How to Focus More on Health, Wellness & Happiness, and Less on How you Look in the Mirror

Well, here we are – the final installment of Overcoming Negative Body Image. So far, we’ve discussed:

  • Negative body image
  • How to stop being so hard on yourself
  • Appreciating your body
  • Re-framing self-talk
  • Myths and facts about healthy eating

Now that we’ve talked about some of the psychological aspects of body image, I want to talk about what we can do from a physical standpoint in order to move towards being healthy. Of course, working on how you view your body is important, as is working on your food intake, but what about exercise?

How do we move towards our goals of being healthy without going overboard or being unsuccessful? What if we get too obsessive about it? What if we set our goals too high and we fail?

These questions can be daunting, and I think we’ve all experienced some form of this. When I first started running to help supplement my weightless efforts and improve my cardio fitness, I went too hard too fast and injured myself, which meant I had to take some time off. This was terrifying to me because I was so afraid of gaining the weight back. But I just kept in mind what my goals were, and really put my energy into focusing on my nutrition. Once I was healthy, I went back to running and gradually increased what I was doing instead of doing too much too fast.  

There have been a few things I’ve learned along the way (some the hard way!) that I think might be helpful:

Reframe Your Goals

Sometimes the goals that we set for ourselves can be unrealistic or be difficult to quantify or attain. We may want to be ‘skinnier’ or ‘curvier’, or want to have the body we had in high school. These types of goals are difficult to quantify or measure as we go, and it’s hard to tell when we’ve reached those goals.

While it’s okay to have a general goal of wanting to lose or gain weight, reframing your goals to be more in line with what your values are might be more effective. For example, if you want to be able to go hiking with your friends without getting winded, perhaps a walking program would be a good start, and the goal could be more focused on your performance in terms of walking or hiking.

If you’re thinking right now that you’d like to be healthier in general, think about what that really means for you. Do you want to eat more veggies? Move around more?

Focusing more on increasing these behaviours can help us move towards specific goals that are less focused on how we look or the number on the scale. In turn, we may be less likely to be critical of ourselves if we’re less focused on our appearance.

Set SMART Goals

You may have learned about SMART goals in school, but if you haven’t, it’s just a way to think about our goals that breaks them down and makes them a little more specific. SMART goals are:

  • Specific: the goal is not vague (I want to run 2km)
  • Measurable: you can measure your progress (I can use a GPS watch to measure my distance)
  • Attainable: within the confounds of what you can do; not unrealistic (I can run 2km in 3 months)
  • Relevant: it’s something that’s important to you (I want to run to play soccer again)
  • Time-based: it’s not open-ended (I want to run 2km by September 1st)

The difference between a SMART goals and a ‘regular’ goal may be the difference between success and failure. It’s important that we are clear with ourselves about our expectations, and that we set goals that are realistic.

Consider the difference between these two statements:

  1. I’ve never run before but I’d like to run a marathon some day
  2. I’ve never run before, so I’m going to start training to run a 5km race next year

The first one almost sounds like a dream; something you’d daydream about while sitting on your couch. The second one sounds actionable. It’s something you can realistically see in your future. The best part about these types of goals is that you can break them down even further!

Running a 5km race by next year may seem really daunting if you haven’t run before. But if you break that down over the next 52 weeks and map out a plan to gradually increase your running distance, you can focus on each week as it comes. The ultimate goal doesn’t change; you’re just helping to set yourself up for success.

Make changes because you love your body, not because you hate it

This is a big one. We often talk about how much we dislike our bodies and wish we could change them. But why not make changes because we love our bodies instead? That doesn’t mean you have to love every inch of your body, but maybe you can work on appreciating your body, and reminding yourself of the importance of self-love.

Start running because you’d love to see the amazing things your body can do. Eat more veggies because you know your body deserves to be nurtured. Cut down on snacking on junk because you know that healthier snacks make you feel good, and you deserve that!

Again, consider the difference between these statements:

  1. I need to be more healthy so that I can lose weight and not be so fat – I hate my body
  2. I’d love to lose some weight and start moving more so that I can nurture my body and really use it to its full potential

The first sounds discouraging and intimidating. Everything about it is negative. You need to do it, instead of you’d love to do it. The second one sounds almost exciting. Imagine what you can do and how your body might feel if you can make these changes? Sounds better than self-depreciation, if you ask me!

If you had to choose one of the above to say to a friend or family member, which would you choose? Likely you’d choose the second one to try and encourage them and help them move forward with compassion and love. It’s important that we treat ourselves with the same level of love and compassion.

It doesn’t have to be about beating ourselves up. If we can start to reframe our goals and reframe the reasons that we do things, we give ourselves so much power to make meaningful changes in our lives.

It takes some time and it’s important that we be patient with ourselves. But if you keep working on it, you can make some meaningful changes in your life and start moving towards your values – and loving yourself even more!

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT, FNS

Relationships are hard!

We have all heard that before, but what does that mean? Why are they so hard? Should they be? Must they be?  You know the old saying “the best things in life are free”, but ‘free’ doesn’t always mean easy! Some of the hardest things in life take the most care and effort, and consequently, bear the sweetest fruit.

So, the story goes: once upon at time, we grew up, built relationships, fell in and out of love, made mistakes, made them again (and sometimes again), picked ourselves up, and kept going. That is a far cry from fairy tales we grew up with about some enchanted forest, magic spells, and white horses that bring us to our ‘happily ever after’. The truth is, real relationships don’t work like that, and we tend to learn that the hard way because nobody writes stories about never-ending compromise, flexibility, and more patience and understanding than sometimes feels humanly possible. Doesn’t exactly make for a great bedtime story, right?! But the reality of love is that those are often the very qualities it takes to make things work – not glass slippers and fairy godmothers! The fact is, there are many great and wonderful things about love and relationships, and there also challenging and difficult aspects too. Commitment, trust, understanding, partnership, communication, sacrifice, and intimacy come with both concerted effort and great rewards.

As we build a relationship with another person, we contribute to the dynamic with parts of ourselves. In the beginning of a new relationship, we tend to choose the best parts to put forth. Perhaps as we become more comfortable with another person and build trust and security, we begin to share the less desirable parts and dissonance can arise within the relationship. We may ask ourselves, “Who is this person?”, “Why didn’t I see this before?”, “What happened to us?”, or “How did we get here?”.

It is important to remember that each person in a relationship is a WHOLE person, not their partner’s ‘other half’, and that we contribute what we have to offer (or not) to the relationship between us.

So many times, we make the cardinal mistake of believing we can change another person. The truth is, we can’t force a person to change, and ultimately, we have no right! We are only in control of ourselves, and the contribution we make to our relationship with that other person – not the other person themselves! Perhaps better questions to be asking if we can to make changes are: “What am I bringing to this dynamic?”, “How have I changed over time?”, or “What could I do to make things better?”.  It is a basic human need to be heard and understood. There are many therapeutic approaches to couple and family counselling that aim to deal with the hurt, anger, resentment, defensiveness, and boundary and communication issues, that come along with managing relationships. The Gottman Method and Emotion-focused therapy are two of the most well-known and aim to get to the core of the emotions involved in loving relationships. Many of the issues that lay deep in the heart of problem relationships are hidden and masked by symptoms like arguments, nagging, lies, betrayal, blame, manipulation, lack of intimacy, hurtful words, and accusations.  

Healing the relationship between couples and families in therapy takes effort and commitment from all parties, and starts with getting to know each person, both as an individual and as a member of a partnership. Therapy offers no magic spells or potions, but tools for understanding and helping a person putting forth the best they can to make things work. The journey through therapy isn’t always easy but, like relationships, it takes hard work and has the potential for great rewards. It all starts with aiming for everyone to simply be heard and, more importantly, understood.

If you feel your relationship may benefit from counselling, you can contact me here.

By Chelsea Avram, MACP Candidate

On May 11th last year, we officially launched Roots in Wellness! We are so thrilled to be celebrating this special milestone.

At the time we started Roots in Wellness, Jennifer and I were both working at other jobs and uncertainty was front and centre. Our dream was to create a practice where we could integrate services for both mental and physical health, using Jennifer and I’s unique sets of skills and education. In reality, we had no idea how launching a business would go, how long it would take to build a caseload, or where this little business would end up in a year!

One year later, we reflect on what it has looked like so far.

Getting to Know the Community

When we first started, we prioritized building our caseloads and becoming acquainted with the community around us. Although I was born and raised in Hamilton, my entire therapy career up until that point was centered in Burlington and the GTA. This meant starting from the ground-up to build a professional network and gain a better understanding of the resources around us so that we could better help our own clients.

We visited doctors’ offices, local businesses, and met with other local practitioners. Through these conversations, we’ve increased awareness for mental health, discovered further resources in our community to help foster wellbeing, and met some new friends in the process!  

Taking the Leap

On July 27th, 2018 I left my full-time job to pursue working at Roots in Wellness full time. I strongly believe that leaving one’s salaried, full-time employment for entrepreneurship is one of the scariest, challenging, and EXCITING leaps that one can take. My hat goes off to anyone who has experienced it before!

It was strange at first having whole days to focus on the business, as I was so used to multi-tasking day and night when I was at my previous job. I found it to be freeing but also sort of intimidating that I had all of this time to work with and delegate when I would do what. I slowly figured out what worked best for me, scheduling working hours for seeing clients, doing administrative work, professional development, and networking time.

Finding a Balance

One of the things I found most important for me early on (and to this day!) was to separate home time and work time. I have a separate cell phone for work, and since I started the business I’ve been in the habit of turning off my work phone at the end of the day and keeping it off on evenings and weekends. Spending quality time with family, friends, and myself has always been something I’ve valued, and I feel that having this separation is essential to making sure I am the best person I can be both in my personal life and as a therapist.

What I’ve Learned

If I could go back and give myself advice in those first six months of private practice, I would tell myself to try and become comfortable with being more uncomfortable! Soooo many aspects of private practice were uncomfortable, from the up’s and down’s of busier versus quieter weeks, writing blogs, not knowing what type of content to post on social media, and being “on my own” in terms of all clinical decision-making and administration. I think there was a part of me that expected I “should” have just had a full-caseload private practice at the end of the second month, and be confident in everything I was doing – while that couldn’t have been further from the truth!

I believe that accepting your own vulnerability is an essential part of chasing any dream. We have no way of knowing with complete certainty whether it will all work out, and this fear can feel immobilizing. Part of what has helped keep me moving forward has been to accept that I don’t have all the answers, and I can’t predict the future. I do my best to take things one day at a time, and focus on doing what I can to further my dream while also knowing that part of it isn’t up to me. You can put a pile of work into your dream, but it still takes time, patience, and maybe a little bit of fate to make it happen!

From Jennifer

You all may have noticed that I am not as active on social media or with Roots in Wellness in general. What many of you may not know is that I actually have a full-time job in the business field that keeps me busy much of the time. But, I couldn’t bear to not have therapy as a part of my life, and Kayleen and I make a great team.

Kayleen has said it well – creating a business is hard but it will make you strong and it’s something you can feel amazing about. I am so unbelievably proud of where Roots in Wellness is, and how Kayleen has managed to grow her caseload so quickly.

I am not from Hamilton, but the opportunity to serve this wonderful city, in particular the LGBT+ community, has been an honour, and I wouldn’t want to practice anywhere else. I am so excited for what the future holds for Kayleen and I, Roots in Wellness, and our community. I am lucky to have a business partner who understands me (good or bad!) and works with me to get things done and help this business grow. I look forward to showing all of you what the two of us can do, and continue to offer community resources for those in need. Thank you!

Thank you!

I have felt so lucky to have the support of family, friends, and my “biz bestie” – Jennifer, the other half of Roots in Wellness – throughout this process. Having the support and encouragement of others who care is so essential to keeping your spirits up, doubts in check, and momentum moving forward. I am so grateful for all the phone calls, messages, and lunches shared with my biz bestie. Her never-ending love and patience with all of my questions and fears will never cease to amaze me, and I feel so lucky to have shared this experience with her.

Jen and Kayleen

I don’t think it’s always easy to get into business with a close friend, but if anything the past year has only made our friendship stronger. I truly believe that people enter our lives for a reason, and I am so glad that she is a part of mine.

We are proud of what we’ve accomplished in the first year of Roots in Wellness, and are so excited for all of the things that are to come! In the coming year, we will be expanding our services to include Walk and Talk Therapy, more Yoga Therapy group programs and workshops, and Nutritional and Fitness consulting thanks to Jennifer’s new Nutrition and Personal Training Certifications!

We feel so privileged to do the work that we do, and to have met all of the wonderful people we have in the process. From other therapists, healthcare professionals, and all of our amazing clients – we are grateful for each and every one of you and the new things you teach us each daily.

We hope this post has been helpful in learning a little bit more about us and our story. If you take away anything from our story, let it be this: following your dreams is one of the most scary and also one of the most incredible things you will ever experience.

There is no guidebook, no set path – just limitless potential to do what feels meaningful to you. If you are waiting on a sign to act on your dreams, this is it! You have the power to make your dreams happen, and there are so many amazing people in our community to help you along the way. Please do not hesitate to reach out if there are things we can do to help you along your path.

With love, respect, and gratitude,

Kayleen Edwards, MA, RP

Living with chronic pain is a struggle every day; you have aches and pains but it seems like there’s no answers for you. While I can’t say that I’ve experienced chronic pain myself, my mother, Lisa, has been living with Crohn’s disease, Fibromyalgia, and chronic pain for most of her life.

This is what she had to say about living with chronic pain:

“Chronic pain affects every aspect of daily living. Most mornings I am so stiff it is hard to get out of bed; it takes over an hour to get moving normally. Everything you do is affected by the pain. I have frequent body aches and spasms – it’s exhausting to deal with. The fatigue takes over and most days I have to lay down and rest.”

Everyone’s experience with chronic pain is different, but in my experience the general idea is the same; dealing with constant pain and aches is exhausting and it truly does affect every single thing you do.

Chronic pain can be extremely debilitating, and even lead to symptoms of depression. Studies have found that those with multiple pain symptoms are three to five times more likely to experience depression than those without pain (Meshreki & Cosio, 2017).

While I can’t cure your chronic pain with extensive Psychotherapy or by having you read this blog, I hope that I can help provide you with some tips to be able to cope a little more easily with your pain.

Spend Time with Loved Ones

Jennifer and her mother, Lisa

This is important for everyone; not just those who suffer from chronic pain. Spending time with loved ones can be beneficial because we receive love, compassion, and care from that that we may not be getting from ourselves.

Being grateful for the wonderful people in our lives can help to lift our spirits and remind us of how lucky we are. We can also benefit from helping those around us; helping others reminds us that we have purpose and meaning in our own lives and the lives of others.

Ask for Help

This is a big one, and one that I know a lot of people struggle with (even those without chronic pain). Asking for help is tough. It can make us feel weak and lead to feelings of ‘less than’. The reality is, we all need help from time to time. Whether or not we ask for it, we inevitably get help from others, whether it’s emotional, physical, financial, or otherwise.

If you have a good circle of people around you, they won’t mind if you ask for help. And asking for help when you need it can alleviate some of the pressure that you put on yourself to do things on your own.

Often, when we begin to ask others for help, it opens up for them to ask as well. Once we know that we have an opportunity to help someone that we’ve asked for help, it can make us feel more at peace with the process, as we’ve developed a sense of reciprocity in the relationship.

Remember: you don’t have to do this alone.

Embrace Your Body

It’s understandable that when you’re experiencing chronic pain, you may not have a lot of appreciation for your body, what it can do, how it looks, or how it feels. We feel like we have no control over how our body feels, so we can sometimes take that as we have no control over our bodies at all.

Lisa recently lost over 30 pounds by making some changes to her diet, and has begun going to the gym. While she doesn’t indicate that going to the gym improves her symptoms, her weight loss has done wonders for her confidence and her mental health.

“I push myself to work out and to keep my muscles working, but it is definitely a struggle.”

Knowing that you have some control over your body and being able to see that it can improve and do wonderful things (like lift heavy weights or increase your time doing cardio) can be truly empowering.

Work on Your Mental Health

As I mentioned earlier, the rates of depression in individuals with chronic pain are higher than the general population. While this may not come as a surprise to many, what may surprise you is that your mental health can actually impact your physical health.

The Medical Journal of Australia reports that chronic pain patients who struggle with depression report decreased function and have poorer responses to treatment (Holmes, Christelis, & Arnold, 2013). Not only that, but the link between mental and physical health has been widely recognize for quite some time, yet it is often overlooked by physicians.

If you notice that your mental health is suffering, there are some things you can do to help. You can speak with your doctor, turn to self-help books or mental health blogs, or seek out Psychotherapy. It’s okay to ask for help!

Do Things that you Love

Lisa with some of her crafts

Lisa didn’t mention this when we spoke, but she loves to do crafts. She does woodworking, painting, and other home décor-type projects. But doing these things is difficult for her as she experiences tingling and numbness in her hands and fingers at times. So how does she deal?

She takes her time, listens to her body, and takes frequent breaks. She will often spend more frequent, shorter periods of time working on her crafts instead of a full day to ensure she doesn’t overdo it.

There may be things you used to love to do that you can’t do anymore. Sometimes we have to be creative and really dig deep down to find something we will enjoy.

For example, let’s say you love to play soccer, but as your symptoms increase, you find you can no longer play. So what now? Well, I would encourage you to ask yourself what it was about soccer that you enjoyed.

If it’s being competitive, that’s great! There are lots of less physical or non-physical things that are competitive, so perhaps looking into those options. If it’s the team aspect, then maybe you look into a lower-impact team sport. And if it’s the physical work that you enjoy, getting a gym membership and doing what you can on your own time and at your own pace may be a great way to push yourself physically without overdoing it.

It’s difficult to look at some of these things because we often associate our hobbies and interests with our identities. It’s a hard thing to redefine who you are, but having chronic pain doesn’t make you less of a person; it may just make your life look a little different.

Nothing

Sometimes we have to just ‘drop the rope’ and do nothing.

“The fatigue takes over and most days I am forced to lay down and rest. This helps relieve some of the exhaustion.”

Lisa Stere

It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to listen to your body and give it a break. Having some self-compassion and allowing yourself to take care of you and your body is important.

We may have internal judgement for resting, or even external judgement from others. But at the end of the day if resting is what is going to help you live your best life, so that you can wake up from your nap and conquer the rest of the day – then you do that!

“I would love to wake up and feel rested and pain free, just for a few days. The pain is real but I try not to let it take over my life.”

Lisa Stere

Chronic pain is real. It sucks and it is a struggle and it is hard. And you can get through it, because you’ve been getting through it. You can take back some control and keep moving forward the best that you can.

We can’t control everything, but when we focus on the things we can control, we become empowered, strong, and resilient, just like my mom, Lisa.

Thank you to Lisa Stere for speaking to me about her experiences. You’re truly an inspiration.

Jennifer Thomson, RP, MACP

Therapy dogs are becoming more commonplace in universities, hospitals, retirement homes, and more recently, airports. Personal therapy dogs have also widely been used with individuals who experience anxiety, depression, PTSD, and physical health concerns such as blindness, autism, and diabetes, to name a few.

According to Psychology Today, bonding with dogs is said to have benefits such as reducing stress levels, decreasing perceived loneliness, and increased overall life satisfaction.

Similarly, a study by McConnell et al. (2011) found that pet owners had improved self-esteem, were more physically fit, less lonely, more extraverted, and less fearful than people who did not have pets. It seems clear in the research that having a pet significantly improves overall wellbeing, including both physical and mental health. But what does this look like in real life?

 

When we adopted our dog Callie, the impact on my life was almost immediately noticeable. These are the major differences I noticed:

 

I’m more active.

We generally walk Callie twice a day, every day for 15-30 minutes each time. Prior to having a dog, I definitely did not walk regularly or spend as much time outdoors. This is especially true in the winter and when it’s raining – times when I never would have gone for a walk on my own before having a dog.IMG_0762.JPG

I’ve noticed now that if I don’t get our walks in, I feel it! I feel more fatigued overall, and sometimes I notice feeling more anxious. It’s funny to me how I wouldn’t think of missing Callie’s walks, but that before having her it didn’t cross my mind to make walking a regular part of my daily routine.

 

I’m more social with neighbours.

Prior to having a dog, it was pretty rare (if at all!) that we saw neighbours or stopped to talk to them on the street. After having the dog, we have definitely noticed increased social interaction with our neighbours. I now know the names of some neighbours (and their dogs!) whom I wouldn’t have known if we didn’t have a dog.

 

I live more in the moment.

Anyone who has a dog knows that dogs are exceptionally good at stopping to smell… well, just about anything. Having a dog has been an excellent reminder to stop and appreciate the little things. When I’m walking Callie, I like to leave my phone at home so I can be totally present with her, noticing all of the sights, smells, and sounds during that time.

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I’m happier overall.

When you come home from a long, difficult day and there’s someone running at the door to meet you, dancing around because they’re so excited you’re home – it’s pretty difficult not to be happy! Callie’s presence adds excitement and joy to our home, even on days that are more difficult.

 

Although there are many benefits to having a dog, having a dog isn’t for everyone and it’s not a decision that should be made lightly. It’s always a good idea to factor in time and money available for caring for a pet, and understanding that it is a big commitment.

If you do decide having a pet is right for you, I strongly recommend adopting over shopping! There are so many wonderful pets that are waiting at shelters or rescues for their forever homes.

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Below are some links to organizations local to Hamilton that may be worth looking into:

Hamilton/Burlington SPCA:          https://hbspca.com/

Brant County SPCA:                       https://www.brantcountyspca.com/

Ugly Mutts:                                       http://www.uglymuttsdogrescue.com/

Lady Bird Animal Sanctuary:         https://www.ladybirdanimalsanctuary.com/

 

By Kayleen Edwards, MA ,RP

 

Sources:

McConnell, A.R., Brown, C.M., Shoda, T.M., Stayton, L.E., & Martin, C.E. (2011). Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6).

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/toronto/article-torontos-pearson-airport-enlists-the-help-of-therapy-dogs-to-help/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/canine-corner/200906/health-and-psychological-benefits-bonding-pet-dog