Joy to the World

Joy to the World

Joy To The World?

I have long had a love, hate relationship with this time of year. You may remember this from my post last year right around this time about how to manage holiday stress. I love that this time of year often brings families together, sometimes travelling long distances to do so. I love that it brings local communities together to celebrate the holidays. What I truly love most is that I make a point of taking time off at this time of year to be with my family, particularly my wife and kids. What is even better is that they also have time off at this point in the year and we can be together. I often work fairly long hours, and between my schedule and my wife’s schedule, and the kids’ activities, it’s a challenge to get time each day to be a family. This is what I look forward to this time of year, with great anticipation. This is what brings me great joy at this time of year – being with my family.

What I haven’t put into words before, however, is my difficulty with taking time off over the holidays. With the type of work that I do, I know full well how many individuals, couples and families struggle this time of year. I also know that tragedy does not wait for holidays to pass because it’s not “a good time.” The past month seems to have had more than its’ fair share of tragedy. I’ve seen this personally, professionally, and in the news in our community. Friends have lost loved ones, family members are dealing with illnesses, clients are struggling. Although the common belief that suicide rates are higher over Christmas is not true, what is true is that for all of the joy of Christmas, there is a lot of pain and suffering to go along with it.

What do we do about the juxtaposition of joy and pain over the holidays? I believe that a lot of it comes down to perspective and what we choose to focus on. Even more, what it comes down to is acceptance. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy has a concept called radical acceptance, which is a very simple, yet very difficult concept to put into practice. What it means is that we have to be willing to accept that thing happen in life that we do not like. It does not mean that we have to agree with these things, like these things, or are even okay with these things being the way they are. What it does mean is that we have to accept that these things are indeed present in our lives, and it is what it is. What other choice to we have? If we fight against it, we will most likely become anxious, depressed, and stressed out.

I’ve been reflecting on what I need to accept this year in order to be able to leave the office for a week of holidays, enjoy Christmas with my family, and most importantly, be present when I am with them. Here are my three things and I hope they may be helpful in some way to you as well.

  1. Accept that in order to take care of others, I need to take care of myself.

    This time of year is difficult for many, and I often feel pulled to remain at the office this time of year. The reality is that with my clinical practice and the growth of Alongside You, there really is no good time to take a break. There will always be things to do, clients to see, and I will always be conflicted about taking time off. The truth of the matter is, we all need a break and I definitely need one at this point in the year. I often use the analogy of the oxygen mask in an airplane with my clients – they tell you to put your mask on first because if you don’t and you pass out, you won’t be able to help others. I need to take some of my own medicine on this one.

  2. Accept that this time of year will always be a mixture of joy and sorrow, and possibly some stress.

    I know that I will experience much joy over the next few weeks as I spend time with my family. I know that as I leave the office tonight and go to my kids’ school Christmas concert I will be filled with pride, overwhelmed by my love for my children, and enjoy every minute of it; in fact, I’m tearing up just as I write this. I know that my kids will look out into the crowd to find me, because it means so much to them that I am there, and am present.

    I also know that no matter how carefully we plan, how much we try not to do too much, there will always, always be things that mess up the calm. Part of the amazing thing about Christmas is how many awesome things are going on. I also know that I get overwhelmed by all of these awesome things if I am not careful. I know that I need to take time for myself, keep myself balanced, and yes, practice some of the mindfulness skills that I teach my clients and hound them about.

    Finally, I am all too aware that many of my clients, my friends, and my family will be struggling through this season. The pain of the loss of loved ones, lost jobs, ill health, and so many other things does not take a break because of Christmas. I know that they will need comfort, support, and love and while I will do my best to be these things for as many as I can, I have to trust that others in their lives will do the same.

  3. Accept that I must focus on the joy to endure the sorrow.

    Our brains are well trained to focus on the negative, and my brain is no different. It takes very little effort to notice, and remember the negative. It takes much more effort to do the same for the positive. This is not about denial, it is about intentionality. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy describes this as a validation of our situation – that is, being able to find the silver lining in any situation while not denying that the cloud we are surrounded by is indeed black. I am fortunate – this year, I feel very positive about life and the upcoming holidays. This has not always been the case, and I can identify with many who might be wondering how to find the silver lining in a black cloud.

    I am challenging myself, and I welcome you to join me in this, to be intentional about looking for the joy this Christmas. We don’t have to deny the pain or sorrow, but we can choose to focus on the positive. The truth is that no matter how black we may feel the cloud is, there is always something positive to be found – the elusive silver lining. If we can’t find joy this season, we may not be looking hard enough.

From all of us at Alongside You, we wish you a wonderful Christmas and rest of the holiday season. We are grateful to be a part of your lives and are privileged to work with you through the joys, and the sorrows. May your lives be filled with joy as we finish 2016 and we look forward to 2017.


Christmas 2016 – Open Studio Sessions

Christmas 2016 – Open Studio Sessions

Celebrate the art of making things together!

Weekly themes are demonstrated in the first 15 mins of Open Studio time. Participants are free to create art pieces related to the weekly theme or can explore art activities of their choice.


Foam-Printed Cards – Monday December 5th and Wednesday December 7th

Create your own personalized foam stamp and make an endless number of cards for the special people in your home and work life! Learn the basics of speedball-printing techniques and make a printed art piece to take home or give away!


Decorations and Wreaths – Monday December 12th and Wednesday December 14th

Get into the holiday spirit and create your own unique multi-medium wreaths, decorations, or tree ornaments using a variety of materials such as: buttons, fabric, cardboard, and paint. From traditional and contemporary, to the subtle and whimsical, come explore some neat ideas while materials are at your fingertips! Make it for yourself, or give it as gift!


Gifts Galore – Monday December 19th and Wednesday December 21st

Come and make some personalized gifts for friends and family. You can make wood-burned boxes, picture frames, wooden spoons or cutting boards, air-drying clay pendants and beaded jewelry, or paint a picture — the options are endless.


Need a gift for someone you love? We have Gift Cards!

Think outside the box and give the gift of creativity to our Open Studio Sessions. Come along to create an unforgettable time of making and sharing, or send loved ones on their own for some much-needed down time. Gift cards can be purchased in person at our clinic, or can be purchased online in our online store by clicking here!

christmas 2016 open studio sessions

Holiday Stress – Top 3 ways to avoid it

holiday stress top 3 ways to avoid it

Holiday Stress Getting You Down?

Are you getting bogged down by holiday stress? I have a confession to make – holidays stress me out if I’m not careful. What is designed to be a time of joy, spending time with friends and family, and recuperating from a busy year can quickly morph into the Holiday Monster that seems to mimic the energizer bunny and just keep going, and going, and going…

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be this way. The holidays can still be what what they were designed to be: a time of great joy and connecting with others. For some, however, the holidays can also be a time of sadness for those who have lost loved ones, or perhaps don’t have family or friends nearby. Or difficult for those who are struggling with their own mental, physical, or emotional health issues that don’t take a break just because Santa’s coming to town.

So, I give you my Top 3 ways to avoid holiday stress and the impending burnout.

1. Accept the busyness of the season.

Sometimes we imagine the holiday season to be a blissful, paradise of tranquility that can only be seen in a Thomas Kinkade painting. This is amplified when you add children’s programs at school, children’s programs at church, holiday parties at work places (which is often multiple for many families), holiday parties with friends, family get togethers – you get the idea. If you’ve been reading and saying, “Yes,” to each of these events, it’s no wonder you feel frazzled and tired. It really is a lot to take in – and a lot to do in a short period of time.

We have a choice. We can give in to the holiday stress and become frazzled, anxious, upset, and even bitter; or, we can choose what Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy calls Radical Acceptance and accept that despite all of our best intentions, the holidays are often extremely busy, that this is our reality, and stop fighting against this fact.

2. Choose to be present, and choose what to be present for.

When we feel overwhelmed, we often dissociate. I’m not talking dissociation in the sense of losing all sense of reality (although it may feel like that sometimes), but more along the lines of hanging out at the food table far too long, drinking far too much eggnog, staring blankly at the wall, or looking at our phones/tablets constantly – all in an effort to avoid connecting with how overwhelmed we are, and further, having to connect with someone else while we’re in this state. So how do we choose to be present in the midst of feeling overwhelmed?

Breathe. There, I said it. If you actually pay attention to your breathing patterns you’ll likely notice that as soon as your stress levels rise, you stop breathing properly. Our brain needs oxygen to survive, and if we deprive it of this, it has a hard time thinking and processing leading us to feel even more overwhelmed. If you’re overwhelmed, take a moment and breathe. Notice the air passing through your mouth or nose, into your lungs, and focus on that and nothing else. Even one minute of doing this can be enough to bring you back to the present, and being present in the moment.
Part of having the ability to be present, means choosing what to be present for. We can’t do it all, even though we may feel we can, or even want to. If we want to be present while we’re with others, sometimes it means choosing not to go to certain events, or participate in certain activities so that we don’t become overwhelmed and can actually enjoy what we’re doing and who we’re with. Surprisingly, if we choose not to attend a function or two the earth does not stop spinning on its axis.

3. Be mindful of the true meaning of the holidays.

It’s easy to lose sight of what we are celebrating and get caught up in the holiday stress and mayhem. Regardless of what you are celebrating, it pays to focus on the original intent of the celebration as a reminder of why we are doing what we are doing. In Judaism, Hanukkah, in general terms, celebrates the rededication of the temple after years of oppression – a triumph of light over darkness; Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, a symbol of peace for Christians; and Kwanzaa celebrates African-American life and culture and all three involve lots of good food, and gift-giving.

By being mindful of the true meaning of the holidays, we can help ourselves focus on why we celebrate, and why we participate in all the events that we do each holiday season. And, if we play our cards right, we may just enjoy ourselves, spend time with loved ones, celebrate another year passing and a New Year coming. From all of us at Alongside You, we wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season, and only the best in the coming New Year.

– Andrew for the team at Alongside You