Being in recovery requires daily work and is not something anyone takes lightly. But the upcoming holiday season can make sobriety all the more challenging for a number of reasons. In this blog we will discuss why this time of year is more challenging, the stages of relapse and techniques for dealing with urges. What is it about the holiday season that makes sobriety more challenging? There are many reasons that those struggling with addiction find the holidays a particularly stressful time. Some of those reasons include: Financial stressors: Many of us feel an added financial pressure during the holidays. Buying gifts, attending get togethers and socializing more can cause stress that can potentially trigger a relapse. Social Pressure: Whilst it is great to be invited to social gatherings, this can be triggering for those dealing with alcohol or substance abuse issues as many gatherings seem to centre around alcohol. If someone has not shared with their co-workers or friends about their struggles with addiction it can be uncomfortable to be offered a drink in a social situation and even more uncomfortable to feel the need to explain why you won’t be partaking. Family Dysfunction: Many people who struggle with addiction issues have experienced family dysfunction or trauma. Society places a pressure on us to enjoy “the most wonderful time of the year” with friends and family, but if those people are triggering for the person experiencing addiction issues, this can be detrimental to their recovery and can trigger a relapse. The stages of relapse: It is easy to think of relapse as the event, however, relapse is a process and can begin weeks or months before the physical relapse takes place. There are three stages of relapse: Emotional relapse: According to Staying Sober: A Guide For Relapse Prevention, this stage involves the following signs/symptoms; - Anxiety - Intolerance - Anger - Defensiveness - Mood Swings - Isolation - Not asking for help - Not going to meetings - Poor eating habits - Poor sleep habits In this stage you aren’t necessarily even thinking about a physical relapse, but the restlessness, irritability and discontentment is setting someone up for a potential relapse. Mental Relapse: According to Staying Sober: A Guide For Relapse Prevention, this stage involves the following signs/symptoms; - Thinking about people, places and things you used with - Glamorizing past addictions - Lying - Hanging out with old friends you used with - Fantasizing about using - Thinking about relapsing - Planning your relapse around other people’s schedules This can begin with idle thoughts, but can progress quickly. Physical Relapse: Without intervention and support at the earlier stages, physical relapse can occur. When dealing with addictions, or supporting someone with addictions issues, it is important to focus our efforts on the earlier two stages. The early warning signs should not be ignored if relapse is to be prevented. Techniques for dealing with urges: Take care of yourself: This might sound insignificant at first [...]
Tips for Couples During the Holidays This time of year brings joy and happiness for many, but it can also be a time of high stress, challenging conversations and conflicts. Whether you are a new couple or have been together for many years, having a plan for how you will deal with holidays and managing the expectations that go with it, will go a long way to helping keep your relationship at the center of your decision making. The following are some things to consider as we move into the holiday season. Have conversations. Open and honest conversations about what the holiday season means to both of you, your lived experiences with your family of origin, the traditions that are important to you as well as the challenges that come up for you this time of year are all important to talk about. Seek to understand your partner’s point of view and make time for these conversations. Be open minded. Strive for compromise. Coming up with a game plan that works for both of you and communicating that plan to other family members will help prevent last minute decision making and stress. Although it may not be perfect, focus on what you would like the holidays to be for you as a couple, and for your family. Consider what traditions are most important and what ones you are wiling to let go of, in the spirit of compromising. Communicate your decisions as a couple and be a united front. Set goals for gift giving. Look at your finances together and set limits that fit for you as a family at this point in time. Perhaps you have some things coming up in the new year that you are saving for. Think about how you can be creative with gift giving, including homemade gifts and family gifts vs. giving to every individual. Leave time for planning so that you are not shopping at the last minute, which can lead to overspending. Work together on a plan and communicate your plan to extended family, so that expectations are established ahead of time. Share the “To Do” List. There are lots of things involved in preparing for holidays, such as shopping, decorating, and food preparation. Share the responsibilities and make that part of the experience of the season, spending time together and making new memories. Consider new ways of doing things that might make things easier for both of you. Lean on each other. Often getting together with family members during holidays brings to light some of the family dynamics that might be triggering for you or your partner. Lean on each other and support your partner if there are challenges to face, or boundaries that need to be set with family members. Consider having strategies for calming yourself or your partner if things feel overwhelming during get togethers. For example, you may need to take breaks during get togethers, such as going for a walk, if things [...]
Too often, we allow our young men to wander into life. We watch as they fight or flounder as they experience some of the darker chapters that we will all inevitably face. Resilience is a skill we can practice to prepare ourselves for interactions with trauma. To properly consider how we might develop ourselves to be more resilient, it’s important to define what we mean by that. Typically, resiliency is seen as the ability to withstand trauma. I think that’s a great place to start, but there’s more to it. It’s the ability to stand against that which provokes us to harm and continue our work despite the threat. The example I use most is about a castle and the barbarians that crest over the horizon. Imagine you’re a king of some far-off land. As you survey your territory, you come upon a clan of barbarians out along the ridges. They’re coming. There’s nothing you can do to stop them from arriving. But, you have time. You can build and prepare. The US Army has a system for that - it's called 'The Big 4 Tools of Mental Resilience'. These tools include goal setting, mental rehearsal, tactical breathing and positive self talk. A great way to introduce those ideas - the 'Big 4' - is to participate in something difficult by choice. Martial arts, long distance endurance exercises like ruck marching and weightlifting encourage the type of mindset that men need to face and fight back against the waves of barbarians that will meet us at the gate. --- 3 Things Men Worry About Am I strong enough? Sometimes, we're looked at for support. That might take shape as being the muscle behind moving a couch or having people look at us for stoicism in a moment of emotional duress. No matter how hard we train, we can't be ready for everything at all times. It's okay to recognize that we too need respite and rest. Who can I tell? An epidemic of loneliness has carved into our men and boys. This virus infects our belief systems, our trust and maybe worst of all, the faith we have in ourselves. This powerful tonic lies to us - it tells us that we're alone in our struggle and that seeking support is weak. Learning how to ask for help is a life-saving skill. Am I running out of time? We are encouraged to be in 'work mode'. That pressure assumes we will lose sleep, put off relationships and negate a healthy lifestyle in pursuit of a goal. Anything less tries to suggest we're not maintaining the right mindset. Creating balance is something that has to be learned and refined - it's not something we can always muster without a little instruction. This information was provided by Social Service Worker, Bill Dungey. For more information about how Bill can support you, call us at 519.302.2300 or email email@example.com and set up a free consultation.
What is it? Emotional eating is eating based on feelings, not biology. In other words, emotional eating is in response to emotions and feelings rather than hunger or physiological needs. Sometimes we may eat for comfort, and if there is no guilt or negative feelings associated with this, it is not an issue. It is when we are using food to help distract, avoid, or numb ourselves as a way to not deal with feelings that we need to be concerned, or when after eating, we have intense feelings of shame or guilt. If you recognize that you might be an emotional eater, you are not alone. If you eat when experiencing difficult emotions, it is a signal that you have feelings to deal with. Food won’t fix any of these feelings, even if it may bring comfort for the short term, distract you or numb you for awhile. Eventually, you will have to deal with the source of your emotions. Additionally, when we are upset, our digestive system is not at optimal performance, so it is not the best time to eat, either. Food represents many things to us. In every culture, food has meaning. Food can represent tradition, comfort, nurturing and love. Food can also have negative feelings associated with it, such as guilt, or shame or thinking foods are “good” or “bad”. Being aware of what food means to you and giving yourself self compassion around eating and food is important. It allows you to truly enjoy the pleasures of food, while also learning to separate your emotional needs from your physical needs, so that you are not trying to satisfy one with the other. While feeling guilty about what we have eaten is not helpful, trying to manage anger through eating is not helpful either. Emotional Triggers Emotions can be triggers, so knowing what situations may trigger emotional eating is important. Procrastination, frustration, disappointment, boredom, loneliness, anxiety, stress, depression, and anger are some of the things that can trigger emotional eating. It’s important that we find ways to comfort and nurture ourselves without relying on food to do it for us. Being kind to ourselves-self compassion- is critical in this process. Self Talk: Paying attention to our self talk when we are struggling with emotions is one way to ensure kindness toward ourselves. When you are having a rough time, what are you saying to yourself? Are you thinking in black and white terms or looking for the grey? Pay attention to the unhelpful thoughts and beliefs that show up and challenge them with rational thoughts and evidence. Ask yourself these questions: Am I having repetitive and intense feelings? (This is an indicator that you need to challenge these thoughts, as they are becoming stuck.) What am I thinking that is leading me to feel this way? What am I saying to myself? What is true about this belief? What is false? Is there a more rational and reasonable way to [...]
In my work as a registered mental health professional, I have counselled many teens who struggled with issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, interpersonal/family issues, and low self-esteem/self-worth. A subject that often comes up with these clients is the ‘need’ to figure out what career they will pursue, and/or how quickly they need to or ‘should’ make this decision. This can lead into thoughts of what would be required to get into a given field, the stress related to getting required grades for acceptance into the applicable college/university program, and stress linked to pressure from their teacher, guidance counsellor, friends, and/or their parents. Many teens feel pressure to know exactly what field they plan to enter, ASAP. Whether you’re a teen, teacher, or parent reading this, it’s important to know that it is not essential to know what one wants to do with their career until later high school years, despite popular opinion. For many people the realization doesn’t come until later into adulthood once they have had an opportunity to grow, learn and decide what best suits their personality and skill set. One recent concept that has been a subject of conversation in the news is that of ‘grade-inflation.’ ‘Grade-flation,’ similar to inflation in the economy, refers to the phenomenon of higher grades in the A- to A+ range being given to a larger number of students today when compared to high school students 5 to 10 years ago and beyond. It’s believed that this phenomenon has taken place for a number of reasons, including changes in the Ontario curriculum and ‘adjusting’ for any cognitive and brain development consequences COVID-19 lockdowns and accompanying, and inconsistent, online schooling may have caused. While I believe that students were, in fact, being graded ‘too hard’ in the past, grade-flation has resulted in negative consequences for teens, such as the need to consistently compare their academic performance to that of their peers, self criticism/self-shame (including shame and criticism from parents) when grades that were ‘expected,’ aren’t achieved, signalling that a student is struggling or not ‘working hard enough’… because if one doesn’t work hard enough, ‘how can they one day be accepted into a college or university program?’ is often the belief by teens and/or their parents. This can then lead to further focus on knowing what one wants to study in college/university and what career they will pursue, as young as the ages of 14 and 15 years old. Through my clinical work and expertise in working with teens, having an early focus on what one is going to do with their life is actually more harmful than beneficial. I realize that this may be surprising to some parents, in particular, because they want the best for their children and want them to have a healthy and successful future. However, placing excessive and consistent focus on the aforementioned can actually be counterintuitive to a teen wanting to or having the desire and drive to develop and pursue [...]
Many people in therapy express that they feel disconnected from their own emotions or have difficulty processing the emotions that they are feeling. The breadth and depth of our human emotions add so much to our life stories and can also bring great suffering and pain. It is not uncommon for people to struggle with their emotions, particularly those that are powerful, such as joy, anger, and sadness. One of the things we have in common as human beings is our emotions, our feelings- are energy within ourselves that tell us what we need from ourselves and from others. They are our warning signs and our life enhancers. Emotions drive us to get what we need. When we ignore our emotions, we can become stuck, and even worse, we can become unwell. We may have learned during our lives to minimize, hide, change, or ignore our feelings. We may have learned to put other’s feelings before our own, or we may have learned how to manage our feelings in healthy ways. How we understand and respond to emotions comes from many different sources, including our parents, family, culture, religion, school, work, relationships, media, and our life experiences, which is why we respond to emotions in unique and different ways. Acknowledge emotions. If you are wanting to do a better job of processing your emotions, the first step is to learn some of the language of emotions. Did you know there are approximately 150 words to describe emotions? The six primary emotions are anger, fear, joy, love, sadness, and surprise. Having the words to describe how we are feeling can help us and others to better understand our experiences and improve our relationships. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the “feelings wheel”, which is a nice visual depiction of many shades of the primary human emotions, as well as the meanings of the words, to help you better attune to your own feelings. Notice where you feel your different emotions in your body- is it your gut, your head, your shoulders? Emotions create energy that can be held in the body, especially if not released. Notice negative self-talk when it happens, and the emotion behind it. What is the need beneath the behaviour that you are condemning? Is there an unmet need that you are ignoring? Feelings, thoughts, and our behaviour are inextricably connected. Take some time to notice how your thoughts and feelings fuel your behaviour, and vice versa. Consider that your body and brain may be signalling to you that there is a situation that requires your attention. At times, it may be a “false alarm” such as in the case of recurring anxiety. Sometimes there is a physical need that is being signalled, that takes an emotional form, such as the need for rest, movement, and nutrition. Sometimes it may be an unmet emotional need, a part of you that has been hurt, needed love or acknowledgement, that is being signalled. Have [...]
Recognize that this is a big transition, and it is normal to have mixed feelings about the upcoming changes, such as joy and sadness. Part of the developmental task of early adulthood is to establish autonomy, to establish oneself as an independent person, and to fine tune a sense of identity. It is common and healthy for young adults to leave home for school, work or travelling. Although a natural part of the process of becoming independent, the change of leaving home can bring many mixed feelings for parents and their children. It is normal to feel a mixture of joy and loss, excitement and anxiety as your child prepares to leave. Embrace the journey and allow yourself to experience your feelings, while ensuring that your child is the focus of the transition. Maintain open communication and dialogue. Set up a schedule for staying in touch. Having open conversations about the upcoming challenges, opportunities, and tasks ahead will allow space for you and your child to explore the things that they are excited about, may need help with, or cause anxiety. Rather than lecturing, be supportive, positive, and encouraging. Allow your child to lead the conversations and keep their thoughts and feelings in the centre. Talk about a way to stay connected, (i.e., calls, text, Facetime) and what frequency feels comfortable for both of you. Every child is different, so keep in mind that every child’s journey is unique, as is yours. Promote skills of independence and problem solving. Remember the goal is autonomy, and it is a journey, not an event. Your parenting over the years has promoted your child’s development in many different skill areas. Leaving home and moving towards independence requires new skills but also builds on skills you have taught them, and they have learned. As you prepare for the transition, engage in conversations that focus on building skills of problem solving and independence. For example, talk about what to expect once they move, and what things they will be responsible for, including financial realities, and day to day tasks such as preparing food and doing laundry. Ask your child if there are things or tasks that they want to learn that you can help with. Talk about how to solve problems and the resources available where they will be living to help in different situations, especially if they are living far away from you. Take steps to reduce stress because change causes stress for individuals and families. It is common for people to experience increased stress during times of great change, even when the changes are positive. Provide support and reassurance to your child, and to other family members who may be struggling. Take time to look after yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Take time to reflect on the joys of your relationship with your child, what you are grateful for, what you look forward to, and what you feel sad about as your child leaves home for the first [...]
Recognize that this is a big transition, and it is normal to have mixed feelings about the upcoming changes, such as joy and sadness. It’s common to have many different feelings about leaving home for the first time. The newfound freedom is exciting. At the same time, you may be feeling anxious, sad, intimidated, or any other mixture of feelings as you start something new. All these feelings can be part of change and going through a transition. It is also common to feel homesick and have moments where you feel lonely. Staying connected to home can help with the adjustment. Taking time to make new social connections with others is an important part of adjusting to being away at school. Talking about how you feel with people you trust can be helpful, and you may also find that others are experiencing similar emotions. This is a big life event, and it makes sense that you have a lot of feelings about it. Maintain open communication and dialogue. Set up a schedule for staying in touch. Although you are moving toward independence, staying in open communication with your support system and knowing when to ask for their help is an important part of your continued success in school and life. Having a positive social network and having parent support are known to be factors in helping students to be successful at school. Communicating with professors and other people at the school will also become your responsibility. Setting up a regular time to connect with your parents that works for you and for them will help with keeping you in regular contact and having access to their support. Develop skills of independence and problem solving. Remember the goal is autonomy, and it is a journey, not an event. You have learned many things to get to where you are, and you should be proud of your accomplishments. This next new phase will require you to continue learning new skills and solving problems. Take some time to think about what you need to learn and what things you need to work on as you move toward independence. Maybe it’s managing money, or cooking skills that you are interested in. Take some time to think about what skills you want to learn and improve, and what your approach is to solving problems when they show up. Who are the people you can call if you need help? Take steps to reduce stress, because change causes stress for individuals. Even when changes are welcomed and positive, people can experience stress. Pay attention to how stress is affecting your body and mind and make efforts to take care of yourself through a balanced lifestyle. Besides taking care of your body, and focusing on your studies, it is also important to schedule time for fun, relaxation, and friends. Sometimes when people are under a lot of stress, they use more substances such as alcohol. Keeping your stress level manageable and having [...]
As someone who comes from an Arabic background, I have witnessed culturally and socially the general fear that men have of expressing their emotions. Culturally, the expression of emotions was something associated with women only. Many men who felt comfortable enough to show or share their emotions were considered weak, therefore making men feel that they needed to present as “macho” in order to survive and avoid any potential for being labelled in that way. It is apparent in many cultures that this stigma plays a key role in setting a standard for masculinity. This has led to an expectation that men, in particular, are not to express emotions nor be attune to their emotions. What does this cultural norm regarding masculinity lead to? 1. These cultural norms can lead to men striving to be tough in physical or mental aspects, which studies have shown is linked to an avoidance of depressive symptoms and creates further barriers to men seeking out help for their mental health. (Sileo & Kershaw, 2020). 2. Given this culture of avoidance, men become fearful of their emotions and repress instead, potentially creating greater mental health concerns. In my experience working with clients from my own culture, I have seen that the idea of being “macho”, in many cases, holds them back from engaging in the therapeutic process given the general fear around even showing the slightest of emotions. Many from my culture believe that showing emotion leads to the label of being mentally ill, which is an entirely different stigma altogether. I hope through my work as a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) to break down some of these stigmas and create a space that is welcoming and judgement free for people from all different backgrounds to open up and seek the support that they need and to unpack some of the cultural expectations they may have grown up with. I am able to provide services to those 14+ and can provide sessions in English or Arabic. If you are interested in learning more about my approach to therapy and my previous professional experiences, feel free to contact Brant Mental Health Solutions at 519.302.2300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to book a free 15 minute consultation. By Shiwan Ibrahim, Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying)
Your Content Goes Here If you have ever spoken with a medical or mental health professional about your mental health, you have likely heard CBT or DBT mentioned as modalities that professionals use in supporting their clients. But what is CBT and DBT and how are these utilized in the mental health field? In this blog, I will break down the basics about these two types of therapy techniques. It is important to remember that this is just a basic guide with general information, it is always recommended that you to reach out to a trained professional to discus your unique situation and come up with a plan that is specific to you. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) This is a form of talk therapy that revolves around understanding how our thoughts impact our emotions. CBT interventions focus on how we can try to change the way we think to deliver a more positive emotion. CBT looks at thoughts as either Adaptive (positive thoughts) or Maladaptive (negative thoughts), and through thought reframing (Cognitive restructuring) the therapist can help the client re-work the thought to help provide a different emotion (positive emotion). CBT helps client unpack their thoughts, feelings, and behaviour through the lens of the Cognitive model. The cognitive model structures what impacts us in 4 categories though itself, the behaviour, the emotion, and physical reaction. CBT also looks at our core values, how we see ourselves, the world, and how that impacts our inner self dialogue. CBT intervention is often short-term, but it is based on how well clients can learn the skills and apply them in their own life without the assistance of the therapist. CBT intervention needs constant practice and is demanding to see progress and effectiveness. CBT requires clients to be cognisant and rational. CBT therapy tends to take 6-20 sessions. Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, although it sounds different, is technically under CBT but takes a different approach to its model. Originally it was a form of therapy that was intended to aid, and is still used, with clients diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. DBT helps clients change their behavioural patterns, rather than reframing thoughts. DBT’s approach includes techniques around how to manage emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness as well as teaching mindfulness techniques. DBT skills attempt to teach ways to understand and regulate our emotions. For more information about CBT/DBT and how the therapists at Brant Mental Health Solutions can support clients, feel free to contact us at 519.302.2300 or email email@example.com to set up a free consultation with any one on our team.