5 Ways to Calm Down When You’re Angry

The next time you feel angry, try these 5 simple steps to help you deescalate your anger and feel calm.

1. Step Back and Ask Yourself. When we’re angry, it might be difficult for us to take a step back for a second and think about the situation. But in attempting to do so, it can help us find the source of our anger. Try to figure out WHY you are angry, and in the process of doing so, you are likely to calm down. By finding the source of your anger, you might come up with some strategies that work for you to regain a sense of calm.

2. Think of the Bigger Picture. Sometimes we are faced with situations that might be stressful. When this stress builds up inside of us, we are likely to get upset about things that we usually find trivial. By thinking about the bigger picture, we might realize that we are actually stressed out and not even angry to begin with.

3. Problem-Focused Approach. Some of the anger that we feel is often a result of a problem that we are facing. So in order to get rid of the anger, it is beneficial to focus on solving the problem that is the root cause of the anger that we are experiencing.

4. Listening to Music. Listening to music (any type of music that you like) is always helpful at getting your mind off of your anger. After you’re done listening to music, it is highly likely that you will feel relaxed.

5. Take a Walk in Nature. Studies have found that nature boosts happiness and reduces stress and anger. Most of us have busy lives, so even if it is just sitting down and looking at a river or some stress in nature, it is completely worth it. Feeling happy and relaxed is what we owe ourselves!

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!

Creativity — Standing On the Shoulders of Giants

Creativity has always been one of those things that people assume you either have it or you don’t. Even though in more recent years people have been advocating for fostering creativity in individuals, creativity still strikes many as a gift that is fixed and born within This may prevent many people from seeking out creative tasks and activities, when in fact they can become creative by furthering their glance on the shoulders of the most creative minds in history.

Although certain personality traits do tend to correlate with elevated creative potentials, creativity may not be as fixed as people believe. We need to stop seeing it as a trait or quality and instead see it as a pattern of thought and behaviour. I am not asserting that I know the way of innovation, but in reading about some of the most creative minds in history, I noticed a pattern in how they achieved some of their glorious triumphs and brilliant ideas.

1. They engage frequently. From the lives of the geniuses I’ve read about, they all immerse themselves in their work on a daily basis. Depending on what area they’re in, they may have different ways of working, but they never stopped thinking about or doing their work. Perhaps this is why they tend to get inspirations from practically everything around them.

2. They utilize history. In reading some of Carl Jung’s writings about artists and their works, I’m convinced that inspiration is only possible with the help of either education or experience or both. The more you know about a topic and the more you think about it, the more connections are being built and the more efficient you are in processing relevant information. This may make it easier for them to draw parallels between daily happenings and their work in progress.

3. They cast an extensive net. Their information comes from a vast range of different sources. This also helps with the fact that they think cross-disciplinarily, so to speak. These creative minds seem to be naturals when it comes to borrowing ideas from other disciplines that don’t seem relevant to their primary work. This is only possible if they have learned about multiple subjects or they have a rich life experience, or both. These ideas manifest themselves in all kinds of forms throughout their creative work.

4. They play around with the problem. One of the most common conceptions of creativity is the ability to find an unusual solution to a problem. Many people get stuck on the solution part of the task and when they can’t find one, give up altogether. However, the most creative minds don’t usually bother too much with finding the right solution. Instead, they seem to be most concerned about the questions they ask, which are often followed with “eureka” moments after being able to redefine a problem. For example, Einstein had the inspiration for his general theory of relativity when he transformed the problem of gravity into a problem of acceleration (in his theory these two are equivalent). So maybe the problem with us not-so-creative people is not to jump outside of the box, but to stop thinking of it as a box.

These were some of the common patterns I observed among the most creative minds. Of course there are other traits that underlie each of these behaviours and thinking patterns, but the above points help paint a rough sketch of a creative mind. Becoming more creative is certainly feasible. By taking a glance on the shoulders of creative giants, let’s hope we now all have the courage to stride as one ourselves.

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.

Depression Among Students

Last week I read a news article that devastated me. Robert Chu, a 25-year-old medical school graduate, took his life on September 2016 after failing to land a residency spot twice. Being an undergraduate student myself, who wants to apply to medical school afterwards, this news devastated me. The path to medical school is such a long and exhausting one that it can often cause you to lose sight of your self-care and wellbeing. The application process is extremely competitive and requires both a combination of exceptional grades and valuable experience. Furthermore, once medical school students complete their program, it is not guaranteed that they will land a residency spot. This can cause someone to feel defeated, as if all their hard work and money did not amount to anything.

What surprises me the most is the lack of awareness about the depression that students in medical/graduate schools experience. According to research done by Dr. Douglas Mata, 27 % of medical school students go through depression, compared to 8 to 9 % of the general population. Only about 16 % of students who suffered from depression actually went to see a doctor about it. Unfortunately, if this depression is left untreated, any trigger can result in a fatal choice, as observed in the case of Chu. Chu’s case is just one example of how schools are failing to recognize and address the mental health issues that students often experience. Schools should start prioritizing the wellbeing of their students by ensuring that there is enough access to mental health services.

Students are under enormous pressures and everyone expects them to figure everything out on their own. Even though medical students are taught to take care of others and the importance of good physical and mental health, a lot of students fail to realize that their mental and physical health should come first. As someone who did not use to care about health and focused solely on school, I can totally understand the pressure. However, at the end of the day, your physical and mental health should always come first. If you are not feeling well, you cannot function at your full potential. So please make sure that you are taking care of you health and no that you are not alone!

By: Maleeha Khan

Maleeha is currently doing a double major in Human Biology and Neuroscience with a minor in Psychology at the University of Toronto. Her current research focuses on the sex differences in factors predicting conversion from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer’s disease. She is interested in pursuing MD after her undergraduate degree and helping third world countries dealing with neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Is Self-enhancement a Positive Thing?

Self-enhancement is pivotal to our mental health. It is defined as “the desire to maintain and preserve positive feelings about ourselves.” Self-enhancement is closely related to the idea of self-esteem and self-worth, in which maximizing positive ideas about ourselves is an important cognitive process. The classic “Self-Serving Bias” is the tendency for people to view themselves as better than average by attributing good events to our own credit and bad events to external factors. Whether we like it or not, when we are faced with moments where we experience failure and disappointment, such as getting a low grade on a test, not getting promoted, or even simply having a bad fight with your friend, we become very focused on appraising the situation in a favorable light. This is because we are all motivated to view ourselves in a positive light. Below is a list of strategies that we employ to continuously maintain this positive outlook.

1. Downward Comparison. This is when you compare yourself to someone who did worse than you. For example, when you get a C on your test, you take comfort in knowing that there are people who failed the exam.

2. Upward Comparison. This is when you avoid those who did better than you. For example, you might avoid talking to people who received an A on the exam because, as a comparison, your C does not look so great.

3. Compensatory Self-enhancement. This is when you acknowledge that you’ve done badly on a given task, but remind yourself that you have other valuable skills. For example, if you do not get your promotion, you may think to yourself: “at least I have a really great social life,” which, in your mind, might make up for the promotion you did not get.

4. Discounting. This is when you reduce the perceived importance of the domain in which you have performed poorly. A classic example of this is when people claim they “do not care because it does not mean anything.”

5. External Attribution. This is when you blame somebody else or something else for your poor performance. For example, perhaps you may think about how your professor or supervisor was a terrible communicator and therefore it only makes sense that you did not perform so well on the task at hand.

6. Bask in the Reflected Glory. This is very common when you think about people who get very enthusiastic about their favorite sports team. For example, you may be disappointed about something, but then remember your favorite team won and all of a sudden you feel a sense of success and pride.

When our positive self-view is challenged, we are all guilty of exercising a combination of these six common strategies. Although it is very normal for us to self-enhance, and usually the lack thereof can easily lead to depression and anxiety, it is important to note that it is not the answer to all of our disappointments in life. As a matter of fact, several research findings suggest that an excessive amount of self-enhancement is received by others as deceitful and egotistical, and can also be a leeway to narcissism (i.e., a mental health disorder that is characteristic of a grandiose concept of oneself). Although self-enhancement is a good mechanism to help us maintain a positive perspective, it should only be employed short-term. In order to prevent us from feeling a discrepancy between our enhanced self and real self, we must eventually address the issue at hand by analyzing what to improve upon and accepting that occasional failures are a part of life.

By: Stella Hyesoo Pock

Stella is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major degree in Psychology and Neuroscience. She is currently working on three projects that focus on maternal mental health at the Mothering Transitions Lab at the University of Toronto under Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis. She has various research experiences that range from postpartum depression to LGBTQ members with schizophrenia. She is dedicated to help those who are afflicted with mental disorders.

Eating Healthy For a Healthy Mind

Over the past decade scientists have been delving deeper into how our stomachs and our brains are connected. Asking questions such as: What types of food can help healing? What should we eat to help our brain function better? Why are some foods better than others? Scientists have yet to pinpoint exactly how eating unhealthy affects our ability to function, but the link between eating unhealthy and the health of our mind has been seen time and time again. In fact, scientists have discovered that with the presence of an unhealthy diet, symptoms of depression and anxiety increase dramatically. On the contrary, when we fill our bodies with healthy, nutritious food, studies have shown a positive increase in mood and a decrease in depression and anxiety.

One hypothesis assumes that the bacteria found in your stomach after eating relays messages to various areas within our brain through our vagus nerve. The body then reacts to these messages by activating or suppressing specific neurotransmitters within our brain. Depending on the reaction that this bacteria elicits, we can either be helping our bodies function or hindering it. That being said, this is only one hypothesis!

I encourage you to spend some time researching ways you can regulate your gut and find foods that will make you feel good from the inside out! Below I have included a few tips to help kick-start your way into a healthier lifestyle that will make your mind, your gut, and your heart feel good!

  1. Make a list of all your favourite fruits, vegetables, and meats.

Many people associate eating healthy with tasteless food that is hard to enjoy. But eating healthy doesn’t have to mean cutting everything you enjoy out of your diet. It’s all about moderation. Start by making a list of your favorite foods and then looking up the health benefits of each one. If you find that it’s good for you, look up some recipes that include those foods. If you like the taste of what you’re eating, you’ll be much more inclined to eat it from day to day, so pick your favourites!

  1. Start your day with a glass of water.

Someone gave me this tip about a year ago, and nothing has ever made me feel better! Drinking water when you first wake up helps wake up your organs and helps their functioning throughout the day! Try drinking a gallon of water a day and I promise you will start to feel the benefits!

  1. Skip the sugary desserts.

Like most people, skipping out on desserts can be the hardest thing to change. But the recommended daily intake for sugar is 6 teaspoons because increased sugar intake has been linked to depression, anxiety, fatigue, difficulty thinking, and compromised cognitive abilities! At first it will be hard to cut out that sugar, but eventually your body will stop craving sugary foods. A tip to help with your sugar craving is to eat fruit, since fruit contains natural sugars. 

  1. Never skip breakfast.

Breakfast is SO important! I remember when I first started learning about our brain and its caloric intake. One of my professors noted that most people think they are eating enough in the morning to sustain their bodies, but they don’t realize that only specific parts of the brain get fed! The last part of our brain to receive nutrient is our prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making, thought processes, and social behavior. So you’re compromising all of these functions when you skip your breakfast! But you want to make sure that your eating a nutritious breakfast. Studies have shown that people who eat a nutritious breakfast show a significantly more active prefrontal cortex! 

  1. Stop snacking 2 hours before bed.

Eating close to your bedtime throws your bodies’ natural rhythms off! It affects your hormones, your quality of sleep, and studies have shown that you may actually be hungrier the next day!

  1. Cut the caffeine in half.

The last and likely most difficult tip of them all is cutting your caffeine intake. Adjusting to lower levels of caffeine WILL be hard, but it will ALSO be rewarding! Quitting coffee or at least reducing the amount you have little by little will eventually decrease anxiety, increase your mood, increase your quality of sleep, increase productivity, and lower blood pressure! This takes time, but I have to say that this is one of the most noticeable differences I have felt when I made this change in my own life. I no longer feel as if I need coffee to get through my day, and have finally slept soundly during the night! A feeling I haven’t felt in a very long time!

By: Eliza Watts

Eliza graduated with a degree in Psychology and a specialization in research from Wilfrid Laurier University. She is a passionate mental health advocate whose goal is to help others through her own personal experience.

Happiness Today, NOT Tomorrow

While I was scrubbing my white stove the other day, hating the outdated piece of metal, which is a master of accumulating dirt, I thought of how much I wanted a really nice, new stove. After all, new stoves do not have removable burners, often are stainless steel, and cleaning it would be so much easier. But I had to stop and remind myself that I should really appreciate my terrible stove.

Why? By all objective measures, this stove is terrible. However, the apartment is nicer then my previous one. If I am honest, I am much happier with my overall living situation now then I was previously. I have a balcony, a great location, a room with no mold, and an entryway! But I also have to deal with an incredibly outdated, uneven, permanently disfigured, white stove. However, when I widen my perspective and look the whole situation, the stove isn’t so horrible compared to all the other benefits. (Point 1: Widen perspective)

I also dream about the day I can have a larger kitchen with an open-concept floor plan and windows that bring in sunlight. As someone who loves HGTV, I can say that I have thought about the beauty of this dream kitchen in quite a bit of detail. However, the cost of this kitchen is far beyond my current financial capacities.

In thinking about my future, I will probably be finished with my schooling and working full-time. Likely my schedule will not be as flexible as it currently is, so I will be home less often. This will diminish my ability to enjoy my dream kitchen. Also, this dream kitchen will likely not be in my current (small) apartment with a beautiful balcony view. This dream kitchen will also create more cleaning for me to do due to its larger size. And so, if I am truthful about this dream kitchen, it comes with quite a few legitimate downfalls. This leads to my second point, which is that there are always compromises to every decision. (Point 2: There are always compromises)

Lastly, I know this seems odd given all the complaining I have just done about my stove, but I actually enjoy the act of cleaning. I find the immediate results of having something go from being dirty to clean gratifying. It may be the nature of my profession, or the way of the world, but most moments in my day I can’t immediately alter. When I’m cleaning my stove, I can focus my attention on the task at hand and tune out the world for a little while. That is not to say that cleaning the stove is extremely gratifying because it’s not, but when I choose to see the positives in the cleaning and be in the present moment, the entire act is better. (Point 3: Think positively and in the moment)

My life is not stress-free enough that my stove is the biggest problem I have. However, it is a part of my daily life and I believe there are legitimate lessons to be learned from this comical analogy. We can all do more to think more broadly about our current situation, realize that there is not a perfect future with no issues, and have a more optimistic outlook while being in the present moment. This perspective can be helpful in matters of dating, friendship, occupational distress, and other life situations. Because, while my kitchens may change over my lifespan, if I am not able to do these three things, I will never fully be happy. Let’s try to enjoy today, dirtiness and all, and not wait for tomorrow!

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.

Exercise and Mental Health

Bad days. Depending on who you are, this could entail something as small as feeling moody and grumpy when you first wake up to something much bigger such as the beginnings of a depressive episode, or a spiral into anxiety.

Recently I found myself re-experiencing symptoms of my anxiety. My chest will tighten, my breathing will become rapid, and my throat will feel like its closing. Having dealt with anxiety for many years, I know these are the warning signs of a miserable day. My anxiety seems to grow stronger when I begin to experience physiological changes, as I become acutely aware of its presence. Although I have found that deep breathing techniques do help, the thing that completely shifts my mental state and shakes me out of my anxious funk is exercise.

I have never been someone who could easily just lace up my shoes and go for a run. Exercising came with its own set of mental obstacles, among them the insecurities that I wasn’t fit enough to work out. My legs weren’t toned enough to run, and my arms weren’t strong enough to lift weights. It sounds ridiculous to me now, but in the past it was a major obstacle that prevented me from even trying. I was deterred from even attempting to better myself for fear of what other people would think of me. When I was finally able to ignore these inner voices that constantly shamed me, I began to start working out, and it felt amazing.

If you are anything like me, you too have experienced these nagging insecurities that pop into your head every so often. These are the voices that tell you that you aren’t good enough, or that you’ll do something wrong and look stupid or weird. But if you can shut out these voices, even if its just for the short time it takes you to walk out the door and go for run, or walk into the gym for a small workout, you might be able to reap some of the amazing benefits that exercising can have on your mental health.

Here are some the things that exercise can help you with:

1. Block out the Mental Noise. When you are focusing on, for example, trying to stand on one leg, while lifting a dumbbell and trying to keep your balance, it’s pretty difficult to ruminate on your negative thoughts. Exercising requires mental focus, and this focus can allow you to leave behind the negative energy dragging you down.

2. Endorphins. When you exercise, endorphin hormones are released, which make you feel really good! Endorphins are similar to morphine in the sense that they can diminish your perception of pain, and increase feelings of euphoria. They might be enough to shake you out of your bad mood.

3. Embracing your Strength. In motivating yourself to take action, you will come to see how strong your body can be, which will help you see how mentally strong you really are. It takes a lot of courage to silence the negative voices and fears and challenge your body to try something new. Observing how many reps you can do or how far you can walk or run without stopping, can restore some self-confidence and pride in yourself. This is something I think everyone could benefit from, especially those of us who experience many bad days filled with self-deprecating thoughts.

I know it’s much easier to talk about how great exercising can be for you, but I do want to acknowledge that it is not something that is easy for many people to just jump into. Some people may not be in the mental space where this is even a plausible suggestion. I was one of those people a few years ago. But for those of you who feel more ready and think this might be something you can benefit from, try paying attention to your mental state, both before and after you exercise, in order to see if you notice any shift in your focus and your self-talk. You don’t have to go to the gym for two hours or go on a 10-mile run to reap the benefits. It can be something as simple as going for a walk around your neighborhood, or doing a few sit ups. Something that lets you take a step away from your negative mood to focus your attention on how strong you can be.

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.

No Apologies – Why we need to stop Apologizing for Mental Health Experiences

“What words would you use to describe yourself?” This seemingly harmless question always left me drawing the same conclusions about myself: I was shy, quiet, reserved, and introverted. I was the girl on the sidelines, occupying the same seat in the last row, doing everything and anything to ensure that no unnecessary attention was drawn towards me.

When I was younger, I was never bothered by my shyness. I would just tell myself that it just took me longer to warm up to people and to jump into conversations. However, as I entered into adolescence, these definitive aspects of my personality began to warp into something bigger than I wanted to acknowledge.

After experiencing a loss in my early adolescence, I did everything in my power to remain myself. I tried to ignore my sadness and the gnawing feeling that I was different than my peers. This worked for a few years, but eventually the feelings I tried to suppress caught up to me. I was 15 years old when I experienced my first panic attack, which marked the beginning of my continual struggle with anxiety. The shyness I felt in social situations morphed into full-body panic, being called out in class resulted in shortness of breath, and class presentations left my heart racing and my throat closing in on the words I tried to speak.

My situation only worsened as my family failed to understand what I was dealing with, mocking my anxiety, preying on my insecurities. I no longer felt safe voicing my opinions and so I withdrew further into myself.

Living in an extroverted world, where class clowns and social butterflies are looked up to, I felt ostracized by my new anxiety. Stuck inside the confines of my own mind, I believed that I would be forced to resign myself to a life of constant fear and embarrassment, fighting a losing battle with the voices inside my head. However, with medication and therapy, I learned how to effectively deal with my mental health experience. It was not until this year, five years later, that I was finally able to acknowledge my experience as a social anxiety disorder.

I believe much of my shame surrounding this experience was due in part to the sense of illegitimacy I felt. I could not understand why something as trivial as a conversation posed such a challenge for me. I felt as if I had missed some secret lesson that everyone else had been taught, never able to catch up.

As I continue to grow and understand myself, I am now able to acknowledge that my mental health experience is not something I should ever feel shameful towards. My unique history has made me who I am. It may be that I always feel slightly apprehensive when I meet new people, taking longer than others to learn to fully trust a new person in my life, but that is perfectly okay.

The stigma surrounding mental health has yet to be broken. I am now able to understand that I had internalized the societal stigma which proclaims that mental health experiences are illegitimate, treating my suffering as something to be suppressed or ignored. This kind of internalization is dangerous, as it not only reinforces the stigma, but discourages those who are suffering from reaching out for help. I can only hope that as more and more individuals come forward to share their stories, our society will begin to recognize these lived experiences for what they are. My struggle with social anxiety is nothing I should ever apologize for. I will not apologize for the person I have become. Yes, I may still be quiet, shy, and reserved, but I am also courageous, empathetic and stronger than I ever believed I could be. I am done with the shame, and I am done apologizing.

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.

The Selfie Culture – An Invitation to Take a Break

“Authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It is a practice…a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real, the choice to be honest…the choice to let our true selves be seen.”
– Brene Brown

I meet many young people who answer the following questions in the following way. ‘Do you compare yourself much to others?’ ‘Yes, all the time.’ ‘Does it happen on social media?’ ‘Yes, constantly. On Instagram mostly.’ There is something going on in society today that is creating a lot of pressure for young people when it comes to their appearance, self-image, and emerging sense of self. While it would be wrong to make a direct link between social media use and rising anxiety levels, it would be even more foolish to believe that the growing use of social media, among young people, is not having an impact at all.

The selfie culture has become a normal part of life for teens and many pre-teens growing up in the 21st century. However, the constant posting and viewing of selfies can prevent a young person’s journey towards discovering who they really want to be in the world. When I speak to young people in therapy about selfies, a lot of what they are trying to achieve with their posts is approval from others and a sense of self-worth. But what if seeking approval from others was let go of for a while. What would fill that space? From asking young people, it is my understanding that a break from selfie taking and thus from Instagram, leads to lower levels of anxiety, which creates space for a more enriched relationship with the developing self.

There is freedom in switching off from the constant viewing of celebrity air-brushed pictures. It allows space for a more coherent view of what it means to be ‘you’, a person of value in your own right, a person who does not need the approval of others in order to know their worth. There is something very freeing about making the choice to be authentic. However, many young people are faced with the pressures of trying to fit in and needing to be like somebody else (i.e., the popular ones or the rich and famous ones). In idolizing these superficial features in others, young people can lose sight of their own value and never feel fulfilled with themselves.

Teenagers are at a sensitive stage of their psychological development. They are in the stage of identity development, which makes them extremely self-conscious and constantly in tuned with feedback from others, especially their peers. You can imagine then how difficult it must be for teens to take a break from the selfie culture, as it gives them so much feedback and information about themselves and others.

This Summer might be the perfect opportunity for you to take a break from this selfie culture and focus on yourself. Even coming off just one social media site for a while can have an impact on how you begin to feel about yourself. If you believe that Instagram boosts your self-esteem because of the positive feedback you receive, it is worth noting that it’s not healthy to become reliant on social media for self-confidence. Confidence should come from within and not be influenced by anyone or anything. Anyone who believes that their worth is dependent on the feedback they get on their selfies is at risk for negative psychological consequences. So be careful and take a break. Your self-esteem will thank you for it.

By: Anne McCormack

Anne McCormack is a Psychotherapist based in Dublin, Ireland. She is the author of ‘Keeping Your Child Safe on Social Media: Five Easy Steps’ available here http://www.easons.com/p-4740342-keeping-your-child-safe-on-social-media.aspx.

Talking to Loved Ones about Unhealthy Lifestyles

When someone has an unhealthy lifestyle, their habits don’t just affect them personally, but can affect the people around them as well. It’s not only hard to tell someone that they are hurting themselves, but it’s also hard to be the one hearing it.

Habits that seemed acceptable a few decades ago – smoking, consuming cholesterol heavy foods, failing to regularly hit the gym – have been openly denounced by medicine and public health. When the Surgeon General reported on the negative effects of smoking in 1964, it took the world by storm. People realized for the first time that with every match they struck against their cigarettes, they were making their lives a little bit shorter. As research on cholesterol gained traction in the 1950s and 1960s, people realized that their dietary choices might not be ideal for increasing their lifespans. The 21st century then brought with it the adage “sitting is the new smoking” – a sedentary lifestyle is doing us no good.

With science bringing forth these new and well-publicized findings regarding just how unhealthy our lifestyles really are, it may come as a surprise just how few people are willing to change. It’s difficult to plead ignorance with the dawn of social media, so it seems to hurt us more when we see that our loved ones are reluctant to make changes. How then can we, as individuals, call out our loved ones on their self-destructive tendencies without causing offence?

It isn’t easy to get a smoker to quit. The last time I tried, I didn’t get the results I was looking for. It’s far less easy to tell someone they are gaining an unhealthy amount of weight. How do we tackle this then? Here are a couple of tips to help you talk to your loved ones:

  1. DO wait for the right moment: Chances are that your loved one has already been exposed to the negative consequences of their unhealthy lifestyle. If they bring these up, there is no better opportunity to start a dialogue.
  2. DON’T shame them: The more you criticize and degrade your loved one, the more likely they are to get defensive and not listen to you.
  3. DO use empathy: Acknowledge how difficult it can be to change. Remind them that you are not perfect. You can use personal stories of a difficult adjustment you may have made in your own life. The concept of reciprocity can go a long way.
  4. DON’T monitor them: No one likes to be constantly watched. Instead, help your loved one make a plan of action and keep providing support and encouragement.
  5. DO exploit the media: Tread with caution when you do this. You want to use comprehensive and helpful resources to help your loved one move in the right direction. Make use of documentaries, self-help articles, and YouTube videos, but only after vetting them to make sure they are appropriate for your loved one’s needs.
  6. DON’T give up: Chances are the changes you want to see will not be immediate and your loved one is bound to slip up every so often. The key is to suppress your urge to express disappointment and frustration, as these are the moments they will need the most encouragement.
  7. DO provide incentives: People love incentives and prizes. Reward your loved one for their efforts, but don’t punish them for their transgressions.
  8. DON’T be a hypocrite: If you are committed to helping your loved ones, now is the time for introspection. You may have unhealthy habits that are different from (or the same as!) theirs, so you can work on them side by side. Seeing you make the effort can help mobilize them. If you love them enough to help them change, they probably want to do the same for you!

By: Sumayya Saleem

Sumayya graduated from the University of Toronto in Psychology. She is about to begin her Masters in Education in Developmental Psychology and Education at OISE. She is interested in counselling and increasing access to mental health services in third-world countries.