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How Stress is Preventing Your Fat Loss

businessman shouting while holding papers

Your daily stresses can slow down your fat loss.

When I start working with an online coaching client, I spend considerable time looking at their nutrition and exercise habits to try to assess where they’re going wrong and how they could improve. The next important area that I look at is lifestyle. And we don’t delve too far into a busy, successful person’s lifestyle without encountering STRESS.

In many cases, it’s hard to achieve a state of optimal fat loss unless the stress issue gets dealt with. Many people try to ignore stress and hope it will eventually sort itself out.

That doesn’t happen so stop waiting.

In the meantime, let’s look at what stress is doing to you.

Effects of Stress

Chronic stress tends to increase the amount of circulating cortisol in your system. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and a certain amount is needed. Ideally, cortisol levels are highest in the morning (this provides energy) and taper off towards the evening as you prepare for sleep. This type of cortisol rhythm will be allow you to burn fat through activity early in the day or during exercise and then recover in the evening.

Here’s the problem: when stress is chronic, cortisol levels stay excessively high throughout the day. Cortisol causes your body to store more fat, and preferentially stores that fat in the abdominal area. So if you’re under a lot of stress your belly is likely to show it.

Stress Eating

When you’re facing excessive stress, it’s more difficult to make sensible decisions when it comes to food. You know you should have wild salmon and vegetables, but you’re anxious and stressed out so you reach for a chocolate chip muffin instead.

We’ve all been there.

It’s difficult to make the right choices when you’re overwhelmed. Anxiety can also make you more likely to eat the wrong foods. If you learn to control your stress levels with something besides food, you’ll benefit from additional fat loss.

Stress Reduction Strategies

I wish there was a simple answer to stress, but it’s often a very individual and complicated process. Part of the problem is that most people tend to ignore stress reduction strategies and keep running around looking for novel and exciting nutrition and exercise programs.

The basics of stress reduction lay the foundation for your daily life, and the success of any fitness and nutrition program that you embark on.

Here they are:

1) Sleep More 

Most people aren’t getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep a night. That’s a good place to start with your stress relief strategy. Make the time. Skip some of that Internet or TV time. Make sleep a priority.

It can be difficult to get enough sleep for another reason as well. The chronically high cortisol levels caused by stress can interfere with the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. So you’ve set up a vicious cycle where even if you’re getting enough sleep you aren’t getting good quality sleep. This reduces your energy levels, recovery from exercise, and your ability to cope with – you guessed it – stress.

Break the cycle by making reducing your stress levels a priority. They affect everything else in your life so you ignore stress at your peril.

2) Get Ready for Sleep

It takes time to wind down before bedtime. If you’ve ever lay awake in bed thinking about that project you have to do tomorrow or the meeting you have in the morning then you know what I’m talking about. You need time to decompress, at least 30 minutes and preferably an hour.

Shutting down electronic devices and dimming the lights an hour before bed can also be helpful. Bright light interferes with your production of melatonin, which you already know is essential to a restful night’s sleep. The darker your room, the better. Invest in some blackout curtains and get rid of any glowing lights (like clocks).

Keep in mind that caffeine can also interfere with your sleep. If you struggle with getting to sleep, try cutting down on your caffeine consumption. If you can keep your caffeine consumption to before noon – even better.

More sleep means less stress and that means you’ll be able to optimize your fat burning capabilities.

3) Exercise

You know how you sometimes feel too stressed out to squeeze in a workout? Well that’s another one of those vicious cycles that you need to pull yourself out of. Exercise helps you cope with stress.

Although weight training is the preferred choice for building a great physique, any kind of exercise (particularly outdoors) can be a great stress reliever. Playing sports, or just running around with your kids, will help keep your stress levels under control.

Being physically active on a daily basis is important too. Move around as much as you can during the day. Step away from your desk and move around throughout your workday.

4) Meditate

No matter how many times I recommend this one, it always seems to get skipped. Many people see meditation as something they’d “like to do when they get a chance”, but they never seem to get a chance.

There’s an old Zen saying that goes something like this:

“If you’re too busy to meditate for an hour an day, meditate for two hours.”

It’s usually the people who need it the most that tend to skip this practice, no matter how beneficial. This isn’t some hocus-pocus quackery either, meditation has been scientifically researched to improve sleep, reduce stress, and increase relaxation.

Don’t worry about doing an hour (or even two!), start with 5-10 minutes every day. Most studies look for improvements after 6-8 weeks, but you’ll probably feel the relaxation benefits much sooner.

Don’t worry about doing anything special. Just sit somewhere quiet for 5-10 minutes and focus only on your breathing. It’s really that simple.

Be Less Stressed

Hopefully you’re now convinced that dealing with the stress in your life can be an effective way of finally getting the fat loss results you want. It’s easy to keep searching for new nutrition strategies or more challenging workouts, but harder to look yourself in the eye and admit that you’re stressed. Make the time to de-stress and you may finally discover the fat loss success you’ve been struggling with.

Ivana Chapman

References:

Marniemi, J. et al. Visceral fat and psychosocial stress in identical twins discordant for obesity. J Intern Med. 2002 Jan;251(1):35-43.

Aschbacher, K. et al. Chronic stress increases vulnerability to diet-related abdominal fat, oxidative stress, and metabolic risk. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2014 Aug; 46: 14–22.

Derk Jan-Dijk, et al. Amplitude reduction and phase shifts of melatonin, cortisol and other circadian rhythms after a gradual advance of sleep and light exposure in humans. PLoS One. 2012; 7(2): e30037.

Ong, J.C. et al. A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for chronic insomnia. Sleep. 2014 Sep 1; 37(9): 1553–1563.

Keyworth, C. et al. A mixed-methods pilot study of acceptability and effectiveness of a brief meditation and mindfulness intervention for people with diabetes and coronary heart disease. Behav Med. 2014 Apr; 40(2): 53–64.

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How to Multitask Your Way to Success

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You can accomplish many things at once…if you pick the right things.

We’re all busy, and we want to do as much as possible in the shortest possible time. There’s a limit to what you can achieve at the same time, but we all want to get the most out of the precious little time we all seem to have.

Let’s take a look at some useful multitasking…and some less useful examples that will just make your lifeless productive.

In Life

Useful multitasking: Listening to an audiobook while cleaning your house

Silly multitasking: Applying makeup while driving your car

Useful multitasking: Walking across the street while listening to music

Silly multitasking: Walking across the street while reading a book (I have seen this many times!)

With Workouts

Useful multitasking: Listening to music while lifting weights

Silly multitasking: Reading a magazine while slowly peddling on the stationary bike – who hasn’t seen this one?!

Useful multitasking: Taking short rest periods between weights exercises to produce a cardio effect

Silly multitasking: Doing a barbell squat with torso rotation while standing on a stability ball

With Food

Useful multitasking: Reading a book while waiting for your chicken to roast in the oven (set a timer!)

Silly multitasking: Writing a novel while frying scrambled eggs on the stove (hint: you’ll burn them!)

Useful multitasking: Sipping a protein shake while driving home from the gym

Silly multitasking: Shelling and eating a lobster tail while driving home from the gym

Ok, so a few of these examples were obviously jokes that no one in their right mind would try. You get the idea though, right?

Use multitasking wisely!

Ivana Chapman 

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Take a Hike! Walking for Stress-Relief and Inspiration

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 “The object of walking is to relax the mind. You should therefore not permit yourself even to think while you walk.” Thomas Jefferson

Let me start off by saying that this isn’t going to be a blog where I debate whether walking is a good form of cardio, or how it compares to jogging or weight training.

When you want real physique results, you know what to do: weight training and eat a good diet.

The simple fact is that our bodies are designed to move and our modern lifestyle, with its tied-to-a-desk mentality, isn’t do us any favours.

Daily walking could just be the solution.

Walking for Everyone

Walking has the lowest barrier to entry of any activity. Practically anyone, from age about 1 to 101, can benefit from regular walking. It’s often prescribed for the elderly as their primary exercise (I also recommend weight training for this age group!), but many a harried executive has seen the benefits of adding walking to his/her daily routine. Sometimes all it takes is a brisk 10-15 lunchtime walk to clear your head and get pumped for an afternoon of productivity. A post-dinner walk instead of camping out in front of the TV, can be a major life change for many people.

Mental Health Benefits

Walking is often suggested as an initial intervention for mild to moderate depression. You don’t need to be facing a mild mental disorder from the practice though. Walking regularly (3-4x per week) helps increase brain connectivity and cognitive performance. You’ll be a brighter bulb in no time! combat the effects of aging. Walking on a treadmill is ok if the weather is unbearable, but research has also shown benefits from being outdoors surrounded by nature so try to get outdoors as much as possible.

Taking a walk with your family on the weekends is a great way to spend quality time your loved ones, as well as modelling healthy behaviour.

Clear Your Mind, Creative New Brilliance

I’ve always found long walks to be my most creative time. The first ten minutes or so can sometimes feel like a chore, but when I get going it feels like I never want to stop. My mind feels clear and free to create brilliant new ideas. After a long walk, I’m refreshed and full of inspiration.

If you’re struggling with an important decision, taking a walk might clear away the distractions of the day-to-day world that prevent you from finding the right choice. It’s such a simple trick that it’s easy to forget how beneficial it is. Just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll be moving forward with your life in the best way.

Ivana Chapman 

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Boosting Your Immune System Naturally

man blowing his nose

Oh no! Not again. Natural methods can keep you avoid getting sick.

We all know what it’s like to get on a roll, feel like you’re getting on top of your fitness regime, and being productive at work, when – da da da dum – you get sick. Then you’re missing time off work, important social events, and generally feeling like crap.

Nobody wants that!

Just because you’re exposed to a lot of illness doesn’t mean that you have to get sick.

Here’s how to boost your body’s natural immune response and increase your chances of fighting off those nasty foreign invaders:

1) Reduce Your Sugar intake

Sugar in all its many forms can depress your immune system. That includes alcohol folks, sorry! The action of white blood cells, which help to fight off infection, is reduced after the consumption of sugar.

Check your diet for obvious and less-obvious sources of sugar, including soda, juices, pastries, dairy products, and syrups.

Fruit is also a source of sugar, but the phytonutrient benefits and fibre that most types – especially berries – provide tend to offset the drawbacks of the sugar. Fruit consumption shouldn’t be a concern for most people.

2) Take Vitamin D

Vitamin C used to be the big immune system nutrient, but the latest research indicates that vitamin D is probably even more important. Vitamin D is best obtained when the sun shines on your skin. If it’s winter, you’re dark-skinned, or you don’t get outdoors daily, then you’re more likely to have low vitamin D levels.

Although vitamin D is important, and a dose of 4000IU a day is reasonable, it’s best to get a blood test to confirm that you’re deficient before supplementing specifically with this vitamin.

Excess intake of vitamin D, as well as other fat-soluble vitamins, can be toxic.

3) Eat More Veggies

Not particularly original, I know, but still a useful tip.

Vegetables and fruits are packed with various phytonutrients (plant nutrients) that strengthen your immune system.

Garlic and onions are particularly powerful, as they contain allicin, an important disease-fighting compound.

Tomatoes and sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene, an antioxidant that supports the immune system.

4) Get More Sleep

As if you needed another reason, getting sleep is crucial for maintaining your immune system.

If you’re constantly tired and need caffeine to get through your day, your body won’t have the resources to fight off infections.

Most of us are sleep-deprived so if you want to take a big step towards healing your body, scheduling some extra shut-eye will pay bid dividends.

5) Take Probiotics

The gut is made up of all sorts of bacteria, “good” and “bad”.

Probiotics help to balance the bacteria in your intestinal tract, which is thought to support the function of the immune system.

An individual with a gut imbalance will likely suffer from vague digestive issues like bloating, gas, and constipation, but may also be more susceptible to infection.

Most of us suffer from some degree of digestive imbalance due to overly-processed foods, eating too much, and eating foods that aren’t compatible with us.

Probiotics may help balance the intestinal flora and keep us healthier.

Be Prepared!

As the cold and flu season approaches, it’s important to build up your body’s natural defenses to protect against catching these nasties.

Maybe this will be the season that you stay vigorously healthy…and don’t spend a wasted minute on the couch watching bad daytime TV.

Ivana Chapman 

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Stop the Multitasking Madness!

woman with eight arms multitasking

Ahhhh, multitasking. The solution to our fast-paced, time-crunched lives, right?

Wrong!

Multitasking, the performance of several things at one time, is only effective when the tasks involved don’t interfere or distract from each other. The brain can’t focus on more than one task at a time, so multitasking is more about rapidly switching between tasks. Plenty of time is lost during the switching process.

Where Multitasking Fails

Some things aren’t meant to be done at the same time. Like walking and reading a novel or newspaper, for instance. I’ve seen this one plenty of times on the crowded streets of the city. That’s a good way to walk into oncoming traffic…or get an elbow to the head by a fellow pedestrian.

Fitness Failures

Have you seen that old favourite at the gym, reading a magazine while on the stationary bike or cross trainer? It’s definitely not an effective workout. If you’re tired or recovering from an illness then maybe watching a bit of TV on the screen in front of you won’t interfere with your slow-paced cardio, but normally if you can focus on a magazine and do your workout then you’re not working hard enough.

A good workout needs focus. Replying to text messages while weight training is a distraction too. You need to keep track of your rest periods between sets and keep your mental focus in the gym so you can perform at your peak.

No Multitasking during Family Time

Some things don’t go together well at all. We all love our smartphones and it’s easy to get caught up checking emails or how many likes the photo of your cat got on Facebook. Just don’t do it when you’re spending quality time with your family. Tonight I caught my husband, who is normally a very focussed and committed partner and father, “playing” with our 2-month-old son while watching a Facebook video on his iPhone. Yes, it’s tempting to reply to that last work email when you’re having dinner with your family or figure out how many followers you currently have on Twitter while your sister is in the middle of a long explanation of her daughter’s toilet training success, but you don’t show the people you care about that you love them by tuning them out.

Give your loved ones focused time.

Where Multitasking Works

Sure, it’s ok to go for a walk and listen to that inspirational audiobook. Or listen to music while you work out (it may even enhance your performance). Read a book while sitting on the subway to work. Use multitasking wisely.

Be smart, and definitely don’t put on makeup or post photos of yourself on Instagram while driving!

Ivana Chapman 

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Minimize Your Nutrition Stress

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Is that bar of chocolate really worth worrying about so much?

“I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened.”

Mark Twain

We all have a tendency to worry occasionally and nutrition is one of those areas that cause people stress. The rules seem to change constantly and it’s tough to keep up. What should I eat? How often should I eat? What if those chocolate chip cookies grow legs and follow me from the kitchen?

It’s time to relax about your nutrition plan. It will never be perfect.

Move On

Ten years from now you might find out that the way you thought you should be eating didn’t do you any favours. I spent many, many years on the recommended “healthy” high-carb/plenty of whole grain diet that the mainstream told me to follow before I discovered that it was causing me damage. Do I worry about all those years now that I’ve found the right diet for me?

Absolutely not!

I’m happy to have found the right diet for me and I’m grateful every day for the benefits it now provides me.

Nutrition Anxiety

A few nutrition errors in your lifetime aren’t going to kill you.

You know what will kill you? Worrying every time you go out whether it’s ok to have the beef if it isn’t grass-fed. Trying to figure out if an apple is 80 or 85 calories (because each of your 2 nutrition apps say something different) will cause undue anxiety. That type of constant worry will put you in your grave faster than a truckload of pizza. If the excessive stress doesn’t give you a health issue, then someone might “accidentally” push you into oncoming traffic because you’re driving them crazy with your pickiness.

Most of the time it just doesn’t matter

There are certainly times in our lives when we need to be strict with ourselves, like before a fitness competition or when we’ve really let ourselves go and need to reign ourselves back in, but living your whole life that way will inevitably lead to unhappiness. You know that scene in romantic comedies when the uptight heroine finally let’s loose and realizes that she’s been unhappy throughout her hyper-controlled life? Maybe you’re also using control to mask dissatisfaction with other aspects of your life.

Does it really matter if you eat 2200 or 2000 calories today? Probably not, but a lifetime of 2200 calories a day compared to 2000 calories could certainly make a difference.

Long story short?

You need to be on the right path in the right direction to produce changes in your physique, or your life. You need to make the right “small steps” consistently to move towards your goal. If there’s a bump – or two – in the road, you’re better off getting back on track and not beating yourself up minor setbacks.

Just keep moving forward and you’ll get to your destination.

Ivana Chapman 

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Taming Your Perfectionism

It doesn’t have to be perfect – really!

I’m not a perfectionist. I prefer to consider myself detail-oriented. There have been times in my life, however, that I’ve seen elements of this quality in myself that I realized weren’t entirely healthy. Many times I’ve veered into that dangerous territory where the quest for perfection stifles productivity. Perfectionism can be a hinderance in your career, fitness regime, and your dietary strategy.

Here’s how you can deal with the pitfalls of perfectionism and embrace a more reasonable attitude of achievement.

Your Career

If you’re trying to get ahead in your job, it doesn’t pay to wait for exactly the right time to ask for a raise. If you want to make a move to a new career you don’t need to wait to get all your qualifications fully in line with the job description or have your resume completely perfect. Sometimes you need to take a chance and just go for it, even if you don’t feel completely ready.

I’ve experienced moments of perfectionism when I’ve gone to develop websites and logos for my various businesses, and whenever I put writing on the page for all to see.

In the past I took ages to write blogs because I wanted to make sure I said everything perfectly and didn’t have a single spelling or grammatical error. I treated every word like it was going to be published in the memoir to be published after my death (“I can’t change anything after I write it down!”.)

Now I’ve realized that blogs are not forever, I can make changes whenever I like, and I can delete at any time if I’m not happy with it. Given the amount of crap available on the internet I realized that there was no point in striving for perfection.  

Your Fitness Routine

You want to find the best workout routine for you, but the main thing is that you’re doing something consistently that’s challenging enough for you. Many of my fitness colleagues spend hours debating the best types of workouts for fat loss and muscle mass gains and there are definitely good reasons for having those types of discussions for people who enjoy the debate.

If you’re looking for results though, all you really need is to be doing a smart routine on a regular basis. Don’t beat yourself up if you need to take time off for illness or injury, or if some workouts aren’t as intense as you were hoping they would be. Progress isn’t linear and if you push yourself too hard and expect everything to happen exactly according to plan you’ll likely be disappointed. Give it your best effort on the day and don’t despair if your efforts don’t live up to your expectations.

Your Diet

Even if the perfect diet existed (it doesn’t!) then you’d never follow it perfectly. You’re human. Once in a while you’ll get tired or a bit down and that slice of cheesecake in the fridge will be too tempting to ignore.

Striving to have a perfectly “clean” diet isn’t really a worthwhile goal either, and can lead to anxiety. Even if nutrition experts could agree on what foods are “clean”, which they don’t, it would be hard to follow the guidelines without facing frantic questions at every meal (Is bacon ok? Is that food Paleo? Is dairy clean? How about soy?).

RELAX.

Yes, you need to eat well consistently to meet your goals, but if you worry about every tiny detail you’ll end up throwing your hands in the air and saying “forget it!”. Be patient with yourself and allow a few mistakes and missteps along the way.

It’s OK to be less than Perfect

For those of us raised with a lot of parental and societal pressure, it can be tough to let go and do things without expecting perfection. Do the best you can at the time, but allow yourself to do things not quite perfectly sometimes. No one can keep up the perfection act for long.

Don’t even try.

You’ll be a happier, healthier person if you do.

Ivana Chapman 

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Do You Suffer From Excusitis?

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“Wait, let me explain why I didn’t do what I wanted to do.”

“I have no formal education, my health is not good enough, I had a bad childhood, my accent is too thick, I am too short, I am too tall, I am never a lucky person, I am too old now, I am too young, I am not intelligent enough, or I have no start up capital” – these are all common symptoms of the failures’ disease – excusitis.

So what is excusitis?

Well, it’s a mental state of mind that many of people suffer from – People make excuses for why their life sucks. There is no ethical shortcut to success and glory, you have to bust your ass for it. Did you know that Colonel Sanders was collecting social security checks and was in his 60’s when he came up with the idea for Kentucky Fried Chicken? Did you also know that he got 1000 no’s before someone agreed to finance his idea?

Talk about persistence. The Colonel didn’t make excuses for why he couldn’t do it, he just found a way. If you make excuses for why you aren’t getting what you want in life, then you won’t be successful. Success is a journey and a process, and you must fall in love with finding a way no matter what. So what can you do when you find yourself making excuses?

1. Ask great questions

The difference between those that are successful and those that aren’t is all in the questions they ask. Next time you find yourself in a situation where it seems like an impossible challenge, ask yourself this question; How can I solve this problem? By asking a question like this, your brain tries to think of ways to solve the problem. Figuring out “How” to do something is the easy part. Chances are that someone has already done what you want to do, so pick up a book.

2. Know your “why”

Why do you want to be successful? Why must you achieve this goal? Why is this important to you? “Why” is one of the most powerful words in the English dictionary. If you understand your “why”, you can build on your motivation and hunger for success. Here’s a great example: Why does John want to own a business that does 2 million in revenue every year?  If John can hit 2 million per year in his consulting business, he would have more money to take his family on luxury vacations 10 weeks of the year, buy that dream house he always wanted and create some financial leverage in his life. In order for John to achieve these goals, he can’t let excuses take control. He must take control of his decisions.

3. Be selective about who you spend your time with

There is saying that I love: “You are the sum average of the top 5 people you associate with”. If you hang around people that make excuses and complain about life’s challenges you will be negatively affected. If you truly care about where you end up in life, associate yourself with those that inspire you to do more and make a difference in the world. A friend of mine once said that the only reason why her husband won’t get a raise was because he was worried about what others would think of him if he got a promotion. To that I said, if he is hanging around with those colleagues that would think little of him for earning his way to a promotion, then unfortunately, he is hanging around the wrong people. You can’t let others control your life.

4. Move fast and be flexible

If something doesn’t work or you get a result that you weren’t expecting, be prepared to move quickly and change your approach. You need to think of yourself as water. What does water do when it meets an obstruction? It flows around it. Not only does water flow around the object, it also increases its velocity. Move fast, be flexible and change your approach to get around life’s obstacles.

5. Believe in yourself

This one is huge! None of the above will work unless you truly believe you can do it. Limiting thoughts equal limited results. Think big, keep inspiring yourself and use every positive influence around you as leverage in your life.

Guest Post by Ryan Chapman

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Robin Williams’ Death: The High Cost of Depression

painting of Robin Williams

Robin Williams’ story brings many of the misconceptions about depression to light.

With the sad death of Robin Williams yesterday, by apparent suicide, the focus has been on the pain of severe depression and the need to treat it like an illness.

In Canada, as in other developed countries, depression is on target to become the leading cause of disease and disability by 2020. Eight percent of Canadians will experience a major depression in their lifetime with women twice as likely to become depressed as men. At any given moment, 4 – 5% of the population is experiencing depression.

Canadian Depression Research & Intervention Network (CDRIN)

These are sad statistics and we can only hope for a long term solution to this mental health concern. I’m fortunate that my world includes many compassionate and informed people who recognize that a person with depression is not at fault and needs medical treatment and support. It doesn’t take much of a search through the internet to see that many people are not so supportive.

“Suicide is selfish. How could he do that to his family and friends?”

“He had so much money. What did he have to be depressed about?”

“Just another spoiled celebrity…”

Those statements are the height of ignorance with regards to depression and mental health. Major depressive disorder is a mental health disorder resulting from chemical imbalances in the brain.

According to Stanford University, about 50% of the cause of depression is genetic, with the rest being physical or psychological factors. Although there are drugs that can reduce symptoms, usually a multi-pronged approach including psychological counselling (generally cognitive behavioural therapy) and nutrition changes is most beneficial.

Many in the general public still perceive suicide as a choice and don’t realize that severe depression takes away the ability to make logical choices. If you or someone you care about suffers from depression, get the support you need as soon as you can.

It’s not your fault.

Ivana Chapman