Facing change

All around, there are signs of change – a new crispness in the air, a return to autumn routines and activities, and the awareness that winter is approaching. Like many people, it’s my favourite time of year: I enjoy feeling re-energized, being motivated to start new projects, and reconnecting with family and friends at Thanksgiving. The changes all around make me aware of how often we go through transitions in our lives. A child moves away to begin school; we leave a job, relationship or city; we face a challenging diagnosis – the waves of change keep coming at us, whether we are ready for them or not. At times, we feel “on top of” the changes, and can ride those waves without losing our balance; at other moments, they overwhelm us, and we find ourselves under the wave. Partly, that is due to the time between the waves, and whether we have time to recover from one before the next one hits. But there are also personal factors  – patterns of behaviour and thought that build our buoyancy, and allow us to stay resilient in the face of change.

One very important factor is staying connected to others. Think of the people you want to spend time with, and how you could build those relationships. Is there a way to add one extra contact this week – to call an old friend, chat with your neighbour, or reach out to someone new? Letting someone know that you’ve been thinking about them is a great way to begin the conversation. You can also build connection through regular activities. Is there a club, team, class that you used to participate in, and have been meaning to rejoin? Spending time around healthy people increases your ability to deal with the transitions in your life.

At times, we do not have the energy to reach out – we need others to take the initiative and connect with us. In these situations, it’s important to say “yes” when help is offered. It’s difficult for any adult to admit that a helping hand is needed, but allowing friends, family, neighbours and professionals to contribute to your well-being builds these relationships at a time when you need them most. Take some time to make a list of the things that need doing (housework, phone calls, grocery shopping, repairs…), and when someone asks how they can help, share your to-do list and see if there is anything they can take on. Your friends will appreciate knowing what kind of practical support to offer, and having extra hands will save you energy, speed your recovery and strengthen these relationships.

Another important way to build resilience is to take good care of yourself, by exercising, taking breaks, and paying attention to your own needs and feelings. A brief word about exercise: countless studies have shown that it actually reverses the effects of stress and aging in our bodies. If you are able to exercise everyday, you will find that you have more patience, more vitality, and an easier time dealing with life’s curve balls.

Recognizing and acting upon our needs is not something we are taught or encouraged to do. In fact, our society measures and rates us according to quite opposite criteria: how many tasks can we complete each day, and how much can we resemble the Energizer bunny! Focusing on our own needs in the moment requires a major shift in thinking, and conscious exploration. To begin the process, check-in with yourself in quiet moments and follow through on what you sense is needed: it could be a 15 minute nap when your body craves sleep, or heeding your inner voice when it says “don’t trust this situation”. Staying connected in this way makes it more likely that you’ll have the resources needed to deal with changes as they happen.

There are many other factors that build resilience, which I’d be happy to discuss in person, but these two are a great place to start if you are facing change this fall.


Another hot summer day, when the most appealing thing to do is read a book under the shade of the apple trees, or take a walk in the cool wind at the beach. But how many of us are heeding our instinctual call to relax? Is it possible for you to reduce your workload when you feel the need to unwind, or do you keep going no matter how you feel – fuelled by adrenaline and caffeine? Do holidays give you a deep sense of peace, or do they involve to-do lists and unpredictable stressors?

We live in a busy culture that values productivity and accomplishment. The baby boomers, known as “the workaholic generation,” are particularly affected. Symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, pain in the neck or back, irritable bowel and insomnia have become common, and point to stress overload. We look for ways to manage or reduce our stress, but many of us have actually forgotten what it feels like to be relaxed. It makes sense, then, to get back in touch with that awareness, to deeply relax our bodies and minds first, and then explore strategies that will help us to stay in that zone.

A simple exercise can bring us back to relaxation.

Listen to an exercise here by clicking on this link – Relaxation Exercise

How do you feel now?

If you are interested in spending more time connecting to the sensations of relaxation in your body, there are a number of different tools and techniques that I’ll be sharing in my Soothe Your Stress workshop. Give me a call at 250-937-1223/ 250-616-0502 to learn more.



Balancing You, Me and Us

When my daughter was a baby, we lived in a part of Africa where malarial mosquitoes, poisonous snakes and scorpions all posed a danger. At night, I put her in a cradle surrounded by protective netting, and if she made a sound, I got up right away to check. Without elders to feed, love and watch over her, she would not have survived. As is true for all mammals, separation = danger at that early age. We rely on our family, pack or herd to keep us safe.

As we grow, our competence increases, and we test the limits of our power. We want to be loved and accepted by others, but we also start to define our unique self by (1) asking for what we want, (2) saying “no” to things we can’t tolerate, and (3) getting angry when we don’t feel respected. Our first attempts are pretty clumsy (think of the toddler who says no to almost everything) but over time we learn to skillfully balance our own needs with the expectations around us. We maintain our boundaries by fluidly assessing what is happening inside and around us, calculating likely outcomes and determining which course of action is right in any given situation. If our caregivers, teachers and friends are able to create a satisfactory balance for themselves, then they help us to fine-tune this ability and avoid hurt. If not, we grow up favouring our own needs over others, or pleasing others at our own expense.

Like many other baby boomers, I was raised to say “no” to myself rather than disappoint others. I still run into situations where my knee-jerk reaction is to protect someone’s feelings and avoid speaking a truth, but I’m now very aware of the damage that can be done if I follow this impulse. When politeness trumps self-respect, good health and mutually satisfying relationships, then the right course of action is obvious. But what of small, everyday decisions, when the outcome is not so clear? Do I tell my brother that his teasing is offensive, or shake my head and put up with it? If a colleague rubs me the wrong way, do I let her know that she is out of line, or swallow my annoyance? Checking in with “gut feelings” is an important step in deciding whether to speak up or let something go. Feelings of hurt, anger or anxiety indicate that something about this situation is not okay, and that speaking honestly is warranted.

It takes practice to tune in to these inner sensations, and to put a voice to them. There are exercises that allow us to connect with the body’s wisdom, and then use it to make boundary decisions that keep ourselves and our relationships healthy. Once we’ve tuned in, we must also choose the right words or action to take, and this requires preparation and planning. In the long run, taking the time to improve our boundary skills reaps big rewards. We become clearer in communicating with others; we spend more time in good relationships; and we feel stronger and more solid.

For more information on body sensations, boundaries and communication, contact Stephanie at 250-937-1223 (Parksville), 250-616-0502 (Nanaimo) or www.spetercounselling.ca




A solid foundation

What do we need in order to live deeply satisfying and healthy lives? It’s not, as the marketers keep telling us, a top of the line automobile, cutting-edge technology or a face without wrinkles. It’s much more fundamental than any of these. We begin to develop it in childhood, and refine it throughout the ups and downs of our lives. It is unique; no-one else shares it with us, no matter how closely they are related. It can be damaged by life circumstances, yet it also gives us the resiliency to navigate the sorrows and frustrations found in every life story. It is a healthy self-concept.

Self-concept is made up of many things: the way we feel about ourselves, our perception of our strengths and weaknesses, and our beliefs about our character and abilities. Although the overall flavour may remain the same over time, scientists agree that our beliefs about ourselves continually adjust, in response to current experiences. Did you get the lawn mowed during that last spell of sunshine? Receive a heartfelt thank-you from an appreciative friend? Do a really good job on a project at work? Your self-concept will add these accomplishments to its database, and your feelings about yourself will be buoyed upward. When our actions align with how we ideally would like to be, we feel positive and strong. If we see our actions falling short of this ideal self, we can start to feel vulnerable and less worthy. For example, if you’d planned to help a friend move, but were caught up in a time crunch at work, you may end up bad-mouthing yourself and feeling depressed: “I’m a lousy friend, I could have done both if I’d really pushed myself”. Feedback from the outside world plays an important role as well: if your friend blames you or says you are unreliable, you can start to feel anxious and stressed.

So, how can we keep our self-concept healthy when we are only human? It’s not possible to live up to our own ideals or the expectations of others 100% of the time. What techniques will give us perspective when rejection or criticism strikes?

Aim for realistic, rather than perfect. To make sure that you are judging yourself fairly, ask whether you would expect a good friend to reach the same standards that you are setting for yourself. If the answer is ‘no’, look at modifying your goals so that you can achieve what you want in a reasonable way.

Practice right action. Whenever you do your best in a situation, achieve what you set out to do, or help another person, you are practicing right action. The resulting sense of accomplishment feeds back into your self-concept, allowing you to feel more competent, valuable and on-track.

Forgive yourself for being human. Let’s face it, you can cling to the dream of being perfect, or you can appreciate who you really are, and allow yourself to learn from your mistakes.

If you’d like to talk more about ways to gain perspective and build a positive sense of self, give me a call. Stephanie is a Registered Clinical Counsellor with offices in Parksville and Nanaimo, and can be reached at 250-937-1223/ 250-616-0502 or www.spetercounselling.ca