COM-0014 Blog#7-Personal Reflection

Tell your story-no one else has one the same as yours. Photo: Canva

Many years ago, in my ballroom dancing days (that’s a whole other story), my dance partner told me that everyone could write a novel because we all have a story to tell. Some stories are happy, others sad, some people tell it through writing or speaking and some prefer to tell their story through dancing or painting. No matter how you tell your story, as long as you use your true voice, people will feel your message. That hit me.

This course made me think of that day, over and over again. The message is clear-people won’t remember exactly what you tell them, but they will always remember the way you make them feel. Sounds simple, however there is a strategy involved in creating, telling and delivering your story.

Content should be authentic-your followers can see through fake facades. Photo: Canva

Putting the strategy to use.

When people can relate to a story, and picture themselves as the main character, you are giving them an experience. It doesn’t matter what the content is, your audience wants to be engaged and relate to the story. They want to pulled into an authentic story that is unique and informative at the same time.

For example, I work for an I.T. company. We specialize in a variety of things, mainly cloud storage solutions and customized software. Yesterday, I received an email, filled with a bunch of snore worthy facts about how a home office will not operate like an onsite location. Boring to most people-right? But what if I took this information and told a story with it? Most of our clients are working from home right now, and call in daily with frustrations on how slow their system is working from home. I decided to create a series of posts, incorporating the information the network tech sent me, and created scenarios based from their experiences and how we could help them. I really don’t care for the technical mumbo-jumbo, but I do care about solving the clients issues. So I’m telling the story in a way that makes the client feel heard and validated in their frustrations, and I am still able to get the information out to them. They very well may not remember all the network solutions from the post, however they will remember that we care about their work from home experience and we are able to help them with their issues.

Choose the platforms that suit both your story and your target demographic. Photo: Canva

The platform is key.

This may be the dancer in me, however I always look at the platform of telling a story, kind of like a stage. You need to know that you are performing to the right audience. It would be ridiculous to expect a beautiful opera to be appreciated by an audience of death metal fans. The same goes for social media platforms. If I am a photographer the best places for to tell my story would be on Facebook, interest groups or Instagram.

Let’s go back to my work example of creating a series of posts for professionals working from home. Once the story series is completed, I need to gauge who needs to hear it. Luckily we have already done an audience analysis. I will post the stories to the platforms and groups used most by our customers and future clients. LinkedIn and Twitter work well to target professionals looking for network solutions. We do have certain technology interest groups on Facebook as well. I can track the engagement of these posts using my analytics tools, like SEMrush, and be able to gauge if my followers and hearing my story. Then I can adjust appropriately to ensure that my consumers are getting the best experience possible.

Creating an experience is what your story is all about. The follower or consumer wants an emotional connection rather than a lecture. Your audience knows when they are being fed a line or getting set up for a targeted sales pitch. However, if you acknowledge your audience, relate to them in a real human way, and engage them with your story, you have built a bridge of trust. No longer are they just number on your followers list, but instead a relationship.

Following the strategies outlined in this course has given insight to my story telling techniques. I have more direction and know that I can still deliver an authentic message with certain structures in place. I am able to better identify my target audience and steps needed to expand my reach. If you have any tips or tricks on how you tell and deliver your story, drop a comment below.

Thanks to everyone in this course for your blog and discussion post feedback. I have enjoyed reading your blogs and discussion posts and feel like we have all developed stronger story telling skills along the way. Thanks to the course facilitator Sonia as well! I always look forward to your comments and advice. Best wishes to all and continue telling your story!

COM-0014 Blog#6-Do People Know Your Story? This is Why I Get Up In the Morning.

Sometimes the greatest challenges teach the most imporatant lessons. Image designed by: Christi Bouchard Howden

The rocky road.

A year ago my life was completely different, and not in a good way. Every single week day morning I would find myself near tears, stressing about what battles I would have to face. I dreaded the short drive to what I considered hell. I despised my workplace and it was slowly but surely tearing me and my family apart. It’s funny how what almost kills you, really does make you stronger!

I needed a job when I moved to the Quinte region about four years ago. Known for its incredibly high unemployment rate, the pickings were slim in the Bay of Quinte. Then one fateful day, I found an ad for a marketing/data management position at a small optical manufacturing company. Given my background in journalism, I figured the position would be interesting a definite change of pace.

It took a little while however to acclimate to the career change, but I loved it. I was designing ads, attending optical shows and conferences, writing content for optical magazines and I even created logos for some of the new and innovative products new to the market. Life was grand for the first little while, until the honeymoon phase was over.

I can’t even say when the environment shifted, but suddenly it seemed like every day there was new turmoil and upset. Unrealistic demands were made and expectations were unreasonably high. The owner regularly would scream obscenities and insults at the staff. While I was rarely a prime target, the stress of the atmosphere played a toll on both my mental health and family life. Eventually my position changed and I no longer was doing any of the tasks that I initially enjoyed. I was resigned to a back room inputting orders and other mundane duties. I felt stuck in an impossible situation and had no idea what to do to get out of it.

I lost my joy and found myself angry at everything. My family gave me an intervention of sorts, discussing how much I had changed over the years and how concerned they were about my health. Something had to change quickly before I lost everything that mattered to me.

Change is good!

Dancing With The Stars! Upper star is myself with my dance instructor and my dance partner. Image designed by: Christi Bouchard Howden

I took stock of my abilities and qualifications then hunted for positions that I would best thrive in. It didn’t take long! A small technology company was looking for a marketing assistant and even though the salary was low and it was an entry level position, I applied. To my surprise they accepted a 41 year old woman with limited marketing experience and radio broadcasting as a background, to fill the postion.

Since that day, I have worked my way into a Marketing Specialist position. Never in a million years did I think I would go back to school, but here I am, a 42 year old student. I love what I do and I adore the company I became part of. We truly are a team and the owner is a leader rather than a dictator. I am happy and have found joy again. I enjoy waking up in the morning and heading into the office.

The I.T. company I am now a part of, specializes in software and application development. I am incredible fortunate to be part of an amazing project called Here2Volunteer. This software platform is designed for both organizations and the volunteers that play a part in those agencies. Every day I get to help organizations like the Humane Society or local food banks in the area recruit volunteers and be part of something bigger than anything I have ever participated in. Volunteer agencies, like Volunteer and Information Quinte, utilize our software making an even larger impact on the community.

Something bigger than I could have imagined.

Myself and co-worker volunteering at the Holiday Train for the Gleaner’s Food Bank. Image created by: Christi Bouchard Howden

This marketing position has given me so much more than employment. I am a better person because of it. I find myself volunteering within the community and even became a participant in a local fundraising Dancing With the Stars competition. I spend time talking with seniors on the phone during the pandemic so they are not lonely, dress up as an elf for the local food bank holiday fundraisers and even volunteered as a parking attendant for the largest human maple leaf world record event last July. Just yesterday, I was able to help present the local Children’s Safety Village with a $500 sponsorship cheque on behalf of my company.

Living life filled with a purpose, being part of the community and helping people, change a person for the better. It makes getting up in the morning an adventure, filled with wonder of what the day will bring. Everyday I am grateful for the lessons I have learned and the rocky path that lead me to where I am today. I am not saying this is my final resting place, because life is unpredictable and wonderfully full of surprises. What I am saying is- learn and grow from the tough times and remember that sunnier skies are always on the horizon.

Have you ever felt stuck in a dead end job? What did you do about it? Drop a comment below and tell me how you overcame adversity and your personal growth afterwards.

COM-0014 Blog #5-Personal Brand

Madonna created her own personal brand in the 80’s using traditional media-at a high cost. Image: popsugar.com


Who doesn’t remember Madonna for her iconic style and reputation, or Michael Jackson for his red leather jacket and sought after dance moves. Creating, developing and maintaining a brand was expensive 20 years ago, as it was shaped through television, radio and print. Back in the days of traditional media, personal branding came from an impressive resume, stylish clothing and other luxuries accompanied by a wealthy background. Today personal branding has evolved with new media and it has taken the world by storm. Social media platforms are available to everyone making it the ultimate way to to build your brand and show the world what makes you unique and stand out in the crowd. The tricky part is-how do you determine what your personal brand is?

It’s important to take a personal inventory and the opinion of others in order to create your personal brand. image by:www.hearsaysystems.com

Do you already have a brand?

Self awareness and intentional development of a personal brand is key. Some people unknowingly have developed their brand with online pictures of partying and intoxicated nights at the club. This is not a desired reputation to be known for. Especially when you don’t know who may be seeing your content. Case in point-potential or current employers. In 2018, according to a survey by Career Builder, 70 percent of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process and 43 percent use it to check on current employees. Although your personal brand is targeted to your chosen audience, you never know who may stumble upon your content. Soft skills are often portrayed through a personal brand and they can be just as important if not more important than job skills. Several employers believe that soft skills like dependability, positive attitude, self motivation and team-orientation are just as important as acquired jobs skills.

In a world of virtual open windows, it is important to make an authentic impression by setting yourself apart from others and showcase the unique skills and attributes that make you who you are. Social media allows individuals to create a vision through creative tools of who they are. Colours, images, blogs and innovative posts tell the story of what your core values and intentions are.


Personal brands are more than just a perceived image or illusion. Your brand needs to be true to who you are, otherwise followers easily can see through the cracks of your facade. Social media is your tool to create a relationship with an audience and build trust. For example, if someone builds their personal brand around being positive, detail oriented with excellent organization skills they shouldn’t be a known complainer that makes spelling errors on published content and posts pictures of a messy living or work space online.


My Personal Brand: Areas of Specialization and Why I Stand Out

My three word self-created with the help of interviewing my peers. Image created by: Christi bouchard-howden

My official professional title is Marketing Specialist for an IT company. Although much of my work is spent with SEO and data analytics for our website and marketing materials such as email campaigns, a majority of my time is spent with social media. I specialize in mostly Facebook and Instagram however also use Twitter and LinkedIn. In addition to the products I market, I also have a few clients that have hired me to take care of their social media marketing. Content creation is what I enjoy most, as it allows me to tap into my creative side. I have been busy creating and defining a brand for my place of employment and for my clients, but what about my own personal brand?

When I began the Social Media Certificate program, developing my own personal brand intrigued me. There was a lot of reading and research directed into learning more about my own brand identity. I really wanted to find out what it was that I brought to the table that stood out to people.

Having a background in journalism, it was only logically to conduct interviews with some of the people in my life. I chose two family members, two friends and a coworker. The question was simply-name five characteristics that come to mind that would best describe me. It was made clear that both positive and negative characteristics are acceptable and that no hard feelings would be harbored. The results were very interesting and many were no surprise. Social was on everyone’s list. Empathetic, intuitive, dedicated, genuine and strong willed also appeared a few times. The one that really stuck out of the list was from my coworker. He described me as being incredibly confident and self aware. With this, I sat back and took inventory and realized that I needed more information (that would be the pesky journalist in me). I asked them which colors would best describe my personality. The answer was black and yellow. I had to laugh at this because quite often I see myself as a cheerful, round bee but willing to use my stinger when necessary! Black was chosen because it resembled elegance and professionalism. Yellow was for my sunny and positive demeanor. Then I inquired what object would describe me best. Three out of five people said a tree because it is ever changing in the most beautiful ways however it stays strong with deep roots. I finally had a picture and idea of what I can offer and why I stand out in the crowd. I am social, that means I have a story to tell, and am going to ask a billion questions until I get exactly the information I need to make an authentic, and educated theory on whatever my topic may be. I am incredibly intuitive and can pick up on cues that require sensitivity. Verbal interaction is often the smallest part of a conversation. The empath in me makes my audience feel heard. I can communicate effectively and build a relationship of trust with them. There is connection and engagement on all levels. With my confidence and strong will I am able to assure my followers will get exactly what they want, done with impeccable attention to detail and creativity. I stand out because I have a story to tell and it will be told while being real, raw and true to who I am.


Social media is imperative to my personal branding strategy. Without it I would not be able to build my content, and grow my audience. Social media gets my brand out quickly and gives the opportunity of my work catching the eye of a possible new follower or audience demographic. Of course as with anything there are downfalls but with the goal of remaining genuine and authentic to my brand, I hope to not only override the negatives but expand my horizons into other areas.

Do you need help developing your own brand? There are several sites, articles and books you can check out to give you some guidance.

What makes you unique and stand out from everyone else? Drop a comment below and tell us how you create your own personal brand.

COM-0014 Blog #4-B2C Case Study

“You’re more beautiful than you think.” 2013 Dove viral campaign video.
Video courtesy of:YouTube

Dove Real Beauty Campaign

When I think of beauty products and the way they are marketed to women, my mind automatically thinks skinny model, with perfectly contoured cheek bones, and a photo shopped body that is not even close to being achievable. I usually feel awful about myself knowing I will never look like a super model, and wash my sorrows down in chocolate and wine. That is, until I watched a commercial that changed my perspective and possibly my outlook on myself. Could it be there was a company that actually cared about its consumers, and was trying to deliver a body positive message?

Dove capitalized on the release of Victoria Secret’s “Perfect Body” campaign with their “real Beauty Campaign. Photo courtesy of: prweek.com

What started it all.

Women have been held to an unrealistic standard of beauty for decades, and in 2004 an American company Unilever, owner of personal care and toiletries brand Dove, set out to change how women looked at themselves. The Dove “Real Beauty” Campaign was the beginning of a long marketing journey, a domino effect of successful campaigns that all delivered the same body positive message. Dove wanted women to see themselves as beautiful-regardless of age, race or size.

Dove Mission Statement.

The initial release of the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign was one that was three years in the making, and the exact same strategy was used for several other campaigns. Within a few years the idea of being consumer centric vs product centric, led the company to increase sales from $2 Billion to $4 Billion in only three years. The company used traditional media methods to spread their message, filling pages of magazines, posting on billboards, and spending millions on television ads.

Fast Forward

Once social platforms became mainstream, Dove quickly had a presence on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. They quickly understood that by using these channels of new media they were able to tell a story to their audience and open dialogue to create relationships directly with their customers. Dove uses social media to engage with consumers, asked their target audience to review their products, answer questions people have about their products and to promote campaigns with hashtags. Even their website is interactive, with games and quizzes women can take to find their real beauty product and hashtags they can use on other platforms.

While Dove does not post to all of their social platforms on a daily basis, they stay current to what is going on in the world and gear their posts to real life people and events. This creates a sense of integrity and trust for their audience because the brand is dealing with the same issues they are encountering.

Dove is a brand that stands for their audience and what they believe in.
Video courtesy of: Twitter

Dove has launched a series of campaigns, each focusing on real people and embracing their true beauty. They deliver a positive message to their audience while building relationship through personal interactions on their social media platforms. While their marketing strategy is not perfect and has raised concerns in the past, this brand has worked hard to portray an image of authenticity and trust.

Do you know of another company that focuses on the consumer rather than than their product with their marketing strategies? What about brands that reach out and engage with their target audiences? Drop your answer in the comment section below.

COM-0014 Blog #3-Target Audiences


Image created on Canva by: Christi Bouchard Howden

I have a goal to create my own blog/vlog. Actually, it has already been created, but to be honest, I find myself slighty intimidated by the possibility that no one will want to read my articles or watch my videos. Who in the world is going to want to sit there and consume the ramblings of some 40-ish year old, married with children woman, that is passionate about kindness, humanity and the world we live in? Apparently over 1.4K people to be exact. To my surprise, I already have an audience and I had no idea they were listening.

What a difference a week can make.

I’ll start with a bit of a back story. This past week was one filled with Oprah Winfrey type AH-HA moments, along with a side of rollercoaster emotions. I had the fortune of attending the very first Social Media North 2020 Conference (virtual of course), and I walked away inspired! One of my social media favourites, Amber Mac, was a panelist and I hung onto every bit of advice she had. The conference addressed many topics however there were a couple things that stuck with me. I will get to those in a minute.

I was having a great week, learning and growing. I was collecting valuable information and storing it away with a million ideas on how I could put my newfound knowledge into action. Then mid-week hit. On Wednesday evening, as I was scrolling my Facebook feed, I encountered a video that dipicted two business owners of a tattoo shop, located in my northern hometown, ridiculing overweight people. BOOM-I was triggered! The hateful and vial comments just kept replaying in my head. I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t sleep that night. By the time I returned from work on Thursday, I knew this was the time to apply some knowledge I attained during the conference.

One of the panelists that spoke earlier in the week had emphasized the impact of video on social media. She talked about quality content being responsive in nature rather than reactive. She also said there were two types of content created- look at me content, or learn from me content. With these keypoints in mind, I decided to try something different. I created my own video responding to the hateful messages I saw the night before. I delivered a message encouraging kindness amoung people rather than judgement or hate. I figured a few people on my friends list would see it and that my voice would be heard by a handful of people. I almost pulled the video down, feeling exposed and afraid of judgement.

What happened over the next 48 hrs was so unexpected. Almost 1500 people watched the video, and messages of appreciation and thanks poured in. Some felt the same way and were afraid to speak up, others stated they were very upset and my response gave them hope that there were people that saw past their weight. Strangers reached out with their stories and thanked me for giving them the voice they didn’t have. I realized right then, my passion gave me a voice and I found my niche. I had an audience.

The message of kindness and the plea to treat everyone fairly was one the listeners reponded well to.
Photo credit: Canva

My target audience.

I began taking a look at the people that watched and responded to my video. There were a few things that jumped out immediately. The people that responded were mostly women, between the ages of 30-45. They were either married or in a serious relationship, with children and were educated. The people that engaged with my post belonged to pages and groups similar to the type I participate in. It was easy to see the demographics and psychographics of my audience were very much aligned to my own interests and passions.

As each comment was posted on my feed or inbox, I made sure to engage with every person. In turn conversations started and I felt like relationships were being built. It didn’t take long to see complete strangers interacting as well and a small community of support was forming.

Expanding my horizons.

By understanding some of the details about my audience, I can build and grow my listeners base by utilizing a listening tool. I have some experience with Google Alerts and Google Trends. Feedly is a tool used for my professional platforms and could it could be incorporated to listen to different blogs and sites my audience follows.

If there is anything that I learned from the Social Media 2020 Conference last week, it is to find your niche, be authentic and get to know your audience. With this knowledge I feel more comfortable moving into my blog space and letting my voice be heard, because there is always an audience somewhere-you just need to realize it.

Do you have any tools or tips that you use to grow your audience? Drop a comment below and share your experiences.

To see the video I posted in response to the “fat shaming” incident online, please visit my Facebook page.

COM-0014 Blog #2-Storytelling and Communication Styles

Poor grammer will have an impact on your personal brand.
Image created by: Christi BouchardHowden (Canva)

Does reading a post online filled with grammar, punctuation and spelling errors just “irk” you? Or have you ever scrolled past an article simply because you can’t figure out what the content is about? You are not alone if you said yes to either of these situations! Several factors go into creating an attention grabbing story, however the presentation and layout quite often is just as important as the content itself.

Seeking the Wrong Attention

The other day I read a Facebook post about the COVID-19 pandemic. The author was passionate about his plea, and I was absolutely riveted with his story. That is, until he used the word “your” in the wrong context.

The point of writing a story or an article, is to captivate and grab the readers attention. When publishing content riddled with grammar, spelling and punctuation errors, the reader is most likely turned-off, and scrolls past the story, in search of a more reputable source. The author sacrifices their credibility and personal brand when posting content that is less than perfect.

So what should you do to ensure readers are attracted to your content? Edit, edit, and just when you think it’s perfect, edit some more! Reading over your content is good way to catch errors, however quite often the author is too close and attached to the material. Have a friend or collegue take look at your work to ensure it’s ready for the public eye. Also keep in mind editing is not a personal attack, and constructive critisism is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Let’s face it, people have short attention spans, and if they are not capitvated quickly, they will go in search of something better elsewhere. When I read a news story online, I want to have an idea of what it’s about before investing time and attention into the whole article. Usually a quick glance over the material will pull out keywords and give an indication of the subject. If the message is not clear after a quick skim, I will continue to scroll or search for another article.

When writing a story you want to grab the readers attention quickily to get them hooked. That means being clear and concise with your message, and giving your audience an overview of what your story is about. If the reader is drawn into the article, they will want more information. Once the audience has the whole story, and if they are cativated enough, they will engage or comment on the content. The ultimate goal is to have the reader walk away with more knowledge and insight, because of your story.

So how do you do this? When studying journalism in college, we often were referred to the inverted triangle method when writing our stories. The mission was to get the most important information out first, and never to bury the lead with fluff or non-essential information. The method is simple, start with the need to know information, followed by the nice to know content and end with the good to know facts. By following this strategy, you are able to stick with an outline and flow to your story.

Simplified Inverted Pyramid Method taught in my college journalism program.
Image created by: Christi Bouchard-Howden (Canva)

Everyone has their own unique writing style, and that in itself is part of your personal brand. When you are publishing content, it is important to follow a few rules to ensure your audience stays engaged and interested. Edit your content and have a friend read over your story before publishing. Using an online proofreader is great way to catch any errors and imperfections in your work. There are also several tools, like Grammarly, to help polish your stories. Following a stragedy, like the Inverted Pyramid, will help provide some structure, so your message is clear and consise.

If you have any writing tips or tricks that work for you, share them in the comments below. It’s always great to have insight into different styles! Writing is supposed to be fun, and playing with what makes you unique is the best way to learn. As the saying goes, “practice makes perfect”!

COM-0014 Blog #1-What I did on my vacation.

Beautiful landscapes of P.E.I and my family on the beach at Cavendish National Park.
Photos take by: Christi Bouchard-Howden

Have you ever been on a vacation that was completely life changing and tranformed everything you thought would be your future? Our family trip a few years ago to the East Coast did exactly that, when we decided to travel with my in-laws across the country in an old 1991 Ford RV.

This was going to be a trip that would set a record of “firsts”. Our kids had never left the province before, nevermind seen the ocean, and they were so excited for their first vacation with their grandparents. Over the span of a year we researched everything, and planned every second of our journey. An itinerary was printed, mapping out exactly where we were going to be over the span of two weeks. The East Coast adventure included New Brunswick, P.E.I., Nova Scotia (the Cabot Trail had been a dream since childhood) and quick stops in Old Quebec City on the way there and back. An old 1991 Ford RV would be “home” for our crew of 6, while we stayed at various National and Provincial Parks. In short, we planned the ultimate road trip.

Traveling in an old RV can be tough on kids and pets!
Photos taken by: Christi Bouchard-Howden

Parlez vous en francais?

A few hours into the vacation we discovered the RV had a personality and agenda of its own. Outside of Old Quebec City, the RV stalled on the side of a major highway leaving us to spend more time than anticipated in Quebec. We stayed for a few days at the Quebec City KOA Campground, just outside of Levis, Quebec. This KOA was fabulous, with friendly staff, plenty of amenities to keep us occupied, and a tour bus that provided transportation several times a day to and from the old city. We took advantage of the service when our bus dropped us off, it felt like a we entered a different world. We spent hours walking and discovering everything the city had to offer including old churches, the world’s most photographed hotel Château Frontenac, the old fort Citadelle de Quebec, and quaint little shops that skirted the old stone walkways. Although this was not a scheduled pit stop on our vacation, memories of the character and charm of old Quebec are some of the best I have of our trip. My absolute favourite stop was the Christmas shop nestled deep into the downtown streets. If you ever have the chance, stop in and visit La Boutique de Noel to experience some holiday magic, regardless of the time of year!

Chateau Frontenac, beautiful architecture inside a church and best most enchanted shop downtown Old Quebcec City.
Photos taken by: Christi Bouchard-Howden

Off the beaten path.

Onward we went, after the RV had some cool down time and a few minor repairs done. We were anxious to get to our next destination of Mactaquac Provincial Park in New Brunswick. Wanting to see the most of the province, we opted to take the scenic back route rather than the highway. About an hour from the park the RV felt like it needed a “rest” on the side of road…again. At least this time it was a rural road where the traffic was light.

I would like to take a moment to mention that 6 people sharing the small space of an RV for a few days can play a toll on a person, especially with the added stress of an unreliable vehicle. So at this time, tempers flared in frustration and we knew the itinerary for our ‘perfect’ vacation would be thrown out the window.

A few houses littered the quiet back roads and soon curious locals were coming to see what was going on. These people would have given us the shirts off their backs had we asked! They all were so friendly and generous, offering us a place to stay and a meal while we waited for the RV to be fixed. It was then we all shifted our attitudes and started to take enjoyment in the moment. Who cared if the RV was broken down and we couldn’t finish off our vacation the way we wanted to? This was an adventure and the craziest one any of us had ever been on!

The kindness of strangers got us to Fredericton where we were able to have a local mechanic repair our vehicle. Our schedule was thrown off, but we came up with a new plan. One day at a time. We all agreed we still wanted to explore the East Coast, but re-evaluated the situation and took out Nova Scotia along with the Cabot Trail.

More than we could have dreamed.

With our fingers and toes crossed, we ventured on to Prince Edward Island. It was like the RV had finally given up and realized how stubborn our crew really was! We drove across the Confederation Bridge and made our way to the National Park in Cavendish. I wish I could relive this moment a thousand more times, because the second I stepped out of the RV, I felt like I was home. I have tried explain the feeling that overwhelmed me but, words can’t begin to describe the sensation of being exactly where you are meant to be. The kids, in-laws, husband and myself all loved the tourist attractions like Green Gables, but the only place we all really wanted to be, was the ocean. It is no wonder Lucy Maud Montgomery was able to write such beautiful stories, with the gorgeous landscapes of red sand dunes and crashing waves on the shore as her inspiration. Walking through the trails of the park were breathtaking with meadows of flowers and scenery that belonged on postcards. We all connected and made meories that we will hold onto forever. We could not have planned a more amazing vacation-and trust me, we tried!

We were sad to leave P.E.I., however made our way back to New Brunswick for a stop at the Bay of Fundy National Park. The weather was somber, as if it was matching our mood of having to leave Cavendish. As grey as it was, we stilled enjoyed our stay as we took in the tides and the sites in Alma. The little village had the best seafood I have ever had, and they were not shy with their portions! We had fun exploring the shore lines, especially after the tide went down. The Pirate’s Cove gift shop is a great place for souvenirs and has plenty of photo opportunities.

Bay of Fundy fun despite the gloomy weather. The tides were spectacular and so was the mountain of seafood!
Photos taken by: Christi Bouchard-Howden

The real destination.

This vacation took us somewhere we never expected once we returned home. You see, my family lived in Northern Ontario, far away from all of our extended family members both on my side and my husbands. Upon our return, we came to the realization it was time to move and be closer to the ones we love. My father in-law had been ill for many years, so the decision to relocate to Eastern Ontario was easy. Our lives changed drastically in a very short amount of time.

It’s been five years since that vacation, and just a little over two years since my father in-law passed. We fondly reflect on that time together and often laugh about the crazy adventures we had in that old RV. That vacation gave my kids priceless moments with their grandparents and lessons on how the universe may have alternative plans for you, despite what you have planned out for yourself. It gave us all the realization of time, how precious it is, and how important it is not to take it for granted.

My amazing father and mother in-law. We are so grateful to have had this time with them and we miss him every day.
Photos taken by: Christi Bouchard-Howden

If you are interested in taking a family vacation, consider the East Coast of Canada and the many beautiful places it has to explore and discover. Some of the very best accomodations are within nature itself and many of the National and Provincial Parks offer cabins or even yurts to stay in.

Drop a comment below if you have ever taken a vacation that changed your course of life or turned out to be more than you could have possibly dreamed!

There is a growing trend on social media-and it’s leaving viewers mesmerized.

An example of the millions of ASMR videos captivating viewers.
Video courtesy of: YouTube

Millions of people scroll mindlessly through videos on their Facebook feed and YouTube everyday, watching mind-numbing footage of puppies, babies, pranks and epic fails. People even watch videos of other people watching videos. It’s strange… but true.

A certain type of video on social media has been gaining in popularity and it even has celebrities joining in on the trend. It’s called ASMR videos. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is not new, however it certainly has reached a whole new audience in the video world, and people just can’t seem to get enough. So what exactly are these videos all about and why are they so mainstream? Let’s take a look at what this developing trend is all about and how ASMR videos can leave you in a state of mesmerized relaxation.

ASMR: What is it and where did it come from?

ASMR is considered to be a feeling of well-being often combined with a tingling sensation in response to stimulation. This reaction is common to certain stimulus in particular sights and sounds. People have often described an ASMR video as being relaxing, satisfying and in some cases pleasurable. In many cases viewers claim it can be used as an aid to assist with falling asleep.

Autonomy Sensory Meridian Response is believed to have started with a woman named Jennifer Allen. In 2010 she created a Facebook group hoping to find out more about this complex experience. As a result a community of individuals were able to identify their feelings with the term ASMR and better understand this phenomenon. Lopez, G. (2018, May 25). ASMR, explained:why millions of people are watching YouTube Videos of someone whispering [Blog]

What are ASMR videos and who makes them?

In order to understand what an ASMR video is and how it makes a person feel, some time was spent watching people whisper into a microphone while making fluid and whimsical motions with their hands. Some videos focused on long finger nails tapping rhythmically on glass objects or keyboards. There are videos of people crinkling paper and wrappers and even audio of someone eating crunchy foods or slurping noodles. All in all it seems very strange and other-worldly, however regardless of the type of video it is interesting how submerged the mind becomes when stimulated by these sounds. Minutes turn into hours and then it seems like watching shaving foam being spread over a microphone while listening to the tiny little bubbles pop is almost normal. Almost. There is something soothing about the videos that have people whispering usually into not one but two microphones. And while some chatter on about their day, others get more involved and participate in roleplay pretending to be a ficticious character.

ASMR Women’s Magazine Interview with Margot Robbie
Video courtesy of: YouTube

There are thousands of ASMR videos on YouTube created by just about anyone. Denis Riley, 17 year old YouTuber, has a channel where he pretends to be the perfect boyfriend and whispers sweet nothings to lull viewers to sleep. Even celebrities like rap artist Cardi B, actress Eva Longoria and Margot Robbie have all taken their turn exploring ASMR and have created their own videos. Millions of followers are attracted to these videos like a moth to a flame and the truth is, just about anyone can make an ASMR video as the popularity increases and more people are identifying as being stimulated and satisfied through this medium.

Proceed with caution.

As with anything online there is danger associated with ASMR as well. Youtube is filled with child YouTube sensations upwrapping gift items or showcasing the lateset and greatest toys. ASMR videos are being produced by minors and parents are being warned of the dangers of having their children participate in these types of videos. Concerns of children roleplaying and whispering can trigger certain sexual responses that endanger the minors and put them at risk. Recently child YouTube sensation, Life With Mak, was recently suspended after an ASMR featuring the young girl roleplayed dressed as a police officer. The 14 year old with 1.6 million followers later had her account reinstated however YouTube did turn off the ability to leave comments on her account. Flood, R. (2019, October 19). GETTING SCHOOLED Parents warned new social media trend ASMR could be sexualising children with popular roleplay videos. [Article]

While ASMR is still a fairly new trend, it’s popularity is growing steadily and quickly. Everyone seems to be involved in watching videos created to give that satisfied and relaxed feeling. And even though they seem harmless, ASMR can become dangerous and put minors at risk when they engage and participate in videos.

So what is your take on ASMR? Will you be googling your way through hours of mesmerizing audio visual stimlus or will you be sticking to a hot bath and good book for your unwind time?

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Social Media and Mental Health: How to Change Your Mindset.

This week people across the globe acknowledged World Mental Heath Day, taking a pause in their busy lifestyles to check in and assess their mental well being. Unfortunately mental health needs to be recognized on a daily basis rather than annually. When we stop and think about the progression of mental illness over the past 50 years it is not difficult to see that as time passes the number of people who suffer from mental health issues is on a continuous up-rise. Several factors may play into the root cause, such as the changes in the economy over the years, the infusion of chemicals and fillers in our foods and the continuous development of technology. Scientists have conducted many studies over the years to determine what causes mental illness, especially in younger people. Recent findings indicate there is a common factor that has been linked to depression, low self esteem and social anxiety. The truth is social media has played a huge factor in the rapid decline in mental health. With the constant parade of flawless images and the need of validation through a high number of likes and followers, it is no wonder that people are becoming mentally unwell. But all hope is not lost! Take a further look at these mental effects of social media and see how the following tips can leave you in a healthier mindset.

Depressive symptoms are common in people that spend several hours a day on social media.
Photo courtesy of: Pixabay.

Depression

In a study from 2012 to 2018, a research team led by Patricia Conrod, recruited adolescents from 31 schools in Montreal and followed their behaviors from grade 7-11. The study, now published by the American Medical Association, had the students report the number of hours spent on social media, television and video games. Depressive symptoms were most evident in the students that engaged on sites such as Instagram and Facebook. It was also found of the three types of screen time studied, the consumption of social media was the most harmful. McKenna, K. (2019, July 15). Social media, but not video games, linked to depression in teens, according to Montreal study. [Article] Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/social-media-mental-health-screen-time-instagram-facebook-video-games-study-1.5211782

So why are teens showing symptoms of depression when engaging on social platforms? No study has pinpointed an exact cause, however there is correlation between depression and social media as it often is associated with online bullying, social status, weight and body image. Limiting screen time and exposure to social media is often an easy yet effective way to ward off depressive symptoms. Online bullying often occurs when engagement is present, so removing a contact if bullying is a factor can help overcome some issues. Privacy settings can also be put in place to avoid seeing content that may be triggering.

What people portray on social media is not always their true self.
Photo courtesy of: Pixabay

Low Self-Esteem

Flip through Instagram and it’s is easy to see why it would contribute to low self-esteem. The pictures of beautiful people taking luxurious holidays in their designer outfits are everywhere. Logically we all know that life is never perfect and there must be some filters and fiction behinds the facade. Yet many of us sit there and analyze the deficiencies in our lives in comparison to the Kardashian’s. Instagram gives the illusion of wealth, loving relationships, and dream homes, and sets unattainable standards. Feelings of inadequacy and failure set in, causing people to second guess their worth. Self value online is measured by the amount of “likes” and followers a person has, so when influencers have an audience of millions it sets the bar quite high! Mindful scrolling is a way to set boundaries and see only what you want to see. Purposely looking at the feed of only your close friends and family will help you stay surrounded by those who are closest to you and know who you truly are. This way the pressure of trying to portray an image of yourself as someone else is gone, and you can continue living your best life! Bawa, N. (2018, October 15). Social media addiction can lead to low self-esteem, envy: 5 ways to beat it. [Article] Retrieved from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/social-media-addiction-can-lead-to-low-self-esteem-envy-5-ways-to-beat-it/articleshow/66210478.cms

Feeling disconnected from others is common when engaging in too much social media. Photo courtesy of: Pixabay

Lonliness and Social Anxiety

Never have we lived in a time where the world is so connected yet disconnected. In a study recently sponsored by Cigna Health Research Company,out of 20,000 Americans, 46% of participants reported feeling alone some or most of the time. Amatenstein, S. (n/a). Not So Social Media: How Social Media Increases Loneliness. [Article] Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/mental-health-wellbeing/mental-health-wellbeing-mental-health-wellbeing-how-social-media-increases-loneliness/

How is that possible when we are connected to all of our “friends” on social media? Many of us are spending a significant amount of time in front of a screen rather than interacting with people face to face. The more time connecting with people via social media means more time disconnecting with humanity in the real world. Teens are not as apt to go and hang out at a friends house. Instead they connect online while staying at home in their comfort zone. By not having real-life human connections and engagement the more likely social anxiety will develop. People are starting to lose the capability of holding conversations. According to a study done by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in 2017 , young adults that use social media for two hours a day have twice the chance of developing social anxiety. The same study determined that people who visited these platforms more than 50 times a week were 3 times more likely to be percieved as socially isolated in comparision to those that visited 9 times a week or less. So what can be done to bridge the gap? The exact opposite of what is happening now. Disconnect to connect. Read that again. We need to disconnect from social media platforms in order to connect with our friends and family. Put the phone away and go out to a movie or dinner. Take a walk in the park and say hello when passing people on the trails. Try volunteering the time you would have otherwise spent online and do some good for your community. Relearn the art of conversation, get out there and start engaging in life rather than watching other people live theirs on Facebook.

Social Media is a great way to connect however becoming too involved can be harmful to your mental health. Learning how to balance life and social media while creating boundaries is key to your mental well-being. Have you managed the perfect balance of social media in your life or do you suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out) when you are away from social media for too long? Drop a comment below to share how you manage social media while maintaining a healthy mindset.

How do you know when social media has started to affect your mental health? Take a look at the effects Facebook and Instagram can have on your mental well-being and how to create the perfect balance in your life. http://bit.ly/35LQJmq

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Virtual Stranger Danger-How To Stay Secure Online.

Faceless stranger in the cyber world. Photo courtesy of: pixabay.com

When we are young, parents lecture at length about strangers. Don’t talk to to strangers, or take candy from them, and NEVER EVER answer the door for someone you don’t know. It was a simple equation: You+Stranger=Danger.

So when did it become okay to interact with people online that we have never met? Everyday we let total strangers have a peak into our lives through windows like Facebook and Instagram. We open our cyber door and give away personal information to faceless identities as if they were our BFF. So how do we identify and avoid the dangers of the modern day stranger? Removing social media from your life is completely unrealistic, but if you follow these tips and you can stay safe and confident while continuing to network on your favourite social sites.

Secure all your accounts with privacy settings. Photo courtesy of: pixabay.com

1. Privacy settings.

Despite the constant warnings of the dangers lurking online, many people still rely on the default settings for social media apps. According to chief marketing officer for ID Experts, Doug Pollack, it is extremely important to read and understand the privacy settings for each social media platform you use. He also advises against using Facebook,the most popular social site amougst users, to log into other applications. Although it may be convienient, it becomes a portal to pass along your data and details to other applications. By adjusting your privacy settings you are securing your information from getting into the wrong hands.

Bell, L. (2019, May 30). Six Social Media Safety Tips. [Article] Retreived from https://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/six-social-media-safety-tips

Posting locations can be dangerous. Photo courtesy of: pixabay.com

2. Turn off locations.

Believe it or not, your location is incredibly sensitive information. Take for example a woman who goes jogging everyday and documents her fitness progress on Facebook. Seems harmless right? Wrong. When you check in to a location you are sharing that information with thousands of people. Take our jogger, she posts online with a picture and location tag everytime she goes for a run. The sun is setting in the background. Her habitual posting is providing us with a pattern. With the infomation she voluntarily provided, she is disclosing both a location and now a timeframe, and through her posts a potential perpetrator can easily identify where she is going to be and when. This doesn’t mean you can’t share where you have been on social media. Instead of using your location settings in the moment, wait until you have returned home, or share the information at a later time. This way you are not letting complete strangers know your daily routines and giving them insight into your life in real time.

O’Donnell, A. (2019, August 19). Why Sharing Your Location On Social Media Is A Bad Thing. [Blog] Retreived from https://www.lifewire.com/why-sharing-your-location-on-social-media-is-a-bad-thing-2487165

Reading the terms and conditions can protect you. Video provided by: YouTube.com

3. Read everything.

When you create or update a social media app do you actually read the terms and conditions listed? You know the really boring stuff in tiny font that you need a magnifying glass to see. I didn’t either…until recently. Let’s take Snapchat as an example. Fun fact-Did you know that you need to be at least 13 years old to use Snapchat? Not only does the terms and conditions state they will use and distribute your information to third parties, but there are 3 levels of information they collect. Info you choose to provide, info provided by other companies and the info they gather while you use the app. That is basically all the content you post on Snapchat. It doesn’t matter if the photo you post is “deleted” after a certain amount of time, Snapchat and its partners’ still has access to that picture. They actually have access to everything and unrestricted rights to use any content you post because you gave them permission when agreeing to the terms and conditions. Scary right? This can easily be avoided by doing some reading. Check into the privacy details and conditions everytime you download or update an app. You may still end up agreeing to the conditions, however you are now aware and know the next time you post a selfie it no longer belongs to just you.

Hubbel, A. (2018, May 30). What Does Spapchat’s Contract Say When You Sign Up For An Account? [Blog] Retreived from https://www.advertisemint.com/snapchats-contract-say-sign-account/

Online gaming is a hotspot for predators. Photo courtest of: pixabay.com

4. Online Gaming.

Online gaming is bigger than ever, especially with the release of FortNite in 2017. Gamers, ranging from young child to adults, are able to play against people across the globe in battles where the last person standing wins the game. Sounds innocent enough, however the danger lies in how the gamers communicate with eachother. People can chat with other participants using headphones equipped with microphones. This means speaking to various strangers and possible predators. In a recent presention by Internet safety and digital well-being expert Matt Richardson, founder of Digital Empowerment Project Canada, he explained that predators participate in these gaming chats while looking for distracted kids to provide personal information. Children are often so involved in the game, that when questions are asked by strangers, they may not even realize they are providing information that could lead a child predator straight to their door. Richardson emphasized the importance of educating children of the potential risks while gaming and suggested playing against real life friends only. Bringing children of all ages to an online safety course is an excellent way to engage them in the important conversation of cyber security and how they can use different methods to ensure their safety online.

(M. Richardson, personal communication, September 18, 2019).

The online world can be dangerous and filled with scary strangers, but so is the real world. The solution is not to give in to the fear and hide from social media, but to embrace it and arm yourself with the tools and knowledge required to protect you and your family. What steps do you take for online security? If you have any suggestions please share them in the comment section below.

Want to protect yourself from the dangers online? Check out these tips.
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