In my last blog post, I wrote about the Alberta wildfires and the effect smoke and pollution has on people’s physical and mental health. Since that time Calgary has had clear, smoke free skies and a return to warmer summer-like weather. We should be reminded that, like the smoky skies, difficult times in our lives are usually only temporary. Similarly, the good times in our lives, like the clear summer skies, are also only temporary. Therefore, we all need to learn to live in the present, battle through life’s difficulties and be thankful for life’s blessings.
As I look outside, I see what can only be described as an apocalyptic view of the city. The smoke that has landed in Calgary the last few days from the wildfires in northern Alberta negatively affect the cardiovascular and respiratory health of everyone, especially children and the elderly. Less discussed, however, are the psychological affects of air pollution. According to the American Psychological Association “researchers have found that high levels of air pollution may damage children’s cognitive abilities, increase adults’ risk of cognitive decline and possibly even contribute to depression.”
These studies tell us what we already intuitively know; during times of low air quality our mood changes, our ability to focus declines and our mind becomes “foggy”. Fortunately these levels of low air quality are typically short lived in Calgary and overall we are blessed with clean air and a healthy environment. Alberta Health Services have provided the following precautions to reduce exposure during low air quality alerts:
If air quality is because of smoke reduce presence of smoke in indoor environments:
- Close and lock all outside windows and doors, including attached garage doors.
- Turn down furnace thermostats and furnace fans to the minimum setting. Do not attempt to extinguish pilot light.
- If you have an air-conditioner, keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.
- Avoid running fans, such as “whole-house fans” or “fresh air ventilation systems”, that bring more smoky outdoor air inside.
- Switch all floor registers to closed position.
- Close fire place dampers on wood burning fireplaces.
- Do not use wood burning fireplace, wood stoves or other smoke-producing appliances or features, including candles.
- If you must drive to another location, keep windows and vents closed. Run car fans on re-circulate mode to avoid drawing in outdoor air.
- Reduce levels of physical activity, as necessary, to decrease the inhalation of airborne pollutants.
- Do not smoke tobacco – smoking puts added stress on your lungs and those around you.
- Residents are reminded not to use backyard fire pits or fire boxes in parks when the air quality risk is high or very high, as it is now.
Individuals with respiratory conditions (such as COPD and asthma), and individuals with existing cardiovascular conditions (such as angina, previous heart attack and congestive heart failure), may notice a worsening of symptoms, due to the poor air quality conditions. These individuals should monitor for worsening of symptoms and take the precautions routinely recommended by their physicians if a worsening of symptoms occurs.
During a recent road trip with my family, we passed a truck on the highway with a clever bumper sticker that read: “If you don’t like passing big trucks on the road, don’t buy so much stuff ! ”
While I know trucking is an essential industry and the profession is very demanding, the saying had me reflect on the truth of the statement as it relates to mental health and the congestion ‘stuff’ brings into our lives.
Consider that more physical objects around us increases our anxiety, worry and sense of imbalance. So instead I invite you to de-clutter and simplify your space and mind. You’ll see gains in your health, sense of freedom, time, purpose, self confidence, money, calm, balance, relationships, experiences and self awareness. By not holding on to ‘stuff’, you can build a better future both within yourself and out in the world. That is deep breath we can all can take on the highway of life !
From a seat high in the stands surrounded by a popcorn eating lunch crowd, I had the chance last week to hear former President Barack Obama answer some questions about lessons from his life.
What struck me most, whether we see Obama as collective or divisive depending on the issues he dealt with from race to healthcare to pipelines, is that he knows the importance of being real and being grounded. Obama spoke about his own first four decades of living life out of the public eye before being “shot out of a cannon onto the world stage”. Despite all the attention and “fuss”, he and his wife Michelle strived to live according to the values they held prior to the presidency.
From work to parenting, they chose a path for themselves based on what he learned from those he loved:
From his wife he learned Integrity: how to walk the talk.
From his mom he learned Empathy: the greatest teacher and healer of human experience.
From his children he learned Closeness: always making time for connection.
From his dad he learned about Jazz and the love and power of music and rhythm.
From himself he learned about Optimism: always looking for what is available.
So when you see yourself in the mirror on what might be a day (any day) that changes your own course in history, remember that we all need one another because as Obama recognised; we are more alike than different and you have the power to change everyone’s life around you.
It is in our youthful spirit that we see the possibility of hope changing the world for the better through the simple advice he gave his children: “be kind and be useful”.
Today, January 30th, is Bell Let’s Talk Day. The initiative began in 2010 and since then has gained traction as a way for Canadians to have a conversation and be engaged in mental health. Since it’s inception, Bell Let’s Talk Day has attracted Canadian celebrities and spokespeople to the cause of engagement and action to support mental health.
Bell Let’s Talk has four pillars of action. First, to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and promote awareness and understanding of the issues facing so many Canadians. Secondly, the program supports channels of care and access for people to find the help they need. Thirdly, a focus has been put on continuing research into mental illness. And lastly, the program supports workplace engagement with various Canadian corporations by adopting the voluntary Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
To date, Bell has donated over $93 million to mental health programs, with the goal of surpassing $100 million.
If you are interested in participating in Bell Let’s Talk Day, please visit letstalk.bell.ca
A new year has begun. Many of us are speaking of new beginnings, new year’s intentions and resolutions. I personally like to speak of a new years theme and how it can unfold and strengthen throughout the year ahead.
You see there are six simple questions that can help us seize the hope and vitality, momentum and courage of what a new year means.
So consider first a word; action or verb, something that helps you capture the vibe and call of 2019. This is your Theme.
Let us say your theme is SELF LOVE which of course blends into the ideas of SELF ACCEPTANCE, SELF ESTEEM, SELF CARE, SELF AWARENESS, SELF COMPASSION… something each of us can identify with.
In order to opertationalise this theme into something we can both do and be, write two statements of what is possible.
START To love myself, accept myself, what can I start?
It can be within any of the realms; physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, playful, etc.
Ex. I can start my day saying “today is going to be a great day”
I can start my morning with a stretch, smile and song…
STOP What needs to STOP to ensure SELF AWARENESS?
Ex. I need to stop telling myself the same old story of where I am inadequate. I need to stop looking for evidence of this.
SAVOUR What can you savour to embrace SELF ACCEPTANCE?
Ex. Today I will find beauty and laughter somewhere in and/or around me and when I do I will breathe it in, enjoy it and share with someone close.
CREATE What will SELF ESTEEM help me create?
Ex. I want closer relationships that matter so I will create a calendar of times to have people over for supper, sharing my time, my effort, my home, my love.
CONTINUE What am I doing already that contributes to my SELF LOVE?
Ex. I will continue to be grateful for the blessings of my day. I will share them, record or journal them, I will remember to ask others what they are thankful for. I will continue to be active and wise in my choices of what I feed my body.
CHANGE With SELF COMPASSION what can I change to live to a better 2020?
Ex. I can catch myself in old patters of behaving, be it from a trigger of being hungry, hurt, annoyed, angry, lonely, lost, tired, thirsty (HALT triggers) and give myself and others a second chance to start over, make amends, repair any damage caused by my insensitivity.
I invite you to choose your theme. Write out 12 ways to have it come alive as we have done above. There are so many possibilities. And write these into your monthly calendar so that each month, you have one area of your theme to focus on and expand from month to month giving yourself 12 tasks to make your theme a natural part of your day to day life.
I am eager to hear what you chose, how you are living it and how it will change you. I am here to support you in this every step of the way.
Believing in you, always, Maria
Here is something that I often find helpful to remind myself of and thus want to offer to all of you. Good Therapy did a great job of compiling this list and so the credit goes to them to help us all be more self aware of the ways we allow our minds to trick us.
Cognitive Distortions and How They Affect Your Life
By GoodTherapy.org Staff
Our circumstances don’t define us. Regardless of what happens in life, we always have the power to choose our attitude. So what’s the difference between someone who remains hopeful despite experiencing great suffering and the person who stubs his or her toe and remains angry the rest of the day? The answer lies in the person’s thinking patterns.
Psychologists use the term “cognitive distortions” to describe irrational, inflated thoughts or beliefs that distort a person’s perception of reality, usually in a negative way. Cognitive distortions are common but can be hard to recognize if you don’t know what to look for. Many occur as automatic thoughts. They are so habitual that the thinker often doesn’t realize he or she has the power to change them. Many grow to believe that’s just the way things are.
Cognitive distortions can take a serious toll on one’s mental health, leading to increased stress, depression, and anxiety. If left unchecked, these automatic thought patterns can become entrenched and may negatively influence the rational, logical way you make decisions.
For those looking to improve their mental health by recognizing pesky cognitive distortions, we’ve compiled a list of 20 common ones that may already be distorting your perception of reality:
1. BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING
A person with this dichotomous thinking pattern typically sees things in terms of either/or. Something is either good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing. Black-and-white thinking fails to acknowledge that there are almost always several shades of gray that exist between black and white. By seeing only two possible sides or outcomes to something, a person ignores the middle—and possibly more reasonable—ground.
When engaging in this type of thinking, an individual tends to take things personally. He or she may attribute things that other people do as the result of his or her own actions or behaviors. This type of thinking also causes a person to blame himself or herself for external circumstances outside the person’s control.
3. ‘SHOULD’ STATEMENTS
Thoughts that include “should,” “ought,” or “must” are almost always related to a cognitive distortion. For example: “I should have arrived to the meeting earlier,” or, “I must lose weight to be more attractive.” This type of thinking may induce feelings of guilt or shame. “Should” statements also are common when referring to others in our lives. These thoughts may go something like, “He should have called me earlier,” or, “She ought to thank me for all the help I’ve given her.” Such thoughts can lead a person to feel frustration, anger, and bitterness when others fail to meet unrealistic expectations. No matter how hard we wish to sometimes, we cannot control the behavior of another, so thinking about what others should do serves no healthy purpose.
This occurs when a person sees any unpleasant occurrence as the worst possible outcome. A person who is catastrophizing might fail an exam and immediately think he or she has likely failed the entire course. A person may not have even taken the exam yet and already believe he or she will fail—assuming the worst, or preemptively catastrophizing.
With this type of cognitive distortion, things are exaggerated or blown out of proportion, though not quite to the extent of catastrophizing. It is the real-life version of the old saying, “Making a mountain out of a molehill.”
The same person who experiences the magnifying distortion may minimize positive events. These distortions sometimes occur in conjunction with each other. A person who distorts reality by minimizing may think something like, “Yes, I got a raise, but it wasn’t very big and I’m still not very good at my job.”
This type of thinker may assume the role of psychic and may think he or she knows what someone else thinks or feels. The person may think he or she knows what another person thinks despite no external confirmation that his or her assumption is true.
8. FORTUNE TELLING
A fortune-telling-type thinker tends to predict the future, and usually foresees a negative outcome. Such a thinker arbitrarily predicts that things will turn out poorly. Before a concert or movie, you might hear him or her say, “I just know that all the tickets will be sold out when we get there.”
When overgeneralizing, a person may come to a conclusion based on one or two single events, despite the fact reality is too complex to make such generalizations. If a friend misses a lunch date, this doesn’t mean he or she will always fail to keep commitments. Overgeneralizing statements often include the words “always,” “never,” “every,” or “all.”
10. DISCOUNTING THE POSITIVE
This extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking occurs when a person discounts positive information about a performance, event, or experience and sees only negative aspects. A person engaging in this type of distortion might disregard any compliments or positive reinforcement he or she receives.
Thought patterns can be changed through a process referred to in cognitive therapy as cognitive restructuring. The idea behind it is that by adjusting our automatic thoughts, we are able to influence our emotions and behaviors.
This cognitive distortion, similar to discounting the positive, occurs when a person filters out information, negative or positive. For example, a person may look at his or her feedback on an assignment in school or at work and exclude positive notes to focus on one critical comment.
This distortion, a more severe type of overgeneralization, occurs when a person labels someone or something based on one experience or event. Instead of believing that he or she made a mistake, people engaging in this type of thinking might automatically label themselves as failures.
This is the opposite of personalization. Instead of seeing everything as your fault, all blame is put on someone or something else.
14. EMOTIONAL REASONING
Mistaking one’s feelings for reality is emotional reasoning. If this type of thinker feels scared, there must be real danger. If this type of thinker feels stupid, then to him or her this must be true. This type of thinking can be severe and may manifest as obsessive compulsion. For example, a person may feel dirty even though he or she has showered twice within the past hour.
15. ALWAYS BEING ‘RIGHT’
This thinking pattern causes a person to internalize his or her opinions as facts and fails to consider the feelings of the other person in a debate or discussion. This cognitive distortion can make it difficult to form and sustain healthy relationships.
16. SELF-SERVING BIAS
A person experiencing self-serving bias may attribute all positive events to his or her personal character while seeing any negative events as outside of his or her control. This pattern of thinking may cause a person to refuse to admit mistakes or flaws and to live in a distorted reality where he or she can do no wrong.
17. ‘HEAVEN’S REWARD’ FALLACY
In this pattern of thinking, a person may expect divine rewards for his or her sacrifices. People experiencing this distortion tend to put their interests and feelings aside in hopes that they will be rewarded for their selflessness later, but they may become bitter and angry if the reward is never presented.
18. FALLACY OF CHANGE
This distortion assumes that other people must change their behavior in order for us to be happy. This way of thinking is usually considered selfish because it insists, for example, that other people change their schedule to accommodate yours or that your partner shouldn’t wear his or her favorite t-shirt because you don’t like it.
19. FALLACY OF FAIRNESS
This fallacy assumes that things have to be measured based on fairness and equality, when in reality things often don’t always work that way. An example of the trap this type of thinking sets is when it justifies infidelity if a person’s partner has cheated.
20. CONTROL FALLACY
Someone who sees things as internally controlled may put himself or herself at fault for events that are truly out of the person’s control, such as another person’s happiness or behavior. A person who sees things as externally controlled might blame his or her boss for poor work performance.
What arises in all of us is a deep sense we are not enough which impacts the way, the quality, we live our lives. These videos will affirm that you are not alone in the fear and in the knowledge that you are more. ~ Maria.
Whether you’ve earned a promotion at work, your child has reached an important milestone or you’ve hit a long awaited fitness goal, it’s a problem when friends cannot or will not revel with you in those thrilling “ups” in your life and truly enjoy your achievements, says Degges-White. Real pals aren’t into letting jealousy rear its ugly head. Instead, friends “witness your changing life and want to know the depth of what you’re experiencing” says Maria Schmid, a Calgary-based psychologist. Friends should brag about you, not bitch about you. – – Canadian Living Magazine April 2008.
How to ensure your friendship will stand the test of time – by: Lisa Van De Geyn of Canadian Living Magazine
You probably already know the importance of best friends: Having that special first-rate friend (I’m looking at you, Aimee) gives you greater strength when the going gets tough. According to recent research from the University of Leeds in England, the greater the quality of the study participants’ best friendships, the more resilient they were a year later.
If you’re going to reap the benefits of having “your person,” nurturing the relationship is key. “Friends help you find meaning, witness your changing life and want to know the depths of what you’re experiencing,” says Maria Schmid, a registered psychologist in Calgary.
To make sure your friendships with your best pals stand the test of time, Schmid offers this advice: “Be present, let your actions reflect love and respect, and show them you see, hear, admire and are thankful for them.”
What I like about this TEDx is that it summarises a lot of key ideas of what arises for most of us in counselling. We are all looking, underneath the struggles, tragedies, stories and relationships, for the belief in our self to know we are on the right path and can listen to our truth.
Love: It is complicated and challenging yet yields the greatest reward. It makes us grow and experience ourselves fully.
In 1939, Harvard Medical School began tracking the lives of two groups of men to identify the psycho-social predictors of healthy aging. The two groups consisted of 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study). Link to the Grant and Glueck study.
The conclusions of the study strongly indicate that good relationships keep people happier and healthier. It’s particularly close relationships that matter rather than the number of relationships.
The biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfilment overall in life is love.
This is an insightful lecture from Dr. Daniel Goleman, a world renowned psychologist who is known for his work on emotional intelligence and learning. The video explains how high achievement for ourselves and our children can be obtained by focus, mindfulness, positivism and preparation; all skills that I teach my clients and here they are all together!
If you have Netflix, there is an entertaining documentary film called (Dis)Honesty, which focuses on work done by Duke University professor Dan Ariely on the topic of lying. What may be surprising to you (or not), is that lying to ourselves and to others is very commonplace. The film delves into some of the experimentation done by Professor Ariely, which resulted in interesting observations around common, international human behaviors and rationalizations . The film also follows a number of individuals whose stories of dishonesty dramatically change their lives. This will help you consider what lies you are telling yourself and how it may impact you!
A number of clients have spoken with me about their low energy levels, or ways to increase their mood, productivity and self control. As you know, eating a wholesome breakfast is crucial but how to do it quickly is the question. Carbs and fats (ie: toast and cereal included!) aren’t getting you going for long. High fiber, produce and protein are recommended.
So along with your smoothie, below are three great recipes for the mornings that can be eaten on the go. All of them use beans as the base instead of flour; the brownies are egg and flour free and are a favorite at our house. The best part is that I add another cup of cooked carrots, fresh spinach, zucchini, prunes etc., some chia, hemp, flax seeds and it doesn’t change the taste and increases the health our bodies need. Make a batch at the beginning of the week and have breakfast or snack ready for each day!
Below are several books that I consistently recommend to my clients:
- Hold On to Your Kids: Why parents need to matter more than peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate
Marriage and Couples
- The 5 Languages of Love by Gary Chapman
- The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A practical guide from the country’s foremost relationship expert by John Gottman and Nan Silver
- Love and Respect Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Emerson Eggerichs
- A Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn
- The 9 Steps to Emotional Fitness: A toolkit for life in the 21st Century by Warren Redman
- Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ by Daniel Goleman
Grief and Loss
- The Way of Transition: Embracing life’s most difficult moments by William Bridges
- The Lost Art of Listening: How learning to listen can improve relationships by Michael Nichols
Simply Good Reading
- Focusing by Eugene Gendlin
- The Prophet by Kahil Gibran
- The Cup of Our Life: A guide for spiritual growth by Joyce Rupp
- Simplicity and Success: Creating the life you long for by Bruce Elkin