Monthly Archive: September 2013

Danger signs – heading down the path to stress

For those that are just joining, my last post introduced the topic of drugs versus therapy. To catch up you can read “The soul of psychotherapy – is it in danger?”.

There are many excellent websites that list all the possible signs that we are over-stressing.  Here I want only to talk about how to discover your own unique signs.I_think_its_stress

A good friend of mine, Betty (not her real name) found herself stressed during a particularly difficult time recently. She has a middle management and very demanding job, which she was able to do well most of the time.  However, in less than one month, she was given a new project with an aggressive deadline, she also had a house fire and lost a third of her belongings, and discovered in the same time period that she was pregnant.  That would be enough to make most of us over-stressed.  But she was so busy coping that she didn’t actually take the time to notice it.  It was her husband who got fed up with it and said he needed her to stop stressing.

That brought her up short, because she truly didn’t notice it.  Why?  After all, it was even more crucial she take care of herself physically now that a new life was growing inside her, and yet she hadn’t noticed.  She decided to begin with her husband – what things had he noticed.  He’d noticed that she couldn’t sit down, even for a few minutes – that she was always doing something.  He also noticed that she had no patience for anything out of the ordinary, and was no longer able to deal well with surprises – something she was generally very able to deal with.  There were more indicators, but Betty decided to use these three indicators as ways to track her own stress levels.

How can you discover you stress?

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

The soul of psychotherapy – is it in danger?

The following is an excerpt from Huffington Post on mental health in today’s society.

One of the gravest dangers afflicting our culture in general and the field of mental health in particular is the assault on human subjectivity; the decreasing interest in honoring and valuing people’s experience. In the craze to map the brain and prescribe pills for psychological disorders, the field of mental health is not only getting hijacked, it is losing its soul.

Yin and Yang of Spirit

Yin and Yang of Spirit

In Dante’s Divine Comedy the Roman poet Virgil accompanies Dante to the underworld. No one wants to be Virgil anymore — to “go into hell with Dante.” But the willingness to explore with patience and empathy the actual experience of what people undergo, no matter how horrific, is indispensable in healing the emotional afflictions that haunt human beings. And we shouldn’t be surprised that recipients of such understanding will be capable of both remarkable resilience and extraordinary healing. (Huffington Post)

It’s part of an article titled “Why Mental Health is Loosing Its Soul”, written by Jeffrey Rubin.  How often have I found myself – a therapist who passionately believes in working things through – reach for the aspirin bottle, or a book, or some other distraction – wanting only to feel better now!  I might follow this up with something like “I’m really tired today and need this break.  I deserve it – everything (the hard stuff I’d rather not think about) can wait a day.”  I call this my Scarlet O’Hara sabotage.

For many people, they would rather take a pill that deal with an underlying issue.  This isn’t the same as saying I am against anti-anxiety or anti-depression drugs – they have their place — but I do very firmly believe that many of us are using these to avoid dealing with what we really need to deal with.  The problem with this strategy is that the issues don’t go away, they simply wait for the next opportunity to surface and, in the meantime, grow and fester. I recall a TV ad that struck a chord with me at the time:  it showed a mechanic talking about the benefits of motor oil and the possible consequences of not using it, and his tag line was: “You can pay me now, or pay me later”.

What do you typically do when faced with something you would rather not deal with?  How does this support you or undermine you in the long run?  What are some of the danger signs that might help you become aware that you are avoiding, and some things that aid in make better choices around coping?  See my next blogs “Danger signs – heading down the path to over-stress” and “Awareness – the first essential step to de-stressing our lives”.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

Tips for September – Easing back into school and Autumn routine

Along with a change in seasons comes, for many of us, the increased responsibilities and workload of school and classes.  You yourself may be attending school or part time classes after a complete workday, or you may be a parent helping your family get back into the routine of schoolwork.  If your family is anything like mine, we had plenty to do that was important to us up until now, and are having some difficulty managing the extra duties and activities required during this new season.  Things like homework, work priorities, family priorities tend to blend right about now, and often cause stress.anxiety and school

Here are a few things you can do to help you and your family relieve some of that stress and at the same time keep your eye of what is really important.

Prioritize.  I once got advice from a former colleague that I continue to use to this day:  list everything I feel I need to take care of.  Everything! Then classify these in terms of what is critical, what is important, and what is nice-to-have.  After classifying, review the list once more – you may find that some “nice-to-have’s” are really critical and some “critical’s” are actually not so critical compared to other things.  Once you have refined your list, circle the critical tasks and copy them onto a separate piece of paper.  Place that second paper in a prominent place, and focus only on that list.  This is the real key – those other tasks are merely distractions until everything on your critical list is complete.  Only then do you revisit the first list.

Clean up the clutter.  Clear off your study desk.  Get rid of or put away anything that is physically cluttering up the space.  Just as with prioritizing, clutter distracts and really clouds our focus and our inner space.

Take care of yourself.  So often, this is the first thing to go when we begin to stress over workload.  And yet, without our health, the workload will only become even more burdensome.  So even if you only have 10 minutes, take time for yourself.  Go for a walk, sit quietly with your morning coffee, do something that is only for you and that takes care of your physical and emotional health every day.

Connect.  Humans are social animals.  We learn and grown through connection to other people, and the things in our environment.  Take the time, even if only a few moments to connect with your world – a hug, a kiss, a pat, a caress.

Laugh.  Above all, don’t loose your sense of humour.  It is the best balancer I know and will always help you better adjust your perspective.

 Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

What Sun Dance Means to Me

For those that are just joining my journey now, the last couple of posts have been taking my readers with me through the sun dance.  It was an incredible experience that I am still processing. And I feel it is important to share this experience with anyone who wants it. To catch up to this post you can read “The Sun Dance” and “A Brief History of The Sun Dance”.

“The tree represents the centre of the world, connecting the heavens to the earth…. The fork of the [tree] represents the eagle’s

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

nest… the eagle is the facilitator of communication between man and spirit….the eagle also represents many human traits…[he] is seen as courageous, swift and strong.  He has great foresight and knows everything.”  The main theme of the sun dance is the Buffalo which symbolizes life.  Plains Indians relied on the Buffalo for everything – food, shelter, clothing.  The sun dance symbolizes the reconciliation of humans to the Buffalo. (

eagleAs I dance back and forth, connecting to the tree, to its waters, and to life, something happens within me that makes this trip worth the time and sacrifice I made to be here.  My perspective is altered and I begin to appreciate my connection to the earth I dance on, to the life-giving properties of the herbs and shrubs, and to my connection to everything alive.  “The tree is the symbol of the Source, the eternal light from which all consciousness, life and movement emerge.  The medicine wheel [the arbor itself] is the zero surrounding the Source.  “The Zero is Holy….From the Eternal, which is Time, and from all Energies, which are Space, all of everything was born from the Zero….The womb of creation is the Sacred Zero.”” Hyemeyohsts Storm, Lightening Bolt.  (

It takes me a month to process what I experienced within those brief 4 days.  I know my

White Buffalo Calf Woman

White Buffalo Calf Woman

perspective has altered and that I feel more in alignment with Nature, that I am better able to handle what life gives me, and enjoy whatever there is with gratitude.  I know that more will be revealed as the year unfolds, until

White Buffalo Calf Woman

the next sun dance.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.