Nov 29

December Depression

By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW

While our childhood selves may regard the holidays and new year as a time of wonderment, excitement, and fulfilment, our adult selves tend to let out a defeated sigh when we flip the calendar pages to December.  This time of year often makes those with depression symptoms feel worse.  When considering goals that went unmet, dark and dreary weather, social gatherings that you’d skip for two cents, and expectations that exceed reality, holiday time can feel like a kick when you’re down.  Fear not; you can absolutely keep your mood in check and regain some of that holiday cheer.  My top tips for managing depression symptoms are here!

1. It’s Just Another Day

The holidays, especially the New Year, are often a time of self-reflection.  This is all well and good… until it’s not.  If reflection is making you feel inadequate, disappointed, or like a failure, your depression symptoms will likely be triggered.  This is when you can step back and realize what New Year’s Day truly is: Just. Another. Day.  The idea that New Year’s is a time for reinvention or a time marker of your success (or lack thereof) over the past 365 days is a manmade concept.  If you wouldn’t feel upset about your current life position if it was April 10th or July 25th, then there is no need to assign so much pressure on January 1st.  If you’ve got goals and intentions for your life, consider the overall trajectory of how you’ve been doing and do not let the looming deadline of January 1st be your compass.  Hey, it’s just another day.

2. You’re Not A Hostage

When invitations become obligations, the enjoyment is completely sucked out.  While some things may seem non-negotiable, you have more say than you think.  If work has been rough and the idea of socializing with your colleagues leaves you greener than the Grinch, ask yourself if you really need to go to the holiday party.  Weigh out the risks verses the benefits.  If you feel that the networking opportunities are too good to pass up, then consider it an investment in your future, put on your ugly Christmas sweater, and go.  If it’s simply a get together that doesn’t help you in your career goals and would turn your soul black, politely decline.  Remember: you are not a hostage.  Unless it’s in your work contract, you are within your rights to decline and not give it a second thought.  This also applies to Aunt Karen’s tree decorating party and your friends’ pub crawl.  Go if you want, and say “no, thanks” if you don’t.  The one important caveat?  If you feel like you are hiding out due to depression symptoms and do not want to engage in any holiday fun, please check in with your mental health professional; changes in behaviours such as isolation may be a serious symptom of depression and should be professionally addressed.

3. Help Yourself

If you’ve been in session with me recently, you’ve probably heard me ask you if what’s on your mind is “helpful or unhelpful.”  I’ve spent a lot of time considering what is healthy or unhealthy, and this is the 2.0 version of that concept.  The idea of what is helpful to you is fluid and forever changing on a case-by-case or day-by-day basis.  Play around with this.  A good example of this is holiday meals.  We all have a favourite holiday meal or dish.  Mine is latkes (potato pancakes).  Guys, these little balls of grease are dollops of heaven but make me feel lousy in the long run.  On a run-of-the-mill Tuesday, if someone offers me a plate of latkes, I will decline.  Why?  Because it’s not helpful to me right then.  I know I’ll feel gross and sick the next day.  Offer latkes to me on Chanukah, and I’m down for a solid half-dozen.  Why?  Because to me, latkes are what makes my holiday special.  They make me feel like I’ve celebrated.  I’m okay with feeling so so tomorrow, because of the pleasure and sense of holiday they give me today.  So, on Chanukah, latkes are a helpful choice because they feed my mental health.  If you’re offering me my 12th latke, that is now unhelpful.  I’ve celebrated, I feel good, and if I put myself over the edge by bingeing, all of that goes down the tubes.  Indulging and bingeing are different, and it helps to remember this around the holidays.  Apply this concept to everything and see how it helps you make choices: Is it helpful or unhelpful to take on another work shift right now?  To stay at the party past midnight?  To spend an extra $100 unexpectedly on a gift?  To spend time with your parents when you’re livid with them about an unrelated issue?  If it’s helpful, go for it.  If it’s unhelpful… just say no.

Our thoughts, feelings, and actions can either contribute to depression symptoms or counteract them.  Consider your plans and choices and let them feed your soul.  Reconsider anything that doesn’t benefit you in some way.  Happy Holidays!

**Disclaimer:  The advice in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the diagnosis/treatment of a licensed medical or mental health professional.**

Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker Psychotherapist providing counselling and psychotherapy at IHI.  Check her out at www.laurenberger.ca, drop her a line at lauren@laurenberger.ca, follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW, or sneak a peek at her Instagram: laurenberger_msw.

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Nov 29

The Lens and Aperture of Depression – Mind and Body

Depression is multi-faceted in how it affects our bodies and lives. It affects our mood, our cognition, our relationships, and our pain, and generally affects our desire to move and participate in our environment. While I think it is important to understand that sometimes depression is a normal reaction to a life challenge, it occurs on a spectrum which makes it a very individual and devastating experience. But, it is also important to know that there are ways that we can help ourselves if we can better understand our brain.

The Brainfullness Perspective

When looking at any problem through the Brainfullness perspective, we can view it on an x-y axis, where x is lens and y is aperture. Lens is the broader view; it is influenced by our history and our beliefs, with an important variable of openness influencing it. Aperture is the narrow focus; it looks at the data that we have at any given point and our curiosity about it. In looking at the chart, we see that the more data that we have, the less we apply our lens—because our brain is busy synthesizing all of the information. The less data, the more that we apply our own past and our own biases to the situation because we have less new input to work with. We can also see, however, that lens is never at zero because our perception is always a factor.

In looking at where we may improve our health and longevity, we can take a five-pronged approach to life-hacking with these factors:
• adaptive movement
• nutrition
• sleep
• emotional stability and resiliency
• social connection

If we can address these components of health, we have the arsenal to combat up to 90% of diseases, mortality and morbidity. The other 10% being genetics, traumas, and chaos in the form of unforeseen life events.

Genetics and Physical Inputs

Depression can be both physiogenic and psychogenic in nature. The more physiological roots could be considered the hardware—genetics and the physical inputs that affect us, such as nutrition. The more psychological basis would be the software, within areas like secure attachment, beliefs, what we’ve been exposed to, and stress management skills. This, of course, is looking through the reductionist view of western medicine in which we apply aperture for understanding. In the case of trauma, for most diseases, it shifts the lens for all of us to realize how integrated the system really is and how physiological and psychological components are not separate. Regardless, if we look at the five areas above and the degree of control that we have, we see that there is still a lot we can influence.

The Perception Cycle

At this point, it is important to note that the brain works in an action-perception cycle. Most successful interventions occur at the action level—trying to upgrade the software with more current information. As a clinician, I want to input something new to the system, see how the body responds, and try something else, to not only assess where you are at, but to disrupt the system to give your brain a new perception.

Because it is also important to realize that there is no delete button in the brain, no eraser, no anti-virus software; you can only add new. Fortunately, though, the brain is a multiplier—once you get it going, it stays in motion. So, as the patient, the things that you do for yourself within those five areas of health can be effective building blocks to hacking both pain and depression as well. If we proceed by the principle of Bayesian optimization, we are looking to achieve maximum shift with accurate effort. So, if we can pick even just one of those five elements to focus on where we can have some consistency and positive results, it is a place to start to build that efficacy.

But we also understand that depression affects our motivation and can leave us feeling overwhelmed. One of the keys in our efforts to get through it is to not keep reinforcing the pathways or networks or regions that feed it—that is, receiving the signal even without the exposure. Because whatever the brain perceives us to be good at takes over—even if that state is not actually ‘good’ for us.

The Architecture of our Brain

The good news is that we can change the architecture of our brain with what we consistently do and what we are successful at. Encoding and recalibration can happen when we have success. For this reason, we must start before we feel better. In following the action-perception system, doing the action creates sovereignty, while perception makes you a slave to things. The action is what allows us to build. In this way, even small acts that might not feel heroic can have a significant cumulative impact.

Our tendency is often to want to do it all, but when our lens is too broad, we can get more overwhelmed. Either that or we want to focus on the most difficult thing as we think that is the most important, but either way we are setting ourselves up to crash. When we aren’t successful, our brain does not see it as rewarding or worthwhile, so we lose motivation or feel like there is no point to continuing.

This is why it is helpful in this process to have someone who can help you decode which area you need to optimize and to help you go through. Not only to help you stay the course, but to help you pick the one thing that you can do that will help you do more action, and who knows the target optimum for achieving the results you want. That is the foundation from which you can change your perception—which will further change your action. And your brain. And your health.

So, while we can’t erase depression, we may be able to re-program and, ultimately, override it..

Because when you do better, you know better.

Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.

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Nov 29

Dr. Wiley’s Burnout Guide

Burnout is the number one reason why most high performers leave the industry they love. You are too smart to settle for a medical system that waits until you are burnt out and depressed to take action. I know you have a vision for your life that is bigger than your to-do list. I want to take every opportunity to support your health so that you have the resources you truly need for success. This is your foundation.

6 Ways To Beat Burnout

1. Invest in sleep.

Without restorative sleep, you will go into energy debt and perform inefficiently.

With restorative sleep, you will make better decisions and be more effective with your time and energy.

Quick sleep check-list:
  • Stop eating two hours before bed
  • Set a wind down alarm on your phone for 30 – 60 minutes before your ideal bedtime.
  • Put the alarm on repeat so that it goes off every night to reinforce your goal.
  • When the alarm goes off, screens go off, lights go down, thermostat goes down.
  • Wind down. Maybe take a shower or read a book.
  • Remember: rest is productive, it’s time to get into bed.
  • Movement makes energy.

2. Move your body for 30 minutes per day to make the energy you need.

  • Start where you are and be careful not to over-exercise.
  • Schedule 30 minutes of movement 3-5 times a week. If that means simply walking or jogging, go for it. If that means doing yoga in your living room, get moving. If you have a gym membership, it’s time to use it.
  • Block it in your schedule because your schedule represents your priorities and making energy should be at the top of your list.
  • Use movement as an outlet for anger, frustration and resentment that can build when we near burnout.
  • It’s not about burning calories, it’s about building resilience.

3. Fuel your body with food that it can turn into energy.

Eat the green vegetables your body needs to make energy.

  • Fill ½ your plate with green and colourful vegetables at every meal. This is the easiest and most effective way to modify your diet. It does not need to be complicated, but it needs to be consistent to get results.
  • Consume a concentrated source of protein or healthy fat from plants with every meal to create a sustainable source of blood sugar for better regulation.
  • Avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates that offer quick energy ups followed by longer energy crashes.
  • If you are too tired to prepare or plan your food, skip the takeout and proactively order healthy meal delivery.

4. Avoid information overload and decision fatigue.

Your brain needs more energy. Don’t spend what you have on information, choices and decisions that are not a priority for you. Get clear on what matters most and get ruthless with your boundaries around information consumption.

  • TV and social media can be good entertainment and a nice distraction from the pain of life, but we spend way too much of our precious energy consuming when we cannot afford to consume. It’s time to curate our consciousness.

5. Break up with coffee and alcohol.

Are you in a dependent relationship? If you are serious about beating burnout you need to lean into your relationship with uppers and downers. I realize your relationship is complicated ,but the math behind the connection to energy adds up like this:

  • Using coffee for energy is like paying for productivity with your credit card. It might feel like easy energy at the time, but it has a high interest rate, and if you are borrowing more then you are making, eventually you will go into debt.
  • Using alcohol to manage stress is the same: it offers short-term relief with subsequent consequences like poor quality disturbed sleep and hormone imbalance that will set you back in your progress.

6. Talk to someone.

Burnout has an intimate connection to depression and can lead to mental health decline. Connecting with your peers, family members or a professional can help significantly.

Your biggest asset is your ability to perform at your best. You have invested in your education and your career. It is time to invest in your health, not only as an insurance policy against decline, but a performance enhancing opportunity.

I am here to help. If you are ready to tell your story, I am ready to listen and get you set up with a strategy for success.

Schedule a call today.

I believe your success story starts with great health.

I understand that you are on a mission, leading an industry, defining a culture, and making our world a better place. You have a vision for your life that includes success, freedom, creativity, and adventure. You are giving “your all” to realize your goals and your health is your greatest resource for achieving that purpose.

Health is not the price you need to pay for your success. You can “lean in” without letting go of your dreams.

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Nov 1

Sleep vs Problems

Like Frodo in the Ring trilogy, we Toronto dwellers are constantly fighting problems that come up like orcs. They show up so fast and so many that it can get overwhelming. Right when we are supposed to be getting a good night sleep, these monster problems keep appearing in our minds, making us restless and anxious and completely disturbing our capacity for sleep. While I don’t wield the magical skills that Gandalf has, I can offer you very practical and effective techniques to improve your chances for maximizing your sleep and conquer your problems.

The Bedtime Worry Movie

For us problem solvers, the issues starts right after we get in bed. When our mind quiets down from the daily obligations and goes over the loose ends of the day, the movie starts. The mind makes a “movie” of catastrophes that end taking over your awareness. Then it takes over our sleep. There are two things that in that distraction we do not see.

First, worrying is not an effective way to solve problems. It is a dead-end street. Spending valuable sleeping-time worrying only deprives us from the sleep we need to be in shape to think clearly. If instead of worrying, we would get some sleep, the next day our minds would be in perfect shape to think of ways to fix what needs to be fixed. What else are we missing?

The second thing is that at night, when everything is quiet, and nothing is open, and no action can be taken, it is not an optimal time for solving problems. The best time is when we can take-action and do something about it. That time is during the waking hours. A best solution would involve dealing with these two blind spots.

The One Simple Hack to Rule Them All

So there is a simple hack: take time before sleep to do a “mind dump” of all your problems and identify small steps you can take to move forward. This involves setting a time before sleep, before you start to wind down and turn screens off (they alter sleep patterns). At that time, take a sheet of paper and draw a line in the middle.

Now, pick a side of the sheet, and write down, for 5 minutes, a list of all the worry related things that you can fish out of your mind. You can use the other side if your list is very long. After 5 minutes, fill the other column with the first step you would need to take to solve each one of the problems.

Make sure the steps are small. Like Frodo getting to Mordor, a long journey starts with a small step. Big unattainable steps don’t ever work for busy people. Why? Because we are busy. You need something you can insert in your day that is small and easy.

Now, to make sure the problem get tackled, you need to get your schedule out, and schedule the 5 top tasks in the new few days. There! You took the first step! 

Now that you have actually taken action (scheduling something at a reasonable time) give yourself permission to sleep soundly. Make a pact with yourself that even if you come up with the cure for cancer in your sleep, you will refuse to stay awake. You can practice a short relaxation exercise, too.

Bedtime Breathing Technique

Using belly breaths, focus on the sensations of breathing, then extend your exhale by two counts longer than the inhale. That will help your body relax. Relax any tensions with each exhale. Let go of any thoughts with each exhale. Don’t judge what you are doing, or yourself. Just relax, let yourself become heavy and drift off…

Ariel Blau has a formidable passion for helping his clients energize a joyful, loving and creative life. He has more than 30 years of experience helping people bloom. His formal education includes a Master’s degree in Social Work from New York University, a Master’s in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, and a great number of workshops, certificates and seminars. He has been studying mindfulness and how to bring compassion into the world for more than 15 years. His passion for helping others is matched by his enormous drive for continuous learning. Ariel completed his professional clinical training at Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital and served as  Lead Clinician at the Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven.

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Nov 1

Top 3 Supplements to Get You Sleeping Like a Pro Athlete

If you don’t think sleep is important try not having it and you’ll realize just how critical sleep is!  I have 3 kids, so trust me, I have had my fair share of sleepless nights and not only is the next day a train wreck but so are the next few days!

If you are an active person or a runner, the demands on your body are harder.  Therefore, you NEED to sleep harder and replenish even harder!

Obviously, there are many factors that can interrupt one’s sleep resulting in a variety of treatment options.  As part of your comprehensive health assessment, I determine which treatment protocols will best help you hit the hay!  Here are my top three supplements to support a good quality sleep:

Worry

For myself, it is worry.  If I am going to have a restless night, its because my mind simply won’t shut off. Rhodiola is a plant that can help turn off that endless train of thoughts that come once the sun goes down.  Rhodiola is most commonly used for increasing energy, endurance, strength, and mental capacity.  Because of its affects on your musculoskeletal system, I often use it to help the performance of runners and active people. To assess how excessive worry and anxiety might be affecting your sleep, I use an in-office stress test.  If the results are high, it may encourage the release of hormones that keep you awake. Rhodiola helps your body adapt to these hormones allowing the anxiety to ease and you to get a restful night’s sleep.

Difficulty Falling Asleep

Melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in your natural sleep-wake cycle.  If you have difficulty falling asleep, melatonin can be used to help ease you to sleep and keep you asleep.  Shift workers are at particular risk of having low levels of melatonin which can make it hard to fall asleep because of the disruption in their sleep-wake cycle patterns. High levels of stress can also affect how we are sleeping.  When we are stressed, we release high levels of cortisol that can interrupt melatonin production in turn keeping you awake at night.  If you are not sleeping, you are not recovering.  This will impact your ability to perform. With my patients, I use functional testing to assess how melatonin and cortisol levels are interacting with your hormones.  This provides us with the underlying causes to your poor-quality sleep and helps personalize your treatment protocols, getting you the results you need faster.  

Sore Muscles Keeping You Up

If sore muscles are keeping you awake, this may be a sign you need more magnesium.  Magnesium is used in 300 different reactions in your body and is a nutrient I find many are deficient in, especially runners who are suffering from calf cramps.   It is a natural muscle relaxant that can help your body chill out after a tough day at the office or gym and fall asleep faster.  There are many different forms of magnesium.  To determine which is the best form for you, ask your Naturopathic Doctor.

According to the studies, you need a minimum of six hours of sleep to function.  Our lives involve more stress than they use to, therefore I believe you need more sleep for optimal recovery.  To maximize your potential, this week’s goal is to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every day. 

Sleep is an important part of our lifestyle.  I am here to help you make informed decisions to improve your health and wellness. Link in bio to book your appointment today.

Still not convinced sleep is the key to a great work out, tons of energy and success?  Check out how sleep is affecting your game and just how much sleep pro-athletes are getting.

Do not start any supplement protocol with out the advice of a professional.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19725252

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/treatment/should-you-nap

https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/07-08/naps

https://www.fastcompany.com/1663723/infographic-of-the-day-why-pro-athletes-sleep-12-hours-a-day#targetText=If%20you%20thought%20your%20lazy,10%2D12%20hours%20a%20night.

Dr. Jennifer Tanner, has a broad, evidence-based practice with a focus on sports and performance-based medicine. Being a marathon runner and having been a competitive equestrian, an active lifestyle is important. Dr. Tanner uses a variety of tools including Acupuncture and Clinical Nutrition, putting an emphasis on “food as medicine” and addressing the root causes of inflammation. In conjunction with the Integrative Health team, Dr. Tanner is thrilled to help people achieve an optimal state of health and pursue their performance based health goals!

www.drjennifertannernd.com

@drjennifertannernd

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Nov 1

Self-Hypnosis for Zzzzzz

By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW

Hi, my name is Lauren and I’m a hypnosis junkie.  I’ve been using hypnosis for myself since I was 10 years old, and let me tell you, the uses are endless.  When my clients express interest in hypnosis, at the top of their list of issues is “poor sleep”.  When clients come to me for hypnosis for sleep, I inwardly clap my hands.  Hypnosis is a phenomenal tool for improving sleep, and my clients mostly see success the first night after our session together.  Having your hypnosis practitioner teach you self-hypnosis that is specific to you is ideal; I teach my client self-hypnosis in session.  If you can’t scoot in for a visit, consider giving self-hypnosis a try for a better night’s sleep.  It’s easier than you think!  These are my top tips to get started on self-hypnosis for a good night’s sleep:

1. Non-negotiables. 

This is the fine print of safe practices for hypnosis.  Do not practice hypnosis while driving a car or operating any other heavy machinery.  Do it at home, while comfortably in bed or on your couch, during a time when you don’t feel pressured to leave (if you’re picking up the kids or leaving for a meeting in five minutes, wait until later).  Do not do it when you think you may be interrupted or while responsible for small children.  Do not have any food in your mouth you could choke on.  Good to go?  Get yourself comfy in your bed or on your couch, and let’s begin.

2. Set the stage for deep relaxation.

Close your eyes, and let your arms and legs be unencumbered.  Begin with slow, deep breaths, bringing your focus to the rhythm of your breath.  Next, let’s free the body of tension; bring your focus to each group of muscles throughout your body, seek out any stress or tension you may be holding there, and release it with your next exhale.  Going from head to toe, begin with your temples and jaw, then down to your neck, shoulders and arms, down through your back and abdomen, and down through your buttocks, legs and feet.  Note how relaxed and free from tension you feel.

3. Guide yourself deeper.

Keep key words in your head that give way to relaxation.  Some good ones are “calm, comfortable, relaxed”, but use any words that you connect to.  Envision yourself in a special, relaxing place.  This place can be somewhere you know or someplace that your mind created; all that matters is that it is a calm, comfortable place in which you feel completely safe, content, relaxed, and happy.  This is a place to keep your conscious mind busy and content while you begin speaking to your subconscious mind.

4. A note about the subconscious mind…

The subconscious mind is that part of consciousness that is susceptible, where memories are stored, and where functions happen automatically.  This susceptibility lets your mind take in the suggestions you give it very easily.  If you are practicing hypnosis on your own, keep things simple. 

5. Give yourself the instructions.

As mentioned above, your subconscious mind should now be primed for suggestion.  I advise you to consider your needs to create your own suggestions before beginning your hypnosis.  For example, if you’re struggling with initially falling asleep at night, a good suggestion would be, “I will find that my mind and body are completely ready for sleep once I get into bed at night.  Knowing this, I find it so easy to fall asleep comfortably and naturally.  I will wake up feeling rested and refreshed tomorrow morning.”  In the event of emergency, you would easily come out of your hypnosis and be able to deal with whatever may be happening, however I always suggest including a suggestion to ensure that you will easily regain consciousness quickly in case of emergency.  A good suggestion for this may be, “While I’m sleeping, if there is something urgent that needs my attention, I easily and immediately wake from my sleep feeling ready to deal with anything.”

6. Wrap it up.

If you are conducting your hypnosis while in bed at night and want to fall asleep at the conclusion of your hypnosis, your final suggestion to yourself may be to fall asleep and that you will wake up feeling refreshed and ready for your day at <insert time here> o’clock.  If you are doing your hypnosis during the day and want to carry on with the rest of your day before having a restful sleep later, a good conclusion to your hypnosis would include counting from 1 to 3, and telling yourself that with each number you will become more and more aware, refreshed, alert, and ready to carry on with your day.  You should then awaken feeling very relaxed but ready to go on with your day, and the suggestions you’ve given yourself will be ready to go once you go to sleep at night.

While hypnosis may seem really involved, it is a natural state of mind that we all go into and come out of throughout the day.  Ever feel “zoned out”?  That’s natural hypnosis!  Using it to guide your relaxation or reach a goal is a wonderful way to harness a tool you already possess.  If you feel unsure about using hypnosis safely, always visit your hypnosis practitioner; they will be able to guide you and teach you methods for hypnosis specific to your individual needs.  Remember that everyone is unique and may respond better to different suggestions and imagery; this is a generic guide to get you started, but is completely adaptable to your unique self.  Sweet dreams!

**Disclaimer:  The advice in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the diagnosis/treatment of a licensed medical or mental health professional.**

Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker Psychotherapist providing counselling and psychotherapy at IHI.  Check her out at www.laurenberger.ca, drop her a line at lauren@laurenberger.ca, follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW, or sneak a peek at her Instagram: laurenberger_msw.

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Oct 31

Sleep Guide for Superior Sleep

When you wake, do you feel refreshed and ready to tackle your day? Or, do you wake up feeling exhausted? Do you toss and turn at night, waking at the slightest noise or movement? If so, you might be a light sleeper.

Not getting the recommended amount of sleep can have serious short and long-term impact on your physical and mental health. Sleep disruptions can cause weight gain, a lowered immune system, impaired concentration and memory, slower reaction time, errors, and accidents. Studies have even shown that low sleep quality impairs our cognitive and motor functions, the same way that drinking too much alcohol does.

The quality of your sleep is affected by a number of internal and external factors. Genetics, age, and lifestyle play significant roles in the type and length of sleep stages and sleep cycles you experience. For light sleepers, the consequences of low-quality sleep can be distracting at the least and dangerous at worst. But there are many ways to improve your sleep. Here are some of our favourite tactics for conquering light sleep problems. 

Night-time Practices

1. Create a sleep environment that is dark and quiet. When it’s dark at night, your eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus that it’s time to feel tired. Your brain, in turn, sends a signal to your body to release melatonin, which makes you sleepy.

2. Give some thought to your bed’s comfort level. Research shows that your mattress, pillow, and bedding can greatly impact sleep quality by reducing joint and back pain. One study found that a bed suited for your body type can improve sleep quality by 60%.

3. Lower the bedroom temperature. Bedroom temperature has been shown to affect sleep quality even more than external noise. If the room is too warm, it can interfere with your body’s natural nightly temperature dip and make you more restless through the night. Research suggests that your bedroom should be between 60-67 degrees and that temperatures above 75 degrees or below 54 degrees can interfere with sleep. 

4. Consider taking a melatonin supplement. Studies show that taking melatonin has a major impact on sleep quality and quantity. Just be sure to read the dosage recommendations on the label. Start slowly to determine the amount that’s right for you, and take the supplement about an hour before bedtime. 

5. Avoid alcohol and over-the-counter sleep medications. Research shows that those who drink before bed woke more frequently and experienced lighter sleep during the second half of the night, preventing the Level 3 and 4 sleep that restores our body and mind. In every person, alcohol metabolizes at 0.016% per hour. So, you can do the math. The more heavily you drink, the earlier you should stop drinking.

6. Avoid late-night eating, especially high-calorie foods and those that cause heartburn. This disrupts the natural release of melatonin and serotonin, which relieves anxiety and improves time spent in REM sleep. Instead, try eating a complex carbohydrate 2 to 4 hours before bed. Choose a whole grain snack like popcorn, oatmeal, or a whole grain cereal. Also consider having a little low fat cottage cheese or milk, both of which contain tryptophan, or a fruit such as tart cherries, bananas, or oranges, which contain melatonin.

7. Establish a consistent bedtime schedule. After awhile, your brain will automatically cue you that it’s time to start feeling tired. If you don’t fall asleep within about 20 minutes, leave your bedroom and do something relaxing. Read a book or listen to soothing music. Then, go back to bed when you’re tired. 

8. Set up a relaxing bedtime routine. The routine tells your brain that it’s time to prepare for sleep. Try dimming the lights, taking a warm bath, playing relaxing music, lighting a lavender candle, or whatever works for you.

9. Consider a technical shutdown 2 to 3 hours before bed. The blue light emitted from computer monitors, tablets, TVs, and smartphones closely mimics the light emitted by the sun, causing our bodies to lower production of sleep-inducing melatonin. In fact, an article in Scientific American says, “The light from our devices is ‘short-wavelength-enriched,’ meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light—and blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength.”

10. Try practicing deep relaxation techniques. If you wake in the night and have a hard time getting back to sleep, try systematically tensing and releasing of each individual muscle in your body one at a time may help. Start with your toes and slowly proceeding toward your scalp while breathing deeply and concentrating on the stress leaving your body as you exhale.

11. Keep a journal. If a life event, like moving or a new job, is the source of your light sleeping problems, get the worries out of your mind and down on paper. Store your journal by your bed, and if a stressful thought occurs, take it out of your mind and commit it to paper. You can readdress that stressor in the morning, if needed.

12. Address the stress. If you think that your light sleeping issue is stress-related, try to figure out what’s stressing you out. If it’s situational, consider making some life changes. If it’s not, it might be time to consult a mental health professional who can teach you how to change your thought patterns or who can determine if medication is needed.

13. Consider other supplements that are scientifically proven to help you relax, reduce stress, and sleep better, but make sure to try them one at a time. 

Plant-Based: Ginkgo, Valerian Root, Lavender, Passion Flower
Amino Acids: Glycine, L-Theanine, Tryptophan

14. Keep a sleep diary. This will help you identify day and nighttime habits and patterns that might be contributing to your light sleep problems. Keeping a sleep diary is also especially helpful if you decide to see your doctor or a sleep expert. Your diary should include:

  • The times that you went to bed and woke up
  • Total hours you slept and and an estimate of how much of that time you had quality sleep
  • Amount of time you spent awake and what you did (got out of bed, watched tv, drank a glass of milk, meditated, etc.)
  • Types and amount of food, liquids, caffeine, or alcohol you consumed before bed, and the times at which you consumed them.
  • Your feelings and moods before bed (happiness, sadness, stress, anxiety)
  • Any drugs or medications taken, including dose and time of consumption

A sleep diary can pinpoint day and nighttime habits that may be contributing to your problems at night. After keeping the diary for a week or two, you might notice, for example, that when you have more than one glass of wine in the evening, you wake up during the night.

Day-time Practices

15. Wake at consistent times, even on weekends. Irregular sleep patterns can confuse your circadian rhythm, causing you to lose quality sleep. Eventually, once your sleep/wake cycle is consistent, you might not even need to set a morning alarm!

16. Get some morning sun. Our eyes have special receptors called melanopsin that help us wake up and stay alert. They work in conjunction with our hypothalamus,  which controls your circadian rhythm, also known as your sleep/wake cycle. Together, they play a role in triggering the release of serotonin in the brain – the neurotransmitter that helps regulate natural sleep cycles. Getting plenty of bright light early in the day, preferably within one hour of waking will help you feel more energetic, and sleep more soundly at night. Sleep Specialist Dr. Michael Breus wrote: “How much sleep we get and how well we sleep is profoundly affected by light [and] exposure to light at the right time of day can actually help your sleep. ”Recently, scientists at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign investigated how daylight exposure affected the health, including nighttime sleep, of a group of office workers. The study revealed that the employees who got more sun, through office windows, slept an average of 46 minutes more than their coworkers who did not have windows. They also had more energy during the day. So, if possible, snag a desk by a window and if you don’t have access to sunlight, consider purchasing a light therapy box to use indoors. Also, try taking a walk outside on your morning break without sunglasses, which filter the full-spectrum light and confuse the signal received by your brain.

17. Avoid nicotine. Because it’s a stimulant, nicotine can reduce the amount of deep sleep you get. Scientists at Johns Hopkins University conducted a sleep study of 40 smokers and 40 nonsmokers. Five percent of the nonsmokers said they commonly experienced light sleep problems, whereas 22.5% of the smokers said they struggled with restless sleep. If you’re not ready to quit, try just cutting back, and don’t smoke close to bedtime.

18. Avoid all forms of caffeine (like coffee, black tea, some sodas, and energy drinks) or any other stimulants past noon. Researchers at Wayne State College of Medicine and the Sleep Disorders & Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital analyzed the sleep-disruptive effects of caffeine consumption at different lengths of time before bed. They found that caffeine consumed even 6 hours before bedtime resulted in significantly diminished sleep quantity and quality. If you’re in the habit of drinking coffee in the afternoon or evening, try switching to decaffeinated coffee or an herbal tea. Also, check the labels on other drinks and supplements. Diet pills can contain large amounts of caffeine or other stimulants.

19. Exercise regularly to clear your mind, but avoid working out at least 3 hours before bedtime, as vigorous exercise can increase energy. So, what is the best time of day to work out or take a vigorous walk? According to Dr. Sofie Laage-Christiansen of Aarhus University, Denmark, “Exercising in the morning daylight helps you to sleep. It helps to kick-start the brain in the same way as when you expose yourself to bright light early in the morning, and it makes the body release melatonin earlier in the evening.” A National Sleep Foundation study compared the sleep quality of those who exercise and those that don’t. Both groups said they slept about the same amount of time, but sleep quality was significantly different. And, those who exercised reported far better sleep compared who didn’t.

20. Limit naps. For some people, sleep during the day can affect sleep at night. Naps that are more than 30 minutes or that occur close to your bedtime can compromise your ability to fall or stay asleep. It’s easy to see how napping can become a bad pattern: Nap during the day, sleep poorly at night, then feel sleepy during the day. Avoiding this habit is simple, though. If you truly need a siesta, just keep it around 20 minutes so you get solid rest and wake up alert.

Dr. Jen Newell, ND is the founder of the Naturopathic Skin Care Clinic at the Integrative Health Institute. She is committed to helping others resolve frustrating skin issues because she struggled with hormonal cystic acne and mild rosacea for over 10 years. Dissatisfied with the results from oral contraceptives, antibiotics and other conventional treatments, Jen decided to take matters in her own hands and find a safer and more sustainable solution to achieve healthy, glowing skin.

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Oct 21

Suicide: Every Minute Counts

It was an ordinary day. And then it wasn’t.

I was rushing down Yonge Street to get to the next thing I had to do, when a man fell from overhead and landed on the sidewalk, ending his own life directly in front of me.

I did not know this man. I have no idea what his story was or what kind of person he was, but I wanted to honour him and dedicate this blog to him, in gratitude for what I learned from him that day and in hopes that it may help someone else…

In the instant that the thud of his body registered in my awareness, I was shocked into the present moment and the scene before me flooded my senses. Everything became quiet as I tried to make sense of what was happening and I remember these few things…

The primal scream of a young woman.

The stoic cop who was managing the environment—without raising his voice, instructing people to not be callous and not to film.

The security woman who stood quietly by—in a way that I’m not sure it is accurate to describe as maternal, but whose presence was that of a compassionate witness in a way that only a woman could be.

As the external environment became vivid, so too did my internal environment. As I walked past, I could feel his pain. I could viscerally taste what had just happened. And, for the first time, I felt that we are truly all connected.

As I continued on, I tried to maintain some sense of normalcy in my day. I continued on to work and acknowledged what had happened to my co-workers. I expressed my appreciation for them; it seemed prudent to note how the small annoyances that we may cause each other don’t actually really matter.

One of my last clients that day revealed to me that they were moving, and told me that the only checkpoint for staying in the city was me. I was struck by the fact that that was one of the nicest things that anyone has ever said to me professionally, and it came on the day when I’d had one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. The irony and the duality were noted and appreciated as I realized that many things in life are a trade-off.

In the days that followed, I called all of my friends who have gone through trauma—be it an accident or fall—to acknowledge them and that I appreciate their struggle on a different level. Within myself, I noticed how within three or four days, I was processing it even more through unexplained symptoms, as well as anxiety, anger, and fear. I now have a better understanding of when patients say they feel like their body is failing them—I can control my thoughts, but when your body is doing something else, it can be upsetting.

I thought about how all of the work I have put into the Brainfullness Experiment as a student of my own teachings, helped me to create a better mental model in which I could process the complexities and difficulties of this experience. I appreciated the conversation I had that very day about the difference between complexity and chaos, as it helped me realize that I can still have some degree of control even when there is chaos around me.

Yet, I also saw a paradox within myself. My initial lens was to want to use this event to be a better person, but there was also a part of me that has more of a tendency to become jaded that wondered what would have happened if he had landed on me.

But, if I am to be truly honest, this was incredibly powerful for me in a very personal way…

I don’t believe that suicidal thoughts are uncommon. Some people that I admire greatly have committed suicide—David Foster Wallace and Anthony Bourdain, as examples. I always believed that somehow, being a strong man, you should always have an exit plan—in case you become a burden to others, or the pain or heaviness of life becomes too overwhelming.

As I would walk over Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver or Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and in watching a documentary called ‘Falling Man’ about people from 9/11 who chose to jump rather than succumb to the inferno, I always felt there was something noble and strong, courageous or even heroic about it.

In the moment that I witnessed this man’s death and felt his pain, I realized that it is none of those things.

In the time since, I have realized, too, that I profoundly love this man for making me realize how wrong I was about that. And I simultaneously hate him for taking away that illusion because I somehow found it comforting.

But it has also occurred to me the notion that nothing is either good or bad, it is what you bring to it. In many ways, this has caused me to pause and challenge myself to learn the lessons of this, without engaging too much with it.

I am grateful for this opportunity to be more present and to acknowledge other people. It was a wake- up call to upgrade my own thoughts—to not fall into the trap of ‘I’ll be happy when’, to not make assumptions, and to consciously make the choice of whether I want to expand or shrink in the face of difficulty.

But it also brings to the forefront how we can do better as a society for ourselves and for each other. When something like this happens, there is a rush to simply categorize it as ‘mental illness’ to be able to label it in a way that both provides us some certainty about it and also some distance from it. As we are faced with what it triggers within ourselves, we must also look at how we can be more human-centric in how we treat each other and how we approach such issues. As the prevalence of mental health issues comes to light—with suicide being one of the top ten causes of death in Canada and, on average, one man being lost to suicide every minute globally—it is something we must acknowledge as a societal issue and not just an occasional occurrence amongst a certain ‘type’ of person.

A friend told me to be kind to myself, but I think we can also practice active kindness—whether it be trying to acknowledge other people around us to the best of our ability, or the people in our lives that we may take for granted out of familiarity and forget to acknowledge in a meaningful way.

In a world that is outcome focused, we can also learn to acknowledge the process—as it is the process that allows us to be prepared and that softens the blow when the chaos of life appears. I gravitate toward the notion of anti-fragility, in which we build the reserves and the resilience to manage the challenges we face; yet, I have also been reminded of the fragility of life itself and the importance of how we take care of ourselves and one another in making the most of the time we have.

In the days since this experience, I still get upset and confused while having some questionable thoughts, but it doesn’t have the same bite. We can learn to be incrementally better every day and use whatever are our wake-up calls as the lessons and stepping stones of life.

I can’t say I know what the answer is, but I do know what it is not.

Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.

If you’d like to learn more information about the Brainfullness Experiment Workshop click here.

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Oct 1

The Best Tests for Stress

Fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, overwhelm, irritability, brain fog.  The symptoms of stress are a laundry list of misery, and most of us are intimately familiar with them. 

While most people can tell me they are experiencing stress, many of us don’t realize the impact that stress is having on our bodies.  Because stress isn’t just in our heads, it’s in our bodies.

Testing Stress

As a Naturopathic Doctor one of my favourite adages is “Why guess, when you can assess”.  So while many of my patients know they are stressed, showing them a quantifiable measure of their stress can help motivate them to change their lifestyles, to lessen stress and overcome the negative impact stress has on our minds and bodies. 

At the Integrative Health Institute we have two different tests available for patients who want to better understand the impact stress is having on the function of their body. 

1. Koenisburg Stress Test

A simple, in-office urine test, that takes less than 5 minutes to complete.  The Koenisburg test looks at adrenal function and gives an indication of either low stress hormone output (“burnout”) or high stress hormone output (“overdrive”). 

I recently did this test on myself and scored in the “burnout” range.  I was surprised by the result, until I spent a moment to really reflect on my workload and overall life balance.  Burnout was not too far from the truth.  This simple test gave me the motivation, and moment of reflection, I needed to return to an intentional balance in my life.

Speak to your ND about the Koenisburg test – it is part of our new Integrative Medical Screen, and can be done at any visit with your naturopathic doctor. 

2. DUTCH Test

The gold-standard in hormone testing, the DUTCH test (dried urine test for comprehensive hormones) is the most in depth analysis of stress hormones, neurotransmitters, and reproductive hormones, currently available.  Done over 4 points in the course of a day, the DUTCH test gives you and your naturopath unprecedented information about the metabolism of hormones in your body.  This test is highly recommended for people who are showing signs and symptoms of stress in their bodies and who need to make drastic changes to regain their lives. 

This in-depth functional test is available through all the naturopathic doctors at IHI.  Speak to your ND to determine if it is right for you.

Dr. Lisa Watson believes that you don’t have to be perfect to be healthy.  Lisa encourages her patients to take a proactive approach to their health – taking meaningful steps towards achieving their goals for balanced and vibrant health.  An expert in women’s health and hormones, Lisa is a passionate advocate for women’s health and strives to educate all the women in her practice on how to achieve lifelong abundant health.  Dr. Watson practices at the Integrative Health Institute in downtown Toronto and writes regularly about women’s health on her website at www.drlisawatson.com

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