Category Archives: Self-empowerment

Creativity — Standing On the Shoulders of Giants

Creativity has always been one of those things that people assume you either have it or you don’t. Even though in more recent years people have been advocating for fostering creativity in individuals, creativity still strikes many as a gift that is fixed and born within This may prevent many people from seeking out creative tasks and activities, when in fact they can become creative by furthering their glance on the shoulders of the most creative minds in history.

Although certain personality traits do tend to correlate with elevated creative potentials, creativity may not be as fixed as people believe. We need to stop seeing it as a trait or quality and instead see it as a pattern of thought and behaviour. I am not asserting that I know the way of innovation, but in reading about some of the most creative minds in history, I noticed a pattern in how they achieved some of their glorious triumphs and brilliant ideas.

1. They engage frequently. From the lives of the geniuses I’ve read about, they all immerse themselves in their work on a daily basis. Depending on what area they’re in, they may have different ways of working, but they never stopped thinking about or doing their work. Perhaps this is why they tend to get inspirations from practically everything around them.

2. They utilize history. In reading some of Carl Jung’s writings about artists and their works, I’m convinced that inspiration is only possible with the help of either education or experience or both. The more you know about a topic and the more you think about it, the more connections are being built and the more efficient you are in processing relevant information. This may make it easier for them to draw parallels between daily happenings and their work in progress.

3. They cast an extensive net. Their information comes from a vast range of different sources. This also helps with the fact that they think cross-disciplinarily, so to speak. These creative minds seem to be naturals when it comes to borrowing ideas from other disciplines that don’t seem relevant to their primary work. This is only possible if they have learned about multiple subjects or they have a rich life experience, or both. These ideas manifest themselves in all kinds of forms throughout their creative work.

4. They play around with the problem. One of the most common conceptions of creativity is the ability to find an unusual solution to a problem. Many people get stuck on the solution part of the task and when they can’t find one, give up altogether. However, the most creative minds don’t usually bother too much with finding the right solution. Instead, they seem to be most concerned about the questions they ask, which are often followed with “eureka” moments after being able to redefine a problem. For example, Einstein had the inspiration for his general theory of relativity when he transformed the problem of gravity into a problem of acceleration (in his theory these two are equivalent). So maybe the problem with us not-so-creative people is not to jump outside of the box, but to stop thinking of it as a box.

These were some of the common patterns I observed among the most creative minds. Of course there are other traits that underlie each of these behaviours and thinking patterns, but the above points help paint a rough sketch of a creative mind. Becoming more creative is certainly feasible. By taking a glance on the shoulders of creative giants, let’s hope we now all have the courage to stride as one ourselves.

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.

Is Self-enhancement a Positive Thing?

Self-enhancement is pivotal to our mental health. It is defined as “the desire to maintain and preserve positive feelings about ourselves.” Self-enhancement is closely related to the idea of self-esteem and self-worth, in which maximizing positive ideas about ourselves is an important cognitive process. The classic “Self-Serving Bias” is the tendency for people to view themselves as better than average by attributing good events to our own credit and bad events to external factors. Whether we like it or not, when we are faced with moments where we experience failure and disappointment, such as getting a low grade on a test, not getting promoted, or even simply having a bad fight with your friend, we become very focused on appraising the situation in a favorable light. This is because we are all motivated to view ourselves in a positive light. Below is a list of strategies that we employ to continuously maintain this positive outlook.

1. Downward Comparison. This is when you compare yourself to someone who did worse than you. For example, when you get a C on your test, you take comfort in knowing that there are people who failed the exam.

2. Upward Comparison. This is when you avoid those who did better than you. For example, you might avoid talking to people who received an A on the exam because, as a comparison, your C does not look so great.

3. Compensatory Self-enhancement. This is when you acknowledge that you’ve done badly on a given task, but remind yourself that you have other valuable skills. For example, if you do not get your promotion, you may think to yourself: “at least I have a really great social life,” which, in your mind, might make up for the promotion you did not get.

4. Discounting. This is when you reduce the perceived importance of the domain in which you have performed poorly. A classic example of this is when people claim they “do not care because it does not mean anything.”

5. External Attribution. This is when you blame somebody else or something else for your poor performance. For example, perhaps you may think about how your professor or supervisor was a terrible communicator and therefore it only makes sense that you did not perform so well on the task at hand.

6. Bask in the Reflected Glory. This is very common when you think about people who get very enthusiastic about their favorite sports team. For example, you may be disappointed about something, but then remember your favorite team won and all of a sudden you feel a sense of success and pride.

When our positive self-view is challenged, we are all guilty of exercising a combination of these six common strategies. Although it is very normal for us to self-enhance, and usually the lack thereof can easily lead to depression and anxiety, it is important to note that it is not the answer to all of our disappointments in life. As a matter of fact, several research findings suggest that an excessive amount of self-enhancement is received by others as deceitful and egotistical, and can also be a leeway to narcissism (i.e., a mental health disorder that is characteristic of a grandiose concept of oneself). Although self-enhancement is a good mechanism to help us maintain a positive perspective, it should only be employed short-term. In order to prevent us from feeling a discrepancy between our enhanced self and real self, we must eventually address the issue at hand by analyzing what to improve upon and accepting that occasional failures are a part of life.

By: Stella Hyesoo Pock

Stella is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major degree in Psychology and Neuroscience. She is currently working on three projects that focus on maternal mental health at the Mothering Transitions Lab at the University of Toronto under Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis. She has various research experiences that range from postpartum depression to LGBTQ members with schizophrenia. She is dedicated to help those who are afflicted with mental disorders.

Exercise and Mental Health

Bad days. Depending on who you are, this could entail something as small as feeling moody and grumpy when you first wake up to something much bigger such as the beginnings of a depressive episode, or a spiral into anxiety.

Recently I found myself re-experiencing symptoms of my anxiety. My chest will tighten, my breathing will become rapid, and my throat will feel like its closing. Having dealt with anxiety for many years, I know these are the warning signs of a miserable day. My anxiety seems to grow stronger when I begin to experience physiological changes, as I become acutely aware of its presence. Although I have found that deep breathing techniques do help, the thing that completely shifts my mental state and shakes me out of my anxious funk is exercise.

I have never been someone who could easily just lace up my shoes and go for a run. Exercising came with its own set of mental obstacles, among them the insecurities that I wasn’t fit enough to work out. My legs weren’t toned enough to run, and my arms weren’t strong enough to lift weights. It sounds ridiculous to me now, but in the past it was a major obstacle that prevented me from even trying. I was deterred from even attempting to better myself for fear of what other people would think of me. When I was finally able to ignore these inner voices that constantly shamed me, I began to start working out, and it felt amazing.

If you are anything like me, you too have experienced these nagging insecurities that pop into your head every so often. These are the voices that tell you that you aren’t good enough, or that you’ll do something wrong and look stupid or weird. But if you can shut out these voices, even if its just for the short time it takes you to walk out the door and go for run, or walk into the gym for a small workout, you might be able to reap some of the amazing benefits that exercising can have on your mental health.

Here are some the things that exercise can help you with:

1. Block out the Mental Noise. When you are focusing on, for example, trying to stand on one leg, while lifting a dumbbell and trying to keep your balance, it’s pretty difficult to ruminate on your negative thoughts. Exercising requires mental focus, and this focus can allow you to leave behind the negative energy dragging you down.

2. Endorphins. When you exercise, endorphin hormones are released, which make you feel really good! Endorphins are similar to morphine in the sense that they can diminish your perception of pain, and increase feelings of euphoria. They might be enough to shake you out of your bad mood.

3. Embracing your Strength. In motivating yourself to take action, you will come to see how strong your body can be, which will help you see how mentally strong you really are. It takes a lot of courage to silence the negative voices and fears and challenge your body to try something new. Observing how many reps you can do or how far you can walk or run without stopping, can restore some self-confidence and pride in yourself. This is something I think everyone could benefit from, especially those of us who experience many bad days filled with self-deprecating thoughts.

I know it’s much easier to talk about how great exercising can be for you, but I do want to acknowledge that it is not something that is easy for many people to just jump into. Some people may not be in the mental space where this is even a plausible suggestion. I was one of those people a few years ago. But for those of you who feel more ready and think this might be something you can benefit from, try paying attention to your mental state, both before and after you exercise, in order to see if you notice any shift in your focus and your self-talk. You don’t have to go to the gym for two hours or go on a 10-mile run to reap the benefits. It can be something as simple as going for a walk around your neighborhood, or doing a few sit ups. Something that lets you take a step away from your negative mood to focus your attention on how strong you can be.

By: Talia Main

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

No Apologies – Why we need to stop Apologizing for Mental Health Experiences

“What words would you use to describe yourself?” This seemingly harmless question always left me drawing the same conclusions about myself: I was shy, quiet, reserved, and introverted. I was the girl on the sidelines, occupying the same seat in the last row, doing everything and anything to ensure that no unnecessary attention was drawn towards me.

When I was younger, I was never bothered by my shyness. I would just tell myself that it just took me longer to warm up to people and to jump into conversations. However, as I entered into adolescence, these definitive aspects of my personality began to warp into something bigger than I wanted to acknowledge.

After experiencing a loss in my early adolescence, I did everything in my power to remain myself. I tried to ignore my sadness and the gnawing feeling that I was different than my peers. This worked for a few years, but eventually the feelings I tried to suppress caught up to me. I was 15 years old when I experienced my first panic attack, which marked the beginning of my continual struggle with anxiety. The shyness I felt in social situations morphed into full-body panic, being called out in class resulted in shortness of breath, and class presentations left my heart racing and my throat closing in on the words I tried to speak.

My situation only worsened as my family failed to understand what I was dealing with, mocking my anxiety, preying on my insecurities. I no longer felt safe voicing my opinions and so I withdrew further into myself.

Living in an extroverted world, where class clowns and social butterflies are looked up to, I felt ostracized by my new anxiety. Stuck inside the confines of my own mind, I believed that I would be forced to resign myself to a life of constant fear and embarrassment, fighting a losing battle with the voices inside my head. However, with medication and therapy, I learned how to effectively deal with my mental health experience. It was not until this year, five years later, that I was finally able to acknowledge my experience as a social anxiety disorder.

I believe much of my shame surrounding this experience was due in part to the sense of illegitimacy I felt. I could not understand why something as trivial as a conversation posed such a challenge for me. I felt as if I had missed some secret lesson that everyone else had been taught, never able to catch up.

As I continue to grow and understand myself, I am now able to acknowledge that my mental health experience is not something I should ever feel shameful towards. My unique history has made me who I am. It may be that I always feel slightly apprehensive when I meet new people, taking longer than others to learn to fully trust a new person in my life, but that is perfectly okay.

The stigma surrounding mental health has yet to be broken. I am now able to understand that I had internalized the societal stigma which proclaims that mental health experiences are illegitimate, treating my suffering as something to be suppressed or ignored. This kind of internalization is dangerous, as it not only reinforces the stigma, but discourages those who are suffering from reaching out for help. I can only hope that as more and more individuals come forward to share their stories, our society will begin to recognize these lived experiences for what they are. My struggle with social anxiety is nothing I should ever apologize for. I will not apologize for the person I have become. Yes, I may still be quiet, shy, and reserved, but I am also courageous, empathetic and stronger than I ever believed I could be. I am done with the shame, and I am done apologizing.

By: Talia Main

Talia is pursuing a degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to continue her education in psychology following graduation. She is passionate about ending the stigma surrounding mental health through her writing and education.

The Selfie Culture – An Invitation to Take a Break

“Authenticity is not something we have or don’t have. It is a practice…a conscious choice of how we want to live. Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real, the choice to be honest…the choice to let our true selves be seen.”
– Brene Brown

I meet many young people who answer the following questions in the following way. ‘Do you compare yourself much to others?’ ‘Yes, all the time.’ ‘Does it happen on social media?’ ‘Yes, constantly. On Instagram mostly.’ There is something going on in society today that is creating a lot of pressure for young people when it comes to their appearance, self-image, and emerging sense of self. While it would be wrong to make a direct link between social media use and rising anxiety levels, it would be even more foolish to believe that the growing use of social media, among young people, is not having an impact at all.

The selfie culture has become a normal part of life for teens and many pre-teens growing up in the 21st century. However, the constant posting and viewing of selfies can prevent a young person’s journey towards discovering who they really want to be in the world. When I speak to young people in therapy about selfies, a lot of what they are trying to achieve with their posts is approval from others and a sense of self-worth. But what if seeking approval from others was let go of for a while. What would fill that space? From asking young people, it is my understanding that a break from selfie taking and thus from Instagram, leads to lower levels of anxiety, which creates space for a more enriched relationship with the developing self.

There is freedom in switching off from the constant viewing of celebrity air-brushed pictures. It allows space for a more coherent view of what it means to be ‘you’, a person of value in your own right, a person who does not need the approval of others in order to know their worth. There is something very freeing about making the choice to be authentic. However, many young people are faced with the pressures of trying to fit in and needing to be like somebody else (i.e., the popular ones or the rich and famous ones). In idolizing these superficial features in others, young people can lose sight of their own value and never feel fulfilled with themselves.

Teenagers are at a sensitive stage of their psychological development. They are in the stage of identity development, which makes them extremely self-conscious and constantly in tuned with feedback from others, especially their peers. You can imagine then how difficult it must be for teens to take a break from the selfie culture, as it gives them so much feedback and information about themselves and others.

This Summer might be the perfect opportunity for you to take a break from this selfie culture and focus on yourself. Even coming off just one social media site for a while can have an impact on how you begin to feel about yourself. If you believe that Instagram boosts your self-esteem because of the positive feedback you receive, it is worth noting that it’s not healthy to become reliant on social media for self-confidence. Confidence should come from within and not be influenced by anyone or anything. Anyone who believes that their worth is dependent on the feedback they get on their selfies is at risk for negative psychological consequences. So be careful and take a break. Your self-esteem will thank you for it.

By: Anne McCormack

Anne McCormack is a Psychotherapist based in Dublin, Ireland. She is the author of ‘Keeping Your Child Safe on Social Media: Five Easy Steps’ available here http://www.easons.com/p-4740342-keeping-your-child-safe-on-social-media.aspx.

How to Have a Hard Conversation…With Yourself?

I initially started college as a physics major, but during my first semester of my final year of university, I decided to switch my career path to clinical psychology. The process of realizing that psychology was the best path for me took a lot of thought and I want to share with you the steps that I took to make this huge decision.

I like to think of the process that I endured as a hard conversation with myself. I believe we’ve all had this talk at some point in our lives, whether it was conscious or not. Feeling uncertain about selecting the best decision often feels scary, overwhelming, and confusing. On top of these negative emotions, people often fear the idea of change. Sure, getting a new haircut post-breakup is one category of change, but moving across the country to obtain your dream job is definitely a bigger and riskier change. For these reasons, many of us choose to continue with our current life path, as it’s routine and not uncertain. However, I challenge you to have this difficult conversation with yourself, as the rewards can greatly outweigh the challenge. Here are some steps I personally took when deciding on whether or not to switch my career paths:

  1. List out all the rewards (be it material, intellectual, spiritual, etc.) that the current goal engenders that are appealing to you.
  2. Articulate in detail why those rewards are personally appealing.
  3. Contemplate whether this change of heart is permanent. Specifically, is this change following a recent event that had an impact on you? For example, if you recently went through a breakup and decided to move across the country, there may be other reasons for this decision. Take time with carrying out your ideas and try to acknowledge if there are any hidden motives for your decision.
  4. List out the possible unpleasant or unwanted consequences of your goal and describe why those components are personally displeasing.

Essentially this list is an in-depth pros and cons list to help you determine the benefits and struggles that you may encounter from obtaining this goal or making a drastic change in lifestyle. However, making a pros and cons list may not be enough in assisting you with your decision on whether or not to pursue this change. You might also want to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the worst that could happen if I pursue this goal or change? Am I willing to experience this outcome and grow from it?
  2. What is the best thing that could happen if I pursue this goal or change? Will I be happy if I do not meet this outcome?
  3. What do those closest to me think about this choice? If they don’t support my decision, would I be able to accept it?
  4. How committed am I with to this decision and completing the required steps to achieve this goal?
  5. Will I be proud of myself if I make this choice? Does this choice align with my personal values and beliefs?
  6. What is the impact of this decision financially? Am I financially capable to do this?

Although these questions may be difficult to answer, they will help you determine if your reasoning is rational and provide you with insight into whether or not this change would be the best fit for you. Remember, you have the power to change your life at any given moment!

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.

Talking to Kids about Relationships

Talking to kids about relationships may seem like a challenging task, and it actually is. I do not have any children myself, but I did grow up in an environment where I was able to witness a lot of parent-child interactions. I noticed that parents often tell their children, in regards to romantic relationships, to “wait until you’re older”. Even though this may seem logical since kids are not going to be in a romantic relationship anytime soon, I believe there are many aspects of relationships that children should be told about before they are “old enough” to be in a relationship. They include but are not restricted to:

1. Know your self-worth. 
I believe that it is very important for kids to be explicitly taught what self-worth is. When kids are taught that they should give and be given respect, they will be more likely to enter and maintain healthy relationships in the future. Cultivating the habit of giving and receiving respect will pay off both now and later.

2.  Know that it is okay to say no.
It is important for kids to know that they do not have to accept anything that they are not fully comfortable with, whether it is a person that they do not like, or a whole relationship that they are not comfortable being in. When this is taught at a young age, kids will learn that sometimes they need to place their own happiness first. This will make it less likely for these kids to remain in an unhappy relationship when they are older.

3. Know that you have support.
Parents should let their kids know that they are always there to support them. Even though this may seem like a natural thing, yet you will be surprised as to how many parents do not explicitly say this to their kids. By hearing that they have their parents’ support, kids will feel secure and will know that they always have someone to lean on when times get tough. When these kids grow up and enter relationships, they will know that they have their parents there to give them relationship (and any type of) advice.

4. Know that everyone has their ups and downs.
When kids are taught that they should be considerate and mindful of other peoples’ needs, they will be able to have more realistic expectations of relationships in the future. These kids will later know that when their partner acts off sometimes, it is not necessarily because of them, but it could be because they simply had a bad day or a pending issue worth an open discussion!

Some parents might think twice before starting a “relationships conversation” with their child, which is completely understandable. Things can progress slowly, but there are long-term positive effects with starting the conversation at a young age. By teaching your children some basics that pertain to relationships, they will have a solid base when they grow up and become romantically involved with someone. This will make their transition into romantic relationships easier and more satisfying.

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!

Merging Pathways – Liberty Village and Yonge & Eglinton Locations

“Speaking with a mental health professional is no longer associated to one experiencing a crisis. Having a therapist is now a part of a healthy lifestyle” – KMA client

In thinking about the differences between the population, age groups, and many different concerns that I see at our Liberty Village and Yonge & Eglinton locations, I realized how similar we all are in terms of our human behavior. We are all striving to be happy, content, and peaceful with our work and the many relationships in our life. Where we differ is in the path we take towards feeling better about ourselves. Some choose to find their path on their own and some choose to seek professional help.

As an intake therapist, I am fortunate enough to have spoken to many people of different cultures, age groups, and populations. The one thing I find that the people at both our Liberty Village and Yonge & Eglinton locations have in common is that all of them are seeking to speak with a professional in order to maintain a fulfilled life, regardless of their presenting concern.

Let us take a look at the statistics below with regards to the gender and age groups at our Liberty Village vs. Yonge & Eglinton locations.


Both locations have a higher percentage of females, but as you can see, the male population is not far behind. Clients of both genders are willing to connect with mental health professionals to help them grow in their personal and professional life.

 

The Yonge & Eglinton location is becoming a residential area with growing families and so I witness more couple clients compared to the Liberty Village location.

 

In terms of the population and age groups, statistics show that both Liberty Village and Yonge & Eglinton have a higher percentage of people between the ages of 20-25 years.

 

 

As an intake therapist, I am very proud to see that people are willing to talk about their feelings, insecurities, anxiety, depression, and challenges in their relationships. People are motivated to speak with a mental health professional to develop some strategies to maintain an emotionally healthy life style.

Hats off to all of you for trying to be the best version of yourself! It takes courage to talk about your feelings and thoughts and prioritize self-care.

Even though Liberty Village and Yonge & Eglinton are two different locations, I still choose to call them Merging Pathways because the challenges I see people face are all similar in nature with varying intensities and lengths of time.

Check out this article for more information about KMA Therapy: http://www.datingadvice.com/for-women/kimberly-moffit-associates-offers-constructive-relationship-counseling-in-toronto

By: Zainab Adil Gandhi

Zainab has completed her Masters in Psychological Counselling, specializing in Marriage and Family therapies. She is a member in good standing with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA).

Zainab has had 6 years of experience in counselling with Adults, Couples, Parents & Children. She understands that for clients to speak to a complete stranger about their concerns is very challenging. Therefore, her approach to counselling and therapy is client centered. She works with empathy, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard to make sure that the client is extremely comfortable and in a very happy space. It is important to her to establish a good rapport to be able to bring about a healthy change in her clients. She believes in the ‘Human Potential’ that each client brings with him/her. Zainab chooses to be a facilitator in the process, where she guides the clients with her education and experience.  Once she has made the client comfortable in the session, she then moves ahead to use a Cognitive, Behavioral or an Emotional orientation, depending on what the client is willing to receive at that point in time.

Zainab has experience working with issues such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, bullying, parenting challenges, marital concerns, divorce, building healthy communication, relationships, balancing work and life, and dealing with a death of a loved one. She loves to use a variety of visual aids with her clients, which will help them understand their concerns more effectively. Her ultimate goal is to make sure the clients can be independent and cope with their problems efficiently.

 

The First Time I Realized Something was Wrong (PTSD)

downloadI didn’t fully understand everything that went on during my childhood, until I moved out and started college. As a child, I thought that my parent’s yelling, fighting and the physical abuse was how every family was. I remember trying to talk to a counselor in high school about it, but I don’t think they took me seriously. The counselor probably thought that my stories were a bit exaggerated and didn’t want to believe that it could have happened.

It was only when I started college and was away from home for 4 years, that I realized something was wrong. My surroundings seemed too quiet, as there was no longer any fighting in the background. I found I had to sleep with a radio or a fan on to drown out the silence. Most people like silence, but for me the silence would make me have nightmares and they would be the same ones over and over again. I ended up sleeping with some kind of background noise for years afterwards.

After college, I moved back home and got a job in my field of study, which was good. But eventually, I found myself applying for more jobs. I ended up with 5 part time jobs just so I could fill up my time and avoid being at home. I found that things between my parents were very different, as they grew distant from each other. My dad would stay in his room for days at a time and when my parents did speak, it was brief and at times not very pleasant.

My father passed away in 2004 and shortly after I noticed things about myself changing. I was having nightmares again and I was blaming myself for his death. I was feeling like I didn’t help him enough with his Bipolar. It became hard to sleep and I would have flashbacks of certain incidents, which were easily triggered by things in my surrounding, such as seeing certain things on the television. I dealt with all this on my own for years after his death, since I found it difficult to talk to my family.

It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that I stopped having nightmares and stopped sleeping with the radio on. There are still certain scenes in a movie or a television show that I cannot watch because it brings me back to a bad place, but I no longer carry the guilt of my father’s death. I have also since repaired my relationship with my family and we now have a great relationship.

Although I haven’t been officially diagnosed, I’ve been told I live with the symptoms of PTSD and I’m not ashamed. The PTSD is a result of what I’ve seen and heard within my house. Over the years I have developed strategies for how to deal with certain things. I want to bring awareness to mental health issues and I want you to know that it’s okay to talk about your experiences. I found that writing and sharing my stories helps me and it reminds me that I am never alone.

By: Anita Levesque

Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

Screen Shot 2016-10-02 at 9.54.13 PM

Having a Loved One with Depression/Anxiety and Attending Family Gatherings

 

downloadWhen thinking about the holidays, it’s easy to envision a scenario like this: people getting ready for a family gathering, preparing the gifts, dressing the kids, getting everyone in the car, knocking on a door, having Grandma answer it and give everyone a hug and kiss, and having everyone go inside to see all the other family members to celebrate the holiday. This picture perfect scenario is not a reality for many people, particularly for those with anxiety and/or depression.

My father lived with manic depression and anxiety. Family gatherings were not his favourite. When we would go to family gatherings, there were a lot of relatives and only a few of them knew about my father’s manic depression. Back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, not a lot was known about mental health, so there was a lack of understanding. My father would become anxious about going to these gatherings and we never knew what he would do or say, or if anyone would comment on his behaviour. Sometimes my family members would say something that would end up hurting my father’s feelings and we would leave the family gathering early. They would bring something up from the past and it would grow into a huge ball of anxiety, frustration, anger, embarrassment, and humility. After awhile, we stopped going to family gatherings all together, as there would always be someone who didn’t want my father there because of something that had happened in the past.

Family gatherings are meant to be fun, memorable, and an opportunity to get closer to one another. When a loved one lives with anxiety and/or depression, it can become a very stressful event. Things are said and done that cause anxiety and eventually the feeling of being trapped occurs, which can result in a panic attack.

When a loved one has anxiety and/or depression, the anticipation of the event can sometimes be worse than actually attending the event. Your loved one may ruminate about all of the possible outcomes and consequences days, even weeks, before the event. Sometimes the preparation of the event can be stressful as well. If it’s Christmas, gifts have to be ready, if you have pets, they have to be taken care of before leaving, if there are children, they have to get ready. All this preparation has to be done within a certain timeframe and can cause the anxiety to heighten.

You may not always be able to control your relative’s actions towards your loved one during a family gathering, but you can help reduce the anxiety that they may feel by:

1. Finding an ally. If there is a relative who is positive and comforting, go with your loved one and begin a conversation.
2. Set limits. You cannot control what someone else says or does, but you can help your loved one come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to speak up for oneself and to know when it’s time to walk away.
3. Bring a distraction. At times your loved one may start to feel overwhelmed. You can help by bringing some comforting items that they enjoy in order act as a distraction from all the chaos, such as an IPod, a book, or board games.
4. Focus on the good.  During the anxiety-provoking situation, you can help your loved one by getting them to focus on the good. There is always something positive that can be found that can be a calming distraction. You can suggest things like talking to a relative who has a positive, understanding energy, reading stories to the children, or assisting with the meal. Doing something positive will calm your mind and reduce the anxiety/depression.

Understanding what is happening and having a plan to make it through a family gathering can increase your loved one’s sense of control and ultimately decrease their anxiety.

By: Anita Levesque
Anita is a mental health advocate with lived experience through loved ones; father – bipolar; brother – PTSD, depression, anxiety; mother – PTSD; boyfriend – clinical depression, severe OCD, GAD, personality disorders. Her goal is to focus on personal experiences with mental illness.

Screen Shot 2016-10-02 at 9.54.13 PM