Managing Your Mental Health: An Insider’s Perspective

How can we manage our mental health if we don’t talk about it?  The media has been encouraging us to talk about mental health and reminding us that “it is ok to not be ok.”  But is that the reality?  How well do any of us understand what it is like to live with any disease or disorder?  I don’t think we really understand until we have had the experience.  Nonetheless, we can do our best to learn and to have empathy.  One of the ways to learn is to share stories, facts, and read scientific literature.  With that in mind I am sharing a small part of my story.

I have had depression for over 60 years.  I didn’t get a diagnosis till I was in my late teens, following the birth of my second child.  I have always continued to function, though sometimes with great difficulty, and while in the work force, I never missed a day of work.  To be honest, I deserve an Oscar.  For many years I have been successfully treated with anti-depressants.  Over the last couple of years, I have been weaning myself off the antidepressants, with some guidance from my family doctor.  I don’t want to get off my anti-depressants but to get off as many of my prescribed medications as possible. It is a slow process and sometimes I have had a backslide. But that isn’t the purpose of what I am about to share.

Though I am officially a senior citizen I am not old and believe I have many more fulfilling years to live.  With that in mind I am on a journey to improve my health and my life.  With a background in nursing, I am aware of the basic behaviours and lifestyle choices we need to have a healthy, vibrant life.  I am an avid reader with a wide range of interests and like to keep up with the latest information. 

I wanted to refresh my memory and explore any new options about what is recommended for personal care of my mental health. The National Institute of Mental Health provides these self-care guidelines:

  1. Get regular exercise.
  2. Eat healthy, regular meals, and stay hydrated.
  3. Make sleep a priority.
  4. Try a relaxing activity.
  5. Set goals and priorities.
  6. Practice gratitude.
  7. Focus on positivity.
  8. Stay connected.

These eight basic tips are the basics of all self-care.  Remember, self-care is not selfish. They are not just for mental well-being; they are for overall well-being.  Our mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health cannot be placed in silos.  What is happening in one area has an influence on all other areas.  Just as each being on earth is connected, each area of our individual health is connected.  You can’t have one without the other.  These tips are a good start to overall good health.

 There are several Toolkits available from I recommend you look because health is important to having a beautiful, joyful life.

As I go through a period of struggle with my mental health, I reflect on the eight self-care guidelines I shared above.

  1. Regular exercise: This is good but not always possible.  I have some physical issues that have left me severely fatigued. Over time I learned to very slowly increase my activity so that I can do 30 minutes most days. I had been in the habit of extended periods in the gym giving it my all only to find that my physical health was deteriorating.  Eventually I found the reason – autoimmune diseases.  It took me years to figure out how slow I had to go to be able to build up my strength and endurance.  I could not comprehend doing only 5 minutes of exercise to start and work up slowly.  I could not grasp eliminating a second day, just because my body hurt, and I felt exhausted.    I couldn’t comprehend that pushing through was not the way to go.  But after getting downright ill with infections, and fatigue and pain so bad I could barely move I started to see the picture. I didn’t like it and I did not adjust well.  These physical limitations played havoc with my fragile mental health.  Though I have learned how to pace myself better, I still need to be incredibly careful as something like Christmas or putting on a dinner party can take all my energy and leave me fatigued and in severe pain for days. But I am figuring it out. I am learning to be gentle with myself and to rest when necessary, and to ask for help, or order food and skip cooking.  I don’t like not being able to do everything I once did. But if I want to do some of what I once did I have to put limits on my choices.  I often need to take 2 or 3 days to do what I once did in 1 day.
  2. Eat regular healthy meals and stay well hydrated. I have always been a fussy eater, but I know what is healthy and I learned the importance of hydration many years ago.  Despite having a better than basic understanding of a healthy diet I have found that I must remain diligent at reading labels – packaged foods have become so over processed with salt, sugar, and other preservatives it is hard to stay on top. Once again though, I have learned to be gentle with myself and make adjustments one at a time and not rush.  Did you know it can be easier to add one additional good thing to your healthy meal routine than to eliminate something? Add the good thing and have less of the not so healthy item seems to work for me.  Small, consistent changes can lead to long-lasting improvements. When you are struggling, remember it is ok to just do your best, eat what appeals to you.  You can get back to the healthy stuff when you get back on track.  You might not feel much like cooking if you haven’t slept in days and are exhausted and crying – order in – aren’t we fortunate that food can be delivered.  Or popcorn is always good.
  3. Make sleep a priority. Just try this when you wake up in a panic every hour.  A night or two of not being able to sleep because of anxiety and panic can tip you over the top into a spiral of weeping, sadness, and depression.  Keep sleep a priority but know that sometimes our bodies sabotage us. When that happens, call for help and do what you need to do to get turned around and bring the downward spiral to a stop.  If you are having anxiety and panic when you try to sleep, do whatever you have to do to let your body rest.  Then when it is ready, you will sleep.  This might be a set-back for you on your journey to mental wellbeing, but you will get back on track.  I can’t say this enough “Be gentle with yourself.”  And remember, you don’t have to do everything alone – get support.
  4. Try a relaxing activity.  You can meditate, paint, garden, do yoga, read, or even watch tv – you know what you find relaxing.  Make time to do this daily.  If you find yourself in a flare this becomes even more important.  You might have to do the activity or activities for shorter periods but then do more of them. I don’t know about you but when I am going through bouts of anxiety, panic, and depression I can’t concentrate for more than a few minutes.  I can only read a few pages, when watching tv I need to watch something I can rewind to catch what I missed when my brain wandered.  During meetings I speak up and let others know that I’m having trouble concentrating and ask them to be patient with me – you don’t need to go into detail as it isn’t always appropriate to do so.
  5. Set goals and priorities. I encourage goals and priorities to be set in alignment with values.  This has been my practice for several years and I find by doing so my life is aligned with what is important to me.  We can set long-range goals, goals for the year, the month, the week, and the day.  When life is challenging, we can set goals for the next three minutes or the next hour.  Examples: I will drink one eight-ounce glass of water every hour while awake. I will get up and move for two minutes every hour while awake.  Be gentle with yourself when you are being challenged; set yourself up for success. And when you succeed, celebrate.  Today I had two small scoops of ice cream and will stay within my calorie goal.  And if you or I should not succeed at reaching a goal today, that is ok, we did not fail, tomorrow is a fresh start.  We can start over as many times as we need to.  We can also re-examine our goals and priorities.  If you are having trouble achieving what you have set up for yourself, maybe those goals aren’t for you, re-examine what you genuinely want and need to be doing.
  6. Practice Gratitude.  Though it is 40 below be grateful your car started or that you can stay inside beside a fire in the fireplace. Be grateful for food to eat, clean water to drink, your loving family – we all have much for which to be grateful.  Write down three to five things for which you are grateful. Example: today I am grateful that I was able to talk to my doctor and they helped me choose my next steps to getting through this difficult period.
  7. Focus on Positivity.  This is similar to gratitude.  But you might need to work on this a bit more.  Not everyone is a glass half full type of person. How can you reframe your negative thoughts?  A good starting place might be how you talk to yourself.  Example: “I’m such a loser, I don’t know how my partner puts up with my depression.” Change that to “I am so glad I have someone who loves me even when times are tough. Afterall, we both know this will pass and I will be happy and smiling again soon.”
  8. Stay connected.  Humans are social beings; we aren’t meant to do everything on our own.  Some of us are homebodies and don’t relish the thought of big parties, even so we need to have other people in our lives with whom to share our lives.  Whether this is in person, over the phone, or with the use of social media, find a few people with whom you connect regularly.  It can be hard to reach out when you are down.  If you are like me trying to talk leads to tears.  However, I attended two positive online meetings today where I turned my camera off, and just put a quick note in the chat that I was having a rough day, but wanted to listen in.  I got great well wishes with love and hugs sent to me.  I truly value those relationships. If there is someone else in your home with you, ask for a hug or to have them just sit with you and watch a show or listen to a song. Just be with someone for a brief period – let their positive energy flow into you.

Staying healthy is a work in progress.  There is always more to learn and do.  As I said earlier, each area of our health is connected, when one area is suffering the other areas will be influenced.  Make yourself a priority.  You do not have to do any of this alone.  I am a life and leadership coach who loves to help guide others to a joyous and beautiful life.  I also have several coaches who help guide me to have a joyful, beautiful life and I value their wisdom, compassion, and empathy. 

When I first saw the list of eight self-care tips under the “Caring for Your Mental Health”  ( site I was a bit taken aback till I gave it further thought.  My first thought being “this is too general.”  Expanding on each of the eight tips has helped me to understand something clearly at last that will shine again and has helped me recognize the importance of taking each tip and figuring out how that tip can work for me. You can do this too.  Though one size does not fit all, each tip gives you the power to adapt it to suit what you need at various times of your life.  A day of rest, rather than your usual work out, comfort food instead of green, extra sleep, or a day to wallow and feel your pain and hurt so that you can move on tomorrow, or a day to just ignore everything you usually do, knowing you will figure out what you need tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.  Be open and accepting of yourself.  You will figure it out.

Touch: Might it Be the Key to Our Well-Being?

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Touch, One of Our 5 Senses

Touch is essential to our well-being. A June 2022 edition of National Geographic includes an article The Power of Touch by Cynthia Gorney. This article updates us on the importance of touch and what is occurring in the development of touch sensation in artificial limbs, among other things. Touch is one of our five basic senses, and one we cannot live without. Though scientists are suggesting more than five senses. I’ll leave that for another time.

Why is touch so important to our well-being? Science explains a lot. However, I think the important thing is the positive feelings we have with pleasant touch, even if we do not know the science, we know the feeling. We also know unpleasant touch and the associated feelings. Touch sensation warns us of dangers; hot, sharp, hard, cold, or sticky. What happens when we are deprived of touch?

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Isolation, Quarantine, Solitary Confinement

As a nurse I often cared for people in isolation, and as a patient I have been in isolation more than once. What does that do to our ability to heal? What happens to our mental and emotional health? What happens to the health of criminals or prisoners of war when put in solitary confinement? Hospital isolation and quarantine allow for some interaction with humans, and some touch. In prisons isolation does not offer interaction or touch. How does this affect us in the long term?

I know when I was most recently in hospital isolation, and extremely ill, my mental health suffered greatly. I was completely aware of this and despite how ill I was, I just wanted to get out of that tiny room and be home with people I loved, and my dog.

The United Nations has proclaimed solitary confinement for more than 15 days is torture.

Long-term Effects of Touch Deprivation

Our skin is our largest organ. The skin sends touch sensations to our brain. Pleasant touch sends a signal to our brain causing the release of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is the ‘feel good’ hormone, or ‘bonding’ hormone and stimulates the release of other ‘feel good’ hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. (Reference)

What happened during COVID with the decrease in touch that most of us experienced? I know at one point I decided I just didn’t care, I needed to hug my son. I hadn’t seen him in months and wasn’t going to see him again for months. I needed to hug him and be hugged by him. How many other people have had similar experiences?

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We have been hearing about the mental health concerns resulting from the absence of human interaction over the last two-plus years. Considering what I have been reading about touch, this is not surprising. I can’t help but wonder if there is a connection between lack of touch, isolation, and long COVID. Afterall, we have been told about the effect on the immune system when we go without positive touch.

Lack of touch can cause stress, anxiety, or depression. When we are stressed the body releases cortisol, another hormone. Cortisol release causes our heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate to increase, and can also cause muscle tension.

Human Development and Touch

Touch plays a significant role in our developmental well-being, both mental and physical. The importance begins from before we are born and continues throughout our life. Research has suggested the importance of touch in bonding with our babies. When my daughter was born, very prematurely in 1967, weighing only 2 pounds 4 ounces, we were not allowed to touch or hold her for 3 months, when she was nearing the time to come home. I have no idea how this might have influenced her ongoing development, but I know it was heart-breaking for me. Today, even very premature infants are held, skin-on-skin. Ferber, Feldman, and Makhoul, 2008 stated “Skin-to-skin contact [in] [sic] even in the first hours after birth has been shown to help regulate newborns’ temperature, heart rate, and breathing, and decreases crying”.

Research, as far back as 1915, identified the correlation between death under the age of 2 was ‘due to failure to thrive, related to lack of touch and affection (Chapin 1915; cited in Montagu 1986, p. 97).

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Seniors Need Touch Too

Seniors often live alone and as we age many of our friends are no longer with us. Thus, seniors can go for lengthy periods of time without human touch. I have been told by friends in Massage Therapy and Acupuncture Therapy there are many senior clients who come simply to be able to enjoy human touch. Think about how much that was decreased during COVID? I’d love to see some stats on the mental well-being of our senior citizens during that period.

Research indicates touch is important for the elderly, especially those with dementia. Compassionate touch has been deemed important for quality of life and for the elderly suffering with dementia, and at end of life. Touch is a form of communication we all know.

Touch boosts the immune system, improves physical health, and benefits emotional health, and is a social interaction connecting one person to another.

Get Consent

Our culture has limited the amount of casual touching deemed appropriate. As we consider the importance of touch let’s consider how we can increase touch in our life, without running into sexual harassment charges. One of the main things to remember is the importance of consent.

Some of the ways we can increase touch in our lives is by getting massages, manicures, pedicures, or having our hair done. We can make a point of shaking hands, if both parties are ok with that, even if it means using hand sanitizer following. Ask friends if it is ok to hug them, or to hold their hand while talking.

Is it ok to lay a hand on another person’s hand, arm, or shoulder? If unsure ask. These are gestures among friends that I consider important to the relationship. My husband and I make a point of hugging and usually hold hands while watching a moving or sitting visiting with others.

Touch and the State of the World

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While reading for information about touch I also discovered a proposed correlation between lack of touch and violent crimes. An affectionate society tends to be a non-violent society according to an article in Humanism by Joe.

As mentioned earlier, touch causes the release of oxytocin. Some studies suggest that oxytocin leads us to feeling more generous, empathetic, nurturing, more collaborative, and more grateful.

Do you suppose if we spent more time hugging, we might have a more peaceful world? But don’t forget to get consent before you hug.


Essential Oils for Personal Use

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I have many memories associated with a variety of scents and aromas. So, it is not surprising that I decided to take an aromatherapy course and become an Aromatherapy Practitioner. Smells bring back many pleasant memories.

Are there scents that remind you of special people or occasions? I remember how my grandma and my mom smelled, I loved them both and when I come across those smells the memories are pleasant and precious. The first perfume my husband gave me early in our relationship is a scent I still love. The smell of logs burning in the fireplace makes me feel warm and cozy, and a bit like I’m in a fairy tale world or romantic story. A walk in the forest results in a calm, serene state, and reminds me of early mornings camping with my girlfriend and her parents when we were in our teens – super great memories.

There are also memories I have of odours I experienced as a nurse. I learned what certain odours suggested, some not so nice. But being able to identify some odours could help in diagnosing specific infections and medical problems. The smells of some medicines also bring back a variety of childhood memories – Buckley’s White Rub when I had another bout of strep throat and chest infection.

With this great interest in aromas, it is no wonder that I have been drawn to essential oils for a long time. Several years ago, I took a course that I enjoyed very much. Since then, I have used many oils and made occasional products for myself, family, and friends. Then a few months ago I embarked on an Aromatherapy Practitioner Course. The course was excellent, and I have learned a great deal. But there is still so much to learn. Dabbling with a wide variety of oils has been great fun: I love combining and experimenting.

Both courses have stressed the importance of getting quality oils. They can seem to be expensive, but so little is needed, and I get such pleasure, and benefit from them that I don’t mind. Now to share with you some information about using essential oil, some of my favourite oils and their uses.

Get Started with Essential Oils

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As you start using essential oils, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Follow any label and packaging instructions.
  • Determine the specific uses and benefits of the oil you intend to use. Product Information Pages and shop pages are great sources of information.

How to Apply Essential Oils

There are three ways to use essential oils:

Through smellAromatic use of essential oils includes any application method that helps you experience the aroma of the oil. You can use essential oils aromatically by:

-Diffusing in an essential oil diffuser

-Applying a drop to your hands and inhaling

-Wearing as a personal fragrance

On your skin. Topical application of essential oils allows the oil to absorb into the skin. You can use essential oils on your skin by:

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-Incorporating them into a massage

-Applying to targeted areas

-Adding to lotions or moisturizers

By Ingesting. Internal use of certain essential oils can be beneficial to the body and add unique flavours to dishes and beverages. *First, make sure the essential oil is safe for internal use, and then try taking essential oils internally by using one of these methods:

-Add to a glass of water, milk, or juice, or to a favorite tea or smoothie

-Include in recipes

-Take in a veggie capsule

-Put a drop under your tongue

Here are the 10 most popular doTERRA Canada essential oils:

Frankincense essential oil: Called the “king of oils,” Frankincense is one of the most prized and precious essential oils. For centuries, Frankincense has been used for its beautifying characteristics—particularly for rejuvenating the appearance of skin and promoting an atmosphere of relaxation. When used topically, Frankincense can help soothe and moisturize dry skin, promote a clear complexion, and can help maintain healthy-looking fingernails.

Lavender essential oil: Lavender oil has been cherished for centuries for its unmistakable aroma and myriad benefits. The ancient Egyptians and Romans used Lavender for bathing, cooking, and as a perfume. Today, Lavender is a must-have oil because of its rich, versatile uses. Topically, Lavender oil has a cooling and soothing effect and can improve the look of healthy skin. Aromatically, Lavender produces a powdery, floral scent famed for relaxing qualities.

Copaiba essential oil: Copaiba has a calming, woody aroma. Copaiba has a thick, soft consistency and is soothing to the skin. Copaiba is widely used to improve the appearance of skin.

Lemon essential oil: Cold pressed from the peels of the bright, yellow lemon fruit, it is a favourite because of its versatility. Lemon oil is frequently added to food to enhance the flavour of desserts and main dishes. When added to water, Lemon oil gives a bright taste that helps encourage hydration throughout the day. Lemon can be used as a naturally sourced cleaning agent in the home or diffused to brighten a room with its invigorating aroma.

Wild Orange essential oil: Wild Orange amplifies the sweet, citrus aroma and taste of orange. An uplifting and refreshing aroma, Wild Orange enhances any essential oil blend as a bright, refreshing addition and is a naturally sourced cleansing agent.

Peppermint essential oil: Peppermint oil has a wide range of benefits from freshening breath to its energizing aroma. Peppermint essential oil is always useful to have handy.

Tea Tree essential oil: The Aborigines of Australia used the leaves of the Melaleuca tree for centuries. The oil promotes feelings of clear breathing. This makes Tea Tree ideal for using in aromatherapy to relieve coughs and colds.

Ginger essential oil: Ginger has a hot, spicy flavour that can take the place of whole ginger in recipes or add a warm, sweet taste when added to your favourite herbal tea. Ginger oil can also be applied topically or inhaled for a soothing aroma.

Grapefruit essential oil: Known for its energizing and invigorating aroma, Grapefruit oil helps create an aromatically uplifting environment. Grapefruit essential oil is also renowned for its cleansing properties and is frequently used in skin care to promote the appearance of clear, healthy-looking skin.

Eucalyptus essential oil: Eucalyptus is a refreshing, airy aroma, with topical cleansing benefits. The invigorating qualities of Eucalyptus oil can be enjoyed by rubbing a drop between your hands or adding several drops to the bottom of the shower and inhaling the energizing, earthy aroma. When applied topically, Eucalyptus oil can provide a cooling sensation and helps to clean and revitalize the look of healthy skin, especially when used during a personal massage.

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The following are some oils I like and use quite often:

Bergamot: Bergamot essential oil has a calming yet uplifting aroma and is packed full of cleansing properties. Sweet yet bitter in taste, soothing yet joyful in scent, and delicate yet strong in nature, Bergamot oil is a delightful contradiction in the citrus world.

Capsicum: Capsicum is commonly used for nerve pain and other painful conditions. It is also used for many other purposes, including digestion problems, conditions of the heart and blood vessels, and many others.

Clary Sage: Clary Sage oil is known for its calming properties and benefits to the skin. The main chemical component is linalyl acetate, part of the esters group, making it one of the most relaxing, soothing, and balancing essential oils. In the Middle Ages, the Clary Sage plant was frequently used to soothe skin. Inhaling Clary Sage essential oil adds to a relaxing environment, and internal use promotes a restful night’s sleep*.

Wintergreen: The main chemical component in Wintergreen oil, methyl salicylate, is used in topical creams and massage blends because of its soothing properties. In fact, Wintergreen and Birch are the only plants in the world that contain methyl salicylate naturally. As a flavoring, small amounts of Wintergreen oil are used in candies, toothpaste, and chewing gum. When diffused, Wintergreen oil has a refreshing aroma that’s uplifting and stimulating.

The following information is taken from doTerra website.

If you have specific concerns about the essential oil you intend to use, consult with a healthcare professional first.

I will share more information about essential oils and aromatherapy as time passes.

How does this align with leadership? Anything that brings pleasure, calmness, and good feelings are important for leaders to understand as they work to build teams, provide support and guidance, and encourage both personal and professional development.

The Science of HeartMath

HeartMath products, tools and techniques are based on over 25 years of scientific research conducted at the HeartMath Institute on the psychophysiology of stress, emotions, and the interactions between the heart and brain. There are over 300 peer-reviewed or independent studies utilizing HeartMath techniques or technologies to achieve beneficial outcomes that have been published.HeartMath products, tools and techniques are based on over 25 years of scientific research conducted at the HeartMath Institute on the psychophysiology of stress, emotions, and the interactions between the heart and brain. There are over 300 peer-reviewed or independent studies utilizing HeartMath techniques or technologies to achieve beneficial outcomes that have been published.

The above is a direct link to some HeartMath®. As a I think it is my responsibility to keep you uptodate on what I learn and information I am able to share with you.