New Roots Therapy Blog

Thoughts on Life, Love, & Wellness! New Posts Every Wednesday.


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Overcoming the Winter Doldrums

Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

As the end of January approaches, many of us are feeling broke, worn down, and cold!  By now, the holidays are long gone and the feelings of optimism and energy we may have felt at New Year’s have begun to dwindle as the realities of work life, bill payments (“I spent HOW MUCH on holiday gifts?!”) and cold, dark days hit us.  If this sounds familiar to you and you’re looking for ways to get re-motivated, the following list of budget-friendly ideas may be helpful in boosting your mood and energy levels and helping you get through the winter doldrums:

  1. Too cold to go outside?  Bring nature indoors with potted plants!  Indoor plants are well known for having many health and mood-boosting benefits, such as:  reduced stress, anxiety, and fatigue; increased memory, attentiveness, and feelings of well-being; increased oxygen levels to help improve breathing; purified air; etc.  Indoor plants can also help to increase feelings of compassion and purposefulness, by giving you something to care for.  Another way to bring nature indoors and help boost your mood:  create your own composition of nature sounds at naturesoundsfor.me.  This free, interactive online tool lets you listen to compositions made by other users, as well as create your own mix of nature sounds!
  2. Plan a games’ night in with friends.  This is inexpensive and fun!  It’s easy to isolate ourselves in the chilly winter months.  However, socializing and connecting with loved ones is a natural mood booster.  Also, consider making standing dates with friends and/or family members to keep your social calendar active and keep the winter “blahs” in check.
  3. Get your vitamins.  Certain supplements have been linked to mental and emotional well-being.  For example, Vitamin D, B-Complex Vitamins, and St. John’s Wort are all said to aid in the treatment of depression.  If you’re considering taking any vitamin supplements, always speak to your doctor first.
  4. Start your day with gratitude.  Research shows that gratitude is linked to greater feelings of happiness, increased resilience, and stronger relationships.  When we take the time to acknowledge what is good in our lives, we create space to experience more positive emotions.  There are many ways to practice gratitude throughout the day (e.g., saying “thanks” in-person if possible, or mentally; writing 3 things that you are grateful for each day in a gratitude journal; etc.).  In the book, “Five Good Minutes”, the authors Jeffrey Brantley (MD)  and Wendy Millstine, suggest starting your day with the following gratitude practice:
  • Breathe mindfully for about a minute.
  • Set your intention.  For example, “May this practice open my eyes in wonder and appreciation.”
  • Breathe mindfully for a few more breaths.
  • Now reflect on something in your life that works or supports you.  For example, “My heart is strong”, or, “My father is well”, or, “My e-mail got through”.  Quietly say thank you.
  • Reflect on something that – in its absence – is good.  For example, no toothache, or no sickness in a loved one, or no hurricane or tornado.  Quietly say thank you.
  • End by opening your eyes and moving gently.

For more information and techniques about mindfulness and mindful breathing, check out mindful.org.

5.  Exercise is well known for being a natural mood booster.  If you can bear it, bundle up and go for a walk a few times a week!  Or, check out your local recreation centre to see if they have an indoor track.  As well, certain yoga postures have been linked to greater balance, not just physically, but with our moods as well!  Check out these “Mood-Boosting Yoga and Breathing Postures” for an illustration of poses designed to decrease depression, anxiety, and stress – and increase confidence, clarity, and energy!

How do you get through the winter blues?  Share your ideas in the comments below!

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Improving Communication in Your Relationships

Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

Communication is a key element in all relationships; whether it’s the relationship you have with your partner/spouse, the relationship you have with your boss, or the relationship you have with your morning barista, communication matters!  And when communication breaks down, that’s usually when our relationships get into trouble.

We often work with clients who are looking to improve the communication in their relationships.  The process of improving communication is different for everyone and we like to spend time with our clients clarifying what exactly “better communication” means to them so that we can use strategies that best fit their unique situation in our work together.  That being said, there are some general ideas worth keeping in mind when it comes to enhancing communication in your relationships:

1)      You alone have the ability to change the patterns of communication in your relationships.  Communication is an exchange between people.  As such, when communication breaks down, it’s ideal if all people involved can participate in the repair process.  However, what is ideal is often not realistic; it’s both important and empowering to realize that you alone can influence the communication patterns in your relationships!  You don’t have to wait for your partner, mother, friend, etc. to change their approach in order for you to change yours.  You can interrupt negative patterns of communication all by yourself.  Communication is like a dance; if you change your moves, suddenly the whole thing looks different.  At first, it probably looks a bit sloppy while your partner gets used to your new moves but, over time, it’s likely you’ll find yourselves swaying seamlessly to a whole new groove.

2)      Set your intention(s) at the outset of a conversation.  Chances are your intention is to maintain or improve your relationship, rather than to have it deteriorate, especially if this is an important relationship to you!  It can be helpful to set your intention(s) from the get-go, as well as remind yourself of these throughout the conversation, particularly if you find yourself becoming emotionally escalated as the interaction unfolds.  For example, having something tangible that you can look at or hold onto to serve as an anchor for your intention (e.g., written notes on a piece of paper, a piece of jewellery such as a ring or bracelet, an age old ribbon on your finger, etc.) can help remind you of what you hope to accomplish, as well as how you hope to act/who you hope to be, during the conversation.  This is particularly useful if you feel yourself starting to veer off course (e.g., becoming frustrated, etc.) in a way that might actually go against your intention and become damaging to the relationship.

3)      Listen to understand, not to reply.  Oftentimes, people are more focused on what they are going to say next in a conversation than they are on what is being said in the moment!  This is quite often the case when one or both parties involved start to feel defensive.  Defensiveness limits our ability to understand and see the full picture; it limits our ability to be curious.  If you notice yourself becoming defensive during an interaction, use this as a cue to become more curious and ask some questions.  For example, try using clarifying statements, whereby you reflect back what you just heard and ask, “Am I understanding you correctly?”  Clarifying statements/questions might be phrased differently from one person to the next but, by nature, they are always non-judgmental and are focused on increasing understanding.  Additionally, validation is another way to increase understanding, as well as feelings of connection.  Sometimes, people are hesitant to use validation in their interactions because they mistake validating another’s feelings for validating their behaviourShowing empathy to your communication partner by validating their feelings doesn’t mean you necessarily approve of their behaviour; rather, it’s simply a way of saying, “Your feelings make sense”.  Everyone wants to be heard; everyone wants to be seen.  Validation says, “I hear you and I see you”, regardless of anything else.  Validation is about supporting the person, not the behaviour.

4)      Extend curiosity to yourself.  In addition to practicing curiosity with others, healthy communication requires you to be curious about yourself, as well.  It’s important to pay attention to your feelings during an exchange so that you can better understand what happens for you when communication begins to go awry.  If you start to feel angry, defensive, frustrated, etc., ask yourself some important questions: How am I feeling right now?  What was said or done just before I started feeling this way that might explain why I’m feeling ____?  Is there a history of me feeling this way in my relationships?  How would I prefer to respond in this moment and why?  Etc.  When you have a clear understanding of your own emotional reactions, you are better equipped to respond more effectively (i.e., more thoughtfully, more mindfully) in your interactions, instead of giving way to automatic reactions which have a tendency to send communication patterns spiralling downwards in no time at all.  Additionally, when you’re curious about your own feelings during interactions, you’re more likely to notice when you start to become upset and you can choose to take breaks as appropriate, and resume communication at a later time.  Taking breaks is important when you feel yourself approaching the “tipping point”; that is, the point where you begin acting in ways that are out of line with your intentions to preserve the relationship and, instead, become destructive.  Note:  it’s helpful to have an agreement with your communication partner ahead of time about taking breaks – e.g., when and how to take breaks, as well as when and how to resume the conversation.

5)      Share information about youOne of the best ways to do this is through the use of “I” statements.  “I” statements focus on sharing how an experience impacted you, rather than focusing on the other person’s actions.  “I” statements tend to be experienced as less threatening to our conversational partners.  They also encourage the speaker to take greater responsibility for their own experience, which can once again be very empowering!  Try using the following set of “I” statements the next time you’re faced with conflict in a relationship and want to interrupt a negative pattern of communication:

  1. I see… (name the incident, behaviour, etc. that was initially upsetting to you)
  2. I think… (say what you thought about yourself, your relationship, etc. as a result of the incident)
  3. I feel… (say what you felt about yourself, your relationship, etc. as a result of the incident)
  4. I wish… (say how you hope things might go differently next time)

Here’s an example of what this type of “I” statement might actually sound like in conversation:

“When I got home from work tonight and saw that you hadn’t made dinner like we had discussed [I see], I thought that my needs aren’t important in this relationship [I think] and I felt hurt and frustrated [I feel].  I hope next time, when we make an agreement about our household responsibilities, that you will let me know ahead of time if you aren’t able to follow through on your commitment so that we can figure out a solution in advance [I wish]”.

When using “I” statements, it can also be helpful to indicate your desire to work together with your communication partner towards making things better (e.g., “…so that we can figure out a solution in advance.”).  After you’ve expressed your concern(s) and the impact they had on you, saying something as simple as, “Can you help me with this?” or “Can we work on this together?” can be incredibly helpful for increasing feelings of connection and understanding, as well as communicating an openness to resolve conflict.

If you’d like help developing healthy communication skills and wish to speak with one of our therapists, please feel free to give us a call (905-665-8150), send us an e-mail (info@newrootstherapy.com), or visit our website for more information (www.newrootstherapy.com).


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The Importance of Loving Yourself First

Written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

You are the most important person in your life.  Yes, YOU!  It’s true!  In our experience, many people are uncomfortable with this idea, at least at first.  Women, in particular, seem most uncomfortable with this idea initially because we are taught by our society to act as caregivers, many times putting our own needs on the back burner in order to do so.  Being the most important person in your life is often confused with being selfish and, as such, the idea can be off-putting because people typically don’t want to be seen as selfish!

However, we encourage you to consider the following: if you aren’t the most important person in your life, you’re actually doing a disservice not only to yourself, but to your relationships as well.  When you choose not to realize your own importance, you are actually damaging, rather than enhancing, your relationships.  How can that be?  Well, when you embrace your place as #1 in your own life and you begin to ensure that your needs are being met regularly, you become better equipped to act in ways that are loving towards others. 

Putting yourself first doesn’t mean that you become apathetic to the needs of others, and it doesn’t mean that you live only for yourself.  It also doesn’t mean that your needs come first all the time.  Instead, it means that you recognize your needs as a priority and you choose to put the needs of others ahead of your own in specific situations, as appropriate.  The key here is choice.  When you aren’t the most important person in your life, others’ needs may take top priority by default, time and time again, until you eventually burn out and are no longer able to care for anyone.  This is why we say it’s a disservice to yourself and your relationships to deny your own importance.  Similar to the way that many financial advisors will tell you to pay yourself first in order to achieve financial success, we suggest that you love yourself first in order to experience success in your closest relationships, including the relationship you have with yourself.

Just like you can’t appreciate happiness without also experiencing sadness, and just like you can’t perceive light without also seeing the dark, the most sincere love of others is experienced only when you have the most profound love of self.  In this way, loving yourself is not at odds with loving others but, instead, is the foundation for loving others in the best way possible.  Becoming the most important person in your life is not selfish; it’s a necessity for loving those who mean the most to you.  In her book, “The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome”, Dr. Harriet Braiker called this type of self-love “enlightened self-interest”, stating that “[what enlightened self-interest means is] that you will take good care of yourself, even putting your needs first at times, while simultaneously considering the needs and welfare of others…Enlightened self-interest, unlike selfishness, precludes making others suffer at your expense.”

There are many ways that you can love yourself first.  For example, you can practice setting boundaries with others (it’s okay to say “no” sometimes!); you can make time for what you love, such as reading a good book, doing a creative project, taking a bubble bath before bed, taking yoga classes, going for a walk after dinner, etc.; you can learn to forgive yourself for mistakes that you have made in the past; etc.  Whatever it looks like for you, we invite you to “embrace your place as #1” in order to bring positive change to your inner self and your relationships with those around you!