Perfectionism is when someone strives for flawlessness, setting standards that are impossibly high and only achievable through great effort or not at all. Perfectionism leads to frustration, self-criticism, and procrastination (to avoid the discomfort inevitable in the perfectionist ideal).
Below are some tips on how to be a high achiever without falling into the perfectionist trap. One way to frame this is skillful striving. Skillful striving involves being present and allowing for discomfort as you flexibly move toward your values. Three helpful skills with healthy striving are fierce self-compassion (protecting yourself, drawing boundaries or standing up for yourself), values and committed action (deciding on behaviors driven by values even in the face of emotional discomfort or difficult thoughts).
Below are tips to help guide skillful striving.
- Pay attention to what stressful striving/perfectionism versus values-based hard work feels like in your body. Notice when striving has become unhealthy for you. Are you neglecting important areas of your life? Do you avoid certain activities or experiences? Is there tension in your body?
- Look at what is driving your striving/perfectionism. Is there something uncomfortable that you are trying to avoid (like feelings of unworthiness or thoughts of not good enough)?
- Notice how your behavior does not have to be dictated by avoiding emotional discomfort. Make a choice to turn toward your values, even if it is uncomfortable.
- Say no, even to good things, to say yes to your values.
- Notice when you are spinning the “wheels” of the mind. Notice “thinking traps” or the way thoughts seems to promise something, but it never happens- “once I get this perfect, I will feel good about myself”. This is a fleeting state based on not being good enough and inevitably the feelings of inadequacy will return.
Below are checklists of unhealthy striving (perfectionism) and healthy striving (working hard to achieve). These checklists can help bring awareness to perfectionist tendencies and offer alternatives to perfectionism. We can work hard, and achieve, in a balanced way taking care of ourselves.
Unhealthy striving checklist
Do you use work/schoolwork to avoid feeling you aren’t good enough?
Do you keep doing more but never feel like you are doing enough?
Do you neglect important areas of your life (health, friendship)?
Do you see your inner critic as helpful?
Do you avoid taking risks outside your comfort zone?
Do you compete with people who don’t have the same goals as you?
Do you avoid taking time off because you feel guilty?
Do you reach a big achievement only to quickly move to the next one?
Skillful striving checklist
Are you present and engaged in your work/schoolwork?
Do you set goals based on your values?
Do you prioritize important domains in your life?
Do you pause to take in the good of your achievements?
Are you encouraging, kind and motivating when you make mistakes?
Are you courageous and take risks outside your comfort zone?
Do you feel meaning, purpose and belonging to your work/schoolwork?
Do you set boundaries and take time off even if you feel guilty?
Hill, Diana. “How ACT can help you be a high achiever without losing yourself”. Your life in Process Blog. Spotify, January 10, 2022.
Blog Post by Registered Psychologist, Alison Campbell
Grief and Loss
Grief and Loss
We often associate grief with death. However, there are many different types of loss in our lives that may leave us with conflicting emotions. Financial loss, changing jobs or schools, loss of trust, loss of safety, loss of a family pet, or loss of a close friend may all stir up strong emotions. Grief is a direct and natural response when we lose a relationship or an attachment to someone or something. Allowing ourselves, and our children, a safe space to process and grieve any loss is vital to moving forward with our grief.
The Institute of Child Psychology summarizes strategies that can be helpful in promoting recovery during times of grief, such as normalizing that we are going through a difficult time and acceptance of the uncomfortable emotions. Here are two videos that illustrate our typical reactions to loss and how we can best support ourselves and others.
Blog Post by Clinical Counsellor, Ashley Carlson
Addictions: Gaining Understanding and Finding the Path to Recovery
Addictions: Gaining Understanding and Finding the Path to Recovery
“Addiction is not a choice that anybody makes; it’s not a moral failure. What it actually is: it’s a response to human suffering.”
– Dr. Gabor Maté
Five years ago, I discovered my passion of supporting people with substance use disorders as a student at a non-profit clinic in Penticton, BC. The clinic was focused on providing grassroots substance use treatment services, and it was there that I had many opportunities to help individuals and families that had been impacted by substance use disorders. I stood on the frontlines and watched as members of the community were taken by Canada’s Opioid Crisis, which has claimed a suspected 32,632 lives and resulted in 33,493 hospitalizations across the country from January 2016 to June 2022 (Government of Canada, 2022). Through my experiences, I observed a significant gap in public understanding about addiction, and I want to bridge that gap by shedding light on this complex issue.
So what exactly is a substance use disorder, and how does it affect people’s lives?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that “addiction” is a complex condition that can affect people in different ways. It’s not just about being physically dependent on a substance or behavior, but also about the intense psychological and emotional attachment to it. It is important to understand that it is very common for people to use substances or engage in behaviors and not be addicted to them. “Substance use” occurs when someone uses alcohol or drugs but there are no negative consequences. “Substance misuse” or “substance abuse” happens when a person experiences some negative consequences as a result of their drug or alcohol use. A “substance use disorder” is a medically recognized term to describe when a person feels like they need to use substances regardless of continued negative consequences.
“Addictions” can develop for a variety of reasons, such as to cope with stress or other uncomfortable emotions, to fit in with a certain group, or even just out of curiosity. It can also be influenced by genetics and other biological factors. The most common forms of “addictions” are substance use disorders, such as alcoholism and drug addiction. However, it’s also possible to be “addicted” to behaviors like gambling, shopping, eating, exercising, and even the internet.
One proven effective strategy for reducing the harms related to substance use disorders is known as “Harm Reduction” which aims to eliminate as much risk as possible from otherwise risky activities. Examples of drug-related harm reduction strategies include supplying clean needles, providing access to naloxone kits to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, and offering supportive treatment recovery services. As a society, it is common for us to employ harm reduction in a variety of other non-drug related areas, such as encouraging the use of seatbelts, providing safer sex education and supplies, educating people on fire safety with the use of smoke alarms, and encouraging healthy eating and physical activity to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. It is important to recognize that harm reduction is a helpful step in many people’s journey of recovery.
When someone is struggling with “addiction”, it can have serious consequences on their physical and mental health, as well as their relationships, responsibilities, and overall quality of life. It’s not something that can be overcome easily, and often requires professional help and support both for and from loved ones. But it’s important to remember that substance use disorders and behavioural addictions are treatable, and there is hope for recovery. With the right support and resources, it is possible to break free from the cycle of addiction and rebuild a healthy, fulfilling life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are many resources available, including harm reduction services, individual therapy, support groups, and rehabilitation programs. It’s never too late to start the journey towards recovery.
Government of Canada (2022, December 14). Federal actions on opioids to date. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/opioids/federal-actions/overview.html
Maté, Gabor. (2018). In the realm of hungry ghosts. Vermilion.
The Benefits of Activities that You Love
Activities that You Love
often find myself discussing the importance of hobbies and interests with clients. Our mental health can be impacted by many different things, but one often overlooked factor is doing activities that you enjoy; otherwise known as hobbies. A hobby can be something related to creativity, sports, or academics. A hobby can be anything from reading, playing board games, drawing, playing a sport, going for hikes, gardening, etc. Doing an activity that you enjoy during your spare time can reduce stress levels. Studies have shown that participant’s levels of cortisol have been lower, after participating in an activity. Engaging in an activity has also been known toincrease a person’s mood by decreasing feelings of anxiousness and sadness, enhance overall well-being, and social activities have been known to enhance a person’s social connection with others. Sometimes people who have few or no hobbies or interests can struggle with their mood, energy levels, motivation, and/or isolation. Get out there and try some new things! Figure outwhat you enjoy and have fun!
Parkhurst, Emma (2021) https://extension.usu.edu/mentalhealth/articles/how-hobbies-improve-mental-health
Blog Post by Provisional Psychologist, Jenn Yim-Rodier
Connection – Joy – Gratitude
We are wired for connection. The human connection of feeling seen and feeling validated allows us to feel a sense of belonging and love. When a disconnect in our lives occurs, our mental wellbeing becomes affected in so many ways.
Dr. Jody Carrington a clinical psychologist from Olds, Alberta has been an impactful influence on me not only as a clinical counsellor, but as a mom, a wife, a coach, a friend, and aco-worker. Dr. Jody Carrington is whom I call my Wayne Gretzky. Dr. Jody Carrington is an author of the books, “Kids These Days,” “Teachers These Days,” and her latest book is called “Feeling Seen.” I appreciate how raw, real, and honest Dr. Jody Carrington is. Her way of educating, teaching, and sharing her powerful tools of support, reconnect, and feeling seen are what we all need right now.
Our mental health has been affected more than it has ever been especially since the pandemic. Without doubt, the world became disconnected, shutdown, heightened with the unknown, and feelings of fear. As humans we need to reconnect in our world again. What does that look like for you? During the pandemic, our routines were completely stopped in their tracks and then abruptly everything in our lives started up again. Our body, our mind, and our hearts became dysregulated and having the ability to emotionally regulate all aspects of our mental and physical well-being have been difficult to emotionally manage and repair.
Know this, it is essential that we all help each other, walk along side each other, and reconnect with those around us every day. We are not meant to work through our struggles alone, reach out, and check-in with those around you..
From reading Dr. Jody Carrington’s books, listening to her podcosts, reading her blogs, and attending speaking engagements of her sharing her insights I have identified three mental wellness words (CONNECT, JOY, GRATITUDE) I reflect on every day to bring myself to the present, reconnect with myself and others, and fill my life with joyful moments . I not only do this reflection for myself, but utilize these three mental wellness words in conversations with clients, with my children, my husband, and anyone I walk along side with.
Here are some guided questions for you try:
Last week I took this picture just behind my house off a grid road where I take my dog out for a walk and I reflected on these three powerful words!
Connection – My dog Remi; I love when his ears pop up every time you ask if he wants to go for a walk. The power and therapeutic connection Remi has with me is something I didn’t realize could happen.
Joy – Having time to be in wide open spaces and smiling at the sunrise moment that I was able to sit still and take it all in.
Gratitude – I was thankful that I get to drive my kids to school in the morning. I appreciate that I get this opportunity.
-Blog Post by Registered Social Worker, Trina Hjelsing
Life Threatening Allergies and Anxiety
Living with Life Threatening Allergies
My Personal Experience
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The possibility of being exposed to a life-threatening situation can cause anxiety for the person with the allergy as well as friends and family. I grew up with an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts that became severe over time. I have early memories of my tongue swelling, breaking out into hives, vomiting, and taking trips to the hospital to be treated. These were “moderate” reactions, but not life threatening at the time. When I was 17 years old, I took a small bite out of cookie at my Nana’s house and knew right away this reaction was going to be more intense. My dad and grandfather drove me to the hospital immediately to be treated with IV medications. I initially responded well to the treatment and the swelling in my mouth subsided, but a while later I experienced a secondary reaction which resulted in anaphylaxis. I remember telling medical staff my breathing was getting worse before not being able to speak or take in breath. I do not remember anything after this until I regained consciousness.
I was later told by my grandfather that a nurse was not optimistic about my prognosis and directed him to contact my mom. I now understand both my dad and grandfather were somewhat traumatized by this experience. I remember them tell family members about how scared they were and that I was lucky to be alive. I had to stay in intensive care with a nurse who was called in to work just to monitor me. This is the first time I felt guilt about having allergies. It was Easter long weekend and I had taken this lovely, caring nurse away from her family to sit and watch me so she could intervene immediate should my breathing become poor again. This was also the first time I had been educated about secondary reactions and anaphylaxis. While I had experienced several allergic reactions, none of them were nearly as severe as this one.
Anxiety Symptoms Are Normal After Anaphylaxis
After being discharged from the hospital; my family and Ibecame hypervigilant around food, eating out at restaurants, and family holidays. My cousin, who was a child at the time, all of a sudden was scared to eat nuts out of fear that something bad would happen to him. The adults, while well meaning and needing to process this event by re-telling this story too many times, had managed to whip up anxiety in family members without allergies. I remember trying to reassure my little cousin that he would be safe it he ate nuts, but my story became a narrative in his mind that told him nuts can kill people. Anytime I experienced a tingle in my mouth or an itch on my skin, an immediate alarm went off in my brain telling me that I was in immediate danger. I did not trust ingredient labels, relatives, or even myself when it came to food preparation. I learned to use an epi-pen and was told to use it immediately before attending the hospital. Despite having a medical emergency plan, I was still experiencing excessive anxiety and feeling like there was a constant threat looming.
Coping With Allergy-Related Anxiety
It took years for me to me to settle into a world without feeling hypervigilant most of the time. I had to begin with challenging my thinking along with using breathing to calm my brain. It wasn’t logical for me to believe I was in persistent danger when actual risk of anaphylaxis is rare. I learned to use relaxation techniques and progressive muscle relaxation to accept that I do have other food allergies that cause mild allergic reactions that I can tolerate without my brain going to worse case scenario. I learned to play detective and ask myself questions to appreciatemost of my thinking about allergies was not rational.
I have learned to appreciate the improvement in food labels with allergy warnings and for learning to advocate for myself when it comes to communicating my needs. I am grateful that I have friends and family who have learned how to prepare food safely for me and feel comfortable eating in their homes instead of isolating myself from social interactions. There are a small percentage of folks who do not empathize or recognize, but I accept that they are not in the mindset to understand instead of taking it personally. I have practiced gratitude for the many other blessings I have instead of focusing on what I am unable to control. I often aske clients what they would go back and tell themselves after they have experienced challenging times. I would tell myself, my family, and other families that allergies can be well managed. Take a little extra time to educate yourself, carry epi-pens, and have a plan for worst case scenario. Take less time allowing anxiety to take over your mind so you can live a fulfilled life.
Blog Post by Registered Social Worker, Jenny Lynn’s-Mouyois
What happens when we “lean in” to our feelings?
“We avoid the things we fear.” – Dr. Becky Kennedy, Registered Doctoral Psychologist, Good Inside
No one likes feeling uncomfortable, certainly not for any longer than they have to. So when we are experience an uncomfortable emotion, we usually try to make that feeling disappear. Whether our discomfort stems from anxiety or stress, anger or frustration, annoyance, or fear, usually would rather avoid it then have to actively face it. As a result, when faced with “negative” emotions, one of two things can happen:
1. We get swept away by the feeling = overwhelmed and dysregulated
2. We run from the feeling = seek distraction and practicing avoidance
Unfortunately, both of these responses leave us unprepared to manage the feelings in that moment and in the ones that come up in the future.
Emotions are often a part of therapeutic work. We name them, categorize them, learn why we have them, the purpose they serve, and why they might present themselves the way that they do. Then we learn how to manage those feelings, reduce them, even try to make them go away. But in reality, we cannot get rid of our feelings, and, in fact, we shouldn’t try to.
All of our feelings hold value. Joy, jealousy, worry, disgust, surprise…each feeling under the sun offers us information into what we are experiencing internally. When we feel happy, it’s celebrated. We don’t go around telling others not to feel so happy, that there isn’t anything to be happy out, or that we can help them reduce their happiness. But when it comes to anxiety or anger for example, that’s usually our go-to approach. Why? Because those feelings don’t feel as good, can be harder to manage, and can get in the way of our daily functioning.
But what if instead of running from or getting swept away by our feelings, we learn to “lean in” to them. And not just some of them, but all of them.
Leaning in, sitting with, orbeing mindful of, are all ways of saying: accepting our feelings as they are. Leaning in is choosing to stay with a feeling, allowing it to settle in our body and mind, and letting it be recognized without taking over. Leaning in is choosing not to distract ourselves or avoid what is happening, even when that is the easy thing to do. Leaning in the idea of exercising control over how powerful the feeling is (i.e., not letting it pull us under) by standing sturdy beside it.
When we accept how we feel and acknowledge that while it might not be comfortable that it is valuable, it’s then that we can begin to develop a functional relationship with our feelings. A relationship that works WITH our feelings helps to:
Create tolerance of difficult experiences
Improve ability to manage challenges
Once we believe that we can safely feel all of our feelings, then we can create coping strategies to utilize when more challenging feelings arise, allowing us we can see them, accept them, and respond to them in a way that is adaptive.
So if you’re up for it, next time a less comfortable feeling presents itself, take notice, get curious about why it might there, and try to sit with it, even briefly and see what changes for you.
– Blog Post by Registered Psychologist, Megan Adams Lebell
Navigating the Holiday Season
I love holiday seasons! Those special days like Christmas, Easter, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, etc., are often not just a single day for me. There are so many things to do, people to see, activities to participate in; how do people manage if they limit these awesome times to a single day? Sounds like a recipe for sensory overload to me. Even when I prolong the pleasure (or the agony, depending upon perspective), over a couple of days (or a month), the experience can become overwhelming. The sights, smells, and sounds of any of the holiday days can be exquisite, and intense. Neurodiverse individuals are often even more acutely aware of these sensory aspects (aka stressors), than neurotypical individuals are. I am often asked at the clinic how to help families mitigate holiday stressors. Sadly, there are no magical aspects to this as different people respond differently to different stressors. Generally speaking though, there are often a few things I suggest trying to help make special occasions more manageable for our neurodiverse loved ones and their families.
Saying No During the Holiday Season
Saying No During the Holiday Season
Holiday season is upon us. December can have lots of excitement, gatherings, and celebrations. We may feel sucked into the hustle and bustle. We will try to be everywhere and do everything so that we squeeze all those visits in and no one is disappointed.
Is this realistic?
I want to give you the permission to say no. Your time and energy is important, valuable, and you get to decide how and where it is placed.
If you are having an inner battle about what decision is best for you, here are some strategies that you can try:
Do a gut check or feelings scan and really listen to what your body is telling you. If you are exhausted and overwhelmed then this self awareness is important and should be honored.
Take time to answer. As a society that is driven by cell phones and technology usage some of us may feel the need to provide an immediate response (I know I do …..). Put the phone down in the evening and come back to the response in the morning with a fresh perspective.
Speak your truth in a clear and decisive way. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a kind and pleasant “no thank you.” I encourage you to practice this short and sweet response.
Do not overexplain, defend, or debate your response. You have permission to make the decision that is best for you. Only you know what that is. Own your emotional needs with love and self compassion.
Cheers to you!
Blog Post by Registered Social Worker, Nicole Wright