Category Archives: Mental Fitness

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 Overcome Conflict in Relationships


People are afraid of the dark. It stands for everything that is unknown and frightening. Yet there is something intriguing about it, as people often hesitantly inch into the darkness of the haunted house with a racing pulse and a hint of excitement at the same time.

When it comes to the darkness that is most intimate to ourselves, however, we are more likely to be oblivious. It never leaves our side, it is there whenever light is shed, and there is no getting rid of it—it’s our shadow. The emergence of our shadow is accompanied by various negative emotions, desires, and impulses that usually manifest in horrific dreams, visions, and fantasies. The shadow comprises of everything that we don’t want seen, either by the world or ourselves. In suppressing these emotions into our unconscious, it ends up being expressed through other channels. For example, when interacting with others, a common type of channeling is projecting the shadow onto others. Since the shadow is the part of the personality that we ourselves resent, perceiving these aspects in others with whom we have a relationship will certainly create unpleasant tension.

To use Jung’s wise words, “…It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmlessness,” which means the shadow is always going to be a part of us, and it is indisputably a reality that the shadow is entirely capable of harm. The result of any kind of willful blindness might just end in yielding control over to the shadow. The notion that repressing the shadow is insidious for our relationships harbors the promise that when it is faced and embraced, the relationships might be better. But it must be done in entirety.

First we need to identify the shadow, and expose it in its holistic form in front of our own eyes. Because of the projection mechanism, one way we can do this is to observe our own negative emotional reactions towards others. Secondly, try to identify the emotions as clearly as possible. By articulating what we are feeling, we are better able to find the root cause, which sometimes has nothing to do with the shadow. Then we need to closely observe ourselves, and ask these questions:

  • Are we exhibiting the traits or behaviours that we “see” and repel in others?
  • What tends to trigger such perceptions of others? What are the precipitants?
  • What kinds of belief might underlie the inexplicable feelings towards such traits?
  • What are the things that can be done to improve the situation? Can this part of the shadow be resolved, or does it have to be dealt with in the company of others?

Lastly, it is always helpful to make this aspect—the rediscovered shadow—of our personality known to those we have a relationship with. It is definitely a scary and by no means easy thing to do, but exposing the shadow, being honest to those we hold close, gives us a chance to be more authentic and will ultimately bring about a sense of relief. It’s an opportunity for open conversation with your partner, which may resolve many of your conflicts. People are more likely to show their vulnerability if we have the courage to show ours first.

To face and to accept the shadow as part of ourselves is a task that makes the fearless crumble. But it is very useful and helpful because when we are challenged with difficult situations we are going to need its strength and the embrace of it promises a better future for us and those closest to us.

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 Acknowledge our Biases


In this modern society, many people are developing a tendency to equate objectivity with better results. Consequently, many people now strive to attain an “objective” mind, utilizing only observable data, driven and guided by logic and reason, free from any personal biases. This goal is definitely one that’s worth attaining since it seems to meet the demands of present and possibly future society. However, what does it mean for a person to be free from personal biases? Is it truly achievable? And how can we do it? Here’s my thought.

There is sometimes the misconception that the way to attain an unbiased mind is to increase knowledge in the area one wants to avoid bias in. It is true that by knowing more about a subject we can be more aware of the biases that exist, but an unbiased or biased mind can only be reflected in our thinking, which in turn is reflected in our behavior and language. In order to do that, increasing self-awareness of our own minds and actions is necessary. It is only when we become aware of what we are thinking and doing, that we being to learn if we are being biased.

However, as we have seen in a multitude of psychology experiments, most people have the tendency of seeing themselves as unbiased. This can lead to a well-known phenomenon called confirmation bias, which is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

So what should we do? If the increase in knowledge can help, but tends to be trumped by our personal presumptions, then we can start by learning about ourselves from our friends, acquaintances, family, etc. This is not to implicate the role of our predisposition, but to identify a pattern in behavior and thought process. Getting past this step can help us acknowledge any propensities we possess towards certain kinds of biases. The next step is to learn to be more mindful of our behavior and thoughts as we go about our daily interactions and professional endeavours. Without striving to do better in this area, all other efforts would be in vain.

To answer the questions from the beginning: no, we will always have our biases – note that this is why we set the goal to become UNBIASED in the first place; to reduce personal biases, we must know what we tend to biased against (or for), acknowledge that we are under its influence, and then increase self-awareness of our actions and thoughts. To be free, or more appropriately, to loosen the grip of personal biases on ourselves, is to always know that we ARE biased, and always will be.

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 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!

Overcoming Depression


Are you struggling with depression? If you answered yes, then you’re likely feeling low energy and struggling to get motivated. This lack of energy and motivation makes it difficult for you to engage in your typical routine and engage in productive roles; making you feel like you “can’t” do anything until your depression subsides. However, waiting for motivation to come before taking action is impossible because action comes before motivation. Taking even the smallest step, like getting out of bed, will build momentum to taking another small step. It will feel impossible, but you CAN do it and you will feel better afterwards.

Below are a few further tips to fighting depression:

Therapy Goals: Talking to a professional or someone you feel close to is big part of recovery. However, a lot of people go to therapy, while taking medications, and don’t actively participate in the session or complete any of the assigned therapy homework. It’s important to evaluate what you want from therapy and recognize that therapy won’t work if you’re not 100% invested and willing to put in the work. Before every therapy session, write down exactly what you want from the session, the timeline to achieve it, and how you will achieve it. Fighting depression requires constant active participation.

Engage in Pleasurable Activities: With a lack of motivation being a common symptom of depression, it can be hard to start your day. You may be overwhelmed with the number of tasks you’ve been putting off and this just makes it harder to pick a place to start. However, in knowing that action comes before motivation, it may feel less daunting to start by doing something that’s enjoyable in order to build the momentum for the other less desirable tasks.

Physical Exercise: Exercise has been found to improve mood and sleep and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. This is because exercise releases a chemical in your brain called endorphins, which is known to reduce your perception of pain. People usually don’t exercise because they aim too high with their expectations of what exercise should look like and how many times a day they should be doing it; making exercise feel like a big task that’s unachievable. However, the key to getting into exercise is to start small. You can start by taking a 10-minute walk around the block and retuning home. Remember that any small amount of exercise is better than none at all!

Eliminate the word “Can’t”: Fighting depression is mentally and physically exhausting and it seems easier to quit than to move forward. We often use the word “can’t” to describe why we’re not engaging in certain tasks. However, the medical definition of “can’t,” means physically being unable to participate in something. For example, being unable to walk because you’re paralyzed and in a wheelchair. So I challenge you to replace the term “can’t” with “I don’t want to” because it’s not that you are physically incapable of for example getting out of bed, but rather you don’t want to get out of bed because it is hard. This is not meant to diminish the difficulty of engaging in a task when you have depression, but rather shed light to the fact that you always have a choice, even if the choice feels impossible.

In summary, the key to fighting depression is to maximize all 4 areas of treatment: 1. Medication, 2. Psychotherapy, 3. Exercise, and 4. Social Engagement. If you only address one area, for example taking medications, and ignore the other 3 interventions, than you’re likely not going to succeed because you’re only receiving ¼ of your treatment. So make sure to take a small step in each of the areas and eliminate your negative self-talk because depression is hard! Be kind to yourself because depression is a disease. It does NOT define who you are as a person.

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.

Is it a toxic friendship/relationship?

Many of us have friendships/relationships that are unhealthy for us and may not even be aware. I will list 5 ways that will help you know whether you are in a toxic friendship/relationship.

  1. Lack of trust. One of the most important feelings to have in a relationship is trust. If you feel like you can’t trust the other individual, then this is probably not the best relationship for you to be in. Trust gives you peace of mind when it comes to relationships. Take the trust away, and it is an unhealthy and emotionally draining relationship to be in.
  2. You are always the hero. Saving the other person in a particular situation is great if it happens only sometimes. I am not saying that being supportive is a negative thing, but being supportive at the cost of your own well being might not be the best of situations. If you consistently have to save the person, whether it be emotionally or financially, then you will likely not have enough time for yourself and it is likely not a relationship of mutual caregiving. We all have our ups and downs, so when you hit a low point in your life, it is important to guarantee that you have the ability and the time to nurture and take care of yourself.
  3. Being constantly judged and criticized. If the other person constantly criticizes you and points out your weaknesses, then that is a sign that you are being put down rather than uplifted in that relationship. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but if your weaknesses are constantly being pointed out and your strengths are being ignored, then that person might not be fully accepting of who you are.
  4. Not being accepted. If you constantly find yourself in a position where you need to defend your opinion or change your opinion in order to be accepted, then you might be in an unhealthy relationship. Feelings of acceptance and belonging are vital for healthy human functioning, and we all have a right to feel accepted without the need to constantly explain ourselves.
  5. Communication issues. Do you constantly feel like you are talking to the other person and they are not listening to you or not remembering what you said? If the answer to that question is yes, then it may be difficult to reach a mutual agreement in many aspects of the relationship or friendship. Furthermore, this could indicate that the other person is occupied with another aspect of their life and are not ready to be an equal partner in your relationship. This type of relationship could easily turn into an “all take and no give” relationship that is unhealthy, and even toxic, for you.

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!

Risks of Internalizing Beauty Ideals


One of the most natural aesthetic attractions to us is the beauty of the human body. It is a biologically driven inclination—after all, the body is the first thing that is relevant in all activities, as it’s the medium of action. The definition of beauty, however, is not purely biologically based, as it is also shaped by culture. In ancient China, for example, chubbiness and small feet marked a women’s beauty. Even today, some tribal cultures still attribute what our society deems as “obese,” as a sign of power, status, and beauty.

In modern society, media has helped to promote a so-called “perfect body” image for women and men alike. Advances in science and rises of industries like modeling and social media have helped to promote this perfect image. There is a growing abundance of products that are aimed at making this constructed beauty standard seem more accessible than ever. With increasing exposure, many of us start to associate the perfect body shape, and the often too strict diet that goes with it, with the state of being healthy. In an attempt to meet this standard of “healthy,” we start going to the gym, stop eating junk food, abstain from alcohol, etc. While these are generally healthy choices, too many of us become too rigid with the constraints and enter into an incessantly stressed state of mind. When we indulge in a cheat day by eating a cookie or skipping a workout day, we may start to feel guilty and may overcompensate the following day. We may discipline ourselves more strictly in order to prevent a “relapse”. As such, our lifestyle becomes rigid, but not necessarily healthy, for such regime makes our minds filled with anxiety and stress, which negatively impacts our physical and mental wellbeing.

While exercising regularly can improve overall fitness and physical health, over-exercising can counter the progress you’ve been making by inducing feelings of exhaustion and irritability. On a similar note, dieting ensures more nutritious intake and less empty calories and toxic substances, but over-restricting what we eat can mitigate feelings of pleasure and satiation. Even though a healthy diet and exercise routine do require sacrifices, it is important to keep in mind that they are meant to improve our mood and state of mind. If we do not feel like it’s improved, then the diet or the routine needs to be adjusted. It is always important to remember what your goals are when dieting and exercising. This prevents us from conforming to the invisible influence of the beauty culture and ensures that we are pursuing a healthy lifestyle that suits our individual needs.

Beauty may be determined by culture, but health is an individual matter because health is supposed to improve the person, not the image of the person.

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 Pros and Cons of Starting a Private Therapy Practice at Home


It may seem very convenient to start serving clients from the comfort of one’s home. This is a very interesting choice and may not be suitable for all of those looking to build a successful private therapy practice. Before going down this route, it may be important to consider both the advantages and disadvantages of seeing clients from one’s home.

Advantages of Working from Home

A number of business professionals like the convenience of working from the same location in which they live. This can reduce commuting time and make it easier to serve more clients, potentially increase a business owner’s profits. Working from one location can reduce costs associated with maintaining both an owned office location and a private residence. It may be useful for those who are starting out in their practice to reduce their potential overhead by offering sessions from their home.

When it comes time to pay the IRS, there may be benefits to itemizing expenses and using deductions to reduce tax burden on a home business. Rent, mortgage deductions and utility costs may be reduced as a specific percentage may be applied toward business purposes. Those that require a single treatment room and work alone may find they do not need to incur the additional expenses associated with separate premises for a practice.  

In addition, it may make it easier to spend quality time at home with family. The time spent in commuting to an office can be used toward connecting with family and friends, as well as self-care. This is an important consideration for those who need to balance their home and work commitments, as well as to take care of one’s own needs.

Disadvantages of Having a Private Practice at Home

Many practitioners prefer working from a location that is not their home. They like the level of privacy with this option and the ability to keep work and family life separate. Many may find it difficult to separate their personal life from their work life and may get interrupted by friends and family during regular business hours. This may be viewed as unprofessional by clients and by fellow colleagues.

Working from home may make it easy to overwork. Individuals may spend more time tending to work commitments when they can take a few steps and be in their office. Working from a separate location creates a mental break between the practice and the home. Therapists have more pressure to work within the business hours listed with separate work and home locations.

Working from home can be socially and professionally isolating. Working within a larger practice makes it easier to connect with those in one’s field and may lead to additional referrals. Those that choose to operate their private practice from home may want to make a conscious effort to attend conferences and network with those in or connected with one’s area of expertise.

How to Successfully Work from Home

Toys scattered in a waiting area, smells of home cooking and interruptions from teens will not be helpful in attracting and maintaining a full caseload. In order to be viewed as a professional in the field, take steps to maintain a separate work space, waiting area and office area. Sometimes renovations might be needed in order to make clear separation of living and working spaces. Family and friends should know the behavior expected from them during business hours and what types of interruptions, if any, are permitted at such times. From answering machine messages to the general setup in an area, those working from home have to take additional steps to maintain the appearance of professionalism and connect with colleagues, staying abreast of the latest changes in their field.

Before looking to work from home, check into the zoning regulations on a property and whether or not in-person visits are permitted. Those who rent may have additional restrictions when it comes to using a residential property for business purposes.

Anthony Gilbert is the owner of The RealFX Group. Anthony specializes in real estate, real estate marketing, and home business startup strategy.

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!

Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination has been around for quite a long time. We are all familiar with this bad habit that causes us stress and anxiety as the deadline approaches. But why do we procrastinate? One of the individual factors that may make you susceptible to procrastination is low self-esteem or self-confidence. This refers to a gap between the demands of the task or of the person who will evaluate your performance and your self-perceived ability, from which anxiety arises. To cope with this negative affect, your mind tries to relocate your attention to other tasks. Another reason we procrastinate is we often hold this irrational belief about what the world expects from us. In other words, we believe that people expect us to go above and beyond our assigned task and when we can’t meet these unrealistic expectations, we find ourselves feeling incompetent, which in turn causes us to procrastinate.

Based on my personal experience, here are some suggestions to help you overcome procrastination:

1. Try being more mindful and monitor your feelings and thoughts when you’re tempted to procrastinate. If it turns out that every time your in a bad mood you tend to procrastinate, then focus your efforts on self-care in order to get out of that head space, before you attempt to complete the task.

2. Start today, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. When people think of completing a task they tend to focus too much on the final product. My suggestion is to focus instead on the minuscule steps that lead to the end goal. Plan out the steps and aim to accomplish ONE at a time. This will make the task feel less overwhelming.

3. Turn off all distracting stimuli and focus on the task for 30 minutes to an hour, followed by a short break. It is better to work in smaller intervals than to work for longer durations of time, such as working for 6 hours straight. Our brain naturally goes through cycles with peaks and valleys, so it’s important to follow this rhythm in order to maximize output.

4. Visualize yourself starting the task at the last possible moment and what that would feel like. Likely just the thought of doing something last minute will elicit feelings of panic and anxiety, which will hopefully be motivating enough to start early.

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.