A Few Thoughts on the Death of George Floyd

The tragic death of George Floyd is yet another example of the nastiness of discrimination and prejudice that exists in the United States and across the world, including Canada.  The sense and tone I’ve gotten from social media is one of frustration, anger, sadness and confusion.  How can this still be happening? What can be done to stop this violence?

From a psychology perspective the judgments we harbour can be conscious (explicit bias) and/or unconscious (implicit bias).  Some people truly hold perspectives rooted in ignorance. There are people who will argue that prejudice and discrimination don’t exist and that the challenges of African Americans are all self induced. Views like these would be considered ‘explicit biases’ and are narrow and harmful to say the least.  Creating dialogue with people with differing views is likely the best chance you have to shifting their perspectives. Insults and outbursts will just embolden their views and lead to more polarity.

Then we have implicit biases that impact all of us whether we are aware of it or not.  These attitudes or stereotypes can affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious way.  Studies have highlighted how pervasive these views can be and how they do not necessarily align with our beliefs/ morals.   As an example, the ‘black is bad effect’ describes the bias that darker skin is often associated with perceptions of evil in media and pop culture.

An extensive body of research has led to concern in regard to how empathic responses are also impacted by biases.  Contrary to what we may expect, compassion shown towards victims often decreases as the number of individuals in need of support increases.  It’s a phenomenon known as ‘compassion collapse.’  So, we tend to have more compassion for one victim compared to a larger group that is suffering.  Some researchers think this is due to: greater psychological distance from these victims, feeling less responsibility for helping, or because we feel that helping will not matter much.  Other researchers have suggested we automatically gauge the financial and emotional cost of compassion and selectively numb the feeling as a result.  It’s important to be aware of this phenomenon so momentum is not lost until meaningful changes are made.

Based on evolutionary factors we have developed an ‘us versus them’ mentality especially in the case of race.  We have a tendency to create ‘in- groups’ that can lead to favoritism and ‘out groups’ that can lead to dehumanizing views of indifference and hate.

We are not born with racist or prejudiced views- they are learned through conditioning over the course of our lifetime by exposure to direct or indirect messages.  The good news is, we can change these patterns through a process of neuroplasticity; we can re-wire our brains.

So, what can we do about it?  There’s a multitude of advocacy options to consider but here are two ideas everyone can engage in.

In order to shift our implicit biases, we need to be aware of them.  This is where mindfulness comes in.  Most of us are on autopilot during the day as our unconscious mind is at the wheel leading to reactions and judgements of which we are not aware.  Observe these subtle thoughts and actions with curiosity! They are happening all the time!  Once you are aware of them you can choose to shift your mind or behaviour to something that reflects your values and the changes you want to see in the world.  In order to build this capacity, listen to one of the thousands of available mindfulness exercises for 5 to 10 minutes a day. Once you get the hang of it, you can be mindful with everything you do. Practicing mindfulness may increase our ability to savor and sustain compassion for many victims, hence offsetting the collapse of compassion.  We cannot control the first thought that pops into our minds, but we can control the second. This is where the growth takes place.

One way to combat the ‘us versus them’ mentality is to consider the people with whom we currently connect.  Robin Dunbar theorizes that we can only maintain stable relationships with 150 people.  A lot of the issues we see today stem from the fact that the 150 relationships we have involve those with too many overlapping similarities in regard to race, culture, religion, sexuality, politics and interests. These ‘similar’ groups of people can become insular and embolden the ‘us versus them’ mentality.  If each of us chooses to either create new connections or enhance existing connections with even 5 people who differ from us in some way, this can increase resonance and create higher levels of compassion, empathy and understanding. Such an approach can create a ripple effect that will lead to systemic change.  As Julia Carney once said: ‘little drops of water, little grains of sand, make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land’

Lastly, it takes strength and courage to say or do something when witnessing discrimination.  But that strength and courage is nothing compared to what is needed to live life each day for the victims of discrimination. We can all make a difference.

Just a few thoughts, as we grapple with ways to respond to yet another tragic event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Depression, General, Grief, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety

The Origin of Anxiety

Sometimes you don’t know how fast you are moving until you are forced to stop.  COVID-19 has forced a lot of us to slow down and adjust our routines.  Luckily, as a result, I have been able to allocate more time to reading and exploring ideas. For this Psychealth article I’m going to do something quite different: I’m going to present a theory that has some practical implications for our lives. It’s a heavier read than usual but I hope you find it interesting and it fosters some curiosity and discussion.

The origins of our human mind and our unique cognitive abilities remain very much a mystery. According to Harvard professor Marc Hauser, four traits distinguish the human mind from those of animals: generative computation, promiscuous combination or ideas, mental symbols, and abstract thought.

Generative computation enables humans to create an almost unlimited variety of words, concepts and things. Promiscuous combination of ideas allows the blending of different areas of knowledge leading to the creation of new laws, social relationships and technologies.

Mental symbols encode sensory experiences both real and imagined, forming the basis of a robust and complex system of communication.

Abstract thought enables us to contemplate things beyond what we can see, hear, touch, taste or smell.   But why did these advancements occur to homo sapiens and not other human primates or mammals?  What is the purpose of the human mind?  Here are some ideas to explore. The development of the human mind had to serve a major and critical purpose in order to be favored by evolution.

The human mind was NOT necessarily needed for connection and collaboration. Various animals have the ability to connect and communicate with each other to coordinate tasks, create social hierarchies, share, and establish roles.

The human mind was NOT necessarily needed for love. Mammals for instance can create meaningful bonds with partners, procreate, and nurture and support offspring.  Love is often described as a felt sense and can be experienced with the absence of conscious thought.

The human mind was NOT necessarily needed for joy.  According to psychologist Martin Seligman, ‘animals clearly experience positive emotion.’ It’s not a uniquely human experience.

The Will to Live

What the human mind was needed for was: safety and protection. Homo sapiens evolved from arguably the most dangerous area in the world, Africa.  Unlike many of the other creatures and animals that inhabited the earth approximately 180,000 years ago, anatomically similar homo sapiens couldn’t rely on the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ to remain safe.  We weren’t strong enough, fast enough, and couldn’t climb trees quick enough to evade danger.

Would you rather live in a region with bears or lions?  Big cats and other dangerous predators within Africa posed a unique and unprecedented challenge to homo sapiens for survival. The development of the human mind allowed us to create tools and collaborate with other homo sapiens in sophisticated ways in order to thwart danger and remain safe.

The development of conscious thought within the mind also led to the experience of anxiety: the anticipation of harm and danger. It allowed us to conceptualize a series of outcomes or reflect on past events.  Anxiety ensured we take our safety seriously and acted accordingly.

Challenging moments imprint on us; our minds want us to remember them so they don’t happen again.  Unlike fear (perceiving a threat within the moment), anger, stress (the physical sensation of distress & eustress) and sadness, anxiety seems to be uniquely human. Other animals rely on the fear response to ensure safety and this has been enough for them to survive and thrive in their environments.  According to Hauser, animals are only triggered by real objects or events, never imagined ones; they are restricted to the present.  Unlike other animals, the anxiety human’s experience can complicate, enhance, and sustain trauma.

There were other human primates that roamed the earth around the same time as homo sapiens that didn’t benefit from the cognitive revolution that occurred approximately 40,000 years ago – a factor that arguably led to the ascension and global expansion of the homo sapiens and the demise of the other human primates.   The incredible advancements we have seen over the past 4,000 years (agriculture, science, philosophy, etc.) are the exciting and random by-products of a mind that was developed for safety.

Researchers have made some strides in regard to where conscious thoughts are located within the brain. Interestingly, it’s not just in the more evolved forebrain/neo cortex. “For the first time, we have found a connection between the brainstem region involved in arousal and regions involved in awareness, two prerequisites for consciousness,” said lead researcher Michael Fox from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre at Harvard Medical School back in 2016.

The brainstem plays a pivotal role in regard to the fight, flight or freeze survival mode aimed at keeping us safe and this area of the brain is collaborating with the more evolved areas within the neo cortex.  Side note: I think the mind is embodied, mainly within the neurons of the brain and heart. But the energy of the mind is projected beyond the body – there’s an interconnectedness of all living things; it’s metaphysical and the field of quantum physics is still trying to make sense of it. But that’s a topic for another day!

How this knowledge helps us?

This theory explains why we human beings have a negativity bias – we are incredibly effective at assessing and fixating on potential danger, real or perceived.  A negative thought can take precedence over a positive or neutral thought.

These ideas shed light on how the default setting of our mind often involves anxiety: anticipating harm and danger, fixating/ruminating, planning ways to keep ourselves safe, focussing on elements of our lives we don’t have control over, etc.  When the mind is dormant it will gravitate towards these types of thoughts. That’s what it was designed to do.

When left unchecked, our minds can create a world of trouble for ourselves and for others.  It highlights how our minds can complicate our ability to engage in life and having meaningful connections with others. There’s a tendency to ‘overanalyze’ as a coping mechanism to deal with challenging situations that can further exacerbate the feelings.  These ideas help account for the increase in the prevalence of anxiety in our day due to the complexity of life and divergent sense of ‘danger.’

Anxiety’s purpose is to keep us safe; unfortunately, it often does too good of a job and convinces us to avoid situations we should be engaging in.  As psychologist Reid Wilson stated, we need to ask ourselves: is it a sign of actual danger or is it just noise?  If it’s just noise, we should choose to step into that discomfort. We don’t want anxiety to dictate or determine what we choose to do or not do.

The Good news!

When harnessed effectively the mind can increase wellbeing. Unlike other animals, we have the ability to perceive elements of our lives as meaningful and learn and conceptualize more sophisticated information.

We can observe, reflect and reshape our thoughts and behaviour for the better.  We can choose to perceive our lives favorably! We have the ability to analyze a situation for positive elements and be grateful.

It highlights the importance of establishing and fostering relationships and how those connections can provide us with a sense of safety and security.  It also highlights the importance of practicing mindfulness: noticing the thoughts non-judgmentally with curiosity.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy describes it well: you are not your thoughts and feelings- you are the space and place where the thoughts and feelings occur. The goal is often to ‘get out of our minds’ and engaged in the present.

Posted in General, Stress & Anxiety

COVID – 19 and Your Child’s Anxiety – Tips for Parents

Right now, the news is a scary place and the world is starting to feel like a scary place. If you are the parent of an anxious child this is a time of increased stress, fear, and difficulties for you and your family. Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed and are not sure how to help your child who is also feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps dealing with all of your together in a small space is getting difficult From a parent and psychologist who works with anxious children here are a few ideas:

 

  1. Turn off the news and social media in your home. Make home a vacation from the stress that surrounds you all. If you cannot turn them off altogether limit your time to one set half an hour per day. This half an hour per day should not include the children.
  2. Focus on what you can do to help – watch videos on how to wash your hands properly, practice controlling your own thoughts, focus on your breathing, control what you can control
  3. Focus on helping others – can you donate something to a foodbank or a charity that will be hard hit at this time. Call someone who might be feeling more isolated than you and help break up their sense of isolation. Taking the focus off of you and your situation and onto others is an excellent way to combat anxiety.
  4. Get the facts from the right sources – misinformation is anxiety provoking. Health Canada and the World Health Organization offer up to date facts-based sources of information. Stay away from blogs and other sources who may provide misleading and anxiety provoking information.
  5. Create a schedule – People do best with a sense of purpose. Schedule your day like you would if you were working and the children were in daycare. Have set times for meals and for bedtime and wake up. Plan activities to do during the day like arts and crafts, reading stories, and active play. If you are able to go outside into your yard make sure you include this.
  6. Work out! There are excellent videos you can get online to let you work out from home without equipment. Include the whole family and put on music you love. The littlest ones will find you moving around entertaining and the movement will improve everyone’s mood.
  7. Use video chats to create play dates. Talking with others can really help lift the isolation. Chat with family members and friends at least once a day this will help to ease the sense of isolation. You cannot meet in person but you can still meet virtually.
  8. Learn a new skill together – now is the time to learn how to bake or sew. Or let your children teach you about something they can do.
  9. Use the power of the internet for good. Many museums offer virtual tours and there are platforms where you can watch live performances through your library membership. Take a tour together as a family.
  10. Manage your own anxiety. How you are feeling models for your children how they are feeling.
  11. Shift your view about this time. This is the gift of spending more time as a family making memories.
  12. Reach out! Ask for help. Many psychologist and therapists can offer telephone and video therapy. If you are really struggling you do not have to do it alone we are here to help and happy to help.

 

There are many things that make this time stressful and anxiety provoking. Challenging times are opportunities for growth, connection, and discovery. Use the added time together for good make this a time that you and your children will remember positively for years to come.

 

 

Posted in Depression, Family & Parenting, General, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety

How to Talk to Young Children About Mental Health – Reading With Preschoolers

All parents care about their children being health and happy. While we often get lots of information about how to help our children grow healthy and strong physically, how to help them grow socially and emotionally can be a little more complicated. The Early Development Index (EDI BC 2019 Report) indicates 16 percent of British Columbia’s children enter kindergarten with vulnerabilities in social competence, while 17 percent have vulnerabilities in emotional maturity. Both of these areas are essential to children succeeding and doing well in school and in life. the younger we can help these children to catch up to their peers, the easier it is for them to be successful in their future.

One easy way to start creating mental wellness, emotional literacy, and social skills is by reading with your children. There are increasing numbers of books designed to help children and their parents explore these topics. A bonus to reading to young children is that it will increase their vocabulary, which in turn will help them prepare for school. So, cuddle up with your little ones and start building some of the skills for mental well being.

Emotional Literacy:

The first step to being able to help our children with feelings is to teach them about them. Exposure to feeling words and how they are experienced in the body is critical to having children who are emotionally well adjusted. Here are some of my current favourite books that can help kids learn about moods in general.

The Color Monster : Anna Llenas : 9781454917298The Color Monster A Pop Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas: This book is fun and engaging and does a wonderful job of explaining how emotions are felt in the body.

Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna  : Anna Dewdney does an excellent job of introducing feelings in her Llama Llama book series.

Classic Munsch Moods by Robert Munsch and Micheal Martchenko: This book takes pictures from well known Munsch stories and provides the feeling words that go with them. Some less used feeling words are in this book.

Books about Moods and Social Skills:

Reading about social situations, which have clear illustrations about how children feel and respond while encouraging empathy, can help you and your little ones start to build caring and compassion for others. These can be gentle ways to start instilling these values in our children.

My Friend Maggie: Harrison, Hannah E.: 9780525429166: Books ...

My Friend Maggie by Hannah E. Harrison: This book explores peer pressure and friendship. I particularly like how the illustrations help us to see how the characters are feeling. I recommend having the children try to put words to the feelings they see illustrated or that you as a parent discuss what feelings you think the different characters are having.

Horrible Bear by Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHara: In this book, anger makes characters treat each other unkindly but an act of kindness helps them find common ground.


Books About Anxiety and Fear:

From how to get ready for the first day of kindergarten or daycare to dealing with the fears of going to bed helping our children learn how to express and face their fears is really important. In these books the different characters explore these fears.

Scaredy Squirrel: Melanie Watt: 8601400300671: Books - Amazon.caScaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt: This is an excellent book for children with anxiety. The squirrel learns how to face his fears and experience a whole new world. This series also has a book about social anxiety.

Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney: This is an excellent book about facing new situations and learning to adjust to them.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket: In this book a little boy learns to make friends with the dark that lives in his house.

Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward:  In this book a child faces her fears in a creative way by singing. It provides children with an example about how to deal with situations that make them worried or afraid.

Once we have a language to start to discuss the feelings we are having, our ability to ask for help, express our needs, and work through our feelings increases. Emotional literacy is part of building mental health in children. Using books is a fun way to bond with your child but also to introduce ideas around social skills and how to manage them. Once we learn the words, we can start to introduce them in real life settings. When you see your child is sad or frustrated or excited, comment on it. “It looks like you are…” then offer empathetic support. Use the books as a starting point for learning about mental health and social skills.

I would like to acknowledge the help of the Port Moody Public Library in suggesting so of the titles listed here.

Posted in Family & Parenting, General, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety

Adolescent Depression

Sophia was concerned about her son.

Danny, normally an out-going and energetic sixteen-year-old, had been down in the dumps since he and his girlfriend Lucy broke up just over two weeks ago. Since then he stopped seeing his friends and hardly left his room. At meal times he hardly ate anything and was visibly losing weight. His sleep was erratic and he seemed to lack the energy or interest to do anything – even those things he was usually passionate about.

Recently the school called, also expressing concern. It seemed that Dan was getting behind in his school work and had stopped submitting assignments. He was having trouble staying focused in class and the self-imposed isolation Sophia saw at home also seemed to be occurring at school.

Sophia knew that it was time to get help, but other than the family doctor who was booked up for the next two weeks, she had no idea where else to go. Instinctively she knew she had to act immediately.

Sophia herself felt both desperate and helpless – her son was withering in front of her very eyes and it seemed that there was nothing she could do to help him.

Who is Most Affected by Depression?
While depression has been described as being equivalent to the common cold of mental health (almost everyone has been “depressed” at one time or another), clinically significant depression can range in severity from minimal to severe, with adolescence being an especially difficult time in terms of mental health concern.

“According to the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health, 15 – to 24-year-olds had the highest rates of mood and anxiety disorders of all age groups. About 7% of them were identified as having had depression in the past 12 months, compared with 5% of people aged 25 to 64 and 2% of those aged 65 or older.

Severe depression is associated with suicidal behaviour, which is often conceptualized along a continuum from thoughts to plans to attempts/deaths. As many as one in five teens report suicidal ideation in the past year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young Canadians, accounting for almost one quarter of all deaths at ages 15 – 24.

Adolescence and early adulthood are critical periods in the development of mental health. Risk and protective factors may differentially influence this age group, and rates of depression peak during these ages.”

(health reports: Depression and suicidal ideation among Canadians aged 15-24 https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-003-x/2017001/article/14697-eng.htm)

What Does Depression Look Like?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5), the following are criteria for the diagnosis of depression:
5 or more symptoms present during a 2 week period;

Depressed or irritable mood (outside being frustrated) and/or loss of interest or pleasure, plus any three of the following:
1.  Significant weight loss or decrease in appetite (more than 5 percent of body weight in a month or failure to meet expect4ed weight gains).
2.  Insomnia or hypersomnia
3.  Psychomotor agitation or retardation
4.  Fatigue or lack of energy
5.  Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
6.  Decreased concentration or indecisiveness
7.  Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
In addition to the above DSM-5 criteria, children and adolescents may also have some of the following symptoms:
–  Persistent sad or irritable mood
–  Frequent vague, non-specific physical complaints
–  Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
–  Being bored
–  Alcohol or substance abuse
–  Increased irritability, anger or hostility
– Reckless behaviour

(DSM-5 Criteria – as cited by MD Wise – Clinical Care Guidelines for: Major Depression in Children and Adolescents – http://www.mdwise.org/MediaLibraries/MDwise/Files/…/gl-depressioninchildrend.pdf )

What Causes Depression?
A number of factors can cause depression – genetic predisposition, severe life circumstances, substances and certain medical conditions can all affect brain chemistry and thus the moods we experience.

What Should I Do if I Think My Child is Depressed?
Start with your doctor. It is important to rule out any other underlying physical causes or conditions that resemble symptoms of depression – (Bipolar Mood Disorder, Hypothyroidism, Diabetes and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome all share symptoms which can resemble depression).

www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201609/4-conditions-resemble-depression-arent

Once having ruled other possible causes for your child’s depressive symptoms, there are a number of services available to provide support.

Listed below are a list of strategies that have often been found helpful in managing feelings of depression, followed by links to a number of mental health services.

What is important to remember is that depression, while common, can be a serious health concern. If you see that your child is experiencing a number of symptoms listed above, and especially if they express suicidal thoughts or display self-destructive behaviour, it is better to err on the side of caution and have your child see a health care professional immediately.

Exercise – especially cardio, helps to release endorphins, the body’s own built-in feel good drug.
Change your self talk – be mindful of what you tell yourself. Negative self-talk tends to create negative feelings, while positive realistic self-talk tends to diminish negative feelings while promoting optimism
Use positive distraction – changing your focus, especially when very upset, can help to restore a sense of calm which can in turn lead to a more realistic evaluation of one’s current situation. Deciding anything important when upset and caught in the “fight or flight” response is seldom a good idea.
Sleep – getting enough sleep is so important to good mental and emotional health that it is often the starting place for many mental health practitioners. It is amazing to see how often a number of mental health issues improve with simply getting consistent sleep.
Watch your diet – as the saying goes “you are what you eat”. We wouldn’t expect to get optimum performance when putting bad gas into a vehicle. How can we expect to get positive results when our food choices are unhealthy?
Express your feelings –  expressing one’s emotions, whether talking, writing or even creating art, helps to release tension. Not expressing ones’ feelings tends to result in our reacting to those feelings in unhealthy ways (i.e. aggression, withdrawal, or even substance use to numb them).
Keep a mood log – tracking one’s moods and the circumstances in which they occur can help us to recognize and better respond to our triggers. It is hard to change in an effective way what we do not consistently pay attention to. The following is a link to a mood log form and an example of how to complete the mood log – http://www.burdenbearersdv.com/documents/Daily_Mood_with)example.pdf
Take action – do what you would normally enjoy doing, even if you don’t feel like it – often the enjoyment follows the effort, despite what we may think before we start.
Structure your time – planning one’s time and then following through with the plan can create a sense of satisfaction and control when the rest of life may feel out of control.
Get into nature – something about getting out into nature often refreshes our spirit.
Read, meditate, pray – numerous studies have shown the mental, emotional and physical benefits of meditation and prayer.
Listen to Positive Music – music can help to change our mood – for good or bad. “Good stuff in/good stuff out”.
Spend time with a pet – the unconditional love our pets give us can really help to elevate our mood.
Talk to someone “Face-to-Face” – overuse of technology has the tendency to divide and cut us off from each other. Making time to hang out with friends is in many ways therapeutic – we were made to be social.
Practice hope – consciously think about what you are thankful for and what you are looking forward to.. What we focus on becomes most real for us.

Support Services  

Child and Youth Resources – Fraser Health: http://www.fraserhealth.ca/health-info/mental-health…use/…/child-youth-resources/

Depression – Fraser Health: www.fraserhealth.com …. Health Topics A-Z > School Health> Mental Wellness

Short Term, Assessment, Response, Treatment Team – Fraser Health: https://www.fraserhealth.ca/…/short-term-assessment-response-treatment-team/

Rapid Access Clinic – Fraser Health: https://www.fraserheatlh.ca/health-info/mental-health…use/…/rapid-access-clinic

Bounce Back: For adults and youth| CMHA British Columbia: https://www.cmha.bc.ca/programs-services/bounce-back/

Posted in Depression, Family & Parenting, General, Stress & Anxiety

Betrayal

David betrayed his life partner and he was not prepared for his partner’s emotional distress. He wanted to know when it would end. He asked “Why isn’t sorry good enough?” David needed to understand that his partner’s reactions were normal. Her healing was largely dependent on his ability to be empathic, remorseful, honest, apologetic, loving, patient and soothing over a long period of time. And most importantly to stop the behavior that devastated his spouse. 

Normal reactions of the betrayed partner and how to respond:
Disbelief:
They don’t believe this nightmare. This is understandable. They trusted you and don’t want to believe you did what you did.
Shock: They appear numb and dazed. Emotions are frozen and senses dulled.
Reality: “Oh my God. It really happened.” They don’t know where to turn. They may feel shamed by your betrayal. Encourage them to get the help they need for their pain.
Confusion: They’re disoriented, impatient, disorganized and forgetful. Be gentle and helpful.
Physical Symptoms: They may sleep or eat too little – or too much. They may suffer from physical aches and pains, weakness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, weight loss. Take long walks together and ensure a healthy diet.
Crying: Deep emotions well up, released by crying, uncontrollable sobbing and even screaming out loud. Support them by acknowledging they’re upset before verbalizing your remorse for causing their pain.
Self-Control: Too much self-control means they are storing up anger and will release it powerfully. The release of anger is necessary to heal.
Need to Know: They will ask lots of questions to process their trauma, move through it, and move past it. Whatever they ask, answer honestly and apologize with another promise you will never betray them again.
Injustice: Your betrayal is an agony you inflicted upon them. They need to know that you understand how this plagues them.
Inadequacy: Their self esteem is shattered. They may feel belittled, insignificant or unlovable. 
Idealizing: They may live in the past, before the betrayal came along and “messed it up.” Assure them you remember the good times and will work at developing an even better future with them.
Frustration: Their pain returns again and again. They wonder if they will ever recover and feel better. Be there to hold and comfort them. Repeat your apologies.
Bitterness: Resentment and anger toward you and what you have done are to be expected. This is natural. Until they’ve worked through and exhausted their anger, they cannot heal.
Waiting: Their pain is waning, but their zest for life has not returned. They are in limbo, exhausted and uncertain. Life seems flat and uninteresting. Help them by planning activities that bring joy back into their life.
Emotional Conflict: Shirley Glass, PhD states: “The irony of healing from betrayal is that the perpetrator must become the healer. Thus, betrayed partners are vulnerable because the person they need to turn to is the source of their danger.” The conflict for a betrayed spouse is obvious, but Dr. Glass also recognized that…partners who are betrayers sometimes find it hard to stay engaged with their spouses when they know they are the source of such intense pain. The key is to stay engaged nonetheless. Be supportive and remorseful, and above all…keep talking.
Triggers: It is normal for the betrayed partner to be intensely triggered and traumatized by certain dates, places, items or activities. Depression, anger and nightmares are common when triggered. Again, express you are sorry, you acted so selfishly and caused this recurring pain. Never indicate they should “get over it”. Your betrayal will remain a permanent memory for them, which they learn to deal with better as they heal, and you earn back their trust and rebuild your relationship.

If you can apply all of these components: gratitude, love, acknowledging their pain, admitting you caused the pain, an expression of shame and a promise it will never happen again, there is a strong possibility of:

Hope: Life will get better and the good days out balance the bad.
Commitment: Life won’t be the same, but they decide to actively begin building a new life.
Peace: They feel able to accept the betrayal and face the future.
Life Opening Up: Life has value and meaning again.
Forgiveness: While the memory will never leave them, the burden they’ve been carrying from your betrayal is lifted. Given what you have done, the pain it caused them and the anguish they lived through, this is the ultimate gift they can bestow. They give it not only to you, but to themselves. Be grateful for this gift and cherish it always.

Posted in Depression, General, Marriage & Relationships, Personal Growth

How to Talk About Suicide

Suicide is an emotional word. Feelings of confusion, fear, anger, and even disgust are common responses when the topic comes up in conversation, rare as that might be. As a clinical counsellor, I have felt all of these emotions when discussing suicide with clients and will continue to do so. But over years of working with people at some of the lowest points of their lives, I’ve learned not to let those emotions get in the way of compassion.

I ask you today to accept responsibility for how you react to hearing about suicide. I ask you to help foster a hopeful and meaningful conversation about suicide, as opposed to one full of stigma and discrimination. I do this believing wholeheartedly that to do so will change and potentially save lives in the face of arguably the most preventable major cause of death. Both those who experience such suffering, as well as those who are left behind in the wake of a suicide know the sting of stigma and discrimination all too well.

I work with and think about the issue of suicide almost every day. It has drained me and forced me to confront some of the most fundamental beliefs. There have been times when I have asked if I can continue to help people facing such terrible suffering.

Fortunately, that’s rare. I spend considerably more time being inspired by the strength and the courage of the clients I have the privilege to work with. Their stories of hardship are all too common, but the fact that they show up to sessions at all suggests resilience and a strength of character few are ever forced to employ.

The unfortunate and uncomfortable reality is that society shies away from the issue of suicide, when we should be embracing it. Even in the helping professions, it’s not difficult to find stories of therapists “firing” clients following suicide attempts. Our collective fear – of litigation, of loss, of the prospect of our ineffectiveness – dilutes our goal of helping others from a moral obligation to a convenient desire.

Instead of writing off people who are suicidal, we should be welcoming with open arms those who most need our help. A small but meaningful part of this includes being mindful of the language we use regarding suicide, just as we would with any other significant health issue.

Most people who are suicidal do want to live. The problem is that life has become unbearably painful, and when looking for an escape from suffering, suicide appears to be the only option. The solution is to see that alternatives exist and that life can be worth living, and this becomes a foundational component of treatment when a person who is suicidal seeks help.

Stigma thrives in silence. Not talking about suicide only serves to strengthen a discrimination of those experiencing suicidal thoughts and mental illness that is already too prevalent. But talking about suicide in a careless or judgmental way is worse. So how can we start to get it right?

I’ve go three ideas on where to start.

  1. Stop saying “committed suicide.” Suicide attempts are not a death sentence, a permanent label, nor a crime. The word “committed” is judgmental and implies that a crime has occurred. “Died by suicide” is more factual, accurate, and respectful.

    I would also stay away from the commonly heard phrase “failed suicide attempt: (we want to avoid reinforcing the belief that a person is a failure if they survive their attempt).
  2. Consider what is meant by how you use the word “suicidal.” As a label, it can be misleading and damaging, and not just because of the usual weight of stigma and discrimination that comes with it. “Suicidal” implies a trait that can become stuck to a person, much like a diagnosis.

    But this just isn’t the case with suicide. The proof is in the statistics: a 2002 literature review of 90 studies on suicide attempt survivors showed that 7/10 of those who attempt suicide will not attempt again, and 9/10 people who survive an attempt will not go on to die by suicide later.
  3. Speaking of hope, please remember to talk about it, because hope above all other things cannot be taken away from a person, only given up or lost. Hope is powerful and it is contagious, and even the smallest spark of it might be enough for someone to decide that life is meaningful enough to live, even if just for one more day.

    As Viktor Frankl wrote, “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

If you are in crisis, help is available. tell a friend, a health professional, or call 1-800-SUICIDE to speak to a crisis line volunteer. For more information on suicide warning signs and what to do about them, visit the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention at suicideprevention.ca

Reference:

Owens D, Horrock J, and House A. Fatal and non-fatal repetition of self-harm: systematic review. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2002;181:193-199.

 

 

Posted in Depression, Family & Parenting, General, Grief, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety Tagged with: , , ,

The Power of Habit

A book review by Jennifer Foster, MSW

I recently read a book called The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. It is about why we have habits and how they can be changed. I was interested in this book because I have some habits I want to break and I was curious to learn about why they exist in the first place and how to change from having bad habits to good ones.

The author, Charles Duhigg, describes habits as “the choices that all of us deliberately make, at some point, and then stop thinking about but continue doing”. The idea is that at one point we all make decisions that help us get through the day and once we decide we stop thinking about it and proceed with the behaviour automatically. Scientific studies have found that habits happen to prevent us from becoming overwhelmed by all the decisions we would otherwise have to make each day. They are a way for our brain to save effort.

While habits help us conserve mental energy, a key point is that our brains do not always test out and choose habits that would be in our best interest, but rather habits are borne out of urges or cravings. Sometimes we may not recognize or understand an urge and why we respond to it in the way we do, which can make habits difficult to control.

These two points – that we develop habits based on urges and that once we develop a habit we behave without thinking, are important, because it means that if we want to change a habit, we have to be deliberate about it.

Duhigg describes how habits work as a loop that is made up of three things – cue – routine – reward. When we associate cues with certain rewards a subconscious craving emerges that starts the habit loop. Let me tell you about one of my habits – at the end of my work day, I walk down the street to a coffee shop and buy a coffee and a cookie to eat on my way home. The craving that drives this habit is a desire for comfort to end my work day. While I do derive comfort from this habit I also experience guilt because I know it is causing me to gain weight. So this is one of the habits I want to change. Duhigg lays out four steps for changing a habit:

  • Identify the routine (in my case this is walking down the street to a coffee shop)
  • Experiment with rewards (listening to music also brings me comfort)
  • Isolate the cure (in my case this is the end of my work day)
  • Have a plan (I have decided that when my work day ends, I will walk directly to my car and put on music that makes me feel comforted).

One additional point that I want to highlight is that willpower and belief are important in changing habits. Duhigg describes willpower as a skill and muscle. He says that when you learn to force yourself to make a healthy choice, part of what is happening is you are changing how you think. He said the more we use willpower the more our brain is practiced at helping to focus on a goal. He also says habit replacement works pretty well for people until the stresses of life get too high. He says replacement habits only become lasting new behaviours when they are accompanied by an individual’s belief that they can change or belief that they can cope without needing to satisfy a craving in a particular way.

In summary, habits are something we all have and many of them serve a useful purpose but most of us have some that are unhealthy. The good news is that wile change may be neither fast nor easy, by understanding your habit loop and with willpower and belief, almost any habit can be changed.

Posted in General

Up In Flames – part 2

About three and a half years ago I wrote the article: ‘Up In Flames’ that can be found at Psychealth.com. It was written shortly after my apartment burned down and shares my experience navigating through that challenging life event. This article is the follow-up.

It took over three years to rebuild my home. I recall the first few weeks as the most difficult, as I was coming to terms with the scope of the loss. As time went on, I discovered lots of silver linings: I got to experience a new community to live in, I got to live in a place with a superb view, and I got to enhance various relationships/connections that led to many memorable experiences. Not having content insurance posed some challenges but slowly but surely i rebuilt my collection of clothes and unique items, with the help and generosity of my family, friends and colleagues. I often say that my place burning down was the best thing to ever happen to me since it sent my life on a new and fruitful trajectory.

The day before I got the keys to my apartment the anticipation and excitement was stifled: I got word that our family cabin outside of Pemberton had burned down. It was likely an electrical fire; the flames destroyed the house, the surrounding outbuildings on our property, and about an acre of forest next door to our property. I experienced a juxtapostion of feelings; there was gratitude and relief that no one was hurt and the flames didn’t spread to our neighbours’ cabins but the shock and uncertainty was dilapidating as i along with each family member tried to grapple with the situation. We had owned the cabin for just under a year but the connection we had to the place was strong and the sense of loss was significant.

As the days went on, I realized that my experience three years ago helped prepare me for this situation as I began to pivot my mind and explore the positives, shifting my focus to the future. I quickly realized though that my family wasn’t on the same page with me and required more time to process the experience. It once again emphasized how critical it is to talk about challenging situations or write or express the feelings in some creative way. Doing so helps settle the emotions down. It enabled me to be there for them, the way they were there for me three years ago. There was nothing specific or special I said while connecting with my family; I just focused and listened. I provided some feedback, based on my prior experience, when the situation warranted it or when input was invited. As the weeks have passed, the sadness has slowly subsided as I have observed each family member slowly making a shift in their minds towards the future.

A few ideas to assist with challenging moments such as this:

  1. Take the time to process it. Allocate 20 to 30 minutes a day to chat or write. Look at photos; share stories and memories; focus on the way you are feeling.
  2. make self-care a priority. Get out for a walk, have a good meal, spend time with friends, watch a movie, do some mindfulness, etc.
  3. Focus on the next steps. what needs to be done to rebuild or get your life back on track?
  4. Start to explore and highlight the silvers linings. There are always positives! Focus on the moments you are grateful for, no matter how small they may seem.
  5. If the intense thoughts and feelings persist, seek professional support. How someone reacts to a situation is impacted by his/her perception or beliefs which are developed from biology, genetics, temperament and experiential factors.

I look forward to a year or so down the road when my family feels he excitement I feel right now moving back into my apartment. It’s brand new, feels more sturdy, has better sound proofing, and everything has been upgraded to today’s codes and standards. I have realized first hand that challenges can enhance resiliency. As Viktor Frankl suggested, it’s through those challenges we can find meaning and purpose

Posted in Depression, Family & Parenting, General, Grief, Marriage & Relationships, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy

Five Habits of ‘Anxiety Resilient’ People

Why are so many people struggling with anxiety? This was the question posed to me by a good friend over coffee this week, who was concerned about the levels of anxiety she was seeing in her workplace colleagues.

With all that is happening in the world around us – natural disasters, immigration crises, worldwide political unrest, political shenanigans, housing affordability issues, ethical and moral failures-a more appropriate question might be – Why wouldn’t we be anxious?

According to the Statistics Canada (2012)*, anxiety costs the Canadian government $17.3 billion dollars a year, affecting almost one quarter of the Canadian workforce. Improving accessibility to viable treatment for working Canadians would most definitely be part of the solution. On a personal level. Canadians need to commit to engaging in constructive action to manage anxiety before it becomes debilitating.

Anxiety begins as a normal and adaptive response that can alert us to threat. It is an unpleasant state where we have “a vague sense of apprehension, often accompanied by such autonomic symptoms such as headache, perspiration, palpitations, tightness in the chest, mild stomach discomfort and restlessness”.**It results from anticipation of a future threat, and should be differentiated from fear, which is an emotional & physical response to an imminent threat (either real or perceived). Fear can trigger a full scale “fight or flight” response, but anxiety symptoms are more pervasive, such as muscle tension, hypervigilance, worry and ongoing sleep disturbances, just to name a few. Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia and specific phobias are a few of the diagnoses given under the “Anxiety Disorders” umbrella when the symptoms become debilitating.

Anxiety symptoms are commonly experienced in normal everyday situations, often if these are outside of an individual’s typical comfort zone. Their initial function is helpful, in that the body and mind are alerted to pay attention to matters at hand. Trouble begins, however, when individuals misperceive what their symptoms mean. thoughts such as “these symptoms are dangers”, and “I won’t be able to function if I become too anxious” elevate and become self-fulfilling prophecies if not curtailed and replaced with truthful cognitions.

Without understanding the function of our symptoms, we may seek to alleviate discomfort by avoiding situations that make us anxious. But in the long term, when the situations are avoided, the greater our anxiety response becomes. Avoidance reinforces anxiety. To overcome it, we must be willing to endure uncomfortable sensations and tell ourselves the truth about them. We must allow ourselves to become comfortable with our discomfort.

What about those people who seem impervious to anxiety? In reality, it’s not that they don’t have anxious symptoms when faced with new or challenging or threatening situations. Rather they may actually use their anxious symptoms as cues to increase their alertness, prepare for the challenges ahead and ultimately “up their game”.

Taking into account learned behaviours and genetic predispositions that may increase one’s proclivity to anxiety, there is much that can be done to step out of the patterns of being anxious. People who are resilient in the face of anxiety tend to:

  1. Recognize their physiological symptoms are just that: Symptoms of increased adrenaline and physiological arousal. they know these will pass.
  2. Maintain awareness of their incorrect misperceptions, challenge them constructively and replace them with more constructive beliefs. They may also limit negative information and media influences, instead looking to sources of information that inspire, encourage and support potential, in themselves and for others.
  3. Offer themselves no excuses. They do not allow their mood of the moment to constrict them. Instead, their motto is similar to that of my 94 – year- old father: “get up, Dress up and Show up!” Despite how they feel, they make commitments and follow through on goals and plans which have been set. Their habits and life choices reflects values of honouring and respecting themselves and others.
  4. Engage in intentional self car. They find ways to take themselves out of stressful life circumstances with activities and people they truly enjoy on a daily and weekly basis.
  5. Not shy away from challenging life circumstances. Rather than procrastinating and letting minor stresses grow into major ones, they deal with problems when still small and manageable . They look for ways to make constructive and meaningful differences in their work, family and community life.

Our normal physiological responses to challenge can limit us, or we can choose to use them to help us take on life’s challenges. The choice is ours.

 

*Global News.ca Anxiety and depression cost the Canadian economy almost 450 billion a year. September 2, 2016.
**Sadock, B.J. & Sadock, V.A. 2007. Synopsis of Psychiatry. (10th Edition). Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia, PA. (p.579)
Posted in General, Personal Growth, Stress & Anxiety, Therapy