Category: Mental Health

To socialize or Not to socialize?

“In solitude the mind gains strength and learns to lean upon itself”. 
– Laurence Sterne

Many people assume that getting out of a slump requires you to be more social. In this hyperconnected society, this leads to people constantly looking for ways to cramp their schedule by meeting people, going to social events, and keeping up with social media outlets. However, after attempts to feel relaxed and improve mood, many find themselves feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and demotivated. There is no doubt that social connections are a necessary component for your mental and emotional wellbeing. In fact, we are social beings, created to connect and cultivate healthy relationships. Doing so gives us a sense of joy, belonging, confidence, and purpose. While the lack of these connections does the exact opposite, pushing us further into self-doubt, isolation and feeling low.

So, what is the correct answer to this dilemma, to socialize or not to socialize?

We propose finding the right dosage of social connecting that is healthy for your individual optimal wellbeing. It’s about knowing when to embrace solitude and when to come back to people.  If you are an extrovert and feel charged in the presence of people then this article can be a source or information to help out your more introverted friends and family. However, you may also like what you read and find that you also benefit from some solo time. Especially because you may encounter situations in life where people are not always present, and you’re forced to be solo. After all, the most important relationship you can ever have is the relationship you have with yourself.

Here are some benefits of why people embrace solitude:

  • You get to ask yourself what do I need?
  • You get to pick how you chose to recharge your energy
  • You get to express yourself authentically
  • You learn to like to be with yourself
  • You learn self-compassion
  • You learn to give yourself time
  • You get to follow yourself, rather than a crowd
  • You can become more self-aware by tending to your emotions
  • You rely on yourself when no one is around

If you struggle to cultivate healthy solitude, then try following the 5 suggestions below, which I enjoy on a regular basis. Whatever activities you chose, ensure that you are enjoying them and slowly you will learn to look forward to your own company.

  1. Go for a jog or walk: this is where you get to do things at your own pace. Think a problem out, or don’t think at all. You can brainstorm through something, or you can simply focus on the run. The choice is yours.
  2. Find a local farmer’s market or a festival: take a leisurely walk, buy yourself fresh flowers, honey or anything you fancy. Be curious about things people are selling, or the various sounds of music, laughter, animals, or voices.
  3. Experiment with a new recipe: find something that looks yummy to make and cook that for yourself. Paying attention to the fragrances, colours, textures and ultimately doing something special for yourself will bring you joy.
  4. Go on a short road trip: whether you can drive an hour away or take the bus somewhere, find a place you can explore. I usually go downtown Toronto, where it’s busy. I get lost in the sounds, people, lights, things from different cultures
  5. Do something creative: I recently signed up for a tube art class. At the end of 3 hours, I was very surprised to have created a beautiful piece of art. Whether you like to draw, paint, dance, play there are many options.

Remember, doing things solo does not require that you isolate yourself and disconnect from people and places. It simply means that you can be amongst people and yet enjoy being alone.  It means that when no one is around you can find joy in doing things for and with yourself.

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The Four Horsemen of Apocalypse

A relationship is bound to have conflicts, and conflict can be a normal and healthy part of a relationship if handled properly. The problem arises when we mishandle conflict which can lead to communication issues. John Gottman, an internationally recognized relationship expert and best-selling author, advice to identify The Four Horsemen (communication styles in relationships that according to his research can forecast the end of a relationship). The goal is to replace these negative communication styles with healthy, productive communication patterns.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these and how you can combat them.

Criticism

Criticism refers to verbally attacking your partner’s personality or characters. In doing so, you are suggesting to your partner that there is something wrong with them. When criticizing, you may often use the phrase “You always” or “You never”. For example, “You’re so lazy, you never put your shoes away” or “You always leave the dishes in the sink”. As a result, your partner may feel under attack and respond defensively. It’s perfectly okay to express your feelings to your partner, it is a necessary part of a healthy relationship. What matters is how you do it.

The next time you are frustrated and need to express your feelings to your partner, try making a direct complaint that is not an all-encompassing attack on your partner’s character. For example, instead of saying “Your socks are always on the floor, you never pick them up” you can try “Your socks are on the floor. Please try to put them in the laundry basket.” This addresses the specific behaviour rather than criticizing the person. Another antidote recommended is using “I” statements. This focuses the conversation on your feelings rather than attacking your partner’s character. For example, If you want more help around the house, you can try telling your partner “I feel unappreciated when you don’t help out with the housework” instead of “You never help, you just expect me to clean up after you.” We recommend softening your approach and beginning tactfully. Make sure you are clear and avoid passing judgement while communicating your feelings and concerns.

Contempt

The act of contempt implies putting yourself on a higher level than your partner in an effort to disrespect or psychologically abuse them by attacking their sense of self. This can be achieved by mocking your partner, calling them names, rolling your eyes, and using hostile humour and sarcasm. You may implement contempt by saying “You’re so annoying, are you going to cry now?”. Contempt is the most serious of all the horsemen. The negative method of communication can destroy the affection and admiration between partners.

Couples must work hard to establish a culture of appreciation in their relationship to fight contempt. This can be achieved by highlighting all of the qualities that you love and admire most about your partner. Make a list of these qualities in your phone, journal, or any place you can refer to when you need a reminder.

Defensiveness

When you use a counter complaint to defend yourself from an apparent attack, you are being defensive. It is an attempt to protect yourself, to defend your innocence or victimize yourself to avoid blame. In this situation, you might make excuses, complain, and use “yes’butting”. Defensiveness prevents partners from taking responsibility for their actions and escalates negative communication. If your partner is criticizing you, it is still not a good idea to be defensive because it will only exacerbate the situation.

Instead of reacting in a defensive manner, we recommend couples take the time to hear each other out and take responsibility for their negative behaviour. Also, a sincere apology is never a bad idea.

Stonewalling

Stonewalling takes place when you choose to tune out or withdraw from your partner rather than confront the issues. By remaining silent, giving monosyllabic answers or changing the subject, you can achieve this. A partner who stonewalls may physically walk away from the conversation or stop tracing it, appearing to stop caring and shutting down.

However, this is usually not the case. Usually, the individual is overwhelmed and attempting to calm themselves or the situation. However, your partner is very likely to assume that you don’t care enough about the problem to speak about it, and will find it very upsetting to be ignored. When you feel emotionally overwhelmed and need a break from the conflict discussion, let your partner know you need time to collect your thoughts and calm down so you can return to the discussion when you are both ready. This way, they will know you are not ignoring or rejecting them, but taking care of yourself.

With hard work, comes change!

 Do not feel guilty or ashamed if, while reading this, you realize that you have taken part in these negative communication styles. We have all been there before; you are not alone. The key is to learn from our mistakes and improve as we move forward. With this knowledge of the Four Horsemen and their antidotes, you now have the essential tools to manage conflict in a healthy manner. While it is not easy to break these patterns overnight, it is possible when both partners are motivated and committed to change. When couples put in the work, they get the results!

 We encourage you to consider couples therapy if you experience difficulty making these changes in your relationship. A therapist specializing in relationship conflicts may help with self-awareness and better communication.

Your relationship is more likely to be stable and happy if you are able to keep the Four Horsemen at bay.

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Dealing with Procrastination

Do you ever put off doing something until the last minute and then find yourself in a state of panic because things pile up? Or maybe you start to become critical because you dropped the ball yet again? You’re not the only one who feels this way. You may be one of many people who struggle with Procrastination. You procrastinate when you delay or put off completing a task until the last minute, or past your deadline. It is very common and can affect all aspects of your life, including your work, school, and relationships. All which can result in a poor quality of life.

One common misconception about procrastinators is that they are unable to manage their time effectively. While this can be true, it’s not always the case and in fact, there are often more serious issues at hand. Individuals prone to chronic procrastination may benefit more from emotional regulation and stress management than time management skills training. That’s why before you pull out the self-criticism and self-doubt, it’s important to understand the why behind your procrastination. Doing so will help you understand yourself better, develop a plan to tackle the issue, create healthier habits and or seek professional support if you need to.

Why do we procrastinate?

From time to time, we all procrastinate. In a high-stress society, temporarily distracting oneself from stress and unpleasant tasks could even be a helpful coping mechanism. In other words, people engage in procrastination because it temporarily makes them feel good.

However, there is a downside that makes procrastination troublesome, it limits a person’s productivity and causes them to feel low about themselves. Some people procrastinate so much that they are unable to complete essential daily tasks. All of which can lead to poor life choices and eventually poor mental health outcomes.

Procrastination is not a mental health diagnosis in and of itself, although it can be a symptom of ADHD, depression, or anxiety. It can also add more stress to someone who already struggles with a mental health issue.

Other causes of procrastination included

  • Task is not aligned with our values
  • ​​Feeling emotionally exhausted
  • Perfectionism
  • Fear of not performing well
  • Experiencing decision fatigue (brain becomes fatigued and ability to make decisions becomes worse after making many decisions)
  • The pressure to perform
  • Setting unrealistic expectations
How to overcome procrastination?

 Is there hope? Yes, there are many things one can do to tackle procrastination and here are a few tips that you can start to implement by yourself of with the support of someone:

  • Address what is causing the procrastination

  • Ask someone to help you stay on track with important tasks. Regular check-in on the progress of tasks will help you stay motivated.

  • Start with a small and easy step.

  • Eliminate any distractions

  • Reward yourself after completing small steps within the task

  • Rephrase your internal dialogue

The five takeaways about procrastination are:
  • Laziness is not the cause of procrastination.
  • It is the result of our inability to manage negative feelings about the task.
  • It is not a time-management issue but rather an emotional issue.
  • It can be a result of low self-esteem, self-doubt, or anxiety.
  • Forgive yourself for past procrastination and be gentler with the language and thoughts you use about yourself when it comes to completing the task.

Take home message: If you are one of many people who procrastinate before you criticize yourself and submit to a lifelong journey of blame and shame, try taking a more proactive approach. Use the above-mentioned tips to understand your why’s and create a plan of action, and or speak to someone that can help you.

 

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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?

Remember

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.”

Anonymous

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”

Anonymous

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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