Apr 22

Are You The Proud Holder Of A High-Sensitivity Trait?

Are you a highly sensitive person? Do you want to know? HSPs tend to be affected both positively and negatively by the trait (mostly positively). Knowing if you have the trait might help you manage any negative aspects effectively and optimize the way you enjoy the positive aspects!

Contrary to what it might sound like, the high sensitivity person is someone endowed with four powerful character components: higher perceptive capacity, fine sensorial acuity, more depth of processing, and more intensity of emotions. People sometimes confuse this trait with introversion, or the idea that someone is too “sensitive” emotionally or unable to handle life demands. This is not accurate, as I will show below. So…how many people have this trait?


Looking at the statistics, about 20% of humans are endowed with this normal and widespread temperamental trait. That means that out of five individuals you meet, one might be experiencing the world with this trait. The statistics are much higher among counselling patients. One-in-two, or 50% of patients, have this trait!


There are many advantages to individuals with the the high sensitivity trait. The four main advantages are high perceptive capacity, high sensory acuity, more depth of processing, and relatively more intense emotions. HSPs are deeply admired and appreciated in a work environment, as friends and partners. Members of this group tend to have higher than average ability to assess situations, perceive changes and patterns, and notice social and emotional cues.


The most important positive aspect of the trait is the depth of perception. High Sensitivity Persons take their time making their decisions and are not impulsive. They are the kind of person that “cases out” a party before plunging in. When they make a decision, it has been deeply considered. It’s why they make great planners and strategists.


High Sensitivity persons also have greater capacities for “taking in” the environment due to higher sensorial acuity. They tend to notice changes in the environment that others might not. This is a very powerful survival tool.

They actually might be the first to notice the flicker of a fluorescent light, when someone changes their hair, when something in a room has been moved, or when the heating breaks down. Loud noises like the sounds of fire-trucks or the texture of a clothing label can be more bothersome to them. If they don’t take a low stimulation break, they will feel overloaded.

HSPs also have more sensitive bodies. They are more aware of bodily changes, pain, and may be more intensely affected by surgery, medication, or therapies. Health professionals that are not aware of this trait often think their patients are making it up, but the experience of sensitivity is real.


High Sensitivity persons tend to pick on social and gestural cues that others miss due to their very active mirror neurons. Mirror Neurons are the nervous system component that is the basis for building understanding of other individuals’ state of mind. 

This is why, in my line of work, having the trait helps me be more attuned to my patients’ experience. We HSPs tend to “know” how to make people comfortable and help them feel better.

On the other hand, having slightly more permeable boundaries, HSPs need to be aware of when they are getting overwhelmed, especially in high stress environments working with people with poor boundaries or lack of self-control. Good boundaries are necessary and useful for them.


In terms of emotions, High Sensitivity persons have relatively more intense positive and negative emotions. This can work both ways. Individuals with this trait tend to flourish when they find themselves in the right environment. When they understand their trait they can maximize the benefits.

Adversely, they tend to also be affected by negative environments, that is why a compatible workplace or relationship is important. 


Often admired by clients, peers and co-workers for their insight and intuition, your high-sensitivity trait comes packaged with modes that may cause you occasional distress. For example, if you have this trait, you may find yourself overwhelmed in intensely noisy environments, and overloaded with sensory stimuli if you cannot take break to re-charge. This may affect your social life, relationships and tolerance to work-related stress.

The good news is that if you are a high-sensitivity individual, you will tend to respond better to psychotherapy and to “get” the ideas behind treatment faster. Working with a counsellor or therapist to help you manage these gifts will help you make your work more successful and your life experience more enjoyable and sustainable. You can learn techniques that help you manage your trait in a positive and enjoyable way. 

Yoga and mindfulness are very helpful to unwind and re-charge. Noticing how your experience affects you might give you clues to managing your life in an optimal and enjoyable manner.

For more information Psychotherapist Elaine Aron, PhD, has done intensive research on this trait and you can read some of it here >> ELAINE ARON’s PAGE<<

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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Apr 15

Can Acupuncture Help Your Sleep?

One of the most rewarding things as an acupuncturist is hearing your patient snore.

It might seem counter intuitive, but people falling asleep during their acupuncture treatments is very common. So common in fact, that many of my clients refer to their time on the treatment table as “Acu-Naps.” And while it is not essential to sleep in order for acupuncture to work, it is certainly a sign that it is!

Sleep is such an important part of our health, but poor sleep and insomnia is often ignored by people as something they can “deal with” or “power through.” For others, insomnia can lead to sleep anxiety, creating a vicious cycle further impacting your sleep. Not sleeping well means that you aren’t allowing your body to recover and restore, and can leave you feeling tired, irritable, and can lead to other health issues. The deep relaxation that acupuncture treatments bring on is not only a great catalyst for a mid-day cat nap, but can also help address deeper sleep issues and insomnia.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) likes to break down sleep problems into two main categories: difficulty falling asleep, and difficulty staying asleep.

Difficulty falling asleep is generally due to the mind having a hard time letting go of its busy thoughts. We stay awake the continue to mull over the day and think about what we have to do tomorrow. I think of this as a hamster wheel that is spinning very quickly, and it is having a hard time slowing down. Acupuncture is able to help you break that pattern by moderating your autonomic nervous system. By calming your nervous system, acupuncture helps calm the mind and allows you to fall asleep more easily.

Difficulty staying asleep can be due to a variety of factors. Often, it can be a secondary issue like chronic pain that wakes you as you toss and turn, or poor sleep quality that wont let you fall into deep sleep. In this case it is important to determine the cause and address it. If it is pain, that pain needs to be managed. If it is poor sleep quality, then that needs to be improved. Whatever the cause, acupuncture can address the issue and allow you to get a full night’s rest.

Acupuncture’s ability to help with sleep is so universal that many of my clients that come in for unrelated issues often report back that their sleep is better since starting acupuncture treatment.  The clients that have deeper rooted sleeping problems are often surprised when they drift off during the treatment, and at the end of their session tell me that they are ready to go home and go back to sleep! Some of them even book their appointments at the end of the day to take full advantage of that.

Acupuncture’s ability to help with insomnia has been well studied. In a systemic review of 46 randomized control trials on acupuncture and sleep, researchers found that acupuncture performed better than no treatment, sham acupuncture, and even as well as medication in terms of helping sleep duration.

So, regardless of if you need help falling asleep, staying asleep, or just want an opportunity to take a nap, acupuncture treatments are a great tool to re-train your sleeping patterns and get a full night’s rest.

Have you had your acu-nap today?

Jonathan is an acupuncturist and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. He values a holistic approach, and seeks to treat the root causes of illness and provide symptomatic relief for people seeking to better their health and quality of life. As a practitioner, Jonathan seeks to create a positive healing environment, where patients can step away from their daily stresses. Through creating a safe and comfortable space, patients can look forward to coming in for treatment as an opportunity to seek relief and get the support they need.

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Apr 8


“No.”  It’s the shortest sentence in the English language, but for many it’s the hardest one to say.  Sometimes we feel like we’ll be missing out or get in trouble for saying it, but if we never say “no”, we wind up with much bigger problems.  There are big benefits to learning how to say “no” when appropriate, and today I am breaking down my top reasons to say no.

1. Divine decline.

When you say “no”, consider what you’re actually saying “yes” to.  If you had plans to stay in and relax but your friends are pressuring you to go out (when you’re really not feeling it), suddenly you’re saying “yes” to them and “no” to yourself.  Something isn’t adding up here.  Your desires are just as important as those of the people around you.  An invitation does not equal an automatic obligation to say “yes”.  Remember that you can’t please everyone all the time, and it’s a-ok to please yourself and honour your own needs.  Say “no” and get back to your bubble bath/Netflix/workout/cat memes.

2. Be a more efficient employee.

Finding that you’re a “yes man/woman” while on the job?  You’re not alone.  Many feel that if you say no to a higher-up, you may wind up in trouble or looked upon as lazy.  If your pile of work is starting to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa, consider this: most employers prefer that you do a great job at a reasonable number of tasks than a lousy job (that may need to be redone) at too many tasks.  This will likely save your boss from excess work in the long run because he or she won’t have to go over your work ad nauseum.  It boils down to quality over quantity.  Using excellent communication to relay the message that you’re hard at work slaying a certain project can help you say “no” when too many extras are being thrown your way.  And remember: if you never speak up and say when you’ve hit your limit, your boss may think that you’re able to handle more work

3.Consider your communication.

How you frame your “no” is everything.  Package up your “no” so that it seems like a great idea.  Remember the old adage that you win more flies with honey than with vinegar; so you can aim to be “sweet” when saying no, instead of irritated or annoyed.  Offer an explanation that shows the benefit to the person who asked the favour of you.  “I’d just love to be a bridesmaid for you, but I know I won’t be able to give the attention to the activities that you deserve for your special day, and I want you to be as happy as can be!”  Offer an alternative if you can, whether you can offer to do the task on another day or if you know someone who can tackle it today.  If you can participate in just some of the task, that works too.  “I’m not free on Saturday morning to help you move, but I’d love to drop off a coffee and muffin care package in the afternoon for a pick-me-up!” 

4. And for the person that just won’t take no for an answer…

Just say no.  No sugar coating required.  If you do, he or she may take it as an opening to persuade you.  You’re entitled to say a firm “no.”

Saying “no” can be a real challenge when you want to please people, but if you wind up feeling resentful, angry, or exhausted from saying “yes” too often, then this is a skill you need to work on.  Remember that just because you are asked something doesn’t automatically oblige you to do it.  Just say no.

**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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Apr 1


“Ok, this is good…….
Nope, too far left now….
I’ll just twist my hips to the right…noooo, don’t move in the opposite direction…ugh
Wait….closer…yes…ok this feels good….
I think I could get there like this….

         *elapsed time 36 seconds

This is taking too long…
I don’t know if this….
Oh there…yes there…more like that…so close…shit…off again…
Maybe I just say “your turn” or do I fake it?
Whoa!!! Too fast…I’m not a salt lick.
What time is it?  It’s probably been 20 min

         *elapsed time 2:04

It didn’t used to take this long….
My alarm is going off in 5 hrs, maybe I’m fine, this was good enough, right?
Maybe next time…..

         *elapsed time 3:12

THERE!!!! Stay right THERE! That’s it…keep going…it’s building….yes this is going to happen…

         *child cries from other bedroom


For too many women, this is a familiar internal dialogue where we all too frequently assume something must be wrong while impatiently awaiting that elusive orgasm. But maybe instead of blaming our minds or bodies we need to empower ourselves to silence these conversations so the pleasure of our orgasms can be heard above our self-doubt.

Is it all in my head?

Partially.  Often frustration with orgasms is rooted in a cycle that stems from our clitoral physiology and anatomy.  Our ability to generate an orgasm can be delayed from conditions around nerve responsiveness, blood flow and muscle contraction. This can further lead to decreased lubrication for the sexual episode and the whole process seems to take longer.  Cue the above conversation and know the brain does not forget about these encounters (even with baby brain) but rather becomes overly self-conscious the next time.  Hence our cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies that are no parts pleasure or fulfillment.

Did my kids break my vagina?

At the time, it may have seemed inevitable that the beauty of our vaginas was never going to be as beautiful as the child who destroyed them. So yes, childbirth changed some of the architectural integrity down there.  The muscles may have been stretched and episiotomies/tears left you with scar tissue that lacks elasticity or a decreased ability to contract along the scar line.  Some of these muscles assist with clitoral erection and contractions for orgasms. 

Am I too old?

Age plays a role but so does use.  As the saying goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it so why would our vaginas be any different?  The body ages and so does your vagina.  These age-related changes are more prevalent in post-menopausal women due to down regulated hormones.  But even for pre-menopausal women, there is pain, fatigue, laziness, kids, weakness, scar tissue, fear and general life, which places hurdles in front of our sexual health.

So what now?

What if there was a way we could treat some of these conditions and help reverse these cycles? We can’t defy the aging process but we can improve blood flow, nerve conduction and muscle strength locally in our clitoris and surrounding areas. Recently, a modern medical therapy known as soundwave therapy (also known as shockwave therapy; “SWT”) has been used in this area and has shown promising results.

So you want to use Soundwave Therapy where???

SWT uses energy from acoustic waves to induce cells to regenerate naturally. This helps improve blood flow, stimulates nerve growth, and ultimately makes the treated tissue more responsive to stimulation and increases the possibility for contraction.

SWT has become a popular treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED).  Unlike other treatments options for ED, which are used circumstantially, SWT is unique in that it aims to restore the erectile mechanism in order to enable natural or spontaneous erections with lasting results.

Sexual enhancement is not just for men.  It’s 2019, I’ll have what he’s having, thanks! The clitoris and penis are related in anatomical structure as they originated from the same developmental tissue.   With the mounting evidence from ED research, we know SWT will directly impact the physiology of the clitoris, improving overall sensation, blood flow and muscle contraction which are integral for orgasms. 

SWT is not limited to treating one condition. Post-partum, the perineal muscles that make up our pelvic floor can be excessively tight (hypertonia) or may have developed scar tissue from difficult births or surgical procedures.  With the appropriate internal assessment, SWT can help facilitate improved muscle length in the area and scar tissue pliability.  This will directly improve your ability to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles in your treatment and home exercise plan.

At any age, sexual satisfaction is essential for a women’s overall emotional and physical health.

* * *

Kate has over 10 years of experience, using the Swiss-made Storz SWT machines to treat head-to-toe musculoskeletal injuries.  Recently, she has applied this expertise to pelvic health dysfunction and enhancement. Men’s sexual health clinics have been employing this medical treatment technique for years. In the era of equality, it is time for you ladies to #ownyourorgasm #thinkoutsidethebox #traininsidethebox

Check out her webpage https://kateroddyphysio.com/soundwave for more information such as journal resources and frequently asked questions. 

Convinced? Book NOW

Kate has been a physiotherapist for 14 years at one of the top sport medicine clinics in Toronto.  After the birth of her two very large babies, she became a busy, athletic mom with all the “common but not normal” post-partum incontinence symptoms.  She has since become a certified pelvic health therapist and a Studio Lagree Pilates instructor.  Her extensive background in all these areas lets her be uniquely suited to restoring pelvic floor function and overall functional movement in women and men trying to be active and accident-free.

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Mar 29

Own Your Brain

Nothing worthwhile or interesting happens with knowing.

As I have been learning through orchestrating and conducting the first of my Brainfullness Experiment workshops, as well as noticing the effects of the practice on my own life, I have continued to find things to clarify and helpful tips to share.

While we often wonder ‘why’ we are the way we are or why we think or behave in the way that we do, there are so many variables that, if we are to be totally honest with ourselves, we may struggle to know. Brainfullness is about giving you the ‘how’ to utilize your brain to best manage your behaviour and choices. (‘Why do I do what I do?).

From the evolutionary perspective, when things were simple, our decisions were simply whether to run away from a situation or whether to climb up to the next step—in essence, fight or flight, while escaping to the safety of higher ground. Yet there is also a choice to make with regards to valley crossing. This could be viewed as a more vulnerable option given the unknown, the length of the journey, and the potential exposure—there is an uncertainty in wondering if everyone will make it.

We all encounter the stresses and expectations of our society in ‘climbing the ladder’, the quest for perfection, and the tendency for comparison—whether it be in work, school, or parenthood. Yet, as we apply these decisions to our present times, we can ask ourselves if our persistence in the climb and our fondness for higher ground should be the only approach, and take into account the possibility of the value and perspective of valley crossing.

To facilitate this shift, Brainfullness is:

  • Self-Directed in that it is an informed choice—by choosing to acknowledge your body and the moment, you would be valley crossing by getting grounded.
  • Adaptive in the way that it is net positive for your health—allowing you to focus on creating healthy habits versus trying to rely on motivation or willpower.
  • Neuroplastic in how it facilitates meaningful change—cultivating both the awareness and the radical responsibility to free ourselves from self suffering by understanding the evolutionary and self-imposed obstacles that we face. In the workshops, we start with breath and vision due to their practicality and the fact that each can be done both consciously and unconsciously. As well, each has a rich history in study and cross-cultural implementation (as in box breathing, done with Navy SEALs, and peripheralization with vision) as a way of enhancing performance and turbo-charging your ntellect. Understanding that the brain is energetically greedy, and thoughts—good or bad—are very expensive, the consumption of energy at accurate regions/networks of the brain becomes imperative. We learn how to utilize our internal overrides/resets to reroute and regulate the favourable networks, thus allowing us to achieve an optimal emotional and physiological state. Like any experiment, the beauty of Brainfullness is that it allows individuals to undertake it with a sense of play, curiosity, and acceptance of failure. Through the experimentation and expression, we create the cohesion and expansion which gives us the capability to deal with whatever situation we are presented. As we understand our brains, with practice, we can make any challenging or stressful
  • interaction simply a way to stress test our developing skills.

While valley crossing is not intuitive or easy, the most successful tribes were those that undertook it— beautifully displaying an evolutionary trade-off in the benefits of going against the grain. It is a profoundly insightful experience to dive in, realizing that your only limitation should be in how you invest your time for a desired future.

We all encounter peaks and valleys in our lives—neither needs to be glorified or dreaded, or perceived as right or wrong. The most important thing is that we have a solid foundation from which to begin. By experimenting with Brainfullness, you will own your brain and enrich your interactions.

The participants have spoken! Early Five Star Review are in…!

“Eye-opening and highly informative”
~ Yvette M.

Nuance and sophisticated, yet familiar and simple
~ Jon D.

Brainfullness helps me to kick the habits that are not useful” ~ Arti S.

“Deepening your relationships with yourself” ~ Christine M.

I can use it to be a better parent and share it with my kids
~ Claire D.

Not always easy to follow, but worth the effort” ~Andrea C.

“No fillers, no bullshit” ~ Denise H.

I know what a purse puppy is” ~ Julio K

A rich wellspring of knowledge, with the humility of a clinician in the front lines” ~ Dr. Gonzalez

The media and online teams with encouragement to ‘build your neuroplasticity!’ but Dr. T actually teaches you how to do it
~ Dr. Watson

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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Mar 25

Can Acupuncture Increase Your Chances to Conceive with IVF?

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine have long been used to help couples conceive naturally, but what many people don’t know is that it can also work in tandem with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) to increase your chances of getting pregnant.

Homerton University Hospital Study

A recent study from Homerton University Hospital in London, England found that women who receive regular acupuncture treatments while going through IVF, are twice as likely to get pregnant. The study looked at 160 women with half of them receiving IVF alone, and the other half IVF along with four acupuncture treatments. The pregnancy rate among the acupuncture group was more than double that of the group that received IVF alone (46.2% to 21.7% respectively). It goes without saying that this is a significant difference, especially when the financial and emotional costs for a round of IVF are very high.

Through many years of helping women through IVF, I have seen how beneficial acupuncture can be. Not only does acupuncture allow you time to address the specific fertility issues already being treated, but it also can help manage any side effects of the hormones given during IVF.

Stress and Fertility

Perhaps most importantly, and least talked about, is how acupuncture will help manage the stress of the fertility process. IVF (as well as IUI or trying to conceive naturally) can be a very stressful process. Often it can cause anxiety, obsessive thought patterns, internalized feelings of fault/failure, and even depression. Acupuncture, by giving the time to discuss these issues with a supportive practitioner, as well as through its calming effects, can make the experience more manageable and even enjoyable.

While stress does not prevent one from getting pregnant, cortisol (the stress hormone) can negatively impact conception. Cortisol can effect uterine lining thickness, hormone balance, implantation and more. Keeping stress in check, and positively addressing any imbalance is what makes acupuncture such a dynamic tool for people in fertility treatment!

A Widely Accepted Tool

Once considered foreign and misunderstood by western practitioners, acupuncture is now widely accepted and encouraged by fertility specialists. The Homerton University study, along with many others, have shown its effectiveness in assisting women conceive through IVF. In my practice I have seen countless woman turn the stressful IVF process into a humanizing, enjoyable and, most importantly, successful experience.

If you are going through fertility treatments and are looking to use acupuncture to help you conceive, click the book appointment button below.

Jonathan is an acupuncturist and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine. He values a holistic approach, and seeks to treat the root causes of illness and provide symptomatic relief for people seeking to better their health and quality of life. As a practitioner, Jonathan seeks to create a positive healing environment, where patients can step away from their daily stresses. Through creating a safe and comfortable space, patients can look forward to coming in for treatment as an opportunity to seek relief and get the support they need.

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Mar 18

Taking Control of Social Anxiety

Social anxiety can feel like you’re permanently in your worst phase of junior high: tongue-tied, anxious, and full of dread. This seems totally counterintuitive to what social experiences are “meant” to be, namely positive, enjoyable, fun times. If the idea of a simple Starbucks date with a pal or colleague has you wanting to dive back under the covers and give up your caffeine fix for the day (GASP, SHOCK, HORROR!), then you’ve come to the right place. This edition of Lauren’s Top Tips is focused on overcoming social anxiety and feeling more relaxed when you’re not solo.

1. Get your self-talk in check. 

You know that voice that is always in your head, talking to you no matter what you’re doing? It’s kind of like a fledgling superhero; it’s gotta decide if it’s using its power for good or evil. Self-talk is indeed a very powerful thing. It influences the way we feel about nearly everything, including how we perceive ourselves and others. We don’t often actively pay attention to our inner thoughts or self-talk, but it’s a valuable exercise to tune in and listen. You’ll get important information about why you’re anxious. 

For example, imagine you’re at a networking event and you find your self-talk saying things like “Everyone is going to see through me and know that I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m such a fraud, there’s no way they’ll want to work with me, I am such a joke.” Do you think language like this is setting yourself up for success and confidence or failure and self-doubt? It is obviously not helpful to you, and not true! Anxiety is our fears talking, but when we have thoughts in our head, we often believe them to be true.

The key is to challenge these thoughts with more positive and helpful thoughts. Remind yourself of the great things you have accomplished, new skills you have learned or improved, and the natural raw material you have to support your work. If this seems confusing at first, imagine your negative self-talk as a bully whispering in your ear. Kick that jerk to the curb and instead imagine what your best friend would say to encourage you. Listen to that voice.

2. Get your face time on. 

Put down the iPhone… the face time I’m talking about does not require an app. An excellent way to improve that self-talk described in my first point is to practice with affirmations. Affirmations are positive thoughts that you repeat to yourself to help you feel more comfortable with them. 

This is an excellent exercise to jump-start your improved self-talk. Get in front of a mirror. Have one, two, or three thoughts in mind that you want to affirm for yourself. Look yourself in the eye in the mirror and say these things to yourself out loud. I say to aim for ten repetitions, but there is no right or wrong number. When the affirmation feels like it’s settling well in your mind, you’ll know.

Let’s imagine you’re getting ready for a date. A great set of affirmations may be “I am loveable. I am attractive inside and out. New people love getting to know me.” This should be tailored to any specific anxieties or fears that you have, and your counsellor can help determine some examples that suit your needs. 

Be forewarned: This may feel a little cheesy at first. Some people feel a bit silly or embarrassed and have trouble taking in the suggestion in the affirmation. Stick with it. Most of my clients report that once they get over the initial awkward feelings, affirmations are extremely helpful and an easy way to boost confidence while reducing anxious feelings.

3. Get your tool box ready. 

While I believe self-talk is key to confidence and comfort in social situations, there are other more tangible tools that work wonders to help you feel better. The first tool is a way to physically relax. That may come in the form of deep breathing exercises, a meditation practice, or (my personal fave) Clinical Hypnosis. 

Keeping your physical self relaxed encourages your mind to keep calm, too. Another idea is to bring a wingman! If you’re attending a conference, see if a colleague you already know and trust wants to go along with you. Headed to a party? Ask your friend to tag along. This person should not be a crutch or a roadblock to meeting new people, but rather someone who can grease the wheels of conversation with others so that you feel like you have an ally.

4. Do it again.  And again.  And again.

Repeated exposure is the key to overcoming any fear or discomfort.  Avoidance just perpetuates anxiety, making it worse. Regard it as a challenge and set goals for yourself. Make it a point to call a friend on the phone three times a week. Set an objective to make a verbal comment in every meeting you attend. Rate your discomfort from 1 to 10 each time. Check in with yourself after a good period of time; if, a month in, your anxiety has gone from an 8 to a 5, then you’re improving! High five!

Remember, while not everyone has severe anxiety when it comes to social situations, most do feel a little nervous or shy. We all present our best faces when we’re with others, so we don’t know what’s going on in each other’s heads. Some people may think you’re cool as a cucumber in public, believe it or not! Regardless, it can be helpful to know that we’re all in the same boat. Also remember that you’re not a fortune teller or a mind reader; you have no prior knowledge of how the event will go (“It’s gonna be horrible, I’m gonna come across like a loser!”) or what others think of you (“They all think I’m so dumb and awkward! They wish I’d just go home already.”). Go in with an open mind, armed with my tips, and notice how much better you feel.

**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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Mar 11

The Link Between Gut Health and Anxiety

I rarely see someone in my practice with anxiety that doesn’t also have digestive issues. Whether it be bloating, heartburn, constipation, or diarrhea, there’s usually a Pepto Bismol commercial of symptoms happening. That’s because there’s a huge link between your brain and gut.

Vagus Conversations

You’ve probably heard of the central nervous system which is your brain and spinal cord, but there’s also the enteric nervous system located in your gut. The two can communicate back and forth. You have a physical brain-to-gut nerve called the vagus nerve, named after the Latin word for “wandering” as it travels far and spreads out. There are also hormonal and microbial signals between the gut and the brain. At first the thought of microbes present in the body creeped me out. You mean I have all this bacteria just sitting around in my body? But then I realized they are there to help! These bacteria, of which you have over 2kg, help process nutrients, balance blood sugar, keep your immunity up, and you guessed it…they have a role in mood and stress response. These bacteria produce serotonin and GABA, two important neurotransmitters for mood and anxiety. GABA is one of the most important neurotransmitters for anxiety as it’s inhibitory, like a brake pedal to help slow the anxiety response. These neurotransmitters don’t just act in the brain though; they also affect gut motility and the rate of nutrient absorption.  

Stress and Good Bacteria

There is a bi-directional relationship with stress and bacteria. When you’re stressed or anxious, the amount of good bacteria goes down. But when you work on gut health and get your good bacteria numbers up, it actually lowers the stress response in the body. How? Well, good bacteria in your gut can lower cortisol levels—your main stress hormone and also alter expression of GABA receptors—which helps you feel calm.

What is this “good bacteria” exactly? There’s loads of species, but Lactobacillus Rhamnosus has been studied heavily. When animals are given L.Rhamnosus it modifies the GABA system in the brain and leads to decreases in anxiety. This species is found in kefir, or in many probiotic supplements. There’s also evidence that L.Helveticus and B.Longum can provide resiliency against stress.

Fermentation Warriors

If you want to work on your anxiety, your gut health should be a key area of focus. Add in fermented foods for a healthy dose of friendly bacteria. Some options are:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Tempeh

Don’t forget about prebiotic containing foods like Jerusalem artichokes, cabbage, onions, asparagus, and oats, which feed the good bacteria. I’m a big fan of sauerkraut as it supplies both probiotics and prebiotics.

Gut Relations

Also focus on stress relief techniques like yoga, meditation, or breathing. Because remember the relationship goes both ways; working on your gut health reduces your anxiety, and separately reducing your anxiety and stress can boost your gut health! If you want to learn more about the relationship between your gut and anxiety book a FREE meet n’ greet to get started!

Heather is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist trained by the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. She also has a Masters of Science in Public Health and a Bachelor’s of Science in Kinesiology both from the University of Waterloo.
Heather specializes in personalized nutrition using live, natural, and whole foods and looks at many factors surrounding food choices such as stress, sleep, mood, and lifestyle. She has a strong background in mental health and is passionate about promoting its connection to nutrition. Heather sees clients who are overworked, overstressed, and overtired and empowers them to bring their body back into balance. She also specializes in plant-based diets, being vegan herself since 2013. In her spare time, you can find her scouring dog parks for animals to pet, or searching for the city’s best smoothie!

Heather Lillico, MSc, RHN, RYT

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Mar 8

Is Fashion a Healthy Lifestyle Choice?

A Fashion Awakening

A couple years ago, a dear friend suggested I watch a documentary called The True Cost. It was the first time I heard the term ‘ethical fashion’ and I learned some startling things about the fashion industry that I hadn’t ever given much thought to. It was one of those moments when you discover something and everything changes. It was also the first time I heard the term ‘fast fashion’ and I immediately made the connection to food and the ‘fast food’ industry – mass production, low quality, low prices creating harsh effects down the supply chain. At that moment, I knew that buying clothing was about to become something different for me.

As a Registered Massage Therapist, I prioritize, promote, live and breathe healthy lifestyle choices, and being in this industry, I am surrounded by people who do the same. Since I was a teenager I had been making conscious choices with food. Over 10 years ago my health & beauty care products followed, then household cleaners, then makeup, and I am always striving to reduce waste in an effort to shimmy lightly on the earth.

Fashion’s Impact

When I learned the fashion industry has an incredibly massive impact on the environment through water consumption, pesticides in cotton farming, toxic dyes entering waterways, textile waste in landfills, I knew that fashion was next on my healthy lifestyle list. Not only is the environment affected, but the people and communities who make our clothes are too. And so a new path opened up and I had no idea what to expect.

The term ethical fashion is a difficult one to define though its foundation is built on empowerment, preservation and no harm. Generally, it describes design, sourcing and manufacturing clothing which maximizes benefits to people and communities while minimizing impact on the environment – including sustainable fabrics and production, animal welfare, fair trade, exploitive labour, safe working conditions, and use of hazardous chemicals.

What’s out there?

My first step was looking to see if any shops in Toronto carried ethical fashion. I quickly realized that I had a problem. What I found wasn’t inspiring. I turned to my local ‘gently worn’ shops and was fine with that for a while (my favourite is Common Sort in Parkdale and I’ve found some gems at various Kind Exchange locations). I started looking at my own wardrobe for different ways to wear the same pieces. Then I started searching online and wow was I amazed.

I found a global community in this niche of bloggers, designers, non-profit organizations and conscious citizens. All the while I craved that one stylish place where I could shop responsibly. Enter, my sister who has been right by my side the whole time with the same spirit for ethical fashion. One day, we had our ‘wouldn’t it be great if moment’ and took the leap out of our comfort zones.

The Launch of Ethikal

Our new venture is called Ethikal: a thoughtfully curated marketplace made up of conscious designers and people who celebrate style and fashion, creativity, purpose and profit equally, with social good at the heart. We are excited to soft launch to the IHI community! Check us out at www.ethikal.com. We are starting with a small collection of local designers and are lining up more to come.

We’ve been so inspired by all the people we’ve met along this new path.  Our mission is to inspire and encourage choosing better, more mindfully, consciously and healthfully. What I wear on my body is a healthy lifestyle choice for me, my home, my community and beyond.

Yvette Marcek is a Registered Massage Therapist, Pilates Practitioner and Reiki Practitioner; she often incorporates each of these modalities with her clients. Recognizing that each person who comes in the treatment room has unique requirements and goals, her priority is to create a therapeutic environment that is safe, healing, and positive. Yvette’s technique is an embodiment of her belief in massage therapy and the influence of her fortunate opportunities for world travel and an incorporation of her journey’s cultural diversity.

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Mar 1

Hormones and Hair Loss

In my practice I focus on women’s health and hormone balance. So you would imagine that I spend most of my day talking about the lady garden.  But women’s health is so much more complicated than that. Our hormones influence everything that happens in our bodies. From how much energy we make, to our moods, our libidos, our appetites, and our appearance.  Hormones make sh*t happen. 

And sometimes we don’t like what happens. When our hormones are out of balance all kinds of symptoms can arise. Acne, weight gain, fatigue, no sex drive, mood swings, depression, anxiety, and hair loss (among about a thousand other symptoms). 

For now we’re going to focus on the hormonal impact on hair loss. But if you’re curious about a million other ways hormones are impacting your life, bounce over to my website at www.drlisawatson.com and spark your curiosity. 

Hormones and Hair Loss

Hair loss can happen to a woman at any age, and while it may be more common as we get older, that doesn’t mean that it is a normal occurrence at any age. Keep in mind – common is not the same as normal! In this article I’m going to focus on the hormonal causes of hair loss, some of the most common causes I see in my practice. 

Thyroid Imbalances

Your thyroid is a small but mighty gland located in your neck, near your voice box. The primary role of the thyroid is to encourage energy production by the body. When the thyroid isn’t functioning optimally, there can be consequences throughout the body, including the hair. Hair loss can occur with too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) or too much (hyperthyroidism). A condition known as alopecia areata is also linked to autoimmune thyroid disease, or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. 

Conventional testing for thyroid function is not always adequate to identify an underlying thyroid condition. If you suspect your thyroid may be contributing to your hair loss, get a comprehensive thyroid panel completed with your Naturopathic Doctor, functional medicine doctor or MD. This test will look beyond TSH and test for free T3, free T4 and thyroid antibodies. 

Testosterone Overload

One of the most common causes of hair loss in women and men, high levels of testosterone can lead to hair loss, especially at the frontal hairline and the top of the head – we’ve all seen this balding pattern in men. While typically thought of as a man’s hormone, women produce testosterone as well. The real issue isn’t testosterone specifically, but a metabolite of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. This form of testosterone is much more powerful than regular testosterone and binds strongly to hair follicles on the scalp, face, back and chest – leading to hair loss on the scalp, and acne on the face, back and chest. 

Many women can have lab testing for testosterone that looks normal, but DHT levels may still be high. It is important to have both these hormones tested, especially if you have other signs of high androgens such as acne or irregular periods, or have been diagnosed with PCOS. 

Low Progesterone

Progesterone is a super important hormone. The natural balancer to both estrogen and testosterone, many hormonal imbalances are a result of low progesterone. Progesterone is able to block testosterone from accessing receptors, preventing it from leading to hair loss. Progesterone is also the reason women’s hair grows so thick and healthy during pregnancy! 

The three times in a woman’s life when low progesterone are most common are:

  1. If she is using the birth control pill. On the pill you do not ovulate, and do not produce progesterone (the synthetic progestins in the pill are not the same thing)
  2. If she has PCOS and does not ovulate
  3. As she ages. Progesterone production drops through your 30s and many women in their 40s are not making enough to balance their estrogen and testosterone levels. Women in menopause make hardly any progesterone at all. 

Stress is another common cause of progesterone deficiency, as the body will steal all the available progesterone to make cortisol, our body’s main stress hormone. 

Insulin and Blood Sugar Imbalances

No hormone acts on the body in isolation. They all influence each other.  Insulin, the hormone produced to encourage our cells to take up sugar and regulate the levels of sugar in our blood, can have an impact on hair loss when it is imbalanced.

When your diet is too high in refined or processed carbohydrates, your cells can become resistant to insulin, causing higher circulating levels of blood sugar. When this occurs your ovaries can become resistant as well, an imbalance which disrupts healthy ovulation and causes your ovaries to produce more testosterone and DHT. 

Stress and Cortisol

You may pull your hair out when you are stressed, or stress may cause it to fall out. Stress can cause increased or decreased cortisol levels, both of which can contribute to hair loss. Excessive stress can also cause your hair to enter its telogen, or hair fall phase, prematurely. This will often result in hair loss 2-3 months after the stressful event. 

High cortisol will also deplete progesterone and allow for more testosterone to bind to hair follicles, which can further exacerbate hair loss. If you have significant stress, consider what changes need to be made to help lessen your stress, and explore whether cortisol testing may help to reverse and resolve your hair loss.

Stopping Hair Loss

Understanding the hormonal causes of hair loss for women is just the first step. To get to the root cause of your hair loss comprehensive testing is almost always necessary. The problem is that many doctors don’t take hair loss seriously. You may need to pay out of pocket to get the level of testing that you need, but in the end, that knowledge can help you put an end to your hair loss and allow you to regain not only your hair, but balance your hormones and give you your quality of life back.

Selected Resources

Ohnemus U, Uenalan M, Inzunza J, Gustafsson JA, Paus R. The hair follicle as an estrogen target and source. Endoc Rev. 206;27(6):677-706. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16877675

Randall VA. Androgens and hair growth. Dermatol Ther. 2008;21(5):314-28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18844710

Randall VA. Hormonal regulation of hair follicles exhibits a biological paradox. Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2007;18(2):274-85. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17379547

Levy LL, Emer JJ. Female pattern alopecia: current perspectives. Int J Womens Health. 2013;5:541-556. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3769411/

Dr. Lisa Watson delivers health care that supports balanced and attainable health at all ages and stages of life. Of primary importance is health care that nurtures the body, mind, spirit, family and community. As a Naturopathic Doctor and mother, Lisa believes that health care and a healthy lifestyle are intrinsically linked and that each serves to support the other. Dr. Watson practices at the Integrative Health Institute in Downtown Toronto.

Check out Dr Watson’s blog: www.drlisawatson.com

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