By Miranda Massie on May 2, 2019
The spring edition of Healthy UBC is always my favourite because I get to talk about a subject I’m passionate about: sex. As a community sexual health educator and health promoter, I see the critical importance of unbiased education, inclusive health care, and safe spaces for discussing a topic that’s often kept behind closed doors.
This month, I’m sharing some helpful hints, tips and information to support your sexual and reproductive health journeys.
Check under the hood regularly
Whether you’re sexually active or planning to conceive, regular checkups are important. Annual physicals or sexual health screenings help ensure that you’re free from health risks associated with your reproductive system, like infections or cancer.
To find a comfortable, supportive environment for all your needs, check out this list of sex-positive sexual health service providers across the province1. Click here to explore transgender and gender-affirming health care services in BC. (learn more about sex positivity and how to tell if your health care provider is sex-positive here).
Know your rights
Historically, many aspects of sexuality have been controlled, limited or prescribed by law. Supporting sexual health can sometimes involve knowing your rights and understanding how to advocate for them. Check out the following resources:
- Rights critical to the realization of sexual health (Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights)
- Understanding abortion law in Canada (Options for Sexual Health)
- Sex Discrimination and Sexual Harassment (Human Rights in BC)
Avoid Dr. Google
The internet can be a scary place, especially when you type “sex” into the search bar. For accurate and unbiased information, try going directly to one of the following sources:
- Sex&U (The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada)
- Options for Sexual Health (BC member of International Planned Parenthood)
- Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
- Sexual and Reproductive Health Week
- Sexual Violence Prevention and Response (UBC resource)
The body-brain connection
Mental health can impact our ability to lead the sexual lives we want (both positively and negatively). Conversely, difficulties like illness, injury and challenges with conception or sexual function can take an emotional toll on our wellbeing. The following resources explore the connection between the brain and sexual health:
- UBC researcher Dr. Lori Brotto’s work on mindfulness and sexual pleasure
- Sexual Health and Disability (Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights)
- Pregnancy Loss Resources (BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre)
Learning is a lifelong process
It’s never too early or too late to learn more about sexual health. Body science is a great way to teach young children about consent and prevent abuse. Older adults might try dating again, or learn about the physical changes that come with age. Regardless of age, there is always more to learn!
- Sex-Ed: What is it and why does it matter? (Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights)
- Understanding your child’s sexual development and information and resources for children with differing abilities (Alberta Health Services’ teachingsexualhealth.ca)
- Sexuality and Aging (Centre for Sexuality)
- Sex and Seniors (Canadian Public Health Association)
- Why we need to talk about menopause — candidly (Globe and Mail)
I encourage you to consider one thing you might do to support your sexual or reproductive health. Have fun exploring what sexuality means to you and how it connects to your overall sense of wellbeing.
Don’t forget to “heart your parts”!
All my best,
Posted in Editorial, Mental Health, Miranda Massie, Physical Health | Tagged age, ageing, brain, care, editorial, mental health, physical health, reproductive health, rights, Safety, sex, sex positivity, sexual health, sexuality, Support, transgender | Leave a response
By Miranda Massie on December 5, 2018
Imagine you have a close friend who is feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and they ask for your advice. What words of encouragement and support might you offer?
- “You’re doing great.”
- “Look at what you’ve accomplished.”
- “Give yourself a break.”
- “Take some time for yourself.”
- “What can I do to support you?”
Now imagine it is you that feels stressed and overwhelmed. Would you say these same things to yourself? Chances are, probably not. Typically, we are much harder on ourselves than we are on others. Finding ways to be kind to ourselves is especially important at busy times of the year like this.
Self-compassion is strongly linked to our wellbeing. It can reduce negative mind states such as anxiety, depression, stress, rumination, perfectionism and shame. It can also increase positive mind states like life satisfaction, happiness, connectedness, self-confidence, optimism, and gratitude.1
Three ways to enhance self-compassion:
1. Reframe negative thinking patterns
Our minds produce a constant stream of thoughts, a large portion of which are negative. A key to reducing the impact that these thoughts have on us is to identify negative self-talk and to reframe it towards the positive. For example, when you are being hard on yourself, notice these thoughts and ask yourself if you would say these things to someone you love. If not, why would you say them to yourself?
2. Focus on your practical wisdom
Sometimes it can feel like we are coming up short in aspects of our lives. When facing these thoughts, focus instead on your practical wisdom.2 We are all experts in something so discover what it is that gives you a sense of mastery and play to those strengths. Often these are skills and character traits that go unrecognized or underappreciated like empathy, intuition, altruism and self-reflection.
3. Acknowledge your emotional labour
We give a lot of ourselves to others, to our jobs, and to our communities — often doing so without realising or acknowledging the emotional energy that it requires. The emotional labour and effort we exert in managing and regulating our emotions in our personal and professional lives can impact our wellbeing.3 Acknowledging these efforts is a way of cultivating compassionate towards ourselves.
Other easy ways to practice self-compassion:
- Watch this two-minute video for tips on practicing self-compassion.
- Listen to this 10-minute guided meditation for self-compassion.
- Get ideas for enhancing self-compassion with these articles: Give the Gift of Self-compassion, 5 Ways to Thrive Today, Tomorrow and Beyond and Treat Yourself: Why you Deserve a Gift this Holiday Season
This busy holiday season, I invite you to be kind to yourself as well as those around you. Find ways to see the common humanity amongst us all and treat yourself with the same compassion and care that you do the people you love.
Warmest wishes to you, your colleagues and your loved ones this season.
All my best,
2 Eastman, C. A. (2016). Improving Workplace Learning by Teaching Literature: Towards Wisdom. Switzerland: Springer Nature. http://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-29028-7
3 Bierema, L. L. (2008). Adult learning and the emotional self. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 120, 55–64. http://doi.org/10.1002/ace
Posted in Editorial, Miranda Massie | Tagged care, compassion, editorial, emotional labour, gift, Holidays, overwhelm, Relaxation, rest, self-care, self-compassion, thinking, wisdom | Leave a response
By Melissa Lafrance on September 13, 2017
What Exactly is Resiliency?
How can some people bounce back from hardship or remain in challenging situations while others get disconcerted and remain affected for a longer period of time? Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy and other significant sources of stress. Research has shown that resilience is ordinary not extraordinary, and people regularly demonstrate resilience. Having strong resiliency skills doesn’t remove challenging or distressed feelings altogether, but rather can help reduce the time it takes to return to “normal” everyday functioning. Luckily, resilience involves behaviours, thoughts, actions and skills that can be learned and developed.
Several achievable factors are associated with resilience, including:
- Having caring and supportive relationships
- The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out
- A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities
- Skills in communication and problem solving
- The ability to manage strong feelings and impulses
Developing or enhancing resilience is a completely personal journey. Here are a few general tips  to consider when developing your personal resiliency:
Make connections. Having a good support system involving positive relationships is crucial, as is accepting help from those who care about you and your wellbeing. Read more about improving the quality of your relationships.
Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You may not be able to control or avoid stressful events from happening, but you can change your outlook and how you respond to these events. Find out how you can maintain your inner strength amidst life’s daily challenges.
Accept change. It is part of life. This may change your course of action or make certain goals no longer attainable. Learn how to deal with the stress resulting from change and how to adapt and respond effectively to changes.
Explore, determine and move towards your goals. Learn the SMART guide to goal setting.
Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as possible rather than passively ignoring problems and stresses. Check out some tips for great decision making.
Seize opportunities for self-discovery. Learn to meditate or try a new team sport or hobby.
Nurture a positive view of yourself. Read more on constructing confidence and building self-belief.
Maintain a perspective view on things. Avoid making difficult situations a bigger deal than they actually are. View stressful events in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. Being optimistic about the future allows you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Instead of worrying and fearing for the worst, visualize a hopeful outcome. Nourish your inner optimist. Consider using a journal such as the Five Minute Journal  to help you focus on the good in your life.
Take care of yourself. Read more on how to improve your relationship with yourself.
Explore Mindfulness and Meditation at UBC. Consider enrolling in our upcoming programs:
30-Day Online Mindfulness Challenge – Free for UBC employees
Two Start Dates: October 16, 2017 and February 19, 2018
Learn the core skills of mindfulness through evidence-based online training. The 30-day challenge does not involve a formal meditation practice, but rather teaches mindfulness-in-action for everyday life.
How it works:
- 5-10 minutes per day
- Online, anytime, any device
- 30 consecutive days
- Invite a buddy or colleagues to join you
Key impact areas:
- Health and wellbeing
- Increased performance
- Teamwork and conflict resolution
Mindfulness@Work – $100 for UBC employees (eligible for PD funding)
Two Start Dates: November 7, 2017 and April 5, 2018
For a deeper understanding of mindfulness and/or to develop a meditation practice, Mindfulness@Work offers an in-person educational program experience that uses the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) model.
How it works
- Six-week, in-person training
- Meet for 1 hour and 15 minutes once a week in a small supportive group led by a mindfulness teacher
- Attend a half day weekend retreat
- Daily home assignments for 15-30 minutes a day
Key impact areas
- Stress reduction
- Physical and mental wellbeing
- Effectiveness, teamwork, communication skills
- Focuses on integrating mindfulness in the workplace
Additional resources on building resiliency:
- More steps to building resiliency in your life
- Tips for balance and talking about resiliency
- Workplace and career resiliency
Photo credit: Melissa Lafrance
By Guest Contributor on September 13, 2017
Guest contribution by Dr. Thara Vayali
Empathy comes naturally to us. From our primate cousins to our newborn babies, humans are wired to perceive and respond to another person’s feelings. It has helped us learn skills, build communities and has saved us from danger. It is our language before we learn to speak a language.
We don’t learn empathy. In fact, quite the contrary: we are empathic and for healthy developmental reasons, we mitigate the impact of all the feelings by building boundaries.
In the context of work, politics, education and relationships, empathy is having its golden moment. Praised as a way to improve employee happiness, international relations, interpersonal conflict and learning disorders, empathy has a lot to live up to.
Since empathy is getting so much attention, I think it is worth being crystal clear on the shorthand terms for describing the ways we experience feeling with others. These definitions are a compilation of research in empathy, etymology and communication.
In its essence, without laying out the nuances and qualities of empathic communication, empathy is embedding your emotional being in someone else’s situation (“Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.”)
When you observe someone experiencing an emotion, and you feel that emotion well up in yourself, this is empathy. You have a visceral sense of what it feels like even though you are not experiencing the same situation. (“I feel you.”)
Sympathy (more recently cast aside as unhelpful) is often poorly defined as pity and sorrow, which each hold their own as unique feelings. Instead, sympathy is to be with someone else while they emote, despite not feeling it in tandem. We do this in the context of caring and desiring them to thrive. (“Though I do not/cannot know what you are feeling, I will walk beside you.”)
When you observe someone experiencing an emotion but you do not experience that emotion rise up within you, you can still sit with the person through their challenge – this is being sympathetic. You can hold space for the feeling and enable their resilience without feeling it yourself.
Both sympathy and empathy can support someone through distress. When we have the capacity to recognize and validate someone else’s emotions, we are better able to hear them and be supportive of them.
What doesn’t help us is when empathy becomes be “emotional contagion”, where the line between the original feeling and the empathic feeling becomes blurred. The observer perceives that and acts as if both people are experiencing the same thing. This situation often renders both individuals needing support. Small children (and some adults) experience high permeability of emotional states. One person’s distress becomes another person’s distress because healthy boundaries were not developed/established.
To build boundaries is not to build walls or to shut down emotional responses. To build boundaries is to say, “I respect your experience as yours. This is how much time I have, how much energy I have, how much perspective I have, and I will give to that extent willingly.”
To build boundaries means to know yourself well.
Another reason to be conscious of these boundaries is the relationship between stress and empathic response. In a nutshell, stress both increases and decreases empathy, and empathy both increases and decreases stress. Chickens and eggs everywhere.
Stress is ubiquitous and can mean anything from anxiety to surprise, danger or exhaustion. Statistically, 1 in 4 working Canadians report being stressed, but exactly what the stressors are and how they show up emotionally vary from person to person. It is no wonder that stress and empathy are mired in a never-ending loop.
When we experience personal distress, we tend to decrease our empathic response as a protective mechanism: when the stress feels isolated, we become more self-oriented. We may be more sensitive to cognitively noticing someone else in distress, but less capable of understanding their experience.
When we experience a social or contextual distress we tend to increase our empathic response: when we are “all in the same boat”, we become more oriented to the greater good. We may be able to “get it” when someone is in distress, but less capable of taking space away from that emotion.
Striking a balance between thinking and feeling is useful in our “empathic response.” Too much or too little of either and our actions can be misguided.
A useful empathic response is a set of actions:
- Awareness without assumptions
- Curiousity without demands
- Interest without interference
- Compassion without condescension
- Valuing experience without analyzing or judging
When our empathic response is out of balance, it does us well to remember this:
Empathy can be misguided. We are wired to be empathic, but need more information to get a better sense of another person’s plight. It is only through our own eyes (perspectives, realities, histories, experiences, biases) that we imagine the other person’s situation. Our empathy tends to be specific: toward people we care deeply about or are similar to, for experiences we identify with, and to emotions we are familiar with. Through those eyes and those preferences, our statements/actions can be misguided.
Empathy requires energy. Empathic responses require almost all regions of the brain to work together. Like any mental task, the brain uses nutrient resources to meet demand. Compassion fatigue can occur in situations of high empathic demand, weak boundaries and low nutrient resources. We need to stop before the tank is empty, or replenish and refuel.
Empathy is a limited resource. Limited resources can drain; sometimes we use it all day long and have little left for loved ones at the end of the day – or vice versa. If you recall that no resource is limitless without care and conservation, you might be more judicious of how and when you support others.
How to make friends with empathy:
Take a body break. When you feel yourself picking up on another person’s emotion, notice your body. There is a section of your brain oriented to do just this: what sensations do I feel and where are they? What are they telling me?
Take a breath, and localize the emotion (Chest? Head? Fingers? Gut?) It’s somewhere – that’s part of how we pick up on another’s feelings – through our nervous system. If you can place it, you can also release it. Stretch it, breathe it, squeeze it, visualize throwing it away. Do something so you are not at the whim of the emotion within you.
Check your boundaries daily. How much energy do you have? How have you eaten? How have you slept? How are your personal stressors being managed? How many people are relying on your support today? Know your limit. Stay within it.
Be kinder to yourself. A vital piece of experiencing sustainable empathy is developing a positive self-image. If we can be kind to ourselves and our own emotional states, we have more room for another person’s emotion. If we feel poorly about ourselves, feeling another person’s emotion can feel invasive and depleting. When you feel your emotional tank for others starting to run low, take a moment to let yourself refuel, reflect and remember what you love about yourself. Ask yourself: What could I do to be kinder to myself today?
Empathy is a tool. Like any tool, we need to know how to use it safely to protect ourselves and others. Used wisely and with practice, we have an opportunity to create a beautiful outcome. Practice with your body, boundaries, and being kind to yourself – your empathic response will serve you well.
Thara Vayali is a naturopathic doctor and yoga teacher in Vancouver, as well as a UBC alumna. She is obsessed with intestinal and immune health, hormones and pain-free bodies. She is also the creator of Change Natural Medicine, which offers budget-conscious, membership-based health consulting.
By Melissa Lafrance on February 2, 2017
How can managing your emotions be good for your heart? The brain and the heart are closely connected. When your emotions adversely affect your mental wellbeing, your heart is impacted as well.
Stress & Heart Health
There’s a reason why we have a stress response – it’s necessary for survival. When stress or distress become overbearing and chronic, it has significant effects on your health, specifically your heart.
In a stressful situation, your body responds with a chain of reactions. Cortisol and epinephrine are released, which temporarily increase breathing rate, heart rate and blood pressure. This prepares you to deal with the situation and is also known as the “fight or flight” response. Most of us are able to return to normal functioning following a stressful situation. However, if such situations happens often, stress causes your body to remain in a heightened state for days or weeks at a time. Stress can also affect cardiovascular health by influencing behaviours such as unhealthy eating, sedentary behaviours, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking, thereby affecting cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Chronic hypertension, or high blood pressure, can damage the artery walls. Managing stress and improving emotional wellbeing can improve overall heart health. Learn more about preventing high blood pressure.
You should consult your physician if you are concerned about your stress levels or your risks for cardiovascular disease. Learn more about preventing and managing risk factors.
Get involved & take care of your heart:
- Learn more about heart anatomy & function and cardiovascular disease risk factors
- Inform yourself on heart health by visiting our Virtual Health Fair & Online Assessment
- Visit heartandstroke.ca to learn more about Heart Health & Heart Month
Emotional Wellbeing & Stress Management:
- Work or talk it out with UBC’s Employee and Family Assistance Program provider, Shepell
- Shepell’s Stress Coach Connects – an online stress management program
- Improve your stress management with the 30-Day Online Mindfulness Challenge
- Learn mindfulness for the workplace and how to establish your own meditation practice with the Mindfulness@Work Program
- Check out other stress management resources for staff and faculty
Posted in Healthy Path, Mental Health, Physical Health | Tagged blood pressure, care, emotional health, emotions, healthy hear, Heart health, management, prevention, risk, Stress, wellbeing | Leave a response
By Miranda Massie on December 7, 2016
Welcome to December everyone! However hectic your fall term may have been, I hope it was meaningful and filled with success. We now find ourselves getting ready to launch into another busy season, one that can sometimes be overshadowed by consumerism, gift buying and all manners of excess.
I saw a really great ad the other day that urged: “Create memories, not garbage this holiday season”. In keeping with the newsletter’s theme of spiritual health this month, I want to share a gift with you that I hope will serve as a reminder of the true meaning and spirit of this time of year. My wish is that this gift will support you in making wonderful memories with family and friends as we approach the new year.
Give yourself the gift of self- compassion
What is self-compassion? It is taking the time to treat ourselves the same way that we would treat a loved one or dear friend. It is acknowledging that we too deserve care and comfort during stressful and difficult times. It is the act of silencing our internal critic in the hope of accepting that we, like everyone else, are human and entitled to a break.
Experts believe that self-compassion involves three main actions:
- Self-kindness instead of self- judgement: Accepting our imperfections with sympathy instead of shame and criticism. The more we cling to aspirations of perfection, the more we judge the end result.
- Common humanity instead of isolation: Acknowledging that we may face difficult situations, and that we are not alone in this. Trials and tribulations are part of the common human experience.
- Mindfulness instead of Over-identification: Ensuring that we process negative emotions in a constructive way in order to avoid reactivity and negative thought patterns.
Why is this important? I am reminded of the saying “Charity begins at home”. I believe that compassion begins within. In order to truly experience compassion and kindness for others, we must be willing to do the same for ourselves. We at UBC are fortunate to work with some of the most amazing, selfless and dedicated colleagues on this campus. If we truly want to continue supporting colleagues and serving students, we also need to be willing to go to bat for ourselves.
This holiday season I invite you to give yourself the gift of self-compassion. Cut yourself some slack. Silence that negative critic in your head and replace it with one of kindness and charity. Forgive yourself. Leave pessimistic self-talk and resentment behind and as 2016 closes, prepare to greet the New Year with fresh eyes and an open heart.
Posted in Editorial, Mental Health, Miranda Massie | Tagged care, compassion, editorial, forgiveness, giving, Holidays, humanity, kindness, Mindfulness, Miranda Massie, self-care, self-compassion, spiritual health, Support, UBC, work | 2 Responses