Category Archives: Sleep

Overcoming Depression


Are you struggling with depression? If you answered yes, then you’re likely feeling low energy and struggling to get motivated. This lack of energy and motivation makes it difficult for you to engage in your typical routine and engage in productive roles; making you feel like you “can’t” do anything until your depression subsides. However, waiting for motivation to come before taking action is impossible because action comes before motivation. Taking even the smallest step, like getting out of bed, will build momentum to taking another small step. It will feel impossible, but you CAN do it and you will feel better afterwards.

Below are a few further tips to fighting depression:

Therapy Goals: Talking to a professional or someone you feel close to is big part of recovery. However, a lot of people go to therapy, while taking medications, and don’t actively participate in the session or complete any of the assigned therapy homework. It’s important to evaluate what you want from therapy and recognize that therapy won’t work if you’re not 100% invested and willing to put in the work. Before every therapy session, write down exactly what you want from the session, the timeline to achieve it, and how you will achieve it. Fighting depression requires constant active participation.

Engage in Pleasurable Activities: With a lack of motivation being a common symptom of depression, it can be hard to start your day. You may be overwhelmed with the number of tasks you’ve been putting off and this just makes it harder to pick a place to start. However, in knowing that action comes before motivation, it may feel less daunting to start by doing something that’s enjoyable in order to build the momentum for the other less desirable tasks.

Physical Exercise: Exercise has been found to improve mood and sleep and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. This is because exercise releases a chemical in your brain called endorphins, which is known to reduce your perception of pain. People usually don’t exercise because they aim too high with their expectations of what exercise should look like and how many times a day they should be doing it; making exercise feel like a big task that’s unachievable. However, the key to getting into exercise is to start small. You can start by taking a 10-minute walk around the block and retuning home. Remember that any small amount of exercise is better than none at all!

Eliminate the word “Can’t”: Fighting depression is mentally and physically exhausting and it seems easier to quit than to move forward. We often use the word “can’t” to describe why we’re not engaging in certain tasks. However, the medical definition of “can’t,” means physically being unable to participate in something. For example, being unable to walk because you’re paralyzed and in a wheelchair. So I challenge you to replace the term “can’t” with “I don’t want to” because it’s not that you are physically incapable of for example getting out of bed, but rather you don’t want to get out of bed because it is hard. This is not meant to diminish the difficulty of engaging in a task when you have depression, but rather shed light to the fact that you always have a choice, even if the choice feels impossible.

In summary, the key to fighting depression is to maximize all 4 areas of treatment: 1. Medication, 2. Psychotherapy, 3. Exercise, and 4. Social Engagement. If you only address one area, for example taking medications, and ignore the other 3 interventions, than you’re likely not going to succeed because you’re only receiving ¼ of your treatment. So make sure to take a small step in each of the areas and eliminate your negative self-talk because depression is hard! Be kind to yourself because depression is a disease. It does NOT define who you are as a person.

By: Maleeha Khan

Maleeha is currently doing a double major in Human Biology and Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the sex differences in factors predicting conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. She is interested in pursuing MD after her undergraduate degree and helping third world countries dealing with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

How to Improve Your Mental Health as a Student

As an undergraduate student, I know that the first year of university can be both physically and mentally exhausting. Even though we’re always told to “take care of our health”, “eat properly,” and “sleep well all the times”, sometimes it can be really hard to manage everything. Not sleeping properly, not eating well, and not exercising can result in mental distress. Here are some of my tips to help you take care of your mental health during those stressful times in university:

Do something that relaxes you: Whether it be going for a run or listening to your favourite music, doing something for yourself will help your brain not only relax, but also recharge for later.

Finding a hobby: I know during the semester it can be very hard to find time for anything other than school. But even a 10 min break will help. For example, I like to do henna, so during my study breaks I do henna or draw something to take my mind off of school. Hobbies can also increase your creativity.

Treat yourself once in a while: Go for lunch or dinner alone or with friends. Even a half an hour lunch can improve your mood and mental health.

Do meditation: Meditation is not only good for mental health, but it will also help you focus more in school. A lot of universities have free meditation session, so take advantage of them. I personally found meditation extremely helpful in relaxing me.

Go out with friends: It is extremely important to socialize, even when we feel like we don’t have time. We are social beings and taking a break to socialize with friends can reduce stress.

Get good sleep: I know we have all heard how important sleep is, but sometimes it is hard to get proper sleep when there are billions of things going on. I personally cannot function properly without good sleep and it is really hard to focus when you are sleepy throughout the day. Sleep is extremely important not just for recharging our bodies, but also for consolidating all the things we have learned throughout the day.

Ask for help: This point is the most important one that a lot of students barely pay attention to. There is help available for everything. If you are struggling with something that is causing you distress whether it is a low mark in a course or a personal issue, ask for help on campus.

Create goals that are achievable: Although it is never wrong to aim high, your goals have to be achievable. For example, not studying the whole semester and aiming to get an A+ by just studying the night before is definitely not a realistic goal. It might work for some people, but not for most of us. As long as you are willing to put in the effort required to achieve a goal, it is very likely that you will get it. However, just know if you do not end up getting it, you at least tried your best and there is always a second chance.

By: Maleeha Khan

Maleeha is currently doing a double major in Human Biology and Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the sex differences in factors predicting conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. She is interested in pursuing MD after her undergraduate degree and helping third world countries dealing with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Why Relaxation is so important

relaxation-day-ideas-e1438839299801In a fast-paced world, it can seem nearly impossible to ‘relax’- we are constantly ‘plugged’ in, there are deadlines to meet, plans to be made/followed, errands to run, etc. Relaxation can take on many forms and looks different for every person. To me, relaxation is any time my mind is at ease and I am not necessarily focused on a specific goal (or if I am, it is at a leisurely expense). Often times when I am relaxing, I may be doing more than just sleeping or sitting on the couch- I may be writing, reading, working out, or even shopping. Nonetheless, it feels good to zone out to some reality TV. In either scenario, the common denominator is always the want to do so and the state of mental enjoyment/ease/focus. Obviously some of these methods do require more mental energy, but they are not necessarily exhausting tasks. Working out, for example, can be physically and mentally demanding, but it brings the mind to a state of pure focus that can block out all upcoming events or deadlines that seem looming during work or other daily tasks and can have a great impact on our mental and physical health. On the flip side, watching TV can allow your mind to wander into the storyline and help distract/calm your mind. Relaxation can occur with others around, in these relaxing scenarios, but either way it is what happens internally that makes a difference in our daily working lives.

A metaphor that I like to use is to imagine a computer with millions of new windows popping open, while also trying to run a certain program. The computer will run slower, may have some technical issues, and will likely crash. Most of us experience these same problems when we don’t ‘power down’ for even a small amount of time. Just like sleep, relaxation plays a key role in regulating mood, concentration, and overall wellbeing. Taking time for ourselves allows us to decompress, destress, and can also allow us to feel rejuvenated so we can be productive in areas such as work or school. Using the computer metaphor, I like to think of relaxation as a computer on sleep mode, still hard-wired and aware of all internal data, ready to go at any moment, but pausing to use less [brain] power.

As much as we like to think we’re super-humans who can achieve anything, if we don’t get an adequate amount of sleep and are always on the go, our minds will become mentally exhausted. There have been times when I neglected my relaxation and not only did my performance in areas such as work falter, but so did personal relationships. Most detrimental of all was my relationship with myself- I was overwhelmed and began to feel like I was losing control of myself, of my mind. When we are in this state of mind, nothing becomes enjoyable and depression/anxiety are in full force. What’s shocking to me is that relaxation is not at the forefront of our society, but work and constant future goals are. This is not to say that these are not valuable, but it’s to suggest that the balance is not evenly weighted. It becomes up to us to find that time when we can wind down and do something for ourselves. With that being said, I ask that YOU find that time to drink a cup of tea in the quiet, read a few articles, or watch Judge Judy. These simple pleasures are just that, but also sooth and reset our minds.

By: Sarah Morrone

Sarah Morrone lives and works in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is an aspiring teacher and Registered Early Childhood Educator. Life has taken her on a little detour and is currently managing a cosmetics shop while writing, painting, and getting to know herself.

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Sleep: why is it important and how much of it do we need?

SleepingHow many times have you found yourself rushing to work because, yet again, you decided to hit that snooze button? Sleep is the most important thing that your body and mind require. Getting enough sleep every day is very beneficial to your mental and physical health, which will improve your quality of life significantly. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), sleep helps with growth and development of the brain and mind. While sleeping, your brain forms new pathways in order to help you learn new information and remember information that you learned throughout the day, a process called “consolidation”. With regards to your physical health, NHLI, also states that deep sleep triggers the body to release hormones that promote normal growth in children and teens. These hormones also boost muscle mass, help repair cells and muscle tissue in children, teens, and adults, and are involved in healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels.

But what exactly happens during sleep? According to Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), sleep has five stages. During stage one, you can easily be awaken and you experience slight muscle contractions. Your brain slows down during the second stage, allowing a release of alpha and beta waves, which help your body temperature to drop, meanwhile your breathing and heart rate remain constant. While in stage three and four you enter deep sleep. At this time, your brain waves change from alpha and beta to slower theta and delta waves; your blood pressure drops and your breathing slows. In the fifth and final stage of sleep you enter a stage of rapid eye movement or REM. These rapid movements signify a state of dreaming, during which you are in your deepest sleep. Alongside the rapid eye movements, your heart rate also increases. Sleep induces the release of several chemicals or hormones into your brain. During the sleep cycle, a number of chemicals are released, such as: serotonin (which affects your mood, emotions and appetite), norepinephrine (which affects response, breathing and metabolism) and adenosine (which builds up in your blood to keep you awake during the day and causes you to be sleepy at night).

There has been much argument about how much sleep one needs, and according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), newborns (0-3 months) need 14-17 hours,  infants (4-11 months) need 12-15 hours, toddlers (1-2 years of age) need 11-14 hours, preschoolers (3-5 years of age) need 10-13 hours,  school age children (6-13 years of age) need 9-11 hours, teens (14-17 years of age) need 8-10 hours, adults (18-64 years of age) need 7-9 hours, and finally, elders (65+ years of age) need 7-8 hours. When you do not receive enough sleep, you become sleep deficient. According to NHLBI, sleep deficiency increases the risk of heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes, as well as increases the risk of obesity. People who are sleep deprived will have trouble making decisions, solving problems, and controlling emotions and behaviour. A lack of sleep may also lead to micro sleep, which refers to a brief moment of sleep that occurs while you are awake. An example of such would be if you are driving for a long time and do not remember part of the trip.

However, there are ways to fix your sleep patterns. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), you should keep a regular sleep schedule (i.e., going to bed and waking up at the same time every day), avoid napping during the day, get out of bed if you can’t sleep, avoid caffeine four to six hours before bed, avoid alcohol and smoking close to bedtime, minimize noise and blue light (i.e., light that comes from electronics), make sure room temperature is neither too hot nor too cold, and exercise daily. Keeping these tips in mind can help you achieve and maintain a good and healthy sleep-wake schedule.

By: Bruno Ngjeliu

Bruno

The Benefits of Nature

Nature-BrainWhen was the last time you had the chance to go for a hike, a bike ride, or a picnic? Nowadays we are so caught up with technology, that people prefer to stay inside than go out and be active. Nature is beautiful, calming, and has amazing health benefits such as providing us with warm sunlight and fresh clean air. According to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, when living closer to nature your body and mind will be healthier.

One way of living closer to nature is to allow yourself a minimum exposure to natural sunlight, which provides our body with natural vitamin D. Some reasons as to why Vitamin D is so important is that it helps prevent cancer, hormonal problems, obesity, inflammation, and it contributes to the human body having a strong immune system. Sunlight also contributes in helping set the body’s internal clock. The internal clock is something that everyone has which indicate to us when to eat, sleep, as well as regulates and controls hormonal functions that occur at specific times of the day.

Nature also provides us with fresh air which is a major benefit to one’s health. A health benefit would be that it helps your digestive system work more effectively. It also improves your blood pressure and heart rate. According to scientific research, when living in an environment that has dirty or polluted air, your body has to work twice as hard to receive the same amount of oxygen it requires than in a clean air environment. Fresh air helps clean the airway of your lungs so that they can dilate more fully, which in return cleans your lungs and makes them work more effectively. Just like sunlight, fresh air also strengthens your immune system. Our bodies operate by using our white blood cells to fight and kill bad bacterium. However for these white blood cells to work at their maximum capacity, they need clean oxygen.

Fresh air also increases serotonin levels in your body, a natural chemical which is known to be directly linked to the elevation of emotion such as the feeling of happiness. Serotonin is a chemical that is linked to constricting smooth muscles, regulating cyclic body processes and contributes to wellbeing and happiness.  The more oxygen inhaled the more your body produces serotonin Finally, fresh air results in a boost in energy and can enhance your mental performance and abilities. Your brain needs approximately twenty percent of your body’s oxygen. Inhaling cleaner oxygen will enhance clarity and improve concentration.

So next you time you have the weekend free, Toronto provides many amazing places for you to get back in touch with nature. You can visit some of the following places: Ashbridge’s Bay Park, Bluffer’s Park, Centre Island (which is very popular), Rouge Park, Evergreen Brick Works, High Park, Downsview Park, Riverdale Park, Riverdale Farm, Toronto Music Garden, Crothers Woods and Kortight Centre for Conservation.

By: Bruno Ngjeliu

Bruno

Overcoming Insomnia And Night Time Worrying

full-moon-purple-sky-223404Most of us go through times in life when sleep eludes us. Often times we sleep less during times of stress and many of us have chronic sleep difficulties that
may be due to past trauma, anxiety, depression or other concerns. Regardless of what the cause of your insomnia is, I often hear people report the same things:

 

  •  I just can’t turn my mind off
  • I keep thinking and thinking about job/family/friends/the past
  • At night time I just worry about everything
  • I start feeling anxious once I lie down to sleep

Although researchers are still trying to figure out exactly why we need sleep, it is
clear that deep sleep is one of our basic needs. If our sleep needs aren’t met, it
affects all aspects of our life and health. Here are a few tips to quiet your mind
and help you get a good night’s rest:

1. Try not to use technology in bed

I know this one won’t be popular since many people use phones/iPads/television
to distract themselves, avoid worry, and induce sleep. Unfortunately, our brains
begin to associate bed with activities other than sleep unless we’re only using it
for sleep and sex! Research has also shown that technology that emits blue light
(like your phone and iPad) tend to suppress melatonin and increase alertness.

2. Get out of bed if you aren’t able to sleep

This is also one that people tend not to like! However, if you’ve tried for about
half an hour to go to sleep to no avail, get out of bed. When you get out of bed
don’t do anything stimulating (i.e. no TV!). Instead, read a boring book under low
light, drink warm milk or sleepy non-caffeinated tea, or anything else relaxing that
will encourage sleep rather than wakefulness.

3. Make yourself a bedtime routine

Many parents do this for children to make bedtime predictable, and train their
children to wind down and get ready for sleep. Just because you’re an adult
doesn’t mean you don’t need this! Try each night to have a “wind down” routine
that works for you. For example: drink your sleepy time tea, check your phone
for the last time and set your your alarm, brush your teeth and wash your face,
listen to some of your favourite mellow music, and get into bed.

4. Use a mindfulness or calming technique

My favourite exercise to introduce to people with sleep difficulties is “5-4-3-2-1”.
Once you’re in bed and trying to sleep, this is a good exercise to interrupt your
thoughts or worries. Start by naming in your head:

5 things you hear (dog barking, wind in the trees, house creaking)

5 things that you see (my closet, the window in my room, my chair)

5 things that you feel (the blanket on my leg, my heart beating)

Once you’ve finished naming five things (you can repeat items as many times as
you need), start all over again and name four things. Continue until you’re down
to naming one of each item. Once you’ve finished the exercise, start right back
at the beginning if you aren’t sleepy. Take your time with this exercise. Say the
items slowly and calmly in your head, and pause between each item. Let your
eyelids get heavy while you’re looking around your room for items to name.

5. Listen to a relaxation tape

This can be a part of your bedtime routine to help lull you to sleep, or use it once
you’ve tried to sleep for half an hour. If a guided relaxation tape isn’t for you,
YouTube has a variety of calming nature sounds, or Tibetan bells that you might
prefer. YouTube for relaxation tapes is the one form of technology you’re
allowed!

Therapy is a great place to figure out a sleep routine that works for you. In
therapy, we can craft personalized relaxation tapes, learn more relaxation
techniques, and explore underlying causes of insomnia.

By: Beth Moore

Beth Moore Counselling & Psychotherapy