New Roots Therapy Blog

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


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Welcome, Fall: 3 Tips to Make the Most of the New Season

Post Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

After 3 months off, we’re back from our summer blogging hiatus – how appropriate that we start a new season of blog posts on the first day of Fall!  🙂

And since it’s the first day of Fall, I decided to write this post on three ways to make the most of the change in season.  Hope you enjoy!

1. Get Outside: Being in nature has countless benefits for our mental and emotional wellbeing!  Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon that at the first sight of leaves on the ground, we cocoon ourselves indoors and disappear until Spring.  Fall is a beautiful time of year – the air, although cooler, is crisp and refreshing; the days, although shorter, light up with breathtaking pops of golden yellow, burnt orange, and deep red all around.  Being in nature is a calming, healing, coming-back-to-ourselves experience, so get outside and enjoy this time! Go for a walk, watch the leaves with curiosity and awe as they change colour and fall from their branches, fill up your lungs with the fresh Fall air.  When we connect with nature, we connect with our highest selves.  Soak in all the benefits that Mother Earth provides.

2. Look to Nature for Guidance:  When we’re in a transition between seasons, it’s a great time to notice the lessons that nature has to offer us.  One of the lessons that nature teaches us is that nothing is permanent.  Life is always changing and looking to nature to help us remember that can be very grounding, particularly when we find it difficult to accept change and find ourselves trying to control situations to keep change from happening (which often results in distress).  Life is in a constant state of flow, and it’s really important that we stay open to the flow of life in order to live as our highest selves.  Distressing times can invite us to shut down and resist the flow of life but remember that, just as nature shows us, everything will pass through you if you allow it to.  With every ending is a new beginning.  So, be fully engaged in your experience – whether it brings a smile to your face, or breaks your heart – because no moment lasts forever.  Another lesson that nature teaches us at this time of year, as the leaves fall from the trees, is that there is beauty in letting go.   Nature has so much to show us about ourselves and how to live our best lives, if we can just look around and be mindful of her lessons.

3. Revisit Your Goals:  As we move into the final months of the year, this is a great opportunity to re-assess your personal vision and goals.  With any change of season, it’s a natural time to take pause, reflect, and check in with ourselves to see how we’re living our lives.  Are we living in line with our hopes and values? Are we living in such a way that we’re moving closer towards our personal vision?  Back in January, you may or may not have decided on some new year’s resolutions; the beginning of Fall is a great time to assess whether or not there are still some resolutions you want to work towards.  It’s also a great time to celebrate and honour any changes that have happened throughout the year up to this point!

Wishing you wellness, always ❤

 

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The “C” Word: Understanding and De-escalating Conflict in your Relationships

Post written by: Melissa Kroonenberg, Relationship Therapist

According to Webster’s dictionary, there are three definitions of conflict:

1. Fight, Battle, War (an armed conflict)

2. (a) Competitive or opposing action of incompatibilities: Antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons)

(b) Mental Struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands

3. The opposition of persons or forces that gives rise to the dramatic action in a drama or fiction

I’ve found throughout my life and my experience as a therapist that “conflict” is often viewed as an uncomfortable, unnecessary, and damaging thing.  A characterization that makes sense if you consider the first definition of conflict listed above.  And when I discuss my client’s experience of conflict with them, they often describe it in a way that is in line with the first definition.  Each person comes to “battle”, “armed” with a tonne of psychological artillery that is sure to win the overall fight.  What a terrifying prospect!

It’s not like I don’t identify with this perception of conflict, too.  However, over the course of my life, my relationship with conflict has shifted. At first, it began as a terrifying possibility – when I thought someone was mad or upset with me – rendering me passive and paralyzed in the relationship. Then it moved into a protest phase where I spent considerable time and effort trying to control the people and elements involved in order to avoid conflict at any cost. Finally, it moved into a place where I could begin to see conflict as an opportunity for growth and empowerment, rather than letting it bulldoze me or actively trying to stop or avoid it.

Ultimately, conflict – despite its bad rap – is an unavoidable, natural, and (wait for it) healthy part of close relationships. Over time, relationships transition and require a renegotiation of needs and hopes in order for the relationship to evolve and thrive, which is much more representative of the second definition of conflict.  What it comes down to is understanding the distinction between generative conflict and degenerative conflict.

Generative conflict is a process where the participants involved have an awareness for, and acceptance of, the core emotions they’re experiencing, as well as the ability to clearly and respectfully communicate those feelings to the other(s) involved. The focus isn’t on squashing your feelings or denying them – it’s about responding to your emotions consciously and with intention vs. reacting to them automatically.  Generative conflict also requires flexible thinking and an openness to hear the emotional experiences of the other, which means holding multiple perspectives simultaneously (e.g., yours and the other). The desire for mutual understanding and resolution, as well as the appreciation of complex feelings and perspectives, underlies this type of conflict.

Degenerative conflict, by contrast, is a process where understanding, awareness, and flexibility are undermined by the desire for one or both members to control the argument.  In this way, people are either mutually interested or invited into a power struggle to the psychological death!  The goal of mutual understanding and appreciation for the outcome of the conflict is obscured by the desire to “win the fight”.  This can look like one person “emotionally attacking” while the other “defends” their position, or it can look like both/all parties involved mutually attacking one another with insults, accusations, judgements, sarcasm, and harmful criticisms.  Degenerative conflict not only eliminates the possibility of evolving the relationship into something healthier, it also erodes trust, facilitates emotional injury, damages the emotional bond, and sets the stage for future degenerative conflict and tension.

Everyone deserves the right to be treated with respect, openness, and curiosity, even during times when anger is present. Although it can be difficult at times, we all have a responsibility to the people we’re in relationships with to take care of each other, and ourselves, even in the face of anger. And if anger gets the better of you – and sometimes it will – then the ability to own it and take responsibility for your own emotional reaction is imperative for conflict to remain generative. Making mistakes in an argument from time to time (e.g., criticizing, attacking, etc.) does not create degenerative conflict in and of itself.  Rather, it’s the lack of responsibility taken for the mistakes over time that will distinguish generative from degenerative conflict.

Below are some tips for staying generative during conflict:

  • Awareness: practice awareness of your feelings and be clear and specific about what is causing the tension or distress before engaging someone in a conversation about it. It’s also important to practice awareness of your emotions during the conflict. Pay attention to your feelings as things come up in the conversation. If you feel like you’re getting too heated, take a break to cool down until you feel like you’re able to return to a more generative conversation.
  • Self-care: If you’re feeling really angry with someone, wait to talk to them until you feel like you can be more flexible and open to what the other has to say; respond to your anger first, don’t react to it!
  • Decline the invitation to engage: If someone comes at you with a complaint and they’re acting hostile, aggressive, attacking, critical, or disrespectful, respectfully decline the invitation to engage with them until they feel more able to be generative. This can be done with kindness and compassion.  For example: “I’m feeling attacked, I can see you’re angry but it’s hard for me to have a conversation with you when I’m feeling attacked”. There will be times when you won’t be able to get that sentence out because the other person might be so heated that they will talk over top of you. In this case, just remove yourself from the situation and try to explain later why you had to go. Trying to discuss anything with anyone who is so worked up that they’re acting hostile, is like talking to someone who is intoxicated- you will not get anywhere productive.

When I reflect on the times that I’ve felt most anxious about bringing up a concern with someone or discussing tensions, it was when I believed that degenerative conflict would take place. Ultimately, you cannot control how others will respond when you raise concerns but you can decline the invitation to engage in ways that you know will be harmful to you and the relationship. In fact, showing people that you will not engage in degenerative conflict will not only help you feel empowered over which kinds of tension you allow in your life, it’s also likely to lessen the fears and anxieties that others have when they need to approach you about something awkward or tense.

Is the distinction between generative and degenerative conflict helpful to you?  Let us know how in the comments below!


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What is Walk & Talk Therapy?

Walk & Talk therapy is a form of counselling which combines physical activity, the outdoors, and talk therapy. The benefits of Walk & Talk therapy can include:

  • Developing a stronger mind-body connection, which can help to increase self-awareness; a key element in the process of change
  • Improvements to physical health, which in turn support improvements to mental and emotional health, thus promoting a greater sense of well-being overall
  • Facilitating a positive therapeutic relationship
  • Creative thinking, which can help to encourage change when the therapeutic process is feeling “stuck”

Interested in giving Walk & Talk therapy a try?  Our relationship therapists offer Walk & Talk therapy between the months of May-September!


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Soothe Anxiety with this Simple Technique

Post Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

This week, I wanted to write about a simple self-soothing strategy for coping with anxiety, stress, fear, and overwhelm called the 5-4-3-2-1 Technique.  I first learned about this technique several years ago and have since shared it with many clients.  I’ve also used it personally to help quiet my brain, calm my nerves, and reconnect with my body in moments of stress or sleeplessness!  This method of relaxation calmly draws your attention to the present environment around you, which is helpful when worries start to carry you away in mind and body.  The next time you need some relaxation, give this a try:

1) Get yourself in a comfortable position, seated or laying down.

2) Breathe normally or practice diaphragmatic breathing (i.e., breathe like a baby, from your belly!  Click here for a quick guide on how to breathe from your diaphragm).  If you’re not used to belly-breathing and you think it might distract you from the rest of the exercise, just breathe as you normally would.  Let your gaze fall softly on nothing in particular.

3) Now, connect to your senses; in particular, your sense of sight, sound, and touch.  Begin by noticing 5 things that you see around you in detail and, if you can, say each thing you notice out loud (e.g., “I see my purple throw blanket”).  Stay with each object for a moment before moving to the next.  Once you’ve noticed 5 things you see, move on to noticing 5 things you hear (e.g., “I hear the sound of cars driving by”) and 5 things you feel (e.g., “I feel my head on my pillow, I feel my socks on my feet”…).  As you go through the exercise, don’t worry if you name something more than once!

4) Once you’ve named 5 things you see, hear, and feel, move on to naming 4 things you see, hear, and feel…then 3, then 2, then 1.

Check in with yourself – how do you feel?  If you want to repeat the exercise, take a few deep breaths to re-set and begin again.


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Make Happy Relationships your Business!

Post Written By: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

I was recently chatting with a friend who said that it upsets him when his romantic partner is too “business-like” in their relationship. I asked him what he meant by “business-like” and he said that when his partner initiates “relationship check-ins”  on a regular basis (e.g., conversations focused on how the relationship is going) things start to feel, in his experience, too “business-y” and he worries that the passion between them will fizzle out as a result.

Now, this blog post is not an analysis of my friend’s situation specifically! Rather, my chat with him simply served as an inspiration for this post. In particular, after my conversation with him I got to thinking: what would happen if we pulled some of our business/workplace skills into our romantic relationships? Would we all be living with cold, emotionally distant, passionless partners? Would being a bit more “business-like” in our love lives really kill all the spark?

Personally, I think not (sorry, friend!) and here’s why:

  • We’re better listeners at work: Generally speaking, when we’re at work we’re less likely to jump on the offensive/defensive when something doesn’t go our way or there’s a disagreement taking place.  If your boss does something that frustrates you, I bet it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll spend the day stomping around the office, slamming doors, and telling your boss that if she doesn’t already know what she did to upset you, you’re not telling…  When we have our “at work” hats on, more often than not, we’re better able to slow down our reactions, communicate our thoughts and feelings clearly, acknowledge multiple points of view, focus on creating understanding between parties, and ultimately work with others towards successful conflict resolution.
  • We’re better at goal-setting and follow-through at work: At work, we know what needs to get done and we’re usually pretty good at doing it because the last thing we want to feel is the stress of our manager chasing us down for an unfinished report that was due weeks ago.  In the workplace, we actively strive to manage our time and prioritize tasks well, which often means setting daily, weekly, and monthly goals.  We have regular meetings with managers and colleagues to discuss our progress on various projects – we communicate what we’ve accomplished and ask for help when we run into barriers.  At work, we’re in an ongoing process of planning, taking action, communicating, and revising which means that we’re often more intentional, and less habitual, in our actions on the job.
  • We make time to give and receive feedback at work: Performance reviews are a standard workplace practice.  At work, we have dedicated times to discuss how things are going from the perspectives of all parties.  Employees are often asked to review their own performance, in addition to receiving feedback from their managers, which encourages purposeful reflection about what we’re doing well and where we can make improvements in our own work.  As well, at work we engage in professional development activities so that we can continuously contribute to our teams and ultimately be valued by our co-workers and managers.  We don’t expect to be experienced positively by our colleagues simply by showing up at our desk.

Typically speaking, in our intimate relationships, we don’t put the same type of effort into regulating our emotions, setting clear intentions to serve as the foundation for our actions, building understanding between individuals, and prioritizing time to communicate openly and honestly about how things are going for everyone involved like we do in our work lives. If we transferred some of our “business-y” skills into our personal relationships, I don’t think we’d end up living loveless lives – quite the opposite.  I think we’d end up in more fulfilling, emotionally engaging relationships if we made it our business to do so.

I’d love to hear what you think, so please feel free to leave a comment below! 🙂


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What To Do When Sh*t Hits the Fan: 3 Tips for Coping With Messy, Stressy Situations

Post written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

Sh*t happens and, when it does, it’s helpful to have some strategies in place to deal with the mess! Below are three tips to help you cope the next time your circumstances seem less than crap-tastic.

  • Feel your Feelings: before you clean up the mess, let yourself get knee-deep in sh*t (you’re welcome for the imagery on that one)!  In other words, allow yourself to feel your feelings and acknowledge the emotions that are coming up for you.  Whether it’s frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment…give yourself permission to be fully in that place of emotion.  Cry if you need to.  Take a drive and scream it out (you might want to make sure you’ve got the windows rolled up!).  Meditate.  Say the words out loud, “I feel [fill in the blank]”.  Unacknowledged feelings are more likely to get stuck in our bodies and manifest as physical pain and tension; simply feeling your feelings (without trying to change them) can be enough to release them from your body, helping to mitigate both physical and psychological aches.  As well, acknowledging your emotions can help you to better identify your needs, which can be valuable in any post-“poop happens” planning that you do moving forward.
  • Laugh: The saying, “Laughter is the best medicine” was created for a reason because it truly is good for your mind, body, and relationships.  In the midst of stress, laughter can help you to relax, minimize distress, and point a light-hearted lens at the situation to open up new perspectives.  The next time crap happens, look for the humour in the situation.  Don’t take yourself too seriously all the time (self-disclosure moment: this blog post is totally my way of not taking myself too seriously right now!).  Ask yourself, “Is this really that important? Will it still matter a year from now?”  By developing an appreciation for life’s follies, you create a buffer that helps to keep you from being completely swept away in the sh*tstorm!  For more information on the health benefits of laughter, click here.
  • Practice Gratitude: Gratitude works– it’s a science!  In particular, research has shown that people who practice gratitude on a regular basis demonstrate higher levels of mental alertness and determination, experience greater levels of happiness and optimism, report fewer physical symptoms, and fare better in the face of daily stressors.  In other words, a little gratitude each day helps keep the doctor away.  And the practice of gratitude (both in the moment and proactively) helps to make sh*tty situations more bearable by widening your perspective, developing your resilience, and helping you keep a positive outlook.

I hope you enjoyed this playful, poop-filled post! How do you cope when life sneaks up on you and makes a big ol’ mess? Let us know in the comments below!


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Four Tips for Maintaining Healthy Self-Esteem on Social Media

Post written by: Corinne Carter, Relationship Therapist

Social media is a part of most people’s day-to-day lives, and it has many benefits: it helps us stay informed, it helps us stay connected to friends and family, it provides opportunities for networking that may not have otherwise been available, etc.  At the same time, like many things in life, social media also has its risks (particularly when we engage in it mindlessly).  Below are four tips for maintaining a healthy self-esteem and good mental health when using social media.

1. Stop comparing yourself to others online. When we compare ourselves to others online, what we are comparing ourselves to is not the full picture of reality but rather the carefully selected version of life that others wish to share with the world. Even when people share their difficulties on social media (e.g., breakups, job losses, etc.), we can only ever be privy to certain parts of their experience. This means that when we compare ourselves to others’ lives online, we end up comparing the full scope of our experience with only a segment of the others’. It’s like comparing apples to oranges: the results don’t say much about either fruit because they are completely different to begin with and so cannot be practically compared!  As such, comparison becomes a fruitless act (pun fully intended!).  Further to this point, even if we could compare ourselves to the full picture of someone else’s life, the act of comparison itself does not lead to lasting happiness and motivation but, rather, a sense that our self-worth is conditional. Theodore Roosevelt called comparison “the thief of joy” because, by its nature, comparison moves us away from practicing self-love and acceptance and, instead, invites us into a process of judgment (of self and other), which is neither motivating nor connected to long-lasting happiness.  Essentially, when we judge ourselves against others, our self-worth becomes connected to a particular state of being; it becomes conditional upon achieving certain ends. This means that, even if in certain scenarios we compare ourselves to others in a positive light (e.g., “Wow, I’m doing so much better than so-and-so!), the sense of worth and accomplishment that we feel in those moments is fleeting because it’s not built upon an internal foundation of self-love.  In this way, our self-esteem becomes connected to external factors, rather than internal factors, which is risky because it leaves us with less control over our own experience.  As well, if we engage in a process of comparison and judgment to build ourselves up, there will inevitably be times when, by the act of comparison, we feel we don’t measure up to those around us.  The act of comparison in itself can leave our self-esteem susceptible to damage at all times.

2. Connect with the meaning behind your reactions: If, in spite of your best efforts not to compare yourself against others online, you notice a twinge of judgment rising up as you scroll through your news feeds, try to be curious about the meaning behind the twinge rather than focusing on the judgment itself.  For example, you’re scrolling through your Facebook news feed and you see that an acquaintance just landed a new position working in your dream job, and instantly you feel the pangs of judgment in your gut (e.g., “What does she have that I don’t? I applied to that job and never even heard back…I’m such a loser”), take a step back and ask yourself: what does it suggest about what’s important to me that I’m feeling so upset about this?  Perhaps it suggests that working in a position you’re passionate about is of great importance to you, or that you value developing a competitive skill set for the industry you’re interested in.  Instead of letting self-judgment take over, use it as a cue that something in the situation is connected to your underlying values and be curious about what those underlying pieces are.  If you can connect with the underlying meaning of the situation, you can use that to take action and move towards what’s important to you (e.g., taking a course to develop your skills; inviting your acquaintance for coffee to pick their brain about her new position), rather than focusing on the self-judgment itself which diminishes your worth and makes motivation and action less likely.

3. Take regular breaks from social media: Make a point of taking breaks from the world of social media in order to connect with your immediate surroundings.  Social media is not the enemy; it’s a great way to stay informed and in touch with loved ones and the world, both of which can support a positive self-esteem.  However, because of its immediately gratifying nature (I can log online and know everything that’s happening, at the moment it happens!), as well as its ability to help us feel seen and connected to a larger community (which are basic human needs), the lure of social media is very powerful, to the point that we can become “social media obsessed” if we’re not paying close attention to our online behaviours.  The danger here is that, if we’re not mindful of our relationship with social media, we can actually become disconnected from ourselves and our immediate experiences and relationships, which does not align with maintaining a positive self-esteem, as positive self-esteem requires that we practice self-awareness and build supportive relationships with others.  The key here is balance. You don’t need to write off social media entirely; however, it’s important that you also prioritize time to disconnect from social media in order to reconnect with yourself and your immediate environment.

4. Get clear on your goals for social media: Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of using social media?” For example, do you want to use social media to stay connected to friends and family? To network? Do you want to use social media as a yardstick by which to assess your life against others? By getting clear on your goals for using social media, you’ll be better able to determine when social media exposure may be impacting your stress levels and self-esteem.  For example, if you’re scrolling through Facebook and suddenly notice yourself feeling stressed out or upset, you can use this as an opportunity to check in and ask yourself if your current use of Facebook is in line with your overall goals for social media (it might be time to take a break, as per tip #3!).  Not only do clear goals help you stay on track with how you want to be using social media in the first place, they also help you in assessing both its benefits and limitations.  For example, although social media allows you to read quick updates from friends and family (which is a passive behaviour), you will still need to make an effort to follow up with your loved ones directly (which is an active behaviour) if one of your goals in using social media is to stay connected.  As well, although social media allows you to exchange updates with friends and family easily, Facebook doesn’t let you put your arms around a friend who’s going through a tough time.  If you’re clear about what you want to get out of social media, you’ll be better equipped to assess its impact on you, as well as identify the ways it’s both helpful and limiting with respect to your goals.