Archive by Author | Paul Smits

Befriending the Body & Mind

By: Teresa Young

Many of those working in helping professions, especially those in healthcare, are quick to focus on helping friends, patients, clients and coworkers manage their stress, yet take too little time to nurture and calm themselves. We often get so involved in ruminating over problems that we can’t seem to actually think about them.

“You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it” – Albert Einstein

Let’s all take a few minutes to focus on ourselves…

A body scan is a great way to relax, and has also been shown to reduce chronic and acute pain (Ussher, et al., 2014).

Body scans involve focusing on parts of the body, usually from the toes to the top of the head, and noticing sensations, thoughts and emotions without judgment.

And how do you notice these things and not judge them? For me, I like to imagine I am Jane Goodall observing the chimpanzees of my mind; taking note, but keeping my distance, so as not to disturb them.


Photo: Jane Goodall observes the jungle chimpanzees without judgement.

With practice, these scans can become second nature, and allow you to calm your busy mind any time. For now, though, to get you started, follow along with Michael Apollo as he guides you through a 15 minute exercise.


  1. Immediate effects of a brief mindfulness-based body scan on patients with chronic pain.  Ussher, Michael, et al. (2014)  Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Vol. 37, Iss. 1.


Safety in Self Care

As UHN heightens its focus on safety, and continues its journey towards making safety a major organizational focus that will eliminate preventable harm to staff and patients, I think about the significance of self-care, and the impact self-care practices can have on the overall well-being of our employees, in turn affecting their ability to provide safe, compassionate care to patients.

I can appreciate that each individual’s definition and interpretation of the term, self care, is unique.  Thus, I invite you to read on to explore resources and strategies for how you might implement, discover or revisit self care practices, that bring you joy.

To begin, imagine you’re about to be exiled to a deserted island, hypothetically of course…


In addition to the essentials, you may take someone you know, a piece or collection of music, a book, a photograph and a craft or hobby.  Please take a moment to think about what you would you take and why?

Were you able to come up with a specific item for each?  My intention and hope in sharing the exercise above with you, is that you are reminded of several self care tools and practices that you already have at your disposal.

As an aside… Several months ago, I had the privilege of leading a group of OR nurses through the exercise above.  When it came to thinking of someone to invite, one of the nurses asked if she could bring the pool boy.  My response, “If he is going to bring you joy, why not!?!”. 

So, how do we turn self-care ideas into practice?  I invite you to explore the resources below:

The folks at Homewood Health have developed an extensive Self-Care Plan with several strategies for implementing self care, into your life:  self-care-toolkit

From, a list of self care tips and resources for helpers: self-care-tips-for-helpers

Finally, for UHN employees, there are several opportunities and resources available through UHN Wellness.  For more information, visit the corporate intranet site here.

Be well.

Mindfulness Practices for A Mindful UHN

After a summer hiatus, UHN Wellness is thrilled to return to publishing weekly posts, once again.  Over the next several months, we look forward to sharing information, resources and practices relating to psychological health, specifically.

We begin by introducing several brief and accessible Mindfulness practices and resources for you to try.  Enjoy!

John Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “Paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”


According to the Centre for Mindfulness in Toronto, when we are mindful we become aware of and explore these habitual thought patterns and ways of reacting. This attitude of curiosity allows us to create new and healthier ways of responding to life’s challenges.

As UHN Wellness looks forward to offering employees several opportunities to learn and practice Mindfulness at UHN, I invite you make time to explore the following Mindfulness exercises:


Did you know that Harvard researchers found that a wandering mind is an unhappy mind? To help calm your mind, try this short practice:

Acknowledge what thoughts, emotions and physical sensations are present
Gather your attention and have three breaths with full awareness
Expand your attention back to the body as a whole and release any tension

Studies have shown that reflecting on what you are grateful for can increase happiness

  1. Pause a notice three breaths
  2. Reflect on 1-3 things that you are grateful for
  3. Write it down and keep a daily log (optional)

Research has shown that even brief mindfulness practice can alleviate mood, enhance focus and provide greater connection in your relationship.

Have you found some time to STOP today? Why not now?
S – stop
T – take a breath
O – observe
P – proceed

For more information on the upcoming opportunities to learn and practice Mindfulness at UHN, please contact


Tips to Help You Quit

Quitting smoking can be one of the most difficult, yet one of the most rewarding experiences.  Follow the 5 tips below, to help you guide your journey to a smoke free, new you!
3-ways-to-anticipate-and-plan-and-plan-for-challenges1. MAKE A QUIT PLAN
Sitting down and creating a plan to quit can make your smoking cessation journey a whole lot easier. A quit plan is a personal written line of action that will help you stay focused, motivated and confident to quit smoking. There are many resources available that can assist you in creating the perfect plan for you, such as the QuitGuide App, Livestrong MyQuit Coach App, as well as the smoker’s helpline at 1-877-513-5333. There is no single plan that works for everyone. Be honest with yourself about your needs and what you want to achieve.

Keeping busy is a great way to stay smoke free. Being busy will help you keep your mind off smoking and distract you from any cravings or withdrawal symptoms. Try including some of the following activities throughout your day, to minimize feelings of temptation.

  • Go for a walk
  • Chew gum or hard candy
  • Keep hands busy eg. holding a pen, squeezing a stress ball, or play a game on your quit smoking app.
  • Drink lots of water
  • Relax your mind and body by practicing deep breathing exercises

Triggers are the people, places, things and situations that have the ability to set off your urge to smoke. On your journey to quit, try to avoid all triggers that you feel will cause you to crave a cigarette. Below are some tips to stay away from common triggers:

  • Throw away your cigarettes, lighters, matches and ashtrays
  • Avoid caffeine, which can make you jittery and want a cigarette to calm you back down. Try drinking water throughout the day instead.
  • Spend time with non-smokers
  • Spend free time in non-smoking areas
  • Being tired can trigger you to have a cigarette. Therefore, it is important you get plenty of sleep (7-8 hours/night) and consume a healthy diet.
  • If need be, change your daily routine to avoid things you might associate with smoking.


Quitting smoking is difficult, and happens one day at a time. Try not to think of quitting as a forever, never-ending process, but focus your attention on today and you will begin to see how quickly time adds up. Staying positive is a helpful technique during your journey to quit smoking. The day you decide to quit may not be perfect, but at the end of the day, all that matters is that you don’t smoke. Reward yourself for being smokefree for 24 hours, like having a spa day, or having a golf day with your friends. You deserve it!


Being smoke free, doesn’t mean you have to rely on willpower alone. Talk to your family and friends, and tell them the day you have decided to quit smoking. Ask them for support on your quit day as well as the first few days and weeks after. Your family and friends are your support team, and can help you get through the rough spots. It is important to let them know exactly how they can support you. Don’t assume they’ll know. Your journey will become less of a burden with the help of your closest support team.

Wishing you the best.



Contributed by: Patricia Spensieri

Are you hoping to quit smoking?  Trying to manage your cravings? On your next break why not try something new… Let’s go exercise!!


Studies have shown that participating in regular exercise can lead to positive outcomes in smoking cessation. Exercise is known to reduce many of the negative experiences and symptoms that occur when trying to quit, such as cravings, withdrawal symptoms, negative mood states, and weight gain. Exercise also has the ability to positively influence factors such as perceived ability to cope and self-esteem, which aids in the protection against initiation of, or return to smoking. Many individuals turn to smoking during moments of anxiety, stress, depression, poor sleep patterns, as well as low self-esteem. What many people aren’t aware of is that daily exercise can have a more positive, long-term impact on depression, anxiety, stress, self-esteem, and cognitive functioning, than smoking.

How does exercise work you may ask? During exercise, you are increasing the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the reward and pleasure signals of the brain, thus, stimulating the Central Nervous System. This process is similar to the effects of smoking on the neurological processes of the brain, but it’s much better for you!  Not only does exercise help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, evidence also indicates that exercise has the ability to reduce post-smoking cessation weight gain and reducing craving of sweet foods during the beginning stages of smoking abstinence.  Weight loss usually occurs in smokers due to the active properties of nicotine, which have the working ability to suppress a smoker’s hunger, alongside the reward and pleasure signals of the brain. Therefore, once an individual quits smoking and the nicotine is out of their system, the brain turns towards food as a reward. Participating in daily exercise will help you maintain a healthy weight and develop strength to fight against the urges of overeating to mask the feeling of withdrawal symptoms as well as craving during your smoking cessation journey.  Studies have shown that participating in cardiovascular type exercises has had an acute effect on reducing both psychological withdrawal symptoms as well as the desire to smoke.

Exercise guidelines:  Starting with short bouts, starting at 15 min and progressing to 30-60 minutes of light to moderate exercise, such as:


Cat Stretch



Stationary Cycling/Spinning


Group Exercise Classes/Bootcamps

Group Exercise

It is important to slowly progress to higher intensities for your overall safety and wellbeing.  You do not need to be working at the same intensity as those around you, work to your own limit. Compete against yourself!

So friends, let’s put down those cigarettes, and let’s get moving!!!