been impressive – so much so that a recent weekend challenge had people questioning whether or not someone put their Fitbit on their dog! Who knew that hiking the Berg Lake Trail could get you over 100,000 steps in a weekend?

We are known to have great lunch potlucks, where we share our favorite nutritious recipes and take some time to connect with one another on a more social level. Our efforts to grow produce in a community garden plot near our work-site has so far proved to be unsuccessful, but we will keep trying! Our goal is to be able to offer something for locals in the neighborhood to enjoy. And, each Christmas we get together, pick a local cause, and collect donations/funds to add some holiday cheer to those in need!

How does your organization focus on the health of employees? Looking for ideas to create a healthier workplace? Check out Healthy Workplace Month today to get started!

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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It matters!

This blog was co-authored by Cindy Gjerde (Regional Nursing Lead Tobacco Reduction).

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!


Teens. How do we keep them safe, happy, engaged, and AWAY from tobacco, cannabis, alcohol and other drugs?  As a woman who has spent her career working in mental health and substance use services, and as a parent to two adorable little girls, I ask myself this question daily. While there is no script I can give you, there are some key considerations to tuck into your parenting/coaching/teaching playbook.

  • Self-esteem matters: Teens need to feel empowered, confident, and like they contribute and are important.
  • Resiliency matters: Showing, supporting, and guiding teens through tough times teaches them that tough times have an end point, and they have power in how they deal with the tough stuff.
  • Connectedness matters: Encourage teens to be and stay connected to parents, friends, neighbours, teachers, coaches, leaders, grandparents.
  • Safe spaces matter: Safe places are more than ones that are physically safe (although that’s part of it). Mental and emotional health promoting spaces are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, places that are substance-free, and encourage young people to be themselves.

    teens boxing

    Teens need safe places that are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, substance-free, and that encourage them to be themselves.

Prevent, delay and reduce use

We know that the longer we prevent teens from using substances, the better armed they are in preventing the disease of addiction. We also know that substance use during adolescence can interfere with important developmental changes. So what can we do to prevent them from using in the first place?

  • Talk to them about tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.
  • Respond positively to your child’s/teen’s interests.
  • Involve your teen in activities and chores that grow their abilities.
  • Encourage your teen to get a part-time job or volunteer.
  • Support them during their tough times – use comforting language, and affirming statements.
  • Model responsible substance use (if substances are part of your life).
  • Help them learn to make and keep friends.
  • Support them to try new things and keep active.

Resources to educate yourself and your teens:

Things to be on the lookout for:

  • Change in mood or behaviour
  • Change in friends
  • Isolating themselves
  • Dropping grades or loss of interest
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Signs of substance use: smell of tobacco, cannabis, alcohol
  • Skipping school or work
  • Need for money
  • Finding drug paraphernalia in the home

Where to get help:

Visit your family physician or health care provider for a referral/recommendation to local resources such as:

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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Preventing injury with IMAGINE grants

This article was co-authored by Mandy Levesque and Denise Foucher.


Students touching jello brain

What would an injury prevention project look like in your community?

With the recent launch of the IMAGINE Community Grants offering funding up to $5,000, the time is right to take action to promote health and improve the well-being of our northern residents.

Injury prevention is one of the health promotion priorities we want to see as a project focus when the grant applications come in (deadline is October 31, 2016) and is definitely one way to ensure northern residents can stay healthy.

What injury prevention project idea would benefit your community?

Did you know that most injuries are preventable? Injuries are not “accidents.” They happen in similar, predictable patterns and as many as 90% of injuries can be prevented.

In B.C., preventable injuries that happen:

  • On the road,
  • From falling,
  • In or near water, and
  • From ATVs

are among the leading causes of death and hospitalization across all age groups. Those numbers are even higher among northern B.C. residents.

So, what does an injury prevention focused IMAGINE grant application actually look like?

Longboarders

IMAGINE in Prince Rupert supported safe longboarding. What types of injury prevention needs are there where you live?

Get inspired by these great ideas:

Water safety:

  • Host teen water safety swim nights at the local pool
  • Organize a Life Jacket Fashion Show

Falls prevention:

  • Get the gear for floor curling in community centres
  • Promote sidewalk safety in slippery winter conditions (e.g., install boxes with sand/grit and scoops) (more on falls prevention from FindingBalanceBC.ca)

Road safety:

  • Conduct a walkability assessment and look to make changes for safety (more on walkability from WalkBC.ca and HASTe)

Mental wellness:

IMAGINE grants support partnerships and build capacity, and create an opportunity to build lasting change in your community. Get your exciting injury prevention project applications in by October 31, 2016.

Injury prevention infographic


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities.

Denise Foucher

About Denise Foucher

Denise is an injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about working towards health and wellness for everyone in Northern B.C. When not at work, Denise can be found out at the lake, walking her dog, planning her next travel adventure, or snuggled in a cozy chair with a good book.

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So Long Summer (But it’s not all that bad!)

Creek

The view along Kleanza Creek hiking trail near Terrace, B.C.

I have to admit. I’m a fall kind of guy. Sure, the dog days of summer are good, but growing up in Revelstoke, BC, I always looked forward to the mountains getting a fresh dusting of snow and the Kokanee spawning in the local creeks. Some of my fondest memories are hiking through the woods on a crisp fall morning with a couple friends.

I’m sure that many people living in northern British Columbia share a similar memory.

Now, I know this can be a busy time of year, school has started and there’s still a few projects around the house to finish up before winter gets here. However, why not spare some time to explore your local waking and hiking trails. The days are cooler and hints of color are starting to show in the trees. Salmon are spawning and there’s still abundant wildlife to be seen. Northern British Columbia has a lot of diversity and the outdoors can be spectacular this time of year.

Hiking may be a popular summertime activity, but there’s no reason why it can’t be enjoyed through the fall and into the early winter. Eventually hiking can become snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, but that’s another blog post.

However, there are some things to consider before heading out on your favorite trail.

  • Always let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  • Northern BC is bear country. Be bear aware, especially if you’re in an area where salmon are spawning.
  • Remember that the days are getting shorter this time of year. Make sure you take that into account when planning your hikes so you can be off the trail before it gets dark
  • Be prepared. While the days might still be warm and pleasant, nights are getting cooler. Pack some warm clothing, an emergency blanket, flashlight, signalling device and fire starter with you.
  • Hunting season is underway, be aware that hunters may be sharing the outdoors with you.
  • Take your camera or smartphone; this time of year can be great for photos.

One of my fondest memories from growing up in Revelstoke was watching the snowline on the mountains get lower and lower as fall waned and winter approached. When it was about halfway half way down the mountains, a few friends and I would go hiking and meet the snow. It became a fall ritual.

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This is an old picture from waaay back on one of those trips to reach the snow!!! Taken at Mt. Revelstoke National Park.

To be honest I still watch the snow creeping down the mountains here in Terrace. I still laugh at an old memory of a snowball fight that pitted my friends Richard and Ken against me and another friend on one of those hikes. What sticks out most from that day was Richard nailing Ken at point blank range with a snowball that was actually meant for Jim or I. But I guess you had to be there!

Go ahead, get out there and embrace fall in northern British Columbia. You just might create some wonderful new memories with your friends and family.

Northern Health is sponsoring a great way to get to know (or share!) your community’s healthy features – The Great Northern Scavenger Hunt! Answering clues gets you out in your community and a chance to win great prizes.

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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Get Your Game On!

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In the jersey is my youngest son, who loves soccer

You know what; I’m pretty excited for the last two weeks of September.  Not only is Northern Health’s Great Northern Scavenger Hunt taking place, but the world cup of hockey  is taking place.  While I won’t be watching every game, I’m looking forward to cheering on team Canada.  If team Canada is knocked out, then I’ll cheer for team Finland, as I have family over there.

Now, you might be wondering why I brought up watching the world cup of hockey when Northern Health is encouraging people to step away from the screen.  To be honest it’s about limiting screen time, not eliminating it all together.

Organized sports like hockey, soccer, baseball, volleyball and basketball not only promote physical activity, but also sportsmanship, teamwork and often community involvement.   The Great Northern Scavenger Hunt is about plugging into your community and I’d like to point out that team sports are a great way to plug into your community.   Take some time to find out what leagues and clubs are in your community.

However, competitive or organized team sports may not be for everyone.  Team sports can be expensive, although there is help available for families.  The commitment in terms of time can be high and sometimes travel is required.  Not everyone enjoys the competition of team sports, and some may feel that their skill level isn’t good enough to join.

Organized competitive team sports just aren’t what some people want to do.  However, there are other ways to get involved in sports and “plug in.”

  • If team sports aren’t your thing, then what about sports that are individual in nature. Sports such as martial arts, speed or figure skating, tennis, badminton, cycling or skiing can provide challenge without being part of a team.
  • If the competitive nature of some sports leagues doesn’t appeal to you, consider joining a recreational league. Check out your community leisure services schedule and see what’s there.  You never know what might peak your interest.  Or get a bunch of friends together and have an informal game; chances are you’ll have fun and a few laughs at the end of it.
  • If you want to take part in a sport, but aren’t confident in your skill level, then look for a beginner league. I didn’t start playing ice hockey until later in life and I started out in an adult beginner’s league. It turned out to be one of the best experiences I ever had.  Never think you’re too old to start playing a sport either.  However, if you haven’t been active for a while, it’s always a good idea to check with your doctor first and remember to start out slowly.
  • If your kids are involved in sports, remember that it should be about having fun, making friends and learning about teamwork. While skill development is important, placing too much pressure on kids can result in the game becoming less enjoyable or even requests to quit the team.
20160922-reg-sports-1

In the Gi is my oldest son, who takes part in jujitsu

The great thing about sports is that everyone can take part in some way or another.  It doesn’t matter what age or gender you are, or what your skill level is, you can find a way to participate.   Getting children involved in sport is a great way to build healthy lifestyles.

Now let’s cheer on team Canada.  Better yet, let’s put on our team Canada jerseys and play some road hockey.  Just remember to get off the road when someone yells “CAR!!”

Consider answering some of the sports-related questions (along with many others!) in the Great Northern Scavenger Hunt! This contest gets you out and thinking about your community’s healthy activities and options – and there are great prizes to be won. Contest Closes October 02.

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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Get to know your community… Go for a Run!

20160920-holly-christian-runningMoving across the country can be a scary proposition, especially when all you know about your destination is what you’ve seen on TV. So when we found out we’d be moving to northern BC seven years ago, the first thing I did was go buy a map. Two moves and a lot of long road trips later, I’m happy to report that although it’s nothing like Vancouver, each dot on the map of our vast northern landscape has its own sense of community, unique personality, and way of life. One of the best ways I’ve found to plug into my surroundings has been to lace up and explore the trails, sign up for local races and events, and get outside!

20160920-natures-staircase-aka-chetwynd-community-trail

“Nature’s Staircase” – AKA Chetwynd Community Trail

Running (or walking) your local trails and roads gives you a great opportunity to meet people, see the town up close, and get to know the terrain. Whether it’s running up a mountain face, rock hopping across a river, or tackling nature’s stairs through the forest (see photo), literally every type of landscape can be found somewhere in northern BC.

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Holly and her friends after her first triathlon in Mackenzie

No matter how small the community, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that across the north there are groups and clubs for those interested being more active. Whether it’s running, triathlon, cycling, skiing, all are welcoming to the newbies and happy to offer tips to the inexperienced. I tried my first triathlon in Mackenzie, teamed up with friends and coworkers for the chilly Iceman in Prince George, ran my first half marathon up a mountain in Tumbler Ridge, and trained for my first marathon on the trails and country roads of the North Peace. Along the way I’ve made new friends, supported other reluctant runners to give it a shot, and continue to challenge myself to try new routes.

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Holly Christian and Melissa Aalhus tackle the Earth Hour 5K in Fort St. John

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Beatton Park snowshoe trails – Fort St. John

One thing to remember about exploring northern BC, is that you need to be prepared for anything. Weather can make or break a run, but if you prep in advance and wear the right gear, rain and snow can create an entirely new (dare I say pleasant) experience. After my phone battery froze on one cold winter (-25 degree) run, I entertained myself by listening to the crunching snow instead of music. Wildlife will also keep you on your toes. I have come face to face with a couple bears on my excursions around Mackenzie’s trails, and met a bull moose, fox and a couple of deer on some recent runs in Fort St. John. And nothing makes you run faster than finding a pile of fresh cougar scat on a trail, that’s for sure!

Whether running is your thing, or you’re just trying to get to know your community a bit better, I highly recommend checking out the local events in your area. If you aren’t feeling particularly athletic, there are also great opportunities to volunteer at events and races – and they’re always grateful for an extra set of hands!

I look forward to making many more runs across the north and exploring the northwest! My next adventure will be in the wilds of Hudson’s Hope for That Dam Run in September.

How can you plug into your community today? get inspired and maybe win a prize when you complete the Great Northern Scavenger Hunt!

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.

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Planting seeds, fighting stigma, and growing community: Healthy Minds Community Garden

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Fox in a community garden

How can a community garden reduce stigma around mental health concerns? The Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James accomplished just that – promoting social connections and healthy lifestyles along the way!

The Healthy Minds Peer Support group in Fort St. James offers a safe and confidential venue for those impacted by mental and emotional health issues. The group aims to break isolation, promote healthy lifestyles, support integration into the community, and reduce stigma around mental health concerns. Healthy Minds Peer Support also organizes public awareness campaigns with speakers from the RCMP and local mental health practitioners. They meet every Monday at 7:00 p.m. at the Stuart Lake Hospital and welcome everyone to join them.

At first glance, one might ask how a community garden fits into this vision. For facilitators and Mental Health & Addictions Advisory Committee members Greg Kovacs and Sandi Taylor, there are so many worthwhile connections between a community garden and mental wellness. They highlighted these when they first proposed this project to the IMAGINE Community Grant program:

A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and mental health problems. We also know working with the soil, planting, and harvesting is therapeutic and conducive to those on their road to recovery and healthy living principles. Community gardens have proven successful in numerous communities worldwide in providing valuable educational tools and skills acquisition for those most in need.

For Kovacs and Taylor, there was a crucial social piece to this project, too:

Isolated mental health clients gain socialization skills, confidence, and practical life-affirming experience. [The garden] is a great way to keep fit, socialize, and an excellent form of therapeutic exercise for participants.

After a successful IMAGINE Community Grant application in 2015, Kovacs, Taylor, and the rest of the Healthy Minds Peer Support group got to work.

Empty lot

A look at the garden space before the Healthy Minds Community Garden took shape. Construction involved over 50 volunteers and over 1,500 volunteer hours.

How did the project go? Kovacs and Taylor provided an inspiring update:

This project exceeded expectations on many levels. The construction of the garden space involved over 50 volunteers, from children to seniors across all socioeconomic and racial divides. Together, we logged over 1,500 volunteer hours. This garden has provided socialization opportunities [and] improved the mental and physical health of many community members. Through these interactions, awareness of mental health, physical health, and environmental health has been raised.

Two classes from David Hoy Elementary School helped in the construction and planting of garden beds. The grade 9 woodworking class from the high school built two flower garden beds for us. We also had involvement from adult mental health service users. Friendships were made, and a sense of community bonding was achieved. We were able to produce many pounds of fresh, organic vegetables – from lettuce to corn and peppers. Also, with seven local newspaper articles on the garden project, mental health and community gardening has been highlighted, and these topics have become common conversations around all community events. Raising awareness of mental health is the first step in reducing, and eventually eliminating stigma around it.

Community garden

A look at the completed garden space reveals the transformation that took place. For the project coordinators, a similar transformation occurred in the lives of those involved in the garden as the “unifying space” helped them to develop social connections.

One of the most important goals of sharing projects supported by IMAGINE Community Grants is the opportunity to share the lessons learned from different projects. Everyone who has been involved in a big project – whether it’s a personal home renovation, organizing a local sporting event, or getting a project off of the ground in a community – knows that it’s not always rainbows and sunshine! With the benefit of hindsight, Kovacs and Taylor shared what they learned:

All in all, it has been a very positive experience. There were, however, some challenges. It was difficult to get people involved in the actual construction. A lot of skilled labour was required, and in short supply … Being the project lead, it was difficult at times to gauge the skill level of volunteers … Volunteers often require close supervision. It is important to allow people some freedom, while discerning what projects they can succeed at. We could have used some more help with the administrative duties … If we undertook this type of project in the future, we would not make funding applications, or commitments, until we had people committed to certain duties.

The takeaway for Kovacs and Taylor, though?

The successes greatly exceeded the challenges. We have been approached by many strangers complimenting the work our group is doing. The word is out, and most of our beds are already reserved for the 2016 planting season. This garden is poised to become a new standard in community gardening. With a focus on aesthetics, as opposed to just food production, our garden has become a popular lunch, and socialization place for local workers and all community members. There is a lot of pride in this community garden. It is known as a very tranquil and serene sanctuary, overlooking the beautiful Stuart Lake. Seeing the faces of people who see the garden for the first time—priceless! … Be prepared to get projects off the ground with a few dedicated and imaginative people, and once things begin to take shape, others will join.

Two people paint a sign.

Volunteers put the finishing touches on the sign welcoming gardeners, guests, and visitors to the Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James.

The impact of the Healthy Minds Community Garden and the Healthy Minds Peer Support group really comes to light when you ask Kovacs and Taylor for one thing that they want to share about the project:

It is extremely difficult to list only one, as there are so many! … The greatest benefit, among many, is that of community bonding, or socialization. People that would not normally mix are working, laughing, and talking with each other. With so many phenomena dividing people in society today, the garden is a unifying space. One participant in particular, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been suffering from a life-threatening illness and has been isolating for over a year. We managed to get her out to the garden one day, and that resulted in her riding a bicycle to the garden every weekend to help and mostly just to socialize. She has reserved a garden bed for 2016. Largely as a result of stigma, many people experiencing mental health issues suffer in silence. Our objective is to reach as many of these people as possible, and the Healthy Minds Community Garden is accomplishing this. We also have to mention that the health benefits of growing and eating whole foods has not been lost on those participating in the garden.

Clearly unable to contain their excitement, pride, and desire to share more about the community garden, Kovacs and Taylor’s “one thing” continues to a list of community partners:

The involvement of the school kids, and the excitement in their eyes when they see what they have grown, is priceless. We believe that many of those kids will continue to garden and eat healthy throughout their lives. We also have to mention that the school this year is going to plant three beds as a result of the success of the program.

We have also reserved a bed for the Key Resource Centre in Fort St. James, and two beds are reserved for a local women’s wellness group. So far, we have two beds reserved for seniors as well. We have built two extra height beds for people with mobility issues. The entire garden is wheelchair accessible. We strongly believe that this garden will continue to grow and be of great benefit to all in this small community.

This project is, beyond any reasonable doubt, a resounding success.

Garden bed

Growing so much more than just healthy, local food, the community garden has become first and foremost a health-promoting gathering space where people can connect.

Do you have ideas to promote social connections, reduce stigma, boost healthy eating, and make your community healthier? Start gathering your team and brainstorming your project – the next round of IMAGINE Community Grants will start September 19, 2016.


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Can I have a moment of your time?

The present moment, if you think about it, is the only time there is. No matter what time it is, it is always now. -Marianne Williamson

Clock face

There are many way to be in the moment – Reg suggests breathing exercises as a great way to relax and reduce stress.

Time is a funny thing

Time has no wings, but flies occasionally. It has no feet, but sometimes drags on. We never seem to have enough of it, but there’s no way to store it for later. It’s not uncommon to spend time planning our future or reveling in our past glories, however, how often do you truly stop and savour the moment? To be honest, we have neither the future nor the past, only the present moment in time.

Now I’m not saying it isn’t important to plan for the future or look to the past for guidance or inspiration. What I’m saying is that it is important to slow down and appreciate where we are. Finding ways to be in the moment can have a positive effect on your health and well-being. It can help by promoting relaxation, reducing stress and narrowing your focus when needed. Learning to stop and appreciate the moments when good things happen can improve your mood and cheer you up.

Be “in the moment”

There are many ways to be in the moment. Activities like meditation, tai chi, and yoga can help ground you in the present. Even more intense activities like playing sports, cycling, or working out can have the same effect. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as it connects you to the current moment in time.

I know, you’re probably thinking that while those are great suggestions, they might not always be practical. In reality, you’re right. I know my employer wouldn’t approve of mountain bike riding through the office corridors as a way of being in the moment! Nevertheless, there is one thing that can be done almost anywhere and anytime. You’ve done it since birth and you’ll do it every day for the rest of your life.

Breathe. Yup, that’s it.

The best thing is there’s nothing hard about breathing and you don’t need any special skills, equipment or a facility to do it in. Breathing exercises are a great way to stop the whirlwind around you and connect with the moment. But as always, there’s a catch.

You really need to pay attention to your breathing. Take a minute and try the following:

  • Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose.
  • Breathe in and fill your lungs with air.
  • Feel your chest and belly expand as you breathe in deeply.
  • Make sure to breathe at a pace that’s comfortable and when your lungs are full, pause for split second and exhale. You can exhale through your mouth or nose, it doesn’t really matter.
  • When your lungs are empty, pause for a split second and repeat.
  • Focus on your body and the breathing process. Feel the air moving into your nostrils and down to your lungs. Feel your chest rising and falling.
  • Repeat until you feel a sense of calm.
  • Open your eyes and be in the moment.

That’s it in a nutshell. You can learn to do many different types of breathing exercises and they all have the benefits of relaxation and stress reduction. Best of all, they aren’t complicated and don’t require hours of practice.

I know that at times it can be hard to focus on your breathing. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you may want to look into downloading apps that have guided breathing exercises. You can also use music if it helps you focus on your breathing. It also helps if you get into a habit of daily practice.

Now, take a few deep breaths and enjoy this moment of your life. A single moment can hold the surprise of a lifetime, but you might miss it if you’re a day ahead of yourself or a day behind.

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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