Importance of Self-Care During the Holiday Season

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness. 
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

For many people, this is a really busy and festive time of year.  Not only can it be full of plans, events and obligations, it can also be full of rich foods, spending money, more alcohol and be out of the usual routine.

On top of all that, being out of routine can lead to imbalance, overwhelm and additional strain physically, mentally and emotionally.

The personal mission I’ve adopted for myself this year is to get as many people as possible to take care of their mental health just as seriously as they take their physical health

Because there are still people who don’t believe that Mental Health Is Actually a Thing. And yes, Mental Health is a Thing.

And self-care is an important part of taking care of our ongoing mental health all year long, which helps to sustain us more effectively when things are out of routine, as they often are during the holidays.

These tips would be applicable all year-round, but a good reminder during the holidays when things can be more intense than at other times.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to take care of yourself during this time of year:

  • Get your sleep
  • Between the holiday meals, try to have healthier options.
  • Keep track of indulgences.
  • Movement.

Apple also had a feature recently mentioning some apps that could be helpful to manage during the holidays. 

Their recommendations are:

  • Sleep app: Sleep Cycle
  • Meditation apps: Calm. I also recommend Headspace and Waking Up.
  • Support & Community apps: I don’t have any specific knowledge or experience with these following apps but: Wisdo is apparently an app that allows users to share and connect with others where folks can post private and public message. And Sanvello is an app designed to help manage stress and anxiety with audio lessons created by mental health professionals based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Being Careful with Alcohol Especially During the Holidays

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness. 
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

There can be A LOT going on during the holidays: Social events, family obligations, full schedules, financial strains, loneliness, social anxiety… and as a result: maybe overindulgence or overconsumption of too much alcohol.

According to Alcohol.org, based on so many factors during the holidays, instances of binge-drinking increase during this time of year. In the US, it is estimated that the amount of alcohol consumed doubles during the holidays.

It can be especially challenging because alcohol is a socially accepted way of celebrating and during the holidays, it’s more available than usual at office and home parties, and other social gatherings.

Speaking of office parties: Too much alcohol consumption at work- related events can lead to lapses of judgement, which can be especially problematic in a work environment. This can include unacceptable behaviours toward co-workers which can lead to fights, inappropriate, unwanted or harassing behaviours, and even termination.

Whether it is that there are people who don’t generally drink as much during the rest of year drink more and have difficulties due to lower tolerance or because there may already be a tendency toward alcohol dependence, this time of year and alcohol consumption can be challenging for many people.

Another thing to be aware of: Research has also found that in more party- like atmospheres with loud music, people have a tendency to also drink faster.

While alcohol can seem to help people to ‘loosen up’, it is a depressant. One drink might help to depress inhibitions, but too much alcohol can also lead, not only to lapses of judgement in behaviours while inebriated, it can also lower mood or may be responsible for mood difficulties the following day (depression and anxiety like symptoms).

Planning ahead of time can help to avoid potential issues:

  • This can be so hard: However, resist the pressures and the urge to drink. It can be difficult when it seems everybody else is drinking, but the more you do it, the less difficult it becomes.
  • Have an awareness of your tolerance and have a number in mind that is your limit. It can help to handwrite it on a piece of paper and carry it with you.
  • If you have a trusted person at an event with you, you can either let them know about your limit or mutually have an agreement in place to support one another.
  • If social situations are especially stressful, have a plan to take breaks from being social. It can be scoping out a quieter area of the gathering or getting some fresh air or even going for a walk around the block.
  • If you are concerned about the amount of alcohol you are drinking and/or your behaviour when drinking, I would highly recommend seeking support from your family doctor or a mental health professional.

And lastly, if you are going to be drinking at a social event, please make sure to have a designated driver or a plan in place so that drinking and driving is not an option.

More about Planning for Holiday Related Anxiety, be sure to check out Episode 18 of my podcast, Life Stuff 101.

What is Dopamine Fasting?

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness. 
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

There’s been plenty of media coverage (including the National Post) recently for something called Dopamine Fasting.  Since stress is a concern that many of us have on an ongoing basis, I thought it might be a useful idea for us to explore.

The idea of Dopamine Fasting became somewhat widely known after an article was published on Medium last year when a contributor shared his experiences of dopamine fasting for 24 hours. He described looking for something to help with distractions, procrastination, overwhelm and stress.

More recently, there was a piece on LinkedIn by American psychologist Cameron Sepah where he outlines what he calls Dopamine Fasting 2.0 which garnered a lot of attention.

What exactly is dopamine? Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s involved in how we feel pleasure. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that send information between neurons.

The idea is that because we are now constantly bombarded by stimuli, dopamine is also being constantly triggered. And the way in which our brains work, when things are pleasurable, the brain craves a repetition of it. 

But also, the brain adapts pretty quickly and things that were once pleasurable, become less so and it craves newer and more intense experiences to feel the same level of pleasure.

As a result, our brains on a subconscious level searches for more and more things that will trigger dopamine and feelings of pleasure… which can often lead to checking social media habitually, or always keeping busy.

It can also lead to problematic behaviours, like addictions (shopping, substances, gaming, eating, etc).

The basic premise behind dopamine fasting is to take a break from exposure to stimulus as much as it is possible to reset how the brain processes stimuli. Of course, there are always some folks who take it to the extremes and will try to refrain from engaging in ANY activities, even making eye contact or speaking to other people for too long.  As I generally do, I recommend a more moderate or balanced approach.

I like Dr. Sepah’s approach, which he describes as more of a ‘Stimulation Fast’, to decrease exposure to stimulation as much as possible for an extended period of time on a regular basis.

He suggests starting at one hour a day at the end of the day, and if so inclined, to gradually work up to four hours a day.

And then to add one entire day a week, a whole weekend once a quarter and one whole week per year.

What not to do during a dopamine fast:

  • Do not engage with screens or other kind of electronic stimulus (phones, computers, tablets, tv, etc.)
  • Refrain from any activity which might be too stimulating
  • Do not engage in other stimulus involving behaviours that you may have identified as being problematic (shopping, emotional eating, gaming, thrill seeking, substance usage etc)

• What to do instead:

  • Gentle movements (yoga, walking)
  • Be in service or helping others in person
  • Reading from a physical book or magazine
  • Writing with a pen/pencil and paper or expression without electronics
  • Meditating
  • Sensory deprivation tank

• What’s the point to doing all of this? It may seem like experiencing pleasure is a good thing, but just like anything else, too much of a good thing can be problematic. 

When it comes specifically to dopamine, we can find ourselves wanting more and more of it, which can be connected to stress and overwhelm and the intensifying craving for more novel experiences.

These fasts can help to reset the brain so that it requires less stimuli to feel satisfied. The less the brain needs to be satisfied, the more satisfied we can feel overall in general.

As human beings we’re wired for growth, our brains have not evolved to manage the amount of dopamine triggering stimuli that we now have in modern life. By adopting a practice to lowering constant stimulation, the less overwhelm, stress and focus it would be possible for us to have.

Stress: Understand It Better

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness. 
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

Many of us tend to think of things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and that “being stressed” is generally how we think about stress.

Understanding stress better: Biologically speaking, the reason why we experience stress is as a survival mechanism. Experiencing stress is our body’s way of letting us know that there’s something for us to pay attention to.

And not all stress is ‘bad’: Without certain types of stress, we wouldn’t push ourselves to improve, try new things, adapt to changes and be alert when we need to be. 

I hope one of the themes that’s a thread from our Wellness Wednesday talks is that it’s about balance. It’s not about trying to create conditions that make things stress-free, it’s about understanding the kinds high-level stress which can be difficult to deal with or even paralyzing, versus being resilient to be able to deal with everyday inevitable stressors, such as those that come with relationships, work and everyday situations like traffic.

Just as with all of our experiences, we all experience stress differently. 

However, there are studies that have shown that ongoing high levels of stress can impact us on a cellular level and has been shown to have a negative impact physiologically.

What are some signs that you are experiencing “too much” stress?

  • Inability to focus or get things done
  • Compromised immune system. ie – Get sick with colds / flus more often
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty with sleep
  • More anxious or angrier than usual

How to better manage stress: 

  • Cultivating emotional resilience – Being able to better regulate emotions. Mindfulness practices and meditation can be beneficial.
  • Self care through activity – Know what activities or things helps you de-stress. For some people it’s running, for others it’s yoga or martial arts, climbing or going for walks.  It’s helpful to incorporate movement to utilize the adrenaline and cortisol, that are stress hormones.
  • Connect socially – We tend to withdraw when we are experiencing difficulty, sharing difficulties or challenges can result in a sense of ‘sharing the load’.
  • Create an awareness – Sometimes it can be difficult to figure out if the kind of stress being experienced is reasonable and as a result, may tolerate more stress than can be healthy. If you are experiencing signs of “too much” stress, it’s likely helpful to explore ways of managing the stress or that situation in ways that work better for you.

How Sleep Impacts Overall Wellness

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness. 
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

Everybody needs sleep, but everybody’s sleep needs are unique and individual. And with Daylight Savings this past weekend, many of us experience disruption in sleep, even if it feels as though “we’re gaining an hour”.

First of all, I do want to mention that I do not have a specialization or specific training when it comes to sleep. But it has been a part of my own personal and professional curiosity, learning and discussions that I have about sleep and how it impacts our overall wellness.

I recently listened to a podcast where physician Zach Bush said off hand that we are all about 72 hours away from having some kind of “break, mentally” (paraphrasing) and I have had been very interested in sleep for a long time, so I spoke to psychologist and Stanford-trained sleep specialist, Dr. Yishan Xu about this very thing.

While Dr. Xu didn’t confirm timing and how severe or specific of an impact it would have mentally, she did mention that not getting sleep for consecutive nights would have negative cognitive implications.

I have an interest in entrepreneurs and their habits, and one of the themes that seem to pop up quite often is the habit of waking up early and that it is touted as something high achievers “should do”.  

While this may be a preferable way to sleep and work for some people, it can be detrimental for some people if this is not what their specific sleep needs are.  There are people who have a preference for working and going to sleep later, but the thing to keep in mind the most is the quality and quantity of sleep YOU need.

Dr. Xu also mentioned that many of us prioritize work or “getting things done”, and one of the first things to be sacrificed is sleep.  Just like eating fast food and not having movement will have negative impacts on your health, so will not getting enough sleep based on your needs.

If people are having difficulties sleeping or experiencing insomnia, it can be helpful to know that it could be due to medical or psychological reasons.  

So if there is a concern around your sleep, first consult your family doctor who may be able to diagnose whether it may be a medical issue, such as sleep apnea, or if it might be more psychological in nature, for instance stress or anxiety.

But because family doctors are not always completely well versed in sleep difficulties, it can help to ask to be referred to a sleep clinic.

If you have a relatively mild concern about your sleep quality, there are few things to keep in mind:

Caffeine intake – While we may all have an intuitive understanding of our caffeine sensitivity, it can also be helpful to know that different kinds of caffeine seems to metabolize differently AND it can also be helpful to know how yourself specifically metabolizes caffeine, while the accuracy of data provided by DNA testing can be debatable, if you’re a slow metabolizer, you may be more sensitive to effects of caffeine.

Understanding your own specific needs around sleep and to know how long of a rest would be ideal for you – While the standard “8 hours of sleep a night” is an average, the ideal amount of sleep for any given individual falls between 5 and 8 hours of sleep.

Evening and sleep environment – Blue light from our devices and TVs can be signalling to be brain that the eyes are taking in daylight and may keep you from feeling that you’re ready to get to bed. It’s good to minimize blue light after nightfall. And once in bed, it can be helpful to ensure that you have the most comfortable sleeping environment possible for you, including temperature, the comfort of your bed and trying to either control the kind of noise/sounds that would be your preference and to try to keep it as dark as possible in the room when you’re getting to sleep.

Can Video Games be Addictive?

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness. 
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

The video gaming industry last year was a 138.7 billion dollar industry and it’s projected to be even higher this year.

There is a difference between someone who play one, two or three hours a night or a few times a week and the person who is playing 10+hours per day and impacting work and/or school performance and attendance.

If there is a theme that we can identify in all of our discussions about mental health we’ve had here on Wellness Wednesdays, it would be that everything, there is a necessity for balance and to know what your particular personality and tendencies are.

It’s also a good thing to remember that there are so many variables that can go into someone finding themselves either playing more than reasonable or toward the end of the gaming becoming personally disruptive: That could be based on that particular individual, some people have a tendency toward of being more “all in” than others, their external circumstances, and how a particular game is designed.

For instance, some games that have a social networking component of it can be particularly powerful to an individual who may be experiencing challenges in everyday life or feeling lonely or isolated socially. 

Earlier this year, the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) which is what mental health professionals who work diagnostically use to provide mental health diagnoses, now recognizes “Internet gaming disorder” as something that has been identified for more research.

Potentials behaviours to be aware of:

Is Gaming Getting in the Way of Responsibilities?

First and foremost, if thinking about gaming or the actual gaming itself is having an impact on work and/or school, whether it be attendance or quality of performance, that would be a warning sign. 

Do You Keep it a Secret?

If there are secret concerns you have about the amount of time that you devote to gaming or if other people, especially partners or friends, express concern with the amount of time you spend gaming, that’s also something to pay attention to.

Are You Gaming More than Spending Time with Others?

Lastly, if you find yourself consistently choosing gaming over social times or if gaming is consistently keeping you away from spending quality time with your partner or family, it may be worthwhile to pay attention to this behaviour. 

What to do if you suspect there’s a concern:

1) The first line of what can be done is to reach out and speak to someone you trust in your life.  I recently heard a quote, which goes something like, your problems are only as big as your secrets. But it is important to identify someone who you trust. 

2) Because most people are not trained to support mental and emotional challenges, it can be helpful to speak to a friend or a family member.  But there are workbooks on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which can be helpful such as Mind Over Mood.

3) Working with a counselling or therapy professional can also be helpful.

Looking for Signs of Burn Out

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness. 
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

Symptoms associated with feeling or being close to feeling burned out:
Feeling a little off, tired more often than not, ambivalent, cynical and generally feeling overextended.

The term “burnout” used to be used primarily for folks working in healthcare and first responders, but more and more, it is being used to also describe the experiences of workers in general who are hyper connected, overly worked with a sense that there is a need to always be doing more.

In North America, being stressed or busy, is often glorified, which adds more to the higher possibilities of burnout.  Many of us often like to be seen as being busy with a lot going on, so it can conversely be difficult for us to talk about how it can feel difficult or challenging to be feeling this way all the time.

But as always, it’s important to also mention that while we are talking about being overly extended and/or stressed, there is a fine line which can also be a sign of a mood disorder, such as depression or anxiety. 

If feeling malaise, intensely overwhelmed or apathetic for more than a two week period, it is advised to consult a medical or mental health professional.

When it comes to approaching or feeling burned out, here are some ideas to hopefully help:

Start with Small Wins
Often the feeling of being overwhelmed is due to a sense that there’s too much, so starting and focusing on getting little things done can help with a sense of momentum and also the dopamine hits can help with starting to feel better about things.

Taking Breaks
Scheduling in small breaks on an ongoing daily or weekly basis can help with managing stress and getting to a place of feeling burnt out.  But it can be even more beneficial to get out into nature or taking technology breaks for a day or weekend, as some people do.  It can help reset the nervous system to jump back into the swing of things.

Connecting and Relating
Whether it’s with a trusted someone or some people in your life, or a helping professional, it can be helpful to just externalize all that you’re thinking about and get it outside of the closed feedback loop in your head.  Hearing it out loud and also getting other perspectives can be helpful to see what you may currently be seeing as a problem or challenge in a different way.

Finding Mental Health Support in Ontario

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness. 
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

Finding mental health support in Ontario can be challenging, especially because it can be quite confusing to navigate all the different options available.

There is relatively little in regards to OHIP coverage when it comes to mental health support.

When it comes to public programs, the first line of availability covered by OHIP would be your primary care physician or your family doctor — who may or may not be well versed or having training in regards to mental health support.

As a result of consulting your family doctor, they may prescribe psychopharamacological medication (which is typically the first line of treatment in the medical system) and send you on your way, or they may suggest finding a psychologist, counsellor or therapist (even though these practitioners are not covered by OHIP), OR refer you to a psychiatrist, who can diagnose mental illness and prescribe treatment, again, probably in the form of medication.

Public options also include programs available at CAMH and through hospitals, generally for specific concerns such as addictions recovery and trauma.

There are differences between psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, and counsellors.

Psychiatrists are part of the main medical system and covered by OHIP.  They are the only mental health professional who can subscribe medication. You require a prescription from a primary care physician, and there is usually a wait to get an appointment with a psychologist of several months. While there are a few psychiatrists whose treatment includes talk therapy, most do not.  In the event of a crisis, going to an emergency room will provide immediate access to psychiatric services, including the psychiatric unit in hospitals.

Psychologists are licensed psychologists and in Ontario, they require a PhD in psychology. To work with psychologists, the fees are paid either out-of-pocket or may be covered by extended health benefits. There are different psychologists with different specializations and may using different psychotherapeutic styles and approaches. There are other helping professionals who work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist and the fees of those individuals may be covered by insurance. For details on insurance, check specifically with your insurance provider and as to the specific category of a helping professional, check directly with the practitioner.

Those who fall under the umbrella of Psychotherapists could be credentialed in a number of ways. There are Registered Social Workers, Registered Nurses, Occupational Therapists and Registered Psychotherapists are authorized to perform therapy, but insurance overage may differ based on the benefits package.

TIPS FOR FINDING MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT IN ONTARIO

1) If you or your loved one is in distress or acute crisis, head to the closest hospital or emergency services.  There are also distress hotlines and ConnexOntario, the province’s mental health hotline. ConnexOntario can direct you through public resources, but they may not be fully versed when it comes to how the system works outside of the medical system.

2) Find the right fit for your needs. If you have a specific concern, you may wish to search out a professional who has specific experience in the area you are looking to explore. The Psychology Today Directory can be a good start. Also a new directory option here in Toronto called FirstSession.com where you can watch video profiles of therapists to get a better sense of how they are.

3) Referrals from others can be really helpful, but psychotherapy is a very personal process and doing research to see which therapists might be the best fit for you and it can be helpful to have introductory session with a few therapists can be helpful to find the best fit for you.

Learning to Fail Better

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness. 
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

Many of us identify as “perfectionists”, we hold ourselves to a very rigidly high standard. Or can it be that failing sucks and it sucks even more when we identify failing with ourselves being a failure?

Remember when we were first learning to walk? It’s like our failures were celebrated!

But as we get older, it ends up becoming more about expectations and less acknowledgement and recognition.  And if we happen to be high-striving individuals, we can be particularly hard on ourselves.

We can also be very black and white about our ideas about success and failure, and my hope is that if we can think about these things differently, we wouldn’t equate things not working out to failing as individuals.

For some of us, so much so, that we can become risk adverse. In which case, two things can typically happen:

  1. We dedicate a disproportionate amount of energy to make things NOT fail versus taking calculated risks to move forward or innovate.
  2. We find ourselves stuck, particularly in our day to day lives, doing the same things and not rushing the discomfort of challenging change.

In our culture and society, there is so much emphasis on success and stories of success, but we rarely celebrate the journey it takes to get to a point of success, and only point to that journey, once some level of success has been accomplished.

But we don’t often talk about or highlight the struggles in a positive or even neutral light.

Yes, it doesn’t feel good to be in a place of struggle, but we, as a culture, have a tendency to shame individuals in their struggles, as opposed to accepting that it’s actually a part of the process of learning and growing.

Some things to know about failure:

  1. We all fail or don’t always succeed or things don’t always go “right” with one go. (Sometimes supposed mistakes, end up being even more “successful” than what was originally intended: eg – Penicillin, Post-It Notes & Apple)
  2. Objectively speaking: There’s nothing specifically bad about failing or something not working out. How we feel about it or what sense we make of it is based on the often unconscious narrative we create about a situation and ourselves, the subjective opinions of others often don’t help either.
  3. Failure is actually part of the process.  Look back on the process of learning how to walk, there were so many things to figure out: our brain learning to make the connection of balance and movement, to our physiology creating the muscle memory in order to make walking second nature, there was a process to get to the eventual place of “success”.
  4. Just because something fails, it does not correspond to who you are as a person.  In other words, just because you fail, it doesn’t make you a failure.

And remember: The GOATS always talk about the importance of failing.
“I missed over 9000 shots in my career.” – Michael Jordan

LS101 08: Vulnerability, Love Letters & Hobbits with Mio Yokoi

Welcome to another episode of Life Stuff 101, devoted to sharing stories and insights to inspire you to always make your mental and emotional wellness a top priority. 

I wanted to start this podcast because it’s my desire to make a difference: Even if it is just a smallest of pebbles thrown into a massive pond, but it’s my hope that there will be ripples that will have some resonance, somehow, some way.

So, this episode is my love letter to you.

No, I’m not coming on to you. And this isn’t some woo-woo stuff either.

But when’s the last time you received or wrote a love letter?  And why are love letters so powerful?  

Because I imagine that even the least sentimental of us feel are at least curious about receiving a love letter.

I believe the power of lover letters are in the sense of connection we feel. A deep sense of being appreciated. An intimacy of knowing that we are treasured, lovable.

But what does any of this have to do with Hobbits?

Find out how I’ve managed to weaver together all these disparate things together to hopefully make some coherent sense.

I know, I often wonder about how my mind works, too.

Find out how I’ve managed to weaver together all these disparate things together to hopefully make some coherent sense.

Mentioned in this episode:
YYZLoveLetters on Instagram
The Role of Eagles in Lord of the Rings