Anchor Your Day ~ a mental health blog by Counselwise ~

3 Tips to Making Decisions

We can all struggle sometimes in making decisions. Sometimes this comes from our experiences growing up; being overprotected for example, can lead us to not feeling secure in our decision making skills. Perhaps we had a controlling parent who made our decisions for us; perhaps we had to make too many decisions as a child and it left us feeling uncomfortable with the process as an adult.

In our every day life we are faced with many choices, to varying degrees. Sometimes, we may wrestle with bigger issues such as whether to take a new job; other times we defer to someone else for something as simple as what movie to go see or what to have for dinner. In any case, the ability to make decisions is an empowering process; one that allows us to feel in control over our own choices, giving us a sense of agency. Here are three tips that can help in making decisions:

  1. Make a pros and cons list. This seems self-explanatory but the important bit here is to actually write it down. It allows you to gather information (making an informed decision makes us feel more confident), without spending copious amounts of time on it – we don’t want to lean into avoidance. Writing it down also allows us to use both sides of our brain; bringing both emotions and logic to the process.
  2. Bounce it off a friend. Friends are probably the most objective person outside of a therapist as they truly have your best interests at heart.  Grab a cup of coffee, your pros and cons list and chat away!
  3. Back up your instincts. Let’s face it, once we have gone through both a pros and cons list, and talked to a friend, we usually come to the same conclusion that we had in the very immediate moments of having to make up our mind. Our instincts are a valuable tool in helping us make decisions; challenging our self-doubts and creating positive affirmations about our instincts can help.

The art of making decisions is like anything else; sometimes we just need a sense of direction and practice. The end result is a sense of self-efficacy and confidence in our ability to work out the kinks, big or small.

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Why Are We Afraid of What’s Different?

In yesterday’s post, I spoke about the feelings of inferiority and superiority in relationships. This got me to thinking about differences and why we often struggle with them; often, sadly, to the point of hatred.

We are pack oriented by nature; it is part of our survival brain and left over from the days when we had to fend for ourselves on the plains. As a matter of survival, we needed our tribe to increase our ability to defend ourselves and be protected from danger.

We can see pack oriented behaviour in any school yard; children deemed as different in any way tend to be teased more, they have an increased chance of being ostracized, and can be bullied for their vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, we only have to look at the news these days to see many examples of this in the adult world too; in many ways, society is still leaning into the fear of differences.

But aren’t differences what also make us unique?  Perhaps it is our job to lean into the differences, to be curious before placing judgement, to be open to the experience of another person. Ultimately, it can only lead us to a better place; one governed not by fear, but by compassion.

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Inferior or Superior?

Think about someone that you have difficulty with. It could be a family member, co-worker, friend. There may be value in keeping the relationship, or they are in your orbit by way of circumstance – in any case, there are times when you struggle to maintain your composure or feel drained of your energy around them. When you reflect on your last few interchanges, ask yourself, “In their presence do I feel inferior or superior?” 

Generally speaking, we will lean one way or the other. We may feel inferior if that person tends to be controlling or dominant. Feeling inferior can occur if we feel pulled to justify or explain ourselves. We may feel superior if we feel compelled to always give advice. Superiority can also come when we see ourselves as more ‘put together’ or successful than the other.

One or the other, the feelings of inferiority and superiority come from fear. Fear that we are not good enough, that we don’t measure up. Fear that our insecurities will be revealed.

We are better served to recognize if this is happening and instead move to recognizing the equal in another. Below all the layers, we are the same being. When our ego is gently pushed aside, we are able to see that the space for equality has no room for fear, but rather leads with unconditional positive regard.

There will  always be relationships in which boundaries need to be in place and sometimes space needs to be taken, but we can do so with kindness and a respect for the equal in another.

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Tom Brady and a Comment to Think About

Most people know who Tom Brady is; an American Quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and winner of six Superbowl championships. I recently heard him in an interview talking about what he does to maintain a healthy lifestyle and he commented:

“My body is an asset.”

Makes sense, coming from a super athlete that makes his living in sports. But it got me to thinking about how we view our own bodies – super athlete or not, is our body not an asset? Imagine what is happening behind the scenes to keep our bodies healthy. Did you know for example that:

  • Our bodies automatically function to stabilize our body temperature.
  • Our bodies have the ability to self-heal. Regeneration of damaged cells occur as we move throughout the day.
  • The function of our heart is to pump blood throughout our body, bringing oxygen to our cells. In one day, it is averaged that our blood travels a total distance of 19,000 kms.
  • It is estimated that our brain can hold five times as much information as the Encyclopedia Britannia. The memory capacity in the average adult brain can store trillions of bytes of information.

This post doesn’t even touch on what how our skin, liver, and stomach do to help keep the miraculous function of our body in tact. Without us even paying attention. 

Perhaps we can begin to view our bodies as assets; creating conscious choices in what we eat, how we move, the sleep we get. Feeding our comfort system through daily self-care, creating space for our bodies to relax and renew.

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Self-Reflection Question 19

When we think about our current circumstances of trying to navigate through a pandemic, it can bring to mind other times in our lives when we have faced challenges or difficult situations. This can lead us to reflect on the question:

“What have I learned about myself through the difficulties I have faced in my life?”

My immediate reaction to this question lies somewhere in the answer of resilience. Overall, the challenges in my life have made me stronger, and yet why is that? Why for me, has it increased my sense of being capable? I have learned:

  • To believe in the power of choice. Is this experience going to make me examine my self-worth, challenge it, and recognize that I haven’t been giving it enough attention? Or is it going to contribute to lowering my sense of self and therefore de-valuing my worth? I choose to learn and grow from it.
  • To have faith. In God, in myself, in the universe, in love. To have faith that light conquers darkness, that the undercurrent of challenging experiences can include feelings of good. To have faith that “No matter what I will be okay.”
  • That I am blessed. The challenges can be tough; they can seem insurmountable at times. At yet, in every one that I have faced, I recognize and acknowledge the blessings that I have been afforded. Those can not be lost to me in the difficulty, but rather strengthen my ability to receive joy.

As Albert Camus stated, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

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11 Months of Covid-19

11 months into Covid-19; in many ways time has passed by quickly and yet in other ways the past seems far away. Coming into the year mark, it feels as though there is a different quality to our movement within this global pandemic.

In Ontario, we are coming out of a lockdown that was instituted on Boxing Day. When I think back to the initial emergency order back in March of 2020, there was a great deal of emphasis placed on ‘getting through this together’ – there was a feeling of unity, of gathering our strength and resources to do what was necessary, of hope. Naivety also helped – we found solace in believing  that perhaps by the summer we would be able to travel, get back to work, things would be normal once more.

Now that we are turning the corner at a year mark, we are more resigned. The tensions of this lockdown were felt by many, as the messages were less about banding together and more about the trouble ahead if we didn’t comply. The vaccines are here, but slow to roll out. Thoughts of travelling this summer have fizzled away. We can feel the weight of Covid-19.

Recognizing the heaviness is the first step in saying “Okay, how do we deal with it?” 

  • Be okay with the gray. The pandemic brings with it uncertainty and a subsequent fear of the unknown. Let that not be our focus. We won’t have black and white on this one and that is okay. “It is what it is.”
  • Focus on today. Taking it farther than focusing on the present moment (which can sometimes feel impossible in the midst of building anxiety), we can ask ourselves when we wake up “How do I want today to look? To feel? What are the things I can do today that will bring me a renewed feeling of being grounded?”
  • Gratitude. Look for your blessings and jot them down. It is one of the most effective ways to feel lighter.
  • Continue to seek connection. Renew commitment to reaching out through phone and video chats. Write letters. Suggest outdoor visits or walks.

Although it often feels as though this pandemic is in the driver’s seat, we can remind ourselves that we are still in this together. Collectively, we can work together to drive the bus to our chosen destination, albeit dealing with the unruly passenger wreaking havoc at the back of the bus 🙂

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“Is this Really About You?”

This is often a question that comes into therapy when a client is trying to make sense of something. A few years ago, a woman in her early fifties sought therapy for a work issue; having been employed at the same place for close to 27 years, she had recently taken stress leave due to a “bully-like boss.”  Although she had had her fair share of managers in her work history, this one was clearly taking a toll on her, as she described feeling undermined and questioned on every task throughout her day. She noted that the relationship began in an amicable and friendly manner, but somewhere along the line it changed, and she now felt anxious, insecure and quite frankly, “a wreck.”

As always, we begin with her story. I wanted to hear about her work history, the ins and outs of her position, her accomplishments and the times in her career where she may have faltered. I also wanted to explore the relationship she had with her current manager, from beginning to now. I asked questions about how her boss interacted with the other employees, who was on her good side and who had fallen out of her good graces and why. We explored the client’s current symptoms and how she felt at home versus at work; and if she felt any relief from her symptoms now that she was on stress leave. I suspected that what she was dealing with was a micro-manager type boss with aggressive tendencies, and it was important for me that the client see her from an objective light.

It took about seven or eight sessions for this client to get a better understanding of what was happening for her and what decisions she needed to make. Three years from retirement and a full pension prompted her to want to return and we needed her to be in the driver’s seat. Although a good portion of therapy was in preparing her to return to work, the first step was for her to fully understand that this “was not about her.” Although it certainly felt personal, it was, in fact not, and she was carrying more than she needed to. Her abilities and strengths at work were still in tact, she was a valuable employee; she had simply lost her confidence.

If something doesn’t make sense, we often need to ask ourselves, “How much of this is about me?” If you can’t find an answer, it becomes important to consciously decide to carry only what’s yours. When we are able to lighten our load through objectivity, we feel more like ourselves and are better prepared to deal with what comes our way. 🙂

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A Little Poem About Importance

Sometimes we forget that we can be important to others in subtle ways. I resonated with this little poem:

You might think that you don’t matter in this world, but because of you,

someone has a favourite mug to drink their tea out of that you bought them. 

Someone hears a song on the radio and it reminds them of you. 

Someone has read a book you recommended to them and gotten lost in its pages. Someone’s remembered 

a joke you told them and smiled to themselves on the bus. Never think you don’t have an impact.

Your fingerprints can’t be wiped away from the little marks of kindness that you’ve left behind.

Anonymous

The kindnesses we afford others are remembered along the way. Some days, we need to read this little poem as a nice reminder of our worth.

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Chasing Happiness

Ever met someone who likes to blame the world for their troubles? Who often attributes luck as a contributing factor in their lives? Someone who tends to chase happiness; looking for that one thing that is going to make them feel satisfied? You may be interacting with someone with an external locus of control.

We know that when we have an overall sense of control over our lives, we have an increased sense of well-being; we have an influence over the direction of our lives. Our perception of where control lies, however, can have an impact on our behaviours, our experiences, the people in our lives and our environment. If we attribute our success or failures to outside influences, we lean towards having an external locus of control. We often feel helpless in the face of challenges and have a hard time giving ourselves credit for a job well done.

If we have an internal locus of control, we tend to have a stronger sense of self-efficacy, feel more confident when challenges come our way and are more likely to take responsibility for our behaviours.  As with everything, locus of control exists on a continnum; defining your locus of control is self-reflective and it provides us with the opportunity to challenge some of the ways we view our ability to have a sense of control over our lives. Moving us from chasing happiness to creating it.  

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Should I Get Diagnosed?

That is always a question that clients wrestle with at times. As a Registered Psychotherapist, I am not qualified to diagnose, yet I am able to recognize symptoms that are often indicative of an underlying mental illness. It is part of my job to suggest to the client the option of referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist for diagnosis as a potential part of their treatment plan.

Getting diagnosed for some clients is validating; they finally have a name to what they have been experiencing and can recognize themselves in the listed symptoms. It can be an empowering process as they begin to read about their diagnosis, join support groups online and have an avenue to express their own struggle with it. Suddenly, it just all makes sense.

Other clients have experienced a diagnosis as a label they can’t shake. They can feel stigmatized and defined by their mental illness, becoming even more burdened by its mark.

Getting diagnosed is a choice afforded to a client; in either case, therapy’s greater aim is to treat the person. That includes their symptoms, but it also includes their competencies and strengths, their core beliefs, patterns, interests, what they are passionate about, their self-care regime, their coping strategies, their support system, their history, their story. As a therapist, I am ever mindful that with or without the diagnosis, It is the relationship that heals.

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