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Summer’s Not Over Yet! 5 Self-Care Activities to Do Outside

Summer’s Not Over Yet! 5 Self-Care Activities to Do Outside

When we practice regular self-care, we are allowing ourselves to engage in what it is that we need to feel emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy. When we remove our focus from our own needs and place it entirely on the things that do not nourish us emotionally, we may begin to feel unbalanced and emotionally unwell.

Placing our needs consistently on the back-burner can really wear us down, which is why practicing self-care is essential for taking care of our own mental health. And P.S.— self-care is not selfish. Meeting our own needs can allow us to be in a better headspace to be more emotionally present and caring for others!

So, with the Fall season and semester quickly approaching, how can we make the best of the last few weeks of summer? How can we enjoy the outdoors while also incorporating self-care?

1. Plant something… anything!

Fun fact: the best time of year to plant a tree is late in the summer or beginning of Fall. Why? Cooler temperatures help encourage new root growth (don’t ask me how I know this). Planting a plant or gardening can help keep us connected to nature. What does this have to do with self-care? Gardening can be a pretty awesome practice in mindfulness, allowing us to stay connected to the present moment and in touch with all our senses.

2. Journal in the park

Journalling is a great stress reliever as it helps us to process our thoughts and externalize any difficult feelings we may have had throughout the day. Journalling while enjoying some time in the sun? Even better for boosting serotonin levels and our mood. Check out some journal prompt ideas here.

3. Browse local farmers’ markets

I love farmers markets because they’re a win-win situation for us all. Purchasing at a farmers market means we get to enjoy something delicious that we may not have necessarily picked out at the grocery store, while also supporting a local or small business owner (yay sustainability!). It’s also an awesome way to get outside ourselves and be surrounded by a community of pretty cool people!

4. Solo picnic

Picnics offer a lot of social-related self-care benefits. We can use it as a means to bond with our loved ones by enabling communication in a relaxing environment. But a solo picnic also allows us some time for self-reflection. The occasional solo time is great for self-care as it provides a chance to self-reflect and to develop self-awareness so we can better understand our emotions.

5. Have a Yard Sale

I don’t know about you, but having a cluttered space really stresses me out. Sometimes the best thing we can do for our mental health is to let go of the things that no longer serve us. That may start with cleaning up our physical space. And when it comes to self-care, throwing a yard sale adds a few bonus points. We’re decreasing our stress levels by clearing up our physical space, we’re getting in touch with a community by spending time in the neighbourhood, and we’re enjoying some much needed time outdoors while doing it.

How to Let Go

How to Let Go

When we live in our heads, we are not able to let go. When we allow ourselves to surrender to the present moment as opposed to living in the past or future by way of our thoughts, then we can let go.

We learn to let go when we learn to be present. How do we do that?

1. Get into your body by using all your senses – notice what you see around you, the way your body physically feels, any sounds or scents around you, even what you might be tasting in your mouth.

2. Focus on the things that are going well in your life.  Grab a pen and paper and write down 5 things you are grateful for in that moment.

3. Take a deep belly breath and connect to your inhales and exhales.

4. Open your heart. I find visualizing an open rose helps me feel more open-hearted. You can also try to imagine a bubble right in front of you that is collecting all the negative energy in your body that doesn’t belong. Then when you feel like you’ve transferred the energy that is not serving you, visualize yourself popping the bubble. Once you’ve done this, imagine another bubble in front of you collecting all the energy that the other bubble might have missed, and once you feel it’s all been collected in the bubble, pop it again.

Sometimes letting go is hard because the present moment might feel painful. If we allow ourselves to accept the present as is, we will be able to live more wholehearted lives.

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:

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!