Category Archives: Calm

Mindfulness to Self-Regulate when Stressed


We might be achieving our goals when everything in our life is on track, but the moment we have to face an uncontrollable stressful event, it can become easier to reach for something that will immediately soothe our feelings, even if we know we shouldn’t. The ability to regulate impulsive emotional behavior in order to act in favor of long-term, desirable goals is at the core of achieving success in multiple facets of our lives. How can we stop overwhelming emotions and thoughts from resulting in immediate compensatory behaviors? Often times, we talk ourselves into performing short term satisfying behaviors as they provide immediate reward or relief of emotions we cannot cope with – and we feel guilty in the long run, because we know that lack of emotional control is a setback from achieving what we really want.

Mindfulness is a powerful tool to increase self-regulation. Instinctively, we aim to remove sources of pain as quickly as possible (we don’t tend to keep our hand on the stove while it’s burning). Hence, being in the midst of a negative situation that we cannot change can cause anxiety, which, in a desperate attempt to subside, makes us turn to alternative pleasures; that chocolate cheese cake might make us feel good momentarily, but it will not change the fact that it hurts to be cheated on and your pile of work needs to be tackled. We might not have control over unforeseen stressors that fall upon us, but we can control our reactions which in turn will serve us greatly in accomplishing our long-term goals with a clear mind, patience and acceptance.

This sounds intuitive, however, during stressful events, our frontal lobes (in charge of planning for the future) shut down and our amygdala (emotional center) takes charge of our brain. The conjunction of our emotions and skewed thoughts can snowball into a hot mess deviating us from our goals. Studies have shown that mindfulness increases connectivity between the frontal lobes and the amygdala, thus strengthening the connection between our rational brain and our emotional brain. Hence, instead of losing control by acting on emotions or fighting against our emotions, we learn to acknowledge emotions and situation while maintaining reason, this allows us to work through our problems. We can reprogram our mind to accept situations by being mindful – which means experiencing what is really happening and not looking at the situation through the lens of future anxiety or depressive reminiscence. Practicing mindfulness is like a muscle, it takes time to develop, but practicing daily will yield into an effective tool to lean on in times of stress in order to control feelings and increase self-regulation.

By: Teodora Dundjerovic

Teodora graduated in 2016 with a Bilingual Specialized hons. BA Psychology with a neuropsychology concentration. She is currently working in the financial district before going back to school for psychology. She enjoys spending time with friends and exploring alternative passions including fitness, dance, muay thai and yoga.

How to use Difficult Situations to Strengthen our Character


Difficult situations are often seen as an obstacle in the way of our goals, but this does not always have to be the case. Instead of asking ourselves “why me?,” we can ask ourselves “how can this situation help me grow as a person?” or “how can this situation help me find the emotional tools that I need to face challenging situations in the future?” After facing difficulties, we often come out of them learning important bits of information about ourselves. In addition to adding a difficult situation to our “list of experiences”, we tend to learn vital characteristics, such as patience, gratitude, and self-control.

Patience prepares us for future challenges by helping us believe that difficulties will pass with time. A phrase that is often used is “just be patient”. My personal experiences have shown me that with patience in our hearts, difficult situations that were unthinkable start to feel somewhat bearable.

Gratitude is the appreciation of what we have. Gratitude is in our nature, but it often takes a difficult situation (or several difficult situations) to help us appreciate what we had before the difficulty and what we have after the difficulty has passed. I am not saying that we cannot appreciate what we have without being faced with difficult situations; rather, these difficult situations often serve as an eye-opener that directs our attention to the positive aspects of our lives.

Last but not least, self-control is the ability to control yourself across situations, especially difficult ones. After experiencing a difficult situation, we can sit with ourselves and think about what we did and what we thought about in that difficult situation. After this, it becomes easier for us to hold on to our actions that served us well and got us through the situation, and drop our actions that did not serve us well. This might help us feel more equipped to face future difficulties with more self-confidence. As a result, the lessons learned from our difficulties tend to build up and strengthen our character.

It is important to always remember that difficult situations are not for feeling sorry for ourselves, but for discovering aspects of ourselves that help us face future challenges, because we can.

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!

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.

 

How to Fight with a Loved one


One of the things that distinguish us from one another is individuality. While this characteristic brings wonderful things like creativity, when it comes to interpersonal interactions, it is also this individuality that brings unexpected friction. Fights occur when two people’s personalities (inclinations, preferences, temperaments, etc.) clash. When this happens, we tend to use our own frame of reference to understand the other person’s behavior. The result, more often than not, is an exaggeration of the original conflict, which still persists despite all the verbal exchange.

Our values are so important to us that we spend a lot of time trying to preserve them. When fights occur, we tend to invalidate the other person’s values in favor of our own because we have a bias towards ourselves. Therefore, the first thing you might want to do is just listen to the person you’re arguing with. It sounds simple, but in the heat of an argument, taking the time to listen to the other person’s perspective can be quite difficult. The good news is that we can train ourselves to be better at listening by starting with daily conversations. One useful standard for judging the accuracy of your understanding of others is to articulate their thoughts as you think you understand it. Ask the person for feedback on your interpretation, so that you can begin to understand other people’s perspective when you’re not in an argumentative situation.

Only after achieving this understanding, can we have a real argument—a fight that actually means something and can produce something. After making sure you understand the other person’s perspective accurately, you should focus on the influence of what that person said to you. That is, how did that person’s thoughts make you feel, or what part of it did you not understand, etc. Ask questions based on these feelings or thoughts that appear in your head as you achieve an understanding of the other party. Don’t furnish it too much, be genuine and authentic—otherwise by the end of it you won’t resolve the real problem, but a furnished, decorated one. At this point, you will should be able to sort out the components of the conflict—what, exactly, was the cause of the fight. With this advance, at least now you both can strive to make the situation better. Remember, this is not about which of you is “right” or whose idea is “better.” This is about building a new house that fits both of you so that neither gets squished out or crushed down.

Fights are inevitable in genuine relationships. For the relationship to survive and evolve, we need to learn how to properly have a fight. And the secret to it is to listen and reproduce the other’s minds before you state your own.

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.

How to Have a Hard Conversation


One complaint that I often hear people making is “How do I speak to that individual?” As humans, we have a tendency to avoid tough conversations because we fear a negative outcome. These hard conversations can create a lot of anxiety, especially when the outcome can affect your work life, education, and/or involve family/friends. Within a professional context, there are all kinds of situations where initiating and engaging in conversation is absolutely necessary. I will list several factors that I believe are necessary for having a successful hard conversation.

1. Manage your expectations. It is important to know that not everyone will always agree with what you have to say. Be open to being wrong and compromising, as the person may perceive the situation in a different manner.

2. Manage your nerves. It is important to know how to soothe yourself in a situation that may be distressing to you. Our minds will often imagine the worst-case scenario when engaging in something this is anxiety provoking. We need to know how to calm our nerves before engaging in the conversation. An approach that I find very helpful is to listen to relaxing music before the conversation.

3. Have an open mind. Enter the conversation with the attitude “I want to learn and get the best out of this conversation.” When you focus on the ultimate goal of the conversation, which is usually to learn about a particular subject, your nerves will subside.

4. Use attentive gestures. I believe that smiling and nodding from time to time during the conversation will signal to the other person that you are carefully and respectfully listening to what they have to say. This will show them that you are paying attention and will also ease the flow of the conversation.

5. Take notes. By taking notes on what the other person is saying, your mind will automatically generate more questions that you probably hadn’t previously thought about. As a result, you will be able to get as much information as possible out of the hard conversation.

6. Believe in yourself. Always know that you have given it your best and that you are a capable person. Even if you think of better ways to reply after the conversation is over, that’s okay! That is a signal that you have learned a new way of thinking about the topic of the conversation. Just by believing in yourself, you are already half the way through the hard conversation!

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!

Down the Rabbit Hole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Sara Pishdadian

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

Are you Feeling Stressed? Try Cooking!


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

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

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

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

By: Ruihong Yuan

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

 

Simple Breathing Techniques to Calm Down

Often when we become stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious, the simple act of breathing can become difficult. When our bodies experience these symptoms, muscles that help us breathe tighten and in turn make our breathing faster and shallower. Breathing has the power to affect your entire body. Controlling our breathing, by slowing it down, helps relieve our muscles, lowers our blood pressure, and relaxes our nervous system, which all help us to feel calm!

To feel the benefits of controlled breathing, try out a few of these simple breathing techniques and implement them in your daily routine!

  1. Breathing through your belly: This one is best felt when lying down (especially before bed). Put one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Inhale, expanding your belly, and count to five before exhaling, collapsing your belly. Continue for 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Alternate nostril breathing: This technique is best felt when at work/when out. Close your right nostril, breathe in, and count for 5 seconds before breathing out. Repeat this step 3 times with your right nostril closed and then alternate nostrils by closing your left nostril and repeating the same steps.
  3. In through your nose, out through your mouth: This technique is best felt at home when lying down or while out! Breathe in through your nose, count to 6, open your mouth and let out a long exhale! Repeat 5 times.

If you find that these breathing techniques are working and you would like to practice longer, more controlled breathing, then you can pull up a breathing video and follow along. These videos are created to provide a visual breathing pattern and are great for focusing on your breathing and nothing else! A great example can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXItOY0sLRY

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.

 

 

 

 

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!