Naming Emotions

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By Anita Manley

Do you remember the last time you sobbed uncontrollably? How about when waiting for medical results and you felt incredibly anxious? Or the last time you laughed out loud? These are just a few examples of some emotions (sorrow, anxiety, or happiness) which are so important to be able to recognize. Being able to define your emotions is an important part of living.

Last week was Mental Health Week in Canada, and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) came out with a campaign called “Name it, don’t numb it! #GetReal about how you feel.” I thought this was a very effective message for people to get in touch with their emotions. When we experience things like stress, grief or sadness, it is important to process these emotions and not supress them.

In the “Journaling as a Wellness Tool” group I co-founded, we have a week dedicated to expanding our emotional vocabulary. The intent in doing so, is that it is thought that the better able you are to describe the emotions you are feeling, the better equiped you will be at coping with these emotions.

There are some tips to manage our emotional wellness (by Elena Mikhaylova, PhD Psychology and Registered Psychotherapist):

  1. Trust yourself
  2. Listen to your emotions
  3. Reflect on your emotions: journaling can help!
  4. Explore what makes you happy and what doesn’t
  5. Learn to express your emotions in an appropriate way
  6. Differentiate yourself from material objects: a fancy car and big house don’t make us happy.
  7. Connect with a mental health professional: especially if emotions are painful or hard to deal with.

    Because of COVID-19, emotional well-being has decreased for a lot of people. Get in touch with your emotions today! How are you feeling? Name it. Write about it. Allow yourself to feel each emotion. Don’t numb it!

When was the last time you laughed out loud with a friend?

“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…”

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By Anita Manley

Hi folks, I’ve been absent for a few weeks now, trying to manage my anxiety around some important issues that are beyond my control. I don’t know about you, but I’m really not good at this. My Mom always told me: “don’t worry about things that you cannot control”. I think of her words regularly and really give it the good ol’ college try, but if I have to do this for too long, I fail miserably. Everyone’s perception of ‘too long’ varies. Mine is about a month. After a month, I start to think of what if, then what, etc.

I’ve had two pretty important issues ‘up in the air’ for over a month, one I’m still waiting on. So, I had to do something to manage my anxiety. I talked to my support people and then I decided to keep busy doing things I love to do, in order to keep my mind from wandering down a potentially negative path. I decided to do more knitting during free moments (I’m now working on a baby blanket and bunny for my new grandbaby, expected in July), journaling and painting (acrylic on canvas). All of these activities help me to stay in the present moment and while doing them, I feel as though I lose track of time. I would even say they are ‘meditative’. It worked! I’m not exactly an expert at “not worrying”, but I have mostly managed to overcome the beast.

So, I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, and let the cards fall as they may. Whatever happens, happens! I know that I can deal with the outcome. I’m so much better at coping with the known, than the unknown. I’m a work in progress. In the meantime, I’m creating some wonderful knitted objects and beautiful art, and greatly enjoying it.

I just read a Peanuts posting that said, very fittingly, “Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening, it just stops you from enjoying the good.”

I will continue to do my very best ‘not to worry’ about things beyond my control. Besides, Mother knows best. At least I know my Mom always did!

How do you cope with things beyond your control?

Journaling, knitting and painting have helped me stay focused, quelled my fears… and give me HOPE.

Family and Friends: Building a Support Network

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By Anita Manley

‘No man is an island‘ – John Donne

It is very important to surround ourselves with family and friends (including our chosen families) during times of joy and distress. Studies have shown that if we have these relationships, it is a strong protective factor against mental illnesses and helps to increase our mental well-being.

There is no need to go out and try to find as many friends as possible: instead, try to identify, then nuture a few key relationships. It is all about building and maintaining a network of people that you can trust and fall back on, in times of difficulty.

Mary Ellen Copeland, the creator of WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), says we should aim to have five key supporters in our network. It is really important to avoid relying on just one other person. You may overdo this, and thus exhaust that person. Also, what would happen if that person were not there for you, when needed? Different people bring out different aspects of our personalities, and fulfill different roles in our lives.

Mary Ellen’s Five Steps to Developing a Strong Support System:

  1. Become an active member of a support group.
  2. Participate in community activities, special interest groups and/or church groups.
  3. Volunteer!
  4. Keep in touch with friends and acquaintances.
  5. Make mutual support a high priority!

    Back in 2012, when I first took WRAP, I had one person in my support network (not counting professionals who were paid to care for me). It was my daughter, Julia. I was really struggling, but I took WRAP very seriously, as I wanted so much to improve my situation and live a life of recovery. So I focused on building a support network using the five steps above.

I am so grateful to have developed some key friendships over the past several years. I have my knitting friends, my choir friends, my ‘work’ (volunteer) friends, my neighbours and family, to name a few. I also put a lot of work into maintaining these friendships by sending emails, giving them a call, going on socially-distanced walks, etc. Isn’t it hard work during COVID, though? I wish that I could give my daughter a hug, and have family and friends over for dinner or drinks. It has been a real struggle to feel close to people, while apart. I have developed techniques, though. During shutdowns or lockdowns, I walk at the same time as friends– but not together: rather, we chat over the phone and walk in our own neighbourhoods. Together but apart!

I know that during this time of the plague, it is super difficult on everyone. Some are trying to juggle working, teaching the kids, maintaining a home and relationships: all after a full day of ZOOM calls. It is stressful… and leaves us with little energy to connect with others.

Try to make mutual support a priority, and reach out to family and friends. We are in this together!

I try to get out everyday for a walk with a friend, or my husband or by myself while connecting with a friend over the phone.

Coping Strategies

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By Anita Manley

I think we all need a little extra help these days– strategizing on how to cope.

Here are some very helpful tips from The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC):

Strategies to help you cope:

1. Accept and validate your feelings,

understanding that stress and anxiety are normal during challenging times.

2. Recognize what’s within your control

and focus on those factors when trying to mitigate the stress.

3. Remember that this is temporary

and will pass.

4. Take care of your health

by eating and sleeping well, exercising and meditating.

5. Make time for yourself

with activities you enjoy that are free from COVID-19 related topics.

Remember– you are worth it! Take time out for self-care everyday.

Among other things, take time to enjoy yourself everyday!

You are Enough!

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By Anita Manley

Happy International Women’s Day– March 8, 2021

You are enough!

Right now, in this moment.

You do not need to wait for

a partner,

a job, a promotion, a wage increase,

a child, a pet,

a house, a car,

an award, a scholarship, a degree,

losing 30 pounds.

You are enough… Right now!

You deserve

to be loved,

respected,

honoured.

You were made to be you,

as you are now.

You are enough

as you are now,

showing up for your life everyday,

beautiful, strong and perhaps feeling broken.

You are enough, already!

Just because you exist.

Know this. Believe this!

Breathe.

(Read it again. Let it sink in. Internalize it.)

Decide now! You are enough.
A good friend of mine has said to me, for years: “just be yourself… that is always enough.” Before long, I started believing it.

Finances

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By Anita Manley

Finances– it’s an issue that causes a lot of stress and anxiety for many people. Especially when there never seems as though there is enough money to go around. During this pandemic, many people are sadly stretched to the limit. Food banks are being used by people who never required that safety net before.

I’m not one to give financial advice to anyone, so that is why I’m quoting so many others in this post. I’ve just gathered information that I hope you find helpful.

My naturopath, Sue-Anne Hickey (1) says that, financial expert Suze Orman discovered the facinating correlation between financial stress and weight gain over unpaid bills. Generally there was a 2 pound weight gain for every $1,000 of debt.

Finances affect all aspects of our lives, especially our health. Debt can lead to mild to severe health problems including ulcers, migraines, depression and even heart attacks (2).

Some tips (3):

“Start where you are, with what you’ve got. As with other issues, acceptance and gratitude turn what we have, into more.

Money issues are not a good place to act “as if”. Don’t write checks until the money is in the bank. Don’t spend money until you’ve got it in your hand.

If there is too little money to survive, use the appropriate resources available without shame.

Set goals.

Believe you deserve the best, financially.”

More tips for financial planning (4):

Have a Plan for Spending and Saving: To reach your financial goals you need to track your spending. Even if you have a high net worth, you may be surprised at how much more you could save if you cut unnecessary purchases. It could potentially equate to thousands more by the time you retire.

Find More Ways to Save: Once your budget is soild, start looking for opportunities to save more money. There are typically two ways to do this: decrease spending or increase income. The most effective way is a combination of both.

Invest with Confidence: …having a strong investment portfolio gets you one step closer to reaching your financial goals– and living the life you want in retirement.

I live by the mantra of “pay yourself first”– advice I received from reading the Wealthy Barber by David Chilton, many years ago. I started doing this very late in life, though– after recovering from losing everything– but I’m so glad I took the baby steps about 6 years ago. I am super thrifty: shopping second hand, getting things for free from my local Buy Nothing Facebook group and buying most things on sale (or recently on senior discount days!). Also, as you know, I’m very fortunate and grateful to have a husband to share expenses with– who also happens to loathe spending money! All of these things make it easier– or even possible— for me to save for my future. It is still very hard work– I must admit. Doing without is often not the most fun. We make do, though!

I do know from experience that your self-esteem will increase as you increase your sense of being financially responsible. Start where you are at, today!

Investments: putting money away over time, gaining a return. Begin now to set goals for your financial future. Baby steps…one step at a time.

Resiliency

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By Anita Manley

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.

By learning to be resilient, you can survive any crisis.

Managing Stress and Anxiety During COVID-19

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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!

How do you manage stress during COVID? Let me know in the comments.

Redefining Success

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By Anita Manley

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. I am helping people, especially women and youth.
  4. I love my husband, my daughters, family and friends and they love me in return.
  5. I have created many honest relationships.
  6. 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.
How do you define success?

HOPE

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GUEST BLOG by Glenda O’Hara

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:

  1. Baby steps.
  2. 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.
  3. View barriers and challenges as setbacks rather than failures. Plan alternative routes to your goals. 
  4. 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.
  5. Remember the times you made it through. “So far, you’ve survived 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great.” – livelifehappy.com

Hold On Pain Ends

“The hopeful cardinal” – photo credit: Jacqueline Knight 2021