5 Tips To Help You Move From Self-Criticism To Self-Compassion

If you're at all like many of my clients, you might have no clear idea of what self-compassion is or how it works. 

In recovery, self-compassion is a useful concept, because it can help you let go of self-criticism and negative self-talk, and cultivate joy and kindness instead.

The idea is that once we're more patient and understanding with ourselves, we can overcome negative emotions more easily and appreciate that we're deserving of good things in our lives, just like everyone else.

If you'd like to find out how that might be possible, here are my six tips to help you move from self-criticism to self-compassion:

Embrace the idea of the beginner's mind.

The "beginner's mind" is the Zen Buddhist idea of an attitude that allows for learning and growth, no matter how experienced you are. A beginner's mind is open to trying new things and to new approaches, a prerequisite if one is serious about changing thoughts and habits. 

Start noticing self-talk.

When you talk to yourself, what do you say? Is your voice self-critical or understanding? What do you notice?

Pay attention to when you are nice to yourself.

What's different when you talk to yourself nicely - how come? What would it take to say nice things to yourself more often?

Remember this practice is new to you.

When you feel like you're still not nice enough to yourself, remember that you're only just starting out with this practice. We're looking for progress, not for perfection, and any one time you were able to say: "This is hard, you're making a really good effort!" instead of something less understanding and kind is a win. <3

Make joy a priority.

Marie Kondo the shit out of your life and understand that joy does not come from amassing material goods, but instead from cherishing meaning. What in your life has meaning? How can you prioritize joy, starting today?

How To Live With Someone Who Still Drinks Or Uses

If you're newly sober or trying to reduce the frequency in which you drink or use, being around someone who still does can be hard. 

Whether it's a room mate, a partner, or a best friend, distancing yourself is difficult, because not only might their behaviour trigger you, too, but you also see all the patterns and unwanted results of your friend's behaviour.  

As with any tricky situation, having a game plan is essential in this scenario, and here is the one I propose: 

First, define your personal recovery goal. 

What are you going for: full sobriety, drinking only on the weekend, no weed during the day? Be specific about your preferred future and try to stick with a recovery goal that is realistic (e.g. cut out a cigarette until you feel like cutting out another one vs. smoking a cigarette less every day). 

Then, define your friend's role in this.

How can your partner or friend support you in this? Again, be specific: Would it be helpful if they hid their drinks, smoked only in their room, or would agree to go out with you without drinking? Once you know what would be helpful, it's very important you actually let them know, as well.  

Lastly, put yourself first. 

People are creatures of habit, and unless we really, really want to make a change, it can be extremely difficult to stick with a plan, in spit of all the best intentions. If your friend or partner is dropping the ball on what they said they would do to support you, refocus on yourself and keep your priorities straight; at the end of the day, each of us is responsible for our own life, and recovery is not for those who need it, but for those who want it.   

If you'd like to dive into this topic more, here's a workbook that might be useful to you, and there are always individual appointments, too, of course. 


Supercharge Your Recovery In 5 Minutes By Adding One Of These Mantras - Or Learn How To Build Your Own! 

Very basically, a mantra is something nice you can say to yourself. It’s purpose usually is to keep you motivated in a process of transformation, or to re-focus you in the face of distractions.

Mantras originated in the practice of meditation, where they meant to help monks concentrate through their repetition in meditation. The most well-known mantra is probably the sound “Om” or “Aum”, in Hinduism understood to be the first sound of the universe that resulted in all creation. If you’ve never heard a group chant it, you can listen to an hour of Om group chanting here or a solo male here. :)

You might be familiar with mala beads, a similar idea to the rosary, where you move a bead through your fingers for every mantra you speak.

Depending on personal preference, mantras can be words or sounds.

In my own recovery from depression ten years ago, for example, I liked to use the simple statement: “It will pass.”

I believe that mantras can be an excellent way to zoom in on what matters most in recovery, and I would encourage you to pick one from the list below, create your own (see how below) or surf the web to find one that speaks to you.

If you have five minutes, I would encourage you to pick a mantra, get comfortable, close your eyes, start breathing deeply and simply start repeating your mantra silently.

Recovery mantras that could be helpful are:

“Expect nothing, appreciate everything.”

“I am free from sadness.”

“Purpose over perfect.”

“I am enough.”

“I am the change.”

“Everything I need is within me.”

“I am free from anger.”

“Life is a gift.”

“Inhale the future, exhale the past.”

“Yesterday is not today.”

“May all beings be happy and free, and may my thoughts and actions contribute that happiness and freedom for all.”

“May my heart be kind, my mind fierce, and my spirit brave.”

“I was born to be real.”

And if you’d rather make your own mantra, think of something that someone said to you or that you read somewhere that really hit home and think about how that could serve you as a mantra. For me, for example, one of those statements was: “Everything will be ok in the end. If it’s not ok, it’s not the end.”

At the end of the day, recovery certainly is about trying new things all the time. Why not give a mantra a go one of these days?

As always, I hope this was helpful to you, and if you have any questions, you know where to find me!

Talk soon,

Annina

5 Questions For Sonia Seguin of Body Brave

In this free webinar, Sonia Seguin and I explore how she managed to not only survive her eating disorder, but become a helping champion in the field through founding Body Brave with her mother, family physician and therapist Karen Trollope-Kumar. 

With a unique combination of cutting-edge projects, sensitivity to minority-specific matters and heartfelt, free-of charge, online and in person community support, Sonia and Karen are working hard at making recovery available to anyone ready to heal. 

No wonder that their Instagram following has exploded to over four thousand people in recent months! 

In addition to aaaaaall the questions Sonia is answering in our webinar, she was kind enough to consider the following five, which I hope are of particular interest to you. 

Sonia, if you could address the readers of this newsletter in a three sentence mini speech, what would you tell them? 

Eating disorders are not always visible or diagnosable based on someone's appearance - they don't discriminate and can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, weight, ethnic background, etc. Let's examine the systemic bias against eating disorders and stop blaming individuals by suggesting that disordered eating is a "lifestyle choice": To understand eating disorders and to support eating disorder recovery, we need to recognize them as a societal issue.  

What would you tell a professional who has been working with a client with an eating disorder, but feels progress is slow and might even question their ability to work with eating disordered clients?

Just because one type of treatment didn't work doesn't mean your client is a hopeless case. Definitely don't give up on someone with an eating disorder, even if progress feels slow. Recovery takes time, and that's ok. You never know what might help someone and there are always plateaus and breakthroughs.

And if you could add a thing, system, thought or service to the average eating disorder treatment process, what would it be?

Community support and peer support. These can be incredibly important parts of recovery, as oftentimes an eating disorder is an excruciatingly lonely experience, even for people who are already in treatment. 

Which free of charge online supports does Body Brave offer, and how can we access them? 


We currently offer online treatment groups as well as online educational workshops. We can take up to 20 people per group. Anyone interested can find out more about our services and how to access each of them here

Which question would you ask yourself in addition to these questions, and what's your answer to it? :) 

I would probably ask about the first-of-its-kind virtual body image conferencethat we are currently working on with NIED and you, Annina, as partners. I would tell people they should save the date for October 4th, 5th and 6th, and would also encourage anyone who'd like to get involved to get in touch. It will be wonderful and exciting, and people can follow us on Instagram @bodypeaceconference
 

If you’d like to learn more about Sonia’s own recovery journey and how she ended up founding the non-profit of her dreams, feel free to watch our free webinar here: Ed Recovery Success - From Survivor To Helping Champion

Why Investing In Yourself Is Always A Good Idea

As I see it, life is short, and there will never be anyone closer to you than yourself. For these two reasons, I am always a big proponent of investing in yourself: time, money, other resources, you name it. If it makes you happy long term, it is probably worthwhile.

In recovery in particular it is important to give yourself a chance to try new things. Whether that's counselling, fencing or intuitive painting, chances are that without an investment of either time or money, and most likely both, you won't be seeing the change you desire anytime soon. After all, as the saying goes, we need to do things differently in order to see different results. 

Everything is easiest, of course, when money is more or less freely available to pursue your interests and hire supports, but even when it isn't, there are things you can do for yourself that are mostly free, like taking a conscious break, going to bed early or getting up earlier, making regular snacks a priority and keeping in mind that everyone who is trying to sell you something is profiting off your self-doubt one way or another. 

Spending money intentionally revolves around asking yourself what makes you happiest and then arranging your finances to fund as much of it as possible - in the order of priority that you assigned. 

In fact, this is precisely why I encourage all my clients to self-schedule their appointments in a way that makes sense to them - to their recovery, their state of mind, their finances. I am well aware that enlisting the support of a counsellor or coach is a big investment, and I want that investment to be as intentional as possible, because I believe that the more motivated someone is to be in a session with me, the better the results of our work together. 

The good news is that often, in the early stages of recovery, funds will free up that in the past would have been spent on engaging in unhelpful behaviours. Have you ever tallied up what your unhelpful behaviours cost you in an average week, month or year?

If you were to invest that same money in yourself in a way that would help you be happy long-term, how would you spend it? What would you save for?

Personally, I find that spending money on education, travel and self-development satisfy me the most long-term. Food, of course, is high on my list of priorities, too, as I now recognize it as a crucial factor in my overall wellbeing. In its absence, I get hangry, and, in reverse, food I enjoy eating generally puts me in a good mood. 

So, depending on where you are currently at in your recovery journey (start, middle, or finish), what would it take to maximize your resources? 

And what skills do you already have that you could monetize, specifically with the purpose of spending the money on something that helps you grow as a person? 

As per usual, I hope this was helpful, and if you're interested in finding out more about how I work, feel free to book yourself in for a free intro chat during my Open Office Hours. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

New Year, True You - How To Keep Doing What Works To Align Your Deeds and Your Needs In 2019

If you've been following me for a while or have spoken with me in person, you'll likely have heard me say that aligning your actions and speech with your thoughts and feelings is important in recovery. 

That's because letting it all out instead of bottling it up helps with mental hygiene, which in turn helps us feel less externally controlled and more in charge of our fate. 

Now, contrary to other articles you might have been reading, I don't subscribe to the "new year, new you" agenda. Much rather, I'd like to propose a "new year, TRUE you" spin on the old saying. 

It is my belief that in order to be even truer to yourself than you already are, or true to yourself even more often than you already are, there are a few helpful questions you can ask yourself before diving into this year head-first. 

If you want, grab a pen and paper and start jotting down your thoughts around the following prompts: 

  • What have you done this week, quarter or in the last year that you would say was true to yourself?

  • What difference has your being true to yourself made?

  • What difference will it make in the future?

  • What feedback have you received that tells you you are doing something right when you are true to yourself?

  • How will you celebrate your being true to yourself more often?

  • What is one small thing you could do every day to align your deeds with your needs even more? 

Were these questions useful? Let me know! 

Warmly and happy new year, 

Annina

How Skipping Meals Ahead Of The Holidays Is Messing With Your Recovery

Whether you’re in recovery from disordered eating, binge drinking or substance use, feeding yourself regularly is of utmost importance.

Skipping meals for any reason, including prior to holiday meals, and even when you’re not in recovery, is a bad idea.

Here are twelve reasons why:

  1. Your hunger cues will be thrown off

    It will be hard to get clear around when you’re hungry or full when you make an effort to override hunger cues. Overriding hunger cues will eventually lead you to a point where you are no longer sure what you need at any given time, which in mu experience will also lead to confusion around what you’re feeling emotionally, because you’re just so used to ignore your needs.

  2. Your brain will go into starvation mode

    ..which means it will order your body to eat itself - fat, muscles, lean tissue (yes, that’s organs, bones, tendons and ligaments, too!), you name it. Essentially all the good stuff you want to keep, because it keeps you alive.

  3. Your ED voice will get strengthened

    With my clients, I often talk about taking the next recovery-oriented action. Whenever you choose to engage in an ED behaviour instead, re-committing to recovery will become so much more difficult.

  4. You will be more likely to binge when you finally do eat

    That’s the science behind the binge-restrict-cycle, which comes with a big, added portion of shame.

  5. You will get tired

    You’re depriving your body of energy.

  6. You will get cranky

    You’re depriving your body of pleasure.

  7. You will get depressed

    Your brain needs nutrients to be healthy, and the last thing you want on top of being depressed is being more depressed.

  8. You’ll have a harder time focusing

    Another effect from too little glucose in your brain. And, by the way, glucose is glucose, no matter whether it comes from what people call “refined sugar” or fruit.

  9. You’ll risk constipation

    That’s because your gut will get confused around what you’re trying to do. Regular meals mean regular poos, which means healthy digestion.

  10. It messes with your routine

    In recovery, routine is key, because suddenly ending up with lots of unaccounted time for will increase your risk to engage in unhelpful behaviours. Regular meals have a function not just in keeping us nourished, but also in keeping us busy (gathering food, preparing it and eating it can take quite some time, as I’m sure you know).

  11. You’re still depriving yourself

    This is an issue because, in recovery, ideally you’ll learn to understand that you deserve to be well and that you don’t need to punish yourself any longer. When you’re skipping meals, you’re making an anti-self-care choice. Not what we’re looking for in recovery, now is the time to pamper yourself and learn how to look after yourself better.

  12. You’re still participating in diet mentality

    When in recovery from an eating disorder, it’s key to understand that the diet industry is literally feeding off of you starving yourself. While you’re sitting there doubting yourself and potentially feeling miserable, someone is counting their dough.

Hope this list helps with making regular nourishment a priority at all times!

Warmly,

Annina

8 Ways In Which Unfollowing People On Instagram Revolutionized My Life

You've probably heard it by now: Using social media can be bad for our health, as platforms like Instagram encourage comparison, jealousy and feelings of inadequacy. 

For this very reason, I've started a self-experiment a few years ago, in which I've since unfollowed people that made me feel bad about myself through their posts on the regular. 

Here's what I noticed: 

1. My attitude towards life is more positive

Sounds a little corny, but it’s totally true. I spend a lot of time on the Internet, and since I've been making an effort to fill my feeds with neutral to positive content, that's exactly how I feel when I log off: neutral to positive. A definite improvement over feeling like I was lacking *something* all the time!

2. I spend less money

This is a direct effect of unfollowing social media influencers. No one is trying to sell me anything, and I hardly see posts that are embellished with free clothes, make-up or other so-called "must haves". As a result, I often miss the newest this or that, which means my money stays in my bank account, where it belongs. ;) 

3. I learned to see beauty in body diversity

Unfollowing fake, famous and rich people also meant there was room in my feed for people diversity and body positive content. Filling my timeline with people of all shapes, colours, genders and sizes certainly taught me how to recognize and appreciate beauty outside of the skinny white norm. In fact, when I look at white standard model-type people these days, I'm kind of bored. Grow a belly, become interesting looking, find meaning in your work!

4. The content I see is purposeful

If I see your posts these days, chances are you are either my friend, my colleague, someone I admire for their work (and this includes a couple of Insta astrologers, haha) or an intersectional feminist with political ambition that teaches me new perspectives and knowledge every damn day. Almost everything I come across on my feed at the moment makes for an interesting conversation with my friends.

5. I found my tribe

Between eating disorder therapists, non-diet dietitians, fat activists, the sober community and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I found my happy place on Insta. That makes me feel less alone, better understood, supported and like I'm part of a greater cause. So uplifting!  


6. I second-guess my own content less

"Am I too this, too little that, do I offer enough of whatever, or should I do this instead?" These are questions I asked myself the past. Due to points one through five, I have been able to recognize that what people I like are actually interested in isn’t the stuff I own, but my authentic self; and this authentic self produces articles like this one for people like you. That’s a win-win, I hope, and thank you for reading. :)


7. Less noise means better focus

I'm sure it's an algorithm thing, too, but my experience has been that unfollowing helped me see what people I actually hang out with post; the people in my city that I have coffee with or meet for toddler play dates. Keeping up with what they're doing was, I guess, the original purpose of social networks, and it's been nice to re-engage with family snap shots and restaurant recommendations.


8. I'm less susceptible to advertising in general

Enhancing my understanding of beauty and disengaging from artificially constructed happiness increased my sensitivity to marketing messages of all sorts, and I don't appreciate them anymore. I'm no longer interested in what people are trying to sell, but instead in what people are trying to say. Makes a world of a difference! 


Hope this little overview of the benefits I've come to experience after unfollowing people on Instagram has been helpful? What have you noticed since you started paying more attention to people who make you feel good?

If you're looking to populate your feed with new content, find me @substanceusecounselling.






7 Questions You Can Ask Yourself To Celebrate This Year's Recovery Wins (Or Any Wins, Really!)

Sometimes in recovery, it's difficult to see the forest for the trees. Today, I would like to invite you to reflect back on your recovery wins over the last twelve months - whether or not you think you should be further ahead, didn't try hard enough, or feel like you have a long way to go. 

Consider asking yourself the following questions instead of engaging in your harmful behaviour the next time you feel an urge, or simply stay in one night, fetch pen and paper and write down your thoughts; I promise this exercise will be even more effective when you jot things down. 

Here we go: 

  1. From ten to zero, where zero represents twelve months ago, where are you in your recovery right now?

  2. How come you are already at that number? 

  3. Which five thoughts or ideas you had or things you did were particularly helpful? 

  4. Suppose you were able to keep up the good work, what would others notice about you twelve months from now?

  5. When you think back over the last year or so, which three situations did you handle particularly well?

  6. How were you able to do so?

  7. What would it take to handle more situations this well?

Considering all of that… You’ve got this, don’t you? :)

The Hidden Benefits of Giving Back In Recovery (On #GivingTuesday and Beyond!)

When we are trapped in problematic behaviours, difficult relationships and otherwise hard situations, chances are we are pretty wrapped up in ourselves. 

That's totally fine and understandable, of course, except for the research that shows that helping others has psychological benefits

Those benefits include, but are not limited to, lower blood pressure, increased happiness and decreased depressive symptoms, a potential reduction in the experience of chronic pain, and improved social connections. 

Needless to say, all of those positives are helpful to recovery, because they activate your brain's pleasure centres in a natural way - even donating money to charity checks all the boxes for this effect! (With the added bonus, of course, that you’re supporting others in need in the process!)

So, if you have been thinking about giving today, but are as yet unsure to whom, here are a couple of ideas for you (U.S.-based organizations in bold): 

  • ASDAH, the Association for Size Diversity and Health, a non-profit organization with an international membership committed to the practice of the Health At Every Size® (HAES®) Principles that envisions a world that celebrates bodies of all shapes and sizes, in which body weight is no longer a source of discrimination and where oppressed communities have equal access to the resources and practices that support health and well being. You can donate through becoming a member. 

  • Body Brave, a boy-inclusive not-for-profit that provides complimentary support services for individuals adults struggling with weight, food and body image issues, including eating disorders. 

  • Jean Tweed, a leading community-based organization that provides a safe and supportive environment for women with substance use, mental health, and/or gambling issues.

  • NAAFA, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance is a non-profit, fat acceptance civil-rights organization in the United States dedicated to improving the quality of life for the obese.

  • NEDIC, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre is a Canadian non-profit providing resources on eating disorders and weight preoccupation, including a free of charge helpline and online directory.

  • NIED, the voice for Canadian families, caregivers, and individuals who are affected by eating disorders and other comorbid and concurrent diagnoses.

  • Sheena's Place, a support centre for people affected by eating disorders and their families in Toronto. 

And if you would prefer to be of service in another way, think about a time in the last month or so that you have helped someone: List at least five ways in which helping someone else was helpful to you. 

Then, ask yourself: What would it take to do that again?

Happy #GivingTuesday!

Talk soon,

Annina



What Makes A Great Listener? Two Lessons Learned From A 92-Year-Old Woman I Never Met

I attended an event the other night, at the beginning of which each of us was asked what was currently on our minds. As I knew I would be writing this blog post soon, I said that I would like to get peoples' opinions on what makes a good listener. I was hoping for a long list of proven qualities to share here, and had my pen and paper ready to take notes. 

We went around in a circle, and other people were stating what was on their minds, including the horribly othering ideas that the current Government of Ontario is tossing around, or how you could make good ideas at work spread faster. 

About five people down from me, a lady in her fifties that I had never met before turned to me: 

"Your question actually relates to what has been on my mind tonight. I just returned from a visit with my 92 year old mother, who is an excellent listener. She is the best listener I ever met. Every time I see her, she reminds me that she's there for me, and while she might not be able to do many other things anymore, she's here to listen. She says: You go ahead and talk, I'll be your container. She is also genuinely curious. Sometimes I feel bad for unloading all my thoughts on her, but she keeps reconfirming that listening to my story is what she can do to help."

It was a very touching story, and we thanked her profoundly for sharing it with us. 

I knew I had learned what I needed to know: 

The two key takeaway lessons for people who want to make sure they're perceived as good listener are 

(1) deep curiosity about what makes the other person tick and 

(2) an explicit invitation to share in a setting that makes the other person feel accepted and comfortable. 

As a listener, when you can provide those two things, you are golden. 

From personal and professional experience, I can say that developing effective listening skills takes a lot of time and practice, so keep at it - it will change your conversations for the better for the sure. :)

If this article sparked your interest, you can find more detailed, step-by-step instructions on how to be a good listener over at WikiHow. 

What To Say When People Give You Unsolicited Dietary Advice

We've all been there, haven't we? Just about to bite into something really delicious (or scary!), when somebody says: 

"Are you sure about that? I wouldn't eat that!"  

The last time that happened to me, I was about to buy a donut at a railway station, and I was quite surprised to hear the words, as I hadn't expected that particular person to take interest in - or issue with, for that matter - what I ate. 

The last time this happened to my daughter, who is two (!), was when someone asked her whether, along with her Halloween candy, she would also eat plenty of vegetables to offset the damage.

The last time this happened to one of my clients, her mother inquired whether she wouldn't much rather eat carrots. (I am sharing her story with her permission, of course!)   

You get the gist: We're rarely safe from diet culture, sugar fear mongering and carrot advocates, and better come up with helpful strategies around dealing with them.

So, how can we handle these moments?

Let me tell you how the situations above went down one by one…

Strategy #1: Educate By Offering A New Perspective 

In the first situation, I felt comfortable enough to say: "It's just sugar. We need sugar for our brains to work. This donut won't have lasting effects on me." Their comment also made me understand how much their own recent life experiences informed their thinking. Losing a parent to illness, as well as being surrounded by women who struggle with their body image clearly implanted the message that certain foods are not safe. Because I had trust in the quality of our relationship, I was able to point out that some of the conclusions we draw that we think are causal are really rather arbitrary and unfounded.

Strategy #2: Pick Your Battles

In the second situation with my daughter, I decided not to say anything, because I am a firm believer in picking your battles. In this particular scenario, I was quite certain that my daughter didn't really understand what the person was asking. I think being able to conserve vital energy by avoiding fruitless arguments is a vital skill. Just because we can speak our mind, we don't always have to. 

Strategy #3: Try Something New

The third situation is my favourite of all, because my client managed to set an incredibly boundary for herself. Somehow, in the midst of the moment, she was able to speak up for herself and say to her mother: "I know about carrots. I'm not interested in carrots. I'm trying to heal my relationship with food eating this!" This was a pivotal moment both in my client's relationship with her mother, as she hadn't previously advocated for herself quite this clearly, as well as in our sessions, as the client managed to really put some of the strategies we had mapped out for her to excellent use. We were both so proud! 

One of the concepts we had discussed around aligning your speech and actions with your thoughts and feelings revolved around filtered messages. (If you'd rather watch than read, here's a short clip of me explaining that concept.) If we manage to say what we want in a way that can be heard by others, we are well on our way to recovery. 

Strategy #4: Read Between The Lines

In any case, it might be helpful to remind ourselves that, most certainly, the statement that person makes says much more about their own relationship with food than us or ours. Quite obviously, they are working through something - fear, feelings of inadequacy, body image concerns - that we are not yet fully aware of. With parents in particular, it can be quite shocking to discover how entrenched they are in diet culture. I had to be 34 years old before I realized that my dad was stepping on the scale daily. I immediately advised him to toss it, of course, and he did concede that upon further reflection, he wasn't quite sure what he was hoping to make of the numbers he saw - other than a perpetual inadequate feeling.

Hopefully this article was helpful to you, and if you would like to talk through strategies personally useful to you, feel free to get in touch at any time, I would love to hear from you!

Warmly,

Annina

Image by paramoart, via BodyPosiPanda.

Is My Cannabis Use Problematic? Take This Easy Self-Assessment And Find Out

Ask yourself the following six questions to find out whether or not your use of cannabis would be considered problematic by professionals:

  1. Have you ever smoked before noon?

  2. Have you ever smoked when you were alone?

  3. Have you ever had memory issues when you smoked?

  4. Have friends or family ever said you should reduce your use?

  5. Have you tried to cut down or stop smoking unsuccessfully before?

  6. Has your cannabis use ever caused problems, for example bad results at school or work, accidents, fights, being unable to do important things you were hoping to do, etc.)?

If you’ve answered yes to two or more of these questions, you could benefit from counselling.

How To Pace Your Emotional Labour

In times like these, life for women is extra hard. 

As I read somewhere on Twitter: "Most of the women you know are about one conversation away from crying or screaming."

We are exhausted

Exhausted, not because we are too weak, uninspired or sensitive, but because everything we do professionally, politically and in general, we do in addition to providing emotionally for everyone we know

You read that right: Everyone.

This is no overstatement. 

Emotional labour is the labour of caring, organizing, remembering, keeping on top of and regulating, everything that needs to be done in a household and for its inhabitants, or a work environment and its team members. 

As Dr. Judith Moring put it in this article, it's holding someone in mind and thinking about other people's needs:

From doctor's appointments to printer cartridges, from thank you cards to birthday gifts, from meal planning to agenda setting - we're doing it all.


"How much of this labor has a woman got to pay out before dudes will do anything in return?" 


Great question, and I have no clue, honestly!

What I can offer, though, are a few ideas around how to pace emotional labour in a way that will hopefully leave you with more time to recuperate: 


0. Understand that emotional labour is not you being controlling, but rather a systemic issue. That said, you're not the only one supposed to put the work in. Wherever possible, surround yourself with men who are aware of others - even just their presence in space! - and who are willing to coordinate complex tasks and processes for or alongside you.  
 

1. Choose who you like caring for and prioritize your emotional labour accordingly. Not all dependents are created equal!

2. Identify more balanced relationships: Who are the people that demonstrate an emotional investment in your relationship that is similar to your own? What about those relationships tell you that you're not the only one putting the work in?

3. Document workflows to a T, so that at any time, someone else could take over. And when I say "to a T", that's what I mean: (1) Go to Mailchimp.com. (2) Enter [username] and [password]. (3) Navigate to "Recent" etc. Or (1) Open fridge. (2) Check amount of yogurts. (3) If ≤ 2, refill with yogurt of same brand and flavour. 

4. Delegate workflows. Especially those less important to you as a person. Keep those you enjoy for yourself.     

5. Discuss the issue with friends and colleagues. Particularly with those that seem to have childcare and work distribution  figured out; in our household, for example, my husband takes care of our daughter more often when she's not at daycare, and he is also in charge of keeping the kitchen clean.    
 6. Invest in women. Make time to appreciate and support the women in your life for what they do. 


How does all this relate to substance use and disordered eating? 


Great question, thank you for asking, let me explain:

Problematic behaviours like substance use and disordered eating are generally understood as bio-psycho-social phenomena with an element of oppression

In situations where people are overwhelmed with what they need to be doing or think they should be doing to uphold or increase their societal status or standing with others, the pressures of everyday life turn into oppressive force. 

For women, who in our current political climate struggle to maintain control of their own bodies and are still generally paid less than men for the same work, the playing field is not level to begin with: Women are oppressed on personal, cultural, and structural levels every day, everywhere. 

When we add to this daily oppression the stress of emotional labour that is often not only under-appreciated, but wholly unrecognized, feelings of emotional pain and general worthlessness may take over that often present in behaviours that further increase oppression, such as substance use or disordered eating. We self-medicate and want to disappear. 

The good news is: a little bit of feminist education will go a long way: 

It's okay to not do it all. 
It's okay to ask for help. 
It's okay to take up space. 

We deserve better!

 

As always, I hope this blog post was useful to you, and I'd like to ask one last question: 

Suppose you were able to reduce your amount of emotional labour, what would you use your energy for instead?

The Must-Knows About Legal Weed In Canada

Effective October 17th, 2018, cannabis will be legal in Canada under the Cannabis Act.

Here's what you need to know: 

  • To buy, possess or use cannabis, you must be of legal age (that's 19 in Ontario). Selling to or sharing with people under the legal age is strictly forbidden. 

  • The only place to buy legal cannabis for now is online, via the Ontario Cannabis Store. This means that street dispensaries will remain illegal. 

  • You can possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis.  

  • Legal cannabis can be distinguished from illegal cannabis, because it has an excise stamp. 

  • Medical marijuana will continue to be provided by health care practitioners. 

  • Your weed needs to be stored away from children, youth and pets. 

  • Driving high and working high remain illegal. This is because cannabis can impair your ability to operate vehicles and equipment safely. 

  • You won't be able to take any weed across the border. This applies to all countries, irrespective if cannabis is legal there or not. You might want to be extra cautious when travelling to the US. 

If you are worried that legalization will negatively impact your frequency or amount of use of cannabis, consider the following suggestions: 

  • Try to identify the feeling that makes you want to use. Many people use cannabis to self-medicate symptoms of depression and anxiety. It might be a good time to look into treatment options and support groups. 

  • Reach out for support. Everything is easier when loved ones are able to assist you. Try it - people love being asked for help, whether they are family members, friends, or professionals. I'm always happy to speak with you, too, and might be able to point you in the direction of additional support. 

  • Reducing or stopping your cannabis use usually takes more than one attempt. It's especially hard when you surround yourself with other users.

  • Seek out sober environments and make non-cannabis related activities and people a priority. 

When The Going Gets Rough In Recovery

I can say with certainty that there will come times when this sh*t is difficult:

Habits will change, relationships will be re-evaluated, and emotions will surface that we weren't sure we had. 

It's all part of the process, and that is a good thing. 

Don't think that recovery is not worth pursuing, because it causes trouble.

It is the opposite, really:

Your problem behaviours impaired your ability to make smart decisions and set appropriate boundaries, and recovery will help you backtrack.

If relationships change in the process, remember that healthy relationships grow stronger from conflict, while unhealthy relationships further deteriorate because of it. 

Setting boundaries around personal needs will, over time, help distinguish one from the other.  
 
If you want to get better, embrace the lifestyle changes that recovery brings. 

Nothing will change unless you do. <3

Talk soon, 
Annina 

How I Quit Drinking

I came across an article recently that I wanted to share with you. 

The article is titled How I Quit Drinking In A World That Wants Me Drunk and inspired me to recap how I quit drinking myself - and tell you about it.

I quit drinking slowly over the course of several years, and then once and almost for all when I got pregnant.  

I say almost, because I went on a one week long vacation to Germany this July, where I met with old friends and during which I drank frequently, but little.

(With the exception of a wedding reception, where I drank a little more, but still responsibly and hangover-free!) 

After I came back to Toronto, I had one last beer over dinner with friends, and that was it. 

In spite of this handful of exceptions, I consider myself sober since January 1st, 2016. Indeed: I consider myself sober, even though I had a few drinks on six out of those 1013 days, because the way I drank before January 1st, 2016, and the way I drank this summer are entirely incomparable, and because I believe that some of us can be in recovery and still have a few responsible drinks.

That said, I don't believe that I could have kept drinking responsibly over time had I stayed in Germany longer, but with a clear distinction between my old lifestyle there and my new lifestyle here, the switch back to zero was surprisingly easy overall; it goes to show, too, that our drinking habits really are often dependent on who we spend time with, and that there are circumstantial triggers like weddings and old drinking settings that make abstaining harder.  

But anyway, you are probably most interested in how I managed to put my sanity first and stop partying in the unhealthy ways that I used to. 


Here is my very abbreviated personal recipe for sobriety:


This recipe worked for me, and while I am not saying that the following pieces will seal the deal for everyone, I do think there is something to be said for their effectiveness in recovery - hence the way that I work.

I will list my "steps", if you want to call them that, in order of chronological appearance: 

1. Feminism
2. Yoga 
3. Realizing that nonalcoholic beer and tea are drink menu items
4. Asking: "Why am I doing this to myself?"
5. Understanding that meaningful connections only happen sober
6. Planning a future (dropping dead any minute seemed likely before)
7. Getting pregnant and understanding my role in that context


That was it in a nutshell, and I am happy to elaborate on any of these steps in my small and exclusive upcoming relapse prevention workshop in Toronto this Saturday, or in the upcoming Relapse Prevention 101 online support group starting at the end of the month, if you are interested.  

And if you are wondering what all they did for me, here are just the first few of the benefits that sobriety delivered for me:

Fewer mood swings, improved mood, making less of an ass of myself in public, less anger, fewer arguments, better friendships, better connections, less injuries, better choices in life overall, more in control of my fate, less waste of time, better decision making, no hangovers ever, more in touch with my emotions, better health, ... 

I could go on for a while, but I'll let you get back to doing your thing. 

And if you want to talk about that thing, you know where to find me. ;) 

Talk soon,
Annina

Daily Self-Compassion

Have you considered incorporating a daily practice of self-compassion into your routine? 


More than anything, I have a moment of quiet in mind, where you practice self-acceptance and kindness.

A moment to remind yourself that you are doing the best that you can, given the circumstances, and in which you express compassion toward yourself in light of your present suffering.

In this moment, you may choose to say kind words to yourself, place a hand on your heart, or give yourself a hug. You might direct energy to where it hurts. Whatever works for you and feels loving will do just fine. 

The most important result this exercise will produce is that it will give you the strength to keep on keeping on while at the same time opening your mind to what is beautiful in life (you, for example!). 

Talk soon,

Annina

On Holding Space In A Space That People Appreciate

What is it like to spend time with you?

What atmosphere are you striving to create in the space that you hold? 

Let's explore the topic! 


Holding space begins with being present.


I'm probably stating the obvious here, but absent minds don't foster healing environments. With busy schedules divvying up our attention, connections are often fleeting. And yet, the less time we have, the more important it is to tune in: Getting to know our community, showing genuine interest in our clients, colleagues and teams, and marvelling at the ease with which investing presence transforms relationships.   


It continues with compassion.

 

Rather than trying to fix things or people, we must learn to trust that our clients are the experts on their situation, always. When we are holding space for someone, we are caring for them instead of controlling them. Withholding judgment. Through practicing humility, empathy and gentle guidance, and through fostering a culture of curiosity and lifelong learning, we empower and build confidence. In solution-focused dialogue, this is called taking a position of not knowing and leading from one step behind


Give the least amount of advice possible.
(And that's... advice - you got me!)



This can be hard for anyone, especially those of us working in roles that are expected to give advice often. The more people are willing to listen to us, the harder it becomes to "read the room" and honour others in their needs. If you are influential, white, or male, you might be interested in reading Heather Plett's piece Holding Space When There Is An Imbalance In Power Or Privilege


Tidy up!


Just kidding.

The physical space we share with others can make all the (positive) difference, though! Here'a a brief list of features of a safe space, borrowed and adapted from a great infographic on the topic published by The519, an LGBTQ organization in Toronto:

* Inclusive symbols, images and artwork
* Use of inclusive language
* Communication that goes both ways, not just top-down
* Thoughtfully chosen reading materials in waiting rooms
* Organizational policies that reflect the protection of human rights including gender identity and expression

You can find a few more general guidelines for welcoming spaces over at the American Planning Association, which has compiled a list of Characteristics of Great Public Spaces.

And if you are more interested in the visual aspects of interior design, you might find @OfficeWithCouch interesting, a little Instagram project I started on the side while decorating my own new counselling office at 1409 Yonge Street.  

How To Set Professional Boundaries

Have you ever asked yourself how to best set professional boundaries?

I can relate. 

Beyond the most obvious and most commonly agreed on boundaries - sexual relations with clients, dual relationships, acceptance of expensive gifts - the lines are blurry. 

Being a warm and empathetic human being while putting your foot down at the same time can pose a challenge, and different relationships warrant different rules. 

The following are few typical scenarios that fellow helping professionals struggle with:


Examples of Common Boundary Twilight Zones 

  • Starting and ending sessions on time

  • Scheduling appointments that work for the client, but not the helper

  • Sliding scale fees

  • Feeling energetically drained after sessions

  • Taking vacation days

  • Taking sick days

  • Taking on extra shifts

  • Taking phone calls away from the desk

  • Answering emails after hours

  • Spending too much time on your smartphone 

  • Weekend work

  • Handing out private contact information


Before going into my personal strategies around how to handle each of those sample scenarios, I wanted to share this excellent piece on how to best protect our emotional energy by boundary specialist and feminist therapist Nicole Perry; you might remember her from our free webinar on setting clear boundaries. Nicole created this piece especially for today's newsletter. Thank you so much for generously sharing your expertise with us, Nicole!  


How To Protect Your Emotional Energy

In a nutshell, the three strategies to protect your emotional energy when working with clients as suggested by Nicole are:

  1. Conscious noticing

  2. Reconnecting and grounding

  3. Understanding how we stay in tune with ourselves in session



My Personal Strategies 

As promised above, here is how I personally handle each of the sample scenarios in my own practice:
 

  • Starting and ending sessions on time

My sessions are 50 minutes long, and while I can't always land the 50 precisely, I do make a point of never, ever going over 55 minutes. My favourite strategy to keep track of time is to check my wristwatch about two thirds into the session and say something like: "We have about fifteen minutes left together today, what else would be helpful for you to talk about?"
 

  • Scheduling appointments that work for the client, but not the helper

I use Acuity Scheduling, an online scheduling tool that lets clients self-schedule their appointments on my homepage within an availability range that makes sense for me. My availability generally is the same every week, but if I need to take some time off or change things up because of an important event, Acuity Scheduling lets me adjust my work windows flexibly as needed. As I understand that some clients need evening and weekend appointments, I stay at the office later on Tuesdays and offer Saturday afternoon appointments, too. However, I don't veer outside of those regular time brackets to accommodate clients further.  
 

  • Sliding scale fees

Personally, I charge one non-adjustable fee for everyone, which is currently CAD $95 per 50mins. I set this particular price point last year, when I was about halfway through my Addictions Careworker Diploma training at McMaster University. As soon as I'll finish the program (my last paper is due in June), I will raise my rate to CAD $125 per session for new clients as well as returning clients who have been inactive. I have found that sticking with my pricing has been easier than expected, and it hasn't seemed to deter clients, either.  
 

  • Feeling energetically drained after sessions

This is an interesting one, as I usually feel energized by my work. However, in the rare cases I don't, I very much understand why people would charge two hundred and fifty dollars per hour. In any case, if your work environment is more draining than inspiring on the regular, perhaps adjustments need to be made?
 

  • Taking vacation

I'm not great with this one, but I think that is because I work part time hours. That said, for this summer I have already set aside one week of cottage time, one week of professional training time, and one week for reconnecting with friends in Europe. 
 

  • Taking sick days

I have come to understand that I can only be helpful to others when I take time to recuperate. Rather than prolonging an illness unnecessarily, I now know that I heal faster when I take rest when I need to. While I hate cancelling client sessions, I am looking at it as modelling self-care to them. 
 

  • Taking on extra shifts

I can't really speak to this one, as I have never worked in shifts. Hypothetically, I think I would be agreeable to taking on extra shifts in a reciprocal system, for extra income, or for a colleague in a dire situation. Ideally, I wouldn't want to take on extra shifts over a longer period of time, though. 
 

  • Taking phone calls and answering emails after hours

I don't take business phone calls after hours, but I do answer emails on those nights I am on my computer anyway. When I am on vacation, I will set up an auto-responder and record a related intro on my voice mailbox. Generally, I am trying to return messages within 24 hours. 
 

  • Spending too much time on your smartphone or social media 

As I used to be in digital media, this is a hard one for me. My previous career required being online all the time, and while I have managed to cut down my screen time considerably, I acknowledge that I still spend a lot of time in digital environments. A strategy that has worked for me in this regard has been to be mindful of when my daughter is around and to curb my screen time around her. 
 

  • Evening and weekend work

As mentioned above, I am at the office every Saturday afternoon and on Tuesday evenings. Beyond that, I will only act on bursts of work energy when my child is asleep and my husband is busy otherwise. 
 

  • Handing out private contact information

For my own convenience, I use only one mobile phone for work and private matters alike, and I used to use only one email address for both until recently, too. Now that I do have a separate work email address - this one! - I made sure that work emails are *not* pushed through to my phone. With the exception of appointment booking notifications (which I set up to go to my private address for ease of planning) I only check my work email at my desk. 


How do you maintain appropriate professional boundaries?

Here are a couple more strategies that might be helpful in this respect: 


Ideas For Improved Boundary Setting 

  1. Reassess your boundaries weekly

  2. Stay true to yourself by honouring your personal needs

  3. Put everything in your calendar and do as it says  

  4. Use positive self-talk

  5. Consult around these issues with a colleague, supervisor, mentor or coach - sometimes it's just easier to talk things through


As per usual, I hope this email was useful to you.