Author: Farah H, MSW, RSW
“Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious. You get to choose how you use it. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won’t accept (Anna Taylor)”. Self-care can be defined in many ways, but in simple textbook definition, it is the act of attending to one’s physical or mental health. There is so much more to this term and definition. In my professional opinion, one’s self care is knowing your boundaries, being reflexive and taking accountability of what is needed to heal. In the context of mental health, self-care becomes a theme that is explored to gather a better sense of what one is doing on their part to aid in their healing.
There are simple things we can do in our day-to-day regimen to practice self-care. Some of the more common tasks include, eating a healthy meal, taking a walk, exercising, etc. The more challenging practice of self-care is setting boundaries and being transparent with yourself. Let’s tackle setting boundaries first. A person’s identity is made up of numerous roles, such as, a sister, a daughter, an employee, a student, a peer, a friend, a partner and so on. In these roles, we all operate in a different way and are sometimes forced to not be our true selves. In this case, self-care would look like, being an employee, only within work hours or extending yourself to support your friends and family if you are ABLE and reflecting on when you need time to simply be yourself. This is the more challenging component of self-care, because of the pressure and external factors to commit to taking care of oneself.
In my practice, I empathize with my clients, because at the end of the day, we are all humans who are navigating this world. Our social locations will always be different, but our one commonality, is that we each have our own individual battles and we need boundaries. Having boundaries, is the self-care practice that can allow you to balance the various roles you play in your life and prioritize your well-being. As a Psychotherapist, I can empathize and validate the way you feel, as this is your individual perception and my role, is to understand this. With validation, comes reflection on whether your perception is how others may perceive something, or if your perception is biased for a reason, you may not have acknowledged just yet. This is where my support might be needed. To practice self-care, you must understand your individual circumstance through a non-biased lens. Together, we can identify the areas of your life that would benefit from self-care and develop goals to ensure continuous self-care. At the end of the day, your progress is determined by your ability to be reflective, accountable and to commit. I am simply here to support you through this journey.
I would say most people entering therapy hope to change things about themselves or the way they see situations in order to feel happier and more productive. But what really causes those inner changes through the therapeutic process? The most important in my opinion is the client's ability to be honest with themselves. The purpose of therapy is not for the therapist to back up all your perceptions of yourself and your relationships, rather it is to identify unconscious patterns that are self-sabotaging and that cause you to find yourself with the same type of problematic relationships and situations repetitively.
You are the common denominator of all your relationships. The human mind can justify all sorts of things and compose theories to fit the narrative they want to believe. Therapy is a challenge to you to examine and investigate your own thoughts and feelings, to take accountability for situations in your life and to see what role you are playing in sustaining them. It is not the world's responsibility to avoid triggering you, it is your responsibility to empower yourself and work on your triggers so the power to affect your mood does not stay in someone else's hands. You can't change the way other people feel about you or make someone feel or act a certain way towards you. People will form their own judgements as the relationship progresses.
When you look into the world and think that people always feel a certain way about you, this is very likely something within yourself that you project outwards. A common one is jealousy; sometimes this is used as a defense mechanism by people who are not likeable (believing everyone is jealous of them) so that they do not have to do the inner work to change what it is about themselves that causes people not to want to be friends with them. They may be aggressive, selfish, domineering, or critical, yet think others are are mistreating them when they try to defend themselves. They may enjoy giving other people negative feedback but be unable to receive the same in return. They may have high expectations of other people but not realize that to have these fulfilled they also have to fulfill the other person's expectations of them. As a result they find themselves lonely and isolated, never able to form long-lasting and healthy relationships and justify this by blaming others for being jealous. You can keep blaming other people but at the end of the day there is no one with whom to share an intimate and trusting bond with.
As a therapist, I can validate the way you feel about something or someone, even if I don't agree with it, because that is the way you feel. However, the objective reality based on facts may be different than what an individual feels and this may be a source of their interpersonal problems. I ensure to point this out these discrepancies as well. Sometimes people will project the same feelings they have with people in their life onto their therapist and these are great learning opportunities to point out self-sabotaging patterns, if the client is open to hearing them. It is not the therapist's responsibility to change you, it is your responsibility to be honest with yourself in order to drive the change you seek.
This is the canvas I created last night in a guided painting class. I love how abstract art reveals not only what is on the painter's mind; their emotions and experiences but also what is on the viewer's mind. We had fun interpreting each other's paintings and what certain design choices signified about people's personality and viewpoints. I believe painting can be a wonderful form of self-care. Some psychotherapists use art as a way for their clients who have trouble expressing their emotion verbally, to tell a story on canvas.
I intended the sun to signify that it rises and sets for everyone, shines upon all of humanity and is a symbol of unconditional love. It provides warmth and comfort regardless of age, background, culture or class. It reminds me of the poem by Hafiz:
"Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, 'You owe me.' Look what happens with a love like that. It lights the whole sky.”
The circles are to show that we are all connected, what happens to one person affects the collective consciousness, and in turn affects us all. I believe that holding good thoughts towards someone you have never met, sending them gratitude for something they gave to you will positively affect them.
Separation based on borders, languages and demographics are an illusion that perpetuate inequity, power abuses and indifference that leads to one life being valued more than another. The Venn diagram shows that we have our differences but we share things in common, such as the desire to be loved and to love, to be accepted for who we really are, and to be happy. When we focus on what unites us, we view each other as equals. We can work together towards mutually beneficial goals that make all of us winners instead of some gaining at the expense of others.
We are all threads in the web of life; forever interconnected and interdependent. All the intentions and actions you send to the world have a reverberating effect that you may not see or understand at the time but will in some way return to you.
Words have so much power. When people feel that you can truly see and hear them, that is where transformation begins. I genuinely believe changing your personal narrative can change your life. Your words may give that gentle encouragement someone needs to keep persevering for a brighter future. Sometimes all you have is hope that things will be better tomorrow. Societal conditioning suggests that people in disadvantaged positions made a series of bad choices in life which lead them into the circumstances they are in now. However, systemic inequities based on demographics and disabilities are many times beyond the understanding of people who make important decisions in those areas. This usually leads to a lack of empathy, validation and adequate material support within the system that is supposed to be designed to help people who need it. It can lead to feelings of helplessness that keep people trapped in a self-defeating cycle that influences generations.
I wonder how many choices I would have had if I grew up like someone less privileged; raised in their dysfunctional families, exposed to their adverse life experiences, their toxic or abusive relationships and their lack of money or opportunities? You learn what is normal by observing those around you growing up; the values, thoughts, belief systems and expectations of life are unconsciously adopted regardless of how inefficient or detrimental they are. It may take a long time to replace this with healthier patterns.
If I catch myself in a moment of judgement, I remember that what appears to be choices are sometimes not really choices. People generally do the best they can with what life gives to them. This passage is a thoughtful reminder to nurture the hopes and dreams of those who are going through times of difficulty. It doesn't matter what happened in the past because it is never too late to change. I will always be grateful to those who saw my potential in my times of testing. They believed in me and who I could become even when very little progress was being made externally. They jolted me out of believing the harsh words of my critics, middle aged people who should have known better but nonetheless were unrelenting in attempting to push me down. The kind words of my supporters still stay with me to this day. With so much harshness in the world, people who feel broken at times in their life need to know that these difficulties only make their stories more inspiring in the end.
I know many people find it difficult to create the time and space for traditional meditation as a form of self-care, because they are not sure if it is having any effects and it can be hard to find the motivation to continue. We will only make time for what we think is adding value to our lives. Experienced meditators often share that there is no way to measure the success of your meditation practice. The key is to do it regularly and you will find yourself becoming less reactive and having more peace of mind.
There will always be thoughts that enter your mind during meditation and the goal of meditation is not to be free of all thoughts. Gradually, you will be able to just observe and let these thoughts pass, rather than unconsciously letting the thought take you from point A to point B in less than a minute. In this condition, you always live in the past or future but never the present. It is impossible to find happiness in this state regardless of how ideal your external circumstances are. I think meditation is one of the best ways to learn more about the nature of your mind, and the impact of your thoughts on your beliefs, values, self-confidence, relationships and world outlook. You can listen to various inspirational talks but this guidance usually stays on an intellectual level because it is not experiential yet. Transformation comes from meditation born intuition and insight.
Another way to think of it is taking the right steps in getting to your intended destination. If you are planning a trip and your goal is to go to New York, you would not get the next plane to Los Angeles, just because there is a seat available and it is leaving faster. Instead, you would wait and get on the plane to New York. In the same way, there has to be a strong conscious intention to protect your thoughts because one thought quickly can lead to a chain of other self-critical, erroneous and judgmental thoughts.
Thoughts are precious, they create your reality. When you think positive thoughts, you are better able to cope with the adversities of life as they arise and enjoy the good circumstances of life as they are happening. When you allow yourself to fixate on negative thoughts, you are not able to enjoy your successes in the present, and you are less able to cope effectively with challenges as they arise. A regular meditation practice can assist in making you more aware of how to notice negative thoughts and then choose not to dwell on them, because you know where they will lead you, and it is not a place you want to be. In this way, you take more responsibility for co-creating your life the way you want it to be.
A lot of people worry what others may be thinking of them and devote a lot of time analyzing conversations and reflecting on the impressions others have of them. In contrast, the vast majority of people spend most of their time thinking about their own life, and very little time thinking about you. Moreover, most of the people for whom you worry about what they think, are not actually the people who will help you in the time of your greatest need. They may feel empathy for you for a short time after any given setback of a serious nature. However, not as many will offer their help or emotional support in a sustained and meaningful way.
It is the people whom you don't spend your time worrying about what they think, who will actually be there for you when you need them, such as your closest friends and family members. Yet, the mind is often occupied about how decisions one will make will affect their reputation or worried about how 'successful' other people perceive them to be. You can shape your character, but reputation is what other people create and despite your best efforts is out of your control. If someone is self-critical, they will be critical of you. If they have self-compassion, they will see the best parts of you. This is dependent on how the other person views themselves; we see the world as we are, not how the world actually is.
When you identify your most important values and live in accordance with them, you will be less likely to worry about what others think. When you define your own success, and according to that definition believe that you are successful, you will not care if other people perceive you to be successful in whatever terms they define it as. If you know what your intention is when you communicate or engage in an activity, and you come from a genuinely good place, how other people interpret your behaviour to be is irrelevant. They could be projecting their own motivations and intentions onto you with little self-awareness. Or they may filter what you said through their own past experiences, and thus infer meaning or intent that was not actually coming from you. It is the people who care least about what others think that actually get the most respect. This is because they have nothing to prove, nothing to convince you of, and are truly at peace with their life. When you communicate honestly, and with integrity, and share your authentic opinions, beliefs, morals and values about different topics, you attract a tribe of people who are on the same wavelength. You have a greater chance of making deeper friendships.
The life people display on social media is a highlight reel of their best experiences, where they showcase happy memories. Yet people compare their real lives to these highlights, without understanding that it is not a realistic representation of how the person's life is behind the scenes. If I have learned anything from being a psychotherapist, it is that things are very seldom what they appear to be on the surface. Because society has a 'positivity' bias, people do not freely express negative emotions or talk about their challenges openly, even with those close to them. They are afraid of being judged, invalidated and misunderstood. This causes emotions to be repressed. We admire those who have gone through immense suffering and come out victorious, yet we don't share in real time what it is like to go through these hard times because there is no safe space to do so. People feel isolated in their thoughts, emotions and experiences when there are so many going through the same life cycles that characterize and define the human condition. We crave support but fear ostracism and distancing from others. What do we observe when someone shares from the heart? How are they treated in our families, friend groups, schools, workplaces, and communities?
Self-acceptance and self-love can only come when you drop the need to be approved of by others. When your self-esteem is dependent on what others think of you, they can withdraw their support at any time and for any reason, causing you to crash. Instead, focus on your personal, emotional and spiritual development. Everyday, read or listen to the words of those people you find inspiring, so you can understand their thinking style, and gain higher perspectives that will empower you to thrive. They probably faced the same dilemmas as you, the same emotions and anxieties you did, as we are all human. How did they deal with them? Make time to connect with your own intuition, to be receptive to the wisdom that comes from silence. Write your own narrative, and never let anyone frame your story or define your value. No one will ever value you more than you value yourself. So place a high value on yourself and you will see a world that places a high value on you too.
The topic of forgiveness is one that can't be approached from the mind, only from the heart. You can re-tell the story of what happened several times to several people, and several times find reasons as to why you are correct in feeling the way you felt. Speaking your truth and having it validated in psychotherapy or by those closest to you can be a step in healing. Advocating for yourself and others publicly can hold the perpetrators accountable, and ensure that the same thing is less likely to happen to someone else. But it then falls to you to draw a line and say this will no longer hold me back. I learned my lessons and this no longer serves me to keep re-living this by talking about it at present. No one can draw that line for you. This change can only come from the deeply felt desire to let go of thought patterns and behaviours that are justified by the story of you as a victim. If people only understood my background and what happened to me, they would know why I could not do certain things. Only you know that you are self-sabotaging by placing those limits on yourself. Others can give me empathy, compassion and validation but that will not complete my healing. Healing can only come from within.
When thoughts of those situations where other people did wrong things come back, mentally decide you will not run those stories in your mind any longer. The thoughts will come back out of habit but you have the power to choose not to dwell on them. Instead practice affirmations and self-compassion in those moments. Write about how this story is impacting your mind, body, soul and spirit and why you need to let it go. You may have multiple stories which you can do separately. What qualities have you lost as a result of your personal adversity and which ones do you want to bring back into your mind and body? Think about how you can re-write your personal narrative and inspire others with overcoming your challenges and going on to achieve great things. Those who meant harm for you can ultimately be your stepping stone to success. With nearly 8 billion people on the planet, those enemies have given you the opportunity to turn your test into a testimony and be a catalyst for transformation in others.
Please watch this clip of two of my spiritual teachers have an illuminating conversation about forgiveness. I know you are destined to do great things, let these stories go and watch your life transform.
I can't believe it has been 22 years since the release of this video! I was in elementary school when it came out and it is as beautiful and inspiring now as it was then. It is so true that you always regret what you didn't do so much more than chances you took that did not work out as intended. At least you can learn from your mistakes. Just like you can't get a job if you don't apply, the universe can't give you something that you don't say out loud and make efforts to achieve. If one door closes, you can be sure that an even bigger, brighter door is waiting for you. You just need to have faith in the time that both doors are closed, that great things are in store for you. Trust in the natural timing of the universe, every step is necessary to take you where you need to go.
Starting the day with self-care enhances the probability that the focus is more on you having control over the tone of your day rather than letting it be determined by other people. This can be through those in your life needing something from you, the latest developments in the lives of people on your social media, celebrity stories, stores wanting you to buy their product, people selling their services, and/or the news detailing what is happening in your city or around the world. Focusing externally makes you more reactive, more likely to make comparisons with other people, and leaves you with a feeling of underlying anxiety. In contrast, focusing internally shifts your energy into feeling more peaceful and ready to handle the day with confidence.
The world constantly spins around us but when we cultivate an unshakeable inner peace, we are not affected as much by the energy of other people or the constantly changing ups and downs in life. Instead of having moods change like the ocean waves coming in and out, being happy when circumstances are what you want and people act the way you ideally wish them to be, and then unhappy when life does not conform to your wishes and expectations, you dive down deep where the water is perfectly still. You put a gap between the words and actions of other people and what you say and do in return.
I always remember Dr. Wayne Dyer's advice, "what other people do is their karma, how you react is your own". There are laws that no individual can escape, no matter what their power, privilege, or wealth get them out of in this life. I feel it is important to always speak your truth to help to achieve just outcomes but then let go and let God take care of the rest. The power imbalances in society are set up to protect certain groups of people while scapegoating others, and this will take a long time to correct. People with privilege will continue to fight hard to retain their privilege but it is always worth your time and effort to challenge them. This is how society changes and this is how the world changes. I have learned that negative emotions towards others keep one tied to the wheel of samsara, the never ending cycle of birth and death. Radical forgiveness is necessary to finally be free. Just because you forgive someone, it does not free them of having to face the consequences of their actions. Holding onto these toxic emotions stops you from fulfilling your divine destiny. Trust that the universe is perfectly just and fair and you will find yourself transformed.
I love affirmations, the correct way to phrase them is, "I am __________. Suggestions include, "I am beautiful, I am strong, I am powerful, I am kind, I am loving, I am compassionate, I am generous, I am wealthy, I am courageous, I speak my truth honestly and genuinely, I feel safe and secure, I am peaceful, I am radiant, I am successful". Always phrase affirmations in the present tense, as if they are already true. Smile while you say them; the famous Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh says that smiling from your eyes, genuinely and authentically, relaxes 300 muscles in your face. Say them by faith and with enthusiasm, never mechanically. Affirmations and positive self-talk go a long way in countering the inner critic that we all have living rent free in our minds. Your thoughts create your reality so guard them preciously. Focus your energy on what you want to create rather than what other people say about you, or what you believe they may think about you. Successful people drown out the noise of what other people say by focusing on their talents and strengths. They don't compare their achievements with other people. They focus their time and energy on creating their best lives, on running their own race.
Practice visualization of your ideal life. What are your top 5 strengths? How would you describe yourself in 10 adjectives? What type of work are you doing? Who are you with? Where do you live? Do you travel? What types of people are your friends? What activities to you participate in? What does a typical day look like for you? What are your most significant relationships characterized by? How are you living out your top 5 values? What type of impact and legacy are you creating and leaving in the world? How is your family, friends, local environment and/or the world at large benefitting from your knowledge, skills and experience? What types of conversations would you like to be having and with who? You can journal the answers to these questions and picture yourself mentally living this life. Feel how you would feel if you were living your ideal life.
Do some morning yoga to give the body an energy and flexibility boost. I love to watch Yoga with Kassandra, Boho Beautiful and Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube.
Immerse yourself in more inspiring ways of approaching life, learn new ways of thinking from people you admire via reading their books or listening to their YouTube or podcasts. Even 10 minutes of uplifting material a day can shift your focus from sadness to joy, and from pessimism to hope.
Engage in guided meditation, mantra meditation, walking meditation or simply observe silence with or without music. Meditation changes the wiring of the brain so that you are calmer regardless of what happens in your environment. The goal of meditation is not to stop having thoughts, it is to become more aware of the nature of the mind, specifically the self-sabotaging patterns that hold you back from reaching your potential. You become aware of how certain beliefs you hold do not serve your best interests and you become better able to let these go. Over time, the gaps between your thoughts will grow, and your energy will be less affected by the changing waves of life. You will have more fresh thoughts, rather than recycling the same thoughts from day to day, week to week and year to year. Commit to having a 20 minute practice a day for at least a month. This will hopefully create a self-sustaining habit after you notice yourself being calmer and more confident. Mudras are hand gestures that are used during meditation or affirmation practices to create a better energetic flow throughout the mind and body, I find using these can enhance concentration and ability to tap into one's inner wisdom.
Do some deep breathing for at least 5-10 minutes a day. Most of our breathing is shallow during the day. Deep breathing energizes the body, mind and spirit, assists in immune and digestive processes, and increases clarity of mind.
Do a morning face massage, this wakes you up, reduces fine lines and wrinkles, and can give energy for the day. TheMoments, Yasuko Kawamura and Su-Man all have high quality videos to choose from.
In reflexology, they say massaging different points on the feet can promote healing in other areas of the body. You can do this manually and/or you can use a foot massager to ease tension and stress from the feet. Using a foam roller is also a great way to ease accumulated tension from other areas of the body, which can have a positive impact on your posture.
Journalling can be cathartic, because it is a way to release repressed emotions in a safe way, and untangle your thoughts which can be jumbled or unclear in your mind. Writing promotes enhanced understanding of the heart of your issues, enabling you to be more effective in targeting thought and behavioural patterns that need to be changed. Writing down future goals and aspirations, as well as steps you can take to move closer to these goals increases the likelihood of you taking concrete and measurable action, rather than passively waiting for a dream to come true.
Different oils and scented candles can change your mood. I think of lighting a candle is igniting the fire and passion of life. I use cinnamon and peppermint to energize and ylang ylang and lavender to wind down.
You can cultivate a gratitude practice composed of thinking about three things you were grateful for the previous day, or you can write these down. No matter how difficult the challenges you are facing, focusing on what is going well in your life will shift your mindset from lack to abundance. The aspects of our lives we focus on will grow, so always focus on things that are going well for you.
My favourite detox tea which I have every morning is a mix of cumin, coriander, fenugreek and fennel. I combine a half cup of each of these seeds in a bowl, mix them, and put a teaspoon into a large cup of boiled water. Let the seeds sit for at least a half hour in the water and strain them out. This beverage is best served warm though you can sip on the water all day if you want to.
I invite you to try at least a few of these activities each day for at least 21 days, so this can create a habit that can uplift your energy and vitality. I have felt so much better since starting my day in a way that prioritizes my mental well-being, which in turn has increased the quality of everything I do.
The topic of the what the future will bring with COVID has been on everyone's minds, particularly when will the return to 'normal' come? As Roy points out, 'normal' is not a desirable state to return to, as this forced quarantine gives a chance for a depth of reflection not usually possible with the pace of everyday life pre-pandemic. It becomes apparent that we have less control over our fate than we would like to believe. Nothing is for certain and everything is always changing. We have control over how we choose to approach life; in keeping a hopeful attitude, making ethical decisions and treating people with respect and dignity.
How can you remain peaceful amongst the ups and downs? You must learn to find inner stillness despite the ever changing landscape of life. Are you only happy when you are experiencing a good phase of life? Or can you remain at peace when you are in the midst of several challenges? What happens if you lose the identities you define yourself by through a career loss, change of relationship or health status or loss of an important title or business? There can be sadness if you judge yourself based on what your external life looks like rather than who you are as a person.
We observe that people treat others differently as a result of their status at a given point of time. Nevertheless, it is a harsh reality to accept when you personally experience a status reversal and are treated differently for setbacks that you had little control over, that may have been unfair. At the same time, people are conditioned by media and society to treat people differentially according to factors that define material success. Much of this happens at an unconscious level, similar to discrimination based on sex, race, class, sexual orientation, age and disability. Inequities have become much sharper, with the gap growing rapidly between the haves and the have nots. Many people who never thought they could be have nots, suddenly find themselves in the vulnerable position of having to struggle for security in ways they could not have imagined possible. These experiences can build empathy or harden the heart. I would hope that for most people, that it creates an experiential understanding of the unpredictability of life, in that roles can always change. Therefore, to build an identity around something that can be taken away, is a recipe for anxiety and disillusionment.
I believe the pandemic presents an opportunity to think about how we define success and how we relate to other people. First, are you judging your success and happiness on the degree to which you have mastered yourself as opposed to what your life looks like on the outside? Second, think about how we can bridge the barriers between us; to see how we can judge people not by external identities but by personality traits and the ways in which they approach the world with compassion. If we looked at ourselves and others in this way on a micro level, the world will change on a macro level, as we develop self-compassion and form relationships with a broader range of people. Demographics are not under our control and there needs to be a stronger effort to move beyond the ways in which our appearance and outer success influences who we spend time with. By expanding our minds and our hearts, more authentic friendships can blossom. In this way, we can imagine a new world, one that values inclusivity, diversity and equality. This is well worth fighting for.
Psychotherapeutic services in Peel region