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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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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The Balance Between Rest and Effort

They say that the balance between rest and effort  is 42% rest and 58% effort; those are the magic numbers that allow our brains and bodies to function well.

Rest comes in the way of a good night’s sleep however, it isn’t the only way to relax. We can also choose to rest by:

  • Learning to say no. If we say yes to everything that is asked of us, our effort becomes the greater number we feed.
  • Be creative. When we do something that engages one of the arts, we allow our souls to connect with peace.
  • Being still. Just sitting for a bit with no man-made distractions (social media, TV) can do wonders for feeling rejuvenated.
  • Being in nature. Another soul nourishing experience.
  • Spend time in a sacred space. That might be a little grove in a forest, a favourite room in the house, a church pew, a tucked-in spot by the water. Seeking solitude always helps to decompress.

The key to finding the balance is just that – a focus on what feels right. We typically know when we are overworking ourselves and feeling frayed, just as we know when the pendulum has swung too far and we succumbed to hours of mindlessly ‘doing nothing.’ Perhaps the key is to aim for the numbers –  helping us to find the balance between rest and effort and ultimate optimization. 🙂

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Perfection and Procrastination

For anyone who tends to lean into the tendency of perfection, they may also notice that procrastination likes to accompany it. Easily distracted to other things, the task at hand gets left behind (for now) and it appears that time management is the issue.

But perhaps something else is in the undercurrent. If we believe that we must do something perfectly, look perfect in our appearance, or have others see us as perfect, we are in binding situation. Our rational minds tell us that it is impossible to achieve perfection and that perfection is relative and subjective. Yet our internal voice tells us we must achieve it. Tied to our self-worth, we will struggle to let go of the idea that “to get it perfect is the only way.”

When we proscrastinate, it is often because we are having trouble facing a difficult emotion, or we fear a negative one. Trying to bring logic to a perfectionistic brain is not always an easy task, and so procrastination slips in to help. By the eleventh hour, on the cusp of a deadline, we complete the task and accept it as such. We are able to externalize the outcome of it as potentially not being perfect because we “ran out of time.”

We are much better served to begin to work on the perfectionist tendencies that hold the reins on procrastination. Exploring where the perfection need arose, why it is tied to a core belief, how it has served us, are all important to uncover and absorb. From there, it becomes about changing our internal dialogue; bringing us to a realistic expectation as to what achievement and success look like.

Perfection and procrasination are partners in crime. Perhaps it is time we gave them some space from each other 🙂

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Why Being Curious Promotes Growth

I often speak of the importance of being curious. Outside of love, it is our best defense against fear.

When we are worried about something, the fear center of our brain is activated. Perceived fears can be just as powerful as real ones, and so we can easily become fixated on the worry, eventually choosing avoidance over curiosity.

Take someone for example who is afraid of change. Most of us are to some degree, but if someone has experienced traumatic or especially difficult times in their life that produced immediate change, they can develop a sensitivy to all shifts, even transformative ones.

Curiosity tempers that process. It is a gentle way to ask ourselves “What are the alternatives?” It allows us to simply set aside the grip of avoidance, without commitment, to the possibility of something different, better.

Curiosity promotes growth because it also tickles our creative nature. It awakens our sense of agency. It gives us faith in ourselves. Combined, it leads to action. As this quote by Mario Testino reminds us:

“My favourite words are possibilities, opportunities and curiosity. I think if you are curious, you create opportunities, and then if you open the doors, you create possibilities.”

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