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What To Do When Therapy Isn’t An Option

What To Do When Therapy Isn’t An Option

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It’s no surprise that we are big advocates of therapy here at Connecte. Therapy can help us manage stress and anxiety, improve our mood and well-being, and cope with life’s ups and downs. It can also be a powerful tool to help us meet our personal and professional goals and reach our potential. Above all, therapy provides a way to feel seen, heard, and understood.

That said, we’re also aware that therapy isn’t always a realistic option. It can take a financial toll, especially when money is tight and insurance coverage is limited. In the public sector, there are often long waiting lists. Therapy also involves a substantial commitment of our time and energy (contrary to expectations, therapy isn’t “just talking’ and it can be hard work!). And sometimes, we’re just not in a place where we’re ready to face past experiences or discuss the things that are weighing heavily on us.

There may come a point when you feel like you could benefit from taking matters into your own hands and taking ownership of your mental health and well-being. Whether you’ve been in therapy before, plan on trying it out for the first time, or are just looking for some strategies you can use to help you cope and maximize your potential, read on to learn how you can move forward when therapy isn’t an option with a few tips from some of the psychologists here at Connecte.

1. Develop a self-care routine

Self-care isn’t selfish, and it isn’t a passing trend or fad. At Connecte, we’re always striving to find ways to incorporate little acts of self-care into daily life and encourage our clients to do the same. It’s a great way to practice #lifetherapy. Coming up with a sustainable self-care routine can help us cope with distress and improve the overall quality of our lives.

One of my favorite ways to help clients come up with a personalized self-care plan is to brainstorm priorities and activities across different domains, including our physical health (e.g., walking outside, attending a yoga class, coming up with a bedtime routine, eating regular, nourishing meals), our emotional well-being (e.g., mindfulness, meditation, journaling), our need for human connection (e.g., seeing friends and family, appreciating small interactions with strangers), and our thirst for creativity (e.g., painting, drawing, reading, interior design). Maryann Joseph also highlights the importance of pursuing creativity: “Take your pain, take your feelings, and make something with them. Channel them into something creative: write, play music, do some wild, cathartic bedroom dancing, plant something, grow something, build something, repair something, make a fiery tomato sauce.”

Self-care ultimately allows us to learn about ourselves, lead a more fulfilling life, and take care of our basic needs and values. Finding ways to incorporate it into your routine can therefore give you a head start for therapy if or when you’re ready.  

2. Create your personal library

Self-help books and resources that guide us through specific therapeutic exercises or approaches can be really helpful. Like anything, this works best when we actually stick with it. If being consistent is a struggle, it can help to set aside a time each week to check in with yourself and catch up on some reading material or exercises. You can even check in with yourself at the same time each week, much like the way you would in therapy. Finding a therapist who can support and guide you through your own self-help exercises can also be extremely beneficial. Luckily, there are so many great resources available, both online and in print. Some of our favorites include Mind Over Mood and Self-Esteem. Danit Nitka also recommends Reinventing Your Life, which is a schema-therapy based read that is aimed at self-guided change. Online, AnxietyBC and the Centre for Clinical Interventions have many helpful handouts and worksheets for coping with anxiety and depression, building assertiveness, cultivating self-compassion, and targeting self-critical views of ourselves and bodies.  Looking for more? You can always find some of our other favorite resources here.

3. Turn to technology

There seems to be an app for everything these days. And while this can make it easier to incorporate things like relaxation and mindfulness into our routines, it also means putting in the time to find the right apps that will work for you. With the increasing evidence that mindful breathing and relaxation are helpful for treating depression, it really is worth it. Some of our favorites include breethe, Headspace, InsightTimer, and Simply Being. Expectful is another resource to guide you through struggles related to fertility, pregnancy, and motherhood. There are also apps and online resources to help you make new friends and expand your support system, including Meetup, MeetMe, Bumble BFF and Peanut (for new mothers).

At the same time, it’s a careful balance. And sometimes it helps to remember to “disconnect to reconnect”. Making an active effort to check our phones, e-mails, and social media less often, or to unfollow accounts, blogs, or posts that may be triggering for a variety of reasons can do wonders for our mental state and our ability to focus on the things that truly fulfill us in the long run.

4. Attend a group

Group therapy can be a really helpful way to work through issues and, in many cases, is often recommended as either an adjunct to or starting point for individual therapy. Maeve O’Leary Barrett and Stéphanie Landry recommend looking into free support groups or workshops that are available through AMI-Quebec, REVIVRE, ANEB (for difficulties related to eating disorders), or the Mont Royal Cemetery (for grief counselling).

Lisa Linardatos also recommends taking part in an extracurricular group and making sure we set aside time for the kind of play that is typically only nurtured in childhood. Whether it’s participating in a team sport or even a bounce class, a creative arts or improv class, a public speaking workshop, or a book club, joining a group activity can be a helpful way to seek out meaningful social interactions, improve our energy and motivation, and build confidence while learning a new skill. Regardless of whether it’s group therapy or simply therapeutic, having an activity outside of the home and feeling socially connected can be so important for our sense of well-being.

5. Open up to close others

Speaking of feeling socially connected, spending time with loved ones, including friends, partners, and family members, is so essential for our mental health. Simcha Samuel says: “Consider sharing your feelings with those you trust. Notice if there are a couple of people in particular with whom you tend to feel especially accepted, understood or supported. Make sure to let them know how much their support means to you and what about their support in particular you have found especially helpful.”. If you’re wondering who to open up to, Jodie Richardson recommends watching this video on the difference between empathy and sympathy. She adds that speaking with a friend can also be a really powerful way to learn how to be a “wise, empathic friend to ourselves and our emotions”.

If you find yourself struggling to find new friends or maintain the friendships you already have, you can always learn more about my work on friendships here. And if calling a friend isn’t a possibility, there are phone lines that offer a listening ear, words of encouragement, or suggestions for social and community level resources.

6. Challenge your assumptions

Sometimes, our resistance to therapy has less to do with practical obstacles and more to do with personal barriers. It’s not uncommon to have biases about what therapy actually looks like or involves. This can be true regardless of whether we have past experiences with therapy.

  • For so many, the thought of entering therapy can feel like a lifelong commitment. In reality, the goal of most therapy experiences is to help you find ways to cope in your everyday life and to essentially become your own therapist. And while every person and experience is different, it’s absolutely possible to make progress in a limited number of sessions.
  • If the cost of therapy is prohibitive, it might help to know that some clinics offer sliding scales (often with an intern therapist) where the fee for each session is based on your financial situation. It’s also not uncommon for therapy to take place every 2 weeks as opposed to every week, especially as things progress.
  • Finally, if you’re concerned about not “clicking” with a therapist, know that it’s all about fit. Research actually suggests that the relationship between a client and therapist actually matters more than the type of therapy that’s practiced! It’s perfectly okay to find someone else with whom you are more at ease and comfortable. Just try to recognize if you might be too quick to give up on a new person or experience.

Challenging some of the assumptions and unhelpful ideas and expectations you have about therapy can ultimately free up space to help you recognize whether you might actually be ready to take the next step of seeing a psychologist or therapist. Until then, focusing on self-care and meaningful connections and using the many resources at your disposal can be an important way to prioritize your health and happiness.


Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

Cuijpers, P., Donker, T., van Straten, A., Li, J., & Andersson, G. (2010). Is guided self-help as effective as face-to-face psychotherapy for depression and anxiety disorders? A systematic review and meta-analysis of comparative outcome studies. Psychological medicine40, 1943-1957.

Jain, S., Shapiro, S. L., Swanick, S., Roesch, S. C., Mills, P. J., Bell, I., & Schwartz, G. E. (2007). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation versus relaxation training: effects on distress, positive states of mind, rumination, and distraction. Annals of behavioral medicine33, 11-21. 

Lambert, M. J., & Barley, D. E. (2001). Research summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38, 357-361.  

Shakya, H. B., & Christakis, N. A. (2017). Association of Facebook use with compromised well-being: a longitudinal study. American journal of epidemiology185, 203-211.

The Ins and Outs of Introverts

The Ins and Outs of Introverts

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One thing that I’ve noticed more and more in my sessions recently is that individuals who consider themselves to be more introverted have often been told that we were too shy or have had people try to bring them out of their shells at some point in their lives. Messages about the advantages of extraversion abound in North America. As kids, we are taught to be social, talkative, outgoing, assertive, and communicative. Extraverts might be more comfortable when it comes to public speaking, job interviews, or group work. And extraverts might even get more attention, at least according to American proverbs like “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”.

Introverts, on the other hand, might get overlooked or feel overwhelmed by the high energy stimulation of sleepovers, school dances, family reunions, or work functions. And in an Instagram world where we are constantly sharing what we are doing and thinking with others, introverts might be left feeling like there is something wrong with them if they would rather keep to themselves.

Introversion has been shown to be associated with multiple strengths (e.g. Feist, 1999; Lee, 2017), many of which are described in the New York Times bestselling book entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012), whose TED talk can be seen here. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’re friends with, in a relationship with, working with, or raising, an introvert:

First, try not to mistake introversion for social anxiety: According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th edition, individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder often worry that others will judge them negatively or that they will humiliate themselves; people with this disorder might avoid social situations because they anticipate social rejection. These symptoms elicit considerable distress and/or negatively impact their ability to function in areas like relationships, work or school. In contrast, introverts may simply prefer to spend time alone or with one or two close friends because that is how they recharge or because they genuinely enjoy solitary activities like reading. So, before you try to bring introverts out of their shells or nudge them to be ‘more social’, consider their reason for spending time alone or for limiting their time spent in groups.

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Also, consider what you appreciate about them, just the way they are: Notice things about the introverts in your life for which you are especially grateful – maybe they are really good listeners, good at keeping secrets, empathetic, down to earth, and funny once you get to know them. Consider sharing this with them; it may be especially appreciated if they grew up surrounded by messages that they were too quiet or shy.

And finally, take it as a compliment: Because they would often rather be alone or with one or two people, them choosing you as one of the people who they enjoy spending time with might mean that you are special to them and that there is something about you in particular that they really cherish!


Simcha Samuel is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking. New York: Crown Pub.

Feist, G.J. (1999). The influence of personality on artistic and scientific creativity. In R.J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of creativity (pp. 273–296). New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Lee, S.S. (2017) Has medical education killed “silence”? Medical Teacher, 39, 444-445, DOI: 10.1080/0142159X.2016.1248919

How co-rumination turns healthy relationships toxic

How co-rumination turns healthy relationships toxic

Who do you turn to when you’re going through a challenge or difficult time? What do your conversations sound like? Do you know what you actually find helpful? And can you spot the difference between helping and hindering?

Research has shown time and time again just how important it is for us to feel socially connected to and supported by the people around us. In fact, what matters more than the number of friends we have, or even how realistic their advice may be, is that we feel as though we are supported. That is, that we are satisfied with our perception of the input or encouragement we receive. Yet not all forms of support are created equal. And sometimes, the line between helping and hindering can be blurred, especially when conversations veer towards venting.

As comforting as it may be to have someone to turn to when we need to vent or debrief, it can be a slippery slope towards co-rumination. It’s possible you’ve never come across the idea of co-rumination, but chances are you’re familiar with rumination. When going through a difficult time, it’s not uncommon to repeatedly mull over events that took place (as well as those that have yet to happen) and the things that were said (or not said). Sometimes this process can be helpful—it’s a way of thinking things through, weighing our options, and figuring out new, creative solutions. But it can also make us feel stuck and be less inclined to actually do anything constructive about the situation and our associated distress. The deeper we are in a cycle of rumination, the harder it can be to recognize it’s happening and dig our way out.

This process can be even more difficult to spot when it happens in the context of our closest relationships. Co-rumination involves repeatedly discussing and rehashing our problems and difficult feelings with someone else without coming up with a solution or resolution. The issue is, talking with a friend, partner, or family member about our problems can feel really good. It can make us feel supported, bring us closer together, and even trick us into believing we are doing something productive about our situation. In the long run, however, it can hold us back from moving forward and actually lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.

How can you spot co-rumination?

1. Know the signs

A good place to start is to recognize the difference between sharing and ruminating. Disclosing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences is an important way to build closeness and trust in any relationship. But if you find yourself talking about the same experiences over and over again, particularly those that involve difficult emotions like anger, sadness, or envy, it can help to ask yourself the following questions to see if you’re caught in a cycle of co-rumination:

  • Is this a new problem?
  • Have I/we spoken about this before?
  • Am I speculating about things that have yet to happen?
  • Do I have any new information that I haven’t shared or discussed?

2. Learn your patterns

With time, it helps to become mindful about your own patterns as well as those that tend to develop within friendships. We each have our own sensitivities, vulnerabilities, and strengths. Certain topics are likely to get us going and specific people may just be easier to open up to. Take a closer look at your behavior and learn your own triggers—this can help you spot co-rumination if or when it starts to unfold.

  • Are there certain topics you tend to ruminate about (e.g., work, romantic relationships, family problems, financial worries, health concerns)?
  • Are you more likely to co-ruminate in certain settings (e.g., when chatting at home or on the phone, after a long day at work, after you’ve had a drink or two)?
  • Are there certain people or friends you tend to co-ruminate with?

3. Recruit close others

Even when we know the signs to look out for, it can still be difficult to catch ourselves in the act. That’s why it helps to recruit the people closest to us, especially those with whom we have a tendency to co-ruminate. Remind your friend or partner that you will always be there to listen to and support them, and that you appreciate all they have done for you. Let them know that you’ve noticed your tendency to co-ruminate together and ask them to gently point it out when they feel you’re veering towards rumination. These kinds of discussions also give you the chance to have a bigger conversation about the kinds of support you might find helpful and how you can be a better or more supportive friend or partner in return.

How can you move from co-rumination to collaboration?

1. Catch yourself co-ruminating and be compassionate

Often, simply becoming more aware of our behaviors and patterns can be enough to help us move from co-rumination to actual solution. The more you focus on recognizing co-rumination as it happens, the easier it’ll be to shift towards a problem-solving approach. Just make sure to be compassionate, both towards yourself and your friend or partner, when you do catch yourself in the act. Instead of judging yourself or being overly self-critical, treat it like a game and give yourself a pat on the back for getting so good at recognizing the difference between venting or ruminating and problem solving.

2. Weigh the short and long-term consequences

There’s usually a good reason why we do the things we do, even if our behaviors might seem illogical or even destructive from the outside looking in. That’s why it helps to validate why you may be tempted to co-ruminate, whether it’s to process difficult emotions or to feel that sense of closeness in your relationship. These benefits, however, do not take away from the reality that in the long run, co-rumination isn’t actually all that helpful for our sense of well-being or even the problem itself. Longer term, co-rumination can lead to anxiety and depression or exacerbate symptoms if we're already struggling. It also has the potential to drive certain people away, especially when a relationship is unbalanced and conversations tend to be overly focused on one person’s difficulties or life. Having a clear understanding of the reasons why you are working towards change is an important step in actually being able to do so.

3. Switch to active problem-solving

Ask yourself if there is something you can do to change or improve the situation right now. Can you actually do something to resolve the problem in some small way? Perhaps it involves having a frank discussion with a colleague to clear up a misunderstanding. Or maybe it’s apologizing for something you wished you hadn’t said to a partner in the heat of an argument. Often, taking a step towards actually doing something about the problem you’re facing can be much more helpful than venting, not to mention empowering. Of course, there are times when there will be little you can do to change your current situation or circumstances. In these cases, it can be helpful to reflect on what you would like to do differently in the future to prevent similar situations from happening or to cope with them when they do arise. 

4. Strengthen your other coping strategies

Trying to minimize your tendency to co-ruminate without coming up with other more constructive ways of coping will likely leave you feeling overwhelmed and even lonely. That’s why it’s equally important to find new ways to cope with whatever problem you are facing. Develop a sustainable self-care routine, work through the pros and cons of possible solutions, and turn to healthy distractions when all else fails. And don’t lose sight of how important it is to find new ways to feel connected in your relationships. Focus on having meaningful discussions, try a new activity together, share your dreams or team up to tackle a shared goal. Above all, work together to establish new ways to better support each other through the ups and downs that life inevitably throws your way.

5. Strike a balance

With all that said, there will still be times when all you really need is just the space to open up to a friend and let off some steam. Venting isn’t always counterproductive. It becomes an issue when it happens repeatedly, especially at the expense of other more constructive approaches. If you need to vent or support a friend who is doing so, go ahead! Just make sure you’re aware of how much space this is taking up in your conversations and relationship. If need be, work together to set limits so that your interactions aren’t entirely dominated by co-rumination. Finding a healthy balance will make your conversations that much more helpful and supportive, both in the immediate and longer term.

The original version of this post appeared on Miriam Kirmayer’s blog with Psychology Today, Casual to Close. Learn more about Miriam’s work on friendship here.


Miriam Kirmayer is a PhD Candidate in the Clinical Psychology program at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and a therapist at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

Rose, A. J. (2002). Co–rumination in the friendships of girls and boys. Child development, 73(6), 1830-1843.

Calmes, C. A., & Roberts, J. E. (2008). Rumination in interpersonal relationships: Does co-rumination explain gender differences in emotional distress and relationship satisfaction among college students?. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(4), 577-590.

Rose, A. J., Carlson, W., & Waller, E. M. (2007). Prospective associations of co-rumination with friendship and emotional adjustment: considering the socioemotional trade-offs of co-rumination. Developmental psychology, 43(4), 1019.

Waller, E. M., & Rose, A. J. (2010). Adjustment trade-offs of co-rumination in mother–adolescent relationships. Journal of Adolescence, 33(3), 487-497.

A shout out to Simply Noticing

A shout out to Simply Noticing

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When we feel like something’s not working for us, we want change. Whether you take this on alone or in the context of therapy, the process of change can feel daunting! Creating a space to look inside ourselves and our lives paves the way for reflection on our patterns. For example, you might tend to agree to doing things you really don’t want to do, or overcommit and regret (see Tobey’s latest blog post). Perhaps there are situations in which you consistently react in a way that makes things worse. You might go over what you have done after the fact thinking “I wish I hadn’t done that”. You want to change your reaction but it all seems to happen so fast—you feel like you are not in charge.

In Monthly Picks I posted about Shenpa, which is a Tibetan concept that refers to “getting hooked”—being caught up in something and scratching the itch. In the moment, we rarely notice that this is happening. Often if we’re not noticing, we react and feel powerless to change. When our mind wanders from the present, we allow important choices to be determined by external forces and receive consequences passively.  While mind-wandering can be beneficial in some contexts, it can also interfere with our ability to process information from the environment (Schooler et al., 2011). Wandering away from the moment without noticing can lead down a slippery slope. The risk is that life becomes a series of events we feel helpless over, leading to sadness, anger, anxiety or other uncomfortable sensations that communicate to us that something is not working.

So what’s the first step to taking charge? How do we become more of the driver and less of the passenger in our lives? This endeavour is especially difficult because sticky situations often seem to happen so fast. Taking back your power to participate actively in your life isn’t always easy but starts with simply noticing. Simply noticing is a key element of mindfulness-based meditations (Hölzel et al., 2011). Meditation and other practices based in awareness and noticing (vs. doing) have been associated with improvements in anxiety, depression, perceived stress, emotional well-being and overall mental health (Carmody & Baer, 2008). Simply noticing allows us to live our experiences as they are, rather than through the filters of our biases (Price et al., 2002). The idea is to step back and create space before we choose a response to a situation rather than reacting as we otherwise would (Baer & Krietemeyer 2006).

So how does one simply notice?

1-  Choose your target.

Pick one behaviour that you engage in that doesn’t seem work for you in the long term.  Do you often say “yes” when you mean “no”? Do you often feel compelled to assert yourself but stay quiet instead? Do you beat yourself up for making mistakes at work (or elsewhere)? Perhaps you react angrily when frustrated and say things you later regret? Choose one thing to simply notice.  

2-  Use your emotions as a guide.

When we do something that doesn’t work for us in the long term, it’s often in response to feeling an uncomfortable emotion in the moment. It may be avoiding something that we know is right for us because we’re afraid (e.g., job interview), it may be having one drink too many when we’re feeling sad or anxious. Tune in to those emotions. Ask yourself—is there a pattern here? Is there an emotion that I consistently react to in this way? In what situations do I tend to do this?

3-  Slow the tape down.

Imagine the situation as a scene in a movie. Then imagine playing the scene in slow motion. Although it feels quick in life, slow it down so you can take the time to look at each part of it. Even though time seems to be moving so much faster in these instances, you can slow down your experience and perception of the situation by paying attention.

4-  Simply notice.

Now take special notice of all the elements in the situation—and do this with purpose. Notice your Shenpa (that hook you might feel the urge to bite). Notice your urge to do something. Be present and observe the situation as though you were an outside observer.  Simply take note of what is happening, resisting any urge to do. You may choose to do afterwards, but in the first few moments, catch yourself not noticing, and instead, notice.

You might ask, “I noticed. Now what?”

Noticing is only a first step. However, it’s a powerful one: simply noticing is associated with changes in attentional functions and cognitive flexibility, which are linked to mental balance and well-being (Moore & Malinowski, 2009).  It is a step to ensuring your freedom and becoming aware enough to refrain from biting that hook. Over time, the practice of noticing will empower you to choose your life path through individual choices—ones that may have not been apparent before you slowed the tape down.


Danit Nitka is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or @ConnecteMTL on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.


References

Carmody, J., & Baer, R. A. (2008). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(1), 23–33.

Hölzel, B. K., Lazar, S. W., Gard, T., Schuman-Olivier, Z., Vago, D. R., & Ott, U. (2011). How does mindfulness meditation work? Proposing mechanisms of action from a conceptual and neural perspective. Perspectives on psychological science, 6(6), 537-559.

Moore, A., & Malinowski, P. (2009). Meditation, mindfulness and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and cognition, 18(1), 176-186.

Price, D. D., Barrell, J. J., & Rainville, P. (2002). Integrating experiential–phenomenological methods and neuroscience to study neural mechanisms of pain and consciousness. Consciousness and Cognition, 11(4), 593-608.

Baer, R. A., & Krietemeyer, J. (2006). Overview of mindfulness- and acceptance-based treatment approaches. In R. A. Baer (Ed.), Mindfulness-based treatment approaches: Clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications (pp. 3–27). San Diego, CA: Elsevier

Schooler, J. W., Smallwood, J., Christoff, K., Handy, T. C., Reichle, E. D., & Sayette, M. A. (2011). Meta-awareness, perceptual decoupling and the wandering mind. Trends in cognitive sciences, 15(7), 319-326.

Feeling overcommitted? How to avoid feeling drained and better set your priorities

Feeling overcommitted? How to avoid feeling drained and better set your priorities

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Over the weekend, I took a quick look at my schedule for the upcoming week. My immediate thought was “What was I thinking?!”. Ideally, I have a mix of work, some social activities, and some personal time each week. But more and more often, I’ve been noticing that my upcoming weeks seem to be triggering more feelings of overwhelm in me as opposed to excitement! This realization has been especially bizarre because even if I’m busy at work, I really enjoy the work that I do. Similarly, even if I have several social outings, I love spending time with friends and family! So shouldn’t that be enough of a protective factor to avoid feeling stressed by a hectic schedule? Sadly, it seems that’s not the case (at least not for me). So, the issue with overcommittment isn’t that you’re doing things you necessarily dislike (although that can certainly be part of the issue), but it also happens when we forget that we are not, in fact, the Energizer Bunny. Worse still, overcommittment has been shown to contribute to higher levels of stress and physical tension (Preckel et al., 2005).  So, how can we better manage ourselves to more regularly take a peak at our upcoming week and notice a feeling of interest, excitement, or perhaps even calm?

Start to Prioritize

Each of us have a different combination of interests and responsibilities. Consider this when you begin to figure out how to avoid feeling depleted by overcommitting yourself. What matters to you? Family, school, work, art class? Team sports? Reading? Do you have family that you’d like to see regularly or is it only over the holidays that you’d like to spend time together? Do you have a friend circle that you can see altogether or do you prefer to see friends individually? Consider these, and many other possible combinations, when looking at what you’d like to fit into your schedule.

Make a schedule – that INCLUDES down time and track how it makes you feel

This step doesn’t have to happen each week, but begin by creating a schedule each week that considers your main interests and goals (see step 1) and plan it out so that those priorities are included, but so is time to just do your thing. Essentially, include several hours of non-scheduled, unstructured time into your week. This step has several benefits: 1) It helps you really reflect on how much time each activity you’re committing to takes, so that you’re more realistic in your goals, and 2) it helps to lessen the impression that “doing nothing” is bad! Free time is essential for our mind and bodies to rest, re-energize, and get in better touch with our creative and spontaneous side. With too much structure, we aren’t able to slow down enough to touch base with our passions, and our needs in the moment. In addition, creating a schedule gives you an opportunity to practice different levels of “busyness” – some weeks may be slower than others, or some may be focused on more social than work activities, or vice versa. By keeping track of these schedules and tracking how you feel at the start and end of each of these weeks, you’ll have some helpful data that lets you know what combinations work best for YOU!

Examine what lies beneath our need to overcommit

This part might be a little tougher. Often, if we find ourselves saying yes to everything requested or offered to us, there is an underlying reason that we may not be aware of. For some, it may be the belief that if we say no to a request, or don’t go out of our way to help someone else, we’re failing at being a good friend/partner/employee/etc. For others, overcommittment may stem from a fear of missing out on possible adventure, opportunities, financial gain, or connections. Whatever the reason, it may be helpful to ask yourself what need does overcommittment provide for you, or what does being overcommitted prevent you from feeling? Once you’re able to answer this, you’ll be better prepared to address those needs or fears in a more adaptive and sustainable way.

Get comfortable saying “No (thanks)”

As many of us know, it can be difficult to say no to an invite or a potential work commitment. We may feel guilty, or that we’ll be judged for not putting others first. Even though it can be hard, saying no is really the best way to ensure that we stick to our schedule that helps us meet our needs and goals without feeling overwhelmed. Plus, once you try it a few times, you’ll notice that people tend to respect when people set limits for themselves. The more we all do this, the more we normalize setting limits with our time and the more comfortable it becomes for everyone.

So, next time you notice your schedule giving you mild heart palpitations, take a step back, run through these suggestions, and see how you feel. Hopefully you’ll be well on your way to a more balanced and enjoyable week! 


Tobey Mandel is a clinical psychologist in Westmount, Montreal, Quebec, at Connecte Montreal Psychology Group. The team at Connecte loves writing about ways to boost our mental health and bring psychology into our everyday lives. For more helpful tips, check out Connecte’s blogspodcast, follow @connectepsychology on Instagram or like us on Facebook.


References

Preckel, D., von Kanel, R., Kudielka, B. M., & Fischer, J. E. (2005). Overcommitment to work is associated with vital exhaustion. Int Arch Occup Environ Health, 78, 117–122.

Allan, I., Campbell, B., Carter, T., Doyle, M., Goodchild, S., Henderson, R., ….,  & Postans, L. (2006). Balance: Real life strategies for work/life balance. New South Wales, Australia. Sea Change Publishing.

Breitman, P., & Hatch, C. (2000). How to say no without feeling guilty. New York, NY: Broadway Books.