Two Important Ingredients to Growth: Self Awareness & Acceptance

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
― Lao Tzu

I will be first to admit that just a couple of years ago, my definition of self-awareness was incorrect. Like many, I also falsely believed that being consumed with self-awareness had something to do with being selfish, self-absorbed, overconfident and even narcissistic. Over the years in my journey of personal growth and learning ways to support others healing from trauma, depression, anxiety, low self-worth and other issues, I have realized that being self-aware is a necessary ingredient to happiness. The practice of self-awareness allows us to recognize our strengths and limitations, our needs, set boundaries, choose healthy relationships, give the best of ourselves. The second ingredient is like the cherry on top-Acceptance gives us permission to be okay!

To be self-aware and accepting in my practice means to:

  1. Accept ourselves. Many of us work tirelessly to achieve perfection—an illusion created by childhood experiences that push unrealistic ideologies. The struggle continues for years, making us feel exhausted physically, emotionally and mentally. In this uphill battle to ‘perfection,’ we tend to miss the beautiful self that we are Now. The authentic self in the present that can feel good, contribute to society, attain goals and feel accepted and content with life. This does not mean we don’t create goals for change and growth, it just means we create realistic attainable goals that are good for us and not dictated by false ideologies and expectations.
  2. Take care of our needs. We tend to wait for another to fulfill our inner desires, assuming they should magically know-how “I feel and what I want.” This distortion results in feelings of frustration, regret, resent and remorse. I’ve learned to buy myself flowers, jewelry, go for walks, and even have a talk with myself need be. I find this practice increases my sense of security and reliance on myself-it’s merely learning what our body, mind & soul needs at a specific moment, and being able to rely on our self to fulfill the need.
  3. Realize that we are human and, by default, have limitations. I often find that many people equate limitations to low self-worth, lack of confidence or ability. It’s quite the contrary. Having knowledge of our limitations allows us to embrace our humanness. I’m not holding myself to standards of perfection. Instead, I have learned to create realistic goals, ask for help when needed and make decisions that are good for me. Through this process, we learn to forgive ourselves and lend compassion.

Self Awareness can help you break destructive cycles

Whatever destructive cycle that you have adopted due to past learning experiences can be undone through self-awareness and acceptance.

Take, for instance, the obsession with physical looks that is perpetuated in our society. Many of us have struggled with our looks for years, being called all sorts of names at school, taunted by the family to stop eating so much or so little, ridiculing ourselves from comparisons on social media. The apparent outcome is self-hate, which stagnates us and perpetuates the cycle of weight obsession and thus feelings of hopelessness and low self-worth.

We feel attractive, loved and coveted when we look ‘good’; however, the second we compare ourselves again and feel inadequate, we spiral quickly into feeling worthless, unloved, unwanted and excluded.

Do not get me wrong. Self-awareness and acceptance do not dismiss opportunities for growth. In fact, they’re exactly about growth, but with kindness and compassion.

Let’s try this. I invite you to think about an ingrained habit or thought that holds you back from feeling your best? Is it self-judgment, self-criticism, weight issues…?

Reflect: take some time to become self-aware of the impact it’s having on your life

What is it taking away from you? How would you be if you did not have it? How would you feel, think and behave?

“Am I okay with feeling like this? What do I need right now to feel my best? Do I want to change to fit an illusion, or do I want to change in order to feel good in my own skin? What can I do right now to help myself? Who can I turn to?

Ask yourselves wouldn’t any personal goal fueled by love, be a more pleasurable journey then one fueled by hate?


Hatred is demotivating. Love is blossoming. Self-hate brews guilt, shame and anger. Self-awareness and acceptance encourage forgiveness and compassion.

Self-awareness & acceptance is about:

Creating specific and realistic goals that are authentic to you!

Changing how you approach yourself and, as a result, how you approach your goals!

Rejecting standards of perfection!

Dismissing illusions created for you!

Creating your own narrative!

Reena Vanza

Reena is a Registered Psychotherapist who treats individuals, couples, and groups for various issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship, and parenting issues. Her approach to therapy is holistic, integrative, and trauma-informed. 

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Supporting a loved one with a Mental Health Illness. Part 2: Practical Tips

“Caregiving often calls us to lean into love we didn’t know possible”

Tia Walker

Disclaimer:  Part two of this blog is created based on my personal experience. Over the years, I have learned the art of being present in my loved one’s life who suffers from schizophrenia. My sincere advice for others who are in similar life circumstances is that you create a plan that suits you and your loved one. Always remember safety comes first (yours and theirs), figure out what works for you based on your supports, your loved one’s mental state, and your ability. The main take away from this blog is that abandonment does not have to be the only option.  Part one can be found here.

Ten Practical Tips

  1. Just be there. One of the most impactful gifts you can give to one struggling with mental illness is to be present in their life at some capacity. Many individuals with mental illness suffer alone as family members are fearful, uninformed or unaware of how to connect to them anymore. I, for one, understand that supporting one with mental illness can be scary and extremely tiresome. Figure out safe ways that work for both of you. It can be through texting or calling them to check-in. Maybe a monthly visit to the local coffee shop. Drop off a home-cooked meal. Visit on a holiday to simply check-in.
  2. Do not undermine their efforts. Abstain from telling them they are not working hard enough. We often think that if one was to get a job, then the paranoia or psychosis will dissipate, and by some miracle, they would be healed. Remember, mental illness is not a choice. Also, bear in mind that our systems are not created to support those with mental illness. They have likely tried hard, but the systems have failed them. Praise their efforts, however small they may be.
  3. Support and advocate. If your loved one is part of a case management team, try and meet them. If they are not connected to one, then advocate for them to be part of a team that can provide extensive support. The team and you can drive home similar messages: supporting them to volunteer, join a support group, make lifestyle changes and take their medications on time.
  4. Remember the good old days—a journey through memories of laughter, joy and happiness. Have open wholehearted conversations that make them feel good. Do not always focus on the havoc the illness has brought to their lives.
  5. Refrain from advising. Listen to their stories, join them, validate them, without giving into the need to respond. Sometimes the stories may not make sense, or maybe of a distant past, that’s okay; you’re not there to correct them, you’re just there to listen.
  6. Get to know them. You may have once known them well, but it’s not time to get to know them again. What do they value now? How do they spend their time? What would they like to be part of? What are their likes and dislikes?
  7. Share a cause. This tip follows # 6. Do something together that they value. For instance, we give charity together. Many people often assume that just because someone has a mental illness, they are not capable of valuing things or caring for others. Quite the contrary, find out what causes they value and help them be a part of it even through a penny or helping them volunteer in some way.
  8. Self-care. If you want to meaningfully contribute to your loved one’s life, self-care is mandatory. Being part of someone’s life who has a mental illness can be exhausting and can lead to compassion fatigue and eventually burnout. Create a self-care plan for yourselves that includes a healthy lifestyle for your body, mind & soul.
  9. Pray. Mental illness is not something we can control for someone. Do not go into their circle of care with a superhero mind frame. There will be many times when you feel helpless, heavy, fearful, broken, frustrated, helpless, hopeless or sad. In my experience, despite the presence of others, there are times when nothing anyone does help. During these times, I turn to prayer. I pray for my loved one, but I also pray for me. There is something settling about the conviction that a higher power holds me during times when things are seemingly falling apart.
  10. Acceptance. Accept the diagnosis! Learn about it! Do not be scared! You would learn about cancer if your loved one was inflicted. What makes mental illness any different? Increase your knowledge and become informed so that you can decrease stigma and also support their care. There are websites such as CAMH that can help you learn the basics.

It took me many years to learn these ways of being present in my loved one’s life. Even know, I feel as though I fall short. Forgiveness has become a common practice in my life.  To love someone and to be present in a meaningful way, you will need to show yourself compassion and kindness. This journey is uphill, and feelings such as shame and guilt will often knock on your door, leaving you hopeless and unmotivated. Always be mindful that the fuel from self-compassion, love and kindness is far greater than that from shame or guilt!

Reena Vanza

Reena is a Registered Psychotherapist who treats individuals, couples, and groups for various issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship, and parenting issues. Her approach to therapy is holistic, integrative, and trauma-informed. 

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Supporting a Loved One with a Mental Health Illness. Part 1: Just be Present

I remember the young boy who played frivolously building wonders out of nothing. Only a marvellous mind could possibly create cars, televisions, stoves and dollhouses of out cardboard boxes and pieces of junk. We played endlessly, not realizing the sunset in the horizon, as his imagination would fly us off in planes, to fighting pirates in the ocean, or creating a gourmet meal out of rose petals, pebbles and dust. A beautiful mind, I called him!

Unlike most children who light up when gifted, for him, gifts were to give away, money was for the poor and things, well, unless used for creating meaning were not that essential. Even as a child, he was humble, free from greed.

However, this innocent wonderous childhood disappeared as the teen years brought with it erratic, unpredictable behaviour. As a family, we struggled to comprehend this change and he fought to keep himself sane. Who knew what we were facing was an illness we later came to know as Schizophrenia. A mental health condition that was unknown to many people in the early 90’s.  Schizophrenia is a disorder that creates a blur between real and unreal, making it hard to manage emotions, develop or sustain relationships and even function daily. It affects the whole person, body mind and soul, the way they process thoughts, behave with others and see the world.

Very soon he distanced himself, especially from me. He kept me at arm’s length, protected me from the harm and hurt he was unintentionally capable of causing. He struggled on his own as he tried to make sense of this new self.  I felt helpless, as I did not have the answers he was desperately searching for. It is now known that for those individuals that receive early intervention and social support, life can become manageable and rewarding. However, for others who do not receive the support early on, whose lives are further complicated by types of trauma, childhood abuse, violence, poverty, abandonment and or who engage in substance use to cope, they usually end up slipping between the cracks. Life becomes an uphill battle as they piece it together only to unknowingly destroy it and repeat the cycle.

Now in our adulthood, I still can still see traces of the little boy in his eyes, only now he is blocked by a glass wall that seems impenetrable. Especially when the illness takes over and the very gaze that once softened hearts, instead, screams in pain and confusion. Misunderstood by those around him as volatile, incapable and explosive. Even now, I often think of the little boy who once taught me how to dream, how to love relentlessly, how to give wholeheartedly. Over the years I have learned that, If look carefully and search intentionally, if I put down my guard, not be afraid, and just be present, I can still find him. Often staring back at me, full of life, still wanting to share, play, love, laugh and live.

It took me many years to realize he was always there. I was the one who did not always stay present—I live in a world where we stigmatize and cast away the mentally ill. Growing up the statements “he is dangerous, stay away, he is on drugs, he will harm you” were common.  Luckily, once I realized he is still the same person, just scared, lost, confused and searching for a connection, I learned to take a new path to him. If only people would realize that even after the diagnosis of a mental illness, the road to connection still exists. We simply have to alter the path we were once used to.

Over the years, I’ve learned to penetrate the glass wall that blocks the real person from the rest of the world.  This wall can be pierced with non-judgemental presence, with love, kindness and with compassion.

Part 2 will share 10 tips on how to be present in your loved one’s life.

Reena Vanza

Reena is a Registered Psychotherapist who treats individuals, couples, and groups for various issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship, and parenting issues. Her approach to therapy is holistic, integrative, and trauma-informed. 

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Stop trying to fix the outside, work on the inside: Real, long-lasting, meaningful growth.

“Your soul needs time for solitude and selfreflection. To love, lead, heal and create, you must nourish yourself first.”

Linda Joy

There is the part of you that is visible to the world, and the other part is almost invisible—only showing itself to those that are chosen by you. It’s the intimate, vulnerable, sacred part of you that you keep away from the world. It’s also the part that feels, chooses and directs you. Despite its essential role, many people spend a lot of time on the visible part of themselves- spending a lot of time on their outward self dieting, grooming, exercising, clothing, buying, covering “flaws”. However, despite the immense efforts to present this outer self as flawless and powered, many individuals find themselves struggling to keep up, catch up or let go, in fact, no effort ever seems enough. There is always more to do.  This struggle can encompass one’s life as they become blinded to their inner world, which, if cultivated, can be the road to freedom and living a meaningful life.

I find many people living as if on a battleground, as they consistently look for ways to fine-tune themselves for the outer world, without realizing that real change comes from within. This is akin to trying to change a fruit once it’s grown onto a branch. To grow good fruit, we must first tend to the root of the tree, its soil composition and what we put into it daily.

Disclaimer: Don’t get me wrong, I am a proponent of self-care body, mind and soul. This means I also value my outer self; exercising to stay fit, grooming myself and dressing up to please the eye. The issues arise when and if our outer part becomes the sole focus, whereby taking care of it does not bring us inner joy.  In fact, taking care of our outwards self becomes a chore or a way to fit into circles or look like others. These problems usually take the form of low self-esteem, low self-worth, and self-criticism, all of which can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. This is because keeping up with social media trends can be consuming and in fact unattainable. Most of it requires us to able to keep up with the latest trends, defy genetics and or fight ageing.

Instead, a shift to your inner world can be transforming and in fact turn the very things you do for your outer world, into meaningful acts that allow you to live a fulfilled life.  When you start to look at the needs of your inner world, your decision making will also start to change You may make wiser decision on who to follow on social media, seeing others glory won’t bring you down, follow people that are good for you, have realistic and attainable goals for yourself, become kinder to yourself, rejoice in your accomplishments and start wanting good for yourself

5 Tips to tend to your inner world.

  1. Self-compassion: remember that struggling is part of being human. You are not alone; you are connected to others who also have struggles and trials, similar to yours. By connecting to others, we learn of solutions to problems instead of feeling stuck alone. Self-compassion also allows us to do things for ourselves out of love instead of beating yourself up and being critical. For instance, exercising because your body deserves to feel good, not because you need to look a certain way.
  2. Mindfullness: take some time in the day to connect with your present moment. Remember that our mind thinks-its job is to generate thoughts. The mind does not really care whether it is thinking about the past or the future, reality, or if it is dreaming. By bringing your mind to the present moment, you train it to stay with you instead of going into thoughts about times where you had no control or have no control. In your now, you can choose which path to take. Mindfulness allows you to slow down, to reflect, to connect and to be at peace with this very moment.
  3. Journal: make a list of things you do, people you are connected with, and things that you own. Now ask yourself what good do they bring to me? or what good do I bring to them? How can I connect again? What do I need to remove from my life? Who do I need to take a break from? What and who do I follow on social media that brings me no value?
  4. Strengths: define the things that you are good at, for example, are you a compassionate person? What are the things, people, events that you care about? What can you do to get involved or make a difference? What causes speak to you? Are you creative? What can you do to foster that talent?
  5. Self-reflection: make a regular practice to sit with yourself and ask yourself the questions above. Add to the list, what thoughts have been running through my mind lately? How am I feeling lately? What am I doing to stay there? What have I stopped doing? What can I add to my life that is easy to do right now? Who do I need to turn to? What do I already know that I can implement now? This practice allows you to get into a habit of processing your thoughts and feelings and getting the support you need. Without self-reflection, you continue to move in the world on automatic, just repeating the same actions and behaviours that may not bring you joy.

“I have set inner peace as my highest goal, and I organize everything in my life around that.”

Clyde Lee Dennis

Reena Vanza

Reena is a Registered Psychotherapist who treats individuals, couples, and groups for various issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship, and parenting issues. Her approach to therapy is holistic, integrative, and trauma-informed. 

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3 Beliefs I Kicked to the Curb: My Journey to Growth, Acceptance & Compassion

“You learn something valuable from all of the significant events and people, but you never touch your true potential until you challenge yourself to go beyond imposed limitations.”

Roy T. Bennett

Reflecting on years of work in the mental health field and on my own life so far, I realize many of us carry certain beliefs that only serve to keep us from doing the things we value, and living a life of meaning. After years of contemplation, learning and, most importantly, introspecting, I have come to a place that allows me to see clearly, the toxic remnants of holding onto unhelpful beliefs. The beliefs around perfection, pleasing people, waiting for the right time, and that asking questions is a bad thing;  all contribute to feeling stuck, lonely and overwhelmed.

Over the years, several people that have walked through my door seeking support have also realized the power of such beliefs in fostering negativity. Many beautiful, hardworking, deserving people continue to wait for the right number on the scale, for the perfect moment to try something new, for someone to rescue them.  They sit around assuming they know what others are thinking, concocting conclusions based on assumptions, too afraid to ask for help in fear of rejection. As a result, many falsely judge themselves as, lesser than the other, not good enough, failed, not smart enough, worth enough, not successful enough, alone, unlikeable and this list is endless. If unchecked, these beliefs create rigid thinking patterns that are based on false evidence and ultimately keep us from living a life according to our values.  Unrealistic beliefs can make us miss out on a fulfilling life in the present.

While I work to impact my clients positively, I also learn a lot from my clients, which contribute to my wellbeing. There are a few concepts that I have embraced in life, which help paint a different picture for me. I’m now more than ever able to live with gratitude, enjoy my own company, be content and aim for things out of love for me, instead of fear of me.

Below, I will share some of these concepts. But first, notice each phrase starts with “I try my best to….”. We need to remember we are human, and all we can do is try our best under our unique circumstances and with our current resources. This realistic type of thinking allows room for error. Be patient with and kind with yourself as these unhelpful beliefs are a product of our early experiences, cultural upbringings and environmental influences that have become ingrained over many years of practice.  Therefore, to create a more realistic and gentler way of thinking, time, and forgiveness need to be your friend.

1. I try my best to stop waiting for the perfect time

I will go out when so and so joins me; I will exercise when I have help, I will read this book when I go to the park, I will …., all phrases never ended with follow up action items. Ultimately, leaving me with nothing but regret and the unhappy feeling of being stuck. Many years ago, I read the work of Eckhart Tolle, the power of NOW! I learned to be present in my now and do things that fit into my present time and not wait for the right time to do something later. The magic question I often ask myself is, “what can I do now?” Now, I enjoy my walks while the kids run around with me, exercise with them in the background, buy myself something on the spot, call up a friend as soon as I think of her, read the book in bed. The key is to harvest in the pockets of time available.

“Remember, there is no perfect time for anything. There is only now”.

Jack Canfield

2. I try my best to not criticize myself

Many of us are brought up in a culture where being harsh on oneself or others was thought to motivate one towards improvement. However, when I help clients look back, there is a realization that each time they were told that their efforts were not good enough and that they should try harder, their child brain interpreted that as “I am not good enough and I cannot handle the task at hand.”  We now know that criticism does not motivate one to try harder, if anything, it works to break down self-worth. Since a lot of my work is with survivors of trauma who consequently suffered from low self-worth, self-blame and hopelessness, I use a lot of Kristen Kneff’s (the founder of the self-compassion movement) concepts in my work. Incorporating self-compassion and acceptance into my care not only transformed their lives but had positive impacts on mine too.

When I have doubts about my struggles instead of being harsh to myself, I start to practice self-compassion. I treat me as I would a friend. Comforting myself for feeling low, stressed, ashamed, guilty, overwhelmed. This practice gradually moves me from being angry with myself to be supportive of myself. I often comfort myself for feeling confused, ashamed, stressed, and helpless, providing myself with the emotional support I desperately need. Of course, there are many times I am not able to be calm and collective, but if I lose it, I can bounce back and focus on getting back to doing the things I love.

“Unlike self-criticism, which asks if you’re good enough, self-compassion asks, what’s good for you?”

Kristen Kneff

3. I try my best to stop assuming

I try my best not to assume, I simply ask. I learned this skill during my training in graduate school, whereby my supervisor often challenged whether my thoughts were based on facts or assumptions. Since assumptions are our brain’s way of connecting the dots based on incomplete information, they can cause harm. Many of us hold on to maladaptive thoughts and or hurtful emotions from assuming thing such as “he/she does not want to help me because they do not care about me, or that someone does not want to spend time with us because they do not like us, things happen because we are not important”…the list is endless.

Assumptions cause unnecessary hurt, foster a negative mindset ultimately keeping us from meaningful relationships and reaching for things we value.

“Don’t Make Assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life”.

Don Miguel Ruiz

Ask yourself

What unhelpful beliefs keep me stuck?

What do I automatically assume about others and myself?

What can I do right now to create a change? Who can I turn to?

How do I speak to myself?

Reena Vanza

Reena is a Registered Psychotherapist who treats individuals, couples, and groups for various issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship, and parenting issues. Her approach to therapy is holistic, integrative, and trauma-informed. 

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The Magic of Intentions

“An amazing thing happens when you get honest with yourself and start doing what you love, what makes you happy. You stop wishing for the weekend. You stop merely looking forward to special events. You begin to live in each moment and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy. You move fluidly, steadily, calm and grateful. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born.”


I’m sure you’ve heard the statement “we are a recollection of our experiences”. I never really understood what that meant, in fact, I believed it meant, the more I do the more meaning my life will have. For years it’s exactly what I did; worked, cooked, cleaned, studied, took care of the children and family, joined programs, bought stuff to beautify my life and eagerly waited for the next social gathering.  However, at the end of full days, weeks and months, paradoxically, many times I found myself feeling empty, stagnant and stuck. Don’t get me wrong, I temporarily enjoyed everything I was doing, but why was I still not happy, what was I doing wrong?

The answer does not lie in the what, but it does in the how!

Not long ago I stumbled on readings about setting intentions. Intrigued by this concept, as it’s also purported in my religion, I started to apply it to many things in life. To my surprise, as I set intentions, I was also observing the little things in life which once went unnoticed; the smiles on my children’s faces, the sunshine, the stars, the food on my table, the roof over my head. Sounds fluffy, I know! At first, I thought so too. But very slowly, I started to enjoy the feelings that resulted from simply noticing; joy, gratitude, appreciation, happiness. And of course I would, as intentions come from the heart. They are based on the things you value. When I set an intention in the day it services as a guidance of how I want to show up in my world. So while I do similar things in my day, now I do them with intention.

Learning to set intentions helped me remind myself of who I am, what is important to me, who I want to be, where I want to go, and what moments I need to cultivate in order to feel growth and change.  It helped me realize that life is not always about chasing something that’s not there, it’s also about finding meaning in the things that are. Setting intentions for my day, my relationships, my work, my self helped me stay present. And every time I steered off into feeling empty, tired and or worthless, this was an indication that I have steered away from my intentions; the things that I value.

If I were to sum it up, what I feel towards intentions is that living without intentions is like navigating a ship without a compass. Yes, you’ll get somewhere, but you may not notice the beauty in the journey. And if you’re anything like me than meaning matters!

For me, Life with intentions looks like

Noticing the simple things

Finding value and meaning in things around me

Being kind to myself

Bringing in love, compassion, mercy and other concepts I value

Noticing joy, feeling joy

Being present in my day

Showing gratitude

Moving towards living according to my values

Finding my strengths and areas I want to grow in

Choosing how I want to be present in my day

So maybe there are certain things in life that are incumbent, but that does not require life to be mundane and meaningless.  Let’s learn to be more mindful and set intentions for little things that can help us feel more fulfilled and purposeful.

Step 1: Clarity

Make a list of what you value. This can include things, people, places, events, that you care about. For example, family, nature, knowledge, giving, connecting, helping, loving, physical activity, friendships,

Take a moment to reflect on how much of your day or week include the items from that list. Then choose one or many that you want to cultivate into your life.

Step 2: Start simple

Start with setting simple daily intentions that include things from your value list. For example, today I will notice the sounds of birds as I walk, today I will call up a friend, today I will go out for a 15-minute walk, today I will give charity, today I will simply notice the laughter of my children, today as I work I will notice the people around me.

The aim is to make small, simple intentions, but daily. In this way, you are training your mind to be present, choosing how you want to be,  as well as living according to your values. A tip is to ensure you create space for a specific time in your day to set the daily intentions. After which you can set reminders in the form of post-its, phone alarms, emails or texts to self.  Once your brain has become used to this pattern, you won’t need to set reminders.

Step 3: Celebrate wins

When you notice yourself living out the intention, pat yourself for it. This is what makes intentions special, we start to notice life. We start to give ourselves credit for things that little things we do. We slowly move away from autopilot to mindful, intentional living.

This is where the change occurs, when the smallest gains start to feel like huge accomplishments, and the once unimportant things in life are now honoured and appreciated.

“Live with intention. Walk to the edge. Listen hard. Practice wellness. Play with abandon. Laugh. Choose with no regret. Appreciate your friends. Continue to learn. Do what you love. Live as if this is all there is”


Reena Vanza

Reena is a Registered Psychotherapist who treats individuals, couples, and groups for various issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship, and parenting issues. Her approach to therapy is holistic, integrative, and trauma-informed. 

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Fill Your Cup: Simple ways to add meaning to your life

“and I said to my body, softly. ‘I want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath and replied, ‘I’ve been waiting my whole life for this’…”

Nayyirah Waheed

I often work with people who present with symptoms of burnout. And while many of us associate fatigue, stress, irritability and loss of meaning with caregivers (rightfully so) we often fail to realize that nobody is immune to mental health issues. I frequently hear from individuals who once acted out their various roles in life with eloquence, joy and pride, but to inexplicably begin to feel hopeless and unmotivated. The problem many times lies in the relentless push towards taking care of others at the cost of our wellbeing. Let’s face it, the double shift has now quadrupled, and all these multiple roles demand constant energy.

I suggest that you pause and ask yourself a simple yet profound question, one I ask my clients all the time, “can you pour out of an empty cup?” The obvious answer is no; however, applied to our lives, there is a false expectation of giving without running out.  Love, energy, compassion, gratitude, kindness, empathy, are concepts that humans can give and receive limitlessly. But there is a secret, to give to others, you first need to fill yourself up.

So, as I embark on this journey of filling my cup, I invite you to join me in some self-exploration. In this post, I will outline ways I identify loss of self-care and self-appreciation and the little changes I swiftly implement. The key is consistent self-reflection, whereby, I pose the questions below to myself.  Who is better able to tell me what I’m are feeling and what I need than myself?

Questions I ask myself:

  1. Am I feeling tired?
  2. Am I having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
  3. Has my appetite gone up or down?
  4. Do I feel irritated?
  5. Does my work feel more like a burden lately?
  6. Am I procrastinating?
  7. Do I feel like I am not making a difference?
  8. Do I quickly get bored lately?
  9. Is my body feeling achy?
  10. Am I avoiding people or places?

I do not have to answer affirmatively to all the questions to pause and reflect on a solution. The goal is to exercise these questions regularly so that I am addressing the yeses as they arise.

Eight easy ways I fill my cup

  1. Practice mindfulness: Two-minute mindful breaks every couple of hours are my go-to strategy. I also ensure to engage in a daily activity using mindfulness and grounding. Examples include washing the dishes, taking a walk, eating or drinking. Simple being present doing one thing only using my five senses.
  2. Boundary setting: Prioritize my plate. I use a tool named the Eisenhower Matrix, also known as Urgent-Important Matrix, which helps to make decisions on tasks based on urgency and importance and sort out less urgent and essential tasks.
  3. Ask for support: I am used to carrying my load on my shoulders. I, therefore, find this aspect difficult; however, I now consider it an essential part of life. I have created a list of people I can lean on. I made sure my children and spouse know what they are responsible for. And if no one is around, there is still support one can turn to.
  4. Practice self-compassion:  Over the years of being a caregiver, I have learned that I have to allow myself to meet my own needs. As for years, I’ve been ingrained to do for and not to receive. Statements such as “I’m here for you, I know you’re stressed, it’s okay you’re trying your best” have become routine. I remind myself of the small treats; treat myself to a nice lunch or hot drink, hang out with a friend or buy my self flowers. The key is to learn to respond to yourself in a manner that you would respond to a friend who is struggling.
  5. Spend time in nature: I am a nature lover, an introvert that gets fueled in silence. Being present in nature is indeed, healing. We are forced to use our senses as we get bombarded with the colors of flowers and leaves, the smell of the earth, the sound of birds chirping all bring to life our senses and allows us to feel whole. I ensure brief five-minute walks in the neighbourhood, a drive by the water, staring into the night sky.
  6. Spiritual connection: Connecting to God is an integral part of filling my cup. I do this through prayer, reflections, supplications and remembrance. The key here is to create a small space at home that is free of distractions and dedicated only towards spiritual growth.
  7. Unplug from social media and technology: Unplugging does not equal to cutting off from social connections. Quite the opposite, the goal is to detox from constantly checking my devices; laptops, phones, computer for randomness. I instead carve out a set time in the day to connect with meaningful people. After which, I set up a devices free zone in my home, put it on airplane mode or silence groups that are overactive.
  8. Laughing: I get a kick out of jokes, comedies and comics. Laughter helps me unwind, feel relaxed and happy. This is no surprise as literature shows laughter has both psychological and physiological benefits, including increasing endorphin release from the brain, known to improve mood.

What are some ways you can fill your cup?

Make a list.

Reena Vanza

Reena is a Registered Psychotherapist who treats individuals, couples, and groups for various issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship, and parenting issues. Her approach to therapy is holistic, integrative, and trauma-informed. 

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Growth, Really?

“Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the most wonderful things that will ever happen to us”

Nicole Reed

The last couple of weeks were obscured by talks of uncertainty, which resulted in thoughts such as “what’s going to happen?” “How will we get through this?” These were subsequently followed by feelings of fear and anxiety, fluctuating throughout the day. As a result, I recall my heart felt heavy at times, my body not motivated to move, as if paralysis took over me. After a week or so I didn’t know what to think, feel, or do; I simply went through the motions and got my day to day done.  However, as we approach the fourth week of social distancing in the COVID-19 Pandemic which has come with immense changes in the way I work, my home and school life, the way I carry out my relationships and connectedness; I am starting to realizing a subtle sense of still starting to emanate within me.

How does this chaos in our minds dissipate? How does the body not automatically turn into a frenzy at news reports, fear fueling statistics, and those funny memes embedded with subtle messages?  How do I carry myself through the day with motivation and purpose? I learned the answers to these questions years ago as I worked with individuals escaping violence. Anyone who has been through a traumatic or painful experience can tell you that eventually, after chaos comes a calm. And after this calm, begins a period of growth, a time where we rise from our learnings and move forward stronger, with more value, meaning and purpose.

If you’re reading this and you still feel uncertain, fearful and apprehensive about your present new normal, It’s okay! Recovery and its subsequent follower growth happen at different rates for different people. The key is to allow the process to happen naturally, don’t judge it, don’t time it, don’t push it.

Research now shows that not only do we bounce back from adversity due to something called resilience, but we can also create better, more positive and meaningful lives aftermath. An expert in the field of post-traumatic growth Dr. Tedeschi identifies five main areas where we can experience growth as an outcome of our adversities: an appreciation of life, relationship with others, new possibilities in life, personal strength, spirituality.  What better time than now to exercise these and learn ways to increase our resilience so that we can grow out of this experience in a better direction.

I will provide you with ideas that you can implement in your lives, pick all, pick one the key is doing it intentionally and consistently.

  1. Appreciation of life

In addition to showing gratitude for the little things in life, it’s essential that you start noticing the little things you let pass you by in the past. There are many things, events, people, places that we didn’t pay much attention to. For instance, do you notice the beauty in the sky, the colors of the sunset, your child’s smile or appreciate the food on your table?

Look at the different creation and forms of life, those apart from humanity. If you pay attention, you’ll hear the birds chirping, the squirrels dancing back and forth, the bugs building homes and carrying food. You’ll see the sun rising and setting exploding with breathtaking colors.

Focus on little things, gratitude, presence, intentions and hope.

  1. Relationship with others

The key is to connect with those that give you hope. Search out those that make you smile, that appreciate you, that make you feel warm when you speak to them. Take your connections to a deeper, more meaningful level. Put down your phone when you’re having dinner with your family, really listen to the laughter of a child, call up a loved one just to ask how they are instead of pouring your day on them, wave to a neighbour.

Ask yourself How am I fueling hope in people’s lives?

Focus on intention, being present and authenticity.

  1. New possibilities in life

If there is one thing COVID-19 has brought about in many people’s lives, including my own, is the opportunity to evaluate my priorities. Ask yourselves what now seems important that was on the back burner in the past. Who now seems important? What promised activities have you not embarked on due to a “lack of time”.

During this time, what opportunities are you drawn towards? How can you apply yourself? What can you do to honor yourself? Is there a book you wanted to embark on, a course you were interested in (online of course), is there someone you wanted to connect with? Have you always had fitness goals?

Before COVID-19 I was one to shy away from social media. And to be honest, while I haven’t yet embraced it with open arms (And I don’t know that I ever will) I am slowly learning to connect to people, put myself out there to help others. It is no doubt a vulnerable feeling, but one I know will bring positive outcomes.

Ask yourself, what are your values? What brings you meaning?

  1. Personal strength

What about you gets you through your days at home presently? What strengths have brought you this far in life? Think back to a past hardship, how did you get through it? Find these strengths and bring them to life in your day to day so that you can continue to enhance your experience.

Are you creative, kind, curious, brave, have a love of learning, spiritual? The list of character strengths is vast. I urge you to take some time and find out your strengths. Then make a plan to carry out these goals. Draw, paint, color, create, pray, connect, read…

  1. Spiritual change

Wherever you are on the spectrum of spiritual connection, search for ways to increase your sense of purpose and meaning. Ask yourself, how do I live out that meaning on a day to day basis? How do I connect to this purpose? What can I do to increase this connection?

I’ve carved out times in my day when I connect to my spirituality. Apart from mandatory connections, I have started to look at the signs in nature as reminders of a higher being. Something is taking care of this Universe and beyond. This connection gives me a sense of peace, serenity, elevation and control as I know in my heart that I cared for.

Take home message!

I invite you to contemplate these five points of growth and make a plan for yourself. Remember, with every hardship there is ease, with every storm comes a calm. The question I pose to you is, how do you want to come out of this Pandemic?

Reena Vanza

Reena is a Registered Psychotherapist who treats individuals, couples, and groups for various issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship, and parenting issues. Her approach to therapy is holistic, integrative, and trauma-informed. 

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Self Compassion, the new Me!

Nowadays the term self-care is thrown around all the time, making most of us feel guilty of not being able to pursue something that others find so easy. This very term “self-care” perplexed me for a while as I wondered why it is so easy for some people to carve out time for themselves and yet others like me to truggle with the very thought. For a very long time, I could not seem to enjoy“me time” without it being wrapped in guilt. Over the years, as I worked with survivors of trauma I journeyed into concepts such as mindfulness, self-compassion and kindness. Concepts that not only transformed my clinical work but also changed my life into one that is more meaningful and valued. Today I’m going to share with you my thoughts on self-compassion; both from a professional and personal perspective. Whether you struggle with depression, anxiety, trauma, stress or self-worth or are someone just looking for something new to add in your life, incorporating a self-compassion practice will only benefit you.

To understand Self Compassion, I would highly recommend looking into the work of Kristen Kneff, a psychology professor who coined the movement. In her words “self-compassion means treating yourself with the same kind of kindness, care, compassion, as you would treat those you care about—your good friends, your loved ones”. Her work is not only supported by therapists such as me but also by research which shows similar effectivity of self-compassion interventions in the regulation of health behaviours to other popular behaviour change techniques.

“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

Louise L. Hay

In practice, some clients easily embrace therapy sessions, do their homework, apply strategies and reach their goals, while others continue to struggle despite the relentless effort. Of course, there are many factors that dictate the therapy outcome and one I feel is at the core is self-compassion.   My experience has taught me that the more self-compassionate one is, the better they connect to themselves and in consequence want the best for themselves.

Now please don’t confuse self-esteem with self-compassion. The former is important but it’s not akin to the latter. Self-compassion requires you to become self-aware, to acknowledge your suffering, instead of pushing it or avoiding it. You will need to practice statements such as: what do I need right now, what am I feeling right now, I am not alone, I am trying my best, it’s okay I am enough. This may sound a little fluffy to many, and it did to me when I first ventured into this journey. But I invite you to think about how you respond to those you care for. For you to fully support them, to hold them through difficulty, to make sure they don’t give up you have to be able to connect to them in a meaningful way. The more you care the more you end up doing.  Why do we not apply the same principles to our selves? How do you expect to feel better, stronger, worth, valued, if you don’t tend to your own emotions and needs? The reality is that the more you connect to yourself, the better equipped you are to respond to yourself and take care of your needs.

Why does self-compassion help? The easy answer is the more you fill your cup (attend to your needs) the more you’re able to attend to the needs of others. After all, isn’t that why most of us want to function optimally. To be a better mom, wife, daughter, friend, neighbour, worker…..

The other answer which many find harder to accept is so that you can increase your sense of self-worth, enjoy yourself, be proud of yourself, accept yourself, give yourself a break, and realize that you are trying your best.

How has Self Compassion changed me!
  • I am more aware of my needs
  • I know when I need to pause and take a break
  • I know when I have had enough and set boundaries
  • I am able to do things with more meaning
  • I value time, people, places
  • I am more grateful for the little things about myself
  • I am realizing “I am enough”
  • I am happier with me
A Take Home Message!

Acknowledge your emotions, tend to your needs. The more you validate yourself the better able you are to be empathetic to others. You are worthy. Forgive yourself. Be grateful to yourself for trying. Accept yourself you are trying; you are not perfect no one is.

Reena Vanza

Reena is a Registered Psychotherapist who treats individuals, couples, and groups for various issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship, and parenting issues. Her approach to therapy is holistic, integrative, and trauma-informed. 

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Self Care To GO

“There is nothing in nature that blooms all year long, so don’t expect yourself to do so either.” 


It took me many years to realize simple rules 1. If you’re sleepy, sleep 2. If you’re feeling tired, then rest 3. If you’re feeling sad then talk to someone 4. If you’re angry then take a break 5. If you’re hurting, then ask yourself what do need right now!

I always made excuses, but I’m a mom, I’m a wife, I’m studying, working, volunteering, cooking, cleaning the list keeps going. I understand for many like myself we can’t simply drop things and stop the many roles we occupy. However, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned, well second to boundary setting, is that self care doesn’t have to come only when we vacation.

Those with the best self care routines have mastered the art of using their time effectively. I like to think of self care in terms of small pockets of time for myself every single day.

I’ve made a list of things that give me a sense of pleasure.

  • Cup of warm coffee
  • Reading a book
  • Talking a walk
  • Eating a small treat
  • Mindfulness
  • Alone time
  • Coloring or painting

So I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t have 4 hours a day to chill out or to self care. But I can take each one of those items mentioned above an ensure I schedule them in my day.

So make your list of small meaningful things you love or add meaning to your life and start to schedule the in one by one.  I didn’t really understand the quote “it’s the littlest things that matter the most”, until I started to practice it on myself.

And sometimes, I just need to find a way to do more for my own well-being, whether that means cancelling a commitment or asking someone for help.

Reena Vanza

Reena is a Registered Psychotherapist who treats individuals, couples, and groups for various issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationship, and parenting issues. Her approach to therapy is holistic, integrative, and trauma-informed. 

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