Your Emotional Bandwidth & Wellness

Emotional bandwidth is a newer concept referring to the energy people have or do not have to support the people around you. It helps to understand that there are limits to the capacity to care especially when you are feeling physically and emotionally depleted due to overexertion, overwork, and exhaustion. High achievers in all sectors are generally at risk of burn-out. They tend to work harder, longer, and faster then their peers with excellent results that are noticed in the workplace. Being rewarded for excellent outcomes and productivity usually reinforces people to continue to work as hard, long, and fast over time. The problem with this of course is the realities imposed by the human body, mind, and soul. People do break down due to overwork, overexertion, and exhaustion. People do suffer physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual breakdowns.

Elite athletes are great examples to understand limits of human capacity. They train hard, long, and fast often with excellent results. They also suffer many physical and mental injuries along the way. Some athletes suffer from adrenal fatigue after years of high impact training and sports. This condition is usually diagnosed and treated holistically by naturopathic doctors. Symptoms may include lethargy, extreme tiredness, and a general sense of malaise. It can take weeks or months to restore the body back to normative levels of energy and to heal the body’s natural autonomic circadian rhythms like sleeping and reproductive health in women required for overall health and wellness. There are limits to pushing the human body too far. Your body will begin to tell you when you are reaching your own capacity limits. If you are in-tune with your own physical wellness, you will begin to notice a change in what your body can tolerate and begin to slow down for rest and recovery reasons. If you are less in tune with your own body, you may try to push through periods of decreased physical tolerance to stress caused by overexertion that may result in greater injury or harm. The key is to begin to learn when, why, what, and how your body needs time to renew its capacity levels.

There are also problems with pushing your emotional limits too far as well. Feeling angry, frustrated, disappointed, or negatively with situations or people at home, work, and in the community build cumulatively in ways that may result in mental and emotional breakdowns. Similar to the physical body, people also have emotional and mental capacity limits as well. If you are in tune with your mental health and wellness, then you will know when to begin to retreat and withdraw from situations or people that for whatever reason result in emotional over-exertion on your part. You may also find it best to socialize more with those people in your life who fill you up and lighten your mood. If you are less aware of the people and situations in your life that stress your tolerance levels, you may try to push through emotionally during trying times, thereby risking your own mental health and wellness .

Working with a mental health specialist during emotionally difficult periods of time is the difference that can make the difference for people at risk of emotional burnout and mental breakdowns. Talking about events, people, and situations that are particularly trying will help to gain clarity on what you need to do to stay well. Some of the work may involve strengthening your personal boundaries and setting limits in light of your own capacity requirements. Everyone has the right to be healthy and well. Creating personal boundaries that ensure your store of wellness remains nurtured and healthy during trying times is necessary for your own mental health and wellness. “Toxic” relationships are real and you may need some professional help to navigate them, especially where the person is important to you.

Learning to self-nurture your emotional bandwidth in the face of chaos is an amazing journey of wellness. It excites and incentivizes mental health specialists when clients learn to set healthy boundaries and to live happier lives. Companies that support mental health and wellness in the workplace with healthy insurance benefit plans that cover social work, counselling, and psychotherapy are excellent responses to the growing demands and pressures of work in all fields. So, find yourself a therapist who understands the limits of your emotional bandwidth and the importance of building personal boundaries that protect your inner core and joy even through the most trying of times.

Enjoy these remaining days of summer!

Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW Registered Social Worker, Psychotherapist (OCSWSSW).

Plastic Bag Bans & Healthy Habits

Making your cloth bag a new healthy habit!

The City of Toronto has reinstated a plastic bag ban in all local shops and stores. Implemented as a sensical strategy aimed at eliminating the harmful impacts of plastics on the environment, relearning to shop with cloth bags requires some adjustment time. Similar to relearning new or neglected wellness habits like choosing heart healthy foods, shopping without plastic bags is like an exercise in healthy habit formation.

In fact, you may have noticed that you need to plan to have a bag or two before you venture out into local stores. The type of fabrics used to create your bag may shape your preference as well. Some bags are easily folded into smaller sizes so that they can be tucked away into your purse or pocket without taking up much personal space required for other items. Other bags are large and made with materials that can withstand the heavier weights of canned goods or heavier items commonly purchased in grocery or household shopping. Taking some time before you shop to plan your bag situation is reminiscent of the planning stages required when creating a new health habit. Habits are not spontaneous at the get-go, they also require thoughtful planning at the beginning.

At this point, you probably have some semi-permanent hiding spots with a bag on the ready. For spontaneous jaunts into a local store, you likely have a bag kept in every portfolio, purse, glove compartment, or trunk of your car. Having some bags that fold easily are essential to those of us who walk to local stores. It is not so much that you are worried about paying the extra few cents per bag, but more the amount of cloth bags you may acquire over time. You may not actually need the amount of bags you have amassed to date. Donating some of your bags to local food banks or charities is an environmentally friendly way to share your stash of shopping bags.

Over time, some of the bags do begin to suffer some wear and tear, so replacing older bags with newer ones is also important. Many local stores have their own cloth bags with corporate branding on them. These bags work well and are especially incentivizing when discounts are applied while using the branded bag in the store like at Old Navy. Although purchasing these brand-bags may cost more money in the short term, the regular discount offers savings over the long term.

Developing a new habit works in a similar way. You may find there is a short term cost to doing something new like a loss of time, or increased costs, but over the long term, the new health habit pays off in the end. Learning to cook for heart health may be timely and costly for example, but the long term health benefits are undeniable. You might also find that you grow weary of the same types of foods overtime, and that your diet requires some exciting new changes or updates compliant with heart healthy approaches. Being creative with your health habits help to sustain them over the long term.

Serious shoppers who enjoy walking to stores might consider investing in fabric or cloth portable buggeys for larger purchases. These buggeys are lightweight and easily pulled along behind you. So, stacking your new health habits is also a good way to reinforce your compliance to bringing your own bag! Your buggey will reinforce your decision to walk to shops from time to time.

The next time you need to pick up a few items, and you have not prepared for a bag, remember that we are all relearning this new healthy habit together for the sake of our planet. Creating new habits are challenging, but so worth it in the end.

Happy shopping!

Lisa Romano-Dwyer, BSC, MSW, Phd, RSW

Restorative Summer

The solstice in June marks the beginning of summer. The longest day of the year in Canada sheds much needed daylight across this beautiful nation. Most of us reserve holidays for the summer months as winters are long and oftentimes dreary.

For therapists, the summer season is a wonderful time to re-evaluate health and wellness goals. The weather incentives more physical activities such as walking, gardening, hiking, and swimming. It is a great time to assess how well you have been doing to sustain scientifically supported activities proven to improve mood and overall health. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables also becomes easier during the summer months and early fall season.

Losing track of health and wellness goals is easy. Old habits are hard to break, and newer ones require mindful attentiveness to establish in sustainable ways. People are more likely to enjoy the outdoors during the milder weather. This renewed social activity offers you opportunities to practice “small-talk” with your neighbours that may in fact lead to recruiting members for a walking circle close to home. A walking circle is a group of neighbors committed to gentle and daily physical health and wellness exercises. Similar to runners, walkers meet up at an agreed upon time of day and devise a thirty to sixty minute trail together.

Unlike running groups, walking circles can accommodate the needs of most people, even individuals who have neglected physical exercise for some time. The outdoor weather also offers you excellent spaces to begin mindful meditation practices. Finding a relaxing spot to sit and breathe each day during your summer holidays is another excellent way to practice your wellness goals. Restorative spots in nature are abundant in campgrounds, along hiking trails, and on shorelines across the country. Even road trips can be interrupted with strategic mindful meditation spots along the way. Ten to thirty minutes of guided meditations will help you to begin to deactivate the negative impacts of stress on your body that accumulates over time in all of us.

The Mindshfit.CBT app offers a selection of brief guided meditations for beginners. Graduating to more sophisticated, longer or independent programs of meditation are also available for those with interests in mindful practices. Learning to activate diaphragmatic breathing during stressful events at work or home is the most effective strategy to control your normative biological stress response.

A regular practice of gentle exercise coupled with mindful breathing during your summer holidays will intensify your experience of relaxation, and more importantly your natural ability to recover from periods of intensity at work or home. So, take time this summer to plan out your days in such a way that you honours your need to restore your energy in body and mind for healthy living.

Happy Summer!

Lisa Romano-Dwyer, Registered Social Worker, Psychotherapist (OCSWSSW)