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Top 10 Ways to Survive the Stress of Dread-Cember

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

It was an effective exercise in venting and I feel much better. I wrote my blog on “Dread-cember” listing all the reasons I strongly dislike this month and the holiday season in general. Then, I read it over, accepted my grievances, realized I was being grumpy (albeit honest) and admitted that I don’t want to bring other people down who legitimately love this season.

However, I will equate my problems this month with one word – STRESS.  In one week it all begins…  December is, legitimately, the most stressful month of the year. Shopping and presents, food preparation, cards, socializing, crowds, different schedules and routines, decorations, spending, pressure to buy the right thing for the right person – and not forgetting anyone.

Instead of harping on all the reasons I struggle this time of year, I am going to be productive and offer some practical suggestions for people that also have issues getting through to January. Here are Julie’s TOP 10 TIPS based on my own experiences as a busy mom, but also as an occupational therapist who often helps people to break down tasks into more manageable, and less stressful chunks:

  1. PLANNING – this is everything. Often the stress of shopping is not the shopping per se, but rather the planning beforehand. Who do I need to buy for? What will I get them? When do I need to deliver it or mail it so it is received on time? Spending endless hours in the mall looking for the “right gift” works for some, but for others some planning ahead of time can really reduce the stress of the season.
  2. ORGANIZATION – plan it, buy it, store it, and then cross it off your list. Make separate lists – cards to send, presents to buy, food to coordinate, functions to attend, decorating to do – then set it and forget it. Pull out one list a week, tackle it, and then discard. Repeat.
  3. START EARLY – don’t be a dude (sorry boys) and end up in the mall on the 24th. If you do, say hi to my husband. Seriously though, starting early can really reduce the pressure to get it all done in time. Personally, last year I was done my shopping September 9, and this year I bought my first present in February and was done in August. Soon, I will use Boxing Day to shop for the next Christmas. But being done early lets me focus on other things in December, and allows me to avoid the crowds and chaos on the roads and in the malls.
  4. GIVE BACK – nothing says Christmas more than charity. Think of those less fortunate, donate your time, no-longer used items, or money to those that are less fortunate. Get your kids involved with this by sponsoring a family, sorting through toys they no longer need, or having them come with you when you drop off donations. Have a social gathering and in lieu of a hostess gift, ask for items for the local food bank.
  5. GET OUTSIDE – I agree with this completely. Cold schmold. Put on some layers and get some fresh air. Snow is beautiful, the air is crisp, and getting outside will really assist with de-stressing and avoiding seasonal affective disorders. If it is windy, hit the trails to escape the wind chill. If you are alone, listen to some tunes. Last winter I would always hike with my snow pants on so that if the mood struck, I was freely able to stop for some snow angels (which I do).
  6. MAKE A BUDGET AND STICK TO IT – this world of abundance does not mean we need to live that way. What can you afford? Make a list within your budget, total it, and stick to it. Financial strain is stressful anyway, let alone this time of year when there are high expectations to buy the right gift, that “wow” item, and to think of so many people. Simplify – draw names, play a gift-giving game, or just consider “togetherness” and a pleasant meal as your gift to each other. Consider giving people photos you have taken in the year that you can print in larger sizes for minimal cost, or do what we do and make a DVD of the kids from the year set to their favorite music for the grandparents. This year, we realized we have a bunch of Visa points and will be clearing these off to save our bank account.
  7. MAKE IT PRACTICAL – Sometimes the practical gifts are the best. Kid’s activities are expensive and some money towards the hockey skates, dance outfit, or Karate uniform would be appreciated by most parents. Or, everyone needs haircuts and Mom’s love Starbucks or Tim’s, getting their nails done, a massage, or maybe even a house cleaning service as a treat.
  8. LAUGH – Never underestimate the value of a good laugh. Time with friends or a good movie can do wonders for the psyche during this hectic time. My favorite holiday movies are Christmas Vacation and Elf, and of course the timeless A Christmas Story. Grab some eggnog or a warm tea, curl up with a blanket and laugh for a while…
  9. SIMPLIFY – try buying things online. They come to your door! Shopping online provides a practical way to compare prices, avoid the crowds, save some travel and search time, and to look around without being bothered. Toys, books, games – these are all great online gifts.
  10. DELEGATE – can anyone help you? Perhaps provide a list of items to your spouse that they can grab on their lunch break maybe for the teachers, bus driver, or the table gifts or stocking stuffers. Do you have a parent that can hit the mall with a list for you? Can the kids help you with stuff envelopes and mailing these? You don’t need to tackle the stress of Christmas alone.

But the biggest thing I think we need to realize is that not everyone enjoys this time of year. For some, it will bring terrible or sad memories, guilt, pressure, stress, financial hardship, anxiety, and loneliness. Respect that not everyone can manage this season as they would like, and if that means you are missing a card, an email, present or phone call from someone you expected to hear from, let it go. We all have different capacities to manage stress, and the holiday season is no exception.

 

Previously posted December 2014

 

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Keeping Up Appearances: Social Media and Self-Esteem

Guest Blogger:  Susan Wang, Occupational Therapist

In the current age of media, the internet and social media sites (especially Instagram) contribute heavily towards bombarding young girls with images and videos of models. Approx. 90% of adolescents use social media daily, frequently for more than 2 hours a day.  Girls are more exposed in higher rates to media than boys which make females much more vulnerable to the negative impacts of media than boys. With the rise of social media use for marketing and advertising, content creators and models can interact heavily with their viewers through comments and live videos. They create heavily curated profiles and document intimate moments of their lives that thousands (sometimes millions) of individuals follow and keep up with. This, in addition to the popularity of Instagram use by celebrities, can create the illusion of forming authentic relationships with their audience. The interactive nature of social networking also provides opportunities for girls to compare their appearance with their peers. For example, taking selfies may cause women to scrutinize their own image from an observer’s perspective, which is then further reinforced by instant feedback on their appearance through the form of comments and ‘likes.’

Social media presents unique pressures on body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. It is a highly visual environment in which appearance ideals and the pursuit of thinness are promoted. Indeed, the interactive nature of social media appears to contribute to increases in disordered eating. As social media marketing and advertising continues to grow, competition amongst content creators and “influencers” also rises. There is a need to create a persona and create images/videos that stand out amongst the thousands of other marketers competing for the same sponsorships. This results in models utilizing photo editing apps to alter their images. With the rise of “FaceTune” and other photo editing apps, it is increasingly easier for individuals to alter their images, without needing to consult professionals or develop skills in photo editing. This has resulted in girls comparing themselves to unrealistic beauty standards.

In addition, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian have normalized the usage of surgical enhancements. Lip injections, breast augmentations, “fillers”, and other cosmetic surgery has been on the rise in recent years.  Cosmetic doctors have reported an increase in teens seeking lip injections, citing photos of Kylie Jenner as an inspiration. Studies have shown that women who rated their self-esteem, life-satisfaction, and attractiveness as low, were more likely to undergo cosmetic surgery.  This study also indicated that women with high social media exposure were more likely to undergo plastic surgery.  There is also an increase in the number of teenagers seeking plastic surgery. In 2017, approximately 220,000 cosmetic procedures were performed on patients aged 13-19 and social media plays a large part in this trend.  The average Millenial takes over 25,000 selfies in their lifetime, which is one of the major reasons for the self-esteem issues in this age group. In a recent American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery survey, more than 40% of surgeons said looking better in selfies on Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook was an incentive for patients of all ages getting surgery. This is magnified for teens, who use social media more often.

Instagram vs. Reality

There are existing efforts to combat the rise in unrealistic beauty standards by raising awareness about the increasing use of photo editing apps. One such example is a community on the forum “Reddit” that posts side-by-side comparisons of edited images posted by models and celebrities and non-edited photos or videos depicting what they actually look like. While some of the posts contain borderline offensive/body-shaming comments, the concept can be helpful, especially for young girls, in highlighting the efforts and altering (posing, editing) that goes into celebrities’ images.

Some additional helpful resources we came across include:

References:

Brown, A., Furnham, A., Glanville, L., & Swami, V. (2007). Factors that affect the likelihood of undergoing cosmetic surgery. Aesthet Surg J, 27 (5). 501-508.

Paul, K. (2018, October 10). Do Instagram and Snapchat distort how teenagers see themselves? MarketWatch. Retrieved from
https://www.marketwatch.com/story/the-unsettling-relationship-between-selfie-filters-and-plasticsurgery-2018-08-02

Paul, K. (2018, September 30). More than 200,000 teens had plastic surgery last year, and social media had a lot to do with it. MarketWatch. Retrieved from https://www.marketwatch.com/story/should-you-let-your-teenager-get-plastic-surgery-2018-08-29

Fardouly, J., Diedrichs, P. C., Vartanian, L. R., & Halliwell, E. (2015). The mediating role of appearance comparisons in the relationship between media usage and self-objectification in young women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39, 447–457.

Oberst, U., Wegmann, E., Stoft, B., Brand, M., & Chamarro, A. (2017). Negative consequences from heavy social networking in adolescents: The mediating role of fear of missing out. Journal of Adolescence, 55, 51-60.

Costa, L. D. C. F., de Vasconcelos, F. D. A. G., & Peres, K. G. (2010). Influence of biological, social and psychological factors on abnormal eating attitudes among female university students in Brazil.

Journal of Facial Plastic Surgery (2014). Selfie trend increases demand for facial plastic surgery. Retrieved from https://www.aafprs.org/media/press_release/20140311.html

Salmela-Aro, K,, Upadyaya, K., Hakkarainen, K,, & Lonka, K. (2016). The Dark Side of Internet Use: Two Longitudinal Studies of Excessive Internet Use, Depressive Symptoms, School Burnout and Engagement Among Finnish Early and Late Adolescents. Journal of Youth and
Adolescence, 46 (2). DO – 10.1007/s10964-016-0494-2

de Vries, D. A., & Peter, J. (2013). Women on display: The effect of portraying the self online on women’s self-objectification. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 1483e1489. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2013.01.015 .

Spettigue, W., & Henderson, K.A. (2004). Eating disorders and the role of the media. The Canadian Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Review, 13 (1), 16-19.

 

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Healthy Workplace O-Tip of the Week: Follow the 20-20-20 Rule

Our O-Tip of the week series we will be providing valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living.

October is Occupational Therapy Month and Healthy Workplace Month!  In celebration, for the month of October, we will be providing you with OT-Approved tips for a healthier day at work.

Staring at a screen all day? Try applying the 20-20-20 rule… your eyes will thank you for it! Here’s how it works: Every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Get into the habit and you will significantly reduce the risk of vision-related headache and fatigue.

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How Kids Can Continue to Learn Over the Summer

How do we, as parents and caregivers, make sure our kids don’t suffer summer “brain drain,” while ensuring they get the break and vacation they need?  Check out the following infographic for ideas to keep kids brains sharp while having fun this summer vacation:

Summer Programming Note:

Summer vacation is here and we will be taking a break from our regular schedule.  We will be posting some of our popular seasonal blogs just once a week throughout the summer but will resume our regular three weekly posts in September, filled with new and exciting content including our popular O-Tip of Week series.

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Getting around: Transportation Made Easier

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Have you ever wondered why the design of the objects we use and spaces around us are getting better and seem to relate to our bodies or the way we do things in a much more obvious way than ever before?

Barrier-Free Design allows the greatest majority of people equal access to the private and public spaces of our built environment. The aim is to minimize or eliminate physical, cognitive, and sensory barriers in our homes, businesses, and public spaces and even our streets.  

Consider the front entrance of a building. Sidewalk curbs, uneven walkways, multiple stairs, heavy doors, and lack of handrails. All these can prevent access because they can create barriers for individuals.

Universal design methods such as curb cuts, level and slip-resistant walkway surfaces, properly designed ramps, accessible washrooms, automatic doors, lifts, and colour-contrasted handrails are all examples of ways to support increased and barrier-free access not just for folks with a physical disability but for all of us, including children, the elderly, parents with strollers and many others.

Occupational Therapy promotes a wide range of barrier-free design and universal design principles that have helped to make better buildings and spaces in our communities.

There is a greater awareness in society that our buildings and spaces must be more accessible to the greatest majority of people. There are far more products and methods for creating barrier-free environments today than ever before which can be great for finding the right product or design solution for an individual. On the other hand, the vast and ever-growing range of products and design solutions can also be confusing, making choosing the right product a difficult one.  Occupational Therapists have the knowledge and experience to help facilitate the right approach by drawing on current research and best practices for creating barrier-free spaces.

Occupational Therapists provide helpful information and design advice to architects, designers, and contractors when it comes to creating barrier-free spaces inside homes, businesses, gardens, and even public spaces. And since there is a wide range of barriers that can contribute to preventing an individual from completing an activity such as reaching or bending, OTs help by determining what the barriers are for an individual and facilitating products and design strategies that can help surmount these barriers.

As OTs, we have the privilege to serve the needs of many people in the community and using our skills and practices to help people meet their individual needs of daily living and have productive and rewarding life experiences. For many, this may only be accomplished by implementing a barrier-free experience in their homes, businesses, and places they like to visit.

For example:

  • For individuals with visual impairments, spaces should have adequate lighting, colour contrasting surfaces where appropriate, tactile cueing and signage as well as audible alarm systems. For individuals with auditory impairments, visual signage and alarm systems (for example, flashing lights) are necessary.
  • For someone in a wheelchair, a barrier-free experience may include modifications to their workplace kitchens and washrooms. Fixtures such as light switches, sinks, paper towel dispensers, toilet paper dispensers and grab bars must be installed at a height that can be reached from a seated position.

Ultimately, the goal of barrier-free design is to promote equal access and participation for everyone. There have been many steps taken toward ensuring this type of design prevails in our communities. There are new laws supporting improved accessibility within Ontario as of January of 2015.  Is your building up to code? Consulting an occupational therapist can help to ensure your space meets the new criteria.

 

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Making Groceries Easier – New Services Help People with All Abilities

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

The major grocery stores in Ontario have been increasingly focusing their efforts on offering free or low-cost online shopping and pick up or delivery for customers.  Thought to be a result of Millennial overscheduling and impatience, this trend can provide life-changing services for persons with disabilities.  Whether a disability is physical, cognitive, mental or behavioural, public places can be extremely stressful and difficult for some people to navigate.  With online ordering and pick up, shoppers simply need to select items and pay online, arrange a pick-up time, park in a designated spot, call to state their arrival and wait until the purchases are loaded into their vehicle.

This can help to not only improve the ease of shopping but also varies the level of participation which can benefit some people.  For example, instead of sending a caregiver to the store with a list, if someone can use a computer, they can order the items they want independently and just leave the caregiver to do the pick-up.  No more problems with getting that wrong type of pasta sauce!

This is also actually more cost-effective, even considering the fees.  For example, if a caregiver is $25 per hour, then having them do shopping may cost $25-$50 in their hourly fee alone.  With the pick-up option, the fees may be minimal (or “free” depending on the size of the order) and the caregiver can just spend 10-15 minutes doing the pick-up (or unpacking items if they are delivered) versus taking an hour or more to shop.

Here is some information on the offerings by store that are now available in most major stores across Ontario and if not, will be soon:

 

Additional helpful services in major stores include the self-scan option.  For example, some Walmart locations offer self-scan in which you grab a scanner at the entrance and as you’re shopping you scan the items before putting them in your cart (and it’s pretty simple to remove items yourself if you change your mind).  When you are finished shopping head to the reserved self-scan checkout, scan the barcode on your scanner, and your whole order pops up – you pay and leave without having to wait in line or converse with a sales associate or cashier.  This option can be very helpful for people who may have social anxiety, limited tolerances for standing, walking, bending or reaching, have little time to do other responsibilities, or who are otherwise unable to tolerate the checkout part of shopping.

Overall, the possibilities and benefits are positive, and these services are proving very useful for people of all abilities.