Keep Moving!

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By Anita Manley

It has long been known that exercise improves your mental health.* Exercise causes your body to release chemicals called endorphins, which make you feel good. The feeling is commonly known as a “runners high”.

Regular exercise has been proven to:**

  • Reduce stress
  • Ward off anxiety and feelings of depression
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Improve sleep

    Exercise also has these added health benefits:
  • It strengthens your heart
  • It increases energy levels
  • It lowers blood pressure
  • It improves muscle tone and strength
  • It strengthens and builds bones
  • It helps reduce body fat
  • It makes you look fit and healthy

Years ago, I visited my psychiatrist and complained of mood swings and irritability. She didn’t increase my medication, but rather gave me the names of clubs I could join to get more exercise. So I joined a swim club, a cycling club (during the summer), and signed up to participate in my first and only triathalon. My mood soon regulated, my self-esteem increased and my mind was clearer. After a while, I also had a lean, toned body and during my annual physical I was in the best shape I’d ever been: weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.

Let’s face it: lately, it has been challenging to get exercise with fear of catching COVID-19, if others choose not to follow the 6-foot rule while outside. So I’ve decided to get up earlier and get out for a long walk when hardly anyone else is about. It is peaceful listening to the multitude of birds chirping away while on my morning stroll. A lovely way to start the day and get some exercise at the same time.

Also, my husband and I have dusted off our bikes, filled up the tires and toured the neighbourhood a few times. We live in a beautiful area with parks and waterways, so it is great to be able to expand our exercise area by pedaling rather than walking, at times.

Another activity I do is a Body FX workout in my apartment living room. This is a Latin dance routine which has me moving, sweating and gives me a great all-around exercise session — while having fun at the same time.

There are many forms of exercise you could do in your home — such as chair yoga, or regular yoga. If you have some basic equipment you could lift weights or use resistance bands. Or you could dance or do an aerobic routine — a lot of guidance is provided on YouTube for free. You can also support local businesses with virtual sessions. If you can afford it, they would appreciate it. Some of my friends have supported local gyms, yoga places, dance studios; the list goes on. Bodies by Phil in Ottawa offers daily workouts (with minimal equipment required) for free during the pandemic. Check them out on Instagram.

Whatever you choose to do, just get off the couch and have fun with it! Your mind and body will thank you.

* https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-simply-moving-benefits-your-mental-health-201603289350

** https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression#1

Improve your mood and self-esteem by getting off the couch — and keep moving! It is so important to use exercise as a way to take care of your mental health during this pandemic.

The Many Benefits of Creating Art Guest Blog — Elaine Comeau

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Elaine has been creating art in many forms for as long as she can remember. After many years of working as an Interior Designer, a decorative painter, and teaching many creative courses at Algonquin College, she opened up her own teaching art studio in 2009. She offers art classes, group sessions and private lessons starting at age 5 to no age limit. Go to: https://wildpigments.com for more info.

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” — Pablo Picasso


Being creative, whether its painting, music, writing, dancing, knitting, cooking, woodworking etc., is so good for your soul. Creative thinking allows you to lose yourself in the process so you can find yourself.


Here are some of the benefits of being creative:


Being creative is a very powerful tool and a great distraction from your worries as it gives your busy brain a break which allows clearer thinking.

Being creative requires some concentration and focus on what you are doing which quietens the brain. Allow yourself to get absorbed into the process and lose track of time.


It relieves stress and helps to reduce depression and anxieties.


It is great brain work, allowing visualization, exploring new ideas, and it fuels imagination and memory work.


Creating something with your hands provides a sense of accomplishment, boosts self-esteem, and it is a tangible way to express yourself. This is excellent at any age and especially for the elderly.


There are so many forms of art that does not require great artistic skills but more imagination. For example: collage, abstract, mixed media, palette knife painting, papier-mâché, steam punk collage work, paint pouring and much more. Don’t be afraid to try something new.


Art, such as drawing, painting and sculpture, is not limited to the talented few. Art is for everyone. If you can write your name, you can learn to create art — at any age. The desire to create art is all you need to get started, even if you think you are bad at it.


Learning an art form through books and the internet is fine and the best way to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic. Once we are back to a new normal, taking creative classes is a wonderful way to get out of the house and make social connections with lots of guidance and support from the teacher and your fellow students. This can help to improve your mental health and happiness.


I miss teaching art and my students of all ages. I am looking forward to getting back to offering art classes again and welcoming people into my studio in Ottawa, when it is safe to do so.


In the meantime, get creative and have fun doing it! Check out your local art store for deliveries and curb side pick up.


Link for further reading:https://www.businessinsider.com/why-you-should-make-art-even-if-youre-bad-2016-6

Papier mâché, “Stella Louise”, by Elaine Comeau, Wild Pigments Art Studio. 
My very talented friend, Elaine Comeau, painting in her art studio.

Communication during COVID-19

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By Anita Manley

I am married to a wonderful man, who happens to be over the age of 70, putting him at a higher risk of not recovering if he were to get COVID-19. Therefore, we have been self-isolating (me too, since we share a small one bedroom apartment together, so: no way to separate us if one were ill). We order groceries online, have wonderful neighbours, family and friends who help us pick up and deliver whatever we do not receive through online orders and we only go out for walks later at night when hardly anyone is around. We take precautions in our building, for example, only the two of us on the elevator, using half a Q-tip to push buttons, or our elbow to push street crossing buttons while out walking. Needless to say, we have no visitors, not even family over the Easter holidays. Like it was for many, Easter was different this year, but we made the best of it, having a nice candle-lit dinner for two on Sunday night.

So, how have we been communicating with others during this challenging time? Firstly, the best silver lining to all of this, is my renewed communication with my oldest daughter, Nicola, who lives on Vancouver Island. We had been estranged for over 10 years due to my mental illness, until Ron and I attended her wedding in the fall of 2018. Since I have been living in recovery for the past 8 years, we enjoyed a wonderful conversation on the phone this past New Year’s Eve. Unfortunately, she is off work due to this virus, but, she has more time and we talk on the phone or Facebook messenger video for about an hour, one day a week. In fact, last week, I was on video with both daughters, Nicola and Julia. It was the first time that we talked together in over 14 years – just the three of us. What a wonderful feeling! It warmed my heart.

In addition to using Facebook messenger video, we use FaceTime with other family members, and phone, text or email, often accompanied by photos. It is comforting to actually “see” a loved ones face rather than just hear their voice, but we make do with whatever works.

With both my knitting and work friends, we connect via Zoom, and with my public speaking group, Christopher Leadership Course, we use a professional Webex account. I am even starting up a Zoom peer support group, Journaling as a Wellness Tool, for women at the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre.

There really are so many different ways to keep up communication during the COVID pandemic. Last week, I called all of my neighbours to check in on them, see how they were coping. They all thanked me for calling, and very much appreciated my concern. Writing a letter to a loved one can help as well. Fortunately, everyone, including family, friends, co-workers and neighbours are all fine. They all are strictly following public health regulations. One of my neighbours has a daughter who is an ER doctor. I am always concerned for her safety and well-being, as is her mom. It is so hard for my neighbour not being able to see her daughter or her grandson. These are unprecedented times indeed. Our front line health care workers NEED us to stay home and follow public health rules.

During a time of crisis, it is so very important to stay connected with people. Be sure to keep communicating, whichever method works; just connect with people on a regular basis. You will feel better and your loved one will too! Increased communication helps with the loneliness you can feel from self-isolating and social distancing. Check in with family and friends, especially those who live alone or at higher risk. If you can, offer to help deliver groceries or other necessary items. Or just give them a regular check-in call.

Stay well! Stay 2 meters apart. Wash your hands. We’ve got this!

#stayhome

We are so fortunate to have so many different means of communicating in this day and age.

Knitting as a Wellness Tool

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By Anita Manley

For those who know me well, you know that I am an avid knitter. In fact, this year, all my family received knitted items for Christmas. I enjoy knitting immensely and find that it helps to calm my mind. It requires that I pay attention to counting and a stitch pattern, along with watching Netflix or talking among friends — all at the same time. So, I am forced to stay in the present moment. It’s kind of like meditation for me.

Knitting has been proven to be good for your mental health.*

Some of the benefits include:

  • Reduced depression and anxiety
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Slowed onset of dementia
  • Distraction from chronic pain
  • Increased sense of wellbeing
  • Reduced loneliness and isolation

My Mom taught me how to knit in my early 20’s. It didn’t stick as a hobby then, since I was way-too- active to be able to sit down and concentrate on something like knitting for hours. In 2012, I found I was watching our local NHL hockey team play every game of the season. So, I was sitting in front of the TV for 3 hours at a time, with nothing to do but watch hockey. I felt lazy, like I wasn’t accomplishing anything in those three hours. When I related this story to a friend of mine, she said “You need a hobby! You should take up knitting.” I thought, you are right. I can do that! Thus began my knitting journey. I have since taken several “specialty” knitting courses, such as “double knitting”, “brioche knitting with 3 colours”, and others. I absolutely LOVE to knit.

I found an amazing group of knitting friends to knit with at work. We have a blast: talking, knitting, sharing stories (not all about knitting), celebrating retirements, weddings, new babies, etc. In fact, the absolute best Christmas party of every year for the past five years has been our “Christmas Knitters’ Tea” hosted by one of our group members at her home. We knit, eat, play really challenging knitting games, and have a fun yarn gift exchange. The ladies are a delight to spend time with.

It is not surprising, that during this COVID-19 pandemic, this same group of women decided to meet up on Zoom**, once a week at lunch, to continue knitting together virtually. We all join in from the office, from home, or even from one’s car! Not to worry! …she wasn’t knitting and driving at the same time. It was just a nice break for her to get out of the office and hide out, knitting in her car, while Zooming with the rest of us. By meeting virtually, we continue to connect and share fun stories during this very stressful time. Also, we continue to benefit from the healing powers of knitting.

If you are someone who has more time on your hands during this crisis, I encourage you to take up a new hobby. It doesn’t have to be knitting or crocheting. It could be anything – but I, of course, will continue to enjoy all the benefits of knitting.

* https://mhanational.org/blog/mental-health-benefits-knitting

** Zoom is the leader in modern enterprise video communications

A three colour brioche blanket that I knitted for a very special friend.

A Journey Towards Forgiveness

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By Anita Manley

I have learned a great deal about forgiveness over the years. Having struggled with a severe and persistent mental illness for most of my adult life, I have learned how to forgive and how to ask for forgiveness. I’ve had to do a lot of both.

Learning to forgive others, no matter how long it takes, is very hard work. Soul-wrenching work. Asking for forgiveness is also a challenge, but the work of forgiveness does not lie in my hands in this situation. I can only try to show that I truly am sorry and be there for them when and if they are ready to forgive me and hopefully welcome me back into their lives.

I have learned that really, forgiveness is not about the other person who betrayed you, or abandoned you, or lied to you or did you harm, it is about YOU. It is about YOU learning to let go of the hurt, anger and seething pain.

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. *

I have found that talking with friends, or a counsellor, or writing endlessly in my journal – are things that have helped me to sort through my thoughts, given me solace… and perhaps I even found answers to why I was so hurt and angry. I learned to have compassion for myself. I have learned to forgive myself, which was probably one of the hardest things to do. To forgive myself for not being there for my daughters (due to my mental illness), when they so desperately needed me. To forgive myself for not living up to my standards of being a good mom. To forgive myself for unintentionally abandoning my daughters while they were teenagers. As you can imagine, this was very soul-searching work.

I also had to forgive all those people in my life who turned their backs on me while I was in the throes of psychosis, because they could not cope with my behaviour. This was easier to forgive, as I felt incredibly guilty and embarrassed by my own behaviour while ill. I found that once I was able to let go of the guilt, anger and shame; there was room for more joy in my life. I felt less depressed and there was room for healthier relationships.

Asking for forgiveness, was something even more challenging for me to do, since all I could really do was wait, and wait and wait for the people whom I unwittingly damaged, to do the hard work of forgiving me. I learned to be patient. I am still, to this day, working hard at building more trusting relationships with both of my daughters. My mental illness caused them so much pain, but both are working together with me to try to build, new, stronger relationships.

What are the benefits of forgiving someone? **

Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for improved health and peace of mind. Forgiveness can lead to:

• Healthier relationships

• Improved mental health

• Less anxiety, stress and hostility

• Lower blood pressure

• Fewer symptoms of depression

• A stronger immune system

• Improved heart health

• Improved self-esteem

So, do the hard work of forgiving someone in your life, for your own health and wellness. It doesn’t mean you have to welcome them into your life again, but let go of the anger, hate and resentment. If not, it will only harm you more than the person you are angry with.

Forgiveness is freedom!

* https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/forgiveness/definition

** The Mayo Clinic

I had the exact same look on my face, the instant I was reunited with my daughters. Pure joy!

Spirituality and Mental Health – Kelley Raab – Guest Blog

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Kelley is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. She recently started a private practice specializing in Spiritually Integrated Therapy. Go to www.kelleyraab.ca to learn more.

Who Am I?

For me, both the question and the answer are to be found not in psychological assessment but in spiritual exploration. Psychologically, the question is a quagmire and points to the thorny problem of identity. Psychotherapist Mel Schwartz writes that “the more you seek to identify who you are, the more fragile you are likely to feel about yourself.” When faced with the question “Who Am I?” we may tend to think of various ways we define ourselves – such as husband, wife, mother, son, teacher, accountant, friend, etc. Or, we may describe ourselves using a mental health category, such as bipolar, schizophrenic, depressed, anxious, etc. We can easily see how such definitions pigeonhole us and inevitably fail to encompass the complexity of our lives.

Meditation teacher Matthew Flickstein recommends an exercise to address the question of “Who Am I?” First, list all the ways you have defined yourself over the years. The list may include anything, from career to relationships to phenotype or personality characteristics – short, tall, funny, serious, etc. Second, examine each self-definition to determine whether it exists as an absolute or merely in relation to some other characteristic. For example, I am short in relation to others around me being tall (particularly in North America). Sick is relative to being healthy. Our self-definitions, he states, prevent us from seeing the bigger picture of who we are, one that is non-conceptual; in essence, they restrict us from experiencing a deep knowing. And it is this non-conceptual knowing, according to Flickstein, that ultimately grants us spiritual freedom.

You may have heard the well-known phrase of Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” What does it mean to live as a “spiritual being?” Synonyms for “spiritual” might include “sacred,” “transcendent,” “connected,” “self-aware,” “at peace,” “accepting.” “Being,” on the other hand, is often viewed in contrast to “doing.” Should we spend more time praying, meditating, taking things as they come? Probably. “Being” is a verb, so the words “evolving,” “changing,” “growing” come to mind – process versus goal, the idea of life as a spiritual journey.

I recently celebrated my retirement from The Royal, where I worked in Spiritual and Cultural Care for over fourteen years. Prior to The Royal I was a religious studies professor, also for fourteen years. To lose or relinquish a way that we have defined ourselves is always a life adjustment. There is grieving involved. I am no longer a chaplain or a university professor. So, who am I?

Letting go of self-definitions, however unsettling, is an opportunity for spiritual realization and growth. We limit ourselves by societal categories such as sick, healthy, well, unwell – constructs that are accentuated by comparing ourselves to the way we used to be or to how we view others (who are comparing themselves to us!). I may no longer be employed as a professor or chaplain, yet I am a spiritual being who continues to seek peace, meaning and joy in her life. I am eternally connected to Universal Energy, God, the Cosmos, or a Higher Power.

And so are you. As 2020 continues to unfold, I invite you to ponder the question, “Who Am I?”

References:

Flickstein, Matthew. The Meditator’s Workbook: A Journey to the Center. Boston, Wisdom Publications, 2009.

Schwartz, Mel. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shift-mind/201006/who-am-i). Retrieved January 9, 2020.

With many of us having time on our hands, it is a good opportunity to contemplate, “Who am I?”

Mental Health and COVID- 19

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By Anita Manley

The times are changing quickly, and we know now to self-isolate and only go out when absolutely necessary, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, don’t touch your face (especially nose, mouth and eyes), cough or sneeze into a tissue or crook of elbow…wash your hands, again.

A tip for washing your hands and your mental well being: List 4 gratitudes while washing for 20 seconds. For example, with a lather in hands while washing between fingers, thumbs, and back of hands — count — 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the beautiful yellow tulips I bought) — 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the sound of spring with the birds chirping outside) — 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the health of my family) — and finally, 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and gratitude (I am grateful for the time I have to focus on self-care). Rinse your hands and dry them. Now you have clean hands and an uplifted spirit, too.

It is normal to feel anxious, fearful, even panicked about the current global pandemic. In situations like these, Andrew Jacobs, a Psychologist at The Royal recommends making a list of things you do have control over. My list looks like this:

  • wash my hands frequently, always before eating and after coming in from outside.
  • don’t touch my face (unless I just washed my hands)
  • cough and sneeze into crook of elbow, or tissue – then wash hands
  • STAY HOME — I am fortunate to be able to do so.
  • only go out for essential items (effective today, I have decided to do online shopping for most items)
  • go for nature walks (try to get 10,000 steps in a day)
  • stay away from the gym (instead exercise at home or go for walks)
  • knit (I’m knitting beautiful headbands, in a brioche stitch, for friends/family)
  • write (writing in my blog after an absence and writing for a project requested months ago)
  • read all those books I have on my bedside table
  • listen to music, play music and have a sing along with my husband (a very talented musician)
  • bake
  • cook — try some new recipes
  • watch Netflix (catching up on episodes on my favourites list — watching with my partner)
  • Keep in touch with family/friends over text, social media, Zoom.
  • Hold essential meetings virtually
  • And for extra fun — I’m participating in a virtual knitting group on Tuesdays at lunch!

We can do this! Make your own list of things you CAN DO — so that you feel in control and empowered. It will lessen your anxiety.

You’ve GOT this!
From my friends at unsinkable.