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”
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.
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
During the pandemic, initial days of isolation turned into weeks, then into months, and now nearly two years later, our lives have become entirely uprooted and far from the reality we once knew. Normal routines and tasks became increasingly stressful, with more demands placed on us, and the lockdowns proved it was not just our routines that became disrupted, but our relationships too.
Facing uncertainty or an upheaval of our routines can wreak havoc on our minds and it is easy to get lost in worry for the future or to play out the worst case scenarios. It’s natural to experience feelings of helplessness during these times or anytime of uncertainty.
Hope is the key trait that allows us to be resilient in the face of uncertainty. A fundamental aspect of being human is having hope, and it is a big part of the reason why we are able to achieve our goals and push through difficulties. History has demonstrated over and over again, even in situations of complete devastation, such as war, genocide, or a global pandemic, people have persevered because they had hope for a brighter future. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh stated, “ Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”
So how can we find hope during challenging times? The antidote is to bring awareness to our thoughts and emotions, and to try to be in the present moment. Take a moment now to reflect on how hope has helped you through a difficult time in life or even through the pandemic:
- What were your best hopes?
- What aspects or areas of your life helped you persevere (e.g., family, friendship, faith, an activity, a group, or even a purpose)
These questions will help us when we find ourselves in spaces of panic, helplessness or feelings of despair, where we may believe we lack hope and this tends to cloud our judgment. The challenge is to retrain our minds and begin to shift our perception. To shine light on areas of hope. The moment we make this shift, everything begins to change. You may remember your purpose, look forward to new challenges, and start to face life with a renewed optimism.
As humans we are able to change the way we think and perceive our world. The more you engage in a particular task, way of thinking or perceiving, the stronger the neural pathway gets. Shifting neural pathways or even creating new ones can be done and is a process called Neuroplasticity. The idea of neuroplasticity is profound as it means with conscious and mindful effort we can rewire our brain (Neuroplasticity, www.psychologytoday.com/ca/basics/neuroplasticity).
From reading blogs, self directed tools, books or attending therapy, there are many options for how we can begin to shift our perceptions, to find or identify the places of hope that already exist within our lives.
A useful approach is to use Solution Focused Strategies as it helps people shift their perceptions by identifying their strengths and to further develop their skills and coping mechanisms, even in the middle of chaos. It is a goal-directed model, focused on locating solutions using hope as a guide.
Here are some questions you can begin to ask yourself using a Solution Focused lens:
Desired outcome or goal:
- Define and envision what it would look like once your problem has been solved. How would you know a shift happened?
- Think about what you would rather be feeling or thinking, doing differently, and what others may notice to indicate a change has happened.
- Define the change or outcome with language that is positive, realistic, specific and behavioural.
- Now that you have defined your desired outcome or goal, think about what difference it would make in your life. I invite you to explore multiple aspects of your life, such as your emotional, physical health, social, financial or spiritual.
Explore your current coping skills and resources:
- What is currently working to help you manage or cope with the problem?
- Who are the significant people in your life that have helped you along the way?
- Remember: If it works, keep doing more of it!
Its about the small shifts that lead to bigger or sustainable change:
- Ask yourself first, what needs to change?
- The idea of making big changes and shifts can feel overwhelming, unattainable and scary. It might be helpful to think about a small change that you can do in the next 2-3 weeks that helps you move closer to your desired outcome.
Where are the exceptions?
- Think about past situations in which the problem was minimized or not prevalent. Explore in detail what was different. What worked before and what would be useful to keep doing?
Bringing awareness to the small changes:
- For the next 2-4 weeks, be mindful and acknowledge moments in which you are moving closer to your desired outcome. It may help to keep a journal or log. Remember, even the smallest of shifts are worth celebrating!
If you are looking for a deeper dive and 1 on 1 support in your journey, book a session with a therapist who is trained in Solution Focused Brief Therapy at Maratos Counselling and Consulting Services.
Bannink, F. (2010). 1001 solution focused questions. W.W. Norton & Company Inc.
Warner, R.E. (2013). Solution-Focused Interviewing. Applying Positive Psychology. A Manual for Practitioners. University of Toronto Press.Learn More
It’s hard to believe we are already nearing the end of 2021. The holiday season is right around the corner and this can lead to many mixed emotions and overwhelm. That said, this is a great time to improve or brush up on boundary setting in your personal relationships with your partner, family, friends, and in the workplace.
What are “boundaries” and why do healthy boundaries matter?
Adopting healthy boundaries protects your emotional well-being to prevent emotional and physical burnout, and social isolation. Boundaries, like a fence with a gate, are the limits and expectations you set for yourself and others and are enforced using effective communication. Think of the gate as the communication gateway and the fence as your limits and expectations.
Here are some key take-aways from boundary work:
It can feel messy at times
- If saying “no” rarely exists in your conversations or you’re feeling enmeshed in your personal relationships, introducing this assertive communication style may feel unnatural at first (and that’s ok)
What are your values?
- Ask yourself: “Am I respecting my own values?” If your boundaries do not align with your values you may feel stressed, anxious, or hold resentment toward others
- What limits and expectations do you need to set for yourself in family relationships, at your job, in your friendships, and within your community?
- Check out this values exploration exercise
When boundaries become inconsistent or inflexible
- Boundaries can be soft or porous, and you may find that you are not putting your needs first
- On the other hand, certain boundaries may be rigid, and you may find yourself guarded in relationships
- Healthy boundaries align with your values, and you will be comfortable saying “no” when you need to, and hearing “no” from others
- Boundary types look different for everyone and can be soft in some areas of your life and rigid in others.
- Saying “no” asserts your needs while valuing your relationships.
- Being assertive involves communicating needs with kindness and respect for others, vulnerability, and self-worth and self-respect
Poor boundaries can be a result of insecure attachment in childhood, complex trauma, low self-esteem or self-worth, amongst other reasons. And they may have served a purpose for you at one point in your life to provide a sense of safety and security. If you’re noticing that your boundaries are no longer serving you, we can help.
As always, if you need support in navigating interpersonal relationships and boundary setting, please reach out. Remember to be kind to yourself as you reflect on your relationships.
References and Additional Reading:
Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day – Anne Kathrine, MABoundaries: Where You End and I Begin by Anne Katherine, MA
“Boundaries 101”. The Calm Mama Method. thecalmmamamethod.com
Attached – Amir Levine, MD, & Rachel S.F. Heller, MA
“Boundaries and the Self”. Dr. Arielle Schwart. https://drarielleschwartz.com/boundaries-and-the-self-dr-arielle-schwartz/#.YYrkEBrMJnI
“Setting Boundaries and Setting Limits”. R. Skip Johnson https://bpdfamily.com/content/setting-boundariesLearn More
As many families are focussed on moving out of the pandemic uncertainty and are holding out strong hope for the return to “normal”, let’s take time to examine exactly what normal is, and whether or not we really want to return there anyway.
We can start by spending some time reflecting on the pandemic experience. From those first uncertain days of shock and denial, moving to some anger and sadness, and finally landing on acceptance, we all have travelled a sometimes bumpy road. No two journeys have been the same. What can we learn from all of this? Over 18 months of an unprecedented, unpredictable and unbelievable ride has to have taught us all some life lessons.
In no way do we need to diminish the tough stuff. We have gone through so much. These times have been (and still are) heavy. Don’t be afraid to sit with whatever emotion strikes you when you reflect on life since March, 2020. You may be thinking about the virus and it’s victims. You may be grieving losses. You may be mourning the loss of the life you had before this pandemic hit. You may be overwhelmed, confused and angry by the ever-changing rules and codes of conduct. All of that is ok. Lean into those emotions from time to time. Whether it means crying, journaling, venting with a friend, expressing your emotions through creative pursuits, or working up a sweat in the gym, please allow yourself to feel the feels. But once you allow yourself to “feel those feels”, think about giving yourself and your family the opportunity to reframe the pandemic as a positive.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
Identify the A-ha moments when you realized the way in which you were living and the choices you were making just didn’t fit for you anymore and were not really working for you or your family. For example, think about times when you felt relieved by the pandemic. You didn’t have to rush around from sport, to activity, to event, to a meeting. You could just exist, in your home, with your family, and slow the heck down. Did you have moments during the pandemic when you said to yourself: “I kinda like this pace”, or “I don’t miss going to…, or seeing…?” Ask yourself: are there priorities I had, obligations I maintained, relationships I held on to that are just not that important to me or my family any more?
Think about the teachable moments that occurred that allowed you to learn more about yourself, your family relationships and your connections. These moments could be as simple as learning you forgot how much you loved to cook, or knit, or read, or build things, to learning that your family benefits from scheduled time together to share a meal, play together, talk, or have family meetings to check in. Did these teachable moments actually help you focus on what you want for your family? Did you gain some clarity on personal and family values? Did you learn more about what each of your kids respond to? How did you re-discover the necessity of prioritizing yourself?
Engage in goal setting for the future, both for yourself and for your family. Now that you have gained some clarity about your wants and needs, ask yourself:
- What do I want to prioritize?
- What do I no longer need?
- Who do I want to spend my time with?
- How do I want to dole out my energy?
- What are my values?
This list of questions is by no means exhaustive! But once you are clear on the answers, you can work on creating concrete goals to hold yourself accountable and make these changes a reality.
Part of setting goals is making sure they are SMART:
Specific: you know exactly what needs to be done
Measurable: you are clear on how you will measure success
Attainable: it is something you can actually do within a reasonable time frame
Realistic: it can be achieved with the resources you have
Timely: it has a deadline for achievement
Here’s an example: I will commit to spending 20 minutes a day knitting so that I can make a sweater for myself by December 1.
Be kind to yourself! Identifying, clarifying and settling on new habits is not easy. The journey isn’t going to be perfect. However, let’s all agree that if nothing else, the pandemic has taught us that we need to adapt, foster resilience and be kind to ourselves each and every day.
Let’s commit to using the fall to identify what we have learned (and continue to learn) from the pandemic and figure out how we are going to apply these lessons to our families and our lives going forward. If you want to discuss these concepts further, learn more about yourself and what you want, and where you are going, reach out. We can help. Our therapists are wonderful listeners and are very skilled at asking the right questions to bring you clarity. And hey, maybe you’ll agree that this pandemic thing hasn’t been all bad!Learn More
Our ability to regulate ourselves as adults comes down to two basic, yet challenging, abilities: attention and emotion regulation. These abilities are less developed in children; so why is co-regulation so difficult for us parents?
When we talk about self-regulation, it speaks to our ability to manage our own emotions and thoughts. This regulation is not just about our own intentions. It is also influenced by many things around us including our families, friends, jobs or other environments we may have both negative and positive interactions.
Co-regulation means we are able to regulate our own emotions as parents. This allows us to model and reflect appropriate emotions to our children, encouraging them to explore their own feelings. Becoming a parent, however, can bring up a lot of new and old feelings that make it difficult to get on our child’s level. This is really normal. And when we notice these red flags, it can allow us to address those emotions and experiences, further showing our kids we can show up for ourselves and make changes too.
Coregulation can be age-specific, but the foundations are applicable for parents raising children at any age:
- Unconditional positive regard – regardless of your child’s age, warmth and responsiveness is key to providing and modelling a trusting relationship. This allows your child to recognize that in a time of need, their caregiver will commit to respectful communication and investment into the child’s interests and challenges. Essentially, unconditional love fosters long-standing commitment and understanding.
- Pave the path – our environment can be stressful, and so can our children’s. With a degree of structure and predictability, coregulation allows overwhelming stressors to take less of a toll on our children’s well-being. Feelings of authentic security provide our children with an understanding of the expectations of the parent-child relationship and its associated consequences. We as parents model what our children can expect from future relationships and how to connect with others.
- Modelling is key – this step is integral to how we approach coregulation. It goes without saying that leading the way gives children the opportunity for growth.
It is important to remember that children will make mistakes throughout the learning process, as will parents. If you are a parent that struggles with co-regulation, you’re not alone. This is a challenging experience in which we feel unprepared. Help is available if you aim to gain new skills to help you with self-regulation or co-regulation.
Our therapists are available to support you through this journey and are skilled in assisting individuals at their level of growth.
Murray, D. W., & Rosanbalm, K. (2017). Promoting Self-Regulation in Adolescents and Young Adults: A Practice Brief. OPRE Report 2015-82. Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation from https://fpg.unc.edu/sites/fpg.unc.edu/files/resources/reports-and-policy-briefs/Co-RegulationFromBirthThroughYoungAdulthood.pdfLearn More
Ambiguous Loss- and what to do about it.
Rebekah Laferriere MSW, RSW
This pandemic sucks.
It’s taking a toll on all of us mentally and emotionally. I’m missing my family. I’m missing tea with my mom. Missing normal playdates for my kids. The hard days feel like they roll into other hard days in hopes that we will all get through the other side. We will, but that’s not the point. We are all experiencing something called ambiguous loss and it is a struggle we don’t often name but have been suffering from.
Ambiguous loss can be described as “any loss that is unclear and lacks a resolution.” (See here for more: https://www.ambiguousloss.com/about/faq/)
This article, “Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful” written by Tara Haelle, and featured on Brené Brown’s podcast, talks a lot about what we have been feeling. One quote that sticks with me is a very simple summary of the state of things, “these were all things we were attached to and fond of, and they’re gone right now, so the loss is ambiguous. It’s not a death, but it’s a major, major loss. What we used to have has been taken away from us.” The pressure on us grows if we don’t process this loss.
This article shares some really good ways to manage and function during a pandemic. I’ve tried to synthesize a few key points below.
- Accept that life is different right now- this does not mean giving up, but applying your energy elsewhere
- Expect less from yourself- what do you need right now? What feels helpful?
- Recognize the different aspects of grief- stages of grief do not occur linearly. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as all pieces of loss. (Check out this article for more on that- https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief)
- Experiment with “both/and thinking” as an alternative to binary thinking. “I am feeling frustrated with this pandemic and grateful for the extra time with my family.” Humans are complicated creatures. We are able and allowed to hold many emotions (even contradictory ones) at the same time. It can be freeing to accept this.
- Look for activities, new and old, that continue to fulfill you.
- Focus on maintaining and strengthening important relationships- One of our most important protective factors is staying connected to people and our social supports. How are you able to do this in a safe way? I know texting and screens can exhaust us. Are you able to schedule a phone call or a socially distant porch chat with a friend?
- Begin slowly building your resilience bank account- taking small steps will help to add up and build momentum. Every day is a new opportunity to try again. I recommend the “3 Task” strategy. Wherever you are on the motivation spectrum, give yourself 3 tasks to complete each day. Every day will look different, and if making your bed and taking care of your hygiene are on the list, that’s great.
- Make a list of activities you enjoy or consider as “play.” Reflect on how often you have engaged in these activities over the past 2 weeks and see how often you can make time for these activities in the next 2 weeks. Cross-reference this list of play with your friends and family and see how often you can engage in those activities safely together. This is what’s going to help fill your cup and replenish your energy levels.
What small step are you going to take today?
Nobody Is Perfect. End. Of. Story.
So while you’re at it, abandon perfectionism. Be kind to yourself and your family. The house will be messy, people will have to be convinced to bathe, you will eat junk, those long-standing house jobs will not get completed as quickly as you envisioned, if not at all. That’s alright. Go back to the values. I can safely guess that NOBODY came up with “Do All The Things” as their top family value.
Start with today. Look at these tips and take one hour at a time. Take it slow. Be forgiving. You can have do-overs. Each day is it’s own. Motivation will go up and down, moods will set in, energy levels will fluctuate. Find what works and do more of it when you can. Do less of what doesn’t. Know that what works one day will not work on another.
Alternate between doing what works and pushing the comfort zone to try new things, ways of coping and communicating… and then give a high five, regardless of the outcome.
Remember: your family WILL come out of this stronger, more connected and victorious. Surviving will mean thriving.
Recognize that this is hard. These days may seem long. Making all the lists in the world does not help the work get done, the structure implemented and the values applied. Some days will just suck.
Moods, loneliness even when amongst the family, loss or reduction of connections with peers, sports, teachers, co-workers will take its toll. Recognize this and take a break. Pyjama days, Netflix marathons or extra screen time will be necessary. And that is ok. Fatigue will set in. Neither parents nor kids are required to be perfect. Just stop doing for a while.
These days are a gift (even though some days that feels like a stretch). Never before have we collectively had such a large chunk of time where we are ALL at home, without the normal day-to-day pressures being applied. It takes a while to get out of the achievement headspace (I MUST do something, I NEED to do this, I HAVE to get this done). Relax. Forgive yourself. We have NEVER BEEN THROUGH A PANDEMIC BEFORE! This is a choose your own adventure kind of thing!
Keep an eye out for emotions and talk about them. It will not be uncommon for many people (adults and kids alike) to feel sad, lonely, depressed and hopeless. This will happen, even in a house full of people who love us. Encourage connections with friends, co-workers and extended family. Ride the waves of emotions, and remember, that professional help is still out there, offered virtually.Learn More