Tag Archives: Mindfulness

When A Family Member Has A Mental Illness

selfcareThere’s lots of information out there about different mental illnesses and how to find help or treatment for them.  But what is often missing is advice for you on how to cope when it’s your child or another family member who has the mental illness.  Perhaps you’ve connected this person with great resources and treatment is progressing as expected, but that doesn’t always mean there isn’t a ripple effect created that impacts you and your family.  Here are three tips for helping yourself, while you’re helping your family member.

Accept your feelings.  You might feel shame, anger, guilt, embarrassment, disappointment.  All of these feelings are normal.   It’s hard to let go of the dreams we have for our children or our families, and sometimes a mental illness gets in the way of those dreams coming true.  Maybe it will help to know that everyone in your position runs through a gamut of emotions; you’re not alone (even if it feels that way).  Sometimes life is challenging in ways we don’t expect, and in those cases, we just do the best we can.  Under these circumstances, advocating for your ill family member and taking care of the business of running your family can seem like an enormous responsibility at times, but remind yourself that anyone in your shoes would feel the same and that you’re doing the best you can.

Develop coping strategies.  There are going to be lots of things you can’t control, so get control where you can.  Whether it’s regular exercise to offset stress, or a monthly night out, or a few minutes with a book before bed, do what you can to impose a little bit of order and structure to your days.  Remember that you can’t give away what you don’t have; it’s important to fill your tank up, too, in order to be able to give your best to your family.  You deserve to have moments of relaxation, and joy, and peace, so create those moments in whatever way you can.

You may also need some coping strategies for dealing with your loved one’s behaviour, either at home or out in public.  Plan ahead for these situations as best you can, and remind yourself that it isn’t personal.  Don’t let public pressure or the judgment of others keep you from doing what you know is best for your family.  Have a plan in place for the unexpected, so you’re not derailed by a crisis.

And finally, stay connected.  Maintain a relationship with your partner; don’t let that become a casualty of the illness.  You’ll feel better if you believe that you have a partner in all that you’re going through, so keep that relationship strong.  Seek out support from others who can relate to your challenges or who are reliably there for you, whether that’s an association or support group, a therapist, or a friend or family member.  It’s hard not to worry about being judged for what your family member is doing or experiencing – sometimes people are not very compassionate about the struggles of others and worry only how it might impact them.  Don’t let this get you down or lead you to shut down about your struggles.  It’s not your responsibility to educate every thoughtless person you meet, but at the same time, staying quiet and not sharing your story keeps the whole topic out of conversation and continues the cycle of misunderstanding and suspicion.

Mental illness can have far-reaching effects on a family, but don’t let it define you.  Know that you’re doing the best you can in exceptional circumstances, have a plan in place and strategies to cope, and don’t let yourself become isolated.

By: Andrea Ramsay Speers

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Practising Mindfulness in Everyday Life

mindfulness-imageIt’s easy to live our lives on autopilot, going through the motions without ever being fully present in our experiences. We can find ourselves always waiting for what’s next and never fully appreciating the here and now. For example, we may find ourselves always waiting for our meeting to be over or waiting for the end of the day. When we are not living fully in the present, we miss the magic in the simple moments. If we do this for long enough, we miss our entire lives. After all, life is made up of moments.

When we think of mindfulness, we often think of yoga or meditation. While these can be wonderful ways of incorporating mindfulness into our lives, we can also be mindful in the simple moments.

First Thing in the Morning

When we are mindful, we purposefully ‘tune in’ to the present moment. Take some time when you first wake up to notice your surroundings, along with the infinite potential that your day holds. Notice the softness of your sheets, the sun shining through your window or the gentle patter of raindrops on your windowsill.

Commuting to Work

Notice the colour and smell of the flowers, the crunch of newly fallen snow under your feet or the way your boots splash in the puddles as you walk. If you drive or take transit, notice how the steering wheel feels in your hands or the shape of the clouds in the sky.

Mealtimes

Meals are a prime time to practice mindfulness. There are numerous benefits to mindful eating, so take a moment to truly savour the colour, texture and flavour of your food.

Conversations

When you’re speaking with someone, instead of being focused on how you’re going to respond or the meeting you need to be at in five minutes, really focus on what the other person is saying. What emotions are being conveyed, what is their body language telling you?

Doing the Dishes

Some people say they find doing the dishes to be therapeutic, and it really can be! When you’re cleaning up after dinner, notice how the warm water feels on your hands and the gentle scent of the soap bubbles.

These are just some examples of how we can incorporate mindfulness into our everyday lives. None of the above may be particularly extraordinary in and of themselves, but through mindfulness ordinary moments can begin to feel purposeful and special – as opposed to only “exciting” or “extraordinary” events being meaningful. The more we incorporate mindfulness into the simple moments, the more we open ourselves up to experiencing the beauty and magic that exists in even the most ordinary of moments.

By: Jenny Gomez

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5 Common Myths About Emotions

FeelingsThere are some colloquial ideas out there about emotions and mental health that we tend to carry with us. I pick up on them all the time in therapy with clients.  Try to recognize if you believe any of these…

1. Sadness and depression are the same thing:

Nope! Sadness and depression are different. We tend to use “depressed” these days as a word for “feeling really down because something bad happened.” However, there is an important difference between difficult life circumstances that result in sadness, and depression. Clinical criteria for depression includes various changes in behaviour and functioning, and consistent depressed mood all day, everyday, for an extended period of time. Sadness about aspects of life is healthy, normal, tends to come and go, and is often alleviated by crying or talking about it. This can be an important distinction for people who have been depressed before, as after a clinical depression, any sense of sadness can feel like a warning sign for depression.

2. If I let myself feel something, I’ll feel that way forever:

Nope! Your emotions will not last last forever. Emotions are varied and they also have a time limit. Even though it might feel like you’ll experience sadness, worry, uncertainty, despair (or any other unpleasant emotion that exists) I promise it will abate, or at least lessen in intensity over time. Identifying your feeling, talking about it with others, engaging in self-care and other coping activities can help to speed up this process.

3. I must. Be. Positive. All. The. Time.

Nope! You do not have to think positive and project positivity all the time. There seems to be a trend in distinguishing “negative” and “positive” people and emotions. Let’s clarify something: being “negative” is not the same as sharing and being vulnerable about harder (notice I didn’t say negative!) emotions. I hear a lot about “being negative and “negative people” in the self-help and social media world and I think those get equated (incorrectly) with people simply expressing feelings that are not considered “positive”.  Contrary to popular opinion, sharing vulnerabilities and finding validation and support about the tougher side of life brings people together – not apart. And it’s not negative!

4. I have ultimate control over my mind and emotions and should be able to fix things myself:

Nope! I think the way we blame people for mental illness has a lot to do with the perceived sense of control we have over our brains. But brains, just like bodies, need help to get better. When our bodies are injured or unwell, we consult a team of healthcare specialists to help bring us back to health. Similarly, in our efforts to improve our mental health, we shouldn’t expect our brains to be able to go at it alone.

5. Anger is a bad emotion and I shouldn’t ever feel it.

Nope! You are allowed to feel and express your anger. The problem with anger is when we express it in ways and behaviours that harm others (I.e. physically, or in emotionally/psychologically abusive ways), not the emotion itself. Naming when you’re angry, and taking time to allow yourself to feel angry and have it pass is healthy. Anger even has a productive side and can be a useful emotion to facilitate change, establish boundaries, and learn about yourself.

This is undoubtedly only a partial list of the myths surrounding mental health and emotions that are out there. Keep an ear out and tune in to your own beliefs to uncover more!

 By: Beth Moore

Beth Moore Counselling & Psychotherapy

How to Change an Emotional Relationship with Food

5-Tips-for-Heart-Healthy-Snacking-700x395Bored? Stressed? Waiting? What do many of us do when this happens? EAT. Many of us tend to fill time with eating or use it to relieve stress. Often we’re not even hungry or we choose to snack on easy but unhealthy choices. These choices can make our self-esteem plummet, and can even result in us feeling guilt, remorse, or depressed. Here are a few tips and tricks to try and change an emotional relationship with food.

Drink water. Carry a bottle of water around and if you have an urge to snack, drink water first. It’s easy to misread our body’s signals and think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty. By avoiding eating unnecessary or last-minute foods, we also avoid feelings of guilt and remorse, which helps reinforce our confidence to make positive and healthy decisions.

Be mindful. There’s a bowl of chips in front of you and before you know it, it’s empty! We’ve all done this. We at times unconsciously snack when it is immediately available just because it’s there. Stop and be aware. Stay in tune with yourself and your senses, rather than going on autopilot.

Understand your urge to much. Part of making healthier decisions is understanding what is driving us to certain behaviours in the first place. If you find yourself relying on eating to fill time, your urge to much may be coming from boredom – in this case, one tactic is to try to find something else to do. If you’re eating to relieve stress, it may be time to explore another stress-relieving activity such as yoga or walking. Once you’ve identified your personal weak-spots, be prepared for situations that challenge you: Keep a book in your bag, so you read rather than munch. Have nothing to do? Go for a walk instead of making a sandwich.

Understand that Change Takes Effort: An emotional relationship with food doesn’t just change overnight or with a lazy approach. It’s a process that can take months and even years to understand and implement. And this change takes effort and preparation. For example, If we arrive thirty minutes earlier than expected at our destination, many of us will stop at a corner store or shop and pick up something to snack on in order to kill the time. By carrying a healthy snack with us each day that we’ve prepared in advance, like a bag of nuts or some chopped up celery, we can prevent ourselves from picking up that chocolate bar because we already have something to snack on.

A lot of the challenge we face lies in the fact that it is easier to buy that bag of chips than to cut up those peppers. Change isn’t always easy. Just keep in mind that at first it may be a nuisance, but eventually it’ll seem like you have always lived like this. New behaviours practiced often become habits, so by choosing the right behaviour just a few times, we can create a pattern that will lead to a whole new series of healthier choices.

Panic Attacks 101: How To Cope

sun-set-maldivesPanic attacks are tremendously exhausting and frightening experiences. Some people experience these rarely, while others may experience frequent and persistent panic attacks. Whatever your situation, here are some keys to working through panic both during an attack and before another one occurs.

 

1. Know what’s happening in your body when you panic. Get familiar with your physiological markers and symptoms for panic and know what happens for you. For example, some people might hyperventilate and feel tightness in their chest while others might feel nauseous and experience tunnel vision.

2. Remind yourself that your symptoms are not dangerous (read my other blog post here for more information). Once you know what it feels like in your body when you panic, you can remind yourself that you are having a panic attack and the symptoms you are experiencing are uncomfortable, but not threatening.

3. Identify your triggers for panic. Here is where a therapist can really help you to slow down the process and figure out what started the path to panic. When they happen again, you can take a step back and notice it.

4. Take steps to refocus your attention. If you’re feeling like you’re about to panic, or you’re in the midst of a panic attack, engage in activities that are soothing and that refocus your attention away from your body. Some examples: sing your favourite song, have a cold glass of water, start naming things you see and hear around you.

5. Use self-talk to help cope and calm down. A coping phrase might be: “This is just my body feeling anxious”, or  “I can get through this”. A therapist can help you make coping phrases specific to your panic and in your own words. Repeating your coping phrase is going to help intercept some of the cognitive triggers that lead to panic like “my heart is beating so fast I think I’m going to have a heart attack”. Once your coping phrase has helped to stop the other cognitive triggers, the anxiety cycle will begin to slow down.

You will notice that relaxation (such as deep breathing) is not included in this list. The reason behind this is that panic often stems from too much focus on your body and feared thoughts related to the sensations in your body. In other words, panic can occur when we panic about panicking. For example, if you try to do deep breathing during a panic attack, chances are this is what will happen in your head: “Okay I’m going to breathe slow and steady … My breathing isn’t slowing, I can’t get control of my breathing, what if I hyperventilate?” Notice how the thoughts became more anxious, which will perpetuate panic. In light of this, the best antidote to panic is learning not to fear it through greater understanding and self-talk. If you struggle with panic, try these strategies out and find a therapist who can help you further.

By: Beth Moore

Beth Moore Counselling & Psychotherapy

3 Ways To Communicate In A More Meaningful Way

Speech-Bublé2We are all constantly told that communication is key when it comes to any type of relationship or human interaction. And that’s true! How can we better communicate in our daily lives and make our words genuine? Sometimes it just means taking a few extra steps with respect to how we express ourselves.

1. Elaborate on your thankfulness

Instead of just saying thank you, say:

“Thank you, that means a lot to me”

“Thank you, I really appreciate help..”

“I am very thankful that you are doing ___”

Gives your thank you a bit of an extra punch and helps communicate that you are really thankful and why you are really thankful.

2. Express how you feel in the moment even if it seems obvious

It’s important to express how you feel when speaking to others because even though your feelings might be clear to you they may not be clear to others. We can’t assume that others know what we are feeling and thinking if we do not express ourselves clearly. People can be very intuitive but they are not mind readers. This is especially true in romantic relationships where there might be some differences in how men and women choose to express their emotions.

3. Learn what not to say

To make your words more meaningful and important, examine what you say. We express what we value in our words and if our speech is frequently full of nonconstructive negativity, criticism, insensitivity and empty or trivial words we will probably push friends away and maybe attract “like-spoken” people. Try to keep your thoughts balanced so that your words will be positive, genuine and important.

By: Danielle Taylor

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Surviving a Quarter Life Crisis

2009-09-cover-puzzle_tcm7-84442The first years of adulthood or “real life” is often a time of excitement and thrill. We are trying to become established and individuated. We are making big life decisions. We are out on our own for the first time. These are supposedly the best years of our lives, but what often gets overlooked is just how difficult this period of time can be for a lot of people. Alongside the thrill and excitement are often feelings of inadequacy, confusion, and anxiety as we move through the transitory phase. Rest assured, if you feel this way you are not alone. Many twenty and thirty-somethings will face this quarter-life crisis where there is a seeming disconnect between what is happening in our lives and what we want to be happening in our lives. Here are some tips to help survive this transitory phase:

Create Your Own Path and Stop Comparing Your Life to Other People

We develop ideas about the type of relationships we have, the stage of our career we should be in, and the commitments we should make based on societal pressure and norms that have been developed in our family and social circles. It may seem that everyone around you is excelling in their career, falling in love, and utterly satisfied with their lives but that doesn’t mean you need to be in the same place. If these are goals that you have then by all means strive for them, but try not to let the accomplishments of others be injurious to your own self-esteem. Life is not a competition. It’s okay to feel unsettled and unclear on what you want. Clarify your own hopes, dreams, and needs. Decide what will make YOU happy, and go for it.

Set Goals and Make and Action Plan

Set goals for yourself relating to all areas of your life (career, personal, relationships, etc.) and break them down into specific ambitions for short, medium, and long term (think – 1, 5, 10 years from now). Ask yourself what specific actions need to be taken in order to reach each goal. By making small sub-goals you can make things manageable and stop you from feeling overwhelmed. Creating an action plan will make you feel proactive in control, and accomplished. BUT…

Don’t Get TOO Caught up On a Timeline

We face a lot of pressure to accomplish things in our lives within a certain time frame and when we miss that “deadline” we are left feeling like we have somehow failed. We need to make plans for the future in order to stay motivated and excited about our lives but it’s important not to get too focused on time. You may have decided that you want to be set in your career, own a home, and be married by the time you’re 30, but if you’re too rigid in that timeline you’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t work out that way. Or worse, you may make decisions that are consistent with the timeline but not necessarily consistent with what truly makes you happy in life. Draft a personal and reasonable timeline for the goals that you have but be flexible if you encounter bumps it the road. You don’t need to have your whole life figured out by the time you’re 30 (and in all honesty, you probably won’t). Things will happen as they are meant to happen.

Talk it Out

It’s common to feel alone during this transition phase of your life so make use of the connections you have to other people. Opening up to friends, family, or a mentor about your struggles and you may find they’ve experienced similar crises in their lives.  It’s okay to have doubts or be dissatisfied with this period of your life. But it’s important to figure out what isn’t working for you in order to make positive changes in your life. Sharing your problems with others may lead to a wealth of advice and support in a time where guidance can be paramount to success. If you’re feeling really lost, it may be helpful to speak to a therapist to help you establish what you want out of life.

Define Success in Your Own Terms

Many of us have come to equate success with status and money. Instead of letting that be the sole definer of success, think about all the ways you can measure your own success. Perhaps it’s the feedback you receive from peers and colleagues, the difference you make in the lives of others, or the fact that you live a well-balanced life. Your definition of success should be reflective of all of your values rather than just financial gains. Acknowledge all of your achievements, past and present, to remember you have a number of things to be proud of.

By: Catherine Kamel

counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapy

Panic Attacks 101: Understanding Your Anxiety

purple_water_drop_4_by_shayne_gray-d33c9pfAnyone who has had a panic attack never wants to experience it again. The physical symptoms can be extremely frightening, and people often report fearing that they are dying or having a heart attack during panic. Symptoms of panic or anxiety attacks can include: heart palpitations, chest pain, sweating, nausea, dizziness, light-headedness, hyperventilation, difficulty moving, derealisation, and tunnel vision, among others. Additionally, almost everyone who has had a panic attack feels that it came on suddenly and without warning. If you experience panic attacks or have in the past here are some key things to remember about them:

  • Panic attacks are not dangerous or life threatening. It is important to first identify with a doctor that what you experienced was a panic attack and not a different medical condition. However, once identified, panic attacks are harmless, though extremely unpleasant and distressing.
  • A panic attack is an intense reaction from your sympathetic nervous system; in other words, your body is in extreme fight or flight mode. Essentially, it is the highest level of anxiety you and your body can experience.
  • A panic attack will not, and cannot, last forever. Once you are experiencing that level of anxiety, your body can only maintain it on average, for about 20 minutes. Know that whatever awful symptoms you’re experiencing at the time, they will end.

Panic happens when we focus on, and misinterpret our physiological symptoms of anxiety as dangerous. Additionally, when we focus on a physiological response (swallowing, heart beat, blinking), it deregulates. This means when I turn my attention to my heartbeat for some amount of time, eventually my heart rate will quicken merely from my attention on it. This misinterpretation and focus is often what pushes anxiety from high to panic.

Knowing this information about panic is a great first step. Stay tuned for another blog post about panic to help you cope.

By: Beth Moore

Beth Moore Counselling & Psychotherapy

Psychotherapist Discusses Fifty Shades Of Grey Concerns On CityNews

Our own Carol Anne Austin was interviewed on City News about the concerns surrounding the movie 50 Shades of Grey. One concern is that it may normalize abuse in relationships. Carol Anne explained that this movie may be perpetuating some cultural scripts around some traditional gender roles and that different standards for what might be appropriate sexually for men and women can lead to harmful outcomes.

In addition, the dominance theme is one of the concerns, especially given that some young women viewing this movie may not be sexually experienced. Carol Anne spoke about the importance of having these discussions with our family, with youth and with our children. She explained that the pairing of sex and violence in media is very rampant and that it is important to have discussions around this to make sure we are watching media with a critical eye.

It can be uncomfortable for parents to have these sexual discussions with their teens and Carol Anne discussed that it’s okay for parents to share that sentiment with their teens. Also, parents can seek the help of a teacher, guidance counselor, sex educator or sex therapist if they feel it is outside their comfort zone.

Another concern about 50 Shades of Grey is that this movie may blur the lines of consent. Carol Anne explained that this film is depicting BDSM and it can be great to play around with power in our sexual relationships but we need to make sure to establish explicit consent about this ahead of time. Yes needs to mean yes. Just because we consent to one sexual act doesn’t mean that we consent to other acts down the line. Especially when we want to play with power or pain in our sexual acts we need to make sure everything is explicitly discussed ahead of time and that no one is surprised.

 

3 Ways To Lessen Your Anxiety About Your New Relationship

Toronto Psychologist Healthy RelaitonshipsYou are in a new relationship. It’s magical yet unpredictable. Things seem to be going great but you may not always know what tomorrow might bring. You may have some concerning thoughts. Is trust a problem? Will the spark fizzle out in a few more months? Will your partner commit to you forever? Do you want to marry this person?

There are countless reasons why a person might be feeling anxiety in his/her relationship. However, anxiety early in a relationship often stems from issues such as commitment and trust.

It will probably be helpful to have a meeting with yourself to examine the source of your anxiety and think about the meaning of your nervousness.

It is very normal to experience some anxiety and worry during the early part of your romantic relationship. In a way, it’s a good sign. It means that your relationship is meaningful to you and that you are allowing yourself to experience some vulnerability. However, it can be uncomfortable and unhealthy to experience too much anxiety so here are three ways to bring more calm to your exciting romantic experience:

1. Examine your partner’s actions

You might feel as if you want your relationship verbally validated very regularly. However, depending on the person, this may not happen as often as you would like. Instead, look at other ways your partner tells you that he/she wants to be in the relationship. There are many ways of expressing affection other than through words and these ways can be even more powerful. Recognize the small things your partner does for you. Basically, if a person wants to be in your life, he/she will make the effort to stay there.

2. Communicate

If a relationship is starting to feel too all over the place and causing you stress, it might be time to sit down with your partner to discuss your relationship. Gently inquire where your partner’s thoughts and feelings are at and check to see if you are both on the same page. This type of conversation might be best down in a private and relaxed setting when it is an appropriate time for both of you.

3. Try to develop balanced thoughts about your relationship

The harsh reality is that many relationships end. Therefore, it might be important to value your relationship for what it is now and recognize its importance even if it will end one day. Try to remember that even if you feel a relationship ended in failure it is still a valuable lesson for the future. Remind yourself that even though you might be very sad if your relationship does not work out, you will be able to recover and move on. Empowering yourself with balanced thinking allows you to have more control over your thoughts and emotions. When you have more control over your thoughts and emotions it may help you feel more control over your anxiety about your relationship.

In the end, it is always a leap of faith!

Best of luck with your relationship! 🙂

By: Danielle Taylor

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