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Designing Wellness

Lately, I’ve seen a number of inspiring news items focused on the contribution that artists and the arts make to our overall quality of life and well being.  That got me thinking about the subject of wellness as we cope day to day with an unprecedented global health crisis.  Personally, I know that my ability to cope with any stressful situation is made easier by ensuring my surroundings are both pleasing and calming.  

This is how we actually came up with the idea of outdoor artwork.  After a backyard renovation, we were facing blank “walls” (or fences) and found ourselves craving texture, colour and imagery that brought us joy and peace.  

So I thought it would be timely to reach out to an expert on the subject of physical and mental well being.  Dr. Anousha Usman, ND is a Toronto-based Naturopath and she was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions.  I hope this is helpful and provides some coping tools to all of us as we continue to do the right thing and stay home.

What are some of the factors that can impact people’s overall wellness and mental health?

Generally speaking, factors that affect one’s overall wellness are their physical, emotional, and mental health. Physical factors may include any pain they experience, whether or not they are active, have any digestive discomforts, or even the management of pre-existing health conditions. Emotional and mental factors are often affected by their physical health and also how they cope with stressful triggers. More often than not, stress itself is a trigger for physical discomfort in the body.

How does one’s physical environment impact well being?

Our environments play a big role in how we feel and think about ourselves, how we cope with stress and how we manage our physical health. 

An environment that supports health and well being is one with limited stressful triggers and supports mental wellness. For example, a stress-inducing environment may be one that is cluttered, which fosters feelings of negativity, low mood and anxiousness. Stressful situations or experiences also have a profoundly negative effect on our physical health; chronic stress may cause heartburn, chest pain, or headaches in some people. These environments may be within our workplaces, our homes, or even in pockets of our social communities. An environment that supports mental wellness typically includes clean, calm spaces, and areas or social circles that encourage self-care.

What are some of the negative symptoms or effects that can be determined as a result of a poor environment?

Low mood, decreased motivation, feelings of depression or anxiety, digestive upset, chest pain (typical in some people with chronic stress), weight changes, feelings of low self-worth, unhealthy diet-related habits (think: feeding the feels as a way to cope with the stress in a poor environment). 

What are some of the things people can do to improve their surroundings?  What are the potential results that can come out up an improved surrounding?

Start by physically improving one’s surroundings: picking up clutter, organizing space so that it looks clean and is functional. When our space is tidy, our minds are clear and able to create. Create spaces that foster healthy habits: make healthy food accessible, place workout gear in an area that is visible to you. Plants make a great addition to creating a zen space. Pictures on the wall of things that stimulate joy may also improve one’s wellbeing.

Right now, people are experiencing isolation and are spending more time than ever in their own spaces — how can they equip themselves to remain physically and mentally healthy through this challenge?

Physically: move your body, every single day! Even if its just a walk for 20 min. Get fresh air when you can/when it is safe for you to do so. Stretching, walks, lifting weights are also great ideas to get the blood moving. People always feel accomplished after physical activity.

Continue health habits: snacking on fruits or veggies instead of junk food.

Mentally: exercise. Using this time to catch up on creative tasks that may have been put off before. Organizing your space to make it clutter-free and functional.  

The biggest take away is: it may be easy to slip into old comforting habits during the current challenge, being indoors for weeks really does affect one’s wellness. It’s super important to continue activities that bring you joy, that make you feel healthy and energized.

Dr. Anousha Usman is a licensed naturopathic doctor practicing in the Toronto-Etobicoke area. She has a passion for helping her patients develop habits for long-term health and wellness by teaching them how to advocate for their health and continue to strive towards their wellness-positive goals. Dr. Anousha has a special interest in women’s health; especially in the areas of menstrual irregularities, and the stress and weight gain associated with fluctuating hormones. Her approach is simple and focused: compassionate listening coupled with evidence-based care in order to create a sustainable treatment plan specific to the needs and goals of her patients.  
You can connect with her on Instagram @dr.anoushausman or check out her website

Lisa Hartley
Off the Wall On the Fence

Lisa has an extensive career as a brand strategist and marketer in major Canadian organizations including The National Ballet of Canada and Scotiabank. In addition to operating her new business, Lisa mentors a number of young professionals, and is often called upon for speaking engagements, consulting and writing services.