The Social Determinants of Health: Dr. Sarah Gander

In This Episode

Dr. Sarah Gander, pediatrician shares her insights about the connection between our minds, our bodies and our environments.  She also shares her advice that a little pause and breath is a key way to re-connect our body and our brain.  Dr. Gander advocates for nature bathing as a sensory-rich experience that helps us manage sensory overload.

About Our Guest, Dr. Sarah Gander

Image of Dr. Sarah Gander smiling.
Dr. Sarah Gander, Pediatrician, NB Social Pediatrics

Dr. Sarah Gander is a pediatrician focused on the social determinants of health and the effects of poverty on the health of children and youth, with deep ties to her Maritime roots.

“I left for my training in Newfoundland for medicine and to Kingston, Ontario for my pediatrics residency. And so I came back to Saint John to practice and I’ve been here ever since.”

Takeaways From This Episode

We begin our podcast episode by discussing the current ‘information overload’ of our modern-age and the social determinants of health.

Social determinants of health examples.

  • level of income
  • access to education
  • being employed with job security and safety on the job
  • gender and resulting inequity
  • race
  • ability to access food and nutrition
  • having a safe and consistent place to live

Think about what we the world is experiencing with COVID-19.  And how many of these social determinants of health examples have been affected recently.

We’re constantly bombarded by the news of the day.  This, in fact, ties in beautifully to our discussion at the end of the podcast about the mind-body connection.  When we lived in small groups and in small communities, gossip was an important aspect of our lives.  We needed that information to operate successfully with our peers.  Now we are ‘tuned in’ 24/7.  It is an entirely new phenomenon.  We are seeing major sensory effects, including what Dr. Gander calls ‘screen fatigue.’

How do we navigate this daily sensory overload?

Parents need ensure their kids are learning online.  Organizations turn to a remote model of work.  We all continue to operate on Zoom for the foreseeable future.  Dr. Gander urges us to find balance and be ‘an active participant’ in our new online world.

“’s something that I need to be an active participant in, I think we need to still commit ourselves to sitting down and focusing, but also taking some pause because it does take a lot out of you to stare at a screen all day.”

Dr. Gander points out on the most challenging aspect of the current time for the neuro and sense-diverse community:

the total disruption in routine.

(We will hear another fascinating discussion on this aspect of the pandemic in Episode #2 with Maureen Bennie of the Autism Awareness Center).

The new, unbalanced routine:


“So one of the biggest challenges is the alternate days for high school students. And so when you’re a paediatrician and you spend a lot of time trying to get kids to do what they are supposed to do, which is get up in the morning, and have structure, and go to school, and come home, and do some activities, that sort of Tetris of their schedule is frankly a nightmare. And it’s a nightmare for parents, and it’s a nightmare for teachers, and it’s a nightmare for people trying to help people with behavioural disorders or neuro-developmental disorders.”

“I had a patient who I was trying to figure out his high school schedule for him. And if you think of the month of September and October with holidays and everything it was like, “Okay this week you’re going Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Next week Tuesday Thursday, but the next week there’s a holiday so that week’s Tuesday Thursday again.”

“So there’s just no even pattern that the human brain is going to default to in an easy way. And so then add neuro-diversity onto it, add toxic stress and trauma, and poverty, and two working parents, or not knowing where your next meal comes from, whatever, whatever, a lot of things that our community is a reality. It’s just like how is this going to happen?”


We wanted Dr. Gander to reflect on a remarkable statistic that motivates much of this podcast mission.  It’s the fact that as of June 2020, the word sensory overload was being searched over 40,000 times a month on Google according to Google Trends; a 50% increase from last year. Does Dr. Gander see this reflected in her work?

“I don’t just see it at work, I see it at home. My kids were home for months with my mom, their dad, and frankly, YouTube.”

Why forest bathing is a good solution:

Dr. Gander goes on to encourage us to put down our devices, lower our sensory input and engage in healthy practices like “forest bathing.”

I asked Dr. Gander to help us navigate the social determinants of health.  Do we really understand just how much the environment contributes to our overall well-being?

People do the right thing

“Well, it’s complex and it’s simple. It’s complex because it’s people and they come from all different walks of life with all different experiences. But what’s simple is what’s the evidence for me, and that’s that putting money in people’s pockets makes them less poor. And so we need policies that put money in people’s pockets. And there’s good evidence that says that they spend it on the right things….the policies and the stuff that we choose to do as a province and as a nation is what puts our citizens in the position they’re in, and I believe that strongly.”

Dealing with the day to day

“So how does that translate to me and my practice? Not to mention the underlying trauma and toxic stress that Gabor Mate’s work talks about and the adverse childhood experiences. That’s one big whole thing that actually changes your neurons as well, changes your genetics even. But then there’s just the ability to deal with your day to day. So we were talking earlier about how do you keep your schedule straight when you go all these random days to wherever when you’re worried about putting food on the table….How do you go to a physician to fill a prescription and know that if you pay whatever it costs for that medication, this bill is not going to get paid this month?”

Real-life help

Person with eyes closed taking a deep breath outside to help with reducing noise.

We want you, the listener, to take action in your daily life.  At the end of every episode we dig in to the real-world strategies employed by our industry leaders and guests. 

I asked Dr. Gander what strategies she employs in daily life to reduce the noise of the current era.  Her answer did not disappoint.

“Probably the most effective, intuitive tool that I’ve used as a mother is the pause and breath. And I really don’t mean a yoga pose, I don’t mean a big breath because sometimes that can actually be quite triggering to your nervous system, but it’s just a pause. And starting to identify what you are feeling and more than just a happy, sad, glad, super simple superficial way. But be like, “Okay, what am I feeling? I’m feeling anxious, but I’m also exhilarated.” And so I think checking in with ourselves is really important so we are the leaders of our domain..”

If you want to learn more about Dr. Sarah Gander and engage with her work go to:

New Brunswick Social Pediatrics

“We are a team together of really like-minded researchers and clinical people who are just trying to move the needle on this stuff. Our mantra is that we want to know what works, improve what works, and prove what doesn’t work and move on. And just get to work for people and especially for kids and youth in New Brunswick, because they’re totally worth it.”

Follow Dr. Sarah Gander on Twitter

Christel’s Reflections

For Part 2 of Episode #1 we brought in industry leader and Sensory Friendly Solutions CEO Christel Seeberger to reflect on what we learned in our first episode.

“Dr. Gander really made a couple of key statements around things like the brain likes to form habits…That really made me think about our experience right now. And Dr. Gander also spoke about the incredible disruptions to our routines. So when we think about our sensory experience in our many environments, be that at home, or school, or going back to work, or even working from home, it’s all different. Our habits and routines in any of our environments continues to be different, and to be changing by factors that are external and sometimes beyond our control. And that contributes to sensory overload for everyone.”

What about the journey of sensory friendly solutions?

We know we’re not going to solve the world’s problems overnight and it takes leaders and thinkers on the social determinants of health like Dr. Gander to help us along the way.

Not a destination

“…that really resonated with me as a core concept to help everyone understand what it means to become sensory friendly. So being sensory friendly and offering a sensory friendly experience, that really made me reflect and think about it’s not a destination, it’s a journey.

Get to the starting line

“And really at Sensory Friendly Solutions…Our goal is to get people to the starting line and to share those sort of key education awareness discussions solutions, and then to really help people along that journey. And that we should not ever think we’ve arrived, and that we’re at the destination, and that it’s prefect. So sensory friendly, and accessibility, and diversity, and inclusion, we want those words to become familiar words and comfortable words and part of our everyday thinking and our actions.”

The community is vast

“Because the community of people who experience sensory sensitivity, sensory overload, have sensory challenges is vast. So someone with PTSD might have sensory sensitivity. So might an autistic person, so too someone with dementia, and someone like me who has hearing loss. And one is a fit for one person is not always a fit for the next.”

Christel has a unique ability to crystallize and distil sensory friendly advice and the social determinants of health.

How did Christel reflect on the advice of Dr. Sarah Gander to re-connect our minds with our bodies through the breath?

“Our breathing is very much connected with our body and our brains. So she really qualified that. So sort of a little pause and a reminder to breathe. And then that in and of itself is just very centering and lets our body and our brain reconnect and start again.”

Innovation Segment

Throughout the course of the Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast, we want to ensure that you take action and we have, in some way, improved your quality of life.

This week’s innovation segment is focus on improving our media diet.

Book recommendation:

Dr. Gabor Mate writes a wonderful book called When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress.  The book, and Dr. Mate’s work is deeply connected to the social determinants of health and the actionable advice of Dr. Sarah Gander.

What does Goodreads say about When the Body Says No?

cover of the book "When the Body Says No" by Gabor Mate, MD
cover of the book “When the Body Says No” by Gabor Mate, M.D.

“In this accessible and groundbreaking book–filled with the moving stories of real people–medical doctor and bestselling author Gabor Maté shows that emotion and psychological stress play a powerful role in the onset of chronic illness, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, multiple sclerosis and many others, even Alzheimer’s disease.

When the Body Says No is an impressive contribution to research on the physiological connection between life’s stresses and emotions and the body systems governing nerves, immune apparatus and hormones. With great compassion and erudition, Gabor Maté demystifies medical science and, as he did in Scattered Minds, invites us all to be our own health advocates.”

Documentary recommendation:

The Social Dilemma is a fascinating deep-dive into the world of the applications we use every single day.  Why are we so inclined to use social media?  How was it built?  What are its intentions?  Technology will play a recurring role in this podcast and if we arm ourselves with the knowledge of what these tools are and why they were created, we can better encourage ourselves and our families to use wisely.

Watch the trailer below.

Download the Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast Episode 01 Dr. Sarah Gander:  The Social Determinants of Health Transcript in PDF or HTML.

We look forward to seeing you back next week for Episode #2 of the Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast with the Autism Awareness Centre’s Founder Maureen Bennie.

Thank you for being on this journey with us.

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About This Podcast

Podcast leadership is provided by Sensory Friendly Solutions Founder & CEO Christel Seeberger.

Season 1 was produced by Matt George and is engineered by the great Zachary Pelletier and was part of the Unsettled Media Podcast Network.

Our Sponsors

Season One of The Sensory Friendly Solutions Podcast was supported by New Brunswick Community College as part of the Community Resource Awareness During and After COVID-19 applied research project funded by the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and New Brunswick Health Research Foundation.  Learn more about NBCC’s efforts to transform lives and communities.

And thank you to our sponsor Taking it Global! Ensuring that youth around the world are actively engaged and connected in shaping a more inclusive, peaceful and sustainable world. As part of their Rising Youth initiative, they are looking for young people who are inspired with ideas and ready to take action through youth-led community service grants. Head to to learn more and to become the next Rising Youth grant recipient.

Thank you for being on this journey with us.

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