Healthy Living in the North

Healthy aging with Dzi’is

Woman walking on pipeline.

Walking the water pipeline with Gramma to pick berries. (Photo by Ann King)

How do you age well? I could tell you about research on the importance of active engagement and participating in productive activities that promote societal values (if you’re interested, I recommend checking out work by Verena H. Menec), but research has never been my best teacher.

My Dzi’is (Gramma*) taught me, among many other things, how to live and age well. She went to be with her sisters and brothers last July 14th but her lessons and memories remain.

I remember being 10 years old and harvesting eeyaans** (black chiton – a type of mollusk) with Gramma and my mom at Ridley Island near Prince Rupert. Gramma had her hair done and was dressed impeccably with her black ballet-style flats. We carried with us ice cream buckets and butter knives to pry the eeyaans off the rocks so that we could collect them. Gramma led the way and at one point she asked us to help her down a jagged six to seven foot rock face to reach a prime harvesting spot while the tide was out.

My mother climbed down first, leaving me at the top to lower my 60-year-old Gramma down to her. I remember thinking, as I held her forearms and hands, “This is way too much responsibility for me! I’m dangling Gramma off a tiny cliff for food!” My mom guided Gramma’s ballet flats into good footholds and she made it down in one piece! We went home, exhausted, with full buckets and Gramma went to work cooking up what we had harvested.

Young girl with bucket

Jessie picking berries and flowers with Gramma and mom.
(Photo by Ann King)

All of my memories of my Dzi’is involve food gathering (eeyaans and berries) or hunting in local markets and second-hand stores for treasures; all of which exhausted me and energized her. She taught me to stay active and social and to keep your family busy. She never spoke directly about how she felt about aging, but she definitely did it well!

Through her example, I learned the importance of activities that promote not only societal values, but cultural and traditional ones, too. Aging well for her was being Tsimshian and everything that identity encompasses.


* There are many variants of some Sm’algyax (Tsimshian) words such as Gramma or Grandma – Dzi’is or Tsi’i’is are common versions.

** Eeyaan, commonly known as the black leather chiton, is a type of mollusk harvested from the bottom or sides of rocks in heavy surf areas.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Healthier You magazine. All past issues of the magazine are available online.



Jessie King

About Jessie King

Jessie, Hadiksm Gaax, was born in raised in Prince Rupert and came to Prince George in 2005 to attend UNBC. Her role at Northern Health is within the Aboriginal Health department as the Lead of Research and Community Engagement. When she isn’t working on her PhD in Health Science, she is out and about exploring, swimming, and playing with her little family. She is a member of the Tsimshian Nation and belongs to the Ganhada (Raven Clan).


10 more ways that northern B.C. residents invest in their health!

Woman standing on logs.

Tracy in Vanderhoof has invested in her health by eating healthier, playing hockey, and hiking. She shared a great photo from a recent hike at Mount Pope!

We are now two weeks into our “Invest in Healthy Aging” contest and your stories continue to be nothing short of inspiring! From lunchtime exercise routines that get you moving to relaxing hikes with friends that pay dividends for your mind, body, and relationships, you are making great investments in your health!

Last week, I shared a few of the stories that you had submitted. The responses have kept pouring in so here are even more stories to inspire you from across northern B.C.! Remember that you can enter the contest once a week so keep the ideas coming! How do you invest in your body, mind, and relationships?

For Natascha in Prince George, goal-setting has been key (good luck in your 5 km run, Natascha!)!

Six months ago, motivation hit me. I don’t know what exactly inspired me, but I knew I wanted to improve my physical health. I signed up as a member at the YMCA and started my journey to better health. I set personal goals and made a commitment to do what it takes to have what I want. What do I want? I want a healthy body, a focused mind, and I want to have the ability to run multiple kilometres – starting with 5 km in June! I feel amazing! Better is always possible, everyday is closer to my goal!

In Dawson Creek, Korena has taken advantage of a local program to try new healthy living activities!

This month, I signed up for the ‘Everybody Move Dawson Creek’ program and have been going to the various gyms and aquatic centres in Dawson Creek to learn what each facility has to offer. I am thoroughly enjoying the program as it allows me to try out a variety of activities that I normally wouldn’t try out for free. A super program which is promoting healthy living and incentives to be active.

Melanie from Saik’uz took a chance on an old favourite activity and decided to “just do it”!

I used to be an avid skier. It has been years since I skied (the last full day was when I was pregnant with my 13 year old son!). This past weekend, I was fortunate to chaperone our high school kids to the ski and snowboard zones in Jasper. Since I was on the hill, I decided to ‘just do it’, and went skiing. It’s hard to have been able to do something then not be able to perform – but you have to start somewhere and I am glad I did!

Apps and technology can be great tools for healthy aging! For Cailey in Prince George, an app has helped her invest in a healthy mind!

Sometimes day-to-day life gets so busy! To invest in my mind, I have downloaded a meditation app on my phone. This app allows me to practice 10 minutes of meditation to relax me and continue my day with a clear mind!

Woman on cross-country ski trail

Susan in Houston takes advantage of the outdoors to invest in her health!

The outdoors have supported Susan’s healthy aging investments in Houston!

Living in such a beautiful area with great recreational opportunities means the world to me. On any given day, I can snowshoe out my back door, drive ten minutes to beautifully groomed cross country ski trails, or just walk a few metres to join a network of town walking trails. There’s never a good reason to stay inside.

Delilah in Prince Rupert has found a nice balance and healthy activities to support healthy aging!

I engage in walking to work, drinking lots of water, ongoing learning to keep my mind active, help others where I can, relax myself with reading and keeping in touch with family members. I find a nice balance between work and time off. I also ride my bike and enjoy fresh air by walking outdoors as much as I can. Laughter is important to me and I try to read or watch funny things. I nap when I am tired and that makes a big difference in how I cope.

Joanna in Prince George has been counting her steps and seeing a connection between physical and mental well-being!

I’ve been investing in my health by making time for physical activity every day – ensuring I get my 10,000 steps on my Fitbit and going for a 5-8 km walk every evening. Not only does it help improve my physical health, but also my emotional well-being – endorphins are a powerful force for decreasing stress and improving mood!

Leanne in Terrace has chosen to be very active and wonders what else is in store!

Well into my 50s, I still play floor hockey and dragon boat in the spring/summer (really good as you climb up those years!). My daughter is doing a thirty minute exercise challenge with her peers at the school she works at. This will go on until April [and] I have decided to join her for encouragement and for my fitness. Curling on Wednesdays as well. Zumba … what else is in store?!

For Kim in Burns Lake, family is a big part of investing in health!

I enjoy the outdoors when I can – this week went ice fishing with the family. I do as much home cooking as I can for myself and the family.

Grandchildren and some creative improvisation created a fun and active time for Laurel in Swan Lake!

The grandchildren and Teddy and I wanted to go outside sliding but there wasn’t really enough snow for a long run this year so we had to improvise. We dug out the two children’s kayaks that we have and found a small patch of snow across the road that was deep enough to travel on. We had tried the driveway but I had to have a leash so they would stop before hitting gravel and destroying the bottom of the kayak! That meant Grandma had to run ahead of the kayak to start, then stop and hold the rope!

This list of great stories and insights could definitely go on! Thank you to everyone who shared their healthy living ideas so far! The contest runs until the end of February so enter today! You could win great weekly prizes or the grand prize of a $150 gift certificate to the local sporting good store of your choice!

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.)


Health: There’s an app for that

Nurse in a hallway holding a tablet computer.

Mobile health is creating many opportunities to use smart phones and online tools for health and wellness. With the increasing ease of sharing information, individuals need to exercise caution.

As I finish waiting in line to buy tickets for the show, I have already checked Rotten Tomatoes, read the synopsis, watched the trailer, and read user reviews. I’ve also updated my Facebook status and “checked in” at the movie theatre. Only two likes?! Maybe I should post a selfie? (#catchingaflick)

All of this information and interconnectivity is available to me at the touch of a button or a slide of a finger. These amazing devices make our lives easier and help us to communicate instantly with one another in ways that were not possible even 10 years ago. In my opinion, one of the most exciting prospects about all of this functionality in the palms of our hands is the advancement and increased access to health and wellness support, information, and tools.

A number of app designers have invested in mobile technology for wellness. You can get apps that track your mood, coach you in deep breathing, or can track your immunizations. Separately, YouTube and other social media channels are used by scholarly institutions, health authorities, and health professionals as a way of sharing wellness information that can be accessed in the privacy of your own home, from the bus, or wherever you have the desire (and the data plan) to access it.

Research is demonstrating some of the benefits of the emerging field of “mobile health.” For example, research is following individuals who are quitting smoking and receiving text message encouragements (visit for details), or setting people with specific medical conditions up with education and reminders through their mobile device.

In the north, where winter roads and lengthy distances can make travel difficult, technology is emerging with some exciting options for people to promote wellness and ownership of their health. Informally, communities of like-minded individuals are gathering on sites like Reddit and Pinterest to share wellness tips and information, as well as links to pertinent research or videos. However, users need to take caution.

Not all health information, sites, or sources are created equally. With the increasing ease of information sharing, it’s important for individuals to exercise caution until an app or information found on the Internet can be verified. For information to be trusted, it should come from a credible source, like a health authority. Check with your family doctor if you are unsure.

The future is bright with touch screens and I’m optimistic we’ll continue to see the benefits and development of this area of health services in the years to come.

This article was first published in A Healthier You, a joint publication of Northern Health and the Prince George Citizen.

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.


Wellness Warriors

Sign on the outside of the Wellness House

The Wellness Warriors gather weekly at the Wellness House in Masset to nurture wellness.

It’s 5:00 p.m. on a Tuesday and so the space at the Wellness House (across the road from the Masset library) opens up. It always does, like breathing, and when it does, people gather here with intention. Tonight, there is the usual bustle in the kitchen: people joking and laughing. Someone is looking for a can opener – turns out we left it at camp this summer. Someone else runs off to get cream for the coffee; we should have told them to get a can opener, too! Venison stew simmers on the stove (Haw’aa to the cook); someone else made rice. I brought homemade fermented pickles (again!) and we all know who brought the salad. The energy in the room is comfortable, welcoming, safe, and fun. We are the Wellness Warriors.

After dinner, and the kinds of discussions that dinners seem to inspire, we form a circle in the living room. Passing the feather around, we all speak and bring ourselves into the room together. This circle is the heart of us warriors: pumping vitality through the community of wellness we are creating. There is much courage and much kindness that happens in this circle. It transforms us.

Colorful four-canvas art image of multi-coloured yin-yang symbol with feathers and other shapes

An image of a yin-yang (balance) with four coloured feathers (wholeness and diversity) hanging down. This image is broken down into separate canvases that we pass to our left every 10 minutes or so. As they go around, we each contribute shapes and colours in dialogue with the other shapes and colours on the canvas. The art reflects our group intention: everyone is contributing to the process of creating something beautiful – something that is more than the sum of its parts. You could call that something wellness and we, its warriors.

Then, fed, connected, and present, we delve into the activity of the week. The group determines what it does: picking berries, making candles, talking about colonialism, searching for crabs, discussing shame, playing charades, or any number of other things. This evening, we have decided to work on an art project that we will exhibit at the annual All Island Art Show. Someone plugs their iPod into the speakers and the energy in the room shifts again as we delve into creativity.

The Wellness Warriors is a weekly gathering of people focused on nurturing wellness. The group, originally modelled after the Adult Addictions Day Treatment Program, evolved over the past three years to dynamically fit the context of our community’s particular needs and resources. The group is facilitated through a strong partnership between the Haida Health Centre and Northern Health as well as through the support of other community partners like the Haida Gwaii Society for Community Peace and the various guests and contributors who have come and shared with the group over the years. Most notably, however, the group functions through the participation of the people who come to the group, who champion the group’s wellness orientation, and who support the values of nonjudgmental acceptance, connectedness, confidentiality, and respect. The Wellness Warriors is a truly community-based, non-hierarchal, client-focused, client-driven, open group that is both nourishing and transformational.

Want to learn more about the Wellness Warriors? Check out this presentation I gave as part of a webinar series last year.

Four members of the group pose outside of the community building

Members of the Wellness Warriors team gather outside of the Wellness House.

Who are some of the Northern Health team members involved with the Wellness Warriors? My bio is in the author section of this post but two other team members are:

Sandra Dan (far left in the photo) is a mental health and addiction counsellor with the Old Massett Haida Health Centre. She is originally from Sto:lo Nation in the Lower Mainland of B.C. Sandra has lived in Old Massett, Haida Gwaii since 1985. She is married to a Nisgaa/Haida from Old Massett and is mother/stepmother of four, grandmother of 15, and great-grandmother of one. Sandra worked in the field of social services and child welfare in downtown Vancouver for 10 years, social development in Old Massett for six and a half years, and as social work team leader for Khowutzun Tribes for one year before starting with mental health and addictions for Old Massett Haida Health in 1984. Sandra’s interests include walking the beach, gathering food, beading and leatherwork, coffee with her buds, reading, and watching good movies.

Darlene M. Stoddard (far right in photo) is a life skills worker with Northern Health mental health and addictions. Darlene comes from the east coast of Canada. She graduated from New Brunswick Community College in 2010 as a patient care aide in acute care. Since graduating – and even before college – Darlene has supported clients with mental illnesses, some who suffered with dual diagnoses. She is also extremely skilled at working with adolescents who suffer from the autism spectrum disorder or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Darlene feels privileged and honoured to have recently been able to accept the position of Life Skills Worker II with Northern Health.

Dan Binnema

About Dan Binnema

Dan is a father of two young children, living happily on Haida Gwaii. Seven years ago, he quit a great job with the mobile crisis response team in Calgary, spent a summer canoeing across northern Canada with his pregnant wife, became a father, and moved with his family to Haida Gwaii, the islands of his dreams. He has been working in Masset as a mental health and addictions clinician with Northern Health for just over six years, with no plans of leaving. In his time in Masset, he has become increasingly connected to the land, the food it offers, and the community it nourishes. This connectedness spills over into his work as a clinician, most notably within the community of the Wellness Warriors group.


The Grizzly Truth: Setting a Healthy Sleep Routine

Falling asleep with Netflix isn't a good idea.Happy summer everyone! First, I would like to thank Trent for doing some citation checks last month when I questioned who coined the quote I used as a leading statement in my last blog post. We may make you an honorary member of the Grizzly Truth Internet Sleuthing Department. ;)

I hope you are enjoying the added daylight hours and getting the most out of this time of year, whether that’s fishing, camping, hiking, or any important seasonal rituals you may have. See what I did there?

One drawback to the extra daytime hours is that it may interfere with our sleeping patterns. Sleep is something many of us have occasional difficultly with and research indicates this can impact our overall wellness. Studies have identified that difficulty with sleep is a common issue for people with mental health concerns, but recently it has been questioned whether the difficulty with sleep was one of the contributing factors for an illness or if the sleep problems emerged as part of the illness. Regardless, there is consensus that practicing sleep hygiene is beneficial to our health.

Now, this is something I have set some personal goals around because when you start to look into the tips and practices that are encouraged for healthy sleep habits, I recognize that I have some improvement to do. Areas that pose challenges for me are: having a soothing pre-sleep routine, avoiding night-time clock watching, and being conscientious of nighttime eating and snacking. I can think of a number of nights where I thought I would try to catch up on Game of Thrones right before bed and then found myself lying awake and cursing George R.R Martin and his fondness for killing off beloved characters. Having my phone and iPad close by while I am sleeping also creates issues as I hear my e-mail notification noise and inevitably make the mistake of “quickly checking my e-mail” before calling it a night.

In my research into this, I found a great article offering 12 tips for improving quality of sleep, from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Furthermore, there are some really great resources you can access for free on YouTube around progressive relaxation and guided imagery that help you relax and can become part of a pre-sleep routine (see some resources below). Other tips, like avoiding stimulants such as nicotine in cigarettes or coffee before bed, can cause more of a challenge for those of us with habits, but might give you some food for thought if you are thinking about making other lifestyle changes.

Do you have a pre-sleep routine, or do you have any practices around sleep hygiene that you’ve found particularly helpful? Please share in the comments below, and I hope that by next month we’ll all be feeling well rested and relaxed so we can enjoy our brief but beautiful northern summer!

More resources:

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.


Men, this week’s for you!

Where are the men?

The NH men’s health program launched in 2011 with this report, “Where are the Men?”, which focused on the health status of northern B.C. men.

On June 3, the new Canadian Men’s Health Foundation was officially launched on Parliament Hill, with the mission to inspire Canadian men to live healthier lives. Along with that, their “Don’t Change Much” campaign was released, and June 9 – 15 has been declared as the first ever Canadian Men’s Health Week. This is another step in bringing much needed attention to the health issues affecting men and the challenges we face in accessing men with our current health services.

Men’s health isn’t a new topic in northern B.C. In fact, we’ve been working to support better health for our northern men since 2010, using new and innovative ways to find and connect with them about health where they live, work, learn, play and are cared for. Our northern reality is that many of our men here live and work in more rural and remote locations, hold jobs related to industry (forestry, oil and natural gas), and work long hours and shift work – often away from the family home base.

Northern Health’s men’s health program, unique for a Canadian health authority and launched in 2011, was born out of the recognition that northern B.C. men not only die sooner than northern women by almost 5 years, they also die more frequently of all causes including cancer, heart disease, alcohol, tobacco, injuries and suicides. B.C. men are twice as likely as women to be non-users of the health services and although northern B.C. makes up only 7% of the province’s population, we account for over a third of the workplace deaths, where 94% of those were men.

MANual: Men's health survival guide

Northern Health developed the MANual: A Men’s Health Survival Guide in 2012.

In the last three years, the men’s health program has done a lot of work consulting with men in communities across the north and creating resources and services to meet their needs. Most notably, we have brought men’s health screening to community events and gatherings where the men are; engaged with research partners around men’s health in the workplace; run a number of promotional campaigns (the “MAN challenge”, MOvember, MANuary, FeBROary); provided grants for injury prevention/men’s health champions to do work in the community; created an interactive men’s health website (; developed the very popular  MANual: a Men’s Health Survival Guide; and filmed a documentary called “Where are the Men?”.

Looking forward, our work in men’s health has only just begun! We continue to grow and improve upon the services we offer to men in northern B.C., while sharing the importance of men’s health within the health care system, as well as in communities. We’re working to improve the health of men, because men matter! Let’s celebrate the great work being done and the efforts across Canada to bring men’s health issues to the forefront. Let’s get men talking about their health!

Happy Men’s Health Week!

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.


The Grizzly Truth: A good laugh for good health

Nick, with a goatee, holds his cat in a Christmas picture.

Nick’s photo entry into the Northern Health Mr. Movember contest.

“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”

I have seen this quote attributed to both Francis Bacon and to Oscar Wilde. To be honest, I don’t have the citation to prove who said what when (if you know, feel free to comment and share as I wasn’t able to find firm evidence for either party). This quote carries a lot of meaning to me, both in my professional life and my personal life. I feel that I have a pretty good sense of humor and that has lent itself to some rich experiences with practical jokes and certain Mr. Movember contests (pictured right).

Wellness research shows that people who laugh regularly are healthier than those who do not. I’m not just referring to mental health either. One study actually found that people who laugh regularly have a lower risk for heart attack and an increased pain threshold! In work environments, the appropriate use of humor can de-escalate tense situations and increase the rapport between staff and clients.

There have been a number of circumstances in which laughing about myself, or my situation, has helped me move past unhelpful and unproductive feelings of stress or frustration. For instance, my hair started thinning at the age of 21. I’m 26 now and that trend is continuing, despite my protests. I will admit that the first time my “bald spot” was pointed out, I didn’t laugh and say “thanks for bringing that to my attention!” In fact, a couple of threats were exchanged before I made my way to the nearest mirror. At first, having a sense of humor about the situation wasn’t easy, but, over time, it made me feel better to have a laugh about it, even cracking a joke or two at my own expense. Humour has helped me come to terms with something that’s completely out of my control.

On a more serious note, I recently read about a nurse who had been struggling with significant depression. He received support to enroll in a stand-up comedy course and, since beginning the course, has found that his outlook, self-esteem, and mood have greatly improved. You don’t have to get on the stand-up comedy stage like the nurse, but, to improve your health, it is important to practise allowing yourself to laugh and to put yourself in an environment where laughter is common practise!

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.


The Grizzly Truth: reflecting on rituals

Reflecting on ritual: eulichan runningWhile attending some educational meetings last week I had the opportunity to listen to a speaker by the name of Dr. Glen Grigg, who is a clinical counsellor and teacher for City University in Vancouver and the Justice Institute of BC.

Glen spoke about rituals and the role they play in our health and wellness. Glen shared a story about a family in a war torn environment where the mother made a point of having the children continue the daily rituals around preparing for and attending school (taught by the mother), having meals together (despite having next to no food), and doing homework.

Glen highlighted that consistency with our rituals, particularly those that are deeply rooted with our identity, can be a protective factor during times of turmoil and stress. He posed the following question:

Can you think of a ritual in your life, and make a story about how it defines a part of who you are?

This led to some deep introspection on my part, as well as a little bit of anxiety when I began to self-diagnose some of my rituals as potentially compulsive behaviors (for example, I have a ritual around the way I enjoy one of my favorite TV shows, Mystery Science Theatre 3000, and I will refuse to start the episode unless everything is prepared accordingly).

The second part of the exercise, looking for a story that explains a part of who I am, has occupied a lot of my thinking lately. I had the opportunity to travel to Prince Rupert this week, and it so happens that the eulichan fish are currently running. I am aware of the significance of the eulichan for the First Nations of this area and that there are a number of rituals tied to the catching and processing of these fish. I am sure many individuals who engage in these rituals would be able to share stories that highlight the personal and cultural significance of the fish and the practices. I took a picture of all of the activity on the water around the running eulichan and took some time to do some personal reflection.

I was reminded that the only fish I’ve brought home since moving to Terrace have been donations from friends (my goal this summer is to go river fishing and come home with my own fish, not just a story of the one that got away!). One ritual that has had significant impact on my life recently is starting to read together with my wife. I think this ritual tells more of a story about our relationship than telling a story about me as an individual. The process of choosing a book to read, settling in and getting comfortable together, and then reading/being read to all have meaning associated with them. The net result has been a protected time to be close as a couple, where neither of us necessarily need to think about the words to say because they’re written for us and we can simply be present with one another.

If anyone is interested in sharing, I would be very interested to hear your responses and thoughts about a ritual that helps you stay well. What story does it tell about who you are? I would also be keen to hear from anyone who does catch and prepare eulichan, as I don’t know as much about the practices and rituals involved as I would like! Your turn – share in the comments below!

Additional reading on rituals:

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.


The Grizzly Truth: Learning to identify stress

Learning to identify stressI hope that your holiday season went well; it tends to be a stressful time for people regardless of how or if you choose to celebrate it. Icy road conditions, increased family and social events, and the costs can be pretty staggering. Personally, I’ve just recently returned to work and I’ve needed to remind myself about my methods of dealing with stress. Stress, or at least referring to it as that, is something men have a more difficult time identifying or talking about than women. But it’s there.

I can distinctly recall a time where, having just experienced a car accident on the winter highways, I came to a realization about stress. I was navigating my work schedule, ICBC claims, searching for a new mode of transportation, and subconsciously coming to terms with my near miss. At the time, I was on the phone with my wife, and while she was trying to be helpful and supportive, all I could think about was how angry about the whole situation I was. I couldn’t really concentrate, I was exhausted, and if you had asked me if I was feeling “irritable” I probably would have started digging a hole in the backyard to hide the bodies. It was during that conversation I was lucky enough to realize I didn’t really have a reason for being as angry as I was, and that I needed to take a step back and think things over. Retrospectively, I can see all the stress sitting there. In the moment, however, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees (or the sleuth for the bears, to stick with that analogy. Seriously, a group of bears is called a “sleuth”).

As a generalization, men tend to report their stress less and some research has shown that the “stoic and silent” response may have some biological foundations. I took some time, after that conversation, to make some choices. What was I going to do about my stress? Shove it down deep beneath my chest hair where it can incubate and emerge later as a heart attack? Lash out at my family and friends? The challenging part is that we have to do something for ourselves in order to stay healthy in spite of stress. The encouraging part is that we are capable of changing the way we respond to stress and the way we manage it. How do you manage? Exercise, sleep, nutrition, confiding in someone – we know that these things are good for us, but do we make time for them?

If you haven’t made a New Year’s resolution yet, I’m challenging you to give this some thought and commit to doing one thing this month for your own wellness. Feel free to share your challenge in the comments. I’ve decided that this month I am going to focus on what I’m eating, as I’ve really let that slide over the holidays. I know if I eat better I will feel better physically, be more alert, and ready to tackle the bear by the horns! What are you going to do?

Resources about stress:


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.


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.