This month I had the opportunity to give a speech on positive mental health practices to 700 people at the Greater Essex County District School Board in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
The audience was comprised of education support staff and front line workers, including Education Assistants, Child and Youth Care Workers, Developmental Services Workers, Teachers, Social Workers, Psychologists, and Principals.
Sample PPT Slides
Cultivating Mental Health
Dr. Marc Crundwell, the chief psychologist with the school board, and I began working on this event on March 23. Which is why I am excited to share a video of the presentation with you today.
Wherever you are right now – stand up. Put your arms to the ceiling and take a long breath. Bring your arms to your toes and hold them there. Repeat five times throughout the day. Show your limbs some love today.
When was the last time you took a break during lunch? No phone. No computer. Just you and your turkey sandwich. Today is that day. Cherish your lunch. Enjoy every bite. Give yourself the gift of a lunch break.
My favourite way to improve the day is through movement. Whether it be a stroll around the block, hugging a tree in the park, or a one-hour cardio session at the club. Do what works for you, independent of everyone else. Commit to moving one extra step today.
When was the last time you sat in silence? Today is that day. Set an alarm on your phone for three hours from now. Start with seven minutes of absolute silence. Write down what you find out about yourself.
Today’s story begins in the middle of a spin class. The point in time where you feel like giving up the most.
Because the middle is always the hardest. Whether it be the middle of a semester, the middle of a week, or the middle of a pandemic.
It was thirty minutes into class, and we had finished a tough uphill climb. I wanted to celebrate how far we had come, so I began clapping and cheering.
Despite my excitement, my instructor gave me a curious look and said: “Why are you clapping Andrea? We are far from being done.”
She was right. We still had a significant amount of time left in our workout. But I wasn’t clapping because we were finished. I was clapping because we had hit the wall and survived. I was clapping to energize.
Cheering in the Middle
A cheering strategy that I often use in my own classroom. Students are geared up at the start of the semester and pumped up at the end. It’s in the middle that their commitment starts to falter.
This is when I clap wholeheartedly simply because students show up to class. Both in person and online. A fun gesture underscoring how much I value their commitment to education. And they love it!
Small Gestures Energize
This year I am reminded how small gestures energize big time. Be it a high five. A wide smile. A kind word. Or calling a student by name.
Because beginnings have their own ticker parades. And endings take care of themselves.
It’s in the middle of a challenge where we need positive energy the most.
Applying these principles in your life
Celebrate small wins throughout the day. Keep track with post it notes.
Create a playlist of songs that remind you of pivotal wins and achievements.
Take frequent dance breaks in unexpected places.
Clap and cheer when family members arrive home from work.
Don’t be afraid to stand out. You may be the pick me up a stranger needs to keep going and not give up.
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”
With time, I have come to realize that failure has always been my greatest teacher. Each failure pointed me in a better direction and helped me to develop strength and authenticity, ultimately unveiling who I was and what I was destined to become
F. A. I. L. = First Attempt In Learning
• The failing grade I received on my first exam in graduate school taught me how to ask for support when I needed it most, no matter how shameful I felt or embarrassed I was.
• The end of a long-term relationship taught me how to value my time alone and make tough decisions for myself, no matter how weak I felt or lonesome I was.
• The layoff from a job I loved taught me how to let go, look forward, and trust in something so much bigger than myself, no matter how scared I was or irrelevant I felt.
“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
Is it possible to see failure in a positive light?
Under the right conditions, failure strengthens us, adds to our self-knowledge, and enhances the quality of our lives
• If it weren’t for failure, I would not have met my husband John.
• If it weren’t for failure, I would not be a psychology professor.
• If it weren’t for failure, I would not have written three textbooks.
• If it weren’t for failure, I would not be the person I am today.
Specifically, each time you criticize an area of your life (or something about yourself personally), write down three positive aspects about the very thing you condemned. Hence, the 3 to 1 positivity ratio.
For example, each time you get down on yourself for not working during the COVID-19 pandemic, write down three benefits of sheltering in place. (E.g., more time for fitness, the space to try out new hobbies, meaningful conversations with family members). This daily practice helps to dampen the adverse impact of negativity bias, a type of cognitive distortion, common to all of us.
Likewise, stop comparing your lowlights to other people’s highlights. You never know what’s happening behind the scenes in another person’s life. Good or bad. FOMO is “a story” fabricated in the mind based on snippets of observable behaviour (video below).
How has COVID-19 eased (or increased) the pressure you put on yourself and the people around you?
What does acceptance “feel” like physically in your body versus fighting “what is”?
What have you surrendered lately? Let go?
You Can’t Add More to Your Life Without First Letting Go
Today I would like to shine a light on a local entrepreneur named Alex Binaei, the creative mind behind Windsor Updates and the video highlighted in this post.
Adversity → Creativity
Alex’s video for Windsor Updates is one of the best examples of how crisis and adversity create innovation and ingenuity. In both our community and in ourselves.
♥ Pass It On ♥
This video is a compilation of news, announcements, and local community members discussing the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic taking place in Windsor-Essex Ontario and around the world. Including offers of support, advice, and information.
“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”
Research on Social Support & Psychological Health
Being surrounded by people who are supportive helps individuals see themselves as capable of handling stress and adversity. Research has also shown that having strong social support in times of crisis can help reduce the consequences of trauma-induced disorders including PTSD.
Every time we take a long deep breath, we are telling our bodies that we are safe.
Each breath connecting
our mind, body, and heart.
Bringing us back to present time.
Breathing Techniques To Try
Follow Your Breath Become aware of each inhalation and exhalation. Focus on the sensations you feel as air passes through your nose and throat. When you feel your thoughts drift, gently redirect your attention back to your breath.
Stand Up Straight Posture is especially important for breathing. Being upright enhances the rhythmic movement between the diaphragm and ribs. Hold yourself straight. Shoulders back. Feel the power of your breath.
Think Reassuring Thoughts While Breathing With each breath, think soothing thoughts (“I am inhaling calm”). With each exhalation, imagine that you are expelling your fears and worries (“I am exhaling worry”).
Abdominal Breathing Breathe through your stomach. Start by inflating your belly by inhaling, as if to fill it with air, then swell your chest; as you exhale, first “empty” your stomach, then your chest.
Balanced Breathing At the end of each inhalation, pause briefly while slowly counting “1, 2, 3”. Hold the air in. Then slowly exhale counting “1, 2, 3”.
1. Student leaders first identified their triggers. Including emotional, cognitive, situational, and physical stressors. CATCH
2. Then they practiced taking a time-out (long deep breath) during high pressure moments. PAUSE
3. Finally, they shared both self-care (fitness, sleep, nutrition) and professional resources (counselling) that help them replenish unmet psychological and physical needs (as outlined on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). REPAIR
When we feel a painful emotion, our first instinct is to pull away. To numb the pain. To hide from the intensity.
This was the case for Sarah and Jack, two unique individuals with vastly different circumstances. But they each experienced the same emotion: loneliness. An emotion that is heightened during the holidays.
Sarah was a 42-year-old recently divorced woman who was about to face her first holiday season alone. Living in a new town, miles away from friends and family, she was waiting to begin a new job in January. Hours felt like days.
Days felt like months. Sarah had tried everything to fill the void inside. The mistake she made was running away from the one thing that would help get her to the other side: loneliness itself.
Knowledge is power
1. Understand the emotion
We need to first understand an emotion before we jump to the conclusion that it’s either good or bad, because in reality, emotions are almost entirely physiological in nature.
This theory of emotion explains why two people can experience the exact same event and have completely different emotional reactions to it.
What matters most is the person’s interpretation of an event, not the event itself. After all, as they say, one person’s glass-half-full is another one’s glass-half-empty.
In Sarah’s situation, she interpreted her physiological response to idle time as loneliness, while another person might label it as much-needed relaxation. Ultimately, Sarah has a choice. One interpretation debilitates; the other empowers.
2. Witness the emotion
Now that Sarah understands the interpretative power she holds over her environmental triggers, the next step is to witness loneliness in a neutral, curious state rather than fighting it at every turn.
In doing so, Sarah neutralizes the intensity of her emotions, allowing them to flow through her, rather than getting stuck in a repetitive loop of pain.
Here are four simple ways to create space between triggers and responses:
Taken one step further, each time that Sarah experiences a challenging emotion during the holidays, rather than running from it she needs to lean in and ask that emotion, “What are you trying to teach me?”
3. Reframe the emotion
The final step for Sarah is to learn how to reframe the situations that trigger her loneliness, and understand why sometimes she overreacts, while other times she lets go without a second thought.
Solitude is perceived as isolation by one person and freedom by another.
Identify a situation that triggers loneliness.
Imagine the best-case scenario: “This situation is temporary.”
Look for evidence of the best-case scenario: “The longest I’ve been single is two years.”
Describe the worst-case scenario: “I will be alone forever.”
Name the benefits of the worst-case scenario: “I am free to do what I want.”
Finally, ask for help in reframing triggers, especially when feeling overwhelmed.
Once Sarah learns how to change the story “behind” the story, her instinctive loneliness lessens. And her ability to choose a higher thought improves.
At 55 years of age, Jack was also feeling the pangs of loneliness. His wife of 25 years died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago.
Unexpected was an understatement. They had run in three marathons together and had spent their weekends sampling new vegan restaurants in their local community. Ever since his wife had died, Jack struggled to face the holidays alone.
Jack’s story is as much about him as it is about the family around him. His family and friends’ automatic response was to feel sorry for him, a response that compounded his feelings of disconnectedness and misunderstanding.
Jack did not want people to feel sorry for him. He was a proud man who was ready to move on.
Get out of your own head
1. Meet with “experienced” widowers
As much as Jack missed his wife, he also missed his ability to connect authentically with friends and family. Having been treated with kid gloves since his wife died, Jack longed to be seen as a victor rather than a victim
As such, I encourage Jack to connect with like-minded individuals who had been through a similar situation: widows and widowers. Specifically, ones who had been on their own for several years.
The benefits are twofold. One, Jack would learn new ways of relating to friends and family. And two, he’d be given the green light to grow and acclimate to his new circumstances.
2. Connect with others in unexpected, low-pressure ways
The other component missing in Jack’s life was fun. Simple, cheerful, good-time fun. Everything had become so serious since his wife died, with almost every conversation beginning or ending with his wife’s death.
There was no doubt that he missed her with all his heart. But equally, he longed for moments where he could be free of the loneliness and pain.
I recommend that Jack reintroduce sports into his life. Something non-competitive that would get him out of the house on a Wednesday night. Better yet, if it involved people that he had never met, it would allow him to continue his journey of reinvention and rediscovery.
Equally therapeutic for Jack would be joining a cinema group or regular euchre meetup—both would offer him a chance to be in the moment and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
3. Honour the old, create the new
Finally, I advise Jack to examine the memories and traditions that he wanted to keep alive during the holidays—and, equally, the ones of which he was ready to let go.
Jack took the practice one step further. Declaring December a month of renewal and reinvention, he revived a strength and peace inside that radiated out to his entire family.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Jack and Sarah have a lot to teach us about loneliness and how important it is to honour the unique ways in which we process adversity.
One size does not fit all. Fellowship and fun were vital for Jack’s growth and recovery, while Sarah needed a more analytical approach to processing difficulty.
Lean into loneliness
Approach it with openness and curiosity
Make space for the lessons beneath the suffering
Video of Post
How do you cope with difficult emotions during the holidays?
What strategies do you use to make peace with the heightened pressures of the Christmas season?
What are your unique traditions and one-of-a-kind celebrations?
Disclaimer: This post and article are for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. To protect the privacy of individuals, names and identifying details have been changed.
Go to bed visualizing three new things you’re grateful for that day.
Joy needs room to breathe.
And so do you.
Remember when you were a kid playing with friends, and before you knew it the street lights came on? If it wasn’t for your mom yelling your name, you would be outside playing all night long. In that moment, you were in a state of flow.
You were completely engaged in what you were doing, independent of everything around you.
Your mom could have called your name for hours, and you wouldn’t have heard a word.
One hundred percent of your attentional capacity was taken up by the activity right in front of you.
Most likely you still experience a state of flow and engagement, but not as often as you like.
Consider the following when you spend time with people:
Do you feel uplifted or drained?
Do you feel listened to or ignored?
Do you feel encouraged or criticized?
Stay close to people who feel like sunshine.
Meaning comes from serving something bigger than ourselves.
Whether it be family, charity, occupation, or community, meaning unites us in a common vision and gives us the will to get through adversity.
Students Are My North Star
That said, meaning can appear elusive to some, so why not consider one purpose each day.
Begin with a typical workday. Choose one purpose, and do something to give meaning to that purpose.
I’ve listed a few options, as well as an example for each:
Pick one person — thank a custodian for their hard work.
Pick one place — post uplifting notes and quotes on a section of the wall.
Pick one time — declare 3 pm gratitude hour.
Achievement is the final component of the PERMA model, and, in many ways, its foundation. Goals give us a sense of achievement and satisfaction, helping us to know if we are headed in the right direction.
The key is to balance our drive and determination with the right level of difficulty. If we set a goal that’s too easy, we get bored. If it’s too hard, we experience learned helplessness.
Set daily goals that are achievable and tied into your highest dreams.
Cultivating mental health daily prepares us for the big things in our life. Every little bit counts, everything adds up. Small things on repeat change the world.
The audience was filled a very special group of people. Individuals that have been battling the chronic condition of Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) their whole lives.
Optimism and Health Empowerment
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) describes a group of conditions, the two main forms of which are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. IBD also includes indeterminate colitis.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are diseases that inflame the lining of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract and disrupt your body’s ability to digest food, absorb nutrition, and eliminate waste in a healthy manner.
Individuals with chronic health problems such as IBD often feel a sense of helplessness and disempowerment over their bodies.
Which is why teaching concrete strategies for focusing on what’s within one’s control (beliefs and attitudes; deep breathing; present moment awareness) and letting go of what’s not (waiting times; IBD diagnosis; doctor availability) is so important.
Believing you can is half the battle.
Research in health psychology shows that optimism and having hope in one’s future has a significant impact on whether patients follow through on medical advice.
Optimism has also been found to improve overall quality of life, well-being, and happiness of cancer patients.
Click Here for Research on Health, Hope, and Optimism
Optimism Can Be Learned
The good news is that optimism is a skill that can be learned.
Optimism / pessimism are not fixed personality traits that someone is lucky (or unlucky) enough to be born with.
Optimism / pessimism are states (not traits) that are malleable and open to change.
Optimism / pessimism are attributional styles that can be taught and reinforced over time.
Using Attribution Theory, I can tell a lot about someone by the way they interpret the events that happen in their lives, particularly the explanatory style they use in analyzing setbacks versus successes.
The pessimist perceives failures as personal, permanent, and pervasive, and thus has difficulty moving beyond setbacks. They often get lost in a recurrent loop of negativity.
In contrast, optimists see setbacks as universal. to everyone, temporary in time, and limited to one or two areas of their lives.
1. Identify a problem you have faced as a student leader.
2. Determine what’s “below the surface” that could potentially be the source of the problem.
3. Explore the problem from the perspective of the student.
4. Describe the problem and potential solution using both the leader’s and the student’s perspectives.
5. Summarize the lessons and potential opportunities of the original problem. Eg. What did you learn about yourself? What did you learn about the student?
1. What are your goals as student leader for the school year?
2. What are your goals as team member for the school year?
3. What are your greatest assets for the team?
4. What areas do you need assistance from the team?
What brings you joy on a Saturday morning, Friday night, or Tuesday afternoon?
From my experience, it’s never the time, the day, or the month that brings good vibes.It’s how we feel on the inside.So why wait another minute for happy hour. Create the life you want wherever you are. 😊😊
My husband and I met 17 years ago today on June 1, 2002. And I couldn’t imagine a better way to celebrate our happy hours together than with this little blog post. May your month of June overflow with love and joy too!
In Celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month in Canada
In this video, I share an overview of my latest psychology article in The Drive Magazine (May, Issue 121). An issue devoted entirely to mental health awareness, treatment, and prevention. With the ultimate goal of ending the stigma of mental illness.
Instead of thinking of mental health as a burden to be shouldered, imagine it as an opportunity to experience peace and joy. In the same way that we make time for our physical needs (eating and sleeping) we must devote attention to our psychological needs.
Even though we often have little control over the “outside forces” in our lives, we can always make a positive difference – from the inside out.
Start here. Right here. Right now. Be still. Breathe in gratitude. Be thankful for this very moment. Start small. Notice your passing thoughts. Let go.
Notice the exact time it is right now. Say today’s date out loud. Look up at the sky. Wink at the clouds. Stomp your feet on the floor. Smile with gusto.
Slowly bring yourself back to this moment.
Grab onto the coffee mug you are holding. Inhale the rich scent of the sumatra you are drinking. Feel the warmth of each passing breath.
Feel the texture of the clothes you’re wearing. Wake up to the sound of your voice. Whisper. Sing. Shout it out!
Dance a little dance. Stand up tall. Anything and everything that shifts you from outer space to inner spirit. Fromnot enough to overflowing.
Positive change begins within.
Come back to yourself. Back to the grace of your magnificent spirit. Into the beauty of your incredible form. Feel the rhythm of your beating heart. Sense the pulse of life itself.
Everything you need to transform yourself and the world already exists within you. You matter. You truly matter. But you have to believe it to see it. Feel it to know it. One gentle, uplifting thought at a time.
I believe that failure is essential for success, at work and in our personal lives.
Failure lights our way to what we’re ultimately meant to do. Especially when we embrace it and consciously invite it into our lives. Pushing us past our comfort zones. Having the courage to take risks beyond our current circumstances.
Failure shows us what we’re good at, and equally what we are not skilled at. And how if we perceive failure as information (versus punishment) we will move on much more quickly to what we were born to do.
THE DRIVE MAGAZINE
I believe so strongly in the benefits of failure that I “pitched” failure as feedback to the editors of The Drive Magazine. And they said yes!
But truth be told, I have always longed for something more. To write a psychology advice column for a magazine and eventually a book about psychology in everyday life.
Psychology for the people.
My intention is to make psychology accessible, engaging, and easy to apply. Integrate all of the stories, life lessons, and adversities I have witnessed over the years as a former school psychologist and now professor.
Empower the readers to find the strength inside.
Which is why I am thrilled to share an excerpt from the December PSYCH DRIVE column for The DRIVE Magazine.
When we feel a painful emotion, our first instinct is to pull away. To numb the pain. To hide from the intensity.
This was the case for Sarah and Jack, two unique individuals with vastly different circumstances. But they each experienced the same emotion: loneliness.
An emotion that is heightened during the holidays.
Knowledge is power
1. Understand the emotion
We need to first understand an emotion before we jump to the conclusion that it’s either good or bad, because in reality, emotions are almost entirely physiological in nature. There’s not a negative or positive to them. It’s in our mind that we make it one or the other. This concept is supported by Schachter-Singer’s theory of emotion..
My favourite part of this photo is the story behind it.
When the magazine was arranging the photo shoot, they asked where my favourite place to recharge was in Windsor (Ontario, Canada). I shared that it was a top of Blue Heron Hill overlooking Lake Heron and Lake St. Clair. So you can just imagine the photographer hiking his equipment up the hill, with me tagging along in my wedge high sandals!
But the reward was worth it..
All you can see is blue for days. My favourite colour and place. 💙🍃
I hope this interview encourages you to keep shooting for the stars and believing in your dreams.
Ultimately reminding you that the power within you will always be greater than the challenges around you.