It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of year but for many, the holiday season is anything but joyful.
And it’s not hard to see why.
From the monetary pressures of gift-buying and travel to the unwelcome scrooge of family drama, this time of year can feel less like a celebration and more like a test of survival.
If you’re one of the many whose mood isn’t quite merry around the holidays, you’re not alone. A 2015 U.S. study showed 62% of respondents reported feeling at least some degree of seasonal stress with nearly half of people surveyed citing “finances” as the main source of their anxiety.
Knowing these less-than-cheerful feelings are perfectly common, the question is how to cope with them. Here are just some of my go-to tips for managing holiday stress:
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings: This may sound simple but recognizing your feelings as valid and legitimate is proactive to making it through the holidays with a healthy attitude. Hold yourself with compassion in the face of difficult emotions and remember that it’s okay to feel exactly as you’re feeling right now.
2. Set Boundaries: This can apply to everything from finances to family and will help you approach the holidays in a way that’s comfortable for you. Some examples include:
3. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate: Taking on all the shopping, decorating, cooking and hosting is a recipe for stress. Offload some responsibility, ask for help and try not to worry if things aren’t done perfectly. Remember, it’s your holiday too!
4. Get Grounded: It’s easy to get caught-up in the holiday madness. Reconnect to what matters by participating in activities that feel grounding, healthy and/or personally rewarding, for example: exercising, reading, volunteering or simply spending time with close friends. Let serenity be the gift you give yourself this year.
The festive season can be a time of extreme highs and lows. If you’re someone who feels particularly anxious at this time of year, consider the above strategies to help ease your stress and reach out to a professional if you need additional support.
Wishing you peace and fulfillment this holiday season.
Looking around, it’s hard to believe that at any given time 10.4% of Canadians are struggling with a mental illness (MDSC) such as depression. People often seem like they’ve got it all together. They are raising families, becoming educated or busy in their careers. How could it be that such a high number of mental illness can even exist?
The truth of the matter is that those who are suffering have become pros at hiding their pain. They wear a mask that conceals their struggles from the world. From the outside they may look happy and well adjusted but behind that mask there could be a lonely, exhausted and pained individual.
Why do people feel it necessary to hide their depression from the world? Often, people feel a lot of shame and embarrassment with the fact that they are struggling with any form of mental illness. They don’t want to be a burden to their family, employers or friends.
Because of the lack of knowledge or resistance to change, society still does not put mental illness at the same cause for concern as other physical illness. We should be able to take a couple of days off, pull ourselves together and get right back to the grind of everyday life. But that’s not how depression or mental health works. Unfortunately, because of these unrealistic expectations, people feel like they have no choice but to hide behind their masks.
If you are finding that you live each day hiding your feelings from the rest of the world know that you're not alone. Ask yourself, are there people in my life that I can trust to confide in about my pain and hurt? Even one person in your life who you can be open and honest with about how you are truly feeling can help lift that feeling of isolation and loneliness. Staying silent with your secret can only perpetuate or worsen your symptoms.
Find a professional (social worker, psychologist, psychotherapist) who can help you navigate through your thoughts and feelings to help free you from your sadness. It’s not until you start peeling away your mask and letting help in that you can begin to feel better.
Have you just had a baby? Are you noticing that something just doesn’t feel right? You have read in magazines about all these celebrities who have just had their babies and instantly fall head over heels in love. But, that hasn’t been your experience at all. Everyone said that you’d be exhausted and emotional during those first weeks after your baby’s arrival but you are starting to panic that having a baby was a big mistake. You are afraid that people will see you as a failure. You feel guilty that your baby has been given you as its mother. You believe that they deserve someone better, more confident and more maternal. You wonder if this is a phase and just the so-called baby blues or something more?
Baby blues is actually quite common. Up to 80% of women will experience the baby blues after the arrival of their baby. Some symptoms may include weepiness or crying for no apparent reason, emotional ups and downs, irritability, fatigue, anxiety and poor concentration. When my son was born, I distinctly remember driving home from his doctor’s appointment when he was about 4 days old and bursting into tears. I had no idea why I was crying but I just couldn’t control it. The baby blues, although unpleasant, tend to go away after 2-3 weeks after birth and are typically caused by hormonal changes and the recovery from the birth process, exhaustion and coming to terms with this huge life transition. All these feelings are incredibly normal.
But, what if these symptoms last longer than 2-3 weeks? How do you know whether you are actually dealing with something more like postpartum depression or anxiety? The two things you need to consider are the duration and the severity of your symptoms. Again, if your symptoms last more than 2-3 weeks and even up to 12 months postpartum then this should be an indicator that you may be experiencing something more serious. If your symptoms begin to impact your daily functioning, your ability to bond with your baby as well as causing you to isolate yourself then this may be an indication that what you are experiencing is not baby blues.
So what do I do now? If you feel that you may be at risk for postpartum depression or anxiety, you are not alone. Both are more common than you think and affect approximately 15% of the population. Please let your healthcare providers (OB, family physician, midwife, social worker) know that you are struggling. They can help find you the supports that you need.
The life transition of having a new baby can bring up a multitude of feelings. Whether it’s your first or third child or whether you've become a new parent through adoption or surrogacy, having a new baby brings new change to you, your relationships and routines. If you find that you are struggling and having a difficult time, please ask for help.
As a mom, have you ever had the experience of looking in the mirror and thought; “wow, I look tired!” And not, “I just spent a night out with friends drinking and dancing” kind of tired but more like “I don’t recognize myself anymore” tired. It’s a kind of exhaustion that you can feel in your bones. You try to figure out when it all caught up to you. You are officially a burnt out mommy!
Being a parent is hard work but it doesn’t have to make you feel defeated.
Here are 5 Things to Consider When Trying To Manage Mommy Burn Out:
1. Maintain Your Social Connections
When you are busy raising your kids, your social relationships (outside play groups and play dates) tend to take a back seat. It is so important to keep our social connections active sans children. Friends provide us with the support, fun and escape that we all need to recharge our batteries. Whether it's a grabbing a drink, dinner or even a chat on the phone, friends can help throw us a life preserver when we feel like we are drowning.
2. What Have You Done For Yourself This Week?
It is a concept that is often repeated time and time again but for important reason. How can we best take care of our children, be a committed partner and maintain our sanity without first taking care of ourselves. Choose something that you actually enjoy and try to do it at least once a week. Some people find working out to be an unbelievable stress reliever. Others feel that going to the gym is more of a chore. Think about what provides you with an outlet and a break from your everyday stresses. Secure childcare and just do it. You and your family will be happy you did!
3. Practice Self-Compassion
We are our own biggest critic. Constantly judging ourselves and our parenting can take a huge toll on our confidence and self-esteem. As humans, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we have no idea what we are doing or sometimes things don’t always go as planned. Maybe you turned your back on your toddler for one second and they fell and hurt themself. Or, after a stressful day your children have pushed you too far and you lose your temper. Try to be kind to yourself and give yourself a break. You are doing the best you can and that's okay.
4. Reclaim Your Self-Identity
What are you passionate about? What provides you with drive and happiness? For some people this is an easy answer but for others it can be more difficult. Take that time to figure out who you are and who you want to be separate from your identity as “mommy”. It is not uncommon that during maternity leave a lot of mothers start to question their current career choices. Take some time to ponder what brings you happiness, devise a plan and take action. Nothing is more exciting!
5. Recognize The Signs Of When You Are Heading Towards Burnt Out
It is not uncommon for people to not even notice when they are starting to stretch themselves too thin. We are all guilty of this. You are going through the motions of your daily routines while trying to keep your head above water. Many women end up in my office when they start to notice that the stress is now taking a toll on their emotional and physical health. They are more unhappy and irritable, feeling tension and strain in their marriage and relationships and feel that their life is spinning out of control. What are some warning signs that you are heading towards burnout?
It’s so important to try and recognize these warning signs. When you notice that you are starting to head down the road to burn out, try and regroup and reflect on your priorities. You deserve a break!
I have decided to get a bit personal for this week's blog post. Very unlike me but reflective of the task I set out for myself over the past few days.
This past week I have been working on crafting and editing my About page to add a more personal touch. When people come to my website for the first time they typically want to know:
I want potential clients to get a sense of who I am. I want my values and philosophies to resonate with them. When they come to my website, I want potential clients to 'meet' me for the first time without actually meeting me in person and feel similar to how they would feel if they were actually sitting in front of me in my office.
In order to get started, I had to determine my "message" (what I stand for) in both how I live my life, run my practice and approach my work with my clients. After some reflection, my message became quite clear.
I believe that we all deserve to pursue the things in life that make us happy.
So, how do I practice what I preach?
Well, here are 5 things that I have pursued in my life that have made me happy:
1) Pursued my Masters of Social Work in New York City.
(It was always a dream of mine to live in New York. I love everything about the city. The vibe, the theatre and of course the food!. For such a small island, there is so much culture and life).
2) Travelling to warm and sunny or historical and cultured destinations.
(I have been fortunate to have been able to visit places like Hawaii, Aruba, Italy and France. What's next on my list? Only time will tell!).
3) Starting a family.
(Every day I look at my beautiful children and I feel grateful).
4) Making it a priority to take time for myself every week.
(I am someone who needs to stop, breathe and reflect. My favourite thing to do is to go to a local coffee shop and read a good book or magazine).
5) Starting my own business.
(Starting my own private practice has always been my professional dream since the first day I decided to become a social worker. Every day I wake up looking forward to meeting new people, hearing their stories, following on their journey and being inspired).
May I help you pursue the things that make you happy? Click here to learn more.
An estimated 1 out of 6 women will experience postpartum depression or anxiety (PPD/A) following the birth or adoption of a new baby. When we think about treatment for postpartum depression/anxiety, psychotherapy or medication often come to mind. It's true, both of these interventions have been proven to be quite effective for recovery. What is not often mentioned is the essential role that a partner plays in supporting their spouse through this difficult time. In this video created by Toronto Public Health, women and their partners discuss how the support and understanding of partners is crucial for reducing isolation and promoting self-care.
*It should also be noted that men can also experience postpartum depression/anxiety. Often not talked about but needing similar attention, this video will also touch upon this particular topic.
How has your partner supported you either through PPD/A or the postpartum adjustment period?
Last month, I had the privilege of being invited as a guest speaker to Ledbury Park Elementary and Middle School’s mental health week. The topic that I chose to focus on was on supporting students and their families through the treatment of an eating disorder. Teachers, administrators and teaching assistants received some valuable information on how to identify the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder (even in children as young as 5) and how they can work together with the family and treatment team to best support the student through their treatment and recovery.
Schooling is often tremendously impacted when a child is in aggressive treatment for an eating disorder. Similar to those children who are seeking treatment for other life-threatening illnesses, whether an inpatient or outpatient they will most likely be missing a lot of school for medical or therapy appointments. The stress and physical implications of their eating disorder may make it difficult to keep up with their coursework and peer relationships. As well, they may also be struggling with the severity of their symptoms while at school away from the support of their parents and treatment team.
Here are some tips on how schools can provide support to their students during treatment and recovery:
Become an integral part of the treatment team
Since schooling plays an essential part of a child’s daily life, it is important that the child’s school and teachers now become a member of the treatment team. This means being in constant contact with the student’s parents and other treatment team members while gathering more information about the current treatment plan and progress. If the student is or has been an inpatient, it will also be important to communicate with the teachers in the hospital to create an education plan while the child is on the unit. If at any time you feel unsure or confused by the plan, it is always important to ask questions and further educate your staff on eating disorders.
Considerations for mealtimes
Many students will need extra support at mealtimes (lunch and snacks). Often, if possible, the student’s parents will request that they be allowed to provide meal support for their child either on or off school property. This may mean providing them with a private room for meals and possibly extra time to complete their food. When parents are not able to provide this support, they may request that a school staff member sit with their child while they eat their meal.
Putting gym on hold
During active treatment, it is often encouraged that students not participate in gym for medical reasons. Some schools will offer a non-active gym related project that the student complete in order to acquire their necessary gym credits.
Many students who are struggling with an eating disorder find it difficult to complete school assignments or study for tests because of their current medical and psychological situation. It is often recommended to offer academic considerations for these children that will make it less stressful for them to complete their course requirements. This may mean extensions on assignments or a quiet space to write tests. It will be important to get feedback from the student and their parents as to what will be most helpful.
The treatment of an eating disorder may require a child to keep frequent and consistent medical and psychological appointments. It is often necessary that a student miss a lot classroom time. It is helpful when schools are sympathetic and accommodating to these absences. If too many days of school are missed to complete a course, it will be important for families to know as soon as possible if further schooling may be required (summer school or extra semester).
Integrating students back into peer group
A main symptom of an eating disorder is increased isolation from friends and peers. As the student is slowly integrated back into the classroom, it may take some time for the child to feel comfortable around their peer group. It is important for teachers to sympathetically encourage these students to socializing again.
Refrain from discussing food, weight and dieting in classroom
For anyone suffering with an eating disorder, discussion around food, weight and dieting can act as a trigger for their symptoms. Teachers should try to be mindful of the dialogue within their classroom and attempt to minimize these topics of discussion.
For more information visit:
Did you know that according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), mood and anxiety disorders impact an estimated 22% of the Canadian population but that 60% of people with a mental health problem or illness won’t seek help for fear of being labeled (Mental Health Commission of Canada). Working in the field of mental health and having the privilege of meeting the amazing men, women and children who have in some way been touched by mental illness has opened my eyes to the discrimination that they have all faced. The courage to come forward and ask for help in a country that continues to stigmatize its sufferers is inspiring to any mental health practitioner.
So how is it that in a country like Canada only 1 out of 5 children who need mental health services receives them (CMHA) and less than 4% of medical research funding goes to mental illness research (Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health)? I believe that it is a result of stigma.
What is Stigma?
Stigma is a set of negative beliefs and behaviours held by society or a group of people. Stigma spreads fear and misinformation and creates and perpetuates stereotypes. When it comes to mental illness, people are met with stigma at schools, in the workplace, hospitals, local communities as well as by their friends and family. According to the Canadian Medical Association, 2 in 3 people suffer in silence fearing judgment and rejection. Because of stigma, these individuals are not able to access the resources that are necessary for treatment and recovery. They continue to live and suffer in silence.
Here are just a few programs in Canada whose purpose is to reduce mental health stigma:
Opening Minds Initiative
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has created an Opening Minds Initiative, in partnership with 110 organizations, whose aim is to “reduce discrimination by changing negative behaviours and attitudes often associated with mental health problems and mental illness.” Opening Minds has evaluated anti-stigma programs across the country to identify those that are effective and should be continued or replicated. They have targeted four key areas: healthcare providers, youth, the workforce and the media. Opening minds is now in the phase of using their research to promote and launch anti-stigma programs across the country.
Let’s Talk Day
Every January, Bell Canada participates in a Let’s Talk day. This year it was on January 27th. Its purpose is to drive awareness and understanding of mental health by creating a national conversation to help reduce stigma. With the power of social media and with the help of their celebrity ambassadors, Bell Canada hopes to break the silence that surrounds mental health and to provide a voice to those who have been touched by mental illness. It also hopes to raise much needed money for programs.
Mental Illness Awareness Week
Mental Illness Awareness Week is an annual national campaign to increase public education associated with the realities of mental health and illness. In 2015, the week took place October 4th-10th. One of its major initiatives is its Faces of Mental Illness Campaign. Throughout the campaign, individuals are nominated to represent the many faces of mental illness in Canada. Their unique journeys and backgrounds are told through public service announcements that are aired over a variety of media outlets. Its hope is to initiate and increase discussion for the purpose of increasing awareness and decreasing stigma.
It is only when people increase communication and become more educated about the realities of mental health can the veil of stigma be lifted. Only then can those who are living with mental illness feel they don't have to suffer in fear and isolation.
For more information:
For many, coming to the realization that the issues they face are more than they can handle alone can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma around mental health and misconceptions about the therapeutic process that can be confusing for a lot of people. Once a person has made the decision that they would like to seek out therapy, their next task is to find a therapist that’s right for them.
It is important to remember that finding the right therapist can take time and patience. Often times it can take a few sessions before you can evaluate whether you are able to connect and trust the therapist. Without this connection or trust it will be difficult to make any sort of significant progress in your therapy.
Here are some tips on how to find the right therapist for you:
1. Make a list of names.
When you have decided that you would like to start therapy it can be beneficial to make an appointment with your family physician. Not only are you informing them of a decision that you’ve made regarding your health but often your physician has a list of therapists that they have worked with and referred other patients to in the community. Family and friends may also be a good resource for referrals as they may know others who have had personal experiences with a particular therapist.
Once you have collected a list of therapists it will be important to start finding out more information about them. What is their professional designation, are they covered by OHIP or insurance, where are they located, what are their areas of expertise, and so on. Depending on what you are looking for in a therapist will guide your research.
3. Reach out.
Once you have narrowed your list down, contact the therapist either by phone or email. Often times contacting the person by telephone can be extremely beneficial. Many clients can make an initial assessment of how comfortable they felt with the conversation, whether the therapist was sincere and helpful and whether an initial connection was made. It can also be a good way of attaining more information about the therapist’s treatment philosophy, specializations, fees and any other questions you may have.
4. The initial sessions.
Like with any new relationship it can take time to build trust and feel comfortable with a therapist. The first few sessions are often a trial for both the client and therapist to determine whether a positive working relationship can be established. Some questions to reflect on after each session that can help you determine whether the therapist is a right fit for you can include: 1) Is the therapist non-judgemental, sincere, understanding, patient, informed and in tune with my emotions? 2) Does the therapist have appropriate boundaries and has he/she discussed their limits of confidentiality? If after 3 sessions you continue to feel that the therapist is not providing you with a trusting and sympathetic environment or you feel that the relationship is just not the right fit then it may be time to move on. Try not to feel discouraged if this happens to you. Unfortunately, a lot of people have a tendency to give up on therapy after discontinuing with one therapist. Again, finding a therapist can take time but once you have found the right person the benefits can be invaluable!
On a day like today, with the sun shining and the mild temperatures, it’s easy to forget that we are entering into the coldest and shortest days of the year. For some people, autumn is received with a great deal of excitement. The changing and falling of the leaves, the crisp air, the coming of the holidays, ski and hockey season are often welcomed with enthusiasm. But for many people, autumn and the anticipation of winter may bring worry of the impending winter blues.
What are the winter blues?
As the days get shorter and the temperature grows colder, many of us start to feel more tired, sluggish and down. It can be hard to get out of bed in the morning, maintain energy levels throughout the day and feel motivated to exercise, socialize and even do basic errands. The reduced amount of sunlight that comes with shorter days is often linked to feeling down. The main theory is that the lack of sunlight can have an affect on certain hormones your body produces. Melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel sleepy and helps control your sleep and walk cycles, may be produced in higher levels in the winter. As well, serotonin, a hormone that impacts your mood, appetite and sleep, may be produced in lesser amounts during these months and can result in lower mood.
Here are some tips to help combat the winter blues:
1) Get Some Light
It is so tempting to stay inside when it is cold and miserable outside. Try to resist this urge and get yourself out of the house or office a few times a day. Getting enough sunlight is the most important. Even if it’s a cloudy day, a walk around the block or to your local coffee shop can wake you up and increase your mood. If it's a blizzard outside, even absorbing some light from the window or from a light box (emits artificial light) for 20 minutes a day can make a difference.
When you exercise, your body naturally releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins can reduce stress, improve feelings of anxiety and depression, boost self-esteem and improve sleep. Even short episodes of physical activity can have a big impact.
Again, as much as you may be tempted to stay in the warm comforts of your home, being around other people can lift your spirits. If you are at work, go out for lunch with co-workers. If you are at home with the kids, schedule a play date. It not only can boost your mood but can also reduce your feelings of isolation and loneliness.
4) Take Care of Yourself
Give yourself some permission for some pampering. It can be as indulgent as going for a massage or as simple as taking a bath or reading a book. Self-care is important all year round to promote mental wellness but especially during the cold winter months.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
If your winter blues symptoms become more intense and persistent you may actually be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or winter depression. Please seek medical care immediately from your family doctor or psychiatrist.