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For World Wellness Weekend: My Journey with Wellness and Mental Health

As we move closer to celebrating World Wellness Weekend on September 18 and 19, I thought now is the time to share something deeply personal about myself and the connection to one of the “5 Pillars of Wellness”: Serenity & Mindfulness. It is my hope that others may identify with me and understand that they are not alone and will feel a sense of connection, comfort and inner peace – the same state of mind that brought me contentment but still great success in my life.

I’m not sure when the depression began. I know being extremely shy from a young age, I struggled through grade school, followed by high school. I was “diagnosed” with a learning disability in grade school that did not help with building self-esteem and just added to feeling self-conscious and essentially not smart. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere and making friends was difficult. 

I continued on, moving away from home for the first time to go to college and again pretty much kept to myself and did not join any of the cliques that tend to develop from all-girl classes. I missed being away from home, which added to the feeling of being lonely. My emotions at times were overwhelming and difficult to control and I wanted to escape the “noise” by trying to find a place of peace and quiet inside of me. Back then (35 years ago), the phrase “mental health” did not exist, nor was it talked about. I did not know about meditation or mindfulness or any of the many other natural techniques that help people today struggling with the same feelings. The word “anxiety” was not mainstream like it is today, and I did not know that was the overwhelming feeling I was experiencing. 

I got through my two years of college, and it wasn’t until I moved out West for an esthetics position that I saw my first psychiatrist who put me on Prozac.  It didn’t work well with me. I saw another psychiatrist who was also not a good fit – so I quit going. My mother helped me realize that being outdoors, in the fresh air and walking, pulled me out of my extremely depressive, overwhelmed, and suicidal state. I would walk and walk and walk until the feeling subsided. And it always did.  That is when I realized that exercise would be my saviour because it released wonderful chemicals, like endorphins and serotonin, that boosted my mood and gave me a sense of well-being. It was a bonus that it also happened to increase my confidence levels too. 

Endorphins are only one of many neurotransmitters released when you exercise. Physical activity also stimulates the release of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood.  Healthline

Many years past and I ended up living in Ottawa. Once again I was seeing a psychiatrist after the painful breakup of my marriage.  You might be asking, what about the exercise? Have you ever not done something even though you knew it would be good for you, because you wanted to suffer? I felt responsible and guilty for the breakup and felt I deserved to be in pain.  I was self-sabotaging my health. I was medicated on a lower strength anti-anxiety, anti-depression drug, but this time was different. This doctor introduced me to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or CBT. She was amazing and it was a game-changer. 

CBT aims to help you identify and explore the ways your emotions and thoughts can affect your actions. Once you notice these patterns, you can begin learning to reframe your thoughts in a more positive and helpful way. Healthline

Fast forward twenty years later and I am a very different person. The therapy and medication helped to get me back on my feet again, but now I have an arsenal of tools at my disposal. I know when I need exercise to release stress. I know it’s not only good for me but good for everyone I’m in contact with, whether it’s personal or professional. I love yoga, guided meditation and being mindful. Being mindful forces me to be present and to focus on what is going on in that moment and to express gratitude. CBT has taught me to confront the thoughts in my head and recognize what is true and what isn’t. I am finally in the best place in my life.

World Wellness Weekend is now in its fifth year and it’s just one-way wellness is becoming an essential component of the beauty and spa industry – which, I am incredibly grateful for because I know how it helps to achieve an overall feeling of health, happiness, and beauty from the inside, out.

There is no nobler mission in life than to encourage each & everyone to become the best version of themselves, (physically, mentally and emotionally) – Jean-Guy de Gabriac, founder of World Wellness Weekend

I write this because I also feel I have a responsibility to the students I teach (both past and present) and to my nieces Zoe and Lauren who are growing into strong, self-sufficient, beautiful (inside and out) young people. All are finding their way in a world that seems to be so unpredictable, yet if they can connect to the authentic person they are now, versus in their 50’s like me, their world will be their oyster.

My advice, for this World Wellness Day, and for every day, is this: Practice the art of mindfulness every day until it becomes a habit. Focus on very specific things in the present moment, feel gratitude and say, “thank you”. Breathe. Five in and five out. Don’t give up. Never, ever give up. And finally, surrender. Amazing things open up when we learn to let go. It takes trust, but I know from experience when you have nothing left to control, surrender is the only thing you can do. I promise, you will not be disappointed. 

Lauren, me and Zoe on my 50th, 2018

Works Cited

5 Pillars of Wellness. (2021). Retrieved from World Wellness Weekend: https://www.world-wellness-weekend.org/5-pillars-of-wellness-2/pillar-4-serenity-mindfulness/

Collins, R. (2017, 07 25). Healthline. Retrieved from Exercise, Depression and the Brain: https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/exercise

Debra Fulghum Bruce, P. (2020, 02 18). Exercise and Depression. Retrieved 09 2021, from WebMD: https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression

Raypole, C. (2019, 06 26). How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Can Rewire Your Thoughts. Retrieved from Healthline: https://www.healthline.com/health/cognitive-behavioral-therapy

Kathryn Gallagher MBA, is a full-time professor with CIDESCO accreditation (international esthetics certification) at Seneca College. She teaches for the 2 year Esthetician diploma and 3 year Advanced Esthetics and Spa Therapies programs. Kathryn has taught at Seneca for the past 16 years and has worked in the esthetics and spa industry for the past 33 years. Kathryn’s experience includes; esthetician, sales/account executive, manager, educator and owner of KG Spa Consultants Inc. Kathryn completed her master’s degree in business administration specializing in hospitality and tourism in 2015. She researched and wrote a report on the current practice standards and policies for estheticians published in the Routledge International Handbook of Health Tourism, 2017, as well as completing partnered research on the “Quality of Work Life In the Resort Spa Industry”, published in the International Journal of Health and Wellness, 2019. Kathryn currently serves as the Chair for Leading Spas of Canada

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