How do you become resilient? Certainly, resiliency is an attribute many people aspire to have, especially during all the struggles with COVID.
Dr. Raj Bhatla, Psychiatrist in Chief & Chief of Staff at The Royal, tells us there are a few things we can do to attain resiliency:
First, The Basics:
Sleep: getting into a good sleep routine and certainly getting between 7-8 hours of sleep a night is essential to good overall health.
Diet: eating foods that fuel our minds and bodies.
Exercise: Getting out and moving more.
Furthermore, Raj’s Resilience Tips (The Important):
Compassion: Live a life having compassion for others and for yourself.
Meaning: Live a life filled with acts of meaning.
Gratitude: Live a life of gratitude and always look for at least one good thing each day.
I have done a little research into the topic of resiliency, and I’d like to share a few more things you can do to become more resilient during tough times.
Develop a Strong Support Network: Having caring and supportive people surrounding you is important when you are going through a hard time. Share with them, bounce off ideas.
Be Optimistic: Having a positive attitude when things are going wrong around you can be very difficult, but remaining hopeful is an important part of becoming resilient.
Believe in Yourself: Have confidence in your own ability to cope with life’s stresses. Change negative thoughts in your head to positive ones. “I can do this” “I have survived hard times before” “I will get through this”.
Set Goals: Crisis situations are scary and quite daunting. People with resiliency are able to look at a crisis as a problem to solve and set achievable goals to solve the problem. If you feel overwhelmed, break the problem down into manageable steps.
Embrace Change: Be flexible; it is an important part of resiliency. Soon you’ll be able to adapt and thrive when faced with a crisis by seizing the opportunity to branch out in new directions.
I hope you’ve found these tips to be helpful. Let me know in the comments.
Guest Blog by The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre
“It’s OK to feel stressed and anxious, especially right now. While many of us are finding solace in another NETFLIX marathon, there are lots of other safe activities we can do to help keep our stress levels in check.”
“(The Royal) asked two of (their) recreational therapists– Ashleigh McGuinty and Sara Richardson-Brown– to share their top six anxiety-busting strategies they recommend to clients and families, and this is what they came up with.”
“These are just six out of thousands of options.”
#1. Engage in Creative Arts
Creative activities like visual arts, writing, music, drama, and movement can help decrease anxiety and stress, and promote positive mood & increased confidence and self-identity.
#2. Get out into nature
Promote feelings of well-being, lower blood pressure, decrease feelings of anxiety & depression, and improve physical activity levels by spending time outdoors.
#3. Practice mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness can reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and can substantially reduce stress. Techniques like focusing on breath, meditation, and mindful walking are some examples of mindfulness tools.
#4. Spend time with a pet
The companionship of a pet can reduce stress, improve mood and self-esteem, increase happiness, and decrease loneliness & isolation.
#5. Listen to music
Improve your mood, sleep, and overall happiness by making a playlist and throw on some music while doing chores, working, or cooking.
#6. Move more
Regular exercise is shown to help reduce anxiety and tension, promote positive mood, and increase self-esteem and confidence. @fitnessblender has over 600 free home workout videos and programs!
If you’d asked me a week ago if I thought I was successful, I would have laughed out loud. Of course I’m not successful: I don’t have a career, a salary, a title. (My career was derailed years ago due to severe and persistent mental illness.) How could I even fathom the idea? Surely this is how most people measure success, isn’t it?
Then, I read Gloria Vanderbilt’s words at the age of 91, when writing to her son, in the book The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt (pgs. 280-281):
“Of course what you must come to terms with, what we all must define, is what success means for each of us. Money, fame, praise from co-workers, career advancement? Are these your definitions of success? They are for many people. But I believe there are many kinds of success: happiness with one’s work, the feeling that you are making an important contribution, helping people in one way or another, creating something that speaks to you or to others, loving someone who loves you, creating honest relationships, giving of yourself to someone and getting something back.”
“It is very easy simply to define yourself by your job, your title, your salary, but these rarely give you long-term feelings of success and happiness.”
…”All these benchmarks by which people define success: money, power, fame, Instagram likes, followers on Twitter– they are meaningless. They aren’t real. Money can give you independence, but once you start chasing it, there will never be enough. No amount will make you feel whole or safe.”
Now, I do realize that Gloria came from a very privileged background and did not have to worry about having enough money. I certainly recognize that people require a basic income to survive and provide for themselves and their families. This is another topic altogether.
After reading Gloria’s words, I started redefining my idea of success:
I’m very happy with the volunteer work that I do: facilitating groups for women with mental illness and or addictions (like me) and helping them along their road to recovery.
I feel as though I’m making an important contribution through my facilitating and fundraising. As well as, mental health advocacy and writing this blog.
I am helping people, especially women and youth.
I love my husband, my daughters, family and friends and they love me in return.
I have created many honest relationships.
I give support and get it back tenfold.
By all of these definitions, now I actually feel successful. I’m grateful for all that I’ve accomplished. Thank you, Gloria!
How do you define success? I’d be interested in hearing your comments.
Glenda is a friend, a peer and fellow volunteer in the Women’s Mental Health program at The Royal. She facilitates a WRAP group for women, where HOPE is a key concept. Glenda is also the Chair of the Client Advisory Council at The Royal where she leads and champions client-centered care and bringing paid peer support to The Royal, among many other priorities. She is the 2020 recipient of The Royal’s Inspiration Award, a mother and proud “MeeMaw” to her 5 grandchildren.
“Hope is a match in a dark tunnel, a moment of light, just enough to reveal the path ahead and ultimately the way out.” – Dr. Judith Rich
If I can find hope, so can you.
Several years ago, my life was at a point where I felt things were truly and completely hopeless. I was sitting in a jail cell after a suicide attempt with untreated mental illness; away from my family, having lost almost all my friends, and missing my first grandchild’s birth and his premature death. I’d just been served with divorce papers and had experienced two failed parole attempts. Despite all that, by working on a parole plan and envisioning what my life would look like when I returned home—I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. My plan was this: to get a referral to The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre upon my return to Ottawa, take my medication no matter the side effects, try every therapy that I was offered and find a new purpose in my life. That was the turning point! It wouldn’t happen overnight… but in baby steps. The first step: asking for help. After that my life started to turn around and I felt hopeful.
When times are the darkest and you seem to have no hope, find someone that can hold hope for you. My daughters have held hope for me. They accept my past, applaud my present and look forward to our future. I call us the “Steel Trio”. The strength that they give me prompted me to write this poem called Heart of Steel a few years ago:
I feel like I have a heart of steel With a diamond for a glimmer of hope My heart is strong It will not break When times are tough It shines a light To show me the possibilities Of things yet to come When times are sad I feel it tighten So, I remember its strength When times are dark It shines a light So, I can make my way My heart is soft and kind and loyal But this does not make it weak I know that I have a heart of steel With a diamond that radiates hope
So now to the present: I am well along my road to recovery and have found very fulfilling work as a mental health advocate and peer supporter. I am plugged into my artistic side that was buried for many years; I live in the beautiful countryside with my daughter’s family, and am a proud “MeeMaw” to my grandchildren. There is nothing more hopeful than watching little ones discover the world.
Speaking of young people, how hopeful was it to see 22-year-old Amanda Gorman speak at the recent US inauguration? I always find reading or listening to hopeful words gives me hope:
“Where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry, a sea we must wade…
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it Somehow we do it Somehow we weathered and witnessed…
That even as we grieved, we grew That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried…
The hill we climb If only we dare….
When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid, The new dawn blooms as we free it. For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” – Excerpts – The Hill We Climb – Amanda Gorman
Here are my tips for finding hope:
If you are low on hope: find extra support, find someone to hold hope for you. Only keep those people in your life that support your hopes for the future.
View barriers and challenges as setbacks rather than failures. Plan alternative routes to your goals.
Be aware of stressors that may lower your hope. Knowing this helps remove the burden; life is not always smooth sailing but an adventure full of valleys and victories.
Remember the times you made it through. “So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great.” – livelifehappy.com
Sadly, many of us have experienced loss in our lifetime. Perhaps it was the breakup of a romantic relationship, moving away and losing a friendship, the death of a parent, a spouse or the tragic and untimely loss of a sibling or a child. Currently, due to pandemic restrictions, we are all (in some areas) losing our freedom: to connect with others, to hug and laugh with our friends and family, in-person. All of these losses are extremely challenging to live through.
I thought about writing this post while reading the book, “The Rainbow Comes and Goes” by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Anderson Cooper is quoted as saying (on page 85):
“I remember learning years ago that sharks have to keep moving forward to stay alive; it’s the only way they can force water through their gills and breathe. Ever since, that is how I’ve imagined myself: a shark gliding through dark, silent seas.”
Cooper lost his Dad, Wyatt, when he was only 10 years old and then lost his older brother, Carter, to suicide 10 years later.
As many of you know, I’ve experienced many losses as well. I experienced the loss of my beloved Dad when I was 32, followed by the loss of my mind (yes, really!), then a divorce, then the loss of access to my children and my ability to parent. Also, I was forced to go on long-term disability from work, I lost my housing, I lost most of my possessions including my cat and eventually my car; and the most hurtful: l lost communication with all my family and friends. Then in 2013, I lost my dear Mom.
Like Anderson Cooper, I grew up secure in the love of my parents. They believed in me, they asked for my opinions and listened to me, and most importantly–they loved me unconditionally. I carry that security and confidence with me today and I know that it has helped me through the many losses I’ve experienced in my lifetime. That, and the hope I held for a better future–a future where I would resurface stronger and more at ease.
Some tips I’ve learned along the way:
Don’t give up! There are always better days ahead. This too shall pass.
Take it one day at a time.
Stay positive. Read inspirational quotes; use positive self-talk. Have an attitude of gratitude.
Go at your own pace– but keep moving forward.
Break your goals into bite-sized pieces. It’s not a race.
Learn to live with disappointment–don’t let it stop you from moving forward.
I have a friend, Aubyn Baker-Riley, who tragically and horrifically lost her 14 month old son, Liam in a car accident. That was 27 years ago, and she remembers it like it was yesterday.
During my conversation with Aubyn, she passed along some tips to help move through a loss of this magnitude:
Look for the helpers; the acts of human kindness that often come from those you’d least expect.
Getting and giving peer support (through Bereaved Families of Ontario). Connecting with others who understand and have been there, helped her tremendously.
Planning birthdays and anniversaries the way you want to spend the day–be it a spa day with a friend, alone or with family. You get to decide how you want to honour the loss of your loved one.
Giving yourself permission to grieve, whatever that may look like–and people grieve differently.
Be willing to ask for professional help. It does not mean you are weak. There are times when more help is needed to heal your emotional, spiritual, mental and physical self.
Hold onto Hope. “It was a freak accident and it was not anyone’s fault. It was a terrible, tragic thing to happen–it was not the end of my story– I held onto hope for a brighter future.”
For more about hope, stay tuned for next week’s GUEST BLOG.
In the words of Dory from “Finding Nemo”- “When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming.”
I’ve experienced the most amount of love, kindness, abundance, and miraculous events — when I learned to ask for help and open up to receive.
Asking for help isn’t easy. But admitting that we can’t and shouldn’t have to do everything on our own shows great courage and strength. And it will open up so many possibilities and opportunities. It takes togetherness to accomplish what we’ve come here to do.
To live fully, we need each other.
Needing help is not a weakness
It is actually a basic human need. Needing each other is a basic human need.
Why don’t we ask?
We’ve been conditioned to think that we must do everything on our own. We tend to think that asking for help means that we aren’t independent, not capable or successful. This simply isn’t true. We don’t look at CEOs as unsuccessful but they rely on people every single day.
We also may be struggling with issues of self-worth and this can be blocking us from asking for help. We must first acknowledge that we are WORTHY of help and we can help in return and be of service.
What happens when we don’t ask for help
We must then do everything ourselves. We are limited in what we can do. We only have a certain number of resources available to us alone. We may become overwhelmed with all of the things we need to do.
What happens when we ask for help
We are supported, guided, and literally DOUBLED in terms of what we can do, how much energy we have, what resources we have, and what kind of opportunities we have. We are then also giving the other person a GIFT. It feels GOOD to give. When we ask someone for help, we are giving them the opportunity to engage in helping and hence getting those good vibes.
Who can we ask for help?
Consider who you have in your life and the context of your relationships. Do they know me? Do they trust me? When you ask someone for help, consider what you can also give them in return, even later down the line. You’ve opened the door for an exchange to happen.
It also doesn’t even have to be a person specifically. We forget that we can also ask for help from the Universe, the Source, our Spirit Guides and God. Whichever spiritual language you speak and practice, you can ask for help from that source. You don’t even need to know what you’re asking for but you can ask for help.
How do we ask for help?
From a place of love, wanting to help others, of service, of being humble, of accepting and knowing that we are connected to everyone and that we are all here to help each other. Make it easy for the other person and be willing to also put in the work to find a solution.
Most forms of scarcity come from the ability to receive from others. Know that you are worthy of receiving help, help is available to you, and you also have so much to give in return. Everything you desire can be yours. All you have to do is ask.
Watch the full video by Laura Kidd, Spiritual Coach and Meditation Teacher:
For me, volunteering is a family value. My Mom volunteered several hours a week at our church and at a home for the disabled, while I was in high school. She was committed to volunteering and helping out others. It made her feel useful and gave her a sense of purpose, while helping others at the same time.
Many organizations, such as The Royal, simply could not run without the assistance of volunteers. During the 2019/20 fiscal year, 409 volunteers put in 31,884 hours to help the mental health centre run smoothly. I think everyone realizes that volunteering is important to help out worthy causes and people/animals in need. But, what about the benefits for the person doing the volunteering?
Firstly, it helps build social connections. Getting out and meeting people with common interests helps so much with feelings of isolation or loneliness (especially during a pandemic). Since starting my volunteer work at The Royal, 9 years ago, I have made so many friends. These friends are fellow volunteers, staff and peers and I lovingly refer to them as “my Royal Family”.
Second, volunteering helps to improve health…both mentally and physically. It has certainly helped me counteract the effects of stress, depression and anxiety. Volunteering gets my mind off of my own issues as I am there to help others, who have more serious problems than mine. The fact that I’m in regular contact with others in my support system really helps to combat depression and feelings of isolation. Also, research shows that “people who give their time to others might benefit from lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan”.*
Another huge benefit I’ve found with volunteering, is how it has boosted my self-confidence and self-esteem. By helping others, I’m helping myself, through learning new skills, taking on new challenges and working towards goals and deadlines. By accomplishing all of these things, I feel a sense of pride, and have a feel-good attitude, of “I do have value– I can do this, and I can do this well!”
Probably the biggest intitial difference for me with volunteering, right off the bat, was how it gave me a sense of purpose. A reason to get out of bed in the morning. I would look forward to getting on the bus, and showing up at my volunteer job to see all those amazing faces and to share a few laughs. I have a big sense of connection to mental health (as you all know) and being able to give back to The Royal in particular, when they helped to transform my life, makes me feel so good.
In addition, volunteering can help out with your career. From teenagers looking for their first job, or adults wanting to change direction or get promoted. Volunteer experience always looks great on the resume and can help you build skills and gather experience in areas that you’ve never worked in before.
This past Christmas, 2020, I volunteered serving dinner to the women of Cornerstone Housing for Women. It made me feel wonderful to be helping those less fortunate than myself. It got me out of my ho-hum mood (by forgetting my own problems) about spending Christmas without family (due to COVID). These women were so happy to see me (with my Santa hat on). I was also pleased to see them. A happy Christmas for all of us!
For all of these reasons, I would suggest finding a volunteer opportunity that interests you.
2020 started out with extreme hope and optimism for me. A year ago, I received a surprise phone call, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, from my estranged daughter Nicola. Oh, how delighted I was to hear her voice and to feel a part of her life, speaking as though we’d seen each other just the previous week. Thus was the beginning of a year of engaging communication–mostly video chats, where we’d laugh, reminisce and even cry.
My daughter, Julia has also been in fairly regular contact. Fast forward to Christmas 2020 and the three of us (Nicola–virtually, Julia and I–fully masked at my place) proceeded to bake my mom’s famous Scottish shortbread recipe for Christmas (to share as gifts for all of our friends and family). We’ve decided that we are going to carry on this family tradition annually, with the three of us baking together (even from afar).
In addition to these valuable connections I’ve made this year, I was able to focus on health and fitness goals. Through healthy eating and increasing my walking distance, I lost 20 pounds and have kept it off (despite the recent Christmas treats–probably due to my new passion for cross country skiing!) Also, I helped to raise a considerable amount of money for Youth Mental Health at The Royal through a musical fundraiser, and have created my own event starting in 2021, called Ottawa Blues for Youth (to be held at Irene’s Pub in Ottawa, Canada– keep a look out on social media for more information). I was thrilled to be able to adapt my journaling group to a virtual format for the women of the Ottawa Birth and Wellness Centre and The Royal’s Women’s Mental Health program. (all volunteer work– see next week’s post for more about volunteering). In fact, we’ve decided that since the virtual group is so popular and accessible, we will continue offering it even when we resume in-person groups (post-COVID).
Despite all of these wonderful things, I’m so happy to see 2020 in the rear view mirror. Like many people, I love seeing friends and family close up, giving hugs freely, sharing the table for a meal and drinks, and singing in groups, or getting out on the dance floor while listening to live music. Not much of this has happened since March of 2020. (not to mention travel–although we don’t do much of that). Fortunately, my husband belongs to a sing n’ jam group and they managed to gather and sing outdoors a couple of times. I was able to listen and sing along.
But, just think how lucky we are to have such a plethora of modern communications available to us. I belong to a Zoom knitting group, where we get together twice a week to knit, chat, share stories and a few laughs. It has been my lifeline throughout this pandemic. All my fellow knitters are such supportive and engaging humans. I also use Zoom to meet monthly with my fellow Christopher’s (Christopher Leadership Course in Public Speaking). Although we do miss all the warmth of being together in person, we do at least see the verbal cues and gestures of communication (a big bonus over just telephone contact or email).
So, there have been some high points from 2020. But there’s no doubt the pandemic is a long haul. Looking ahead, we are so fortunate to have a vaccine that is being rolled out–worldwide. Already, a couple of my friends in Ottawa, have received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Just like last year, I am feeling full of hope and optimism for the year 2021. I am hopeful that the Canadian Government has an agressive rollout plan for the vaccine so we can get as many people who wish to be vaccinated done by the fall. Then, perhaps, we can start returning to live music and dancing! (to name just a couple of things I’m optimistic about).
I’m not sure if it’s due to my background in sales or just the way I was raised, but I have learned to ALWAYS have a back-up plan and not to be too disappointed if Plan A doesn’t turn out.
I think I first realized that I had to have a back-up plan when my studies at university weren’t going very well, and there might be a good chance that I wouldn’t be returning to university the next year (true enough- the administration asked me to take a year off). So, my back up plan was put into place and I started applying to be a “jeune-fille au-pair” in Paris to improve my French and to experience something new while also studying abroad. I even had a plan C in place, so that if I didn’t find an international position in France, then I would apply for jobs in Burlington, Ontario (where my parents lived at the time).
Then I spent years in sales, where I would always be faced with more “nos” than “yeses”, and I had to meet a certain sales quota every quarter. So, having a Plan B list of names to call in the event that the Plan A list did not work out, meant keeping my job and supporting myself and my two daughters.
Having an alternate plan in the event that the original plan does not work out, easily transferred into my personal life. I discovered that if I invited a friend for coffee or to meet to go to Old Chelsea, Quebec for a delicious bowl of soup, but my friend(s) said they were not available, or “that’s a long way to drive for a bowl of soup!”, I would simply either call someone else, or go for coffee or soup on my own. I think it is important during pandemic times, especially with the holidays coming up and with government guidelines for social bubbles in place, that it be noted that I ALWAYS had a back-up plan which included just me, myself and I. I never took it personally if my friends said no, they were not available. (Remember, with my sales background, I’m used to hearing lots of “nos”) I just decided to go on my own and enjoy the experience. As a single person for many years of my life, this proved to be a very valuable lesson learned. I went to restaurants, movie theatres, coffee shops, theatrical productions and even concerts “all by myself”. At first, it felt very strange and I felt uncomfortable thinking people would be judging me being out alone, but then it got easier and I actually enjoyed not being tied down and depending on other people. It was actually a very freeing experience. I would always meet people wherever I went, since I’m a very social and outgoing person. So, it was a pleasure intereacting with new people with diffferent knowledge bases and interests.
Over the years, I have spent many holidays alone as well. I simply treated the holidays (as much as I could), like any other day, in order not to feel depressed that I was completely alone. On Christmas Day, I was thrilled that the movie theatres were open (I realize not this year due to COVID) and I would go see a movie, then go for a coffee. I would always dress up for the occasion since it was a special day. I also always dressed up on my birthday and my loved ones’ birthdays and had a little treat in order to celebrate in some small way.
I always encourage the women in my groups to have a back-up plan. When I was discussing this with a friend in my knitting group the other day (who is a counsellor), she agreed with me and says she always encourages her clients to have a Plan B, as well. It helps to make us more resilient.
So, try incorporating back up plans into your planning of events or outings from now on. I think you will find this to be helpful when making plans for a COVID Christmas this year. The vaccine isn’t out yet and it is important that “we stay together but apart” so that no one is missing at our celebrations in the years to come. Socially distanced outdoor visits or Zoom celebrations are great alternatives. If you are spending it alone, cook up a special meal and play some festive music. “This too shall pass.”
Everyone has been there–had BIG feelings of anger, sadness, frustration, or even joy! It is how we deal with these feelings that really matters. Today’s blog outlines some coping techniques.
Move it out: As Silken Laumann, Olympic rower and creator of Unsinkable, says: she goes out for a walk or a run or drops down and does some push-ups to express her intense feelings of anger. You can do any type of exercise really. My daughter enjoys putting on boxing gloves and punching a punching bag at the gym. Physical movement is a great way to deal with BIG emotions.
Write it out: I love to journal and during the toughest times in my life my journal has always been there for me, listening, not judging, not advising; and just being “like” a good friend. I express my anger and frustration by writing in BIG letters, with multiple underlines, even swear words (since it is just for me to read). I get it all out on paper and then I feel so much better afterwards, as though all the weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
Cry it out: When I am feeling hurt or super sad or even so angry I could cry, that is what I do. I just have a good long cry, usually in the shower with the hot water running down my quivering body, muffling the sound and attempting to calm me. At times, I have cried for a long half hour before I calm down enough to be able to then use a different coping mechanism like journaling, for example. Stacking techniques is always helpful as well.
Sing it out: I don’t know about you, but there always seems to be a song that expresses exactly how I am feeling. I’ll put that song on and belt out the tune along with the band and pretend I’m a Freddie Mercury wanna be, perhaps even playing the same song over and over again, until I’ve fully expressed all the emotions inside of me. For people more talented than myself, perhaps they can play an instrument along with singing a sad song, to really get out those feelings.
Create: There is no better time to create than when you are full of emotion. Write poetry or a song, paint or draw something that expresses how you are feeling. If you are sad because you lost a loved one, go through some of their things or pictures, and create a scrapbook of memories.
Laugh it out: “Research has shown that laughing can genuinely boost your mood, as well as reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body.” MHCC. So, watch a comedy that always makes you laugh, check out some funny YouTube videos, or read the comics.
Hug it out: You can hug someone or a teddy bear, or other stuffed animal, or a pet or a pillow. You can sob while hugging someone or something too, just be prepared to get lots of licks from your caring dog (if you have one)! There’s evidence that a few good squeezes could lead to decreased depression.
So the next time you are feeling REALLY angry, sad or frustrated: try one, or a few of these coping techniques. You’ll feel so much better afterwards!