“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!
Find Help Now. (2013). Retrieved from https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). (2017, May). Retrieved from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/hw169553
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!
Let’s face it. Walking down the “Natural Foods” aisle at the grocery store can be pretty intimidating. When you stop and look at the choices and the prices, it feels even harder to start eating healthy. But it should be simple.
Whether you’re looking to start eating healthy or have already started, I’m here to give you a few simple ways on how you can do so on a budget. Because to me, eating healthy can be accessible.
Buy local vegetables and fruits
Besides supporting your local farmer, buying local can help you save money. When you buy locally grown produce, they’ve been harvested when it’s ripe and ready for consumption. Vegetables and fruits that travel to get here are harvested before they ripen and lose their nutrients by the time arrive at the grocery store. Not to mention locally grown vegetables and fruits also tastes much better because they’ve got all their nutrients.
Here in Delta, we’re lucky to have many local farms such as Schoolhouse Farms, Back Roads Family Farm Market, Copthorne Farm, Westham Island Herb Farm, and Earthwise Society.
The BC Farmer’s Association provides a great resource for finding out which vegetables and fruits are in season. Currently, in-season vegetables and fruits include apples, pears, beets, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, leeks and squashes.
Tip: When you buy local vegetables and fruits, wash them and freeze them. That way, you will always have fresh vegetables and fruits on hand.
Bonus Tip #2: Consider purchasing a community supported agriculture (CSA) harvest box. This supports the local farmers and gives you a share of their harvest weekly.
Buy local meat and eggs
On that note, you can also buy local meat and eggs.
When buying BC meat including chicken, beef and pork, they adhere to certain regulations. Did you know, the use of steroids and hormones for chickens have been banned in Canada since the 1960s? Organic chickens are fed a vegetable-based feed, are free-range, and raised without antibiotics. Most local farmers don’t raise their pigs and cows with antibiotics or steroids.
An additional benefit of buying produce and meat locally is the open conversation you can have with your farmer. Take the time to know your farmer and ask how the animals have been raised.
Newman’s Fine Foods carries an amazing selection of local meat products.
Tip: When buying meat from a local farm, find out if you can purchase a share of the pig or cow. This will save you some money and allow you to try different cuts of meat.
Meal plan and prep
Ever walk into a grocery store when you’re hungry? You almost always end up buying way more than you need. Spend some time to plan your meals before heading to the grocery store. This way, you’ll have a list to focus on before even stepping foot in the store.
If you have kids, get them to help you plan for meals by asking them what they want to eat. This way, you’ll make sure the groceries get eaten. If it’s a “non-healthy” meal, there’s always a healthier version out there. This is what I really enjoy making my own meals at home.
If you spend a few hours at the beginning of the week (doesn’t have to be Sunday) to prep your meals, you’ll ensure you are getting a healthy meal. This doesn’t have to be a full week’s prep. Even a few days out of the week is a great start.
Tip: Don’t like soggy roasted vegetables? Prep your veggies when you first get them by cutting them up and putting them in a container. This way, they’ll be ready to be roasted by the time you get home from a long day of work.
Tip #2: Need help meal planning? I offer meal planning only services if you’re not looking for a full nutritional consultation.
Make your own and use leftovers
Making your own food can help save a ton of money. Often, items we buy like yogurt, nut milk, sauerkraut, pickles and jams are simple enough that it can be made on our own.
For example, nut milk is often filled with other ingredients such as locust bean gum, gellan gum, ascorbic acid, and sunflower lecithin. When you make your own nut milk, it can purely be nuts and water. To get started, you will need a nut milk bag and a good blender.
After making your nut milk, you can use the pulp to make crackers or use it as flour in your baking.
If you’re having chicken for the week, consider buying a whole chicken. You can roast the chicken and use the meat in several ways. After, you can use the bones and make a healthy bone broth with it.
Grow your own food
It might not be the season to start growing vegetables right now in the Lower Mainland. However, when January and February come, Westcoast Seeds is an amazing resource for finding out what you can grow in the size and type of garden space you have.
You can also sprout 12 months of the year! Try a variety of certified organic seeds at Westcoast Seeds including fenugreek, red radish, green lentils, red clover, and more. Sprouting is simple and can be a fun fail-proof experiment no matter how old you are. To start, all you need is a wide mouth jar, sprouting lid and some seeds.
Have you tried microgreens? You can grow microgreens in your kitchen all year round as well. All you need is a shallow tray, potting soil, seeds and light.
The beauty of both microgreens and sprouts is their nutrient-dense nature. They’re miniature greens, herbs and vegetables and are packed of beneficial enzymes. They also sprout and grow within 1-2 weeks.
Eating healthy can be simple and budget-friendly. It takes a little planning but I hope that these tips will help you get started in the right direction.
Need a hand in healthy meal-planning? Contact me for more details!
“It’s time to lie down and rest,” I say to a 5-year old student of mine with autism.
As I say that, my student gets ready to lie down and tells me where to place my weighted bean bags to help her relax. She lies there for a whole 10 minutes barely moving. I watch as her belly rises and falls as she focuses on her breathing.
In recent years, yoga has gained in popularity. Kids are now doing yoga in the community and in their schools. But for kids with special needs and autism, I’ve witnessed what an amazing difference it can make in their lives. Today, I want to share five benefits yoga has for children with special needs.
Yoga can reduce anxiety.
Many children with special needs and on the autism spectrum are in a constant heightened state. This is the body’s response to stress and sleep disruptions, which can be exacerbated into full-blown anxiety. This can be seen physically through their breathing. You can see them chest breathing or hyperventilating, which can worsen the anxiety symptoms. The yogic practice of breathing exercises, poses and guided imagery helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, an activity also known as “rest, relax and digest.”
Yoga can provide consistency.
The daily practice at home and weekly sessions in a group or privately can help provide consistency and an order. In a class for children with special needs, a visual schedule is generally used to ease anxiety about class but also provide consistency. Students learn yoga sequences that are performed in the same order and open and close a class in the same order. This supports their need for consistency. However, students can expect different poses or modified sequences to challenge them as well.
Yoga can increase self-awareness and improves motor skills.
As children practice mindful movement in various yoga poses and learn to identify body parts, they can develop a greater sense of self and their body. Practicing poses on both sides of the body, the students cross the midline. Poses such as tree, airplane (warrior 3) and seated twists can increase body awareness and develops gross motor skills.
Yoga can help with emotional regulation.
Children with ASD can have difficulty expressing their emotions and communicating in social settings. At this time, this can be seen in unexpected outbursts or inappropriate ways of communicating. Through the combination of movement, music and breathing exercises, the brain’s emotional region is activated. This encourages children to develop emotional awareness. Also, yoga teaches children that it is okay to feel emotions both positive and negative and how to express their emotions in a healthy manner.
Yoga can help improve confidence.
Sometimes, children with special needs have low-esteem due to being teased for not being able to move and behave like other children in school and social settings. By learning self-calming techniques through mindful breathing, movement and meditation, children are able to regulate their emotions and can become more confident in social settings. Especially in a group class, they’ll be able to learn how to work together in a safe space and learn how to interact with one another. Through movement and the development of motor skills, children grow more confident in being able to move comfortably in their bodies.
Join me in my upcoming classes in January 2019 for children with special needs. I’m also available for 1 vs 1 private session. This can be especially helpful for children that have not been to a yoga class before or those who need extra support.
Expectations, whether based on fact and experience, or our own assumptions and interpretations, have the tendency to either prepare or disappoint. Because of this, it’s important to understand what differentiates DBT skills groups from other therapeutic groups, so that you can make an informed decision about whether participating in a DBT skills group will be beneficial for you. Joining a DBT skills group is a 24-week commitment and although this experience can prove highly effective, it may not be a good fit for everyone.
How Are DBT Groups Different?
A common misunderstanding of DBT skills groups is that they are comparable to other therapeutic groups, such as process groups or support groups. Although the DBT skills group atmosphere often fosters feelings of peer support and understanding, the primary purpose of these groups is to learn effective skills.
The DBT skills group format allows for the sharing of personal information at the discretion of each group member, however, the majority of information shared within the DBT skills group is done in relation to the use of the DBT skills. This practice ensures that any difficulties implementing the skills may be addressed, by both the facilitators and group members. Although DBT skills groups encourage group member interaction and input there is a classroom-like component, as each week a new skill is taught. One of the benefits of participating in a DBT skills group is that each group member brings their own experiences and unique approaches to particular skills and situations. This opportunity the learn together, and from each other’s experiences helps us learn innovative ways to approach the skills.
A DBT skills group is an essential component of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. While combining individual therapy and the DBT skills group is not mandatory, it is important to recognize that the main goal of a DBT skills group is to teach and support group members in effectively using new skills. The emphasis on teaching new skills – and the very nature of a group setting – allows for less 1-on-1 attention for each group member and is a reason that supplementing DBT skills group with individual therapy is recommended.
What Does a DBT Skills Group Session Look Like?
Each DBT group session will begin with mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can take many forms, ranging from mindful colouring to guided visualization, and is incorporated for both personal practice and group benefit. This practice can help group members become present and ready to engage and learn in a group.
Following mindfulness, each group member is given an opportunity to check-in and let the rest of the group know how their week has been, with an emphasis on skills tried and used. This can be an opportunity for group members to troubleshoot skills that were not as effective as they’d hoped or suggest alternate skills that may have been effective for the given situation or particular struggle. Group interaction and insight can be a particularly helpful addition to check-in. This can also be a time to review any homework or questions from the previous week’s group.
After a short break, the second half of the DBT group session is dedicated to learning a new skill. All DBT skills are separated into four main modules: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. These skills are taught with an emphasis on being effective in everyday life. Oftentimes real-life examples can be used to illustrate how each specific skill can be effective; group members are welcome to present a relevant personal situation where a skill may be useful to see its specific application if they so choose. As the founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, Marsha Linehan would say, the goal of DBT is to create “a life worth living.” Through the learning of skills and the support of the group, clients can be supported in gaining control of their lives and moving toward a life worth living.
Click here to learn more about our youth and adult DBT groups!
Sometimes we think of the body, mind, and soul as separate entities, but in reality, they are interconnected as a whole. The interactions between the parts and how they influence us, guide us, and support us are much like a dance. Similarly, the way we do asana, the poses we use in our yoga practice, is the way we do life. We often dance between loving our practice, resenting it, using it as an escape, and so on. What is important to remember is that our practice is neutral, it simply mirrors who we are, our emotional state, and how we are in the world.
Being present in this day and age is often a challenge with all of the distractions within, and around us. One single breath of gratitude can change that. Restorative Yoga uses physical props and at the same time, your body is a prop for your soul. Some of the important questions to ask in Restorative Yoga are, “Who are you bringing to the mat today, what do you need, and what will you give? Where are you allowing your attention to go right now?” Being present is essential to the practice of Restorative Yoga, otherwise, it’s just an exercise.
What Restorative Yoga is Not
Restorative Yoga is not simply stretching, it’s about opening oneself and one’s body. In fact, the emphasis is not on the pose, but on the opening. Who you are and what you bring to your practice is as important as the particular poses and postures used. We all bring a container, or vessel, ready to be filled with our practice. It’s different than Yin Yoga, which focuses on active asana, versus the emphasis in Restorative Yoga on holding and being still. Our focus is not on striving; we know you can do more, but Restorative Yoga asks the question, “Can you do less?” It is not about ambition, which is the opposite of relaxation; we do not need to do more.
What Restorative Yoga Is
In Restorative Yoga, we focus on the truth that we do not need to go anywhere else, do anything else, or be any different than who and where we are now, and what we are presently doing. We focus on the fact that what we seek is already here – the pose is right here, right now, as we’re present with it.
To be relaxed we need to be still, quiet, dark and warm. Restorative Yoga takes us toward sleep. To be still where we are, our body sleeps and our mind watches. As we practice, we learn to relax enough, without falling asleep. This is valuable because our bodies are used to moving around constantly and therefore, stillness is a radical thing. It’s something we’re not used to pursuing in our hectic lives. This is why Restorative Yoga emphasizes spending time finding a comfortable shape where we can be still. We find quietness, without music; pursuing darkness, which is difficult because even if you close your eyes, light filters in. Darkness is good for the organs below the diaphragm, irregular periods, our livers and our digestion. Finally, we pursue warmth, even using swaddling blankets around our hands, feet, belly, back, or anywhere! There is a reason this is comforting to babies as they enter a new, seemingly chaotic world – we can receive the same comfort as we pursue stillness in our active environment.
Why Is Restorative Yoga Important To Do?
The reality is that most of our nervous systems are hyper-stimulated as we suffer from a lack of sleep, improper diet, and stress. The intention is what makes Restorative Yoga different. Our bodies sleep while our mind watches as we sense our way through our practice, without thought. The use of props is to support our bodies in positions of comfort and ease; that is, to facilitate the relaxation response, which is where healing begins.
Restorative poses work with the rhythm of the body. They are powerful for removing blockages, to allow our body to heal. Restorative poses are often helpful in recovery from cancer, and poses like legs up the wall can even aid lymphatic drainage. Back bending is helpful in opening the front body for digestion, posture, and breathing. Semi-inversions like legs up the wall are effective for relief of jet lag, restless leg syndrome, and jobs where you stand a lot. Gentle forward folds are great to initiate the relaxation response. The focus of Restorative Yoga can be summed up as, “Heart up, brain down.” As we let go of our thoughts, we will begin to notice changes in our breathing and a more relaxed state, as we drift toward the present moment.
How Can We Start A Restorative Yoga Practice?
Doing Restorative Yoga 20 minutes per day releases tension and lets us gently sink into the present, without judgment, ambition or needing to do anything. In our practice, we are truly with ourselves, for ourselves – we are just simply being.
Restorative Yoga is what our hearts and our souls cry out for in our busy lives. When there are fewer choices, we have more time. We pursue meaning based upon our presence, versus our busyness. Through our practice, we not only relax our bodies, we learn to relax and create space in our lives. As we develop our deep relaxation practices, we gently manipulate our nervous system into the relaxation response, putting it into a place of comfort whereby healing and restoration can take place. Through our practice, we can live with peace and rest, even in the midst of the busyness and turmoil of our daily lives.
May we live like a lotus at home in the muddy water.
I hope this article helps explain what Restorative Yoga is, and how it might be helpful to you. I’m excited to announce that we will be starting a regular Restorative Yoga class at Alongside You in January 2019. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, please click below to check it out on our website. We’re taking pre-registrations now and we’d love to have you!
Click here for more information about our Restorative Yoga class!
It can be difficult to know what to say or do when someone has experienced a loss. It is a delicate subject to approach since we do not want to say the wrong thing or come off as intruding or prying towards someone who is grieving. We don’t want to add to anyone’s pain, so sometimes we go back and forth between being present and supportive, to taking a step back and giving a person their space to cope. Both of these can be beneficial for the other person, but our uncertainty about how to respond can make us feel unhelpful or that we are adding to their pain. When it comes to offering support, however, being present and available to help or spending time with them can be healing.
What else can we do to be supportive during this difficult time? Here are a few practical ideas of how to help a friend or family member who is grieving:
- Know what “normal” grief is and how to respond – check out my last article for a primer
- Know that there is no one right way to grieve, every response and emotion is valid; people who are grieving may feel relief, guilt, anger, emptiness, sadness, etc. These emotions may be intense or extreme or they may be more mild. Be prepared for any reaction, and know that the reaction isn’t about you, it’s a response to pain.
- There is no timeline or linear process to grief; each grief process is unique. People will cope in whatever way feels right for them and will take as long as they need.
- Expressing support
- Be empathetic by acknowledging the bereaved individual’s feelings (e.g. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you). Showing acceptance and support of their emotions, whether it’s anger, sadness, or otherwise, can provide a safe space for the person to experience their emotions openly.
- Give them space to tell their story. The person may want to discuss the details of their loss repeatedly or in detail as a way to come to terms with what has happened.
- Reach out to the person who is grieving whether it be through a phone call or an in-person visit. Remember them as time goes on and check in. Many times, people respond immediately and then support fades quickly.
- Avoid saying things like: “Everything happens for a reason”, “They’re in a better place”, “At least…”, “It’s time to move on”, “I know how you feel”, “You can always have another child/get another job/get remarried”, “Time heals all wounds.” Avoid finding a silver lining to the loss or trying to fix what’s happened.
- Instead, say things like: “I’m here for you.”, “I don’t know what to say, but I care.”, “I’ll call you/visit in a few days.”, “What can I do?”, “I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”
- Saying nothing and just listen. It’s okay to listen or just be present with the other person. Sometimes there’s nothing at all that we can And certainly, whatever we say is unlikely to make the situation better.
- Providing practical support can be very helpful, such as offering to:
- Help with arrangements related to the loss, such as funeral arrangements, packing, finding a new place to live, etc.
- Complete household chores or run errands
- Cook or drop off meals in non-reusable containers so they don’t have to worry about washing your dishes and getting them back to you
- Watch their children or pets if needed, giving them time for themselves
- Help with insurance or other paperwork
- Answer or make phones calls or for them
- Take them out for a meal or a movie
- Watch for signs of depressed feelings or complicated grief
- We’ll take as long as we need to cope with our loss, but we do need to eventually come to terms with what has happened. Over time, we’ll adjust to a new normal and be able to move forward. However, sometimes we don’t move on and get stuck, which is called complicated grief which involves:
- Being unable to move on from the loss
- Being unable to carry out daily routines
- Isolating ourselves
- Having feelings of intense loneliness, numbness, or sorrow
- Wishing to be dead with the loved one who has passed
Depression can also occur and is often a part of complicated grief. The challenge with depression and complicated grief is they can be hard to tease apart, and often co-exist. Both can come in waves, or be constant companions.
If you’re noticing a complexity in the grief of a loved one, or signs of depression, then it’s best to encourage your loved one to seek out mental health support such as counselling. This can provide a space for emotions and thoughts related to the loss to be processed and allow for healing to occur. It can also provide an invaluable resource for depression and trauma screening by experienced professionals who can direct care most appropriately.
A loss isn’t something that can be fixed or repaired; it is something that has to be lived with. The pain cannot be taken away, so instead, we can help others by sitting with them in their pain. It is okay not to know what to say or how to help; if we can show up, listen, and be present, then that’s enough, and is valuable!
Complications of Grief. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/aa129291
Grief and Loss Resources. (2017). Retrieved from https://livingthroughloss.ca/
Helping Someone Who’s Grieving. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/helping-someone-who-is-grieving.htm
Normally we publish articles every Thursday, pretty much like clockwork. We write articles that we hope are helpful to readers, often sharing information on different aspects of mental health, physical health, treatments, services, and more. We do this to be helpful to the community, to educate and increase awareness on different topics and clinical treatments and let’s face it, as a part of our content marketing and search engine optimization plan to make sure people know who we are and how we can help.
This isn’t one of those weeks. On Tuesday evening, I drove downtown for a meeting with Fred from 140 Sports and Connie from Movement With A Message. We had a wonderful time sharing dinner, brainstorming ideas, and finding ways for us to work together to do some good in the community around youth mental health and resilience. I came away excited and encouraged. I love what both of these organizations are doing, and I’m excited to partner with them going forward because I think we can do a lot of good together.
And then I received an email that broke my heart, again. Another youth in our community took his life. It never gets easier hearing the news. In our professional training as a Registered Clinical Counsellor, we hear over and over the importance of “keeping a professional distance,” and “not taking work home.” While I think this is an important principle, it’s also ridiculous to think that we can do this much of the time. I certainly couldn’t with this news. I sat down multiple times on Wednesday and yesterday to write an article, and I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t decide on a topic. I couldn’t get past the first sentence.
The sorrow and heartache involved in losing a youth to suicide affect me deeply, even if I’ve not had any contact with the person. In a recent workshop, I stole the slogan from Point Roberts, WA to explain why I and many of my colleagues are in the field – that is, “We’re all here because we’re not all there.” I became a Registered Clinical Counsellor because I know what it’s like first hand to struggle with mental health. I also know what it’s like first hand to struggling with suicidal thoughts and wanting out.
This is why I can’t just keep a professional distance when I hear that yet again, we’ve lost someone in our community to mental health and ultimately, suicide. There are no perfect solutions, there is no magic pill, and no 5-step plan to prevent this. It simply isn’t that easy.
When I went to bed last night, still struggling to make sense of this awful situation, the words, “Parents, hold on to your kids,” came to me, and I wrote them down. Now, I’m not sure if it’s because Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Dr. Gabor Maté wrote a book together with this title, or because as a parent, I’m very aware of the important role we play in our kids’ lives. But it stuck. And this is what I want to focus on today.
Parents, we need to hold onto our kids. The struggle is real, and it’s not because there’s something wrong with this generation. It’s not because they don’t care, it’s not because the schools aren’t doing their jobs, it’s not because we’re terrible parents. It is, however, because the world has changed, the demands are higher, the expectations are higher, and our youth are struggling big time.
The truth is that there isn’t a single form of therapy, a pill, a school program, or otherwise that can replace the need for attachment between a parent and a child. This isn’t about parent blaming, or shaming, it’s about understanding the importance of our role as parents, and the powerful effect we have on our kids. Parenting is difficult. The demands on our time, our money, our energy, and more, are huge. With the housing market being what it is, most families need both parents working outside the house Monday to Friday to make ends meet. This is our reality.
Somehow, however, we need to make sure we find the time to invest in the attachment with our kids. Our kids will not feel safe enough to talk to us when they’re struggling if the relationship isn’t there, and to be perfectly blunt, we can’t rely on our schools, the public mental health system, or any other service to monitor our kids for us. We have to do it ourselves.
I get it. It’s daunting. It’s scary. We don’t feel equipped. Now, I suspect some of you may be thinking, “He doesn’t get it – he’s a mental health professional who has the education and background to make sense of this,” but I assure you, while in some areas this may help, in other areas, it’s actually worse. I may be more equipped in some instances to help my kids, but I’m also more likely to feel like a failure. If my kid is struggling, the first thought in my head is, “I’m a Registered Clinical Counsellor, with over a decade of experience and training, and I can’t help my kid.” Let me tell you, that’s not a good feeling. That’s when the helplessness sets in, which I think most of us parents have as a shared experience at one time or another.
But here’s the beauty of it. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to know it all. We don’t have to fix it. We can’t. I remember when I was a teen, at the worst of my depression, I was sitting on the end of my driveway in California crying my eyes out. I still remember, it was 10 pm and everything was dark. And then my father walked out, lifted me up, and held me. For an hour. Not saying a word. I imagine, mainly because he didn’t know what to say and probably felt completely helpless.
It’s exactly what I needed. There’s a reason I still remember that night over 15 years later. The truth was that my father couldn’t fix. There were no words that were going to make it better. There really was not anything he was going to do to “fix” my depression or the suicidal thoughts I had daily at that time. What both he and my mother did, and did well, was making sure I knew that they were there to talk to me anytime, even if they didn’t understand. They were there to hold me when there were no words to say, nothing that would make it better. The truth is, they didn’t even know how bad it was because I didn’t tell anyone and I didn’t ask for help.
This is why I do what I do, and why Alongside You exists. I was that kid who didn’t ask for help, and I had every advantage in the world growing up. I had two parents who loved me deeply, I had teachers who mentored me and cared for me, I played sports my entire school career, and I had music that is still one of the main things to keep me steady in life. Looking back, it would have been immensely valuable for me to see a counsellor, probably take some medication, and so many more things, but I didn’t. Not because I couldn’t have, but because I didn’t ask, and I had a very low barrier to ask for help.
You know what did help? My parents. They weren’t perfect, because none of us are, but they were the best parents I could have ever asked for because they tried. Because they did the best they could with what they had, and when they didn’t know, they looked to resources to find out. I still remember my Mom bringing me to a workshop by Dr. Gordon Neufeld on parenting and attachment when I was a kid. They knew how important their relationship with me was, and they were intentional about it.
This is something all of us can do as parents. When you look at the research, what it will tell you is that it’s not the amount of time we spend with our kids that matters, it’s the quality of the time that matters. So, if you’re having to work 60 or more hours a week, or you’re travelling a lot for work, or you’re separated or divorced and you don’t get access to your kid as much as you’d like, don’t lose hope. As far as outcomes, it doesn’t matter that you’re not with your kid as much as you think you should be. It matters how you make that time count. Be intentional, and when you’re with them, focus on them and build the relationship and the attachment.
As I write this, it’s Friday and the end of a long week for many of us. I hope that what I’ve written is encouraging to you as a parent – that is most certainly the intent. What you do matters, and what you do can make a difference. Be intentional this weekend about being with your kid. Spend time with them, share in their enjoyment in what they’re doing, cheer them on as they play their sports (and stop yelling at them, the coaches, and the referee), listen to their music with them no matter how awful it sounds to you. Love them, and connect with them on their terms. Put away the work, the devices, and the stress you’re carrying from the week, and be with your kids. This is the single most preventative thing you can do when it comes to their mental health, and only you can do it.
If you’re struggling as a parent, reach out for help for yourself. If you don’t know how to connect with your kid, or you don’t understand mental health, or you feel helpless, please ask someone for help. There are a number of resources in the community that I’ll list below, and we are certainly here for you at Alongside You. This is why we exist – to help you do your best with your kids because even if we get to work with them, we probably get an hour a week with them if we’re lucky. If we can help you do your best when you’re with them, it’ll be far more effective and powerful.
Remember, we don’t have to be perfect. We just have to care and do the best we can with what we have. We don’t have to be perfect parents, we just have to be good enough.
Other Youth Resources in Delta
Boys and Girls Club
Child and Youth Mental Health
Youth Crisis Resources