Siblings In Separate Homes

Growing up in a home with seven siblings, I somehow grew up under the false pretence that we all had very similar experiences and therefore would share many of the same beliefs, values, and memories. As the years went by, and we siblings grew older, we would often get together and share stories about days gone by. Though it was evident that we certainly had some of these shared experiences, it also became increasingly clear that we indeed did not grow up in the same home.

As I moved forward into a career in education and counselling not growing up in the same home seemed to be a common misnomer of many people I encountered, including, friends, colleagues, and clients. It was often expressed out of a sense of frustration, “But we grew up in the same house, why is he so different than me?” or ” I always remember my parents being very supportive but that’s not how my sister sees it?” Examining my own family, it certainly is not a stretch that the experiences I had and those of my siblings would have been quite different, as in some cases we were born a generation apart. Many things can and do change in a generation. Families grow, illness may impact families, parenting skills change, personal experiences vary, financial situations ebb and flow, and a myriad of personalities evolve and interplay in the family unit. Not to mention, the world around us is constantly changing.

However, sometimes it is difficult to let go of our story as we have told and retold it so many times. Sometimes, even viewing baby pictures may illicit memories that were most likely not memories of the actual event but a memory retold by an older sibling or parent. Add to this, the tendency to often assign meaning to particular events. If your parents were financially able to gift a younger sibling with something that earlier on they could not afford to do for you, you may interpret this as playing favourites. You may have had a hurtful reaction to this event and further perceived slights might add to a belief of “not being good enough.” This lens of resentment as the least favoured child starts to build your story. As we move into adulthood, and in particular if we become parents, some enlightenment seems to emerge. We may even be able to reframe the events and gain some healthy perspective regarding our childhood experiences.

Unfortunately, for many it may take years of reflection and in some cases professional help to process and move forward in our lives. Additionally, if we become super focused on the event, boxing ourselves into these experiences, our beliefs become our truth. Anything or anyone who challenges these beliefs needs to be avoided or quieted. Confirmation bias may have just seeped into our thinking, leaving us closed to new ways of thinking about the topic. We may also become more likely to seek out and surround ourselves with those who support us without challenging or reflecting an alternate reality. There also becomes a tendency to be less likely to seek help, or believe those who are the experts. Sound familiar? This appears to be reminiscent of what is presently taking place in the United States government’s handling of the pandemic, leaving a nation baffled and confused, and not knowing who to trust or believe.

In order to grow and gain more clarity regarding any situation, whether it be a personal situation or one of more global significance we must always challenge ourselves to think outside of the box. We need to listen to the experts (while still questioning), to not just believe what we read on FaceBook and the internet, to have challenging conversations with those who may oppose our views, and always be prepared to grow and never stop learning. Let’s question those long held stories that tell the tale of us all growing up in the same house. Let us be more reflective and welcome all the stories with a sense of curiosity and openness to learning. Let us be more introspective and cautious of our vernacular, as our words can be very powerful. And as we reexamine the idea of your family all growing in the same house, just for a moment I hope you might reflect on a new idea that living in the same house and growing up in the same home are not necessarily one and the same.

Is This Normal?

Throughout my many years working as a psychologist, countless times I have often been asked the question by friends, colleagues, and clients :”Is this normal?” They may be referring to a variety of different things from a certain feeling they are experiencing, a reaction they may have had to a particular scenario, or a situation they may have witnessed or watched outside their own circles. Now though this may appear to be a fairly innocuous question with a pretty simple yes or no answer, the truth is it is far from simple.

What are people really wanting to know when they ask this question? They are checking to see: “Am I O.K ? Do I fit in? Is there something wrong with me? Is it ok to have these feelings, or thoughts? Am I alone with these thoughts or feelings or do others have them too?” It is human nature to want to fit in, to want to belong, to be part of a group or community. What is wrong with that? It’s normal, right?

Unfortunately, in a world filled with instant access to information at our fingertips Dr. Google may lead us down a path that is not only not helpful, but indeed could be destructive. Compound that with the barrage of messages that touts us with that we are not thin enough, young enough, pretty enough, smart enough.

The advent of social media may leave teens in a vulnerable place where they can be criticized or bombarded with negativity. We are told that depression and anxiety have increased exponentially, yet Canadian studies indicate that cases of anxiety have remained steady for the past 20 years .

According to Statistics Canada in 2012 about 3.5 million Canadians, or 12.6%, will meet the criteria for a mood disorder during their lifetime. A total of 2.4 million Canadians reported symptoms consistent with anxiety disorder. 20% of youth, 1 in 5 suffer from a mental disorder.

While these issues are very real and do impact people’s lives in so many ways, we need to be careful and thoughtful in labelling what otherwise may be feelings of sadness as depression or feelings of worry as anxiety.

Sadness and worry are very normal feelings during this time of a pandemic. Just the other day a friend of mine expressed feelings of sadness, worry and confusion with this prolonged self isolation. She asked the question, “Is this just me or are other people feeling this way?” I assured her she was not alone in her feelings and gave her some practical suggestions to help mitigate the situation so she did not become overwhelmed or feel incapacitated by those feelings.

In my career I have always professed to all of my clients that your feelings are not categorized as right or wrong, good or bad, but rather a gift of humanity. What is important is what we do with those feelings, how we manage them. It’s o.k. to be angry , but it’s not o.k. to hurt someone because of that anger. It is equally important to understand when these feelings are truly normal and natural given the specific circumstances . They ebb and flow and will come and go as we work through them. They are worry and sadness and do not need to be labelled as anxiety and depression.

Too often as parents and adults we may want to jump in and fix feelings so that the person feeling them doesn’t hurt as opposed to acknowledging the feelings and then having the person to work through these feelings the best way they know how or with our assistance. Identifying these feelings with the proper label and trying some practical relaxation methods such as: deep breathing, talking to a trusted friend, and positive self talk, can allow us to actually feel sad , scared, or worried. It helps to know we are o.k. and can gain a sense of our own power and self control.

For others however, the feelings may become too much with which to cope and even with the use of strategies can become overwhelming. If this occurs and persists across time to the point where the feelings interfere with day to day functioning this is a red flag. The frequency, intensity and duration matter and are indicators that it could come be the time to seek professional help. Just remember, reaching out is a strength, not a weakness.

For us as professional caregivers, we have a role to play in ensuring we truly understand the difference between “worried well” and someone who truly is suffering from a mental disorder. We need to constantly remind ourselves that the client is always at the front and centre of our practice. Our first priority is and always should be to develop a safe and trusting relationship with our clients so we better understand their story. Only when we see the person as who they are and not just as a diagnosis can we be truly effective.

So how does a health professional make a diagnosis of depression or an anxiety disorder and what tools and processes guide the diagnosis?

When making a diagnosis, psychologists and psychiatrists often look to determine whether what is happening to their client falls within the norm of behaviour for that client’s particular age, circumstances, and other contributing factors such as family history etc.

To form a specific diagnosis such as clinical depression or a type of anxiety disorder , a tool called the Diagnostic Statistical Manual {DSM-5} is used to see if clients meet the required number of specific criteria. Clinical interviews add to the information used to assess. In dealing with something as complex as the human mind, we need to be very judicious in the use of this tool. It is not just a matter of asking the right questions and ticking the boxes. So many other factors come into play when you are dealing with the human psyche.

We as mental health professionals must hold ourselves to higher standards of practice. As Dr. Allen Frances (former chair of DSM-1V Task Force) writes in his bestselling book, Saving Normal, “People forget the wisdom of Hippocrates:” “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.” Of course, best practice would include looking at both. Just like any tool, The DSM has its’ place and function, but we must be careful not to rely on it in and of itself. Let us see beyond the symptoms and ask the right questions. In our vocabulary, let us bring back those everyday words like, sad, worried, afraid, distracted; that signify normal responses to a particular event or circumstances. Instead of catastrophizing day to day sadness and worries, let us give our kids and families strategies to build resiliency. Let us have a clearer understanding of what is normal so we can respond correctly and get help for those who need it when they need it.

Is this normal is a very complex question. One that certainly cannot be answered in a few short paragraphs. Those answering this should keep in mind mental health literacy , understanding data , what evidence based research is really saying and acknowledging that humans are complex beings who we are still learning from on a daily basis.

Gratitude In A Difficult Time

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Gratitude is something that may not always be easy to feel or express, particularly of late. It seems that anytime we turn on television we are met with more tragedy and sadness, from pandemic updates, to killings in Nova Scotia, to major flooding in Fort Mc Murray Alberta, and most recently the downing of a military helicopter in the Ionian Sea. Yet amidst all this angst so many of us have found ways to reach out, to lend a helping hand, to bring joy to others who are alone. Instead of allowing anger and sadness to prevail we have risen to the challenge. We have witnessed an uplifting of others in acts both big and small that in and of themselves may not appear to be heroic. However, at their very core they are just that and at their best, they reflect genuine expressions of gratitude for all the goodness we experience in our fragile world.

What is gratitude? If you google the word or look it up in the dictionary , it defines it as: the quality of being thankful, readiness to show appreciation for and return kindness. Yet how does gratitude come about? What circumstances or environments need to be present in order to create this sense of gratitude? Like many of us, my oldest son and his wife are now working from home. In a recent conversation, he spoke of spending more time with his sons which was both a gift ,but at times a challenge. This experience gave him cause to reflect and have a better understanding of what his wife’s experience was during her recent maternity leave, which gave way to a greater appreciation for his wife and his boys. He feels he is a better husband and father and because of all these things he is grateful.

Unfortunately we often take many things for granted and do not always have gratitude until something has slipped from our grasp. The pleasures of going to a concert or sporting event, hugging your kids or grandkids, visiting with your friends, skiing or hiking in our beautiful mountains may all have been things we may not have given a second thought to, yet just like that it’s gone. Gratitude often comes from stressful events, like we are presently experiencing. However, it also comes from having and taking the time to reflect on all the goodness in our life. The appreciation for people and things we have no matter how big or small. My dad was a very good role model for this. He lived with Addison disease and spent the majority of his life in and out of hospitals. He was always grateful for any days where he could cook and enjoy a family meal or share a laugh with friends. I remember a saying of his that has always stayed with me my whole life : “If you have your health, you have everything!” This statement is one that has always made me cognizant and truly grateful for my health and all the other gifts in my life.

Why is it important to be grateful? Looking beyond our own circumstances and having empathy towards others can make us more aware of our own situations. It presents us with an opportunity to reflect and reevaluate, inviting us to see things from a whole new perspective. Though there have not been meta studies in research, regarding the link between gratitude and happiness, one recent Harvard University study showed a very strong link between gratitude and our level of happiness. Showing gratitude could actually make you happier, and in a world where many of us are dealing with so many stressors in our daily lives, that is a welcomed friend.

So how can we create a culture of gratitude in our daily lives? There are a variety of things you can do, but you need to choose what works best for you. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • keep a gratitude journal and reflect on at least one positive thing each day, spend some quiet time reflecting and thinking about things in your life for which you are grateful
  • send a card to someone who may be going through a difficult time and let them know why you are grateful for them
  • volunteer with an organization that helps others who may be hurting
  • share your talents and teach someone a skill that you have and they may not
  • instead of telling someone else how you appreciate a colleague, friend,or family member tell them directly. They will be truly grateful! 

Postponed Pandemic Grief

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As a native Nova Scotian, my heart is heavy with sadness at the recent loss of 22 beautiful souls. In different times, pre-covid19, our grief was often mitigated by our grieving rituals. These rituals allow us to walk beside the grieving individual and share in their most intimate moments of pain and sorrow. We share our loss with friends and loved ones through the physical and personal connection of hugs, stories, music, wakes, funerals, and many more long time rituals that help us with the healing process. Now, many of these long held rituals have been ripped from our grasp, leaving us with an additional sense of loss and complicated grief. This has left us with a heightened sense of sadness and uncertainty in a world that already has lost a sense of normalcy.

Death of any kind is a difficult subject to approach and even in pre-covid times many of us may not know how to respond, what to say or do, so our automatic response might be to say, “Let me know if I can do something.” Though it may seem like a good thing to say, most people who are in the midst of grief, are not thinking clearly and probably do not know what they want or need. So instead, just go ahead and do something! Here are some ideas of how you can show your love and concern during this unprecedented time. I hope you find them useful.

  • send a card or email offering your condolences and share a personal memory of the deceased person.
  • make a memory book of pictures you may have
  • send a gift card for food delivery services or restaurants that deliver
  • offer your services to help plan a virtual celebration
  • let the grieving person know that you are there to listen when they are ready to talk. Just listen and affirm their feelings.
  • connect via a video chat and give them virtual hugs
  • Ask the person who is grieving to share their memories of their lost loved one. How would they like them to be remembered?
  • use your special talents and cook a special meal, write a poem, paint a picture, write a story or song expressing your love and concern and/or memories of their lost loved one.

For more information or support on this topic, you may want to visit these websites: here and here.

Be Afraid And Do It Anyway

Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash

I am a wife, mom, grandma, educator and psychologist. The majority of my career has been spent working with kids and their families. I am one of those lucky people who has been able to have a 30 plus year career that I absolutely love! I have been so honoured and privileged to be let into so many lives and to be able to grow and learn from each and every one of those experiences. I very much believe in sharing and giving back and so I would like to share my thoughts, learnings and experience, with hope that in some way, it may connect with you. So, in such an unprecedented time of physical distancing, I am taking an uncomfortable plunge into the world of online blogging. I am definitely a neophyte in this area but as a lot of good sources have told me “You just have to start!” So here goes! Once a week, over the next weeks I will be sharing life lessons, counselling ideas, everyday issues and respond to any comments or questions you may have. I hope you join me on my new adventure and perhaps you may become motivated to begin a new adventure of your own!

Becoming Mindful In A World Full Of Distractions

It isn’t easy for some of us to practice being mindful when there are so many distractions around us , but the benefits make us happier and healthier people.

As School Counsellors we need to practice being mindful in order to fully model the benefits and to teach others how to integrate mindfulness practices  into their own lives.

There are many ways to practice being mindful. Don’t worry if you think you can’t … you can. There are so many opportunities in your daily life to actually put mindfulness into practice.

As Jon Kabat Zinn says “to bring one’s attention to the present moment-by focusing on our thoughts, feelings , bodily sensations and surroundings”.

We can become more mindful by :

awakening ourselves to new experiences

creating a place and a space for living in the the present moment

living fully with focus

learning to let go of the failures of the past and the worries of the future

letting go of perfectionism

living as best as we can in the moment

You can start today becoming mindful by finding a space in your day to free yourself of distractions. Here are 10 ways to start today.

  1. Start walking and notice all the beauty around you  (leave your phone in your pocket if you want to take it with you).  #walkalongwithme
  2. Create : play, paint, draw.  Just do something that brings you flow.
  3. Listen to or play music just for the joy of it.
  4. Use an app like HEADSPACE or CALM ( which is free for educators) sign up now.
  5. Journal 5 things you are grateful for today.
  6. Find a quiet moment to just breathe.
  7. Make room for reflection.
  8. Find time to just BE STILL and do nothing.
  9. Take a picture … take time to enjoy it and the surroundings around you … pause and just breathe.
  10. Take time for YOU … take a break … eat your lunch (daily) or at least as often as you can … .get out of your office.

Mindfulness is not a quick fix. It is not an escape, but instead it is a way to create awareness around issues that need our attention. It provides us a way to explore our own thoughts and feelings no matter how difficult they may be. Approaching these thoughts and feelings with acceptance, curiosity, and emotional balance opens the door to mindfulness.

When we make time for meditation we are shutting down the fight or flight system which is good for students and their School Counsellors. The wonderful thing about using the HEADSPACE app is that it only takes 10 minutes and is a great way to start your day. The same goes for CALM you decide how long ,how often and the way you want to use it.

Now that you’ve made time for yourself to become more mindful you can help your students be more mindful as well. We know how much you like take aways so these resources are collated just for YOU.

Becoming mindful is a process. The more mindful you are the less likely you are to ruminate and be stressed to name a few. So be patient with yourself knowing that you too can become mindful in a world full of distractions.

Customized Presentations: Rethinking Ways To Better Your Community

We are excited to introduce you to our upcoming workshops and seminars that are available for your organization . Helen and Susan are able to customize presentations and all can be facilitated as a keynote, concurrent session or workshop.

Helen and Susan are Registered Psychologists with years of practical experience and training and knowledge of recent research and practice. Having worked in the education system at all grade levels, as well as in private practice we bring a wealth of experience to your organization. We look forward to co-presenting and making a difference by assisting you and your community

Here is a list of other potential workshops:

  • Making Everyday Stressors An Opportunity For Growth
  • You Know More Than You Think: Using Prior Experience to Solve Unfamiliar Issues
  • Dealing with Difficult People: De- escalating A Potential Disaster
  • Moving from Try to I Can
  • Using The Digital World To Make A Difference

If there is a specific topic that is not listed on our site that you feel would best address your community needs , please do not hesitate to contact usĀ 

If you have any further questions please contact us at solastaseminars @gmail,com