Category Archives: happiness

How Movies can be used to Benefit our Mental Health


The different types of movie genres reflect the different effects that movies have on us. The emotions that movies trigger in us can be very real and have an effect that lasts longer than we might expect.

I consider the different movies that I watched as a repertoire. In different situations, I remember parts of movies that stuck with me. Even some of the movies that seem to be made only for entertainment can have a meaningful message that lies underneath their surface. Some movies seem to be packed with action and adventure themes, but in fact they might have important messages to tell. I tend to find a common thread in many of the movies that I have watched, and this thread is very often the emphasis on family and friends living a happy and healthy life. In terms of psychological significance, many movies stress the importance of sacrificing for your loved ones and the importance of standing by each other through difficult situations.

Furthermore, due to the variety of movies out there, we can easily find a movie to help us through a difficult or unpleasant situation. I will use myself as an example here. When I feel stressed out because of work piling up on my desk, I take deep breaths in order to alleviate my stress and, if time permits, I allocate 1.5-2 hours later that evening to watch a comedy movie. This strategy has generally been successful in alleviating my stress, making me laugh, and boosting my mood. This helps me feel more energized and continue my work with a more positive mindset.

I do realize that many of us have very busy schedules, so my intention is to not limit the positive effects listed above to movies only. I often resort to short (2-5 minute) comedy videos that are posted online, which tend to have the same effect as a longer comedy movie. In general, we tend to know what works best for us and what makes us the happiest. This differs across people and across the emotions that they are experiencing. In my personal life, laughter is the best medicine!

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!

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!

Coming out: How to Support your LGBTQ Teenager


Coming out can be hard a hard experience, but not just for the person coming out, but also for their family. It is particularly hard when the person coming out is a teenager this is a time of identity development and there are often social pressures to just fit in and not stand out. Sometimes families can also add to the stress by not taking the right measures even if they want to help. Unfortunately, the stress from so many different directions leads teenagers to anxiety and depression. Here are some of the ways you can be a responsible parent to your coming out teenager.

1. Be a good listener: It is very important to give your child the time to explain how they feel to ease the coming out experience. They might not want to explain everything to you which is fine, but do encourage them to come to you if they feel unsafe as the result of coming out.

2. Learn about the LGBTQ community: It is extremely important to take some time to learn more about the LGBTQ community. Learn about what they stand for and what challenges they may face, so that you can be on the same page as your child. This will show that you want to be involved in your child’s life and are willing to go out of your way to know what your child is going through.

3. Be open-minded: This might be the first time somebody in your family came out and you might need a little time to adjust to this new reality which is understandable. However, make sure that your child does not take this as you not being supportive. Let them know that you need some time to process, but that you are willing to support your child along the way. Open communication is key.

4. Be patient: Nothing can be more important than being patient with your child to ease the coming out experience. Do not ask too many questions because your child might not have all the answers. Let them take their time to discuss things with you, as they feel comfortable.

5. Consider family therapy: If for some reason, you feel like your child’s coming out experience can be enhanced through family therapy then go for it. Make sure your child has everything they can to ease the experience.

By: Maleeha Khan

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

The Weight of Eating Disorders


American Psychological Association defines eating disorders as “abnormal eating habits that can threaten your health or even your life.” The 3 most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. Anorexia nervosa is an illness in which a person fears weight gain resulting in a restriction of eating to become thinner and thinner. Bulimia nervosa consists of eating an enormous amount of food and then purging almost right after. Binge eating is similar to bulimia nervosa, but without the act of purging.

Although eating disorders only became noteworthy back in the 1980s, the rate of the disorder is on a steady increase all over the world. Eating disorders can affect any race, age, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. As a matter of fact, researchers have noted that there may be a fourth type called “compulsive exercising,” more commonly in men than women, where an afflicted individual may be prone to exercising obsessively. It is crucial to take note of this upward trend, as eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all disorders. One in five afflicted individual’s commits suicide, and every hour approximately one person dies as a result of his or her eating disorder. It is often extremely comorbid as well, specifically with anxiety and depression.

The disorder commonly manifests as an intense fear of gaining weight, resulting in symptoms such as dieting, restricting food intake, pickiness, and preoccupation with body weight and food. Due to a person’s intense fear of gaining weight, a common sign that someone is experiencing an eating disorder is having an excessive amount of measuring tapes and scales around the house, including the bathroom, living room, bedroom, kitchen, and even in their own purses. A research study asked people with an eating disorder to point to the photo that best represented their current body shape (one photo was of their actual current selves and one photo was altered to make them look fatter). They found that people chose the altered fattened photo of themselves, suggesting that a person’s cognitive distortion of their body shape reinforces the classic belief of “I am never thin enough.” Interestingly, although the word anorexia means a loss of interest in food, person’s with this disorder often become more obsessed with food via gourmet cooking, taking photographs of fancy food etc. Their obsession with food acts as a way to regain control and cope with intense emotions.

Eating disorders can be caused by multiple factors including genetic, biochemical, psychological, cultural, and environmental. An example of a prominent cultural factor is the way society has come to view women’s

body as an object of admiration and beauty. In the media there is an overwhelming and consistent depiction of how a woman should look like in order to be considered beautiful. In 2013 a short one-minute video showed an attractive woman with hair and makeup fully done by a professional team getting airbrushed after a photo shoot to the point that she almost looked like two different individuals before and after the photos. The video explicitly revealed the unrealistic and impossible standard regular women strive to reach for. Despite the fact that this clip went viral, the dietary culture remains intact. These societal pressures can lead a young child, who may be going through puberty or getting bullied at school, to develop an eating disorder in order to fit in with their peers and what society portrays as “normal.”

Thinking about environmental factors, it’s important to note that eating disorders do not occur in isolation. According to “Family Systems Theory,” the disorder can be understood by looking at the symptoms embedded within a person’s dysfunctional family structure. Families of children afflicted with eating disorders frequently exhibit the following characteristics: overprotectiveness, a great deal of enmeshment, and lack of conflict resolution. As a result, children do not develop independence or control over their life, leading them to seek control in other areas. The simplest solution is often to control their body shape by controlling what they eat.

The disorder requires meticulous attention to a person’s physical and psychological state. In order to appropriately address the issue of eating disorders, there should be initiatives at both the micro and macro level. Family therapy is a good treatment option because eating disorders affect the whole family, so it’s important to involve everyone’s voices. There should also be more campaigns that work towards redefining the definition of “beauty” to counteract the affects of current media portrayals of beauty.

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.

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.

How to Minimize the Stress Around Valentine’s Day with all the High Expectations


Valentine’s Day is one of those special occasions where we begin to think about ideas of how to make our partner have an unforgettable day long before Valentine’s Day has even approached. As a result of this, we often tend to overthink plans and gifts, which leads to a high amount of stress that could get in the way of our enjoyment of this very special day.

I will give you several perspectives on how to make Valentine’s Day a less stressful and more enjoyable experience.

1. Always, always be yourself. When we go out of our way to impress our partner, we often fall short because we are trying to be someone that we are not. It is helpful to keep in mind that your partner is yours, and they chose to be with you for who you are, so why try to change yourself? Some people might say that change is good, and I agree with that as long as you preserve and maintain the essence of who you are, even if you improve certain aspects of yourself.

2. Stick to what is relatively familiar. Based on your romantic relationship, you start to know what your partner likes and dislikes. Plan out a special dinner or a special outing based on what you and your partner like and enjoy. You can use previous successful outings as groundwork for creating a novel idea. Valentine’s Day is the day to step out of the box and try something new and unfamiliar, but it is important to stay grounded in reality and accept the fact that your plan might not turn out to be exactly the way you wanted it to. By having this thought in the back of your mind, you are likely to feel less stressed out if your plan doesn’t go exactly as planned.

3. Plan ahead of time. If you leave yourself to the last minute to plan your day and buy the gifts, then you might be putting yourself under more stress, and you might start second-guessing yourself about what you have arranged. However, if you plan ahead of time, and arrange things piece by piece, then you are likely to have more time to think about what you might be missing (whether it is gifts or any other thing that you might need to have a splendid Valentine’s Day). This will help minimize the stress.

4. Trust yourself, and know that you have given it your best. At the end of the day, Valentine’s Day is about the feelings that you show your partner, more than it is about the plans that you arrange for them and the gifts that you give them. It is helpful to bear in mind that you have done your absolute best to make this special day as memorable as possible.

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!

 

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.

 

How to Commit to Your New Year’s Resolutions


New Year’s Resolutions is a special tradition that has existed for years, dating back to the Romans and Babylonians who took this chance to renew themselves in preparation for a new cycle of life. In modern times, we still continue this ancient tradition by setting personally valuable goals at the start of each year. However, according to national polls and anecdotal opinions, at least half of people’s Resolutions fall apart fairly rapidly. So how do we ensure that we follow through with our New Year’s resolutions?

For starters, research shows that people who successfully attain their resolutions are those who believe they have the ability to follow through with their plans and achieve their goals. They genuinely desire and are prepared for the change to happen. Additionally, the beginning stages of the resolution play a vital role in its success. Research shows that strong willpower, self-rewarding, avoiding facilitators of failure, constant reminder of the goal, and sparing use of self-blame are especially crucial ingredients in starting your resolutions. Below are a few tips to help you stick to those resolutions and move from contemplation to action:

  1. Go after something you want, big or small. Resolutions are a chance to follow your heart and change yourself in ways you desire. This will give you the energy to pursue.
  2. Make it something you are ready to change. If you’re ready, then you’re more likely to have the motivation to maintain your goal.
  3. Like rewards for like efforts. Rather than focusing on everything you have not yet done, focus on the things that you have done and reward yourself for each small milestone you achieve.
  4. Know your enemies. Anticipate things that can impede your progress and try your best to avoid them. Try making them part of your reward if applicable.
  5. Make it part of your life. Put out a visual reminder, like a poster, of your goals and the steps needed to achieve them.
  6. Cut yourself some slack. If you deviated from your plan, reflect, don’t blame. Remember that change is hard and takes time.

Finally, I can think of no better route to enhance your willpower than to renew your efforts, especially when desirable results do not fall through. Armed with this, I hope we will all reach new distances on the road to achieving this year’s Resolutions!

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.

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