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How to Date Confidently

How to Date Confidently

It seems like it’s become harder and harder to date. Dating articles range from “why did they ghost me?” to “why are they all hot and cold?” These behaviours are all marvels that are becoming more common as a result of the online dating and app world.

In this day and age, not only do we have multiple options, we also have to search through those multiple profiles, go on multiple dates, have multiple chats and potential connections, and possibly go through multiple break-ups in order to get to be with someone (that is, if monogamy and serious relationships are your thing). Just thinking about all of this and typing it makes me exhausted!

So, how on earth can we make sense of this messy online dating and app scene?

Think about the following, always with your own needs as your true compass:

  • What do I want when it comes to dating? Do you want something casual, to see how things develop, a serious relationship, marriage?
  • What do I want in a relationship? Would you be okay with long distance, for example?
  • What do I need from a partner? For example: kind, thoughtful, considerate, attentive, etc.
  • What are my boundaries? What behaviours am I not okay with?
  • What is my gut saying about what’s going on? If it doesn’t feel right, check it out. If it still doesn’t feel right, consider saying no to this relationship.

At the end of the day, only you will know what works for you. By being your authentic self, others who appreciate who you really are will take notice. It’s more than enough to give.

If you have questions on how to further explore and understand your relationships, it can also be helpful to explore this with a therapist.

How to Support a Loved One with Mental Health Concerns

How to Support a Loved One with Mental Health Concerns

In the spirit of #BellLetsTalk last week, which focuses on talking about mental health, let’s turn a page to talk about how to support others.

When it comes to talking to a loved one about mental health, it can be very uncomfortable because as a society we are still living with a lot of stigma and there isn’t enough information out there to help us know how to start such a conversation. Try these R-E-S-P-E-C-T tips to start the conversation:

(R) Realize it’ll take time to understand where you’re coming from.
For those experiencing a mental health condition, they might be having a hard time coming to terms with their mental health condition. Some might be experiencing “anosognosia” which is a symptoms where someone does not have self-awareness of the condition they’re in, meaning someone actually doesn’t know or think they’re ill. This TED Talk by Dr. Xavier Amador gives a good description of what this might look like.

(E) Educate yourself and others.
It can be really helpful to speak to a professional about your concerns and what you’re observing as the first step to getting support, and to continue these conversations.

(S) Say to yourself “it’s okay to feel what I’m feeling”.
It can be really challenging for family members to support a loved one with mental health concerns. Caregiver burnout is a feeling of mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion due to the demands of providing care. It’s important to have support when this happens, because your loved one needs you to be healthy in order for them to be supported by you.

(P) Patience
While it’s easy to say, patience is a virtue and definitely hard to practice, so start practicing now. Not only will you need to be patient with your loved one, it’s also important to be patient with yourself and the difficult feelings that might come up for you.

(E) Expect that there will be good days and bad days.
Plus there are lots of days that are both good and bad. other days in between. Progress isn’t linear. It can feel frustrating after several good days to have a bad day. It would be important to notice what happened on that bad day so you can strategize on minimizing future bad days.

(C) Crisis plans are important.
A crisis plan is a plan that is discussed in calm moments to decide which supports (personal and professional) to access during a crisis. Here is a great template to use.

(T) Teamwork makes the dream work. 
Think about who to involve in your “team” to support your loved one and you as well. List out people like mental health professionals (e.g. psychiatrists, family doctors, therapists), peer support (e.g. groups, crisis helplines), and family and/or friends.

How to Survive the Holidays

How to Survive the Holidays

Ah, the holidays. The “most wonderful time of year”? As much as the holidays represent a time of rest, joy, and spending time with family, it also comes with challenges such as:

  • Feelings of loneliness from not having anyone to spend the holidays with
  • Having to spend time with family (can’t live with them, can’t live without them)
  • Milestones or anniversaries around a death or loss
  • Figuring “what’s next” when we’re in transition (e.g. between school and starting work)
  • Managing the holiday festivities including how to moderate drinking

Celebrating for One

It can be extremely hard to go through the holidays alone. There can be many reasons as to why this is the case including: being away from home for school, working in another city, having strained relationships with family members, not having a significant other to celebrate the holidays with, or simply because this isn’t a tradition or cultural period to celebrate; each of these situations can be challenging. It’s also common for people to feel more emotionally distant even when they’re in a room filled with people. The holidays can bring out our anxieties and can make us feel quite depressed.

It can be really hard when we’re feeling vulnerable to want to put ourselves out there and address our loneliness by being emotionally vulnerable. It is super important to give it a try and think of this as an investment into somewhat of a New Year’s Resolution. Some things that might be helpful include:

  • Be good to yourself. Just because you’re alone, doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Cliche right? Well, it’s exactly that. You can choose to treat yourself to something nice for the holidays or you can choose to sit and think about how lonely you are. The choice is yours to make.
  • Say “yes” to at least one holiday invitation.
  • Challenge yourself to spend at least 30 minutes at a holiday event and socialize while you’re at it. Don’t fall into the expectation trap of “I should be here with a partner” or “my family is supposed to be here”.
  • Reach out to others and suggest or try an activity together. You can do this by posting something on Facebook or Instagram, sending out a quick text, or trying an event on https://www.meetup.com/cities/ca/on/toronto/ (there are also meet ups in other cities you can check out).
  • Talk to someone about how you’re feeling during the holidays. You might surprise yourself because they might be feeling the same way.
  • Pick someone you want to have a deeper emotional connection with and make an effort to spend time with them, talk to, or do something together.
  • Write down some holiday memories that were amazing and see if you can recreate some of them or make new holiday memories.
  • Be a part of the season of giving by giving back to others.

Sometimes we might try a few things and need some support from others. It can be helpful to reach out to family, friends, or a therapist. You might be able to enjoy a session with a nice cup of hot chocolate.

Getting Over the Family Holiday Dramas

As much as the holidays is a time to be spent with family, family can also be super complicated. Take “Home Alone” as an example. Kid is left alone for Christmas and has the time of his life, because no annoying older brother, no pestering parents, and no loud uncles, aunts, or cousins to ruin the quiet of our alone time. Pure bliss if you ask me.

Yet, for some of us, it’s expected that we’re spending time with our family. So, here are some survival tips for this holiday season:

  • Be realistic about what the holidays will be like. Many of us might idealize what the “holidays” should look like, remember that nobody’s family or holiday is perfect.
  • If things don’t go as planned, see if you can reach out to your supports to vent about how you are feeling.
  • Leave guilt at home. Being around family can bring up a lot of confusing feelings, with guilt being one of them. Be kind to yourself and try not to put unreasonable pressure on yourself.
  • Say “no” and set boundaries. Alongside guilt is the unrealistic expectation to say yes to requests over the holidays. It’s okay to say no in a thoughtful and kind way, and then for you to go about the rest of the holidays as you please.
  • Spend as much or as little time as you want with family. It can be super overwhelming to be under the same roof. Make sure to check-in with yourself and reach out to your supports during this time.

If you need support setting boundaries or talking down your expectations for the holidays, you can get that support through a trusted family member, friend, or therapist.

After the Death or Loss of a Loved One

The holidays can bring back memories for us when we’ve lost a loved one. These memories can be triggering and put a damper on the holidays. How are we supposed to have the holidays we’re so used to when an important part of that was to spend it with the people we love who are no longer here with us?

It’s important to have opportunities to express the loss you’re experiencing. You can do this by:

  • Sharing a favourite story about your loved one.
  • Have a prayer or moment for that loved one before starting your holiday dinner.
  • Light a candle in memory of your loved one.
  • Hold a place at the table for your loved one.
  • Start a new tradition.

Everyone grieves in their own way, so it’s okay to do something that feels right for you that isn’t listed here at all. You might also find different people in your life such as family and friends who grieve the loss of your loved one in a different way as well. That’s okay too.

It’s important to give yourself time and be gentle with yourself. You’ll have mixed feelings about a lot of things, and that’s okay. Let them out and reach out for support if you need it. You can also set boundaries with others during the holidays and excuse yourself from events if they feel too painful to be a part of.

It might also be helpful to have professional support such as a therapist or support group, especially during a challenging time such as the holidays.

The Dilemma of “New Year, New Me” Turning into “What’s Next?”

With the holidays coming up, it can be extremely daunting. For those visiting family, this means we might be back in the throes of curious family members and concerned parents who might want to know what we’ve been up to or “what’s next?” Yes, we know, it’s going to be a New Year, but maybe we haven’t had enough time this year to really have it all figured out just yet. Instead of being thrown into happy festivities, our family might bring up thoughts of “what have I been up to? Have I failed or disappointed them?”

Honestly, nobody knows what they want to do or what they should be doing, because if we actually knew then we would all be in perfectly happy jobs right after school. It really takes years before most of us can actually figure out what we like and that itself can change with time.

In the meantime, here are some tips to get you started on the “what’s next?” question:

  • Try things that scare you (no, we don’t mean sit in a room filled with turantulas). Think about the thing you want to do, “are you stopping yourself from doing it out of fear of failing?” If so, you might want to give it a try.
  • Identify the things you think you should do and then drop the ones that you aren’t aligned with or serve your happiness (e.g. “I should know what I want to do next year after school but I just want to travel” or “I should keep this job because I don’t know if I can find another job”).
  • Set the game plan with short-term and long-term goals. Think about where you want to be tomorrow, next month, 6 months from now, 1 year from now, 5 years from now, and 10 years from now.
  • If you were to imagine telling people what you did with your life while you’re on your deathbed, what would you want to say you’ve achieved?
  • Check-in with family, friends, and other supports (e.g. career counsellor, academic advisor, therapist, support groups) and explore your strengths, values, and interests to figure out your next big move.

And if you’re still feeling confused while being bombarded by all of these thoughts and everything everyone is asking, take a breather. It’s okay to take time to figure these things out. Plus, if it’s past December 31, great! Another year is on the clock before we need to go through this again.

Champagne Towers, Eggnog, and Other Holiday Drinks

The holidays are a time for relaxing, and usually that means lots of food and for those of us who are of the “legal age” of majority, that does mean having a few alcoholic beverages. It’s what we know in society as a way of celebrating – popping the champagne on New Years Eve is a staple image most of us see as a way to ring in the New Year. With that said, it’s important for us to think about how we are mindful and drinking smart at family events and holiday parties. Added bonus: it’ll probably also help with the calorie counting madness that may start come January 1st. (Yes, we’re going to quote some Health Canada now).

One drink is the equivalent of:

  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
  • 5 ounces of wine.
  • 12 ounces of beer.

The following guidelines can be used to limit long-term health risks:

  • women: 0-2 drinks a day, up to 10 drinks a week.
  • men: 0-3 drinks a day, up to 15 drinks a week.

When drinking:

  • Don’t drive. Make plans to sleep over, have a designated driver, or grab a ride with your favourite ride app (e.g. Lyft, Uber, taxi)
  • Drink water between each alcoholic drink so you can stay hydrated or have something to eat between drinks.
  • Practice moderation. Grab a straw and sip at your leisure. It’s not a competition. You’ll probably also enjoy your drink more.
  • Consider how you’re feeling when deciding if you’re in a good space to be drinking. Often feelings of anger, frustration, or sadness can be exacerbated with alcohol. As a general rule, never drink to numb your emotions. It will most often backfire.
  • Know your tolerance level, be realistic, and set realistic holiday drinking plans before an event where drinking might happen.
  • Think about who you’re drinking for. It can be challenging in a work setting or with friends or at home to say no to a drink if it’s being pushed on us. It’s okay to say “no, thanks” or grab a non-alcoholic drink if you’re feeling awkward without one (cranberry soda, perhaps?).

With that said, be safe and enjoy the festivities of the holidays. For those who need more support around their drinking, follow your 12 step program, reach out to your supports, and maybe give your therapist a call.

How To Move Past A Breakup

How To Move Past A Breakup

The end of a relationship can be extremely painful, whether it’s with a romantic partner, a friend, or a family member. Sometimes there are people in our lives that we can no longer be around because it’s not healthy for us and it’s no longer working. Yet, regardless of how necessary it might be to end a relationship, it will still take time to get over that loss.

There are a few ways to understand relationships and the feelings you get when you lose them. To help you navigate this topic, this blog is divided into three parts:

  • “What happens inside your mind and body” talks about the biological and chemical
    changes that happen
  • “What attachment theory can teach you” discusses the relationship itself (by taking a look at early childhood relationship patterns known as “attachment patterns”) to understand why the relationship is – or was – so important to you
  • “How do I get over this pain?” The pain that you might feel physically and emotionally from this loss, and how to get over it.

What happens inside your body
Our bodies respond to relationships in unique ways. In our body, we create chemicals (like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin) that give us those “feel good” moments when we’re in a relationship, help us build a bond with others, and create patterns that we use as templates to understand relationships in our lives.

So, what happens with these bodily chemicals when a relationship ends? First off, chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin decrease; so this means your probably won’t have those “feel good” moments as you did when you were part of that relationship. Then, the body’s stress hormone, cortisol, increases as a response to what it thinks is a “stressful event”. What this means is, you probably already don’t feel as great anymore and your body is also responding to say “hey, I’m super stressed about this!” and this results in the confusing feelings you might be feeling at the end of a relationship.

The good news is, we have enough research to tell us how to help our body limit production of cortisol and boost up those chemicals that help us have “feel good” moments.

What attachment theory can teach you
Attachment. You’ve probably heard this word before, maybe even used negatively “you’re being way too attached”. What does it actually mean to be “attached”?

Attachment theory is a psychological model used to help us understand how we respond in relationships; especially when we’re hurt, separated from loved ones, or think something dangerous is about to happen. This response is a process that starts in childhood through one of our strongest bonds, a mother-child bond (but don’t be mistaken, this bond can also be formed with others too. The most important role model or attachment figure in your life is your template for a strong bond). These bonds we build are what make us feel connected and safe. In adulthood, we try to re-create relationships where we hope to feel those same safe and connected bonds.

Usually, when a relationship ends, that bond is threatened. This means you lose that sense of safety and connectedness, which can make you feel scared, alone, sad, or even betrayed and angry. It’s hard to tell what emotions will come out because of this loss. Especially in the storm of these emotions, we may feel a need to go back to that relationship in order to feel safe and be comforted. That feeling of safety may be temporary. It’s important to remember why you ended that relationship and take time to go back to actual relationships that are safe, as well as learn about how you might be able to let go of this relationship (keep reading!).

How do I get over this pain?
Losing a relationship is painful on so many levels. Our body responds with chemical changes to this loss and the loss in sense of safety and connection.

The good news is, there is something we can do about all this. Here are some tips that you might find helpful:

One, trick our body into thinking the positive chemicals are still around by:

  • Participating in exercise and new activities so that we can create adrenaline
  • Doing activities that help us relax such as going for a walk or meditation, and making sure we stay hydrated to regulate vasopressin
  • Get some rest. Sleep the recommended 7 to 8 hours, because this will help with minimizing cortisol (the stress hormone) and also balance our dopamine levels
  • Cook a nutritious meal (for example, you can try these recipes) maybe even share that meal with family or friends

Two, be kind to yourself. Sometimes we will doubt if we did the right thing to end a relationship, that’s totally normal. It’s all part of what we call the grieving process, where we physically, emotionally, and mentally have to get over a painful loss but it’s not forever.

Three, ask for support from those around you. This can include seeing a therapist. They might be able to help you understand more about your attachment patterns and work with you to form new patterns that are healthier for you. They can also help you get through this experience of loss.

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