We were blessed with a beautiful summer here in Ontario, which makes the inevitable start of winter a tough pill to swallow.
And while cold temperatures combined with shorter days can irk even the toughest Canadians on occasion, some people struggle intensely when the mercury takes a dip.
I’m speaking today about Seasonal Affective Disorder.
UNDERSTANDING SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as S.A.D., is a type of depression linked to changes in the weather that typically sets in during the fall and winter months.
Research suggests S.A.D. is caused by fluctuations in sunlight that can disrupt a person’s biological clock and lead to feelings of sadness and depression. Lack of sunlight is also believed to impact important brain chemicals, like serotonin and dopamine, that are directly linked to behaviour, cognition and mood.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF S.A.D. AND WHO IS MOST AT RISK?
Symptoms of S.A.D. generally turn “on” and “off” at similar times each year and can range in severity from behavioural to physical. People suffering from S.A.D. may notice a drop in energy levels, changes in mood, appetite or sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating and an overall sense of sadness that lasts for days or weeks on end.
Studies show women and young peopleare most at risk for developing S.A.D. It’s also more common for people with a family history of the condition and those living in places with major swings in daylight hours throughout the year (i.e., people living far north or far south of the equator).
STRATEGIES AND TREATMENT
While we can’t change the weather or the hours of sunlight in a day, we can change how we cope when the seasons turn.
With daylight savings and the start of colder temperatures, it’s clear that seasonal change is upon us. Be on alert for signs of S.A.D. and consider the above strategies to help yourself or your loved ones overcome it.
You knew things would be different, but maybe you weren’t prepared for how different.
From leaving the security of your parent’s house to finding yourself plunked inside a giant lecture hall (um…who are all these people?), the shift from high school to university is a big one.
So big, in fact, that it’s a common issue I discuss with my adolescent clients.
The transition to post-secondary can be broken down into three distinct areas of change: personal, social and academic.
If you’re finding the shift from high school to post-secondary to be challenging, consider the below strategies to help ease the change.
The transition to post-secondary is a major milestone in any student’s life and while the change may go seamlessly for some, it may be more difficult for others. If you or someone you know is having difficulty adjusting to university life, consider the above strategies or reach out to a therapy professional for additional support.
It’s hard to believe September is just around the corner and these lazy days of summer will soon give way to fall routines.
For children and parents alike, this time of year tends to be filled with mixed emotions as excitement blends with nervousness in the lead up to a new school year. These feelings are common and completely normal, especially in the case of new or first-time students.
If your child is feeling a tad anxious ahead of the new school year, below are some tips that may help ease their anxiety and calm your nerves too.
Switching from summer mode to school mode is always an adjustment, but with the right outlook and approach, it can go smoothly. Consider the above strategies for making the next few weeks a positive transition for the whole family.
It’s the postpartum struggle almost no one talks about.
Like new moms, new dads can also suffer the devastating effects of depression in the periods before, during and after pregnancy. But since men don’t endure the hormonal fluctuations associated with childbirth, a common misconception is they must be exempt from struggles like postpartum depression (PPD).
This couldn’t be further from the truth.
A 2015 Canadian study revealedthat roughly 13% of first-time fathers experienced “elevated depressive symptoms” during the latter stages of their partner’s pregnancy. Even starker is the fact that an overwhelming majority (80%)of men refuse to seek medical care until convinced by their spouse, likely due do the ongoing stigma and misinformation surrounding male PPD.
SYMPTOMS & FACTORS
Similar to new moms, symptoms of PPD in new dads can range in severity and adopt many different forms. Below are some common examples:
While a personal or family history of depression can be a contributing factor in PPD among men, other considerations may also be at play, including:
As I mentioned above, an overwhelming majority of men suffering with PPD refuse to get help until persuaded by their partner.
Research shows, however, that speaking with a registered therapist can be very effective in treating symptoms of perinatal depression in men. In addition, online support groups are available for those wishing to share their experiences anonymously. Medication may also be prescribed in the most extreme PPD cases.
The important thing to remember is that male PPD is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be overcome and support is always available.
Like so many things linked to childbirth, women’s emotions both during and after pregnancy can be incredibly hard to predict.
And while society has gradually become better at helping new mothers identify postpartum feelings of depression, sadness and withdrawal, other symptoms associated with giving birth haven’t been as widely explored.
I’m speaking today about postpartum anxiety.
WHAT IS POSTPARTUM ANXIETY?
Together with its more well-known counterpart, postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety affects approximately 23% of Canadian mothers, according to Statistics Canada. It is characterized by excessive nervousness, nonstop worry and an inability to relax in the aftermath of childbirth that impacts a mother’s ability to care for herself and her newborn child.
Unfortunately, these signs often go undiagnosed by medical professionals or get lumped in with “new mom jitters” that so many women experience in the frenzied days and months following delivery.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP?
A reasonable amount of worry is to be expected after having a baby, especially as a first-time parent. It’s when those feelings of fear or panic become overwhelming (for example: you avoid leaving the house with your baby out of fear they’ll get sick or hurt or you can’t sleep for worry of leaving them unattended) that it’s time to seek additional support.
If you’re feeling overcome with anxiety after giving birth, speak to your pediatrician or OBGYN about getting help, including asking for a referral to a therapist with perinatal experience. Speaking to an expert can be beneficial in and of itself but they can also provide evidence-based solutions, like grounding exercises and controlled breathing techniques, aimed at promoting relaxation.
Medication that is safe for pregnancy and breastfeeding may also be recommended in the case of extreme postpartum anxiety.
Though often harder to recognize and more seldom discussed than postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety is a real condition affecting a significant percentage of new moms. Thankfully, it is also highly treatable and does not have to define your experience of motherhood.
Do not hesitate to seek help if you or someone you love is showing signs of postpartum anxiety. It’s never too late and support is always available.
You registered them in the middle of winter thinking you’d have more than enough time to get prepared, but now the start of summer camp is around the corner and…well…you’re both feeling a bit unsettled.
Rest assured those feelings are completely normal— especially if this is your child’s first time away from home. Thankfully, with the right combination of positivity and planning, you can ease your own mind and help make their first summer camp experience one to remember.
PROS OF SUMMER CAMP
First and foremost, it’s important to remember why you thought camp was a good idea in the first place!
The upsides of summer camp are many. From developing leadership and social skills to building confidence and spending active time outdoors, camp is a unique ecosystem for kids to learn and grow outside the classroom.
In fact, a University of Waterloostudy of both day campers and overnight campers found that 69% of participants showed positive growth in the area of emotional intelligence, while 67% displayed growth in the areas of self confidence and personal development.
Speak to any summer camp alumni and chances are they’ll tell you how their most beloved memories and cherished life experiences are tied to their childhood summer camp.
Still, even with all its benefits, the prospect of putting your kids on a bus and sending them away for weeks or even days at a time can be daunting for everyone involved.
You may find yourself asking: Will they be well taken care of? Are they going to be homesick? Will they shower and eat properly? These questions are perfectly valid and likely go through the mind of every parent in your shoes.
If you or your child are feeling a bit anxious in the lead-up to camp, the below tips may help:
PREPARING YOUR KIDS
From nurturing independence to fostering physical activity, there are endless benefits to a summer spent at camp. By following the above steps, you can help ensure this summer is a successful one for the whole family.
The days are getting longer and finally a lot warmer, which can only mean one thing: summer break is almost here!
This time of year is generally fun and full of excitement, but for families with young kids, it can also be a period of transition as everyone looks ahead to a new routine.
If you’re a parent whose feeling a tad (or a lot) uneasy about the shakeup to your daily groove, you’re not alone. Afterall, humans — especially kids —are creatures of habit and after 10 months of settling into a comfortable school-work-life balance, it’s natural to be anxious about an upcoming change.
The trick to keeping your cool as a parent this summer boils down to two simple words: Be prepared.
Here are just some examples of what that means:
In an earlier post, I wrote about the symptoms, triggers and treatment of a panic attack — an intense and often sudden wave of distress that can include physical symptoms like heart racing and shortness of breath.
In addition, I explained that while panic attacks can be brought on by a trauma or phobia, they can also be caused by more subconscious influences that are a bit harder to nail down.
Above all, the most important thing I wanted you to remember about panic attacks is that they’re not inherently life-threatening and aren’t necessary indicative of a more widespread issue.
Which brings me to this post.
EXPLAINING PANIC DISORDER
Panic attacks become a greater cause for concern when they happen so frequently that they begin to affect a person’s everyday life and cause them to become fearful or make drastic behavioural changes (i.e. avoiding people, places or things) to avert another episode.
This escalation of factors is known as panic disorder and it affects approximately 3.7% of Canadians in their lifetimes, with women being more likely to suffer than men.
HOW CAN PANIC DISORDER BE TREATED?
As with panic attacks themselves, panic disorder is treatable.
A therapy professional can not only help identify triggers that lead to frequent attacks and the fear surrounding them, they can provide evidence-based solutions aimed at preventing future occurrences. Self-help techniques, like controlled-breathing and grounding exercises, along with joining a local support group can also be effective as part of a multifaceted treatment plan.
Panic Disorder does not have to define you!
MENTAL HEALTH CHECK-IN
With this being Mental Health Week across Canada, it’s a good reminder to check-in with your own mental health and that of your loved ones. Here is a great toolto get you started!
Remember, it’s never too late to get help and support is always available.
Among the most disconcerting sensations any of us can experience are the feelings of being in danger, trapped or out of control — especially when those feelings strike with no apparent warning.
Thankfully, our bodies have a built-in mechanism to help us handle threatening situations—a physiological reaction is known as the ‘flight-or-fight’ response that has been conditioned over time to help us defend against or escape imminent harm.
The tricky thing about the ‘flight-or-fight’ response is that doesn’t always discern between actual threats and imagined ones. This instinct to ‘flight-or-fight’ in the case of perceived danger or a non-life-threatening situation can, in some extreme case, turn into what’s known as a panic attack.
Symptoms and Triggers of a Panic Attack
Similar to the characteristics of a ‘flight-or-fight’ reaction, panic attacks generally come on quickly and peak within a few seconds, though some can take a few minutes to rev up.
Traits generally include feelings of extreme discomfort like being in danger, trapped or out of control and are often accompanied by marked physical symptoms including heart palpitations, extreme sweating and shortness of breath. In fact, the aforementioned characteristics are what often lead sufferers to believe they’re experiencing something gravely serious, like a heart attack.
Panic attacks can be prompted by a trauma, phobia or stressful life event; they can also be triggered by more subconscious factors that are harder to pinpoint or detect. It’s the somewhat random nature of panic attacks that makes them disorienting and scary for people going through them, especially if they’ve never experienced one before.
The important thing to remember is that while they may feel traumatic at the time, panic attacks are not life-threatening in and of themselves.
What to Do?
If you suffer from panic attacks, don’t despair. It’s a treatable disorder that can be managed with evidence-based techniques. Every case is unique so it’s best to have multiple strategies in your back pocket when a panic attack strikes, for example:
If you suffer from regular panic attacks, consider speaking with a therapy professional about how to manage and prevent future occurrences. An understanding of your mental health can better help you deal with it.
If you’ve reached a place in your relationship that has you contemplating couples therapy, one of the biggest hurdles can be figuring out how to broach this sensitive matter with your spouse.
It can feel risky and uncomfortable — particularly if the subject hasn’t come up before — but there are neutral and non-aggressive ways to bring up counselling that can help your partner understand where you’re coming from and why therapy might be a worthwhile idea.
The idea of broaching couples therapy with your partner can seem daunting, but if approached with care, it can be the first step in a productive and life-changing journey.
Lindsay Ross, MSW RSW, is a clinical social worker in private practice in Toronto, Ontario.