Keeping in Mind: Post Five

In our last blog post in which we honour Mental Health Week, today we explore the importance of spirituality. Referring to our spiritual self in the context of our emotional health, it is really about the places and spaces in which we feel centered.  For some they will find that settled feeling of peace in their religious practice, for others it might be in their relationship to God, a Higher Power, the Universe.

Others will find it in nature, in a quiet space in their home, in the pages of a soulful book, in their gratitude journal. We can connect to our spiritual self in our relationships; in our aim to choose love over fear, repair over rift, peace over dissention.

It is anything that supports and reinforces quiet renewal. It is what fills our cup, creates a feeling of wholeness, reinforces that joy is our birthright. It is anything that makes us feel radiant.

For you see, joy has no cost. When we consciously choose to honour our spiritual self, we are able to encorporate blessings and appreciation into the way we process the world, and our well-being feels cared for and held.

I hope you have enjoyed this series on ways to optimize our emotional health. It was fun to reflect on and bring to light little ways that we can work towards a rounder sense of self while navigating the circumstances life has brought our way. 🙂

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Keeping in Mind: Post Four

In our fourth post honouring Mental Health Week, we examine the importance of movement and how it affects our emotional health.

Our overall well being is affected by how much we feel we have control over our lives. Our work, relationships, spirituality, social life and self-identity are areas that without goals can begin to feel weighted or meaningless. This is why movement is essential to growth. When we aspire to things, when we consciously choose the design of our lives, when we seek joy in our everyday lives, we are promoting strength, resiliency and growth.

The leaps don’t have to be big ones; we can aim for one goal at a time – the intention is movement, no matter the pace. It is by keeping a pulse on the stillness within us that we best recognize the meaning making of movement; of what we choose to create significance in our lives.

As Stirling Moss quoted, “Movement is tranquility.”

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Keeping in Mind: Post Three

Moving right along in our series in honour of Mental Health Week, today we examine a concept that has proven to be very helpful in getting us through challenging times and building resilience to adversity. That is: Acceptance.

Think about how riled up we get when we are in an argument with someone; everything in our body is poised and our defense system is tuned up and we are ready to act. The same type of thing occurs in our minds when we fight against our feelings and instincts. Sometimes that tendency comes naturally – perhaps we grew up with learned associations to our feelings (“It is not safe to share my feelings,” “I am not allowed to get angry,” “My reaction is to over-react,”). Perhaps the expectations that others had of us moves us away from our instincts (“I must achieve to be successful,” “I am responsible for other people’s feelings.”)

When we aim to be more accepting, it can include:

  • Authenticity of self: observing and accepting our feelings. Understanding that our opinion matters. Moving from a position of “I am important and so are you.” Exploring who we are in terms of our values and interests.
  • Recognizing that challenges are going to be present in our lives. We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can choose how we will respond to it. Fighting against it or staying in “poor me” mode will only prolong the suffering. Leaning into “It is what it is, now what do I do about it” is a healthier alternative.
  • Reserve immediate judgement of others. If our reaction to others is quick and without and open mind to their experience or opinion, it might be an indication that we are in a place of non-acceptance.

Acceptance is a concept that has the ability to allow us to feel grounded, settled, and at peace. When we choose to become more accepting of ourselves, others and our circumstances, our well-being is foundationally stronger.

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Keeping in Mind: Post 2

In honour of Mental Health Week, we are continuing our series on tips to creating optimal emotional health. Yesterday’s post examined the foundational piece of needing to take care of ourselves, today’s focus is on self-awareness.

Will Mcavoy says it best with the quote, “The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.”

When we aim to be more self-aware, we lean into our capacity to change. Many things can get in the way of our ability to be self-reflective, creating instead a fixed mindset or unhealthy patterns and cycles. In order to increase our self-awareness, we can:

  • Be curious. There is perhaps no better way to temper fear than with curiosity. It allows us to examine the past (for the purpose of understanding, not blame); it allows us to question how solid something appears to be (does it have to be this way?); it gives ourselves permission to formulate other possibilities (perhaps I can look at this differently.)
  • Be mindful of our defensive stance. When we are aimed at being more self-reflective, we are willing to recognize the defenses we have put in place to protect our vulnerabilities. When we move to examining feedback from others, or asking ourselves “Is this really about me?,” we are able to look at things through a more objective lens.
  • Seek help. Sometimes the answer is right at the tip of our consciousness, but we just can’t access it. Our ability to ask for help in becoming more self-aware can be an important part of the process. That might mean asking a trusted friend, seeking therapy, taking a self-help course or increasing your knowledge base by reading about the suspected issue to recognize it and gather information as to its possible solution.

When we aim to become more self-aware, we increase our ability to design our own lives – focusing on the idea that:

“When we know better, we do better.” – Maya Angelou

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Keeping in Mind: Post 1

In honour of Mental Health Week which starts today, I will do a 5 part series about things we can keep in mind when thinking about our mental health. It is meant to make us aware and mindful about our emotional health; to consider and possibly create change so as to optimize its function.

Today’s post focuses on taking care of ourselves.

When we consciously aim to take care of our body, mind and spirit, we are creating our foundation. This may seem simple and perhaps goes without saying, yet how many times do we realize, after the fact, that we have put our health and well being on the back burner? Ways that we can move towards the foundational importance of self-care can include:

  • Our physical health. Do we get enough sleep? Do we move enough? Are we eating well? Our physical body often represents aspects of our emotional wellness. When we decide that we need to improve our physical state, it often comes with the positive side effects of improved mental function.
  • Our comfort system. We are not meant to be in fight-or-flight, survival mode but rather in a relaxed state most of the time. How are we feeding our comfort system so as to find the balance between rest and effort? Are we able to establish daily self-care routines that help to manage stress? Sometimes this may include learning how to say no, challenging core beliefs, leaning into joy.

Taking care of ourselves is often the first step in beginning the process of improving or optimizing our mental health. The next four posts will continue to offer some thoughtful tips when it comes to our emotional health.

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The True Task Before Us When it Comes to Love

I came across this quote from Rumi that gave me some food for thought:

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  – Rumi

When you come to think about it, our built in attachment system sets us up to be able to love and to be loved back. It is what we have been taught about love or our negative experiences with desire, tenderness and devotion that tend to build walls around our hearts. If we are fortunate enough to have been raised in an environment that enabled us to be secure in our attachment, we are one step closer to not allowing our barriers to prevent us from the affection of others.

And if our childhood brought us pain, or those we sought out in love were not kind to us, we can still be in charge of our own destiny when it comes to love. By leaning into Rumi’s advice, we can explore our own barriers and make the choice to give our hearts first to ourselves, clearing a path for those that will follow. 🙂

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A Thoughtful Intention for When We Disagree

When we differ in our opinion to another, or feel strongly that we must disagree, it can often come across as a lecture or as an attack. In Marianne Williamson‘s book “A Year of Miracles,” this excerpt from Day 36, struck a chord with me:

“Help me to disagree without blame, to share without criticism, and to debate without demonizing anyone.”

If we can keep this thoughtful intention when it comes to our heavier conversations, what a difference it could make. When we allow ourselves to be open to someone else’s opinion while keeping these principles in mind, it can lead to a constructive or restorative conversation instead of an interchange where we were driven to be right.

Keeping this lovely intention in mind will help us in our objective to be mindfully present.

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Why Do We Compare Ourselves to Others?

“I worry that I am being judged.”

“I worry what others think of me.”

“It feels like what I do is never good enough.”

This is often a recurring theme in therapy. The thoughts and subsequent feelings that, when compared to others, we fall short. Why do we compare ourselves to others? Is that an innate process – something that naturally comes from within ourselves? Or do we learn it as we grow – leaning into what society teaches us about equality and status?

It would seem that the answer is linked to both. We are a relationship species and our attachment system leans us toward the need to be accepted. We also learn about our value in the environment in which we are raised, both individually in terms of our childhood homes and collectively, in terms of society. Our conditions of worth determines just how much value we place in comparing ourselves to others.

If we are told to ‘try our best’ versus being told to ‘do it right,’ we learn to strive for our personal best, not what others deem it to be.

If we are taught to value perseverance, we learn that value comes in loving what you do, not in the label society deems important.

If we are taught to seek joy, we learn the value of internal happiness and we are less likely to seek happiness in the external world.

We can’t always help the conditions of worth that came to us honestly but we can examine them now.  Gaining a greater understanding of how they lead us can allow us to challenge and make changes if necessary. We are in charge of our conditions of worth; as we strengthen them, we are less likely to default into comparing ourselves to others – rather, our internal compass helps to lead the way.

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When to Use Distraction as a Technique

Part of my role as a therapist is to assess whether or not someone is using distraction or avoidance when they tell me “I just try and keep myself really busy.” Distraction is a healthy coping skill, and sometimes quite necessary when we are in the midst of trying to contain or reign in an emotion. Avoidance on the other hand, is going to catch up to you eventually as it tends to inhibit growth.

So when do we use distraction? Borrowed from the model of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) by Marsha Linehan, I have come to appreciate this series of questions that we can ask ourselves when faced with intense emotion:

  1. Am I able to solve the problem? (Is the solution available to me? Is this my problem to solve?) Answer Yes or No
  2. Is it an okay time to solve the problem? Answer Yes or No
  3. Am I in Wise Mind enough to solve the problem? (In other words, am I accessing enough of my rational brain or are my emotions still too intense?) Answer Yes or No

And here is the key: If you have answered yes to all three questions, move to solving the problem. This will allow you to experience movement and give you a sense of direction. If you have answered no to even one of the questions, move to distraction.

Have a coffee with a friend, clean out a closet, go for a walk, watch a favourite show, play a board game, take a hot bath, do some baking. Moving to keep yourself busy until you can answer yes to all three questions is a healthy way to use distraction as a coping skill until you feel able to solve the issue at hand.

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Daily Non-Negotiable

When we think about the importance of self-care, it tends to encompass many things. Sometimes it is making sure that the pace of our day is balanced; it can mean the setting of boundaries, the things we consciously choose to do to feed our comfort system; the ways in which we rest, use our senses to self-soothe, feel at peace. Whatever our chosen means of feeling grounded, it is our tendency to set ourselves aside when our days get busy – when we feel frazzeled or frayed, we are actually less likely to lean into our self-care strategies.

Perhaps that is why it is important to wake up each day and ask ourselves, “What is my self-care, non-negotiable for today?” For those who take comfort in routine, their non-negotiable is something they tend to take comfort in doing every day; mine for example comes in the form of a walk. Within an hour of the sun rising, with the blues and yellows of the morning sun, the birds chirping and the air fresh – it sets my day.

For others, their non-negotiable might contain variety; perhaps it is a walk one day, a relaxing drive with tunes on the next, a bath, a meditation, a warm cup of tea while sitting in solitude.

In any case, the lesson comes from setting aside time in our day – just for us. When we make it a part of our day, it reminds us to slow down and relish the art of designing our own lives and how we want our day to feel.

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