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Loneliness and How Can We Overcome It

Loneliness and How Can We Overcome It

Is social isolation a recipe for loneliness? We don’t think so.

Sometimes we find ourselves feeling alone in a dark place. Sometimes it shows up with thoughts suggesting that no one loves us or cares about us, our experiences or our feelings. Other times, we feel an intense sense of loneliness even in a sea of people.

For those of us who may feel extremely alone in the world and empty inside, it can be a scary experience. We might cling to the adage of “fake it till you make it” as we navigate our days and time with other people, but when it comes time to return home we hide out and feel isolated and alone.

In the TV show Dexter, they talk about a concept called the Dark Passenger. While it’s often discussed in connection to addiction, I think it also applies to those of us who feel lonely. The Dark Passenger refers to the secrets we bury deep inside and try to hide even from ourselves. We repress trauma and negative thoughts which creates internal turmoil. Eventually, the Dark Passenger transforms into feelings of loneliness and pain that we carry with us as we navigate our world.

Loneliness has a serious impact on physical and mental wellness. It increases the risk of depression, anxiety, heart disease and other illnesses. Fortunately, some countries are speaking out and addressing the issue. The United Kingdom, for example, created a Ministry of Loneliness that made headlines around the world in addressing this epidemic with research-backed interventions.

Loneliness in the Workplace

According to Harvard Business Review, loneliness in the workplace is a “growing health epidemic” and “associated with a reduction in lifespan similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” Even entrepreneurs may feel like no matter what they do, success is always slightly out of reach. Meanwhile, workers feel increasingly detached from their work and role in society.

Indeed, loneliness is an epidemic but we can take steps to combat the suffering at its source with reflection, connections, and psychotherapy.

Being Alone Doesn’t Always Cause Loneliness

Any introvert will agree that being alone doesn’t necessarily trigger negative emotions or feelings of worthlessness. For many of us, it can be very peaceful. We don’t always need to be surrounded by other people. Spending time with ourselves can actually inspire and energize. Solitary time on a retreat, for example, can help connect us with a higher power or meaning in life. Spending time alone to reflect and enjoy our own company is healthy.

It’s a matter of perspective, as well. Many people feel alone even surrounded by loved ones. The sources of loneliness are much deeper than that.

What’s Triggering Our Loneliness?

“We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.” – Orson Welles

Most of us didn’t feel lonely our entire life. We can remember feeling loved and accepted at certain points. So, what changed?

In some cases, our life experiences skew our self-perception. In other cases, we do things against our values to avoid feeling lonely, which only perpetuates self-criticism and self-imposed isolation.

Let’s look at some of the major triggers of loneliness:

Grief and Life Transitions

Grief shatters our world as we know it. Whether a mother or father, partner, best friend, or sibling, losing someone close is devastating.

The person we could always count on is suddenly removed from our lives and there’s nothing we can do to restore or replace the bond. Of course, everyone knows grief is a natural process but that doesn’t make us feel any less helpless and isolated while we go through it.

Indeed, we must relearn and rediscover the world around us. When managing a protracted war against grief, it can be helpful to connect with support systems.

I read Dr. Lucy Horne’s book, Resilient Grieving: Finding the Strength and Embracing Life After a Loss That Changes Everything last year which helps us learn to cope. Local bereavement groups are also worthwhile.

My colleague, Megan, wrote a post on grieving called “Am I Doing Grief Right?” explaining there is no “normal” way to manage grief.

Remember too that grief doesn’t only accompany death. We can also grieve our lost health, jobs, divorces, and other traumatic situations. Loss can also open the door to loneliness and transitions which I’ve written about in the past.

Breaking Up

Of course, breaking up is another form of loss. However, even people in committed relationships sometimes feel alone. People often stay in toxic or abusive relationships because they fear loneliness. However, this is nothing more than a negative prediction rife with underlying assumptions.

We assume that if we are alone, we will always be alone, we will never be happy, and we will die alone.

These thoughts create a self-fulfilling reality. Of course, being alone doesn’t guarantee misery. In some cases, breaking up leads to freedom and happiness.

Other times we fear facing life alone because we don’t want to face our true selves. However, if we want to create a healthy relationship, we must help ourselves before anything else.

Feeling alone in a relationship doesn’t have to be permanent. We can first work on the issue with our partner.

Many people assume life will never be the same after a breakup. They’re not wrong. In many cases, life becomes much better as time passes.

Shame

Sometimes we aren’t aware of our true selves. We want friends but struggle to form connections and feel alone.

Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

It’s common for us to cling to unhealthy or unproductive behaviours. We don’t recognize the detrimental impact they have on our lives. Take smoking for example. Most people know it’s dangerous and costly but can’t bring themselves to quit.

These repetitive actions trigger internal distress, loneliness, and self-crisis. When we feel shame over such things, like a failed marriage, lost job, or any action we perceive as negative, we feel alone. But 1+2 doesn’t equal 5 no matter how hard we try to force it.

We think our situation is horrible, unmanageable, and our behaviour is or was so shameful that we punish ourselves. Being lonely is the by-product.

Feeling Disconnected from Family Due to Trauma

Family is a curious thing. Society tells us we should feel a sense of home in our family members. We are expected to feel connected to family. However, families are also rife with trauma. No family is perfect but pretending they should be perfect leads us to feel lonely, misunderstood, and detached around our parents and siblings.

We should develop strong boundaries and manage our personal expectations. Maybe our attachment style isn’t the best fit for our family members.

Therapy and identity rebuilding are essential to overcoming family trauma and the associated loneliness.

We can’t choose our family but we CAN choose our friends. If we feel lonely when we hang out with friends that could mean we’re not expressing our needs properly. Or, perhaps we could stand to choose better friends. Other times, we expect unreasonable things from our friends and feel invalidated when they don’t live up to our standards.

Depression / Other Mental Health Conditions

Depression is a genuine medical condition. It’s common for people to invalidate our feelings when we tell them we’re depressed. They’ll say “you just need to…” or something equally insensitive. We may even invalidate our own feelings.

It’s important for everyone to educate themselves on mental health conditions like depression, especially for anyone feeling chronically lonely. Talking to a doctor or therapist is critical.

On that note, several mental health conditions overlap with depression symptoms. Plus, we can experience multiple conditions at once. Again, that’s why it’s so important to bring up these concerns with a family doctor. We can never take our mental health too seriously.

How to Overcome Loneliness

While this is far from an exhaustive list, I hope to provide some food for thought. Feel free to take this loneliness quiz for something to reflect on.

First, we need to think about what benefits our loneliness brings to our life. Next, we should analyze the cost. The pros and cons.

Sometimes when we engage in unhealthy strategies to cope with problems, we forget why we started bad behaviours in the first place, such as compulsive drinking or seeking out a “high” from love. People do all kinds of things to avoid loneliness and self-reflection. We even push people away. Ironic, huh?

Many times, taking stock of our lives is enough to drive the motivation we need to change.

Finding Purpose in Life

Some people search their whole lives to find a “true calling” that never appears. We must ask ourselves, what does it mean to find purpose in life? Do we have to climb Mount Everest? Find a cure for cancer? Solve world hunger?

Life isn’t so all or nothing. Leading a purpose-driven life doesn’t necessarily mean collecting achievements. The book Man’s Search for Meaning got me thinking about the true meaning of life and its power. I loved it so much I gave it away to anyone who’d take it.

This book taught me how to find my “why.” Sometimes, searching for our “why” is half the fun! It helps us clarify our values and what we don’t want in life. We can discover what we value in life and if we’re living a value-driven lifestyle.

Even the CEO of a Fortune 500 company might not have time for family and might consider their life still lacks a purpose.

Another Harvard Business Review article called How Will You Measure Your Life? is a classic on this topic. We must remember that if we’re not happy and we feel alone, it may be because we don’t have a true purpose or drive. Guess what? It’s never too late to find it if we keep an open mind!

Developing Social Connections

Having 1,000 followers on Instagram doesn’t mean we can’t feel alone. In fact, research shows spending too much time on social media can lead to social isolation and feelings of loneliness.

As Dr. Jeste’s research says, loneliness is “the discrepancy between the social relationships you want and the social relationships you have.”

Tribe by journalist Sebastian Junger speaks to the importance of connections in our lives to prevent feelings of social isolation. We need meaningful connections. I would encourage everyone to think about who they can count on in their life. Who can support us financially or emotionally? Who gives us the straight truth when we ask for it?

Many times, lonely people look at who isn’t in their lives. However, I wonder how often they make themselves available to people who need them in a meaningful way. Even superheroes don’t work solo. They always have a sidekick.

Enhance Our Emotional Supports

It’s common to look fondly on the way “things used to be” when we feel lonely. It’s also a universal rule that we always want what we can’t have. However, we can take a moment to evaluate our support circle and lean into it.

People often tell me making friends as an adult is a challenge. I think it only seems hard because we get blinded by comparing our future friendships to past ones. We must test things out before we write them off as miserable. We have to lean into uncomfortable situations sometimes.

The Gen Well Project, WeShare Housing Campaign, Eden Project, and The Loneliness Project all help people get out of their comfort zone and work on enhancing social support networks.

Unplug and Connect

I’m not saying we should avoid technology and social media completely. We can create meaningful connections with people all over the world online! We can also stay connected with old friends. In the past, this wasn’t possible.

However, we also tend to spend more time than we’d like to admit staring at our screens consuming content that, honestly, we often don’t care about. We must admit we’re using screen time to procrastinate and avoid loneliness. We must also acknowledge that every hour we spend scrolling through Instagram looking at lives we wish we had is an hour lost not making real-world connections with people.

Instead, reach out and volunteer. Get inspired to build community. Volunteering is more than just working in soup kitchens. Find something interesting and meaningful like wildlife preservation, education, children, peace-building, or senior care.

Even if we aren’t lonely, helping others or working on something bigger than ourselves can build character and gratitude. In Dr. T. Davis’s new book, Outsmart Your Smartphone: Conscious Tech Habits for Finding Happiness, Balance, and Connection IRL, she explains how to help us overcome negative repetitive behaviours that prevent us from leading a fulfilling life.

In her article, Feeling Lonely? Discover 18 Ways to Overcome Loneliness, she also provides some great tips to jumpstart progress right away.

Improve Social Skills

Let’s be honest. Even the best of us could stand to improve our social skills. Many people get lonely because they don’t have adequate social skills or they lack the right social skills for all situations. Other times, social anxiety prevents them from seeing their wonderful qualities!

Most of us can be pretty charming IF we allow people to get to know us. We don’t need to be an actor or a socialite. However, we can start with effective communication! We should learn the subtle art of communicating our thoughts and emotions by getting out of our own way.

The Fine Art of Small Talk and the classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, are two books that can help develop strategies. It’s normal for us to ruminate on past negative experiences where we felt invalidated. However, the past doesn’t predict the future. We must produce a new game plan and put forth a willingness to experience and build relationships.

Psychotherapy Can Help

Loneliness doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when we lose touch with our life’s purpose and meaningful relationships. Psychotherapy can help you strengthen social skills, overcome grief, and put yourself out there to the wider community.

Ready to start working towards that goal? Schedule an appointment today!

What to do about Burnout?

What to do about Burnout?

Ever wondered if there’s anything you can actually do about burnout?

It can feel hopeless but there are a number of ways to address it. Here we’re going to explore one possible approach to overcoming burnout.

Wait, what’s burnout again?

That can be tricky to answer. There are multiple avenues to explore when attempting to define this thing we call burnout. One of the challenges of defining the concept is that it typically involves aspects of a variety of mental health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorders. Here, I’ll use the term to highlight someone who is experiencing:

  • A lack of satisfaction in their work

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Negative attitudes and separation from the vocation

And why do we need to talk about it?

Burnout is important to discuss for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it affects those working in helping professions as frontline workers to an exponential degree. This includes and is not limited to:

  • First responders (Emergency response workers and firefighters)

  • Social workers

  • Nurses

  • Teachers

  • Doctors

This is problematic because the folks most at risk often went into their careers because they are empathetic, caring, and compassionate individuals. Therefore, it is important to note some of the signs and risk factors for burnout so we can be vigilant in navigating if we are at risk for burnout. Some risk factors include:

  • High stress at the workplace

  • Increasing cuts to funding

  • Dangerous work environments

  • Understaffing

  • Isolation in the workspace

  • Limited access to support

  • Sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia existing within workspaces

What would therapy look like?

Even if it’s challenging or downright dysfunctional, we can’t always change our immediate environments to suit our needs. There are, however, practices that can be applied in everyday life that fundamentally impact how we manage stress within challenging environments. One approach is applying cognitive behavioural skills and practices. It might look like this:

1. Explore phase

The beginning of therapy would be around assessing and identifying triggers such as:

  • Organization-related challenges (budget cuts, system gaps)

  • Client-related challenges (vicarious trauma, challenging population)

  • Personal challenges (emotional demands)

  • Setting-related challenges (high caseload, dangerous work environments)

By identifying some of these stressors we will be able to target what is challenging us most at work, at home and in our relationships and adapt and respond appropriately. Although, we will not be able to change all the factors contributing to burnout, by identifying some risk factors it will help us focus in and eventually identify areas we can intervene.

2. Identify phase

The next stage involves cognitive restructuring, which is a fancy word for identifying our moods, thoughts, physical sensations and behaviours. This would look like identifying:

  • What situation triggered emotions

  • What are thoughts and beliefs tied to situations

  • What feelings and emotions are prevalent

  • What behaviours are present (lack of concentration, in ability to sleep) and noting how these situations trigger “dysfunctional thinking”

By first identifying these triggers we can then look inwards and highlight that there is some dysfunctional thinking that causes us greater challenges. Therefore, therapy would look to:

  • Assess the advantages and disadvantages of our thought patterns

  • The impacts our thoughts have on our emotions

  • Labeling cognitive distortions that we hold (overgeneralizing, mental filters, etc.)

  • Identifying implicit rules and assumptions we carry

  • Generating alternative viewpoints

3. Armour phase

The last stage would be to assist in enhancing protective factors. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • Exploring areas of “purposeful” self-care

  • Exploring self-regulation skills like deep breathing, meditation, grounding exercises

This isn’t the only way therapy for burnout can be modelled, but it’s one way that it can be used to assist those most affected by burnout. The goal is to build a strong self so that we are better able to take care of ourselves and those that we assist in our careers, families, and relationships.

References:
Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World Psychiatry, 15(2), 103–111. doi: 10.1002/wps.20311


Sean works from a strengths-based perspective — centering your unique strengths and supporting you as you build on them— and uses modalities such as cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness-based approaches, narrative therapy, and rational emotive behavioural therapy.

The Benefits of a Digital Detox

The Benefits of a Digital Detox

Have you ever mindlessly scrolled through social media only to look up and see that an hour has passed by without your knowledge? Well, I definitely have. 

While the use of tech and social media can be a welcome distraction at times, it can also be emotionally draining and can inhibit our capacity to genuinely connect with those around us. It can also lead to what’s called cognitive overload. We only have so much mental bandwidth to work with at a given time and the never-ending flood of images and information being presented through digital media can lead to cognitive exhaustion, loss of attention, and irritability.

The obvious solution would be to take a break from your phone and digital media from time to time. If you’ve tried, you’ve probably noticed this is easier said than done! 

Have you ever wondered why it can be so difficult to put your phone down? Most apps are designed to keep us engaged way longer than we’d like to admit. For example, the use of “likes” and notifications on social media actually work to create what is known in psychology as a “reward pattern”. We see a notification, we take in the fact that someone has liked our post, and we experience a surge in dopamine, the chemical in our brains responsible for feeling good. Hence, we are rewarded for the use of our phones. Engaging on social media actually becomes a way for our brains to keep seeking a “reward”, i.e. that surge of dopamine that occurs when we get a new follower, or view a bright and beautifully-coloured image. 

In light of this, try to go a little easier on yourself. Taking a break from digital media is HARD. And it’s hard for everyone. But the benefits are worth it!

A digital detox usually involves a set period of time where a person refrains from using their tech devices.

Detoxing from digital devices can also include limiting time spent on social media, checking emails, sending and receiving texts, the list goes on. Digital detoxes allow us to take a step back from the distractions on our phones and maintain focus on the happenings in our daily lives. We’re better able to focus on the thoughts and feelings that come up, rather than distracting, numbing or disconnecting through the use of technology.

Here are some of the benefits to taking a digital detox:

 

Increased productivity. If we give ourselves the permission to take a break from our devices, we can make time for things that are higher on our priority list. We may also avoid the loss of attention that occurs as a result of digital-media-induced cognitive overload, and can do more things with a renewed focus. 

Deeper connections. There’s no doubt that texting and phone calls can help us maintain connection with our loved ones. When we consciously unplug, however, we are able to connect more deeply with those around us. We are limiting the likelihood of distraction and better able to be present with those who are right in front of us.

More restful sleep. When our bodies are ready for sleep, our brains release a chemical known as melatonin. This chemical is responsible for helping our bodies prepare for a deep sleep. When we are glued to a screen, our brain takes in light from the screen which convinces our bodies that it is still daytime, and prevents melatonin from being released. A digital detox can help us reset our sleeping patterns and get back to a natural circadian rhythm, which also improves our mental health.

5 Great Mental Health Books to be Stuck Inside With

5 Great Mental Health Books to be Stuck Inside With

COVID-19 has us all stuck inside and exploring different aspects of our mental health. I thought it would be a good time to suggest books that have helped me develop and ground my knowledge on the diverse topics that impact our emotional and mental health. 

Here is a short list of books that have had a major impact on me and taught me to think critically and compassionately:

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van der Kolk, M.D.

  • Bessel Van der Kolk takes the reader on an exploration of his career and the tools he developed to assist his clients in healing. His transformative trauma research began when he was working with soldiers coming back from Vietnam and noted that typical talk therapy wasn’t having the expected results. He was disillusioned but he challenged himself to go deeper and seek alternative therapies to respond to the challenges he was finding in his practice. This book is essential reading if you’re interested in how human bodies have evolved to respond to stress and trauma. It explores how we hold trauma in our bodies and offers helpful solutions for healing journeys.

It Didn’t Start with You: How inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn

  • Wolynn’s book is an introduction to how family trauma continues across generations. Mark highlights that for many years the medical world has not recognized how serious trauma’s impact is on health, bodies and relationships. Mark grounds his work in modern research and demonstrates that trauma can impact bodies in ways that are beyond our capacity for recognition. The message is that, until we learn to take this insight seriously, we will continue the cycle.

Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life by Allen Frances, M.D.

  • Frances (the chair of the DSM-5 task force) asks why mental health diagnosis is increasing at such a large rate and considers how Big Pharma is exploiting this market to pathologize normal, everyday challenges. Frances explores the history of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to give the reader an inside perspective of how it has been developed, who is in charge of making changes, and the pressing challenges of diagnosis in the modern age. Frances approaches the DSM 5 with a critical eye and challenges the reader to do the same.

Troubling Masculinity: Reimagining Urban Men edited by Ken Moffatt

  • Troubling Masculinity explores a variety of ways masculinity might be reimagined in the modern age. The critical thinkers and theorists featured in this work consider issues of race, gender, sexuality, and social class to challenge and “trouble” how we think about masculinity. I believe this book could be an entry point into a discussion about the challenges men face in society and a meaningful exploration of the root causes of toxic masculinity. In this trying time, very few books are offering concrete solutions to the problem of toxicity. This book seeks to evolve masculinity into something to be embraced and nurtured instead of shamed.

A Dialogue on Love by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

  • When I began reading this book I was having challenges related to grief, identity, and relationships. In this piece, Eve discusses her terminal cancer diagnosis and how she grieves for her body, her family, and her relationships. She incorporates her therapist’s notes, her diary, and keen critical analysis to delve into how identity is formulated beyond the body. This book holds so many crucial ideas that challenge secular spaces to invite in a new spirituality. Sedgwick’s spirituality is grounded in the earth and challenges us to sit with the very real way we intimately hold and impact those around us.

These books have had a major impact on my development as a therapist and I hope they’ll have a positive effect on you, as well.

7 Tips for Overcoming Dental Anxiety

7 Tips for Overcoming Dental Anxiety

It’s all too common that we avoid healthy changes towards wellness because they push us outside our comfort zones. Whether we’re starting a new workout, updating our diet, or improving our interpersonal relationships, healthy change involves some level of anxiety and discomfort. 

For many, dental anxiety is one of these major hurdles. While securing dental insurance can pose a complex barrier to oral health, data shows that millions of Canadians are avoiding routine dental work out of anxiety-induced fear. Nearly 15 million Canadians — 40% of the population! — have a fear of the dentist such that it prevents them from going for screenings or routine care.

Oral health is an essential part of overall health, and overcoming anxiety symptoms associated with visiting the dentist is a critical form of self-care. (Sorry, binging Netflix and cat videos won’t do the trick!)

Why is dental anxiety so common?

A cruel irony of avoiding routine checkups is that you’re likely to pay for that neglect later with invasive emergency dental treatments. At that point, your anxiety may seem like it was proportional to the experience. However, seeing a dentist for routine care might have prevented the need for invasive procedures in the first place.

From my own experience with clients working through dental anxiety, I’ve found there isn’t one glaring reason people fear the dentist. Rather it’s more of a combination of expectations and fears coming together.

  • Societal stereotypes: TV shows, movies, parents, and siblings all paint a scary picture of what going to the dentist is like. Stereotypes about the dentist often start at an early age and are easy to find everywhere.

  • Past experiences (often at a young age): A scary or painful experience at the dentist — especially as a child — can stick with us throughout our entire life if we don’t address the problem.

  • Fear of discomfort: Many dental procedures can be painful, especially if the dentist doesn’t explain the treatment or offer proper numbing options. Plus, drilling, grinding, and scraping can feel strange and uncomfortable.

  • Lack of control: There’s something about laying on our back with our mouth open while a doctor digs around that just gets to us. A high level of trust is essential.

  • Shame: Some folks who neglect their dental health often feel embarrassed or shameful about the condition of their oral health.

Tips for Overcoming Dental Anxiety

Overcoming a phobia or event-related anxiety takes time. They don’t occur overnight and they aren’t resolved overnight. Here’s a list of strategies to get you started:

1. Run a Cost-Benefit Analysis. Focus on the pros of visiting the dentist: a healthy mouth, a beautiful smile, improved heart health. Make a list and it’s easy to see that the pros far outweigh the cons.

2. Communicate and Build Trust. Most dentists know that people are afraid of them. Most are happy to chat through email or a phone call about any specific fears and insecurities. Building trust and comfort is key. Desensitize yourself by asking the dentist or staff to walk you through the process step-by-step. Staff should understand and want to help.

3. Source Multiple Experiences. Those of us with anxiety tend to overgeneralize, jump to irrational conclusions, and turn into catastrophists. Laws of probability and rationality go right out the window. In this era of online reviews, a single negative review can cost a business 22% of potential customers — even if 99% of the reviews are glowing! We tend to overvalue bad press. Ask multiple people for their most recent dental experience (and don’t pry for bad press).

4. Ask about Pain Management. Dentists understand dental anxiety and have the tools to help patients cope with pain. Be vocal about any concerns and ask detailed questions. If a dentist doesn’t seem to care, go somewhere else.

5. Plan a Sedation Strategy. Sedation dentistry has come a long way over the past decade. Nitrous oxide (laughing gas), pill sedation, and general anesthesia offer various levels to meet each patient’s needs.

6. Try Distraction Techniques. Many modern dentist offices come equipped with iPads, tablets, and TVs to help patients distract themselves during uncomfortable treatments. Progressive muscle relaxation exercises and an awesome Spotify playlist can help tremendously.

7. Talk to a Therapist. Therapy can also be valuable to address dental anxiety that helps you get to the root of the problem. Many people find techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) very effective.

Dental anxiety doesn’t have to be permanent. By laying the groundwork, we can ensure success and have positive experiences at the dentist’s office moving forward. Everyone deserves a healthy smile, and changing our mindset can help make wellness a reality.

Why a Visit to the Art Gallery Can Improve Our Mental Health

Why a Visit to the Art Gallery Can Improve Our Mental Health

As a student, you have a unique privilege you may not have considered. Many schools have art galleries on campus that you can visit for cheap or for free, and many off-campus galleries offer student rates, meaning you can see great art on a budget. Have you considered taking advantage? It could be just what you need. Visits to the art gallery allow for the chance to step away from daily life and engage with the world in a new way.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of viewing art in a gallery is the mental exercise of creating our own interpretation toward the art we are observing. This is a practice that encourages the type of creative thinking needed for problem-solving. By practicing this type of creative thinking, we learn better ways to come up with our own unique solutions to difficult problems, a key skill required for better mental health. When we leave difficult emotional problems unsolved, we may end up feeling even more frustrated and stressed. Understanding how to solve problems in a creative way may at times be what we need in order to improve difficult relationships, our own self-esteem, and circumstances within our lives that are causing us stress and anxiety.

You do not need to be a Renaissance painter or a beret-wearing artISTE spewing art-speak in order to reap the mental health benefits of visiting a gallery. The actual act of observing and appreciating art stimulates the same areas of the brain that are involved in processing feelings of pleasure and reward. When we’re feeling especially anxious, stressed, or emotionally down, a visit to the gallery may help us re-focus our attention in a therapeutic way. This can allow us a moment to take a step away from our overwhelming emotions and provides us with the opportunity to revisit these feelings at a time when we are less emotionally drained or anxious.

A gallery visit may also be a source of inspiration and has the power to boost our own personal creativity. Engaging in creative expression has significant therapeutic effects in decreasing anxiety. For example, acting creatively can get us into the mental state known in Positive Psychology as “flow.” It’s where we are totally and completely immersed in the enjoyment and involvement of what we are doing, and it’s why being creative feels so good.

The next time you’re having a difficult mental health day, consider the therapeutic benefits of visiting a local art gallery. It’s a wonderful way to incorporate creativity into your self-care practice!