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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Feb 25

When should someone else get help?

By: Ariel Blau, MSW, RSW, LCSW

Very often a client comes seeking my services because they are worried about someone else who has depression. This client finds that they are worrying enough about another person, to go seek help themselves. How does one decide what to do? The answer is a mixed “depends”, because everybody goes through something that looks like depression at some point, and everybody is different. The good news is that having a bit of a depressed spell is not worrisome in itself. A full-on depression is another story, as you will see below. 

COMMON LOW MOOD

Having a depressive episode is so common that at some point or other, one third of the population goes through one. If it so common, how does one know when something needs to be done about it? There are many factors to consider. The time factor of when it starts and how long it lasts is important. Most normal low mood periods are in response to a specific event or circumstance, and for a few weeks. The feelings communicate to us that something is not working and needs action. Once the situation gets resolved, mood changes, and everything goes back to how it was. This is not something to worry about, because timing is related to a specific event. On the other hand, is grief something to get alarmed about? 

IS GRIEF NORMAL?

Grieving is another emotion timed to a specific loss and looks a lot like depression. A loss happens when someone you care about moves away, goes through a divorce, or a family member passes away.  More complex losses are generated by some illnesses, immigration, and life transitions. Processing life transitions through grief is normal, and even necessary. Embracing these confusing feelings can help you resolve and shorten the process. If the process shifts over time, you are likely processing your grief effectively. 

SEASONAL LOW MOOD

You probably heard of seasonal affective disorder (or SAD). This happens when people feel low and with low energy during the dark winter. SAD involves a disruption of body rhythms due to lack of sunlight, and can result in lowered mood and energy. Is there anything that helps? The good news is that this light-related condition can get better with a few interventions. You can ask your naturopath about supplements, getting exposed to light with daily walks outside and bright lamps, and exercising. Your counsellor can help overcome gloomy thoughts. There is hope! 

WHEN TO WORRY

When low mood is not following the seasons, loss, or a specific circumstance, and stays more than 2 or 3 months, then it is time to start paying attention because it could be a more serious depression. It is good to identify this condition with a health professional, because there can be very effective ways to overcome it. Here are some of the indicators of depression impact activity levels and other are related to the level of distress each person feels. 

LOSS OF ENERGY

The first thing you need to pay attention is how much the person has lost their previous energy levels. Lower levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, typical of depression, leave one feeling drained of energy. One feels that nothing one can do matters. 

LOSS OF INTEREST

Often people with depression abandon activities that previously delivered pleasure. Long-lasting loss of interest is a common indicator of depression. The usual pleasures that come from getting things done, seeing people, or even accomplishing small tasks, are gone. Soon one feels even worse for not doing anything. 

NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

At worse, depression can change people’s thoughts and make them lose the sense that life is worth living. Pervasive negative thoughts of gloom are one of the serious indicators of depression, and sometimes feelings of doom. Who wants to feel like that? 

FEELING INADEQUATE

People with depression may also experience strong feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness and not being good enough. These awful negative thinking patterns can beset otherwise capable and intelligent people, and are not related to reality. The debilitating feelings result in lost confidence and effectiveness. 

CRYING

Sometimes people with depression tend to feel more sensitive and cry often, for no obvious reason. They just feel sad and down. Their life seems as gloomy as their feelings, even though nothing might have changed externally! 

ISOLATING

Increased isolation is another possible indicator that something needs to be checked out. Many individuals with serious depression don’t want to be seen in bad shape and start to isolate and withdraw from the world. When people who were social before withdraw over time, they may need to get help, or a few phone calls to get them out again. They may even fantasize of suicide as a way out of their gloom. 

SUICIDALITY

For one, it is always important to ask people how they feel and get people help when they have suicidal fantasies, plans, and thoughts. I used to feel scared of finding out, but I overcame it because I quickly saw that it is amazingly helpful to the person to be able to share. It can save someone’s life! If you find out they are feeling this low, the hospital maybe the best place to have someone knowledgeable check for their wellbeing (some links below). While depression left unmanaged can end in such low states, the good news is that there are many things you can do to help the person not get into such dire situation. 

STEPS TO TAKE

Usually, seeing a naturopath or other medical provider is the first step to rule out any organic causes. Many organic conditions such as low levels of certain vitamins, heart problems, or digestive conditions, even allergies, can make a person depressed. It is very good to know if something like this is involved because you can then get it under control! 

MEDS

Effective medications, supplements and herbs are available from many medical orientations to help with mood. Naturopaths can look at underlying systemic issues, diet, and herbal supplements. Homeopathy is effective for many individuals. Psychiatric medications such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors have been improved and have widespread positive effects. Trans-cranial electrical stimulation using low levels of electrical impulses matching brain levels is an emerging technique currently undergoing research. It is not yet officially approved for treatment in many areas, but many folks that use it claim it has few side effects. Exercise and yoga can be very effective. 

SLEEP, GOOD FOOD

Good sleep and diet are important things to consider for the depressed individual. The state of your gut is related to your moods, so eating affects your healing. There are other things you can suggest as well, such as helping them get to a counsellor or psychotherapist. 

COUNSELLING

The first support strategy a psychotherapist may try might be to get the person to agree to act against their feelings. It is called behavioral activation and consists of prioritizing activities that once were pleasurable and doing them even if one feels resistance. It helps to have a friend or partner help nudge the person along. Changing the person’s thoughts is another good strategy that psychotherapists use. Actively changing thoughts affects the brain positively. This can be done with affirmations, gratefulness and talk therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to change thoughts and psychodynamic therapies are found to be effective for people with depression. Sometimes just venting can help. 

SUPPORTIVE ATTITUDE

For the friends and family of someone with depression, it is very important to realize that many of the attitudes and choices of a depressed person are dictated by the condition. It is important to not blame the person or criticize their character. Showing understanding, gently inviting them to join and helping them overcome their resistance can be supportive. Even offering a ride to help them get help is a great way to start. 

Disclaimer: This essay/blog is not intended as a substitute for a direct and specific consultation with a mental health provider. If you need a professional assessment for a condition, please see a trained professional.

EXTRAS

If someone you know has a concern, we invite you to schedule an appointment with one of our IHI counselors. We both offer short meet-and-greet and regular appointments that can start the helping process:

Lauren Berger, RSW: https://ihi.janeapp.com/#/staff_member/13

Ariel Blau, RSW: https://ihi.janeapp.com/#/staff_member/38
– – – – – –  – – – – – – –  – – – – – — – – – – – – – – – – –

USEFUL LINKS

If you are thinking of suicide or think someone else may be, there is help.  Call your local crisis line or mobile crisis team or the police, or go to the emergency room of your local hospital.

Mental Health Helpline: 1-866-531-2600

Crisis Text Line: free, 24/7, confidential text message service for people in crisis. The service is currently available in Canada via SMS at 686868. Info about depression

Mood Disorders Association of Ontario:  https://www.mooddisorders.ca/faq/depression 

CAMHhttps://ontario.cmha.ca/document-category/mental-health-and-addictions-conditions/ 

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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Feb 19

Six Nutrients Runners Need to be Aware of

Running. Is. Awesome.

It releases endorphins. It takes us to our happy place. It gives you a sense of purpose and accomplishment. But when we are tired and stressed, getting to this place of freedom can seem like a constant uphill run. 

It’s not you. You may be suffering from Nutrient Deficiencies that can leave you feeling like you are never going to be able to climb out of the ditch.  With a few simple tweaks, you can be up and running towards your goals again.

Runners often ask me, which nutrients do they need most? Here is the run down on Six Nutrients Runners Need:

Vitamin C.

We have all heard of Scurvy. Scurvy is a severe version of Vitamin C deficiency that is not commonly seen in North America. However, a Vitamin C deficiency can occur as part of general undernutrition or illness. If you have experienced any of the following lately, your bodies need for Vitamin C may have increased: fever, inflammation, diarrhea, stress from extreme temperatures and sunburns. Smoking, hyperthyroidism and iron deficiency can also increase these demands.

  • What runners should look for: Symptoms of deficiency may include fatigue, irritability, depression, impaired wound healing, gingivitis and muscle pains[i].
Vitamin D.

Runners love to get outside. The reality of a Canadian Winter is we may be pushed inside to the treadmill more than we like. As I am writing this, it is -18 and a healthy snowstorm is in the works – Not an ideal day for running.    

Lower Vitamin D levels may contribute to decreased performance and impaired immune function. Keep in mind, that genetic and environmental factors also influence our Vitamin D levels[ii]. There is also a misconception that running outdoors guarantees you satisfactory Vitamin D levels. This fat-soluble vitamin has many other factors that can influence its absorption, including Magnesium which we will talk about below.

  • What runners should look for: Getting Stress Fractures? Vitamin D is important for runners as this vitamin supports bone health. Research shows that vitamin D deficiency plays a role in stress injuries and fractures.
Vitamin E.

Vitamin E is also a fat-soluble vitamin. Therefore, dieting and eating diets low in fat may exacerbate low Vitamin E levels. Women who run longer distances are more susceptible to deficiencies[iii].  

  • What runners should look for: Interestingly, this Vitamin can be deficient in women who have irregular periods. Low Vitamin E levels can also have an impact on those trying to conceive.
Iron.

Amenorrhea, or lack of a period, is common in women who engage in intense exercise regimes. However, a study conducted during the 2015 London Marathon found that 1/3 of the participants suffered from a heavy period – despite the increased training load. Only 22% of the runners found to have heavy periods sought medical advice[iv]. Ladies, this a huge red flag. If something is off, we need to pay attention. It turns out heavy periods are more common than we thought.  The increased flow can contribute to a condition called iron deficiency anemia. These irregularities are symptoms. They should and can be treated. 

  • What runners should look for: Iron depletion could affect the ability to train and recover from strenuous runs. Common deficiency symptoms are fatigue, anxiety, reduced mood and energy levels. This can have a negative impact on quality of life and productivity[v]
Magnesium.

Magnesium is an electrolyte that can be lost when we sweat. The “Standard American Diet” (notice how the acronym is ironically “SAD”), has been noted to contain only about 50 percent of our magnesium recommendations[vi]. Yikes, that’s pretty low, especially when considering all of the amazing things magnesium can do in our body including regulating hormones, helping you sleep and preventing muscle cramps.

  • What runners should look for: Muscle twitches, spasms and cramping can indicate a deficiency. Heavy exercisers may experience a buildup of lactic acid, shin splints and painful muscles during and after exercise.
Zinc.

A zinc deficiency can be difficult to detect. Women who are dieting or carbo loading may be susceptible to a zinc deficiency. Loading up on carbs while limiting protein and fat contributes to deficient levels of zinc[vii]Those who are switching over to becoming vegetarian tend to gravitate to carb heavy diets until they learn how to properly balance their diets.

  • What runners should look for: In runners, a zinc deficiency can lead to a loss of appetite resulting in a significant loss in bodyweight, fatigue with decreased endurance and a risk of osteoporosis[viii].  Frequent colds and infections can be a sign your zinc status is off.

How can you tell if you are deficient in one of these Nutrients?

Test. Naturopathic Doctors have access to epic tests that provide unique insight to your individual code. Identifying deficiencies can be a catalyst to your energy and how you and your body respond to your running program. 

Take Home Note: Remember, having a running schedule or training program is a must to improve your distance or time.  What many of us forget is that is only a part of what makes you successful. Ensuring you are absorbing your nutrients and your organ systems are functioning in an optimal window will be what drives you to the Runners Dream place.

If you found any of this information useful, share it with a friend who you think may be heading towards a deficiency. If you are suspecting a deficiency in yourself, let’s test. Click on the link below to book your appointment.  Don’t worry if you are in your off season.  This is the ideal time to support your health to start your season off with a bang.  Together, we will identify your deficiencies and create an individualized powerful protocol to give you relief from your symptoms.  I am here to guide you in your journey to becoming STRONGER INSIDE.

References:

[i] https://www.merckmanuals.com/en-ca/professional/nutritional-disorders/vitamin-deficiency,-dependency,-and-toxicity/vitamin-c

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22735329

[iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=vitamin+e+deficiency+and+runners

[iv] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26901873

[v] https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/50/9/566

[vi] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180226122548.htm

[vii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7472669

[viii] http://www.ncbi.nln.nih.gov/pubmed/11475319

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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Feb 12

I Laughed So Hard I Peed!

Ladies, ladies, ladies….. Let’s be real for a minute. Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is a thing. You may know this thing as “I pee a little when I sneeze”, “I pee when I run”, “I pee when I skip rope” “I pee on the trampoline” “I pee when I quickly lift up my 48lbs child or 100lbs barbell”.  And you know what?  You’re not alone. You’ve probably even had a giggle with your girlfriends who’ve gone through the same thing. You admit that you only buy black leggings because any other colour would be too obvious if there was a “leak”. You may be running again but you go to the bathroom 3 extra times before you go out, just to make sure all the pee is gone.  Skipping rope is a thing of the past…a mere grade school activity.  Trampolines are a no-go zone unless getting your child off of one, but you make sure to have one foot planted on the outer ring and definitely no jumping.

We justify these lifestyle changes because our circle of friends tells us “it’s normal after childbirth” or “oh that happens when you get into intense weightlifting or CrossFit”.

No, no, no with a side of absolutely not.  

PEEING YOUR PANTS IS COMMON, not NORMAL.

Let’s be clear.  SUI is COMMON, but it is not NORMAL.  This would be like spraining or breaking your ankle and limping for 6 weeks but telling people it’s “normal” when you’re still limping 6 months or even years later.  Sure, a panty liner is back-up, a just in-case plan but how is that any different than using a cane for that ankle injury one year later.  Just like there is no shame in spraining your ankle, there is no shame in getting help for SUI. Independence from any external device post-injury should always be the goal of treatment.  Accident-free living is the goal of pelvic physiotherapy.

WHAT CAUSES STRESS URINARY INCONTINENCE?

SUI is the most common occurring form of incontinence in women under the age of 60 and accounts for more than half of the cases.  It is defined as the involuntary loss of urine when there is an increase in intra-abdominal pressure.  Several health factors put you at risk as well as life events.  They include nerve and muscle damage from birthing or surgical trauma, loss of pelvic muscle tone (often seen with aging), hysterectomy, obesity, menopause, chronic coughing due to smoking or lung disease and even heavy lifting or high impact sports in younger female athletes.

SO WHY IS MY PELVIC FLOOR TO BLAME?

Pelvic floor muscles (PFM) act as a sling to provide support for our internal pelvic organs (bladder, rectum, uterus).  When an increase in pressure from our abdominal cavity pushes down, our PFM act to keep everything in…. pee included.  For many of us, our PFMs have become dysfunctional due to trauma or repeated changes in our behavior (heavy lifting) such that they have adapted to a new normal.  PFMs can be too weak but, surprisingly, they can also be dysfunctional if they are too tight.  How many times does your physiotherapist tell you that your quads or calves are too tight and to stretch or roll them out?  Sometimes, our PFMs need to relax so they work efficiently too.

KEGELS?  THROW THEM OUT OR DO 4000 OF THEM?

It depends on your internal pelvic assessment.  Yes. Internal.  Evidence repeatedly supports that women who see a physiotherapist and have an internal pelvic assessment and treatment have much higher success rates in managing SUI and other PFM-related symptoms.  But your physiotherapist cannot determine if you should be doing 4000 Kegels (pelvic floor contractions) or 0 Kegels unless they can feel the integrity of the tissue and how it contracts.  We were all led down the single solution road of Kegels from our mothers, our GPs and even our OB/GYNs.  What if this is making it worse? 

THE GOOD NEWS WITH ALL THIS PEE….

Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy is gaining awareness and IHI is very excited to have Kate Roddy join our team to help you skip, run, laugh, sneeze and wear red, pink and even baby blue leggings to work out in again.  Kate can help guide you back to an accident-free normal.  It’s common to be dry as well.

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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Feb 11

The Language of (Un)Love(ing)

By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW

Love is a many splendored thing… until it’s not.  Even though love and relationships are permanent fixtures in our society, that doesn’t mean that they are easy or simple.  It seems like we have to kiss a lot of frogs until we find a great match.  Hey, that’s okay!  This is true of almost everyone.  When we take turns dating several people, there is an inevitable caveat that we must deal with: breakups.  We usually look at breakups as the most uncomfortable part of dating, but today I’m breaking down (see what I did there?) ways to keep it clean, considerate, and comfortable.  Buckle up and let’s go!

1. Are you sure? 

Rough patches are part of even the best relationships.  If things have been awesome and you’ve just hit a bump in the road, consider if ending the relationship is truly what you want to do or if you want to work through the issue.  Some issues are non-negotiables for some people (cheating, having kids, core values), and others have the potential to be sorted out (overbearing family members, moving countries, even religious differences).  Think about the reality of not having this person in your life and see if the problem is truly a deal breaker or if there’s still hope.  Don’t feel the need to tackle it alone.  A couple’s counsellor can work wonders to help you move through the heavy stuff and see if you can make it work. 

2. Use your words

When a person feels angry, sad, or resentful toward their partner, it’s easy to use a lot of four-letter words when ending the relationship.  While your soon-to-be-ex may deserve a few choice comments, think about ways you can express yourself that will leave you feeling better about ending things instead of worse.  Relay information about how you have been affected in the relationship, what’s no longer working for you, and (if you’re feeling generous) what has been great or memorable about the relationship.  Chances are there were some awesome moments, and it may make everyone feel better to remember these.  The key is to address things from your own point of view, also known as the “I statement”.  I feel unhappy with our long-distance relationship.  I feel that we aren’t as compatible as we had hoped.  When you start using “you statements”, the other party will likely become defensive and you’ll wind up in an argument.  You never show me you care.  You don’t help me when I ask you.  Keep your approach in mind in order to keep an awkward break up a little more comfortable. 

3. Is it kind/necessary/true?

This is the trifecta of communication.  Before you speak, consider if what you’re about to say is kind, necessary, and true.  I know that if you’re angry, leaving out the “kind” bit may seem appropriate, so at least aim for civil.  You’ll likely sleep better at night in the weeks that follow if you do.  Taking the high ground can help you feel like the bigger person and keeps things clean.

4. And if you’re the dumpee…

Ouch.  We’ve all been there and know that it sucks.  But you learn something important about yourself, what you want, and what you don’t want in every romantic encounter you have (whether it’s a one-night stand or a 10 year marriage).  Figure out what that valuable information is, and use it as data for the next love you experience.

5. When all else fails…

Just remember this: there are always two sides to every story.  Even if you think the other person’s is ridiculous, try to keep this in mind when ending things.  Feeling a bit empathetic for your soon-to-be-ex will help you remember why you were together in the first place and help keep things kind.  Everyone is just trying to get by and find some love along the way.  Remembering that will also help you be kind to yourself if you recognize that you’ve been in the wrong along the way.  Hey, nobody’s perfect.  Learn from this and move on as a wiser person (see #4).

Breaking up is hard to do, but it’s often necessary as you navigate all the possibilities out there to find someone you truly click with.  Just avoid breaking up with someone on Valentine’s Day, that’s just mean (and yes I did that once.  Oops.)  This Valentine’s Day, I’m wishing you all love and the courage to leave something that isn’t right in the pursuit of love.

**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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