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….

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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!

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

The Pros & Cons of Procrastination

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“I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do the day after.”

This quote by Oscar Wilde is the exact definition of the art of procrastination: putting it off; waiting it out; placing it on the back burner.  Tomorrow is a wonderful time and an easy answer, and the day after tomorrow is even better!  There is a whole lot of motivational theory and time management principles that play in to why we procrastinate (because we all do for something some time), but in essence, procrastination is avoidance. Now I know there are readers saying to themselves, “oh, no, procrastination is {INSERT all sorts of positive justifications and reasons HERE} to which I say, I agree (see below), just hear me out!

In general, and especially in today’s pop -psychological world, avoidance is viewed as a bad thing (embrace your feelings and slay your dragons); however it serves a function too.  At a subconscious level, nobody wants to do something they won’t enjoy or they fear.  That’s human nature, so congratulations, you are normal, and your psyche is protecting you from the pain, discomfort, mistrust or boredom associated with “the task.”  Having said that, there is something to say for slaying your dragons and accomplishing things; different, uncomfortable, stressful, new or boring things and trying something new, gaining a sense of accomplishment or learning that we have to take the good with the bad are all important too!

In defense of human nature, I have created a list of all of the reasons it is totally okay to procrastinate.  Too bad for us, procrastination is often viewed negatively and the “cons” of it are quick to the tongue and many:  a person who procrastinates is wasting time and is often viewed as lazy, disorganized, rushed, ill-conceived and irresponsible.  Fair enough…..maybe.  However, it is only fair to list the pros of procrastination as well….if it wasn’t so, it wouldn’t be such a powerfully demotivating force.   The list below explains and justifies both sides of the pacing and pressure-cooking procrastinative personality who is driven and defined by coffee and all-nighters!

PRO: you get a LOT of other things done when you procrastinate.  It is amazing how many fridges get cleaned out, batteries changed, groceries gotten, emails written, Christmas lists made and driveways shovelled when one is putting of “the task.”

CON:  You are avoiding something which tells your brain that “the task” is to be…avoided.  Your brain (ever the animal) then interprets said task as dangerous, poisonous, threatening, maddening, saddening or destructive.  The more often you avoid, the more often your brain attaches these emotions….this is going to make it a weee bit tougher to call on said brain to be all of a sudden creative, accepting and embracing of “the task” when the time comes.

PRO:  You brain is designed for survival, and so you will.  Whether by avoidance or by conquering “the task” your mind will give you whatever you need to survive (i.e. the project completed).  This looks like success; however most often, you have done only the bare minimum or just enough in order to finish.  Consider how many times you say to yourself “whatever” or “good enough” as you write, build, create or complete at the last minute.

CON:  Along with said emotions and interpretations noted above which begin to accompany every thought regarding “the task”, and the impending deadline, you are flooding your mind and body with stress hormones.  When the TIME COMES it’s do or die which feels a lot like fight or flight to your brain.  Adrenaline, cortisol and the like are stress hormones and add to inflammation, irritability, high blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, gastrointestinal issues, etc.

PRO:  If you’re lucky, after time the project or task is cancelled or no longer required and you saved yourself a lot of work.

CON: If you’re not lucky, the deadline gets moved up and you get thrown into a coffee-driven all-nighter complete with lots of junk-food, panic and ‘splainin to do.

PRO:  You have time to think about and consider your M.O. and gather all of the required information.  New information may come along or a new method may be discovered; a new idea may spontaneously come to you while you wait to start…a better idea, so I should wait……just in case.

CON: You cannot be very creative or make any adjustments at the last minute.  You get it done.  Even when you are on a role and ideas start flooding, they are on paper before your brain or imagination has had time to work with it.  We know that over time ideas evolve and grow and new “aha moments” bubble to the surface.  If you’ve waited to start, there’s no time for the ideas to finish creating.  Scratch that:  the ideas keep growing and coming, but you had to hand it in, so it’s too late to make additions.

PRO: There is some truth to the “I work better under pressure mantra.”  There are studies that show a “sweet spot” for anxiety and drive that enable our brains and show up and provide a peak performance when there is something at stake.

CON: This better under pressure thing only works when everything else is ideal and the universe presses all the “perfect condition” buttons in your life.  You can’t get sick.  The power cannot go out.  You cannot be needed to watch children or clean up dog crap.  Your car cannot break down or internet crash, not your car crash and your internet break down.  Your mom can’t need you to fix something or your boss need to help with a different project.  You can’t break a tooth or get sick (I said that one twice cuz your running on adrenaline and it’s going to happen…..).  If you can be absolutely certain that everything else in your life is going to be ROCK solid, then by all means….wait until the last minute and CRAM!  On another note, the “work best under pressure brain showing up with a peak performance thing” really only applies to things you WANT to accomplish.  Those tasks you are ever-avoiding will still be only as good as they’ll ever be.

If you struggle with procrastination keep this in mind: the hardest part is the start.  The rest will come.  Say it over and over to your brain…if you can get past the first step, then you are well on your way.  Your brain gets into “the task” and takes over.  This is often accompanied by the adrenaline rush and a tease of that sense of accomplishment.  Just start.  Take baby steps (anything is overwhelming if it’s a ginormous undertaking?!).  I always like to start with a quote…find what kick-starts your “go” and it’ll be tomorrow before you know it!

A.

Setting your Sails for the Winds of Change

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Change is something we cannot completely control, and a part of life that is inevitable. While it sometimes uncomfortable or even a little scary, often it can bring about positive growth opportunities. It is an important part of “learning” and life. Part of the work in transitions, is helping people to navigate and understand change, and do it in such a way that is comfortable, positive and forward moving. There are a few ways to take an event or lifecycle experience, and create an atmosphere that is easier, helpful and “smoother” in the process of transition from one idea or thing or place to the next. Some of the strategies that can be used in any time of change follow:

*Find routine. Any sort of predictability in times of unknown or questioning can provide comfort. It is helpful to stick to familiar and routine oriented activities whenever possible. For example, if the family has always had a certain meal or outing together weekly (say Sunday nights) this can continue even in a new house or community.

*Determine the things that are within and those that are outside of one’s control. Try to focus on those things to which you have some influence. It can become hopeless and frustrating to focus on things that cannot change, which will only add to overall angst and fear. For example, if you need to move for work to a new community, rather than focusing on that, begin to focus on the choices you are in control of in the new community (i.e. the house you will live in, the activities you will participate in, or the school your kids will attend).

*Find the positives: Taking a situation that feels scary or unknown, and that is somewhat uncomfortable will inevitable cause a person to grow. We often tend to focus on those things that we are worried about or unfamiliar with. Try instead to take any positives or “silver linings” from the changes, however small they may be (i.e. I will never have to wait at “such and such” red light again or now I live closer to Tim Horton’s).

*Honor the uncomfortable feelings you are having and try to identify what is behind them. It is often helpful to “name” the things you are worried about or fearful of in times of change. For example “I am afraid I won’t be able to make any friends.” This will help with the next step. Once you can name the fear or negative emotion it is easier to communicate with others and work towards solutions.

*Work at finding solutions or ways to cope with the feelings and unknowns. If you know you are afraid of making new friends or not being able to find a new job etc. it is important to begin to problem solve through various things to try or ways to handle these possibilities (i.e. if I can’t find a job, I will ______ or _______ or _____. If I have trouble making friends at my new school, I can try to _____ or _____ or _____). Having these tools or possible solutions will lessen fear.

* Learn as much as you can about the situation. Knowledge is power, and thus if you are presented with something that is out of your control, or makes you feel powerless or worried, it is important to learn as much as you can about it, the possible outcomes, the potential positives and negatives and how this change will affect you. This will help to be better prepared for it when it comes. For example, try to learn about the new school or community, or what to expect as you move away from home. The more you understand and are ready for the change, the better able to “handle” it you can be.

*Remember times you have experienced “change” (even in small forms) in the past, and were able to come through it, even if you had to adjust some things. Remembering these times will help you to build confidence that you have experienced things like this before and done well.

*Keep in mind all things pass: Once the major change occurs, and you begin to adapt and learn the things you need to in order to enjoy the differences, you will again be more comfortable in your situation. Keep in mind that you will have accomplished one more thing, and while the process if often difficult or scary, it will come to that point of understanding and acceptance eventually and in your own time.

*Surround yourself with help and supports. Try not to do everything yourself, and in fact take it easy on your mind and body as they are trying to adjust and figure things out also. It can be exhausting to process and understand change never mind all of the things you actually have to do (i.e. find a new job, move, rearrange schedules etc). Be sure you have emotional support. Change can be difficult and scary, and it can be helpful to have someone walk through the process with you, and help you to understand various pieces of it…..that’s what friends are for!

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