Habits are Hard to Change

Every day when I drive to up I take Winston Churchill to the QEW to Brant street to my office.  Pretty straight forward and easy, right?  However, it isn’t always the best route for me to take.  Currently the Pan Am games are going on in the Greater Toronto Area and there have been temporary HOV lanes made on the highway.  This has caused an already particularly bottled necked part of my drive to be even worse.  Every night when I go to bed I think “tomorrow I will take a different way to work”.  Then every morning I find myself turning onto Winston Churchill towards the highway.  I almost immediately realize that I have done the thing I am used to doing and not the new thing I want to do.  Then I find myself in an internal dialogue “do I turn around?  Do I take the highway anyways?  Do I try a different route?”  UGH.  And this is just a simple morning commute- something that doesn’t really have a huge impact or bearing on my life as a whole.

My point?

Imagine trying to change something major in your life, like a relationship with yourself or someone else.  A bad habit.  An emotional issue.  It’s hard to change!!  It is not impossible.  But it is hard because we are habitual by nature and without work, introspection and effort we go the way we have always gone.  So if you are making an effort to change something in your life- be patient, keep working at it, when you notice you have fallen back into old patterns instead of getting angry with yourself be glad that you noticed and use the opportunity to make a different choice or learn something new.  And if you need help with it, don’t be ashamed, we all need help.  My help is going to come in the form of sticky note on my steering wheel to remind me to change my route.  Good luck and happy changing.

Happy New DAY

Happy New Year

I have never really been a big fan of New Years Eve, not growing up, not as a teenager or in my University Years.  It always felt, contrived, fake, a “lame” idea and a good excuse for places to jack up their prices.

As I have grown older I have also grown an appreciation for New Years.  My appreciation comes from the idea that it is one acceptable and common time for people to look at their life, take stock, examine it if you may.  And decide to make changes, set goals.  Hope.  Dream.  Plan.  Set resolutions.  Grow.  Growth, change, dreams – now that is something I can get excited about.  I love making goals, thinking about what is important to me and what steps I can take to get there.  It’s no surprise how I got into the work I did- this stuff has always resonated with me.

So like many others, I too sit back at the end of December, beginning of January and I ask myself things like:

“What is important to me?”

“Am I living the life I want to live?”

“How can I take steps to get closer to the living the life I want to live?”

“What do I want more of and less of in my life?”

“What are my values?”

“What kind of wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend etc do I want to be?”  And “how can I get closer to being that?”

And most importantly: “How can I better take care of me?”

It’s not the ball dropping at midnight (although that is fun) or the roll over in numbers from 2014 to 2015 but the socially acceptable opportunity to talk about what gets us excited, makes us better, happier, healthier more productive people that is exciting to me.  I wonder what you would answer to the questions above?  I wonder how you could get more excited about your life?  I also dream about a time when it would be ok if we asked ourselves those same types of questions throughout the year (I know I do on a regular basis, not just on New Years).  Not just on January 1st but on a random Tuesday in March.  On a warm Wednesday in April.  On a sweltering day in July.  On a windy day in September.  On a crisp day in November.  Anytime of the year!!!  I wonder how much richer, happier, fuller our lives would be if we focused on these things all year through and not just become revived up once a year.  Don’t me wrong I am happy people are getting revived up at all but I dream about a time when we put more focus on these things, throughout the year, throughout our days, months, lives, instead of just because it’s a new year.

Maybe from now on I will start celebrating Happy New DAY!!!  Focus on making everyday a fresh start.  Everyday a new opportunity for growth, change, new dreams, plans, inspiration.  That sounds like a good resolution to me.

Happy New DAY!!!

Tackling the Task Monster

Recently, I had the opportunity to help someone that I love very much complete an important task that she had been putting off. The putting off of this task had been causing her much stress and anxiety.  The more she thought about what she had to do, the more overwhelmed and anxious she felt which increased her immobilization.  She had dreaded doing this task to the point that the task had become a seemingly insurmountable beast.  However, outside forces had come knocking on her door and she could no longer avoid doing this thing.  She called me in almost a panic – I said I would come and help her to get herself organized to get it done.

Just my offer to come help, helped her to get mobilized. There were certain things I just could not help her with and in order for our time together to be effective she needed to start the process on her own.  And she did.  I suggested that she spend 10 minutes or so at a time to complete small tasks to get her ready for when I came.  Telling herself she only had to do 10 time minutes at a time helped motivate her and helped her to stay focused and without feeling overwhelmed.  So in the days leading up to my coming she did multiple 10-minute spurts and started to chip away at the task.  By the time I arrived 6 days later she had gathered the information that we needed to organize ourselves and complete the task.

When we first got to work it seemed there was a lot of work to be done. I could only stay from 1:30 on Sunday till 6:00 pm on Monday as I had to be back to work on Tuesday and it was a 3.5 hour drive to get me back home.  So we sat down and we started to work.  I knew at this point she was feeling stressed, somewhat hopeful but also pretty hopeless that we would get it all done.  That’s the funny thing about putting off things- they tend to get bigger and bigger and bigger in our minds- often to the point that we feel they are so big and overwhelming that we don’t know where to start and so we don’t.  Which just makes the problem even bigger in our minds.

So what happened? We started at about 2:00 on Sunday afternoon, with the understanding that we would need to eat and need to stop at some point on Sunday evening, I was thinking about 8:00.  There were three tasks to be completed in total.  She was hopeful we would get one done and one started.  She was not hopeful that we would get the third one finished by the time I had to leave on Monday.  At 7:30pm Sunday we had become quite quiet, which is very usual for us.  I don’t think either one of us wanted to say out loud that we were almost done.  Not done for the day but done.  All three tasks!!!!  All three “larger than life, overwhelming, monster tasks”!!!  It was a little surreal.  We worked till 8:40 and got it all done!!!

It was exhilarating to finish all three tasks. She was excited, relieved and felt that she wouldn’t be able to sleep from excitement, which was a given relief as she had been unable to sleep from the stress of it all looming over her.

Often times we avoid the things we don’t like to do. That’s pretty normal, I’m guilty of doing the same.  The problem comes when our minds start to tell us how big it is, how overwhelming it has become and how we cannot possibly complete it.  And we start to believe our mind- so we avoid it more and more.  The THING we don’t want to do doesn’t actually get bigger but our fear, worry about it does and eventually it seems impossible.  Something she had been putting off for a few years was done in less than one week.  And hard core done in only 6.5 hours (including a dinner break).  We need to remind ourselves sometimes that our minds tend to overemphasize the problem and if we just start small and make consistent movement we will be able to get on track.  We also need to know when to ask for help and that it is ok to ask for help- we all have our strengths and our weaknesses- that is normal too.

Sometimes there really are no short cuts in life!! But things can heal (and fast) if taken care of promptly and properly

Recently, I learned another valuable life lesson.  Sometimes there just are no short cuts.  Sometimes you just have to do things the long and hard way or you may just regret it.  This happened on a Thursday night after work.  I got home around 8:30 and wanted a snack.  I decided to make homemade “potatoe chips”.  So I got out the mandolin slicer and began slicing.  The safety guard was a nuisance and was slowing me down.  So I stopped using it, I thought “I’m a smart girl, clearly I don’t need the safety guard!!”
I know you can see where this is going!!  Yep I sliced the tip of my ring finger on my right hand clear off.  Like flat!!  Finger nail and all GONE.  Blood was gushing everywhere- I couldn’t think of anywhere to put my finger but my mouth to contain the blood (and not freak out my 6-year old).  My husband calmly sauntered to the bathroom to get me a cloth or something while telling me that my mouth was probably not the most hygiene place for my finger (ummmm thanks honey!!!).  My son was telling me I shouldn’t have done that (ummmm thanks little honey!!!).  And there you have it the tip of my finger amongst the potatoe slices because I figured I could take a short cut and could out smart the slicer and the makers of the safety guard.
Sometimes you can’t take short cuts.  Sometimes you really have to just do things the right way, even if it takes longer and is inconvenient.  Or you could suffer consequences, like losing the tip of your finger.
Then life taught me another lesson.  I took very (very) good care of that finger over the next few days.  Changing the dressing, putting on polysporin and getting out of washing any dishes (THANKS honey 😉  Within less than a week you could not even tell.  The wound had closed, the nail was cut down to be even and unless I told you, you would not have known.  It was still a little numb to touch the tip- but that’s was a good reminder of the lesson.
Message received!!  Got it life- I got it.
POST SCRIPT
After my finger had been healed for many months, a little white scar tissue showed up on the tip.  It is still “different” to touch versus other parts of my finger.  This is just yet another life lesson – sometimes things come back around and you have to take care of it again and deal with it again.  That’s life, it’s not a punishment, not an indication that it wasn’t done right the first time, not a “why me, things never change, life sucks” moment- it is just the nature and cycle of life!!
Thanks life- Got it!!
Have a happy day??

Does Sleep Elude you? Sleep wellness

Next to breathing, sleep may be one of the most necessary things for our bodies. So many of my clients report chronic and deliberating problems with sleep.  There are many internal (worry, depression, stress) and external (kids, shift work, poor sleep habits) issues that contribute to our sleep difficulties.  And unfortunately many people take sleep for granted, thinking they don’t need it or don’t need as much as they think.

Here are a few of the effects of sleep deprivation I’ve experienced or my clients have reported:

Increased moodiness

Reduced ability to cope with daily life stress

Weight gain or increased difficulties with weight loss

Health problems including increased risk of heart problems

Even psychosis – many individuals have written about their personal experience with sleep deprivation and psychosis, a quick google search will produce results including a YouTube series I have not watched.

Needless to say sleep is important and sleep deprivation is detrimental to our overall well-being and functioning. There is good reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture.

On a personal note, difficulties sleeping is something I have been well acquainted with throughout my life. At various times in my life it has been difficulty falling asleep, other times it has been restless sleep with multiple nighttime wakings.  Recently, I was experiencing very restless, not rejuvenating sleep and I felt the effects on my mood, my sense of resilience to handle everyday stress, my emotions and quite frankly my likable-ness (if that’s a word).  I was able to get things back track and noticed an immediate improvement on these areas including increased energy and coping.

So what helps us get better sleep? Be aware you won’t like all my suggestions.

Establish a healthy bedtime routine

Think about babies and children. We help them from a very young age to have a bed time routine.  Perhaps it is a warm bath, followed by putting pyjamas on, a story with some milk, a cuddle and a tuck in good night.  If this routine is followed night after night then the baby/child begins to associate the routine with sleep and can even become drowsy as the routine is happening because it has become a trigger for the brain “ahhh that’s what we are doing, getting ready to sleep”.

When did we lose the idea that we needed a bedtime routine? Was it when we were teenagers and our sleep cycles shifted?  Post secondary school when we stayed up late partying, ummm I mean studying and writing papers?  Was it when we had babies of our own and we were tired and worn out?  Whenever it was, it’s time to get it back.

So how do we establish a healthy bedtime routine? (some of this is what you may not like)

Some tips for good sleep hygiene/routines

It starts with having a schedule and sticking to it, for the most part NO MATTER WHAT!! Of course I know that weddings happen, date nights happen, life happens- I’m not suggesting you never have a life but at least until you have developed a strong association it is important to stick to a schedule to train your brain.  That means going to bed at the same time at night.  Getting up at the same time in the morning.

Tips to establish that routine:

  • Start to wind down ½ hour prior to bedtime
  • Winding down means no electronics!! Yep they are stimulating to the brain and don’t help you to shut off.
  • Yes that includes the TV in your bedroom!!
  • Limit alcohol, particularly close to bedtime
  • Exercise during the day
  • Create a sleep environment taking into consideration light, comfort, noise. Work with these things to create the right balance for you
  • Perhaps most importantly create a pattern of 3-4 things that you will do every night as part of the good sleep routine and as a way to train your brain. That may include a bath, brushing your teeth, stretching, yoga, meditation, counting what you are thankful for, listening to relaxing music a warm glass of milk. Sometime soothing and something you can do on a regular basisCreating a routine will help to train your brain to get to the “ahhhhh that’s what we are doing, we are going to sleep”. One thing that I have found particularly helpful for this is a sleep meditation. This meditation I only use when I want to sleep and my brain almost immediately says to me “ahhh that’s what we are doing, going to sleep” and I fall asleep in minutes. One to try is here http://marc.ucla.edu/body.cfm?id=22 

What about those nights that I fall asleep but can’t stay asleep?

Many of my clients and myself have found the following helpful:

  •  Block or remove the clock in the room- so that instead of waking and thinking “oh no it’s already 4:00 I only have 3 hours left to sleep”, “now it’s 4:30”, etc you are not disturbed by the clock
  • Leave your phones and computers in another room so you are not tempted to check
  • Practice taking ten deep breathes while repeating a mantra in your head about sleep (“I am getting restful and rejuvenating sleep”, “I can sleep well”, “My body and mind love sleep”), instead of going through your to do list
  • If you can’t stop thinking then sit up and write out your thoughts, telling your mind that you promise you won’t forget about the list, that you will pick it up tomorrow and deal with it then
  • If you have to go to the washroom- go the first time, instead of waking 3 more times in the next hour thinking you have to pee 😉

If you have any tips for getting to sleep or getting better sleep – please share!! Thanks and have a good nights sleep.

Warmly,

January

Fall is on the air

Fall starts tonight at 10:39 (or 10:59 or 10:29- I’m not sure exactly).  I love fall.  I love how the air changes, the smells, the leaves changing colour, even how the heat feels the first time you have to put it on (don’t shot me I know it wasn’t a particularly hot summer but I do like that feeling).  Recently, a client told me that fall was her favourite time of the year because that is when she does her best emotionally!!  GREAT!!

One of the biggest reasons I enjoy fall is because it gets me back into routine.  Don’t get me wrong I also love the long lazy days of summer, when all routine is thrown out the window and we sleep into 8:30 (I have little kids 8:30 is the new noon!!!!).  The routine of fall is refreshing, it is invigorating, it helps to put me back on track.  It’s the time of year that has been trained in my brain since I have 3-years old of a new start, a new school year, a new beginning and renewal.  Like so many others I thrive on routine and that is what fall means to me.

There are many things have I have let go over the summer, too much food and not enough exercise.  The Fall has given me the chance to get back into a healthy routine of taking care of me.  It has also gotten the kids into a routine of taking care of themselves in a different way (back with friends, into sport programs etc).

With the crisp kick in the butt of fall upon us what can you do for yourself to start a new healthy routine?  Is it taking some me time?  A date with a friend?  A romantic get away with your partner?  That gym membership you haven’t used?  That dusty treadmill?  That call you want to make?  Think about what healthy routines will get you closer to the life you want to live and then set mini goals to get there.  That’s what I’m doing and I love it!!  Thanks Fall.

Depression is real and it’s not funny . . . Thank you Mr. Williams

Recently, I was blessed to go on a family vacation to BC for my “baby” brothers wedding. As I write this we are flying home. As such I have not sat with my thoughts about Robin Williams death. It’s important and relevant to me not because of his celebrity status or his great humour (that I thoroughly enjoyed), but mainly because of the attention this has brought to what killed him: depression.  I’ve seen first hand, both personally and professionally what devasting effect depression can have on ones life. How it can damage relationships, self-esteem, careers, education, families, physical health and just about any aspect of life that we so often take for granted.  I can’t even tell you how many people I’ve met who suffer in silence. Who don’t talk about depression. Who don’t get help or who suffer a long time before reaching out for help. Those who feel alone, embarrassed, weak, weird, shamed, “damaged”, “broken” and hopeless. Those same people who think they are the only ones who feel this way, which can further escalate the very feelings. Those who don’t know or don’t feel that they are loved, valued and appreciated. Those who don’t know we all feel these feelings in some sort, to some degree, at sometime in our life.
I am saddened by the loss of a life. I am saddened by those who go through life feeling alone and hopeless. I wish something, someone, could have helped Robin Williams so that depression didn’t kill him. I hope that anyone reading this will reach out for help for themselves or a loved one. Please know you don’t have to suffer alone. You can get help. There are treatments to help combat this disease – it does not have to take your life.  Thank you Mr. Williams for the joy you brought to this world and hopefully the awareness of how serious depression is and the need for getting help, that you left behind.

Don’t feed the anxiety dragon

The Night my 7-year old son was missing from his bed

This is without question one of my worst nightmares. It’s 10:30 PM, I am about to go to bed, I drop off some things in my room, on the bed and start to make my rounds to give my kids a final kiss and tuck in. I knew they don’t know I do it at that time of the night and it’s really for me, but I like it and It is part of my routine. When I get to my oldest son’s room he is not in his bed. I’m a little puzzled at first because although he will often crawl into our bed I was just in our room and he wasn’t there.

So I assume that he is in his sisters bed, odd because he has never done that but perhaps he couldn’t sleep. He’s not there.

I check his room again. He’s not there.

I check the baby’s room again (as if I could have missed him sleeping on the floor in a such a tiny room). He’s not there.

I check our bed again, maybe he is snuggled in the pillows. He’s not there.

I check the floor beside our bed. He’s not there.

I run downstairs to the front room (we had been in the TV room so I know he is not there), he’s not there.

I start to run, beginning to panic to the basement spare room, hoping he is there. HE IS NOT THERE.

Not on the couch in the basement. He is not there.

My mind starts to race, panic sets in. The front door wasn’t locked. Did he in his 7-year old curiosity sneak out? Where is he!!!??? I frantically yell to my husband quickly explaining that he is not in any beds or couches. In a second it sinks into my husband and he starts frantically rechecking all the places I have already checked. My heart is racing. Where is my baby?

Then I check behind the couch. Not sure why. He’s there!!! With a pillow and a blanket. I literally toss the couch aside and yell- “he’s here, he’s here, he’s behind the couch”. Not sure what went through his mind to go to sleep behind the couch. Probably just being his silly cute little self. In all the commotion he wakes and cutely smiles at me and snuggles into my arms to be carried up to bed. He’s in no position to know what just went on or answer what he’s doing behind the couch. My heart races for the next 10 minutes while I try to calm it down.

Then here was the lesson for me. Once all was settled and he was back to sleep and tucked into bed and my husband and I were able to nervously laugh about the whole thing my husband said something very thought provoking for me (he didn’t mean it to be thought provoking but I learned something valuable). He said “you should post that on Facebook!!” For a nanosecond I thought about it. I mean I post other stories on Facebook and surely I would get the mama love that I needed in that moment. But I didn’t post it. I knew that I needed some time away from it until I could share the story. I knew that if I posted it on Facebook I would get the mama love I needed but I would also fuel the anxiety that had been created by the whole situation. I would have risen the fears and anxieties and “what if’s” and “thank God” and “can you imagine”. And although I would have appreciated the love and support – I would not have likely slept that night because I would also have fed the anxiety, panic and fear. I was not willing to do that. It would have been an easy (and sensational) story to share and in other times I might have thought nothing to share it. But at this moment I was able to be mindful of the other negative effect it would have on me and that was not worth it for me. I knew that in order to share this story it needed to be with some space from the physical and emotional reaction of the moment so that I was not creating anxiety but sharing what turned out to be a funny little story. So many times we all walk around mindless of some of the decisions that we make and how they affect us on an emotional level. This for me was a good awakening to not feed the anxiety dragon.

A Crisp new start- ahhhhhhhh Fall

Fall arrived yesterday morning, much to my son and daughters delight as they excitedly watched out the window for the leaves to literally “fall” so they could be buried in a pile of them.  September is now in full swing and for many of us that means we are “back-to-real-life”.  Summer has a way of not feeling like “real-life”.  Often business is slower or made laid back (if you are lucky there are causal Fridays or half-day Fridays), if you have kids they are out of school and so the routine is different (no fights over homework and often a more flexible bedtime routine) and in general lighter traffic if you commute.  In the summer we tend to eat later, stay up later, do more or do less and often forget the troubles of real-life. 

As September rolls around I feel like it is a fresh new start.  Even before I had children, and they were going to school themselves which definitely signals a new beginning in my brain, September has always held the promise of big things, of exciting adventures, of change and strangely enough of renewal.  Perhaps it is conditioned in me from all the years of schooling, or perhaps it is the change of pace from summer time, or perhaps it is the start of fall with the crisp mornings and cool nights.  Regardless of why, September seems to be a time to take a step back and figure out what’s working and what’s not in life.  A time to start fresh.  A time to purge the closet, clean the house, start a new routine.  The fall projects list comes out.  The fall cleaning gets scheduled or done.  And quite often a new list of goals is started.  Sometimes it’s a new goal, sometimes it’s an old goal not yet realized.    

For many it’s also a time to take a look at what’s working, and what’s not working in their emotional life.  Perhaps it is an issue with a child that has resurfaced.  Or a problem with a partner that can’t be ignored for “the sake of summer vacation”.  Or a feeling of dissatisfaction with a personal struggle, a job, anxiety, stress, self-esteem, depression or other common personal struggles.  Whatever it is, September see’s my office getting busier with people who are ready to make changes in their lives, who are ready for a new start.  This is an exciting time for me and for my clients too.  Because as the initial anxiety of the first session disappears we both get to witness real change happen in their lives.  And with the promise of a new start there also comes a renewed energy, increased motivation and a sense of great things to come. 

This fall what goals do you have for yourself?  For your home?  For your relationships?  What would it take to accomplish those goals?  If you knew you could only succeed what would you do on this beautiful crisp full day of Fall 2013?  What have you wanted to do so many times before but haven’t gotten around to or haven’t completed?  What’s stopping you?  What support would you need to do it? 

As the saying goes; Seize the Day.  Ghandi said “the future depends on what you do today”.  What fresh start would you like to take today?  What are you doing today for your future?  I for one am excited about my own opportunities and those of the brave people I work with everyday.  It’s going to be a great Fall 2013.      

    

The therapist with problems

I’m not perfect, I have problems.  There I said it.  I said it because it’s true.  Some of my clients want to believe that I am perfect, that I have it all figured out and have no issues as a parent, friend or partner.  They want to believe that I practice what we talk about perfectly, I never get anxious, I am devote at my meditations and I can stay zen in any given situation.  Not to mention that I have never suffered from depression or really messed up a relationship.  If you are one of those clients please stop reading this now.  I understand the need to think that I, as your therapist, must be perfect.  I mean how can you take advice from someone who doesn’t have it all figured out.  (Again if you want to maintain that image stop reading now 🙂 ). 

 

The reality is I am flawed, I have problems, I have fought “dirty” with my husband before, I have lost my patience with my kids and my family, – well don’t even get my started on my family.  You know how everyone has one of “those” family members, while I am sure there are members in my family who might tell you I am that person.  I also procrastinate (like now when I should be working on my website but I am blogging instead).  It’s ok though because I am a work in progress and I am learning as I grow.  So why am I confessing on the internet and on a blog that is connected to my business website that I have problems?  Because we all have problems.  We are all human.  Most days we get it right.  On those other days, well we don’t.  We mess up.  We take a step, or two, backwards (just try not to forget the hundreds of steps you took forward, instead of beating yourself up about the step or two backwards).  Sometimes we find ourselves responding in ways, reacting to things or acting in a manner that we have long since abandoned for a newer, more mature, improved us.  And you know what, that’s ok too. 

 

Many clients think that they are the only one with problems or who have felt this way.  That is very isolating and makes people feel lost and hopeless.  It can also feel very shameful to be the only one with problems.  Many clients ask me how I know so much about them with only meeting so briefly.  It’s because I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of individuals, couples and families and we often share similar painful, private, shameful struggles. 

 

Many clients also think that they should be able to go to therapy, resolve the problem and move on with their lives.  Forever changed.  Forever better.  Never slipping up or looking back and certainly never needing therapy again (because that would be shameful).  The reality is that we all slip up, we all regress, we all need support all along the way.  Growth and learning, because in many ways that is what therapy is- growth and learning a new way of being, is not a straight forward journey.  There are many bumps along the path.  There are times when the path is blocked and we have to back track and try a different route.  There are even times when one path is working out great and then the terrain changes and we need to relearn and adjust as we go.  So I am admitting on the internet, in a blog that is connected to my business website that I am not perfect and that I have problems because I think it is important to realize that we are all growing and learning and if you are not then you are likely dead.  I’d rather be learning and imperfect than dead.  Have a perfectly flawed day.