Author Archives: Talia Main

About 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.

Embracing the in Between Moments in Life


Humans are creatures of habit. We stick to what we know because it’s safe, comfortable, and give us something to hold onto. Perhaps we don’t even realize how comforting our daily rituals and patterns are until they are no longer there and we have nothing to keep us grounded. But change is one of the many beautiful things about growth, and while it may be difficult, it is also what allows us to learn more deeply about ourselves.

I’m a student at the University of Toronto and I live in the heart of downtown during the school year. For the past two summers, I always returned home to California working and spending the days with my sister and my best friends. This summer, however, I decided to stay in Toronto so I would be able to spend time with my boyfriend. I knew it would be difficult being away from my sister and my friends for an even longer stretch of time, but I didn’t anticipate the feelings that would accompany this decision. It’s often easy to let our expectations take over, the montage clip playing out inside our minds of what we envision for ourselves, our fantasies easily carrying us away. I allowed myself to get wrapped up inside my head, and when my fantasy failed to play out the way I expected, I found myself feeling lost.

I failed to anticipate just how difficult it would be to adjust to a completely new environment. My downtown lifestyle fostered a dependence on instant gratification, anything and everything easily within my reach. Transportation was more reliable and convenient, any store imaginable within a short distance of me. In moving to the suburbs, it was more difficult to get around and things were further apart. I was also less familiar with the area, which made it more challenging to explore compared to my downtown environment. However, my biggest adjustment thus far has been the amount of free time I now have.

University is rigorous – it is rare that you have a moment when you are not anticipating an upcoming exam or assignment. At first the freedom from school was invigorating, but as time passed, it began to leave me with a feeling of anxiety. I wasn’t used to the amount of free time and unrealistically expected that I would have found a summer job by now. I think the feelings of anxiety stem from the deeply ingrained notion that we should always be “doing something.” Relaxation and self-care seem to have been dubbed self-indulgent and lazy, and this mentality left me feeling inadequate. I began to feel antsy, wishing and waiting for “my summer”-the fantasy I had crafted inside my head- to begin.

But through much reflection and sitting with these feelings, I have adopted a new perspective. These moments in life when we aren’t “doing something” don’t have to be considered lazy or unambitious. Sometimes they are exactly what is needed for us to discover what we truly want, or to take the time to reconnect with different parts of ourselves we may have neglected. Life is not linear, not everyone’s path is going to look the same, and people take different routes to get to where they are. There are going to be moments in life when our normal everyday routines are shifted, whether by choice or not. Not everything is always going to stay the same, nor should it. Change is natural, and though it may be difficult to adjust to a new situation, it often is what allows us to grow and to learn more about our strengths and what we are able to handle. Instead of berating myself for not working right away or interning somewhere, I am trying to just allow myself to appreciate this time. I know that life is just going to keep getting busier, and moments like these, where you have free time, will likely be rare in the future. It can be very challenging to accept these “in-between” phases in our lives, but they have the potential to create space for new perspectives, and the ability to rediscover our passions and what we truly care about.

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.

 

There’s a Therapy That’s Right For You


We have all experienced that relief of freely venting to a trusted friend, feeling listened to with total acceptance, with your experiences fully acknowledged and validated. Navigating the ups and downs of life is not an easy thing, and there are life circumstances that test us in many different ways. Sometimes we may need guidance from a trained professional to provide us with understanding and acceptance, and allow us to develop new skills that can help us navigate these ups and downs more easily.

Many people are hesitant to consider therapy, as there is still a stigma surrounding mental health issues. It may seem easier to try and take on your challenges alone or perhaps you are hesitant to reach out for help because you think your problems aren’t “big” enough. But every experience is valid, no matter how big or small, and if you think that having another person to assist you in managing your challenges might be beneficial, therapy may be something to consider to help ease some of your stress. A therapist can provide you with that same feeling that is brought on when you talk to a close friend, but they also have the skills to provide you with ways to overcome your challenges.

There are many different therapy modalities to consider and each of them offers a different style of addressing your experiences and helping you develop new skills to meet those challenges.

1. Client-Centered Therapy

Client centered therapy is a humanistic approach which focuses on the individual. Carl Rogers developed it in the 1950s and he identified 3 core elements that were necessary for the success of the therapy:

– Unconditional Positive Regard

The therapist openly listens to you, without any kind of judgment, and will accept your experience as just that-your experience. This element of the therapy is important, as it allows you to feel comfortable being vulnerable, without fear of being judged or ridiculed.

– Genuineness

The therapist provides genuine, authentic responses to your experiences, which enhances the therapeutic relationship. You are able to trust that your therapist is being honest in how they respond to you, using their education and knowledge base to influence their response.

– Empathy

This is a critical component of this therapeutic approach. Your therapist will do their best to try to understand where you are coming from, to put themselves in your shoes, and understand how you are experiencing your current situation.

The goal of the therapy depends on what you wish to achieve, but ultimately focuses on your personal growth and development. What this means depends entirely on your current situation, and how you define personal growth.

2. Existential Therapy

This approach focuses on increasing self-awareness. Through this sense of strengthened awareness, you are able to understand that you are a free agent in making your decisions and you are responsible for the direction you take your life. It is also concerned with how a person finds meaning out of life. Because of this sense of responsibility and the understanding that we must create our own meaning, anxiety may be the natural response to these realizations, and the existential therapist will help to address this anxiety.

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This approach is more focused on structured sessions and often includes homework assignments for completion outside of the therapy sessions. As the approach is focused on meeting goals, these goals are set out within the first couple of sessions, and thus the progression of therapy is very transparent. The therapist may ask you to attend to your automatic thoughts that occur throughout the day in order for you to begin to become more aware of certain thought patterns. Within the session, the therapist will work with you to address these automatic thoughts and whether they are actually supported by your reality. This practice allows you to gain greater awareness of your maladaptive thinking patterns and eventually adapt these to become more in line with reality, which may improve your functioning in day-to-day life.

4. Psychodynamic Therapy

This kind of therapy approach derives from Freudian psychoanalysis. There is an emphasis on unconscious motivations, as well as an individual’s early life experiences, which both influence current problems. Defense mechanisms often operate in the individual to defend against anxiety they may experience. Through therapy, theses defense mechanisms are explored. A key concept of psychodynamic therapy is transference. Transference is the idea that the client unconsciously transfers feelings from an early relationship, typically a parent, onto the therapist. This transference is explored by the therapist, and the reactions that emerge in the sessions often provide useful information about the client.

These different therapy modalities are just a few of many different kinds of therapy that are used to help people deal with issues they may be experiencing. The approach you choose may depend entirely on what it is you need to address and what your goals are. Whatever it is you are struggling with there is someone that can help you, so you don’t have to go through it alone.

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.

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.

The Social Media Trap


Stuck in a long line, I whip out my phone to refresh Instagram, waiting for the all too staged “candids” to pop up on my feed that I know took half an hour to edit, filter, and craft. I am no innocent bystander to this societal norm. Every double-tap is a confirmation that my life is one worth living. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat: pick your poison. No one can escape this constant, almost impulsive desire to be seen or heard, the instant gratification of approval and acceptance captured in a little blue thumb. I don’t think this is what they meant when they said to “live your life out loud.”

I struggled enormously with different insecurities throughout my life. I have two sisters, and I am truly grateful that our relationships have only strengthened with time. But in middle school when I was chubby, had acne and braces, wore bifocal glasses, and had frizzy hair, compared to my gorgeous sister who was a cheerleader, it was difficult to look in the mirror and not wish I were someone else. Oh, and I was also in a marching band. I mean, come on! But in all seriousness, I had a tough time accepting how I looked, and much of my difficulty stemmed from my destructive tendency to compare myself to my sister, and to those around me. My self acceptance was linked to the approval of my sister. I can now look back and understand that I had an unhealthy relationship with myself throughout my adolescence because I was so consumed by what other people thought of me. I’m nowhere near perfect, and I still catch myself comparing myself to my sister sometimes, but when I find myself caught up in that, I remind myself of how different we are, that I cannot expect myself to be like her. Without those embarrassingly awkward years to figure myself out, much of who I am now would be lost. I probably wouldn’t be studying psychology, or living in a different country, or writing this.

Social media makes it almost impossible to remove yourself from the toxic trap of comparison. The “mindless” scrolling we engage in silently reinforces the belief that we are not enough as we are. We aren’t tan enough, skinny enough, fit enough. Our lives aren’t exciting enough, or bright enough, or good enough. But for who? At the end of the day, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Are you happy with your body? Do you think you could be having more fun? Is this the life you want to live? Those same people we envy also struggle with insecurities, and their lives are probably not all beaches and sunshine, and candids in the sand. My gorgeous cheerleader sister also struggled with her own personal insecurities. The personas we present online are rarely ever the full picture of who we are. Social media wouldn’t be nearly as popular if people showed the true versions of themselves: the heartbreak and the pain, the insecurities and confusion.

So next time you’re standing in line, scrolling through Instagram, and you see that picture of your acquaintance from high school looking all cute at the beach, remind yourself: that person’s life extends way beyond that silly picture. They are human, and probably compare themselves to others, just like you. We won’t ever know the entirety of someone’s life history, their struggles and failures, from a post on social media. But we carry our own personal history with us, and this is the one that matters. Be your own benchmark. Compare yourself to yourself. Be better than you were yesterday. You are the only person on this planet that can make an accurate judgment of how “good” your life is. So make it the best you can, not for the likes, or the followers, not for the insecure middle school you who has something to prove. But for the you in the mirror today.

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.

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.

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