Category Archives: Pregnancy

Truth about Postpartum Depression

A woman’s body goes through hormonal changes during and right after pregnancy. These hormonal changes that occur after delivery can cause many women to experience something commonly known as the “baby blues.” This condition affects 1 in 7 women and causes women to feel sad, nervous, lonely, and/or stressed. When these feelings are experienced more intensely and for a longer period of time the condition is known as postpartum depression (PPD). PPD is a mental health disorder that could be debilitating to everyone involved in the arrival of the newborn baby.

The distinction between the common “baby blues” and PPD can at times be difficult to diagnose. They both manifest in similar ways involving mood swings, irritability, sadness, and fatigue. However, in the case of PPD the symptoms are more extreme and longer-lasting and can cause the individual to experience suicidal ideation or the inability to take care of their newborn baby, even up to four weeks postpartum.

The biological foundation of PPD misleads us to think that mothers are the only ones who experience PPD. But it is also possible for fathers to experience PPD. Although there is less research on paternal PPD, it has been established that maternal and paternal PPD are highly correlated. It has been suggested that when a couple has a baby, they are highly influenced by each other, meaning that if one partner is depressed, the other one is more likely to be depressed as well. This is especially the case in paternal PPD, which occurs when a father starts feeling that his partner is not as reciprocating and supportive, leading to feelings of depression. In fact, the strongest risk factor for paternal PPD is maternal PPD.

When mothers are afflicted with PPD, it has been reported that infants are breastfed for a shorter amount of time, have temperamental difficulties, suffer from sleeping problems, and experience emotional maladjustment. On the other hand, when fathers have PPD, there is a higher chance of increased family stress, spanking rate, and child psychopathology such as conduct disorder and emotional difficulties. So it becomes evident that regardless of who is depressed, it leaves a serious footprint on the baby’s life. Fortunately, when only one of the parents are experiencing PPD, the other parent can work as a “buffer” against any adverse effects by taking up both parents’ job in taking care of the baby. However, if both parents are suffering from PPD, it can be extremely problematic, as research has shown that these parents perceived their babies in a significantly more negative light and considered them to be below average overall.

A quick and easy way of assessing PPD is to use the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, an easy 10-item scale questionnaire that is globally used to determine PPD. If the total score is above 13, PPD is a serious possibility and action should be taken accordingly. It is also crucial to keep in mind that if the answer to question 10, “the thought of harming myself has occurred to me,” is anything but “never,” even when the total score is below 13, the respondent must entertain the idea of PPD.

It is important to keep in mind that when a couple decides to start their own family, they really are in it together. It is certainly the mother who goes through the physical changes after the carriage of the newborn baby, but nevertheless, the father is also an active member who has to get used to new routines and changes that occur. It is therefore very important for both parents to keep each other in check. If either parent notices signs of PPD from their partner, it is key to maintain open communication and be supportive. If you find that your PPD is not going away on its own, try setting up some counseling appointments in order to work through it with a professional who specializes in PPD.

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.

Sex After Pregnancy and Baby

GTY_baby_166272556_jt_131103_16x9_608“Not now, honey, I’m tired” takes on a whole new meaning when you’re a new parent. You’re exhausted, sleep deprived and have a world of new responsibilities. You barely recognize your body in the mirror, let alone want someone else to see you naked. Sex may be the furthest thing from your mind. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. It’s normal to lose your libido after having a baby. There are ways to put the desire back into your relationship and balance family life with sex life. Here are my top three tips to finding (and keeping!) that balance in your relationship:

ONE: Be Realistic

Accept that you are both going to be over extended and less likely to be jumping each others bones. Being a parent is tiring. That’s just a fact of life. Your whole perspective and focus also changes when you become a mom. Yet, it’s still important to nurture your relationship with your partner(s). Just because you are now a mom doesn’t mean you stop being part of a couple. Try to focus less on the lack of wild sex and more on what you can do that feels comfortable. Even simple things like more eye contact, heartfelt compliments, and a long hug can go a long way in fostering that connection and intimacy as a couple instead of just parents. Everyone likes to be told they look nice – especially after having their body changed after pregnancy!

TWO: Channel Your Creativity

Sometimes, it really is the small things that make the biggest difference in our day-to-day lives.  Sure, you may want a weekend get away, but that’s not always feasible. Instead, try a ‘stay-cation’ by spending time relaxing in a bubble bath after baby has fallen asleep. You could even spice it up a bit by inviting your partner(s) to join you in the bath. You’re going to have limited time and energy as a new parent. Ask yourself “Do I want to spend my time picking up toys and making complicated dinners, or do I want to enjoy time with my partner(s) and order takeout?” The exhausted stage isn’t forever. Don’t put your energy in places you may regret, like vacuuming the house just because you are worried about what visitors may think! What do you think? You’re more important than a house guest.

THREE: Let’s Talk About Sex Baby

Communication is an important part of any relationship. The most effective way to get more of what you want is by talking about it with your partner(s). Open lines of communication about wants and needs in the bedroom are key to a happy relationship and healthy sex life. Think about it. You talk about money and parenting style, why not talk about sex? Just like anything else, if it’s not talked about, the problem will fester and become a bigger and bigger issue in the relationship. Don’t let your fear or talking about the subject inhibit you from building a stronger relationship. The bond is more than just physical. By talking through all aspects of your relationship with your partner(s) – from money, to parenting style, to sex – you only make the relationship stronger, not weaker. Talk it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Having a baby doesn’t have to mean the end of your sex life. It just brings a whole new dimension to your family and relationship. Savor your relationship with your baby, but also savor your relationship with your partner(s). You deserve to have it all.

By: Kelly McDonnell-Arnold

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10 Relationship Issues That Can Benefit From Professional Counselling

toronto-couples-relationship-counselling.jpgHave you been having relationship problems with your partner, family, friends or someone important in your life lately? In life, complications between the people we love arise and there are ways to solve those complications through many different ways. There are healthy and appropriate ways to solve those complications and two of the options are through counselling or psychotherapy.

Sometimes we ask ourselves, “Am I the only one having problems with the people around me?” Everyone has different circumstances throughout life, and its common for most people to go through rough patches as well as periods of joy throughout their life. It is important for us to recognize that no healthy relationship can avoid conflicts! Issues are created while having interaction with people but that shouldn’t stop us from having relationships with others.

There are many different reasons to why we may not be getting along with the people around us. Have you gone through any of the following lately?

1. Trust Issues
2. Difficulty Communicating
3. Personality Differences
4. Money Problems
5. Life Transitions (Minor or Major)
6. Overcoming Grief and Loss
7. Dating/Lack of Intimacy/Ending of a Relationship
8. Parenting/Controlling or Needy Partners
9. Coping with Each Other’s Extended Family/Blended Family
10. Household Responsibilities/Toxic or Judgemental Household Climate

Sometimes, all we need is to chat things over with a friend or family member, or even have some time to think on our own about the issue. Other times, therapy is a great option to explore why we’re having relationship issues and work out skills and coping strategies so we don’t end up in the situation again.

In Counselling and Therapy, we learn to:
1. Recognize the problem, treat it and become stable (emotionally and mentally)
2. Develop skills to work out obstacles in a lively and appropriate way
3. Learn to listen, process, and understand others
4. Establish skills to say what you want in a assertive way without being disoriented by emotions such as anger or resentment
5. Develop full capability to realize how the other person feels and what they want

At KMA Therapy we offer different types of services for Relationship Issues, such as:

– Counselling for Relationships
– Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
– Relationship Therapy
– Relationship Management Counselling

If you’re interested in any of these services, please contact us and we’ll be thrilled to help. Have a great day!

By: Kimberly Moffit

Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Mental Health Professional

Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Mental Health Professional

 

Boost Your Happiness With Relationships

toronto-couples-relationship-counselling.jpgStudies show that people with close relationships to family and friends are HAPPIER. That’s right. It doesn’t matter if you have 30 of these close relationships or 3. The point is: you have people in your life who you love. More importantly, you interact with these people regularly.

In relationships where people are experiencing marital distress, both individuals are likely to experience more depressive symptoms. It’s easy to understand how relationships impact our wellbeing so directly, because we’ve all experienced it!

You can become a happier version of yourself by cultivating these key characteristics:

1. Maintain strong relationships

Haven’t heard from your mom in awhile? Give her a call! Haven’t made time to catch up with your BFF in a couple of weeks? Make time for coffee with them then! The greatest gift you can give yourself is time to nurture and preserve the important relationships that you’ve built up over the course of your life.

2. Give social support

Happiness doesn’t just come from receiving social support. We are happier when we GIVE social support to others! That’s why careers in social service — social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists often rate their professions as highly rewarding. If you don’t have a career in these fields, consider volunteering at local homeless shelter, a meal program or any other program where you get face-to-face contact with people you’re helping.

Everyone has busy schedules. It’s easy to become wrapped up in the so-called ‘necessities’ and things that HAVE to get done. Over the course of your life, the MOST important necessity is your relationships. They’re who you spend wonderful nights and difficult nights with. They’re who help you through the rough patches and who cheer you on through the wonderful times.

By: Kaya Quinsey

Kaya Quinsey

Three Ways To Be Less Selfish

glass-heart-purple-loveWhen it comes to relationships, is it all about you? You might not realize when you’re only looking out for number one. It can become a habit to think exclusively about yourself. Healthy relationships have a hefty dose of compromise weaved into them on a regular basis. In the context of your relationship, without considering the needs of both your partner and yourself you put your relationship in a dangerous zone. In order to be less selfish, you don’t have to compromise on your needs entirely, or make it all about the other person! There’s a way to have a healthy, fulfilling relationship in which both parties are heard and feel that they share the spotlight.

You might be selfish in your relationship if you:

  1. Like to be in control
  2. Lack the ability to compromise
  3. You turn the attention to yourself
  4. Do you get restless doing the activity your partner wants to do?
  5. Losing an argument makes you feel horrible
  6. You have trouble apologizing
  7. You usually end up getting your way

Here’s what you can do to turn your relationship around, and show what a great partner you can be!

1. Gain Self-Awareness

Try practicing mindfulness meditation, or writing in a journal to reflect on how you feel. What’s going on with you? What emotions are you dealing with today? By figuring out what emotions you are experiencing, you have the option be able to tackle them and deal with them right away. If you need some time to yourself, take an hour or two doing something you love all on your own. That way, you will be less likely to explode at your partner that you need space later on. You get your needs met, and your partner will love seeing you happy. It’s a win-win for everyone!

2. Show Your Gratitude

Remember how you acted at the beginning of your relationship? If you’re like a lot of couples, you were probably amazed when they brought you coffee just the way you like it, or started stocking their fridge with your favourite snacks. You also probably gave your partner a huge “THANK YOU!” for these small, but thoughtful gestures. Over time, we stop noticing these small gestures as they become commonplace in our lives. Start by noting the little things your partner goes out of their way to do, and THANK THEM for it! You don’t have to be elaborate, but a sincere compliment after your partner makes your eggs in the morning can start your day off on the right foot.

3. Listen

In our busy world today, we often come home and while our partners are telling us about their days, we are checking our emails, texting our friends, or watching the latest episode of our favourite show. You might be trying to listen while you’re doing these things, but in reality you’re likely missing a large portion of what they’re saying. You’re missing important cues — body language, facial expressions and even large chunks of what they’re telling you. Your partner might be giving you all the information you need to give them the TLC that they require, but you’re not listening! Take the time to really devote ten minutes to your partner when you get home to hear about their day. It’s a skill that will help relationships in all aspects of your life!

By: Kaya Quinsey

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The Key to Communication

Toronto Psychologist Healthy RelaitonshipsKeys to Effective Communication

Effective communication is the foundation of every successful relationship – whether our friendships, romantic relationships, or professional endeavours. Being able to properly communicate our thoughts and understand another person’s enables us to build strong connections, resolve differences, and work towards common goals. We often think that communication is as simple as: Person A says something to Person B, Person B understands and responds, to which Person A then understands and responds, and so forth.  However, this basic formula hinges on the assumption that what is being communicated is properly understood by the receiver of the information.  Life experience would tell us that this is not always the case and a lot of life’s little (and big!) problems can be traced back to miscommunication. Here are a few simple steps to help you improve your communication and better connect with the important people in your life.

Be Clear

It’s important that you know what you want to say and why you want to say it.  This is especially important for significant conversations.  Before you engage with someone clarify your intention and your message.  Do this by having an inner dialogue with yourself to clarify your points.  Avoid speaking in vague terms or obscuring your points with too many words.

Be Honest and Tactful

Sometimes we have the tendency to avoid discussing unpleasant topics or engaging in potentially uncomfortable conversations. We use euphemisms to deliver bad news and sugar-coat our criticisms.  It’s important to remember that there are tactful ways to present even the most unpleasant messages.  Remember that integrity is lost when honesty is lost, and ultimately we become hindered when our messages aren’t adequately delivered. So while your best friend may not need to know that her annoying habit drives you absolutely insane to the point you want to pull your hair out, she may benefit from knowing the impact this habit has on you, and possibly others, and how the relationship may be improved if it changed. You should be to be sensitive to the feelings of others without obscuring the truth of what you are trying to say.

Listen to the Words and the Music

This is one of the most important things to remember when it comes to communication.  It means to pay attention to the content of what a person sharing with you (i.e. the words) but also be aware of the context and the process (i.e. the music).  When we move beyond the content we can see that a lot of information about a message is conveyed through the timing, delivery, and emotion that is associated with it.  Tune into your own feelings throughout an interaction.  What you’re feeling is usually a good indicator of what the other person is trying to communicate. 

Pay Attention to Non-Verbal Cues

Non-verbal communication says a lot more than words often can.  Pay attention to body language, eye contact, and facial expressions.  Non-verbal cues typically happen outside of awareness which makes them the most reliable form of communication.  If someone is telling you they are doing just fine but are saying that at a distance from you, with arms crossed, and avoiding eye contact, chances are they aren’t fine.  Be aware of what your body language is communicating and be attuned to the body language of others to better gauge how they are feeling.

Avoid Defensiveness

Even if you don’t like what is being said to you try to respect differences of opinion and keep an open mind.  Hostility and defensiveness are the surest way to end effective communication and start a conflict.  Instead, try to validate other perspectives and share your own opinions respectfully.  This goes back to honesty and tact.  It is perfectly acceptable to disagree and stand by your own views, what’s important is the manner in which you do so.

Try Perspective-Taking

Every time we hear a message it is interpreted through a filter that is based on our personalities, past experiences, current emotional state, and relationship to the other person.  Consider how another person might interpret what you’re saying and the meaning they may be attaching to it.  Also be aware of how your own filter may be affecting your communications with others.

Last but certainly not least…..LISTEN!

Being an effective communicator is not only about what you say but also about how you listen.  Active listening shows that you care, are sincere, and helps build trust in any relationship.  Pay close attention to what is being said so you don’t miss the message.  Show interest through both verbal and non-verbal communication and give your full attention to the speaker.  This means avoiding interruptions and distractions whenever possible (i.e. putting your cellphone away unless it’s urgent!)

By: Catherine Kamel

counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapy

Being A Mother & Having A Successful Career: The Delicate Balance Of Having It All

The-best-top-desktop-purple-wallpapers-purple-wallpaper-purple-background-hd-28I always knew that I wanted to be a mother. I dreamed of having children of my own to love and care for and was thrilled when my children, Madeleine & Nicholas, were born. They are an absolute joy and having them in my life is such a natural fit for me. They have enriched my life in more ways than I could ever adequately express and I love them dearly. But I also knew that I wanted a career. I didn’t always know exactly what it was that I wanted to do, but I never expected not to have to work. The thought of having a job always excited me.

As the years went by, things seemed to fall nicely into place: I was married, owned a home and a business, worked, volunteered, and took care of my children. I had a busy social life, a wide circle of friends, and was very active in my community. But then everything changed. I’ll spare you the details but, needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. My relationship of 20+ years was over. I found myself taking care of 2 children on my own, having to find a job that allowed me to be the mother I wanted to be and the career woman I now needed to be.

I had previously spent many years in the hospitality industry and also worked as a performer. Now, as a single mother, restaurant hours were impossible to keep and a career in the performing arts seemed like a frivolous pursuit. So I did something that many people are terrified of doing: I started over.

I saw this as an opportunity for reinvention and rebirth. I thought about everything that I liked, everything I was good at, everything I wanted, and everything I needed. I made seemingly endless lists. I took a free career planning course. I researched the requirements for every job that sounded even remotely interesting and I conducted informational interviews to help me narrow down the field of possibilities. I did absolutely everything that I could possibly do for free because there was no way that I was going to pay a single cent towards anything, until I was certain that I was making the right decision. I didn’t feel as though I had the luxury of being able to make any more mistakes. I wanted to get this right, even if it took a little longer to get there.

When I’d finally settled upon a few options, I had 3 main criteria:

1) Would I really enjoy it?

2) Would this career be a good fit with my family life?

3) If schooling was required, which program allowed me to obtain the highest academic credentials in as little time as possible?

When all was said and done, I chose to go back to school to become a Certified Image Consultant & Stylist which, ironically, was something I had already done for friends and family over the years anyway. I was always the person that everyone wanted to take shopping with them. People admired my sense of taste and style and I realized that I could actually get paid for doing what I’d always done for free! Imagine that! I definitely had moments of doubt but, for the most part, I was filled with excitement and exhilaration for what the future had in store.

My studies went exceedingly well. I made incredible connections and was presented with wonderful opportunities for growth and personal development. My newfound career path was such a perfect fit that I honestly don’t know why I hadn’t pursued it sooner! Workshop facilitation, speaking engagements, freelance writing assignments, and invitations to countless fashion and beauty events soon followed. Now, whenever I tell someone what I do for a living, the response is usually a version of this: “How exciting! It sounds like you have it all!” I have heard that phrase so often that it has forced me stop and think about what “having it all” really means.

For me, having it all used to mean having everything that money could buy. It was about the acquisition of stuff, about status and bragging rights, in addition to all of the “normal” wants and needs of life, love, and relationships. Now it’s all about choice and compromise.

My life has 4 main components:

1) my private time

2) my life as a mother

3) my business world

4) my social life

Each component is important to me and helps me to be a well-rounded individual. I’ve listed them in that order because that is the order of their importance to me. Some of you have already gasped and said, “Why on earth did she put her private life before her life as a mother?!!!” That’s easy: my private life takes 2 – 3 hours out of every day and happens before my children wake up each morning and after they go to bed at night. It does not detract from the time I spend with them in any way and, in fact, makes me a better mother. During my private time, I plan my day, meditate, exercise, listen to music, read, and unwind. That’s it. Nothing salacious here, so relax. That “me time” just makes me a happier, more grounded person, with the ability to face each day with a smile and to sleep soundly at night.

These are my choices. I own them and they work for me. If and when they stop working for me, I know that I will have the freedom and the opportunity to make other choices and adapt my lifestyle accordingly. That, to me, is the ultimate objective of having it all.

So where does compromise come into play? What gets sacrificed? Everyone who knows me is aware that my children come first. If there is a school event or excursion, a difficult homework assignment, a project to complete, a test to study for, or if a child is sick, my social plans will be cancelled and my business engagements will be rescheduled. It’s as simple as that. No exceptions. Luckily for me, being self-employed allows me to get most of my work done while my children are at school, so they rarely see me working or feel my absence. They’re actually quite happy when I have to go out to a meeting or an event in the evening, as they thoroughly enjoy their time at home alone.

Of course, having it all involves a tremendous amount of hard work! I was not born independently wealthy, nor have I won the lottery. It is a mistake to think that those we perceive as having it all laze about at the beach all day, piña colada in hand. People who have it all are some of the busiest, hardest working people on the planet. What they do with the money they earn is their business and they are free to spend it as they see fit, but they must earn it before they can spend it.

I used to live a life that, to the outside world, appeared as though I had it all. But I didn’t. People just assumed I did and I never disabused them of that notion because I felt as though it would have brought shame to myself, my family, and our business. Now I proudly tell people the truth about my past life. It wasn’t always pleasant, but it did help shape me into the woman I am today. My life now, although much simpler, is so much more fulfilling. I have a home I love, my children are happier than they’ve ever been, I thoroughly enjoy my work, I have meaningful relationships, I laugh and have fun every day, and I do things that I enjoy doing. I have given up a lot, but I don’t miss it. I make better choices for myself and for my children and we are all better for it. So, if you ask me if I have it all, my answer would be an unequivocal, “Yes, I do!”

Your version of having it all and mine might not be the same, but you are free to interpret it however you please and to do whatever it takes for you to achieve your goals. In spite of all of the self-help books lining the shelves of your favourite bookstore, there is no a one-size-fits-all diet, relationship guide, or career-planning manual.  What worked for me might not work for you and that’s okay. Having the choice to do what you want, to try different things, to add a number of life’s experiences to your personal shopping cart, and the ability to compromise as you see fit, that’s having it all.

By: Elizabeth Friesen

Elizabeth Friesen

The Psychology of Junk Food

_MG_7489aI’ll admit, I never understood the character of Claudia from my childhood Babysitter’s Club Novels – the girl who had junk food stashed away in all parts of her bedroom: under the pillow, in her drawers, and even under the bed! But now, as an adult, I fully get it. I always have a few things stashed away in my cupboard for junk-food emergencies — Junior Mints, Miss Vickie’s Chips, and Diet Dr. Pepper. These little indulgences are always there and never questioned; as I’m a huge advocate that life in moderation is the key to ultimate happiness!But everybody knows that junk food and unhealthy eating has negative effects on our physical health. An excess of junk food can cause unwanted problems such as blood pressure issues, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Junk food takes a psychological toll as well making us feel more tired and lazy, contrary to the belief that people are lazy because they are unhealthy or obese.

The Cycle of Eating Junk:

So what exactly is happening to our brains when we eat something unhealthy? Sweet taste receptors on our tongues are activated when we taste sugary food, then they are activated again when the food reaches the stomach. These sweet taste receptors send a signal to the cerebral cortex in your brain where different tastes such as sweetness, saltiness, and bitterness are quantified. Sugar gives our reward system positive sensations in the same way socializing, sex, and drugs do making it arguably have the same type of addictiveness with less intensity.This positive sensation is created by releasing dopamine from the brain, the chemical responsible for every time you feel good. Sugar is a common food that sends dopamine into your brain, but sadly, most “healthy” foods do not trigger a dopamine release in your brain. (Why am I not surprised that broccoli is NOT one of these foods?:-)

When we eat a particularly delicious healthy meal for the first time, the great taste will spike the dopamine levels in our brain. But after continuing to eat the same dish for a long period of time, the dopamine spikes will start to diminish. This means that it is super important to constantly be trying new healthy foods and changing meals in order to feel motivated to eat healthy foods.Break the Cycle: If you are trying to break your habits of eating unhealthy foods there are some things you should keep in mind. Food is one of the most powerful emotional stimuli, and we all know that eating patterns are causes by emotional decisions (not conscious decisions). From childhood, parents give children unhealthy and tasty food when they act “good” and this carries on into adulthood and people apply it on themselves.

Gain some Peace when it Comes to Food: Food ultimately shouldn’t be tied to our emotional ups and downs. Starting small helps because it keeps goals attainable. I’ve always been an advocate for dropping the labels of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ as well. You’ll know something is good for you when in a mindful state, a food truly makes you feel ‘good.

Understand that Eating Well is part of Taking Care of Yourself: Just as we wouldn’t go without brushing our teeth, or going to our doctor’s appointments, refusing to eat well can have serious consequences to our overall health. Recognizing this is one of the key things I’ve seen people realize before making big changes when it comes to their junk food intake. Take care and good luck!

By: Kimberly Moffit

Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Mental Health Professional

Top 5 Tips for Blended Families

Family, Counselling, Therapy, Couch, Talking, Step-parentsBlending families is an adjustment, to say the least.  Depending on the personalities involved, you can expect anything from excitement (every parent’s dream) to indifference to unfiltered hostility (every parent’s nightmare).  But there are steps you can take to make the transition easier and help everyone to feel comfortable with their new situation.

First of all, keep your expectations realistic.  This is a new experience for everyone, and it’s not always going to be a smooth transition.  Accept reality: you will not be able to keep everyone happy all at the same time.  Take a deep breath and accept this natural limitation.  Now that you’ve freed yourself from the idea that total satisfaction is possible for everyone involved, you can face the challenges and decisions with a more balanced perspective, and hopefully, a little less internal pressure.

Start by focusing on relationships.  Keep in mind that we are always more forgiving and more generous towards those that we know personally and have a good relationships with.  If your relationship with one of the kids is strained, this is the time to develop that relationship.  Find an activity or hobby that you can share together, find common interests to discuss, volunteer to be the one to drive this child to activities or friends’ houses.  Look for little windows to connect – instead of hauling out your laptop to get some work done after dinner, sit on the couch next to your family member and strike up a conversation about his or her day.  Or your day.  Invite the kids to come with you on typical errands like groceries, and recruit their help to work as a team to get the shopping done.  Don’t get discouraged if it feels as though you are getting a bad return on your investment.  You might need to do the “right” things over and over before you make any progress.  Don’t let a string of declines deter you; keep making the offers and trying to create opportunities to spend time, particularly one-on-one time, with each of the children.  One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to discipline their step-children too soon; this can backfire in a big way and cause a ripple effect of bad feelings that can take a very long time to overcome.  Err on the side of caution, and at first, just allow each parent to discipline their own kids, while supporting each other’s efforts, and continue to work on developing a good relationship with each of the kids in the house.

Develop routines that everyone can live with.  Routines and predictability help kids to feel safe, so try to keep as many things consistent as possible.  Keep in mind, though, this means blending two possibly very different ways of doing things, so total consistency from one family to the next is not possible (see my first point).  Find a balance between the routines from your two previous families, and incorporate those habits that make sense and will fit well for your new circumstances, adapt those habits that can be made better with some tweaking, and accept that certain things are just going to have to be left in the dust for the new family to work.  That’s ok.  Things will evolve as both your comfort level as a household grows, as well as the age of your children changes, so you’ll have lots of time to find what works best for you.

How will you decide what works best for you?  You’ll need to communicate.  A lot.  About just about everything.  Communication is one of the biggest black holes in many marriages and families, so the importance of it cannot be over-stated.  Family meetings would be a tremendously helpful idea here.  Find a consistent time once a week to sit down with everyone in the family and address as a group any complaints or concerns that are coming up, as well as to acknowledge and thank others for doing what they can to help out.  I think family meetings are one of the most important tools parents can have in their tool box, and many, many family problems benefit from a group problem-solving session.

And finally, put aside some time for you as a couple.  Not spending enough quality time together is the killer of many relationships, and with the additional stresses that come with a blended family, it’s more important than ever that you two keep some time sacred just for the two of you.  There will always be something going on or someone who needs you – make sure that you put yourselves on that list instead of putting your relationship on the back-burner while you put out the more immediate fires.  When your relationship reaches crisis status, it won’t demand attention the way other family crises do.  Instead, it will burn away slowly and run the risk of fizzling out altogether.  Don’t let that happen.  Connect daily, even if only for a few minutes, show appreciation, develop routines and hobbies that you can do together, focus on quality communication, have fun…all the same stuff that’s going to keep your family strong will keep your marriage strong, too!

By: Andrea Speers

Andrea Ramsay Speers

How to Live with Balance, Not Burnout

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We often measure our day’s success by what we’ve accomplished. How many meetings we tackle, how many phone calls and emails we replied to, how much we’ve contributed to our work. We measure our self-worth based on how much we’ve succeeded in a given day. A day well done is a day filled with these ‘successes’.

What if we measured our success on a different scale. What if at the end of the day, we tuned into our bodies and asked ourselves if we were happy, calm, loved, appreciated.

Success in North America (and rapidly spreading to other countries) is measured on a meter that rewards long hours, hard work, and eventually… burnout. Burnout is that moment when you find yourself incapable of working any longer. You’re so exhausted, frustrated or sick that it is physically impossible for you to ‘succeed’ any longer. At this point, the only way to relax is to sit on front of a TV or computer screen for hours and ‘veg out’. This is not an optimal way to relax and recharge! The moments of your life that you spend relaxing and recharging should fill you with vigour, energy and happiness. These precious moments should not be spent mindlessly.

It is understandable that once people reach a state of burnout, they are not in a place to think of fun, enjoyable activities for themselves. They may not have the time, energy, emotional resources or even value of life outside of ‘productivity’. Imagine getting into a rhythm where your life is optimized to be a balancing act between this notion of ‘success’ at work, and success in wellbeing. When you have success in wellbeing, you will be able to thrive even more at work. In other realms, you will be able to enjoy your days more, laugh more and perhaps see beauty in places you had not seen before.

1. Allot a day of the week to your wellbeing

Plan a day in advance EACH WEEK where you spend the day on your wellbeing. On this day, give yourself a limit to how many times you check your email, reply to messages, and take calls. You could go cycling with your family, go for a walk by yourself, take a yoga class… Anything that makes you feel energized.

2. Find a creative outlet

Did you love painting in high school, but gave it up as you got older? Have you been yearning to learn how to play a musical instrument? You don’t have to spend a lot of time or money on this. At the beginning of the week, set aside an hour or two at the end of a day to immerse yourself in this activity. It will act as a great de-stressor, a motivator, and inspire you in other aspects of your life.

3. Get support where you can

The more you burnout, the less you engage in meaningful discussions with other people. Do you have a friend or partner who you can talk to regularly? This is incredibly important when it comes to avoiding burnout. A lot of people have trouble finding someone who they feel they can talk to about important aspects of their lives. They may not want to burden a friend or family member with their problems. Make time for your friends, partners and family members regularly. If you need additional assistance, mental health professionals are there to help you work through your problems in a judgement-free, supportive setting. Find someone who you feel comfortable with!

Learn to balance your life, and that’s true success.

 By: Kaya Quinsey

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