Building Resilience; Post 2

Yesterday’s post looked at the importance of our mindset when building resilience. Today, we look at well being and how it can contribute to the overall level of resilience we have in dealing with stress, a situation out of our control, loss, trauma.

One of the greatest factors that contributes to our well being is when, upon examination, we feel good about our lives. Paramount to feeling an overall sense of satisfaction is the amount of personal control we have within them. When we are actively and purposefully designing our life by contributing to choices in our work, spirituality, social life, relationships and self-care, we are building a stronger foundation for handling a stressful situation.

Let’s take our current situation into consideration as we have needed to practice social distancing and staying at home due to the pandemic. Here are some examples of how well-established habits and well being can help in building resilience:

  • Going to yoga class once a week was not possible. Two weeks into lockdown, my friend found a youtube channel she could watch and is doing yoga every morning before the world gets up (in her house anyway!)
  • Can’t attend church. God loves your prayers no matter where you say them; live church services are in abundance online.
  • It has been absolutely enjoyable to watch people’s inventiveness in trying to increase their ‘shared, social experiences’ from home. Musicians posting songs (both famous and not),  free virtual museum tours, art lessons online, resources to help the kids temper boredom.
  • In our family, we have all felt the loss of not being able to attend my sister’s Sunday dinner. A few weeks into lockdown, we established a Sunday evening video chat (and included my aunt Rita who lives in New England.) We have done a family trivia night, played Scattegories, had a theme night where we had to dress up like celebrities (using what we had at home!), and just this past week, we had to make a structure out of graham crackers and icing.
  • Sleep habits, exercise, eating healthy. If those were a part of your well being goals before the pandemic, you are probably more dedicated to adjust and continue on track.

These are just a few examples of how, when faced with a stressful situation, we can adjust our sails. When we are purposefully contributing to a healthier life in general, we will lean into those coping strategies when times get tough. Our overall well being plays an important role in feeling resilient. 🙂

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Building Resilience; Post 1

Resilience is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” It is a psychological quality that allows us to recover from challenges, and in hindsight, to acknowledge those challenges as times of personal growth.

How is it that some people seem to be more resilient than others? Although there are contributing factors such as early life experiences and genetics that can’t be modified, we can build resilience. Today’s post will feature building resilience through mindset; an important element in our ability to be open to change.

  • Objective thinking. There are times when we lean into the “why me’s?” when something in our life is challenging us. Although this is a natural response, the trick is in how long we stay there. Being able to look at a situation objectively allows us to take into account all contributing factors, and we are able to accept the situation and move towards managing it.
  • Accepting that we make mistakes. When we have the overall attitude that sometimes we make a mistake and our best way to accept that failure is to learn from it, we are building resilience. Leaning into shame or ascribing to perfectionism can hinder that process.
  • Positive reframing. We all know that life happens – good and bad. Positive reframing allows us to move forward in such a way as to heal from the trauma or the grief. It is the understanding that although it may change us in a way that is permanent, we also retain the ability to manage it.
  • Problem focused thinking. Working through tough emotions that accompany life’s challenges is part of the process. When we have the mindset that there are things that we can do to temper those emotions in healthy ways, we ascribe to looking for solutions, albeit temporary or in the context of goal setting.
  • Focus on acceptance. Unfortunately we can’t outrun change, sometimes bad things happen to good people, and we can’t get through life without some degree of suffering. When we take a deep breath and remind ourselves that “it is what it is,” we move towards trying to find what we can control in the situation. Generally, this brings us to an action that will help us process the grief, trauma or loss.

Having a mindset that promotes resilience is possible. We can work on developing this type of a mindset at any time in our lives. Tomorrow’s post on resilience will examine well-being and how it can contribute to building resilience.

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Thoughts to Ponder as We Continue to ‘Hunker Down’

“Stay home” is a repeated phrase that we are hearing over and over again; most people are doing their best to be cautious and to follow the rules. Yesterday, I listened to a podcast entitled “Getting Through Covid-19: Directives Supporting Connection & Emotional Health” featured on Light Up the Couch. Here are some things to ponder as we continue to face the effects of social isolation (paraphrased):

  • Shared experiences are what we are currently missing the most as that is an important element in how we feel connected to others. Play a game via a video platform, create a group chat with friends or family where you can upload pics from your daily life.
  • Develop a habit of reaching out to one or two people a day. Intentionality will keep the blues from setting in.
  • Not all people who are alone are lonely. Some people who live alone may not perceive themselves as being lonely because they are reaching out to others through phone calls, social distanced walks, or increased video chats. 
  • Create a “Covid-19” free time. During dinner for example, that topic is off limits.
  • We tend to have increased anxiety when we can’t control or predict our environment. The pandemic puts us automatically in limbo which can increase our fears. Creating a routine while at home will help counter the anxiety, as when we continue to control what we can, we feel a deeper sense of calm. 
  • We may be also holding the fears of other family members. Recognizing that this might be happening can be a way to both assure ourselves and others that there is a beginning, a middle and an end to this current situation.

Some interesting things to ponder as we continue to hunker down. 🙂

Although the podcast is intended for therapists, you are more than welcome to give it a listen:

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Children and the Effects of Parental Conflict

As parents, there are going to be times when we disagree with each other and an argument might ensue; one that the children witness, regardless of our efforts to slow it down. An exception to the rule is often manageable and won’t create long lasting effects; however chronic parental conflict will. 

Our home is set up to be a safe place; one in which we don’t experience ongoing conflict or chaos; meant to provide security and consistency in care. When parents (either living together or separated), engage in continuous conflict, it is the children who will retain the long lasting effects of that conflict:

  • Children often feel guilty for the conflict. We internalize everything as children and without a fully functioning rational brain, kids don’t have the ability to not feel responsible for their parent’s arguments. As a result, they are more likely to form core beliefs that reflect this struggle.
  • Their interpersonal skills tend to suffer. Children from high conflict homes model what they see, which can often result in aggressive behaviours with their peers. They tend to struggle with being able to cooperate and compromise.
  • Increased probability of  anxiety. Often pressured to take sides (this can be both verbal and implied), children of high conflict parents worry about whose side to take, which increases their emotional distress. Living in a home where fear is often experienced will create the same result.
  • Increased probability of depression. It is almost impossible to not internalize the experience of a high conflict home due to the amount of criticism and aggression that exists.
  • Decreased emotional security with parents. Less attention is being paid to the children when parents are so focused on fighting with each other which can lead to children turning to their peers for their attachment needs.

High conflict parents will often choose to believe that “children are resilient,” or “they aren’t really paying attention to what is going on.” This is the biggest misconception we will fall prey to. The effects of high conflict on children brews – we often don’t see the full effects until adolescence – and it will produce long lasting effects.

It always takes two to create and maintain conflict. Get professional help to stop the chronic conflict.

By giving your children the gift of a relatively conflict free home you are providing them the foundation for  a relatively conflict free life. 🙂

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A Balanced Approach To Positivity

Yesterday’s blog post touched on the need to maintain a continuously positive state, so much so that you leave both yourself and others feeling minimized and invalidated. By overgeneralizing an optimistic state, we miss the boat on genuine emotional experiences. In order to create balance to positivity, you can:

  • Begin by slowing down the immediate response. People who tend to jump to the positivity wagon often do so too quickly. Take a few deep breaths and make more room for simply listening.
  • Begin to recognize the value of all emotions. Joy, contentedness, warmth, feeling peaceful – all important emotions. So are sadness, grief, frustration, feeling dismissed, anger and hurt. Make space for them for yourself and for others.
  • If you are about to say “It could be worse.” Stop. Placating language or trying to get others to see the immediate bright side may not be what they want to hear in that moment. People generally get there on their own – what they need to feel is understood.
  • Gain understanding. If you are unaware of how this need for ‘uber-positivity’ developed in you, do some self-reflection. Does this behaviour remind you of anyone in your life? How were emotions handled in your family? What happened as a child when you were sad? Angry? Upset? Who did you go to and what was their response? What effect do you think this has created? (Therapy can help with this process!)
  • Apologize. To yourself, for spending years feeling guilty for the experience of negative emotions and to your loved ones who may have ended up feeling unsupported. Because, at the end of the day, when we know better, we do better.

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Is There Such a Thing as Being Too Positive?

Ever meet someone who is so consistently positive that it begins to feel like you never get to know them? A pleasure to talk to, yet keeps things so rosy, you begin to experience an ‘uber-positive’ divide?

To answer the question, “Is there such a thing as being too positive?” The answer is yes. People who tend to only look on the bright side inadvertently dismiss not only their own feelings, but those around them as well. Their need to create an optimistic state begins to transfer to every situation, which leads to a minimization of the experience, and the person on the receiving end of the ‘immediate words of the silver lining’ feels invalidated and dismissed.

Perhaps this person was led to feel guilty for any negative emotion they had as a child. Perhaps they learned this type of reaction from a parent. In either case, it has become their coping strategy to move into denial of experiences that includes pain, sadness or grief. The overgeneralization of the need for a happy state becomes ineffective for both themselves and their loved ones.

The first step is simply to recognize that perhaps this is affecting you in some way. Tomorrow’s post will take a look at alternatives; as a way to begin to soften the immediate response need to rush in with the good news.

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Staying at Home; Tips for our Mental Health

I have been hesitant to write too much about the pandemic as I feel that most people (including myself) are feeling that our circuits are overloaded at the moment. And so this post is going to step into what we are faced with right now, but it is applicable to any time that we, or our loved ones are relegated to home. It might be that someone is recuperating from surgery, has stress leave from work, is grieving the loss of a loved one. It can also include those newly retired, or those who have recently lost their job.

Following are some general tips for when we are relegated to home:

  • Remind yourself that things are not always in your control. Very often, this becomes a major roadblock in being able to not only accept what is happening, but to then make the best of it.
  • Be creative. Very often we rely on filling time by watching TV or scrolling on our phones. Unfortunately, these are activities that allow us to “zone out” and will end up feeding our despondency. Finding ways to occupy yourself that are creative in nature will help to counter complacency and boost our sense of accomplishment. Start a book series that has been on the shelf, get out a jigsaw puzzle, play a board game, do a craft.
  • Get outside. Being out in nature is always good for the soul. Always.
  • Build your time. Knowing what you are doing the next day will give you a sense of purpose. When we wake up with no plan, we are immediately in the position of filling our time which is always more difficult than building our time.
  • Keep your same routine. Get out of bed in the morning at the same time, take your shower and get dressed. We have built in associations to being in our pyjamas and day after day of not keeping a routine will lead you to disengagement.
  • Stay connected with loved ones. That might look a bit different these days, but there is always a choice in front of us – isolate to the point of cocooning, or keeping our connections strong, despite needing to use creative means.
  • Take advantage of this time. Home is our safest spot to be; where we feel the most comfort. Give your home the honour it deserves by deciding to de-clutter. This can do wonders to your inner sense of self.
  • Find ways to laugh. Make laughter a priority; seek joyful moments. This will help counter despondent feelings and remind us that life may have its challenges, but it also has its charms.

Staying home when it is not our choice can seem overwhelming at times. When we are pro-active in choosing healthy activities and keeping an open mindset, we can lean into the positives of the situation, allowing ourselves to feel more grounded, settled, and in control.

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Being Comfortable with Discomfort

We like things to feel right; our innate need for feeling safe likes neutrality, homeostasis, the feeling that all is right in the world.  But we also have a system that is built to survive; our instincts help to decipher threat.

When our comfort system is threatened, we often struggle with the discomfort that brings. We want the feeling to immediately go away, and when it doesn’t, our anxiety rises and we begin to feel out of control. As a result, we will try and return to homeostasis – sometimes we can do this in a healthy way; other times we return to familiar habits, behaviours or relationships that may not be so healthy, but work to ease the discomfort, albeit temporarily.

The process of grief brings us discomfort, so can loss of a relationship or job. Boundary setting brings with it unease, as does worry. Quitting an addictive substance, learning a new way of being, coping with changes that happen in the world – all examples of discomfort.

And yet, discomfort helps us grow. Through unease, we learn valuable information about ourselves in our quest for creating a satisfying and content life. Recognizing that discomfort is a part of the process is a first step in being able to navigate stormy seas. In being about to set the sails in the right direction and ride out the storm.

Getting to shore requires patience, determination, and curiosity; it is the process of being comfortable with discomfort, leaning into the underlying belief that “No matter what I will be okay.”

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Coping With the Death of a Parent

In an article entitled “Five Ways to Cope With Your Parent’s Death” by Elizabeth Kiefer and featured on Vice, Kiefer writes about how the death of a parent can be complicated and deeply felt. She remarks: “Factors such as how close you are with your parent, what stage you are at in your own life, and how you connected you felt every day will shape the way you feel in the aftermath of that death.”

In addition to giving yourself time to process (the year of firsts is very important in grief), as well as connecting with others who have also lost a parent, she gives a couple of points that resonated with me:

  • Have a plan for the days that will be especially intense. “You may want to decide that on your mother’s birthday, or on Mother’s Day, you’re going to bake her favorite recipe, or that on the Fourth of July, when your dad was king of the grill, you’ll have a beer on his behalf. There is a lot of room between doing something totally different and celebrating the holidays in the usual family tradition.”
  • Find ways to keep your parent’s presence in your life. “You may find that other people don’t know how to talk to you after you’ve lost parent—it can help to tell them. Looking through photos, listening to voicemails, and watching family videos are completely normal in the aftermath of a loss.”

Grief is a process in which we must integrate our feelings of loss into our story. The intensity of grief will always be affected by how close we were to our loved one and can be affected by an underlying feeling that we “should be better.” Understanding that it takes time and effort to integrate grief is an important first step in finding ways to find peace and closure.

To read the full article:

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Sometimes Waiting is the Pits

It is not easy to be in limbo. We tend to like process, action, direction. Sometimes, however; the universe purposely slows things down for us to learn something about ourselves. To gain some perspective, to allow ourselves time to heal, to feel calmer; more grounded.

But waiting is the pits. Because as much as we may not like to admit it, we want our future to happen now. “Bring me the healthier relationship, the better job, the reciprocal friendship. I have decided I want these things, so where the heck are they?”

We have to actively work towards these goals of course; if we don’t, we will continue to repeat the same result over and over again. So perhaps there are times when the universe says “Yes,” and we know that our goal is met because we feel right, good, whole. Sometimes, the universe may say “No” and we will feel discouraged and sad. For you see, the universe can also say “Not yet.” Perhaps you are not quite ready, perhaps the right circumstances are not in place. And as much as it would be tempting to slip back into what is comfortable, to what is familiar, if it is a “No,” then our job becomes to actively wait – as tough as that might be. We must gift ourselves this process in order to allow the space for something better to come along.

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