12 Months of Wellness

Create healthy family ties

12 Months of Wellness

In February's 12 Months of Wellness series, the focus is on family. Improve family communication by sharing meal times, reconnecting , and letting your loved ones know you care.

After focusing on nutrition in January, this month we’re examining the relationships we share with those nearest and dearest to us: our family. According to the World Health Organization, our family has more influence on our health than our ability to access health care services.

All in the family

Our family passes along genetics that predispose us to certain diseases and determine our longevity. Additionally, the social environment we grow up in influences our eating patterns, drinking habits, and social and emotional well-being. Researchers believe that people who are connected socially share a health connection—so let’s make that connection the healthiest we can.

The connections that bind families together have retained their importance, even though the family unit has changed tremendously over the past 50 years. For instance, Canadian families have shrunk over time, from an average of 2.7 children in 1961 to 1.9 in 2011.

Modern family

The composition of families has changed too. The “norm” now encompasses

  • married and common-law couples with or without children
  • single parents with children
  • same-sex couples with or without children
  • grandparents raising grandchildren
  • multigenerational families

Size or composition aside, all families face the challenge of maintaining a healthy work-and-life balance. Eight percent of highly stressed Canadian workers worry about family matters, while 12 percent stress about time.

Celebrate the family

Family Day and Valentine’s Day both make February the perfect month to make time for our family members and take some simple steps to improve our relationships with them.

Four provinces celebrate Family Day with an official holiday:

  • Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (third Monday of February)
  • BC (second Monday of February)

If you live in a part of Canada that doesn’t celebrate Family Day, consider lobbying your MLA by writing a letter or email asking to implement it in your province or territory.

Valentine’s Day is also a perfect opportunity to let your loved ones know how much they mean to you. Our weekly steps will help you develop closer family ties throughout our 12 months of wellness. ?

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Plus, remember to check out our ongoing Twitter (@aliveHealth), Facebook (facebook.com/alive.health.wellness), and blog posts on alive.com for updates about 12 Months of Wellness.

11 ways to connect

  1. Plan a family picnic or reunion, or get together each month for a family dinner or outing.
  2. Preserve your family history by talking to older family members and recording your conversations on video or tape.
  3. Use Rootsy—a new social networking site designed to connect families only (rootsy.com).
  4. Find the humour in anything and everything, and share a good laugh.
  5. Enjoy nature’s beauty all year long. Walk, hike, birdwatch, skate, or ski.
  6. Put family birthdays, anniversaries, and special events in your email calendar. Treat these dates with as much importance as business meetings.
  7. Start a blog—it’s a great way to share photos and let family members know what you’re up to.
  8. Use Skype to keep in touch with family members who live far away (skype.com).
  9. Plan a multigenerational vacation for family members to camp, attend a special event/festival, sightsee, or relax together.
  10.  Volunteer together. Whether participating in a car wash or building homes in a developing country, whatever you do is more meaningful when you do it together.
  11. Honour the family traditions your family has established over the years, especially multicultural traditions that connect us to our roots. Create new traditions to deepen family connections.

Week 1: February 3 to 9 – Show your love
Let your loved ones know you care.

We sometimes take for granted that our loved ones know how we feel about them. A 2005 US online survey found that, when it comes to saying “I love you,” 45 percent of spouses say it occasionally, while 62 percent of romantic lovers say it frequently.

If saying these three little words makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t despair. Showing how much we care for our loved ones goes well beyond saying “I love you.” Counsellor Laura Bradley, RPC, MPCP, works with individuals, couples, and families. She says, “We don’t all register caring and love the same way. We should always take into consideration what makes the other person feel cared about. What does that look like?”

Bradley suggests having a conversation about what makes the other person feel loved, without reacting personally to the suggestions. This isn’t about you: “The goal is to show the other person you care about them.”

Monica Bhatara, MA, RPC, who specializes in child, adult, and family counselling, concurs. She suggests we figure out the “love language” of the people we share relationships with. We may perceive being cared about through receiving

  • words of affirmation
  • quality time
  • gifts
  • acts of service
  • physical touch

“You can communicate love in the language that will be easily understood by the recipient, whether the recipient is a life partner, child, friend, or family member,” says Bhatara.

This week express your feelings for your loved ones in a way that will resonate with them. Send a note or email, call, cook dinner, do an undesirable household task, fix something—even say “I love you.” Let those you care about know that you care. 

Week 2: February 10 to 16 – Break bread together
Set a number of times a week to eat a chosen meal together.

Studies have shown that when families eat dinner together, they eat healthier. Children tend to eat more vegetables and fruit and drink less pop. Eating together also fosters

  • healthy child development
  • better school performance
  • improved communication

While some studies recommend that families eat dinner together five times a week to enjoy these benefits, this isn’t always possible in today’s hectic whirlwind of work, school, and activities. Bradley says she doesn’t feel there is an ideal number of times families should eat together.

She recommends that families sit down and figure out what works for their own family members and decide on a special mealtime that suits their schedule best. “If dinner doesn’t work, do breakfast,” she says. “Just make sure there are no distractions.”

Make your special mealtime a fun occasion. Get the kids to pitch in and help with meal planning, preparation, and serving. Teens can take over the cooking duties to give Mom a break. Keep the atmosphere positive and enjoyable.

Don’t rush through the meal. This is a time for the family to connect, share the details of their day, and enjoy each other’s company.

If you don’t manage to reach your goal this week, don’t sweat it. Acknowledge the meals you do share together. By improving this area of family life, you’ve achieved something significant, increasing your motivation to make mealtimes together a regular habit.

Week 3: February 17 to 23 – Let it go

Resolve to let the little things go—every day.

Conflict about the balance between work (paid or unpaid) and life can result in increased stress and diminished satisfaction for many Canadian families. Parents serve as role models for their children, and when we don’t handle stress well, our children pick up our unhealthy habits.

When we’re at the end of our rope at the end of a stressful day, the little things can really get to us. Bradley reminds us that when we get upset about little things, such as our child not loading the dishwasher, we’re not really upset about the dishes. She says we need to learn to look at the big picture and recognize that we have a primary need that’s not being met.

Bradley suggests setting aside an hour, or two, or three, just for family time each week. The idea is not to plan how to fill the time with activity, but rather to spend quality time together, enjoying each other’s company. She says this can really help to reduce our stress level during the week.

Another simple suggestion that we often overlook, says Bhatara, is simply to remember to breathe. Stress can actually change how our brain functions, she says, because our brain isn’t receiving enough oxygen.

The next time you find yourself feeling stressed about something, whether it’s big or little, notice your breath. “Focus on your breathing for a minute or two,” says Bhatara. “Notice as the rhythm of your breath slows down, what happens to your thoughts and feelings.” We can teach the rest of our family members to remember to breathe, and learn how to reduce their stress levels each day.

Use this week to practise deep breathing when you feel stressed, and set aside several hours for quality family time.

Week 4: February 24 to March 2 – Reconnect with a loved one

Do something special this week with a loved one you haven’t seen for a while.

In between commuting to and from work, picking up the kids, grocery shopping, and preparing dinner, we think about Aunt Muriel. We haven’t spoken to her since the family reunion two summers ago! We debate picking up the phone to call her, but we hesitate. How do we explain not calling for so long? In the meantime, another six months pass. Does this sound familiar?

According to Bradley, it’s never too late to reconnect with family, even if it’s been an embarrassingly long while. She recommends thinking about how we would feel if Aunt Muriel called us. People are usually very happy to reconnect with loved ones, and it’s easier than we may think.

She advises keeping it simple! Stop thinking about it, and simply pick up the phone, or in the case of a younger family member, send a text or a Facebook message. Do something simple—something the two of you used to enjoy doing. Visit a favourite coffee shop or go for a walk in the park. This helps you reconnect with something meaningful from your past that the two of you share.

Sometimes taking the first step encourages our loved ones to do the same. Don’t delay—pick up the phone and arrange to meet with a loved one today!

Family Fun Giveaway!

Indulge in laughter and fun while spending quality time with your family. Enter to win games to enjoy together, and see what’s included in the prize pack at alive.com/contests.

Be sure to check back for each of our monthly giveaways!

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