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Taking a Break

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Written by: Corinne Carter, Registered Psychotherapist & Relationship Therapist

Happy New Year, Everyone!  As another year begins, it's a natural time to make note of all the goodness that has come into your life over the past year, and to set intentions for how you want to live, what you want to experience, and what you hope to achieve throughout this year to come.

At New Roots Therapy, we have several plans and projects for 2016 that we will be focused on over the weeks and months to come, all with the intention of helping more people on their journeys to whole mind, body, and spirit wellness.  In order to concentrate our energy on our most immediate plans, we have consciously decided to take a break from our blog for 6 months.  That means, we won't be adding any new posts here until July.  However, we will continue to be active on our Facebook and Twitter accounts during this break, so please come over and connect with us there! :)

Until we meet here again, may you experience 2016 with open eyes to see your path clearly and live each day fully awake; with an open heart to give and receive love freely; with an open mind to understand the infinite possibilities for your life; and with open hands to build the life you're meant to live.

Wishing you love, light, and laughter,

-Corinne <3

10 Tips for Relieving Stress as a New Mom

Written by: Melissa Kroonenberg, Registered Psychotherapist & Relationship Therapist

I recently presented these 10 tips to a group of new moms and, since many of the moms found it helpful, I decided to share this information here too!  The journey into parenthood is a major transition and I hope that those of you reading this who recently entered the world of parenthood, or are about to enter it, will find this list valuable and supportive.

  1. Be kind to yourself

Being a parent is not just a lot of work, it is a willingness to endure the consistent state of transition and demand you will find yourself in as you watch your children and family grow over time.  To transition into parenthood in and of itself is riddled with massive, simultaneous identity transitions.  Your identity as a woman, wife, mother, daughter, employee, friend, all shift and stretch into something different from what it was.  These emotional and psychological growth spurts are stressful on the mind and body, even if you are getting enough sleep, nutrition, and down time (which you are most likely not). So the next time you scold yourself for being edgy, or putting the toaster in the fridge, or leaving the laundry lid open during the wash cycle, kindly remind yourself of the transformation taking place and the many demands that you meet and try to say something kind to yourself.

  1. Cry 

It may sound counterproductive but crying has several psychological, physiological, and emotional benefits. Studies show that crying can help to wash chemicals linked to stress out of your body, which is one of the reasons we feel much better after a good cry. Higher levels of adrenocorticotrophic (ACTH) have been found in emotional tears (compared to reflex tears).

Removing this chemical from the body is beneficial because it triggers cortisol, the stress hormone – too much of which can lead to health problems associated with stress.

  1. Spend time in nature

Many studies support the notion that being in nature has many health benefits which include stress reduction.  Exposure to vitamin D, fresh air, natural light, and the natural beauty of the outdoors all have important impacts on the psychological, physical, and emotional dimensions of your health.  Studies suggest that as little as 10-20 minutes in nature per day can have a positive impact on overall health and wellbeing.

  1. Spend time with other moms (especially those in your “season”)

Finding a group or even one other mom you feel comfortable talking and hanging out with can be extremely effective for managing the stresses that come with parenthood.  Finding one in your season (which means those that have children in the same age/stage as yours) is especially helpful as you are more likely to relate to their struggles and feel like they can relate to yours.  Additionally, other moms are a great source for resource sharing.

  1. Make time to just breathe

Breathing helps you manage stress! In times of emotional distress, the nervous system jumps into a higher gear and causes a number of physiological responses. We can begin to sweat, our muscles tighten, and our heart rate increases. You may notice when you feel particularly anxious, your breathing quickens and your chest heaves up and down.  However, you can impact these responses just by consciously changing your breathing patterns. Studies have shown that the way we breathe is central to our ability to ease stress.  By practicing proper breathing, you influence the body and cause it to relax. You can interrupt the anxious response that you are feeling and eventually be able to calm your nervous system in just a few minutes!

  1. Check in with your expectations

One of the biggest sources of stress for people is the tension they experience between how they experience their life and the expectations they hold for what they think their life “should” look and feel like.  Often these expectations are not even at the conscious level so, many times, it is overlooked as a contributor to stress.  One way to identify whether expectations might play a part in your experience of stress is to pay attention to the amount of times you say “should”, “could” or “would” throughout the day.  These words are often associated with underlying expectations.  Becoming aware of and re-evaluating your expectations can be a powerful way to reduce unneeded stress or tension.

  1. Be mindful of your internet practices

The internet can be a useful tool for pretty much anything.  Whether it’s used to find information, or to connect with others, or for buying groceries when you can’t seem to get out of the house, the internet is chock-full of resources that are alluring for many parents.  On the flip side, the internet can also be isolating, judgmental, and misleading, particularly if you are often on social media sites.  Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, etc. can lead to an increased sense of stress through the process of comparison.  People often only put up the image they want you to see of their life as opposed to the reality of how they live day to day.  This can lead people to compare the vast background of their lives with the single snapshots they witness on social media sites.  The result is often a sense that others are living more easily, extravagantly, glamorously than you, when the reality is usually much different.

  1. Use the support around you

It can be hard to ask for help, even when you have people to turn to if you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed.  However, support systems are one of the most effective resources for reducing stress during difficult times.  Supports can include partners, family, friends, community resources, teachers, employers, counsellors.

  1. Let go of guilt

Being a parent is a breeding ground for guilt.  We want the absolute best for our kids because we love them. Anything less than a perfect experience can seem like a failure on our part as parents if we are not checking in with our expectations (see tip #6!) and this can lead to guilty feelings.  Checking in with your experience of guilt and giving yourself permission to let go of these feelings can be a powerful way to reduce stress and tension.

  1. Take a step back

Sometimes when we are in the thick of many stressors, and life is moving at lightning speed, it can be hard to see the big picture and gain some much needed perspective.  Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture can be helpful for battling the many little stressors that can come with raising children.  For example, you may have spread plaster instead of butter on your toast this morning, been thrown up on, or been up for three days straight, but are you and your family safe? Are you and your kids healthy?  Do you have enough money to live? Are you doing the best you can?  Reminding yourself of the larger goals and hopes for your family can be a powerful way to remind yourself that you actually are on track!

Take care, and Grow Courageously!

-Melissa

Stick it to Depression: Acupuncture and Mental Health

Written by: Lisa Smith, Naturopathic Doctor Mental health affects us all and is an important aspect of overall wellness, regardless of age, culture, education, or income level.  Depression, in particular, is one of the most prevalent mental health issues that people experience worldwide; in Canada, approximately 8% of adults are expected to experience a depressive episode in their lifetime. These depressive episodes can range from mild to severe and can greatly impact many aspects of a person’s life, including their ability to work, their ability to engage in daily functions, their desire to participate in typically enjoyable social activities, their physical health, etc.  Although the exact cause of depression is unknown, genetics, neurological, and hormonal processes are thought to play a role.  For some, an inciting incident or traumatizing event, such as job loss or the loss of a loved one, may also be a factor in the development of depression.

With so many people experiencing depression, what types of help are available? When it comes to depression, many people are aware of treatment options such as medication and psychotherapy; however, there are also many alternative and complementary treatment options available which may be less well known.  One of these options is acupuncture.  Why might someone consider using acupuncture in their treatment plan for depression?  One reason is that, although advances in medicine have generated several classes of prescription medicines that reduce symptoms in 70-80% of people, up to 50% of individuals have incomplete or inadequate response to their initial treatment.  Studies on the effectiveness of psychotherapy for depression, when used on its own, show similar results.  In other words, medication and psychotherapy - used together or apart - are very helpful for many people, but might not be enough for every person in every circumstance.  Where the use of acupuncture for depression is concerned, a recent review of the available literature has shown that the combination of acupuncture with an SSRI (a type of anti-depressant medication) can result in greater improvement in depressive symptoms than the medication alone. This same study showed that benefits could be seen in as few as 2 weeks of acupuncture treatment. There is also evidence that suggests that acupuncture can be an effective treatment for depression on its own.

What exactly is acupuncture? Acupuncture is one of the treatment options used in Chinese Medicine, which is a complete medical system ofdiagnosing and treating illnesses that has been in practice for thousands of years. In Chinese medicine, illness is understood to be the consequence of an excess or deficiency of "Qi" (the energy that allows us to move, think, and feel) or Blood (the physical basis of bones, nerves, skin, muscles, and organs).  Acupuncture is based on the hypothesis that Qi runs through 14 main channels of the body, within which there are more than 200 "acupuncture points" and, when activated, these points have a unique action on the body.   During an acupuncture treatment, your practitioner will insert specialized needles into a series of specific points along the body, individualized to your unique set of symptoms and as determined by a thorough history and physical exam.  Many people worry that acupuncture will hurt - you are, after all, getting stuck with needles!  However, acupuncture is rarely painful; most commonly, people report experiencing sensations such as heaviness, warmth, and tingling during and after treatment.

The take home message here is this: just as every person is unique, so too is their experience of depression.  All the more reason why it is important to have a variety of effective treatment options for people to choose from to suit their own unique needs.  There are many different ways to help people experiencing depression and it's important to create the treatment plan that works best for you.

Grow Courageously!

-Lisa

Remembering Practices

By: Corinne Carter, Registered Psychotherapist & Relationship Therapist

Today is Remembrance Day; a day when we collectively honour the lives of those who served our country during times of war, and who undeniably touched our lives through their sacrifice. The following quote by Heather Robertson beautifully illustrates the importance of Remembrance Day:

“We must remember. If we do not, the sacrifice of those one hundred thousand Canadian lives will be meaningless. They died for us, for their homes and families and friends, for a collection of traditions they cherished and a future they believed in; they died for Canada. The meaning of their sacrifice rests with our collective national consciousness; our future is their monument.”*

Today, we are invited to remember our Veterans, their tremendous service and sacrifice for our country, and their unending impact on our lives, by participating in several “remembering practices” – for example: wearing a poppy, attending a Memorial service, and observing two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. “Remembering practices” are, in essence, the things we do to honour those we’ve lost.

In the context of grief and loss in our day-to-day lives, many times people are told that, in order to properly grieve a loved one, they must learn to “let go” of the relationship and “move on” with their lives. This traditional approach to grief assumes that once a person is gone, so is the relationship. Remembering practices invite a different way of moving through the grieving process, as they encourage us to see our relationships with those we’ve lost - whether it be through a “complete loss” (e.g., a loss where there is closure, such as death) or an “ambiguous loss” (e.g., a loss without closure, such as a missing person or a loved one suffering from an illness, such as Alzheimer’s disease or addiction, which results in psychological absence but physical presence) – as ongoing. Where the traditional approach to grief and loss is about “letting go”, remembering practices are about connection and continuity - although the relationship might look different, it still very much exists and remains a part of our lives, and these practices help us to preserve connection across space and time. Remembering practices help us to find meaning in our experience, help us to reorganize our sense of identity in the context of loss, and inspire hope for our lives moving forward.

If you are experiencing grief or loss, there are many different ways to engage in remembering practices; for example, you can:

  • develop a meditation practice where you reflect on the meaning of the relationship with your loved one;
  • write letters to your loved one;
  • keep a gratitude journal;
  • speak to your loved one through quiet reflection or prayer;
  • create art to celebrate and honour your relationship;
  • continue to participate in activities that you shared with your loved one when you were together which brought you both joy – remaining open to joy is a beautiful testament to the importance of your relationship and the impact of your loved one on your life.

Remembering practices are ultimately about cherishing connection; they are about understanding the meaning of our relationships and valuing the impact that others have had on our lives.

Today, we remember our Veterans; we honour you, we celebrate you, we thank you <3

-Corinne

*Source: Heather Robertson, A Terrible Beauty, The Art of Canada at War. Toronto, Lorimer, 1977.

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Understanding Relationship Ambivalence: Part 2

Co-Written By: Melissa Kroonenberg & Corinne Carter, Registered Psychotherapists and Relationship Therapists

Last week’s blog focused on understanding relationship ambivalence and highlighted some common factors that keep people feeling stuck in a state of uncertainty about their relationship, including: fearing the consequences, experiencing a split between values, and issues related to self-esteem. This week, in Part 2, we will focus on specific strategies to help you address ambivalence in your relationship. These strategies will be framed as “antidotes” to each of the common factors outlined in Part 1. Please note: the term “antidote” is used here to illustrate that the following suggestions may be helpful for "counteracting", or responding to, the common factors of relationship ambivalence, not to imply that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to resolving relationship ambivalence, or that these are the only strategies available!

Factor #1: Fear of Consequences

Antidotes: Practicing Courage & Staying Present

Whether it’s fear over your partner’s reaction to your concerns, fear of accepting your concerns as real and valid because of the internal upset this creates, or fear of dissolving the relationship altogether and being alone, if fear is the main factor keeping you stuck in ambivalence about your relationship, your antidotes include: practicing courage and staying present.

Although it may sound painfully simple (and come at the risk of a few eye-rolls from our readers…), when it comes to making change, courage is a necessary mindset. Practicing courage means that you’re open and willing to do something different, even if it's something small (change is change, after all!). Operating from a place of courage within yourself means that you’re developing awareness of the default behaviours that keep you stuck (e.g., shutting down after conflict, getting defensive, staying quiet about your concerns, etc.) and then, rather than allowing your default reaction to take over, thoughtfully and courageously choosing todo something different.

Where staying present is concerned, so often we hear our clients speaking in “what if’s” when working through their experience of relationship ambivalence which, by its nature, takes them out of the present moment and into some imagined future (or past). Because we're so invested in our relationship, and we feel a lack of control over the outcome of our situation, it can be easy to become caught up in “what if’s”, such as: “What if talking about it makes things worse?”, “What if we can’t resolve this concern?”, and perhaps most common, “What if I try and work things out and nothing gets better?” The thing about “what if’s” is that they ultimately focus on trying to problem solve the future (or time travel to the past). The future is unsolvable because it hasn’t happened yet, and the past is unsolvable because it has come and gone; yet the mind feels the discomfort of inner conflict and tries in vain to solve the unsolvable anyways. This is part of what keeps people stuck in ambivalence because if you tell yourself you have to solve a problem before moving forward, and that problem is unsolvable, then presto – you’re stuck! The only way to make change – the only way out of “stuckness” – is by focusing on what’s happening right now. It’s healthy to process unresolved experiences from the past, just as it’s healthy to be mindful of the potential consequences of your behaviour as they may unfold, but wishing the past had been different or trying to control the outcome of something that hasn’t happened are impossible and are part of what keeps you stuck.

Factor #2: Split between Values

Antidote: Practicing Curiosity & “The Death Bed Question”

It can be hard to imagine how to move forward if you find yourself facing a split between two strong values in your relationship, particularly if your understanding of one (or both) values isn’t yet fully formed. Practicing curiosity is all about meaning-making where your values are concerned; the goal is to help you better understand your values so that you are well-positioned for decision-making. The names that we give to the values we hold – honesty, conscious parenting, engagement and connection, self-growth, etc. – are simply words used to describe a set of characteristics or a way of being that is precious to us. While the words we assign to our values can be meaningful in and of themselves, to fully understand our values and the importance they have in our lives, we have to dig deeper, past our descriptors; we have to adopt a curious attitude in order to understand not only what is important to us, but also why. If we use the value of parenting that was discussed in Part 1 as an example, practicing curiosity would mean asking yourself questions like: what is it about “parenting” that holds the most meaning for me? Is it the aspect of nurturing another being? Teaching someone? Is it the desire to create something special and unique? You may also benefit from asking yourself the question, “Whose value is this really?” Without realizing it, many of us go through life living with a set of values and expectations that belong to other people. Our parents, extended family, friends, bosses, society, culture, etc. all give us ideas about how we “should” live. Most of the time, we don’t even realize how powerful these messages are until a process of reflection and examination takes place. The process of disentangling our authentic core values from the expectations and values of others is a challenging task. Some questions that we have found most helpful for this process are:

  • Has this always been a value of yours?
  • Who else in your life shares this value?
  • Who would be the most disappointed if you did not prioritize this value?
  • Are there times when this value is not so important?
  • How important is this value to you, on a scale of 1-10?
  • What will you be risking if you do not prioritize this value at this time?

Upon reflection, most people we meet with can acknowledge that some aspects of a particular value are more important than others, and they can begin to identify their true values from those of others. By becoming more specific about your values, you may be able to create more space for negotiation with your partner where there was once no breathing room, and new possibilities for resolving the split in values may begin to emerge. For example, if upon reflection you realize that parenting a child is not really what you value but, rather, it’s the aspect of creating something special with your partner that matters most to you, this becomes a very different conversation than one where you want children and your partner doesn’t. Resolving a split between values doesn’t necessarily mean that you and your partner come to share the exact same values in the exact same ways; rather it means that both of you can find a way to live out your values together, without either person feeling like they’ve had to repress or disown an important aspect of themselves. Most differences in values are resolvable. However, there are times when, after much curiosity, reflection, and conversation, people find themselves facing a difference in values with their partner that cannot be bridged. If you’re facing an unresolvable split, this is when the “death bed question” comes in: that is, if you imagine yourself on your death bed looking back on your life, would you regret that a value (or set of values) was never realized? If the answer is “yes”, then it’s time to get really honest with yourself about whether avoiding the temporary pain of relationship dissolution is worth the life-long pain of living inauthentically. You deserve to live your best life – a life that’s in line with your values – and so does your partner. Give yourself your best chance at your best life.

Factor #3: Issues related to Self-Esteem

Antidotes: Repairing your Relationship with Yourself & Practicing Self-care

Part 1 talks about how, when needs go unvoiced (and, as a result, go unmet!) for long periods of time, this inevitably creates a sense of inner conflict which, in turn, can erode a relationship. It can be hard to understand how shifting your focus from your partner to yourself could be useful when it feels like your relationship is in trouble, but sometimes paying attention to and investigating your relationship with yourself is a necessary step towards managing relationship distress.

A healthy relationship requires that each partner is attuned to their own needs, and values themselves enough to share those needs with their partner in a direct and specific way. For example, in our work with clients, women especially seem to struggle with being specific and direct with their partner about what their needs are and how they want their partners to respond. Most commonly there is an idea that their partners should “just know what they need to do” - that asking for a need to be met somehow makes the gesture of meeting the need less meaningful - or the idea that their partner’s ability to just “know” what they need is related to how valuable they must be to them. These ideas can lead women to feel uncomfortable and disempowered when it comes to having their needs met in a relationship, resulting in tension and a fear that their partner doesn’t “know” them or “care enough” to meet their needs. Although it may seem surprising, this experience of not having your needs met in this case is less about your partner and more about your relationship with yourself. When you remain detached from what you need, or rely on your partner to “just know”, you are sending a message to yourself that you are not entitled or powerful enough to get yourself what you need. To love yourself enough to connect with your needs and validate their worthiness is the first step towards feeling better about yourself and your relationship.

Learning to love yourself and value your needs is essential for developing a healthy self-esteem. Self-love develops when you regularly turn towards yourself with kindness and engage in self-care practices. Since healthy relationships are made up of healthy individuals, caring for yourself and focusing on maintaining a positive self-esteem is an important part of caring for your relationships too! Check out our previous post on self-care for more information on how to enhance your sense of self and bolster self-esteem.

If you're experiencing relationship ambivalence, we hope that these suggestions will be helpful to you in moving out of "stuckness" and into the sense of freedom and groundedness that come from knowing where you stand.

Grow Courageously!

-Melissa & Corinne

10 Prevention Tips to Conquer this Year's Cold and Flu

By: Lisa Smith, Naturopathic Doctor

Although the Fall weather may be unpredictable, one thing you can always count on is the appearance of the seasonal cold and flu.  Here are my top 10 tips for boosting your immune system and fending off those vile viruses, protecting you and those around you this season!

1. Wash your hands(a lot!). Time and again, frequent hand washing has been shown to be the #1 preventative measure when it comes to cold and flu – I mean, just think of all the potentially infected surfaces you touch everyday! Regularly wash your hands with soap and warm water; lather and scrub for at least 20 seconds (enough time to sing the alphabet twice) before rinsing.  Alternatively, you can use an alcohol based hand rub, which you should apply liberally and allow to air dry. Additional hygiene habits to employ include: avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; disinfecting frequently used surfaces (e.g. keyboard, door knobs, etc.); and avoiding close contact with sick people.

2. Keep well hydrated. Drinking more water (and less pop, juice, caffeine, and alcohol) will help your blood circulate necessary immune cells to fight off viruses before they create an infection. Ensure you are drinking a full 8 cups of water every day to keep optimally hydrated.

3. Get adequate rest. Sleep is when your body takes time to rebuild and repair; without it, your body doesn’t have the opportunity to recover from the daily insults it takes. Adequate sleep improves immune function, so make sure to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night to ensure its optimal functioning.

4. Stress Management. Stress causes the release of cortisol, your stress hormone. Regardless of whether it's a short or long term stressor, cortisol is released and part of its job is to suppress your immune system, making you more susceptible to acquiring the cold or flu. There are many coping strategies and tools for managing stress that can be individualized to your needs and preferences - it's important to find what works for you!

5. Exercise regularly. A 30-minute daily walk can help you cope with stress, sleep better, feel happier, improve circulation, decrease blood pressure, and boost your immune system; all important for preventing infections!

6. Eat a balanced diet. As Hippocrates put , "let food be thy medicine."  There are many powerful nutrients in a balanced diet to keep you in optimal health. For instance, fruit and vegetables are chock-full of infection fighting, immune boosting nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamin C, and zinc, so be sure to get your 7-10 servings each day. Healthy fats and proteins are also important for building the parts of the immune system that recognize and fight infections. Ditch the refined sugars and simple carbs; they contribute to inflammation and inhibit your immune system from functioning.

7. Spice-up your life. Your spice cabinet is full of natural killers; add cinnamon, fresh garlic, thyme, and oregano to your dishes for a tasty, cold and flu conquering meal.

8. Contrast showers. Although these sound like a mild form of torture, they are fantastic for improving circulation, promoting detoxification, and boosting your immune function; over time, you will even build a better tolerance to cold in general! At the end or in place of your regular shower, turn the nozzle to as hot as you can tolerate for 3 minutes, followed by as cold as you can tolerate for less than one minute; the wider the difference in temperature, the better the effect. Repeat this twice more and always end on cold. Note that these showers can be quite energizing, so don’t do it too close to bed.

9.Keep your “wind-gate” covered. In Asian medicine, the "wind-gate" refers to the nape of your neck and was believed to be the entry point for "cold" and pathogens before viruses and bacteria were known. The symptom picture of wind-cold invasion mirrors that of the common cold and influenza; best to wear a scarf on the cold, windy fall days!

10. Don’t smoke and avoid exposure to smoke. Just one more reason not to do it and to stay away from it: cigarette smoke directly damages the tissues of your airways from your nose to your lungs. This damage impairs your body’s ability to clear infection-causing pathogens and debris and it destroys appropriate local immune responses, further increasing your risk of not only infections, but severe infections.

Feel a cold coming on? Come in and see me – there are many helpful immune boosting and infection fighting herbs and nutrients to stop that cold or flu in its tracks. If it’s too late for that, there are other helpful therapies like acupuncture and home hydrotherapy that can help to provide some symptomatic relief so you can get back to your regular routine.

Healing a Broken Heart: Part 1

Post Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

When we think about heartbreak, we tend to think about the loss of a romantic relationship.  However, heartbreak isn't just about the end of romantic love.  Any time we experience the loss of something meaningful in our lives - the loss of a friendship, a beloved pet, a dream we've carried for ourselves, etc. - we may find ourselves feeling heartbroken. When we're heartbroken, we tend to feel exposed; vulnerable and uncertain.  Sometimes, our whole lives feel broken open.  We may feel deeply sad and scared and, because we tend to build our identities around our relationships as well as what we do (e.g., for work), heartbreak can rock our sense of self and lead us to feel unsure about our future.  Whatever the cause of your heartbreak, there are some things you can do to help yourself move through the process, with love and compassion.  Below are the first three tips in this two-part blog post on healing a broken heart:

1. First and foremost, give yourself permission to live "broken open" for a while.  When we're feeling heartbroken, our first reaction is often to resist the pain that we're experiencing because it can feel desperately uncomfortable.  We want to feel safe and secure and firmly planted in our lives, so we resist feelings like sadness, fear, and uncertainty that make us feel unsettled.  Furthermore, we live in a society that teaches us to stay away from "negative" feelings and move on quickly!  But, as the saying goes, "What we resist, persists."  In other words, the more we resist our own heartbreak, the more likely it is that we intensify and prolong the emotional pain.  Over time, emotional pain may start to manifest in our bodies and become physical pain.  And as we're walking through the world with this unprocessed emotional (and possibly now, physical) pain, it's more likely that new experiences will trigger what we've been carrying around inside of us that was never processed from the past, so that our present experience becomes further confused and intensified.  And now, with more intensity and a lack of clarity, our present experience becomes even more challenging to work through, which may lead to more resistance...and on and on we go in a vicious emotional cycle.  Giving ourselves space and permission to feel our feelings, sit in our pain, and just let it be is a really important part of healing our heartbreak and living emotionally healthy lives.

2. Another important part of healing a broken heart is connecting with people you trust who can witness your pain.  These are people who can allow you to feel however you feel and who won't rush you through the process.  We all know people who are uncomfortable with their own feelings, as well as with other people expressing their feelings, so when they see you feeling sad or scared they say things like, "Don't be sad, don't cry!  You've got to be strong and move on!" They want to rush the process, which isn't necessarily coming from a bad place - it's most likely coming from a place of caring and wanting to comfort their loved one - you! - and keep you from hurting.  It's not easy to see your loved ones in pain.  As well, it's likely that they've been taught to resist unpleasant emotions themselves, as so many of us are.  Finding people who are willing and able to just let our feelings be and sit there with us and say, "I see that you're hurting and that's okay.  Take the time you need, I'm here for you", is incredibly valuable and can be a powerful part of the healing process.  If we don't have anyone in our personal lives who can be a witness to our experience in this way, it can be really helpful to connect with a professional - a therapist, a mentor, a spiritual guide - or a well-founded on-line support group.

3. In addition to connecting with trusted others, practicing self-care matters greatly for healing a broken heart.  Self-care is essential for our day-to-day mental and emotional well-being, and it's something that so many people struggle with, which is why we keep coming back to it here on our blog!  The ways that we can practice self-care are varied and unique, but one way we can all practice self-care is by paying attention to ourselves and really tapping into our needs in the moment.  Ask yourself on a daily basis: what is it that I need right now?  Sit in silence until the answer comes to you, and trust and honour the answer.  The answer that is coming from your true self will be a loving answer.  So, if the first thing you hear when you ask the question is, "What you need is to get a life, you loser!", that's not the truth of what you need!  That's your ego mind getting in the way.  Notice what your ego mind says, but then let it go and continue to wait in silence until the truth comes to you.  The greatest gift of love we can give to ourselves and others is the gift of our full, undivided attention.  Paying attention to what you need will likely reveal specific self-care steps that you can take, such as taking a nap, or scheduling a mental health day, or planning a visit with a good friend, etc. In order to figure out what you need, you have to pay attention - slowly, quietly, and intentionally.

On October 14th, in Part 2 of this blog post, I'll be providing you with four more ways to heal a broken heart.

Until then, take good care of yourselves - wishing you wellness, always <3

Welcome, Fall: 3 Tips to Make the Most of the New Season

Post Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

After 3 months off, we're back from our summer blogging hiatus - how appropriate that we start a new season of blog posts on the first day of Fall!  :)

And since it's the first day of Fall, I decided to write this post on three ways to make the most of the change in season.  Hope you enjoy!

1. Get Outside: Being in nature has countless benefits for our mental and emotional wellbeing!  Unfortunately, it's not uncommon that at the first sight of leaves on the ground, we cocoon ourselves indoors and disappear until Spring.  Fall is a beautiful time of year - the air, although cooler, is crisp and refreshing; the days, although shorter, light up with breathtaking pops of golden yellow, burnt orange, and deep red all around.  Being in nature is a calming, healing, coming-back-to-ourselves experience, so get outside and enjoy this time! Go for a walk, watch the leaves with curiosity and awe as they change colour and fall from their branches, fill up your lungs with the fresh Fall air.  When we connect with nature, we connect with our highest selves.  Soak in all the benefits that Mother Earth provides.

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2. Look to Nature for Guidance:  When we're in a transition between seasons, it's a great time to notice the lessons that nature has to offer us.  One of the lessons that nature teaches us is that nothing is permanent.  Life is always changing and looking to nature to help us remember that can be very grounding, particularly when we find it difficult to accept change and find ourselves trying to control situations to keep change from happening (which often results in distress).  Life is in a constant state of flow, and it's really important that we stay open to the flow of life in order to live as our highest selves.  Distressing times can invite us to shut down and resist the flow of life but remember that, just as nature shows us, everything will pass through you if you allow it to.  With every ending is a new beginning.  So, be fully engaged in your experience - whether it brings a smile to your face, or breaks your heart - because no moment lasts forever.  Another lesson that nature teaches us at this time of year, as the leaves fall from the trees, is that there is beauty in letting go.   Nature has so much to show us about ourselves and how to live our best lives, if we can just look around and be mindful of her lessons.

3. Revisit Your Goals:  As we move into the final months of the year, this is a great opportunity to re-assess your personal vision and goals.  With any change of season, it's a natural time to take pause, reflect, and check in with ourselves to see how we're living our lives.  Are we living in line with our hopes and values? Are we living in such a way that we're moving closer towards our personal vision?  Back in January, you may or may not have decided on some new year's resolutions; the beginning of Fall is a great time to assess whether or not there are still some resolutions you want to work towards.  It's also a great time to celebrate and honour any changes that have happened throughout the year up to this point!

Wishing you wellness, always <3

The "C" Word: Understanding and De-escalating Conflict in your Relationships

Post written by: Melissa Kroonenberg, Relationship Therapist

According to Webster’s dictionary, there are three definitions of conflict:

1. Fight, Battle, War (an armed conflict)

2. (a) Competitive or opposing action of incompatibilities: Antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons)

(b) Mental Struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands

3. The opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to the dramatic action in a drama or fiction

I've found throughout my life and my experience as a therapist that “conflict” is often viewed as an uncomfortable, unnecessary, and damaging thing.  A characterization that makes sense if you consider the first definition of conflict listed above.  And when I discuss my client’s experience of conflict with them, they often describe it in a way that is in line with the first definition.  Each person comes to “battle”, “armed” with a tonne of psychological artillery that is sure to win the overall fight.  What a terrifying prospect!

It’s not like I don’t identify with this perception of conflict, too.  However, over the course of my life, my relationship with conflict has shifted. At first, it began as a terrifying possibility - when I thought someone was mad or upset with me - rendering me passive and paralyzed in the relationship. Then it moved into a protest phase where I spent considerable time and effort trying to control the people and elements involved in order to avoid conflict at any cost. Finally, it moved into a place where I could begin to see conflict as an opportunity for growth and empowerment, rather than letting it bulldoze me or actively trying to stop or avoid it.

Ultimately, conflict - despite its bad rap - is an unavoidable, natural, and (wait for it) healthy part of close relationships. Over time, relationships transition and require a renegotiation of needs and hopes in order for the relationship to evolve and thrive, which is much more representative of the second definition of conflict.  What it comes down to is understanding the distinction between generative conflict and degenerative conflict.

Generative conflict is a process where the participants involved have an awareness for, and acceptance of, the core emotions they're experiencing, as well as the ability to clearly and respectfully communicate those feelings to the other(s) involved. The focus isn't on squashing your feelings or denying them - it's about responding to your emotions consciously and with intention vs. reacting to them automatically.  Generative conflict also requires flexible thinking and an openness to hear the emotional experiences of the other, which means holding multiple perspectives simultaneously (e.g., yours and the other). The desire for mutual understanding and resolution, as well as the appreciation of complex feelings and perspectives, underlies this type of conflict.

Degenerative conflict, by contrast, is a process where understanding, awareness, and flexibility are undermined by the desire for one or both members to control the argument.  In this way, people are either mutually interested or invited into a power struggle to the psychological death!  The goal of mutual understanding and appreciation for the outcome of the conflict is obscured by the desire to “win the fight”.  This can look like one person “emotionally attacking” while the other “defends” their position, or it can look like both/all parties involved mutually attacking one another with insults, accusations, judgements, sarcasm, and harmful criticisms.  Degenerative conflict not only eliminates the possibility of evolving the relationship into something healthier, it also erodes trust, facilitates emotional injury, damages the emotional bond, and sets the stage for future degenerative conflict and tension.

Everyone deserves the right to be treated with respect, openness, and curiosity, even during times when anger is present. Although it can be difficult at times, we all have a responsibility to the people we're in relationships with to take care of each other, and ourselves, even in the face of anger. And if anger gets the better of you - and sometimes it will - then the ability to own it and take responsibility for your own emotional reaction is imperative for conflict to remain generative. Making mistakes in an argument from time to time (e.g., criticizing, attacking, etc.) does not create degenerative conflict in and of itself.  Rather, it's the lack of responsibility taken for the mistakes over time that will distinguish generative from degenerative conflict.

Below are some tips for staying generative during conflict:

  • Awareness: practice awareness of your feelings and be clear and specific about what is causing the tension or distress before engaging someone in a conversation about it. It's also important to practice awareness of your emotions during the conflict. Pay attention to your feelings as things come up in the conversation. If you feel like you're getting too heated, take a break to cool down until you feel like you're able to return to a more generative conversation.
  • Self-care: If you're feeling really angry with someone, wait to talk to them until you feel like you can be more flexible and open to what the other has to say; respond to your anger first, don’t react to it!
  • Decline the invitation to engage: If someone comes at you with a complaint and they're acting hostile, aggressive, attacking, critical, or disrespectful, respectfully decline the invitation to engage with them until they feel more able to be generative. This can be done with kindness and compassion.  For example: “I'm feeling attacked, I can see you're angry but it's hard for me to have a conversation with you when I'm feeling attacked”. There will be times when you won’t be able to get that sentence out because the other person might be so heated that they will talk over top of you. In this case, just remove yourself from the situation and try to explain later why you had to go. Trying to discuss anything with anyone who is so worked up that they're acting hostile, is like talking to someone who is intoxicated- you will not get anywhere productive.

When I reflect on the times that I've felt most anxious about bringing up a concern with someone or discussing tensions, it was when I believed that degenerative conflict would take place. Ultimately, you cannot control how others will respond when you raise concerns but you can decline the invitation to engage in ways that you know will be harmful to you and the relationship. In fact, showing people that you will not engage in degenerative conflict will not only help you feel empowered over which kinds of tension you allow in your life, it's also likely to lessen the fears and anxieties that others have when they need to approach you about something awkward or tense.

Is the distinction between generative and degenerative conflict helpful to you?  Let us know how in the comments below!

What is Walk & Talk Therapy?

Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

Walk & Talk therapy is a form of counselling which combines physical activity, the outdoors, and talk therapy. The benefits of Walk & Talk therapy can include:

  • Developing a stronger mind-body connection, which can help to increase self-awareness; a key element in the process of change
  • Improvements to physical health, which in turn support improvements to mental and emotional health, thus promoting a greater sense of well-being overall
  • Facilitating a positive therapeutic relationship
  • Creative thinking, which can help to encourage change when the therapeutic process is feeling “stuck”

Interested in giving Walk & Talk therapy a try?  Our relationship therapists offer Walk & Talk therapy between the months of May-September!