Category Archives: Unhealthy Habits

Mindfulness to Self-Regulate when Stressed


We might be achieving our goals when everything in our life is on track, but the moment we have to face an uncontrollable stressful event, it can become easier to reach for something that will immediately soothe our feelings, even if we know we shouldn’t. The ability to regulate impulsive emotional behavior in order to act in favor of long-term, desirable goals is at the core of achieving success in multiple facets of our lives. How can we stop overwhelming emotions and thoughts from resulting in immediate compensatory behaviors? Often times, we talk ourselves into performing short term satisfying behaviors as they provide immediate reward or relief of emotions we cannot cope with – and we feel guilty in the long run, because we know that lack of emotional control is a setback from achieving what we really want.

Mindfulness is a powerful tool to increase self-regulation. Instinctively, we aim to remove sources of pain as quickly as possible (we don’t tend to keep our hand on the stove while it’s burning). Hence, being in the midst of a negative situation that we cannot change can cause anxiety, which, in a desperate attempt to subside, makes us turn to alternative pleasures; that chocolate cheese cake might make us feel good momentarily, but it will not change the fact that it hurts to be cheated on and your pile of work needs to be tackled. We might not have control over unforeseen stressors that fall upon us, but we can control our reactions which in turn will serve us greatly in accomplishing our long-term goals with a clear mind, patience and acceptance.

This sounds intuitive, however, during stressful events, our frontal lobes (in charge of planning for the future) shut down and our amygdala (emotional center) takes charge of our brain. The conjunction of our emotions and skewed thoughts can snowball into a hot mess deviating us from our goals. Studies have shown that mindfulness increases connectivity between the frontal lobes and the amygdala, thus strengthening the connection between our rational brain and our emotional brain. Hence, instead of losing control by acting on emotions or fighting against our emotions, we learn to acknowledge emotions and situation while maintaining reason, this allows us to work through our problems. We can reprogram our mind to accept situations by being mindful – which means experiencing what is really happening and not looking at the situation through the lens of future anxiety or depressive reminiscence. Practicing mindfulness is like a muscle, it takes time to develop, but practicing daily will yield into an effective tool to lean on in times of stress in order to control feelings and increase self-regulation.

By: Teodora Dundjerovic

Teodora graduated in 2016 with a Bilingual Specialized hons. BA Psychology with a neuropsychology concentration. She is currently working in the financial district before going back to school for psychology. She enjoys spending time with friends and exploring alternative passions including fitness, dance, muay thai and yoga.

How to Overcome Conflict in Relationships


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

Overcoming Depression


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

Below are a few further tips to fighting depression:

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

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

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

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

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

By: Maleeha Khan

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

Happiness as a long-term Goal


What helps us stay motivated?
Most people in today’s society have an engrained reward valuation system that either encourages or prevents them from undertaking an activity. Often, a few of the questions that we sift through before undertaking an activity include: will this make me feel good; how difficult is it to attain the reward; what could I be doing in the meantime if I wasn’t engaged in this activity?

To put this in perspective on a small scale, think about the questions that cross your mind when you decide if you should go get a cup of Starbucks coffee:

  1. What effect will this cup of coffee have on my mood and productivity?
  2. How far is the nearest Starbucks and how much time will it take me to get there?
  3. Should I get a cup of coffee from the downstairs café instead?
  4. What else can I get done in the time that I would spend going to Starbucks?

Once we have executed this cost-benefit analysis, we are either motivated to go to Starbucks or dissuaded from making the effort.

Now, picture this on a larger scale. The average student or employed individual has a lot of important decisions to make related to long-term goals. For example, the drive to stay in school after you complete secondary or post-secondary education differs between individuals. While one individual might decide to take an additional 4 years of postgraduate education, another individual might decide to enter the workforce right after graduation and never return back to school.

I believe that societal pressures and cultural influences play a large role in this decision, which can lead someone to conduct an inaccurate cost-benefit analysis that misleads them down a path where they experience no passion. For example, in someone’s cost-benefit analysis, they may prioritize a stable income to support themselves in the future, expectations of their parents and/or culture, and what the current job market is seeking, over what would make them happy in the long-term.

If the justification for why you are gunning for a specific career path doesn’t involve any reason that includes your happiness and subjective well-being, then you might be engaging in faulty reasoning. I’ve seen friends slave away at a job that they hate just because it pays well and they want to move up in the company in the future. Conversely, some of my friends have continued with higher-level education because of parental expectations. Neither of these situations are ideal.

So next time you are making a big decision, consider how you can maximize your future benefits without making your well-being an afterthought in the process. Forty years down the road, you’ll be happy that you did!

By: Parnian Pardis

Parnian is a MSc Candidate at the University of Toronto, conducting research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Her thesis project involves investigating sub-types of treatment-resistance in schizophrenia, and the role of clozapine in their treatment. She aspires to encourage clinicians to adopt best practices within the individualized treatment of each patient. In her spare time, she is a food connoisseur and loves to travel to see new sights!

 

Risks of Internalizing Beauty Ideals


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

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

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

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

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

The Weight of Eating Disorders


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By: Stella Hyesoo Pock

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

Are you Feeling Stressed? Try Cooking!


I think we can all agree that few things are more stressful than approaching deadlines when you’re in school or at work. This stress can often decreases your productivity without you even knowing it. You may still get an A on your paper, for example, but it probably cost you more time and effort because your body was stressed. As I started to look for ways to eliminate some of my stress, I found that cooking really helped. I used to never want to cook, thinking that it would distract me from all the work I had to do and thus decrease my productivity. But when I set a goal to try and fit a block of time each day to cook, despite having assignments and exams, I found that it actually improved my productivity.

So how does cooking alleviate stress and anxiety? Let’s consider briefly what you are doing when you’re actually cooking (that is, when your food is heating up in the pan). To ensure that your food doesn’t come out charcoal or raw, naturally you would have to monitor the cooking process. This process requires a lot of attention, which helps distract you from the stress. When your cooking, you become immersed in the current moment and it engages all of your senses – smell, taste, sight, and touch. As a result, your body naturally relaxes and releases some of the tension.

This state of mind closely resembles the state of mindfulness – the focused state on one’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences at the present moment. Mindfulness has been shown to alleviate distress resulting from all sorts of life stressors. This makes sense because stress and anxiety are primarily produced by a constant contrast between the present and a set future, and the feeling that the progress toward that future is hindered or deviated. So naturally, if you immerse yourself in the present, you will feel less of the stress and anxiety.

Although there are many other ways to practice mindfulness, they usually take time to master. Cooking offers an instant source of stress relief, without the time commitment of mastering the task. So next time you are feeling stressed, ground yourself in the present and try cooking – it brings more than delicious food to the table!

By: Ruihong Yuan

Ruihong is a graduate from University of Toronto with a major in Psychology and Physics. He is currently looking to gain either clinical or research experiences in psychology. His goal is to become a clinical psychologist with his own practice and research in order to help people improve their lives and explore the mysterious human mind.

 

The Power of Taking a Break from our Phones


In late November, my iPhone broke. For a number of reasons, I had to wait indefinitely before I could fix or replace it. At first, this didn’t seem like a big deal to me; it was hardly a significant lifestyle change. But then, as I thought back, I realised that I had never really experienced my day-to-day life phone-less for an extended period of time. The only time I really went without a phone was on vacation with my family. For the first time in 12 years, I would be living life cellphone-free, indefinitely. Fast-forward 6 months: I still don’t have a cell phone, but this time by choice. I made this decision about 3 weeks into my “phone-free life,” when the opportunity arouse to replace my old phone. In just 3 short weeks, I had seen positive changes in myself, my habits, and my ability to connect with others. My interactions with the world around me were becoming more authentic and mindful. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies; this transition definitely had its challenges. But for me, the improvements far outweighed the challenges.

Most surprising was the positive impact it had on my mental health. As someone who struggles with issues of social anxiety, introversion, and major depression, I was worried about not having my cell phone to use as a coping mechanism. Phones have become like a crutch when in new and/or uncomfortable social situations to avoid the discomfort. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how I managed challenging social situations without a phone. I realized that my old ways of escaping the discomfort only reinforced my belief that I was unable to manage the experience of any discomfort. I realised that my phone was holding me back far more than it was helping me. Without my phone to shield me, I found myself learning to be comfortable in the discomfort that came from new social situations. My instinct to avoid eye contact and small talk was replaced by attempts at connecting with those around me. I spent less time trying to craft an impression of myself as someone who didn’t care to interact with those around me, and more time growing the confidence to be authentic about the social connection I was craving.

The other area where I saw improvements was in my reliability. I was surprised to find that giving up my cell phone actually improved my punctuality. Without my phone to enable me, I found that I no longer had the option to send a series of last-minute texts alerting others that I would be 5, 10, 15 minutes late. For me, not having constant access to communication forced me to be where I was supposed to be and when I was supposed to be there. This growth extended into my overall reliability, as I was less likely to change original plans without the quick and easy convenience of a cell phone. Through this experience, I realized that the flexibility that came with technology and being able to communicate at every moment also impeded my ability to honour and stick to my original plans. I started to feel empowered by my ability to follow-through on plans.

Without things like daily texting, I found that I actually had the opportunity to appreciate and miss the people in my life in different ways than before. I no longer clung to the false sense of connection that sometimes comes from communicating without connecting. Rather than a quick text or phone call, I held onto the things that were important to me so that I could share them in person with the people closest to me. An added benefit of this was that I was really able to enjoy and celebrate life events and achievements, by taking the time to honour them. Most of all, without my phone acting as a filter through which I experienced the world, I felt more authentic and mindful in my overall day-to-day experiences of my life and the world around me.

* Disclaimer: This was my own experience of being phoneless and I understand that it may not hold true for others. I want to acknowledge that for many, a cell phone can be a very necessary and useful coping tool: one that keeps them safe and comfortable. This post is not intended to dismiss or alienate those individuals and their experiences. My privilege also comes into play, as I don’t have the responsibilities of a caretaker or someone in a similar role whose lifestyle requires they have constant access to a cell phone.

By: Meghan Thapar 

The Pressures that Students Face in our Society


Students in today’s society are indoctrinated with the idea of improving their credentials, educating themselves further, and increasing the pedigree of their resumes. We are taught to weigh every decision we make with the best alternative action and choose the one that gives us the most benefit within the same time frame. We spend countless hours studying and volunteering to get accepted into the program of our choosing, or attain the ideal job when we graduate, so that we can avoid having an unstable financial status. Often this means that we forego opportunities to take breaks to do the things we love, make new friends, spend time with family, or maintain an adequate level of physical activity every week.

My friends who went on exchange last year to various countries in Europe realized the impact of cultural values on our current lifestyle. In our capitalist society, it’s common to desire more money to increase consumerism and obtain luxury goods. In order to do so, we need well-paying jobs to provide the required capital. Based on the sheer number of individuals who all have the same aspirations, any opportunity is extremely competitive nowadays. In comparison, the culture abroad was more laissez-faire and individuals were in tune with what made them happy. They spent less time worrying about their future and wondering whether they would be well off. As a result, their self-image was more compatible with who they wanted to become.

Evidently, unless a major transformation in our culture occurs, the inflation in different product markets will exacerbate societal pressures on students to do more and do better. The notion that “time is money” will continue to place mental health as an afterthought to these pressures. If time wasn’t of the essence, then we would not face this problem.

However, that is not to say that it is impossible for students to tend to their own happiness. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I learned that it’s okay to go out for food, drinks, or a fun activity on the weekend with my friends or family. I can spend an hour at the gym, three to four times a week, and I can squeeze in my favorite TV drama, all without getting a worse mark or giving up on a volunteer opportunity. Allowing myself to do these things gave me something to look forward to when I was frustrated with how much work I had to do. It motivated me to create effective schedules and follow them to ensure that I was putting enough effort into all my responsibilities. Even when I fell behind on schoolwork because I chose to partake in activities that made me happy, I was able to fully engage with my work afterwards. I recognized myself that I needed less time to do the same things I struggled with before simply because I was in a better mood. Ultimately, students need to realize that as important as the future is, they also deserve to enjoy themselves in the present.

By: Parnian Pardis

Parnian is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Human Biology and Psychology. In the fall, she will be pursuing her Masters of Science Degree at the Institute of Medical Science at UofT. She is passionate about improving healthcare by incorporating psychological and social factors into individualized treatments for patients, along with the traditional biological approach. She believes that mental health is an integral component to this mission and hopes to encourage other people to engage with healthcare in the same manner.

 

 

 

 

The Social Media Trap


Stuck in a long line, I whip out my phone to refresh Instagram, waiting for the all too staged “candids” to pop up on my feed that I know took half an hour to edit, filter, and craft. I am no innocent bystander to this societal norm. Every double-tap is a confirmation that my life is one worth living. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat: pick your poison. No one can escape this constant, almost impulsive desire to be seen or heard, the instant gratification of approval and acceptance captured in a little blue thumb. I don’t think this is what they meant when they said to “live your life out loud.”

I struggled enormously with different insecurities throughout my life. I have two sisters, and I am truly grateful that our relationships have only strengthened with time. But in middle school when I was chubby, had acne and braces, wore bifocal glasses, and had frizzy hair, compared to my gorgeous sister who was a cheerleader, it was difficult to look in the mirror and not wish I were someone else. Oh, and I was also in a marching band. I mean, come on! But in all seriousness, I had a tough time accepting how I looked, and much of my difficulty stemmed from my destructive tendency to compare myself to my sister, and to those around me. My self acceptance was linked to the approval of my sister. I can now look back and understand that I had an unhealthy relationship with myself throughout my adolescence because I was so consumed by what other people thought of me. I’m nowhere near perfect, and I still catch myself comparing myself to my sister sometimes, but when I find myself caught up in that, I remind myself of how different we are, that I cannot expect myself to be like her. Without those embarrassingly awkward years to figure myself out, much of who I am now would be lost. I probably wouldn’t be studying psychology, or living in a different country, or writing this.

Social media makes it almost impossible to remove yourself from the toxic trap of comparison. The “mindless” scrolling we engage in silently reinforces the belief that we are not enough as we are. We aren’t tan enough, skinny enough, fit enough. Our lives aren’t exciting enough, or bright enough, or good enough. But for who? At the end of the day, the only person you have to answer to is yourself. Are you happy with your body? Do you think you could be having more fun? Is this the life you want to live? Those same people we envy also struggle with insecurities, and their lives are probably not all beaches and sunshine, and candids in the sand. My gorgeous cheerleader sister also struggled with her own personal insecurities. The personas we present online are rarely ever the full picture of who we are. Social media wouldn’t be nearly as popular if people showed the true versions of themselves: the heartbreak and the pain, the insecurities and confusion.

So next time you’re standing in line, scrolling through Instagram, and you see that picture of your acquaintance from high school looking all cute at the beach, remind yourself: that person’s life extends way beyond that silly picture. They are human, and probably compare themselves to others, just like you. We won’t ever know the entirety of someone’s life history, their struggles and failures, from a post on social media. But we carry our own personal history with us, and this is the one that matters. Be your own benchmark. Compare yourself to yourself. Be better than you were yesterday. You are the only person on this planet that can make an accurate judgment of how “good” your life is. So make it the best you can, not for the likes, or the followers, not for the insecure middle school you who has something to prove. But for the you in the mirror today.

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.