Category Archives: spirituality

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.

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.

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Why Relaxation is so important

relaxation-day-ideas-e1438839299801In a fast-paced world, it can seem nearly impossible to ‘relax’- we are constantly ‘plugged’ in, there are deadlines to meet, plans to be made/followed, errands to run, etc. Relaxation can take on many forms and looks different for every person. To me, relaxation is any time my mind is at ease and I am not necessarily focused on a specific goal (or if I am, it is at a leisurely expense). Often times when I am relaxing, I may be doing more than just sleeping or sitting on the couch- I may be writing, reading, working out, or even shopping. Nonetheless, it feels good to zone out to some reality TV. In either scenario, the common denominator is always the want to do so and the state of mental enjoyment/ease/focus. Obviously some of these methods do require more mental energy, but they are not necessarily exhausting tasks. Working out, for example, can be physically and mentally demanding, but it brings the mind to a state of pure focus that can block out all upcoming events or deadlines that seem looming during work or other daily tasks and can have a great impact on our mental and physical health. On the flip side, watching TV can allow your mind to wander into the storyline and help distract/calm your mind. Relaxation can occur with others around, in these relaxing scenarios, but either way it is what happens internally that makes a difference in our daily working lives.

A metaphor that I like to use is to imagine a computer with millions of new windows popping open, while also trying to run a certain program. The computer will run slower, may have some technical issues, and will likely crash. Most of us experience these same problems when we don’t ‘power down’ for even a small amount of time. Just like sleep, relaxation plays a key role in regulating mood, concentration, and overall wellbeing. Taking time for ourselves allows us to decompress, destress, and can also allow us to feel rejuvenated so we can be productive in areas such as work or school. Using the computer metaphor, I like to think of relaxation as a computer on sleep mode, still hard-wired and aware of all internal data, ready to go at any moment, but pausing to use less [brain] power.

As much as we like to think we’re super-humans who can achieve anything, if we don’t get an adequate amount of sleep and are always on the go, our minds will become mentally exhausted. There have been times when I neglected my relaxation and not only did my performance in areas such as work falter, but so did personal relationships. Most detrimental of all was my relationship with myself- I was overwhelmed and began to feel like I was losing control of myself, of my mind. When we are in this state of mind, nothing becomes enjoyable and depression/anxiety are in full force. What’s shocking to me is that relaxation is not at the forefront of our society, but work and constant future goals are. This is not to say that these are not valuable, but it’s to suggest that the balance is not evenly weighted. It becomes up to us to find that time when we can wind down and do something for ourselves. With that being said, I ask that YOU find that time to drink a cup of tea in the quiet, read a few articles, or watch Judge Judy. These simple pleasures are just that, but also sooth and reset our minds.

By: Sarah Morrone

Sarah Morrone lives and works in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is an aspiring teacher and Registered Early Childhood Educator. Life has taken her on a little detour and is currently managing a cosmetics shop while writing, painting, and getting to know herself.

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Self-Care After Orlando

1456995150_prideevents.dataphoto.153I have been thinking about recent events in Orlando this morning and thought I would put pen to paper to share my thoughts and reflections over the last week.  I am a psychotherapist that works within the Toronto LGBTQ community.  And at a time when Toronto Pride week is so close and we would normally be excited, it is a tough time for many both within the LGBTQ community and for those who simply feel touched, directly or indirectly, by the horrific Orlando shooting.  As a psychotherapist I spent much of this past week supporting people as they grieve and work through personal triggers, after the shooting.  Feelings of being unsafe seem to be a common thread.  Toronto is wondering, “Are we as open-minded and loving as we think we are?”  I believe we want to grieve these events in a positive way and be left feeling we are lucky to live in a wonderful place where we care for each other.  But sometimes I sense that people simply do not know how to do so.  So I offer some guidance and advice.

We need to protect our mental health and spirit the same we take care of our physical bodies.  Please be aware of the energy you are taking in.  After the Orlando incident, Facebook was inundated by opinions, comments and posts regarding the tragic event.  This is always a mixed experience for me.  Even if these are supportive posts, it can still feel overwhelming and lead to us thinking about the event incessantly.  This is not healthy for us.  I would also suggest we need to be aware of how often we watch the news &/or place our attention and energy onto negative world events.  The media always offers a biased view and we feel like we are informed when we may not be well informed at all.  It also results in a change in mood and affects your mental health and ability to grieve in a healthy a way.  So while it is great to care and get involved in change, we need to be aware of how often we are thinking about only negative events in the world.  Please reach out to trusted friends and loved ones to process these feelings and grieve and when you are able, become an agent of change.

One post I saw on FB that stayed with me was a quote by Mr. Rogers, who was a children’s show host many years ago.  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.  To this day, especially in times of “disaster”, I remember my mother’s words and I am comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in the world.”  What I love about this quote is where he chooses to place his energy as he grieves and processes horrific events.  I was astounded at how many images I saw of people after the Orlando shooting carrying wounded people to the hospital a few blocks away.  I also see the outpouring of love and pain within all people after an event like this, rather than only members of the LGBTQ community.  I urge you to remember that we are all in this together.  You are not alone.  There are helpers and caring people out there.  Sometimes helping is a quiet thing that does not make the news.  So it takes a bit more cognizance to remember this.  Please reach out and get the support you need.

I hope at Toronto Pride this year we all hold our heads high and remember as we both grieve and enjoy the Pride events that we feel the support and love all round us, and feel comforted and safe in that.  I know a horrific event like this is important and will not be forgotten.  What I fear is that what is forgotten is the outpouring of love and support that accompanies these awful events.  Let’s remember this too.

By: Lisa Shouldice

Lisa Shouldice

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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Five Steps to Self Care

running1Self Care. What does it mean to you? Considering it pertains to the self, we’re a subjective subject, no? So here’s my take on the care that is the self.

This day in age, our society is full of extremes. It’s almost as if 30% of the population is either vegan, a yogi or a personal trainer of sorts, living what seems to be an unattainable lifestyle for most. The other 70% will follow an Instagram workout for a week, try those shakes for 2 days, and stretch on a Wednesday. It’s so easy to get caught up in trends only to resort back to what we know; what we’ve taught ourselves is normal and natural.

As a citizen, personal trainer and lifestyle coach, influenced by the extremes, I can tell you with confidence that extremes don’t work! Self care, to me, is about finding ways to FEEL GOOD. Feeling good, although sometimes temporary, should not have a “come down” or crash. So please don’t take my suggestion to feel good as a ticket to binge anything. Rather, ask yourself these questions: What makes you feel good? What motivates you? Who are the people in your life that make you better? That make you want to be better? It’s not easy pulling yourself out of a funk, but start by getting yourself off the couch, and I promise you will feel a lot better!

Balance is the key. Finding balance in our lives, I feel, is THE GOAL. Considering work utilizes the majority of our resources (time and energy – sometimes money), let’s start here. We hear and talk about work/life balance. I believe this to be a great start BUT that leaves us susceptible to disappointment due to high expectations and extreme goal setting. So let’s turn the table a bit… What about balance AT WORK? How many of you wake up and go through the motions? Some days are better than others right? Then you come home and are exhausted, but you told yourself you were going to hit the gym and eat salad. I say, throw that notion out the window. What can you do in the morning for 5 – 10 minutes that will make you feel good? What can you do at 10:00 am, 12:00 pm, 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm? Something simple without your phone, that you can associate and pair with something else like a break at work. Maybe it’s closing your eyes and listening to your favorite song while focusing on your breathing. Maybe it’s writing in a journal and only focusing on positive things in your life or aspirations?

Self care has to be one of the hardest goals to achieve because we so often let other things prioritize themselves over our own well-being. So here are my 5 steps to self care:

1. People – latch on those who make you smile and uplift you to greater heights.

2. Find 5 little things that make you smile and rotate them throughout each weekday.

3. Drink half your body weight in water. I know! Tough right? Every two hours try setting a little alarm to remind yourself to chug!

4. Eat protein before bed. The majority of us are protein deficient because we are bombarded with fast, cheap carbohydrates. Eating protein before bed will help you balance your blood sugar and provide you with more energy when you awake!

5. Get Moving! Especially when you don’t want to. We are designed to move so when we are stagnant we naturally feel lazy, tired and our moods follow suit. Ever notice how annoyingly happy the #fitfam is? Go be like them!

Have fun with it!

In Health,

Jenna Brooks

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The Benefits of Nature

Nature-BrainWhen was the last time you had the chance to go for a hike, a bike ride, or a picnic? Nowadays we are so caught up with technology, that people prefer to stay inside than go out and be active. Nature is beautiful, calming, and has amazing health benefits such as providing us with warm sunlight and fresh clean air. According to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, when living closer to nature your body and mind will be healthier.

One way of living closer to nature is to allow yourself a minimum exposure to natural sunlight, which provides our body with natural vitamin D. Some reasons as to why Vitamin D is so important is that it helps prevent cancer, hormonal problems, obesity, inflammation, and it contributes to the human body having a strong immune system. Sunlight also contributes in helping set the body’s internal clock. The internal clock is something that everyone has which indicate to us when to eat, sleep, as well as regulates and controls hormonal functions that occur at specific times of the day.

Nature also provides us with fresh air which is a major benefit to one’s health. A health benefit would be that it helps your digestive system work more effectively. It also improves your blood pressure and heart rate. According to scientific research, when living in an environment that has dirty or polluted air, your body has to work twice as hard to receive the same amount of oxygen it requires than in a clean air environment. Fresh air helps clean the airway of your lungs so that they can dilate more fully, which in return cleans your lungs and makes them work more effectively. Just like sunlight, fresh air also strengthens your immune system. Our bodies operate by using our white blood cells to fight and kill bad bacterium. However for these white blood cells to work at their maximum capacity, they need clean oxygen.

Fresh air also increases serotonin levels in your body, a natural chemical which is known to be directly linked to the elevation of emotion such as the feeling of happiness. Serotonin is a chemical that is linked to constricting smooth muscles, regulating cyclic body processes and contributes to wellbeing and happiness.  The more oxygen inhaled the more your body produces serotonin Finally, fresh air results in a boost in energy and can enhance your mental performance and abilities. Your brain needs approximately twenty percent of your body’s oxygen. Inhaling cleaner oxygen will enhance clarity and improve concentration.

So next you time you have the weekend free, Toronto provides many amazing places for you to get back in touch with nature. You can visit some of the following places: Ashbridge’s Bay Park, Bluffer’s Park, Centre Island (which is very popular), Rouge Park, Evergreen Brick Works, High Park, Downsview Park, Riverdale Park, Riverdale Farm, Toronto Music Garden, Crothers Woods and Kortight Centre for Conservation.

By: Bruno Ngjeliu

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Coping with Change

change-good-now-how-get-employeesOne of my teachers in college taught me that everything we do as psychotherapists can be summarized as follows: pinpoint what change our clients are resisting in their lives and help them stop resisting it.

In Buddhist meditation traditions change or “impermanence” is considered one of the three irrefutable characteristics of reality, the awareness of which is a critical marker on the path to enlightenment.

It would appear that change, or more accurately our relationship to it, is a driving force behind much of our psycho-spiritual aspiration as a society. Why is this? And how can we reconcile ourselves to this ever-present force?

On the one hand we are ravenous for change. We crave bigger paychecks, more harmonious relationships, and healthier bodies. However, when that challenging work assignment comes our way, when our partner invites us to shake things up, or when it comes time to combat our cravings, we often wind up in a state of inner turmoil. The insistence of our conscience meets the uncertainty of the unfamiliar.

So often we block ourselves from experiencing the changes we seek because hardly ever does what we want arrive on a silver platter. Far more often than not we must push ourselves outside our comfort zones to achieve it, or worse yet, face the effects of uninvited change. Our job is pulled out from under our feet, the person we love leaves us, or we receive an unwanted medical diagnosis.

The truth is our minds aren’t very good at contending with new variables. And rightfully so – we don’t know what we don’t yet know. So they will always try to steer us towards what’s worked in the past, or what others have told us will work.  This is why change typically either happens incrementally or gets foisted upon us by outside forces. And this is why it can feel so agonizing – we don’t yet have the evidence we need at our finger tips to assure us that everything’s going to be okay.

The fact of the matter is that we cannot rely on our minds to get us through the most difficult periods of change in our lives. The most natural temptation when things start to fall apart is to try to put them back together again. This strategy may work for a while, but it’s akin to putting all our eggs into one basket. If we don’t allow ourselves to ride the change wave, at least for a little bit, we will never achieve the evidence we need to help us keep moving towards our goals. That familiarity that we cling to will become a rut that we cannot climb out of. Sooner or later change will strike, and we will wish that we had begun to explore outside our box much sooner.

It’s definitely best in times of change to remind our minds that they need to hand over the lead role every once and awhile so that we can allow life to show us more of what’s available to us. Meditation techniques that cultivate a cessation of mental activity can be an amazing tool to assist with this. So can speaking with people who have gone through the type of change that we are experiencing firsthand, or at the very least can hold a completely impartial outlook about our experience. Trained mental health professionals or spiritual teachers can provide a safe space for you to talk about and explore the changes that are unfolding in your life, while helping you stay open to the possibilities that change can hold.

Whatever approach you take, remember that change is a natural part of life. And chances are we’ve asked for it by focusing on the outcomes we would like to experience. So it’s imperative that we relinquish the urge to mentally control it, and instead learn to move with it.

By: Kelly Pritchard

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