Take your Time!

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“All work and no play make Jack a dull boy”.  And we should add bitter and sick and inefficient and a bad friend and s-t-r-e-s-s-e-d out!  Even with this age-old adage reminding us of the importance of “play,” more than 30 percent of North Americans do not use all their vacation days. Even when paid, approved and granted, these days often remain “banked and borrowed from.” Whether it is out of a fear of losing one’s position, a sense of competition (in the office or in one’s self), a lack of opportunity or some other unknown, it simply isn’t a good idea to let your vacation time go by without you; not for your mind, your health or your company. There is much research into the importance of daily downtime and quiet in order to give the mind and body the opportunity to reflect and rejuvenate, and this is no less true on the grander scale.  It is essential that you take blocks of time to relax, refresh, reconnect and recharge in order for you to be a healthy, productive and happy person.  There is no question that your body and soul require rest, repair, laughter, time, quiet, reflection, connection and play; these activities support a person’s emotional well-being, relationships, creativity and intelligence, physical health, problem solving ability and outlook on life.  In proof (justification if you need), research has been done on the benefits of taking your time:

Health Benefits

Taking time away from work and routine allows the body to replenish and repair itself.  There are studies showing positive impact on many conditions, most notably cardiovascular disease.  Further to a boost in the immune system, lower levels of infection and inflammation and a reduction in musculoskeletal conditions, vacation and leisure activities help to lower blood pressure and control waistlines.  A variety of gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, inflammatory and metabolic disorders can be kept at bay if only you find time to both rest and play.

Emotional Benefits

Vacations and “downtime” contribute to higher positive emotional levels and less stress, anxiety and depression.  Studies have found that people who engaged in more leisure activities reported more life satisfaction, fewer negative emotions, tended to be more spiritually connected, and reported having a lot of support from family and friends making them feel more content.  All aspects of mental health are encouraged by rest and relaxation….and a bit of laughter with loved ones.

Creativity and Intelligence Benefits

When the mind has some time and space to relax, its potential and ability begin to shine.  When it isn’t focused on a specific task day in and out, it can access parts of the brain responsible for creativity, innovation and exploration.  It reflects and problem solves and creates, but only when it isn’t forever working away at something or worrying about a stressed, tired and overworked system.  Many people have some of their best ideas away from the job or at times when they are at rest (think when you wake up with a brilliant idea or when laughing with friends it all seems to make sense!) Without the pressure to respond to each crisis that arises, we have the opportunity to consider creative and innovative approaches.  There is a lot of research that says in order for the brain to grow and create and build new pathways, it needs to be….bored!  It refreshes and motivates the brain cells to relax.

Productivity Benefits

When employees take vacations, businesses and the economy benefit. Often, employees  report feeling better about their jobs and more productive after taking a vacation stating there is a restorative power in taking time off as it recharges and motivates them to work “better.” Workers who forgo their vacations aren’t doing themselves or their companies any favors. Even if they are physically present, they may have mentally checked out, and they often take more sick time, stress leaves, have a poorer attitude and waste time at work (the mind will take its holidays either way……).  For example, if people are overworked, they’re surfing the Internet or daydreaming or taking extra breaks, they’re not contributing to the bottom line anyway.

Taking a vacation helps revive the heart (literally), rejuvenate your body, recharge your mind, and soothe your soul.  It doesn’t need to be a grand and expensive getaway; only a break and opportunity to relax or play as you wish. Time is the most valuable thing you have; it’s time to start treating it that way….

Sometimes You Just Need a Good Listening-To……Should I Try Counselling?

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Have you ever wondered what it might be like to have someone listen non-judgmentally and with interest to what you think/ believe/ want/ hope for/ fear/ hate/ distrust/ desire/ need? Or even just someone to bounce ideas off of?  Just be there while you cry?  Help you find creative or practical solutions to your struggles?  That is the very definition of a counsellor.

But isn’t counselling just for people who are crazy?  Depressed? Alcoholics?

Sure, I would definitely recommend counselling for those struggling with mental health issues, those stuck in negative patterns, those experiencing crisis or those living highly stressful, anxious lives; however counseling can also work wonders for the everyday person who wants to think, feel, problem solve, create and grow in the presence of, and with help from another caring and thoughtful person.  Maybe it’s a habit you want to break. Perhaps you’re struggling with family conflict. Or maybe you’re unhappy in your job, and need some guidance in figuring out what career will really make you happy. Sometimes people just want to get something off of their chest, or ask philosophical questions.  Most often, someone is struggling to understand a situation or needing support through a difficult time or major change.  Counselling can be a great option in these situations!

So what’s stopping you? The way counseling is portrayed in movies and TV shows can paint a judgy, awkward and pretentious picture It is also often used interchangeably with the word “therapy” — the differences between the two lie in the certification of the provider, as well as the presenting topic – more medical and diagnosed mental health concerns should seek therapy.  But in reality, while there may be a couch or a comfy chair, therapists are not detached, distracted listeners who charge an arm and a leg for an hour of their time and come out with a statement full of judgment or a diagnosis that paints you with a negative brush. Just because you receive counseling doesn’t automatically mean that something is wrong with you.  A lot of people seek out a counsellor to help them with a goal or dream, and still others for support as they hope to help others through their struggles.

Seeing a counsellor also doesn’t mean you’ll need medication, group therapy or extensive, lifelong treatment programs.  While all of the above are a possibility depending on the situation, a good counselor will start with the gentlest strategies to find success, and only work with what you are comfortable with.  A good counsellor listens, helps you find your strengths, identifies thoughts, feelings, questions and answers and helps you to realize the changes or directions you would like to go.  They support you during your difficult times, celebrate your good times and guide you through goal setting, reflection and problem solving.

It’s also easy for people to get hung up on the cost of therapy — which can run the gamut from $80 to $200 for a session (usually an hour in length). Therapy is expensive, but it’s an investment and you should be getting a return on your investment. There are other things that are expensive, that we don’t question the finances of so much, such as hiring a good attorney if you’re going through a divorce.  Also, often private health care plans will cover the cost of counselling sessions, and sometimes companies or employers will have Employee Assistance Plans for the same purpose.  I often tell people that they are going to “work through” their challenges one way or another: spending money on counselling is a good investment as opposed to alcohol, shopping, shoes, gambling, food or other distraction techniques…

“But aren’t therapists just people you’re paying to listen to your problems?” you may ask. While compassionate listening is an important part of the counseling process, therapists have master’s and doctorate degrees and have spent years studying how people change, relationships, work environments, conflict resolution and communication. We spend years living in those systems and training in those systems so we can help you get to that part of yourself to understand the things that are driving your habits and choices.  There are many theories, strategies and evidence based practices based on solid research that these professionals can draw upon once the client is ready to move on to problem solving and/ or change.

So how would you even start?  The first step to starting therapy is to find a therapist. If cost is an important factor, you could ask your insurance company for a list of therapists who would be considered in-network. There are also government organizations and Not-For-Profit support services.  Still more private offices may offer “sliding-scale” programs.  Churches and schools also have people trained in counselling. You could also try searching the internet, yellow-pages, social media or friends to ask for a list of mental health professionals. Especially if you are looking for a therapist for a particular issue (i.e. divorce, weight loss, grief), referrals from friends/ family or specific internet searches may be the way to go!  There are also more and more online options (cyber-counselling) over email popping up to offer counseling at your pace, place and convenience.  Check out www.knowledge-power.ca/cyber_services.php   for more info!

One of the most important aspects of counselling is the counsellor/ client “fit.”  Not everyone clicks with everyone…don’t let this be a reason for you to give up!  No different than your doctor, vet or employer, you need to find the person you connect with, trust and respect.  It’s okay not to like a person’s style and find the best person to help you!  All counsellors have a different personality, belief system, and style….shop around!  Even ask ahead of time some questions about their strategies, style or beliefs about your struggle…a good counsellor will talk with you and take time to answer these questions!

There is also the question of how many sessions one should go?  Some people want to have a speedy experience, where the problem is solved in six sessions or less. If this is you, then you should look for a “solutions-focused therapist.”  It is still important to keep in mind that you can’t expect that all problems can be solved in a short period of time, as some situations take longer to sort through. Meanwhile, other people can end up going to therapy for years, either because the situation has never been resolved, or because they like being able to come in for an hour each week to talk about life – either one is okay and you can decide what is best for you.

So…what is the first session like? Some therapists do a first session by getting an assessment of the current problem. Some will do history, relationship or background information gathering.  Others will listen and let you guide the process, and still others will engage using metaphors or thought-provoking questions.  It isn’t just a one-way relationship to be sure….you need to have an idea of what you would like to talk about, and what you would like to get out of therapy.  Be sure to communicate that desire…you’re the boss and the therapy should meet your need!  A counsellor’s job is to help guide people where they would like to go.  As a trust and rapport builds, this sharing and reflection will become more natural.

The purpose of counselling is to build. Grow. Repair. Remake. Lift. Understand. Seek. Answer. Identify. Feel. Live. Smile. Listen. Be.

If you need or want any of those things….give it a try!

New Year, New You!

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It’s a New Year which means a bright new beginning, a fresh start, and a time for personal change, challenge and trying new things! New Year’s resolutions are exciting and motivating for some and a passing thought for others, but if you’re one of the tried and true try-ers, here are some tips to help you find success with your resolve!

1. State your goal in the positive. All too often we want to lose, quit and stop. While it is true that there are certain behaviors, patterns and pounds that we’d like to be rid, of, it is far more encouraging and psychologically efficient to state our hopes in positive and forward-thinking ways! Instead of “losing weight” think, “I want to become more fit and healthy.” Instead of “quitting smoking,” you can say “I’d like to make healthier choices.” It makes a huge difference in how we think about our goals! It is always easier and more rewarding to work toward something than away from it.
2. Pick Realistic Goals. One of the biggest problems in keeping a resolution is that we simply aim too high too far and too fast. Resolving to look more like a super model or martial arts star is an unrealistic resolution for anyone. Resolving to make healthier choices or be more active are more realistic goals. Setting a goal of completely changing your life, your career, your family relations, etc. is too overwhelming and broad. Keep the goals small and simple and achievable. Maybe this means you have a few small goals that will build upon each other. Remember that even a small step is progress and recognize and celebrate each achievement as part of the overall goal.
3. Keep goals specific. Stating, “I want to feel better” is a very broad and vague concept which will make it difficult to figure out exactly what success will be! Instead, choose specific actions or behaviors that you will work on (I will spend more time with friends at coffee dates, I will take a yoga class on Wednesdays, I will pay my bills within one week of receiving them, etc.) which are easier to measure and provide an actual activity to succeed at. You may need to do a little research and reflection on the “how”, but it will pay off. Be sure you know the what, where, when and why of your goals as you set them! You’ll find this tip alone will help you find success.
4. Set up a Schedule. One of the first rules of time management is “if you don’t schedule it in, it won’t happen.” No goal is attainable without deciding when you’re going to make the small changes needed to reach that goal. If you set no schedule for yourself, or — as most people do — set an unrealistic schedule, you are setting yourself up to fail. The schedule should be written down (on a calendar, smart phone, etc.), just like your goal and the steps you will take to reach each goal. If your schedule involves things which need to be done daily or weekly, set specific times of the day or specific days of the week which you will use to work on it. Then do it, and keep written track of your keeping to that schedule. If you find a part of your schedule isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it. The key is to stay flexible and adopt to changes needed to be successful in your goals.
5. Don’t Be Upset by Setbacks. New Year’s Resolutions have a reputation of being difficult to keep. It may help, though, to remember that we’re all human, we all make mistakes. It does no good to get depressed or disillusioned by setbacks in trying to reach your goals. In fact, if you know ahead of time that there are going to be times in which your resolve weakens or you don’t live up to a certain step or schedule you’ve set, it can help when it does happen. It’s a part of the process and means nothing more than a temporary setback. Putting such temporary setbacks into their proper perspective can help you move beyond them and put them behind you. Remind yourself why you have decided to make this change and try try again! The weakness is not in the falling down, but in the refusing to get back up again.
6. Enlist Additional Help or Support. Some people will find need or want additional help and support from others. Whether it’s in the form of a professional, a family member, a friend, or some type of formal support group, consider enlisting someone’s help. This shows that you are not only serious about keeping the resolution, but that you realize your own strengths and limitations. Getting additional help or support in this manner is sensible way to help increase your success in maintaining your New Year’s resolutions.

And remember…
Not every New Year’s resolution needs to be life changing or dramatic. Sometimes it helps for a person to make a few fun resolutions and things that are exciting to look forward to or make you laugh. Maybe try something new, take a road trip, call up an old friend, or do something silly.

Keep these few simple tips in mind this New Year may help to increase your chances of success. Also, consider that the New Year is not only a time to make changes in your life, but also a time to be thankful for being alive and well for another year.

Good luck and Happy New Year!

It’s beginning to cost a lot like Christmas….

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Christmas is the time for friends and family and food and festivities…..and worries and stress and ever expanding waistlines and family drama! Ti’s the season to have your life choices mocked at the dinner table, and to gain (on average) 5-7 pounds of peace on earth?! We all love the holidays…right?

It can be difficult to manage all of the “joy” we feel during the Christmas season. Amongst all of the sparkles and melodies and candy-cane flavored goodness, there sneaks the pressure to be perfect; the re-hashing of family misunderstandings and arguments, the “festive fifteen” and aching reminders of any losses or grief we’ve experienced. Mixed up with all that are the constant year round stresses of time and money magnified by all those Christmas lights everywhere! Christmas can be magical and wonderful and spiritual and bright!  So, how does one make the season one of peace and love and joy as it was intended? Here are some tips, thoughts and links to help you get your “piece of peace on earth”:

1. Christmas puts a lot of pressure on us to be happy and warm and lovingly picturesque for the holiday visits and scenes, and this can be tough when that is not the case the other 364 days of the year. Do what you can with what you have where you are…and be patient with yourself and your family for not being perfect. Remember that Christmas will not be perfect. You do not have to be perfect, and if you think others are managing to be perfect rest assured they are just really good and faking, hiding and ignoring the truth. The meal, the gifts and the time together do not need to be extravagant or spectacular…they need only be heartfelt, genuine and thoughtful: a reflection of you and the season. Try not to get caught up in competition, image, reputation or parade!

2. Try to stay in a routine. Sticking to some kind of normal daily routine as you rush to deck the halls and attend all those parties and errands will be helpful in managing it all. Most importantly, routines in the areas of sleeping, eating and exercise will help you to stay healthy, wealthy and wise! See the following link for some ways to stay in your exercise routine during the season! http://www.canada.com/touch/theholidayguide13/story.html?id=9264733

3. If you are grieving or reflecting on losses you’ve experienced, be gentle with yourself and respect both your psychological and physical limits. Grief can be especially hard at this time of year, and you are entitled to some quiet and special time to remember and honour that experience and person(s). For some tips on grieving during the holidays, check out https://www.centerforloss.com/tag/holiday-grief/

4. Find ways to manage your stress and juggle all of the joy. Stress and the business of the holidays can take away a lot of the glitter and magic of it all, and so being able to find ways to slow down, relax and enjoy our time with others, meals, gifts and decor are important! Here are some great tips for rejuvenating and de-stressing during the Christmas season: http://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-practice/mindfulness-%2526-awareness/please-be-home-for-the-holidays

5. Money can be a huge stressor during the season as there is the cost for gifts, travel, parties, stamps and cards, food, decor and all the little extras! While this is a reality of the season, there are some ways to be conscious and more comfortable with your spending and money management during the holidays. Check out the link for some ideas! http://christmas.organizedhome.com/get-organized/santa-savings-make-holiday-budget

6. Family is forever…at least that’s what it can feel like during the holiday season when you are surrounded by all that love and togetherness! While we love to see and catch up with our families, time with our relatives is one of the number one most reported stressors during the holidays! Here are some great tips for planning ahead and handling during all that fun with the family! http://bewell.stanford.edu/surviving-the-family-holiday

7. Depending on your work and/ or holiday schedule “time” is always a factor in the stresses of the season. You either have not nearly enough and get totally overwhelmed with all of the places and people you have to be and see, or…..you have way too much time on your hands. If you don’t have enough, think about prioritizing differently and letting some of the “perfection” pieces go. Consider inviting others to you instead of travelling all the time. Maybe, alternate traditions or visits year after year and consider delegating parts of the meal or decorations to other family members. If too much time is your challenge, consider some fun ways to celebrate the season! There are a lot of ways to fill that time that can bring joy, energy and goodwill in to your life! Try some fun physical activities (skating, skiing, snowman building, walks, snowball fights, sledding etc.), or some cooking and baking. You can also try doing some random acts of kindness in your community or giving your time and energy to a charity! Giving is one of the things that has the most psychological benefits for us and can bring up your mood, health and outlook in moments…tis better to give than receive after all!

8. If you are worried about the “festive fifteen” as many people are, there are some ways to counteract all of the Christmas calories. Being conscious of your food choices and doing your best to partake modestly are a good start (but there are so many treats!!!0 Check out the link for some ideas to help curb the cravings while still getting in some goodies! http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20646043,00.html

9. Listen to music. Music in general has the very powerful ability to shape our mood and do wonders for our problem solving, decision making and reasoning abilities. It can lift us up or help us find peace, and nowhere is this truer than with the sounds of the season! Christmas music can bring back memories and help you feel the Christmas spirit….find the songs that match your mood and have them create a beautiful background for your holiday happenings! Check out the ways music can ease your tension and lift you mood here! http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/womens-health/health-benefits-of-listening-to-music

10. Finally, recognize and embrace perspective during the holidays. All of that wrapping is overwhelming, yes, but it means you have gifts. The pressure to put on the perfect meal is powerful, but it means you have food. Not knowing whose family to spend Christmas morning with means there are many people who love you and want to spend time with you. The rushing around to deliver means you have many friends and the means to celebrate. The office parties and charity responsibilities mean you have a job and are able….be at peace with your many blessings this season, and find ways to help others find theirs.

Wishing you wellness, joy and peace this holiday season,

Ariel & the Knowledge is Power team

Follow the Leader…

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Leadership: [lee·der·ship], noun.

1. The position or function of a leader; a person who guides or directs a group

2. The ability to lead

Synonyms: influence, command, effectiveness

What is your definition of leadership?  Think about it….it’s a pretty complex and dynamic concept, and while it is difficult to put into words, there is a synergy in all of the things that make up the idea of a good leader.  I asked around, and the answers I got each apply in their own place and circumstance and time:

–         A leader is a visionary

–         A leader is passionate and dedicated to their cause

–         A leader is someone who inspires others

–         A leader is someone who accomplishes great things and creates change

–         A leader is someone who has followers

Whatever your definition of leadership, there are a few key qualities that religious, political, entertainment, moral and historical leaders have embraced:

–         They’ve had to work really really hard

–         They’ve had something they believed in and were passionate about

–         They didn’t give up, even in desperate or difficult circumstances

–         They were inspirational to their followers

–         They embrace some degree of power

–         They had influence

Anyone can be placed in a “position” of management or leadership, but title does not a leader make.  True leadership most often emerges and is recognized when things are tough.  It is easy to lead when everyone is happy and healthy and all systems are in perfect working order.  Leadership (influence, command and effectiveness) is what we need when we long for direction, peace or change…These are times when the person in “power” is who we turn to for our cue, but know that power and influence are 2 very different things, and the following, respect, inspiration and dedication of organizations, nations, religions and people are born of influence…

Influence is the most important factor in leadership.  Without influence, one cannot hope to create change or passion or loyalty in others.  But, how do you build influence? You build influence by building relationship, and you build relationship by building trust.  And that’s not easy.

In order to build influence, relationship and trust, you have to connect with people at the levels of beliefs and values.  When people reflect on the things that they most respect and value about the great leaders in their lives, rarely do they speak of IQ or bottom line or the number of widgets (metaphorical or literal) they created in a week.  Instead they speak of qualities, beliefs, attitudes and character.  They speak about someone who cares for the cause, but also cares for the people behind the cause.

In order to build trust and therefore inspire others to influence and be influenced, you have to know them as a person and individual with ideas and feelings and a life. Trust me.  You have to be honest and genuine and work hard and set a good example.  You have to do the right thing even if it is the hard thing. You are both stalwart and vulnerable (never underestimate the power and leadership that lies in vulnerability, see TED TALK “the Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown ).  You make mistakes and you forgive others when they do the same.  You take time to listen, understand and respond.  You are patient.  You take responsibility and blame as needed.  You have courage.  You seek knowledge in all things, and you recognize the achievements of others in all things.  You reflect on the decisions you make for yourself and you consider others in those decisions.  Think of all of the great leaders you know, and even the people you hold in high regard and would follow  if they asked it of you…..they have these qualities. How they implement them may change, but they connect and value relationship as a part of task management and accomplishment.  If you have been given the gift of leadership, use it wisely and well, for it is a powerful honour to be given or to gain.

I have two favorite leadership quotes. Let them inspire you in your guidance of others to connect and create trust and authenticity.  The first is “connect before direct” (that’s one of my own and it has served me well with everyone I meet, teach and lead) and the second is by (and in honor of) Nelson Mandela:

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