If you’re like me and have a desk job and currently working from home, much of the day is spent sitting in front of a screen. Looking back at pre-COVID, there was much more movement in our work environments: meeting people in person, commuting to the office (ideally by walking or biking), going out for lunches, etc. But in today’s reality, the commute is only a few metres and all meetings and interactions are done virtually from the desktop.
Several studies over the years have concluded that too much sitting can lead to real health problems. Some experts have even claimed that sitting for extended periods of time can be as damaging as smoking.
There have been interesting insights into the psychology of sitting from work done by the Behavioral Science Institute at Radboud University. They found people tend to change posture more often in the afternoon and sit for extended periods of time in the mornings. The average office worker also changes position from sitting to standing approximately 100 times a day. The purpose of this study was to develop interventions to help with more healthy sitting behaviour.
It is easy to be stuck in a chair for hours, especially when work is engaging, or deadlines are looming. So here are several simple strategies to sit less and move more at work:
- Use smaller coffee or water cups. This will force you to get up and refill periodically
- Stand up whenever you are texting or speaking on the phone (people still use phones right?)
- Don’t eat breakfast or lunch at your desk –forces you to stand up and change position
- Set a timer and take short activity breaks throughout the day. This can include a short walk, stretching , or something more rigorous like pushups or jumping jacks
- Invest in an adjustable standing desk
Prayer as medicine.
While a majority of my counselling practice is secular in nature, I am a practicing Christian and if asked can integrate a religious or spiritual aspect to my therapy.
A cornerstone to those with religious beliefs is the notion of prayer. The psychological study of prayer is challenging and has been limited in scope, partly because many researchers are skeptical when it comes to the topic of religion. It is also difficult for scientists to study what is, by definition, unknown: the relationship and involvement of a higher being or power. Despite this, what’s been studied has resulted in some very interesting conclusions.
Some research have shown that prayer is associated with an individual’s calmness, peace and also a reduction in isolation, and anxiety. This, in turn, can have important positive impacts on one’s physiology, including immune system health.
A 2009 study published in the National Library of Medicine concluded that “Direct contact person-to-person prayer may be useful as an adjunct to standard medical care for patients with depression and anxiety.” Study participants involved in prayer show significant improvement of depression, anxiety and optimism when compared to the control group, who did not participate in prayer rituals.
For those not inclined to a spiritual ritual such as prayer, meditation can result in many of the same benefits. Meditation is advocated by myself and by many other therapists for creating a tangible improvement in one’s mental and physical health. I will explore the benefits of meditation and provide some guidance to the practice in a future posting.
This is a re-post of a wonderful and timely article about what motivates kids to build forts, especially during these unprecedented times. We are finding our own kids are big into building forts right now. Forts offer comfort, security, a sense of independence and a place for creativity for kids. I hope you enjoy the article:
By Susan C. Margolin
May 18, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. EDT
My friend texts a photo from her living room — a mound of yellow and green fringed blankets draped over a chair, framed by a wall of couch pillows.
“I need to go find a dark hole to climb into,” she writes. “Like this.”
It is her son’s fort, which he erected on the first day of remote learning. It is now his reading nook when he ditches online classes. He sleeps there, too.
Being cooped up inside is hard.
So in our living rooms, bedrooms and basements, kids are turning to fort-building to create safe havens as the covid-19 world feels out of their control.
In Farmington, Mich., 9-year-old Malia Mitchell has not left her two-bedroom apartment for weeks, except for family drives. She understands why, but also worries about her grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ health.
So Malia built a fort behind the couch that she calls “my little apartment,” stocked with snacks, stuffed animals, blankets and an iPad charger. It is her go-to-place to FaceTime friends, relax away from her parents and baby sister, eat and sleep.
“It takes up the living room, but I’m leaving it there,” her mother, Kenita Ware, says. “We don’t have a large space, but I feel like she needs her own little place — maybe just to process what’s going on or to be alone.”
Forts have always been a part of childhood, says David Sobel, professor emeritus at Antioch University’s education department and author of “Children’s Special Places: Exploring the Role of Forts, Dens, and Bush Houses in Middle Childhood.” Sobel researched the developmental function forts play in children’s lives across cultures. They are universal, he says, driven by “biological genetic disposition” as children develop a “sense of self,” separate from parents.
Kids begin to build forts indoors around age 4, Sobel found, then start venturing outside around age 6 or 7 to construct dens, treehouses and other fort-like structures more independently, a practice that continues into their tweens. Metaphorically and physically, building forts reflects children’s growth as individuals, Sobel says; they create a “home away from home,” free from parental control. Forts also foster creativity. “A lot of magic happens inside,” he adds.
All forts, according to Sobel, share common traits: They are handmade, somewhat secretive and “you can look out, but others can’t see in.” They are safe — physically and emotionally. “It’s your place where you want to be just you, observing but unseen,” he says.
Inside, forts are kids’ private, secure worlds.
“I feel like you’re in a safe place, your own bubble of coziness,” says 11-year-old Grayson Drewry, of Port Townsend, Wash. “There are no other things affecting you — you’re blocked out from the world.
“Everything is wrong right now, but it’s a safe space where no one worries about you,” she adds. “If you locked yourself in your room, people would worry, but if you hide in your fort all day, no worries.”
Grayson’s mother, Tiffany Drewry, agrees, saying that an assigned school fort-building competition lifted Grayson’s spirits. Drewry says remote learning has been taxing for Grayson, whom she says is “differently wired” and learns best through doing, especially touch. Grayson has always sought comfort in “nests” and forts — often when stressed. For the school competition, Grayson transformed her room into a pastel-pink tent constructed with sheets and pillows propped up by a mop. She decorated it with photos, created a welcome video and spent most of her day inside. “I needed that!” Grayson told her mom.
Children have more time to be creative right now, says Sobel. Their developing brains crave a break from computers (even if they protest). Forts also encourage play, which is beneficial for kids, especially now. But are quarantine forts any different from the archetypal rainy-day or weekend forts?
“It’s the same but intensified,” says Emily King, a child psychologist in Raleigh, N.C. “Kids make sense of the world through play. In quarantine, all our needs are amplified.” Fort-building can help kids process this unnerving new reality on their own terms — through imagination and most importantly, control.
“Everything is different,” King says. “They’re facing uncertainty — not knowing how long we’re going to be doing this.” With so much disruption, “They’re feeling what we’re all feeling — great loss.”
Without familiar routines, children need to feel in control of something, she adds. “Whatever kids create in their imaginative world feels safe and predictable to them. It’s like ‘Every time I go into this fort, it will be just like I left it.’”
Forts can also help kids regulate their bodies and emotions. Being in an enclosed, dark space with buffered sound and tactile sensations can be especially therapeutic for children on the autism spectrum, or those who have attention-deficit and sensory processing disorders or anxiety.
Forts help children reset their stressed bodies and brains, says Carol Stock Kranowitz, educator and author of “The Out-of-Sync-Child.” The darkness inside a fort eliminates the stimulus they do not need and intensifies what they do need — such as physical comfort and solitude.
In the covid-19 world, our nervous systems are on high alert. We are wired to defend ourselves from environmental threats — which feel more acute for kids with sensory issues. Our brains react with “self-therapy” for protection, Kranowitz says. Self-therapy can also be soothing and fun, such as with forts. “It’s primal,” she says.
Kranowitz adds that everyone can relate to the impulse to build forts. “It’s all about safety and control. We seek out comfort. We need to restore order. And in covid, we’re doing more of these things.” A person who likes chocolate may eat a little more. A walker may go further, longer. A child who builds forts constructs more elaborate ones. And maybe moves in for a while.
Can a child spend too much time in forts? King advises parents to monitor fort time as a “symptom thermometer” for clues about a how a child is coping with quarantine. For example, if a child withdraws for long periods, they need connection, not more alone time.
King, Sobel and Kranowitz agree that forts can nourish parent-child connections, under one condition: Children must be in charge. Parents can help build or enter, but only if invited.
“Don’t mess with their fort,” King says. Do not take over, alter or dismantle it. If the fort is tolerable, she adds, “let them go to town on making it feel safe and comfortable. It’s theirs.”
If a child asks for help, “enter whatever world they create,” Sobel says.
Six-year-old Nacelle Bumford of Forest Hill, Md., alternates among several forts in quarantine — including a tent she calls her “office,” perched on the couch’s corner, near her mother’s work spot.
“We use them as her safe place,” her mother, Linette Bumford says. Inside, Nacelle savors two minutes of “cuddle time,” which benefits them both. “She calls me into her ‘office’ for meetings that we both schedule on her calendar. It makes her feel in control of her day.”
Parents and children feed off one another, after all. We absorb and deflect one another’s moods. That may be true now more than ever.
“If I were to build a fort or lock myself in the bathroom for time away, everybody would think that something’s wrong,” Drewry says. “But I think that a lot of adults are doing the same thing now, whether it’s in the bathroom, the laundry room or bedroom. I have to tell you it’s the same impulse. We all need comfort now.”
Susan C. Margolin is a writer who helps business leaders tell their stories. She sought solace in many forts as a kid and now shares her workspace with a cardboard city built by her daughter. Follow her on Twitter: @scmargolin.
Now is a good time to de-clutter.
I recently read that famed entrepreneur, Elon Musk, announced that he is planning to sell “almost all [of his] physical possessions” Musk’s Twitter post
Musk went on to tweet that “devoting myself to Mars and Earth. Possession just weigh you down”
While giving away all of your belongings would be very different for a billionaire than for you and I, it does beg the question of how much “stuff” do we really need and how do all these things affect our mood and mind-space.
I have noticed in many of my conversations these past few weeks that people are feeling a lot of discomfort being confined to their homes; not so much because of the restrictions, but rather because they don’t have the room or freedom to move within. I have been thinking about the environments we are living in and how healthy they are physically.
I do find that a cluttered room leads to a cluttered head, and that my personal and professional productivity increases with a well organized space.
In this time of COVID and lock-downs, we should realize that what matters most in life are family and friends, positive experiences, and health and well-being – not more stuff.
So, in the spirit of embracing a bit of minimalism, here are a few tips courtesy to Leo Babauta of zenhabits.net :
- Start with baby steps (5 minutes at a time so you are not overwhelmed)
- Designate a spot for incoming papers
- Start a no clutter zone
- Clear off one counter at a time
- Book a decluttering weekend. Get boxes and trash bags ready, and plan a trip to a charity to drop off donated items.
- Pick up 5 things, and find places for them.
- Spend a few minutes visualizing the room. Once you’ve visualized how the room will look uncluttered, and figured out what is essential, get rid of the rest.
- Create a “maybe” box for things you don’t use now, but may in the future. Store the box somewhere hidden. Pull the box out in six months and see if it’s anything you really needed. Usually, you can just dump the whole box, because you never needed that stuff.
- Put a load in your car for charity.
- Create a 30-day list and make a rule never to buy anything (except necessities) unless they’ve been on the list for 30 days. Often you’ll lose the urge to buy the stuff and you’ll save yourself a lot of money and clutter.
- Teach your kids where things belong.
- Set up some simple folders.
- Learn to file quickly.
- Pull out some clothes you don’t wear. If they’re seasonal clothes, store them in a box. Get rid of the rest.
- Clear out your medicine cabinet.
- Pull everything out of a drawer. Just take the drawer out and empty it on a table. Then sort the drawer into three piles: 1) stuff that really should go in the drawer; 2) stuff that belongs elsewhere; 3) stuff to get rid of.
- Learn to love the uncluttered look.
- Have a conversation with your SO or roommate. An uncluttered home is the result of a shared philosophy of simplicity of all the people living in the house.
I love mnemonics and integrate them in my practice all the time. One that I’ve used with clients is STOP.
STOP from from Spiraling – from Negativity – from Boredom – from Depression – from Panic & Anxiety:
S – Stop what you are doing and pay attention to Sight, Sensation, Sounds, Smells, Senses. Smile at another or within yourself and just have a moment to be yourself.
T – Take Time to stand Tall as a Tree. Take slow and long breaths and imagine yourself drawing strength and nourishment from the ground you are firmly rooted in and feel this breath Travel through you.
O – Be Open and Observe what is happening in and around you. Be Open to new ways of thinking and feeling from these Observations. Ownership is taking responsibility for what you know and need.
P – Have Presence and create Patience, Perspective and Perseverance to Proceed with what is Priority to you. Play and find Pleasure amidst the pain and panic as you hold Purpose and Positivism that it is all part of your story.
If you are consistently facing negative emotions or actions, remember to STOP.
It is April, it is spring, it is nothing like we have known before! What has it been like for you to live in an ‘historic’ time? Transition is in the air and although we may be physically apart from one another, we are learning what it is to be interconnected; humans sharing this precious experience of life’s complexities together.
If there is one word that keeps coming up for me in what is happening in our homes and in our world, it is one of reimagining. None of us would have imagined a virus to have halted our economy, workplaces, schools, movements, etc. Reimagining speaks to me of a reset of priorities, reimagining what we truly want our lives to be. It is my invitation for you today, to reimagine what it is you want to create, to choose and to change for your life in and out of our homes.
This message is also to let you know that I have been working on a few changes of my own to be a better psychologist for you. The obvious first one is that I will be conducting all counselling sessions by phone or video platform. Here is the new tele-therapy Consent Form for us to review before your session.
Until we see the end of COVID-19, I trust that we will do the best we can together in this new medium of communication. Here are some other exciting additions:
New Associate Psychologist
I’m excited to announce that in order to have more time available for existing clients, I have hired a new associate to join me in my practice. Tricia Thomas is a seasoned registered psychologist with deep knowledge and a big heart. Her philosophy and approach as a psychologist is similar to mine. Her experience includes children and youth, in addition to adults, couples and families. She is available for new clients on the online calendar system, so please pay attention to whose calendar you are booking into.
Holistic Nutritional Consultant
We all know from experience that our physical health is impacted and in turn impacts our mental and emotional well-being. From this interconnection, it has become more apparent through my reading and research that many of the issues presented in my office can be helped, alleviated and even prevented through nutritional changes. I have worked with Pam Groulx in the past and found her to be a wealth of information and sound leadership in making necessary changes to reduce stress and build overall health and resilience. The road to a healthy mind and body is often through the gut and so Pam has agreed to join me to compliment my practice. You are welcome to book with her directly through the online calendar system for a FREE initial consult. Here is her letter describing her practice.
And finally an official waitlist! If you are interested in a specific appointment time that is not available online, you can book a waitlist ‘appointment’. I will see your request in the calendar and if the appointment becomes available (and they often do!), I will book you in for that time and an email confirmation will be sent to you. If your name is on the waitlist and you do not hear from me it is because there was no appointment availability at that time and I will endeavour to find you another availability. Please write in the notes section of the waitlist calendar your preference for all days and times you are interested in an appointment with me. Here is the direct link: https://mariaschmid.as.me/waitlist
I have selected some favourite resources for you, be it for mindfulness, anxiety, parenting strategies. These will be updated as I find other worthy resources. Here is the link to the Resources section of my website.
So in summary, let’s reimagine what it is to healthy and whole. I hope it holds the transition and change that you have been longing to make towards health, connection, priorities, perspective and perseverance.
We are all in this together. Lean on me if and when you need to, I am here.
With dedication, Maria
The following webinar was sent to members of our professional association today and is being made available for distribution to clients and the public regarding information pertaining to the COVID-19 virus. Please feel free to forward on to your friends and family.
We’d like to also inform our valued clients that due to the virus and your health and safety, you have the option to conduct sessions either by telephone or through secure video conferencing. For more information, please click here.
And now here’s the message and webinar from the Psychological Association of Alberta (PAA):
As you know, facts make all the difference in reducing anxiety and fosterng psychological health during times of stress.
PAA is an active member of CSAE. With gratitude, they are making this webinar available at no cost to any interested Canadians.
The presenter, Dr. David N Fisman, is a Professor of Epidemiology with the University of Toronto and he will review: the scientific and clinical understanding of the virus, the potential impact and risks of a global outbreak, and meaningful and mindful ways to prepare for the future.
In continuing with the theme of parenting kids in the digital age, I came across this advice from Nir Eyal, Stanford Business School instructor, former video game and advertising executive, and author of “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life”. Eyal writes in his latest book that like the human body requires nutrition, the human mind also requires psychological nutrients to satisfy its needs in order to flourish. If these needs are not met, kids (and adults) will often resort to unhealthy behaviors such as video game or social media addictions. Eyal proposes three “psychological nutrients” to help keep kids focused and more resistant to the distractions of technology.
First is Autonomy: In the western school system, kids are given very little freedom in choices and goal setting. Kids give up control of their attention when it’s continuously managed by an adult. The advice given by Eyal is that parents should work with kids to create their own boundaries with tech usage and teach them why activities such as screen time should be limited. Setting rules with your kids rather than for them will provide a sense of ownership in the decisions and they will be much more willing to follow your guidance.
Second is Competence: Overly structured academic and athletic activities may hinder a kids progressive path to success. The fact that kids have different developmental rates and interests, combined with pressures and expectations, often creates the feeling that achieving competence is impossible. Kids may turn to unhealthy activities to experience growth, development and success. Video games and social media are able to fill this void by providing immediate feedback, reward and feelings of success. Eyal writes from his experience that video game designers purposefully create products to satisfy these needs through “leveling up”, gaining followers or getting more “likes”. Structured academic and athletic activities are not in and of themselves bad, but parents can help improve outcomes by allowing kids some freedom to pursue what they enjoy and support them in creating ‘small wins’ and competence in their activities.
Third is Relatedness: Free play time has steadily declined over the past 50 years, reducing the ability for kids to form close social bonds with peers, yet the desire to connect remains the same. This void is often filled online with multiplayer video games or social media. Parents should give their kids more free time for in-person unstructured interactions to help foster that need for connection and importance.
I’d like to take a moment to comment on three themes that are very common in the work that happens in my office: authenticity, emotional intelligence and leadership. Over time I will address each of these separately, however today I want to comment on how they together create the ingredients of successful professional performance. Taken from Gillian Zoe Segal’s book “Getting There: A Book of Mentors”, Berkshire CEO and legendary investor Warren Buffet explains an essential life lesson learned from one of his mentors, Tom Murphy.
Tom Murphy was the former CEO of media company Capital Cities/ABC Inc. Considering Murphy’s role in a fierce and demanding industry, Buffet remembers that he was extremely poised and even tempered under fire. “He didn’t have to shout or scream or anything like that. He did everything in a very relaxed manner” recalls Buffet. Murphy imparted to Buffet some “indispensable” advice: “Warren, you can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow”. According to Buffet it was “one of the best pieces of advice I have every received”.
As Buffet wrote: “It’s such an easy way of putting it, you haven’t missed the opportunity. Just forget about it for a day. If you feel the same way tomorrow, tell them then — but don’t spout off in a moment of anger!”
The advice from Murphy aligns with lessons about knowing oneself, emotional intelligence (EI) and leadership. Individuals with high EI are able to perceive and manage their own emotions, while maintaining a keen awareness of the social cues of others. These skills together help us understand how to “discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior”, as described by Emotional Intelligence researchers Peter Salovey and John Mayer.
Becoming a more emotionally intelligent individual is a practiced skill. Techniques such as medication, mindfulness and controlled breathing will help. Working on anticipating and planning in advance on how to respond to difficult and reoccurring emotions is also effective.
It can also be useful to strategically plan when is the best time to have those tough conversations. These are all ways one can remain true to themselves, emotionally aware and strong leaders.
To the dear people I have come to know and care for!
Happiest New Year. 2020, a new day, a new year, a new decade even. It brings with it so many promises and possibilities.
When I was living in Ghana twenty years ago, our organization was working hard to meet the U.N.’s 2020 targets to reduce poverty, inequity among women, and preventable diseases such as polio and malaria. The goal was to improve the quality of life of every person by providing universal access to clean water, proper healthcare, sanitation, education and fair and just governance.
In researching and reflecting upon how far the world has come since 2000, we have much to be thankful for. Earnest and honest efforts have made significant changes to improve the lives of millions around the world. https://ourworldindata.org/a-history-of-global-living-conditions-in-5-charts?linkId=62571595.
We also know that in the next decade, much more can be done to improve the conditions of today. Major problems still exist in the world from tackling climate change, to confronting a resurgence of resistant diseases and continuing threats of war and nuclear weapons proliferation. This involves a whole new generation of kids maturing and learning how to make a difference in what is now a very different world from the one at the turn of the 21st century.
I want to make an appeal that starting today, we all create a vision for where these changes for you, for others and for our shared world can be made. It is a year of vision, of clarity, of crispness, of perspective. It’s 2020.
Today is here, I am so happy to share it with you.
The new year is upon us and with it the ubiquitous New Year’s resolutions. And since, for many, a goal in the new year may include a renewed commitment to physical activity, this article by Canadian science writer Bob Holmes published in Knowable Magazine is definitely worth sharing.
“…exercise is both powerful and wide-reaching, affecting not just muscles and the cardiovascular system, but almost every part of the body, from the immune system to the brain to the energy systems within individual cells. And as scientists understand more precisely which levers exercise pulls to improve our health, clinicians are on the verge of being able to change their practice. The goal is to think of exercise as a medicine — a therapy that they can prescribe in specific doses for specific needs.”
What you were told as a child may actually be true, at least when it comes to giving. The age old adage that “it is better to give than receive” now has some scientific backing. In a study published by Science Magazine, researchers examined how income effects happiness.
The researchers hypothesized that spending money on others rather than oneself would promote a greater level of happiness. A number of studies were conducted, which included a survey of 632 people asked to rate their level of happiness and provide information relating to their income and how their money was spent (on bills, gifts for themselves and others and charity). “The study provided initial evidence that how people spend their money may be as important for their happiness as how much money they earn and that spending money on others might represent a more effective route to happiness than spending money on oneself.”
Several other studies were done, which resulted in the similar outcomes.
“Although personal spending is of necessity and likely to exceed prosocial spending for most North Americans, our findings suggest that very minor alterations in spending allocations—as little as $5 in our final study—may be sufficient to produce nontrivial gains in happiness on a given day.”
Why, then, don’t people make these small changes?
In a final study, 109 people were asked whether spending money on themselves or others would make them happiest. A majority of respondents wrongly assumed that spending more money on themselves would make them happier than spending on others.
So during this Christmas season, delight in the joy of giving, to family as well as strangers and those in need. We’re all better off for it.
If you’re interested in the full study, please click below:
The skills needed to succeed in our parent’s generation differs from the skills needed to succeed in our generation. Likewise, skills to succeed for our children are likely going to be different as well. In this short video, Dr. Laura Jana, a pediatrician, author and leader in early education and public health offers some ideas to will help you and your kids to be prepared to succeed in 21st century.
According to Dr. Jana, two-thirds of skills needed to be successful will continue to come from the traditional “IQ” of mathematics, sciences, reading, writing and comprehension.
However, one-third will come from what Dr. Jana describes as the “QI” (key) skills, which can be broken down into seven categories:
- ME: self-control and impulse control
- WE: communication, active listening empathy and ability to learn from others. (WE skills and ME skills combined are referred to Emotional Intelligence.)
- Why: exploration, curiosity and asking good questions
- Will: self-motivation and determination
- Wiggle: movement and physical interaction with the outside world
- Wobble: the ability to face and overcome challenges and failures
- What-if: imagination, creativity and out of the box thinking
Dr. Jana encourages parents and teachers to keep these “QI” in mind during early childhood education.
I welcome you to watch the entire video here: https://youtu.be/z_1Zv_ECy0g
I am sure everyone out there with kids has the experience of having different kids wanting different music for the drive. So we moan and groan, take turns, compromise and sometimes even drive without music. With the recent election, I was interested to see how each kid had an interesting opinion of their own about issues and candidates and so it was even more fascinating when seeing an article linking musical taste with personality and political affiliation ! Published in the Journal of Psychology of Music, researchers Scott Davenport and Adrian North of Curtin University in Australia challenged previous held studies that claimed only a weak relationship between personality and musical preferences. With a sample size of 157 university students aged 17 to 55 years old, Davenport and North compared sub-components of the Big Five personality traits (see below the table from Wikipedia for a quick reference) with the Short Test of Musical Preference (STOMP-R) which studies four musical dimensions: Intense, Rhythmic, Established and Mainstream.
As a brief summary given by the researchers, they uncovered that ‘aspects of personality were better predictors of musical taste for three of four musical dimensions’ and ‘Personality aspects and political orientation were superior predictors of musical taste in comparison to personality domains.’ As an example, those with a liberal affiliation tended to prefer ‘intense’ and ‘established’ music genres. Preference of rhythmic music had a positive correlation with the personality trait of compassion and negative correlation with politeness.
So consider your drives and the musical debates even more profound now in terms of how we perceive our political spectrum ! Find the study at:
Thursday, October 10th is World Mental Health Day, which is observed to raise awareness of global mental health issues. The day of awareness is organized by the World Federation for Mental Health and supported by the World Health Organization (WHO). This year’s World Mental Health Day focus is on suicide prevention.
On average, someone losses their life every 40 seconds to suicide, which is why the theme this year is “Working together to prevent suicide: A day for 40 seconds of action”. The World Federation for Mental Health suggests several ideas for action:
- If you are struggling, take 40 seconds to kickstart a conversation with someone you trust about how you are feeling.
- If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide, take 40 seconds to start a conversation and ask them how they are doing.
- If you work in media, highlight the 40-second statistic in interviews, articles and blogposts.
- If you work in the arts or on digital platforms, interrupt your production or broadcast to transmit a 40-second message about mental health or preventing suicide.
- If you are an employer or manager, take 40 seconds to formulate a positive message of support to your employees about resources available to them in the workplace or local community in times of mental distress.
- If you want your leaders to hear your request for action, record a 40-second audio clip or video telling them the action you want them to take on suicide prevention and mental health.
- If you have a platform for communicating with a large audience (social media, television, radio), provide 40-second slots for sharing mental health stories and messages.
- If you hold political office, communicate publicly about action you are taking to promote mental health and prevent suicide, highlighting the 40-second statistic
Suicide affects people of all age groups in all countries and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds.
If you are currently confronting thoughts of suicide, please contact the Calgary Distress Centre Crisis Line at 403-266-4357, or reach out to someone you trust.
With the start of the federal election campaign well underway, I’d like to take a brief look at a several common psychological strategies that politicians and campaign managers use during the election season. These strategies are used by any party and is something that may be interesting to look out for over the next 4 weeks.
Effective politicians are always on the offence and stay on offence to avoid situations of back pedaling and defending positions. Defending your ideas on the opponent’s terms makes a candidate look weak and becomes a major red flag to voters.
Good campaigns stick to only one or two simple essential messages that voters will remember. The message or theme should speak to a value or big idea, not small details or technical issues. Think: “it’s the economy, stupid”, “change we can believe in” or “make America great again”. We all know which candidates had those slogans, but does anyone remember the essential messages of their opponents (who lost)? Will the candidates in Canada’s federal election have strong messages that are as memorable?
During media interviews, seasoned politicians master the art of the pivot by quickly answering, or even not answering, the journalist’s question and immediately pivoting to the essential message of their campaign. It often appears awkward, but has been shown to be effective in promoting the main campaign themes.
Campaign managers understand that candidates can’t win 100% of the votes, and therefore target only certain voters in an attempt to win a majority (i.e. 170 seats in Canada). This is why parties will focus on some issues and geographical locations to strengthen their base of voters and capture as many undecided voters as needed to reach the 170+ seat threshold. Going after all potential voters will dilute a message and risks disenfranchising the political party’s base of support.
Political attack ads work and are typically targeted at the undecided voter. However, most political strategists recommend that a mix of negative and positive or biographical ads is best. Good political ads, whether negative or positive, play to emotions and feelings rather than about specific issues.
So there are a few strategies to look out for in political advertising, televised debates, speeches and interviews.
Be aware of yourself, stay engaged in the discussions and go vote on October 21st.
As many of parents with kids of all ages know, the obsessive features of screen time and modern video games would come as no surprise. I often have to remind myself that my relationship with my screen, be it a phone/tablet/computer, is part of what my children are learning from my example. And so it is imperative that I have a healthy relationship with my screen as we will be together a long time, and my child’s relationship with their screen will be even longer! So let’s start a conversation about the addictive characteristics of gaming (and social media usage). Here are the criteria to be aware of as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA):
- Preoccupation with gaming.
- Withdrawal symptoms when gaming is taken away or not possible (sadness, anxiety, irritability).
- Tolerance—the need to spend more time gaming to satisfy the urge.
- Inability to reduce playing, unsuccessful attempts to quit gaming.
- Giving up other activities, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities due to gaming.
- Continuing to game despite problems.
- Deceiving family members or others about the amount of time spent on gaming.
- The use of gaming to relieve negative moods, such as guilt or hopelessness and to escape from struggle in peer or social settings.
- Risk, having jeopardized or lost a job or relationship due to gaming.
The APA has published a guideline for parents to promote healthy technology use for children and their recommendations, which can be found here. Highlights for me will always go back to having a healthy relationship with self and others first; screens and media after. Consider screens not being allowed in the bedroom and not before bedtime. Reduce, replace and reset as often as needed in a day. Look at resources such as https://www.commonsensemedia.org, http://esrb.org, and books by Nicholas Kardaras: Glow Kids and Catherine Steiner-Adaim The Big Disconnect.
As always, further consultation is always available.
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 by Andrea Pennington 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 Dishonesty, 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 wholesome breakfast food 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 food or snack ready for each day. Contact me for more ideas !