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
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.
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
You have made the decision to tackle some issues and learn to approach things differently, but as you start to do the research, you come up with a question: “do I need counselling or coaching?” Let’s take a look at the differences between these two supports to help demystify the titles, skills and approaches.
What is coaching?
Coaching is an approach that is designed to help you see clearly where you are today, and then find ways to move forward toward your goals. A good coach will not tell you what to do, but instead will ask thought-provoking questions that will require you to reflect, and ultimately gain clarity on the choices you need to make first to set, then achieve your goals. A coach is a sounding board to help you discover what it is you want to do and how you are going to get there.
What is counselling?
The term counselling is often used interchangeably with the terms therapy and psychotherapy. A qualified counsellor is someone with a Master’s Degree or higher in the field of therapy. A counsellor is trained to assess functioning and development as they apply various therapeutic techniques to create a safe and supportive space for you to explore who you are and what you want in life. A good therapist will help you identify problems, aid in developing skills to manage a mental health concern or diagnosis, provide you support and guidance, identify strengths and ultimately help you improve coping and move forward, rather than allowing past issues to keep you stuck.
Coaches and counsellors are similar because both:
● want to help you find create a life you feel good about
● encourage self-discovery
● can help you identify and work toward life goals
● create an environment of trust, non judgement, and support to help you
identify what is holding you back
● focus around using good listening skills and asking you effective questions
● help you with identifying core beliefs that may limit you, and then focus on challenging this perspective
● help foster resiliency
● want you to find your own answers that will work for you
● help you move forward in your career, relationships, and home life
● have the goal of helping you reach your potential
But here is how they differ:
|Coping Oriented||Action Oriented|
|Helps you recognize what you feel||Helps you recognize what you think|
|Helps you identify and solve problems||Helps you set and achieve goals|
|Will support you with empathy and understanding||Will challenge you frequently|
|May focus on the past||Focuses on the present and future|
|Focuses on acceptance||Focuses on your potential|
|Trained in human development, mental health conditions, family dynamics, sexuality, personality||Trained to identify strengths and barriersand to motivate|
|Can recognize whether a mental health diagnosis or condition is impacting wellbeing||Can recognize whether core beliefs are hindering development|
|Requires a master’s level education with practical placement to develop skills and experience practical experience requirements||Can take training of various lengths and intensity to develop skills, generally with|
|Practices under the guidelines of a Regulating body (a College)||Can register with a non-regulated membership association|
|Receives clinical supervision as part of their work||Does not have supervision requirements|
|Is required to continually take courses to enhance knowledge and skills||May have requirements to complete additional continuing education|
I am going to be honest here. Due to the lack of strict guidelines and regulations governing the field of coaching, individuals should do their due diligence to learn about their potential coach’s education, experience, ongoing training and specialties. It is also important to know whether the coach has the wisdom and professionalism to pass on working with a client because they are not mentally or emotionally well, and as such, are in need of counselling before coaching can begin. A similar warning can apply to therapists too. Just because one has the education, it does not mean that they are qualified to treat all issues, nor do they have the experience you need to feel supported. Asking questions of your provider and assessing fit is key.
What about a counsellor who is ALSO a coach?
Some counsellors integrate coaching approaches into their work. This ‘therapeutic coaching’ includes helping you identify obstacles, set goals, change perspectives, and identify and modify core beliefs. As a therapist who is educated, experienced and who practices both counselling and coaching, I aim to assess my client’s needs and use the approach that best fits with what they want to achieve and how they want to get there. I am up front with my clients in identifying my opinion on which approach will work best for them. I have worked with people who have come to me for coaching, but ultimately realized that some counselling is required before the coaching can begin, or conversely, counselling clients who have achieved therapeutic goals and who are ready for coaching to help them move to the next level.
Whether you choose counselling or coaching depends on your personal preference, but a qualified professional will be able to guide you in the right direction. In general, if you want to focus on what you are dealing with right now, don’t want to probe too deeply into emotional issues, you need help taking actionable steps, and you are in need of guidance as you travel through life stages and changes, coaching may be for you.
If you are ready to think about identifying and breaking patterns of thinking and acting that have been impacting your life for some time, you want to feel heard and understood, you would like to improve your self-esteem and understand yourself, and want to figure out what you want in life and move towards it, counselling might be a good choice.
Remember that the professional you choose needs to appeal to you and be someone you can see yourself connecting with. Aside from training, approaches and skills, both counselling and coaching are far more effective if the communication between you and the professional works for you. It is essential that the environment is open and non-judgemental, and that you feel heard and understood during your work together. Each coach and counsellor will bring with them their own personality and unique way of working with clients. It is essential that the professional you choose is skilled and knowledgeable of the issues facing you and is able to identify when they may not be the right person for the job.
Be a savvy consumer of services. This is your life! Do your research, ask questions, and arrange a meet and greet with your counsellor or coach so you can ensure that you have found a professional who is “your person”, who will guide you as you do the heavy lifting required to fulfill your potential.Learn More
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me”
Through the last two years, we as therapists have noticed an increase in folks who have sought out therapy for the first time in their lives, because “they don’t know what’s wrong”. This has been a refrain for all of us at various times during the pandemic. It is upsetting, frustrating, overwhelming…(all the feels) to not feel like ourselves, and to have no idea how to pull out of it because everything that usually helps does not seem to be working.
When we are feeling unwell and our coping skills are depleted, our minds can spin out of control with “what ifs” around possible chronic mental health issues, diagnoses, dependence on medications and the need for professional intervention. It is a scary reality to think we are stuck and unsure if these feelings will ever relent.
As I sat down to write this blog, I decided to google “Am I depressed or…?” to see what popped up. Here is a small sampling: Am I depressed or sad, lazy, tired, bored, burned out, bipolar? WOW! What a laundry list of inquiries, ranging from questioning and attempting to label emotions to querying mental health and diagnosis. We as therapists are pleased that people are becoming more aware of their emotions and mental health, and how they both impact their day to day habits and quality of life. We also worry that the feelings of hopelessness and the overwhelming volume of information on mental health that is all over the internet can actually exacerbate symptoms, rather than providing comfort or relief.
There are literally thousands of tools, therapy interventions and medical treatments used to assess, diagnose and treat depression that need to be utilized by a trained professional. There are also many valid informational and educational pieces on depression out there that you can use to first sort through the symptoms you are experiencing, gain an understanding of the severity of them, learn how to assess and incorporate day to day habits that may help ease symptoms, and finally help you to make informed decisions about seeking professional support.
Here is one, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), that provide useful information on depression, diagnosis, coping and treatment. Remember that this is not to be used as a substitute for professional advice and support, but it is from an accredited, professional organization that aims to educate so that you can self-assess before making decisions about reaching out for support.
I think I am depressed…now what?
One of the most studied and supported treatments for depression comes from psychiatrist Aaron Beck, called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). To put it very simply, one of the pillars of CBT is the Cognitive Triangle. This triangle helps us examine the intertwined relationship between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. When you are doing CBT with a trained professional, you are learning how to identify negative and intrusive thoughts that impact how you feel about yourself, your situation and your relationships, which in turn impact the choices you make about how you behave or respond. Again, professional support to help with this triangle is just one of the keys to managing depression, but doing a self-assessment check-in on your own can be a powerful way to understand whether or not to seek professional support to confirm a diagnosis, or treatment to help manage these thoughts and make some changes for the better.
Check Your Thoughts
Many of us resort to googling information on any issue we are faced with, whether it be a leaky faucet or our mental health. We do this because it feels safer to “DIY” our problem, so that we don’t have to say it out loud (because that makes it more real), and so we can hopefully find a solution that we hope will be an easy fix. The other reason we often start with Google is because we are feeling some shame around the issue and the act of even asking for help. Many of us hold longstanding and firmly planted beliefs around the concept of admitting to a problem (think perfectionism) and asking for help (think “weakness”, “incompetence”, and feeling “less than”).
Challenge yourself to really identify your thoughts around what you are experiencing, and how these thoughts may be roadblocking your ability to manage your moods, relationships and overall functioning. It is so easy to believe everything that pops into our heads. The truth is, a lot of what we think about ourselves is hyper-critical, and is driven by fear and shame. Newsflash: we don’t have to listen to these messages!
Check Your Feelings
As therapists, we hear clients using “negative self-talk”, whether it be out loud, or in their heads to put themselves down, name call, and shame themselves for experiencing what are actually normal and healthy feelings. Throughout the pandemic, many of us have resorted to “numbing behaviours” such as scrolling through our phones or Netflix bingeing because we have just not had the will or the energy to identify feelings, much less actually feel them! If this sounds like you, try to get into the habit of asking yourself “what am I actually feeling right now?” Identifying the feeling and actually naming it will help you manage it, rather than pushing it further within by seeking quick fix and feeling-numbing behaviours that actually take us into a perpetual shame spiral of negative self-talk.
Check Your Behaviours
Here comes your mother’s, fitness instructor’s, therapist’s, doctor’s voice: get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, eat your vegetables, go for a walk, and practice mindfulness. “YUP, got it,” you are saying (me too). The issue for most of us is not that we need this knowledge, it is ensuring that we actually practice these behaviours.
Let’s go back to the thoughts part of this cognitive triangle. When we are feeling depressed, our minds generally block out these simple, yet challenging habits which we know in our heads will help us feel better. Depression can almost act like a magnet that keeps us attached to our bed, sofa, phone or computer screen, thereby blocking out the will to incorporate habits that will naturally increase the happiness chemicals in our brains and will contribute to us feeling even a little better. Again, the shame-spiral of knowing that you already know what to do to feel better but not being able to push yourself to actually do it is activated, thus leaving you feeling further down and depressed.
Just having a basic understanding of this cognitive triangle can be helpful to become more self-aware of our feelings, moods and behaviours. The smallest bit of self-awareness and the tiniest of changes is progress. Drinking one glass of water instead of none, reaching out to a friend to walk and talk, or getting into bed 15 minutes earlier than usual is all part of living the change.
So if you are reading this and still asking yourself whether or not you need help to cope with this post-pandemic reality, the answer is YES! We all do. The past two years have been a harrowing and traumatic experience for every single one of us. For some, emotional and mental health issues that existed before the pandemic have increased in intensity and severity. For others, the current set of circumstances has led to new and uncomfortable emotions that have taken a toll on quality of life.
Seeking the support of a qualified, experienced therapist will help you sort through your own cognitive triangle and make choices around the next steps to take to alleviate the symptoms on one end of the spectrum, to seeking out more intensive and long-term interventions on the other. Regardless, reaching out for professional help will ensure you are getting outside of your head and that you are not walking the path to feeling better all alone.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
We’re currently three months into the new school year and it is evident that this has been yet another different year for parents, caregivers, educators and of course, children. The COVID pandemic is still going strong and there are many new protocols within schools that have been put in place to attempt to keep children and families safe. Although they are there to ensure safety, these changes and protocols can be scary and overwhelming for all involved. Let’s talk about some of these stressors and what parents, caregivers and educators can do to help.
Families had to make an often difficult choice between virtual learning and in person learning. Both have many pros and cons and can bring up anxiety for children and teens. These worries might be larger and more intense than past years because of the complexities of the current global pandemic.
Here are some common worries for children and teens returning to school that we have been seeing in our therapy sessions:
- The thought of sitting in a classroom can feel overwhelming after not being around many others for the past school year
- Having to wear masks all day
- The fear of COVID and/or getting sick
- Worrying that they don’t know enough because of the gaps in learning that happened during the lockdown
- Feeling worried about reconnecting to friends that they haven’t spoken to in a while due to being out of school and out of touch with others
- Communication can be overwhelming in general as we have been isolated during the past school year
- For those folks doing virtual learning, there’s worries about turning on their camera and gaining the confidence to participate virtually
- Worries about how to feel connection with teachers and fellow students in the virtual learning space
What can parents and caregivers do to help?
It’s really important, perhaps now more than ever, that parents and caregivers are listening to their children and teens and validating their emotions/worries. Here is a quote that may put things into perspective:
“Validating involves putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes and conveying understanding of their experience as they are experiencing it. This involves imagining what the situation must be like for them. It is important to accept, allow, and validate emotions that are different from what you expected or that are hard for you to understand.” Steps of Emotion Coaching – Emotion-Focused Family Therapy (emotionfocusedfamilytherapy.org)
To create connections and an open environment for sharing both the positive and the negative, Parents and caregivers can ask questions to their children and teens like:
- How is school going?
- What’s going well?
- What’s been hard for you?
You may also ask questions about what your child is worried about. It’s useful to explore worries in a curious way. Ask lots of questions and really try to understand what’s going on from your child or teens perspective. Here are some examples:
If you child or teen is having difficulty being around other people or connecting to others sometimes the best thing can be to help them gain exposure to being around others in a gentle way:
- Take them out for a hot chocolate and help them practice ordering
- Include them in grocery shopping and checking out with the cashier
- Set up a time to go for a walk outside with another family or friend
Providing education about COVID and mask wearing can sometimes be enough for an anxious mind that is worried about getting sick.
- Talk about what happens in your child or teen’s body when anxiety shows up- name and label those thoughts, emotions and body sensations
- Teach your child or teen about ways to breath to slow down their body (box breathing, paced breathing), or ways to ground when in class (drop anchor, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 game)- lots of short videos are available on Youtube of these strategies and then practice them together
Equally important is for parents and caregivers to recognize and validate their own worries and stressors about this school year, as the effects from this pandemic impact everyone. Do your own wellness check:
- Check in with your own stress level and notice if you’re feeling able to coach and support your child through their own worries.
- Reach out to your own support systems and have open discussions about the things you’re struggling with and that your child or teen is struggling with. Likely other people in your social circle are experiencing similar things. Giving and receiving support is invaluable. It helps us feel less alone and gives us a place to share our feelings.
Our clinicians are skilled and are happy to help if anything you have read here sounds familiar to you. Remember that we have ALL been struggling over the past 18 months. Asking for help is the first step in making positive changes and recovering from the stress of this difficult time.
By Paige Sparrow MSW,RSWLearn More
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.