If there's smoke, there's... stress
Busy locals unwind in surprising ways
Do you feel stressed? What do you do about it?
Perhaps you go rock climbing or head for the garden as soon as you get home to feel the dirt in your hands. Maybe you knit while you’re at an interminably long meeting, or take the dog for a run with you later.
How we relax is as individual as the pressures that create those stress knots in the first place.
Waterloo Region residents are known for their innovation, so it stands to reason that they’re also inventive about how they unwind from the chaos of busy lives.
We talked to five people who deal with everyday stress with humour, persistence and a bit of daring.
There’s a fire chief who gets a chuckle from his colleagues for doing yoga; a librarian whose new passion for boxing has earned her the nickname Hurricane. There’s a medical officer of health who intends to run the Boston Marathon next year; and a family physician who examined his own practice after seeing fellow doctors hurt by stress.
There is also a certified general accountant who looks after the books for a region-wide nutritional program in schools. She says this volunteer position, which helps make sure that no child or teen is too hungry to learn, does her heart – and her own health – good.
DR. LIANA NOLAN
During a wilderness canoe trip in Canada’s North, Dr. Liana Nolan, Waterloo Region’s medical officer of health, lies on the ground and looks up.
“It’s an amazing thing to lie on your back and see the Northern Lights dance in the sky,” she says. “There’s no noise except wind and leaves.
“You get to have that all to yourself. It’s rejuvenating.”
For 13 years, Nolan, 49, has been in charge of public health programs, outbreaks and emergencies. She was the voice that we heard when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) hit Canada in 2003. She’s the one we turn to during flu outbreaks and food safety issues. She makes plans so we don’t panic in the event of a pandemic.
“I have to make decisions in the interest of the population and often in a public way with lots of media scrutiny and interest,” she says. “The biggest thing is getting the right information to people so they know what’s happening.
“Things change and you have to be flexible and accessible and be able to break things down. It’s especially challenging when people are worried.” >>
>> Nolan likes her job and she knows what to do with stress. She’s a marathoner, a wilderness paddler, a cyclist, a crosscountry skier.
“For me, it’s important to have balance. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve tried to pay attention to find balance and make sure I have friends to rely on.”
She ran track and cross country when she was a teen, but began to lose stamina when she was in her late 30s, working, and leading a more sedentary lifestyle. Then she started running again.
Her husband, Greg, shares her passion for adventure. They took whitewater canoe lessons when they were dating, and cycled and camped in Europe.
Nolan has run nine marathons, including five big ones in New York City, Chicago, Boston, London and Berlin. She trains with a group of friends out of Runners’ Choice in Waterloo. On Sundays, they run and then meet for breakfast.
Strength training, yoga and Pilates are also part of her regimen.
“It gives me energy to be training. I really enjoy the friendship and sharing it with my husband. I like the challenge.”
This spring, Nolan was a spectator cheering on a friend running in the Boston Marathon. The year before, Nolan raced to find the same friend who had crossed the finish line a couple of moments before bombs exploded, injuring more than 200 people and killing three. In the chaos, she found her friend, safe, at a prearranged spot.
Nolan plans to run the Boston Marathon herself in 2015. It will be her second time. This December, she will run the California International Marathon in Sacramento. She’ll also turn 50 in December, paving the way for a “milestone year.”
“I try to have an adventure of a lifetime at least once a year,” she says, laughing. She and her husband have paddled with friends in rivers across the country, including the Coppermine River and Churchill River. “When I finish one adventure, I start planning another,” she says.
Some of my greatest satisfaction is coaching and mentoring and seeing them develop. It contributes to my health.
She collects beautiful sights along the way. She has seen an adult polar bear play about a kilometre from where she was resting during a two-week canoe trip on Seal River, Man. “It was a highlight of the trip. They are beautiful animals,” she says.
She and her husband have watched whales breach. They’ve seen bald eagles, golden eagles, caribou; “a lot of animals that haven’t seen humans before.”
Back at the office, photos of her adventures help on a stressful day.
There are no cellphones and no work interruptions when they’re wilderness canoeing, she says. And work concerns tend to get trumped by everyday priorities like food, sleep and staying warm. “It brings you back to basics. “I know because we don’t have kids, there is less to juggle,” she says. But staying active, as discussed in a book she read called Younger Next Year, is a priority.
That book made her realize how much society invests in education, children, a home. “Why not include looking after yourself?
“If the difference is living younger and more independently, isn’t that worth it?” she says.
“There’s so much I want to keep doing. My real goal is when I’m 80, I’ll still ski and cycle and canoe.”
In the living room of his home, Richard Hepditch practises yoga.
His children and their friends might pass by, the main floor might be noisy with family life, but Waterloo’s new fire chief is focused on the television where a DVD gives him yoga instructions.
A 40-minute yoga session is one way that Hepditch puts balance back into his life – a life with heavy work demands and responsibility for public safety.
Before he was named fire chief in May, Hepditch was deputy fire chief of support services.
He’s available and ready to respond to a major incident at any time. He knows the elements of risk and danger to his firefighters and to the public. He’s also the community’s emergency management coordinator; a key leader in an emergency.
“The element of public safety is 24/7,” he says. “It means that you’re never turned off.”
As fire chief, he also works more closely now with government and union officials and members of the community. Waterloo’s fire department has 126 firefighters, fire prevention officers and administrators.
Hepditch, 41, is aware that yoga is a rather unusual way for a firefighter to unwind.
“Some of the guys know that I do it and I’ve taken a ribbing for it,” he says, smiling.
“It gets mixed reviews because it’s not weight training. . . .
“Yoga is the furthest thing from . . . axes and helmets and trucks.”
But there in the living room of his Waterloo home, with its peaceful grey colour, natural wood floors and in winter, a fire burning in the fireplace, Hepditch says yoga makes him feel relaxed, calm and focused. It’s also good exercise, he says.
He doesn’t have time to go to a yoga studio so the living room works just fine, he says.
“If I can do it in the early morning, that’s the best time,” he says. “I was up at 10 to six this morning and I did yoga.”
With the range of responsibilities in his new position comes “a greater sense and awareness to take care of myself and manage stress and eat well and get good rest.”
Hepditch was introduced to yoga about 13 years ago when he attended a class with his
wife, Lisa, who was pregnant with their first of three children. He continued practising yoga off and on. About four years ago, he attended a class at a hot yoga studio in Kitchener and “I started getting back into it.” Hepditch is in his 17th year with the fire service. For three years, he worked as both firefighter and paramedic. For more than a decade, he also taught and co-ordinated the pre-service firefighter education and training at Conestoga College. He now teaches online and distance education courses in the fire service leadership program of Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University. Yoga is his stress-buster. So is volunteering. For eight years he co-chaired Real Men Can Cook Waterloo, a community fundraiser. Last year, he won a debate in the inaugural Waterloo Reads competition, arguing the merits of the book Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese.
He’s a longtime hockey and soccer coach for his children’s teams, including a stint this year as goalie coach of his eldest son’s Major Peewee AA team which went to the provincial finals in April.
“Some of my greatest satisfaction is coaching and mentoring and seeing them develop. It contributes to my health,” he says.
“I’m coaching hockey and enjoying myself. Everything else is turned off and I think that is why I enjoy it so much, and I exercise.”
On his first day at Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C. where he’s working part-time on his master of arts degree in disaster and emergency management, Hepditch says he learned an important lesson about reflection.
Students were told to walk through a forest without talking. They were to think about why they were there and who was supporting them.
He chatted with a former Canadian military head who told him about the value of deep reflection in his life.
“It was like a light bulb went off,” Hepditch says.
Royal Roads University has been a “transformative experience” in terms of how he thinks and sees things, he says. One program in particular taught him that “no matter how big or difficult a challenge, there is something good and positive in everything.
“It’s not about lying to yourself. It’s (about) you involving others and discussing and coming up with a good solution.”
While yoga, volunteering and reflection play an important part in de-stressing his life, Hepditch credits Lisa, whom he started dating in high school, as making the biggest difference in helping him stay balanced.
Lisa owns her own business. Recently, she began taking part in a boot camp, something he’s thinking about doing too. They’ve been married 15 years.
“My relationship with her is the greatest balance in my life.”>>
Instead of answering shareholders, I’m answering to little kids who need food.
All day, Lori Santos, a senior financial analyst at Manulife Financial, manages expenses, forecasts and budgets.
Naturally, there’s pressure, particularly during reporting periods, and the company has seen a lot of reorganizational change over the seven years she has worked there. “It’s always challenging,” she says.
After work on Tuesdays, Santos hops in her car and heads for an industrial park near Ayr where she spends a few more hours crunching numbers as volunteer treasurer of Nutrition for Learning.
Santos, 42, may not be rock climbing, boxing or running to blow off steam, but she’s managing stress just the same.
Volunteering is another way to create balance in your life, wellness experts say.
Santos says her accounting skills take on new meaning when she’s using them to help children who come to school hungry.
Nutrition for Learning is a communitybased charity that feeds thousands of students in Waterloo Region every school day.
The nutritious food programs are open to any student who is hungry that day, whatever the reason.
A year and a half ago, Santos saw a presentation through her company about volunteer board opportunities. It seemed as though Nutrition for Learning fit with her philosophy, she says.
“It helps kids and sends them off to a good start and makes sure they get an education.”
Santos, who has a 12-year-old daughter, says she wants to share her good fortune.
“She brings so much joy to our life. We want to pass it on to others.”
Her volunteer work – her first since finishing school in 2007 and having her daughter - gives her “a whole different perspective,” she says. “Here, I look at expenses. There, I look at the whole picture. I see the whole process.”
Santos goes to Nutrition for Learning’s offices one or two times a week for two to three hours each time. She attends bimonthly board meetings and a monthly executive meeting. She might take some work home. This year, she helped build an accounting system to support a new program
involving the warehouse and inventory.
It’s busy, but “I really like it,” she says. “It’s a feel-good experience to make sure there’s enough money to feed as many kids as possible.
“Instead of answering shareholders, I’m answering to little kids who need food.” They’re our future leaders, she says. The volunteer work has helped give her balance, Santos says. She’s learning new things and she enjoys the camaraderie.
“I think it’s just getting out and being with other people and the camaraderie and the feeling that you’re making a contribution to society. “Last year, I toured elementary and high schools . . . to get a feel of the variety of programs,” she says. She served burritos and visited with students.
“I think the first one I went to, there was one little girl who sat at the back,” she says. “She wouldn’t go up (to get food) until no one was looking.
“It was heartbreaking,” she says. But “the good thing is here’s a shy, little girl who is sitting with other kids . . . and sitting with adults and having a conversation.”
In addition to volunteering, Santos says her pets – two parrots, a dog, a couple of bunnies – on the family’s hobby farm in Innerkip help her relax.
She also paints, reads a lot, and has taken a cake decorating class. She has knitted since she was 10 years old. In the summer, she enjoys holidays in the trailer with her husband and daughter.
They call her the Hurricane. Sandi Hall’s blood pressure was too high and she wanted to lose weight.
When she walked into Syd Vanderpool’s gym for the first time a couple of years ago, she wanted to run right out again. She didn’t know the lingo – hooks and jabs weren’t yet in her vocabulary. She spent her days with books, not boxers, for heaven’s sake.
“My own knowledge of boxing was that I saw Rocky, (the movie) and that’s it,” she says, laughing.
Hall, 47, is Waterloo Public Library’s webmaster. She manages the library’s website, blogs and other social media. She’s in charge of the library’s publicity, promotions, newsletters and brochures. She’s the brains behind imaginative fundraisers.
A former equine photographer who covered international horse shows, she now uses her talents to take pictures and manage the website and social media for the Waterloo Wolves Major Midget AAA hockey team and the New Hamburg Firebirds Junior C team. >>
>> She also occasionally takes pictures for the Waterloo Siskins, for which her husband is head trainer. “It’s go, go, go,” she says. She likes her busy life and she was shocked when, a couple of years ago, her doctor said that her blood pressure was “in the danger zone.” But her father had had a heart attack, so she listened when he said to lose weight and exercise.
Hall has ridden horses all her life, and jogged since she was in her late 20s. But an injury to her knees combined with her horses’ retirement had made her less active, she says.
She discovered that Vanderpool, a former world title contender, was offering a six-week course at his gym for people who knew nothing about boxing. She signed up with her husband.
She started exercising and boxing in group classes around the time that Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. The timing, as well as her persistence and enthusiasm for the sport earned her the nickname Hurricane. She made small changes to her diet. “I boxed for a few months before I told anybody,” she says. “At my age, my thought is people who box are really tough and really young and super-fit.”
By the end of the six-week course, Hall had lost 16 pounds. She felt good. “I fell in love with it.” Today, Hall believes she’s one of the older boxers at the gym. She loves working on the heavy bag, preferring that exercise to sparring in the ring. She likes the demands that the exercise places on her mind and she likes the feeling of strength that she gets.
“Boxing surprised me in how much you have to think,” she says. “And when you hit the bag . . . you feel the power go up the arm and through the shoulder and you feel strong. “I like to hit it like you mean it,” she says. She especially likes the feeling of camaraderie in the gym as she exercises and boxes three to four times a week.
“They’d say ‘the Hurricane is in the house’ and there’s rap music playing,” she says, smiling. “It’s a real community there.”
Earlier this year, Hall had a doctor’s appointment.
“I’m down 30 pounds and four clothing sizes,” she says. She’s working to reduce her weight and blood pressure further.
“I’ve totally mastered hooks. Now they call them the Hurricane hooks. It makes me laugh.”
She’s walking and jogging again too. And she’s gardening at their house which she and her husband share with a dog and two cats.
Her late grandfather, James Hall, was a
winning boxer when he was in the British army. “I think he’s probably up there thinking this is phenomenal.” And while it might seem unusual for a librarian to box, Hall reminds us that the fit comic book hero, Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl, was a librarian at the Gotham City Library. Meanwhile, Hall is thinking about getting a tattoo of a hurricane to celebrate her new passion. Her boxing grandpa had a tattoo.
“I feel totally energized again,” she says. “I don’t like missing it. It puts a smile on my face. It makes my day.”
DR. JOSEPH LEE
In his practice, Dr. Joseph Lee saw fellow physicians struggle with stress and burnout. It was about a decade ago and the doctors – “really good, rock-solid people” – were his patients.
It made him think hard about his own life. “Could I be at risk? Could that be me?” he asked himself.
Lee is chair and lead physician at the Centre for Family Medicine, Family Health Team. He has won awards for his leadership in establishing the Centre for Family Medicine in Kitchener, the Kitchener-Waterloo Family Medicine residency program and the Waterloo Regional medical school campus of McMaster University.
He has his own practice and teaches resident doctors and medical students. He does research and administration. He’s married to Dr. Linda Lee, known for her family medicine memory clinic which is a model for other clinics in Ontario. They have three children in university.
Lee decided to look into physicians’ stress. As part of a master’s degree in medical education, he interviewed local family doctors to investigate physician stress and burnout. He asked them to describe what they did to become resilient.
The topic resonated among doctors and many took part in the study, which was recognized for its original research.
“It was the first study among urban family physicians in Canada looking at this,” Lee says.
Medical students tend to be high-achievers and perfectionists, very reliable and conscientious, Lee says. They are personality traits that can “make it hard on you if things go wrong.”
And female professionals are still largely relied upon for household duties.
Then there’s a family doctor’s practice – life-and-death decisions, listening as patients “bare their soul,” dealing with patient issues like abuse, navigating an often “bewildering” health-care system that >>
>> has limited resources, Lee says. He learned some valuable lessons. “Exploring the topic and interviewing many doctors helped me with my personal resilience,” he says.
These days, Lee plays tennis four times a week at Waterloo Tennis Club in Waterloo Park.
Except in winter, he rides his bike from his Kitchener home to work in downtown Kitchener — a 10-kilometre, half-hour trip that gives him time to reflect, he says. “It makes me feel good because I get exercise and I feel like it’s a nice environmental thing to do and a good role model for our kids.”
He plays golf regularly in the summer and enjoys travel to other countries where he might also investigate a new relationship with a medical school. He finds it refreshing to teach medical students.
“I do weekly reflection trying to align values with behaviours and build my weekly schedule to fit this,” he says. “I step back and look at the big picture.
“People are stressed when what they do, or their behaviour, doesn’t fit with what they value,” he says.
“I try to make sure I do things that reflect some of the hats that are important to me – husband, father, physician, educator,” he says. “I almost never watch TV and I find it’s OK to adjust my schedule.”
He often thinks of his late father, a chemical engineer who left engineering to start the first Chinese frozen food company in Canada. “When I was young, he and our family sold the business and we travelled around the world for a year.” In the 1960s, “it was a weird and wonderful thing to do,” he says.
In the 1970s, his father imported woks from China in another ground-breaking business. Lee’s mother and father were among the first Canadians to be allowed into China in 1970 after then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau established official relations with the country.
“I’m following my late father’s advice – every once in awhile try and change what you do,” Lee says. “I mix things to enhance my work.”
That includes going outside his comfort zone, which he did when he learned how to ski, or sang on stage at a physician talent night fundraiser he helped organize. “It’s a bit scary but what’s the worse that can happen?” he says.
Recently, he took a leadership role in launching the area’s Health Link, a new medical program that co-ordinates care provided by different agencies to people with the most complex medical needs.
Lee praises young people for seeking balance in their lives. “They have no problem making sure they have fun,” he says. “This generation of doctors we train, they do a lot more things than we did. They go out more and go to the gym. They have more of an awareness” of stress and how to manage it.
Richard Hepditch, new fire chief in Waterloo, says yoga is an important part of his pre-work routine. He also coaches his children’s hockey and soccer teams.
Lori Santos, a senior financial analyst at Manulife Financial, likes to unwind by giving back to the community as a volunteer with Nutrition for Learning.
Sandi Hall, webmaster at Waterloo Public Library, takes out her stress in training sessions with Kitchener boxer and gym owner Syd Vanderpool.
Dr. Joseph Lee plays tennis regularly as well as enjoying cycling, golfing and travel.