Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Getting Active, Staying Active

by: Dr. Julie Beaulac, C. Psych.

According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, ‘physical activity’ is “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that results in energy expenditure” (National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1997).

Regular physical activity is linked to a wide range of important health benefits – from weight management, reduced risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and cancer, to the prevention and management of anxiety, depression, and stress.

For most people, it’s safe to start slowly and gently increase your activity. If you have a health condition and are not currently active, it’s highly recommended that you talk to a physician before starting a new exercise regimen.

How Much is Enough?

The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology released guidelines on physical activity that suggest the following standards as a minimum for health benefit:

You can also build up activities in periods of at least 10 minutes each. Here are a few examples:
Low intensity effort: Light walking, stretching, or easy gardening

Moderate intensity effort: Brisk walking, raking leaves, or biking

Vigorous intensity effort: Aerobics, jogging, or fast swimming or biking

How Do You Know an Effort is Moderate?

If your breathing and heart rate are a bit higher, and you feel a bit sweaty by the end, you are using moderate effort or are being moderately active.

For managing anxiety or depression, research suggests that physical activity should be in bouts of at least 25 minutes 3-5 days a week (Smits & Otto, 2009) and add up to the following amounts weekly:

  • Moderate-intensity for minimum of 150 minutes (i.e., 2 hours and 30 minutes) weekly or; 
  • Vigorous-intensity for minimum of 75 minutes (i.e., 1 hour and 15 minutes) weekly
In terms of types of physical activity, it is recommended that we aim to include a mix of endurance, flexibility, and strength and balance activities.

Endurance (4-7 days per week): Continuous activities that make you breath deeper and increase your heart rate 

Flexibility (4-7 days per week): Reaching, bending and stretching

Strength and Balance (2-4 days per week): Lifting weights or own body, resistance activities

So, if we know it is so good for us, why is it so hard?

Lots of things keep us from being active - work and family responsibilities, feeling tired, low motivation, pain or health conditions, the weather and low confidence, to name just a few. There are some strategies that we can use to overcome barriers. Some ideas include:
  • Fit activity into smaller chunks throughout the day, such as walking 10 to 15 minutes three or four times a day or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Choose activities that you enjoy and are familiar with so that they can be more easily integrated into your life, such as walking to run errands instead of driving, walking the dog, active play with children.
  • Invite friends or colleagues for a walk during lunch hour at work.
  • Do activities like biking, swimming, or bowling, instead of going out for dinner with your family or friends
If you want to increase your physical activity, the top five tips for success are to:
  1. Plan ahead
  2. Start slow & gradually increase
  3. Do something you enjoy
  4. Build it into your life
  5. Get family and friends involved

When working to make changes to your activity level, it is important to set goals that are:
  • Behaviourally-anchored ("I will walk for 15 minutes 3x/week is a behavioural goal"; "I will lose weight" is not a behavioural goal)
  • Realistic - Ask yourself, "Is this goal doable?"
  • Important - Set goals that are important to you right now.
  • Specific - The most useful goals are specific and concrete (e.g., "I will walk for 15 minutes 3 times per week" as opposed to, "I will walk more")
  • Scheduled - Schedule your goals. Write them goals down. Post them somewhere you can see them and tell others about them.
  • Reviewed - Goals change. Review your goals often
For more information, see the following resources:

The psychologists of CFIR's Health Psychology Treatment Service can help you create a strategy for increasing physical activity and improving your overall wellbeing.

Read more about our Health Psychology Treatment Service.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Immigration - Adaptation Process

Written by Dr. Rana Karam, C. Psych

In our previous blog, we discussed immigration and the concept of “culture shock” which is a common product of immigration. In this blog we will discuss the cultural adaptation process and offer some strategies to help you cope with difficulties stemming from immigration and culture shock.

Adaptation process
  • The first stage, just before or shortly after immigrating, is often described as the "honeymoon" stage. It is filled with high hopes, great expectations, confidence, happiness, fascination and excitement towards the new culture.
  • The second stage, the “culture shock” described in our previous blog on immigration, is a period of destabilization that can last between 3 to 18 months.
  •  During the third stage, often referred to as the "adjustment" stage, stress and anxiety recede. The individual starts to accept their new surroundings, feels more in control of their life and gains a better understanding of their host country.
Coping strategies
Despite the lack of a quick fix to culture shock, it can be very relieving to recognize that it forms part of a “normal” adaptation process to a new culture. Often, the best remedies are time and prolonged contact with the new culture. Consequently, resisting the temptation to withdraw and avoid any painful and stressful contact with the new culture and making a conscious effort to adjust to it are key coping steps. Moreover, stress management strategies, self-care, social support from compatriots, creating new relationships with people from the host culture are also important. The following is a number of more specific suggestions on how to cope with difficulties related to immigration:
  • Acknowledging that these impacts/challenges exist and are not signs of weakness.
  •  Learning the rules of living in the host country (how and why people act the way they do and their behaviours and customs).
  • Getting involved in some aspect of the new culture (study art or music, learn a new sport, volunteer in your community).
  • Taking care of yourself (eat well, exercise and get a good night’s sleep).
  • Sightseeing in your new country.
  • Making friends and developing relationships.
  • Maintaining contact with old friends and family back home.
  • Keeping a journal of feelings, reflections and experiences or sharing them with others to help you sort through them.
  • Doing something that reminds you of home (listen to your favourite music or practice a familiar hobb
Cultural adaptation: a lifetime process!
In general, the process of adaptation is a slow and lengthy one. It often continues throughout the person’s stay in their new culture. Building a new cultural identity is the product of a personal integration of values from both cultures (new and existing culture). Such integration can aid in forming an integrated identity from the two cultures, absorbing the culture shock and supporting the individual in their exploration of the new culture.

More often than not, cultural interactions enrich our life and enable us to identify and better appreciate some aspects of our own culture.

CFIR psychologists and psychotherapists can help you navigate through such challenges and cope with the various intercultural difficulties and struggles that may come your way.

Read more about our Multicultural Treatment Service.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Immigration - Process and Impact

By Dr. Rana Karam, C. Psych.

Welcome to our blog on immigration! In this blog, we will discuss the immigration process and its impact on the immigrant. In our next blog, we will discuss the adaptation process and offer strategies for coping with the various challenges of immigration.

Starting a new job, going to a new school, moving to another city are common experiences that resemble immigrating to another country. The individual leaves a familiar milieu and dives into a new and unknown environment. This, inevitably, implies a period of adaptation. Such a period can be filled with excitement and hope for success and growth but it can also bring stress and anxiety. Most notably, for people who are changing countries, these difficulties are amplified because the difference between the familiar and the unknown environment is greater.

What are the underlying experiences of migration? Migration means departing from (emigrating) the people, places, sounds, and scents upon which ones internal and external world was built. Migration also means arriving in a new country (immigrating) and rebuilding, in a short period of time, ones life. Immigrating entails recreating for oneself essential and basic things that were once established in their native country. For instance, rebuilding a work environment, forging new relationships, establishing a new home, and the like.

The experience of immigration is unique to each person and varies according to ones personal history, the reason for, and context of, immigration (whether it was voluntary or an obligation, temporary or permanent, etc.). However, some challenges and impacts are common to that experience.

In general, immigration leads to a period of disorganization that varies in length for each individual. For example, struggling with contradicting desires is very common. Two distinct types of desire are usually manifested, these are:
·       The desire to blend in with others in order not to feel different or ostracized; and
·       The desire to distinguish oneself from others in order to remain the same person as before immigrating.

In general, this period of disorganization is sometimes referred to as “Culture shock”.

The concept of culture shock describes a common reaction to a new culture and is one of the phases of the adaptation process to that culture. It is a period of stress, anxiety, tension, nervousness as well as sadness, confusion, surprise, disgust, rejection, and helplessness vis-à-vis the host society.

During this stage, one may undergo a broad range of experiences and behaviours such as:
  • Feeling angry, uncomfortable, disappointed, confused, frustrated or irritable;
  • Eating and drinking compulsively or needing excessive sleep;
  • Having difficulty going to work or looking for a job;
  • Avoiding contact with people from the host country and spending time alone or only with people from ones own culture;
  • Having negative feelings about the people and the culture of the host country;
  • Focusing on the differences between oneself and people from the host country;
  • Missing ones family and feeling no connection to the host country; or
  • Feeling guilty about leaving family members behind.

The reaction to a new culture is a “shock” primarily because of massive and unexpected changes in ones life and overwhelming exposure to new things. Moreover, exposure to cultural differences can lead a person to question their cultural values. Culture shock is also caused by the anxiety provoked by the loss of our cultural references and familiar symbols in social interactions (e.g., whether to shake hands, hug, or kiss when meeting someone; when and how to tip a service provider; gift exchange; dress codes and customs). Other contributing factors to culture shock include language barriers, experiences of discrimination (prejudice and racism from the host culture), getting recognition for ones education, and qualifications in the host country.

CFIR psychologists and psychotherapists can support you and your family members to better cope with these immigration-related difficulties.

Read more about our Multicultural Treatment Service.