Does your head start pounding after a glass or two of wine? Or do you expect to wake up with a migraine after splitting a bottle of wine with friends on a Friday night? You’re not alone.
“Wine headaches and headaches from any alcohol are a common complaint,” says Hélène Bertrand, MD, CM, a Vancouver-based family physician and scientific researcher focused on pain management.
Some people are also “wine-sensitive,” according to Marquita Williams, a board-certified family nurse practitioner who practices at Methodist South Hospital and Revenge Body Bar MedSpa in Memphis, Tennessee. She notes that differing sensitivity means that wine-triggered headaches can last from 30 minutes to three hours, all depending on the person.
Why wine causes headaches
There are several ways a glass or two of wine could trigger or contribute to a headache. Perhaps you metabolize alcohol differently than most people due to a genetic difference. For example, there are variations in a gene known as aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2)—common in East Asian populations—that can inhibit the normal metabolizing of alcohol. This gene is also responsible for why some people’s faces turn red when drinking.
More common reasons include dehydration or increased histamine levels—a chemical that your body makes when you have allergies that also jumpstarts the release of stomach acid to aid digestion. Headaches could also be due to sensitivity to certain compounds in certain wines, such as “tyramine, phenylethylamine, sulfates, and flavonoid phenols,” says Ronnie Bowen, MD, a family physician at Family First Healthcare in Memphis.
Headaches from dehydration
The timing of your headache could hint at the cause. If your head starts to throb immediately after drinking a glass of wine, the cause might be pressure from vasodilation—dilated blood vessels related to intoxication. “Vasodilation can explain the immediate headache…but it really doesn’t explain the delayed headache,” Williams says.
Hangover headaches can be explained through dehydration, says Williams. About 50 to 75 percent of your body weight comes from water. When you don’t get enough fluids or expel fluids too quickly, you can become dehydrated. Headaches are a common symptom of dehydration.
“Alcohol acts as a diuretic,” explains Williams. Diuretics cause the kidneys to expel excess fluids, depleting your salt and water stores more quickly. “Losing more fluid than [you’re] taking in can be dangerous. The body needs water to perform its most critical functions,” she says.
Dr. Bertrand agrees. “You need to drink water when you’re drinking alcohol,” she cautions.
Headaches from by-products of alcohol fermentation
Specific wine ingredients can also trigger headaches, says Dr. Bowen. These include tyramine, an amino acid produced by fermentation, and tannins, the polyphenols responsible for the dry mouth feel in many red wines and teas. Note: Red wines tend to have more tannins than white wines.
“Many of them can also be found in foods that we consume. The amounts in different alcohols can vary, and this could possibly be the reason why one may have a headache with certain alcohols versus other alcohols,” Dr. Bowen says.
“Tannins also tend to release serotonin in high levels, which could cause headaches,” says Williams, then adds that studies are still inconclusive on the exact relationship between these ingredients and headaches.
Tips to avoid wine headaches
Dr. Bertrand’s advice is simple: “The No. 1 way to avoid the headache is to not drink too much alcohol.” For women, that means no more than one drink a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; for men, it’s two drinks.
The medical experts caution against attempts to “build up” a higher wine tolerance. “It only means you will have to drink more and more wine to feel good. It never prevents a hangover,” Dr. Bertrand says.
Choosing a wine that works for you
A study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests that low-alcohol beer paired with sodium greatly reduces the risk of dehydration while participating in social drinking. If you think your wine headache is the result of dehydration or excessive drinking, try these alcohol-free wines or non-alcoholic sparkling wine.
By experimenting with a variety of wines, you might find that certain ingredients trigger your headaches. Compare how you feel after drinking a glass of dry red wine (higher in tannins) versus a sauvignon blanc or rosé (less tannic).
“Some people are allergic to what wine contains like sulfites, histamine, anthocyanins, or tannins. Different wines have different amounts of these,” Dr. Bertrand says. “Obviously, if you react to a certain wine, avoid it.”
When to see a doctor
Experts agree that headaches after drinking wine are quite common. If you experience a headache immediately after drinking wine, experts recommend to hydrate immediately with water, take an over-the-counter pain reliever, and lie down in a dark area for a few minutes. Note: If you decide to take a pain reliever, make sure you read the label carefully as mixing with alcohol can be dangerous in certain instances.
Dr. Bertrand adds that if your wine-triggered headaches are concerning, try switching the type of wine you drink or reducing your wine consumption. She cautions that drinking too much alcohol of any kind can damage your brain, liver, and heart. It can also increase your risk of cancer. “If the headaches don’t stop, then cut back the amount of alcohol you’re drinking and definitely see a doctor,” she says.
About 1 in 4 Canadians has a degree of depression serious enough to need treatment at some time in their life. But that figure doesn’t begin to address how many people are ultimately affected by depression—something anyone who’s in a relationship with a depressed person knows all too well.
Depression can be challenging on relationships for a number of reasons, says Susan J. Noonan, MD, a Boston-based physician and author of Helping Others With Depression: Words to Say, Things to Do. If you’re the caregiving partner, you have to adjust to changes in your daily routine and family life, she explains.
“Each partner might start assuming different roles in the relationship, so the healthy person is taking on more responsibility for the household, the family, the relationship, and the finances,” adds Dr. Noonan. “They can get fatigued and actually come to resent being put in that position. They might feel a loss and a sense of isolation because the affected person’s not available to them as they were in the past. And there could be intimacy and sexual difficulties, as well.”
Just remember that your partner’s depression isn’t a choice, says Jennifer Teplin, licensed clinical social worker, therapist, and the clinical director of Manhattan Wellness in New York City.
“Sometimes people misunderstand depression as a choice or someone losing interest in something as a preference,” she says. “Remind yourself that if your partner could show up as they originally did, they would. That infuses everything with empathy and understanding.”
How to deal with relationship depression
Here are eight signs depression might be affecting your relationship, along with tips on how to deal in ways that are helpful and healthy for you and your partner.
1. Their behaviour has changed
You realize the love of your life has changed their behaviour for the worse, but your partner just seems grouchy or touchy, especially if you ask what’s wrong. Or they just seem to be drinking a lot, or asking to be left alone and withdrawing.
“A lot of times people don’t have the language or they just don’t know that a particular symptom they’re feeling is actually a specific symptom for depression,” says Dr. Noonan. “And some things can be pretty subtle. Usually, the affected person is the last one to know that they’re having symptoms.”
Some tip-offs: Irritability, fatigue, constant worrying, lack of interest in activities that used to interest your partner (say, reading or going biking), trouble sleeping, or a loss of appetite, says Dr. Noonan. Look for “a general sense of change in the person, a change in their baseline self…and it’s been going on for at least two weeks or longer.”
How to deal
This can be a touchy topic, so you want to tread lightly. “Pick a time when the other person does not seem to be particularly distressed or irritable. And then in a calm, nonjudgmental, and uncritical manner, gently state what you observe to be different about your partner,” advises Dr. Noonan.
For example, she says, you could broach the topic this way: “I’ve noticed you’re way more tired than usual and you want to sleep in on the weekends. You’ve also stopped going to your book club. Is something going on? I’m here to talk if you feel like it. Or maybe it’s time to check in with [insert the name of their primary care provider here].”
2. They don’t want to get treatment
The first steps after your partner has acknowledged that, yes, they’re not feeling like themselves is to get them properly diagnosed and treated, says Rachel A. Sussman, a psychotherapist and relationship expert in New York City and the author of The Breakup Bible: The Smart Women’s Guide to Healing from a Breakup or Divorce. It’s also important that you get up to speed on the nature of depression so you have an idea of how it’s treated and what recovery might look like. “Then you can have some empathy and be able to cope better with your depressed partner,” she says.
But what if your partner refuses to seek help or thinks they can get over it by themself? After all, unless they’re a danger to themselves or others, you can’t force them to get treatment.
How to deal
“You could motivate them,” advises Sussman. “Say, ‘Think how great you might feel after you get treated. You don’t seem the same and you don’t seem happy, so if there’s a cure out there for you to get better and to feel happy again, I’ll help you. I’ll make the appointment and go to the doctor with you.’ ”
You could also try to uncover the reasons why your significant other is refusing to seek treatment, says Dr. Noonan, since they could range from the financial (“It costs too much and insurance won’t cover it”) to a fear of medications (“I’ll turn into a zombie”) or anxiety over the stigma if someone finds out. “Once you know those concerns, then both you and the primary care doctor can address” them, she adds.
You can also mention the things they want to accomplish, but can’t do right now because the depression is getting in the way—like a project or exercising. “Lean on their stated goals and interests, and try and get their interest generated that way,” she says.
3. They’re not interested in doing things with you
It’s very common for depressed people to isolate and withdraw, says Dr. Noonan. That leaves you with two choices: You either nag your significant other to join you, making them feel guiltier in the process when they can’t. Or you stop doing the things you loved to do together and feel resentful. Either way, you both end up feeling worse, say experts.
How to deal
“Find out what feels doable for your partner,” says Teplin. “It may be a more modified version of what you used to do.” For example, if rock climbing was your activity of choice, maybe you can both go on a short hike nearby.
“If your partner doesn’t feel up for it, there’s anything wrong with you continuing to go rock climbing on your own,” she says. “It’s when we stop doing something that we love that our partner no longer does, that resentment builds up.”
Continue to draw your partner out by including them in your normal everyday activities, whether it’s errands or interacting with your child. “They don’t have to go to the whole thing; they can go to part of it,” says Dr. Noonan. As for activities, she advises, make them short and specific: a 15-minute bike ride or walking the dog around the block. Set the expectation that your partner will join you for evening meals.
“There’s a phrase called ‘action precedes motivation,’ which I love and is my mantra,” says Dr. Noonan. Translation: “Don’t wait until you feel like doing anything to get started,” she explains. Just go on the walk, for instance, and “the motivation for doing it will follow. It might take a few times around the block, but it will follow.”
(Related: 6 Ways to Build Trust in a Relationship)
4. They don’t want to socialize with friends
The same is true for social activities (even if they are virtual), which your partner is probably cutting back on, too. Again, you may feel that your choices are limited to guilting your partner into participating or brooding about it.
How to deal
Discuss this with your partner, says Sussman. You can say, ‘You seem to be cutting back on social activities. How would you feel if I participated?’
And when you do engage with others on your own, don’t feel you have to make excuses. But do respect your partner’s privacy if they doesn’t feel like sharing what they’re going through with others. Just tell people that your partner isn’t feeling up to social interaction and leave it at that, advises Dr. Noonan.
“Don’t respond to any other follow-up questions,” she adds. “People might ask if your partner is all right. Just say, ‘Yes.’ ”
5. They can’t tell you how to help
People with depression already feel bad for having the illness, so your significant other may be less likely to request anything of you because they already feel responsible for not showing up the way they want to, says Teplin. That can leave you feeling frustrated because you want to help, but the lack of feedback makes it difficult.
How to deal
Start with an open-ended question on what your partner would find helpful. If, for instance, your beau can’t come up with ideas, then get creative and brainstorm a list of things they might find useful. “Think of it like a buffet for someone to choose from, rather than leaving this really empty space of, ‘Oh, let me know what I can do,’ ” says Teplin.
Conveying the message of what—specifically—you are comfortable doing helps your partner feel more supported and more willing to accept the offer, she adds.
6. Your partner doesn’t have energy to do the chores
“Inertia and fatigue are part of depression, particularly if it’s household chores which nobody likes doing so much anyway,” says Dr. Noonan.
Shopping for food, staying on top of bills, or doing laundry may all seem easy enough tasks. But, when you’re in low spirits, any one of them can be absolutely draining, adds Teplin. The trouble is you’re picking up the slack and, understandably, resentful that you’re being stuck with even more responsibilities.
How to deal
People with depression want to be treated normally, so the best thing to do is treat them that way, Dr. Noonan says.
“Set up expectations that your partner will do X, Y, or Z,” she suggests. “Maybe not quite as much as they had done in the past, and maybe in a modified form, but set expectations that, ‘Yes, you will clear your dishes from the table, you will take the trash out at the end of the day, or read to the kids at night,’ whatever it happens to be. Set up an expectation and hold them to it without being too rigid.”
You should talk to your partner about what you’re capable of doing, suggests Dr. Noonan. “And then just say to the other person specifically what you can and cannot do. Make it understood that it’s not because you don’t want to or that you don’t love or care for them or aren’t concerned about their current struggles,” she says.
7. Your “me time” shrinks
You may be the one who’s now doing the bulk of the laundry, cooking, and grocery shopping after work. And you may also be taking your partner to the doctor or coordinating care for the kids. All of this whittles away at your personal time, says Dr. Noonan. Besides, you may be cutting back on activities you loved because you feel bad about leaving your partner alone—and that can take a toll on your mental health.
How to deal
“You have to make yourself a priority first,” says Dr. Noonan. If you’re not in your best shape, you’re not going to be able to help your partner. So make self-care a part of your day, she advises. And don’t feel guilty for working out or keeping up with your hobbies.
Then make sure your partner understands that just because you’re making time for yourself, you’re not avoiding or abandoning them—in fact, you’re doing the opposite, which is keeping yourself strong so you can help them, Dr. Noonan suggests.
Also, touch base with your friends, says Teplin. “You don’t necessarily have to disclose what’s going on to have someone understand what you need,” she says. “You could just say, ‘I’ve been feeling really lonely lately. Everything’s fine at home, but I’d love if we could touch base more.’ There are really easy ways to get the support that we need.”
8. Your partner can’t reciprocate
“Some people who experience depression often have trouble reciprocating in a relationship,” says Dr. Noonan. Depression can also make people irritable, so while you’re trying to be supportive and compassionate, your partner is saying you don’t understand or you don’t know what you’re doing and aren’t being helpful.
“That can make the healthy person feel guilty, then angry, then guilty for feeling angry,” says Dr. Noonan. “You’re offering love and empathy, but you feel empty because you’re not getting that same love and compassion in return. So then it’s hard to keep on giving.”
How to deal
This may be the time for you to head to therapy or at least find a support group for family members, say experts. “Support groups can help you get through something like this with suggestions on what worked for them when the relationship became difficult,” says Dr. Noonan.
It may be time for a hard reset, says Teplin. “If you’re finding it frustrating, allow yourself to have that feeling, then remind yourself that your partner is doing their best,” she says.
Should you both head to couples therapy? Probably not, says Teplin. “It would be really hard to go into couples therapy and have the entire focus just be about the depressed partner. That would, honestly, probably depress me more than I already was.”
Instead, try to get your partner to see an individual therapist. Then, with your partner’s permission, have a session or two together so you can learn firsthand how your partner is doing (and maybe pick up a few tips), say experts. If the individual therapy uncovers larger issues in the relationship, then that would be the time to head to a couples therapist, Teplin notes.
Giving your partner an ultimatum
If your partner refuses to seek outside help and isn’t making a good faith effort to keep up with their family or household responsibilities, or is self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, you may want to suggest a relationship break, says Sussman.
“Sometimes it gives the person the kick in the (butt) they need. If you’ve tried everything as a partner and nothing’s working, how about your own mental health?”
Dr. Noonan agrees, although she calls it a last resort after every option has been exhausted, including sitting with your partner and having an honest heart-to-heart.
“Explain how you feel, how his or her illness has affected you, and realistically what you can and cannot do to help,” she advises. But if your partner still refuses to seek help, stick with treatment, or keep up with family and household obligations, then it may be too much to expect you to pick up the slack—and stick with the relationship.
Yes, eating carbs are good for you. Complex carbohydrates provide fibre and key nutrients that are important for a well-rounded diet. They are the body’s main source of energy, and include some of the healthiest foods you can eat.
But there are many people who swear by eating a low-carb diet or those who practice carb-cycling where you change your intake from low carb to moderate to high carb day to day, week to week, or monthly
A controversial topic amongst low-carb dieters is whether or not to track or count net carbs. To understand net carbs, however, it’s important to first know the basics about carbohydrates in general.
(Related: 14 Low-Carb Diet Mistakes to Avoid)
What is a carbohydrate?
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy. While it’s true that the body can use protein and fat to make energy, these two macronutrients also serve other purposes for the body which carbs cannot.
For example, the body uses protein to build muscle tissue, and protein also makes up enzymes. Fat is utilized for cell growth, to produce certain hormones, and is the body’s main form of energy storage. By eating carbohydrates, we spare protein and fat so that they may be used for their primary purpose.
However, when carbohydrate intake is low, our bodies convert fat and protein to be used for energy production. If the total intake of food is too low to support energy needs, the body converts stored carbohydrates, called glycogen, and stored fat and muscle, for energy use.
Types of carbohydrates
Carbohydrates fall into three categories: starches, sugar, and fibre. Starches are the main form of energy storage for plants and the body utilizes them for energy.
Dietary fibre comes from fruits, vegetables, and grains but can’t be fully digested by the human body (although it has a ton of health benefits). As for sugar, there are naturally occurring sugars in fruit and milk, as well as added sugar found in processed foods.
Carbohydrates can also be simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates are easily absorbed by the body and tend to taste sweeter than their complex counterparts. Fruit, for example, contains a lot of simple carbohydrates, giving rise to their sweet taste. Honey and table sugar are also simple carbohydrates but lack the fibre that comes with fruit.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, tend to have more fibre and can be found in potatoes, rice, wheat, squash, and beans.
(Related: 10 Foods with More Fibre Than Broccoli)
What are net carbs and how do you calculate them?
Net carbs are the actual amount of carbohydrates that your body digests and absorbs from food. However, they are somewhat controversial.
Net carbs are not listed on the Nutrition Facts label. Some manufacturers list net carbs somewhere else on the label although they may refer to them as impact or digestible carbs.
You can calculate the net carbs by taking the total carbohydrates listed on a food label and subtracting the fibre and sugar alcohols. (In whole foods, you would calculate the net carbs by subtracting the fibre from the total carbohydrates.)
Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that are used as sweeteners because they have fewer calories—about half—compared with regular sugar. Some common names of sugar alcohols are xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol. (You often find them listed in sugar-free gums or candy, and they can cause diarrhea when consumed in large quantities.)
Unlike other types of carbs, fibre doesn’t raise your blood sugar much at all—in fact, it slows down the rate of glucose entering the bloodstream. If we eat a food that contains a low amount of fibre, that food will be broken down and absorbed much more quickly than a high fibre food, leading to a spike in blood glucose.
By subtracting these two types of carbs, net carbs promise to more accurately pinpoint a food’s true impact on your blood sugar.
(Related: Why Low-Carb Diets Aren’t the Answer)
Why do people count net carbs?
People on low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins diet or the ketogenic diet may use net carbs so that they can consume more carb-containing foods on these strictly regulated diets.
People with diabetes or prediabetes are advised to keep track of total carbohydrates to help determine how the foods they eat will affect the body, and specifically, their blood sugar level. (Or if they are on insulin, they may need to calculate an insulin dose to match their carb intake.)
There is no official equation for calculating net carbs because there are so many variables and their precise effect on blood glucose is not considered to be accurate. For example, nutrition labels do not give the exact types of fibre and sugar alcohols present, so a net carbs number may suggest a food has a lower impact on blood sugar than it actually does.
It’s true that only about half of the carbohydrate grams from sugar alcohols and about half or less from dietary fibre are metabolized to glucose. In contrast, almost all other carbohydrates becomes blood glucose, according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
However, how the body processes them varies widely. One study in Nutrition Research Reviews found that the small intestine absorbs anywhere from 2–90 percent of sugar alcohols. However, some are only briefly absorbed into the bloodstream and then excreted in the urine.
If you’re counting net carbs, you may be overly obsessed with your fibre intake, which we know Canadians don’t get enough of. Fibre helps maintain a healthy weight because of how slowly it is digested and also aids gut health. So more fibre is always a win in my book.
Personally, I don’t think there is any reason to count net carbs for the reasons mentioned above: It’s not standardized, and too many variables can skew the numbers.
Eating a varied diet with plenty of fibre is the aim for the majority of us, which is why I advise my clients to aim for between 25-30 grams per day and make sure they also get plenty of water simultaneously. This combination will help with weight management and good gut function, which are good goals.
Look, strong arms are appealing—whether you’re wearing a tank top or a slick suit, well-muscled shoulders and biceps are sure to turn heads. But you shouldn’t strength-train your arms just for the benefit of looking your best. A well-muscled upper body is key to making everyday life a little easier. Whether you’re tasked with picking up a child or putting away groceries on a high shelf, the muscles of your back, chest, shoulders, biceps, and triceps are constantly working together to help make these daily movements possible.
And when you include upper body strength training as part of your workout routine, you can maintain and gain muscle mass to help make your daily life easier and more efficient.
What the science says
These strength improvements are particularly important as you enter your 30s and beyond. A review of research from as far back as the 1990s, published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, indicates that most adults start losing muscle mass at the rate of three to eight percent per decade after age 30, with losses increasing even more after age 60. In severe instances, people can lose as much as 50 percent of their muscle mass by their 80s or 90s, according to research published in 2018 in Ageing Research Reviews.
You may think this isn’t a big deal—the elderly don’t need the biceps of a bodybuilder, right? Maybe not. But imagine struggling to carry groceries inside the house, safely lift or lower items from high shelves, or push yourself up off the floor after a fall: Your safety and quality of life would suffer tremendously.
As the authors of the 2018 study on age-related muscle pointed out, the loss of muscle as we age leads to physical frailty and raises your risk of chronic diseases, not to mention potentially shaving years off your life.
How to get stronger arms
So if you want to maintain your independence and functionality well into your golden years, you’d be wise to start safeguarding your strength now. The good news? A well-balanced upper body strength training routine is easy to do at home. However, before you start your workout, here are a few things you should know.
It’s important to warm up before diving into a strength training routine. Set aside five to eight minutes, and warm up in a way that increases your blood flow while also targeting and stretching the muscles you’re going to work on during your routine. For an upper body workout like this one, start by marching or jogging in place for two to three minutes. Then perform a series of sun salutations—aim for five rounds—to get the muscles of your upper body moving.
Exercises for stronger arms
These five exercises can be done with little or no equipment (dumbbells and resistance bands are all you need). Together, they’ll target every major muscle group of your upper body.
The renegade row is an excellent first exercise. It targets just about every major muscle group including your back, chest, shoulders, triceps, and core, while specifically working to strengthen the large muscles of the back (the lats, rhomboids, and traps) that are frequently overlooked and neglected. If you don’t have dumbbells, you can do this exercise without weights. Just focus on really contracting the muscles of your back (drawing your shoulder blade in toward your spine) as you lift the working arm.
How to do the Renegade Row
Start in a push-up position, supported on the balls of your feet and your hands, each hand gripping a dumbbell. Make sure your hands are directly under your shoulders and that your body forms a straight line from your heels to the top of your head. Engage your hips, abdominals, chest, and shoulders to maintain good form. Position your feet roughly hip- to shoulder-distance apart to help maintain your balance and proper form throughout the exercise.
Once you’re set, start with your left side. Contract the muscles of your back by squeezing your left shoulder blade in toward your spine, bending your left elbow to draw the dumbbell straight up toward your chest. As you lift the dumbbell, really focus on isolating the left-side muscles of your back to perform the exercise. Avoid the tendency to shift your weight to the right and rotate your left hip and shoulder upward. If you do this, you’re more likely to use your left shoulder and biceps to perform the exercise rather than focusing on your back.
When you’ve drawn the dumbbell to your chest, squeeze and hold the position for a second before slowly reversing the movement and returning the dumbbell to the floor.
- Set guidance: Perform eight to 12 repetitions on the left side before switching arms and performing the exercise on the right side. Complete two to three sets, resting for roughly one to two minutes between sets.
- Weight guidance: Start with dumbbells between 10 and 15 pounds to be sure you can perform the exercise with perfect form. If you can complete 12 repetitions on each side easily, increase the weight. The last one to two reps of each set should be challenging, but not impossible, to complete with perfect form.
Tip: If you can’t perform the exercise with perfect form while balanced on the balls of your feet, drop your knees to the ground and perform the exercise from a modified push-up position.
(Related: The 17 Best Arm Exercises For Women)
Banded Seated Row
After the renegade row, which hits the back while simultaneously challenging all the muscles of your upper body, the banded seated row is a good way to isolate the major muscle groups of the upper- and mid-back (including the lats, rhomboids, and traps). All you need is a heavy resistance band and a sturdy object to brace your feet against, like a step or a piece of furniture. You can loop the resistance band around the sturdy object or around your feet to create the needed tension.
If you don’t have a resistance band, since you’ve already worked your upper back performing the renegade row, you can skip this exercise and proceed to the push-up.
How to do the Banded Seated Row
Sit on the floor with your knees slightly bent. Brace the balls of your feet against a sturdy object and wrap a resistance band around the back of the sturdy object or around the balls of your feet. Grasp the ends of the resistance band in each hand. If the band feels loose, “choke up” your grip, grasping the band closer to your knees or feet so it feels taut.
Engage your abdominals and core, and roll your shoulders back, making sure your posture is straight and “tall,” so your shoulders and hips are aligned and you could draw a straight line from your ears to hips. Lean back slightly so your arms straighten and become aligned with the band, causing the band to tighten slightly. From here, engage your upper back and draw your shoulder blades in toward your spine, bending your elbows and pulling your hands to your torso, creating more resistance in the band.
When your hands are at your torso, hold the position for a second before slowly reversing the movement to straighten your arms.
- Set guidance: Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
- Weight guidance: Choose a medium or heavy resistance band. The muscles of your upper back are large and strong and are capable of working with more resistance.
(Related: 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of A Plank)
The basic push-up is an excellent way to target the chest, triceps, and shoulders, while also working on core strength and stability.
How to do the Push-up
Start in a standard push-up position with your body forming a straight line from heels to head while balanced on the balls of your feet and your palms. Make sure your palms are aligned directly under your shoulders, but slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. The placement of your feet is up to you. If your feet are closer together, the exercise will be more challenging; if they’re farther apart, the exercise will be slightly easier to perform.
Once set, engage your core, hips, and shoulders, then slowly bend your elbows, lowering your chest toward the floor in a slow and controlled fashion. Your elbows should bend backward—not laterally out to the sides—at an angle roughly 45-degrees from your torso. When your chest is about two to three inches from the floor, reverse the movement, engaging your chest and triceps to push yourself back to the starting position as you extend your elbows.
- Set guidance: Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions. If you find that 12 repetitions are easy to perform, increase your repetitions to 15 or 20.
Tip: If a standard push-up is too difficult, perform the exercise on an incline (with your hands on a chair or bench). Or perform the exercise in a modified position with your knees on the floor.
(Related: How to Do Push-Ups Properly)
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
You’ve already put your shoulders to work stabilizing your body during the renegade row and offering an assist as you performed your push-ups. But the dumbbell shoulder press is a great way to really hit the larger deltoid muscles. If you don’t have dumbbells, you can use a resistance band, instead. Just brace it under your thighs (if seated) or your feet (if standing) to perform the movement.
You can perform the dumbbell shoulder press from a seated or standing position. The seated position will be slightly easier, as it doesn’t require full-body stabilization, so you’ll likely be able to use slightly heavier weights. The fundamentals of both variations are the same. Just remember, if you perform the exercise standing up, bend your knees slightly and tuck your hips under to help engage the core and protect your back, preventing unwanted forward-backward swaying.
How to do the Dumbbell Shoulder Press
To perform the exercise, hold a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your elbows and position your hands at your shoulders, your palms facing forward, your elbows touching your sides. Check your posture—brace your abdominals and core and roll your shoulders back. Make sure your ears, shoulders, and hips are aligned.
If you’re standing, the alignment should extend to your knees and your ankles as well.
From this position, use the muscles of your shoulders to press the dumbbells straight up overhead, extending your elbows. The dumbbells should almost touch at the top of the movement. Hold for a second, then carefully and steadily lower the dumbbells back to the starting position.
- Set guidance: Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
- Weight guidance: Start with five- to 12-pound weights. If you can easily perform 12 repetitions, continue increasing the level of resistance. You want the last two to three reps of each set to be challenging, but not impossible, to perform with good form.
Dumbbell Biceps Curl
The biceps—the large muscle at the front of the upper arm—are some of the smallest major muscles of the upper body. Saving them for last is a good way to isolate them after keeping them warm with other compound movements like rows and shoulder press.
How to do the Dumbbell Biceps Curl
Stand tall with your feet roughly hip-distance apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Bend your knees slightly and tuck your hips under as you engage your core and check your posture. Make sure your heels, hips, shoulders, and ears form a straight line.
Position your hands so your palms face forward and the backs of your hands are at the front of your thighs with your arms fully extended. Brace your core and use your biceps to pull the dumbbells all the way up to your shoulders as you bend your elbows. Just make sure you keep your elbows at your sides to isolate your biceps.
Once the dumbbells are at your shoulders, slowly reverse the movement and return the dumbbells to the starting position in a controlled manner.
- Set guidance: Perform two to three sets of eight to 12 reps.
- Weight guidance: Start with five- to 12-pound weights. If you can easily perform 12 repetitions, continue increasing the level of resistance. You want the last two to three reps of each set to be challenging, but not impossible, to perform with good form.
Tip: Avoid rocking your torso forward or backward to swing the weights up with momentum. If you find you can’t lift the weight up without this added momentum, reduce the weight you’re lifting or reduce the number of reps you’re performing.
When Los Angeles bodybuilder and fitness coach Lindsey Marie Greeley was just 17 years old, she competed in her first bodybuilding show. She would stare in the mirror in the weeks leading up to competitions, “trapped in her head,” obsessed with having the perfect body. She would be devastated by a third-place ranking and by “constructive criticism” from the judges such as “You still aren’t small enough; you need to lose more weight.”
Before long, she’d developed body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), along with an eating disorder. The condition strikes over 350 000 Canadians, and not just athletes and bodybuilders.
(Related: Do You Have a Healthy Body Image?)
BDD diagnostic criteria
Some people don’t like part (or all) of their body, but BDD goes beyond dissatisfaction. According to the psychiatric manual DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), this is the criteria used to indicate a patient has BDD:
Preoccupation with nonexistent or slight defects and flaws in appearance
Repetitive or compulsive behaviours, such as mirror checking or changing clothes many times
Clinical significance, meaning the obsession must cause significant distress or must inhibit everyday functioning, such as a person’s social life
Differentiation from an eating disorder, which ensures that the clinician shouldn’t actually be diagnosing the person with an eating disorder
There are two additional further distinctions to the diagnosis:
Muscle dysmorphia: A person is particularly worried about their body build (muscles) being too small or insufficient. This specific type has been linked to higher suicide rates and poorer quality of life than other types.
Insight specifier: How accurate or inaccurate a patient’s perception of themself is.
Beth Rosenbaum is a Philadelphia-based licensed clinical social worker and therapist with over 30 years working with eating disorders and BDD. She says that there can either be an infatuation with reaching a certain size or weight, or people can have a preoccupation with how a certain body part looks. She typically sees women obsessing over their breasts, stomachs, and thighs, trying to fit the “societal perfection expectations for women.”
For men, often it’s the stomach, chest and muscles, abs, biceps, and a concern they aren’t meeting a standard as well. She’s also careful to differentiate between BDD and body dissatisfaction, which many Canadians struggle with.
The emotional toll can be severe, with people thinking about the body part(s) they hate many times per hour, disrupting their daily lives and ability to concentrate.
What causes BDD?
There isn’t one cause, but a variety of triggers in conjunction with past or current traumas in the patient’s life. Rosenbaum says it’s often a result of underlying emotional issues that need to be addressed. She also sees most people with eating disorders also suffering from BDD as well.
Societal standards, social media scrolling, and the inaccurate idea that our lives would be better if we were a smaller size, are all to blame, Rosenbaum explains. Mixed messages about society’s expectations don’t help either.
She describes women’s magazines which she says traditionally have told women in particular conflicting messages: “On one side of the cover, it’s the miracle diet next to how to bake the perfect cake. I did a research project on conflicting messages…what do we do with that?”
BDD can also be associated with transgender patients who are transitioning.
“People who were born with a female gender [and now identify as male] may have a hard time with breast development and hips and stomach, and that too can lead to eating disordered behaviour,” Rosenbaum says. She also sees other major bodily transitions, such as pregnancy and postpartum life, being a trigger for BDD. “You could lose all the ‘baby’ weight but your body proportions have changed,” she says.
Signs of BDD
Your idea of a “flaw” isn’t realistic
The Diagnostic Manual differentiates between people who are actually obese and are worried or struggling with that, and BDD. With BDD you are concentrating on minute imperfections that are normal aspects of being human, rather than actual body issues that are visible to others.
Samantha DeCaro, an assistant clinical director at The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia, says BDD is a fixation on “perceived” flaws.
“These flaws are not detectable, or they are barely noticeable, to anyone else,” she says. “People with BDD commonly become obsessed with real or imagined imperfections on their face, their hair, or the size and shape of a particular body part.”
You avoid social situations
Ever canceled an event because you can’t find something that makes you look skinny enough to go out? This is a concerning sign that can indicate BDD. Psychotherapist Haley Neidich, a licensed social worker with an online private practice, says those with BDD may “isolate themselves and avoid social situations.”
Rosenbaum says the major distinction that helps her diagnose BDD is identifying “how much does this interfere with [a patient’s] life?” “How much of my thinking time does this take? Does my focus on my body keep me from doing things I enjoy, like going out with my friends?” All of these can indicate that you are moving from body dissatisfaction to a more concerning, obsessive disorder.
You spend a lot of time staring in the mirror
When bodybuilder Greeley finally reached her lowest point and reached out to a therapist, she was diagnosed with BDD, as well as bulimia. “When you are in that world staring in the mirror taking thousands of [progression] photos for coaches, I’d say ‘I can’t see my abs, Oh God,'” she says. Greeley would spend hours “stalking” other people’s Instagram accounts, comparing her body to theirs. “I felt not skinny enough. It became sick and obsessive,” she says.
You can’t stand your own face
Rosenbaum says the pandemic has worsened BDD for many people who are sitting on Zoom calls for hours, staring at their own reflection. She jokes that even she has never “checked her hair” this much.
“People are staring at their distorted image all day. For most of us, we are bodies from the chest up. We don’t even have bodies,” Rosenbaum explains. This unreasonable amount of time we can now spend staring at our own features is exacerbating the problem. It’s being called the “Zoom Boom” as plastic surgeons see more patients considering plastic surgery in 2020. Recent research from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reveals telemedicine calls for plastic surgery are up 64 percent.
DeCaro says we are living in a society obsessed with “fatphobia and ageism,” which causes everyone to be critical of their bodies from time to time, but those with BDD can be constantly concerned with “real or imagined imperfections on their face” or other body parts.
You see your body as parts, not a whole healthy being
Finding yourself hating a specific body part? This can be one of the difficulties of BDD, as piecing out the body causes us to hyper analyze the flaws of each part, rather than looking at the body as a whole being, Rosenbaum explains. One of the strategies she’s found helpful with patients is helping them to see their bodies as a whole being that serves a function, and to focus on what your body can do.
“Appreciate what your body does for you. Every aspect of your body. Learn to appreciate what it does and how it serves you so well… so we need to feed our bodies with fuel to give us energy so our brains work. So we can walk and love and engage in everything our bodies do. Often [people with BDD] only focus on the surface,” Rosenbaum says. That deep dive into our perspective on our bodies, and focus on the importance of certain parts being perfect, is what BDD patients work on in therapy.
What to do if you think you have BDD
First, determine the severity of the symptoms. Often BDD happens in conjunction with an eating disorder, which can be more dangerous than BDD by itself.
Neidich says individuals with BDD are known to pursue or complete medical procedures in order to change their bodies in an effort to rid themselves of the obsession, which can be dangerous. “Given the high prevalence of disordered eating among individuals with BDD, it is important to point out that eating disorders are the most deadly mental health disorder,” she says.
Behaviours Rosenbaum says can be more severe including binging and purging, restricting calories, overexercising, and other typical eating disorder symptoms. Seeking therapy is an important step towards overcoming BDD, and is a great place to start.
Neidich suggests the following steps, noting that BDD often occurs along with another condition (comorbidity):
People with co-morbid personality disorders may be referred to dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) treatment, a type of cognitive behaviour therapy that helps teach skills to handle negative emotions.
Those with co-morbid post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be referred to a trauma therapist.
Anyone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may be referred to a specialist for cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) combined with Exposure and Response Prevention, a type of therapy that exposes people to their fears.
Those with co-morbid substance use disorders will be encouraged to attend 12-step programs and focus on sobriety.
Individuals with eating disorders should have a multidisciplinary treatment team.
“Just like other mental health conditions, it is possible for people to reach a place in their recovery where they are no longer symptomatic (or minimally so),” Neidich says. “However, individuals with a history of BDD are at a high risk for a recurrence of the symptoms or other mental health conditions in the future, particularly around a time of transition or intense stress in their lives,” she explains.
Greeley is finally able to manage, after years of therapy. She says you don’t just wake up and not have BDD anymore, and that sometimes she still has to check herself: “It’s OK to have one Oreo. You can have a cheeseburger and it won’t be the end of the world,” she says. She credits her care team’s support with helping her “learn to love herself all over again.”
If you haven’t noticed, there’s something of a chickpea craze going on right now. We’re talking chickpea muffins, chickpea breads, chickpea tortillas—all made with chickpea flour.
The beauty of chickpea flour is it’s made from, well, chickpeas, or as they are also called, garbanzo beans. Whatever you call them, these legumes are among the most nutritious foods out there.
No wonder chickpea flour is showing up in so many diet plans—including vegetarian, vegan, keto, low-glycemic, and gluten-free.
(Related: 6 Chickpea Nutrition Facts You Should Know)
Nutritional benefits of chickpea flour
Chickpea flour offers some pretty awesome nutritional perks. Per quarter cup, it contains 89 calories, 5 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, and 2 grams fibre. In comparison, the same amount of enriched all-purpose flour has 114 calories, 3 grams protein, 24 grams carbs, and 1 gram fibre.
You can see that chickpea flour is lower in calories and carbs than traditional flour. “This can help with glycemic control for people with diabetes,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Melissa Altman-Traub, RDN. And it’s higher in protein and fibre—both of which help to keep you satiated longer.
You’ll also get other nutrients from chickpeas, including blood-sugar-helping manganese, folate (especially important for pregnant women), and copper (essential for forming red blood cells).
Why you should make your own chickpea flour
Let’s face it: Many health foods can be pricey. A two-pound bag of chickpea flour ranges anywhere from $3 to $11. The same amount of dried chickpeas—which you can use to make chickpea flour in minutes—is typically just a couple of bucks.
Plus, making chickpea flour from scratch all but eliminates any risk of cross-contamination from wheat or other grains that could introduce gluten into what should be a naturally gluten-free flour. (Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and it can trigger gastrointestinal and other symptoms in people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.)
“The flour itself is gluten-free, but check the label because some brands are processed in a facility that also processes wheat,” explains Altman-Traub.
How to make chickpea flour
“Homemade chickpea flour is easy to make if you have a food processor,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Jen Scheinman. Simply grind raw, dried chickpeas in a food processor or high-powered blender until it develops the consistency of flour. This will take about two minutes.
Then, use a sieve or a fine-mesh strainer to remove any large pieces or lumps. You can grind those larger pieces in a spice grinder, Scheinman says, so you don’t waste anything. Store your homemade flour in an air-tight container, just as you would regular flour.
An easy chickpea flour recipe
- 1 pound raw, dried chickpeas
- Using a food processor or high-powered blender, process chickpeas for about two minutes, until the chickpeas develop the consistency of flour.
- Use a sieve or fine-mesh strainer to remove any large pieces or lumps. Grind any large pieces in a spice grinder.
- Place chickpea flour in an air-tight container, and store for up to two months.
(Related: Healthy Flours to Bake With Now)
How to bake and cook with chickpea flour
Chickpea flour is dense, so when baking you will likely want to sub it in for only some of the original recipe’s flour—anywhere from a quarter to half of the total flour content. If you’re looking to make a gluten-free baked good such as muffins or pancakes, use all-purpose gluten-free flour for the remaining flour.
“While chickpea flour is traditionally used in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, you can also add it to more traditional baked goods in place of other flours,” says Scheinman. “It works best in savory baked goods or those with a strong flavor profile such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom.”
You can cook with it, too. “Use chickpea flour in place of eggs, similar to how ground flax seeds are used with a mix of flour and water,” suggests Altman-Traub.
As for other savoury foods, Scheinman enjoys making socca—basically a large chickpea pancake. “Socca pizza is my favorite way to use chickpea flour,” she says. “When topped with sauce and melted cheese, socca makes for a super yummy pizza.”
Altman-Traub likes to mix chickpea flour with water and spices to create a batter for roasted vegetables. “The vegetables have a crispy exterior without being fried,” she says.
The wait for a Covid-19 vaccine is over. Now, Canada has begun the process of rolling it out across the country, starting with frontline workers, healthcare workers, and remote Indigenous communities. Though it’s been slow going so far (as of January 18, only about 1.5 percent of the population has been immunized) the Prime Minister has announced that his goal is to have the rollout complete by September.
We talked to Mackenzie*, an emergency room nurse in Toronto about what it was like to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and what it means to her and her colleagues to be immunized.
Tell me a bit about this last year, working on the front lines
It’s been difficult, there have been some unique stressors. Patients are coming in a little bit sicker than usual because they’re staying home longer rather than coming into the hospital, for example. We’re also trying to screen for travel, and COVID has an array of symptoms, so if you’re coming in with anything from a headache to diarrhea, you’re screened as potentially having COVID.
I personally haven’t experienced any burnout, but I definitely see it in the workplace. Especially for the nurses who have been working the entire pandemic, there’s a lot of stress and we’re all working lots of shifts. Plus, you don’t have the usual support systems outside of work. Like, before you could see your friends, but now a lot of people are isolated at home.
When did you find out that you were getting the vaccine?
I got the vaccine through the program at the University Hospital Network in Toronto. They were mainly vaccinating long-term care workers, so I was on a waitlist. I found out pretty shortly beforehand. I think I had an hour’s notice.
Walk me through the process of getting vaccinated
I got notified that I had been moved off the waitlist, so I drove down to the hospital. And then it was just like any other normal vaccination process. I checked in, had to sign up and show them my health card, confirmed my date of birth and then I sat down with the nurse and she walked me through the process of what was going to happen and any expected signs or symptoms after. They make you stay for 15 minutes after to monitor for any potential allergic reactions. Then I booked an appointment for my second dose and was on my way!
How did you feel when you were getting the shot?
I was really excited and relieved. I live with my parents, and working in a hospital, I am at a higher exposure. So, there’s been a fear of putting them at risk. It was definitely a weight off my shoulders, knowing that there’s that extra barrier of protection now. I have a lot of friends in nursing, so a lot of people around me also got the vaccine within the same timeframe as me and it was reassuring that I knew other people going through the same experience. I didn’t really have any fears going into it — I trust the science behind it and Health Canada’s approval process — I was just really looking forward to getting it.
Did you experience any side effects?
After the first dose, I experienced some mild side effects, which is normal for any vaccine. Mostly arm soreness and tenderness at the site. But that’s very normal. Other people might experience other side effects like having a headache. It depends on the person. With the second dose, there are some other known symptoms like body aches, headaches, chills, maybe a mild fever, but I didn’t experience them.
How do you feel now that you’re immunized?
I’m really happy that I was able to get the shot so early and I’m feeling really hopeful. It’s a sign of the next phase of the pandemic. I feel like there was a lot of anticipation during all of 2020 for the vaccine to come out, and now there’s a sense of relief and hopefulness. It’s just about finally starting this next phase of rollout and getting more people vaccinated so we can feel more hopeful for the future and see the light at the end of the tunnel, where we can go out, hug our family and friends, get that normalcy back.
*last name withheld for privacy
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Have you looked in the mirror or closed your eyes and told yourself that you were capable, talented, loved, worthy, or perfect just the way you are?
Positive affirmations—the practise of repeating empowering, supportive mantras designed to bolster happiness and success—are a widely popular therapy tool, ranging from vision boards to self-talk in the mirror to quiet chants repeated during meditation.
While positive affirmations may have some root in mantras found in religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism, in modern North American culture, positive affirmations are largely secular without a religious connection. Bestsellers such as The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale and Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, plus popular books and seminars from self-help gurus like Tony Robbins, have continued to advance positive affirmations as an actionable tool to achieving the life you want.
Positive thinking and positive affirmations have become ingrained into our society. This includes self-help books regularly topping bestseller lists to self-help shows rising to the top of the Netflix charts. This popularity stems, in part, from people embracing authenticity, says Christine E. W. Borst, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Christine Borst Creative.
Positive affirmations and mental health
“Mental health has been so stigmatized for so long, and people are just ready to be their authentic selves,” Borst says, citing celebrities like Chrissy Teigen, who by speaking about their own struggles are helping to normalize it for the rest of us.
Borst believes that the more that we talk about mental health and mental wellness, the less stigma there is, which will lead to more people reaching out for help to improve their own well-being. “I love that as a society we are embracing mental wellness!” Borst says, adding, “I think positive thinking is an important piece to overall wellness, and especially after this past year, we are just ready to feel good.”
However, for skeptics it sounds almost too good to be true: Repeat positive words and reap your desires? We spoke with mental health experts to suss out the truth about whether positive affirmations really work.
Do positive affirmations really work?
Many mental health experts believe that, yes, positive affirmations actually do have clear benefits, not to mention scientific grounding.
“There is quite a bit of research out there that supports the benefits of positive affirmations, but like anything else, it depends on what outcomes one hopes for and what their baseline is,” says Borst.
What the science says
In a 2016 study published in Annals of Behavioral Medicine, optimism and self-affirmation were associated with both a lower likelihood of cognitive impairment and also a greater positive effect—including coping, goal achievement, and better health—among cancer survivors.
Peggy Fitzsimmons, psychologist and author of Release: Create a Clutter Free and Soul Driven Life, agrees that there’s evidence that positive affirmations work. “The thoughts we think determine our emotions, the energy we exude, and the actions we take. When we affirm a thought enough times, it becomes a belief,” she says.
Changing your worldview
Fitzsimmons explains that many of us operate from beliefs that are false or outdated, clinging to old visions of ourselves or limiting worldviews.
“For instance, if we hold beliefs such as ‘the world is not safe’ or ‘I have to achieve to earn love,’ we will find ourselves experiencing emotions such as fear, shame, or frustration,” explains Fitzsimmons. “These energies influence how we engage with others; for example, we might tend towards judging, competing, or loving conditionally. In this way, what we affirm becomes dominant in us and influences our reality,” she says.
When do positive affirmations not work?
While Borst supports positive affirmations at times, she notes that they don’t work in every context. “Positive affirmations may not help if a person needs more intense support with diagnoses like anxiety or depression, or has a history of trauma that has gone unexplored,” she says.
For Caroline Leaf, communication pathologist, cognitive neuroscientist, and author of 101 Ways to be Less Stressed: Simple Self-Care Strategies to Boost Your Mind, Mood, and Mental Health, positive affirmations must be bolstered by other work for meaningful results.
“Although the idea of speaking positively until something great happens sounds nice, just saying something positive over and over again will not create lasting change in the brain or body. It’s not sustainable because it’s not connected to the root cause of why you feel the need for a positive affirmation in the first place,” she says.
Positive affirmations and mood and behaviour changes
At the end of the day, positive affirmations are simply about language, and how it affects your mood, says Borst.
“I am a big believer in the power of language!” Borst says. “I see it with my kids—they respond much better when I say ‘Walk please!’ instead of ‘No running in the kitchen!’ I think we can all agree that it just feels better when people speak to us nicely, are kind and authentic, and complimentary. The same holds true when we talk to ourselves,” she says.
Fitzsimmons explains that positive affirmations are helpful because they give us a new lens from which to view both ourselves and the world.
“Positive affirmations such as ‘the world is a friendly place’ or ‘I am enough’ create helpful emotions such as joy and appreciation,” explains Fitzsimmons, adding that these emotions carry energies like acceptance and peace which, in turn, influence the actions we take in relationships.
Positive affirmations and personality changes
Say you’re a shy person who dreads public speaking. Or perhaps you’re a glass-half-empty type who always expects the worst. Can positive affirmations actually work to change your personality if you want to be more outgoing or optimistic?
Therapist Mary Jo Podgurski, who is certified in sexuality education and counseling and author of Sex Ed is in Session, doesn’t believe so.
“Positive affirmations do not change an innate personality, nor should they,” says Podgurski, speaking of the children she focuses on in her practise. But while they might not change a personality, they can influence it for the better. “Positive affirmations give a child hope and direction. They are a cloak on a chilly day. Along with consensual hugs, they increase feelings of self-worth,” she says.
Borst thinks positive affirmations work best to create change when combined with other work. She explains, “Personality is a complex topic, but I do think we tend to label ourselves a certain way and stick with it. Humans are creatures of habit, and the ways we think and act are no exception.”
Vision boards and positive affirmation
If you enjoy making vision boards in late December or early January, you’re not alone.
“A vision board is a compilation of words and images that represent how you want to experience yourself in the world,” explains Fitzsimmons.
“It is a fun and artistic way to affirm what your deepest heart desires, and place it in the forefront of your mind, as the lens through which you are approaching life,” she says. “Vision boards keep us focused and affirming what we want, which allows our life to come into harmony with those affirmations.”
Jane Pernotto Ehrman, clinical hypnotherapist and certified in interactive guided imagery, believes vision boards are most effective when combined with affirmations. “Alone, it is less effective in making the change. Coupling the vision board with positive affirmations for specifically achieving your vision is more effective,” she says.
Positive affirmations in therapy
Borst tries to challenge her clients on their negative thinking habits. “We know through cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that we can get caught in negative thinking traps—called cognitive distortions—and those traps can influence our behaviour,” explains Borst. “Learning to recognize when you’re in a trap, and knowing how to get out of it, can have a big impact on your life,” she says.
While Borst doesn’t think positive affirmations alone can get you out of a negative-thinking trap, they’re a good tool to complement the work. “Our conversations naturally evolve into the client deciding what fits best for them, what feels authentic—even if it’s initially difficult to practise—and we go from there,” she explains.
(Related: 10 Ways to Get Rid of Negative Energy)
Examples of positive affirmations
For Ehrman, affirmations are a way to create mind-body changes. She recommends creating affirmations by doing the following:
- Use short, positive statements.
- Create affirmations in the present tense: I do, I am, I enjoy, I love, etc.
- Say the change you seek for yourself.
- Type and print the affirmations, posting them where you will see them to reinforce change.
- Choose 1-2 affirmations to say and repeat, and write them 25 times a day for at least a week. Then, choose new affirmations.
Ehrman believes it’s important to include the following affirmation: “The more I tell myself these truths, the more they become my natural way of living and being,” she says.
Fitzsimmons offers an example of a positive affirmation for a new year. “In 2021, I fall into step with the truth of my soul. I hold the vision of myself as an agent of love, rather than fear. I move in the world with light energy and a minimal footprint. I focus on what really matters. I rely on my inner knowing. I release that which no longer serves,” she says.
For Anne Redlich, an Illinois-based licensed clinical social worker, setting intentions is especially powerful, and doesn’t only need to happen at the new year.
“Instead of making resolutions, try setting intentions,” she says. “An intention is like a seed that you can plant inside of yourself and meditate on daily. Something that can grow organically within. And that can become a part of you, rather than just a goal you’re striving toward.”
When do you see results?
Positive affirmations require time and repetition; it’s unrealistic to expect results overnight.
“Saying them multiple times a day, paying attention to the words and their meaning help to strengthen the change in your behaviour,” says Ehrman, who recommends writing your affirmation 25 times a day for at least a week. “It’s powerful and helps lock this new way of thinking and being into your behaviour,” she says.
Fitzsimmons believes it’s important to put in a few hours a day when seeking change.
“When we hold a positive affirmation as our point of focus, our reality changes. Experience this yourself by taking a few hours of your day and inhabiting an affirmation of gratitude, such as ‘I am grateful for everything.’ As you do, you will find yourself walking through the world with a smile, appreciative and excited about whatever comes your way,” Fitzsimmons says. “And good things will tend to come your way because you are transmitting, and in return receiving, that kind of energy.”
A downside to positive affirmations
While finding positivity in everyday life can be helpful, there is, indeed, a potential downside, says Borst, citing the idea of toxic positivity: ignoring negativity or negative feelings and “exemplifying only the positive.”
“Stuffing all things negative down and ignoring them can fester,” Borst says, discussing the mind-body connection and the possibility of unaddressed issues physically manifesting. “If we are using positive affirmations like a Band-Aid on a gushing wound, they probably won’t be effective.”
Remember, it’s OK to sit with discomfort
In addition to positive affirmations, Borst recommends sitting with discomfort, as unappealing as that may initially be. “There is a lot of beauty in sitting with pain when we feel it—sometimes going straight through things is the fastest way to healing,” she says.
Leaf agrees, seeing people in her practise and research pursuing happiness as an end goal, only to end up falling short after self-help techniques don’t work.
“Yes, it is good to be happy, but that is not all life is, and it is perfectly OK to experience other emotions like sadness and grief when things don’t work out—which often happens, since we do not control everything—and learn from these experiences,” says Leaf. This, in turn, will lead to growth and maturity, Leaf explains.
She adds, “It’s OK to feel sad; these emotions are signals that we need to listen to, not suppress or cover with ‘happiness.’ We really aren’t designed to be happy and get what we want all the time.”
Would I like to try to relax while lying on a bed of little plastic needles digging into every square centimetre of my back? Sure, I thought, when I heard about acupressure mats. After the year we’ve just been through (and the first weeks of 2021), it didn’t sound so bad.
I am no novice when it comes to painful beauty procedures (love the feeling of a wax strip ripping out hair from my skin) and really hard workout classes (love when my face turns purple at the end of Tracy Anderson’s in-studio class). So when I heard everyone talking about acupressure mats — a nylon mat covered in tiny plastic spikes — I was intrigued. My predominantly stagnant lockdown bod could use some needles to wake up slothy nerves back there. And once I learned about the mat’s supposed ability to reduce stress, promote relaxation, ease minor aches and relieve tension, the flat torture device became hard to resist.
I ordered this version by Tomshoo, which also includes a cylinder travel bag (though I’m not sure where I’d be toting a spiky mat to), a spiky pillow (can’t wait to plop my head done on that one), and two spiky balls for rolling out foot cramps (the most logical items in the bunch). My first reaction: the needles on the mat are sharper than I expected. Like the nails of brand new kittens that catch on everything from your shirt to your skin and can scratch the hell out of any visible piece of flesh.
I tested the mat by taking a light step on it first, which sort of took my breath away—not in a bad way, but not in a good way either. Then, wearing a long-sleeve cotton t-shirt (which is recommended for your first time), I lay down slowly, resting my head on the spiky pillow. I tried to stay put, as still as possible for the recommended 20-40 minutes. But I didn’t feel relaxed, didn’t feel like I would relax, and couldn’t help but think about the needles digging deeper into my spine. So I quit after five.
On Amazon Canada, this set has an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars with nearly 400 reviews. Other similar acupressure mats have the same rating—between 4 and 5 stars, and up to 6000 reviews. Would I be the only one giving it a (generous) zero?
“Different people need different things, and different people respond better or worse to different interventions,” says Henry Claflin, registered acupuncture and East Asian medicine practitioner at Mindful Maelstrom Wellness Clinic in Toronto. The problem is you won’t know if you’ll respond well to an acupressure mat until you try. (If you respond well to acupuncture, that could be a good indicator.)
Acupressure mats haven’t been studied extensively for their potential health benefits, but they’re said to increase circulation throughout your entire body and help you de-stress. “The acupressure mat can stimulate the many nerves in your back, which feeds all the way up into your central nervous system, through the spinal cord and into your brain,” says Claflin. “And this can have systemic effects.”
Those benefits can include increasing blood flow, and for those who are super stressed, “getting your body back to a comfortable, relaxed state,” says Claflin. “Plus, with the mat, you’re just basically meditating or resting, which is also beneficial.”
Claflin uses the spiky balls for his feet. “I stand on one and within seconds, I can feel my nervous system turn off into a parasympathetic state, and my whole body can relax a little bit,” he says. “I roll my foot back and forth, which is the idea of reflexology—where you can treat your body through working with various parts of your feet.”
If you think the acupressure mat may work for you, Claflin does not suggest lying on it for more than 20 minutes. Some areas may start to get tender, and it may not be any more beneficial. It’ll feel (mildly) more comfortable at the 5- to 10-minute mark. “If you have one constant pressure anywhere in your body, after some time you’re not even going to be aware of it anymore unless you’re wiggling and moving around,” he says. And wearing a T-shirt is fine, as long as you can feel the spikes through it.
For me, I’m going to stick with my foam roller. With its smooth cushiony surface, and no minimum time requirement, it can work out kinks in my back and maybe even increase blood flow—no kitten claws necessary.
Weighted blankets are having something of a moment right now. So perhaps you gave—or, better yet, received—one as a gift this year. Either way, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about.
A weighted blanket is typically filled with poly pellets or glass, steel, or plastic beads, and weigh anywhere from five to 30 pounds. (In general, weighted blankets should weigh no more than 10 percent of your body weight.) It’s designed to improve sleep quality and help with conditions like anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Curious about the purported health benefits and, for that matter, how to wash a weighted blanket? Read on to see what experts have to say about this popular sleeping accessory.
The benefits of using a weighted blanket
Weighted blankets can be a great tool for people struggling with anxiety, depression, insomnia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to Haley Neidich, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist in Tampa, Florida.
People “suffering from these conditions often feel disconnected from their body and emotionally unsafe, and the blanket helps to ground their bodies, creating a sense of safety and stability,” she explains. “Research has demonstrated that the grounding effect of weighted blankets helps to decrease the stress hormone cortisol which, when elevated, can contribute to the onset or worsening of these mental health conditions.”
A weighted blanket can also be a helpful tool during a panic attack or dissociative trauma episode during the day, Neidich says. Wrapping yourself in the blanket can help to calm your nervous system and creates a sense of safety that is not achieved to the same effect with a traditional blanket.
Weighted blankets may help children with ADHD by activating their sense of touch. It keeps them from becoming distracted by other things like sounds or movements. Similarly, pressure from a weighted blanket may help people with autism focus and better tune out noises and other stimuli.
(Related: How to Know If Your Anxiety Is “Normal”)
How to wash a weighted blanket
If you’re a new weighted blanket user, you’re probably wondering how to wash your blanket and if it needs special care compared to other bedding. The good news: It does not.
Tara Youngblood, a physicist, sleep expert, and co-founder and CEO of ChiliSleep, recommends that you wash a weighted blanket anywhere from three to four times per year—once per season—on the same schedule as a traditional blanket.. She advises that you always wash a weighted blanket by itself.
“That way, you will best preserve the material of the blanket,” she says. “Having too many other materials in the machine with it, such as other cotton-like materials, will wear on the fabric.”
(Related: 10 Science-Backed Ways to Get More Shut-Eye)
Are weighted blankets machine- and dryer-safe?
In a word: Yes. It is generally safe to put your weighted blanket in a home-washing machine, though if you have a smaller washer, it may be better to go to a laundromat to use a larger one.
“Every brand is different and will come with its own special instructions,” Youngblood says. Some brands, she points out, will have a removable and machine-washable outer cover. That makes it easier to wash them at home.
Every weighted blanket will also come with instructions about which soap and detergents are safe to use, Youngblood says. So make sure to read the washing instructions for your specific blanket. She recommends using gentle, chlorine-free detergent to preserve the colour of the blanket.
Additionally, weighted blankets can go in the dryer, though it should be on the lowest temperature possible and never on high, Youngblood says. “Low heat on a gentle tumble setting is the safest route to go,” she adds. “Air drying is also fine, and safe, for a weighted blanket. But make sure the blanket hangs evenly so it doesn’t lose its shape.”
Lastly, if your personal washing machine at home isn’t large enough, or you’re worried that you will wash your blanket incorrectly, then it may make sense for you to seek a professional cleaning service, Youngblood says. In this case, visit a laundry or dry cleaning service to get advice from a professional to ensure you’re caring for your blanket properly.