Monthly Archive: February 2016

The talking stick – building open communication

“How we treat ourselves will be how others treat us.”  A community leader said that last week almost in passing. It’s a slight twist on the golden rule, really emphasizing how we communicate non-verbally to others.  What struck me was how it implied that we mirror how others communicate to us – usually unconsciously.  For instance, if I’m hard on myself and tend to overcommit, others may mirror that back by being hard on me and expect too much from me.

That also means that if I’m clear about my needs and limits, others will be equally clear when dealing with me.  When I’m self-compassionate, others may tend to be as well when they’re around me.

We are mirrors for one another, even when we’re unaware of it, and it’s a powerful way we have of openly communicating.

I use the term “may” because this is all done “under the radar”; that is, we are mostly unaware of it. This means that whatever we mirror will be re-interpreted by others according to their own needs and values.  For instance, I like to take my time getting ready for the day because I want to begin calm and collected.  Someone observing this may interpret this as lazy if their values are a lot different from mine.

There’s a way I learned to communicate that I love, and that involves using a talking stick.  I learned this a number of years ago from a native traditionalist.  According to this woman, in her household, there is a stick that hangs low enough for every family member to be able to reach it. The talking stick was used in many ways; one way was to communicate difficult feelings.  Here’s how it works:

I discover that a friend believes I’m lazy because I take my time getting ready in the morning, so I take the stick and ask for a conversation.  We sit facing each other, and I speak, without interruption, until I feel done.  Then I hand the stick to my friend, and that friend repeats what they heard.  If I’m satisfied my friend heard what I said, that ends that round; if not, I take the stick and once again say what I need to say.  This goes back and forth until I am satisfied.  Then it’s my friend’s turn.

There are rules – no accusations; no name-calling; it takes time and practice to learn how to use it effectively. The stick isn’t there to beat someone over the head with; the stick is there simply to indicate who has the floor, and then give that person the space and time to say what they need to say in an aware and respectful manner.  It also isn’t there to resolve anything; it’s there simply to allow a space for open heart-to-heart communication.

It’s a way to mirror what we want from our fellows, in full awareness.

I wonder how our communities would be if we all grew up with a talking stick in each of our homes.

Compassionate Listening – Tich Nat Hahn 

Quote of the Week

Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.
– Margaret J. Wheatley


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 website or contact me directly at

Senior Isolation – It’s Real

Seniors are considered anyone over the age of 50.  While people talk about retirement and kids being out of the house affording more freedom, what they are not discussing is isolation that often leads to depression. And yes, it is real! I recently read an article from A Place for Mom on the subject and this is what I found:


According to the U.S. Census Bureau 11 million, or 28% of people aged 65 and older, lived alone in 2010. As people get older, their likelihood of living alone only increases. Additionally, more and more older adults do not have children, reports the AARP, and that means fewer family members to provide company and care as those adults become seniors.

Statistics Canada reports that 80% of Canadian seniors participate in one or more social activities on a frequent basis (at least monthly) – but that leaves fully one-fifth of seniors not participating in weekly or even monthly activities.

Social contacts tend to decrease as we age for a variety of reasons, including retirement, the death of friends and family, or lack of mobility. Regardless of the causes of senior isolation, the consequences can be alarming and even harmful.

I already knew many of these facts dealing with clients on a one-on-one basis. Even young people are starting to deal with interactive social isolation because while social media connects us in many ways- it also creates physical boundaries that are very real.

If you’re worried about someone (senior citizen or not) being socially isolated, consider the following;

1. Feeling lonely impacts both physical and mental health

2. Perceived loneliness leads to an increased risk for dementia

3.  Isolation is actually linked to long-term illness

4.  Numerous studies over the past decade have shown that feeling loneliness is associated with more depressive symptoms in both middle-aged and older adults

5. Caregivers for the elderly and disabled are also more prone to isolate and depression.

It is important to spot the signs of isolation within others and within ourselves.  It seems simple, but asking and seeking help really is the first step to a new life. It is the hardest one because we tend, as a culture, to be taught to be self-sufficient in life. We are taught not to ask for help. This, however, is the one time when you do want to break the rules and seek out resources. Isolation is like a snowball that turns into an avalanche. Once you start isolating, the deeper you can get used to being alone and then the depression, sadness and anxiety that comes with being isolated can actually make you isolate more.

Want to know more? Are you seeking that first step? Please do not hesitate to contact me today!

The Myth of the Safe Path

I’m embarking on something new. I do this frequently.  It’s one major reason why I’m a stress specialist, because stress is our body’s response to change, and I know a lot about change. The thing is that every time I do this, I begin with the same emotional challenge I’ve had towards change for as long as I can remember – fear, uncertainty, wondering if I can handle it.  This hasn’t altered, hasn’t reduced in intensity, no matter how often I’ve met the challenge.

Marie Forleo talks about this in her newsletter on Safe or Inspiring – which choice of job? She’s talking about choosing a career path, but what she says holds true for any important choice – and change.  She notes that “choosing a path because you think it’s safe and will make you money will eventually be deadly to your soul”.  Starting anything just to make money, especially a business, won’t work.  It takes too much commitment, time and effort – and will either fail or you will end up hating it, feeling trapped.  The point she’s making is that nothing is guaranteed; that is, nothing is safe.  With every choice we make, we really do have to go through a period of uncertainty and even doubt; it’s the only way we can gain the certainty we desire.

Choosing a business or any path we don’t love is actually bad for our health. The reason is we aren’t balanced about it: one part of us – probably our gut – isn’t happy; the other part – our brain – then needs to spend huge amounts of energy daily to keep our gut at least quiet.

Yes. It actually does take energy to do something we don’t love.  And this energy can lead us down the path to chronic stress, which in turn will lead to poor health.

The bottom line is there’s no such thing as a safe path. Every change and every choice we make involves risk, and the only way is to go through it.  In an important way, it’s our responsibility to do what we love as much as possible.

Easier said than done!  Tiny Buddha reminds us that doing what we love comes with some caveats that we all need to understand.  They call them the 4 myths:

Myth 1: Do what you love and the money will flow Sometimes doing what we love means not making a lot of money.  But doing what we love will keep us healthier and able to enjoy what we make.

Myth 2:  Leap and the net will appear.  Also not true.  We will sometimes misjudge and fall to the ground.  The up-side is that when we’re doing what we love, we probably have a lot more resources to help ourselves back up.

Myth 3: Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.  If only! There’s no such thing as a job or task that is completely pleasurable.  There are always elements to it that we simply won’t enjoy.  However, if we’re doing it because we consciously chose to do it, and what we’re doing is in line with our desires, then it will end up taking a lot less energy than otherwise.

Myth 4: Anyone can decide at any time to do what they love. In general, this is probably true, as long as it includes planning and considered thinking.  One big reason people end up chronically stressed is that they jump into things with both feet and no backup plan, or resources for times that might be less than perfect.  It’s smart to plan and provide before jumping.

For some of us, we can use this as an excuse to never actually get started.  You know which kind you are – too eager or not eager enough.  Be honest, provide for problems, then take that leap!

Are you spending time on your highest love? – David Brooks



Quote of the Week

You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.
 – Maya Angelou 


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 website or contact me directly at

Sadness At Work

I felt it was time to address something – sadness.  Many times, people contact me about my online services and they are seeking a cure for sadness. I don’t have the cure. In fact, internal issues have to be worked through – and while sadness can be tamed to not control one’s life, a little bit of sadness can be helpful. Even if we could “cure” sadness, what would we be losing?

Sadness can – to a healthy extent- empower you to change your life. Sadness allows us to look at situations in a different light. And while it may be easier to look at things in a positive manner, when we are forced to see a situation in a different light or through a sad lenz, we tend to understand the situation better and we can learn powerful life lessons this way.

Sadness can also teach us about love. When we suffer through heartbreak, we can pick ourselves up and appreciate tender moments more as we go forward, but the key is to go forward. With love, sadness can either teach us to love more or isolate moving forward – and it is the isolation that makes us bitter  and harms us , not the actual sadness. I once read that “Suffering is a common thread that unites all of humanity. From recognizing this simple truth, a profound feeling of interconnectedness can arise. This sense of interconnection can bring about an unspeakable joy. It can ignite the wish to bring happiness to all others.” I believe this to be true, especially when it comes to love and sadness.

Additionally, sadness helps us to stay centered in the moment. We can plan carefully but doing this means nothing. Life is about change and as we are sad to let things go, we also should knowledgeable that things are changing and we are on to new adventures. And while these adventures may seem foreign, scary and like we are lacking control within our own lives, they also represent growth. We can learn to be sad about the change, but we can learn to be happy that we are progressing at the same time.

Don’t feel like a weekend feeling blue means that you are stuck or that life is always going to be the same. Sadness represents just the opposite. Sadness means something has ended but that you are empowered to understand love, growth, and that you are always changing.

To have peace …

To have peace, you can begin by walking peacefully. Everything depends on your steps. 

-Thich Nhat Hanh

When I first read this from Tich Nhat Hanh, I thought it was a little simplistic. And yet it is true that I gain peace often when I walk.  Not all the time, but most of the time. A friend mentioned something similar – that she walks to get herself into a better place, and that sometimes this doesn’t work for her.

So I asked her about when walking doesn’t work for her.  She came up with three things – walking doesn’t work when:

  • She’s physically tired and she forces herself to walk;
  • She’s pre-occupied: when pre-occupied she is busy going over her thoughts and isn’t attentive to her surroundings;
  • When she’s pre-occupied and alone: when she’s alone as well as pre-occupied, she has no chance to voice her thoughts and thus remove them from her mind.
When I compare those with times walking doesn’t work for me, they’re pretty similar:
  • I ignore my physical needs for some idea that I believe is truer than the reality of my situation. It is true that walking is good for me, but only if I’m physically ready for it.  Otherwise, it’s actually bad for me.
  • I’m pre-occupied. When I’ve got something on my mind, I’m like a terrier with a bone, single-mindedly gnawing away at it. But unlike a real bone, my mental one doesn’t diminish with my efforts, but grows to the exclusion of all else.
  • I’m pre-occupied and alone.  Sometimes the only way I can let go of that “bone” is to talk it out with a friend who’s willing to listen for a while. This works for me because I set limits on how long I can talk something out before letting it go.

One thing that’s always true for me is that when I ignore reality or fall into pre-occupation, it’s because I’m moved by fear. I may have ignored my physical health, then suddenly decide to do something about it, fearing I’ll get sick as a result of my prolonged neglect. Or I worry that something I’ve been putting all my effort into will be stopped by something out of my control; so instead of accepting that this sometimes happens, I hang on to it by worrying – as if worrying gives me control over the uncontrollable.

Thich Nhat Hahn, in his quote, said walking peacefully. I would add walking mindfully, in connection to the surroundings, including others. Perhaps that’s why talking something out with a friend, mindful of how what I say is impacting my friend, works for me. It gets me out of myself, and my need to control what I can’t. I’d like to leave the last word to Tich Nhat Hanh in the following video.

Thich Nhat Hanh: The Miracle of Walking of the Earth

 Quote of the Week
May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
– Nelson Mandela
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

2 “Secret” Things About Depression

I’ve been blogging a lot about depression and isolation. It is a hot topic this time of year. People don’t often realize how serious isolation can be and the role depression and/or anxiety can play in it. Well, what about expectations and self-compassion. These are two secret things associated with both isolation and depression that are not talked about as much as they should be.

Let me dive right into expectations. We put too much pressure upon ourselves. We expect that other people feel great all the time and that we are failing in life if we don’t even feel great half of the time. Well, these expectations are clearly just wrong! You can’t expect to feel great all of the time or most of the time if you have clinical depression or if you start to isolate yourself. In fact, isolation will lead to you feeling terrible most of the time and with depression, it may be impossible (without help) to feel great more days than bad days. Being human comes with a thrilling roller coaster of emotions. It is important to remind yourself that even the happiest people have bad days and expecting yourself to not have bad days or feelings moments clarity followed by moments of sadness is a set-up and unrealistic.

Self-compassion. We should understand ourselves better than anyone else. Yet, the big secret here is that we often question ourselves more than we try to understand ourselves or even be empathetic to our own limitations! I once read an article on depression where the author was honest enough to write, “always attacking myself for perceived flaws or failings or (God forbid) imperfections. I could offer compassion to other people and animals and even the earth — but to myself? Never! At least, not until I actively worked to cultivate a sense of self-compassion.” How true. I can help you understand how to find your own self-compassion and how to really understand yourself and your own emotions so you don’t resort to isolation. And- BTW- it becomes more and more hard to be compassionate towards yourself when you fall into the isolation trap.

Still have questions? Want to start a conversation? Please do not hesitate to contact me. I do offer online services.

Valentine’s Day – Gift or Curse?

As I write this, millions of huge fluffy snowflakes are falling. I’m snowed in. Later, I’ll go for a walk to anything that’s open to have a coffee and meet others.  I love both the isolation that a big snowfall brings, and the connections I can manage to make on these days of quiet.

Valentine’s Day is here. Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful excuse to reconnect with friends.  I remember as a child preparing for this special day by making and decorating cards, finding poems or making them up, then personally giving each friend a card.  It made me mindful, even then, of how fortunate I was.

For some of us, this day can remind us of what we don’t have instead of what we have.  This time of year can be isolating in a way that’s unwelcome: in our Northern hemisphere there’s more dark and less light; we get up and come home in the dark.  It’s a time for hibernating and contemplating.  It can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. If you are susceptible to SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, it can be even harder to bear.

There’s growing concern about how Valentine’s Day can heighten loneliness; one school principal even banned it because he felt it left some kids out.  Even though I understand his sentiment, I believe there’s a better way; one that acknowledges our feelings and celebrates life at the same time.

Valentine’s Day is most often linked with romantic love; in some cultures, this time of year was celebrated as the beginning of Spring; also associated with love – young love.  The ancient Greeks had 6 words for love; the two we know best are Eros – sexual love, and Philia – deep friendship.  There’s another Greek concept – eudaimonia – which refers to a contented state of health and happiness.  It, too, is a form of love.

Love of self, the deep love we have for those closest to us, love of Nature, … all of these forms of love we can celebrate.

Alone or surrounded by friends, I hope you’re able to celebrate love in some meaningful way this week.

Pride and Prejudice – on love and friendship … and expectations

Quote of the Week

“Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.” -Elie Wiesel


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 website or contact me directly at

Isolation Facts

Valentine’s Day is almost over. For many, today was yet another day to feel depressed, blue and isolated.  In fact, statistics state that – as a society- we are more depressed on this day vs. the entire Christmas holiday season! And, in many cases, loneliness is not just making us sick, it is killing us. Loneliness is a serious health risk. Studies of elderly people and social isolation concluded that those without adequate social interaction were twice as likely to die prematurely. Yikes!

One study that really zoned in on the impact of isolation stated “Loneliness often is regarded as the psychological embodiment of social isolation, reflecting the individual’s experienced dissatisfaction with the frequency and closeness of their social contacts or the discrepancy between the relationships they have and the relationships they would like to have . Loneliness itself has been linked with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality elevated blood pressure and cortisol , heightened inflammatory responses to stress , and modifications in transcriptional pathways linked with glucocorticoid and inflammatory processes.”

There are ways, however, to be proactive about your own isolation.  Here are three tips to help you through the rest of this Valentine’s Day and next week:

1. Join a group. This doesn’t have to be a depression support group. It can be a hobby group, a book club, whatever you find interesting. This serves several purposes. First, it keeps you participating in social activities, and second, it lets you continue to pursue things you enjoy.

2. Get a gym membership. Gyms are great because in addition to providing exercise, they enable you to surround yourself with people and not be expected to talk with any of them. Sometimes this is just what you need.

3. If you absolutely must isolate yourself, try to make the time productive. Don’t sit around and mope; work on a hobby, read a book, write a screenplay, listen to opera. The goal is to make your alone time a period of meditation and peace without focusing too much on your troubles or on past regrets

Heartbreak Hotel & Isolation

Valentine’s Day is coming up. While most may think about flowers, chocolate covered strawberries, and dinner with a special loved one, there are many people out there who feel isolated and depressed. The winter months and the associated darkness have been haunting us and now- right before Spring- arrives Valentine’s Day. For those who feel isolated and depressed, this holiday can feel like daily compounding interest! So, what is one to do when feeling down and out around this holiday?

First, stop isolating. I know, easier said than done. But truly, if you go out alone but go to a crowded place, there is some internal comfort to be found. On Valentine’s Day, those who go to the movies or even down the street for a cup of coffee tend to feel better doing these activities as a single person than simply staying home.

Second, buy yourself a gift. Don’t isolate and feel that you’re not entitled to give yourself a gift. In fact, if you are single or in a relationship but feel alone, be your own best friend. Get out of the house and buy yourself something special as a way to acknowledge your self-love.

Third, volunteer. Yes, volunteer. Let your time be someone else’s Valentine’s Day gift. There are plenty of senior citizens who are widowed and are also feeling the depth of isolation. By spending time with this demographic, not only are you keeping yourself busy, but you are also helping someone else feel less alone and less depressed on the very same holiday.

If you feel that you simply can’t take it any longer and that the isolation and depression are getting to you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. There are also plenty of online resources, too. You can find them here:

How to be at peace without being forgiven

I took this title from Oprah’s Thought for Today message.  I couldn’t find an accompanying piece, but the title was enough for me. We make a mistake; we try to apologize and make up for it; our efforts are rejected.  Or the reverse – a friend makes a mistake; they try to apologize to us and make up for it; their efforts are rejected – by us.

I experienced both over the past 2 weeks. Simply writing this piece emphasizes to me how important it is for us to deal well with these challenges to our well-being. I could not forgive because I felt betrayed, and that’s a trigger for me that runs deep. I can’t speak for the friend who wouldn’t forgive me, but do want to explore what people say about forgiving and making amends.

They are really two sides of the same coin:  we build resentments when we feel wronged, and those resentments will – if not addressed – create an atmosphere of mistrust that will likely lead to a transgression for which we will need forgiveness.  In 12-step programs, people are encouraged to make a list of resentments, then use that list to determine to whom they need to make amends.

Making amends is more than an apology; it’s a restoration of justice (John MacDougall) It’s making things right – bring life back into balance. A simple example of this is: we borrow $100, and then lose it and don’t pay it back.  If all we do about it is to say we’re sorry we lost it, that apology wouldn’t go very far.  Making amends means, in this case, giving back the $100.  A more serious example might be that I gossip about a friend behind their back, and they are justifiably hurt when they find out.

Apologizing would be a first step, especially if it was done with both the friend and the others I gossiped to. That might even make things right, but probably not.  What would make things right is if I included why I did it in the first place, and also included a genuine offer that would help compensate my friend.

A recent national example in Canada was the apology Justin Trudeau made to the First Nations people who had suffered in the infamous residential schools.  He not only apologized, but demonstrated empathy, and then backed his apology with actions that will go a long way to facilitate the healing process.  The previous government also apologized, but it wasn’t taken as sincere because it was missing that empathetic component – First Nations people simply didn’t believe it was sincere.

The interesting thing about making an amends is, just as with forgiveness, it’s really about making peace with ourselves – we bring justice back into our own lives and thereby empower both ourselves and the person we harmed. It’s important to make amends well, and here are some aids in doing that:

  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Without doing this, we aren’t able to empathize, to really feel their pain. This helps us really understand how and why the other has been hurt.
  • Offer a carefully-worded apology. One that addresses the mistake, holding no one else accountable but yourself.  This step is crucial – if not done with clarity of intent, it might even make things worse instead of better.
  • Offer ways to repair the relationship.  These must speak directly to the mistake, and not even appear to be ways to buy your way out.
  • See what lesson you can learn.  Every mistake carries within it a germ for growth.  Examine how you made the mistake so that you have an opportunity to grow.

Finally, forgive yourself.  If your amends are genuine, then you’ve done your part to restore justice, to make things right.  Sometimes the person wronged has their own issues to work out and isn’t able to accept your amends.  When this happens, this is a good time to practice the Tibetan mindfulness technique of self-discipline (see my newsletter When We’re Triggered for the discussion):

  • Feel the disappointment or pain of not being forgiven
  • Take 3 long and deep breaths; and then
  • Move on

How does forgiveness heal? Deepak Chopra

Quote of the Week

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. -Martin Luther King, Jr.


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