Down the Rabbit Hole

As Alice, from the classic novel and film Alice in Wonderland, follows the well-dressed rabbit down the rabbit hole, one is left to wonder – why? Most advice would say to stay away from the uncertainty of the rabbit hole. However, the rabbit hole can be symbolic for one’s mind and how we sometimes let ourselves go down the rabbit hole of our thoughts, whether we intend to or not. For example, when your friend doesn’t answer their phone, you might begin to wonder why they didn’t answer, even though the first logical thought is to assume they are just busy. Your thoughts may wander to thinking that they are ignoring you, that they are hanging out with new friends and didn’t invite you, or that they don’t care about you to the same extent that you care about them. If you find yourself going down the rabbit hole here are some suggestions to stop your mind from wandering to these unwanted thoughts.

1. Remember that even though it may feel personal, it probably isn’t. We tend to have a bias towards the negative, which can often make us feel like others are criticizing us, ignoring us, or have some sort of complex plan to mistreat us. But more often than not, what may feel like a personal attack is just someone being preoccupied with themselves.

2. Acknowledge you have gone into the rabbit hole. When you start making assumptions based on insufficient information, take a step back and tell yourself not to worry until you have a chance to talk to the person. If you can’t detect that you have gone down the rabbit hole, you won’t be able to stop it.

3. Focus on yourself to identify the trigger. Notice how you are feeling right before you go down the rabbit hole? Often people go down the rabbit hole when they are feeling overly tired, anxious, stressed, or annoyed. Once the trigger is identified, try finding a way to calm down and distract yourself. I recommend writing a list of things that you can do when your feeling overwhelmed. For example, watching Netflix, breathing exercises, stretching, listening to music, or going for a walk. These can help center you in these moments.

4. Remind yourself of the facts and bring some context into the scenario. Referring to the phone example – what time of day is it? Does this person usually answer their phone? Is it possible they don’t enjoy speaking on the phone? Is there a productive way you can raise your concern about the lack of telephone response with the person? Do you always answer your phone when people call?

5.What can you do in this moment to be productive? This may be thinking about the situation more deeply, or it may be moving on to another task. You can almost always come back to a situation later, let time give you some perspective.

6. Forgive yourself and move on! Sometimes it’s okay to go down the rabbit hole, as it can be beneficial and sometimes even fun to consider multiple scenarios and let your mind wander. You shouldn’t feel guilty when your mind leads you to negative thoughts. Just accept that this will happen from time to time and know that it will pass. Be kind to yourself!

By: Sara Pishdadian

Sara Pishdadian is a graduate student studying Clinical Psychology at York University. You can follow her on twitter to hear more about her research interests https://twitter.com/sarapishdadian.

How to Minimize the Stress Around Valentine’s Day with all the High Expectations


Valentine’s Day is one of those special occasions where we begin to think about ideas of how to make our partner have an unforgettable day long before Valentine’s Day has even approached. As a result of this, we often tend to overthink plans and gifts, which leads to a high amount of stress that could get in the way of our enjoyment of this very special day.

I will give you several perspectives on how to make Valentine’s Day a less stressful and more enjoyable experience.

1. Always, always be yourself. When we go out of our way to impress our partner, we often fall short because we are trying to be someone that we are not. It is helpful to keep in mind that your partner is yours, and they chose to be with you for who you are, so why try to change yourself? Some people might say that change is good, and I agree with that as long as you preserve and maintain the essence of who you are, even if you improve certain aspects of yourself.

2. Stick to what is relatively familiar. Based on your romantic relationship, you start to know what your partner likes and dislikes. Plan out a special dinner or a special outing based on what you and your partner like and enjoy. You can use previous successful outings as groundwork for creating a novel idea. Valentine’s Day is the day to step out of the box and try something new and unfamiliar, but it is important to stay grounded in reality and accept the fact that your plan might not turn out to be exactly the way you wanted it to. By having this thought in the back of your mind, you are likely to feel less stressed out if your plan doesn’t go exactly as planned.

3. Plan ahead of time. If you leave yourself to the last minute to plan your day and buy the gifts, then you might be putting yourself under more stress, and you might start second-guessing yourself about what you have arranged. However, if you plan ahead of time, and arrange things piece by piece, then you are likely to have more time to think about what you might be missing (whether it is gifts or any other thing that you might need to have a splendid Valentine’s Day). This will help minimize the stress.

4. Trust yourself, and know that you have given it your best. At the end of the day, Valentine’s Day is about the feelings that you show your partner, more than it is about the plans that you arrange for them and the gifts that you give them. It is helpful to bear in mind that you have done your absolute best to make this special day as memorable as possible.

By: Ghinwa El-Ariss

Ghinwa El-Ariss holds an Honors Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology and Environmental Studies from the University of Toronto. She will be pursuing her Master of Science degree in Psychology at Trent University starting September 2017. She is passionate about Psychology and the Environment. She hopes that her blog posts help you learn a bit about her and her take on certain things. Most importantly, she hopes that you enjoyed what you read!

 

Are you Feeling Stressed? Try Cooking!


I think we can all agree that few things are more stressful than approaching deadlines when you’re in school or at work. This stress can often decreases your productivity without you even knowing it. You may still get an A on your paper, for example, but it probably cost you more time and effort because your body was stressed. As I started to look for ways to eliminate some of my stress, I found that cooking really helped. I used to never want to cook, thinking that it would distract me from all the work I had to do and thus decrease my productivity. But when I set a goal to try and fit a block of time each day to cook, despite having assignments and exams, I found that it actually improved my productivity.

So how does cooking alleviate stress and anxiety? Let’s consider briefly what you are doing when you’re actually cooking (that is, when your food is heating up in the pan). To ensure that your food doesn’t come out charcoal or raw, naturally you would have to monitor the cooking process. This process requires a lot of attention, which helps distract you from the stress. When your cooking, you become immersed in the current moment and it engages all of your senses – smell, taste, sight, and touch. As a result, your body naturally relaxes and releases some of the tension.

This state of mind closely resembles the state of mindfulness – the focused state on one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences at the present moment. Mindfulness has been shown to alleviate distress resulting from all sorts of life stressors. This makes sense because stress and anxiety are primarily produced by a constant contrast between the present and a set future, and the feeling that the progress toward that future is hindered or deviated. So naturally, if you immerse yourself in the present, you will feel less of the stress and anxiety.

Although there are many other ways to practice mindfulness, they usually take time to master. Cooking offers an instant source of stress relief, without the time commitment of mastering the task. So next time you are feeling stressed, ground yourself in the present and try cooking – it brings more than delicious food to the table!

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

 

A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Your Teenage Child


Because I’m only 20 years old, I’m in that awkward stage where I’m still trying to figure out what it actually means to be an adult. So while I may very well be as far away from being a parent as a person can be, when it comes to understanding the inner workings of the complicated vortex that is the teenage mind, I like to think I have a pretty good knowledge base. After all, I was still considered a “teenager” last year!

When I was younger, I remember wondering why my older sister always wanted to hang out with her friends, never missing a chance to escape any family plans we had. She was moody and mean, and always seemed embarrassed to be seen with us. As a 10-year-old, I couldn’t wrap my mind around why my sister was acting so strange. What could be more fun than hanging out altogether as a family, going on adventures, and spending time with each other? But a few years later, it became my turn to begin distancing myself from my parents. I distinctly remember that wave of embarrassment I felt when my mom tried to hold my hand while walking me in to my middle school orientation. I pulled away instinctively, not wanting the “cool kids” to see, afraid my social standing would be tarnished before classes even began. Being 12 years old, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being caught holding my mom’s hand.

Maybe you’re a parent struggling to understand why your child is growing moody and irritable, confused as to why he or she groans every time you suggest spending time together. But try to recall your own adolescent memories, and how you felt when you were around the same age. Put yourself in your child’s shoes, and try to understand that their main concerns right now are how many likes they received on their last Instagram post, and whether or not their crush likes them back. It is easy to lose that strong parent-child connection you once had when the world of new friendships, romance, and parties takes over. This is the time when your teenager is learning about what their passions are, what new hobbies they want to explore, and their strong sense of self begins to develop. It may be frustrating to feel neglected and abandoned, but try and remember that your teenager is not intentionally trying to hurt you. They are just absorbed in their own worlds, and haven’t paused to consider how these changes are affecting you.

When we’re five years old, our parents are our entire world. They are our superheroes, always to the rescue, saving us from the monsters under the bed, and waking us from bad dreams. As babies, we are entirely dependent upon our parents for our basic survival. But as we grow and develop, we slowly gain a new sense of independence. As humans we like to feel needed, to know that our existence is important. So it hurts to acknowledge that your child no longer runs to you to save them. But its because they are slowly discovering that they can be their own hero, and are capable of rescuing themselves.

As we know, life is a crazy unexpected rollercoaster, and we will never be able to fully anticipate the ups and downs that we inevitably face. So as a parent, your presence is still enormously needed. Regardless of age, people need to feel supported and understood, and as a parent, this support is something that you can offer your child. While you may no longer need to wake your child up from a bad dream, what you can do is be there for when, for example, their first crush breaks their little teenage heart. You can let them know that it’s okay to not know who they are, and help them understand that while they may feel misunderstood, that doesn’t change the fact that you will always love them unconditionally. They may not know it now, but they will later appreciate that they were lucky enough to grow up with parents who cared for and valued them.

By: Talia Main 

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

How to Commit to Your New Year’s Resolutions


New Year’s Resolutions is a special tradition that has existed for years, dating back to the Romans and Babylonians who took this chance to renew themselves in preparation for a new cycle of life. In modern times, we still continue this ancient tradition by setting personally valuable goals at the start of each year. However, according to national polls and anecdotal opinions, at least half of people’s Resolutions fall apart fairly rapidly. So how do we ensure that we follow through with our New Year’s resolutions?

For starters, research shows that people who successfully attain their resolutions are those who believe they have the ability to follow through with their plans and achieve their goals. They genuinely desire and are prepared for the change to happen. Additionally, the beginning stages of the resolution play a vital role in its success. Research shows that strong willpower, self-rewarding, avoiding facilitators of failure, constant reminder of the goal, and sparing use of self-blame are especially crucial ingredients in starting your resolutions. Below are a few tips to help you stick to those resolutions and move from contemplation to action:

  1. Go after something you want, big or small. Resolutions are a chance to follow your heart and change yourself in ways you desire. This will give you the energy to pursue.
  2. Make it something you are ready to change. If you’re ready, then you’re more likely to have the motivation to maintain your goal.
  3. Like rewards for like efforts. Rather than focusing on everything you have not yet done, focus on the things that you have done and reward yourself for each small milestone you achieve.
  4. Know your enemies. Anticipate things that can impede your progress and try your best to avoid them. Try making them part of your reward if applicable.
  5. Make it part of your life. Put out a visual reminder, like a poster, of your goals and the steps needed to achieve them.
  6. Cut yourself some slack. If you deviated from your plan, reflect, don’t blame. Remember that change is hard and takes time.

Finally, I can think of no better route to enhance your willpower than to renew your efforts, especially when desirable results do not fall through. Armed with this, I hope we will all reach new distances on the road to achieving this year’s Resolutions!

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

The Power of Taking a Break from our Phones


In late November, my iPhone broke. For a number of reasons, I had to wait indefinitely before I could fix or replace it. At first, this didn’t seem like a big deal to me; it was hardly a significant lifestyle change. But then, as I thought back, I realised that I had never really experienced my day-to-day life phone-less for an extended period of time. The only time I really went without a phone was on vacation with my family. For the first time in 12 years, I would be living life cellphone-free, indefinitely. Fast-forward 6 months: I still don’t have a cell phone, but this time by choice. I made this decision about 3 weeks into my “phone-free life,” when the opportunity arouse to replace my old phone. In just 3 short weeks, I had seen positive changes in myself, my habits, and my ability to connect with others. My interactions with the world around me were becoming more authentic and mindful. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies; this transition definitely had its challenges. But for me, the improvements far outweighed the challenges.

Most surprising was the positive impact it had on my mental health. As someone who struggles with issues of social anxiety, introversion, and major depression, I was worried about not having my cell phone to use as a coping mechanism. Phones have become like a crutch when in new and/or uncomfortable social situations to avoid the discomfort. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how I managed challenging social situations without a phone. I realized that my old ways of escaping the discomfort only reinforced my belief that I was unable to manage the experience of any discomfort. I realised that my phone was holding me back far more than it was helping me. Without my phone to shield me, I found myself learning to be comfortable in the discomfort that came from new social situations. My instinct to avoid eye contact and small talk was replaced by attempts at connecting with those around me. I spent less time trying to craft an impression of myself as someone who didn’t care to interact with those around me, and more time growing the confidence to be authentic about the social connection I was craving.

The other area where I saw improvements was in my reliability. I was surprised to find that giving up my cell phone actually improved my punctuality. Without my phone to enable me, I found that I no longer had the option to send a series of last-minute texts alerting others that I would be 5, 10, 15 minutes late. For me, not having constant access to communication forced me to be where I was supposed to be and when I was supposed to be there. This growth extended into my overall reliability, as I was less likely to change original plans without the quick and easy convenience of a cell phone. Through this experience, I realized that the flexibility that came with technology and being able to communicate at every moment also impeded my ability to honour and stick to my original plans. I started to feel empowered by my ability to follow-through on plans.

Without things like daily texting, I found that I actually had the opportunity to appreciate and miss the people in my life in different ways than before. I no longer clung to the false sense of connection that sometimes comes from communicating without connecting. Rather than a quick text or phone call, I held onto the things that were important to me so that I could share them in person with the people closest to me. An added benefit of this was that I was really able to enjoy and celebrate life events and achievements, by taking the time to honour them. Most of all, without my phone acting as a filter through which I experienced the world, I felt more authentic and mindful in my overall day-to-day experiences of my life and the world around me.

* Disclaimer: This was my own experience of being phoneless and I understand that it may not hold true for others. I want to acknowledge that for many, a cell phone can be a very necessary and useful coping tool: one that keeps them safe and comfortable. This post is not intended to dismiss or alienate those individuals and their experiences. My privilege also comes into play, as I don’t have the responsibilities of a caretaker or someone in a similar role whose lifestyle requires they have constant access to a cell phone.

By: Meghan Thapar 

The Pressures that Students Face in our Society


Students in today’s society are indoctrinated with the idea of improving their credentials, educating themselves further, and increasing the pedigree of their resumes. We are taught to weigh every decision we make with the best alternative action and choose the one that gives us the most benefit within the same time frame. We spend countless hours studying and volunteering to get accepted into the program of our choosing, or attain the ideal job when we graduate, so that we can avoid having an unstable financial status. Often this means that we forego opportunities to take breaks to do the things we love, make new friends, spend time with family, or maintain an adequate level of physical activity every week.

My friends who went on exchange last year to various countries in Europe realized the impact of cultural values on our current lifestyle. In our capitalist society, it’s common to desire more money to increase consumerism and obtain luxury goods. In order to do so, we need well-paying jobs to provide the required capital. Based on the sheer number of individuals who all have the same aspirations, any opportunity is extremely competitive nowadays. In comparison, the culture abroad was more laissez-faire and individuals were in tune with what made them happy. They spent less time worrying about their future and wondering whether they would be well off. As a result, their self-image was more compatible with who they wanted to become.

Evidently, unless a major transformation in our culture occurs, the inflation in different product markets will exacerbate societal pressures on students to do more and do better. The notion that “time is money” will continue to place mental health as an afterthought to these pressures. If time wasn’t of the essence, then we would not face this problem.

However, that is not to say that it is impossible for students to tend to their own happiness. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I learned that it’s okay to go out for food, drinks, or a fun activity on the weekend with my friends or family. I can spend an hour at the gym, three to four times a week, and I can squeeze in my favorite TV drama, all without getting a worse mark or giving up on a volunteer opportunity. Allowing myself to do these things gave me something to look forward to when I was frustrated with how much work I had to do. It motivated me to create effective schedules and follow them to ensure that I was putting enough effort into all my responsibilities. Even when I fell behind on schoolwork because I chose to partake in activities that made me happy, I was able to fully engage with my work afterwards. I recognized myself that I needed less time to do the same things I struggled with before simply because I was in a better mood. Ultimately, students need to realize that as important as the future is, they also deserve to enjoy themselves in the present.

By: Parnian Pardis

Parnian is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Human Biology and Psychology. In the fall, she will be pursuing her Masters of Science Degree at the Institute of Medical Science at UofT. She is passionate about improving healthcare by incorporating psychological and social factors into individualized treatments for patients, along with the traditional biological approach. She believes that mental health is an integral component to this mission and hopes to encourage other people to engage with healthcare in the same manner.

 

 

 

 

Mental Health and Your Skin: Tips for Emotionally Coping with Skin Conditions

One day when I was in my early 20’s,  I was getting ready for my summer job as a waitress when I noticed a small clump of red spots on my cheeks that looked like small blood vessels. I’d never noticed these spots before, and I was confused about what they were. After examining them, I covered them up with makeup which I hoped would prevent my coworkers from seeing them. The makeup worked for the first few days — but, to my mortification, these red spots began to spread over the next few months and eventually covered both sides of my face.

This was my very first experience of the chronic skin condition called rosacea, which is surprisingly common. Since then, I’ve worked with my dermatologist to find solutions right for me. It took a couple years to get it just right, but now my skin is clear! For me, the right solution was a combination of laser treatments and special products for sensitive skin.

The winter weather may be beautiful, but it can also bring on common skin conditions like eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and dry winter skin. In my years as a therapist I’ve seen firsthand the impact of healthy skin on a person’s confidence, relationships, and quality of life.

If your skin is acting up this winter, it can be uncomfortable to do simple things like leave the house and go to work! But skin conditions don’t just embarrass us and make us uncomfortable, they can also impact our mental health. In fact, a recent study by the Canadian Skin Patient Alliance showed that mood disorders are present in up to 30% of people with dermatological conditions.

Psoriasis in particular can have a crippling effect on a person’s mental health – since it’s a visual condition, it can affect people’s feelings, behaviour and experiences. It’s typically associated with a lack of self esteem, sexual dysfunction, anxiety and depression — up to 60% of people with psoriasis may develop depression.

I’ve worked with many clients who are dealing with psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea, and I understand the crippling effects that these skin disorders can have — even something as simple as dating can be awkward when you’re not sure how to talk about your skin condition.

So how can you feel comfortable inside and out? I have a few tips to develop confidence and feel in control of your skin this winter:

1. Empower Yourself: Skin conditions have the power to make us feel like victims. Especially because flare ups can be unpredictable, they leave us feeling like we’re not in control of the condition – but rather, that the skin condition is in control of us! Start the process of empowering yourself by making a commitment to getting help for your skin condition.

2. Talk to Your Doctor: A recent study showed that most people with psoriasis hadn’t visited their doctor in the last year, which means that they aren’t giving themselves the option to try new treatments as they become available. The treatment landscape for skin conditions is constantly changing, and so speaking to a health professional like a dermatologist can help you get educated.

3. Connect with Others: Psoriasis affects 2-3% of the world’s population, which is roughly one million Canadians. Why not tap into the collective wisdom of others? Visiting http://www.CanadianPsoriasis.ca can help you find support and know you’re not alone.

4. Learn: There is no cure for psoriasis, but there are numerous treatments and healthy lifestyle practices that can help, and these things are unique to each person. For my own skin condition of rosacea, I learned that my skin responded differently to different environmental and social factors, but the summer heat and sun would cause the biggest flare-ups. Part of my own journey was accepting that certain activities like hot yoga or outdoor sports would need to be replaced with other fun activities if I wanted to stop my skin from being constantly irritated. Learning what causes your own flare-ups can help you plan your own lifestyle in an empowering way!

By: Dr. Kimberly Moffit

Loving You From A Distance -II


As weeks pass by, some things get easier while some only get harder day by day. I have become accustomed to not seeing my boyfriend on a daily basis. Surprisingly, this was not as hard as I expected, maybe because I was mentally prepared for it? However, as we embarked on this new journey, we still continued to face challenges with many aspects of our relationship, particularly our communication and trust. While my life has remained the same (minus him, of course!), he is now in a new environment with new people, which are two things that are foreign to me. Although I get a daily update on everything, I find it difficult to understand and empathize with him. I often have to be mindful when I talk to him that he is going through something that I don’t always understand. I try to control my emotions, but this has been the hardest part!

On a more positive note, I think the distance is allowing us to grow as individuals. We have always complemented each other in that we both made up for each other’s weaknesses. However, now that we have limited time to allot towards each other, we have to find our own way through things, and grow as individuals. We also seem to be becoming more patient with each other. As we both acknowledge that we are facing our own struggles due to distance, we are more understanding of each other’s feelings, and we wait for each other to express ourselves.

If you are also beginning a long-distance relationship with your partner, my advice would be to make goals with your partner. In the remaining 19 months we are apart, we have decided that he is going to visit me four times, I am going to graduate with a master’s degree, and we are going to ‘disclose’ our relationship to our families. Sometimes, it seems like 19 months may be too short of a period for all of these big milestones! Being a counsellor in-training, I would also suggest you be mindful about what you have right now. While our plans are not fixed, we hope that this distance is only temporary, which also means that I may only have a few more months of ‘freedom’ to spend time with my family. It is time for me to divert my attention towards my family and myself for a few months because who knows what’s next? I guess its time for me to count my blessings, rather than dwell on what I don’t have.

By: Nikita Singh

Nikita Singh is a graduate from the University of Toronto who is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in Counselling Psychology from Yorkville University. Her future goal is to have her own private practice specializing in marriage and couples counselling.

 

The Worst Advice We’ve Ever Heard About Divorce Mediation

Divorce Mediation

Mediation is a low cost, private alternative to airing your dirty laundry all over the courthouse in a protracted divorce trial. Yet many people are resistant to mediation during a divorce.

Divorce Mediation Myths

We believe this is because of divorce mediation myths. Some myths are based on anecdote – when one person has a bad experience, they tend to tell everyone about it – repeatedly. And some of the bad wrap is borne by television shows with “interesting plot twists” that show the very worst of mediation practices. Some jurisdictions require mediation, which may also frame it in a bad light.

The absolute worst mediation advice we’ve ever heard is not to do it, or, in cases where the judge orders it, not to cooperate or participate with sincerity.

The Benefits of Mediation

Not all people understand divorce mediation is an opportunity for a neutral person to speak with both parties to determine what each party wants, what they need, and what they can live with. A mediator works to find common ground and settle the matter without litigation. Mediation, unlike litigation, is done in private, without a record of everything that is said by both parties.

Results with and without Mediation

Couples who engage in mediation often find common ground and resolve most, if not all of their issues, without litigation. They are in control and have a vested interest in the outcome. When mediation doesn’t resolve the issues, or the parties don’t participate in mediation, the couple must go to court. In court, the lawyers argue sides, take testimony, and write proposed findings. A judge makes a final decision about how property is divided, how retirement accounts are distributed, whether the family home is sold, and who has what parenting time with the children. It is unlikely the judge shares the couple’s level of interest in the process. Additionally, litigation is more costly to the parties, as both lawyers charge by the hour and litigation takes longer.

Consider the Benefits of Mediation

One of the benefits previously mentioned is that mediation is not on the record. Consider, whether you want your children reading the transcripts of their parents’ divorce, or whether you’d just like them to know you managed to work out the divorce together. Sometimes, one or both parties are angry, and seek to punish one another. There are other, more productive ways to relieve anger than litigation.

If You are Considering Divorce

Are you considering divorce? Do you want the process to go as smoothly as possible? Contact your divorce lawyer today at https://www.torontodivorcelaw.com/divorce-mediation.html