4 Mental Health Tips for 2021

Let’s face it, 2020 was a tough year for everyone. If prioritizing your mental health is one of your New Year’s resolutions, we’ve collected some tips that may help you reach your goals and improve your overall wellbeing for 2021.

1. Focus on a Hobby or Goal

Research has shown that regularly doing activities we enjoy is actually beneficial for our mental health. This can be continuing to do something you already enjoy, improving on an existing hobby, or taking up something new that you have always wanted to pursue. Having a goal or a hobby gives one motivation, purpose, and can even improve our self-worth and self-esteem as we develop this new skill. As well, when we are engaged in an activity we enjoy, it is easy to fall into the mental state known as “flow” or “getting into the zone.” This state promotes mindfulness and can help ease stress and anxiety. A hobby is also a great way to help you connect with others. If you love reading, join a book club. If you paint, schedule a virtual painting session with friends who also enjoy painting. If you love running, find someone to run with regularly. Whatever you choose to do, it is important to dedicate time to it, whether it is daily, a few days a week or even just weekly.

2. Limit Your Screen Time

It’s great if you are using technology to connect with family, or access resources that may be beneficial to you. But if you are using it to mindlessly scroll on social media, or compare yourself to others, it may take a toll on your mental health. You don’t have to cut your screen time completely, but know that disconnecting a little can help with your overall wellbeing.

Some ways include creating “tech-free” zones at home, like your bedroom or the family room, where phones are not allowed. You can also dedicate a chunk of time during the day to unplug for a couple hours or even for a whole day. Setting a limit to how many times you pick up your phone can also be helpful to ween off your screen time, as many of us constantly reach for our device multiple times a day without even thinking. Another way is to move apps that eat up most of your time off of your home screen, so you are less likely to to see them and open them up. Lastly, although it may seem counterintuitive, install some apps that may actually help with limiting your screen time. A really fun one is Flora, which helps you to stay off your phone, clear to-do lists, and build positive, life-changing habits by planting “virtual trees.” Whenever you want to make progress toward your goals, your trees grow bigger!

3. Practice Gratitude

Practicing gratitude can be an instant mood booster as you reflect on all the positive things in your life. It is also associated with increased happiness and stronger relationships with loved ones. There are many ways you can practice gratitude. An easy way is to write down at least one thing that you are thankful for every morning. You can also create a list of things you are thankful for and place it in a spot at home where it can be easily seen, as a reminder.

Practicing gratitude can also be done through journaling and writing down all the positive things you experienced during your day. These can be as small as the beautiful sunshine you woke up to, or the delicious cup of coffee you got to enjoy in the morning. Lastly, gratitude meditation is another great way to focus on appreciation, as it allows you to be present and in the moment. Some great apps for meditation include Calm, Headspace and Buddify.

4. Reach Out

Lastly, know that it is ok to reach out and talk to someone or ask for help. Having a friend or family member to talk to can help you feel like you are not alone in your feelings of stress, uncertainty or anxiousness. Even if they don’t have any advice to offer you, having someone to just listen with an open mind can provide a sense of relief.

Dealing with Stress

Stress is all around us. From annoyances such as sitting in a traffic jam or missing a bus to serious stress-inducers like losing a job or the grave illness of a loved one, we face stressful situations throughout our lives.

When we experience stress, our bodies respond by making hormones that speed up our heart rate, make us breathe more rapidly, and release a burst of energy. This is called the stress response or the fight-or-flight response. It prepared our ancient ancestors to protect themselves when their lives were in danger—for example, from an attack by a wild animal they were trying to kill for food. Today we rarely find ourselves in those types of life-and-death situations on a daily basis, but our bodies still react to stress in the same way. A little stress can help us excel in a sporting event or finish an important project on schedule, but too much stress too often or for too long can have negative effects on our health, causing headaches, back pain, upset stomach, or difficulty sleeping. It can also weaken our immune system, making it harder for us to fight off disease.

Managing stress

The first step in controlling stress is to determine what is causing the stress in our lives and looking for ways to reduce it. We’ll never get rid of all of our stresses; some stress is a fact of life, so the next step is to learn healthy ways of managing the stress to reduce its harmful effects.
Some of the things that can help fight the effects of stress include:
• Eating a healthy diet
• Getting regular physical activity
• Doing something you enjoy, such as spending time on a hobby, watching a movie, or listening to calming music
• Keeping a journal and recording what makes you feel stressed and what relaxes you
• Expressing your feelings to someone you trust—a family member, friend, or professional counsellor
• Learning relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques

There is no single relaxation technique that is right for everyone. You may have to try several until you find what works best for you. Here are some common ones:
• Concentrate on your breathing. Take slow, deep breaths and turn your mind away from what is causing your stress. Feel the air entering and exiting your body in a controlled manner. This can be particularly helpful for some people, but it may not be appropriate for those with respiratory problems or heart failure.
• Try silently repeating a short phrase or prayer while focusing on your breathing. This may be particularly helpful for people who feel connected to a religion or spiritual path.
• After a few minutes of focusing on your deep breathing, direct your attention to one part of your body and mentally release any tension you feel there. Once you have released the tension from that spot, focus on another part of your body. Continue the exercise until you have released the tension from your whole body.
• Imagine a soothing scene, place, or experience that has personal meaning for you. Relax and enjoy the serenity this vision brings.
• Focus on the moment. Sit comfortably and turn your attention to that very moment in time. Don’t let your thoughts drift to the past or the present. Live in the now, even if only for a little while.
• Try yoga, tai chi, or another of the ancient arts that combine rhythmic breathing with a series of physical positions or flowing movements.
• To get the most benefit from relaxation techniques, combine them with other positive coping methods such as positive thinking, finding things to laugh about, getting enough sleep, and reaching out for support from family and friends.

Mental Health During Isolation

The emergence of the new coronavirus has changed our lives immensely. Differences in our daily routine, the constant buzz of negative media reports, fears about losing our jobs and the economy in general can play havoc with our peace of mind. And to make matters worse, we can’t even meet up with friends for a chat and a comforting hug.

Fortunately, social distancing or isolation does not reach as far as our digital devices and we can catch up with friends and colleagues on our phones, tablets and laptops, if only to share a smiling emoji. Being alone can have a few benefits when we know it won’t last forever. We could, for example, learn a new language, read a book or two in the time we’d normally spend commuting, or take up a new hobby. And if we feel fear amid these activities—or during working hours if we’re working from home­—a few deep breaths or short meditation will help alleviate anxiety.

Practicing meditation at home is a great way to calm and relax the mind.

If you are a parent of little ones, you will naturally have concerns about their wellbeing, and find it challenging if you are also working from home. If elderly parents, or loved ones with compromised immune systems live with you, you may be wondering how best to protect them from the virus when you yourself have been out of the house on a food run, for example.

Perhaps it brings some solace to remember that everyone is in the same place; that all over the world, in universities and private labs, the best scientific minds of our time are working on developing vaccines that will help restore some normalcy to our lives.

Until then, we must try to relax, to seek out reliable online resources that can help us, and share our fears and questions in online groups and forums for those with similar concerns.

Reaching out to friends and family through video calls can help provide comfort during this time.

For children, teens and adults, it is important to maintain as normal a routine as possible, getting up at the same time as usual, eating regular meals, exercising (think stretches, yoga, dancing and getting in your 10,000 steps by walking around the house). Make sure you are getting to bed reasonably early and don’t make it your second job to watch the news on TV. Instead, get caught up once a day then find something positive to focus on. (If you are seriously troubled by what you are hearing, ask a partner or friend to fill you in on anything that is important for you to know.)

Talk openly to those in your care, making sure your language is age-appropriate. Find out their concerns and open them up for discussion. There is truth to the adage A trouble shared is a trouble halved. Above all, however frightening the spread of this virus may seem, remember to breathe and stay calm.

4 Healthy Getaways for Fall

Sometimes, you need to recharge. It can be hard to do in a busy life – work, family, kids, friends, hobbies, chores, errands…. So why not get away for a bit? Even a few days is enough time to rest, breathe, and get back at it. We’ve gathered a few therapeutic retreat options that might be just what you need.

lake louise wellness retreat

Image courtesy of Flickr user Stephen Liu

Yoga in Banff

yoga retreat alberta british columbia

Image courtesy of Flickr user Matthew Ragan

If you want to get away for some self-reflection but wilderness isn’t really your thing, this yoga retreat at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is for you. The retreat includes two nights’ luxury accommodation at the hotel, gourmet meals, and a selection of yoga & meditation classes as well as a few nature walks around beautiful Lake Louise. Worried about a retreat being too rigid? The schedule is entirely optional – attendees are free to join activities as they wish (meaning you can sneak away for a mid-afternoon savasana). Namaste.

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How to Boost Brainpower and Increase Productivity

Don’t we all wish we could have 10 more hours in a day? That’s impossible, of course, but by boosting your brainpower, you can increase your productivity, which will create the illusion of more time. While there exist quick fixes for sharpening your brain (like eating antioxidant-filled blueberries or going for a run to score some endorphins), these three tips work best as habits to develop and maintain over time.

Get the sleep you need

Reducing caffeine will improve your sleep and mental capability

Cutting caffeine can greatly improve your quality of sleep.

Getting your minimum six hours isn’t even the most important aspect of sleep – what’s really important is getting high quality sleep. Try a sleep-tracking app like Sleepbot or a Fitbit to track your REM cycles. You can also use such apps to set an adjustable alarm that will wake you when your sleep is lightest to increase the quality of your sleep.

You can also unplug before bed to improve your sleep quality. The blue light found on tablets, smartphones, and eReaders actually signals your body to wake up, right before going to bed. Try reading a paper book before bed instead.

Lastly, cutting caffeine (at least in the afternoons, if you can’t live without your morning cuppa) will better the quality of your sleep, among other benefits. Still need a three o’clock pick-me-up? Try an iced herbal tea to give you a boost without the buzz.

Stimulate your brain

Socialization is actually good for your mental health

Socializing is actually good for you – it stimulates your brain. Party on!

Abandon your GPS and calculator in favour of using a map or doing calculations in your head. You can also sign up for a daily-word email to increase your vocabulary. Exercising your brain can also be accomplished by playing Scrabble (or Words with Friends!) instead of just talking or texting. Interestingly, socialization is also hugely beneficial to your brain. By inviting friends over, you  reduce your chances of dementia. What better excuse is there to open a bottle of wine?

Another way to stimulate your brain is to do something new. This can be as simple as walking somewhere instead of driving, as intense as trying a new sport. Learning a new language or instrument also positively impacts the brain.

Treat your body right

Meditation benefits mental ability

Thirty minutes of yoga or meditation will increase your daily productivity.

First, kick the habit. Cigarettes have been linked to memory deficits, so the sooner you quit, the better it is for your body and brain.

Exercise regularly, even if it’s just a longer walk to your car. Try parking further from work, or getting off the bus earlier than usual to increase your walking distance. Practicing yoga or meditating also works – just 30 minutes a day contributes greatly to mental capacity.

Eating right also has a big impact. That means loading up on superfoods like blueberries, almonds, dark chocolate, and greens to boost your brain, but also making a habit of staying hydrated and eating clean and balanced meals.