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6 Prompts to Start Your Daily Journal

6 Prompts to Start Your Daily Journal

I am a huge proponent of daily journal writing. Journalling allows us to better process our thoughts and externalize any difficult feelings we may have had throughout the day. It can be a helpful tool in allowing ourselves to get to know what situations trigger us, how we process our thoughts and emotions, and how we might use our creativity to solve difficult problems.

And yes, sometimes writing feels tedious. Or we just have no clue where to start. For those moments, I’d encourage you to try these 6 journal prompts and see where they take you.

1. What’s on my mind right now?

This prompt can allow you to practice mindfulness and awareness of the present moment.

2. What has been going well in my life lately? What has been more difficult? Why?

This prompt motivates us to get more in touch with how situations, relationships, or circumstances in our lives are playing a role in influencing our feelings.

3. What inspires me? Why?

Exploring what inspires us is a helpful tool in determining our values and coming to understand what feels enriching for us.

4. What are 5 things I am grateful for right now?

Gratitude! Practicing a little bit of gratitude can help us feel more positive emotions and relish our experiences.

5. What are 5 ways that I can go out of my comfort zone this year?

There is no better way to grow than by stepping outside of our comfort zones. Experiencing and growing through a new challenge is a great way to boost self-confidence and belief in our abilities.

6. What area of my life needs more love and attention? Why?

This prompt may allow us to recognize where we need to cultivate more care and self-love. It can also be a helpful prompt toward setting small goals to make us healthier and happier.

Happy writing!

What is Counselling?

What is Counselling?

Counselling is an interactive process wherein you identify your goals and you work toward them together with the counsellor in a safe, supportive, non-judgmental environment. Anything that you share is confidential—kept between you and the counsellor—with some limitations for safety reasons. 

Talking to a Stranger

The main focus of counselling is YOU. Sometimes people find it odd to discuss their most personal problems with a complete stranger that they know almost nothing about. But that’s where the beauty of counselling lies—as opposed to talking to a friend or family member, a counsellor offers an outside, third-party point of view. Your counsellor won’t change the subject or start talking about themselves instead. They won’t belittle or judge you, and they can help you at whatever pace works best for you. They might be able to offer options both personally and professionally that you may not know existed. Even though your counsellor will not be a “friend,” a close relationship of a different kind is often developed, where trust, acceptance, and support are key components.

The First Session

For your counsellor, the first session is mainly about getting to know you and learning some background information about you. For you, it’s about getting comfortable talking to your counsellor, and it’s about getting to know one another.

What’s Next?

After the first session, you will be asked if you would like to continue counselling, and a second appointment will be booked. It is generally best to stay with the same counsellor because you will have a relationship with them and they will know you, your story, and the plan that you have worked out together.

Types of Counselling

Counselling is often referred to colloquially as “talk therapy,” and while simply talking about problems or issues can indeed be therapeutic in itself, counselling also takes on other forms, such as Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). These are different approaches to counselling that might be used to best help you reach your goals.

  • Solution-Focused Brief Therapy looks at finding solutions to problems and working on imaging other ways to reach your goals. This is typically a shorter-term method of counselling often used in conjunction with other approaches. By helping you identify what you might want to change in your life as well as what you might wish to have happen in the future, SFBT can help you to create a vision of a preferred future for yourself.

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an approach that helps you look at the thoughts behind your emotions, where these thoughts might have come from, and how accurate they might be. Often times, if we don’t analyze and challenge our automatic thoughts, they can take on unhelpful forms that impede on our way of living and get in the way of achieving our goals. Sometimes we may not even be aware of these thoughts, let alone that they could be untrue. CBT can help you identify more helpful ways of thinking that can then change how you are feeling.

Your counsellor may use these or a number of other approaches to help you achieve your goals. Always feel free to ask your counsellor about their approach or ask them any other questions as you go forward with your sessions.

What kind of issues can a counsellor help me with?

Counsellors can help with a wide range of personal concerns, including coping with anxiety and/or stress, doing better in your courses or at work, time management, learning strategies, homesickness and transition to changes, financial problems, feelings of depression or sadness, body image and eating disorders, self-harm or suicidal feelings, coping with loss and grief, relationship and family issues, sexuality concerns, getting control of your drinking or drug use, confidence and self esteem, working effectively in groups and teams, anger/conflict, problem-solving around issues (advocacy), etc.

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.

How to Cope with Intrusive Thoughts

How to Cope with Intrusive Thoughts

Do you know those thoughts that randomly pop into your head and drag you down a rabbit hole? Or those images that flash in your mind? They seem to come automatically and can fill you up with anxiety. Even now as I write about this experience I feel almost overwhelmed. In the therapy world, we refer to these unwanted and distressing thoughts and images as intrusive thoughts.

You can think of intrusive thoughts as random scraps of paper that don’t really have a place to go but your brain tries to file them away. These random scraps have no meaning but your brain tries to stick them somewhere. What makes them distressing is the sense we try to make of them, the meanings we attach, and the fact that these thoughts (and images) tend to stick in our minds. They stick because they’re often fantasies or thoughts about things we find unacceptable and fear we might act on.

Here are some quick tips to cope with these intrusive thoughts:

  1. Allow yourself to have them. Remind yourself that they’re thoughts, not facts. If you think or see an image in your head, but don’t really plan to act on it, that’s completely normal. It’s not harmful, and not something to worry about. Remember that these are automatic thoughts, so it’s outside of your control whether they happen or not. It might be helpful to try to label the thought as intrusive and then carry on with your day.
  2. Check the facts. Ask yourself how likely it is you will act on this thought. (Disclaimer: If you think you might harm yourself or someone else, it’s important to check in with a medical professional for support. You can access a distress helpline or the local emergency room for that immediate support).
  3. Start a mindfulness practice. This will help you notice and let go of intrusive thoughts.
  4. Keep going! Try to continue whatever activity you were previously doing and allow yourself to move on from the thought.

Intrusive thoughts are common. If they start to feel unmanageable, then it could be an indication of an underlying mental health concern, such as anxiety, OCD, and PTSD, to name a few. It’s important to check with your doctor if you’re feeling highly distressed by these thoughts and images.

How to Stay Focused

How to Stay Focused

Recently everyone’s been talking about how focused world champion and playoff MVP Kawhi Leonard is. Folks have even asked me how they can cultivate habits like his when it comes to their work or studies. In fact, in my clinical work, I’m often asked by clients how they can maximize their attention spans to get those nagging to-do lists done. Indeed, how in a world constantly buzzing with distractions galore (thank you, smartphones!), where peace and quiet is becoming more an exception than the norm, does one stay focused and accomplish anything?

In some cases, a short attention span can be the result of struggles with ADD or ADHD or of an underlying medical issue that results in chronic fatigue and lack of physical and emotional energy to get tasks done. If you find you simply don’t have enough energy to get your work done on a daily basis, please consult your GP to rule out any medical issues that may be impacting your energy levels and attention span.

If all is well medically, here are seven ways to get the most out of your day:

Organize your living and working spaces: The more cluttered your space, the harder it is to stay focused. Clutter also drains energy, and people in disorganized living spaces waste a great deal of time looking for things. Try your best to only keep things you use on a regular basis, avoid impulse purchases and make it a habit to declutter your space on a daily basis. I highly recommend Marie Kondo’s approach to organized living. Check out her series on Netflix.

Set a daily structure and routine: Figure out a time of day that works for you—a time when you are at peak performance—and guard that time. Focus on getting the more difficult tasks on your list done then. Make sure your colleagues or loved ones know the importance of this time slot so that you can keep as many sources of distraction and interruptions as possible away during this time.

Learn to say no: Do you find yourself saying yes to requests for favours even though you can’t or don’t want to commit to them? Learning to say no to such requests has been a huge life change for me, as I often found myself saying yes to people out of courtesy. I find being respectfully direct is the key to setting boundaries for myself so that I can focus on doing things that are important to me. Sometimes I run into situations where people aren’t happy that I cannot accommodate their requests, but it’s certainly better than saying yes and becoming resentful later on.

Try meditation: Mental clutter can be even more destructive than the clutter in our living spaces. It robs us of our ability to be present in the ‘here and now’. I work with many clients who are anxious and struggle to relax because of the responsibilities they have at home and work. Tight schedules can heighten feelings of anxiety and depression. There are many cool apps you can try to learn the art of meditation or mindful breathing. Try Mindshift or Calm, both of which are free and very helpful for beginners. Even a 3-4 minute exercise can lower feelings of depression and anxiety by 70%.

Avoid multitasking: We live in a culture that prizes multitasking. However, research has proven that in reality multitasking adversely affects performance, attention to detail and memory retention. It’s better to focus on one task at a time and allow yourself the space and time to get one task done before moving on to the next.

Reward yourself: I am a believer in setting up rewards for myself and my child when a challenging task is accomplished or a positive habit is developed. The reward doesn’t necessarily need to be material. For example, it could mean taking some time to do something you enjoy but generally don’t have the time for, such as reading a book or going for a walk.

Get physical: Taking care of your physical health by hitting the gym or going for nature walks has been shown to improve brain function significantly. Your energy levels and ability to stay focused will be noticeably better.

Change is hard work! If you find yourself in need of support, I encourage you to reach out for help, whether to a supportive loved one or a professional counsellor. Asking for help maximizes our chances of making long-lasting changes for our wellness.

Signs You Might Be Afraid of Intimacy

Signs You Might Be Afraid of Intimacy

Do you fear intimacy? Below are some quick things to look out for to see whether or not you might be afraid of getting too close in a relationship.

1. You keep attracting emotionally unavailable people. If you notice this pattern in your dating history, this is a tell-tale sign that you are afraid of intimacy.

2. You are overly critical of the other person for small things. Do you find yourself questioning your interest in your dating partner because you didn’t understand the joke they told or because their teeth are a little crooked? In these moments, you might want to ask yourself whether these things really matter to you in the long run. Instead, you might want to focus more of your attention on whether your partner shares similar values to you, for example, do the two of you share similar views on monogamy and desires for the relationship?

3. You feel bored when the other person does everything right. When you’re used to feelings of abandonment, anxiety, and uncertainty, being with someone who doesn’t trigger these things will likely feel ‘boring’. Sometimes we tend to associate anxiety with chemistry when, in fact, these are two completely different things. You might want to ask yourself: Am I writing this person off because they genuinely aren’t the right fit for me? Or is it that I fear developing an authentic connection with this human being?

4. You tend to feel intensely about the person right away. Relationships take time. When you find yourself having intense feelings for the other person early on in the relationship/dating experience, you are actually projecting your own feelings onto them. This is a red flag that should signal to you that you are not allowing yourself to connect on a deep level with this person.

The good news is that once you become aware of your patterns, you can choose to work on them and make conscious choices to do things differently. Being able to talk this out with a therapist can help tremendously. Your therapist can assist you in reflecting your unhealthy patterns in your dating life and work with you to make changes that reflect your true desires and values.