fitness

Self care for mental health in a pandemic

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about looking after your mental health and well being during the pandemic. Since I work a lot in the area of mental health wellness and policy, I try to live the practices I learn about to manage everyday stress.

One of the things I have been sharing with friends is the need to grieve the loss. Our way of life has changed, and most likely, permanently. What happens in the next few months and after that is anyone’s guess. Some people may find Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — a useful way to process all the feelings.  Also, regardless of how I have listed them here, it’s not a linear process.

javardh-FL6rma2jePU-unsplash

The pandemic, though, is not everyday stress even if we are feeling it every day. I thought you might be interested in some of the things government agencies in Canada and elsewhere are offering to help. I’m quite glad to see the variety of material as we have had to deal with a lot of stigma when it comes to mental health and illness.

The relative openness about mental well being is a positive thing we should recognize and is an important part of the WHO’s recent updates. Their focus these days is on emphasizing that physical distancing does not mean social isolation. They also recognize the importance of building psychological resilience. I hope some of the links that follow are helpful to you.

The public health system in England has come up with 14 things you can use to protect your mental health.  Here’s a super-condensed version:

  • Consider how to connect with others
  • Help and support others
  • Talk about your worries
  • Look after your physical wellbeing
  • Try to manage difficult feelings
  • Manage your media and information intake
  • Get the facts
  • Think about your new daily routine
  • Do things you enjoy
  • Set goals
  • Keep your mind active
  • Take time to relax and focus on the present

For the science-minded among the readers, here’s an interesting article looking at what we have learned from past epidemics. The authors focus on what we can do better going forward and why we need to also apply psychological first aid when working with people in our communities during this time. The article considers the impact on providers as well as people in the community. They write:

The outbreak of pandemics has a potential impact on the existing illnesses, causes distress among caretakers, and affected persons and leads to an onset of mental symptoms among the young or old, which is possibly related to the interplay of mental disorders and immunity. In order to avoid the mental health effects of the COVID-19 infection, people need to avoid excessive exposure to COVID-19 media coverages, maintain a healthy diet and positive lifestyle, and reach out to others for comfort and consolation that the situation will soon be contained. Everyone should maintain a sense of positive thinking and hope and take personal or group time to unwind and remind the self that the intense feelings of fear, panic, and anxiety will fade. Additionally, seek information from reputable government sources for information and avoid the spread of erroneous information on the internet.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has put together a website offering evidence-based information and links from across the country. Their focus is on providing information you can trust: “In times of high anxiety and stress, it’s more important than ever to safeguard your mental wellness. That includes stemming the tide of non-essential information (my emphasis) and paring down your news consumption.”

Another Canadian site comes from the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health. They offer a variety of coping strategies to deal with the stress and anxiety you and others may be feeling. What I liked about the site was their recognition that not all tools will work for everyone equally: “Some might apply to you and some might not – or they may need to be adapted to suit you personally, your personality, where and with whom you live, or your culture. Please be creative and experiment with these ideas and strategies.” CAMH also recognizes that a key factor driving ur fear, anxiety and stress is the uncertainty that underpins our lives today with respect to the virus.

I hope you find the material in the selected links helpful. Remember to connect to people you care about, to look after yourself, to take time to focus on the good in your life and to wash your hands and take appropriate precautions. Be well, stay well.

MarthaFitat55 lives and works in St. John’s Newfoundland and Labrador.

femalestrength · feminism · fitness

How My Father Raised a Fit Feminist … Without Intending To

Tomorrow is five years since my father died. Despite the worldwide pandemic in progress (and how irresistible and necessary it is to write about), I’m dedicating today’s words to the ways in which my father shaped my fitness and my feminism.

I’ll start with this: my father was a pretty traditional man. Born in 1942 in Saskatchewan, he was raised in an observant Jewish home. My grandfather, a gentle soul, worked in the department store his father owned. My grandmother was the energetic current the rest of the family plugged into. An artist, mainly a painter, with a few sculptures thrown in for good measure, her métier never took precedence over family. Her studio was in the scary basement. Before she married, she got her Masters in Economics. She got a job at the Bank of Canada. This was the 1930s. When she decided to get married, she burned the sole copy of her Master’s thesis and turned her back economics. She was radical-Kondo long before that craze. She kept up her intellectual curiosity though, always taking my grandfather to classes in philosophy and other light (haha) disciplines.

With a mother like this, my father believed in the intelligence and capacity of women. At the same time, he never took women quite as seriously as men. An intelligent woman always risked sliding over the line into a ball breaker or shrew. He ruled over our household in lordly fashion. As a white man of privilege, he assumed his particularities were the way it should be. He dictated meal times and the precise manner in which we should fold towels, roused us early (even on weekends), doled out allowances to my mother, who held everything together on the home front, which was no small feat with three children (as many families confined together are finding out afresh these days).

Baby Mina (that’s me!) with my parents

While he never questioned my intelligence or right to a career, the only other member of our family whose intelligence he trusted was my youngest brother’s. Still, we take what we can get and my father gave me enough credit for my mind that one of the few things I don’t doubt about myself (in that this-is-how-I-was-raised-DNA-deep-way) is my capacity for thinking. I know that most men are absolutely not smarter than I am. As smart, of course. Smart in different ways, of course. But not smarter. This is one of the cornerstones of my feminism (there were also a lot of strong and smart women in my life—including my mother and my grandmothers). But this is about my father. A profound thank you, Dad.

As for fitness, my father loved to cycle (all geeked out with the dentist-like-mirror attached to his helmet and enough tools and bike bits to rebuild his bike and anyone else’s who happened along). Other people might put titanium screws in their bike to shave off some miniscule amount of weight. My father didn’t care how extravagantly large his bike bag got. He was a rolling bike shop. I rode with him then and still love biking. He recalled us running together, too. He claimed to even remember the day we went to Gibbons Park (in London, Ontario) and I outran him for the first time. Apparently, it was also the last time he ran with me. I wish I remembered that. But I’m happy to have the implanted memory of nascent speed.   

Yet, when I feel his presence now, it’s neither running nor biking, but when I’m cross-country skiing uphill. My family cross-country skied together, but certainly not regularly. The first time my father joined me on a solo ski was the winter after his death. I was climbing out of the Euer Valley (at TDXC in Truckee, CA), my heart punching against my chest like a prisoner in despair, I felt my lips contract into the shape of an O, heard the bubbly intake of saliva through my teeth in the exact way my father did, when he was pushing against a wall of effort (physical, mechanical or mental).  And in the same moment I became aware of thoughts that weren’t mine, that were his, “I can do this.  Hang on a second.  I almost have it.  If I can just …”  As if my brain had been temporarily appropriated by him, but I was aware of the theft and could bear witness to it.  From time to time, his signature intake of concentrated breath still finds me when I’m cross-country skiing.

At the end he chose not to pursue radiation, because it would have impinged on his quality of life more than any extra weeks were worth. The treatment was going to take away his sense of smell and taste (just as a start). He couldn’t bear the idea of losing the revel of his too-early-in-the-morning-for-anyone-else-in-the-house-trying-to-sleep-and-instead-waking-to-the-sound-of-milk-being-steamed cappuccinos. He lived longer than predicted, even if he’d had radiation, and he enjoyed his capps until the last couple of weeks.

Shortly after he died, I developed a passion for macchiattos, which are really just a miniaturized version of a cappucino. I’m not a coffee drinker and never had one of my father’s cappucinos. But once a week now I love the indulgence of that tiny shot of espresso with a dot of foamed milk on top. I have appropriated his pleasure for myself, an homage to his tradition. A pleasure I will savor with immeasurable gusto when I can next go to a coffee shop. Because the thing is, I can’t drink my macchiato takeout. It has to be in the adorable little cup. Ideally, it’s a super charge treat for end of day with my partner before going out with friends. I’m willing to wait for the full experience, on the great day when we are allowed to mingle again.

In the meantime, sending wishes to all for health and a safe physical (but not social) distance.

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness

Book Club Week 3: The Joy of Movement, Chapter 3

A few weeks ago we started a virtual book club.

You can read about the idea here.

You can buy the Joy of Movement here or from a local bookshop or your favourite online retailer.

What’s the plan? Christine, Catherine, and I are reading a chapter a week, for seven weeks and writing about it here. We did that for Nia Shank’s book The 100 Day Reclaim: Daily Readings to Make Health and Fitness as Empowering as it Should Be. And we liked it so much we’re doing it again. Read what our reviews looked like here.

What’s different this time? We’re inviting you to join us. Read along and put your contributions in the comments. It doesn’t need to be a lot. A few sentences, a few paragraphs, whatever you’re moved to write.

Want to catch up?

Read Week 1 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/10/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-1/

Read Week 2 here: https://fitisafeministissue.com/2020/03/17/book-club-week-1-the-joy-of-movement-chapter-2/

Catherine

Chapter 3 of McGonigal’s book is about Collective Joy, which it would be safe to say is in short supply these days. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

McGonigal tells stories that are likely familiar to many of us about the experiences of groups of people who are moving together. Some of them are moving in unison, like rowers or performing dancers. Others are moving at the same time, like yoga students. And, there are times when people are moving in their own ways for the same occasion, intentionally at the same place—like cyclists or kayakers or people dancing at a party.

What comes out of these collective movements? McGonigal describes the feelings in a bunch of ways:

Total attunement
Collective effervescence
Synchrony
Kinesthetic of togetherness
Muscular bonding

The idea is this: when we move together with others, we feel connected to them in a physical, visceral way—we have the physical sensation of being part of a larger whole. And these sensations do yummy things to our brains and bodies and psyches. They make us feel good, naturally, but they also promote cooperation with others. They may even be protective– physically and psychologically. McGonigal uses great examples of the sounds of people marching in unison and musk oxen circling in response to wolves to illustrate the power of joining with others to create a larger, more powerful collective being.

There’s more (this was my favorite chapter so far and is definitely worth checking out), but: given that joining big groups and merging to become a unified whole is most definitely contraindicated now, is there anything for us to use here and now?

Yes, I think there is. McGonigal talks about virtual togetherness through apps and even jogging drone buddies. But I’d like to share with you my experience of virtual synchrony these days.

I’m doing zoom yoga classes three times a week now—there’s no barrier to me getting to class, as my yoga mat is in the living room. It continually surprises and pleases me how much I’m getting from these classes. Each instructor creates their own atmosphere, and I feel connected to them and also to the other students. We all chat a little before and after class, but that content isn’t the most important thing. It’s the reminder that we are all part of this studio, doing this yoga practice, at this time and in our shared virtual space.

Last Friday, during Flow and Meditate class, our teacher Alex commented that it seemed like half the class was in need of burning off some extra energy and the other half needed a nap. He could tell this from tuning into us on our screens, and he adjusted our session to give some extra movement options for those with jittery feelings, and then did a soothing restorative exercise at the end. I felt seen, accepted, connected to him and the other students, and part of a supportive whole.

I hope all of us can find some collective attunement, synchrony and even effervescence now. Reading this chapter reminded me that it’s accessible, which is just what I needed to hear.

Christine

This was a weird chapter to read in this time of social distancing and vague, pervasive sorrow but it did give me hope.

‘Collective Joy’ is all about how synchronized movement with a group brings us joy and builds our connection to one another. McGonigal moves through a variety of examples – everything from dancers to groups of joggers to army drills- to illustrate how moving in rhythm with others creates group cohesion and creates a sense of individual and collective well-being.

I was especially intrigued by how people described participating in these group activities, the sense that they weren’t just an individual participating but they were part of a greater whole – something bigger than themselves. Moving as a group gave them a sense of belonging and built trust within the group..

The descriptions resonated with my own experiences in Taekwondo and Nia and in leading action songs in Girl Guides. The scientific explanations for the specific type of connection and happiness that develops during these activities was very satisfying.

As I said above, it was a bit disconcerting to be reminded of all of the good feelings that those connections bring right now. It made me long to get back into the second row of black belts in my TKD class, with Mr. James to my right and Ms. Gathercole to my left and Mr. Power in front of me and work our way through our patterns under the direction of Master Downey or Master D.

This chapter has left me very thinky, wondering how to apply this new knowledge of movement, connection and community-building in the various contexts of my life. How can I help people find more of that joyful feeling? What can I add to my classes, my coaching, and my volunteer work to help people feel that sense of belonging?

At the end of this chapter, McGonigal says that some people have a ‘prosocial’ orientation to life and are more easily able to synchronize with others*. Judging by where my mind went with this information, I suspect that I am one of them.

*Even though I have written before about my challenges with coordination, I ‘tune in’ to other people’s simple movement patterns quite naturally. The trick for me to stop thinking about it and just let my body do its work.

Sam

This is my favourite chapter so far. But it was hard not to start mourning for hot yoga classes, Aikido classes, and group bikes rides.

I’ve had the most joy and done my best work in groups, whether that’s team time trials in the cycling world, being one of four people in a rowing scull, or playing defense in soccer. Cycling and rowing are the most alike. In both sports you match your cadence and effort to the people near you. I can always do more as part of a group. I am looking forward to getting back into group sporting events and training when we’re on the other side of this pandemic.

But it’s also made me realize why my Zoom and Zwift connections are so important. Community can take many forms. It’s not the same of course but riding in a group on Zwift is enough alike group riding in the real world of cycling that the time flies by.

I loved this chapter and I plan it read it again when we’re on the other side of the covid-19 pandemic.

fitness · illness

Viruses and politics in unusual places

I was hanging out recently in a virtual fitness world, chatting with strangers, as one does these days, when someone chimed in “No virus talk please.” This community is about fitness activity, not COVID-19. But of course COVID-19 is the reason many of us were there rather than outside. It struck me as odd not to talk about the very reason we were online rather than in person.

Yet, I understand the desire to take some time where we don’t think about the global pandemic of COVID-19. There have been evenings too where I’ve wanted a break from it all. But I would never insist that others give me that break. It’s my break to make.

Someone else chimed in and agreed with the “no virus talk” rule, adding that it was like the “no politics talk” rule that some groups have.

I get the “no politics” rule. There have been times when I haven’t wanted to know what someone’s politics are. I remember being part of a running group and being excited to find someone who ran at just my pace. While running we chatted about movies but I really didn’t want to have a political disagreement with my perfect running partner. I’m always reminded of Elaine on Seinfeld having a great new boyfriend and her dilemma about whether or not to find out his views about abortion.

But this virus is affecting all of our lives and while our response may be informed by our political instincts, the virus itself isn’t political. It’s interesting who thinks it’s a big deal and who thinks our response is overblown. See COVID-19 Carelessness: Which Canadians say pandemic threat is ‘overblown’? And how are they behaving in turn?

I hate it when people run together matters of public health and politics. And I love that in Ontario our Conservative Premier said he’d listen to the public health authorities and that this isn’t a time for politics.

Back to the virtual fitness world.

A nurse followed up saying that she was hanging in this virtual world before a very stressful 12 hour shift and if she wanted to talk about the virus she would.

Next up were two people hanging out virtually while waiting for COVID-19 test results. They said the same. We’re self isolating and worried and we’ll talk about it if we need to.

Others chimed in and said they were worried about sick family members.

We’re all doing the best we can in very hard times.

Just say no to calls for no virus talk.

Cheddar doesn’t know anything about the virus but he’s happy to have so many people at home.
fitness

#StayAtHome Sam looks different

Sam’s collection of #wfhlife t-shirts

As you know I’m not much of a fan of working from home. But I’m here along with most of you, doing it.

I appreciated Cate’s #wfh words of wisdom and advice. I was glad to hear that she doesn’t go with the standard advice of “dressing professionally” at home. For me, wearing comfy clothes makes it easier to get up and walk the dog or do a bit of at home yoga.

I’ve started taking pictures of my many and various t-shirts, tagging them #OOTD and #wfhlife, and sharing them on social media. See here.

I’m also not using much hair product (it’s pricey), wearing make up, or putting on jewelry. Who is this person and what have you done with Samantha?

Also, and this shocked even me, I worked out the other day in a sports bra! I know. Wild.

I wouldn’t ever ride outside in a sports bra because of sunscreen and fear of skin cancer. But I’ve never taken a spin class in just a sports bra either.

I’ve always said I didn’t do that for reasons other than body shame or caring about what others thought. And yet here I am, when there is no one around, Zwifting in a sports bra.

Funny that.

How has your #wfh look, if that’s a thing you’re doing, changed from your usual look? What do you wear to work out at home?

Sports bra Sam
fitness

Lingerie: the final frontier

Hello there, FIFI folks! In case you’re looking for a calgon-take-me-away reading moment (if you don’t know what this is, check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yjGPgs0_S0) we’ve got one for you: Kim wrote all about lingerie– wanting it, not wanting it, shopping for it, not buying it, buying it… you get the idea. Enjoy!

FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE

It took me ages to be OK with my body.

I was 26 when I realized I was unhappy with how I looked, and always had been, and that my unhappiness had been normalized by me (and by some of those who love me). Things hit a tipping point one autumn day at the Gap: I realized I couldn’t fit into the maroon corduroys (a size up from my already-plus-size) I’d brought sheepishly into the change room with me. I decided that was it: I wanted to look – but especially to feel – differently about my body.

Fast forward 17 years, and I weigh only marginally less than I did that day. Though my body is now fitter, stronger, and – most importantly – makes me feel proud and strong and happy every day. I celebrate regularly by buying clothes that I think look amazing, no longer believing they…

View original post 2,393 more words

fitness · illness

So-called “miracle cures” are back on the market: bogus treatments for real illness

Here’s the tl:dr version of my post today:

What are the top 10 cures for for COVID-19?

  1. there
  2. aren’t
  3. any.
  4. Anyone
  5. saying
  6. there
  7. are
  8. is
  9. a
  10. liar.

Every time illness breaks out, there are lots of enterprising charlatans out there, trying to take advantage of our vulnerability. So it is now with COVID-19. What are some of those unscrupulous blackguards peddling (either in goods or false rumors)?

First, there’s garlic.

Twitter post saying that 8 cloves of garlic boiled in water will treat COVID-19. It won’t.

Apparently, this rumor got so much traction that the WHO felt the need to add it to their page of debunked myths about the coronavirus:

WHO graphic showing garlic with faces, but which have no healing powers for COVID-19.
WHO graphic showing garlic with nice faces, but who have no healing powers for COVID-19.

And also: gargling salty water.

Disinformation posted on twitter, giving bogus info about salt water gargling and coronavirus.
Disinformation posted on twitter, giving bogus info about salt water gargling and coronavirus.

Gargling may make your sore throat feel better, but it’s not going to have any effect on the virus. None at all.

Here’s another: Chlorine dioxide. What is that? Factcheck.org, tells us more here and below:

Chlorine dioxide kits are sold online under various names — Miracle Mineral Solution, Miracle Mineral Supplement, Master Mineral Solution — but they are most often referred to as MMS.

These kits typically include a bottle of sodium chlorite and a bottle of an “activator” such as citric acid. When the two chemicals are mixed together, they make chlorine dioxide, a common industrial bleach used in the production of paper products, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

But MMS hucksters sell the chemical solution as a cure-all for cancer, AIDS, autism and, now, the novel coronavirus.

Again, the WHO says no to bleach (either ingesting it or pouring it on one’s body) as a treatment for COVID-19 (or anything, for that matter).

Here’s yet another one: substances with the name chloroquine. This refers to an anti-malarial drug (which HASN’T been shown to be effective against COVID-19), but also to a solvent used to clean fish tanks. An Arizona couple heard a news story about the anti-malarial drug and thought the fish tank cleaner had the same substance; they decided to put some in liquid and drink it. The man died and the woman is in critical condition. You can read more about it here, and below:

“Given the uncertainty around COVID-19, we understand that people are trying to find new ways to prevent or treat this virus, but self-medicating is not the way to do so,” Daniel Brooks, Banner Poison and Drug Information Center medical director, said in the hospital’s statement. “The last thing that we want right now is to inundate our emergency departments with patients who believe they found a vague and risky solution that could potentially jeopardize their health.”

Then we have: the online swindlers who cook up bogus medical treatments and sell them to vulnerable people during times of outbreak and uncertainty. One such miscreant, Keith Lawrence Middlebrook, was arrested on Wednesday:

[Middlebrook] is charged with one count of attempted wire fraud, which carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison.

In videos he posted this month to his 2.4 million Instagram followers, Middlebrook showed off nondescript white pills and a liquid injection he claimed would offer immunity and a cure, respectively.

“Not only did I make the cure, but this pill right here is the prevention,” he said in one video. “Meaning, if I walk into the Staples Center and everyone’s testing coronavirus positive, I can’t contract it. It’s impossible. … I have what makes you immune to the coronavirus.”

You might be thinking: Srsly? Who would believe that some guy would have found THE medical concoction that does double-duty as both prevention and cure for a brand-new virus? I mean, who could be that gullible?

We can. We can believe anything when we’re scared, when we or our friends/family are sick, and when there aren’t any current treatments out there.

So, what can we do while waiting for medical science to hurry up and help a planet out?

I have three suggestions:

Hang tight.
Hang tight.
Wash those hands!
Wash those hands!
when in doubt, zoom!
when in doubt, zoom!

Zoom with friends, family, coworkers, yoga classmates, neighbors, distant relatives, old prom dates, vacuum cleaner salespeople, former pets, future ex-in-laws, fellow ex-patriots, third-grade teachers, part-time hairstylists, amateur boxers, Irish stepdancers, out-of-work tour guides, licensed taxidermists, in-the-know gossip columnists, tree surgeons, romance novelists, new moms, old cowhands, child psychiatrists, or orchid enthusiasts. That’s a start.

Have you, dear readers, heard any rumors about cockamamie cures or treatments or preventatives for COVID-19? Please feel free to share them so we can all revel in their bogusness.