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Intuitive Eating – another fad? Or something more…

Intuitive Eating – another fad? Or something more…

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You may have recently heard the words “Intuitive Eating” or “Mindful Eating” in the news, on social media, or in a post on your favourite blog. The Globe and Mail even wrote a lengthy article in early January stating that intuitive eating is the new “non-diet” of the year. But what exactly is intuitive eating, and can it really help you improve your relationship with food and your body?

Intuitive eating is an approach to eating that shifts away from rules, rigidity around eating, and dieting. It encourages listening to your internal cues for hunger and responding by eating food that you enjoy and that makes you feel good both physically and emotionally. We have now seen that intuitive eating has been shown to improve both our physical and psychological health over the long-term (Bacon, 2010; Van Dyke & Drinkwater, 2014). If intuitive eating doesn’t sound all that fancy, it’s because it isn’t. Intuitive eating is essentially a much-needed back to basics approach, where we are encouraged to focus on our individual needs and preferences as a guide to developing a balanced relationship with food. You won’t find any “good” or “bad” foods in this approach, nor will you be encouraged to cut certain items out of your routine. The idea here is to stop looking outwards for a diet guide on how to take care of your body, and to begin looking inwards to better figure out what YOU need to feel good.

A good parallel here is when you think of an infant’s relationship with food. Infants cry when they’re hungry, and typically slow down their feeding when they’re full. Then they cry again when they’re hungry, and the cycle continues. Infants don’t ask themselves “how many calories are in my milk?” or “I can’t be hungry yet, I just ate!” or even “the other babies aren’t eating this much, why am I?!” – they simply listen to their bodies, feed when they’re hungry, and stop when they’re full. Pretty cool, right? Unfortunately, between infancy and adulthood, we’re inundated with messages about what we should or should not eat, how we should or should not look, and how anything less than the “thin ideal” or a “clean diet” is ground for shaming ourselves and others. As a result, we’ve naturally lost our inner compass, our inner guide that helps tell us what we need and want to feel satisfied.

Essentially, you and only you can tell yourself what your body needs, and it’s time to start listening.

So, how do we go about transitioning from focusing on external cues for eating to focusing on our internal needs? The following is a brief guide that will help you begin your intuitive eating journey, alongside some helpful reading recommendations to dig deeper into this subject.

Step 1: Learn to accept our bodies as they are, let go of diet culture

  • This is a really difficult step, and yet it’s essential. Letting go of thin ideals and shaming our bodies allows us to not only feel more connected and comfortable in our skin, it also lets us stop trying to control our eating behaviours with the goal of shrinking our bodies. If we can accept our bodies as they are, food can become about meeting our needs and experiencing pleasure, as opposed to an attempt to control and punish our bodies under the guise of ‘health’. When we try to use food to control our body size, i.e. when we try to diet, we have to retain that level of restriction in order to keep pushing down our weight. There is no freedom to ask ourselves what do we like, what are we in the mood for, how much would we like to enjoy? Instead, we are focused on “what am I allowed to eat?” in order to maintain this control. This approach ultimately backfires for most people as well, resulting in binge eating in an attempt for our bodies to finally feel that their needs are met. For these reasons and more, letting go of diet culture and accepting our bodies is crucial.

Step 2: Start getting curious about your personal hunger cues

  • We spend so much of our time assuming we should or should not eat because of the time of the day, because of what others are doing, or because of what we have eaten previously. None of this is focusing on what our body is asking for, so start by simply being mindful of your bodily cues for hunger. Do you feel a growl in your stomach? Do you suddenly have fantasies about different meal options? Does your concentration decrease slightly?

Step 3: Ask yourself what it is you’d like to eat.

  • What are you in the mood for? What do you have available? There is no right or wrong answer here, only you know what you’d like to eat!

Step 4: Eating mindfully.

  • Try to slow down, taste the flavour, the texture, and the temperature of your food. Notice how your pleasure for certain flavours changes throughout the course of your meal. Check in with your fullness cues. Are you feeling full half way through your meal? Are you still hungry at the end of your meal? Use these cues to guide yourself in either slowing down and finishing your meal or adding an extra snack to ensure that you’re satisfied.

Step 5: Be compassionate, non-judgemental, and flexible with yourself

  • Each meal is a learning opportunity. Sometimes we don’t feel full during a meal but then feel stuffed 30 minutes later. This helps us learn for the next time that we might need a little bit less of this specific recipe, or that we want to eat more slowly in the future. There is no “bad” or “good” way of doing this, it is simply a curious and open learning experience each time.

  • There are often reasons that we eat that are independent of our fullness cues, such as when a meal is really delicious and we’re willing to feel extra full in order to keep enjoying it, or when we know we’re only going to have a small window to have a meal during our workday. All of these situations are part of the fabric of intuitive eating. The idea is not to do this “perfectly” – in fact, that’s the exact opposite of the idea. The goal is simply to start becoming more curious about what your body needs and why it’s asking for what it needs in any given moment.

  • Become curious about other reasons that we might be eating, such as to hold onto pleasure, push back boredom, or cope with difficult emotions. These different motivations for eating are not problematic, they’re simply worth noticing. If we’re eating for reasons that are unrelated to our hunger and energy needs, then we might wish to expand on other ways to have those needs equally met, so that we have options in the future.

Ultimately, intuitive eating is about finally allowing yourself to accept and celebrate your body, and beginning to re-acquaint yourself with your inner guide for how to strengthen your relationship with food.


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

Van Dyke, N., & Drinkwater, E. J. (2014). Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: Literature review. Public Health Nutrition, 17, 1757-1766.

Gagnon-Girouard, M. P., Bégin, C., Provencher, V., Tremblay, A., Mongeau, L., Boivin, S. Lemieux, S. (2010). Psychological Impact of a "Health-at-Every-Size" Intervention on Weight-Preoccupied Overweight/Obese Women. Journal of Obesity, pii: 928097. doi: 10.1155/2010/928097

Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating: A revolutionary program that works. Third Edition. St. Martin’s Press.

Bacon, L. (2010). Health at every size: The surprising truth about your weight. Dallax, Texas: BenBella Books, Inc.

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.

Romantic Relationships: What’s self-esteem got to do with it?

Romantic Relationships: What’s self-esteem got to do with it?

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When seeking a romantic relationship, we are often encouraged to focus on what we’re looking for in a partner. Do they need to be funny? Kind? Tall? Smart? Are we hoping they’re going to be older, younger, of similar or different backgrounds? Do they have similar life aspirations? Of course, it is helpful to use our values to guide whether we may connect well with a potential partner; however, this mindset often shines the light on the partner’s qualities or values, and shines the light away from what we bring into a relationship. We each not only bring our own special quirks, we also bring in more significant characteristics like our core beliefs (see Maeve’s blog), attachment styles (see Simcha’s blog), and self-esteem. All of these can relate to how we perceive and experience our relationships, and thus it is crucial that we better understand how these impact our view of our partner and relationship in order to make choices that best serve our well-being.

Self-esteem has been shown to relate to relationship satisfaction in both the short- and long-term (Sciangula & Morry, 2009; Orth et al., 2012; Enrol & Orth, 2013). Essentially, what this means is that how we feel about ourselves impacts how we feel about our partners and our relationships. This dynamic can play out in a number of ways, so let’s consider a few examples:

Example 1:

Max, who has high self-esteem, begins dating another individual. Max soon begins to feel that his new partner does not prioritize his needs or make efforts to connect with him, so he may choose to not continue in the relationship because he recognizes his own self-worth and understand that this new partner is not valuing him appropriately.

Example 2:

Olivia, who has lower self-esteem, begins dating someone who does not make time for her or consider her thoughts and feelings. Olivia, however, assumes that she is the problem, that she is not ‘good enough’ and that it makes sense that her new partner is not valuing her as a result. Olivia then chooses to stay in the relationship even though her partner is not behaving in a way that indicates a healthy long term relationship.

Example 3:

Olivia, who has lower self-esteem, begins a relationship with someone who treats her well. At first, she finds this experience positive and enjoyable. However, as time goes on, she begins to grow concerned that there must be something wrong with her partner if they are interested in her. She doubts that she would interest someone who is kind and respectful. So, she begins to look for flaws in her partner and their relationship in order to make sense of the situation. This tendency puts strain on the relationship, creating distance and disconnection in an otherwise healthy and respectful relationship. 

Example 4: Max, with high self-esteem, finds himself in a positive and caring relationship. He trusts that this makes sense and is in line with what he deserves, and thus he is able to allow himself to enjoy the relationship and be vulnerable with his new partner.

As you can see, our self-esteem can serve as the lens through which we view our partner. When we struggle with low self-esteem, we may be more likely to seek relationships that do not promote mutual respect and care. We may also be likely to reject relationships that are in fact healthy (Murray et al., 2001)! So, what can we do about this dynamic?

Step 1: Notice the lens!

In order to make a change, we must first notice that we are projecting our own self-worth onto how we see the relationship. Once we do that, we can then begin to figure out what we can do differently to take care of our needs rather than settle in or change the relationship.

Step 2: Work to improve self-esteem.

Aim to increase self-esteem in order to address the underlying cause. Self-esteem can be modified in a number of ways, including:

  • Recognizing the ‘inner critic’ (see Lisa’s blog) and learning to notice and challenge or let go of these unhelpful thoughts
  • Treat yourself as you would a good friend, imagine speaking to yourself gently and with respect and care (see Andrea’s blog on self-compassion)
  • Work toward personal goals that align with your values
    • By taking actions to help us move towards the things that we care about, we can begin to feel good about the choices we’re making and the impact it’s having 
  • Challenge your beliefs about your self-worth (see Maeve’s blog)
  • Explore a book (Schiraldi, 2016) that provides step by step exercises to work directly on self-esteem
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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

Sciangula, A. & Morry, M. M. (2009). Self-esteem and perceived regard: How I see myself affects my relationship satisfaction. The Journal of Social Psychology, 149, 143-159.

Erol, Y. & Orth, U. (2013). Actor and partner effects of self-esteem on relationship satisfaction and the mediating role of secure attachment between the partners. Journal of Research in Personality, 47, 26-35.

Orth, U., Robins, R. W., & Widaman, K. F. (2012). Life-span development of selfesteem and its effects on important life outcomes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102, 1271–1288.

Murray, S. L, Holmes, J. G., Griffin, D. W., …, Rose, P. (2001). The mismeasure of love: How self-doubt contaminates relationship beliefs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27, 423-436.

Schiraldi, G. R. (2016). The Self-Esteem Workbook: 2nd Edition. New Harbinger Publications.

Community and Mental Health: Healthier and More Fulfilled Together

Community and Mental Health: Healthier and More Fulfilled Together

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

I never really thought much about community until recent years. I think I just took it for granted, or didn’t see it as that important. As I finished graduate school and decided to stay in Montreal despite my family being in another province, and many of my friends moved away, I started to think more about what it means to be part of a community. More recently, in my professional life as a psychologist, I’ve noticed that often clients express to me that they feel lonely, they wish they knew more like-minded people, and their lives lack purpose and meaning. All these factors, plus knowing that the need to belong is a powerful human motivator (1), lead me to be more interested in how community affects mental health and well-being.

It didn’t take much looking into the research to find out, not surprisingly, that a lack of social connection is bad for you. In fact, loneliness kills. If you’re lonely, you’re more likely to be depressed and anxious (2, 7), and you have an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and early death (6, 5, 3). For more on this topic, check out: The Friend Effect: Why The Secret of Health and Happiness is Surprisingly Simple. Do we really need community though if we have some solid friendships? Being part of a community has the added benefit of allowing us to feel like we belong to and are accepted by a group, similar to how we ideally feel in our families, a sort of emotional or spiritual “home”. Additionally, often communities are centred on a goal (e.g. training for a marathon) or a cause (e.g., protecting the environment), which can give us a sense of purpose and meaning. Creating meaning in our lives is a key ingredient for a fulfilling life. We know that an important way to create meaning is to transcend ourselves by giving to and helping others or being part of something bigger than ourselves. Check out this article, There’s More to Life Than Being Happy, for why meaning is awesome.

Knowing that community and social connection are good, if not great, for our physical and mental health, what gets in the way of us prioritizing these things? I know what stops me - I feel like I don’t have time; I should be working, exercising, doing errands, etc; I really like being home with my partner and my cats; I’d rather just spend time with the people I already know; meeting new people takes effort and can be awkward; group activities and community organizations could mean having to deal with annoying group politics and dynamics, and who wants to deal with that?!

Thinking of the possible obstacles that get in the way of community building and nurturing social connection, I’ve made some (hopefully) simple and realistic suggestions below.

PRACTICAL TIPS!

1) Prioritize it. You probably ARE too busy to focus much on community building and nurturing social networks. In order to make time for community, it might mean doing less of something else, like working. I used to cringe at the idea of working less to attend a community BBQ, or a municipal council meeting, because being productive at work is important and feels so good! However, just like taking time to exercise ends up enriching your life, taking time for community will do the same, but you need to give it a chance to experience the positive consequences. You might even find that having more balance in your life, and surrounding yourself with new, different people, could breath new life into your work and get those creative juices flowing!

2) Build community at work. Work can be an ideal, convenient place to nurture community because, depending on the type of work you do, you may be spending a lot of time at work and you and your coworkers are often together in the same location. At the psychology clinic where I work, called Connecte, it is one of our goals to make Connecte not just a clinic but a community. Some things we’ve done to make it more of a community are to hire like-minded people who value supporting one another, as well as hold regular meetings and communicate frequently with each other. We even had a morning yoga group going for a while. Not only do we feel supported, but we inspire and motivate each other too.

3) Get to know your neighbours. I grew up in a small, rural community where most people knew each other and no one ever locked their doors. Unfortunately, this is not the reality in most towns or cities! Getting to know your neighbours is the first step to building community close to home. To get to know your neighbours, you might try organizing a neighbourhood potluck, gathering for warm drinks in the winter, offering your neighbours leftover food/baked goods, or simply smiling and saying hi when you pass them on the street or in the entranceway. For some great suggestions on building community in your neighbourhood, check out: 10 Ways to Create Community Where You Live.

4) Get to know not just your neighbours! Check out this ingenious idea for group storytelling dinners, Bring Your Own Story, which aims to bring anyone willing together to have meaningful conversations and share personal stories, in a safe, non-judgmental space.

5) Do group activities that will allow you to “kill two birds with one stone.” For example, if you have young kids, you might join a group that is both fun and enriching for your kids, and where you can meet other parents. Check out Flow Music Therapy’s Music for Mothers and Babies group or the Montreal Families website for a comprehensive list of groups and activities. You will likely not only meet like-minded people, and decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness, but you will feel good knowing you’re creating positive experiences for your kids and loved ones. You might try other types of groups that are in line with your values and interests, like a book club, or a walking or running group. For more ideas on how to create social connections as adults, check out my colleague Miriam’s blog post, How To Make Friends When You Don't Have Play Dates: The Importance Of Friendships In Adulthood.

An especially good activity to do with others is to eat dinner together. We know that eating together as a family is associated with a slew of positive benefits, like eating more nutritious meals and even fewer symptoms of depression (4)! (Learn more about this research here: Project EAT Publications.) To increase your chances of having dinner with friends and fitting it into your busy schedule, don’t be a perfectionist about it! Cook something simple, make it a potluck, or even order in.

6) Do a group activity that is centred on something that you find meaningful. As I mentioned above, we get meaning from helping others or being part of something larger than ourselves. I get a lot of meaning from protecting the environment and connecting with nature, and recently I was fortunate enough to get involved with a local gardening community, so now I’m learning all about gardening while being part of a wonderful community of like-minded people. Maybe there’s something similar in your neighbourhood that you could be a part of?

INTERPERSONAL TIPS!

As I mentioned above, sometimes we might hesitate to join or stick with a group activity or organization because we don’t want to deal with the interpersonal issues that will inevitably arise (e.g., differing perspectives/values, clashing personalities, etc.). I think I could probably write a whole other blog post on this topic, but here are some things that come to mind that I hope will be helpful in navigating group dynamics.

7) Know your boundaries. In any social situation, recognizing and asserting your limits, essentially making sure you’re taking care of yourself and your needs, will help you have more energy and compassion for others. If you notice yourself feeling resentful towards the group or others in the group, this may be an indication that you’re not respecting your own boundaries. Check out my colleague Danit’s blog post on setting boundaries.

8) Take others’ perspectives and embrace a compassionate mindset. Most of us have some challenges, hurt, or pain that we will sometimes act on, and act on in a way that is not the most constructive or pleasant for those around us. If we can take time to consider where others are coming from, what their situation is, or at least give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are trying their best with the tools they have, we will likely have more compassion for them. To help myself get into a compassionate mindset when considering others, I love this story introduced to me by Tara Brach, about how essentially when others are acting in ways that we perceive as unpleasant, annoying, etc., they likely have their leg caught in a trap!

9) Accept that we will all annoy each other. When spending a lot of time with any individual, we will likely get annoyed with them at some point. This is normal! And guess what? We will annoy others too. Yup, we will all annoy each other, and accepting this, while asserting our boundaries and having compassion, will likely make our group experiences more tolerable, positive, and conducive to personal growth.

10) Practice good listening! Good listening is the key to authentic, intimate connections. Nowadays, when it’s easy to pick up our phones and check the weather while our friend tells us a story, we might not be the best at listening. For more on this, check out my favourite video on good listening: Are You A Good Listener?

 

I hope these tips help you squeeze a bit more community into your lives so that your mind and body might reap the rewards. Happy community building!


Lisa Linardatos 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

  1. Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological bulletin117(3), 497
  2. Cacioppo, J. T., Hawkley, L. C., & Thisted, R. A. (2010). Perceived social isolation makes me sad: Five-year cross-lagged analyses of loneliness and depressive symptomatology in the Chicago Health, Aging, and Social Relations Study. Psychology and Aging, 25, 453– 463.
  3. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science,10(2), 227-237.
  4. Neumark-Sztainer, D., Hannan, P. J., Story, M., Croll, J., & Perry, C. (2003). Family meal patterns: associations with sociodemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. Journal of the american dietetic association103(3), 317-322.
  5. Pinquart, M., & Duberstein, P. R. (2010). Associations of social networks with cancer mortality: a meta-analysis. Critical reviews in oncology/hematology75(2), 122-137.
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CORE BELIEFS - A WAY TO BETTER UNDERSTAND AND EMPOWER OURSELVES

CORE BELIEFS - A WAY TO BETTER UNDERSTAND AND EMPOWER OURSELVES

Meet April. She is a young woman who is content at her job but struggles in relationships. She feels quite down and disconnected from others at times. She has good friends that she has fun with, but she doesn’t feel comfortable opening up to them when she is having a hard time. She finds romantic relationships to be very challenging, and notices that she can get quite anxious when she starts to feel vulnerable with someone. Sometimes she wonders whether she is better off alone, but at other times she feels lonely and wishes she could feel closer to people. She has been to therapy on and off over the years to work on improving her relationships.

Therapy is an opportunity to take the time to get to know ourselves better, and to work on goals that are meaningful to us. An important part of this process can be to acknowledge the parts of us that drive our feelings and actions, that can operate beneath the surface. For April, these are the parts that she struggles with- sometimes she feels that she doesn’t quite understand herself, or know what she wants.

Let me introduce you to core beliefs. For those who are familiar with cognitive behavioural therapy, this may be a concept you have heard of (see here for a description of CBT).

 

So first of all, what are core beliefs?

These are the beliefs that we hold about ourselves, others, and the world around us. Core beliefs are deep-seated, and act as a lens through which we see ourselves and the world. These beliefs often go unrecognised, and yet they constantly affect our lives. They are fashioned by our experiences, our upbringing, and significant figures in our lives.

 

How to identify our core beliefs

A helpful exercise is to practice completing thought records to better understand the automatic thoughts that influence your emotions and reactions. Over time, you can start to identify themes from your thought records. You may notice that certain situations seem to be particularly sensitive for you, or that particular thoughts may re-occur. You can ask yourself questions like “What does this thought mean about me as a person?” “What is it about this thought that bothers me so much?” “If this thought is true, what does it imply? About me? My future? Other people? The world?” You may have particular memories associated with these thoughts or experiences, and have a sense of what makes them poignant to you (think back to significant people and experiences in your life).  

Through using thought records, April realises that one of her core beliefs is that others cannot be trusted. April has had several life experiences that she realises may have fed into this core belief (e.g., having witnessed her parents’ separation and her father’s feeling of betrayal, and having felt judged by her peers growing up when she spoke to them about feeling down). April has developed the belief that others will reject her if she is too open or vulnerable, and has got into the habit of being selective with the personal information that she shares. She keeps people at arms’ length, especially in romantic relationships.

 

How to challenge core beliefs that are unhelpful: a three-step process

1) Gather evidence against your unhelpful core belief (to identify a more balanced core belief. Questions to consider are “What are the experiences that show me that this belief is not true all the time?” “When have I observed something that goes against my core belief?”

In April’s case, this involves asking herself questions like: “When are the times people have been there for me?” “Is it possible that some people might be understanding if I allow myself to share some more vulnerable parts of myself?” She could talk to other people about their experiences in relationships, and how much of themselves they allow themselves to share.

The key thing to remember here is that core beliefs are rigid, and typically provide a “one-size-fits-all” answer. The goal of asking questions and gathering evidence is to allow yourself to be more flexible in your thinking style.

 

2) Behavioural experiments. This is your opportunity to test your core beliefs, by allowing yourself to take risks that your core beliefs would usually prohibit. An important thing to remember is that core beliefs are self-fulfilling, and that we can often avoid putting ourselves in situations that trigger them. This reinforces our belief that they are true, and can feel like a vicious cycle.

For example, in April’s case, she does not allow herself to express her more personal feelings to other people. This means that she never gets to experience what happens when she does. She continues to feel distanced from others and have the impression that they are not dependable. Behavioural experiments for April would involve gradually testing out some of her fears. She could choose someone with whom she feels comfortable, and test out what happens when she allows herself to divulge something personal. This can allow her to compare what happens in real life compared to her fears.

The key thing here is: taking action is important. Allowing yourself to test out some of your fears gradually and to experience the outcome is a great learning experience, and can help you make a more realistic appraisal of your core beliefs.

 

3) Give yourself time!!!  Remember that your core beliefs have been entrenched for a long time, and that they may even have been helpful for you at some point (even if they are not any more). Over time, you can make note of the results of your behavioural experiments, and see how much evidence you can accumulate that allows you to nuance (or even contradict!) your core beliefs. You may also find it helpful to discuss your core beliefs with people you trust, in order to have some more input into the process- and even see how their beliefs differ from yours!

Happy experimenting!


Maeve O'Leary-Barrett 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

Greenberger, D., & Padesky, C. A. (1995). Mind over mood: A cognitive therapy treatment manual for clients. New York, NY, US: Guilford Press.

Riso, L. P., du Toit, P. L., Stein, D. J., & Young, J. E. (Eds.). (2007). Cognitive schemas and core beliefs in psychological problems: A scientist-practitioner guide. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

Wearden, A., Peters, I., Berry, K., Barrowclough, C., Liversidge, T. (2008). Adult attachment, parenting experiences, and core beliefs about self and others. Personality and Individual Differences, 44 (5), 1246-1257.