Holistic Wellness is a Lifestyle Decision

Years ago, I had the privilege of visiting the beautiful country of Ecuador in South America. I embarked on this trip with my family. I visited the many amazing landscapes native to the area. The Andes are the system of mountains that run North and South in Ecuador, and in several neighboring countries as well.

During a summer visit to the Andes, it is possible to rent bikes and to participate in guided bike trails along the mountain. The Andes feed into valleys that are filled with natural hot spring basins. Some of these waterways have been converted for public hot spring bathing access. After hours of biking in the Andes, tourists are encouraged to dip into the natural hot springs to relax, rest, and restore before taking off again. 

It is quite shocking to learn that there is another mountain to climb after a day of biking and swim in the natural hot springs that surface from deep within the earth’s center. Professionals guides offer average enthusiasts exhausted by one trip with the option of riding back up and down subsequent mountains in a small bus.

Just before opting to take the bus myself, I had been left behind by my family as well as our tourist companions. I was riding at a much slower pace and completely enjoying the change in eco-systems as I rode up and down the mountains. In parts, the elevation was too high to support tall trees and large aloe and avocado plants that grew abundantly throughout.

During these few moments of solitude and abandonment on the Andes, I was enthralled by the gentle breeze and beauty the surrounded me. It was in these quiet moments that I felt as though the earth had taken a breath, and that she had allowed me to feel it. There is a grace that comes from feeling the earth breathe. A moment of grace never to be forgotten.

Of course, the bus had been following me the entire time although out of my view, and had eventually caught up to where I was now standing. I opted to take the bus at this point, and met up with the rest of the crew at the end of the tour. There is more to this story, but I will save this for another brief article on holistic wellness.

Mother’s Day is traditionally celebrated in the month of May. Indigenous cultures refer to Mother Earth in deferential reference to the ways that nature both reveals it’s resilience to repair itself and it’s role in supporting and healing human life.

This article is my tribute to Mother Earth this May and a gentle reminder about the importance of treating her well and with respect. Holistic Wellness integrates all aspects of daily living including the restorative beauty of Mother Earth herself.

by Dr. Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW

Burls, A. (2007). People and green spaces: promoting public health and mental well-being through ecotherapy. Journal of Public Mental Health, 6, 24–39.

Davis, J. (2004). Psychological benefits of nature experiences: An outline of research and theory. Retrieved 10/5/2012 from http://www.johnvdavis.com/ep/benefits.htm.

Loving Your Reconstituted Family

On the eve of traditional annual celebrations such as Thanksgiving, many reconstituted families deal with challenges created by blending-impacts. Blended families have always existed. In more modern times, marital breakdown has become more common and socially acceptable. A popular American television comedy show, the Brady Bunch aired from the late 1960’s to 1974. The series lasted for years in syndication thereafter, and showcased two widowed parents, each with 3 same-gendered children forming a new blended family.

Of course, since the late ’60’s, there have been many more programs produced for television that deal with reconstituted families resulting from separation and divorce, not just widowhood. Where two families decide to merge or blend together, there are often many conflicts and problems that arise. During the early years of social work, when separation and divorce rates were significantly increasing due to societal changes at large, professionals in Family Therapy used a predominantly developmental stage and change model to explain blending-impacts. Therapists often advised reconstituted families to expect a period of at least 7 years for everyone to blend together in a healthy and functional manner. A period of readjustment was to be expected as family members adapted to new household routines, responsibilities, and expectations.

In more modern times, co-parenting children and teens whose biological parents remain directly involve with their children present an entirely new set of family communication challenges that has yielded a variety of revised therapeutic strategies and tools. Feelings of equity and fairness between blended existing sibling groups and newly born children are often at the source of parenting frustration and conflict. A period of testing loyalties and emotional attachment to biological parents whose visitation is restricted or limited due to residual marital conflict, domestic violence, or court order also complicates processes of reconstituting families.

You may find that some children and young adults have great difficulty understanding that they are not the only people in the home to consider. Your children may struggle with required changes in celebrations, rituals, or traditions that better meet the needs and wants of new family members. Sadly, growing as a new family may in fact result in some family members feeling disenfranchised, neglected, and in more serious situations emotionally stuck and abused.

Even where divorced couples remain locked in patterns of conflict, a majority of healthy co-parents agree to work at meeting the emotional needs of all children involved in blended families. Adults are responsible for determining whether accusations made by children are reality-based, reasonable, and fair. Adults are also expected to possess a more mature understanding of life than their children. They are also charged with the responsibility to know the unique emotional coping style of each child. Be prepared, as there will be some periods when your child or children feel(s) very unhappy with your decision to separate, divorce, move on with someone new, or to remarry.

One of the best things you can do for yourself and your child(ren) is to seek a credible mental health practitioner or therapist you trust to help navigate the emotional rollercoaster that often accompanies your exciting transition to start anew. There are many wonderful aspects of reconstituted family life that is well worth this period (however long) of adjustment and readjustment. Creating your family on a foundation of true love and respect is a corrective experience that you and your children deserve.

Happy Thanksgiving !!!!

Dr. Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW

In Harmony with Self & Nature

Nature & Inner Harmony

The restorative aspects of nature has long been verified in both folk lore and science. The further you drive away from the city, the fresher the air may feel. Enjoying long walks, hikes, trails, or climbs in nature affords you the opportunity to learn from the environment. Retreating to the countryside, conservation areas, local parks or beaches gives your body, mind, and spirit the chance to reconnect with nature in the wild and to reflect on your own corporeal nature.

There is no doubt that modern modes of work have increased demands on cerebral functioning. Business and service industries have migrated to online platforms. Even those jobs that require direct or in-person contact have increased digitization and techo-merging with computer systems and processes aimed to streamline administrative and staffing functions such as scheduling, attendance, payroll, and more. The amount of time required to merge traditional labour, as you know it to virtual webspaces has been enormous. It remains to be seen what the toll of this work will be on the human brain and body.

Cognitive Fatigue & Burnout

More and more clients disclose symptoms consistent with adrenal and cognitive fatigue that typically result from extended periods of extreme stress. There appear to be a set of shared mental and physical impacts created by working too much, too hard, and for too long. Clients who avoid symptoms of overwork are at greater risk of burnout. Learning to identify when to take a break is a critical first step in sustaining your wellness over the long term. Once you begin to become aware of your need to take a break, the next challenge will find ways to integrate these into your work and play days.

Your body is usually the best measure of your health and wellness. Your corporeal self is essentially made up of the same materials found in all other life forms on the planet. When you find time to rest and recharge in nature, you benefit from the subtle nuances of natural rhythms you encounter when walking through a field, forest, or mountain top. You are exposed to reproductive, life and death cycles, and seasonal changes in all the plant and animal life that surrounds you. Being close witnesses to these miracles of nature will likely lead you to a deeper reflective view of yourself in nature as well.

In my clinical practice, understanding the self is a lifelong process of deep introspection and reflection. It is an integrative journey of self-knowledge that includes your body, mind, and spirit. A lack of balance in your life generally leads to problems in one of these three areas of the physical, mental, or spiritual self. Journeys of recovery and healing require you to regain balance in one or all areas. Years of self-neglect may require months or years of recovery. Getting to know yourself is a cool journey. Getting to a state of inner harmony where you appreciate that your life is as miraculous as those miracles of nature you see regularly on a casual walk each day is well worth the time you invest in yourself.

There are several natural cycles that you experience each day as well. These bio-rhythms include sleep, digestion, menstrual cycles, and hormonal changes. Some bio-rhythms change hourly, others daily, and even others progressively change over several years as you age. As a younger woman, I had regular menstrual periods that were consistent and not terribly painful. As a married woman, my sexual activity was connected to a loving partner who agreed to a family planning method that did not rely on the pill. I noticed many things about my monthly cycle that did in fact change when stressed, overworked, or with changes in the number of daylight hours. I had a relatively longer cycle that was usually 32 days in length, while many peers had shorter cycles. When work had been particularly stressful, I noticed a delay in my period by up to two weeks. Many women shared similar experiences and reflected on the impact of stress on this regular monthly hormone driven bio-rhythm.

Peri-menopause and menopause itself is another very intense period of several years where natural bio-cycles progressively change and on many levels. My professional and personal approach to care has always been bio-psycho-social. Understanding the self must include a corporeal perspective that allows you to be aware of the changes in your body when distressed. You may learn that you lose your appetite for food, sleep, or sex under great stress, or alternatively that your desires for food, sleep, substances, or sex grow as a means to release a build-up of toxic energy or the primary stress hormone cortisol. Some people make reckless decisions when distressed and regret that they failed to learn healthier coping strategies sooner. Practices such as yoga, Taiichi, mindful meditation, or contemplative prayer offer opportunities for you to slow down and “feel” your body‘s cardio and breathing rates. Newer technologies such as the Apple Watch, or Fitbit also provide you with immediate bio-feedback that can help you to identify signs of overwork as well as periods of rest.

Achieving states of inner harmony at different developmental stages in your life is possible when you care for yourself as a miraculous creation of nature. Self-love flows when you accept the fragility of your human body, and nurture yourself for health and wellness over the long term.

Dr. & Mrs. Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW