As we approach a new year and begin to think about our goals for the year ahead, it can be helpful to reflect on the year that has passed. This reflection should highlight our successes, how we have grown, and what we have learned, but should also include considerations of areas where we could continue to seek positive change.
While we can all be critical of ourselves from time to time, we also can have blindspots and may struggle to be attuned to the flaws that others have even explicitly identified in us. Thus, it can be helpful to take the time to reflect on the feedback of others and to challenge ourselves to accept what others are saying.
Accepting constructive feedback can be tough. It may feel like rejection, because it reminds us that we are far from perfect. When someone else points out our flaws, even in the most constructive and sensitive way, it can still make us cringe and result in us reacting defensively.
We should recognize that it is natural to respond defensively and say “but what about all the times that I wasn’t like that”, but letting go of that initial response is necessary to facilitate growth. Indeed, it can be really difficult to fully hear another person’s critiques and see that they are giving us this information because they have not given up on us and think that this information can be invaluable in moving us forward as a person.
My resolution this year is to be more open to feedback, listen when it is given to me and try to take something away from it other than anger.
Why not ask yourself what feedback have you learned from in the past and how this allowed you to grow. Then, ask yourself if there is more recent feedback that you have been trying to discount that may help you grow even further.
I recently stumbled across Netflix’s docu-series The Mind Explained, which explores popular psychology topics over the course of six twenty-minute episodes. The episodes cover topics, such as anxiety, dreams, mindfulness, memory, and hallucinogenic drugs. I found the series to be educational and informative, while being simultaneously engaging and easy to grasp for non experts.
Each episode presents research from topic experts, a history on the topic and stories of individuals who have personally experienced the related topics, practices or activities. I enjoyed how these brief episodes are short enough to give you a better understanding of these pop psychology topics without boring the viewer. If you are not the type to want to read a book about anxiety or a full documentary on dreams, The Mind Explained may be the perfect bite size programming to teach you something new from the comfort of your couch or bed.
So if you are looking for something more educational than a christmas movie this week, The Mind Explained may be the perfect series to both binge and expand your mind in the process.
The Winter Blues
It is that time of year again… when it’s cold outside and all I want to do is stay inside.
For me, winter can bring to mind childhood memories of building a snowman, going ice skating, and making hot chocolate on the stove with my mom. Simultaneously, I can also be pulled to more recent memories of longer commute times, snow shovelling, and feeling frozen whenever I am outside pumping gas. For many, the holidays can also evoke thoughts of family arguments, fatigue, and financial pressures.
The winter blues, and at a clinical level, Major Depressive Disorder with the seasonal pattern specifier, is a diagnosis that involves symptoms of depression which recur seasonally. Even without a formal diagnosis or marked severity, many of us will notice a seasonal slump during the colder temperatures and gloomier days. As a resident of a colder climate, I myself notice a change in mood this time of year. Particularly, I hate waking up, heading to work, and departing for home when it is dark.
The lack of daylight in the winter months is often attributed as one of the reasons we feel tired, lethargic, deprived of energy, and with low mood. However, reduced light exposure is only one of the seasonal changes that can compromise our emotional experience. It is important to also look towards how we change our routines and the impact these subtle changes can have on our mood. In the summer, it is much easier to spend increased time outside, swim, and go for walks. As soon as the temperatures drop and the daylight hours shrink, we tend to become less active and, secondarily, less social. It just takes more effort, time and energy to leave the house.
While many of us feel the way I have described above, it is important that we do not accept this reality and that we not give up on our mood just because we cannot control the weather. There are many things we can do to actively limit the negative effects of the season. First, we can start prioritizing getting out of the house to socialize and exercise. We are fortunate that we have gyms, workout classes and indoor sports widely available these days. While it certainly takes an extra push to find the motivation to get out there on a cold day, I have found that the effort is usually feels worth it afterwards.
Making plans to go for coffee with friends or family also help to foster a sense of connection that inspires more positive moods. When busy schedules make it difficult to coordinate with friends, simply going for a mall walk can leave you feeling energized and less isolated. Not only does exercise and socializing improve mental health generally, but the act of just getting out of the house also helps to feel productive.
For individuals who experience more than just minor seasonal related mood changes, a light therapy lamp might help to give your body more of what it is lacking. These lamps are fairly affordable and have become much more widely accessible to purchase (http://bestreviews.com/best-light-therapy-lamps). Another common recommendation in the literature is Vitamin D supplements. A conversation with your physician can explore your needs in this regard, but the research certainly shows that Canadian’s are generally deficient in vitamin D during the winter months. Lastly, if you notice that your mood has been significantly disrupted, it does not hurt to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. Winter may not be your favourite season, it certainly is not mine, but recognizing warning signs and how to help yourself might push you to make a change earlier.
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A friend of mine recently suggested that I write a post on the topic of finding balance. I have always considered this friend to be the epitome of a multitasker. She has a prestigious career, a vibrant social life and is in a long term romantic relationship. Not only does she seem to manage all these aspects from her plate, but she also seems to make it to the gym, find time for proper meals, visit her family in the suburbs and look for a new apartment. When my friend suggested that I write about finding balance my first thought was, “WHAT? She is the definition of balance! If she hasn’t found it yet no one will!”.
While thinking about her suggestion further, I reflected on an earlier blog post where I wrote about the topic of self care. In that post I talked about how we cannot expect ourselves to focus on all of our priorities each day, but rather choose 1 to 3 priorities to focus on and rotate daily.
In my life, finding balance also encompases not striving for perfection, and being self compassionate when navigating this daily balancing act. To me, balance means not looking at others and what they are doing, but rather checking in with myself and what I need or would feel is needed to focus on that day. Balance also requires that we evaluate our priorities and see if those need to be changed. For many young adults the focus is on professional and romantic lives, and for many parents that priority is on meeting their children’s needs. It is different for everyone, and that is ok.
The most important thing that comes to my mind when assessing this balance is not imposing guilt on ourselves for our choices. On instagram we can feel trapped by shame, thinking that we are not doing enough because we do not have what a particular influencer appears to have. I too need to remind myself to not compare my pursuit of balance with that of my amazing friend mentioned above.
We can also cast judgement on our loved ones too and how they chose to pursue balance. It may seem crazy not to nudge your partner to focus more on health in their daily balance, or judge a friend for not pushing themselves professionally enough. But no one likes being judged for their choices and told what to do, even if it is out of wanting what is best for that loved one. There is a delicate line between suggestion and judgment and I can recognize that I may overstep that line more often than I intend to. Yes, we all have jobs, family, friends and health to balance but that does not mean that our lives are identical. Everyone has different needs that change weekly or even daily, and that is something that is better to accept than guilt ourselves for.
So next time you wonder about how you are going to get everything done, stop looking around you thinking everyone else has figured it out perfectly. Then, try to apply that same acceptance to those who are close to us, recognizing that everyone’s approach to balance is unique and that the obtainment of balance is a journey that changes for all of us over time.
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Jessica is a member of the clinical wellness and learning support team at FLEX Psychology. Jessica started Wellness Wednesday out of a desire to provide further opportunities for her clients to extend their wellness journey to all avenues of their life. You can learn more about Jessica by clicking here or by learning more about her and the clinical team at FLEX Psychology by clicking here.