I’ve been reading and watching quite a bit about explorers and exploring. It seems we humans have a penchant for testing the odds, for pushing the limits, for taking a risk in pursuit of a reward so great, they often perish in its pursuit.
How does this relate to exercise? Well, if you’re heading out on a exploratory trek that will take you across great plains or tundras, or into luscious ran forests or up mountains, you’re likely going to get a workout. Yet, most of us don’t have the time or the means for such adventures, nor do most of us want to.
But we don’t have to engage in a massive or life-threatening journey to be considered an explorer. We can explore on a smaller scale – within our neighbourhood, city, or ourselves. We can explore our own physical limits, but also our mental limits through a variety of means – going to a new exercise class, trying an activity we are afraid of (for whatever reason), joining a running group, attending a meditation class, finally setting up an appointment with a counselor etc. We often establish limits – both physical and mental – to what we can and will do, even when we want to push past them. We’re often left standing at the starting gait because we’re afraid.
Okay let me give you an example. I’d like to see the underwater world, but the times I’ve gone snorkeling have been petrifying (I don’t like the fish swimming at my goggles…this happened…I’m not lying) and I’m afraid of dying underwater if I go scuba diving. Death is a pretty big fear. But seeing as I’m comfortable with the notion of going sky diving and that I ride horses and hike in the bear-filled mountains, death isn’t the real reason I’m afraid.
I have to dig a little deeper because the reason I’ve provided isn’t the real one. Underwater, my oxygen supply is determined by a tank – I don’t have control of when it empties or if it malfunctions. Underwater, my swimming ability is aided by flippers and a wet suit, but I will always remain a slow and nervous swimmer. Underwater, I would have trouble defending myself from a predator, more so than on land (at least in my opinion). Underwater, I lose a lot of control and that’s the real reason I’m afraid. Not because I might die, but because I wouldn’t have a lot of control over how my death could occur.
Okay here’s another, less extreme example. About a year and half ago, I was asked if I wanted to become a Zumba instructor to teach at a local community centre. Training would be provided for free. At first, I was extremely hesitant. As a fairly uncoordinated, non-dancer I didn’t think I had the necessary skills. I was afraid of making a fool of myself. At first I said ‘no’, but I kept thinking about it. I couldn’t back down because I was afraid (this is why I will go scuba diving one of these days). I finally accepted, completed my training, taught for a few months at the community centre and eventually, started my own business teaching business to the community. I absolutely loved it. Every minute of every class was a delight. I’m so thankful I got over my fear of failure and accepted the challenge.
Perhaps you have some fears or well-established boundaries holding you back from participating in a challenge. Perhaps you’re afraid of injury. Perhaps you’re afraid of not accomplishing the challenge. Perhaps you’re afraid of succeeding – yes, succeeding.
Whatever the fear or the boundary, I encourage you to evaluate it. Dig deeper. Understand the true root of the fear. Get comfortable with the fact you have fears and boundaries. Once comfortable, start to challenge them. Come up with a strategy to get around the fear. Come up with a plan.
Why am I encouraging you to explore your physical and mental limits? Because if you don’t, you’re likely going to miss out on something or some things that are great, fun, exciting, life-changing, life-affirming – you get the picture.
I know if I don’t go scuba diving one of these days that I will miss out on the splendor of the sea and all the creatures that it holds. What will you miss?
It is a little busy in my professional life at the moment hence the lack of regular posts, but I wanted to provide with at least a laugh as you enter into the weekend (yay)!
I’ve now watched this particular video three times and laughed each time. I grew up with cats and it wasn’t until I went to university and came back home that I realized I was actually allergic. To this day, my mom still has three cats (one is actually mine) and when I go home I must take at least 1 to 2 allergy pills per day. But even though I’m allergic and would choose a dog over a cat for a pet, they always manage to make me laugh. It’s impossible to deny that I love them (but I love most animals).
Ah the world of dieting. It’s a world full of mind-boggling and often unsafe recommendations. It’s a world that most will enter into at some point in their life – a very unfortunate thing.
Why unfortunate? Because diets are not sustainable and therefore, will never work in the long haul. Sure, you’ll drop a couple pounds at the beginning, but when you stop whatever you’re doing, the weight is likely to creep back on.
I came across this article and thought the writer did a wonderful job of explaining 11 of the greatest lies in mainstream nutrition. The best part – it’s evidence based and readers are able to link the actual journal article the writer is referencing. Love it.
Highlights for me (remember these are the myths that the writer is challenging):
- That eggs are unhealthy due to cholesterol levels
- That low fat diets are the way to go
- That saturated fats are bad for you and lead to heart disease
- That high protein diets put strain on your kidneys and increase the risk of osteoporosis
- That you should eat many small meals per day
As the title suggests, there are six more myths. I highly recommend you read the article.
Due to a recent dietary shift (not diet) within my household I can speak firsthand to the benefits of adopting a low carbohydrate / high fat and protein diet. While the weight loss is undeniable (and perhaps a little too fast for my liking), the emotional benefits associated with this particular eating style are remarkable. Reduced fatigue, better sleep, improved mood, more energy for skiing, hiking, and snow-shoeing. Thus, there are many benefits other than weight loss and if you’ve ever my posts on motivation, these emotional benefits are actually better predictors of long-term success.
This article may throw some of your long-held notions out the window. If it does, I encourage you to link the journal articles and read through the various studies. Understanding the science is important and it may help to quell some of your fears on the subject.
Today is Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” day, an annual mental illness and mental health awareness-raising initiative.
So what does mental health mean? According to the World Health Organization mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”.
Of course, this definition will vary depending on an individual’s professional and personal experience, but I do think the above definition captures the essence of mental health. We want to work well and be well at work. We want to contribute to our community (whether this community consists of friends and family or is much broader in scope) in a meaningful manner. We want to move through the trials and tribulations of life as best as we possibly we can, utilizing the resources we have available to us. We want to find peace (whatever your definition of peace may be) within our ever-changing and ever-busy lives.
But we must realize that mental health takes work and that sometimes some have to work harder than others to achieve mental health. Some of us are born with a different genetic code. Some of us are born into different families, within different cultures with varying norms and expectations. Some of us have experienced great trauma (and we must understand that “great trauma” can only be defined by the person who experiences it as we undeniably vary in our perception of life events). Some of us work in environments that are not only psychologically unsafe, but still remain physically unsafe.
We must appreciate that each and every one of us steps up to the plate with a different genetic code and life experience and that these differences have a huge impact on how we perceive, process, and handle certain life events. We must fundamentally understand that our lens is not the same as our co-worker’s, our partner’s or our best friend’s.
While I laud Bell’s campaign*, I also think their television advertising campaign somewhat perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental illness. The two commercials I’ve seen feature a mopey, isolated man in his living room and a counter-gripping, head-sagging woman calling in sick to work. While some people experiencing a mental illness may exhibit such symptoms at home, when completely alone, a large majority won’t. And they will likely not exhibit such symptoms at work or with friends. They’ll more than likely act like nothing is wrong – that things are, for the most part, pretty hunky dory.
This is what makes mental illness such a tricky and easily-misunderstood disease. We may assume a person experiencing depression will look sad or cry. We may assume a person experiencing anxiety will bite their nails and become easily agitated. We may assume a person who has a drinking addiction will show up to work drunk. We may assume a person with schizophrenia is going to become physically or verbally aggressive.
Our assumptions often interfere with our ability to truly “see”. We assume that the receptionist who cried today at work is depressed and miss the employee working overtime who’s experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder. In fact, they’re probably being applauded and encouraged. Guided by our assumptions, which are largely determined by various societal myths, we may (or may not) catch ourselves or hear others saying:
- “Oh, Sally? She’s just crazy. Ignore her last email.”
- “Dave’s been off for a few days now. Seriously, he should just suck it up.”
- “He’s faking it.”
- “She’s got Bipolar? She can’t possibly be productive at work.”
- “How can she not cope with the stress of that job? I did it for 5 years without one issue.”
We (not all) may make these assumptions, but often fail to recognize statistics on mental illness. That almost 1 in 2 working Canadians are currently experiencing or have experienced a mental illness. That 500,000 Canadians miss work each day due to mental illness. That it knows no gender, race or age. That it can strike at any time, regardless of the situation. That one cannot simply “suck it up”. That one is likely not “faking it” to get out of work. Honestly, would you ask someone diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes to suck it up?
Mental illness affects our life whether we know it or not. More importantly, it affects our life whether we like it or not.
We’re all different. We all come with a different story. We all have a different perception of what’s “normal” and have varying abilities to “cope” with the demands of a job and life in general. Just because our “normal” dictates that someone should be able to work from 8 to 6 with a short lunch break and produce 3 presentations without getting stressed, does not mean that is or should be someone else’s normal.
Challenging our own assumptions, challenging our “normal” will be difficult. I cannot promise doing so is going to be all reward. It’s not. It’s going to be an uphill, frustrating and potentially messy battle at times. And it should be noted that the workplace will likely face the greatest struggle as there remains considerable stigma embedded within that culture. But I’m not giving you an excuse, just a warning. A warning to help you better prepare for what’s to come when and if you decide to take part in this monumental paradigm shift.
Obviously this post has a workplace focus to it given my role at the Canadian Mental Health Association in Calgary, but I have a strong personal connection to mental illness. My maternal grandmother has Depression and has, from my understanding, her entire life and my paternal grandmother also had a mood disorder, likely Bipolar Affective Disorder. So mental illness definitely runs in my family. And like many other Canadians, I have close friends who have experienced or are currently experiencing a mental illness.
I’m proud to be a part of this mental health awareness-raising initiative. Removing stigma in its entirety would be ideal, but is not realistic. Like any movement, this will take time and will face much resistance. Cancer faced considerable stigma throughout the mid and late 20th century. Those with the disease often felt considerable shame and fear of disclosing to their boss or coworkers (even family and friends). Today, cancer campaigns surround us marking a monumental shift in how society views and accepts the disease. So let’s hope the mental health movement will parallel the cancer movement. In fact, I hope it can move more quickly due to social media and advertising campaigns such as Let’s Talk.
In closing, I believe the more we talk and begin to truly understand that each person has a unique way of perceiving, processing and dealing with situations, the better. I guess it fundamentally comes down to acceptance. And true acceptance will take much time, patience, and a considerable amount of energy and effort on the part of advocates for mental health.
Who’s an advocate? Anyone willing to talk and facilitate dialogue on mental illness and mental health. Anyone willing to speak out against stigma and strategize new and innovative ways to address it. Anyone willing to share their story. Anyone trying to make a meaningful and lasting difference within the lives of those experiencing mental illness.
Become an advocate for mental health. Talk. Share. Facilitate. Listen. But most importantly, accept.
*Please note that I honestly believe the pros of Bell’s campaign largely outweigh any cons.