Emotional Agility

In a recent Ted talk that I was listening to entitled “Susan David: The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage,” she talks about the concept of emotional agility. She says, “How we deal with our inner world affects everything; how we love, how we live, how we parent and how we lead. The conventional view of how we see emotion, as good or bad, positive or negative is rigid, and rigidity in the face of complexity is toxic.  We need greater levels of emotional agility for true resilience and thriving.” Susan continues with her own personal story of living as a child in South Africa during the midst of apartheid and how her father’s death greatly affected her. She goes on to say, “Emotional agility is the ability to be with your emotions, with curiosity, compassion, and especially the courage to take valued-connected steps.”

We remain open to our emotions simply by observing them; to not place judgement on them, trying to decide if they are good or bad. Rather it is to simply acknowledge that “I am feeling sad,”  “I am feeling disappointed,” or “I am feeling content.”  This is essentially the concept of emotional ability; the openness to our feelings no matter what they might be.

To listen to the full 16 minute Ted Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_david_the_gift_and_power_of_emotional_courage#t-989361

Photo credit: http://Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash

A Great Resource

A website recently came to my attention. It is called Big White Wall and it is an online peer support and self-management tool for youth 16+ and adults experiencing mild to moderate depression and anxiety. What I really liked about it was that it is available around the clock, it is anonymous, and is staffed by “Wall Guides” who make sure the community is safe and supportive. They have a section where you can post questions and get feedback, a creative section where you can post pics and see other people’s contributions as well, a section called “Useful Stuff” which has many articles to choose from, and a section where you can sign up for courses (usually 3 to 4 weeks) on a variety of topics. All completely free to those living in Ontario!

These are some of the stats:

  • 70% of users saw improvement in at least one aspect of their well-being
  • 46% of users reported sharing an issue for the first time
  • 51% of users reported less mental health-related time off work using Big White Wall.

Here’s the link: https://www.bigwhitewall.ca/v2/Home.aspx

Photo credit: http://Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

PTSD explained

In a recent article I read titled “The Vicious Cycle of Post traumatic Stress: 4 Cornerstones of PTSD” by Sally Nazari, PsyD and featured on Good Therapy, she talked about how PTSD symptoms can often occur after experiencing a traumatic event. Dr. Nazari writes, “Many different types of events can be traumatic. Trauma responses can follow any major change disruption in a person’s life.” She goes on to write, “In the time immediately following a trauma, many people have experiences of PTSD. In some cases, those experiences decrease over time and the person naturally recovers. It can be helpful to think of PTSD as a process where something got in the way of that natural process of recovery.”  

I especially like the last sentence as it helps to normalize to people that very often times their PTSD has developed as a result of not having been able to work through the acute stress response

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Four Statements that Lead to Wisdom

Recently I was sitting in a colleague’s office and I noticed a poster she had on the wall and it made me think about how we attain wisdom. We certainly see our elders as wiser than us, but does it just come from the process of maturation? So I looked up the the definition of wisdom in my Webster’s Dictionary: the quality of being wise // intelligence drawing on experience and governed by prudence // a store of knowledge. I especially appreciated the middle definition as it signifies to me the process of learning from our experiences and allowing that knowledge to slow us down in order to integrate and hopefully contribute to our worldliness.

The quote went like this:

Four Statements that Lead to Wisdom:

  • “I don’t know”
  • “I’m sorry”
  • “I need help”
  • “I was wrong”

Emotion Trumps Reason

We have both a rational part of our brain and an emotional one. And it is important to remember that emotion will trump reason every time. We can make decisions when we are angry, fearful, guilty etc. and those decisions made in the midst of twirling emotions, often also come with regret. The “why did I say that” or “what the heck was I thinking” will come in the aftermath of a decision made in too much emotion. That being said, decisions made with pure logic can also go sideways as it will negate the feelings altogether. The bottom line is that either end of the spectrum will get you into trouble.

It is much better practice; therefore, to move towards the middle; when feeling too emotional, it is best to slow things down; giving yourself time to process what is happening so as to allow your rational brain to have a say in how to respond (many people swear by the 24 hour rule; sleep on it!) and if you sense that your decision is not being informed enough by emotion, then ask those around you what they might do. Often times, they will provide feedback to you that will be more feelings based. Being able to make a decision that is based on both emotion and reason is what we like to call “Wise Mind” and comes from the world of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT).

Photo credit: http://Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Things I Have Learned in High School: Guest Blogger!

Today my blog is written by a guest; my eighteen year old daughter, Layne 🙂 While recently on vacation, I invited her to write a post for my blog; I gave her “carte blanche.” What she came up with was quite insightful. Good job, kiddo!


Things I have Learned in High School

  • Your self-worth is most definitely not based on “likes.”
  • Having quality friends is more important than being popular.
  • Very few boys are emotionally mature – their actions are usually never about you.
  • No one really cares how you look; they’re usually too focused on themselves.
  • Doing your own thing is far more enjoyable than following a crowd.
  • Any drama will be irrelevant in, like, a week. Just stay out of it.
  • Be nice to your teachers; they will be nice back.
  • Where you fit in the social hierarchy in high school really does not matter in life.
  • Don’t be afraid to look silly; do what you do with confidence.
  • The really cool people aren’t the popular ones.
  • Always look forward.

Dumbo’s Advice

One of my favourite quotes that I use in therapy comes from the movie Dumbo, featuring the lovable, Disney character born with larger-than-life ears. Having been mercilessly teased for his big ears, he has learned to dislike his appearance and his growing lack of self-worth reinforces what becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; Dumbo begins to feel and act as a bumbling, useless elephant who can’t get anything right. Eventually separated from his mother, he befriends a mouse who helps him to accept himself as he is; advising Dumbo that “the very things that held you down are going to carry you up.”

The themes in this 1941 movie are still relevant to our own understanding of the often long-lasting negative effects of the dissenting experiences we may have had as a child. Ingrained as part of our inner self, we begin to feel certain

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Nature Unplugged

I am an early riser; as part of my own “anchor to my day”, I like to take a daily walk with my dog. This is often quite early in the morning, “dawn’s first light” type of early, and I am pretty good about ignoring the phone in my pocket. I have come to observe over the years that my walk is always where I do my best thinking and I notice things that I would not have paid attention to had I been plugged in. In the spring for example, the predominant noise in the air are the birds, vocalizing their praises to the warmer sun, and yet this time of year, all I can hear are the crickets. Curious as to why, I googled “what is the meaning of crickets chirping?” and I have now learned that it is only the males who chirp as a mating ritual. I guess they are expecting a long, hard winter. 🙂

There are times when my day seems overwhelming in front of me and so beyond my better judgement,  I pull that darn phone out of my pocket and fire off some texts or answer some emails. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t regret that decision as I come back from my walk much preoccupied and far from feeling peaceful. And so, I have pledged to myself to “be in nature unplugged,” to give myself the gift of contentedness, and reflective thought to begin my day. At the very minimum, I can at least give those crickets the audience they deserve.

Photo credit: http://Photo by Joseph Barrientos on Unsplash

Podcast: Other People’s Problems; Unhealthy Behaviours

In a recent podcast I listened to called “Other People’s Problems,” with therapist Hillary McBride, she was showcasing a session with “Maggie” and had this to say about the problematic behaviours we sometimes choose to help us cope with stress and hurt.

Looking at these [unhealthy] behaviours through the lens of emotional regulation, these are all things that [Maggie] is doing to manage her low mood or depression. There are all sorts of things that all of us do to manage a low mood, to boost us up a little bit. And the feeling of doing something indulgent actually gives us a sense of relief, again, maybe reward and excitement………..so it’s not unusual for people to use behaviours that can become addictive like eating, using pornography, gambling, shopping; any behaviour that creates a dopamine rush in us. That those can be ways we can actually disengage in life and numb out as a way of avoiding pain, sadness, responsibility in life. So we want to make sure its not creating dysfunction.”

I resonated especially with this last sentence; when we

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The Help of Family

In a recent CAMH article entitled “Families are Vital to Patient Recovery,” written by a mother of a 21 year old suffering with mental illness, these passages were particularly striking to me: “I think the majority of families do understand and appreciate the similarities between mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia and physical illnesses. They absolutely are diseases just like diabetes, cancer and heart disease – but they can be far more difficult illnesses for families to cope with because they have had to deal with their loved one’s behavioural changes, personality changes and possibly bizarre, frightening and risky behaviours.”

Read moreThe Help of Family