Thursday, December 9, 2010

Keeping Finances Clear This Holidays

The other lecturer at the Hamilton Spectator Was Nina Lewin of Catholic Family Services. Nina has a background in the Banking Industry and a BA of Social Work.

It is always hard to get up the enthusiasm to speak about things when there are not many people in the audience but Nina was undaunted. Talking about financial matters with people is not an easy task at the best of times. It is not surprising that people may not show up at a lecture that would expose there financial hardships.

Nina was an enthusiastic supporter of choosing a realistic financial goal for the holiday season. We do not like to set limits on celebrations because they are by there very nature a time to forget the hardships and struggles of everyday life. However, what most of us continue to ignore is what Nina referred to as "The Holiday Hangover". The one that comes in January and February when the big bills start to roll in.

Nina offered her $$Million Dollar Tip$$. First a simple plan for a financially successful holiday season. Following this plan will help you reform your finances in under 1 hour.

Step 1 - Write down all of the money that you will receive between now and the last shopping day (the sooner you do this the better)

Step 2 - Write down all of the things that you must pay for, the essentials ( this may need to extend past the last shopping day to the next day when more money will come in.)

Step 3 - Subtract the amount in Step 2 from the amount in Step 1. The difference is what you can afford to spend on gifts this holiday season.

Afford is the key word because in today's day and age it is very easy to pass that amount. And once you pass it by a little bit what will a little more hurt.

$$The Million Dollar Tip$$.
Meeting unrealistic expectations is often the source of over spending!

A key phrase that Nina tries to teach the people who come to see her at her office is...
"The size of my gift for you can't match the size of my love for you this year"
She suggests that they share this with their loved ones as early as possible.

Nina also had some golden ideas that she has used to help prevent over spending.
  • Gift Certificates. - These ideas make it so much easier to budget because a $10 or $20 gift certificate is exactly that and you don't get caught spending more than you planned.
  • Redeem Points. - Some people forget that they have been collecting Air Miles or other such points all year. These points can be used to help buy gifts.
  • Name Draw. - As families start to grow with children and grandchildren, the amount of gifts needed can expand beyond reason. Try picking names from a hat so that each family member is only buying for one or two people.
  • Donations in Their Name. -Similar to Gift Certificates you can choose how much you are going to give and it can go to a worthy cause instead of to some unwanted nick knack that ends up on a shelf.
  • Just the Kids. - Instead of buying gifts for all of your siblings, parents etc.. just choose gifts for the young children. This can lighten the load of shopping.
  • Give Time. - Nina told the story of her grandparents who were getting on in years and who tended not to cook for themselves as much. She started earlier in the year cooking a little extra with each meal and putting it in the freezer, so come Christmas she would bring over all the extra meals and her grandparents could have great home cooked meals when ever they wanted. These kind of ideas take a little forethought but are often very appreciated.
The Catholic Family Services is located at 447 Main Street in Hamilton. They offer services like the debt reduction and financial help that Nina offers. Nina has a background in the banking industry and offers great advice like the above article. These services are available to anyone regardless of religion or personal beliefs.

Also, for people that are experiencing problems with mental illness or have Family, friends, or even neighbours who may be struggling and need help COAST (Crisis Outreach and Support Team) is a multidisciplinary team consisting of child and youth crisis workers, mental health workers, nurses, social workers and plain-clothes police officers in the Hamilton and Wentworth region. Hamilton Crisis Line 24 hours - 905-972-8338

We only found out about COAST recently and is a very helpful organization when dealing with difficult situations.

Have a happy holiday season!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Holiday Stress and Yoga

In keeping with our new roles as lecture attendees and note takers we have some notes from a recent Lecture we attended at the Hamilton Spectator.

Unfortunately the attendance at this excellent lecture was low but it didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the speakers Dr Karen Rowa and Nina Lewin.

The first speaker was Dr Karen Rowa Clinical Psychologist for St Josephs HealthCare.

Dr Rowa began her lecture by emphasizing that we all experience stress during the holiday season. The difference between those who move through it with grace and those who become broken, bitter and miserable has a lot to do with the strategies we employ.

She mentioned several strategies that she expanded upon. Relaxation, Self Talk, Challenging Expectations, Simplifying, and Saying No.

Relaxation, well what can we say, she started out by stating that how we breathe will influence our state of mind. Poor, shallow chest breathing increases fatigue, creates headaches, muscle tension and anxiety. During times of heightened stress stop just for a moment and take a deep breath in and let out a long, slow sigh and notice right away how effective breathing can be for relieving stress. Going further, learning to draw deeply into the belly will allow the diaphragm to expand the abdomen. This type of breathing has been proven again and again to counter the effects of stress as well as help deal with the onslaught of issues with a more level head.

Negative Self Talk is that running commentary in your head. Most of us have that ongoing voice that is the narrator of our days. But what we may not realize is that the voice has slowly and subtly implanted a negative slant on us and our world. "That was stupid", "I better not screw up the Turkey like I usually do", or "I will never be able to make it, it is just too much". All of these lines keep getting repeated over and over while they wear us down. Dr Rowa suggested that when these thoughts start to spell out doom and gloom try this:
  1. Question the story.
  2. Write down the facts and the evidence.
  3. Ask "What is the worst that can happen?"
  4. Try looking at the situation with a different outcome.
By shaking up that commentary and exposing it for what it is we can break free from its destructive cycle.

Expectations. Things we believe need to happen.
Everything needs to be perfect when Mom and Dad visit. I only buy the very best presents for my family. I have to visit everyone over the holidays. There has to be a lot of presents. I can't have a budget at this time of year. Every Christmas Card has to have a personal letter with it. I have to host a Party.

It is very important to stare these ideas down and challenge them. Questions like "What is most important here?", "What can I reasonably manage?", "Is something better than nothing?", or "Do I really have to say Yes?". These questions can't be answered with a knee jerk reaction, really look at where you are answering from to ensure that the answer is honest. It can be quite a liberating process.

Of course when Dr. Rowa came to Lifestyle choices we were pleased to see that she had a great list.
Exercise - Proper Diet - Adequate Sleep - Quiet Time - Simple Pleasure - Yoga / Meditation.
We spoke to her afterward about the interesting fact that she separated Exercise and Yoga. She said that she always felt that they were not the same thing. Sandy and I both agree with this although it is still a difficult thing to explain. We had discussed this very same thing with seasoned Toronto Yoga teacher Monica Voss and she also found it hard to turn into words. But I digress.
Taking some time to do some simple time management, clarify your goals and values, set a realistic plan, and actually follow through with it will make the season much more rewarding.

The lecture ended with Some Tips for saying No!
  • Set your boundaries and limits early and honour them.
  • Pick your battles carefully.
  • Strike while the iron is cool. Saying things in the heat of the moment leads to regret.
  • Keep it simple. Say no and don't embellish about why or how.
  • Don't over apologize. Respect your own right not to agree.
  • Take time to make a decision. If someone asks you to volunteer remember these 5 magic words "I will let you know".
The thing with stress is that most things just happen the way they do and we either feel obligated to comply or make up a constant story about how rotten it is. Make sure you examine where these things are coming from. You may still have a wonderful and busy holiday season but by taking some control of it there will still be some of you left in January.

I will have to write about Nina's lecture later, I had to examine my expectation to finish this entire blog in one sitting :)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Yoga and Mental Health

Last Friday my wife Sandy (Not Saffron anymore) and I went to a St Josephs Healthcare event entitled "Tackling Depression and Anxiety".

It was well attended and had some impressive speakers. Dr. Roberto Sassi, Assistant Professor at McMaster and St Josephs attending psychiatrist, Dr. Valerie Taylor, Assistant Professor at McMaster and Director of the Bariatric Surgery Psychiatry Program, and Dr. Randi McCabe Director of the Anxiety Treatment and Research Centre and Psychologist-in-Chief at St Josephs.

Dr. Sassi had a dense presentation outlining the prevalence of Mental Disorders in Children such as Selective Mutism (not speaking), Panic Disorder ( a specific fear episode with no reasonable cause), and Social Anxiety Disorder (being highly anxious in social environments like school or with groups of strange adults). Symptoms become important if they persist for 6 months or more and are distinct from normal life development. For instance children are commonly afraid of storms at certain ages and have panic attacks but this normally subsides over time and is not completely debilitating.

What made Dr. Sassi's lecture particularly relevant was the fact that he spoke of such highly beneficial Yoga techniques as Diaphragmatic Breathing, Mental Imagery, and Muscle Relaxation Exercises. We spoke to Dr. Sassi after the lecture and he said the reason Yoga is not seen or labeled in research studies as such is due to the wide variety of elements involved. One teachers Yoga can be so much different from another. Whereas isolating the specific techniques can help identify what is valuable. These techniques are often a successful part of a broader treatment plan including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Education, and in some cases where it is necessary medication.

Dr. Taylor started her presentation off with a picture of the "It's a small world" ride at Disneyland. Dr. Taylor told us how the ride had to be closed down recently due to problems in operation. The ride was built in 1969 and is a slow moving boat that travels through a tunnel while the theme "It's a small world afterall..." plays in the background. It seems that lately the maintenance crew had been having problems with the ride getting stuck at various points. The problem? The riders have been getting bigger and weighing the boats down on the tracks they followed. In fact, Disney will have to review all rides built before 2000 within the next 10 years for the very same issue. People getting too big.

Dr. Taylor's main talk was about how obesity is linked with mental illness. In particular, some drugs side effects are weight gain. She also noted how people with mental illness tend not to take care of themselves as well, eating less healthier food, and getting little exercise. This is a serious problem as many people stop taking their medication because of the weight gain. Clearly plenty of education needs to make its way to more people. Dr. Taylor was a little unclear on one point she presented. She said that one Tim Horton's muffin would add 3600 calories when eaten every 2 days, or 1/2 a muffin per day. She didn't state whether this was 3600 calories per week or per month. Tim Horton's Nutrition Guide is available online and shows values range from 290 to 430 calories depending on the muffin and there are also big variations in fat and sodium. 3600 calories is equivalent to 1 lb of body weight, so adding a Chocolate Chip muffin with 430 calories would add 3600 calories or 1 lb after 8.4 muffins or 17 days (at a 1/2 muffin per day). This is a simplistic evaluation of nutrition and her point was, I believe, that muffins from Tim Horton's can sneak in a lot of extra calories. Dr. Taylor's lecture had many excellent points relating the metal health, unfortunately she left the event early and we were not able to speak with her afterward.

The final speaker was Dr Randi McCabe. Dr. McCabe spoke about the success that she has seen using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help people reduce or overcome their anxiety or panic when properly applied. CBT enjoys a fairly good grounding in scientific research where it has been shown to be successful helping people with a variety of mental issues. One area that CBT doesn't seem to be making a big impact is in Chronic Pain. I pointed this out to Dr. McCabe after her talk but she was quick to add that CBT can help with the persons experience of pain though not necessarily with the pain itself. Chronic pain is a many faced problem and effective treatment may still not result in elimination of pain but by adding coping strategies allows people to live full lives.

Dr. McCabe used a case study of how CBT was used to help with Panic Attacks. A patient (a teenage boy) had been having attacks in the classroom and before hockey games. The attacks became so severe that he would skip classes and miss hockey games because of them. The CBT approach helped him to write down Feelings, Thoughts, and Behaviors so as to become more aware of his inner environment. Even though it did not eliminate the attacks, his experience was greatly reduced or nullified because he had a form of control and self knowledge that empowered him.

Sessions can take any where from 10 - 20 weeks depending on the complexity of the issue and support available at home. The main issue faced now is that for OHIP covered treatment the waitlist is expanding beyond 7 months. Dr. McCabe has written several books that are now available for people to help themselves at home.

All in all the event was a very professional and much needed program. We hope to see more of these events in Hamilton in the future.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chronic Pain

A word about Chronic Pain.

It seems that today the most important thing for us physically these days (when we are not losing weight) is being pain free.
Billions of dollars are spent every year to eliminate pain from all of it's causes.
Got a headache? Take Excedrin.
Got a back ache? Physiotherapy or Pilates or Yoga will fix that up.
Painful divorce? Our Therapists will talk you through it.

Something is wrong with you today if, with all this help available, you are still in pain. Doesn't it seem that way?
I am entrenched in one side of this issue. I have chronic pain. I say chronic because it has been around since a 2002 car accident and it is showing no sign of letting up. I have done the exercises, seen the specialists, even taken the pills. So what do I do with this new friend of mine?

In the back of my mind there is this little voice saying "There is a solution, keep looking, try harder" and I really believe that voice. The problem has been, what do I do while I am searching / waiting for this solution?

The pain is stronger sometimes than others, something that is called a pain cycle. As I am writing this now it is in one of the most difficult phases. It is a frustrating, gnawing, withering type of pain. Not so much that I couldn't deal with it for an hour or even a day. But having the history that I have with it, some darkness can start to fall over my thoughts as it works away at me. It has been after me now in this phase for about 48 hours. I know it will start to lower to about half in a week or so. But there is never that release from it. Just less demanding of attention.
I can understand the frustration of other pain sufferers. Those who must toil away with no light at the end of the tunnel.

The important part of conquering pain is feeling like you have some control over it. Some influence. You would never know to look at me that I am in this pain unless you observed me for some time, since I have no choice but to soldier on.

The sad thing is, I know there are many many people in exactly this same situation. People who have to pay the bills, make dinner, take out the garbage, clean the floor, sometimes work on top of all of that.

The walking wounded a lawyer said as he told me there was no case for the automobile accident that started this pain.

Most people don't like to talk about their pain, mostly because none of us really want to hear about it. And you get tired of restating the same things over and over. But on the other side of the coin you need to have some way to discuss the frustrations with someone who will listen.

I plan to write some more about this topic in the coming weeks as a prelude to our upcoming workshop. And it has been too long since I added something to this Blog.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

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Friday, April 2, 2010

India Passes Right to Education Act

This has to be one of the most moving things that we have come across.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke about this massive improvement and the impact it will have, particularly on minorities and young girls who may not get a chance otherwise.

Watching this, Saffron and I both had tears in our eyes, we created Malo Certsé 6 years ago after our trip to India with the hopes of making an impact on the education situation of the children there.

We will follow this with great anticipation as we watch India reap the benefits of this wonderful act.