Health and Happiness  

Coping with COVID

Many of you may be anxious, stressed or upset with everything going on in the world right now.

Whether you suffer from mental-health issues or not, it is perfectly understandable to be experiencing heightened senses of emotion during such a turbulent time.

I have compiled a list of ideas I think can go some way to helping alleviate the feelings of anxiety and upset right now.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, or if you have any further ideas that may help others.

Seek Help

It’s important to remember that help is still out there for you to access, no matter what issues you’re facing. With all the attention on COVID, it can be easy to forget about other health concerns, including your mental health.

Most family practices are still open, with an emphasis on telephone consults or even through online portals. If you have a health query, don’t hesitate to seek help. Let your doctor be the one to decide if it’s a priority.

Seeking help for mental-health support is more important than ever. Kelowna’s Crisis Response line is still running, and is available to listen whatever you wish to talk about.

CMHA Kelowna is also open, and can signpost you in the direction of further care.

Another great resource is www.heretohelp.bc.ca.

Give Help

One of the most amazing feelings is being able to help others, and there’s no time like the present. If you are able to, providing help and support in your community is an invaluable use of your time.

Whether it’s getting groceries for elderly neighbours, or offering childcare support to frontline workers, you’ll get a huge boost for your own sense of wellbeing by helping those around you.

If you’re at risk yourself, you can help from your home by offering your phone number to people who are in self-isolation, so that they can call and have a chat to alleviate the time alone.

Limit News

In a time of 24-hour news on the TV, shared news articles on your social media and news apps on your phone, the influx of information can be incessant.

I find it helpful to limit the amount of news I see in a day; too much and the state of the world can become overwhelmingly stressful.

  • Delete news apps from your phone.
  • Reduce time on social media
  • Turn the TV off or change the channel after watching one or two news bulletins a day.

Create Routine

Most of us have seen a big change in our routines, with working from home or having the kids off school. As creatures of habit, we crave a sense of structure, and so creating a routine for your days will help alleviate the feeling of uncertainty.

Set alarms, have your meals at appointed times, and allocate set breaks from work or schooling. Make sure you’re getting showered and dressed properly in the morning; it may seem silly if you’re not going out, but the process of getting ready and feeling smart will help your productivity levels no end.

Self Care

Now is an excellent time to focus on your self care.

This means something different for everyone, but the essence is finding something that relaxes you and occupies your mind.

This could be:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Reading
  • A pamper session at home
  • A walk
  • Gardening
  • A home workout
  • Cooking or baking or taking the time to learn something new, like a language, dancing or knitting.

Whatever works for you, incorporate it into your daily routine. Along with self care for your mental wellbeing, make sure you’re looking after your physical health too.

Eating well, exercising, hydrating and getting enough sleep are all really important in keeping your body and mind healthy.

Connect with Others

If you didn’t use video calls before, now is the time to get stuck in. I’ve been able to connect with my family back in the U.K. far more than I normally would over the last month, as people are realizing the power of video calls.

We’ve done pub quizzes, had long chats about life, played games and seen each other’s living spaces far more than ever, and despite social distancing I feel more connected than ever to some of my closest friends.

Acknowledge Emotions

Despite all these measures, you’re likely to still feel anxious or down from time to time, and that’s OK. Talk about how you’re feeling with a friend or family member, or on the crisis line.

The chances are, they are feeling the same, and shared emotions are much easier to deal with than facing it on your own. If you feel like crying, let it out. I’ve cried a lot in the last few weeks, and every time I’ve felt a release of emotion that then lets me get on with my day and put those feelings behind me.

Whatever your situation, I hope you and your friends and family are keeping safe and well during this time. Remember to seek help and give help where you can, and most importantly, stay home to slow the spread.


Are supplements worth it?

Forty-five per cent of Canadians regularly take health products, such as vitamins, minerals or herbal remedies.

With annual sales at an estimated $1.4 billion in Canada, I ask:

  • Are these supplements worth the price tag? 

A recent University of Toronto study looked into the evidence supporting the use of supplements, such as vitamins, minerals and fish oils. Specifically, the study looked at the effect on the risk of heart-related illness.

It found there was no significant effect from taking supplements. Supplements don’t help to prevent cardiovascular disease, and they come at a cost.

I take a look at the main vitamins and nutrients, and how you can ensure you’re getting enough without paying excessively for the benefits. 

The government only recommends a few supplements, depending on age. Vitamin D is recommended for all Canadians, because most of us are deficient due to a lack of sun exposure.

Vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, and is needed to keep bones, muscles and teeth healthy. 

Being deficient in vitamin D can lead to rickets in children, which is a type of bone deformity. In adults, it can cause a condition called osteomalacia, which is a softening of the bones.

During summer, we should be able to get all the vitamin D we need from sunlight. However, as most Canadians are deficient in this vitamin, taking an oral supplement is a good idea. 

Vitamin A and C are also recommended for children aged six months to five years old. Vitamin A helps your body’s natural defences, including keeping skin healthy, while vitamin C also helps maintain healthy skin, bone and blood vessels. 

Eating a balanced diet full of fruit, vegetables and dairy (or alternatives fortified with vitamins), should ensure that you get all the vitamin A and C needed.

The recommendation to supplement children’s diets is due to the fact that more vitamin A and C are needed for growth and development. 

Women trying for a baby, or in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, are recommended to take folic acid. This nutrient is important in the development of the brain and spinal cord in Fetuses.

Aside from pregnancy, there is no clinical need or benefit to taking folic acid, so it isn’t recommended for anyone outside this category. 

Other nutrients, such as calcium and iron, are also marketed by pharmaceutical companies as being essential to your health and well being.

While this is true – calcium building strong bones, muscles and teeth, and iron essential for carrying oxygen around the body – we should be reaching our daily targets if we eat a healthy, balanced diet. 

Good sources of iron include meat, liver, beans, nuts, whole grains and green vegetables.

Women need more iron than men due to having periods and losing blood each month. Signs of iron deficiency anemia include feeling tired, out of breath or weak.

If you believe you may be deficient, go to your family doctor to get your blood levels checked.

Taking iron supplements without medical supervision isn’t advised; iron can cause nasty side effects. 

Calcium is also found in similar foods, as well as dairy products (or fortified alternatives). Taking too much calcium, in the form of supplements, can cause stomach pain and diarrhea, so again is not recommended without a physician’s advice. 

A few years ago, I challenged myself to eat the “Daily Dozen” – a checklist of 12 types of food that you should incorporate into your diet each day.

I downloaded the app (Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen) and aimed to tick off all the food groups by the end of the day.

This is a great way of making sure you’re getting all the right vitamins and nutrients to stay fit and healthy! 

The list is as follows: 

  • 3 servings of beans 
  • 3 servings of fruit 
  • 3 servings of greens 
  • 1 serving of flaxseed 
  • 3 servings of grains 
  • 1 serving of berries
  • 1 serving of cruciferous vegetables 
  • 2 servings of other vegetables 
  • 1 serving of nuts 
  • 1 serving of spices 
  • 5 glasses of water or green tea 
  • 1 form of exercise 

Download the app, or read of Dr. Greger’s book, How Not to Die. It’s a really informative read about how to use diet and exercise to prevent all the top causes of death.

Get in touch in the comments below, or via email, if you have any questions about supplements or how to reach your daily targets.

Spotlight on diabetes

The Spotlight Series is a series of articles looking at common, and preventable, diseases. I explain the science behind the condition, how to spot early signs and what you can do to prevent it. 

The Science 

Diabetes is a condition that causes high, uncontrolled levels of sugar in your blood. There are two types; 1 and 2. 

Type 1 diabetes is when the body’s immune system attacks itself and destroys the cells that usually produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that reduces sugar levels in the blood by triggering the liver to absorb more sugar. It usually occurs in your early teens. 

Type 2 diabetes is when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin to deal with the amount of sugar in the blood or the body stops responding to insulin. This can happen after years of eating too much sugar, and so is likely to occur later in life. 

Without enough insulin, blood sugar levels continue to rise. Over time, this sugar clogs up blood vessels, causing blockages, which contributes to other conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure. 

Sugar also sticks to and damages nerves, particularly in the feet. This means people lose the feeling in their feet, which can lead to sores and ulcers that take a long time to heal. 

Bacteria thrives on sugar, so people with diabetes are also more at risk from infections. 

Signs and Symptoms 

Three of the most common symptoms are feeling thirsty, weeing more frequently and feeling very tired. Other symptoms include weight loss, frequent infections or cuts and wounds that heal slowly. 

If you notice any of these symptoms, go to see your family physician. They may diagnose you with something called pre-diabetes, which is when your blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet diabetes. 

This is important, as if it’s caught at this stage, and you make the effort to reduce your blood sugar, you can prevent diabetes from occurring. 

How to Prevent Diabetes 

Only Type 2 diabetes can be prevented, so this article focuses on ways to prevent Type 2. 

The most important thing to focus on is reducing your sugar levels. Use an app like MyFitnessPal to track how much sugar you’re eating, and make informed choices when eating. 

As well as reducing your sugar intake, you can increase your outtake by exercising more. Getting your heart rate up and exercising for 30 minutes five times a week is a scientifically proven way to reduce your blood sugar levels. 

Losing weight is also crucial to preventing Type 2 diabetes. If you’re overweight, seek advice from your doctor or local pharmacy on what resources and support is out there to help you lose weight.

Keeping a diary of your food and sugar intake is a great way to stay on top of your goals. 

Making small changes slowly can also really help you stick to your plan; don’t restrict your sugar at first, but instead commit only to logging everything you eat. 

Gaining weight doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does losing it. Introducing small steps towards exercise, like taking the stairs or hitting 10,000 steps, is another great way to succeed in getting fit. 

Take Home Message

Eat well, exercise and lose weight – these are the top three things you can do to prevent getting diabetes. If you do notice signs like feeling thirsty, weeing lots or feeling abnormally tired, get in touch with your family doctor. 


Coronavirus: What does it mean for the Okanagan?

Coronavirus and you

At the time of writing, British Columbia currently has five confirmed cases of coronavirus. While initially confined to Vancouver, last week the first presumptive case was confirmed in the Interior Health region. 

The patient had returned from Shanghai to her home in B.C., and she self-isolated at home when she began to display symptoms. Although at present all the cases confirmed are contained in isolation, a spread to the Okanagan isn’t impossible. 

Preventing the spread of coronavirus within B.C. is a challenge, but one that the province is well equipped to deal with. B.C. has already put measures in place to ensure public safety. The province developed one of the first tests to confirm the virus, and a committee has been set up to respond to any cases. 

The good news is that one of the first cases in B.C. to be diagnosed, a man in his 40s, is soon to be released from isolation, after the return of negative test results for the virus. 

One of the key issues raised by health officials is the importance of being inclusive and cognizant of all communities during this period. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry calls for residents of B.C. to be compassionate towards each other, particularly towards the Chinese communities in B.C. 

“We have been hearing some very disturbing references to Chinese communities. This is a time where we all need to work together and be supportive of each other. If we ostracize people it makes it much harder to do our job in public health.”

So what advice has the B.C. government given in relation to the virus? What can you do to protect yourself and your family? I’ve answered all these questions below; if you have any more, please feel free to get in touch in the comments or via email. 

What is coronavirus?

It is a new form of coronavirus that we have not seen before. It originated from animals, and is likely to have spread from a seafood wholesale market in the centre of Wuhan. 

What are the signs and symptoms?

The virus causes pneumonia, which is a type of respiratory infection. This presents predominantly with a cough, fever and shortness of breath. In severe cases, this can lead to organ failure. 

How is it treated? 

As it is caused by a virus, antibiotics have no effect and thus aren’t used. The antiviral drugs we use against flu also have no effect because they have been created to specifically target a particular virus, and as yet we haven’t had time to create a drug specifically for this virus. The mainstay of treatment is supportive, meaning we treat the symptoms and rely on the body’s immune system to fight off the infection. This support comes in the form of fluids, oxygen or further respiratory support. Most of the people who have been seriously affected by the virus were already affected by other health conditions, or had a weaker immune system due to age. 

Is it any worse than regular influenza (flu)?

As of yet, we don’t have enough data to compare fully. The mortality rate for the new coronarvirus is around 2%, where seasonal flu is typically 1%. For context, SARS had a mortality rate of 10%. However, the mortality rate for coronavirus is likely to be overestimated; many cases with only mild symptoms are not reported, as the patients aren’t sick enough to require a hospital admission and thus haven’t been counted. 

What should I do to protect myself and my family?

B.C. health authorities have advised that regular handwashing with soap and water is one of the most important things you can do to avoid getting ill. Not touching your face is another crucial part of reducing the rates of transmission. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and avoid others who are unwell. 

Should I wear a mask?

Masks are useful if you are sick, as it helps prevent transmission to others. However, using a mask to prevent yourself getting sick is less effective; it means you are more likely to touch your face, to adjust the mask. 

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Anyone who has travelled from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last two weeks and is experiencing cough or fever or shortness of breath should stay indoors and call 811 or their health provider, even if symptoms are mild. If you haven’t been to any of these areas, or been in close contact with someone who has, seek help from your family doctor or ER as you normally would.  

Most importantly, Coronavirus is nothing to panic about. The chances of falling ill are incredibly slim, and the likelihood is that the virus will not spread to the Okanagan. Please be cognizant of everyone in your community, and show understanding and empathy in this time of uncertainty. If you have any more questions about coronavirus, please get in touch via the comments section or through email. 

More Health and Happiness articles

About the Author

Hannah Gibson is a student doctor, originally from the U.K. During her five years at medical school, she's worked in every department from pediatrics to geriatrics, advocating for both physical and mental health. 

Hannah is passionate about preventative medicine, and the focus of her column is to educate and inspire people to take proactive measures to improve their health. Alongside her studies, she has also worked as a support worker for various mental health charities, as well as giving talks on sex education in schools. 

Hannah believes that we all can, and should, take responsibility for our own health. It is the most important asset we have, and should be respected as such. Follow each week as she gives you the tools to improve your own health and wellbeing, and ultimately live a happier and healthier life. 

Get in touch through the comments section, or by emailing Hannah on [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories