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.

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.

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.

The joy of music!

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By Anita Manley

A recent study shows that music takes 13 minutes to “release sadness” and 9 minutes to make you happy. https://www.classicfm.com/music-news/music-to-release-sadness-and-feel-happier-study/?fbclid=IwAR0LeAgGxATyvxVpAUkHOS8amN-VObnrssGyee_EoYl4G-ARoZKBnTwuOh8

Listen to music!

Ever since I was a young kid, music has played a big role in my life. I used to listen to the American Top 40 with Casey Casem every week on CKGM radio from my bedroom in Beaconsfield, PQ. I’d be belting out the tunes as I sang into my round hair brush, admiring my form in the mirror — a rock star wanna be.

Whenever I am alone and perhaps not feeling the best, I turn on some of my favourite tunes. Music can be uplifting, spiritual, happy and sometimes sad — but it almost always takes you somewhere, on a journey. In order to get our groove on and into washing the dishes, my husband and I turn on some music so we can sing along and maybe do a little dancing in between washing and drying. The music seems to make the unsavory task of washing dishes go by faster, even making it somewhat enjoyable — dare I say! I also listen to a workout playlist when I am on the stationary bike, or while out on a walk along the canal.

Recently, on Valentines Day, I witnessed women living in supportive housing being absolutely joyful due to a couple of musicians who came and played their hearts out while the ladies sang and danced to some old style tunes. (Johnny Cash, The Beatles, Elvis, etc.) One of the ladies said to me “This sure beats me crying all night in my room and eating a dozen cupcakes by myself because I am alone on Valentines Day.” She was smiling and enjoying herself — because live music filled the air.

I often relate to the quote: “When you’re happy, you enjoy the music. When you’re sad you understand the lyrics.” — Frank Ocean

I cannot count the times, over the many years I was experiencing intense psychosis, that I could relate to all the lyrics of almost every song on the radio. I really felt as though most of these songs were either written by me, or written for me. I connected with them on such a deep and personal level.

Here are a few songs compiled into a list that people with mental health struggles might enjoy: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/songs-about-mental-health_l_5e326e79c5b69a19a4a9f977?guccounter=1

A couple of weekends ago, my husband and I went out to listen to some live, local talent. We never know what we are going to see or learn when we venture out to listen to music, but we always have a good time. On this occasion, my old university friend and award-winning singer/songwriter John Allaire was actually playing Chris Hadfield’s Space Guitar! No kidding — this guitar has been to space and John is the custodian.

So, be sure to listen to some music on a daily basis — it really can help you feel happier and you never know when it could become an “out-of-this-world experience”.

My friend, John Allaire (local musician), with Chris Hadfield’s Space Guitar.

My Jasmine Plant

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By Anita Manley

I have finally come to accept that winter is not my friend. Once the sun starts setting in the late afternoon and the weather gets cold and grey here in Ottawa, I turn into a couch potato wrapped in my cozy blanket (handmade and gifted to me by my very kind knitting friends), get less exercise, sleep more and and eat too many baked goods. Last winter, mostly due to the ice on the sidewalks, and not being able to get out to walk my 10,000 steps per day (or so I said), I gained 15 pounds. That is a lot of weight. At my checkup, my doctor said, “The icy sidewalks are no excuse, Anita. You have a gym in your building!” Again this year, as soon as November came around, my fitness routine went out the window and I became more sedentary. Last month, I started using my Happy Lamp, and that gave me a bit more “get up and go” as my Mom would say. Yet still, the gym awaited me. I did get out for walks, but that is not enough.

A few months ago, I read an article that claimed: keeping a jasmine plant in your room would help to ward off depression and anxiety. So, I immediately called around to plant stores and put one on order. Last week, mine finally arrived and I went to pick it up. It is lovely and in full bloom. It sits in our bedroom and the fragrance fills the room. In fact, I can smell the beautiful floral scent as soon as I enter our apartment.

In the article http://www.life.shared.com , I read that it was determined, by researchers, that jasmine can help:

– Reduce anxiety and nervous tension
– Boost mood
– Improve cognitive performance and alertness
– Improve sleep quality
– Balance hormones
– Treat hot flashes and mood swings
– Increase libido

Using jasmine essential oils could help too.

I have found over the past week that I have been sleeping sounder and have an elevated mood. I am also more alert. This may be due to having the jasmine plant in my bedroom and using my happy lamp for 10 – 15 minutes a day. Or maybe it is due to the days gradually getting longer. I’m not sure.

It all is starting to help make winter more bearable for me… BUT, I have yet to make it to the gym!

A new month is just around the corner! Perhaps I will have energy for a rejuvinated routine too! Wish me luck.

As for today, I am lounging on the couch, covered with my warm and cozy blanket, with my laptop, responding to emails and writing my blog. This morning, I decided to bake chocolate chip muffins for breakfast… because, you can never really have too many chocolate chip muffins. RIGHT?

My beautifully fragrant jasmine plant.

Note: Please do not use this information in replacement of doctors recommendations or treatments. Consult with a doctor before changing or going off any medications.