Thursday, May 11, 2017

Messy Spaces and Anxiety

Our environments have such a huge impact on our mental wellbeing but I find that sometimes we neglect to be mindful of our spaces due to being busy all the time. A simple example of this: a messy living space. Maybe it's your bedroom, your living room, your backyard, or your whole home. 

Things get thrown on the floor, maybe we get too caught up in work or our day-to-day and don't get a chance to vacuum or clean. Papers, books, documents pile up on counter tops or tables, and before you know it you're living in clutter. 

I experienced this first-hand over this past month. Moving into a new house (which is actually a 40-year old home) and having to fix it up and do renovations has been crippling on my own personal mental health. Worst of all, it took me too long to realize it. 

A messy, cluttered space sent my anxiety screaming at full volume, putting me into breakdowns and panic attacks on a regular basis over the past few weeks. I can't remember the last time I felt less like myself. 

When did it all click? As soon as my partner and I threw out the garbage, took out the recycling, cleared off the tables, and swept the floor. Garbage and dishes drive me nuts, but a dirty floor sends me spiralling! 

Maybe that's because I have a certain relationship with the floor. With most floors... and the ground. I have this thing where I feel better being grounded. I like sitting on the floor. I like being barefoot in the grass or on the sand. I like the option of being able to drop to the ground whenever I feel like it and doing a planck and downward dog, literally stretching next to our dog; Sitting on the kitchen floor giving her puppy massages and rubbing her belly. The ground is amazing because I have the power and strength to push myself back up again (whether with or without using my arms/hands).

The ground makes me feel steady. So having it covered in dust, debris, drop cloths, painting clothes, drywall, pieces of wood, and multiple empty cans of Perrier made me feel like my world was crashing. 

I didn't have a space -any space. Everything was chaos. And when our surroundings are chaotic we emotionally feel the chaos. 

Some of you might not understand this at all. Perhaps you're like my partner and just deal with it. You know everything is going to be fine in the end; It'll all get cleaned up eventually, right? So what's the problem?

The problem is with those of us who really are sensitive to their surroundings. Even if you're not, you might notice that just by cleaning and decluttering you feel better - almost lighter. 

Back in my undergrad and graduate studies, I would always do a huge house/room cleaning before studying. I couldn't sit and concentrate if things were messy or dirty. Cleaning my space and introducing some fresh air through open windows would make all the difference in the world. I could focus, I could concentrate, and I was at my best. 

Yes, there are things out of our control. I can't control how much drywall dust gets on our floors on a daily basis because of home renos, but I can clean up a space for myself. 

I encourage you to give it a try the next time you go to sit and work on a task, or even before you take some relaxation time. Clean and organize your space first; get rid of all the old shit you don't need. Clean out your closet(s), donate old clothes, and towels. File away all those papers or documents that have been piling up. Dust off shelves, or sweep/vaccum your floors. And lastly, if the weather permits, open up a window or door for a few minutes and bring in some fresh air. 

I don't want to encourage manic or obsessive cleaning here, but just an activity to try when you're feeling frustrated, unable to be at rest, or to concentrate on a task. Getting messy and dirty is amazing, and a ton of fun (like running outside in the mud and dirt or stretching on the ground), but a clean space can make a more clear happy mind. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Value of Naturopathic Care

I get it. We have free medical healthcare in Canada. Here in Ontario, our government pays for emergency room visits, surgeries, walk-in clinics, basic medical care, and for seniors, a HUGE portion of their prescription costs.

If you visit a walk-in clinic without your government "Health Card" and pay for services, a 10 minute visit with an MD can cost about $110. Yes, that's $11 for each minute you spend with that doctor. The doctor that must take your information, and very quickly use their clinical knowledge to figure out what (if anything) they can do for you.

As an ND, I realize that fees can be alarming if you're not used to paying for healthcare. However, the service you're receiving is much different than that of an MD, and we both paid about the same amount for our education (a 4-year undergraduate degree, plus 4 years of post-secondary medical education).

An ND (Naturopathic doctor) will:
  • Spend 90 minutes with you on the first visit (This may range between 1-2 hours depending on the naturopath. My initial visits are 1.5 hours)
  • Take a thorough health history including details on your: sleep, mood, energy, diet, appetite, stress, temperature, and more. 
  • Whenever possible, treat the root cause, not just your symptoms. 
    • Sure, we also want to give you symptom relief, but we focus on interventions or treatments that address the cause. 
  •  Consider the big picture - treating you as a whole
    • ND's tend to take all of you (your symptoms, your lifestyle, your views) into account when making a treatment plan. There is rarely a "one-size-fits-all" treatment. 
  • Help you with positive diet choices for your specific needs
    • ND's have a minimum of 4 years education in nutrition - a signifiant difference from the minimal training an MD gets. We can help you with hormone balancing, weight loss and specific diets for medical conditions such as IBD, PCOS, and weight loss. 
  • We combine the medical aspect (blood work, physical exams, diagnosis) with the holistic: incorporating lifestyle choices to improve your health. For example, part of an ND's prescription might be 5 minutes of meditation, or daily puzzles for mental cognition and brain function. 
  • We offer many additional services to your average medical care, including (but not limited to): IV therapy, acupuncture (based on Traditional Chinese Medicine), B12 injections, and infrared sauna treatment.
  • Our goals are for you to live a healthier life, improve your feeling of wellness and allow you to age well. We want to you to optimize your health and be the best you. 
Our emergency medical system and public health is an absolute necessity for our healthcare, but there are times when conventional medicine doesn't have the answers, or there are no other treatments that can be offered. But there are more options available. There are always alternative treatments, whether it be from an ND, and osteopath, a chiropractor, or other practitioner.

Paying for your health now is like paying for a healthier future; paying for the tools to manage stress or anxiety; paying for someone to truly listen to you - and to everything on your list; paying now, so you don't pay in body pains and illness later. It's an investment in you. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

If you have ever said "no more junk food"...

I haven't had pizza in... it's gotta be about 4 years now, or something close to that. Even then it was a gluten-free pizza. Real pizza? I haven't had that in about 7 years. I can already imagine the looks of shock darting at me from all over the world. But pizza is everywhere! and it's awesome! Sure, it's a perfect combination of bread, sauce and gooey cheese, but for me, it'll - figuratively - make my stomach explode.

I saw the hashtag #nationaljunkfoodday and I thought it was a joke. How can anyone rationalize a day to put harmful toxins, sugars, and processed "food" into your amazing body? We only get one body in this life. You get one body to take care of, to nurture, to experience the world in. It goes everywhere with you!

Everything you put into your body is a signal. Your body does something with it. It interacts with receptors, sends chemical signals, alters your metabolism. Your body decides how to use it as fuel - burn it up in exercise, or store it in your liver. Your body takes whatever you give it and it has to deal. It has to break it down, use it and eliminate the waste.

Everything that goes into your body has an impact on your body - harmful or helpful.

I recently read a mom's blog post about how she always said her kids would never eat at McDonald's. Until one really tiring day she gave in because it was quick and it was there. I can understand the impulse to want something quick and easy when you have kids. Kids can be exhausting. But I also had a really hard time understanding the logic there.

For me, fast food is never an option. I can't even handle salads at Subway because their dressing will have me running to the bathroom. It's not real food. In my mind, fast food is not food. Junk food is not food.

The hardest part is getting to that realization and telling your body that. Your body knows that it gets "reward" signals for sugary and fatty foods, so we crave it. You've had it before. It tasted great in your mind. You were temporarily really happy. But then that feeling goes away. Maybe your body can deal with it. Or maybe you end up bloated, feeling heavy, your mind feels overwhelmed by brain fog, or maybe you go into a food coma. Food should't do this. It took me years to figure this out.

After my own gut issues, I went full paleo. For the first time in my life I couldn't believe how good I could feel after eating. I would eat vegetables, protein and a good size of healthy fats (usually avocados or a homemade olive oil and lemon juice dressing) and I felt great. I felt satiated but I wasn't bogged down. I wasn't bloated or gassy, I couldn't believe that this is what I was supposed to feel like after a meal.

I'm not here to judge anyone for their food choices, but I am here to bring awareness to our health, and to what food does in your body. #nationaljunkfoodday really makes no sense at all. It's like saying, let's have a #nationalhaveacigaretteday. One cigarette likely won't kill you, but it's terrible for you; full of toxins and carcinogens, irritating your lungs (junk food can irritate your gut), with the potential for addiction - junk food can also be addictive - sugar sure is!

The point is, as adults, we make our own decisions. You decide what goes into your body. A hashtag does not. And as for our children, we have to be the ones to teach them how to make good choices. They look to us for this information. They learn from watching us.

Dr. Bianca Garilli ND wrote a great article for the Natural Path regarding diet as the key to preventing chronic diseases in our children. I highly recommend the read!

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How to charge "light" and "dark" batteries

Okay, it's been way too long since I've posted. You'd think since it was summer that the "relax" factor would be cranked up, but as usual life gets busy, hectic, and I'm pulled in a dozen different directions.

I was sitting and trying to figure out how to juggle everything meanwhile realizing that I stopped taking care of myself the way I used to. Without a race to train for, I started putting more of my time and energy into my clinical practice but found that there was more on my "to-do" list than I had thought (a blog post being one of them - and one of the things that got sacrificed).

A friend and co-worker stepped in to offer support and I got a little Reiki treatment from her. Afterwards she told me, "You're mind is like a hurricane." And it was. I was all over the place - I couldn't keep my mind still. Everyone around me needed me for something and I needed myself. I needed to recharge my batteries. Both sets were empty and I wasn't getting the chance I needed to recharge.

What am I talking about? Charging two sets of batteries? It's how I like to think about my energy. In traditional Chinese Medicine you could equate a similarity to Yin and Yang.

My "Light" Batteries:
I consider Light batteries to be Yang in nature. Yang is movement and energy. We use these on a daily basis. Some people like coffee to help with their Light energy: caffeine gives you a boost, coffee improves mood to some extent.

Light batteries are easily charged just by listening to your body throughout the day and making sure your basic needs are met - both biological and social! Need a snack? Maybe some water? Want to go out and sit in the warm sun?

Ways to charge your Light Batteries:

  • Literally spend time in daylight! Look out the window, go for a walk, get out in nature! Sit outside and get a little sun exposure. 
  • Make sure you're well hydrated. When was the last time you had something to drink like water or tea?
  • When was the last time you ate? What did you eat? Do you need a snack? Make it a good clean healthy one!
  • When was the last time you were social? Do you need to go chat with a co-worker for a few minutes and take your eyes off your computer? Catch up with a friend; Even a quick phone call or text message to put you into touch with friends. 
  • Do something that you find fun; Any activity that brings you joy. 

My "Dark" Batteries:
Dark Batteries can be harder to charge. I consider dark batteries to be more Yin in nature. They are substance/matter - your reserve energy. Like a back-up generator. When we try to take care of everyone else around us and stop meeting our own basic needs, those Light batteries run out quick and we start pulling energy from our dark batteries. If these become depleted, now we really start to feel it. Coffee alone doesn't do it. Our sleep might start to suffer, anxiety might start creeping around; we become exhausted.

How to charge your Dark Batteries - Stage 1:

  • Get enough sleep (8 hours minimum). I would argue that we could all use at least one night of 9-10 hours sleep per week. Sleep is huge here. If you can't get it in during the week, make up for it on the weekend. 
  • Spend time in a dimly lit room, especially before bed. Dark batteries sometimes require actual dark; away from stimulation. Keeping lights dim and screens away before bed can really help with sleep. 
  • Learn to say "no". If you're being pulled in a hundred different directions or people are asking too much of you, make a list, prioritize it, and learn to say no to a few things. Other people will have to understand. This is your health we're talking about! 
  • Quiet time and reflection time. Take a day to be less social. Have time for yourself. Stay quiet and just recharge. Read something for enjoyment, take a nap, do some Yin or Restorative Yoga, whatever you feel like you need. Don't push yourself too much or do anything strenuous. 
Charging your Dark Batteries - Stage 2:
For some people, Stage 1 is enough to feel better. But for others, if dark batteries have been depleted for too long, they almost forget how to recharge and need additional support.

  • What have you eaten today in general? What about throughout the week? It can be worth doing a Diet Diary and look at your food trends over the past week. 
    • Look to eliminate refined and added sugars. Avoid processed and fast foods. Focus on a variety of vegetables to make up the most of your plate, with healthy fats and proteins with it. Grains should be a side-dish only and I would argue that most people in this state would do much better to eliminate dairy, gluten grains and corn, as these tend to be more inflammatory. 
  • Consider some nutritional support. Talk to your naturopathic doctor about adding a high-quality B-complex to your daily routine, or Magnesium malate, to assist in energy production. It might also be helpful (depending on your specific situation) to get a few weekly B12 injections. 
  • Get additional support. Make sure you have someone to talk to. Find out if you would benefit from other therapies such as acupuncture or massage. 
  • Pace yourself. Eliminate things that are toxic to you (food intolerances, negative relationships, etc), and then nurture your body. I'm a big fan of Kate Hudson's book, Pretty Happy, which describes the pillars of our well-being and how to re-gain that balance. Practice meditation, journal or create your own "Drawing Board" as described by Hudson. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Understanding menstruation and eliminating period shame

I love that this topic is getting more "news feed" action. In many countries around the world, girls are shamed for having their periods. Some people (most commonly men) don't understand that women from puberty to menopause bleed on a monthly basis, why, or what it means. Even in North America, the majority of our advertising for menstrual products is so unrealistic.

Recently, Bodyform from the UK came out with a new commercial entitled "No blood should hold us back." Showing videos of women in different situations bleeding - instead of having a standard commercial demonstrating the absorbency with an odd blue liquid.

So let's be real here. Theoretically, every single woman with functioning sex hormones and a uterus (from puberty to menopause) menstruates (bleeds). I say "theoretically" as those who use synthetic hormones or an IUD may or may not actually bleed regularly or at all. But beyond that, this is part of being a woman - it is part of our biology and our reproduction.

Our bodies and hormones have this amazing synchronized ebb and flow of two tides. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), menstrual blood isn't Blood as it is referred to in pathology, but as "Heavenly Water" originating from our Essence. It represents our ability to reproduce. We can create new human beings. Yeah, how cool is that?

Where TCM describes the menstrual cycle as a flow and exchange of Yin and Yang, Western medicine puts it into terms of an estrogen-dominated Follicular phase and a progesterone-dominated Luteal phase. These phases influence both ovulation and the start of menstruation. With so much going on, it's no wonder we're more complicated than men. But we should celebrate that fact. We should be in-tune with our bodies and understand what's going on.

Cycle tracker apps are one great way to help you. Start with the easy stuff:

1) Track when you get your period and how long it lasts. Learning to cycle track is a wonderful way to understand your body. The first day of bleeding is Day 1 of your cycle each time. A healthy cycle is 26-32 days long. Healthy bleeding should last 4-6 days.

2) Track your symptoms. Take notice when you experience symptoms such as headaches, acne, lower backaches, mood changes (some apps like "Period Tracker" will even allow you to document very specific moods), breast tenderness and cramping. Log these each day along with the intensity of each.

3) Pay close attention to your flow. Begin to understand your periods by paying attention to the characteristics of your flow. For example, how heavy/light is it? Is the colour dark maroon, bright red or somewhere in-between? Do you pass clots? Notice any changes from cycle to cycle.

4) Learn to track your ovulation. Some women experience mittelschmerz: a pain or discomfort from ovulation. It will be noticeable on one side (one ovary) and may switch to the other the following cycle. But a better predictor of ovulation is tracking your cervical mucous.
Cervical mucous is sticky and stretchy with a consistency like raw egg-whites. It begins to appear about 3-5 days before ovulation, occurs on the day of ovulation and then stops.

Tracking your cervical mucous can also help you understand your most fertile days. If you're interested in using fertility awareness-based methods for preventing pregnancy - or for trying to conceive - understanding which days you are fertile can help you with this. I highly suggest getting practice with your tracking first and practice logging your vaginal/cervical mucous type (ie. each day log if you experienced a "dry" day, a "wet" day, or a "sticky/tacky" day).

Another tool that can help you become more familiar with your body is using a menstrual cup instead of pads or tampons. Using a menstrual cup forces you to become very comfortable with your anatomy as you're using your hands/fingers to insert it and position it properly. It can also help to locate the anatomical position of your cervix. We might have the same organs, but we're all individuals. Your cervix may be located more left, more right, or more posterior (towards the back). Of course, you don't need the cup for this, you can explore your anatomy all on your own. Most women can reach their cervix with a long finger - it'll feel slightly firm, like the tip of your nose.

There is no shame in having a period. We just have more going on than men, and that's a good thing. We're special and different and we should own that. You own your uterus. It's yours. Understand your body and take care of it. Some of us need some extra help - a naturopathic doctor, fertility specialist, gynaecologist, Planned Parenthood and other wonderful sources can help you with this. I love teaching my patients cycle-tracking. As well there are so many alternative ways to support your cycles: acupuncture, botanical formulas, specific diet changes, seed cycling and maintaining a healthy body fat percentage (20-24% depending on age).

And how cool is it when your cycle is sync'd to your friends, roommates or co-workers? It reminds us that we're all experiencing this together. Even cooler if you can sync yourself up with the lunar cycle (New moon - menstruation, Full moon- ovulation)! Seriously, you can be in sync with the moon. As Neil Pasricha would say: Awesome!

Monday, May 30, 2016

5 New - and more creative - ways to Journal!

We frequently read about and are told how good journalling is for stress and anxiety. I'm a true believer in this, after all, this is how I started blogging. By not writing, I was anxious and felt like I had a lot bottled up. Not just emotions but words, ideas and thoughts.

You might call me a bookworm or a book and reading enthusiast, but not all of us are. We're not all writers, or even necessarily creative in a conventional way. But some of us do tend to get caught up in our heads. Maybe we spiral with our thoughts. Maybe they wake us in the night or prevent us from falling asleep in the first place. Maybe there's something we want to say to another person but we want to choose our words and our message very carefully. Journalling is one of the best ways to help guide us through these processes but when left with a blank page, sometimes our minds also go blank.

So in classic book-nerd fashion I spent a few hours at Chapters/Indigo in a euphoric state, falling in love with dozens of titles and books wanting to take all of them home with me. As a writer and a blogger, writing off the top of my head comes a bit easier, but there are times I want and need to be guided. I want my brain to be stimulated by an idea; Other times I need my brain to be more focused instead of wanting to explode with a hundred different thoughts.

I was so excited by what I found and wanted to share these amazing resources with you. So here are some unconventional ways to journal:

The 52 Lists Project is a book in which you will create a list for each week of the year. Each page will prompt you with different inspirations and ideas for making lists to help with your own self-discovery and expression. Some include listing your favourite movie characters, the best road trip songs, places you want to visit, etc.

Not only are you prompted with what to list, but it gives you the opportunity for self-reflection.

642 Things to Write About is a wonderful book and resource for those of us whom writing comes a bit easier, but still experience the dreaded writer's block. If you want to be creative without sharing your works with others, this is a great way to stretch out those writing muscles.

Wreck this Journal: A creative and very unconventional way to journal, this book will guide you through "exercises" and practices for literally wrecking the book. You might be instructed to rip out a page and crumple it, or spill some coffee on it.
It forces you to make mistakes and be content with imperfection. A great exercise for those who tend to
 perfection. You are given full permission to be messy, to break a book and make it look used.  And even better for those who will get a great sense of relief from the messy and somewhat destructive instructions instead of solely relying on journalling as a writing exercise.

What's even better is that Keri Smith's collection of "Wreck This Journal" is now up to 5 different books/journals.

Finish This Book, also (partially) written by Keri Smith, requires you to literally help her finish this book. Inside is a series of missions - if you should choose to accept them - with guided instructions.

This book takes the guess work out of the equation and all you need to do is follow her instructions, using your own words and creativity along the way.

The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook was just one of several workbooks found in the Well-being book section that uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques.  These types of workbooks are extremely helpful for helping you get to the root of any emotional and mental issues you're experiencing.

This book will guide you step-by-step to help you recognize your feelings and the experiences that accompany them. It will help you to identify your triggers for anxiety and stress, and teach you how to utilize stress management techniques.

Workbooks such as this are wonderful when you feel stuck or when you're struggling to overcome a specific or general type of stress.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Remember that feeling...?

It's not uncommon for us to have issues with discipline, especially when it comes to food. That instant mouth-pleasure associated with sweet, salty or rich foods sends a signal to our brains, releasing dopamine and serotonin. We feel like we have been rewarded.

Not only do we feel rewarded, but we tend to use food as a reward. If I do (this), then I can have a treat. And we wire our brains to think that "junk" foods are rewards, even as children: "If you're good, you can have a treat." This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. If you eat healthy, your body will reward you with increased energy, good sleep, clear skin and more even moods - but our brains don't receive that signal as instantly as a huge sugar-inducing dopamine or serotonin surge.

We remember that feeling and make a choice. But what about the feeling of being bloated? Heavy and uncomfortable with an upset stomach; Maybe you feel lethargic or get brain-fog and can't work afterwards. You have to loosen the belt another notch or change into your stretchy clothes.

But there is another way to send great happy-inducing signals to the brain and through the body: physical activity. We've all heard of endorphins - that wonderful release of happy-feelings from exercise - also known as the "runner's high." If you're not used to exercise, it can take a bit to get to this point, but it becomes stronger each time you do it. The reason for that is because working your body can feel uncomfortable for a short period of time. When overheated or during sweating, we release dynorphin - a substance that helps to cool us down but that also increases the amount of opioid receptors that endorphins bind to. By increasing these receptor sites, each time you release endorphins, you'll experience an greater euphoric feeling.

Yoga is another fantastic example of activity that will give you that incredible feeling. But even yoga can be tough. Where most of us feel the greatest is at the end of the class during the final Savasana (laying on the floor). You're focused, lungs full of oxygen and the work is done. Exercising is work - it's not supposed to be easy! The point is to put your body through a little bit of stress and then as you recover your body gets stronger. You don't increase your muscle mass during the exercise itself, you "stress" out the muscles a bit and then with the proper protein and carbohydrates (and water!), they repair themselves and are stronger with that repair.

Where people tend to struggle the most with healthy living and weight management is retraining the brain. We need to learn to give up that instant gratification of "junk" foods - sugars, processed foods, processed carbohydrates like bagels, muffins, cookies, cakes, even pizza.

When you only feed your body whole, nutritious foods, you will feel better in the long run, guaranteed. One of the ways to improve your discipline with foods is to remember how you feel after those sugary or gluten-heavy foods, and this can take time. When a certain food makes you feel sick or gross time and time again, you begin to realize that it's just not worth it. Similarly, with exercise, if you make it a regular occurrence in your life (daily or 4x/week), if you stop, you'll notice a difference in how you feel. For example, if I haven't gone for a run or done any type of exercise in over 3 days, I know I get more agitated, irritable, and my body feels sluggish and stiff. So I go back and remember what it feels like to finish an awesome workout and that drives me to go and do it.

We need to reprogram our brains. Remember how good it feels to finish a workout, remember what it feels like when you've eaten clean for a week or longer. Then compare that to how you feel after bingeing on Oreos, or to how you feel after going to yoga once a week to not going at all. Get back to feeling good and don't let deceptive sugar trick your brain. Sugar should not be your reward. Feeling amazing and keeping diseases and illness away is the reward: Living your healthiest life and being able to share that with your friends and loved ones.