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5 Things Cats Can Teach Us About Mental Health

5 Things Cats Can Teach Us About Mental Health

Happy belated International Cat Day! I’m a few days late with this one but as a proud cat mom, self-proclaimed cat expert, and intern therapist, I decided to compile a list of the top 5 things that cats can teach us about self-care and our own mental health.

1. It’s OK to say No

Many of us have forgotten that it is okay to say “no”. We unfairly associate saying no with being rude or selfish, and at times this can put us in situations whereby avoiding the discomfort of saying no, we are actually sacrificing our own needs and wants. Cats? NEVER. Cats understand the delicate balance of remaining conscientious and kind without having to sacrifice their own needs, and I can assure you that they do not swirl into a world of guilt upon declining an invitation to spend time with you.

2. Rest Is the Best

We live in a world that glorifies busy. Oftentimes we can mistake our productivity for self-worth, which can lead us to burn out and can cause us to no longer perform as best we can. A cat sleeps on average 15-20 hours a DAY. While this may be excessive for us humans, it definitely serves as a reminder that sleep is GOOD. Without adequate rest, we are much more likely to feel irritable and anxious throughout the day.

3. Boundaries Can Be Violated by Neglect OR Excessive Smothering

This is probably one of the age-old determinants for whether you consider yourself a cat or a dog person. Dogs LOVE a good cuddle and will do so on command. A cat, however, is likely to feel a bit more disrespected by being swooped up and cuddled unannounced. This isn’t to say they don’t love affection! Similar to a healthy relationship, cats set healthy boundaries wherein they show you love when it’s right for them without being neglectful.

4. Always Be Curious

A cat is forever curious, and staying curious is how we learn and grow. A healthy sense of curiosity allows us to ask questions and explore new worlds and possibilities!

5. Stay Aware of Your Surroundings

Staying aware of our surroundings refers to cultivating mental awareness. This allows us to be observant and pay attention to what is and isn’t serving us in our lives.

The Importance of Self-Compassion During Difficult Times

The Importance of Self-Compassion During Difficult Times

Disclaimer: This is a personal discussion around self-compassion and self-love with details about my own disappointments, sexual assaults, and critical self-talk that may be difficult for some clients to read about. This blog is divided into 3 parts to address the: disappointments, critical self-talk, and sexual assaults.

Part 1: Disappointments

Self-compassion was something I first heard about during my MSW. It refers to extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general struggle. It was advertised as the holy grail of therapy. I say this because I didn’t know how to practice it or feel at all connected to this concept. In my head, I would think “yeah, that sounds like someone who’s making an excuse for something. Why wouldn’t you just keep pushing through when it’s tough? That’s so weak of them.”

I had connected emotional strength to avoidance and tolerance, which didn’t help when I was faced with some personal crisis (I couldn’t find a job coming out of my MSW in the field despite starting my search 3 months before school had even ended. Everyone else in my class was getting hired and I wasn’t going anywhere. Plus, my partner of 6 years decided that our relationship was over. My world was spinning out of control).

You’re probably asking “what does this have to do with self-compassion?” Well, I believe looking back with the self-compassionate lens I have now, I can connect with the parts of me that needed care during that distressing time. Disappointments in life are something we all have to adjust to. Self-compassion gives us the emotional buffer and resilience to get through it. Looking back, a practice of self-compassion would have helped me accept that the job market is tough for anyone. Especially with 250 University of Toronto MSW graduates (not to mention graduates of other universities in the area) seeking work in the same field!

Part 2: Critical Self-Talk

When it comes to practicing self-compassion, it’s really important to examine where your critical self-talk comes up (my colleague Melissa wrote an amazing piece on that, click here to read more about it).

You can think of “critical self-talk” as the harsh internal dialogue you have with yourself. For example, my critical self-talk usually sounds like this: I complete a task/project at work and my critical self-talk says “you know, you need to check over that work. It’s probably wrong. You probably fucked it up again”. Where does this voice come from? It’s the critic I developed at home and at school. It’s that version of me that doesn’t feel like I’m good enough. That inner voice had benefited me growing up when I needed to accomplish things. Now it diminishes the effort and work I put into my achievements and it diminishes me as a person. A compassionate voice in the same situation would sound like this: “you got it done. I know, I know. You’re not sure if it was perfect. Then again, we’ve done such great work we didn’t think was perfect and here you are, still alive and standing. Achieving more and more each day”.

Is the compassionate voice easy for me to connect with? 100% not, and especially not when I’m in a raw and vulnerable spot or feeling miserable. However, this voice that I’ve had to practice (first by asking loved ones for reassurance and then trying it out with myself daily) has brought me great relief during difficult times.

Part 3: Sexual Assaults

When we don’t show ourselves love and compassion, we tend to end up in precarious situations that can be damaging to our body, mind, and spirit. For me, a loud critical self voice and a non-existent presence of self-compassion meant that if a partner wanted something from me, I didn’t have the voice to say ‘no’ even when I didn’t feel comfortable in engaging in intimacy or to feel like I deserved to say ‘no’ and set my own limits. I found myself feeling inferior and emotionally numb after certain sexual experiences. Without my self-compassion, I allowed others to cross my boundaries, and when they did, I blamed myself. I continued to blame myself even in situations when I had said ‘no’ or tried to leave. Sexual assault isn’t meant to be taken lightly. My accounts of it are purely my own experiences. Although the practice of self-compassion in these moments is hard, remember to take time to speak kindly to yourself as you would with a loved one. Being able to love yourself is the way you show others how you need to be treated.

How we speak to ourselves through our inner voice (whether it be critical or loving) spills into all aspects of our lives, whether it be in accomplishments or disappointments, fulfillment or harm. A practice of self-compassion is one we need to cultivate as individuals and as a society.

The Unspoken Pressure of Summer

The Unspoken Pressure of Summer

During those gruelling Canadian winter days, it is not uncommon to dream of that perfect idyllic summer memory, where you can smell the freshly cut grass or imagine the feeling of the warm sunshine on your face. However it can be normal to feel an overwhelming pressure of high hopes, which can sometimes create feelings of stress and anxiety.

Here are some strategies to enjoying summer to its fullest and to keep expectations under wraps:

1. Unplug

It’s very important to give our brains time to rest. That means, spending a good amount of time without computers, smartphones or screens. According to Alan Lightman, Physicist and Author of In Praise of Wasting Time, he argues that the stimulation and high demands of smartphones and technology are “anxiety-producing, dehumanizing, and relentless. If we continue down this route, we’ll become a society of mindless beings driven by speed and the artificial urgency of the world.”

By disconnecting from our devices, we can reinstate a sense of mental clarity and calmness, to experience a sense of privacy and solitude, and to gift yourself a time for reflection and contemplation. You can read more about this here: https://goop.com/wellness/mindfulness/waste-a-little-time-youll-thank-yourself-later.

2. Be Mindful

It is easy to take for granted simple summer pleasures and get caught up in the “shoulds” and “coulds” of potential summer plans (especially the ones you are exposed to on social media). Instead, take a moment to simply “waste time.” Disengage from your fast paced life for a short time and create a sense of stillness within yourself. This can be done by paying attention to the unique flavours of your favourite summer fruit, allowing your bare feet to walk through grass, or eating your dinner al fresco.

3. Be Kind to Yourself

Have a little compassion towards yourself this summer. Doing something once still counts as doing it. You don’t have to go to the beach every weekend, have a glass of rose every night, or watch the sunset every Friday just to have the summer of your dreams. Removing the expectations that peak summer activities need to be the norm will help redefine what it means to make the most of summer.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

How to Overcome Perfectionism

Be honest. Do you always want to be perceived positively by others?

Or are you afraid of failure? Do you struggle with not feeling good enough, no matter what you do? Are your expectations of yourself or others unrealistically high?If you can relate to these, you might be a perfectionist. And you’re far from alone.

Perfectionism is something I struggle with from time-to-time, so I wanted to create a list of some strategies that work for me and share it in hopes of helping others.

1. Instead of focusing on the end goal, try and enjoy the process.
I’m all too familiar with the highs I get from the sense of accomplishment for achieving something I’ve been focused on getting to.  However, this high is often short-lived because it comes at the expense of the “low”: the pain I put myself through to getting to a goal. One of the most effective strategies I’ve found to allow myself to embrace and appreciate the process of getting to a goal is actually making this process something I enjoy, and the focal point of my journey to growth.  I also find this takes the pressure off the result and makes the process itself feel worthwhile to go through.  I believe the key to this is being curious and excited about the things you can learn about yourself in the process of moving towards something that’s important to you. I find this helps remind me that things are worth doing, regardless of the result.

2. Practice self-compassion.
As a recovering perfectionist, I sometimes notice my inner critic coming out and shaming me for my perceived flaws and shortcomings.  Because my inner critic expects perfection (which is unattainable), no matter what I do, it will find something to pick on, making me feel inadequate and unmotivated.  What helps me when this happens is reminding myself that I am human, and as humans, we all struggle with imperfections.  Being able to catch myself in a “not-good-enough” shaming moment, identifying the negative thought, and then offering the thought loving kindness through compassion can be really helpful.  You can offer loving kindness by providing yourself the same compassion you would show to a loved one, through kind words and actions.

3. Re-evaluate your expectations and set more realistic ones.
Sometimes I don’t even realize how unrealistic the expectations I set for myself or others are.  It’s no surprise then that I am bound to feel disappointed and lose motivation because the expectations I have are completely unattainable.  A great strategy for this is to exchange those high expectations with more realistic ones, which are those that you and others can reasonably meet, taking into consideration what is and is not in your control.  If you’re noticing yourself constantly feeling upset or frustrated, it might be because you are holding onto unreasonable expectations.  It might help to talk this out with a friend or family member, who can help you reassess your expectations and look at ways to make them more attainable and realistic.  

4. Love yourself not in spite of, but for your imperfections. 
Embrace your flaws.  They make you, you. Once I was able to see that my striving to reach some unattainable standard to prove my own worth to others and myself was what was actually making me feel unworthy and unlovable, I was able to accept myself as I am and just be. This ability to be, helped lead me to a place of whole-hearted acceptance. Now, when I strive to make changes in my life, it comes from a place of wholeness vs not feeling good enough, and, regardless of the outcome, I still feel deserving, whole and complete.  This also helps with enjoying the process instead of being outcome focused.

5. Set boundaries and honour your needs.  
Often times what comes with being a perfectionist is wanting to people-please.  There’s nothing wrong with having the desire to make others happy but when it comes at the expense of your needs and your truth, you are not doing anyone any favours.  I sometimes have to stop and ask myself, “Am I being true to myself right now or am I saying or doing this to gain approval from the other person?”  I remember when I initially went through this process, it was challenging to know the difference because I had neglected my own needs for so long to instead prioritize the needs of others by saying or doing things so they would like me. I felt I lost myself and didn’t really know who I was anymore. I wasn’t speaking or living my truth. I wasn’t being authentic. 

Being able to slow down and reflect on what you are feeling in any given moment while also reflecting on what your values are or what’s really important to you can be a good way to help determine what your needs are and any boundaries that need to be set.  You might find that as you begin to express who you are and what your needs are, the people that stay around are really there for you as a person and not for what you can give them.  You begin to learn how to tolerate the discomfort that comes from realizing that not everyone likes you.  Being you and honouring your truth becomes more important than being liked or gaining someone’s approval.

Overcoming perfectionism is a process. Choosing to let go of perfectionism is choosing to love and accept yourself by choosing to let go of the need to prove your worth. 

You will notice that over time, as you become more and more kinder to yourself, you will begin to really see and feel that you are good enough exactly as you are!

Lucky 7: The 7 Benefits to Exercise for Your Mental Health

Lucky 7: The 7 Benefits to Exercise for Your Mental Health

Most people go to the gym or work out to improve their health, build muscle, and have a fitter body. However, exercise can have tremendous impact on our brain and overall mental health.

The next time you debate whether to go work out, consider the following benefits:

1. Stress Reduction

Tough day at work? Consider taking a long walk, or making a quick trip to the gym. The most common mental benefit of exercise is stress relief; it increases levels of norepinephrine, a chemical that regulates the brain’s response to stress.

2. Boosts Happy Brain Chemicals

The next time you think, “I hate the treadmill,” remember that your brain loves it. Exercise releases endorphins that are responsible for feelings of euphoria and happiness. If you suffer from depression, or are feeling a bit down, consider adding exercise to your regimen. You don’t have to spent hours in the gym to reap the benefits; 30 minute workouts a few times a week can do the trick. 

3. Confidence Booster

We often go into a workout kicking and screaming, but it’s rare to find someone post-workout who has regrets. That’s because not only do you feel good post-workout, but you often look it. Regardless of whether you’re seeing noticeable results, exercise can swiftly increase our perceptions of self-worth. As we continue, the obvious physical changes only solidify our positive relationship with ourselves.

4. Vitamin Gain

If you’re one who takes his or her workout outside, be prepared for more than just fresh air. Sunshine not only provides our body with Vitamin D, but it also helps reduce depressive symptoms. There’s more to just running to be done outside, too. Consider cycling, yoga, rowing, or a grab a few friends and consider joining a league.

5. Help Your Brain

As much as we hate to admit it, aging impacts the body and the brain. However, exercise has been show to have a remarkable impact on slowing aging of both, including helping to prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s or even to combat Osteoporosis. As we’ve learned from recent research, exercise can even grow new brain cells. Even though you won’t be able to see it, exercise results in a healthier, sexier brain.

6. Maximizing Memory

Memory not what it used to be? Exercise can help with that. Just like with preventing diseases and aging, exercises knack for stimulating your hippocampus boosts your memory and helps you to retain information when learning new things. Studying a new language? Schedule in routine workouts to maximize your likelihood of success.

7. Controlling Addiction

Dopamine—the principal chemical responsible for pleasure—is also what drives addiction. We just can’t get enough of it. However, instead of turning to drugs, alcohol, or food for a dopamine release, consider exercise. Not only does exercise help in addition recovery, but it helps you prioritize your dopamine cravings.

Of course, regular exercise is just one strategy to promote mental wellness. If you are feeling overwhelmed with stress, anxiety, or sadness, mental health counselling can be an essential part of taking care of yourself. However, the next time you’re trying to motivate yourself to hit the gym, remember: your body AND your brain will thank you.0 Likes

How to Take Care of Yourself When You Have Absolutely No Time

How to Take Care of Yourself When You Have Absolutely No Time

I want to share a secret. Something that far too many advice columns forget to mention when it comes to self-care. The truth is, you don’t need hours to take care of yourself.

Small quick changes can have a big impact. That’s important because it’s the busiest people who need self-care the most and the last thing you have time for is to feel guilty for having yet another thing on your to-do list you can’t seem to get to. 

Most of the time when we think of self-care we think of activities. Catching a yoga class, walking through a park, or reading a great book. All of these are fantastic but they are not the only ways we can take care of ourselves. Making a change to your internal monologue, focusing on the positives in your day, or genuinely accepting a compliment from someone else takes only seconds but can go a long way to feeling better. 

When it comes to self-care quick and often is better than long and infrequent. Can’t make it to that Zoomba class? Take three minutes in the morning and dance to your favourite song. Longing for a day at the Spa? Treat yourself to a fancier body wash or light your favourite candle for a few minutes before bed.

So what are you waiting for? Try one of these today. You deserve it! 

Starting today, I’m ready to: 

  • Make a point to smile at strangers while I walk down the street. 
  • Turn up the radio and sing as loud as I can while stuck in traffic. 
  • Send a text message to a friend to let them know I’m thinking of them. 
  • Close my eyes and take three slow breathes in and out while saying a positive message like, “I’ve got this!” or “I am strong and capable”. (Helpful trick: Say it out loud. It makes a difference!)
  • Focus on my own progress and growth rather than comparing myself to someone else. 

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