Let’s face it, we all have times where we feel absolutely exhausted. Parents, I’m looking at you! But we can’t blame it all on our children, as tempting as it may be! Sometimes we’re exhausted because we haven’t been sleeping (or maybe our kids haven’t been), we’ve picked up yet another cold/flu bug that’s going around, or we’re busy at work and the tasks never seem to end – the list goes on!
Does this sound familiar? If not, then either you’re superhuman, or you’re using the ever-so-often-used coping strategy of denial. Either way, let’s go on the assumption that you’ve felt exhausted for these, or other reasons at some point in your life. I know I have. What do we do? Life doesn’t stop! Responsibilities don’t stop! In fact, it almost seems like when I run into one of these times of feeling exhausted, life looks at me and says, “You don’t think you could be more tired? Challenge accepted!”
So, what do we do when we hit these times, and simply lying on a beach for a few months to recuperate isn’t an option?
We need to pay attention to our sleep
I know, we’re all superheroes that can survive on 4 hours of sleep, right? Wrong. It does appear that some people have a rare gene mutation that allows them to get by on less sleep than the rest of us, but most of us actually need more sleep than we get. According to research done by the National Sleep Foundation, and many others, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night, on average.
But it’s not just the length of time, it’s also the quality of sleep that matters. We need solid, deep sleep to get the rest we need. If we’re constantly waking up, taking a long time to fall asleep, or waking up too early then our sleep cycle is off and may need some help.
We need to pay attention to our mood and anxiety levels
Anyone who has ever struggled with anxiety, depression, or other related conditions knows the toll it takes on our energy. One of the hallmark symptoms of depression is exhaustion and lack of energy; it’s a direct symptom and consequence of the condition. Anxiety, on the other hand, produces the same result but for slightly different reasons. If anything, anxiety increases energy, but in turn, it takes an incredible amount of energy to manage our anxiety.
If we’re exhausted, one of the questions we need to be asking ourselves is, “How are my mood and anxiety levels? Am I more agitated lately? Am I noticing symptoms of depression? What’s my anxiety like?” If our mood is low and our anxiety is high, we’re likely going to feel tired!
We need to pay attention to our body
I’ve written many times before that the separation between the brain and the body is a complete myth. Our energy level is another area that highlights this. Just as our brain can give us clues as to what is going on, so can our body. If you’re feeling tired, how does your body feel? Here are a few things to look for:
General tightness in your body, and even unexplained pain: this could be a symptom of anxiety and/or stress.
Gastrointestinal (GI) issues: not surprisingly, one of the number one symptoms of anxiety in terms of our physiology is GI upset.
Muscle fatigue: if you’re not feeling as strong as usual, this may be a sign of exhaustion.
Shortness of breath: this can be another common symptom of anxiety. If you feel like it’s hard to take a breath, or hard to fully inflate your lungs and there’s no medical reason for it, this may be a clue that anxiety is hanging around with you.
Restlessness: having a hard time sitting still? Legs won’t stop moving?
Sweatiness: if you feel like you’re going through puberty and/or menopause because you can’t stop sweating and you’re not sure why anxiety may be the culprit. Note: being in the middle of puberty and/or menopause does not preclude anxiety also being a part of the picture!
Okay, I’m Tired. What Do I Do About It?
If you’ve ever been to a Registered Clinical Counsellor about your mood, anxiety, energy levels, or all of the above, they’ve probably made some suggestions about your sleep, diet, and exercise. These are the top three ways to manage mood and anxiety with natural and healthy habits. What if you’re doing those things and it’s still not helping? I’d like to suggest another method that may be able to address all of the areas above in one fell swoop: neurofeedback.
What Is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback is a brain training that uses both computer and EEG technology to help our brains function more efficiently. Many conditions may be a result of our brains not functioning at their best, and neurofeedback helps our brain train to regain its optimal function. Think of it as going to the gym for your brain. That is, it helps our brain train to function at its best, through learning what it is doing currently, and training itself to go back to operating within the correct parameters it was designed to work within.
How can neurofeedback help me be less tired
Neurofeedback can help us regain our energy and be less tired in three main ways, directly related to what we’ve covered in this article today. First, it can help our sleep cycle get back to normal. When our brain is operating in a less than optimal manner, our brain stops functioning at its best. This includes the areas associated with sleep. Neurofeedback can help these areas regain optimum function, and can help our brain calm itself and relax before going to bed.
Second, neurofeedback can help us regulate our mood. One of the number ones uses for neurofeedback, in my experience, and where we see beneficial results is in mood regulation. When our mood is off, so are the various wavelengths in our brains, as well as our neurotransmitters. Whether it’s anxiety, depression, anger, or otherwise, our mood impacts our ability to rest and impacts the amount of energy needed to maintain our mood. Neurofeedback can train our brain to function better and manage our mood better at the biological level.
Finally, neurofeedback can relax our brain and our bodies. By helping our sleep and our mood, it relieves the load placed on our brain and our bodies. It also acts directly on the Central Nervous System (CNS) and helps our body relax. This is why it’s very common for clients to feel physically tired after a session.
Think about it – if we’re wound up as tight as a top, our nerves, muscles, and everything else are using energy to stay wound up. If we help these areas relax by relaxing the CNS, we’ll feel tired. Similar effects can be found using yoga and other methods. Neurofeedback targets the brain and our nervous system directly to produce the relaxation response, which in turn, helps us rest and recover. Neurofeedback can induce the relaxation response, which has been studied and shown repeatedly to reduce stress. The other benefit of neurofeedback? We don’t have to do anything. If we can sit in a chair and stare at a screen while listening to music, we can do neurofeedback.
Is neurofeedback the “magic pill” that cures all?
I wish! No, neurofeedback is not the magic pill that cures all, but it is a technology that can significantly help our sleep, mood, body, and energy levels. The catch is that we still need to do the other things that keep us healthy – that is, have healthy sleep habits, eat healthy food, and exercise. But, neurofeedback is one of the ways at getting at the biology of the brain directly and helping it function at its best. In conjunction with these other healthy habits, it can be a game changer!
Curious? Give us a call or contact us. We’d be happy to discuss how neurofeedback may be able to help you get your energy back!
It’s finally happening, we have decided to seek out counselling. We go in for our first appointment and talk about what’s been going for us, why we’ve decided to start counselling and answer any questions we might be asked. Eventually, our 50 minutes is up, we leave, and we’re feeling…terrible? Well wait, isn’t counselling supposed to make us feel better? If therapy is supposed to be helpful then why are we leaving our therapist’s office feeling exhausted, vulnerable, and exposed?
This strange contradiction sometimes referred to as a therapy hangover, is a completely normal feeling after counselling. After opening up to our counsellors or processing difficult emotions, we may feel drained, heavy, or not feeling like our regular selves. We often hear that it needs to get worse before it gets better, but no one really explains why that’s the case.
Imagine having a toothache that gets more painful every day and makes it almost impossible to eat and sleep. Eventually, the toothache gets to the point where it can’t be ignored any longer. You go to the dentist who then decides that the tooth needs to come out and therefore, you must go through an uncomfortable procedure of getting the tooth pulled. Upon leaving, the freezing eventually wears off, and there are some pain and a little discomfort but it gets better over the next week. However, the discomfort of healing is easier to cope with than the original pain. Think of the problem as the toothache that won’t go away, it gets worse until we can’t take it anymore and decide to seek help. Then, therapy as the uncomfortable procedure we go through to work through our issue and the difficult emotions that come after sessions as being the pain and discomfort that comes after our procedure.
In sessions, we are being asked to explore our problems in a much deeper and open way and not using any defence mechanisms (such as avoiding, distraction, denial, etc.) that may have been used to protect ourselves prior to seeing a counsellor. We are being asked to express intense feelings and to sit in discomfort which is emotionally draining and sometimes scary.1 This goes against our instinct which is to avoid negative emotions and memories, but in counselling, we are facing these feelings head-on. We’re asked to do this so that we can fully explore our problem which eventually helps us to find insight, a solution, or peace.2 We are going to be uncomfortable sometimes, however, this discomfort is a positive sign that counselling is progressing.1 Counselling is hard work, so it’s understandable that all we want to do after our session is veg out in front of the tv or take a nap.
If we’re feeling like this after our appointments, we need to take care of ourselves by being kind to ourselves and engaging in self-care. Ultimately, only we know what is best for us but some common self-care methods are:
Reflecting and journaling about your sessions
Going for a walk
Treating yourself with indulgence or guilty pleasure
Spending time with loved ones
Talking to your counsellor
Letting your counsellor know about the ‘hangovers’ can be beneficial. It is helpful for our counsellors to know how we’re feeling after sessions, that way they can provide us with more strategies and options to handle our feelings of exhaustion and vulnerability and to prepare us for what to expect before leaving our session.
If you’re feeling anything like what we’ve talked about today, take heart! Counselling can be hard, and even exhausting but you’re doing the good work of doing the work. Let your counsellor know how you’re doing, and press on! Feel free to contact us if you feel like to reach out!
The words punishment and discipline seem to have become synonyms these days, but it wasn’t always this way. The word discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina which means to teach or instruct. However, nowadays, most people associate punishment or consequences with the word discipline. Let’s take a minute to differentiate discipline from punishment.
When your child misbehaves, what do you want to accomplish? Are consequences your ultimate goal? Is your objective to punish? Of course not. But, as parents, we’re still human! When we’re frustrated or angry, we may feel like we want to punish our child. When we are stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated or feeling at our wits end, we can feel like punishing. It’s totally understandable – even common.
Let’s face it, it’s what our parents likely would have done, so it’s what we know. But once we’ve calmed down, we know that punishing doesn’t feel good for either of us (parent or child) nor is it our ultimate goal. What we really want is for the behaviour that got us into this situation to stop.
Our children need to learn skills like inhibiting impulses, managing big feelings and considering the impact of their behaviour on others. Learning these essentials of life and relationships helps them, helps us, and helps their larger community. We know these are the basis for emotional intelligence and the foundation for being happy and successful adults. What a gift! But how do we teach our children these life skills without punishment?
Positive Discipline helps us teach our children how to control themselves, respect others, participate in deep relationships, and live moral and ethical lives. It teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults.
Connection Before Correction is one of my all-time favourite Parenting with Positive Discipline mantras. I believe that these are words to live by both in the moment of dissatisfying behaviour and in the long run as a foundation for any relationship.
Brain science tells us that when we are emotionally overwhelmed we cannot access the parts of our brains that allow us to think logistically or learn. So, there is really no point in trying to teach a lesson or talk through a problem when a child (or adult) is in a state of being emotionally overwhelmed.
Emotional overwhelm often triggers unacceptable behaviour. We do and say things that we wouldn’t normally because the parts of our brain in charge of impulse control, reasoning, problem solving and language are off-line.
Connecting is one of the fastest ways to reduce emotional overwhelm and to get those off-line parts of the brain back online.
Connection before correction also helps us parents stay calm and not say or do things that don’t align with our parenting goals. We get emotionally overwhelmed too! The most common parenting techniques used during parental emotional overwhelm are yelling, threats, punishment and spanking. When we move into emotional overwhelm we often forget our kind and firm tools, utilizing anything we can to make those feelings stop.
Research has clearly shown that physical punishment and shaming are detrimental to relationships, mental health and self-concept. Recent research has suggested that the ability to experience shame develops as early as the age of 3. Children develop an image of self by using evaluative feedback from others, especially authority figures and those they love. Particularly important are findings that high levels of shame were related to the onset of depression. Research has suggested thathumiliationis especially damaging when inflicted by anattachmentfigure, such as a parent or primarycaregiver.
By connecting before correcting we have a chance to build stronger relationships, focus on solving the problem, and correcting behaviour all while building resilience, self-reflection and strengthening self-image and mental health.
Along with my colleagues at Alongside You, I truly believe learning the principles of Positive Discipline can radically change our interactions with our kids and our relationships, and achieve the outcomes we’re looking for. If you’re looking for ways to connect with your kids, help them manage their emotions and behaviour, and set them up for success in their relationships with their friends and family, and their lives at school and beyond, I hope you’ll join us at our training in April! Contact us for more information!
“Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.”
― Elizabeth Zimmerman
For the past few years, we’ve hosted a Friday Night Knitting Club at Alongside You. Held once a month at our art studio from September to June, we’ve had people of different ages, stages and abilities gathered together to share in a common interest. The idea grew out of community interest and was borne out of a reading of the novel The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. What’s been fascinating about knitting groups is that everyone has a story of how they came to knit. Some of us have been knitting from a young age, taught by a family member or friend; others have taken up knitting to cope with chronic pain or illness, or have used it as a way to help those less fortunate. Some knit more regularly while others pick it up after long periods of rest.
I fit somewhere in the middle. Knitting has always been in and out of my life. My twin sister and I learned how to knit from a family friend in our neighbourhood when we around 6 or 7 years old. Because of my sisters’ short stature, a lady from my parent’s church handmade and measured custom knitted outfits for her to wear. Though both of us began knitting at the same time, my sister has kept it up more consistently. She is a little more skilled and comes to my rescue. Though I liked the idea of knitting my first-born a blanket, I had a difficult time finishing it. During the early stages of labour, I thought it was a good idea to attempted to knit. I put so many holes in it that my sister took all the stitches out and refinished the blanket just in time to wrap our daughter in the blanket. She has made both of our girls’ blankets that they cannot, I repeat, cannot live without. That’s the beauty of a knitted item. So much time and effort are laced into a piece that is well treasured. Since then, we have been the happy recipients of well-loved knitted baby clothes, children’s sweaters and blankets by friends and family that are true keepsakes.
How Can Knitting Help Us?
Here are a few things I have learned about knitting over the years.
1. Knitting has a long history all over the world.
Whether the piece is from England, Ireland, Scotland, Latvia, Japan, Australia or Peru, only to name a few possibilities, each is derived with their own styles and techniques. The history behind each garment and each stitch made makes my head swirl!
2. Knitting has major health benefits.
Because of its repetitive nature, knitting keeps your hands busy, produces relaxation, and teaches mindfulness as you tune into each stitch. It can also provide tangible results and garner a sense of accomplishment. It is these very attributes that have increased the use of knitting as therapy in addictions and recovery programs, and dealing with things such as eating disorders, drug and alcohol addictions, and chronic pain and illness management. Knitting is not simply a creative activity, it is constructive as well; activities using both your body and brain, like knitting or crocheting, actually promote the development of neuropathways that aid in memory retention and stave off symptoms of Dementia, strengthen hand-eye coordination, and offer exercise in joint movement, decreasing symptoms of arthritis. Knitting may as well be known as the “new super craft” just as cauliflower is known for being the “new superfood!”
3. Knitting requires skill.
Because knitting requires a certain amount of knowledge on everything from how to make yarn, dye it and craft it into something using an array of colours, yarn types, stitches and patterns, you need to learn it from an experienced teacher, relative, friend, or nowadays, YouTube! Knitting is truly a skilled art form that embraces the efforts of knitters with a variety of skill levels. I’m still at the square dishcloth, or scarf stage and hope to move into creating large blankets or shawls! Though historically a woman’s craft, knitting is now being accepted as an activity suitable to all.
4. Knitting for others in need has been and continues to be a huge part of knitting.
Knitting, for the most part, is made to be functional. Knitted items such as socks, sweaters, scarves and even undergarments are made for regular use and warmth. Historically, hand knitted socks, scarves, sweaters, hats and mitts have warmed soldiers, farmers, the elderly, children, and even those in hospital.
For instance, last year, our Friday Night Knitting Club received over 70 knitted scarves to be distributed at the Union Gospel Mission’s Women’s Shelter. This year, we received over 60 knitted items (hat, scarves, socks, mitts) and over $300 of grocery cards to be donated to Azure House, Delta’s new transition for women and children seeking refuge from domestic violence. This is run by W.I.N.G.S. (Women in Need of Gaining Strength). Similarly, The Knitting Sisters, a local group made up from women in both South Delta and Richmond, have made it their mission to support local and international charities with their knitting. Whether it is knitting items for a friend or family member, infants in the Neonatal Care Unit, the homeless, or even women’s shelters, many knitters carry on that sense of purpose.
Want to infuse knitting into your life?
Here are some ideas on where you can start:
Alongside You hosts a Friday Night Knitting Club once a month for those of any age and ability. We share stories, skills, knitting projects and refreshments. Basic instruction is available. The evening is by donation to raise funds for our Step Forward Program, that helps subsidize our services for those needing financial assistance. Everyone brings their own supplies but we also sell a selection of yarn and needles on site. So far, donations and yarn sales have raised over $2000 for the Step Forward Program and have donated numerous items to women’s shelters. The next one is February 22nd from 7 – 9:30 pm. To register, please visit our Facebook Page.
Knit and Stitch is a knitting group that meets at the Ladner and Tsawwassen Libraries. Bring your own projects and share ideas. For more details, contact your local library.
The Knitting Sisters are a group that meets at McKee House. They also focus on knitting for others. Here’s a great story about them.
Check out Meetup, a popular site devoted to connecting people with similar hobbies and interests. Look by location or by craft.
Where can I find knitting supplies and inspiration?
There are shops all over the Lower Mainland that have beautifully crafted fibre arts for sale. Fibre Art Studio on Granville Island offers classes and have an extensive collection of yarn in vibrant colours and textures. You can also visit stores in Vancouver such as Three Bags Full, Wet Coast Wools, and in Delta, Crafty Fibre.
Want more inspiration? Check out Etsy for knitted items and patterns.
What Is The Takeaway?
Knitting is fun. It’s good for your health. It can be used to help others.
Meet the new take on graffiti or street art…YARN BOMBING! Public spaces are adorned with knitted and crocket items: Trees, statues, lamp posts, and even fire hydrants. You never know where you’ll see knitting coming into your life…it may be just around the corner!
You know when you meet someone for the first time and you just “click?” So do I. Meg and I just got back from a whirlwind tour of Calgary to go do something with one of these people. We flew out Tuesday morning and got back late last night. Driving back home, Meg even said, “We were here yesterday, it seems like such a long time ago!”
You see, this was a new experience for us. There were a series of firsts – the first time we’d sponsored an event in another province; the first time we’d travelled out of the province to provide a workshop together; the first time we’d tried to bring an art studio with us on a plane; the first time we did any of this with someone we’d only ever met once. All of this, because when we were told about the project and asked if we’d help, we said, “How can we help?”
The event was Let’s Talk Hope, with our new friends at National Hope Talks, and was a part of Bell’s annual Let’s Talk Day. Aside from being a sponsor for the event, our role was to talk about what we’re noticing in our context with regard to mental health and to lead a workshop on resilience and hope and human connection and how to use art as a vehicle to bring hope to ourselves and others.
One of the focuses of the conference was getting beyond talking, and figuring out what to do about mental health, from all perspectives; from professionals in mental health to artists and creatives, to those struggling, and everything in between. All perspectives are welcomed and valued, and solutions are sought – even if they seem like pipe dreams.
I came home on a bit of a high (albeit an exhausted one) because I was so inspired by the crew we joined to make this conference happen, and by all of the over 200 participants and what they brought to the table. Writing this article today, however, is bittersweet for me because today marks the anniversary of a close childhood friend who we lost to suicide. A friend who was immensely talented, had personality in spades, left a child and family behind, and who I assume, could not see a way out or a way to have hope.
This is why hope matters. Mental illness is not just a clever advertising campaign or something for us to feel good about when we do something one day out of the year to raise some awareness. Mental illness can be a matter of life or death.
When we held conversations at the conference about what brings hope, the overwhelming common thread that was repeated time and time again, was the connection. Human connection trumps any other intervention in the books. I want to suggest three ways we can get beyond talking about mental health, and move toward action and creating a hope movement in our communities.
1. We need to get over ourselves and out of our comfort zones.
We’re all here, because we’re not all there, and that’s ok. There, I’ve said it. As someone who has struggled with mental health since the age of 6, I’ve known for a long time that something was different about my brain and body and how that showed up in terms of mental health. I’m now at a place where most days are ok, but this has not always been the case. In fact, there were many years where this was not the case.
Here’s the thing, if we have a mental illness and our belief is that we have to be okay, then we stop connecting with others and cut off the best “treatment” we’ve got. We also stop connecting with each other, which is an invaluable resource and a vital part of our community. If we push this further, even if we don’t struggle with a mental illness, we won’t connect with someone else who is hurting if we aren’t feeling 100% good ourselves for many reasons, not the least of which being our belief that it’s not ok to not be okay, and we can’t possibly help anyone else if we’re not at our best.
Let me tell you, there would be no mental health professionals in this world if this were true, myself included.
2. We have to stop believing that mental health professionals are the only ones who can help someone who is struggling with a mental illness.
Over and over again I was reminded of this while at the conference this week. On our team of presenters and organizers, we had rappers, hip hop artists, spoken word poets, dancers, motivational speakers, visual artists, brain scientists, pastors, business coaches, and more. Guess what? I learned a lot. Some of what others brought out were things that either I wouldn’t have thought of, or really needed reminding of.
Meg presented on using art and journaling to bring resilience and hope, and let me tell you – the feedback was phenomenal. We had one woman come up to us after and explain the role that journaling played for her in her recovery from abusive relationships; moving from wanting to burn all of the entries, to now using them as reminders of where she’s come from, the victories she’s had, and the hope she now has with her new life. It was unbelievably powerful to hear her story and those of many others.
3. We need to remember that there is not a single thing on earth more powerful in recovery from mental illness than relationships and healthy human connection.
This is one of the things that I have been reminded of over and over again in the past few weeks. We now have over 20 years of research proving this, much of it coming from the scientific studies of marriage and relationships from the likes of The Gottman Institute, ICEFFT and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, as well as the trauma research from people like Besel Van Der Kolk.
If we want to give people hope who are struggling with mental illness, we need to be willing to connect with them and be a safe relationship for them. We need to be willing to get down in the mud, or as I often say to clients, jump into the foxhole together. We have to be willing to not be okay with them, and even to suffer with them. This is the core of empathy, which drives connection and healing.
Now, I never said any of this was going to be easy. Being with someone in their hardest times is sometimes incredibly difficult. In fact, sometimes they won’t let us. But we have to keep trying. Our lives and the lives of our loved ones depend on it. We need each other.
One of my new friends reminded me this weekend of a very important principle that can help us with this. She reminded me, after being reminded by a mental health professional in her life, that when someone is hurting, we need to bring them closer, not push them farther away.
If we can all remember to bring the hurting closer, and be willing to suffer with them, and walk alongside them, then we can bring hope. We can give them, and ourselves hope. We can make a difference.
Seems counterintuitive right? How could it be that those seemingly irrational, often painful internal reactions (emotions) have any business in the world of rational decision making?
Many of us have accepted the tradition of believing that reason is the best guide to decision making and that emotions are a nuisance that needs to either be controlled or vented to get them out of the way of higher rational thinking.1
The truth is that we’re all much smarter than our intellects alone!1 Our emotions are a big part of the reason our species has survived for so long. Rational thinking helps us to thrive, but without emotions, we wouldn’t survive.2
For example, as Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy says, “if you decided to never feel afraid again, you’d end up dead pretty fast.”3 You wouldn’t know to avoid dark alleys that seem dangerous. Your rational mind may have heard some news reports on muggings in dark alleys, but without your fear response, you’d be unlikely to apply those warnings into your own life. First, if you feel some fear when listening to the news reports on dark alleys, your brain integrates the warning into memory much quicker and much more effectively than a piece of information that doesn’t generate any emotion. Second, when you approach the dark alley, you might feel some feeling in your gut or a physical instinct to run away from it. This is your fear emotion popping up to quickly remind you to stay away from an important source of potential danger. Once you feel that sensation in your gut or that urge to run, you can then integrate it with your rational thought (which happens much slower than your emotion brain) and determine whether it’s best to go through the dark alleyway or to go around it.
Humans are wired to integrate both emotional guidance with rational thinking. The trouble is that in Western culture, we’ve been taught to dismiss the important messages our emotions send us.
The Middle Path: Integrating Emotion with Rationality
Think of yourself on a canoe, travelling down the river. Over by the right bank of the river are the rapids (your emotion brain) and over by the left side, the river is really shallow (your rational brain). If you veer into the left, rational side of the river, you become reefed and your boat can’t go anywhere. But if you veer into the right side of the river you move too fast and out of control because you’re caught in the rapids! Dan Siegel calls these the “chaos and rigidity banks.”2
Life on the Rigidity Bank
We get stuck on the rigidity bank because without emotions we wouldn’t be motivated to do anything.
Think of the word E-motion – emotions move and guide us. “E” stands for energy, and motion directs us to act on our feelings. Some feelings are full of energy, like anger or fear. These high energy emotions guide us to act to protect ourselves or someone we care about. Other feelings like sadness or shame are very low energy. They guide us to pull back and take time to determine what our next steps should be in the face of a painful situation like losing a loved one. Emotions help us to determine what we need in each moment. The more we understand what we feel and how to move through those feelings, the more likely we can befriend our feelings and allow them to integrate into our everyday rational life.
Furthermore, to stay on the rigidity bank, we have to push our emotions aside, and I’m sure many of us have experienced the way emotions tend to come back with a vengeance when we haven’t listened to them. Life stuck on the rigidity bank simply isn’t realistic long-term, there’s nowhere to go. 1, 2
The Life of the Chaos Bank
On the other hand, if we’re caught in the rapids, we may have a sense of what we need but it’s much harder to determine how to responsibly execute it in a way that will be beneficial to us and to others.2
Remember the question of whether or not to go through the dark alley? If we’re stuck on the chaos bank, then we might run away and panic and have no idea why. When we veer back toward the centre of the river, we can remember some of the reasons that we might have felt that fear and then we can take a look around and determine how to feel safe again.
Floating Down the Centre of the River: Integration
The key to integrating our emotion mind with our rational mind is to remember to take a step back and give ourselves some time. Our emotion mind will tell us what we are needing in the situation, and our rational mind will remind us of what’s realistic.1,2
How to Practice Integrating Emotion and Reason
Take a moment right now to be curious about what you’re feeling in your body; maybe you feel some tightness in your chest, some heaviness in your eyes or even a pit in your stomach. That’s where your emotions are sitting. In other words, when you have a “gut feeling,” your body is trying to tell you something important and you need to take a moment to listen to it.1
It might be really uncomfortable at first, but if you start noticing what’s happening in your body at any given time, you’ll also start having a better sense of how you really feel in a situation. Once you can name what’s going on it your body, you can then name your emotion. Once you have your emotion, you can start to make sense of it an decide what to do with it. That’s where your reason comes in. The magic is in the integration.1,7
This is tough work that you don’t have to do alone. A Registered Clinical Counsellor can help you to figure out how to integrate your emotion and rational mind in a way that makes sense for you. It’s also a great idea to get into the practice of regularly scanning your body for sensations. This makes it easier to know what you’re feeling at moments where it really counts.1,9
Just as Mister Rogers said,
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
When we begin to attend to our emotional sensations, we can start to name them. When we can name them, we can learn to manage them and integrate them into our decision making to help us live a balanced life.
To get started, check out some free online guided body scans can be found here:
Rogers, F., & Neville, M. (2018). Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Tremolo Productions:
Thiruchselvan, R., Hajcak, G., & Gross, J.J (2012). Looking inward: Shifting attention within working memory representations alters emotional responses. Psychological Science, 23(12). https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612449838
Yip, J.A., & Cote, S. (2013). The emotionally intelligent decision maker: Emotion-understanding ability reduces the effect of incidental anxiety on risk-taking. Psychological Science, 24(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612450031
“I love that it gets dark at 3 pm, that it’s pouring rain constantly, and that I haven’t seen the sun in 4 months!” said no one ever. Although some people may prefer the cold winter weather, there are a lot of us who are counting down the hours until patio season starts up again (okay, maybe that’s just me). So, until then, we are binge-watching TV, sleeping in, indulging in comfort foods, and pretty much avoiding the outdoors unless we absolutely have to go outside. The different seasons and the weather impact what we do and how we feel, which is why many of us prefer indoor activities during this time of year and for the next few months to come. However, on a rare day that the sunlight does shine through or when summer finally rolls around, we are quick to get outside and enjoy the sun. We may notice that our mood improves when the sun comes out and it can be a bit easier to get things done. Other times, we notice that when it’s dark and rainy, it’s a little harder to get out of bed, be alert, or even feel happy.
If you’re relating to this post right now, you’re not alone! Approximately, 17% of Canadians are also feeling pretty low during the winter months (CMHA, 2013). You can thank Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for these mood changes, which is a form of depression that occurs at certain times of the year, specifically between September/October and April/May. It affects anyone and everyone but is more common amongst women, individuals between 15-55, people who live further up north or farther down south away from the equator, or individuals with a family history of SAD or other types of depression (HealthLinkBC, 2017).
How Do I Know If Seasonal Affective Disorder is affecting me?
You may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder if you identify with these statements:
I feel sad, moody, or anxious
I feel tired or slowed down all the time
I’ve lost of interest in work, friends, or interests
I’m gaining weight
I’m craving carbohydrates such as “comfort foods” like bread or pasta
I’m having trouble concentrating
I’ve been experiencing changes in my sleep, such as sleeping too much or not enough
(CMHA, 2013; HealthLinkBC, 2017)
Why Do We Struggle With SAD?
But why is SAD even an issue to begin with? It is thought that the lack of sunlight creates a change in the chemicals in our brain, specifically serotonin, which is responsible for regulating our mood. Additionally, because it is darker, it can signal to our brain that it’s time to sleep which can cause an increase of melatonin in our brain, which is responsible for regulating our sleep/wake rhythm. The truth is that we’re not completely sure why it happens, just that it does, and to many people in our community.
What Can I Do About SAD?
It’s great to identify if we have SAD. One of the main ways to help yourself if you’re struggling with SAD is to increase your exposure to the right wavelength of light. This can include:
Spending more time outside during daylight hours
Opening the curtains or blinds during the day
Rearranging the space that you are in to allow more sunlight to enter
Arranging office/household furniture so you can sit close to a window
Adding lamps into your space
Using a SAD Lamp
Counselling can help with the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder by giving us a better understanding of how SAD affects us as individuals and helping us to cope with the effects that come about during this time of year. It can also be useful in helping us to look at our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and how they influence our mood and can aid us in creating strategies for making changes in these areas. In addition to this, being able to talk to someone who is able to empathize and listen to us can be very beneficial.
If you’re struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder, you’re not alone and you don’t have to go it alone. Seeing a Registered Clinical Counsellor or one of us counselling interns can be a great help!
If you’re not sure if what you’re struggling with is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), please go to your family doctor who can help you determine if this is what you’re dealing with, and can refer you to a specialist if needed.
In the meantime, we’re here and we’d love to support you until the sun comes back! Feel free to contact us!
I admit, the title is a bit tongue in cheek – the saying certainly is better than some of the alternatives such as, “I hope your New Year doesn’t suck,” or, “I hope your year is mediocre.” I sometimes wonder, however, if the phrase has any real meaning, or whether happiness is really something to shoot for anyways?
Over the holidays I was reflecting on Christmas holidays in the past and some of my experiences. 19 years ago, I was living in Ukraine with a bunch of other young people doing things like working in orphanages, teaching sex ed in the local university, and running coffee houses for local youth. I was reflecting on this mainly because it was a very different experience to be in such a different country over a holiday, but also, because the culture is so different there. One of the things they taught us before we went, over and over, was that we had to only say things we actually meant. They used the example of the phrase we so often use, “We should go for coffee.” See, here we say this all the time to simply be polite, as a way of saying goodbye, or, really, for no meaningful reason at all. There in Ukraine, if you say this, they’ll expect you to actually go for coffee and it’s a great insult if you don’t.
This got me thinking about the phrase that we say so often this time of year – “Happy New Year,” is ubiquitous in our communication at the beginning of January. In fact, as I type this, I’m pretty sure I’ve written it in at least 15 emails today alone. What I wonder is – does this phrase actually have any meaning anymore? If I put aside my cynicism over holiday expressions, I’d like to say it does. It’s a positive phrase of encouragement and well wishes for a new season of life. It certainly doesn’t do any harm. Or does it?
I wonder if we should truly be chasing happiness. I know I certainly haven’t had great success in my life chasing it, particularly when I’ve struggled with depression and even with anxiety. I know I’ve had innumerable times where I’ve been around others, seemingly happy themselves or wishing others happiness, and wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” Does this mean I’ve never been happy? Of course not, thank goodness. I’ve had plenty of happiness in my life, but it’s never been the primary focus of my life. I also know that when I’ve chased happiness, I’ve met with very little success.
If I look at my experiences, and the experiences of the clients I’ve worked with over the years, it seems to me that feeling happy is a by-product of a more important process – that is, finding meaning. See, we can find meaning in life even if we’re depressed, anxious, dealing with trauma, in the midst of an addiction, and more. I can’t say that it’s always possible to find happiness in the midst of these things.
So how do we find meaning in our life? I’d like to offer a few suggestions that I’ve noticed improve the chances of finding meaning in our day to day lives, and thus, an increased chance of being happy.
Engage in Meaningful Activities
One of the things my clients hear from me frequently is that sometimes we have to do the things that we know help us feel better before we feel like doing them, as opposed to waiting to feel better and then doing them. In this case, if we’re stuck feeling like life isn’t particularly meaningful, sometimes we may need to do things that we know have meaning for us, even if we don’t feel like it; by doing so, we greatly increase the chances of shifting our mindset and experience into a meaningful one.
Some examples of things people you might find meaningful could be:
Spending time with friends and family
Being creative through music, visual arts, dance, or otherwise
Reading books that get your brain engaged, or are on a topic you have a curiosity about, or books that simply make you laugh
Volunteering your time and/or skills for a worthy cause
One of the things I’ve realized over the holidays is that I need to spend more time investing in myself, and particularly, in learning. This realization came after reading an article that quoted Warren Buffett, which you can read here if you like. It’s been a wild 3 years here and I’ve been focusing on the business and program development a lot, but my own personal growth has not been as much of a focus. I’ve committed to spending more time reading, and pursuing education and I’ve already taken steps toward that by booking a conference in January, doing an online course, and I’m planning more for the coming year.
What is one actionable step you could take now to pursue a meaningful activity that maybe hasn’t been a priority lately?
Evaluate Your Current Activities
I’m fascinated by metrics, data, and analytics. It’s the geek in me that loves measuring results. I don’t know if I’m such a fan of these same things when they are measuring how I spend my time in the “off hours.” When I look at things like how much time I’ve spent on a screen, how much time I’ve spent on social media, how much of my reading is on Google News versus something I actually care about. There’s a lot of time spent in distraction versus intention.
Being intentional is hugely important when it comes to finding meaning in life. I’ve noticed that I get far more satisfaction in the activities I’ve intentional set out to do than the ones that I just find myself doing out of habit. The beauty of this is that there’s no right or wrong answer as to how you invest your time, but there is an affirmative or negative answer to the question, “Is doing this providing meaning in my life,” and, “By doing this activity, is it adding to my life, or is it taking away valuable time and resources from something that could be?” If it’s not adding to your life, or it’s taking away time and resources that could be providing meaning, consider whether it’s something you want to be doing.
Surround Yourself With People Who Invest In You and Speak The Truth
I actually laughed out loud after writing this title because I caught myself thinking, “Sure Andrew, let the introvert tell others to surround themselves with people.” I wasn’t thinking quantity, okay? I’m thinking quality.
I’ve got two very close friends. I’ve known each of them for 30 years or more, and at the ripe old age of 37, I think that’s significant. We know each other. We invest in each other. We ask each other the hard questions in life because we care enough to. I need people like this in my life because I spend a great part of my life caring for others. I need the same in return, and I need people who speak the truth to me even if it’s hard.
This is important when choosing a counsellor if you’re thinking about working with a Registered Clinical Counsellor this year. I remember when I was looking for my counsellor, I sat down with him and one of the first things I said was, “I need someone who isn’t afraid to call me out when I need it.” I’d been to other counsellors who were warm and caring, but didn’t challenge me and I am definitely someone who needs challenging at times. To his credit, he’s followed through and it’s been a very helpful relationship for me to have.
What Should We Say Instead of Happy New Year?
In a perfect world, I’d love it if we all had a happy 2019. As much as I tend to avoid pushing for happiness, it really is a wonderful thing. I’m a big fan of focusing on things we can control, though, and so my hope for is that you’d have a meaningful New Year, and in turn, that the meaning you create and discover in your life would bring you moments of great joy.
I’m a fan of Viktor Frankl and I’d like to leave you with a quote, in the hopes that it will help you on your journey toward meaning in 2019:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself
From all of us at Alongside You, I hope you have a wonderful start to the New Year, and that 2019 will bring you a renewed sense of purpose and meaning…and happiness.
Articles on holiday stress are prevalent. I even wrote one back in 2015, which you can read here if you like. So why do we need another article about surviving the holidays? I can’t speak for everyone, but the reason I’m writing another one is that my hope is that we’ll all thrive, not just survive through the holidays we are about to embrace.
I don’t often look forward to the holidays – part of it is likely a personality trait of mine in that I don’t get particularly excited about holidays, birthdays, or other “special” times of the year. I’m not sure why it’s just not part of my makeup. Part of it, I think, is that as the owner and director of a rapidly growing clinic, I’m well aware of the “vacation effect” whereby any time off that I take inevitably results in work piling up and waiting for me when I return. Or perhaps it’s part of my love for routine and my contentment with life. I’m fortunate in that I love what I do, and there’s comfort in routine – I enjoy having my week go rather predictably as far as my schedule is concerned, and vacations mess with that.
I was reminded this weekend, however, that my kids love the holidays. We went to get our tree from our friends at Sunnyside Nurseries here in South Delta, and we may as well have gone to Disneyland! My kids were running wild from tree to tree, picking the best one until they came across another one to top the first, and so on and so forth until we finally ended up with a beautiful noble fir that we brought home.
Then came the decorating. My job is putting up the lights. It’s the part I care about because, well, there’s symmetry involved and I love symmetry and order. Then came the decorations, and the kids have an ongoing dialogue about who gets to put the star on top of the tree. Let me tell you, they know exactly who got to do it last year and if ever one deviates from this knowledge, a veritable onslaught of objections ensues. I realized this year that both of my girls have grown up a lot, and quite literally. They’re a lot taller now, and lifting them above my head to place the star is a much more difficult proposition than in years past! But, we figured it out and I put my younger daughter on my shoulders, climbed on the couch and onto the window sill and she placed the star on the tree. All, I might add, without injury.
It wasn’t until after we were done decorating that it hit me; that is, what I love about Christmas and the rest of the holidays. Remembering this is also what helps me survive the stress of the holiday season, which is no small feat as I’m sure you know!
I get excited by the little ones, and the little things they get excited about!
My girls are not so little anymore, which they love reminding me of on a daily basis. They may be growing up, but they still love the little things about Christmas: the decorating, making cards, baking cookies, wearing their pretty dresses, and of course, eating all the chocolate.
We may not get excited by the little things ourselves, but we can get excited vicariously through others who do. If we can do this, we’ll release endorphins, and be reminded of the joy around us, and invariably it’ll rub off on us too!
I’m mindful of what I enjoy about the season
When we’re stressed, it’s difficult to stay present, and our brain naturally focuses on the negative. It’s built into our neurobiology – when our stress level rises, our limbic system becomes more active and as a result, our brain natural looks for signs of danger – that is, the negative.
So, as we’re going from activity to activity, busying ourselves with the details, we need to remember to take time to slow down. Remember what we used to love about Christmas and all of the things that go with it. Remember those times when Christmas carols excited us and we found them soothing, rather than annoying; remember when the bells from the Salvation Army donation buckets were a positive reminder, rather than a resounding cacophony of ringing; remember when we got excited to give gifts rather than stressed about getting through our gift list without forgetting anyone!
I focus on others
One of the most wonderful things about the holiday season is that there are literally thousands of ways to get involved in helping others. So many people do this on a regular basis, but others may not during the year for many reasons, including time and availability. If we’re having a tough time this Christmas, perhaps getting involved in a charity, or another avenue of helping others would be a good idea for you, and for the whole family! There have been countless studies showing the benefits, a sample of which you can read here, here, and here.
One of my favourite things we do every year, and we’ve done with a group of friends for over 30 years now, visit a local mental health group home to sing carols, and bring Santa and treats. Every year we gather with these folks, many of whom have been there for as long as we have, and we celebrate together. Mental health homes often aren’t the cheeriest of places, but for a couple of hours, it turns into a giant party, with singing, and lots of joy. Quite honestly, it’s one of the most joy-filled times for me over the holidays because what is a very simple thing for us to do, brings such great levels of joy to the residents. They look forward to it all year, and they tell us so when we’re there.
If you’re struggling through the holidays, I highly recommend taking some time to focus on others through volunteering. There are some great places to do this, including Food On The Corner, UGM, Covenant House Vancouver, Deltassist, Delta Hospice, and so many more local organizations. Or, grab some friends, and go around the neighbourhood singing carols. Or perhaps you want to buy a bunch of roses, stand on the street corner and hand them out to people, just because!
Farewell to 2018
I don’t know about you, but 2018 has been a whirlwind for me. I’ve even remarked to clients on numerous occasions, “Didn’t I just see you last week,” and it’s been a month. Time goes fast! I know that one thing I’ll be focusing on this Christmas is slowing down.Resting. Recuperating. Reflecting.
It’s so easy to just keep going, and staying busy, even if it’s not at work. I’d encourage you to pick up that book you’ve been meaning to read, write that letter that’s been on your desk for the past 6 months, get together with that friend who you’ve been trying to get together with for the past year and somehow, it’s just never worked out. Find opportunities to share with those closest to you just how special they are to you, and how much you value them. If you can do this, you’ll do far more for them than any present could, and for yourself.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of you, from Meg and I, and the rest of the team at Alongside You. We are blessed to be a part of your lives, and we wish you nothing but the best of times to finish the year and to start the New Year.
Here’s the truth – I love chocolate! It’s my go-to sweet snack. So, naturally, I wanted to create something chocolatey but delicious at the same time. I used this recipe in a nutrition workshop I taught to teens, and they loved it. So, if teens approve of this then we can all love it too.
Here’s what’s in the recipe:
Medjool dates are the perfect natural sweetener and also known as “nature’s candy.” Unlike their processed sweetener counterparts, they are rich in polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants that help protect against free radical damage and cancers.
Hemp seeds are a great vegan source of protein that contains all nine essential amino acids. They are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.
Rolled oats are a great source of fibre. In one cup, there is 9.6 grams of fibre, 39% of the recommended daily intake. It contains loads of iron, manganese, selenium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Cacao powder is the raw form of chocolate and is not processed like cocoa powder. Cacao powder is rich in nutrients including magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper, and manganese.
Ceylon cinnamon is also known as true cinnamon. Most of the cinnamon in the supermarket available is cassia cinnamon. One of the biggest benefits of Ceylon cinnamon is its ability to regulate blood sugar.
Sea salt is not processed like table salt. Depending on the salt you have, it’ll have a different nutrient panel as well.
Raw Hemp Chocolate Energy Bites
1 cup (12-15) of packed, pitted Medjool dates ½ cup of hemp seeds ½ cup of rolled oats ⅓-½ cup of raw cacao powder ¼ teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon Pinch of salt (optional) Cacao powder for rolling (optional)
1. Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process on high speed until a dough forms. 2. Take the dough out of the food processor and place in freezer for 15 minutes to harden. 3. After 15 minutes, take the dough out of the freezer. Form into small one-inch balls and roll the energy bites in cacao powder if desired. 4. Put your energy bites in the fridge in an air-tight container. Enjoy 1-2 at a time!
Did you try the recipe? I’d love to hear your feedback. If you made any adjustments, please share as well!