If you could make one small change today, what would it be?
Go to bed earlier and sleep longer – this is what research proposes.
Sleep is one of the few universal behaviors among mammals and birds, which suggests that it performs an important function. Although it feels necessary to recover from moving and exercising our bodies, studies show that sleep deprivation does not damage the body. On the other hand, it appears that sleep is essential for normal brain functioning, and mental exercise increases the demand for deep sleep.
The stages of sleep tend to follow an orderly sequence:
Sleep deprivation studies show numerous negative consequences not only to performance (fatigue, poor decision-making abilities, lack of energy) and memory (difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, trouble remembering), but also to overall health – physical (weight gain, high blood pressure, compromised immune system) and mental (irritability, mood swings, symptoms of anxiety and depression).
Sleep has such a broad and significant influence because during the restoration stages there is a release of a number of hormones, regulating various systems in our bodies, such as ghrelin and leptin (regulating hunger/body weight), cortisol (involved in metabolism, stress and immune response), growth hormone (essential for tissue repair), oxytocin (aka “love hormone” involved in social behavior).
Additionally, both serotonin and dopamine – two essential neurotransmitters for our mental health and digestion (along the Gut-Brain Axis which I wrote about here – link to previous article?) – are also involved in the sleep cycle. Last but not least, during sleep the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the flight-or-flight response gets a rest, and so do we – from various stressors or anxious thoughts we might have on our minds.
Bobbie Miteva, MA, RTC
If you, or someone you know is suffering from sleep issues due to stress, anxiety, depression, or situational difficulties, please reach out to Bobbie for an appointment by clicking here
Disordered eating usually has a strong psychological component with triggers that range from person to person. All forms of under eating, with lack of macro and micronutrients, leads to nutrient depletion with more health concerns to follow over time.
In the following article, learn about the impact of eating disorders from a physical/physiological point of context.
If you or anyone you know struggles with eating disorders, please seek help. Eating disorders are a multi faceted illness that require medical attention from a medical practitioner, support services from counselling, and potentially natural support from nutritionists and herbal medicine experts - having a health team to see you through, is better than going alone.
If you need immediate help, there are crisis options available with hotlines.
For Canada please go to https://nedic.ca/
For the US please try https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/
Because eating disorders are extremely psychological, they easily ramp up the production of our stress hormones. This is heavily taxing on the body as a whole and especially the adrenal glands, which are responsible for producing quite a bit of our sex hormones. Adrenal stress disrupts the production of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone, all of which play a role in reproductive health including regular menstruation, libido and fertility. Women have the tendency to lose their cycle all together (amenorrhea) leading to very low sex drive and inability to conceive, while men suffer from erectile dysfunction. This is the struggling body’s way of saving energy, and any concerns related to disorded eating may return back to health once eating is again balanced. Sadly, disordered eating affects higher percentages of young adults who are meant to be in the highest point of their sexual & generative time, thus creating complications for both the mother and / or baby during pregnancy, or unfortunately the inability to reproduce.
Blood sugar imbalance & insulin resistance
With undereating, sometimes comes overeating / binging. These drastic patterns have a negative effect on blood sugar and insulin balance. With going from one extreme to the next, blood sugar levels drop, and spike quicker than the body would admire. These crashes often lead to fatigue, irritability, anxiety, depression & other symptoms. Commonly, caffeine or refined foods are craved in order to boost energy, which additionally disrupts production of serotonin & melatonin. These habits only enable the vicious circle, carrying on any blood sugar imbalance, leading to possible insulin resistance and further complications such as diabetes, heart conditions, nerve damage, mood disorders, eye problems & more.
Dieting or restricting has been shown to decrease levels of tryptophan, which makes serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter & happy hormone that stabilizes mood, promotes good sleep, controls carbohydrate intake and manages compulsive & obsessive behaviours. Binging may occur which gives a temporarily relief of stress from a need in caloric intake but is usually followed by more restriction and possible bulimic tendencies, which again depletes the system of tryptophan & other nutrients needed to form serotonin through the act of vomiting. Mood disorders or traits such as depression, anxiety, impulsiveness, irritability and swings tend to arise. Additionally, with low estrogen being common in disorded eating and also being shown to lower serotonin levels, there is no doubt that issues with mood and mental health with occur.
Deficiency in essential fatty acids (EFA’s)
Fat phobia is typical in eating disorders. Due to a low-fat diet, depression and irritability come up as essential fatty acids are key in brain function, as well as sex & stress hormone production. Furthermore, with fat missing from the diet, blood sugar levels drop quickly and create imbalances.
Some forms of disordered eating consist of the consumption of nutrient poor foods high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. With this in mind, we can address symptoms like bloating, constipation, the opposite of constipation, slow gastric emptying, gas and malabsorption. Malabsorption is important to review as any nutrients that the person may be getting are not actually being absorbed and used in the body where needed, which can also lead to further emotional symptoms. Without chemical reactions occurring as they should, the hormones that control hunger and satiation may also be impaired.
Food allergies & intolerances
Coming off of the last point, if the only foods being consumed consists of empty calorie foods with no nutrients, serotonin production is affected negatively, more stress is put on the adrenal glands and blood sugar increases. Processed foods such as refined sugars and carbohydrates get in the way of neurotransmitter functions as well as any nutrient absorption that becomes available. This will all alter mood and state of mind. There have also been studies showing that food allergies and intolerances may be a contributing underlying factor to mental health issues and conditions such as disordered eating.
Impaired bone health
Reduced calorie & nutrient intake, plus exercise stress & low energy availability can cause amenorrhea as discussed. With reduced circulating estrogen, there is enhanced bone resorption, which then leads to reduced bone mineral density & increases the risk of osteoporosis.
While disordered eating is hugely related to mental health conditions, nutritional counselling may be used depending on the case as a multi-disciplinary approach in tandem with psychological support. We are whole, with the gut and brain being extremely connected, thus intertwining nutritional approaches with proper psychological treatment is of best interest and holds greater success rates in recovery.
Healthy & essential fats to support hormones, adrenals, thyroid, blood sugar & brain health.
Rich omega 3 rich foods such as cold-water fish like salmon, halibut, herring, sardines, mackerel, cod, tuna and anchovies, as well as in hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds and / or oil, avocado and / or oil & olive oil.
Maca root to support adrenals, energy and sexual health. Found in both capsules and powered form.
Zinc deficiency may contribute to eating disorders and is likely depleted with food restriction and malabsorption. Supplementation of zinc through capsules or food sources such as oysters, legumes, nuts & seeds, organic eggs, red meat and unprocessed whole grains can support those suffering eating disorders, along with women’s and men’s sexual & reproductive health.
Electrolytes are significant when it comes to disordered eating patterns. Dehydration doesn’t just occur from lack of water intake, as a large percentage of hydration comes from solid foods and with restriction one can become more susceptible. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride are essential for our bodies to function properly. Restrictive eating, stress and anxiety depletes optimal levels, and especially in those suffering from bulimia as the body is losing electrolytes through vomiting, sweating and even laxative induced bowl movements.
Isotonic solutions contain electrolyte balances similar to the plasma of our bloodstream. Some good options for these products include Electrolyte Synergy by Designs for Health & Electrolyte Drink Mixes by Ultima.
Alternatively, you can play around with making your own:
Sodium found in sea salt, pickled foods and organic fermented foods such as miso or tempeh
Calcium in organic unpasteurized cheeses, organic soy products & peas, lentils, almonds, poppy seeds coconut milk, wild caught salmon & kale
Potassium sourced from bananas, oranges, spinach, broccoli, sweet & russet potato as well as some dried fruits such as prunes & dates
Chloride from many vegetables as well as seaweed, tomatoes, lettuce, celery & olives
Magnesium sources include cacao, avocado, most greens, nuts & seeds, beans & unprocessed whole grains
*vegetables & fruits contain many if not all electrolyte minerals
Iodine to support thyroid health. Thyroid disorders are extremely common here and contribute to further hormonal imbalances. Food sources high in iodine include sea vegetables, seafood and iodized salt. Additionally, saturated fats have shown improvement in thyroid function, and can be found in organic coconut oil, ghee, butter, unpasteurised full-fat dairy, and organic red meats.
Intestinal support is key in most circumstances. Including the following will help bring balance back to the gut microbiome, aid digestion, improve absorption and lead to better mental health. Our gut flora also regulates adrenal, thyroid and liver function. The state of our gut bacteria plays a massive part in mood stabilization & sleep quality, which in turn will reduce stress on the adrenals.
Probiotics found in fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi, probiotic supplements, cultured dairy products.
Prebiotics in legumes, garlic, onions, dairy products, apples, grapefruit, sweet potatoes, quinoa, cauliflower, kale, blueberries.
Fibre from sweet potatoes, lentils, quinoa, flax, greens, and beans.
Liver Support as it is a key organ for hormone balance and cholesterol production, which is the building block for the hormone’s estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, as well as cortisol, our stress hormone.
Indole-3-Carbinole found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts and mustard greens.
Calcium D-glucarate found in apples, grapefruit, garlic, onions, and bitter greens like mustard greens or collards.
Balancing blood sugar through eating frequent and balanced meals will stabilize blood sugar levels and take stress off the adrenals. Quality protein, as well as healthy fats, will help slow the digestion of glucose, thus avoiding spikes & crashes and the symptoms that come along with it.
Optimal protein sources include organic & pastured meats, eggs, wild caught food of the sea, organic soy products and plant based combinations such as whole grains and legumes. We are all biochemically unique, so working with a professional would be a good option in order to discover your ideal protein intake.
As you can see from all of the information above, the physical impacts of disordered eating are great and encompass many systems. You were also able to see some of the herbs and supplements often used when working with an individual who is struggling with disordered eating.
If you would like to speak with me 1:1 about concerns with disordered eating, please contact the office directly to make an appointment, we are here for you.
In health and wellness,
Hannah Charron - Registered Holistic Nutritionist
In line with the Healthy Weight Awareness Month (January) I’d like to explore the psychology behind emotional eating and binge eating. As you read, I invite you to observe how the mind and body are connected along the gut-brain axis, which might give you an insight as to why a holistic approach to wellness could be much more beneficial to clients than relying entirely on one treatment modality.
Both emotional and binge eating can lead to weight gain and potentially to obesity, but the former are not prerequisites for the latter, nor is obesity a certain end result. Binge eating occurs less often, as it is marked by psychological distress. On the other hand, it is safe to assume that most of us engage in emotional eating from time to time, that is to say using food to soothe certain emotions rather than to satisfy physiological hunger. Regardless of the type of type of eating we engage in, when we serve ourselves some food our bodies get into a rest and digest state – the parasympathetic nervous system gets activated, thus increasing digestion, making the heart rate slow down and leading to a feeling of relaxation (this is not the case if you are eating while stressed). Subsequently, as we continue to eat and digest the gut signals the brain to secrete endorphins (relaxing chemicals which act as pain relievers) and dopamine. The latter is part of the reward system, hence it makes us feel pleasure and satisfaction; unfortunately for our bodies, however, it is linked to eating junk food and other not so healthy products. In addition to endorphins and dopamine, serotonin (the “happy hormone”) may also come into the picture after eating foods containing the essential amino acid tryptophan (found in protein-based foods such as meats, dairy, seeds and raw cacao among others), or after eating foods with a high glycemic index (ex. ice cream, pizza and fries are examples of both categories). No wonder emotional eating is associated with reaching out for such comfort foods – the chemicals these consist of trigger the secretion of feel-good hormones in the brain! Chocolate deserves special mentioning here, because in addition to tryptophan, it consists of caffeine and theobromine (together these little guys give us an energy boost), as well as phenylethylalanine – a chemical secreted in the brain when we are in love!
Knowing how different food chemicals in the gut affect the neurotransmitters in the brain is important because it gives us an insight into the reasons behind emotional eating: when we experience pain, stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, loneliness, boredom or the need to reward ourselves, reaching out for comfort foods can give us a quick emotional fix – feelings of relaxation, pleasure, happiness and even love become predominant.
We can easily learn to associate feeling good with eating, which may become a problem if we rely on eating as the primary coping mechanism for emotional regulation. An additional red flag of emotional eating is when the latter turns into overeating (consuming more food than your body needs at a given time) and binge eating which is often followed by feelings of guilt and shame (hence the psychological distress mentioned earlier).
If you are someone who indulges in an occasional junk fiesta while stressed over a tight deadline I wouldn’t worry too much if I were you. However, if you notice regular use of food to cope with emotions, decreasing number of other coping mechanisms, and binge eating, you might want to consider taking action for your wellbeing at the earliest signs. The more binge eating occurs, the more guilt and shame people experience, which they tend to soothe with their primary coping mechanism for emotional regulation – (more) food, turning this into a vicious circle.
Although I won’t be focusing on eating disorders here, I quickly want to mention that some people might develop binge eating disorder (BED) characterized by recurring episodes (at least once a week for 3 or more months) of binge eating, which include 3 or more of the following:
1. Eating very quickly;
2. Eating regardless of hunger cues, even if one is already full;
3. Eating until uncomfortably or painfully full;
4. Eating alone due to embarrassment about the type and quantity of food ingested;
5. Feelings of self-disgust, guilt, and depression.
Among various effects that this mental illness could have on people’s psychological and physical health, it has been observed that that BED could lead to more frequent emotional overeating episodes compared to those without BED.
Before I turn to some tools which you may find helpful, I’d like to highlight that eating disorders are included as mental illnesses in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), some of which could be life-threatening and therefore require help from trained practitioners. The suggestions that I offer here are meant at starting points for people who do not exhibit the corresponding symptoms (https://nedic.ca/eating-disorders-treatment/), but do engage in emotional and/or binge eating, the occurrence of which they hope to minimize.
As part of increasing your self-awareness I additionally invite you to think of ways to develop your . Research shows that disordered eating is linked to deficits in emotional processing such as understanding one’s own and others’ emotions, related physical sensations and facial expressions. Therefore, it is expected that improving your grip on the above may have positive influence on your eating patterns. You can start by observing people’s reactions, how those affect you and vice versa. Furthermore, use stressful situations as opportunities to examine how you tend to react: Where in your body do you feel anger or anxiety? What do you do after a frustrating event?
2. Eat mindfully and intuitively
When I say mindful eating, I’m not suggesting that you should eat with your eyes closed while telling your brain not to think; to the contrary, mindfulness is about being present in the moment and when you eat this means simply savouring the food. Focus on your senses: Is you food colorful and aesthetically pleasing? Do you begin salivating at the sight of your meal? Do you feel your stomach getting excited? What is the texture of the food, and most importantly how much do you enjoy the taste of what you eat? If you want to get even more mindful, you may take a couple deep breaths before beginning your meal, and I highly recommend that you eat in a relaxing environment away from technology. That’s all – enjoy!
Intuitive eating is related to the savouring aspect of mindful eating, since at its core lies the idea of giving ourselves permission to enjoy the pleasure of eating without feeling guilt or shame. In order for this to happen we first have to make peace with food (without dividing it into good or bad categories) and thus get rid of the dieting mentality. Easier said than done – especially in a culture that constantly feeds us messages about diet norms and the . Another foundational premise of intuitive eating is learning to recognize cues of physiological hunger and to notice what fullness feels like for each person individually. Intuitive eating also involves the process of respecting your body and honoring your feelings without using food, which in a sense is the opposite of emotional eating. Last but not least, this self-care approach to eating developed by two dieticians, incorporates suitable nutrition – you can explore what that means for your body and unique needs by reaching out to a trained dietician or nutritionist.
3. Healthy Diet
My guess is that this comes at no surprise. Although I’m passionate about gut health, I specialize in mental health, so here I’ll only briefly share some points for you to consider in the psychological struggle with emotional and/or binge eating. There are certain nutrients such as the long-chained omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, magnesium and a number of phytonutrients that influence the neuroplasticity of the brain, which is essential for the replacement of unhealthy coping mechanisms like emotional and/or binge eating with wellness practices. Some foods containing these nutrients also have moderation effects on depression, which as seen earlier is a contributing factor to emotional regulation through the use of food. Moreover, there is growing research data on the effects of the gut flora on people’s cognitive functions and mood. For instance, about 90% of the “happy hormone” serotonin, which is an important mood stabilizer, get produced in the gut (so called “second brain”). That is to say, feeding ourselves anti-inflammatory foods that help us maintain a healthy gut flora could moderate anxiety and have positive impact on our mood. Nourishing our bodies in such ways, combined with increased self-awareness, mindful and intuitive eating could thus facilitate emotional regulation without stuffing down our feelings with food.
I hope that this leaves you with enough food for thought (pun intended). I will be sharing a couple additional tools to help you minimize emotional and/or binge eating, along with other mental health information on Healing House’s social media, so be sure to follow us.
Best wishes for the New Year – may you all find the strength in you to overcome your challenges and become proudly resilient! I am here to support you on your journey.
If you would like more information or to make an appointment with Bobbie, you can book with her directly by clicking here.
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Jenkins, T. A., Nguyen, J. C., Polglaze, K. E., & Bertrand, P. P. (2016). Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients, 8(1), 56.
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Konttinen, H., van Strien, T., Männistö, S., Jousilahti, P., & Haukkala, A. (2019). Depression, emotional eating and long-term weight changes: a population-based prospective study. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 16(1), 28.
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Macht M. (2008). How emotions affect eating: a five-way model. Appetite, 50(1), 1–11.
Macht, M., & Dettmer, D. (2006). Everyday mood and emotions after eating a chocolate bar or an apple. Appetite, 46(3), 332–336.
Schnepper, R., Georgii, C., Eichin, K., Arend, A. K., Wilhelm, F. H., Vögele, C., Lutz, A., van Dyck, Z., & Blechert, J. (2020). Fight, Flight, - Or Grab a Bite! Trait Emotional and Restrained Eating Style Predicts Food Cue Responding Under Negative Emotions. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 14, 91.
Wiedemann, A. A., Ivezaj, V., & Barnes, R. D. (2018). Characterizing emotional overeating among patients with and without binge-eating disorder in primary care. General hospital psychiatry, 55, 38–43.
With “the most wonderful time of the year” fast approaching many of us seem to wonder what this would be like with the COVID restrictions on a local, national and global level. People usually look forward to the holidays when they have days off work to travel, spend quality time with family and friends, and enjoy various festivities in their communities, but this holiday season will certainly be different. Those of us who enjoy the luxury of having close relationships with family and friends, sufficient resources for gifts and vacations, and a place to call home would undoubtedly experience some unpleasant emotions due to the perceived lack of freedom in the current circumstances. On the other hand, the resulting wider isolation and lower expectations for fun during the holidays allow for less significant differences among people, which otherwise could lead to unhealthy comparisons. As someone recently shared with me “there is something comforting about the restrictions.”
Those who have experienced a recent loss, don’t have family or friends close by with whom to spend the holidays, or are going through a relationship conflict, a financial hardship or a difficult life transition might get quite triggered during this time of the year, which we associate with togetherness, warmth and joy. The flooding of commercials and films constructing the image of a “perfect Christmas”, along with social media posts of static ideals often make us measure our happiness up to unrealistic expectations, and may further undermine the emotional stability of those who find themselves in vulnerable situations. Thus, it is no surprise that the holidays are also associated with increased rates of anxiety and depression, substance and alcohol abuse, as well as binge eating. But as mentioned earlier, the pandemic put us more or less in the same basket: for most of us there will be less worrying which side of the family to visit on Christmas or how to host the “perfect” holiday event, less time and resources invested in gift hunting, less bookings and other travel logistics to consider, etc. Holding high expectations from ourselves and from others is probably one of the most significant predictors of frustration, thus with the former out of the picture we should expect that fewer people would feel overwhelmed by stress during the holidays.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, it appears that this holiday season could present us with an opportunity to keep it simple – instead of feeling like we’re in a contest to obtain as many joyful “points” with as many people as possible we could slow down and enjoy some time for self-care. What physical sensations help soothe your body, and what activities help clear your mind? Are there any hobbies/projects you’ve been interested in, but haven’t had a chance to focus on? Are there ways for you to improve your health? For example, added sugar, found not only in common treats but also in “healthy” energy bars and dressings, is rather addictive and disrupts the so-called dopamine reward system; subsequently, attempts to lower the levels of sugar in the bloodstream may lead to abstinence-like effects like headache, depression and decreased energy. Without getting into details, as a holistic counsellor I’d like to remind you that good nutrition and physical exercise can have positive influences on your hormone balance, which is essential for both physical and mental health. Speaking of which, I would also recommend that you have an honest reflection about your holiday triggers and put an effort into avoiding them to the best of your abilities.
Self-care practices, hobbies and other enjoyable activities that lie within your control are a few ways to fill up your free time during the upcoming COVID-restricted holiday season; in addition, some of my clients who struggle with the lack of control over the situation have considered cleaning and organizing their spaces, advance studying or creating meaningful rituals (ex. writing a daily wish for something to do/look forward to at the end of the pandemic). Nevertheless, I’ve become aware that there are other people who are not so concerned with having control or keeping busy, but find it quite difficult to meet their needs for connection and belonging. From my conversations with clients like these I’ve heard ideas such as working out, watching movies or playing board games simultaneously with family/friends, singing out loud or dancing (to connect with self), meditating or praying (to connect with a Higher Power), and making donations or (online) volunteering to support a cause or a social movement (feeling of belonging). I hope that you have found something that resonates with you.
For additional suggestions that may be useful to you consider registering for the CMHA free virtual webinar (a few dates are available) entitled “The Holidays, Your Mental Health & COVID 19”
On June 21st many Canadian families will be celebrating Father’s Day. It is great to see that fathers have their special day, just like mothers do, but I doubt that the majority of Canadian fathers feel equally appreciated on a daily basis. Although we are gradually moving away from a centuries-long focus on mothers as the primary caregivers, and it is a lot more likely to see engaged fathers at the playgrounds across the Lower Mainland (compared to just a decade ago, or compared to numerous other places in the world), there are still various barriers to fathers’ involvement.
Cultural and religious norms are often intertwined with gender expectations around manhood and parenthood, which present us with the view of the father as an emotionally-distant provider, whose involvement in parenting is limited to disciplining. However, even for fathers who do not follow this script there remain certain logistical barriers to involvement, including work schedule and commitments, lack of role models and lower probability of custody after divorce to name a few. And yet, over the last three months of disrupted routines I have witnessed – as a parent and as a counsellor – many fathers taking over the role of primary caregivers, making difficult compromises in order to be there for their children (not necessarily as providers) and letting their nurturing side shine. I have seen children re-connect with their often less-present dads in meaningful ways, which has truly filled my heart.
There are numerous studies examining the positive effects of a father's involvement on children’s socio-emotional development. The infants of fathers who attend to their cries and engage with them in a playful way grow more emotionally secure and with higher self-esteem; they engage in more pro-social behavior, leading to stronger social attachments as adolescents. Compared to mothers, fathers tend to engage in more stimulating play with their children; they also encourage exploratory behavior and risk-taking, thus fostering greater independence and confidence. Through rough and tumble play children also learn to regulate their feelings, which is correlated with less externalizing in the form of oppositional behavior, temper tantrums and aggression. Similarly, children who have positive relationships with their fathers are less likely to develop anxiety or depression, and overall have good mental and physical health.
In terms of children’s cognitive development there are studies suggesting better academic readiness at the beginning of school, and higher academic achievements throughout the school years for children of involved fathers. Compared to mothers, fathers are less likely to modify their language when speaking to their children, thus challenging the latter to expand their vocabulary, which is linked to better linguistic capacities. Girls and boys tend to benefit in similar ways from their fathers’ positive engagement with the exception of a few noticeable differences among the genders: boys tend to engage in significantly less disruptive behavior (compared to the sons on non-present or non-engaged fathers), with effects lasting into adulthood; on the other hand, teenage daughters of involved fathers engage in fewer sexual risks, and are more likely to develop healthy relationships with men throughout adulthood.
Considering that there has been a significant decrease in the prevalence of traditional nuclear families, I realize that these findings may leave many readers with questions regarding the development of children raised by one parent only, same-sex or gender-queer couples, and extended families. Fortunately, there is more research being developed to examine some of the related influences, which I would like to address in another article. Instead, my goal here is to celebrate the role of father figures (in any type of family) by highlighting some of the positive influences that they have on children.
And since many of us are still living the consequences of the pandemic, leaving many fathers with less work than usual, I’d also like to take the opportunity to encourage them to engage in quality interactions with their children, thus making the best of the increased availability they may have. The key word here is quality, because the examined positive influences are not as significant when fathers are simply present or engage in many, but not necessarily positive/stimulating interactions. As in any meaningful social connection warmth is essential. This is not to say that fathers should not engage in disciplining; to the contrary, limit-setting and consistent enforcement of (logical) rules are important for children to feel secure and learn valuable skills. However, don’t forget to praise good behavior, which not only reinforces what you’d like to see more of in your children, but it also increases their self-efficacy and self-esteem.
Fathers can also help a lot with caring (cooking, feeding, bathing, tucking into bed) and teaching – especially now that many school-aged children are involved in online learning or attend school part-time only. Yet, by teaching (I don’t mean just school projects and homework); fathers can model problem-solving and teach skills anywhere from tying shoelaces to surviving in the wild. With nice weather coming up hopefully there will be many opportunities to teach children how to ride a bike, swim, fish or set up a tent.
Finally, I’d like to end by emphasizing that one of the foundations for childhood development is play – solitary, make-belief, with siblings or friends, with all caregivers – allow yourselves to act silly every once in a while, and have a fun summer!
Bobbie Miteva, Registered Therapeutic Counsellor
Click Here to Contact Directly
People stocking up on food, medication and household supplies has been ongoing in the Lower Mainland for more than two weeks.
Undoubtedly, the stores’ shelves started emptying as a result of Canada’s Health Minister advice to get prepared for a potential COVID-19 crisis, which might require self-isolation in cases of illness, despite the announced “relatively low risk of contracting the disease in Canada”. Nevertheless, it appears that the initial frantic buying is maintained (and possibly fueled) by a psychological phenomenon called informational social influence; namely, other people’s behavior leads us to conform because we see them as a source of information to guide our behavior.
We conform the most when situations are ambiguous (ex. Experts cannot predict to what extent and where the coronavirus would spread) and when we find ourselves in a crisis – getting panicky prevents us from thinking rationally, while we naturally look at how others are responding (ex. If everyone is filling their carts with toilet paper that would last them for a year we should do the same).
In a time of globalization when people can reach the other end of the world within a day, mass media is even faster and more accessible than ever. So even if you missed the Health Minister’s advice to stock up on supplies, it is very likely that within minutes someone that you follow on social media posted about it and thus informed you about the danger of the coronavirus. Being exposed to similar news feeds by different (not necessarily objective) sources over a continuous period of time contributes to our perceived inability to cope with our negative feelings and beliefs – in other words stress.
The body’s immediate response to stress is to secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine along with activating the so called HPA axis, which eventually leads to an elevated cortisol (i.e. stress hormone) in the bloodstream. On a physical level the experience of stress might include increased heartbeat, headaches and migraines, nausea, muscle pain, indigestion, and weakened immune system – the irony then being that the more we stress about the outbreak, the more susceptible our bodies become to the coronavirus (or any other virus for that matter). In addition, the physical symptoms of stress tend to be accompanied by behavioral symptoms such as unhealthy eating and/or substance use, changes in the sleeping patterns and social withdrawal to mention a few; and by emotional symptoms that range from inability to focus and increased irritability, to mood instability and anxiety.
I originally wrote this article on March 11th – the day when the World Health Organization announced that COVID-19 is now officially a global pandemic. As I am editing on March 17th, BC declared public health emergency in view of the 83 new COVID-19 cases (out of 186 total) in the province, while BC Education Minister announced that K-12 classes have been postponed indefinitely. Given the exponential spread of the novel coronavirus many worry that the tragedy currently experienced by thousands of Italian families could come our way, while others start expressing concerns about having to care for their children and pay bills in a climate of job insecurity, or about a potential economic crisis.
I get it – it’s scary! And just like all the frantic shoppers, parents, people with elderly relatives, owners of closed down businesses, laid off employees and of course like all humans out there I worry too. First of all, let me remind you that fear is one of the six universal emotions, and is normal to experience it in a situation of emergency; in fact, the role of fear is to prompt our fight or flight response in order to help us survive. Since fleeing is definitely not an option, I’d like to share with you some strategies that might help you fight for your wellbeing – in other words cope with the spread of the novel coronavirus and its consequences on your lives.
When we feel distressed because what’s happening is out of our control, radical acceptance might be a healthier path to take in order to experience less fear, anxiety, sadness or anger.
One useful therapeutic tool to keep in mind is the acronym A.C.C.E.P.T.S.
A stands for activities that we could engage in to keep our focus on what we enjoy (ex. hobbies, postponed projects, working out at home).
Contributing to someone or something other than ourselves could be beneficial in that it gives us a sense of purpose when all seems uncertain. I find it inspiring to see people unifying as a result of this pandemic, and I’ve recently witnessed some great contributing examples like someone getting the groceries for an elderly neighbor.
The second C stands for comparisons; although it might seem counter-intuitive we could compare our circumstances to those that are worse (ex. there are 31 506 confirmed cases in Italy, which has a territory twice smaller than that of BC).
E is for emotions – simply put, do something that would elicit the opposite emotion of what you’re feeling.
Pushing away our concerns and negative beliefs can be therapeutic when we get them out of our minds – like writing them down on a piece of paper and then throwing it away (as a symbolic freeing of our burden).
On the other hand, when our emotions take over, we can try to focus on our Thoughts. If you notice that you become anxious when reading social media posts related to COVID-19, you could instead identify a trusted source like BC Centre for Disease Control, where you can get answers to some of your questions (ex. “How can I protect myself and my family”). Finally, engaging each of our Senses could help us distract ourselves from negative thoughts and emotions.
Think of this as a great excuse to enjoy a scenic view (i.e. vision), listen to music that you like (i.e. hearing), get a massage (i.e. touch), treat yourself something you’ve been craving for (i.e. taste), and smell the blooming magnolia flowers or diffuse your favorite essential oils, which might have anti-viral and relaxing properties to contribute further to your wellbeing. Last but not least, I encourage you to engage in deep breathing and I’d like to remind you that even if you can’t solve the pandemic you can talk about your concerns with your friends, family or therapist, so that you can calm your mind and lessen the power of fear.
Bobbie Miteva, MA, RTC
Aronson, E. et all (2007). Social Psychology. Toronto: Pearson (3rd ed.).
Carlson, N. et all (2005). Psychology: The Science of Behavior. Toronto: Pearson (2nd ed.).
Dozois, D. (2015). Abnormal Psychology Perspectives: DSM-5 Update. Toronto: Pearson (5th ed.).
Practitioners on this site are not Medical Doctors (MD), nor are any of the suggestions or recommendations made on this site meant to be a substitute for advice from your MD, or as a substitute for any prescriptions you may be taking. Any suggestions followed will be the responsibility of the individual, and are stated with the intention of interest and education. If you have a health issue, please see your primary care physician first and foremost.