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.

How to Have a Hard Conversation…With Yourself?

I initially started college as a physics major, but during my first semester of my final year of university, I decided to switch my career path to clinical psychology. The process of realizing that psychology was the best path for me took a lot of thought and I want to share with you the steps that I took to make this huge decision.

I like to think of the process that I endured as a hard conversation with myself. I believe we’ve all had this talk at some point in our lives, whether it was conscious or not. Feeling uncertain about selecting the best decision often feels scary, overwhelming, and confusing. On top of these negative emotions, people often fear the idea of change. Sure, getting a new haircut post-breakup is one category of change, but moving across the country to obtain your dream job is definitely a bigger and riskier change. For these reasons, many of us choose to continue with our current life path, as it’s routine and not uncertain. However, I challenge you to have this difficult conversation with yourself, as the rewards can greatly outweigh the challenge. Here are some steps I personally took when deciding on whether or not to switch my career paths:

  1. List out all the rewards (be it material, intellectual, spiritual, etc.) that the current goal engenders that are appealing to you.
  2. Articulate in detail why those rewards are personally appealing.
  3. Contemplate whether this change of heart is permanent. Specifically, is this change following a recent event that had an impact on you? For example, if you recently went through a breakup and decided to move across the country, there may be other reasons for this decision. Take time with carrying out your ideas and try to acknowledge if there are any hidden motives for your decision.
  4. List out the possible unpleasant or unwanted consequences of your goal and describe why those components are personally displeasing.

Essentially this list is an in-depth pros and cons list to help you determine the benefits and struggles that you may encounter from obtaining this goal or making a drastic change in lifestyle. However, making a pros and cons list may not be enough in assisting you with your decision on whether or not to pursue this change. You might also want to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the worst that could happen if I pursue this goal or change? Am I willing to experience this outcome and grow from it?
  2. What is the best thing that could happen if I pursue this goal or change? Will I be happy if I do not meet this outcome?
  3. What do those closest to me think about this choice? If they don’t support my decision, would I be able to accept it?
  4. How committed am I with to this decision and completing the required steps to achieve this goal?
  5. Will I be proud of myself if I make this choice? Does this choice align with my personal values and beliefs?
  6. What is the impact of this decision financially? Am I financially capable to do this?

Although these questions may be difficult to answer, they will help you determine if your reasoning is rational and provide you with insight into whether or not this change would be the best fit for you. Remember, you have the power to change your life at any given moment!

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.

Truth about Postpartum Depression

A woman’s body goes through hormonal changes during and right after pregnancy. These hormonal changes that occur after delivery can cause many women to experience something commonly known as the “baby blues.” This condition affects 1 in 7 women and causes women to feel sad, nervous, lonely, and/or stressed. When these feelings are experienced more intensely and for a longer period of time the condition is known as postpartum depression (PPD). PPD is a mental health disorder that could be debilitating to everyone involved in the arrival of the newborn baby.

The distinction between the common “baby blues” and PPD can at times be difficult to diagnose. They both manifest in similar ways involving mood swings, irritability, sadness, and fatigue. However, in the case of PPD the symptoms are more extreme and longer-lasting and can cause the individual to experience suicidal ideation or the inability to take care of their newborn baby, even up to four weeks postpartum.

The biological foundation of PPD misleads us to think that mothers are the only ones who experience PPD. But it is also possible for fathers to experience PPD. Although there is less research on paternal PPD, it has been established that maternal and paternal PPD are highly correlated. It has been suggested that when a couple has a baby, they are highly influenced by each other, meaning that if one partner is depressed, the other one is more likely to be depressed as well. This is especially the case in paternal PPD, which occurs when a father starts feeling that his partner is not as reciprocating and supportive, leading to feelings of depression. In fact, the strongest risk factor for paternal PPD is maternal PPD.

When mothers are afflicted with PPD, it has been reported that infants are breastfed for a shorter amount of time, have temperamental difficulties, suffer from sleeping problems, and experience emotional maladjustment. On the other hand, when fathers have PPD, there is a higher chance of increased family stress, spanking rate, and child psychopathology such as conduct disorder and emotional difficulties. So it becomes evident that regardless of who is depressed, it leaves a serious footprint on the baby’s life. Fortunately, when only one of the parents are experiencing PPD, the other parent can work as a “buffer” against any adverse effects by taking up both parents’ job in taking care of the baby. However, if both parents are suffering from PPD, it can be extremely problematic, as research has shown that these parents perceived their babies in a significantly more negative light and considered them to be below average overall.

A quick and easy way of assessing PPD is to use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, an easy 10-item scale questionnaire that is globally used to determine PPD. If the total score is above 13, PPD is a serious possibility and action should be taken accordingly. It is also crucial to keep in mind that if the answer to question 10, “the thought of harming myself has occurred to me,” is anything but “never,” even when the total score is below 13, the respondent must entertain the idea of PPD.

It is important to keep in mind that when a couple decides to start their own family, they really are in it together. It is certainly the mother who goes through the physical changes after the carriage of the newborn baby, but nevertheless, the father is also an active member who has to get used to new routines and changes that occur. It is therefore very important for both parents to keep each other in check. If either parent notices signs of PPD from their partner, it is key to maintain open communication and be supportive. If you find that your PPD is not going away on its own, try setting up some counseling appointments in order to work through it with a professional who specializes in PPD.

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.

Talking to Kids about Relationships

Talking to kids about relationships may seem like a challenging task, and it actually is. I do not have any children myself, but I did grow up in an environment where I was able to witness a lot of parent-child interactions. I noticed that parents often tell their children, in regards to romantic relationships, to “wait until you’re older”. Even though this may seem logical since kids are not going to be in a romantic relationship anytime soon, I believe there are many aspects of relationships that children should be told about before they are “old enough” to be in a relationship. They include but are not restricted to:

1. Know your self-worth. 
I believe that it is very important for kids to be explicitly taught what self-worth is. When kids are taught that they should give and be given respect, they will be more likely to enter and maintain healthy relationships in the future. Cultivating the habit of giving and receiving respect will pay off both now and later.

2.  Know that it is okay to say no.
It is important for kids to know that they do not have to accept anything that they are not fully comfortable with, whether it is a person that they do not like, or a whole relationship that they are not comfortable being in. When this is taught at a young age, kids will learn that sometimes they need to place their own happiness first. This will make it less likely for these kids to remain in an unhappy relationship when they are older.

3. Know that you have support.
Parents should let their kids know that they are always there to support them. Even though this may seem like a natural thing, yet you will be surprised as to how many parents do not explicitly say this to their kids. By hearing that they have their parents’ support, kids will feel secure and will know that they always have someone to lean on when times get tough. When these kids grow up and enter relationships, they will know that they have their parents there to give them relationship (and any type of) advice.

4. Know that everyone has their ups and downs.
When kids are taught that they should be considerate and mindful of other peoples’ needs, they will be able to have more realistic expectations of relationships in the future. These kids will later know that when their partner acts off sometimes, it is not necessarily because of them, but it could be because they simply had a bad day or a pending issue worth an open discussion!

Some parents might think twice before starting a “relationships conversation” with their child, which is completely understandable. Things can progress slowly, but there are long-term positive effects with starting the conversation at a young age. By teaching your children some basics that pertain to relationships, they will have a solid base when they grow up and become romantically involved with someone. This will make their transition into romantic relationships easier and more satisfying.

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!

Merging Pathways – Liberty Village and Yonge & Eglinton Locations

“Speaking with a mental health professional is no longer associated to one experiencing a crisis. Having a therapist is now a part of a healthy lifestyle” – KMA client

In thinking about the differences between the population, age groups, and many different concerns that I see at our Liberty Village and Yonge & Eglinton locations, I realized how similar we all are in terms of our human behavior. We are all striving to be happy, content, and peaceful with our work and the many relationships in our life. Where we differ is in the path we take towards feeling better about ourselves. Some choose to find their path on their own and some choose to seek professional help.

As an intake therapist, I am fortunate enough to have spoken to many people of different cultures, age groups, and populations. The one thing I find that the people at both our Liberty Village and Yonge & Eglinton locations have in common is that all of them are seeking to speak with a professional in order to maintain a fulfilled life, regardless of their presenting concern.

Let us take a look at the statistics below with regards to the gender and age groups at our Liberty Village vs. Yonge & Eglinton locations.


Both locations have a higher percentage of females, but as you can see, the male population is not far behind. Clients of both genders are willing to connect with mental health professionals to help them grow in their personal and professional life.

 

The Yonge & Eglinton location is becoming a residential area with growing families and so I witness more couple clients compared to the Liberty Village location.

 

In terms of the population and age groups, statistics show that both Liberty Village and Yonge & Eglinton have a higher percentage of people between the ages of 20-25 years.

 

 

As an intake therapist, I am very proud to see that people are willing to talk about their feelings, insecurities, anxiety, depression, and challenges in their relationships. People are motivated to speak with a mental health professional to develop some strategies to maintain an emotionally healthy life style.

Hats off to all of you for trying to be the best version of yourself! It takes courage to talk about your feelings and thoughts and prioritize self-care.

Even though Liberty Village and Yonge & Eglinton are two different locations, I still choose to call them Merging Pathways because the challenges I see people face are all similar in nature with varying intensities and lengths of time.

Check out this article for more information about KMA Therapy: http://www.datingadvice.com/for-women/kimberly-moffit-associates-offers-constructive-relationship-counseling-in-toronto

By: Zainab Adil Gandhi

Zainab has completed her Masters in Psychological Counselling, specializing in Marriage and Family therapies. She is a member in good standing with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA).

Zainab has had 6 years of experience in counselling with Adults, Couples, Parents & Children. She understands that for clients to speak to a complete stranger about their concerns is very challenging. Therefore, her approach to counselling and therapy is client centered. She works with empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard to make sure that the client is extremely comfortable and in a very happy space. It is important to her to establish a good rapport to be able to bring about a healthy change in her clients. She believes in the ‘Human Potential’ that each client brings with him/her. Zainab chooses to be a facilitator in the process, where she guides the clients with her education and experience.  Once she has made the client comfortable in the session, she then moves ahead to use a Cognitive, Behavioral or an Emotional orientation, depending on what the client is willing to receive at that point in time.

Zainab has experience working with issues such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, bullying, parenting challenges, marital concerns, divorce, building healthy communication, relationships, balancing work and life, and dealing with a death of a loved one. She loves to use a variety of visual aids with her clients, which will help them understand their concerns more effectively. Her ultimate goal is to make sure the clients can be independent and cope with their problems efficiently.

 

Learning to Take Care of Yourself

It was around January when I came to the decision that I needed to start doing what I wanted to do, for myself and no one else. I had spent the past year of my life consumed by work, graduate school applications, job searches and resumes. When I look back now, I realize that somewhere along the way I had stopped doing the things that I loved and stopped taking care of myself because I was so focused on being “successful” so soon after graduating from university. Ultimately, this took a toll on my health and well-being. My days were centered around emails, applications, and coffees. I lost sleep worrying about whether or not I had done enough to advance myself during the day. Ultimately, I neglected my own feelings and desires for my future. After experiencing one of the most overwhelming days of my life, I decided to take a step back and walk away from the routine I had gotten myself into for the past few months. I decided that something needed to change because my happiness had become so inconsistent.

The first thing I did was I bought a blank journal from our local bookstore and wrote down all the activities I wanted to try during my spare time. Soon after, I found a volunteer position at my old yoga studio, where I could attend as many classes as I wanted to in exchange for helping out the instructors a few times a week. As you will soon realize, I love yoga and I swear by its magic-like remedies. Practicing yoga is something that I’ve been doing since I was young to help with my anxiety, as it helps me find clarity. In addition to yoga, I began swimming again, a sport that I started soon after I learned how to walk. Equipped with a waterproof iPod, it has been my go-to activity when I’m feeling stressed. I also decided to take up rock-climbing, which to my surprise is something that I look forward to challenging myself with every week.

After filling up my time with activities I enjoyed, I proceeded to write down my goals for the future and how I was going to achieve them. Doing this helped me realize that some goals were too unrealistic and some were goals I had outgrown. It helped highlight the goals that felt intuitively right and it gave me a place to start. With advice from a friend, I then wrote down what I most wanted to achieve. After looking at my list, it became clear that I wanted to spend more time with my family and friends, so I now dedicate my Sundays to spending time with them.

Now don’t get me wrong, these changes did not happen overnight. However, I took the time to think about what I really wanted to change in my life in order to move forward in the best possible way. I had to learn how to clear my mind and dedicate time to learn about myself and figure out what makes ME happy. But most importantly, I had to learn how to accept the place I was in and not rush things. This doesn’t mean that I no longer have bad days, because I do, but rather that by making these changes I’m slowly learning what I need and I’m at a better place than where I started.

Going through this transition, I have realized that learning how to take care of ourselves is one of the most important skills we can have as individuals. Taking care of our bodies and our minds helps keep us resilient, independent, and motivated to overcome the struggles we are faced with and achieve the goals that we set for ourselves, without taking away from our happiness. So if you’re ever feeling overwhelmed or feel that your heart needs a little TLC, first take a break. Sometimes when we get overwhelmed, we aren’t able to see the big picture or think clearly about what we need to feel better. Sit and think. Make a list. Try new things (e.g., rollerblading down the lakeshore, joining a pottery class, anything you’ve ever been remotely interested in doing). If it helps bring your stress level down, it’s worth it!

Next, remind yourself that you can only do so much. This is so important. If something is weighing you down, sometimes letting go is the best thing to do in order to start feeling better. We often hold onto too much, try to do too many tasks, or set too many goals. Try to set one goal at a time, the one you want to achieve the most, and tackle it! Focusing on one goal helps you achieve it faster and better because you’re not exerting all your energy being stressed.

Finally, listen to your intuition. Your body knows how much it can handle and it will let you know when you’re doing too much and neglecting self-care. When you start feeling overwhelmed or stressed, that is your body letting you know that it needs a break. If you remain mindful of your own needs, than you’ll be happier and more productive in the long run!

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.

Loving You From A Distance

We had been talking about him going to Medical school for a while now, but nothing really quite prepares you for a long-distance relationship. For four months prior to starting this journey, I was in complete denial that it would ever happen. It only quite hit me on the last day, as we kissed goodbye, and I realised that I wouldn’t see him for a few months. Let’s just say that things didn’t look to bright from where I was standing at that moment.

The first two days were probably the hardest two days of my life. We occasionally communicated using video chat, but seeing his new sense of excitement towards his new island life somehow broke me down emotionally. Seeing him in an unknown place served as a constant reminder that he was no longer here, and I took it as being synonymous to me not being part of his life anymore. In just two days, I could already feel myself getting more and more distant. The thought of the distance leading to a break up was always in the back of my mind and it would cause panic attacks.

They say time doesn’t stop for anybody, and surely it didn’t stop for me. A week later, I felt much better. I still felt extremely distant, but I had more control over my emotional outbursts. We still spoke every night and shared a few texts here and there, but I constantly felt anxious not knowing where he was or how he was doing emotionally. This anxiety was surely irrational, since I have been with him for almost five years now sharing many milestones, but what made me feel anxious was the uncertainty of how he was doing emotionally. Every time I tried to talk to him about his feelings, I only got “I need time to express myself.”

To make matters worse, soon after he got settled, he decided to travel with a friend for a few days before classes began. Despite knowing this was all part of the package, I almost felt betrayed; how could he go out there and have fun knowing that I was sitting here desperately longing and crying for his presence every second? Feeling hurt, I constantly told myself that travelling was his only way of coping with the stress he was experiencing, and I should be supportive and not voice my own sadness. I’ve been told by many that the next 20-months will fly by in the blink of an eye, but me and my boyfriend have yet to discover how we are going to love each other from a distance.

It’s been three weeks now, and I feel like the harder I try, the more disconnected I feel. So, my strategy for now is to not read too much into what is going on in his life. We have great conversations every night and I continuously tell myself that things could be worse. One suggestion I have for people who are going through something similar is to avoid thinking about how long you are both going to be apart. I know I am guilty of dwelling on the 20 months that me and my boyfriend will be apart, but I have been trying instead to break down the months, telling myself that it’s only 3 more months until I get to see him again. In the meantime, I have many small trips, events, and outings to look forward to that will keep me distracted. It’s time for me to connect with myself.

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.