By Dr. Kristin Heins
I came across an article on the Mayo Clinic website (www.mayoclinic.org) on stress management around the holidays and really liked it. It may be especially helpful during the hectic and emotion-filled holiday season; but, is also a useful life approach to stress management. Most of us know that stress and feeling overwhelmed does not limit itself to holidays!! When stress is at it’s peak, it’s hard to stop and regroup. The feeling is often one of overwhelm vs. support. Below are ten ways to try and shift the balance back to a more supportive experience:
1. Acknowledge your feelings: If historical or present day loss and sadness exist, accept that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings.
2. Reach out: If you feel lonely or isolated – seek out community, faith-based or other social events as they can offer support and companionship. Volunteering may also lift your spirits and broaden friendships.
3. Be realistic: The holidays may not (likely won’t) be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. For example, if adult-children can’t come to your house, find new ways to celebrate together, such as sharing pictures, emails, videos, skyping.
4. Set aside differences: Set aside familial grievances during gatherings until a more appropriate time for discussion. Try and find understanding if others get upset or distressed when something goes awry – chances are they’re feeling the effects of holiday stress just like you may be.
5. Stick to a budget: Before you shop, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Ways to manage budgets:
- Donate to a charity in someone’s name.
- Give homemade gifts.
- Start a family gift exchange
6. Plan ahead: Set aside specific days for shopping, baking, visiting friends and other activities. Plan your menus and then make your shopping list. That’ll help prevent last-minute scrambling to buy forgotten ingredients. Ask for support for party prep and cleanup.
7. Setting Limits: Saying yes when you want to say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. If you can’t participate in a project or activity, try and be clear about which ones you can say no to and take that time for other activities like rest and self -care.
8. Keep healthy habits:
- Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets or drinks.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Incorporate regular physical activity into each day as it helps with both physical and emotional wellbeing.
9. Take a breather: Make some time for yourself. Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slows your breathing and restores inner calm.
10. Seek professional help if you need it: Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, irritable and hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. If these feelings last for a while, seek help from a professional.
I hope that this helps make the holidays more enjoyable for you and yours. Happy Holidays!
By Dr. Kristin Heins
I read an interesting article recently about beating the winter blues. I was then reminded the next day, when a boost of sunshine elevated my spirits in a noticeable way, that “winter blues” is a catch phrase for a spectrum of mood related changes that affect many of us in winter months. As a naturopath, I work with patients to physiologically support their neuroendocrine (the complex interplay between our brain and hormones) system. Now as a psychotherapy student under supervision, I look at the social and psychological implications of these mood changes. Both these options would be ideal for someone who is feeling that the quality of their life is being notably impacted by the change of season.
For others who may feel “winter blues” to a lesser extent – I have listed a few lifestyle ideas to help increase the pep in your step until our longer days and warmer temperatures fill our spirits once again.
- Brighten your environment: using a light box / SAD lamp for 30 minutes a day has shown to be highly affected in some studies on SAD ( a clinical diagnosis of seasonally related depressive symptoms). Sit close to Windows and draw open curtains when possible.
- Eat for Mood: speaking to a naturopath or nutritionist to help support mood through diet can be a great support. Simple carbohydrates like sugar can provide short term boosts but longer term patterns of mood instability. Alternatively increasing proteins and in particular tryptophan and tyrosine containing foods can help boost mood.
- Exercise: A 2005 study by Harvard university suggests fast walking 35 minutes daily 5 days a week to improve mild to moderate depressive symptoms. Exercising under brighter light may also improve general mental health and social functioning according to a preliminary study on exercise and mental health.
- Get Outside: Being outside and in nature when possible can help improve focus and lower stress levels. So add a layer and bundle up!
- Get Involved: Social isolation in cold winter months can add to poor sense of wellbeing. Make social arrangements or find volunteer or charity groups to be involved with as a way to boost spirits and outlook.
If you would like individualized support please email email@example.com or online at www.thrivehealth.ca
- Social engagement
Accept there are things that you can’t change or control. Focus on the positives, consider forgiveness.
Self-care: Don’t postpone exercise, pleasurable activities, good sleep, or healthy eating because “you are too busy”; you are only giving away your anti-stress “free medication”.
Be social: time to follow the plan and not the mood! Stressful times are the right time to say “yes” to that coffee, that drink, that dinner with friends/family etc..
Be assertive: say what you need and want respectfully, don’t hold back. Also learn to say “no” to unnecessary commitments.
Take pauses, get into mindfulness practice! Meditation is the “new thing” for a reason. Download a meditation app to your smartphone. 5 minutes a day can make a big difference.
By Dr. Kristin Heins, ND
Dr. Maria Chaparro, Registered Psychologist in Supervised
Working as a Naturopathic Doctor, I view mental health as a natural and necessary part of holistic health care. With this philosophy I began, almost ten years ago, seeking to obtain a skill set to speak with patients about their emotions and mental health.
Now, many years later and in my fourth year of the full five year programme, I am able to see clients as part of the supervised practice portion of my training as a psychotherapist. Here is a little taste of the Gestalt approach to give a clearer understanding of what it is and how it may be helpful for you.
- What is The Gestalt Approach to Psychotherapy?
Gestalt focuses on meeting clients where they are at in the moment and providing support to their experience. At our core, humans are dynamic and adaptive beings always attempting survival. Gestalt refers to this as “creative adaptation”. Sometimes, however, the way we adapt isn’t helpful in all circumstances. We may experience feeling “stuck” or at an impasse. The therapy session is intended as a safe place to both identify these patterns of adjustment and explore alternate ways of adapting. This is an experiential form of psychotherapy, which may include using exercises to help foster new awareness, understanding and techniques for self support.
Please contact the clinic if you would like to learn more or determine if working together is the right fit for you.
by Maya Hammer, M.A., Counselling Psychology | www.mayahammer.ca
We all know about the “baby blues”, a common experience of emotional ups and downs in the first week or two postpartum. Many of us, however, have never heard of the “baby pinks,” or The Highs, a feeling of intense happiness or euphoria following birth.
Symptoms of postpartum hypomania include:
-being very active
-decreased ability to concentrate
-impulsivity, e.g., shopping
-decreased need for sleep
These symptoms can be triggered by childbirth and usually subside after 6-8 weeks postpartum. In some cases, however, postpartum hypomania is an early indicator for bipolar disorder, depression, or psychosis. Therefore, it is very important to seek treatment if you or a loved one you know is experiencing.
Pregnancy and childbirth can trigger mental imbalance because of physiological changes such as stress, dysregulated cortisol, increased inflammation, decreased serotonin, and hormonal fluctuations. In addition, psychosocial factors can impact mental well-being including disrupted sleep, the demands of caring for a baby, lack of support, life stress, marital difficulty, or trauma. Genetics plays a part too: a personal or family history of mental illness, in particular bipolar disorder, predisposes a woman to prenatal and postpartum mental illness.
It is important to seek treatment immediately if you notice unusual behaviour in your partner or loved one. Treatment can involve:
1) mood stabilizer medication
2) therapy to stabilize mood and regulate daily schedule
3) support and education for partners and families
For further reading, check out these resources:
A blog post on postpartum hypomania and mania
A mom’s experience of hypomania induced by anti-depressant medication
A study on the prevalence of postpartum hypomania
And another study demonstrating that hypomanic symptoms can be used to correctly diagnose postpartum bipolar disorder.
As well, check out an article in Today’s Parent, and Maya’s appearance on CTV Canada AM talking about the baby pinks.
When you find out you’re pregnant, you begin a mental checklist immediately. The list of things you could benefit from purchasing, eating and reading is endless. In spite of all of the advice and “to-do’s” available, there are a few smart investments and purchases that may be easier to overlook.
1. Orthotics: many pregnant women experience some common foot problems that may increase in severity over the course of their pregnancy. These include over-pronation, swelling and pain in the arch and heel. Weight gain puts a great deal of added stress on feet and orthotics are a smart investment to increase your comfort and health. As this awesome article “Pregnancy and Your Feet” from Mount Joy reminds us, hormonal surges cause ligaments in the feet to relax, which can flatten arches. New shifts in how you bear weight can also result in over-pronation, a condition we’ve mentioned before with respect to orthotics. This can make walking painful, and increase strain on the legs and lower back. Since many of these discomforts are already a concern for pregnant women, minimizing additional stress from foot problems is an important move for avoiding unnecessary and potentially serious discomfort and injury.
2. Pre-natal massage: While some pregnant women might see this as a luxury, having a pre-natal massage can be a highly effective treatment to lessen symptoms of pregnancy and its toll on your body. Massage reduces strain on muscles, nerve pain and swelling, while improving circulation, which is particularly important during pregnancy due to the elevated risk of blood clots.
3. A therapeutic outlet: whether it’s a psychotherapist, a support group, or a pre-natal yoga class, it’s important to have a space to relax and work through some of the more emotionally complicated aspects of pregnancy. The fact that you are undergoing a major (and exciting!) life change, in addition to onslaughts of hormones can produce any mixture of feelings including tension, stress, guilt, and anxiety. The proper form of therapy can help to foster a healthy and calm state of being, which will better prepare any expectant mom for labour, delivery and motherhood.
So don’t just be good to yourself during your pregnancy- be great! Tackle unaddressed discomforts- whether physical or emotional- with these natural, body-friendly treatments.
This post is brought to you by Maya Hammer. Maya Hammer is a psychotherapist in private practice at Thrive Natural Family Health and the Health Psychology Clinic. Don’t miss Maya’s recent interview about postpartum hypomania, or “the baby pinks,” on CTV Canada AM
Dads Get the Blues Too
by Maya Hammer
It is common for women to suffer from depression and anxiety following the birth of a baby. About 10 to 20% of women are diagnosed with postpartum depression. What is less common, however, is our understanding of postpartum depression in men. Recent research has found that 10 to 25 % of new fathers may suffer from depression. Dads or secondary caregivers experience stress related to feeling rejected after the arrival of the child, relationship or marital dysfunction, burden of financial responsibility, grieving pre-baby freedom and lifestyle, or feeling overwhelmed by partner’s postpartum depression.
Paternal postnatal depression (PPND) is often overlooked because, generally speaking, men don’t express suffering the same way women do. For example, men may not acknowledge feeling sad, guilty, and hopeless. Here are some symptoms to look for in men:
- Increased anger and conflict, violent behaviour
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Frustration or irritability
- Lower threshold for stress
- Risk-taking and impulsivity
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, pain, digestive problems
- Loss of interest in work and hobbies
If these symptoms are familiar to you or a loved one you can get help through therapy and naturopathic or psychiatric medication. For more information, check out postpartummen, a website for men suffering from PPND and in the book Postpartum Depression for Dummies, by Dr. Shoshan Bennett that has a section on depression in fathers.
If you are a dad and your partner/wife is experiencing postpartum depression, you can find helpful information at postpartumdads and The Postpartum Husband by Karen Kleiman.
Another great resource is Parenting From the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell. This book helps to examine how past issues, including trauma or how you were raised as a child, impact your ability to parent.