As you read this blog, I strongly encourage you to give some thought to your environment and how it affects your mental health and wellbeing.
This is water
In his now-famous commencement address, David Foster Wallace delivered this parable: “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes ‘What the hell is water?’“
I remembered this story recently as I’ve been thinking about what that mysterious water is in my own life. I’ve been considering how the choices we make concerning how we occupy and conceptualize space define us and affect our mental wellness.
Take a walk on the wild side
I recently read an article about how walking in nature really does have a calming effect on people and can assist with managing stress. This doesn’t surprise me at all.
There is an entire discipline—called environmental psychology—which looks at the environmental impact of stress on humans. Studies on the dynamics of lighting on performance and similar studies of how temperature and noise impact our physiology and stress levels have revealed interesting evidence in this field. Consistent exposure can lead to the build-up of cumulative stress, or can in some cases, help to ease symptoms.
Declutter and organize
One of the tasks I’ve set for myself this year is to declutter and organize my space to increase my own mental health and wellbeing. While I’m not finished yet, the sheer fact that I set this goal, gave it importance, and can now see my progress makes me want to continue. The whole process makes me feel calmer and more in control of myself and my environment.
Redesign your space
Ask yourself the following questions about your current environment:
- Do you feel calm when you go home or before you go to bed at night? If not, what is one thing you can do to make your space feel more calming to you?
- Do you feel calm when you walk into work? Sitting in a small cubicle all day can have a negative effect on your psyche. What could you change?
- How do you feel when you’re stuck in rush hour traffic and trapped in public transport? Could you walk or bicycle to work rather than feeling packed like a sardine?
How you manage your space has a reciprocal impact on your sense of wellbeing. This includes how you choose to design your space at home, at work, and in your community. I encourage you to spend some time thinking about the space in other people’s lives as well as your own. Try paying special attention to the silent space during conversations. It can lead to some helpful insights.
Learn more to keep yourself healthy and curious
If this topic interests you, I found an interesting podcast, featuring former Toronto Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, about the importance of green space on health. I also enjoyed reading both The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō, and The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Wellby Meik Wiking. Kondō’s book has been turned into a Netflix series worth checking out.
Whether you like it or not, your immediate environment affects you. Becoming aware of how, and of how you interact with it, can empower you to make positive adjustments and improve your mental health.
As I’m sitting here trying to write this blog, I’m finding my own anxiety rise and I have a desire to stop writing because, “how can I ever make this the best article on procrastination ever?” You’re probably reading this and thinking, “Well, you really can’t make this the best article ever, and how would you ever know if it was?”
I agree with you on that one. It’s not possible for me to know if this will be the best article on procrastination ever, but what I do know is that having that thought has already made it challenging for me to sit here and write this article.
Procrastination is defined as the action of delaying or postponing something. The action itself can bring up feelings of dread, disappointment, frustration, overwhelm, anxiety, shame, and guilt to name a few. We have to get the task done and yet, it’s so hard to do it. If I could get rid of my worrying thoughts and uncomfortable feelings I may have an easier time avoiding procrastination. At the same time, it’s really hard to get rid of thoughts and feelings, which are an important parts of what helps us react to our environment, think, and make decisions. Here are some tips to minimize procrastinating based on this understanding that our thoughts and feelings impact it:
Target those thoughts that get us stuck in procrastinating. When anxious thoughts around the tasks at hand come up, challenge them (e.g. what proves that I won’t be able to write a good article? What are examples of times I’ve written articles and it went well? What would I tell a friend who has a worry of writing the best article ever?
Check in with your feelings. It’s important to know how we’re feeling about the task at hand. If I check in with my feelings, I can address them and come up with an action plan. Here’s an example: if I’m scared that others might judge my article, I could write it and then have coworkers and friends I trust give me some feedback.
Chip away at smaller tasks to reach the bigger goal(s). See if there are smaller tasks that are required in order to achieve the bigger goal you have in mind (e.g. for this article, I started with thinking about examples of things I do to help me minimize my procrastination and then wrote a paragraph and took a break). It can be extremely overwhelming if we only focus on the final end goal which can feel far away, instead remember that every goal has smaller tasks attached to it.
Start something. Just like the Nike tagline, “just do it.” By taking action, regardless of how small, we are actually overriding a part of our brain (our emotional-reaction center, the amygdala) and teaching it to respond to a task’s completion as a pleasurable experience.
Take breaks with an action plan. Make sure you have a planto restart the task before you take your break.
When all is said and done, make sure you reward yourself for a job well done! For those of you still finding it challenging to manage your procrastination, it could be there’s something deeper underlying the issue. Try talking to your therapist about it.
With age, I have become increasingly fearful of flying.
If, like me, you are determined to not let your fear of flying get in the way of your travelling goals, here are some tips and facts that can help alleviate your stress:
In clinical terms, this is described as a phobia, which is an irrational but intense fear or aversion. Flying phobias can be perpetuated by many factors, including claustrophobia, fear of having a panic attack on a plane, fear of heights, fear of a plane crash, terrorist hijackings, or panic at the idea that you don’t have control of the aircraft that’s carrying you.
As anxiety increases, breathing can become shallow and breaths can shorten, which perpetuates panic. Deep breathing and mindfulness strategies can be an instant stress reliever. Of course, it’s important to practice mindful breathing beforehand while still on the ground. A meditation app can be very useful for this.
2. Know the Facts.
Knowledge is power. Air travel is the safest mode of transportation. In fact, you are more likely to be struck by lightning than get into a plane crash. It’s important to have the facts to challenge your assumptions. Speak to a pilot and learn about the mechanics of a flight.
- According to a study at Harvard University, the chances of dying in a car crash is 1 in 5,000 and in a plane crash, it’s 1 in 11,000.
- Most aviation incidents are not fatal. The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that 95% of people survive after aircraft accidents.
- Commercial Aircrafts go through extensive testing before they’re sold to airlines. Airlines want planes to fly safely just as much as you do. If they don’t, nobody will buy them.
- Turbulence is safe and natural! It’s just a plane gliding into an air pocket. If you want to avoid turbulence, try booking flights early morning or close to sunset when the sun isn’t heating the earth’s surface and creating a less stable atmosphere.
3. Small popcorn, please!
It can be helpful to distract yourself while feeling anxious on a flight. Listen to a movie, podcast, or read a captivating book. Immerse yourself in an enjoyable activity.
4. Stay hydrated.
Although the idea of a cocktail or a glass of wine can be appealing on a flight, try to stay away from alcoholic beverages and stick to hydrating liquids. Alcohol can worsen your anxiety and make you feel unsettled.
5. Talk to a professional.
If you have a flying phobia, it can be helpful to seek professional help around 2-6 weeks before your flight. You can then create a “cheat sheet” with your therapist and bring it on the flight to remind you of your coping strategies or “self statements.”
I hope you find these tips helpful before your next journey. Repeated exposure with helpful coping strategies is a key ingredient in making a phobia become more manageable.
Several years ago, I received a speeding ticket while rushing to get to my regular yoga class. The class was important to me as it was part of my self-care regimen.
The combination of poor planning plus an inability to accept that I just wasn’t going to make it to class that day brought me to an important realization: self-care, or at least a hyper-focus on a self-care routine, can sometimes become counter-productive.
How Important Is Self-Care?
Self-care is essential for reducing stress and all its associated problems, both physical and mental.
That said, not everyone understands what it really is and many people aren’t sure what to do.
Here are a few places to start:
Dr. Kristen Neff offers some great advice in her book, Self Compassion. Her TED talks are also helpful. Guy Winch’s, Emotional First Aid, is another book that I recommend as well as his TED talks. For some further reading, I recommend this piece on self-care in the digital age and this list of self-care ideas.
Creating your own self-care regimen will help you to develop and maintain positive mental health and wellness.
You’ve Got This!
Self-care for ourselves or others can be deliberate and planned, but often we’ve already built some self-care into our daily routines. Going to the movies, talking to a close friend, or taking time to read a book can all be acts of self-care.
Self-Care vs. Self-Sabotage
Sometimes, we find ourselves avoiding discomfort by hiding under the guise of self-care. It can often prevent us from showing up, growing up, and increasing our self-efficacy and self-esteem. For example, is it self-care or avoidance if you take a break from study during finals? It’s a trick question, really, because it could be both.
On one hand, a break will give you some much-needed respite so that you can regroup and come back to your study with fresh eyes. On the other hand, too many breaks or breaks that last too long can be procrastination. It’s important to remember that avoidance keeps you stuck and prevents you from connecting to your feelings.
Ask Yourself: Is This Self-Care or Avoidance?
If the activity feels nourishing, helps you grow, and moves you forward towards your goal, it is self-care. If it takes you away from your goal, then it’s avoidance. Using techniques such as mindfulness can help you to acknowledge your feelings, and understand rather than avoid them.
Make 2019 the year you fine-tune your self-care routine (and avoid nasty surprises like speeding tickets).
We thought so!
A time of change can be a great time to learn a new skill or kick an old habit.
Our therapist, Jaylin Bradbury MSW RSW, shares her top three tips to help you stick with your plan!
1. Don’t do it alone – Having a friend, family member, or colleague with a similar goal can help keep you feeling motivated and accountable!
2. Keep it real – Pick a goal that is realistic and meaningful. Consider the changes you’ve maintained before and what made them work. If needed, break your overall goal into smaller, more attainable tasks.
3. Make the alternative a lot harder – if you’re serious about making a change, set up a negative consequence if you go back on your plan. Having a cigarette or skipping a night at the gym is suddenly a lot harder to justify when you’ve promised to give money to a rival sports team or political party each time you go back on your goal.
Often times we think of habits as being negative: nail-biting, skipping breakfast, or binge-watching Netflix. However, the power of habits can be used for good.
Imagine making a habit of flossing your teeth regularly, cleaning 15-minutes every day, or making your bed before you leave for work . . .
Take it one step further: imagine clearing your inbox every day, studying a language, or finally running that half-marathon you’ve always wanted to run.
The secret behind highly successful people is good habits—things that require hard work, discipline, and consistency. Grit, we know, is the key to success. As psychologists have learned, successful people are not always the smartest; they’re simply the ones who are willing to show up every day and put in the work.
So, how do those of us who don’t have the natural tendency for grit force ourselves to form a good habit? First, by understanding the process, and then by holding ourselves accountable.
Just like with most things, we have to understand the stages of forming good habits:
1. The Honeymoon Stage –
Just like with relationships, starting a new routine/habit may feel easy, exciting, and like no work is required. While it does have an expiry date, the feel-good beginning is crucial to getting you to commit. Use the enthusiasm to your advantage.
2. The Follow-Through –
As the inspiration wanes, it’s important to do the following:
- Recognize that you’re in the fighting stage.
- Ask yourself two things: “If I continue this, how will I feel?” and “If I stop this, how will I feel?” Let your own response be your motivator to continue.
- Envision the Future: If you’re still struggling, think about your life 2, 3, even 4 years from now. If you’ve continued with this habit, how do you think your life will look? Will you be better for it?
3. Second Nature –
After a while, you’ll find you’re in the rhythm of whatever habit you’ve tried to form. You’re bound to come across uncertainty, disruptions, and the illusion that you don’t need to continue your habit; if you start to falter, revisit the questions you asked yourself in step 2.
The second-half to habit forming is accountability.
To complement your journey, here are our Top 5 recommendations for goal-setting apps:
- coach.me app – A free habit tracking app to help you create and build good habits.
- committo3.com – Daily Focus, Accountability and Success. Achieve daily goals with support from your peers.
- productiveapp.io – Has all the tools you need to build a routine of positive, life-changing habits.
- streaksapp.com – A to-do list that helps you form good habits.
- thefabulous.co – A simple yet beautiful scientific-based coach that helps you to reach your health and productivity goals.
Depending on your goal/desired habit, you’ll find yourself surrounded by thousands of others who are working toward the same things and the possibility of having coaches along the way.
Simply open one of these apps, check in on your habit, and work hard towards becoming a better you.