Thursday, 31 August 2017

Tips for Managing Back to School Anxiety

Back to school season - for some parents, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year” (do you remember that commercial too?). However, for those of us with anxious children, the back to school season can be seriously tough. Children and teens who regularly experience anxiety often struggle with changes and transitions, and switching suddenly from summer mode to school mode is a significant change (even more so if they are switching schools or dealing with new situations at home simultaneously). Returning to school often leaves them with a lot of unanswered questions, such as: Who will my teacher be? Will I have friends in my class? What if I get lost and can’t find my classroom? Teens might also be worrying about taking on new responsibilities, balancing school with hobbies or part-time jobs, and beginning to think about their future beyond secondary school, on top of the regular back to school concerns.

While it is normal to have some fears about returning to school, for an anxious child these fears can become overwhelming and place stress on the entire family. If you are  struggling to help your anxious child through this back to school season, here are some strategies that might help you ease the stress for your child - and yourself!

  1. Establish a routine. Children and teens who struggle with anxiety often benefit from established routines. For younger children especially, it can help to slowly ease into or begin a back-to-school routine a few days before school actually begins. Ensure that they are eating healthy foods, maybe making lunches similar to what you would give them for school lunches, and that they are getting appropriate amounts of sleep for their age or individual sleep needs. I suggest starting to build a routine with them at least a week prior to the start of school, if at all possible.
  2. Talk to your child. Validate their fears, listen to them, and establish a routine or ritual where they can openly discuss their concerns with you.  For example, teens are more likely to open up if you are doing something with them, such as going for a walk or taking a drive. Making it a regular thing can help keep you connected and encourage them to open up to you without the pressure of a sit-down conversation.
  3. Familiarize them with the environment. Take your child to the school, especially if it is a new school.  You could walk or drive past the school a few times, or even spend some time together making use of the school grounds if possible (soccer? tag? duck-duck-goose?). Get them acquainted with their new surroundings so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.
  4. Be prepared. Come up with a plan so that your child feels prepared for their first day or week. Have them describe their fears, and walk through how they could manage each situation if it did occur. This will help them to feel empowered rather than frightened. Or have them imagine other possible outcomes. When children/teens are anxious they often think of the worst case scenario - help them see that the worst case scenario is not the only possible scenario.
  5. Provide healthy distractions. If your child is focusing on their anxiety, and you are struggling to help ease their worry or help them think through it productively, try to provide a healthy distraction until they are able to reach a more relaxed state. Encourage them to think of other things, come up with as special end of first day snack or dinner, ask them about what they are excited about with returning to school (seeing friends, playing on the playground, the lunch cafeteria).
  6. Parents, watch your own behaviour.  If you are also worried or nervous about your child’s first day this will have an impact on them. Practice your tried and true self care techniques to help ease your own worries, or try to use some of the above techniques on yourself. Sending your child to school can be just as stressful for you - if you ignore your own needs, you won’t be in a good position to help your child. Get your oxygen mask on first!
  7. Say goodbye and leave. This just may be the hardest thing to do, especially for first time parents dropping their children off.  Saying goodbye several times or returning after you have left will not be helpful for your child. Rest assured that most of the time, your child will be fine without you - maybe not instantly, but it is perfectly normal if it takes them some time.

Written by Tammy Benwell, Registered Social Worker at Bliss Counselling

Tammy Benwell is a Registered Social Worker who holds an undergraduate degree in Social Work from the University of Waterloo and Master’s degree in Social Work from Wilfrid Laurier University. 
She believes in fostering a collaborative, therapeutic relationship within which clients are best able to direct their own care. Tammy’s philosophy is best described as one which helps clients understand their role and their ability to achieve their desired happiness. In addition to providing therapy to individuals, couples, and families, Tammy’s work has also involved finding community supports for clients in distress, assisting with life transitions, and enhancing effective interpersonal communication styles.


Anyone else feeling a little shocked at how it is already September?! As much as I am ready for my kids to go back to school (and I totally am), I am not exactly buzzing about getting back into the swing of packing lunches. However, I find that being prepped makes all the difference! This week on Wellness Wednesday, I shared a bit about how I make lunches tasty, easy and something my kids devour down. If you haven't watched yet, check out the video above. Here is a quick summary of my tips to help make lunch packing a *bit* better.


I have posted pics of my kids lunches throughout the year on Instagram- literally when I finish making them in the mornings- and often the response I get is a long the lines of 'oh my goodness, that's so much work You really do that every day?' The truth is, it's really not. If you took all the same things in the lunch box and tossed it in some baggies, I guarantee it will look a whole lot less impressive. My kids lunches usually consist of some sliced veggies, fruit, hummus and trail mix. Not exactly gourmet, but stick it in the Bento box and the colours and presentation make it look amazing. Kids are like adults, if it looks appealing it's more likely that they will eat it. I have Planet Boxes for both my kids. Yes, they run on the pricier side, but after 3 years, I think they are totally worth it. It's one piece, so nothing to lose. The clasp is easy for kids to open and close. It's stainless steel so, besides the whole not leaching plastic xenoestrogen chemicals into the food, it also stands up to all the backpack tossing and looks the same as the day I purchased it (the fabric lunchbox part not so much...). To dress it up, there are magnet sets that run about $6, so when kids get sick of their lunch box design, for $6 you can have a 'brand new' lunch box. They are a bit tricky to find locally for someone like me who despises online shopping (they are available to order on their website and ship from the US). Both Baby B in Paris and Village Kids in Elora carry these boxes in stock but also take special orders and will order in exactly what you want. The soup thermos is by Lunch Bots which I picked up at Tadpole in Uptown Waterloo which I really like as well. Lunch Bots has their own line of stainless steel containers as well and Fenigo in Waterloo carries their entire line as well as a tonne of other lunch box solutions. For their water bottles I picked up LifeFactory glass bottles at Home Sense. Though glass might sound scary, the silicone sleeve really does protect the bottle well- we had LifeFactory glass bottles as our baby bottles and generously my kids tested the stability of their design by tossing them from the high chairs and we have yet to have one break.

The Food

When it comes to the actual food, I try to keep it veggies, fruit and protein based and shy away from adding a tonne of starch/sugar. Just like adults, keeping blood sugar normalized is insanely important for focus, concentration and learning. The unfortunate thing is that most of the 'lunch snacks' are pretty much just a bolus of sugar that spikes the blood sugar and then causes it to plummet. So I try to focus more on proteins and fats to keep their energy up and blood sugars stable. For the last three years, my daughter attended a home-based Montessori where nuts were fine but meat was not (it is a vegetarian home), so this year is a new learning curve, although I do think based on our lifestyle this will be way easier. I found it challenging to really boost protein in her lunch so I relied a lot of nuts and hummus- which contain protein but are still majority fat and starch, respectively. My basic lunch planning is veggies, fruit, meat and a treat, grains optional. Veggies and fruits are pretty self explanatory, but meat ideas can be a bit more challenging:

  • Veggies
    • Raw Chopped veggies- carrots, cucumber, bell peppers, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.
    • Roasted root veggies (left overs)
    • Kale chips
    • Turkey Meatballs with Mustard
    • Add dips, guacamole or hummus to make it more exciting
  • Fruit
    • Apple slices with cinnamon or sunbutter dip
    • Berries
    • Sliced Banana, Melon
    • Avocado Slices
  • Meat/Protein
    • Chicken Salad with Avocado Mayo
    • Grilled chicken with different marinades like Basic Greek with tatziki dip (if okay with dairy) or Honey Mustard
    • Chicken Salad- mix chopped grilled chicken with avocado or mayo
    • Eggs- boiled or egg salad
    • Chicken/Veggie/Pasta Salad- this is a staple in our house. Often, I will make a big bowl on the weekend and use throughout the week: red onion, red/yellow/orange bell peppers, cucumber, tomatoes, broccoli, grilled chicken, brown rice noodles and goat's feta (optional) with olive oil and vinegar dressing.

Easy Chicken, Veggie, Pasta Salad

  • Treats
When it comes to treats, I try to keep it on the healthier side, so I avoid the pre-made stuff and try to make my own. Even the 'healthier' versions (like the newest Made Good bars) are mostly just sugar/starch with very little actual nutrition. This 'make your own' might seem like a tonne of work, but most recipes for healthy bars just blend all the ingredients together in a food processor and only some times with baking. So what I will do is set aside a couple hours on the weekend and make a bunch of recipes/batches, then slice and freeze them. That way I have health snacks on hand whenever needed. Depending on how much your kids eat and how much you make each time, this can last a month or more. The one draw back is that instead of using sugar to bind everything, often nut butter is used which is a no go for schools that are pretty much all nut free now. However, there are nut free alternatives that will work in place of nut butter. Sunbutter is made from sunflower seeds and is certified tree nut and peanut free so (depending on your school's rules) is school friendly AND is a simple 1:1 substitution in any recipe. Pumpkin Seed butter is another option but tends to be a lot more expensive, so I stick with Sunbutter. If chopped nuts are called for, simply substitute pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds. For back to school (and Wellness Wednesday) I prepped four different treats which means I currently have 2 full containers of bars in my freezer which should last well into October. I made all four in about 2 hours. (From top, clockwise)

    • Against All Grain Breakfast Cookies by Danielle Walker
      • Substitutions: Sunbutter for Almond butter, Pumpkin Seeds for Chopped Walnuts
    • Blueberry Macaroons on Blendtec Instagram
      • Skipped the dipped chocolate
    • Soft and Chewy Sugar Free Granola Bars by Oh She Glows
      • No substitutions needed by used cherries instead of cranberries because that's what I had on hand
    • No Bake Workout Bars by SkinnyMs (Pinterest find)
      • Substitutions: Protein Powder used was Vega Protein and Greens, Chocolate chips for chopped semisweet bakers chocolate (what I had), Raisins for Cherries (what I had), Peanut butter for Sunbutter, Skipped the honey completely- but were a bit dry so might add a bit next time.

The Staples

The best way to make lunches and lunch prep easy is by having a well stocked pantry. You may be surprised to see that many healthy items can be found at your regular grocery stores like Zehr's, Bulk Barn and Costco. By making sure to have options on hand, you'll be able to toss things (like trail mix) together quickly when needed. Here are a few staples I like to keep in our home all the time, and where I get them:

  • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, flax, chia, etc)- Bulk Barn or Costco
  • Shredded unsweetened coconut- Bulk Barn
  • Medjool dates- Bulk Barn
  • Raisins- Costco- organic
  • Dried Fruit (cherries, blueberries, cranberries)- Costco
  • Avocado Mayo- Costco (Chosen Foods)
  • Apple Chips- Martin's Farm in St Jacobs
  • PC Organics Unsweetened Apple Sauce- Zehr's
  • Sunbutter- Zehr's
  • Seed Crackers- Costco
  • Organic Hummus- Costco
  • Canned Coconut Milk- Freshco or Zehr's

The Prep

The best way to avoid lunch packing stress AND provide healthy and nutritious lunches is to be prepared. Get into the habit of setting aside a couple hours to  plan for the week. Make a few batches of snacks, meatballs or other foods you can freeze to keep on hand for a quick grab and go when you don't have time to prep or plans go awry. Keep an eye on your pantry and refill as you start to run low to avoid last minute panic. Impressive lunches don't need to be overly time consuming but do require some time to be set aside to have things prepped to make your busy mornings a lot less stressful.

Stay tuned throughout the year for inspiration and new recipes! 

Happy Lunch Boxing!

Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. This information shouldn’t take the place of seeing a Naturopathic Doctor or your primary care provider for individualized health recommendations.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017


Self-care is essential to find a way to center yourself in trying times. I know this and have no problem typing it, but doing it is another thing. I frequently find myself slipping into a rabbit hole of  non-stop thinking and running around, attempting to complete the never ending list of tasks. This mentality started to take a toll on my well-being. I could feel it from the inside to my outside with my short temper and mood. I knew what I was suppose to do, slow down, take 'you' time and stop thinking. Yet, saying those things and doing them are completely different. I did try to turn my devices off and sit in the peace and quiet, listening to the naturally occurring sounds around me and trying to breathe. That lasted about... 1 minute then my brain re-fired and I was out of there. I can't just sit still and turn off, no matter how much I wish I could. I needed baby steps. 

The Apps

During my decompression time sprawled out on the couch I was watching Billions and the main character is a stock trader billionaire who took time out of his day to meditate using an app on his phone. What?!?! That is an option? This lead me to started trolling Google for guided meditation apps and I landed on a free app called 'Insight Timer'.

Insight Timer has something for all levels and I am trying it from the ground up. The app is full of meditation teachers, music meditation tracks and 5 000+ free guided meditations. The duration of the tracks differ and you can preview the ratings and how long each track is, I like to know what I am getting into. You also have the ability to bookmark the ones you found you enjoy and go back to them when needed. I am working on my library of tracks but so far I have a few, mostly for stress and sleeping, that I keep returning to. 

Bookmarked Playlists
  • Melting Stress and Anxiety Away by Lisa Abramson 
    • Duration: 11:43
  • Guided Meditation for Sleep by Meg Cox
    • Duration: 10:18
  • Relax into Deep Sleep by Meg James 
    • Duration: 20:00 
    • Like her voice the best so far, she is very soothing
  • Quick Confidence by Meg James
    • Duration 15:00
  • Slow Down and Accept 
    • Duration 15:00 
My intention is to try more of Meg James's guided tracks as she is my favourite teacher thus far. I tend to prefer the female voice when it comes to meditating but there are plenty of males and sound tracks if you find someone talking irritating. I suggest playing around, you will find something you like out of the vast library of playlists for any mood and duration you desire. 

But if you give Insight a try and find it's not for you, don't be discouraged! As mindfulness grows and becomes more mainstream (how can it not with the long overdue attention starting to be given to mental health and it's stigma), the options are growing exponentially.

Here are a few other apps that you can give a try as well:

  • Calm- guided meditations, sleep stories, nature music, breathing exercises and more
  • Headspace- guided meditations, specific options for stressful situations like fear of flying and introductions to meditation
  • Stop, Breathe, Think- mindfulness, guided mediation AND has a kids version
And this is just a small selection- there are many, many more. Our suggestion- try a couple different ones, see what you gravitate towards. They will all be a little different and not everyone will like the voice of each person doing the guided mediation. Though I usually recommend avoiding using electronics before bed, as long as you aren't staring at the screen and you have night mode turned on (or a blue light blocker) then the amount of time looking at the screen to get it going is fine. A nice feature is that you can often set a timer to go off at a certain time each day to remind you to do your meditation. This could easily be set for maybe 30-60 minutes before bed so that you can start your bedtime routine, remind yourself to start winding down/turning off electronics and start your meditation for sleep. Getting into parasympathetic mode is essential for having a good nights sleep.

The Music Subscription

One of my favourite resources for guided mediation is through my music subscription. Most of us at this point have a subscription to either Spotify or Apple Music, or both. Personally, I use Apple Music and have been blown away by the selection of guided meditation tracks that are available. Not only do I use this for myself and my kids, but it has quickly become a patient favourite to be played during acupuncture treatments. My favourite playlist thus far is Stress Relief by Dr Siddharth Ashvin Shah. This CD is also available on Amazon for purchase but is fully available in the Apple Music Library (likely Spotify as well). I find his voice isn't annoying (which totally happens) and I find the length of the tracks to be a perfect amount of time, generally ranging from about 10-15 minutes. The Power Sleep track is about 10 minutes long and I will often just turn it on and fall asleep to it. It was a while before I actually heard the end of the track as I apparently fell asleep around the 5-6 minute mark. There is also a great selection of guided mediations for kids which my daughter loves listening to. Her favourite are stories about Eeny, Meeny, Miney and Mo who are fairy friends that go on little adventures. This is a favourite bedtime routine and a great way to help kids unwind at the end of the day. You can also search specific guided mediations such as to help quit smoking, after work unwinding or even to start your day. 

The Podcasts

Though I haven't delved too much into Podcasts in general. I recently came across an article on the best podcasts for kids and one of them was a meditation/yoga podcast which is free AND Canadian based, Peace Out- Relaxation and Mindfulness Stories for Kids. It's part of the Bedtime FM  which also has a pod cast of recorded stories for kids. I turned on a Peace Out track for my daughter and left her alone in her bed to listen to it and when I went in to check on her she was standing on the bed in tree pose, haha. The track always goes through a bit of a guided meditation and then a small yoga routine. The podcast is great for a bedtime routine, or an unwinding throughout the day or after school. There are many more options available for adults as well and most are free and release new episodes regularly to keep it fresh.

As the benefits of mindfulness and mediation are quickly becoming more and more studied and known, the resources to help will just increase. This is a great time to get into a regular practice to help combat the stress of every day life. With today's over-scheduled and high demand lifestyle, stress is definitely taking it's toll and it's not uncommon for people to be in that "fight or flight" sympathetic mode all day long until they crash at night. If full meditation isn't where you are at, that's okay. Start with something as simple as mindfully taking 5 deep breathes throughout the day, set a timer if necessary. Often times just remember to breathe deeply into the bottom of our lungs goes a long way. However, thanks to the vast availability of easy learn to meditation options like the ones here mindfulness and mediation is something that any one can practice. So, what are you waiting for?

Happy Meditating!

Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. This information shouldn’t take the place of seeing a Naturopathic Doctor or your primary care provider for individualized health recommendations.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Family Friendly Stress Busting Yoga

Yoga Routine For All

Heading back to school can be a stressful time for everyone in the family. That’s why we put together a simple yoga routine that’s easy enough you can do it at home with your family or on your own. This routine is great to use anytime but particularly as a cool down from a stressful day, or before bed to help promote restful sleep. 

The routine itself can be adjusted in length depending how long you want to hold your poses for. I would suggest starting by holding each pose for three breaths in and out, especially when working with little ones as slowing down and staying still can be a challenge for young yogis. Moving forward you can chose to keep your poses shorter and more like a flow or hold poses longer to increase relaxation. If you are wanting to do more yoga but maybe not have longer holds you may also choose to repeat this little flow a few times.

How does Yoga help?

Yoga is where the breath and body meet in union, in fact the very word Yoga means “Union” when translated from Sanskrit. By connecting to the breath, we can bring mindfulness into our movements and help create a sense of calm in the body.  By consciously slowing and deepening the breath, we help to soothe the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for the bodies fight or flight and anxiety responses. Certain yoga poses can also help to promote relaxation and restore a sense of calm. Sometimes the benefit just comes from having something other than your thoughts to focus on for a few minutes.

Balancing postures like Tree pose are beneficial for centering the mind and strengthening the lower body. Creating a sense of grounding helps to reduce anxiety and promote mental wellness and good sleep. Tree pose helps to cool the body down and balances the flight of flight response reducing stress. Physical benefits include strengthening the muscles in your feet, ankles, legs and spine. The strengthening aspect of tree pose helps to combat low back pain while helping to stretch along the spine making you both stronger and longer. The chest also gets to open in this pose which reduces postural related pain in the upper back and allows the heart to open.

Forward folds are also wonderful stress busters. This allows circulation to increase especially to our internal organs leading to improved digestive health and stimulates metabolism. Helping to stretch through the calves and hamstrings it also allows the spine to decompress and the muscles of the neck to release. To get the full benefit of this decompression let your arms and head hang, maybe nod your head from side to side to make sure the neck muscles soften.  

Any time the body moves in towards itself, as with forward folds and child's pose, the body experiences an increase in relaxation. In particular, forward folds find our heads lower than our heart allowing freshly oxygenated blood to pass to the brain. Increased blood flow to the brain helps individuals clear brain fog and supports as sense of clarity. This turning inwards soothes the sympathetic (flight of flight) nervous system and promotes our parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system. 

This pose has all the benefits of other forward folds but is one of the easiest poses to hold for extended periods without needing props or worrying about injury. Childs pose is a great place to reconnect to slowing down and resting. The gentle pressure received from your head being on the mat helps to soothe the mind. It can be a great pose to take to reconnect with the breath or empty a busy mind. The back gets a slight traction allowing the lower spine to decompress while the shoulders get a gentle stretch that allows the chest to open. If done with wide knees this pose helps to open the hips which is particularly helpful for those who spend long hours sitting. When done with the knees together it increases circulation through the digestive tract and helps to massage the internal organs.

Belly Breathing is one of the fastest and simplest ways to increase relaxation. Belly breathing is associated with relaxation and increased oxygen to the bodies tissues. The health benefits don't end there however, belly breathing improves concentration, promotes feelings of well being and reduces muscle tension. Other health benefits include improved immune function, lowered blood pressure and increased lung capacity. Belly breathing also makes us feel better by calming the mind and releasing endorphins. The best part is it can be done anywhere and can be as fast and simple as three deep breaths. This can be a great exercise to do before bed at night and before getting out of bed in the morning. 

While yoga is generally safe for everyone its best to talk to your doctor or medical health professional before undertaking a new exercise routine especially if you have any pre-existing conditions, injuries or particular concerns. If you have any questions about anything mentioned in this blog or video feel free to email Megan our resident Yoga Teacher and Registered Massage Therapist directly!


Megan Prenty RMT, YT

Disclaimer: The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. This information shouldn’t take the place of seeing a Naturopathic Doctor or your primary care provider for individualized health recommendations.