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.
“The benefits of positive emotions do not stop when the initial good feelings subside. In fact, the biggest benefits are an enhanced ability to solve problems and develop resources for life.” Dr. Barbara Fredrickson
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.
Sometimes we need a quick, fun, and easy way to elevate our mood. Suggestion: Angel Cards A simple, soulful practice that takes a (bite sized) moment. Now my friends ask me to bring angel cards to all our coffee talks. Even if we’re sitting 8 feet apart! These light-hearted cards guarantee a shift UP in conversation. From the mundane to the magical.
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
My number one intention for becoming a psychologist and psychology professor has always been to help people live a better life, no matter their life circumstances. And since there are only so many hours in a day, I’m always looking for new ways to reach and teach as many people as I can. All at once, if possible.
Which is why I created a Psychology Tips Playlist on my YouTube Channel that I contribute to often.
Psychology Thought for the Day
The purpose of my psychology YouTube Channel is to share key lessons from my three hour psychology lessons in as little as three to five minutes.
Giving people far and wide access to virtual classes, especially those who don’t have the money or means to an undergraduate education. I know how busy everyone is. And I love a good challenge! I also include videos of psychology interviews, workshops, and keynote speeches.
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.
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?
“While traditional psychology focused its attention on pathology and problems, in the relatively new field of positive psychology, researchers strive to explore and understand the strengths of individuals and communities that contribute to their flourishing.” Source: Psychology Guide
I am passionate about what positive psychology can do for students and educators in and out of the classroom. By first focusing on what is right, before examining what is wrong, students are motivated to move beyond, and in some cases, be transformed by their current limitations, history, and circumstances.
Positive psychology is not about being happy and successful all the time. Instead, happiness is aspirational like a delicious meal at a 5 star restaurant. Wonderful but not to be expected, at every meal, all the time. (Otherwise, we set ourselves up for disappointment on the Kraft Dinner days.)
Instead, the field of positive psychology helps bring out the best in us. In a balanced way. The ebb and flow of life. Negativity is to be expected. The question is – how long do you stay there.
Safe uplifting atmosphere.
As a professor, I believe it is paramount to create a safe and uplifting atmosphere in the classroom. A secure and consistent milieu where students know what to expect class to class, week to week, semester to semester. A place where students are encouraged to build upon their existing strengths, while feeling supported enough to share their current struggles.
As I teach mostly nursing students, it is critical that I practice what I teach in and out of the classroom. Nursing students will also be responsible for creating an encouraging and safe space for their clients one day.
The yellow t-shirts are from the Yellow Umbrella Project, an Ontario wide college campaign for battling the stigma of mental illness on campus.
Positive psychology and student empowerment.
My highest goal is to work with young Canadians in a way that empowers and encourages them to become the best version of themselves. Cultivatingsuccess in a way that is unique to them. I believe that interactive lectures combined with warmth and real-life stories is the best approach for achieving this goal.
Ultimately, I hope to remind students of their gifts. While encouraging them to embrace their challenges. For we are the sum total of all that is powerful and vulnerable – within and around us. And it’s this extraordinary combination of strong and weak, good and bad, light and dark, that makes our world and our classrooms such a fascinating place to live and thrive.
One of my favourite things to do as a professor is to stay after class and talk to students. They look at the world in a very unique way. Motivating me to think about psychology at a whole different level.
Especially when it comes to FOMO and happiness:
FOMO is an acronym for fear of missing out, which is a feeling of anxiety that manifests itself in various ways, from a brief pang of envy to more intense feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy. Source: Macmillan Dictionary
In the video below I share the insightful questions my psychology students asked about social comparison and happiness today. Each question underscoring the famous quote:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Happiness, FOMO, and Social Comparison
FOMO and “measuring happiness” against each other’s’s lowlight reel (difficult times) and highlight reel (celebratory times) was also an active discussion on social media
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.
Nature is a beautiful way to stop the monkey mind in its’ tracks.
What is the monkey mind? 🐒 🧠
“Buddha described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. Fear is an especially loud monkey – screaming out all the things that could go wrong.” Source: HuffPost
When we’re caught in a loop of anxious thoughts, our amygdala goes into overdrive. Causing us to get stuck in the basement of our brains (the limbic system) where our stressful thoughts go around and around. With no end to the downward spiral in sight.
The impact of nature on the human spirit is so profound that a hallmark study in 1984 showed that patients who had a room with a view healed faster than patients without a view. A mere glimpse of nature was enough to enhance their resilience.
Nature shifts our thoughts. Expands our awareness. Gives us hope. Lifts us up from the basement of our brains (amygdala) to the penthouse (cerebral cortex) where all solutions are possible.
“And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.”
Very honoured to sit down with Dr. Andrea Dinardo this week and divulge all my lemon soul questions with her. A true testament to her work as a psychologist and now psychology professor, this episode is FULL of good advice! With a deeper insight into many of our mental health struggles and the science behind how our brain is working. Furthermore diving into Dr. Dinardo’s personal life as she uncovers her fundamental inspiration for everything she does in life, her sister.
Topics covered on the podcast:
From psychologist to psychology professor!
How to motivate students!
Why connection is important. Compassion fatigue
The givers & the takers Setting boundaries for others and ourselves.
Thriving Under Pressure! Failure as Feedback! Are we socialized to care?
How to train your brain
Challenge, Control, & Commitment Honour your pain!
B r e a t h i n g s p a c e ! The universe box Claiming your prize GET MOVING!
I hope this podcast interview inspires you to take the road less traveled this week.
The one you have been waiting to take for days, months, perhaps years.
Dr. Dinardo explained to us all about positive psychology while sharing with us some of the struggles she faced earlier in her career as a psychologist.
The main focus of her discussion was about protecting yourself from everyone’s problems.
One of the main things that Dr. Dinardo struggled with years ago was protecting her own mental health when she had all of these patients who needed her help.
She taught us that we should be focusing less on the PROBLEMS in our lives, and more on strengths and goodness in our lives.
When someone comes to her with a problem, she believes it is best to speak 15 minutes about the problem, and 45 about the solutions, strengths and goodness.
Dr. Dinardo explains that we must build on what is STRONG, not on what is WRONG.
If you spend too much time talking about the problems, you will never find a solution.
She also explains that we must protect ourselves from other people’s problems.
We should be respectful of other peoples time and energy, and ensure that it is okay to talk about our problems with other people. (We often word vomit our problems onto so many people in our lives and this is not okay to do all the time.)
Dr. Dinardo explains one of her favorite practices is the 10 minute timer. She allows friends to vent for 10 minutes, and after that time it is over.
Overall, it is important that we protect our energy and respect others energy in order to stay sane and happy.