Category Archives: Bad Habits

The Power of Taking a Break from our Phones


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

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

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

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

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

By: Meghan Thapar 

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.

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.