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Stress-Free Clinic for Frontline Healthcare & Support Workers

As the holiday season unfolds, we want to take the opportunity to acknowledge, support & offer gratitude for the hard work & stress that frontline healthcare & support workers have had to endure throughout the pandemic.

On December 19th, Whole Family Health is honoured to be teaming up with the Mindfulness Institute to offer a Stress-Free Clinic Event to frontline workers.

The Mindfulness Institute, founded in 2010 by Dr. Catherine Phillips, Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the U of A, is an Edmonton-based international resource for the latest information on mindfulness, and a leader in teaching and integrating mindfulness into personal and professional settings.

See registration details below.

ABOUT THE EVENT:

WHO

All frontline healthcare and support workers who have experienced increased stress due to the pandemic are welcome. (Proof of occupation/ workplace will be required.)

WHAT

We will be offering free evidence-based stress reduction interventions to all Healthcare Workers who register:

1. Acupuncture

One relaxation acupuncture session from WFH
Studies have shown that acupuncture brings on the relaxation response and reduces physiological stress-markers associated with the fight, flight or freeze stress response.

2. Mindfulness

One mindfulness for healthcare workers webinar from the Mindfulness Institute (accessed via link)
Research shows that physicians who undertook an 8-week mindfulness training program showed less burnout, better mood and emotional stability, as well as improved physician empathy.

WHEN

Sunday, December 19th
945am – 1pm

WHERE

Whole Family Health Wellness Centre

COST

Free!
Although donations to our December Menstrual Product Drive are welcome.

REGISTRATION
Register online for your free acupuncture session HERE
We look forward to seeing you then and you will receive a link to view the mindfulness webinar on December 19th too.

WHY

Stats Canada research confirms that there has been a rise in anxiety and stress among Canadians in response to the pressures of dealing with the pandemic. Different populations have been affected in different ways, and it’s evident that healthcare and support workers along our frontlines are among the most negatively impacted.

Many Whole Family Health clients are hospital and frontline workers, so we have become acutely aware of the increased stress you have been enduring during the pandemic. We recognize the psychological & physical toll it has taken on you and your bodies, working within our strained healthcare system and putting yourselves at risk to help others.

We want to extend our support and gratitude in this small way in the hopes that you may access some evidence-based resources.

We want to treat you to some moments of reprieve!

Healthcare burnout facts

  • An epidemic of burnout and discontent was already well documented among physicians and frontline healthcare workers prior to the pandemic. Approximately 1 in 3 physicians is experiencing burnout at any given time.
  • A recent Canadian survey finds that both nurses and physicians have experienced significantly higher levels of burnout, stress, depression and anxiety than they remembered feeling before the pandemic. 
  • A recent survey’s most striking finding and barometer of distress is that amongst 119 respondents, 50% of nurses and 20% of physicians expressed intentions to quit their jobs.

We would love to treat you to a relaxation acupuncture session! Register HERE.

Movember: Mental Health & Erectile Dysfunction

The Movember Foundation continues to work to destigmatize men’s mental health by bringing to light that men do experience mental health issues and that it is a real concern.

Stats Canada states that suicide rates are 3x higher in men than in women.

Mental Health not only affects people on an emotional and psychological level but on a physical one as well. Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is a common occurrence for those dealing with anxiety, depression, and high stress levels.

Experiencing ED can also lead to a negative cycle of emotions creating more anxiety, low self-esteem and guilt (often associated with not being able to pleasure their partner). Therefore if you are experiencing ED, it is important to speak with your doctor about it, in order to get psychological support and/or to look into further causes. This is because there is also an association between ED and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. 

Treatment Options 

Of course, there is always medication that can help with erectile dysfunction and most people think about that little blue pill – known as Viagra, that has been marketed so well to help solve ED.

However, if there is a mental health disturbance going on, it is more beneficial to deal with the underlying issues for prolonged effectiveness of resolving erectile dysfunction. 

Counselling 

There are different types of therapy that have been shown to help with erectile dysfunction. Evidence has shown that group, individual, or Cognitive Behavioural Sex Therapy (CBST) has helped to resolve ED (1,2). The best outcomes were seen when treatment was combined with psychological treatments and with medication (i.e. Viagra) compared to medication alone (1,2). 

Psychological treatment is most likely to be helpful for those who:

  • Wake up in the morning with an erect penis 
  • Are going through or have gone through a stressful major life event, such as divorce, separation, death of a loved one, change in job, or moving.
  • Grew up in an environment where sex and sexuality were considered negative, wrong, or “bad,” or who were sexually or physically abused as a child.
  • Lost a parent during early childhood.
  • Have a history of serious relationship problems.
  • Have a history of anxiety disorders 

Acupuncture

There is promising data to show that acupuncture can help with erectile dysfunction but the data is limited. A prospective study looked at the effectiveness of acupuncture in patients with psychogenic erectile dysfunction (3). 

The participants were placed in two groups, one group had acupuncture in the specific spots for ED. The control group was given acupuncture in other areas of the body that are typically used to treat headaches.

Over 60% of those in the group getting acupuncture in the ED treatment showed signs of improvement of their ED symptoms compared to the control group.

Some in the control group were allowed to crossover and receive the ED treatments as well. Several of those patients also showed improvement of ED symptoms.

Another 21.05% of the patients had improved erections with simultaneous acupuncture treatments with 50 gm sildenafil (Viagra). 

Now I know what you are thinking, where exactly do the needles go when treating erectile dysfunction? I get this question all the time, followed by another sheepishly asked question: “do the needles go near or in the genitalia?” The answer is a big “NO”. For ED treatment, acupuncture needles are placed in the legs, hands, abdomen and/or back.

Partner Support

The importance of communication and listening to your partner cannot be stressed enough. Providing support and taking an active role in your partner’s treatment will help them navigate things in a positive way and take some of the shame away. It will also be important to keep a positive attitude and be open to trying new ways of experiencing intimacy. Putting pressure on your partner will only lead them to have more problems with erectile dysfunction rather than resolving them.  

Contact us to find out more about how we can support you and if you would like to know more about Movember and how to support mental health please visit the Movember Foundation 

Research

  1. PMID: 32591219
  2. PMID: 17636774
  3. PMID: 14562135

Acupuncture & Stress : How Does It Work?

If you’ve ever had acupuncture, you’re probably familiar with the commonly reported state of relaxation experienced after a treatment or the general feeling of calm with regular treatments.

On the other hand, if you’ve never experienced acupuncture before, you might wonder how it could possibly be relaxing to lie on a table with needles inserted all over your body. That does not sound relaxing at all!

In 1979, the WHO published an official report listing conditions & diseases shown to be treated effectively by Acupuncture. Chronic stress was among the listed conditions. While acupuncture is widely used to treat chronic stress, the mechanism of action has been mysterious.

Ongoing research points toward how acupuncture decreases physiological stress in the body:

HRV

Studies point toward a correlation between acupuncture and improved HRV. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is a non-invasive autonomic measure that indicates the body’s capacity to deal with stress.

A healthy heart is not actually one that ticks perfectly evenly. On the contrary – a healthy heart beats with variation in the time interval between consecutive heartbeats. Because a healthy heart adjusts its rate in response to the environment. Its ability to do so corresponds with a higher HRV, which is associated with better overall health, including mental health.

Endorphins


Acupuncture also stimulates the release of endorphins,  which are hormones secreted by the brain & nervous system that play a role in pain regulation & the general feeling of well-being. For example, we release endorphins when we laugh or fall in love.

Neuropeptide Y (NPY)

NPY is a neuropeptide secreted by the sympathetic nervous system, that is associated with the fight, flight or freeze stress response.

A study published in the Journal of Endocrinology in 2013 was designed to monitor the effects of acupuncture on blood levels of neuropeptide Y (NPY), to help explain how acupuncture helps to reduce stress on a molecular level.

Researchers found that acupuncture significantly reduces NPY.

Because rats mount a measurable NPY stress response when exposed to cold temperatures, they were used in this research.

Electroacupuncture (EA) was also used in this study, to ensure that each animal was receiving the same treatment dose. EA was applied to acupuncture point ZuSanLi (St36), commonly used to alleviate stress among other conditions.

There were four groups of rats used:

  1. A Control group – that was not stressed and received no electroacupuncture.
  2. A Stress group – that was stressed and received no acupuncture.
  3. A Sham-EA group – that was stressed and received ‘sham’ electroacupuncture.
  4. An Experimental EA St36 group – that was stressed and received electroacupuncture.  

The Experimental EA St36 group of rats that was exposed to stress and received the electroacupuncture was measured to have similar NPY levels as the Control group.

A second experiment was conducted where the experimental group was continually stressed while acupuncture was discontinued and NPY continued to remain low, indicating a cumulative, long-term effect from the acupuncture.  

This is only a sampling of how we are beginning to unravel how acupuncture helps to reduce stress and the negative impacts on the body. Research is ongoing and as we begin to understand more and more from a Western scientific perspective how it works – the 2500+ year-old body of clinical evidence that acupuncture is an effective intervention for dealing with stress continues to grow.

Contact us to find out more about how we can support you & your body with stress.

Sign up for our newsletter to get updates about our upcoming Free Stress Clinic.

References

PMID: 33512256

PMID: 15135942

https://doi.org/10.1530/JOE-12-0404

Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month: Grief & Ritual

Guestpost for Olive Fertility

October is Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month & studies show that this kind of reproductive trauma can lead to complex grief.

Miscarriage & stillbirth stigma can contribute to a lack of cultural infrastructure to navigate it. In my own experience of pregnancy losses, I had to learn a kind of grief literacy to face the loss.

On my first trip to Vietnam, I met my mother’s family for the 1st time & it was the anniversary of my Ba Ngoai’s (grandma’s) passing. We acknowledged this with ceremony & ritual – a container for expression of all the feelings: sadness, frustration, anger, love, gratitude, peace & even joy & happiness.

We chanted & ate & burned things & I had the privilege of standing in the doorway of our home with a beautiful bamboo cage full of tiny birds from the market & I released them all into the sky. So moving! One of the village monks explained to me that this symbolized setting the heaviness of our hearts aflight to help release my grandma from the weight of our grief.

For me, ritual offers a sense of control through otherwise disorienting life events. They create an opportunity to acknowledge & pay attention to what is arising in a transformational time. It is an opportunity to begin anew.

When I had my miscarriages, creating my own rituals offered a framework for being present with grieving & to discover what else was available to me. It didn’t make the pain go away, but it helped me to give it its own proper space.

Ritual also helped me to discover how sadness, disappointment & anger gave me the capacity to feel peace, hope & gratitude. Sometimes the whole spectrum all at the same time.

Here is a ritual that may help you in your grieving process:

  1. Write a message to the baby you lost on a piece of paper & then fold it into a paper boat.
  2. Light the top of the boat aflame & set it adrift on a lake or river.
  3. As best as you can, bring kind & open awareness to the sensations in your body, thoughts & emotions as you do this. What do you notice? Intentionally turning toward what comes up may allow you to recognize more possibilities in each moment.

For more info on Mindfulness & upcoming Mindfulness for Fertility programs go to www.mindfulnessforfertility.com

Image @susanna_bauer

Online 3-week MBSR Refresher Program

Event Description

Revitalizing the Practice: Connecting to the Heart of Experience

For MBSR Graduates

Join us for this 3-week MBSR refresher program with Mindfulness Instructors, Hannah Marsh and Dr. Alda Ngo, who are both trained MBSR Facilitators with the Centre for Mindfulness Studies.

Anyone who has completed an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program is invited to join us!

This 3-week online program is intended to refresh and support your mindfulness practice. Together, we’ll revisit practices and themes from the MBSR program, including “As long as you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than wrong with you.” We’ll also introduce new practices focused on supporting ourselves amidst the challenges of practice.

Whether your practice has continued steadily or fallen away, the invitation is to begin again. Everyone is invited to come together to offer one another the support and encouragement of our presence.

Through it all, we’ll remember the “heart” in mindfulness – how heartfulness and mindfulness are one and the same. We may discover that heartful practices, like self-compassion and loving-kindness can nurture and support our mindfulness and well-being.

By the end of the program, we hope to leave you with a revitalized practice, and some new tools to help you flourish in your mindfulness practice and your daily life.

This will be a highly interactive web-based program using Zoom.


WHEN

Mondays, November 15, 22, 29
7:00-9:00pm MT


COST

Sliding scale:
$75
 + GST (partial scholarship)
$125 +GST (sustainable fee)
$175 + GST (helps to support others requiring scholarships)

*Please pay more, if you can, to help support those less able to pay.

Accessibility is important to us, scholarships are also available to those for whom cost is a barrier. All are welcome and no one will be turned away due to financial concernsPlease contact us for more information (alda@wholefamilyhealth.ca).

Registration deadline: Nov 12th

Register Here

Cancellations received prior to the registration deadline will be refunded minus a $40 processing fee. No refunds will be issued after that date.

Traditional Chinese Herbs – How They Work

Herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years in countless cultures across the world. Many pharmaceutical medicines are even derived from different plant materials. Our natural world is truly a garden of medicine, which we enjoy exploring through the art of herbal medicine.

The ancient Chinese methods of diagnosing and prescribing herbs is very unique. From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, illness arises from a disharmony of the natural functions of the body. The body’s internal environment is a reflection of the external patterns of nature; similarly, humans are intrinsically part of nature.

Thus, through careful and astute observation, the ancient Chinese perceived the internal workings of bodily functions. Specifically, what tendencies cause imbalance, and what can help engage the body’s natural homeostatic tendencies.

What Makes Traditional Chinese Herbs Unique

Each herb has a combination of flavours which have certain actions in the body

  • Sweet – Tonify the body, harmonize digestion, moisten dryness
  • Pungent – Disperses pathogens, move stagnation and invigorate the blood
  • Sour – Astringe and stabilize
  • Bitter – Drain and dry
  • Salty – Softens hardness, scatters lumps, drains stools
  • Bland – Drain downwards, leach out dampness, promote urination. 

Each herb has a thermal nature

  • Herbs can be Warm, Cool, Neutral, Hot or Cold. This is why we often ask questions that help us understand your body’s thermal nature. 

Each herb has a tropism or direction in the body

  • Different herbs go to different places. For example – Ji Xue Teng goes to the fingertips and toes, Bai Zhi goes to the sinuses and forehead, and Bai Shao goes to the Liver. 

Herb combinations

  • Herbs are used in combination to enhance, accentuate, counteract or suppress common or opposing effects. TCM herbs are always prescribed in combination – often between 2-25 herbs are used together in a formula to specifically suit the patient’s specific constitution.

One Thousand Questions

When you come for a visit with a Traditional Chinese Medicine Herbal Practitioner, they will ask you ‘One Thousand Questions’, because they want to know every single detail about your health.

With the myriad of details, we perceive the complex pattern that has brought them into imbalance. We can determine the thermal nature and the functional organ system imbalances. Then, we match the complexities of the constitution and nature of the imbalance with an appropriate herbal formula.

For example, if 7 people are struggling with headaches, each of these people will have different presentations: location of the pain, duration of the pain, nature of the pain, triggers for the headaches, different things that create relief or worsening of the symptoms, and more.

On top of the difference in manifestation of the headache, each person’s other signs and symptoms will be different too. The TCM practitioner takes all of these things into consideration, crafting a different custom blend of herbs for each person, ensuring that the formula matches the presentation of illness as well as the constitution.

With all of these complexities, you can imagine the process of deliberation required for each patient!

Classical Herbal Formulas

Many of the formulas we use are ancient formulations, dating up to 2000 years old. These classical formulas are then modified, depending on the patient’s unique constitution and situation as discussed above. Sometimes, we even write a formula from scratch if there isn’t one to fit a patient’s particular situation. There is a general hierarchy present for the herbs in each formula:

  1. The Emperor Herb – this is the most important ingredient of the formula and has the greatest effect on the principle pattern or disease. 
  2. The Minister Herbs – these herbs aid the Emperor Herb in the treatment of the main pattern and can also act as main ingredients to counteract a co-existing pattern.
  3. The Assistant Herbs – these herbs enhance the effects of the Emperor or Minister Herbs, directly treat a less important aspect of the pattern, moderate any toxic or unwanted effects from the Emperor or Minister Herbs, and sometimes even counteract the Emperor Herb if there is an opposing pattern.
  4. The Messenger Herbs – These herbs guide the action of the formula to a particular region of the body and harmonize the actions of the other ingredients. 

As you can see, the construction of an herbal formula is complex. 

Chinese Medicine Constitutional Approach & Epigenetics

In TCM, we have a concept called the Prenatal and Postnatal constitutions. Essentially, it is the same concept as epigenetics and DNA. The Prenatal constitution is everything that we inherited from the moment of conception,  from our parents – it is the genetic blueprint and DNA that makes up our physical body.

The Postnatal constitution is everything that we take in after conception – the air we breath, the food we eat and the thoughts we think. In short, our lifestyle turns on or turns off different parts of our genetic blueprint. It is in the interaction between these two, within the inner environment of the body, that the field of TCM works. 

Substances which interact with our epigenetics in a positive way are known as epigenetically active substances. Some substances, such as green tea or broccoli sprouts, are epigenetically active substances. This means that they have the ability to interact with our epigenetics in a positive way.

Research

Interestingly, in a study in 2011, researchers analyzed 3294 TCM herbs to find out if they have epigenetically active properties. To their surprise, they found that the 29.8% most commonly prescribed herbs have chemical constituents that interact with epigenetic related proteins!

Researchers also analyzed 200 herbal formulas to find out about their epigenetically active herbs. They discovered that each formula contains epigenetically active properties.

Interestingly, researchers found that when organized from the most actively epigenome interacting herbs to the least actively epigenome interacting herbs the results were consistent with the order of hierarchy used in each formula. These results remained the same even if the dosing is set to one gram each! This means that the most epigenetically active herb was exclusively the emperor herb and the least epigenetically active herb was the messenger herb. The pattern here is absolutely fascinating.

This research suggests that TCM herbs may even be influencing the interaction between our inner environment and our genetic expression. It also suggests that, perhaps, when the Chinese medicine practitioner is piecing together the complex patterns from the constellation of signs and symptoms, they are also treating the way the body’s inner environment can express the genetic blueprint.

At Whole Family Health our TCM specialists are always interested in discussing TCM and a care plan best suited for you. 

If you would like to book in for a free 15 minute consultation to discover if herbs would be a good fit for you, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Resources

PMID: 21785634

Connie’s Fertility Journey

June is a month that gives me a mixture of feelings.  First, it’s a month when I finally feel that summer is here and ready to spend some good time with my family.  However, it’s also a month when my emotions get triggered more because of my past miscarriage history.  

I remember after a few years of trying to conceive, my husband and I began traveling down the frustrating road of doctor visits and infertility treatments.  Whenever doctors told us we would never get pregnant naturally, I felt like everything I had ever dreamed of was being taken away. 

I felt like I was being punished by not being able to conceive and felt like I was a failure for not being able to be a mom.  After three years of infertility treatments, heart-wrenching disappointments, and faith-filled prayers, I finally got pregnant and delivered a healthy sweet boy.  

However, since I successfully conceived the first child, I expected it would be easier to have a second child.   After my son turned two years old, I was able to get pregnant again without any fertility treatments.  Both my husband and I were very excited about the news. 

However, within just a couple of months the excitement turned to sorrow.  After three ultrasounds, the doctor told us that the baby’s heartbeat could no longer be detected, confirming it was no longer viable. It was a missed miscarriage.  He also informed us that the chances of getting pregnant again were slim.  

This miscarriage journey was dark, lonely and frustrating.  I remember questioning why I had to go through a miscarriage after I had already suffered a lot from infertility.  It felt like I had fallen into a very dark pit and could not climb out on my own. I felt hopeless and exhausted about the whole experience, and I kept all of the feelings inside. In the beginning, I did not seek any help.  

During this difficult time, I received comfort and support from my husband, friends, and my faith community.  They also encouraged me to seek professional help though.  I’m grateful that I was able to find a counselling therapist who helped guide me to share, express, and process my feelings. 

These counselling sessions gave me a safe space to reflect deeply within myself, allowing me to to be with difficult emotions and to work toward accepting and integrating them. 

I was able to recognize my fears and wounds and process feelings of guilt and shame that arose from infertility and pregnancy loss.

Counselling helped me to become aware of my limitations as well as my strengths. With counselling support, my infertility and miscarriage journey has become a huge transformational life experience.

I’m thankful that I was able to find light within the darkness of that time. I can see that in the face of that difficult situation, I had the love and support of my family and friends and I am also grateful to now have a deeper understanding of the suffering and pain associated with miscarriage and infertility. This understanding fuels my compassion to help others going through similar experiences.

Many of us may have had experiences that carry strong emotions or psychological impacts that can resurface when triggered by certain events, people or even calendar dates. Please reach out to people who love you and care about you so that you don’t have to carry the burden of the struggle on your own. It can be so therapeutic to simply share your thoughts and feelings with others who can offer you comfort and support.

Because it can often be challenging for loved ones who are also directly involved and intimate with your reproductive challenges – it can also be so beneficial to seek extra support from a professional therapist or counsellor who can help hold safe space and provide you with some tools for dealing with the challenges of infertility and pregnancy loss. It certainly helped me on my own journey!

Contact us for a free 20-minute phone consultation with Connie about her fertility counselling sessions.

Image IG @nushu

Part 4: How Social Media Breaks Can Reduce Fertility Stress

Social Media Breaks 

When experiencing difficulties trying to conceive, it can be really hard on the psyche seeing pregnancy and baby announcements taking place on social media. It can cause more stress to an already stressful situation. 

That’s why I suggest taking breaks from social media from time to time. I know in this day and age, especially during a pandemic it might be hard to do this because this is a way that we stay connected to some people. Therefore, if you don’t want to take a break there are ways to navigate the system. 

Facebook has a setting where you can unfollow people (this will not notify that person that you have unfollowed them). This is a way to hide some people’s posts without unfriending them. This way, if you do want to see what is going on in their life you have the option to go to their page when you choose to.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, please feel free to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Image: @debbyillustration

Part 3: How Exercise Can Reduce Fertility Stress

Exercise 

Exercise is a great stress management tool. However, when trying to conceive there should be a healthy balance. This means that exercise should be done in moderation because on the flip side, too much exercise can actually hinder pregnancy attempts. 

Generally, it is best to exercise 3-5x/ week no longer than 1 hour each day.

If you would like to see more specific guidelines, please visit my recent blogs on exercise and conception and what types of exercise are safe when undergoing ART.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, please feel free to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Image: @chloealexisham

Part 2: How Mindfulness Can Decrease Fertility Stress

Mindfulness

Mindfulness supports the cultivation of awareness of difficult psychological states while normalizing and accepting them, thereby increasing the capacity to respond to stress with resilience.

A study published in Fertility and Sterility shows that Mindfulness-Based Programs for Infertility are an effective psychological intervention for those experiencing infertility, increasing resiliency and decreasing psychological distress (4).  

Whole Family Health and Elements of Health have teamed up to provide Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs for fertility. By taking part in a program geared towards fertility with people who might have a similar experience to yours, your experience is validated and your ability to cope increases, helping to navigate challenging circumstances.

For more information on Mindfulness for fertility and upcoming events click on this link: https://mindfulnessforfertility.com/

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you, please feel free to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Resources

PMID: 23809500

Image: @fieldandsea

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