Anxiety keeps us preoccupied with a hypothetical future. Moreover, anxiety fights to keep our mind focused on worries and danger that lurks ahead. And it doesn’t stop with a passing thought, anxiety thrives on our concerns and fears. In anticipation, the lead up to some task, some place we need to go or people we must see – anxiety works over-time to assert its presence.
That’s not to discount the experience of anxiety in the present moment. In fact, this form of anxiety – the omg the room is closing in on me, I think I’m having a panic attack – can be the most potent dose of anxiety one can feel. This form of acute anxiety is generally a more intense, frightening experience that typically (fortunately) does not last long. In such cases, its helpful to sit or lay down, focus on slowing down your breathing, and repeating to yourself a comforting phrase such as “I am safe”; if possible, it can be helpful to find a trusted friend or family member to support you while you weather the storm.
The more constant, nagging form of anxiety – the seconds, minutes, and hours of fear, worry, and rumination – keeps us focused on two troubling words: What if?! This form of anxiety feeds itself in a perpetual cycle. The more “what if?” questions we ask ourselves, the more anxiety keeps us stuck, fixated on worry and fear.
Experiencing anxiety in this way can begin to negatively impact our vision for the future; it can replace an optimistic and pleasant outlook with doom and gloom. The effects of this can be far reaching and leave us feeling physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually exhausted.
It sounds bleak, I know. But there are powerful cognitive strategies one can use to combat this particular form of anxiety. In fact, there are many. For everyone’s attention spans sake, I’ve narrowed one strategy into 3 steps:
Doing this exercise once does not cure anxiety because we don’t just think anxious thoughts once, we think them over and over again. So, to combat anxiety, we must repeat this strategy with the same frequency the anxious thoughts arise. Each time you notice yourself in the cycle of anxious thoughts, repeat these 3 steps. Over time, the vision and helpful phrase you’ve created will become more powerful. With practice, the thoughts that pop into your mind will be focused on what you want rather than what you fear!
Written by: Robbie Shaw
Recently I was interviewed by Kelowna Now regarding information on pregnancy and mental health. I felt so privileged to be approached on this topic as its something that I feel is not spoken about often. Women really are viewed as these powerhouse figures, able to work, grow babies, parent, lead, and truly shine!! And its true, we do, but there is also science occurring underneath our exteriors. Hormones, neurocognitive and emotional processing, nervous system responses… Sometimes we don’t have control over all that we wish we did. Sometimes we choose not to listen to what may be truly going on…
I wanted to put a few questions out there based on this interview too
Why do you think pregnancy can be a trigger for mental health issues?
What are some tips for mothers to be to ensure optimal mental health during pregnancy?
I would suggest some basic and attainable concepts that can provide optimal mental health during pregnancy:
Are there any tips for partners and other family members to help?
What are some of the signs when an expectant mom should see a mental health professional?
Some things to look out for that would encourage seeking some professional support would include:
It is very important to reach out for support and our community offers many free resources for pregnant women! Should you want specific clinical responses to some of the concerns reviewed above, our clinic offers some wonderful prenatal services including individual counselling for all mental health concerns, couples and family therapy, treatment for birth trauma
I am the owner of the group clinic, Registered Clinical Counsellor and mom of three beautiful children (one birthed and two inherited), and I would love to connect with you <3
This post was written by: Nicole Ripley
This month marks the beginning of my favourite time of the year. December is the month when trees become adorned with white glistening snow, we embellish our homes with twinkling lights, and we hear the sound of silver bells.
Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year. I associate this month with the smell of fresh baked cookies, drinking rich eggnog, watching old Christmas movies, and sitting by the fire. Some of us were raised to believe in Santa, and experienced elaborate gift-filled mornings, while others prefer to enjoy celebrating the birth of Christ and paying respect to the meaning of His sacrifice.
For many, Christmas is a joyous time. For some, it is a stressful time. Some find themselves overwhelmed with financial and familial obligation. While others believe Christmas is defined by family, food, and having an appreciation for our blessings.
So what fuels these very different perspectives?
Many people have told me their past negative experiences make this time inevitably stressful for them. However, I am not sure that past negative experiences are congruent with disliking Christmas. In anticipation of this article, I was forced to contemplate my own life and wonder why Christmas is so special for me.
I absolutely love Christmas, and for the purposes of this article, I explored the question of why. Many may assume it is because I had positive past experiences, however, that is far from the truth. I grew up in a single-parent home with a parent who struggled with addiction. After my parent’s divorce my father didn’t celebrate Christmas, so the task of making our house festive fell to me each year. More recently, my own marriage ended on Christmas Eve. However, despite these experiences, I have always associated each and every Christmas with happiness and love.
I truly regard the month of December as the best time of the year. But why?
In Counselling Psychology, we refer to our internal perceptions as Schemas. These are preconceived ideas about how things “ARE or SHOULD BE”. These schemas are built by our values, past experiences, and beliefs. They provide a framework, against which we compare and align all incoming information. An example of a schema that many of us will relate to is the idea that all Psychiatrists have an office with a couch in it for patients to lay on and divulge their problems. This is not a fact, but we all believe it to be true. Similarly, many of us have been raised to believe that Christmas is a happy, joyous time full of food, family, and celebration.
But what happens when how things ARE is in stark contrast to how things SHOULD BE? What happens to those who can’t afford food, don’t have a family, and weren’t raised to believe in Jesus? Can we still love Christmas?
I invite you to consider:
Christmas is not about what we receive or about what we experience. It is about what we give, and how we influence the experiences of others.
This month I encourage you to direct your focus away from the tangible gifts we give and receive, and instead focus on giving your time and attention to others. Despite my experience with Christmas as a child, our home was always one that welcomed others to eat. Our home may not have been embellished with fancy lights or a big festive tree, but I always remember a house full of food, family and friends. Christmas was a time of simplicity where there was always room for one more at the table. I could have allowed my view of this holiday to be defined by what I did not receive, but instead, I have chosen to define it by what I learned to give. It is for that reason that my best Christmas memories include nothing more than listening to Christmas music and watching an old Christmas movie.
Shifting our perspective is uncomfortable because it requires us to accept that in order to change our perceptions we must lift the anchor to which our core beliefs are tethered. This Christmas I encourage everyone to redefine your Christmas schema, and in doing this we can shift our focus away from what we want, and instead be thankful for what we have to give.
Merry Christmas from all of us at OK Clinical.
Written by Lisa Ann Butcher, Graduate Student Counsellor
With Halloween approaching, many of us are preparing by decorating our house, buying goodies for the neighbourhood kids, choosing costumes for our children, and carving pumpkins. However, holidays can be an emotionally stressful time for many of us. Holidays have the tendency to evoke our needs for inclusivity. We want to be a part of our community and a part of a local celebration. Often, we just want to find a way to feel like celebrating, but that celebration can be complicated by financial, relationship, familial, or domestic stress. Sometimes we might find ourselves having a hard time reconciling what we ARE feeling with what we SHOULD BE feeling.
For many people, these times are a source of stress and anxiety. Some may not have children but have tried for a long time to have them. In this instance, seeing children trick or treating can evoke feelings of longing and loss. Some people may be going through a divorce and are facing their first Halloween without their kids. Whatever the situation, I want to encourage the idea that we can create our own happiness.
What if we consider it to be a truth that ALL HAPPINESS IS SHAPED BY OUR PERSPECTIVE.
Much of what makes us happy is not actually about how life affects us, it is how we perceive our life in the context of the lives of others. Knowing this, we can shift our expectation of happiness towards the concept that we can create our happiness by doing two things: Helping others achieve happiness and being happy for others when they achieve that happiness.
We all have the power to see the joy in others. At that moment we have the choice to interpret that joy in terms of a comparison to our own happiness or interpret that joy through the eyes of the other person.
I am not trying to minimize the isolation and loss that is sometimes inherent with holiday celebrations, but I am challenging you to consider that you can choose your own outcome with a few simple steps. If we consider the statement “Happiness is wanting what you have”, we then accept that we have everything we need to be happy, we just need to believe it is enough.
This month, challenge yourself to:
As Halloween approaches, look forward to seeing the untainted joy in a child’s face as they knock on your door, truly believing in the magic of Halloween. That magic is contagious if we are willing and open to accepting that our perspective determines our ability to see that magic.
Written by Lisa Ann Butcher, Graduate Student Counsellor
With divorce rates in Canada steadily increasing year-after-year, it’s time to consider how we look at separation and divorce, and how our children perceive it. Separation and divorce are often very ugly, leaving hurt exes rearing their angry heads suiting up for great big legal battles that they have no idea yet, may financially destroy them… yes, both of them.
Divorce is such an ugly word. Like many other societal issues, divorce carries with it a certain stigma. As separation and divorce become more common, the stigma is slowly becoming less apparent (or maybe even “more gentle” if-you-will). That doesn’t mean that it becomes any easier, especially for the children involved.
All too often I hear one parent or another use very colourful words to describe exes, they use tones of voice that just scream anger, and hurt, and resentment. Kids pick up on that. Even if you think that you’re “just saying it to a friend; the kids aren’t listening”—SPOILER ALERT—kids are ALWAYS listening!!
What would it be like to be gentle with ourselves? What would it be like to put hurt feelings aside (I realize that this may require professional help)? What would it be like to be slightly more gentle and more compassionate to your ex-significant-other (only to the extent that you have to change your language… but not your position on the other crappy things he/she (ex) has done)?
By no means am I trying to minimize the excruciating emotional pain that often comes with divorce but merely suggesting a change in our family language hopefully leading to a change in perception about the situation, for the better. How do you think your kids would feel about being at school (say a parent-teacher interview) hearing their parent say… “I’m just waiting for theiiiiir dad <insert eye roll>.” Now imagine your child hearing “I’m just waiting for my ‘parenting partner’?
Terms such as: ex, deadbeat dad (or mom), yourrrrr father, <insert other nicknames here> carry such a negative connotation that the conversational tone has really already been set before the actual communication (or lack thereof) begins!! I’m not saying we all need to be happy and bubbly and have pet names for our dreadful exes. I’m merely suggesting that once separated, we refer to them with a neutral term such as ‘parenting partner’. By doing this, we not only set up a relatively neutral relationship as an example for our children, but we (our kids too) can see divorce and separation as something that happens as a family for the betterment of the family. The other good thing… when you meet someone new, the terminology doesn’t have to change—your ‘parenting partner’ will always be your ‘parenting partner’ no matter how blended families can possibly get. ‘Parenting partner’ suggests that both parents will continue to be involved—possibly one of the most important things for a child experiencing family break down… a sense of stability and consistency. Partnership also sounds long-term possibly suggesting to children that even though their parents are apart, they are BOTH in it with the kids long-term.
If your child is struggling with separation or divorce, I encourage you to try changing your language surrounding the situation. Remember you’re the role model; you’re the adult; you get to set the tone for different conversations. Divorce and separation will never be easy, but maybe we can make it just a little less disruptive to our children by simply changing our language.
I encourage you to really pay attention to the words you’re using, the picture you’re painting, and the impact it’s having on your children.
For these, and other supportive parenting tips, feel free to contact one of our family counsellors with a parenting focus for a free consultation.
This post was written by:
Chrystelle Crockford, BSc, MA (Couns Psyc) Candidate
As families move through the back-to-school transition, so many aspects can cause stress and anxiety for both parents and children alike. Parents worry about who their child’s teacher will be, class sizes, where their child will fit in the academic hierarchy of their grade. Children will worry about change—pure and simple—leaving their parents yet again, for a new teacher, a new group of classmates, new material and just…trying to fit in…in general. Most of these things are things that we cannot control. Let’s focus for a minute on what we CAN control…
As a graduate student counsellor and a mother, I hear it time and time again, the overwhelm, the “I thought I was prepared…”, and frankly, the extreme and utter chaos that can ensue in the early days of back-to-school. It happens. Stuff happens, and you are not alone!
The difference between school being out for the summer and school returning to session is the loosening and re-tightening of routine. While it is easier to loosen the reins for summer fun, research suggests that children need (and respond best) to structure and routine. This is important in many aspects of development: from behavior and emotional regulation, to sleep, nutrition, and so much more.
According to research “naturally occurring family routines/[parent–child interactions] provide both a predictable structure that guides behaviour and an emotional [regulation] that supports early development” (Chen, 2017; Spagnola & Fiese, 2007).
Further, when preparing to go back to school “a consistent bedtime routine was [found to have] better sleep outcomes, including earlier bedtimes, shorter sleep onset latency, reduced night wakings, and increased sleep duration. Decreased parent-perceived sleep problems and daytime behaviour problems were also related to institution of a regular bedtime routine” (Buxton et al., 2015; Mindell, et al., 2015, p. 717). In order to re-establish regular sleep patterns, it is advisable to start a full-week to two-weeks before school is back in session (depending on the child.) In fact, some parents maintain their children’s sleep schedule right through summer break. It is important to recognize that each child and family dynamic is different and that there is no be-all, end-all “rules” for what is best for your family.
That said, if you are simply “surviving” the first few weeks of school being back in session and you are still experiencing feeling of overwhelm, your household is in constant chaos, and your are flailing to keep your head above water, help and support are readily available. Okanagan Clinical Counselling Services deals with a wide array of clientele and we can help you handpick the appropriate professional to help you tackle your concerns.
This post was written by OCCS’s Student Counsellor:
As Mother’s Day comes upon us, just weeks away, we are bombarded by reminders of another annual, secular holiday. We rush to pop a card in the mail or send beautiful bouquets of flowers to our mothers to show our appreciation of all that they have done (and given up) for us from birth until the current moment. For it is far easier to get caught up in the materialistic hype than to put life on pause and show up, I mean really SHOW UP. In this fast-paced society, we leave little room for the opportunity to be in the moment; to be fully and completely present, and truly and entirely grateful, to the one person who was given the extraordinary ability to grow human beings, to grow us—our mothers.
While in that state of obligation to praise the people that gave us life, we too often forget what that really means, and as mothers, we too often, take our healthy children for granted. In the busyness of trying to make sure we show our affections, we can often lose sight of the fact that this isn’t a happy holiday for all. While in the past many women have suffered in silence, lately we hear and see their voices getting stronger. They assert themselves in so many creative ways. They are the mothers that deserve a hug, a visit and a glass of wine, a badge of honour as well, but never get formally recognized. These are the mothers who have struggled in one way or another. These are the women who have spent months on end trying to conceive; the mothers who have spent thousands of dollars to travel far-and-wide for in-vitro fertilization; these are the mothers who were pro-life, but could not give their child the life they deserve and therefore opted for adoption; these are the mothers who have lived through miscarriages and stillbirths and even those who have lost their young to birth “complications”. I encourage you to not forget these strong, beautiful women this Mother’s Day for it is not only the women with healthy children of all ages that deserve recognition but so do those who have fought the fight to give life; they, are every bit a “mother” as those who have naturally been blessed with the task and ability to do so without challenge.
In a society where time is not on our side, the tasks are never-ending, and we move almost mechanistically through each day as we did the one before, I encourage you to think of what your mother truly means to you, to spend the time ever-present, in a state of gratitude, and further to voice your love and thanks. I also invite you to reach out to those friends and family who have stayed silent through their personal battles: fought infertility, who have let their morals lead their heart (and choice), who have lost a child at any age (conception and onwards) and just let them know that they too are loved, and appreciated, and absolutely, unequivocally, 100% worthy of celebrating Mother’s Day for they are truly, sincerely, and honourably mothers at heart…
No matter how you’ve experienced motherhood, your mental wellness can be affected. Plenty of new mothers deal with things such as post-partum depression, hormone imbalance, body image issues, lack of sleep which can affect your daily functioning, and more. Those who have lost babies often experience feelings of unmanageable grief, sadness, or even a skewed sense of curiosity: what did I do wrong? what’s wrong with my body? Depending on each unique situation, both individual counselling and group counselling can help mothers through their trying times. Often when we are not mentally well it is hard to take the first step to reach out to someone for help, but I assure you the benefits of reaching out far outweigh any perceived risks. It’s important to know that you’re not alone, you’re not “going crazy” and that there are many others out there that share similar experiences. Getting help or even just support is critical to your well-being. Once you reach out, you are one day closer to achieving mental wellness through support; learning techniques to work with anxiety, depression, or grief; and getting back to your optimal health.
Happy Mother’s Day to every single Momma (by traditional definition) and every single Momma (by the 21st-century definition)! Wishing you all light, love, and a truly happy day of celebration no matter how you decide to spend it.
This post was written by OCCS’s Student Counsellor:
Have you and your partner ever experienced an event, or a period of time, that causes loss of trust, resentment and aggression? Even something so subtle you didn’t notice the buildup of negative emotions towards each other until one day you realize you have been fighting about everything lately. Perhaps it is just one partner who feels this way, and the other is left constantly wondering why they cannot do anything right, why there is so much tension or conflict seemingly out of nowhere, or perhaps even starting to feel suspicion towards their partner. Relationships are difficult; there is no way around that. Once the new relationship energy wears off, it is hard work maintaining a life with someone who does not share all of the same values, opinions and sometimes schedule as us. When trust is lost, and the cause of that loss of trust is not repaired in the short term, it can start to build and eventually you may feel as though you are staring back at all the moments trust slipped right past you and you’re facing what seems like an impossible, and sometimes unbearable, task of beginning to repair the relationship. Individual and couples/family counselling can assist with immediate concerns or long-standing sources of conflict (sometimes known as hot-button topics) in a safe, neutral environment.
Short-Term Trust Repairing – Holding Space
Holding space is a term used to describe allowing another the time and physical, emotional and cognitive space to allow hurt feelings exist. Shutting down negative emotions or anxiety in the moments can actually, at times, hinder the process as the other is not given their time to sort and heal in their own way. Sometimes things cannot be “fixed” in the moment, and sometimes people are not ready to talk or work through it. This does not inherently mean it will never be resolved. Another way to hold space for someone is when a conflict is getting particularly heated and there is no effective communication happening. Sometimes walking away and taking a break is the best thing people can do during a conflict. Self-soothing, alone, and holding space for when your partner is ready to return can be extremely helpful in moving a conversation along effectively. Give your partner space to feel hurt, feel betrayed, feel resentful, but always make sure that, together, you are coming back to discuss and move forward with it. Holding space is a technique specifically designed for the person receiving it, so holding space without expectation for self is key.
Long-Term Trust Repairing – Intentionally Doing the Work
If trust is a long-standing issue and holding space does not work, there are many other options to go about repairing lost or broken trust. To start at the beginning and determine if both/all parties involved want to repair the relationship is an effective place to start. If one person is always trying to save the relationship and the other person has little interest in helping in that process, it is not going to work. Both/all individuals involved in the relationship conflict need to be open to talking, solving, and eventually moving past the issue or issues that resulted in the loss of trust. This is not usually easy to do, is a process that requires effort and mindful approaches, and will take a lot of time, energy and commitment, but it can be done. Knowing the source of the conflict is also paramount, and it may be a surprise to somewhat might actually be causing the problems to begin with. With counselling, healthy communication and striving towards a healthy relationship can be achieved.
This post was written by OCCS’s Clinical Counsellor:
“I can’t talk about it, but I can draw how it feels inside. Once I see the image on the page, the weight seems much less and I usually end up knowing what I can do about it.”
~ Adult client grieving the loss of her mother
“It hurts too much! The puppets help me say what’s going on so I can feel better.”
~ 6-year old expressing how he feels about his parents’ divorce
“Talking only makes me angrier. That’s why I like writing a story and seeing where it takes me…it’s always so surprising to me how the characters figure out how to help themselves! This helps me remember that I have what it takes to stand up for myself…”
~ Teenager experiencing bullying and anxiety
“Getting outside of my comfort zone by doing something spontaneous in session has helped expand my thinking and increased my confidence. I would never have thought it would have worked for me, but it’s what I’ve been missing in my treatment.”
~ Adult client with depression
“I noticed that each week he was getting out more and more of his pent-up frustration. He was able to focus more on tasks and think clearer. His “toolbox” he created gave him the physical reminder to use the lessons from the session at home and school before ever having a meltdown.”
~ Parent of an 8-year-old with ADHD
These are the types of testimonials I have heard and witnessed throughout my education and experience with the expressive arts as a therapeutic intervention. As the new child, youth and family counsellor on the Okanagan Clinical Counselling Services (OCCS) team, I am going to describe the core benefits of Expressive Arts Therapy, as it is often a misunderstood form of support.
Expressive Arts Therapy involves the use of various creative measures in order to bring about empowerment, healing, and change. It is all about releasing emotions in a safe, supportive, and creative environment.
What Expressive Arts Therapy is NOT:
What Expressive Arts Therapy IS:
In our creativity lies passion and hope, which motivate and inspire us to change what is not helping us, to move through pain, to gain strides that will help us achieve our greatest potential. As Daria Halprin expressed (2003), the creative process opens and reflects back to us images of who we have been, who we are, and who we might become. Indeed, the passion and creativity of the arts allow us to live with our suffering and find release through creative play.
So next time you are feeling like you could use a bolster of confidence, get out of your comfort zone, or express what is going on in your life in a creative way, I encourage you to consider how the expressive arts may assist you and your loved ones in a personal journey of wellness and fulfillment.
This post was written by OCCS’s Clinical Counsellor:
At our last OCCS counselling team meeting, one of the counsellors was visibly excited to talk about the successes a client of hers had experienced. We were all excited by the news and acknowledged that we needed to do more of this – share more of the positive outcomes we experience in our various counselling sessions.
That got me thinking about the power of the positive, especially related to counselling and what is known as ‘positive psychology’. How did this branch of psychology develop, by whom and how can it benefit our lives?
Although the term ‘positive psychology’ was thought to be first used in 1954 by Abraham Maslow (in his book Motivation and Personality), it was when Martin Seligman used it in 1998 as the theme for his presidential term with the American Psychological Association that the term gained more support. At that time, two other co-founders and Seligman attributed the development of positive psychology to their concern that psychology was focusing more on the negative – mental illness – and not giving enough emphasis on the inner strengths, virtues and positive elements of humanity.
Highlights of the development of positive psychology from the 50’s to the 90’s include support from the fathers of the humanistic movement (Maslow, Rogers, Fromm) and a study of ‘flow’ – the ability to ‘loose oneself’ in the moment when engaged in activities that ignite one’s passion, focus and energy. The benefits of flow include the experience of ‘good stress’ when one’s abilities are well matched to the challenge at hand. Flow increases self-confidence, excitement and well-being.
More recently, Seligman’s book Flourish (2011) explained the five parts of his theory of well-being with the acronym PERMA, that is Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning (purpose) and Accomplishments.
You – and I – will have greater well-being (think happiness, contentment, a more meaningful life) if we:
Research indicates that the effects of Positive Psychology Interventions (PPI) – such as developing a gratitude letter, developing more optimistic thinking, replaying positive life experiences and socializing with others – last from 3-5 months after the intervention and in some cases, well beyond.
The writer acknowledges Wikipedia (Positive Psychology) as the major source.
This blog post was written by OCCS’s Clinical Counsellor: