Response from Joelle Anderson, MA, RP, CCC:

I SO feel for the socialites out there at this time. I know it’s hard. I live with a really intense extravert and see daily how stifling and restless it can be to be limited by social distancing. 

The key is that physical distancing doesn’t have to mean social limitation, but it might mean needing to find connection and social support in creative ways.

For one, yes, it might mean using Skype, or FaceTime, or WhatsApp to video chat with friends and family as much as you can. You might even want to think about ways to “up” the connection in these virtual hang-outs. Maybe everyone makes the same receipt and sits down to the same virtual dinner. Maybe you all pick a craft and doing it, virtually together. Maybe you find a list of fun questions online to open up new, uplifting conversation. And - it’s OK to make “COVID” or “Coronavirus” no-no topics for at least some of these convos. Some people will need space to get support for their anxieties and want to talk about it, but carving out space away from the situation is important too. So make room for either, or both, as you need it. 

You might also look into board games you can all play online together. Check out apps like Yatzy, sites like tabletopia.com or dominion.games, or search for apps and sites hosting other games you love. You can even sit on the phone together while you play, so you can still raz your siblings if they are losing ;) 

There are also apps like “Longwalks” that offer collaborative journalling options, giving you and your friends prompts to respond to (at your convenience), and are built to enhance connection and sharing. 

For some, it might also be focusing on ways to up their sense of connection through contributing to others. For example, some people have learned how to sew masks and are sewing them for community members to take (from their doorsteps, and then washing first!) to use at the grocery store or when they have to be out. Some are sending notes or care packages to loved ones. Some are offering some skill or technique they have through a webinar or video. Perhaps there is something you have to offer that you can share? Or even just try sending random-texts-of-kindness to handfuls of people throughout each day. Any of these contribution strategies not only support connection, but could also increase it (i.e., ask friends to invite  or engage a friend of their in the process and you might find new connections, for example). Plus you may receive some of these connections and gifts back at some point too :) 

For many, part of the value in social connection is an opportunity to share and process one’s own thoughts and feelings (and learn from others’ processing theirs - validating shared feelings, and teaching us how to cope with novel situations we may not have had to face ourselves… yet). So, make sure you keep that part up too! Writing can mimic that experience. Journalling often feels like we are “sharing” our stories, thoughts, and feelings with a mystery “someone” and can mimic neural processes that engage left-brain integration of right-brain (emotional, visceral) experiences. Especially if we do it with a pen on paper (vs. typing). Or even try letter-writing, which can add some novelty and deep connection while processing. Or, you might even try blogging, building meaningful or uplifting social media posts, or engage story sharing in other creative ways (maybe even layered with some of the items above - for example, hosting a story-telling virtual meet-up with friends/family - or even publicly - where people are prompted to come prepared with some of their happiest stories). 

Finally, I know this doesn’t address the social piece directly, but it might also be helpful to see what additional (non-social) coping strategies you can add to your toolbox at this time. There are a good number of times in our lives where social connection is limited, so having things you love to do to cope when alone can be really beneficial - even after all this is over. Maybe that’s trying out yoga or meditation or listening to podcasts with ideas for new self-care and self-help ideas; or maybe it’s looking into books like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron or Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (both available as audiobooks too!) to help kick-start some creative juices. Or, maybe it’s listing a bunch of things YOU would find fun (vs. the “stock” things we all feel should be fun, but for many of us really aren’t) and trying some. In essence, it’s really wise to build a toolbox of “alone” activities that you really, truly enjoy to make any reduction in social time a little more bearable. 

Most likely - you (and any of us!) will need to ‘layer’ several of these skills. Our human needs and emotions are complex, and so feeling good often means taking a multifaceted approach. It’s also normal to need to experiment with a few things before you find a mix that works for you. Try one of these ideas and hate it? GOOD! That’s one option to tick off the list, leaving you with a more refined list that starts to better and better suit you and your unique needs. 

And - don’t forget - this too shall pass (yes, even the COVID crisis will have an end). All is temporary, and so see what you can take from this moment and know it will change again with time.

Response from Dr. Lynne, ND:
Thanks for reaching out with this question. That must be really difficult for you to deal with and cause even more anxiety around social activities.
Typically, there is an underlying cause that can be found and treated but in some cases there isn’t. The most common cause is called primary hyperhidrosis which is where the nerves responsible for singling your sweat glands are overactive and trigger a sweat response. Though we cannot control the nerves themselves, stress or anxiety can definitely make the problem worse. There are also other causes to rule out like a thyroid issue and low blood sugar levels.
There are several options for management, but it all comes down to the cause. Since it is mostly caused by the nerves singling too strongly, some of the things that you could focus on is relaxation techniques on a regular basis so that your nervous system is calm and your stress levels are controlled as this will decrease the reactivity of the nerves to the sweat glands.
Meditation, yoga, deep breathing techniques, and select supplements to help support the parasympathetic nervous system (check with your healthcare provider before starting any supplements, but things like magnesium, L-theanine, passionflower may be options).
Hope this helps! Just know that there are lots of options to explore with you are your healthcare provider.

Response from Zenia Mihevc, MSW, RSW:

Yoga can be a great resource in alleviating symptoms of anxiety. The practice of yoga (pranayama - systematic or intentional breathing; asana - physical postures) can help balance the emotions throughout the body and mind. Yoga is a mindful practice that incorporates a physical practice with an internal focus which helps you become more present of what is going on in your body. Yoga invites you to hold physical postures while focusing on regulating your breathing patterns. This regulation of breath calms the nervous system and tells the brain there is no need to be in Fight, Flight or Freeze mode.

By practicing yoga you will be able to gain insight into how your body holds and expresses stress, discomfort and symptoms of anxiety. and how to regulate the nervous system.

Restorative or Gentle Yoga would be great classes to try in support of reducing anxiety as they will focus on soft movements connected to breath, whereas a Power or Vinyasa class will elevate the heart rate.

Best bet is to try a few different classes with a few different teachers and see which leave you with a sense of peace and calm.

Response from: Zenia Mihevc, MSW, RSW:
Often our minds like to run around like a busy puppy, jumping from thought to thought. We can get stuck in these thoughts and this can lead to us "overthinking". Overthinking more often then not, causes us emotional stress which can lead to feelings of worry, fear, and even panic.
One of the ways we can settle the mind and reduce thoughts that contribute to "overthinking" is to get those thoughts OUT! When we take the thoughts out of the mind and release them we are better to work through them and let them go. You can do this by reaching out to a supportive friend or family member and say those thoughts out loud. 
You can also try an expressive writing exercise where you sit and write for 15-20 minutes un interrupted:
  • Find a quite place where you can easily writer. 
  • Using Pen/Pencil and Paper is best.
  • Set a timer and WRITE!
  • Allow whatever comes out onto the paper come out. Do not edit. Do not worry about spelling or grammar.
  • When the timer goes off, stop. 
  • Take a deep breath in and exhale fully with a big sigh.
When you allow yourself time to let out the thoughts, you are honouring them for what they are instead of trying to push them away which often can make those thoughts louder.  It can be amazing to see what shows up when you let yourself express the thoughts freely.
After your writing or sharing session, take some time to do something you enjoy. Change your perspective by moving to another room, watch a funny video or have a little dance party and congratulate yourself for taking time to care for your thoughts and yourself!

Response from Helen Daymond, C. Psych:

Anxiety causes a 'fight or flight' response in our brains. The hypothalamus - a structure located in the lymbic system of our brain - receives messages from the thalamus (another structure in the limbic system) about things going on in our environment that we perceive as threatening in some way. Often the situation is not actually dangerous to us but our brain responds as if it is a real threat or danger. Examples include doing something new for the first time or having to present in front of a group of people. The hypothalamus then responds to this message by releasing a stress hormone to the pituitary gland which sends a hormone through the blood stream to the adrenal glands to create the energy that the body needs to take fight or flight action.

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that most of us experience from time to time. Having a good support system in place including friends and family is one thing that can help us cope with these feelings. However, if anxious feelings are arising often and negatively impacting everyday life, you would benefit from learning more ways to cope with your anxiety. Also keep in mind that caring family members may not be sure of the best way to help you and may actually respond in a way that unintentionally contributes to the problem rather than helping. For mild anxiety, family members gently supporting you and encouraging you to take tiny steps toward facing your fears rather than avoiding them would be helpful.

Here are some tips for dealing with your anxiety in social situations. First I would come up with a personal affirmation for yourself. Some examples are: "I am worthy"  "I am enough" "I am friendly and likeable" Write your affirmation on several sticky notes and place them where you will see them every day such as on your bathroom mirror, on a wall in your bedroom, on the back of a door etc. Get in the habit of saying your affirmation out loud to yourself frequently throughout each day.

My second tip is to think of the qualities about yourself that attract your friends to you in the first place. It can be easier for us to focus on negative things about ourselves but try hard to come up with at least 3 positive qualities and then think of evidence that these are true about you. For example, evidence that you are loyal would be that your friends confide in you often and evidence that you are friendly and likeable is that your friends invite you to do things with them.

You likely find yourself becoming anxious just prior to a social situation with other people. When you notice you are beginning to feel anxious you are likely to think negative thoughts about yourself so it is helpful to look in the mirror and repeat your affirmation several times and also to focus your thoughts on your positive strengths instead, reminding yourself that you have evidence these things are true about you. Continue to focus your thoughts on these positive qualities when you are with your friends or a group of people.

I love that he has found a sport that he enjoys but I can understand how difficult it is when something he loves also adds stress and pressure. 

Seeing as he experiences anxiety outside of the sport, ensuring that it is well managed on a daily basis will really help support him during hockey. Supplements can help calm the nervous system, either on a daily basis, or as needed before a game. There are so many options: GABA, L-theanine, Magnesium, Glycine, Rescue Remedy, etc.

In addition to this, using mindful meditation and guided imagery have both been shown in research to benefit sport and performance anxiety. Seeing a counsellor that specializes in sport performance would be a great resource.

Furthermore, ensuring that nutrition is optimal will help. Low blood sugar can sometimes feel like anxiety or make it worst. Ensuring that he is getting a protein rich snack before a game and avoiding drinks that are high in sugar and caffeine can decrease symptoms.  

Lastly, a couple of books that may be helpful include: 

1. Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents (Ronald Rapee)

2. What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety (Dawn Huebner & Bonnie Matthews)

If you would like to learn more, please do not hesitate to reach out to any of the experts listed on Cam's Kids website! 

Uncontrollable crying spurts that occur often when talking to certain people or groups of people could be related to anxiety. It would be important to consider whether this behaviour is displayed only in specific settings or situations such as school, when performing in front of others or meeting new people. The age of the child, personality traits and the child's disposition are also important factors. If the behaviour persists or becomes worse over time then it should be further explored by a professional.

Having low energy can make it super difficult to get back up and feel motivated again.

Low energy is commonly associated with depression, anxiety, and many other mental health conditions. It can also exacerbate these conditions. 

The first question I always ask is: are you struggling with low physical energy (does it feel like you are dragging your feet, tired to walk or exercise) or low mental energy (brain fog, poor memory, poor concentration), or both?

This can help give an indication of what might be going on, as there are several options to consider when dealing with low energy.

First to consider is your diet. It is so important to provide your body with the right nutrition. Lots of vegetables, bright coloured fruits, protein, and healthy fats is what your body needs to function. The more vitamins and nutrients it gets, the easier it is to heal. 

Make sure you stay hydrated. We are mostly made out of water, which means that if we don’t drink enough to maintain healthy hydration, this can drastically impact energy levels.

Consider your adrenal glands. They take part in the stress response and release adrenaline and cortisol. If you don’t take care of them by ensuring you are managing stress levels, they can become dysfunctional and lead to HPA axis issues (adrenal fatigue). 

Nutrients like vitamin B12 and vitamin D are commonly low and can impact our energy levels. It is especially common to have low Vitamin D status in in the winter months in Canada. Low Vitamin D doesn’t just cause energy levels to go down, but can also impact motivation and health status. 

Take away? 

Eat a healthy balanced diet. Plan your day by listing some activities and tasks you want to accomplish so that it motivates you to get them done. Include self-care as part of your daily plan to ensure you stay on top of managing stress. And finally, talk to your healthcare providers regarding Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D as supplements.

Yes! There are loads of options when it comes to supporting anxiety, mood, and overall mental health using vitamins and supplements. The tricky part is finding the one that will work best for you because not all anxiety is treated the same way.

The following represent the most common types of supplements used for anxiety:

Passionflower

This herb is great for both anxiety and insomnia because it helps turn off all the running thoughts which could be going through your mind. It has been extensively studied for its use in supporting mental health and works fairly rapidly.

Magnesium

This is one of my favourite supportive supplement for anxiety, especially if you feel like you have tense muscles due to stress and anxiety. Magnesium helps relax the nervous system as well as muscles. A lot of us are deficient in this mineral and could use a little more. Magnesium helps anxiety by binding to and stimulating GABA receptors in the brain. What’s GABA? Read the next supplement.

GABA

Your brain makes the neurotransmitter GABA (aka the calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter), the one that puts the brakes on an overly active brain. You can support it’s production or take it in the form of a supplement to help calm the nervous system and alleviate anxiety.

L-Theanine

Theanine is an amino acid extracted from green t and has some pretty amazing anti-anxiety effects. It works through enhancing alpha brain wave activity and increasing synthesis of GABA (your calming neurotransmitter).

B vitamins

All B vitamins are great for mental health and supporting the nervous system because they act as cofactors for many processes and for the formation of neurotransmitters. B12 is especially important and can also help with energy levels.

Remember:

Always make sure you are talking to your healthcare practitioner about the supplements you may want to take so that they can assess if it is safe for you to take. Supplements can interact with medications, including the birth control pill, so it is best that you don’t self-prescribe and talk to a health professional.

Tips to promote healthy eating habits - Barbara Bates, RNCP/ROHP

You do not have to tackle all of these suggestions; simply pick the ones that you feel most drawn to and start there.

  • Plant a vegetable garden: Most people enjoy eating the foods they plant, nurture and grow. Some veggies grow really well in pots so even if you have limited space, such as a balcony, you can still have a garden of your own.
  • Plan ahead: For meals and healthy options for snacks. Try not to get overly hungry or you may end up making an unhealthy choice.
  • Take healthy options for when you are on the go: Related to the “plan ahead” suggestion above.
  • Do not reward (or punish) with food: Food is not to be used in this manner.
  • Replace the unhealthy gradually: If you have foods in your diet that you know are not nutritious, replace them, one at a time, with a healthy alternative.
  • Set a good example: If you are a role model to anyone, consider yourself first in the choosing of healthy eating habits.
  • Discourage eating in front of the TV: Have family meals that are mindful and full of conversation.
  • Get everyone involved: In the shopping, preparing and cooking.
  • Eat breakfast: Start making a list of healthy breakfast options and start with getting this meal down pat. Then move on to healthy dinners. Lunches and snacks will naturally fall into place over time.
  • Get the unhealthy “stuff” out of the house: Reduce the temptation. This will also help stop the arguments about what is allowed to be eaten.
  • Take a trip to a local farm or farmer’s market: Perhaps learning about how food is grown will help enable wise decisions about food choices. In the process, you are helping to support a local cause.
  • Host a potluck: Make sure everyone coming understands that they are requested to bring a healthy offering. Trying new foods is wonderful and if you like something, ask for the recipe.
  • Try a new recipe once a week: Variety can keep us motivated.
  • Drink water: Reducing pop, juice, and energy drinks.
  • Smoothies: These are great ways to get in some healthy nutrients and fantastic for taking on the go.
  • Become aware of the relationship between food and feelings, mood and energy levels: Become aware of how you feel after eating certain foods and start talking about it. Sharing out loud will help others see the relationship. Notice that when you do make wise food choices, you feel better
  • Experiment: Just for a short period of time, decide to omit/eliminate something from your diet (pop for example). A week is a good time frame to start out with. Then, notice how you feel after the week is up. That way you can decide if it is worth reducing or eliminating all together moving forward.
  • Talk to an expert: Hearing healthy suggestions from another person (a holistic health practitioner for example) can be impactful.
  • Set healthy wellness goals: Once again, this may be an area where a wellness professional can be of assistance in mapping out a plan to help get you there.
  • What is your reason why?: In order to stay on track, we need to have “point B” clearly defined. What is your motivation? What pulls you forward? Why are you wanting to incorporate healthy food choices and habits? It should be meaningful enough to get an emotion flowing through you… Where are you headed and why do you want to get there? Inspiration comes in many forms. What is your reason?

"Creating new habits and breaking old habits can take some work. The habits we create are etched in our brains and can keep us doing the same things, over and over again without even thinking about it. We become creatures of habit, some of them good (like brushing your teeth) and some of them not so good (like sitting down with a bag of junk food when watching Netflix).

The good news is that, through repetition we can rewire our brains and create new neural pathways creating the habits that are best for our wellbeing. We have the ability to design a life living in conscious choice rather than on autopilot (this applies to all aspects of life; relationships, exercise, eating, work). As we become mindful of what we are eating and start to tap into the reasons why it is so important to eat healthy we can become more aware and stop ourselves from making the poor food choices. We can then start to create new pathways and eating habits that are beneficial to our physical and mental health."

- Kerry Marchment, CPCC, ACC

When we are stressed or experiencing anxiety our body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode and this causes changes in the body – which includes a change in how our stomach and digestive system function. The stress response signals our stomach to stop breaking down food so it can focus on getting us out of what we perceive to be danger instead of focusing on other body processes.

That’s why when the body is under stress and/or anxiety, many people experience stomach pains, digestive problems, or a lack of appetite.

stomach pain
When we are stressed it is really important to make sure we are eating to get all of our nutrients (especially those that help us to combat stress and promote healthy brain function). Two really easy and effective techniques you can try are:

#1 Deep breathing before meals. Inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4. Repeat 4-5 times. This helps to bring our body back into a calm state and allows us to be in ‘rest and digest’ mode so not only will it help us to calm down but it will allow our body to turn back on the hunger signals and help us to better digest food and avoid the stomach pains, bloating or nausea you may be experiencing.

deep breath


#2 Smoothies and soups. A smoothie or soup is a really easily digestible way to pack in a lot of nutrients that doesn’t require chewing or our body to have to work so hard to break down food -especially if you don’t have an appetite and a piece of chicken or heavy meal is looking really unappetizing. You can pack your smoothie with nourishing ingredients like antioxidant rich berries; avocados for delicious creaminess and brain boosting healthy fats, chia seeds or flax seeds for fiber and tons of vitamins & minerals, as well as protein powder for a protein boost and a handful of leafy greens. You can also try adding some super-food powders like a greens powder or Maca powder for a phytogreen and energy boost.

green smoothie

Same for soups, blend up as many vegetables as you can and add a healthy grain like quinoa or rice! 

- Stephanie Di Grazia, R.H.N. 

I. Need. More. Likes.

The notion that social media can negatively affect mental health and anxiety is not a new one. We all know that it can cause us stress and anxiety in some ways. But is social media and technology really the cause of the rise in anxiety that we see today?

The answer is: it’s complicated.

A link between social media and anxiety

We are constantly worrying about how we look in photos, what to write in comments or as a caption, how many likes or followers we will get. Social media posts can set unrealistic expectations and create feelings of inadequacy. Comparing ourselves constantly to others who seem to have it all and glide through life effortlessly can make these feelings of inadequacy and anxiety worst. And you never get a break from it. It can continue provoking anxiety both when you are on and off the platforms.

Exposure to social media does appear to be linked to increased feelings of anxiety, worry, stress, and restlessness. People who use 7 or more platforms were 3x more likely than people using 0-2 platforms to have high levels of anxiety. It can also really impact your sleep, which we know can contribute further to anxiety and stress.

However, a correlation does not equal causation. Social media use is associated with higher levels of anxiety, but anxiety leads to more social media use. In addition, social media affects people differently depending on pre-existing conditions and personality. This means that we cannot draw any strong conclusions yet.

Just like food, smoking, alcohol, and other temptations, excessive use is never a good idea and can lead to stress, anxiety, or addictions (Yes, social media addiction is real).

Strategies to mitigate effects of social media on anxiety

1. Social media can cause anxiety, but it can also help tackle it. It really depends on how it is used. The ability to raise awareness, connect with people, and share moments can be quite empowering. Some platforms seem to be associated with higher rates of anxiety and stress than other platforms. However, the most important thing to remember is simply how it is used and how it makes you feel. If the platform is used in a positive way, then it is less likely to negatively impact your mental health.

2. Limit your feed. Choose wisely who you follow. The accounts should be positive and authentic. Accounts that make you feel anxious, stressed out, or bring on feelings of low self-esteem are probably not ideal.

3. Decrease amount of time spent on social media and the number of platforms used. People who spend more than 2 hours a day on social media platforms are more likely to experience anxiety. And, the more social media platforms you are involved in, the more likely you are to be anxious. Trying to navigate several accounts and friend networks can be overwhelming.

4. Set up screen-free times where you spend time away from social media and technology. Whether it’s every evening after 8pm, weekends at the cottage, or every Sunday, it is a great way to find balance between social media and real life without having to rely on social media and technology to keep you busy. It might be difficult at first, but with practice, you will realize that this can feel quite relaxing.

- Dr Lynne, Naturopathic Doctor

Let me first start by explaining the difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance in case some of you may not know the different. A food allergy is triggered by an IgE reaction in the body and usually leads to immediate symptoms like hives, or anaphylaxis. Food intolerances or sensitivities are delayed reactions that are triggered by IgG antibodies.The symptoms associated with intolerances are often less obvious because they can occur hours to days later and include things like bloating, headaches, stomach ache, etc.

What happens in the body when you are consuming foods you are intolerant to? IgG antibodies, produced by the immune system, attach themselves to the food particle (called the antigen) to create a complex molecule called the antigen-antibody complex. These are usually easily removed by cells called macrophages in your body as they come across them and see them. However, they may not be able to keep up in a few instances such as: 1) you are consuming the food too often, or 2) your intolerance to the food is quite high, or 3) you have leaky gut syndrome and a lot of food particles are making their way into the bloodstream.

In these cases, the antigen-antibody complexes accumulate and get deposited into body tissues causing inflammation. And we know that inflammation plays a role in numerous diseases and conditions such as autoimmune conditions, chronic health concerns, digestive concerns, anxiety and depression, and much more.

Thanks for reaching out and asking these questions. It sounds like you have been doing all the right things and have done quite a lot to try to support her over the years.

It is always hard to know how to help or what to say when someone is going through highs and lows, but the best thing you can do is to simply be there for her and listen whenever she needs someone to talk to.

If you have noticed that her current medications haven’t really improved anything, it is worth following up with the prescribing doctor to see if there are other options. Same goes with counselling - if you noticed that it didn’t work or she isn’t going to the sessions, perhaps she hasn’t found a person she feels comfortable speaking with. This is what I tell all my patients. Finding a counsellor takes time and might require talking to a few different ones at first before finding the perfect fit. There are also online counselling platforms available now that might suit her more if you are noticing that she doesn’t want to leave the house to go to the sessions.

When it comes to mental wellness, it is important to always consider the whole person. Looking at gut health (because the gut-brain axis plays a huge role in mental health), diet (making sure she is getting all of the nutrients she needs for production of neurotransmitters), exercise, sleep, and so on. There are supplements and herbs that can help support mood by decreasing anxiety, calming the mind, and improving low moods. A licensed naturopathic doctor would be able to recommend supplements that won’t interact with her current medications to further support mental health.

- Dr. Lynne, Naturopathic Doctor

I would suggest you have a conversation with the friend/family member about the things you've noticed about them lately that makes you wonder if they are feeling anxious and/or depressed. Then I would strongly encourage them to talk to their family doctor/naturopathic doctor or a mental health professional who will assess their symptoms as well as the level of severity and then suggest options for treatment. While the holidays can be a very happy time of year for many of us it is also a time that many individuals are prone to feeling anxious & or depressed for various reasons.

- Helen Daymond, Registered Psychologist

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