When I first heard the term, “Dialectical Behaviour Therapy” the concept of it completely went over my head and had me silently swearing that I was never having anything to do with this form of therapy. Chances are, I am not the only one who feels intimidated by this complex approach. I can definitely empathize with anyone for feeling uncertain or overwhelmed by this theory because there’s certainly a lot to it. If you’re curious about DBT and want to learn more about it, then this post is for you!
The goal of DBT is to learn new skills and techniques to transform negative thinking and unhelpful behaviours into positive outcomes.1,2 This approach started out specifically for those with chronic and severe suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, and later for those living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), but has shown to be useful for individuals who struggle with lower thresholds of self-harming, eating disorders, substance abuse, major depression, and more.3
What is a Dialectic?
Let’s tackle the first part of DBT – the dialectic. In reference to counselling, a dialectic is finding a balance between two opposites. It’s the understanding that two ideas can be correct at the same time, letting go of black and white thinking, and understanding that there’s no universal truth.4 A real-life example of finding a dialectic would be having to opposing thoughts such as: “I can trust everyone,” or, “Nobody can be trusted,” which then the dialectic would be finding that sweet spot in the middle which would be, “I can trust some people, but not everyone I know,” and coming to terms with the fact that those two opposing beliefs, trust and distrust, can exist at the same time.4
In DBT, we encourage clients to ask themselves, “What is missing from my understanding?” instead of accepting a final answer or conclusion. This is a way of expanding our perceptions of things and understanding and validating another person’s perspective.4
What is the Behaviour part of DBT?
The behaviour part of DBT includes learning practical skills and helpful behaviours and letting go of the actions that interfere with our quality of life and personal wellbeing. There are four main modules that are covered in DBT to teach these skills:
Interpersonal Effectiveness: this module includes being able to ask for what we need, reach our goals, and to cope with difficult interactions or conflicts.
Distress Tolerance: this module builds the ability to notice situations that evoke a negative emotional response and to be able to see the impact it has on us. The purpose of this is to be able to make rational decisions about how we want to proceed.
Emotion Regulation: this module encourages noticing our emotional experiences, but not letting the emotion completely take over. Clients learn to use self-soothing techniques to cope with the strong feelings and develop the skills to act mindfully and intentionally while experiencing emotions.
Mindfulness: this module teaches us how to accept and cope with powerful emotions and to be able to notice the present moment we are experiencing, along with the emotions and sensations that come with it with a non-judgmental mindset.
What is the Therapy part of DBT?
DBT is implemented through a variety of ways, such as skills training group and individual therapy. The group is typically 6-12 months long and is meant to introduce us to skills that are intended to improve our coping and ability to manage powerful feelings. The individual sessions focus on increasing our motivation and skill application. Individual DBT sessions give us a chance to work towards our personal goals and to apply our skills in our day-to-day life.
I hope that this article helps you understand a bit more about DBT. It’s certainly been a big learning curve for me, and I’ve come to appreciate the complexity of issues it’s able to address. While it can still be daunting at times, the beauty of DBT is that it can be broken down into bite-sized, practical skills and steps that help us move forward.
If you think DBT could be helpful to you, or you just have some more questions about it, please feel free to give us a call, we’d love to hear from you!
15 years ago, I had an opportunity to work at a summer camp for children with special needs. I was scared. I was nervous. I did not know what to expect. The result was a life changing 2 months that has completely changed the trajectory of my career path and ultimately my life. I sometimes like my experience to that of the Grinch in that I too felt my heart grow 3 sizes that summer.
Since then, I have been a support worker helping individuals with diverse abilities in their homes and the community. I worked as an Educational Assistant in the school system, helped co-lead a summer camp for teens with Autism, worked as a social skills worker, coordinator for a pre-employment skills program for young adults with Autism and finally, I am a Registered Clinical Counsellor. I specialize in working with individuals with Autism and their families. This has been a long journey, but such a rewarding one.
Last year, I was chosen to give a presentation to fellow professionals. I had one and a half hours to fill. I wanted to speak about something I was passionate about. Easily, I narrowed my focus down to Autism, however, I did not want to speak of facts and figures, I wanted to concentrate on the individual. From this idea, the title “What I really wish you knew” was borne. I interviewed 5 individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and asked them a series of questions with the intention of hearing what they really wish the world knew about them. I used my place of privilege to let their voices be heard. It was an incredibly powerful and humbling experience for me.
My hope for this article is to highlight the information I was given, and share it with a wider audience. Before I delve in, I would like to once again thank the individuals for sharing their stories and experiences with me. Without their bravery and voice, I would not have anything to share. I would also like to acknowledge that ASD is a spectrum and there are varying and different experiences; these are merely the experiences of the individuals I interviewed.
The first thing I would like to address is that of language, often there is some discomfort when trying to know how to address a person on the Autism spectrum. I acknowledged this right away with each of the individuals I spoke with and ask them for their preference. The answers were as varied as the individuals:
Person First language, the person before the diagnosis
______________ has Autism
I don’t love being called Autistic
Neurotypical refers to someone without ASD
“ ‘Neuro Diverse’ drives me batty. If I am different from you and you are different than me, then why are we not both referred to as ‘neurodiverse’ “?
I refer to myself as an ‘Aspie’
I am a person with Asperger’s, but I don’t introduce myself to others as someone with Asperger’s right away.
Being on the spectrum, a person on the spectrum
How Do You Define Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?
My first question was to ask each individual, “What ASD means to them?” Their responses highlighted the unique perspective of each person:
“It is hard to describe, cause I never thought about it, it is something I have to live with.”
Sense of pride
“Autism means ‘just being you.’ I am unique in my own right. We have gifts as well.”
Sense of indifference
“Honestly, it doesn’t mean anything to me. It is a scientific title given to a different way of thinking that helps people who don’t think that way understand it. I have no personal attachment to it. It is thing that exists and I have it.”
A different way of thinking
“I think differently and have a different perspective on life; when people have a problem, they don’t see a different solution. When I look at that problem, I can see a different solution.”
Still more to learn
“I don’t think that anyone has a good idea of what ASD really is; I don’t think any of us really know enough.”
I asked one of the individuals about having a label as someone on the Autism spectrum. They replied, “Labels are not necessarily there to hurt, labels are there to help and let others know what they are dealing with. If you walked into a store and saw a jar of peanut butter without a label on it without ever seeing a jar of peanut butter, you would be like, ‘Ewww, what is that gross brown stuff?’ But, if you walk into a store and see a jar of peanut butter with a label on it, you will know what you are getting; you will think, ‘Oh butter with peanuts in it…I think I will try it.’ Labels help you know how to help the other person.”
How Do You See Yourself As An Individual With ASD?
Keeping in mind the label of ASD and what ASD means to the individuals, I asked, “How do you view yourself?”
As a person
“I view myself as an ordinary person, to be honest sometimes I am paranoid, but mostly I am a normal person.”
“I view myself as an individual. I am a young person with ASD, without it, I would think differently, but I don’t know how it would affect me. It influences me, it doesn’t define who I am. It affects the way I interact with others.”
“I am speaking on behalf of others and making this world a more inclusive and diverse society. I want to take out the word ‘normal’ and use ‘diverse.’”
The Challenges of Living With Autism
Changing direction, I asked the individuals, “What are some of the challenges of living with ASD?”
The list was long and varied:
Communication and the complexities of text
Not understanding boundaries in friendships (Ex. How much can I call/text you)
Focusing on things too much
Getting stressed too much
Not being able to sleep
Experiencing sensory overload
Perseverating on what I did that was “socially awkward”
Social barriers at work, interacting with co-workers, feeling left out and not part of the team
“Anxiety gets in the way, it prevents me from leaving the house.”
Alternately, I then asked, “What are some of the strengths of living with ASD?”
Again, the list was long and diverse.
Observant, I notice things around me
Good at logic
Following the rules
Being a voice for others with ASD
Attention to detail
One individual poignantly expressed: “I don’t think I have strengths solely because of my Autism, my strengths come from me as a person and how I was raised in an open-minded and accepting environment from my mom. I have always been taught to trust in instincts and think for myself.”
Advice for Parents of Children with ASD
These individuals are experts of their own experience and have much wisdom to share. I was curious to know what advice they had for parents who are currently raising children with ASD. Their answers were filled with humour and knowledge.
“The most important thing is to cultivate an environment where the children do not have to feel ashamed of themselves, and something they cannot control.”
“Don’t try to push your point of view on them, let them think for themselves. It is useful to let things take their course, and for the child to figure things out for themselves and form their own opinions.”
Implement this for the first 18 years of your child’s life. Have a buddy to walk with you who is a few years ahead and can help teach and guide.
Don’t worry about eye contact so much
“Lack of eye contact is not the end of the world. They understand what you are saying and are paying attention even if they are not looking at you. For me, eye contact seems forced, it feels uncomfortable and not normal. I give eye contact depending on the conversation and how vulnerable I have to be. Often I am looking past your head or at your hat, not directly looking at your eyes.”
Parents need a team; they need networking and connections. “Remember to choose your battles with ASD, geeze, you are going to have a lot of battles.”
Use technology as a tool
Technology can be used for communication and for connection
How to Connect with Individuals with ASD
As a counsellor, I was curious to learn how I could become a better counsellor for individuals with ASD. However, I believe that the answers are applicable to a wider audience as well. I was both humbled and motivated by the responses.
“Be as genuine as you can be: people with ASD can tell when you are lying.”
“Make it clear you want to help and that you care, just because you cannot see my feelings, doesn’t mean you cannot hurt them.”
“Don’t assume you know what I need. Give me wait time to formulate on my own. I have more brain cells than you do, give me time. You cannot expect to see progress every day.”
Don’t try to ‘match make’ friendships!
“We don’t necessarily want to meet others with ASD, they can be annoying. We don’t necessarily want another special needs friend, because sometimes people with special needs don’t have the same special needs as you and you don’t always get challenged.”
Try using ‘invitational’ questions:
What would it be like if…?
What do you think would happen if…?
Trust must be earned!
“I have a lack of desire to express my emotions due to fear of being judged. With ASD, trust is earned, it is difficult to earn and easy to lose. We think differently, we don’t automatically think of family and friends to be trustworthy. You need to prove that you can be trustworthy.”
How To Advocate For Individuals On the Autism Spectrum
Not only did I want to focus on helping professionals, but I also wanted to hear how everyone can become better advocates for individuals with ASD. The answers spoke of inclusion, acceptance and belonging.
“Don’t use ASD as an insult…Don’t think less of us because we have Autism. Teach kids with ASD to accept themselves, and teach kids without ASD to accept everyone.”
“Stigma is damaging!”
It is about relationship and connection
“Talk to us, not about us, just like everyone else. Talk to our family and friends.”
“Any success is about relationship. Rapport is key. Getting to know someone and building that trust over time. We can best be reached through our interests.”
“Ask the individuals themselves how they want to be advocated for. We each have a personal preference of how we want to be advocated for.”
Remember each person’s uniqueness
“No 2 people with ASD are the same. Everyone without ASD is not the same, so too are people with ASD not the same.”
“Take time to listen to them because they have so much insight even though they think differently than you.”
What They Really Wish You Knew
Lastly, I posed the question that was the title for my presentation: “What I really wish you knew.” The final words were theirs, and their answers showed the humanity we all share.
I am paying attention
“Sometimes it seems like people with ASD are not paying attention, not looking at you, but believe me, they are! We are listening to everything! If every spy in the world had ASD, that would be pretty dangerous!”
I want real friendship
“I wish I was told in school that there are differences between friends and acquaintances. When a relationship is forced, they are acquaintances but if it is genuine, then it is a friendship.”
I am doing the best that I can
“Autism is not an excuse for poor behaviour. We can’t hold ourselves to the standard of ‘normal’ people, but we can hold ourselves to the same moral standard. We can’t use ASD as a crutch. We need to take responsibility for your actions.”
Again, I want to thank the individuals for sharing their voices and experiences with me. It is my hope that their words help foster change, acceptance, and inclusion for everyone. It is my desire that we continue to celebrate diversity and acknowledge the ways that everyone is unique and has the right to love and belonging.
It is my desire to be able to walk alongside individuals, couples, families, and supports of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as they go through life in the various stages. If you’re impacted by ASD, I’d love to spend some time with you walking your journey. You have so much to offer, and I’d be honoured to be a part of it.
Writing these blog posts is one of the easiest parts of my job to put off until later. They require some unstructured thinking time (which is fertile ground for distraction), are unstructured themselves, and there always feels like there is something more important (read: easier and less personally exposing) I could be doing with that time.
Recently I read a fantastic article in the New York Times on exactly the process I’m describing. Most people call it procrastination. I really, really think you should read the article now because if you’re reading this one already, chances are you’re putting something else off.
If you don’t feel like doing that, the basic idea is that mainstream science has come to embrace an idea that makes intuitive sense to many of us: procrastination has much less to do with laziness, lack of self-control, and disorganization, and much more to do with emotions. For example, it is often the case that the task at hand will bring up a disquieting uncomfortable feeling that we often barely notice. Therefore, procrastination is about protection: we keep ourselves safe from feeling (for example) our own self-doubt or shame by doing something unrelated, whether it is productive or not. This has the effect of a short-term boost in good feelings (TV is fun!) but is often counterproductive in the long term. For example, these blog posts give me some anxiety, because I never know who is reading them and what I might be sending into the public eye that might not be good enough, or that I might even end up disagreeing with myself a year from now. So I often find something else to do.
Along these same lines, there is a much more complex system of underworkings at play in our decisions than we think. We in the mental health field love to talk about the brain (how its fear center causes us to react in response to stress, for example), but according to good recent research, there are mini “brains” around areas such as our heart and gut that make them function as powerfully as our heads at times. Daniel Siegel is a big proponent of this, and you can also read more about this at Heart Math here.
To return to the article (here’s a link to it again!), it encourages self-compassion, which we counsellors also love. Having grace and compassion for our own mistakes is one of the best tools out there. The article offers three other, very simple tips for when you find yourself the victim of procrastination:
Be curious. Take a breath and allow physical sensations, emotions, and mental processes to come and go, observing them like you were watching a new TV show. Notice what happens to the sensations, feelings and thoughts as you observe them. What are the feelings that might be bringing up unpleasant feelings?
Hypothetically imagine the next step: “If I were the version of myself that wasn’t procrastinating right now, what would be the next thing I would do?” Just thinking about this might make you more likely to take action despite your feelings. Many pros agree that motivation often comes while doing something, and not before, so you might need to kickstart things a touch.
Make temptations more inconvenient. Hide the TV remote, put a screen time blocker on your phone, etc., etc. This also increases the timeframe for you to become aware of what’s going on, and makes your reward for procrastinating less immediate.
I would add a few of my own tips as well:
When you feel temptations arise, take a deep breath and allow yourself to be tempted, noticing the temptation to do something gratifying at the moment. This is called many names, but I learned the name urge surfing: you are riding the wave of your temptation and letting it run its course without trying to push it away or make it less intense. This fits really well with tip #1 from the article (Be curious!). Often, the urge will go away in 10-12 minutes, if not much less.
If you must, try to give yourself more productive ways to procrastinate. For me, I take a few minutes and stretch. This often makes me feel a little better about myself physically, mentally, and emotionally, and makes me feel better equipped to take on the original task. You might also choose to journal about your inner experiences at the moment, which will help you understand and articulate them (this removes some of the power those impulses have).
Building on #2, you could also call a trusted friend and chat about the fact that you’re putting something off. This will help in a number of ways. It will give you a sounding board for your thoughts and feelings, normalize your experiences, and make you feel generally supported (little motivates us as well as reminding ourselves of our supportive relationships).
Lastly (as I say with most of these articles), you can always feel free to talk to a professional helper, as they are often equipped with specific skill sets that can help you tackle something like the above, or help get you in position to tackle it. These include professional counsellors like us at Alongside You, but can also be something like a pastor, priest, social worker, or support group. Investing time in caring for yourself the right way has the best interest rate of any investment (by a huge margin). If you have questions about this process, please call our office, and you can even email me directly through my profile by clicking here – I will take the time to respond as best and as soon as I can.
Good luck, and now that I’ve written this, I’m off to do something fun.
The Stress-Response Cycle: How to Move Through Stress
To follow up on my last post, it’s time to get practical! Whatdo we do with stress? We’re often told to reduce our stress by taking on fewer responsibilities when we’re feeling overwhelmed. That certainly can help, but what’s more important is to learn to move through the stress response cycle so that when we are faced with stressors our bodies have the capacity to handle them. This requires learning to listen to our bodies and our emotions.
Don’t Confuse the Stressor with the Stress
A stressor is something that causes stress, such as a semester of school. Stress is that feeling of fight, flight or freeze. Often, we believe that we’ll feel less stressed once we’ve dealt with the stressor. I often tell myself that when the next term at school is over, I’ll feel energized and happy again. Then, the end of term comes and after a week I notice I’m still feeling exhausted and irritable. This is because I was confusing the stressor with the stress. The stressor may be long gone and successfully conquered, but the reason I still feel irritable and exhausted is that my body hasn’t moved through the stress response cycle and come out the other side.1 Can you relate? Let me explain.
Stress-Response Cycle: Listening to our Bodies
Our body’s natural tendency in times of stress is to move through the beginning, middle and end of our response to stress. When we are in fight, flight or freeze, a lot of adrenaline is pumping through our bodies. Our body’s natural tendency is to find a way to expend that energy. With fight, it would be throwing punches, flight would be to run, and even in freeze, our natural tendency when we come out of freeze is to shake. Once we’ve expended that energy, our natural tendency is to find safety and to rest. This is the full cycle: trigger (beginning); energy expending (middle); safety and rest (end).1
Unfortunately, in our culture we’ve been taught to suppress the messages we get from our bodies. Our culture is uncomfortable with feelings and so we’re told to suck it up; we’re told that everyone is stressed and that’s just what life is. We override our body’s messages because they’re not always compatible with work or with the social context at hand. When we keep overriding the messages our bodies send us, our bodies become stuck in a state of stress. When we never feel like we can escape the feeling of stress, we start to cope in ways that are less healthy, such as developing addictions or lashing out at people when we don’t mean to. This is because there’s so much pent up energy and it hasn’t had a chance to move through us.1
How to Complete the Cycle
We probably don’t want to be fighting people when we’re stuck in traffic or running out of our cars after a car veers into our lane. Thankfully, there are more practical ways to complete the stress-response cycle.
The Middle Part of the Cycle: (The part where you let the energy out)
Physical activity: This helps to re-calibrate the nervous system. It lets your body complete the middle part of the cycle and expend all of that adrenaline that was secreted from the various stress-related triggers in your life. Any kind of physical activity will do, as long as it gets you moving and gets your heart-rate up.
Allow yourself to have a good cry or a primal scream. The kind of cry where you sob for 10 minutes and then have a big sigh of relief. This lets the emotion move through you instead of getting trapped in your body.
Journaling: Writing your thoughts down can sometimes offer a feeling of release and relief. You can keep an ongoing journal of your thoughts and feelings and/or you can write them down and then rip them up. The act of ripping up the pages can also be relieving.
Art: Finding creative ways to express emotion and dispel stress. You might think you’re not particularly artsy, so maybe you want to try coming to something like our Open Studio Sessions to start where you can get some gentle guidance and try some new things out?
The End of the Cycle: (The part where you rest)
Seeking affection from someone you trust. This is proven to be a very effective way to calm the nervous system.
Identify people and places that you can trust to provide space for you to feel your feels.
Sleep: Do what you can to prioritize it, and seek help from a doctor and/or counsellor when you’re having consistent trouble sleeping.
Grooming: For some, it can be meditative and give a feeling of self-care.
Engaging in anything you find
Throughout the Cycle:
Mindfulness: Start cultivating a mindfulness practice, even if you start out with just one minute per day.
Mindfulness allows us to notice what we’re focusing on, notice what we’re feeling and then have control in deciding what we want to focus on and how we want to express that feeling.
Headspace is an app that offers a free mindfulness series to get you started, and the app allows you to start with mindfulness exercises as short, or as long as you want.
Counselling: A counsellor can help you learn to move through your stress response cycle in a way that feels right for you. They can also help you to make sense of stress responses and emotions that feel confusing and stuck.
Remember, this can be very difficult, especially if you’ve grown up in a culture that teaches you to suppress your feelings and your body’s signals.
The most important part of moving through the stress response cycle is to be patient and kind to yourself. You’re learning something new, it takes time and you don’t need to do it alone.
Nagoski, E. (2015). Come as you are: The surprising new science that will transform your sex life. Simon & Schuster: New York, NY
Van Der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books: New York, NY
How many times over the past month have you said that you feel stressed? Once a month? Once a week? Once a day? Three times a day? Is even thinking about this question stressing you out? If you answered yes to any of those questions, this article is probably for you.
We talk about stress all the time! So often, in fact, that the word stress has almost lost its meaning. So, what exactly is this thing we call stress?
Stress is an undifferentiated name for the impact emotions have on our bodies2 In other words, it’s a bunch of feelings that are stuck in our bodies and lead us to feel exhausted or irritable or high strung, etc. There are two main different types of stress: Acute Stress and Chronic Stress.
Acute stress is a normal part of everyday life. It happens when a stressor is short term and has a clear beginning, middle, and end. An example of an acute stressor may be giving a presentation at work or at school. Your heart starts pounding and you notice you’re sweatier than normal under your armpits and you maybe even feel like jumping up and down. The key here is that you give your presentation, it ends, you feel pretty okay about it, and you rest. The stress is over.1
We experience chronic stress when we’re exposed to a stressor for a long period of time. Examples of chronic stress might be working overtime for many days in a row, or working high-stress jobs in general. Other examples may be long term emotional or physical abuse, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In all these cases, our bodies respond to the ongoing stress by continuously secreting stress hormones that eventually negatively impact our mental and physical health.2
Sounds a little bleak right? You might even be a little mad at your body for reacting in such a way when you just need to work a little harder this year to get that raise, so if your body could just quiet down and stop with the tantrums, you could get this done…. or maybe that’s just me. When I learned about our body’s survival mechanism (the Fight/Flight/Freeze response), I became a little less mad at my body. It turns out that without that stress response system, we wouldn’t survive. Maybe if you feel the same way I did, you’ll be able to forgive your body too.
Fight Flight or Freeze: Your Body’s Survival Instinct
Your body’s first priority is always to keep you safe. Its ability to ensure your survival rests on its “Fight, Flight or Freeze” system within your central nervous system (CNS). In response to danger, your body mobilizes to either fight, escape (flight), or freeze. This process occurs faster than we can consciously think, it’s an automatic threat protection system built into each of us.3 4
Fight can also be thought of as our rapid anger/fear response. When we are in danger or when someone we care about appears to be in danger and it seems like we could overpower that source of danger in order to stop it, we go into fight mode. This is what happens in those moments when you might feel like you’re in a “blind rage.” You might react by punching or yelling because your central nervous system (CNS) has determined you are in danger and you need to fight your way out. 3 4
An everyday example of the fight response for many people is driving in heavy traffic. Someone cuts you off and you feel your heart pounding, your face gets hot, and you may start yelling in very colourful language from within your car (maybe you even gesture with your middle finger out of your window, the universal North American sign for “I will fight you!”).
This can be thought of as the fear/anxiety response. Your CNS determines that the source of danger is too frightening to face head-on, so the best chance of survival is to run. Your heart pounds, you get a burst of energy and your digestion slows down as the blood from your stomach gets transferred to your legs and arms, so you can move quickly. 3 4
In terms of our driving example, you might notice this feeling when a car has veered out of its lane and is coming toward you. There’s no time to think about your next course of action so your body mobilizes and you either slam on your brakes or you veer onto the shoulder to get out of the other car’s way.
You go into a state of “freeze” when your CNS determines that the source of danger is too terrifying and too powerful for us to be able to successfully run from or fight. The emotional and/or physical pain is also too intense for you to take in the moment. Instead, you freeze, which allows you to not feel the intensity of the pain. In Freeze mode, our bodies become stiff, our minds go blank, and our brain becomes so overwhelmed, it stops recording memories. For some, this may feel like an out of body experience, for others it may feel like complete numbness. 3 4
Going back to our driving example, freeze is most likely to occur we you actually get into a car accident. This is why many people feel disoriented afterward a car accident and may not remember what happened.
How this Relates to Stress
“Stress” is another word for the fight/flight/freeze response. Chronic Stress a long-term feeling of fear/anxiety/anger that elevates your stress hormones to constantly mobilize you for fight or flight. 3
If every day you’re driving in intense traffic, you may feel constant fear/anxiety about potentially being late for work, compounded with anger at the person who’s driving too slowly in front of you. Then you get to work, and you might have a big project due and you feel fear/anxiety about whether you can get it done on time, you might also feel angry because it feels like the expectations placed on you are too high, oh and also your co-worker is a jerk. Then you drive home, same traffic issues (anger, fear). And then maybe you get home late from work, you have kids to feed and a spouse who is mad at you for working so late (you can fill in the blanks here with the anger/fears that come up with all of that). Then, you try to sleep but your brain is running around trying to solve the day’s problems, and you wake up not feeling very rested, and… repeat. This dizzying cycle of stress that is so common in our culture is too much for our bodies to take! No wonder we all feel so exhausted, irritable, and stuck.
Luckily, there are scientifically proven ways for us to become unstuck and to move through stress. It involves allowing our bodies to complete the stress response cycle. In my next blog post, I’ll explain what the stress response cycle is, and how we can use the steps of the cycle in our everyday lives to keep our minds and bodies healthy.
In the meantime, if you’re recognizing some of the signs and symptoms above, give us a call, we’re here to help!
Centre for Studies on Human Stress (CSHS). (2017). Acute vs. chronic stress. Understand Your
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 May! Click here 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.