4 Ways to Know if Therapy is Working
You did it! You decided you could benefit from therapy. You looked for a therapist. You found a therapist. You are going to therapy. So now what?
Most people come to therapy with some idea of what changes they would like to see in themselves. It is kind of like embarking on a fitness journey. You know you want to achieve a goal: run further, lift more, increase strength and stamina. When we are talking about something you can measure, gauging progress is pretty straightforward, as you can time your runs or track how much you can lift. Sometimes the gains are significant, sometimes you feel like you move backward or sometimes you are happy to maintain the status quo. This isn’t much different than measuring progress in therapy, but there is one glitch: there aren’t necessarily measured milestones that you can actually quantify. So, how do you know you are actually moving in the right direction when you are in therapy?
Here are four ways you can observe progress in therapy:
1. Ok, maybe you CAN measure!
Simply tracking what you are trying to achieve can be a helpful way to see that you are progressing or notice when you are hitting a plateau. There are many apps out there that can help track mood and make connections to what you have been doing and whether this activity actually enhances or detracts from your positive feelings. When we are stuck in the mud of depression, anxiety and overall negativity, we tend to give far more weight to the bad days than the good. Tracking helps you see the small glimmers of hope, even if they seem to be buried under the s#&t.
Daylio is an example of a simple app that asks you to reflect how you are feeling (think awesome, good, meh or crummy) and then asks you to choose from a selection of activities that you participated in that day. Over time, you will start to see patterns. For example, you feel better on the days you ride your bike. Or you notice a low mood when you spend time with a certain person. Tracking mood is a good way to look for patterns and activities that contribute or detract from your positive feelings, your sense of life satisfaction or areas where some change may be needed.
2. Journal your thoughts.
Be inquisitive! You can simply google online journal prompts that can help you quickly answer thought provoking questions that will ultimately allow you to “brain dump” your thoughts, see your emotions written down on paper and again, look for themes. Asking yourself a powerful question is a great way to dig deeper. Here are a couple of examples:
What do I REALLY want?
What was my role (in a negative interaction)?
What is life asking me to do differently?
What gets me out of bed each day?
What needs my immediate attention?
Just a few minutes of your time a couple of times a week can really help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself, the skills you are developing in therapy and the stuff you still need to work on. If you make a habit of engaging in these quick reflections, you will see progress when you look back at entries and notice how you may have changed perspective, what you are emphasizing or what changes you have actually made in your world.
3. Ask others.
It is okay to ask for a little feedback now and then. Most of us forget to comment when we see positive change in someone, and it is safe to say that your spouse, best friend or family member may not have taken the time to actually comment on your progress. Look to people you trust and ask them if they have noticed anything different about you and your actions. Maybe you are working on your anger and you have been trying to put a little distance between your reaction and your action. Maybe you are trying to connect with your partner more frequently. Simply asking someone you trust to share their observations of you can be a helpful way to know you are on the right path (not perfect, but walking on the right path!). If you are deathly afraid of negative feedback, be more direct with the question: “what am I doing well?” is a good question to ask. It forces the observer to look toward the positive things and share them. You may be surprised at their answer (and that’s awesome!).
If you need to muster up a little courage before asking, be observant. Have you noticed fewer conflicts with your teenager? Have you been getting more sleep, and waking up refreshed (and less grumpy) and the morning routine is not as chaotic as it once was? Small gains lead to big change!
4. Ask your therapist.
Always remember that your therapy is just that; YOUR THERAPY! Your therapist is working for you. In order for therapy to be effective, open lines of communication are essential. If you don’t feel therapy is working, tell your therapist! A great therapist will be happy to explore this with you. This doesn’t mean you are “doing therapy wrong”! It means that you want to talk about what is working for you and what isn’t. That is brave and shows a willingness to do the hard things!
The more information you give your therapist about how you see things, how you communicate and learn and how you are feeling about your sessions, the better. Therapists have a myriad of tools in their toolbox. If this means adjusting how you are working together, your therapist will be all for it. Now if you don’t feel like your therapist is hearing you, perhaps this therapist is not the one for you…and that’s ok. Sometimes it takes awhile to realize you need to do things differently. But the last thing you need to do is stay with a therapist because you don’t want to hurt THEIR feelings!
You do your best to choose a therapist who seems like a fit. The truth of the matter is that a therapist may have been a fit earlier in your time together, but you may have evolved and need to talk to someone with a different level of experience or expertise. Remember, you are the consumer. Open and honest communication with your therapist will clear the air around misunderstandings and roadblocks. It may mean your therapist will remind you that leaning into the tough stuff needs to happen before things get better (and that is part of their master plan), but hearing that and knowing they have heard you will help you know that you are walking on the right path, however slowly it may feel.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: small gains lead to big change! Look for clues that you are progressing, and create a safe space to track (your phone, a journal, your laptop). Look back at your observations frequently, but be patient and gentle with yourself. You’ve got this!Learn More
Celebrating Social Work Week
A Social Worker’s Path and Reflections on Why Social Work “Works”
In the early 90’s, I was a university student who was looking for direction. I had been studying sociology and as graduation loomed, I was unsure as to what I would do with this degree and how I would step onto the quickly moving treadmill of adulting. Enter social work. I had always felt I had an ability to listen, problem solve, advocate and help others, but I really wasn’t sure how I could translate these skills into something real. I decided to do some research, and ultimately, moving the focus of my studies to social work was the best decision I could have made.
My involvement in this field quickly revealed that being a social worker involved far more than working in the social welfare system or child protection services. I learned that being a social worker did not necessarily mean I was a “bleeding heart”, a “do-gooder” or a rebel whose goal was to constantly challenge the status quo. I soon realized that a social work education would place me on the path that would change the way I viewed the world and would eventually become my calling.
Fast forward over 20 years. I am a proud social worker who has been fortunate enough to have a varied career, working in the trenches of the criminal justice system, supporting victims and those who are marginalized, helping people of all ages navigate emotional and mental health challenges, teaching bright, enthusiastic students and finally, landing in private practice. Every day I have the privilege of helping my clients slog through the mud of hurt and pain to support them to identify their strengths and come out the other side feeling strong and empowered. It is truly a rewarding career which continues to bring me joy and satisfaction.
In honour of social work month, I thought I would share my top five reasons why I love being a social worker.
We look at the person in the system
Social Work is different from other helping professions. Although we possess the skills to counsel and provide therapy, we do so through a lens of looking at the person in the context of the systems that surround them. We believe that looking at a person as one who has a problem that needs to be fixed over-simplifies pain, heartache and trauma. We are all humans who are part of families, friend groups, communities, and workplaces. Acknowledging this is critical to avoiding labels and making generalizations. Ultimately, one of the primary benefits of this approach is that it empowers individuals to make better decisions as to where they want to focus their time and energy as a means of safeguarding their mental and emotional health.
We foster clarity
Working with a social worker involves a collaborative approach to understanding functioning, identifying dysfunctions, empowering one to work toward clarifying values and goals, communicating needs, managing stress and conflict and building upon strengths and skills to continually grow and evolve. Knowing what you believe in and when there is a conflict with your values helps identify the source of conflict. It is at that point that clients of social workers can feel empowered to identify what they want to change and how they are going to accomplish that change in a supportive environment.
Once the therapeutic relationship helps you examine conflicts and sources of pain in your world, you can be empowered to take action. Navigating these systems when all the moving parts seem to be working well is challenging. However, when we factor in trauma, abuse, childhood issues, and the demands of day to day life, a full assessment of the person in the system is a necessary part of providing the support needed to move forward. We empower our clients as we help them look at their strengths rather than focussing on their deficiencies. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate the problems, but it results in a shift that empowers.
We collaborate and advocate
Because we look at systems we help identify when connecting with other supports is needed. We will help our clients find the words to self-advocate, or with their permission, we can share our observations with others who are involved in your circle of care in order to provide support collaboratively, keeping our client’s needs as the top priority for all involved.
We provide a safe space
Working with someone who cares about you but who isn’t in a personal relationship with you helps you examine relationships, understand what you value and learn how you can empower you to decide where you want to put your energy to start living the life you want to live. Therapy sessions are where our clients unload emotions and examine perspectives. This safe place to try using new-found skills and look at the roadmap of choices before taking action creates confidence and moves toward action.
We need social work now, more than ever. Consider connecting with an experienced, qualified social worker if you want to feel better, gain perspective, experience empowerment and put yourself on a road to sustaining and maintaining support for your wellness. To find a therapist who can meet your needs, go to www.maratoscounselling.com. Therapist listing sites such as psychologytoday.com list therapists who can help as well. Look for the RSW (Registered Social Worker) credential to find a therapist who is a trained social worker who is registered with the Ontario Association of Social Workers and Social Service Workers.Learn More
9 Tips for Managing Social Media and Mental Health
For many of us social media plays a big part in our daily lives – it allows us to stay connected with friends and family globally, network, discover information that enables rapid learning and brings awareness to important issues like never before. It can help us find new friendships, become involved in communities of shared interest, and seek or receive emotional support when times get tough.
Most recently during the pandemic, we learned how helpful social media was to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness when it became harder for us to connect with each other. Many individuals were able to increase social connection and it can certainly help those who struggle with social anxiety, have limited independence or live in a remote area.
While we can appreciate the benefits of social media, we must also be aware that it can negatively impact our mental health. As research continues to study the long term effects of social media and mental health, the literature does indicate it can promote negative experiences.
Feeling like you don’t measure up with your appearance and in life:
We might be aware that the images on social media are filtered or adjusted, it can still make us feel insecure about our physical appearance and what’s going on in our daily lives. For instance, it is common for people to share the positives about their lives or experiences on social media, while leaving out the not so positive aspects. This can lead to feelings of envy and overall discontent as we scroll through a friend’s account reading about their move abroad, exciting job opportunity or viewing filtered photos of their travels down south.
Through the constant comparisons, photoshops, filters, and fitspo and thinspo (terms coined to describe accounts that influence users to be fit and thin), social media can perpetuate a negative body image and impact our self esteem which can lead to unhealthy behaviours, like disordered eating.
Fear of Missing Out (FOMO):
The idea of FOMO has been around for years before social media, however platforms such as Facebook appear to heighten the feeling that others are participating in more fun or exciting activities without us or living a lifestyle that is better than ours. The fear of missing out can negatively impact confidence and increase anxiety.
Social media can be addictive:
FOMO can fuel even more social media use, we may feel the need to check for updates throughout the day, or react to every alert received. You might be worried about missing an invitation, or will be left out of a conversation at work/school because you missed news or the latest update on social media. Perhaps you feel the need to like or respond to other peoples posts due to fearing your relationships will suffer.
Research has shown a chemical known as Dopamine is released in our brain when we engage in rewarding experiences – the brain is designed this way to feel pleasure when such experiences occur and one of those includes social connection (whether it is in person or online). Dopamine plays an important role in developing addictive and compulsive habits. Studies have indicated, social media apps and platforms release large amounts of dopamine into the brain’s reward centre at once which are similar to addictive substances such as alcohol. Consequently, when we are no longer on social media and sign off, we enter into a dopamine deficit state and our body attempts to adjust to an unnatural high level of dopamine that was just released. This may explain why we feel better on social media and not so great once offline, which in turn influences more social media use.
Anxiety and Depression:
As humans we are built to need and benefit from in person connection which positively impacts our mental health. There is no denying meeting with a friend or loved one, face to face, can help to improve mood and reduce stress. Prioritising social media instead of face to face interaction has been shown to increase symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Social media can open the door to cyberbullying for which youth are particularly vulnerable. Cyberbullying has been linked to depression and can even lead to symptoms of post traumatic stress in teenagers.
Social media can act as a band aid solution for underlying issues:
Some people spend time on social media when feeling low, bored or lonely, as a means to distract themselves from unsettling feelings or to even self regulate their mood. Without feeling or connecting to our emotions it can be harder to develop healthier ways to cope and manage our mood.
Can impact how we interact in person:
Excessive social media use with limited face to face interaction can affect our social skills in person. This is particularly true for those who struggle with social anxiety. Without exposure in person we may miss out on opportunities to face our fears.
We outlined a few signs that may indicate social media is affecting you:
- Constantly comparing yourself to others on social media.
- You feel worse after social media use.
- Spending most of your time on social media rather than with friends or loved ones in person.
- Unable to concentrate at work, school or be present in your relationships due to excessive social media use.
- Experiencing sleep issues, particularly if you use social media right before bedtime.
- Symptoms of anxiety and depression worsen.
- Low self esteem or confidence.
- Relying on social media to cope with your problems.
- You are a victim of cyberbullying or you are anxious about what others may say about you online.
9 ways to manage social media use for better mental health:
- Be curious about your behaviour. Begin to explore why you are turning to social media ( i.e., is it for distraction or entertainment?). Ask yourself what role does it serve in your life.
- Being aware of your triggers. Notice what type of posts, pages or content impact your mood and limit your exposure.
- Find a community online that is supportive and can help change your mindset.
- Try to follow posts that uplift or inspire you, rather than those that put you down.
- Moderate social media use and limit time spent online. A few helpful strategies:
- Use an app to track your time online.
- Turn off your phone at certain times of the day ( i.e., while having dinner with someone else).
- Avoid bringing devices to bed.
- Disable social media notifications or set your device to “do not disturb.”
- Mindfully limit how many times you check your phone during the day.
- Remove social media apps from your devices.
- Find a good balance between social media use and life. Set aside time each week to connect with others face to face, find a hobby, creative outlet or join a gym or club. Get involved in the community.
- Practice mindfulness by acknowledging what you see online is not necessarily reality. Acknowledge when you are experiencing thoughts of comparison and practice gratitude for the things that exist in your life (it may help to write them down).
- Help youth manage their social media use:
- Teach them that social media is not necessarily based in reality.
- Monitor and limit their use (social media breaks).
- Encourage teens to speak about underlying issues.
- Promote offline activities, in particular physical movement and exercise.
- Seek help and support. If you are struggling with symptoms of depression, anxiety or poor self esteem, and can’t seem to manage your social media use, it might be helpful to seek out individual support from a therapist.
BE YOU – 5 Ways to Boost Self-Esteem
It can be extremely hard to believe in yourself when you start to compare your life with others, especially when you have access to a virtual world that constantly advertises and promotes how to “live your life”. There are times you may compare the way you look with celebrities online. You may start to develop a new definition of success when you discover another person with similar life experiences. Have you had negative thoughts about your appearance? Have you compared your level of achievements to your coworkers? Do you allow your inner critic to stop you from doing the things you enjoy or trying new things? In times of doubt or self-consciousness your level of confidence and self-esteem are very vulnerable.
Here are 5 Ways to Boost Self-Esteem, these are tips to remind you to BE the best version of YOU there is:
- Stop comparing yourself
Everybody is unique in their own way which makes them who they are. Focus on living your own life and becoming the best version of you.
- Recognize your strengths
You have your own strengths and qualities! Recognize what best qualities you have to offer to the world.
- Rethink which relationships matter
It is important to invest your time in relationships with supportive friends who lift you up and have your back.
- Learn to accept compliments
Quiet the negative self-talk and don’t let that voice put you down. The people around you see certain qualities you possess that you sometimes forget that you have. Practice saying “thank you” when someone pays you a compliment.
- Explore a passion
When you explore a new passion, it brings exciting feelings of curiosity, growth and joy that can sometimes be forgotten when you are focused on a daily routine.
When you are experiencing milestones such as entering post-secondary education or starting a new job, you may have worries about how others view you. It is hard to not be your own worst critic in everything that you do. When you are feeling down or start to think about only the negatives take a PAUSE and REFLECT. Remind yourself of the tips above and replace those negative thoughts and opinions with positive aspects of yourself that you have to offer.
There are many other ways to boost your self-esteem, try one of the activities below during a time of reflection:
- Look at yourself in the mirror and compliment yourself
- Write 5 strengths and talents you have
- Ask a friend or loved one to name 3 strengths that you have
- Write a letter to your past self about the achievement you are proud of, mistakes you learned from and advice on how to do things differently
Finding Motivation Through the Brain Fog: Managing Low Executive Function Days
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many folks experiencing executive dysfunction. Executive dysfunction can accompany various psychological conditions or injuries; and the reality is, many of us will face some degree of executive dysfunction in our lives (1). Executive functions include our ability to self-regulate, plan and prioritize, and manage working memory, among others. Working memory is simply our brain’s ability to hold different information at one time. Think of executive functions as the managers in the front of your brain that work together to get things done.
Many of the clients I support live with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and corresponding executive function challenges. But don’t let the name deceive you. ADHD is more about challenges with self-regulation than attention and focus (2) . People with ADHD also experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) at a higher rate than the general population; even more so for women (3). Depressive symptoms can also contribute to executive dysfunction, making this time of year especially challenging for many.
Periods of executive dysfunction can negatively affect motivation and self-regulation, which can impact our ability to work, take care of things at home, and even impair relationships. And because January is known as the most depressing month of the year, I have gathered some strategies I often use with my clients to cope with periods of low executive function and take care of ourselves the best we can.
- Ease perfectionism — your efforts are enough, especially on hard days. Perfectionism and shame work in a loop; fortunately, this loop can be disrupted by practicing self-compassion and awareness. Perfectionistic tendencies and shame can wreak havoc on motivation and often stops us in our tracks before we even start! Learn more about perfectionism and shame here, and self-compassion here.
- Feed your brain and body efficiently. Our appetite and ability to feed ourselves often suffer on difficult days. Don’t make these days any more difficult than they need to be! Coming up with efficient go-to systems for hard days can include low effort foods that are easy to prepare (bonus points if it’s prep-free!) and don’t require a lot of energy to consume. Consider working with a dietician who works specifically with executive dysfunction to create a system that works for you if you need more support in this area.
- Set realistic expectations for yourself using the “one thing” system: if you could do one thing to help you feel better now, what would that be? That one thing is enough for the day if that is all you have the capacity for. What I find works well for many of my clients is making a list. I know, it sounds simple. But gathering the energy to organize your thoughts alone is a daunting task and often keeps us in a state of task paralysis until we are able to make small movements.
- Start using a blank page and write your tasks and/or worries in no particular order.
- Once you have run out of ideas, take a break and come back to it when you discover more things you may have forgotten.
- Later, begin to prioritize what is on your list
- Start with a low effort, rewarding task. This is something you define. For me, it’s starting a load of laundry.
- Once the motivation ball is rolling, task paralysis starts to dissipate and you can begin higher priority tasks.
- Pro-tip: don’t overdo it. Task hyperfocus is real and can deplete our energy quickly. If you aren’t taking breaks, your brain is not recuperating. Use timers if time-blindness is a challenge for you.
The “one-thing” system is individual to you and may not be a list or prioritization. This is where self-awareness comes into play — get to know what works for you and keep track of these systems to keep them working.
- Social support and body-doubling: we tend to withdraw from others when we feel low and unmotivated. Try your best to reach out to a trusted support person who understands how difficult days affect you. Humans are social beings, and sometimes we can gain energy simply by working alongside someone who is engaged in a task. This is also known as body doubling and can be a useful system for low motivation.
- Refuel your dopamine: this is the fun part. Neurochemicals dopamine and norepinephrine play a major role in self-regulation, reward and motivation. It is difficult to find motivation if we can’t experience reward. Thankfully, we can find dopamine in our environment by following a Dopamenu. This system was coined by Jessica McCabe and Eric Tivers and breaks down helpful (and sometimes unhelpful) choices to increase pleasure and reward. The key here is to get to know (here we are at self-awareness again) what activities work best for you and keep track of these things. For help getting started, check out this template.
You may notice that some of these strategies focus on adopting systems rather than changing thoughts. Using systems to change our environment are often very effective if you struggle with executive dysfunction. This list is not exhaustive but should help to get the proverbial ball rolling on days where the ball weighs a tonne. And although the size of the ball may be out of our control, the systems and supports we have behind it can help it feel less heavy.
SAD can seriously impact our lives. If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of SAD, please get in touch with your health care provider and mental health clinician. You don’t have to do this alone.
- Barkley, R. The 30 Essential Ideas Every Parent Needs to Know. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCAGc-rkIfo
Saying “No” over the Holidays
December is here! Need some help saying “no”? Check out this blog to learn more!Learn More
Men’s Mental Health and the “Silent Crisis”
Men often struggle with mental health concerns in silence because of public, individual and developmental perception of what it means to be a “man”, the ability to be strong and the stigma (and perceived weakness) around mental health concerns.Learn More
Am I stressed? Anxious? Or something else?
Stressed. Worn. Tired. Strained. Overworked.
Anxious. Uncertain. Nervous. Panicky. Concerned.
Both sets of words are things we are hearing a lot from our clients, our friends, family, and most definitely experiencing ourselves. So why is it important to set them apart? Using the right words and vocabulary to label emotions is the first step to understanding what is going on. When we are able to grab hold of a word that describes how we are feeling, suddenly the picture seems less messy, and we are able to start building a road map to address the issue.
“Name it to Tame it”
The “Name it to Tame it” strategy was created by Dan Siegel as a way to help children through their emotional storms. (Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcDLzppD4Jc)
We are going to take that strategy and look at how we can put it into practice for ourselves.
1. Notice what’s happening in your body.
When we are upset or agitated, we often jump right to the thought. Try pausing and first noticing what’s going on physically, really pay attention to where in your body you are experiencing it, and say it out loud to yourself. As Mitch Albott said “By labelling an emotion, we can create distance between ourselves and our experience that allows us to choose how to respond to challenges.”
For example: “My palms are sweaty, my hands are tight”
“ My stomach feels upset, I’m having a hard time catching my breath”
2. Identify the feeling→ get specific
For example: “I’m feeling angry and frustrated”
“I’m feeling nervous and overwhelmed”
Check out this emotion wheel to boost your vocabulary.
3. What is the emotion telling you? ( think about needs, values, etc.)
This is also a good time to check in with your physical needs. (Have you eaten, drank water, been outside, moved your body, stepped away from a screen, etc.)
For example: “I don’t want to be late for work”
“I don’t want to get in trouble”
4. Take action. Instead of reacting to the emotion or initial physical discomfort.
What is a more thoughtful or helpful action you can take? Does your reaction match the situation, or is it an assumed consequence you are reacting too? Often the act of avoidance makes the situation and our emotional response worse.
For example: “I’m worried about being late for work because I don’t want my boss to be upset. I don’t have control over this traffic or my boss’s reaction, but I can make a call to let them know what’s going on.”
“I’m scared to tell my friend I broke their tennis racquet, and I can’t afford a new one. I don’t have control over how they will react, but I can at least talk to them to see what our options might be.”
Slowing down to connect with our emotions is something that many of us weren’t taught growing up. We are seeing it more in the education system, and in mainstream media, but reading about it and putting it into practice are 2 different things.
Here are a few grounding strategies to try during any of these steps:
- Deep breathing- in through your nose, out through your mouth
- Flex and release different muscle groups as you deep breathe (your feet, then your legs, stomach, arms, and so on.)
- If you have access to it, hold ice cubes in your hands, or your mouth, place an ice pack on your chest or over your eyes.
Take a moment and reflect on the skills listed above. Are they something you are familiar with? Have you tried it? If not, what is the block for you? There are ample times throughout our day where we can practice this- you don’t have to wait for a crisis to hit, and it’s actually better to practice when we aren’t completely overwhelmed.
If you’d like to learn more, connect with one of the therapists on our team.
September is the New January
Picture that beautiful, clean notebook, that unblemished calendar, that uncluttered desk. Ahhh…beginnings. Nothing beats a clean slate. The summer is now behind us, and we are teetering on the cusp of the fall season. So, before we get immersed back to school supplies, permission slips and extol the virtues of pumpkin lattes, let’s take a breath and honour the possibilities of September.
Many of us are ready to slide back into the routine that September brings, and this year, that new routine has a whole new meaning. Parents and students have endured two Septembers clouded with the possibility of lockdowns and far-from- routine school years. Dare we embrace the optimism of a new academic year for fear of what’s ahead? I vote YES, but with an asterisk.
This year, let’s focus on embracing September as the new shiny, fresh, clean-slate of January 2.0 BUT, all the while being intentional on how we use our time and energy, and spending some time thinking about how we want to incorporate the lessons Covid has taught us.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has taught us that that frenzied, frantic pace of life pre-2020 was kind of overwhelming. We are learning to appreciate health, personal boundaries and what is really important to us. We have also learned that life can throw some pretty wicked curve balls, but we can still get a hit…sometimes it is a single and other times, we hit that damn curve ball over the fence.
Here are some mindset tips to remind yourself that you can come as you are, love who you are RIGHT NOW and still embrace the clean slate that September brings, while removing some of the pressure that accompanies it.
- Embrace Rejection
Reject the notion of achieving balance and kick perfectionism to the curb, once and for all. Balance is a myth and perfectionism will kick your butt every time it rears its ugly head. Here’s a novel idea: let’s propose that we don’t have to achieve balance to be content, to reduce overwhelm and achieve the elusive happiness. To do that, let’s agree that:
- You don’t have to be good at all of the things, all of the time
- You don’t need to have boundless energy, patience, drive and perpetual happiness
- Leaning into tough stuff is good for you, but on your own terms
- The scale of life rarely achieves the balance to keep both sides equal
Do what you’ve gotta do! Write these points down on your white board, your phone, your fridge…anywhere where you can see it. We need constant reminders that we are enough, especially with the avalanche of asks that come with that September blank slate. Choose what you need and want to do first and know whatever you decide, the choice needs to work for YOU first.
- Do What You Do Best (and just some of what you do best…not ALL of what you do best)
Stay in your lane. You have gifts. You know, things you are good at. Do more of that, and less of the things you aren’t so good at when it comes to giving your time and energy to the many activities that ramp up in September. Think school activities, sports teams, dance and music lessons, church groups…the list goes on.
Take a hard look at the people in your world. The above-mentioned activities require a group of people to make them successful. And each person in that group can play a small role in making the activity great. Maybe your friend is a master organizer. Let her head up the PTA. You don’t have to join if you don’t want to. You. Just. Don’t.
It takes a village to raise a child, and run a PTA, or a hockey team, and to organize a dance recital or a fundraiser. Yes, you can do your part without sacrificing yourself. Take on tasks that come easy to you (or you have done before with success). If you are creative, volunteer to help with the costumes (NOT make all of the costumes). If you are a numbers wiz, volunteer to help with the books (again, NOT do the books!). If you love herding cats and seeing young minds develop, co-lead (not lead) that youth group! Pick the gift you want to use and use it.
- Repeat after me: No. No thank you. Nope. Not today.
Practice saying no. I mean it. Look at yourself in the mirror and say NO (just so you believe it is possible). For some of us, when we are asked to do something the word YES comes out of our mouth before we know what just happened! Now is the time to check that automatic response.
When someone approaches you with a request for help, or to commit to something to help the greater good, remember that there is nothing wrong with asking for some time to think about it (“Umm, I know I have a few other things on the go. Let me check my schedule and get back to you”). Or, just saying NO THANKS if you are sure that the task won’t enhance your life and will ultimately take too much of the finite energy you want to save for other things.
It may look something like this:
“I appreciate the offer, but I have a lot going on right now. I think it’s great that you are committed to the (recital, fundraiser committee, etc.). I can’t wait to see what you do!” And then, STOP TALKING. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of exactly what you have on the go and why. Set the boundary and stick to it. Walk away with confidence. If they don’t like it, it’s on them!
In today’s world, many of us are hard on ourselves. We over-commit, spread ourselves thin, and push for perfection. What if we could abandon this way of thinking and actually be ok with doing things just ok, or maybe not doing things at all?! Think about it. September is the new January. This year, prioritize yourself on that blank slate.
Our therapists can help you set priorities, turn down the volume on external noise and unapologetically stop chasing the balance and put yourself first so you can be your best self. Reach out! Quite often, learning these lessons only takes a few therapy sessions where you feel heard, supported, and encouraged to move toward doing things just a little differently.Learn More
Tips for Studying as an Online Student
Feeling Overwhelmed? Anxious? Overthinking everything?
Here are a few strategies to help build quality into your study time and to be more effective in your space.
- Use the STOP skill.
When you notice you are getting caught in a cycle of overthinking, the first thing to do is to get out of the “spin cycle” and into the present moment. You will not be productive when stuck on the hamster wheel of “what if’s” and “should haves”.
S- Stop what you are doing.
T- Take a step back. Turn away from your device.
O- Observe. Look up and around. Release your shoulders.
P- Proceed mindfully in the present moment. Take a deep breath. Relaxing into the exhale.
Find one small thing you can do that will help you in this moment.
- Use the HALT-O skill.
Check in with yourself. Hand on heart, take 3 deep breaths and turn your foucus to your body. If you listen, your body can tell you what it needs.
H- Hungry? Try to fuel your body nutritiously when you can.
A- Angry? Anger often shows up when we are feeling other things too. Pause and explore/address this.
L- Lonely? Checking in with your friends and family is important.
T- Tired? Getting enough rest is key for your mental clarity.
O- Overwhelmed? Sometimes identifying this feeling can help to give it a place, create some distance and help to find a starting point,
Managing the above symptoms first will help setup your day.
- Get comfortable and creative during lectures.
Our home space can feel small and distracting when we are living and studying in the same area. If you notice you are not engaged during lectures, consider mixing up how you are learning.
Try one of the following:
- Find another table or desk to study from. (kitchen table, dining room table, patio table, etc.)
- Use a makeshift standing desk. Try a bookshelf or high counter to elevate your computer.
- Cast your lecture to the tv.
- If possible, workout or go for a walk while listening to your lecture.
Sitting at a desk isn’t conducive to everyone’s learning style all of the time, and sometimes we process more information by changing up the norm.
- Set reasonable expectations.
If you are hitting a roadblock, change your goals. Expecting yourself to study hard for 6 hours straight isn’t realistic nor effective for most people.
- Try setting a timer for more productive and shorter chunks of time. 20 minutes of actual studying is better than an hour of distracted social media time with your lecture slides in the background.
- Take breaks. Get up, move, eat, drink water.
- For some, a ratio of 1:1 can work. Each minute of studying equals a minute of break. Find what works for you.
Remember: motivation fuels motivation, so set the bar at something attainable and watch your willingness to work increase.
- Set a study plan.
- Make a master list of everything you need to do. Include dates, colour code it, whatever helps to gain that sense of control. Then set it aside. This is not the list to refer too frequently if you are feeling overwhelmed.
- From the master list, decide on 3-5 things you need to accomplish every day. If you achieve more than that in a day – great! If not, you will have at least accomplished the “must do’s”.
- Breaking down the work into bite-size steps will help to unfreeze the overwhelming moments, and to help you move forward.
- Try a schedule.
The freedom of working from home can be too much. Set a start time for yourself, and set an alarm for an hour before that to get yourself fed, dressed and set up. Good hygiene and proper nutrition can work wonders.
This is new for everyone. You are doing school work during a pandemic utilizing new skills and technology while learning new information. Be gentle with yourself. Keep a balanced perspective. No one is getting this right completely – and that is ok. If you need help, ask.Learn More