I’ve got to be ME!

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By Anita Manley

“Never let anyone else define who you are.” That is what my loyal friend and Lead of Women’s Mental Health at The Royal said to me, on a walk not that long ago.

Recently, I was asked to speak at an event as a “client” of The Royal. I said, “sure, but please introduce me as a peer facilitator in the Women’s Mental Health Program… and as someone with lived expertise of mental illness.” I am so much more than just a mental health client.

When I was hospitalized, I found that the staff did not recognize this. They saw me only as an “inpatient” with an “illness to be treated”. They all forgot that I was also a mother mourning the loss of connection and a relationship with my two daughters. Nobody addressed that, until much later on. They forgot that I was a friend, cousin, sister, aunt, daughter (and I had not seen my 80-something mother in over 3 years)! Just imagine how disheartened, lonely and miserable I was, staying in a hospital all alone without visitors for months– with no place to live– so I couldn’t even go home on weekends if I had a weekend pass. I did, however, convince my doctor to let me go to Toronto to visit my Mom for Thanksgiving weekend and for Christmas. As you can imagine, they were cherished times for me to reconnect with my Mom and brother. I learned my Mom had cancer as well, and thus, I was doubly anguished that we’d lost several years to my illness. (This was 2011 and my Mom passed away in December of 2013. I was very grateful to be able to spend just over two years with her before she died.)

I now wear many hats–so many more than just a “mental illness client”. In addition to the very important roles listed above, I’m a blogger, a writer, a Run for Women team captain, a fundraiser, a former #FACES19 with CAMIMH, an Inspiration Award winner, a public speaker, a volunteer, a 2019 Top 40 (40th anniversary of The Royal Foundation), a mental health advocate and advisor, a person with lived expertise (subject matter expert) and a former sales professional. I’m also a knitter, a swimmer, a cyclist, an active walker, and a loving partner.

I am all of these things and more. I will never again let others put me in a box with a label on it. I am so much more than my illness.

I am not my illness: my name is Anita.

How do you define yourself?

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde

Comparison is the thief of JOY

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By Anita Manley

I have noticed a commonality among friends, family and acquaintances. Those who compare themselves to others are less joyful, or even miserable as a result.

In fact, comparing ourselves to others is something we all tend to do at some point. Here are some examples:

  • The friend who says (not jokingly), I’ll trade you places, you can live at my home and I’ll live in yours.
  • The neighbour who thinks you have so many more friends than they do.
  • The family member who compares their “meager” earnings for hard work to your executive salary, or your government job with a pension.
  • The acquaintance who envies your car, boat and/or cottage.
  • The friend who has several health problems and wishes they were as healthy as you are.

    Comparison is truly the thief of JOY. The truth is you are ALWAYS going to find others in your life who have more than you do. More friends, more money, more family members, a bigger home, a fancier car, and the list goes on. If you are constantly comparing yourself to these people, rather than being grateful for what you have, you will never be happy. (See my previous post regarding gratitude: Here).

    I suggest, rather than comparing yourself to others, compare yourself to yourself! Try setting goals for yourself, then comparing yourself a month from now to your old self. Are you more active? Do you have a tidier home? Are you more fit? Have you walked more? Have you connected with more friends? If not, then reset your goals to live your best life. (See my post on goal setting Here).

    Remember, try to be grateful for all that you have. If you want to compare yourself to someone, choose your recent past self. In the case of illness or accident, you will have to re-evaluate your comparison in keeping with your new reality. Try not to be too hard on yourself, and pay attention to the smallest increments of change. Set goals. Avoid falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others around you.

    Remember… comparison truly IS the thief of JOY.
Avoid falling into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Compare yourself to you! Continue to set goals that are achievable. Be grateful for what you have. You are enough!

Saying “Yes” more often!

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By Anita Manley

Just as important as having the ability to say “no”, is the ability to say “yes” more often– to things that feel good and right. These two responses in life are like the ancient chinese philosophy of yin and yang. These seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected and interdependent.

Several years ago, I attended a weekly women’s group at The Royal. One of the group leaders, a social worker, encouraged us to say “yes” more often. This turned out to be a very transformative moment in my recovery process.

Like many people in early recovery, I stuck to a rigid routine. This routine, which included going to bed by 9 pm, gave me great comfort. However, it is often a good idea to step outside of your comfort zone, to try new things that might scare you.

In said group, this social worker recounted a story of how she had recently moved to Ottawa and didn’t have many friends. By surprise, one weekend, she had been invited to four different BBQs. Rather than just accepting one or two invitations, she decided to say “yes” to all four, so that she could meet more people and potentially develop more friendships. This was an ‘aha!’ moment for me. I’d felt really stuck in a comfortable rut at the time and did not have many friends in my support network. So, I decided to take her up on this suggestion.

Later that week, an acquaintance asked me, when catching a bus home at 8:15 pm, if I wanted to go to a local pub that featured live blues music on Thursday nights (pre-pandemic). Normally, I would have said: “no, I’m heading home to bed”. But, inspired by the story from my women’s group, I thought to myself: I can sleep in on Friday if I need to. I can have some fun and perhaps meet new people. I replied with a guarded “yes”!

I’m so glad I did! I got to know this woman better and met all of her friends, who were regular Thursday night blues fans. We enjoyed a couple of drinks and shared a few laughs, while dancing and listening to some great local musicians. When it was time for me to leave, everyone at our table said “see you next week” and I thought to myself, I guess I’m becoming a ‘regular’ now, too!

From then on, I went most Thursday nights to the local pub. Then, in the winter, the same pub held an All Blues Weekend. My new friend, Julie and I bought tickets for the Friday night. One of the groups (The Jesse Greene Band) were friends of Julie’s. Later on in the evening, Julie introduced me to Jesse’s dad, Ron. In July of 2018, I married that man! All thanks to saying “yes” more often and expanding my network of friends.

Try it! Step outside of your comfort zone and say “yes” to something that scares you, but feels right. Something wonderful and life changing may happen as a result.

Say ‘yes’ to something that scares you! Step outside of your comfort zone– you may create lasting memories.

Learning to say “NO”

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By Anita Manley

Setting boundaries and sticking to them is a very important part of mental wellness and recovery.

Many of us have been raised to follow orders–do whatever Mom and Dad tell you to do, listen to the boss, and never challenge authority. We are taught that we are not a “good child, employee, partner, etc.” if we say NO. We may even feel guilty.

This type of thinking can often get us into hot water.  It is so important, at times, to say no–loud and proud, mean it, and stick to it. It helps others to understand and respect your limits. Often times, you gain more respect by not being a “yes-man”. If you are not prepared to do something, or you don’t have the time or the desire, or if it goes against your beliefs, then just say no!  A long explanation isn’t needed.

Sometimes we say no, and the person at the receiving end still continues to push for a yes.  It is so important to stick to your guns and not give in.  There is a good reason you said no in the first place.  Repeat your answer. If you feel comfortable–clearly explain why you are saying no. If they’re not happy with that, point out to them that they’re not respecting your boundaries.

According to Melody Beattie, in the book The Language of Letting Go:

“The problem is, if we don’t learn to say no, we stop liking ourselves and the people we always try to please. We may even punish others out of resentment.

“When do we say no? When no is what we really mean.

“When we learn to say no, we stop lying. People can trust us, and we can trust ourselves. All sorts of good things happen when we start saying what we mean.”

Go ahead and say NO–if that is what you really mean. It’s not that hard.

'NO'-hand_CROPD

 

 

The importance of reaching out for support

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By Anita Manley

 

I remember being in such a dark place that I wanted nothing more than the pain to end. In my distorted mind, I thought the only way out was suicide.  Fortunately, I made it through those terrifying days, continuing to live — and am I ever thankful that I did!  I also remember feeling as though I was a burden to everyone, since I was so depressed and couldn’t contribute.  Hell, I couldn’t even get out of bed to have a shower.  My family insisted that I was not a burden, that they loved me dearly and that “this too shall pass” — and they were right — the dark rain cloud did pass, and sunny days reigned again.

You are worth it! Every human being on this earth has value and contributes in their own unique way to the universe. You are not a burden (even when you are struggling the most). You are lovable and you deserve the best. You do!  Believe it.

Lately, I have heard of so many of my friends battling with feelings of self-worth. Depression. Anxiety. And, some with suicidal ideation — wanting to end their life as feelings of shame and desperation take over.

Please — in times like these — reach out for help.

Fortunately,  in all cases, my friends have come through this by seeking support from others.  One drove herself to the emergency department. Is she ever glad she did!  Today she is living a much better life after receiving life-changing trauma therapy. She is so much happier now, has greater self-esteem — and celebrates each day, each week since the day she chose not to take her life. (For inspiration follow: The Maven of Mayhem on Facebook, @maven_of_mayhem on Instagram, and @MavenOfMayhem on Twitter).

Another friend reached out to family for encouragement, and to medical professionals to request a change in medication. Yet another, asked her support network to get together socially (at a distance), reaching out for basic needs and for medical requirements.

How can we be that supportive person…  to our loved ones in need?

According to Ann-Marie O’Brien, Lead of Women’s Mental Health at The Royal (@StrongGirl51 on Twitter):

“It begins by asking, ‘How can I help?’ The person seeking help is the one who gets to define what help is.”

Recently, I have reached out to medical professionals — for my own help. When my family doctor suggested anxiety medication, as she heard so much anguish, pain and anxiety in my voice: I replied persistently, “No… I just need to talk to someone about it.” I am not against medication — I take it every day to help me stay well — but I know that I do not need more at the moment.  Then, when speaking with my psychiatrist, she offered an increase in anti-psychotic medication. I repeated firmly, “No… I just need some psychotherapy. Can you please refer me to a psychologist?”  Fortunately for me, I was refered to a psychologist for psychotherapy after advocating for myself clearly and persistently. The person seeking help is the one who gets to define what help is.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones, friends, or professionals for help when you need it. You are worth it! Repeat this to yourself : “I am worth it. Life will get better. I will not be in this dark place forever.” Advocate for yourself.  If at first you do not get what you need, repeat your needs calmly and persistently over and over again, until you get what you are looking for.

Choose life! Reach out for support. You are worth it!

Crisis Services Canada 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) 1-800-273-8255

photo-of-people-s-hands-4672710

Reach out for support. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

Guest Blog – Gardening during a pandemic – by Dani Manley

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Note by Anita Manley:  I thought that my next blog should be about the mental health benefits of gardening.  I am well aware of how healing it is to nurture, water, feed and care for my own indoor and outdoor potted plants. It makes me feel so good to see my plants grow, bloom, and to harvest tomatoes and fresh herbs to make delicious and nutritious recipes. But then I realized there would be no one better than my nephew’s wife, Dani — an accomplished gardener, nurse and Mom — to contribute to this topic.

Hi – my name is Danielle (Dani) Manley, and I am married to Anita’s nephew, Joey Manley. I am a Registered Nurse and mom to a very active two and a half year old and an affectionately described ‘COVID’ baby (3 months old). I am passionate about gardening and come from two sides of farmers – so you could say gardening is in my blood but really it was in my nurture. I started to involve my son in gardening when he was born and now my daughter. It was and still is important to me to have gardening in my life to give me meaning and pride and encourage me to be outdoors but it is also important to me to instill food knowledge with my children. There is something very special to me about watching my son walk to the garden and eat the raspberries off the cane, with his general increase in healthy food knowledge or listening to him name the weigela or delphinium and watching him stopping to smell the roses, literally. Aside from my children, my husband has become a gardener as well and told me he finds watering and weeding very relaxing and gratifying, a far stretch from the big city life (without gardening) he once lived.

All that said, in no way do I profess to be an expert gardener but I do enjoy learning more about gardening every single day. Though I’ve been gardening for some time I have only recently recognized the mental health benefits of gardening on this global scale. You can follow my son, Jack and I: @jacksplants on Instagram.

Dani and Jack

Here I am with my son, Jack, pointing out new growth.  He’s an enthusiastic student.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that in a time of unknowns, isolation and for many, fear— a large portion of the population have turned to gardening.  Have you ever wondered why this is?

In earlier war times, the concept of “victory gardening” became well known as a patriotic way to support troops and increase food supply.  Currently, during this pandemic, you hear of many people taking up gardening. Why are we still drawn to gardening in the present day? I would argue that it is for the mental health benefits.

Gardening provides work with evident and gratifying gains, both physically and mentally. It prescribes a required routine that can give someone purpose. It often involves networking to answer questions, or to share experiences that gardeners of varying levels may provide, thus the increased following of gardening communities on social media. Since most gardening done leisurely is accomplished outdoors, this promotes more time spent in the elements away from the distractions of digital media, immersed in fresh air and sunlight. For those who grow food, it comes with the additional advantage of knowing where your food comes from, which logically influences a person’s healthy eating choices. The combination of all of these things in themselves speak to the mental wellness benefits that gardening promotes.

I’d like to end with this quote from 1945, reminding us that though the world has radically changed since then, the roots of mental wellness and its often connected activities— like gardening—are still a relevant reminder today to slow down:

 “Of all the by-products of the war there is little doubt that the victory garden is one of the most valuable. All true gardeners know the relaxation and peace of mind that contact with the soil brings. It is the best of all antidotes to the mental poisons of nervous strain in modern life. Doing real things with one’s hands, watching the wonderful thrust of nature’s will to live, is a source of deep satisfaction.” —editorial, the Globe and Mail, January 30, 1945

 

References

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6334070/

 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335516301401

 

https://www.tvo.org/article/forget-the-golf-stick-and-use-the-hoe-why-ontarians-embraced-gardening-during-wwii?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIy8bB0qPS6gIVB6SzCh0EBgV6EAAYASAAEgI34_D_BwE

5C9EE6A0-3C8C-40F9-8BB5-52CE46F61CAE

A current photo of my son Jack’s Veggie Patch.

Decluttering for peace of mind.

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By Anita Manley

 

During the first few weeks of COVID-19, while cooped up in our small one-bedroom apartment, it was clear we had one BIG problem. CLUTTER. Clutter had accumulated EVERYWHERE. On my desk in the bedroom, on the coffee table in the living room (my second desk!), the dining room table, and due to being home all day: a multitude of dirty dishes, piled high, in the kitchen. All this disorganization and messiness was really getting me down.

I talked to my daughter, Nicola, on the phone and she was doing some great decluttering herself… thus inspired, I started with my desk and committed to it by telling Nicola I was going to attempt to clear it off by our next call (in a week’s time). So! Mission accomplished: papers thrown out or filed, books were put onto a bookshelf or given away and I even got rid of an orchid, whose bare branches were not bringing me joy. It felt great… Marie Kondo would’ve been proud of me. I know Nicola was, when I showed her the results on our next video chat.

Then, I moved onto my “other desk” in the living room. Same thing — voila! Then into my closets — I emptied all of the clothes I never wear and piled them for donation; winter clothes were stored away downstairs and underwear/ sock drawer was cleared out into bins, making room for more clothing. I was on a roll — but still: nothing was getting me down more, than the thought of that endless trail of dirty dishes awaiting… in the kitchen.

Perhaps anyone living/ working from home during COVID without a dishwasher can relate.  Cooking and eating every meal at home adds up to a lot of dishes in a day. One skipped day of doing the dishes can set you behind and be super depressing. Envision attempting to prepare a meal with a small counter and dirty dishes encroaching on all surfaces, leaving no room for preparation. I was feeling super frustrated and was recounting this story to my friend on a walk through a lush forest in her neighbourhood one sunny morning. The ‘dreaded dishes’ dilemma. She so very kindly texted me the next day and asked what my plans were for dinner.  I replied: nothing that couldn’t be changed.  She said OK, do up your dishes and I am going to deliver your next meal.  A few hours later, there was a beautiful casserole, salad and berry crisp for dessert — ready to eat. My husband and I felt so indebted to her for making this kindly gesture that we also resolved to keep up with the dishes ever since.

I can honestly say that the lack of clutter throughout our home has reduced my anxiety and feelings of depression. I also feel I am sleeping better at night.

Therefore, it was no surprise to me when I recently picked up the book, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, to see that in her very first chapter she listed “toss, restore, organize” as goals towards “Boosting Energy” and creating a happier life. Or, that Sue-Anne Hickey of Bodytypology listed “decluttering and creating a relaxing atmosphere” as a way to prevent insomnia.

Whether you decide to read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying Up, or not: I know you will benefit from decluttering your living space.

Give it a try — one room at a time — for better peace of mind.

apartment-architecture-art-books-276724

Now, doesn’t this image of a tidy apartment (not my own) bring inner peace?

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s OK to not be OK

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by Anita Manley

Well folks, after a much needed hiatus, I’m back! I’ve missed you all.

Since the beginning of May, I’ve been struggling with all the rules, regulations, isolation, distancing from friends and family (mostly the no-hugs rule) and basically had the novel coronavirus blues. I am sure many of you can relate. I felt a deep connection (and still do) to that very popular song from early 70’s, called Signs by Ottawa’s very own Five Man Electrical Band. “Do this, don’t do that…can’t you read the sign?” I loved that song while listening to it on the radio growing up, but I can really relate to it even more now. There are signs and rules for EVERYTHING these days. Stay six feet or two meters apart. No mask, no entry. Turn left upon entry, follow arrows and physical distancing marks on floor. Do not bring your own reusable grocery bags. One person per family. The list goes on.

Just some of the signs I see everyday.

How are you coping during this pandemic? Are you also feeling as though it will never end? Of course, it will end… and things are opening up gradually — very gradually. I was able to give my daughter a very long hug on her recent birthday. What joy!

Here are some of the things I’ve been doing to improve my mental health over the past month:* (perhaps you can incorporate some of these into your routine)

  1. Breathe — that’s right, just take a time out and concentrate on your breath. I have been using the free app called INSIGHT TIMER as recommended by my family doctor. It has helped me a great deal.
  2. Give myself and my husband a hug — nothing better than a hug every day to fuel connection. If you cannot hug someone else, then hug yourself. It sure does feel great.
  3. Journal — Just write it down, get all those thoughts out on paper to clear your mind.
  4. Be compassionate — everyone has their own beliefs and feelings about COVID, if they are impatiently awaiting in line, or not wearing a mask or swearing at you for taking too long — it is their issue so I try not to take it personally. You never know someone else’s story.
  5. Create positive experiences — make it a point to ramp up the little things that bring you joy. A nature walk, reading a good book, or watch your favourite series on Netflix with a bowl of popcorn.
  6. Set boundaries — limit news consumption, and perhaps the time you spend on social media.
  7. Reach out for support — talk to friends and family about how you are feeling and give them some support as well. I have a friend who delivered a meal to me when she heard I was struggling. In turn, I paid it forward to someone else by delivering a meal to them.
  8. Write gratitudes — my husband and I have started a bowl of joy, by writing a gratitude each night and placing it in the bowl and reading them at the end of each month.
  9. Tell yourself: you’ve got this!

    I have learned lots over the past month.  I have learned that “it really is OK not to be OK” — just be in the moment, feel all the feelings and do the rest of the things on this list …and you will come out the other side.


    * adapted from Noom.
Since we are in Phase 2 of opening up in Ontario, I was able to give my daughter, Julia a big hug for her birthday last week. What joy!

Guest Blog – by Pheing Ngo

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Pheing started looking into health and mobility at the age of 13. Ever since, he has been constantly increasing his skills and knowledge pertaining to healthcare. He is naturally drawn to how the body and mind can maintain normal function well into the later years. That was why he started a business to assist people with health and habitual degeneration. Pheing.com aims to push people to be the best they can be. 

FEAR

What is at the end of the hallway when you fear?

Misery is waiting there.

I am sure many of you have heard this acronym for fear, It is False Evidence Appearing Real. It is very true for most instances in our life, but under the recent circumstance of COVID-19 fear is warranted on some levels. However, I encourage you to let go of them on others.

In the conditions we are living in, we often stress over the things that don’t happen. People should all do things this way. That person should be social distancing better. Those people should not be hanging around each other. We tend to build an image in our mind of what is right and what is wrong, almost like the world should be built with our ideas in mind. The problem with that is everybody has their own mind and perceptions vary greatly. This absolution of control and a depiction of what things have to be to be right, hurts the host more than it does the rest of the world.

Obviously letting go of this fear is easier said than done, and I want you to reflect on something. Is life not a series of events for chance to unravel? Have you ever made perfect plans of things to happen for your goal, but things end up detouring and the perfect plan collapses? Sometimes it feels like you make plans, but the universe just chuckles and says Nah. Things will unravel the way it does. Deal with what you can and let go of the things you can’t. You only end up putting yourself through misery if you hold on too tight.

Do you drive? Why do you drive, it can be very dangerous. You should stay home and never venture out in a vehicle right? The other person on the other side of the road could crash into you…but you trust a complete stranger to drive properly for the most part don’t you? You have to if you drive, otherwise the daily commute would be filled with angst.

The current situation with COVID-19 is similar, but now is the best time to trust yourself. Just like driving, you set the proper procedures for you to be safe as possible and be alert of potential hazards. You still need to move and eat, just add precautions like wearing a mask and not touching your face until you wash them thoroughly. Stressing out about it will lower your immune system response and you will be worse off for it, it is a catch 22.

Misery will always be waiting for you when you let fear take a hold of you. Life becomes grey and you end up strangling the beauty and colour all away. Do what you can, but learn to let go of things you can’t control. Keep moving forward. Keep cherishing the wonderful. Keep living life with purpose.

“Deal with what you can and let go of the things you can’t.” – Pheing Ngo

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.