HIH: Ask A Therapist (Balanced Mindset, Relationship Advice, and More)

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We live in a culture where we have endless deadlines, tasks and commitments demanding our time, attention and energy. On top of these commitments, we are striving to live a healthy and balanced life. We schedule regular work out classes, or go to the gym to keep our bodies healthy and well. Unfortunately we forget to set some time aside for our mental health. The key to solving life's problems is therapy, but don't worry if you don't have time to schedule regular therapy sessions! We're here to bring therapy to YOU by answering your questions every week, hopefully facilitating some introspection and change. 

Q: How do I cope with disappointment even though I know it is a normal part of life? 

A: So many times we find ourselves conflicted: on the one hand we feel a negative or painful emotions strongly, but on the other hand we understand the situation rationally. This is because our emotion processing and rational decision making abilities are quite independent of one another. The first step to coping with any emotional experience is to allow yourself to feel it. I know, that’s probably the opposite of what most people want to hear. But the reality is that you cannot leave a place until you get there first. In order to move past a painful emotional experience you have to let yourself feel it first because disappointment would not arise if this experience was that caused disappointment was not important to you. Research in emotion regulation is repeatedly showing us that naming an emotion while you feel it significantly reduces the intensity of it in your body. Once you have spent some time with this disappointment and allowed yourself to truly feel it, you will notice a shift whereby you feel lighter and calmer in your body. 

Q: How do I get back to a balanced mindset after my dad’s passing away a year ago?

A: My dear grieving friend, I am sorry about your loss. Sometimes, grief can leave us with a complete inability to focus and our brains can become consumed with pain – two things that make it difficult to maintain a balanced mindset! Grief is complicated and there isn’t an overnight solution, but I have some suggestions:

1. Accept that your mindset won’t always be balanced

In those moments when you’re feeling like you don’t have everything together, you feel tired, or sad, or can’t focus, give yourself the space and permission to know it’s okay. A part of that is realizing that there isn’t a set time that one gets over grief, so don’t feel like you have to rush your healing.

2. Organize your thoughts

When you have multiple thoughts swimming around in the pool that is your mind, we create the likelihood that some may drown. Throw your thoughts a life ring by organizing them in a journal. I recommend that all my clients carry a small journal with them wherever they go, or have one handy at your desk at work for when you need to create some space in your mind. I would start with figuring out (in your new beautiful journal!) what a balance mindset looks like to you. Then find small things you can do to align yourself with that. I am encouraged that you will start to see things fall into place.

3. Look at your health holistically

I’m a psychotherapist and I’ll be the first to tell you that health isn’t only about mental health. We are holistic beings and need to take care ourselves mentally and physically. That being said, sleep and nutrition are of utmost importance when trying to maintain a balanced mindset. Grief can often keep us up at night or suck the joy out of our favorite foods, so remember to eat healthy foods and maintain a sleep routine.

4. Engage your support network

Think of your support network as a web of individuals that surround you. The goal is to make your web as big as possible. Your web may include your friends, family, but also your family doctor and your therapist. Remember that different people are good at different things and serve different purposes, so take advantage of everyone’s talents and specialties. 

Q: My boyfriend has suffered with anxiety for a long time, and he recently opened up to me about it, how can I help him? or what can he do to help with his anxiety?

A: Relationships can be difficult to navigate on their own, and when you throw mental health concerns into the mix things may become more challenging. The good news, however, is that it is not impossible to be in a loving relationship with mental health - in this case, anxiety. Here are some important things for you to keep in mind to better support your partner:

  • Educate yourself! Learn as much as you can about anxiety and the different ways it may present. Your increased knowledge will = your increased ability to empathize with your partner.

  • Encourage your partner to seek treatment; both from a therapist and a doctor. Encourage your partner to attend a free initial consultation with a therapist he may like as a way to dip his toes in the water. With the same breath, invite your partner to also share his experience with his family doctor. Ensure him that it may not be for medication, but simply for his doctor to document his symptoms for the future. 

  • Watch your language. Avoid criticizing irrational fears, telling your partner that its all in their head, or using the “you just have to get over it” approach. These are surefire ways to make your partner feel unsafe. 

  • Ask lots of questions and listen very carefully (even write things down!). Don’t assume what your partner needs.

  • Help them set SMART goals - that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-Bound. This will instil hope in your loved one and help them feel as though they are moving forward. 

  • Remind them to measure themselves using their own yardstick. Despite being SMART, the goals you set will not always be reached and that it okay.

  • Be kind, loving, and patient. In time and with trial and error, you will learn the delicate balance between sitting with your partner in their anxiety and challenging them.

  • Practice self care - this may include having your own support system, setting boundaries, and seeking your own counselling. 

Q: What does a culturally competent counsellor look like and is it important for me to see someone from my cultural background?  

A: It is not mandatory to see a therapist from your cultural background. Most therapists like to be culturally competent because cultural differences can affect the development of therapist-client rapport, the therapeutic alliance, and treatment effectiveness. The way people in a culture communicate will affect the methods that a counsellor will use to communicate. This may involve anything from avoiding certain triggering terms or figures of speech to being aware of space, eye contact, and gesturing. Also, treatment can look differently in certain cultures where there may be more involvement within a family or religious context rather than in a counselling room. A culturally competent counsellor would be able to understand if the cause of the depressive symptoms are due to diagnosable mental health problems or due to adjusting to a new cultural landscape. Instead of potentially pushing medication, the counsellor can support the client in how to acclimate to a new culture as well as foresee other potential issues. Moreover, counsellors may need to use a client’s spiritual beliefs as a tool for healing and consider the culture’s mental health stigma when approaching counselling. In short, if you are strongly rooted in your culture of origin, and if culture is impact your mental health, it may be helpful to see someone who has lived experiences similar to yours.