Picture this:  you’re with a group pf people – some you know, and the topic of discussion is about politics.  The mood is dark – you might feel angry or you might feel the tension rising.  Then someone cracks a joke and everyone laughs with a combination of appreciation and relief.  The underlying cause of the tension hasn’t gone, but the people in that group start to relax. And with that relaxation comes a greater willingness to listen.

We are always grateful to that person who has the skill of using laughter in a genuine way, because, as this small example demonstrates, laughter has a really important social function. Sophie Scott, Neuroscientist and stand-up comic, studies laughter. In her talk on Why we Laugh,  she talks about the physiology of laughter and hints at laughter’s social impact. I want to focus on the social impact of laughter.

All mammals laugh.  For so long, we (some of us) thought that only people laughed.  Not true.  All mammals laugh, and we (as mammals) laugh for two reasons: as a response to some form of physical stimulation (like tickling) or play. Specifically with humans, we are 13 times more likely to laugh for social reasons than over jokes. We laugh to show our friends we understand them, that we like them. Laughter helps us to regulate our emotions and to create bonds with others.

Further studies by other scientists have focused more on these social aspects of laughter.  Dr. Robert Levinson in California conducted a study where couples were put into a stressful situation; one person was to tell the other about something that bothered them about their partner.  This natural generated tension in anticipation. What Dr. Levinson found was that those people who dealt with this touchy topic using positive laughter were able to relieve the stress immediately. In fact, when following these and other couples, he found that those couples who use laughter reported higher levels of satisfaction in their relationship, and tended to stay together longer.

By now, we’ve all heard of laughter yoga, where people combine deep breathing techniques with forced belly laughter.  Even though it’s faked – at least at first – it does supposedly produce positive physiological effects in our bodies. But it isn’t for everyone.

The thing to take away from what we now know about laughter is this:

  1. Laughter – positive laughter (vs. derisive laughter) – decreases stress hormones and increases endorphins;
  2. Laughing socially – including at ourselves in this way –  helps us gain perspective and balance; and
  3. Laughter connects us with those we love.

Everyone underestimates how often we laugh. As a social experiment, spend a day noting when you laugh, and how it alters you in that moment.

I want to mention how this newsletter is structured, because I’ve discovered some confusion with some of my readers.  The newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1, but most often is not referenced in part 1 (it offers a different point of view); the third is a quote. I hope this eliminates the confusion, and that you enjoy all three parts.

How Laughing at Yourself Can Change the World | Brad Jenkins

Quotes of the Week

Time can be kept by clocks and calendars, measured in inches and wrinkles, and caught in images and photographs. But if we are lucky, it can also be counted in a life well spent, full of learning, love, and laughter.

-Cameron Diaz

Blessed are those who laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused


At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at

Affect Tolerance, or How to Love Pain


Affect tolerance is all about learning to tolerate chronic pain.  It’s a big topic, especially around mindfulness practitioners, because being mindful can help someone learn to be OK with chronic pain – even love it!

Having a mindfulness practice helps in at least three ways: it helps us bear pain, it helps us accept aspects of ourselves that we try to ignore (which only serves to intensify the pain), and it helps us adjust our priorities to those that are more in line with life and wellness.

  1. It helps us bear pain. Often when we’re in pain, we make it much worse with our self-talk. “This is intolerable!” “I just can’t do anything with this pain and it makes me so angry!” – are two examples of how we can make the pain we feel remain centre-stage. Learning to separate our negative and un-helpful self-talk from the actual sensations not only provides some objective detachment, but also calms the talk.  This can very effectively reduce the actual sensation of pain. You can see this yourself the next time you feel a pain, say, in your hip: sit in a way that supports that painful part of your body, close your eyes, and breathe.  Then go to the actual area of pain, and imagine breathing right into that area – without attempting to alter the sensation; simply breathing into it; being with it. Do this for a few minutes and notice if there are any changes in the sensation as a result.  Most often, you will notice there is a change – a diminishing or softening of the sensation.
  2. It helps us accept ourselves as a whole, instead of limiting that acceptance to certain parts of ourselves. Pain can be a “pain”, but it can also be a friend – by telling us when we’ve gone too far. As we age, our bodies become increasingly limited in their ability to respond to our demands. Instead of fighting this, honoring what our body is able to do – and not able to do – is going to make us – ultimately – more content, moving from self-judgment and self-criticism to self-appreciation and support.
  3. It helps us adjust our priorities – to those that better serve us. This is closely linked to self-acceptance, and is really an extension of that idea: comparison to others who we judge as more fit or less in pain can only lead to misery. For instance, I can compare myself to my slim friend who can eat anything she wants, then judge myself wanting because I can’t eat anything I want without gaining weight and adding pressure to my knees.  Or, I can chose to focus instead on my successes – my depth of knowledge on what truly nourishes me, for instance; which I have only because I must watch what I eat. My priority can be to be ‘better than’, or it can be to be healthy and happy with what I have.  My choice.

My mother, for a number of reasons, had severe osteoporosis in her old age.  Because of this ailment, she had trouble walking and was almost constantly in pain. At first she fought it and ultimately made things worse by doing so.  Then she learned to accept and live with it, getting on with her life as best she could. She didn’t have a mindfulness practice – not much was known about mindfulness in the Western world at that time – but she did learn to really appreciate what was available to her, along with her limitations.  I can only wonder now what having a practice could have done for her.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .


Before I begin, I want to mention how this newsletter is structured, because I’ve discovered some confusion with some of my readers.  The newsletter is in three parts: the first part is my contribution; the second is a video I’ve found that relates to the topic in part 1, but most often is not referenced in part 1 (it offers a different point of view); the third is a quote. I hope this eliminates the confusion, and that you enjoy all three parts.

I want to begin and end today with two quotes from Martha Beck on intimacy. The first is:
Remember, intimacy increases with honesty. Share less to keep people away and more to draw them closer.

It may seem obvious – at least the first part – but so often we end up not saying what’s on our minds. To protect our friend; to protect ourselves; to protect our family. At least, that’s what I say to myself when I hide some part of the truth.  But really, it’s more complicated than that – and much more simple.  It’s complicated because, while I may be protecting someone, I’m also afraid – of ridicule, of making someone upset, of getting hurt.  And that’s the deep-down simple truth of it – because deep down, I’m afraid of getting hurt.

So I hide away, protecting my fragile ego behind politeness, authority, absent-mindedness, distraction – anything that will prevent a possible confrontation. And a possible painful moment. I’m not always like this. For me, it’s when I expect to be ignored or talked down to. For you, it might be a different reason, like feeling rejected, or abandoned, or even manipulated or controlled.  Whatever the reason, most of us avoid being honest at times with people in our lives who don’t deserve it.

It takes courage to be ourselves all the time, and there is a huge payoff: true intimacy.
Here are three things you can do the next time you’re temped to hide behind a front rather than be honest with a loved one:

  • Take a breath and notice how you feel. There’s always a feeling that accompanies our desire to hide.  Mine is a tightness in my chest just below my Adam’s Apple. It tells me that I’m afraid, and I have an urgent desire to protect myself. This is what my fear feels like and I’ve learned to recognize it.
  • Take another breath and take charge.  That part of us that is in fear is very young and, just as with any child, needs reassurance from a responsible adult that they are safe because the adult is with them.  We need our conscious selves – our inner adult – to take charge, knowing that – with rare exceptions – there is nothing actually life-threatening out there. And the only way that can happen with any success is if our inner child feels safe and in good hands.
  • Take a third breath and act. Once our inner child and adult are in sync, we are able to act from a calm, considerate and mature place; from a place of intimacy and empowerment.
Pema Chödrön – Fear and Fearlessness


Quote of the Week
Conflict in close relationships is not only inevitable, it’s essential. Intimacy connects people who are inevitably different. -Martha Beck

At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at

Mindful Intimacy

Mindful Intimacy

Almost a year ago, I attended a conference on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, sponsored by Harvard University.  I was going through one of my all-too-frequent periods of physical challenges, so all I could manage was to get myself to the lectures in-between resting in my room.  Fortunately it rained a lot, and the friend I’d planned on meeting had to go elsewhere, so resting in the cool darkness of my room was perfect! I’m glad I made the effort; the quality of the talks and their speakers made it all worth-while.

One of the speakers was Willa Miller, Founder and Spiritual Director of Natural Dharma Fellowship in Boston.  She began with a stretch, and then a meditation, so that we could be supported in being present for what she wanted to share with us. A beautiful, and highly meaningful way to share her talk on Mindful Intimacy with us.  This isn’t, after all, a topic that can be truly appreciated without bringing the audience along. She lead more meditations during her time up there (I can’t recall how long she was up there – it felt like no time, but was probably an hour and a half). With each one, she spoke of and demonstrated the intimacy of solitary meditation.

How so? In 5 ways, we all shared the moment:

  1. Learned from a teacher – Ms. Miller was up there, leading us all one meditation at a time – something we all shared in as a result;
  2. Our relationship to the breath – since this was her focus, it was also ours;
  3. Our relationship with the present moment – there is no intimacy without presence, and being mindful is all about being present;
  4. With our immediate senses – similar to breathing together, we were, each of us, aware of hearing her voice and feeling our breathing;
  5. With our mind’s content – because she was teaching us as we meditated, we had something to focus on and think about, while at the same time, being fully present.

This kind of meditating practice is often called Relational Meditation. Its surprisingly intimate, and perhaps for this reason, energizing.  I left that lecture feeling well for the first time in a week.  I’m not claiming it was the meditation, but we do know that connection heals; that connection is, indeed, essential for human growth and wellness.

And so I leave you with this suggestion:  experiment with meditating by yourself and in groups, then note how you feel energetically.  I’d love to hear your feedback, and invite you to leave a comment below.

Time enough for courtesy

Imagine this:  You’re standing in line at the bank. These days, because almost everything is done online or at ATM’s, standing in line at the bank can be very long and tedious, because no one stands in line unless they have something complicated to do.  You begin to fidget, thinking about the list of to-do’s for the day that probably won’t get done if you stand there much longer. You’ve been there for what seems like an hour, and finally feel you might reach the teller in another 15 minutes, when someone enters, looking harried, and cuts in front of you.  This person is loaded down with ledger books, cheques and cash bulging from a number of pockets.  Not a quick service.

What do you do?  You might feel shocked and say something like: Excuse me, the end of the line is behind that 10th person! You might feel outraged and simply move in front of them, leaving it to the person behind you to deal with it. Or you might take a breath and have a talk with him or her to discover what’s going on.

I’ve done all three at different times. From my personal experience, only the third alternative leaves me feeling good and at peace.  No matter how rushed I am, not taking time to consider the other person never pays off.

So easy to say – and agree to. So hard to do when we’re rushed. Therefore. I have a challenge for you: next time you’re rushed, no matter what you’re doing or where you are, set your watch and take 10 minutes to do nothing.

Time Passing – Stephen Wilkes


Quote of the Week
Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for courtesy.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us. I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at



Angry Woman (and Man)

A friend walked into my living room and had a look on her face that brooked no questions. She wasn’t about to explode; didn’t look like she was about to melt down.  Instead she looked too peaceful, too poised, spoke in a tone that was just a little too reasonable.  I know her, and I knew this meant she was – for the moment – unreachable.

It may be my imagination, but it seems I’m beginning to see this increasingly – in my clients, friends and sometimes in myself. In fact, I noticed this in me a few days ago, and decided to make becoming aware of it part of my morning mantra.

There are a ton of articles on angry women, all of them either praising them or asking why it’s OK for men and not OK for women to be angry.  And maybe that’s what’s happening: in business, anger in a woman is seen as unattractive; like she can’t control her emotions. But because of all the press over this – and the pushback from women in business – women are beginning to express their anger.

This is great! Except when the anger is misdirected – and this is what I’m seeing increasingly – with both men and women.  For instance, my friend was angry at her son because … well … the list is long. She knows her real source of anger is with herself – that she let herself down and ended up taking it out on her son, making her even angrier – but she just can’t seem to stop it.  Then later she feels remorse and an almost driven need to make amends.

I know when I get angry like this: I know it because it doesn’t feel good – it feels filled with garbage.  The pattern for me is my anger actually begins earlier as anxiety or overwhelm. I may look at the list of things I think I need to do with dismay, thinking I’ll never get through it all.  Then I might wonder if I even have it in me to do it, and what was I thinking getting myself involved in this particular project anyway.  Then I’ll really up the anti by musing on what others must be thinking about me and my foolishness.  That’s when some poor sucker pops up and happens to say the wrong thing at the wrong time (which by now could be anything at any time), and I lash out. So, added to my dismay and anger is remorse.

This whole thing happens without much awareness on my part.  Hence my morning reminder: when I build into my day an awareness of what I’m thinking and feeling, and where it all might lead, I can begin to act in a way that brings positive change, rather than negative feelings.

If you find yourself getting angry or carrying it into your day, there are three things you can do to support yourself in a positive way:

  • Be prepared. Bring an awareness into your day about how you’re feeling, especially if it involves fear, anxiety or overwhelm.  Being aware helps you take responsibility for your feelings and the situation you find yourself in.
  • Take care.  If you’re like me, when you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, you’re also extra sensitive.  If so, add an extra dose of self-care, giving yourself space to deal with the emotions that come up, recognizing that you may interpret what others say negatively as a result. Self-care isn’t merely a good thing; it’s essential to living a happy and balanced life.
  • Learn to say No. One essential of self-care is knowing when it’s best to say No!, or at the least, delay responding.  This is, for me, the most powerful thing I can do for myself.  “I’ll get back to you on this” gives you time to get into a better place and respond thoughtfully rather than react emotionally.

Eckhart Tolle has his own way of addressing anger – see the video below.

It’s great to be able to feel and express our anger. Learning to express it “cleanly” with no garbage is well worth the effort.

I’d love to hear what you do, and am certain other readers would like to hear it too.  So I invite you to leave a comment below.

Eckhart Tolle – Expressing Anger

Quote of the Week

I am awfully greedy; I want everything from life. I want to be a woman and to be a man, to have many friends and to have loneliness, to work much and write good books, to travel and enjoy myself, to be selfish and to be unselfish… You see, it is difficult to get all which I want. And then when I do not succeed I get mad with anger.
― Simone de Beauvoir


At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website or contact me directly at

Therapy, How to Tell If It’s Needed

We all have stress and life issues to deal with. One of the biggest hesitations about therapy is usually the question of “if it is needed” before the time and expense is invested in the services. I tend to believe an outside perspective is always good to have. This said, I have come up with 3 scenarios where I would suggest personal therapy regardless of the circumstances.  If you experience any of the scenarios listed below, please reach out to myself or any other healthcare or mental health professional;

  1.  Stress is above the normal limits. Stress can lead to both a mental and physical breakdown. The anxiety can cause you to fail at work, disregard your family’s needs, and even return to an addiction (if not start a new one).  I would say any stress that starts to cause a lack of concentration or disrupts your physical health is reason enough to seek therapy.
  2. No one is listening anymore. If friends and family have tuned out or have started to avoid you because of your constant talking about stress, worry and/or life problems, you need a fresh and professional listener. This means the problem has gone on long enough that they can no longer help, outside of listening, and you need a therapist to provide you with some coping skills, maybe even an RX.
  3. Someone has said something to you. Friends or family who suggest therapy to you know you best. It may be a subtle intervention, but if someone else brings up therapy services to you, it may be for a reason. One session to explore if this option is truly a great match for you can’t be of any harm, so why not be open to it?

I offer a range of online and in-person therapy services. If you feel like you are in need of an outside perspective or an influx of coping tips, please reach out to myself or any other healthcare professional.

Celebrating Success

We hear a lot these days about the person who strives and works hard and finally reaches a place in their lives where success is at their doorstep, only to quit or sabotage their efforts at that crucial moment. We call that fear of success and associate it with not wanting to fail (see Susanne Babbel’s article on this subject in Psychology Today. Some of us secretly expect the worst, and rather than see this happen, we avoid real success.

I thought I was fine with success: I’ve had my moments of failure – lots of them, but I’ve also had some great successes in my life, hard won, that I’m proud of. Then all last week I noticed a deep rumbling inside me – a niggling unease, annoyed at anything that popped up, distracted. I couldn’t pinpoint it. A friend said she noticed this in her clients, so I wondered if it had something to do with the season – air pressure or something. I’ve been working on refreshing my business offerings for a few months now, and getting close to actually implementing them, and it finally struck me – like a large ripe melon breaking over my head – that I was really agitated about the idea of putting this out. The closer I get to actually doing it, the more excuses I come up with to delay it.

I know I’m not the only one out there who has this or a similar fear, so I’m sharing what I’ve done to help me through this.

  • Acknowledge my feelings. Acknowledge my fears around succeeding, knowing that they’re deep.  I’ve discovered that self-care is the best medicine when we hit on something that hurts, and deeply held feelings are no different.  My way of acknowledging my fears is to be with them – sit with my feelings, walk with them.  I may do some journaling but usually not; then after a while I notice my feelings lifting and I know it’s time to move on.
  • Take small steps. Big steps when I’m feeling scared and vulnerable feel like climbing a 100 foot wall. So I break down that wall into smaller ones that I might even leapfrog over. Then I schedule the steps – my way of committing to action. This may not be your way, but whatever it is, it begins with making each step bite-sized.
  • Celebrate every success.  No matter how “small”, because every success is “proof” that I am successfully putting myself out.  These successes include the small steps toward my goal; they also include everything in my life that bring me joy – enjoying a good healthy meal, going on an invigorating walk, spending time in nature, getting a good night’s sleep, and most of all, spending time with my friends.

It takes courage to face our fears, and knowhow.  You may be able to figure it out for yourself, or you may need some help doing it.  I needed help, and never regretted getting it.

Celebrating success feeds my soul. Being stuck in the terror of putting myself out there doesn’t. Knowing this helps me chose to move through the terror.

I’d love to hear what you do, and am certain other readers would like to hear it too.  So I invite you to leave a comment below.

Jane & Lily – doing well in their success

Quote of the Week
You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
– Eleanor Roosevelt
At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my or contact me directly at

Time – waits for no one?

I came across the lyrics of the Rolling Stone’s famous song Time waits for no one. The words are haunting and became famous because we can all feel their impact: Time waits for no one, it won’t wait for me.

I feel it; it’s often been a driving force behind my decisions: I was afraid I’d die of boredom; I was afraid I’d be too old too soon; I was afraid I’d miss out on an opportunity that might never show up again.  And so I’d jump in, unprepared and often blind, just so I could close that possibility of missing out on something.

A lot of people do this. In fact, more and more people today are driven by this fear of missing out. Jumping on this or that particular train makes us feel good – at least for the moment: we feel like we’re doing something positive, it’s exciting and energizing. It’s exciting like a roller coaster is exciting: experiencing the fear of diving down into a seeming abyss, feeling the relief when we arrive in one piece shortly after. It feels positive because we feel good doing it – energized and alive.  It’s often called “good stress” and lauded as something that’s a positive influencer in our lives.

However, reality and appearance can sometimes diverge, and I believe that’s true here: humans evolved to have stress in their lives, but occasionally, not every day and all day. When our ancestors needed to hunt a dangerous animal, or protect their home against attack, they were able to instantly summon the clarity, strength and stamina needed to do that.  It no doubt felt good to have a successful hunt and successfully defend their homes – just as it does for us today.  Then there would be a much longer period of rest and recovery, where their systems had a chance to heal and rebuild. In that way, they maintained a balance between restorative and stressful activities.

Today that balance is reversed: we spend most of our time in some kind of stress – in our businesses or careers, raising children on top of that, and keeping up with mortgages and student loans.  We tend to work longer hours than our parents did, and carry a debt load that they didn’t even contemplate.

No matter how you slice it, even if most of the time it feels good, this can’t be good for us.

Eventually, we start to notice physical changes – fatigue, digestive issues for instance, that won’t go away for long. So we eat better, exercise better, maybe spare an hour a week for social activities – and that helps, but not completely. Because we are still wired to “not missing out”.

Time waits for no one, it won’t wait for me.

Not everyone is impacted by this drive. I’m really talking to those who are.  I’ve been one of you, was eventually impacted physically, and had to learn to live a lot differently. The biggest thing I had to learn was to address my fear of missing out.

This is a big topic, and not one easily covered.  But there are a few things you can do for yourself to begin to address this:

  • Awareness of your pattern. Always the first essential step to any worthwhile change: being aware of how we are driven by time provides a benchmark and a starting point.  Notice when you start to rush; when you brush off being with friends and colleagues to relax and socialize; when you dive into something new with little or no consideration.  What’s your particular pattern?
  • Beginning in a positive way. It’s amazingly difficult to take the first 10 minutes of the day and simply sit. In my practice, I discuss this with every client – a few of them are able to incorporate it into their lives – most fail to do so.  Master Time is a very hard task-master, and simply refuses to let us sit calmly with whatever is happening at that moment – even for 10 minutes.  And yet it’s probably the most positive thing we can do for ourselves, and will make a difference to the rest of our day.  So see if you can tolerate even 3 minutes, to start, then build it into 10.
  • Being kind to ourselves. This means no judgments, no comparisons to some idealized view of what should be vs what is, especially within ourselves. Change at this fundamental level takes commitment, courage, and – yes – time.

When chopping onions, just chop onions


Quote of the Week
You can have it all. Just not all at once.
― Oprah Winfrey

At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my or contact me directly at

When You’re Stuck

There are some people who refuse to let others help them. They make suggestions, but the other party doesn’t listen. The other party makes excuses that “Everything is fine” or “people do respond to me” and then they get no where. Well, being stuck personally and professionally is never easy to address- especially when the subject is yourself or your tunnel vision. Know this, addressing yourself and what you can be doing better can help you feel better about where your life is going versus wondering why things aren’t changing for you or blaming other people for lack of change in your life.

The best sign to discovering if you’re stuck is to ask yourself right now what it is you want. “Happy self” or “wonderful career” are blanket answers. Be specific. Can you really define what it is you want right now? Recognize that you have desires, goals, and beliefs that are important to you. Your values matter and when they shift, it is because something inside of you has awakened and is ready to experience more.

Another question you want to ask yourself in discovering if you’re truly your own problem (and stuck) is because your joy is gone. You may have become too focused on what you think you “should” do instead of what you really, truly want to do. Example, I knew a lady in business who followed her competitor’s every move. The competitor had more business then she did , so naturally she thought she should be doing what the competitor was doing… only she had NO business. The problem was she wasn’t listening to what her customers wanted, she was too focused on what she thought she should be doing. She had no business and she was unhappy- not a way to live.  I also know many people who are stuck in unhappy marriages because they were brought up being told they “should” get married. They are not happy, they are only pleasing other people. Again, not a way to live and it leads to being stuck.

Turn things around with baby steps. Focus on asking yourself what it is that you want to do and be detailed about the answer. Then focus on if you are joyful and doing what you love or if you are miserable and doing what you should do. There is a difference between the two- as well as the outcome. Then focus on what you are going to do from this day forward by starting with the baby steps. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. If you want to grow, you have to allow yourself to be uncomfortable; all growth requires discomfort, but it is worth it. Yes, start small and then move on to the big stuff. The point is to address yourself and then focus on considering change and then making that change!