Monthly Archive: May 2016

Living as a Square Peg

If you’re different, then you may feel you stick out like a neon sign.  And if you’re like other square pegs, you may spend most of your time trying to fit into the round hole that announces to the rest of the round pegs that you aren’t any different.  Not really.

The truth is that you are different, and will never fit into that pre-determined one-sized hole.  Square pegs come in all shapes and sizes, except that one.

Like this ever-optimistic square peg, we may actually think that there is something we can do to make the magic happen. Well, not really. Some of us do diet constantly, work out 2 hours a day, do all the things suggested in Huffington Post and on Oprah and at our local fitness place to shape us into what we image will fit.  Most of us, if we’re honest, have tried this.

The reality is this: square pegs can never fit into round holes!

Most of us will try to force it – with enough work, sweat and stress, it will eventually fit. But not well and not for long before it explodes out again.  Then, as Judi Perkins  so aptly puts it, by the time we realize it’s not fitting, we’re so far in that instead of seeing that it won’t work, we try even harder. Unless luck intervenes and saves us from ourselves, we eventually do damage – to the relationship we were trying to form, the relationships we ignored for this, our body and our soul.

The good news is that once we get that the damage of trying to fit isn’t worth the effort, life gets easier and happier. We have a lot more energy, focus and joy.

  • We have more energy, because we’re no longer putting ourselves through the stress of attempting the impossible, and are able to access all the energy that was formerly locked into that battle;
  • We have focus, because instead of needing to twist our minds around something actually foreign to us – someone else’s idea of what’s right or good, or even acceptable – we are free to clarify what works uniquely for us;
  • And we have joy: Happiness isn’t something we can gain like a new pair of shoes; it’s something that happens when we live in line with who we are naturally.

So the next time you’re tempted to try to fit in, remember what you’re also sacrificing.

Chris Rea – Square peg, round hole

Quote of the Week



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

Isolation & Quicksand

As a registered psychologist, I am supposed to write a blog about how to help yourself when isolation and ruminating become a core part of one’s depression symptoms. The truth is, there is no blanket solution, no magic wand, no single pill that can make you not feel. The good news is that you do feel. In spite of what most people think about depression, it is still a way to feel emotions. You are still in tune with your core. It is the coping part that most of us have to work on. You see, to speaking plainly, depression is a quick sand trap. For many of us, we are unsure as to how we fell into it. Others of us are dealing with trauma and loss and know why we well into it. Either way, sometimes the harder you work to get out of the quick sand, the further you fall into the trap.

When I work with clients who are looking to cease burning the candle at both ends, distress, and who want to figure out a way to turn hope for change into actual action, I tell them to consider the following; first- isolation is your worst enemy. The depression offers a very negative internal dialogue. This dialogue exasperates the symptoms of depression and you isolate even more. The cycle moves further and further along until you are completely alone with unhealthy thoughts, paralyzed by the isolation with no sense of purpose.

Ruminating is another issue, which involves dwelling and brooding that will cause you to feel worse about yourself. Its obsessive thinking about the same thing over and over and over and over again. It dampens your perspective on the situation and ruminating can certainly make a situation feel and seem like there is no hope or that there are no options. Rumination is a toxic process and can further drive you down the depression rabbit hole.

Failing to exercise when depressed impacts your mental and physical health greatly. The actual physical aches that come with depression make one feel not like working out, or even walking at a snail’s pace for the matter. The problem with not moving your body is weight gain, which can cause more depressive symptoms, and other health issues. Further the dopamine level in our brains doesn’t change for the positive, but for the negative, creating an actual chemical reaction that will exaggerate the depressive symptoms. Movement can be greatly therapeutic and beneficial and it also boosts levels of serotonin, which makes us feel more able to cope and properly respond to situations.

There is no rule book on depression. Everyone experiences it and its symptoms differently and to various degrees. Easing your way out isolation, rumination and into physical movement may not be a quick or one-stop-shopping solution for climbing out the quicksand of depression, but it is a good start and offers a chance to better hope and find help for your situation.


I’m at a party talking about one of my favorite subjects, food, when a long-time friend joins the group. I go to introduce her; and pause because I’ve forgotten her name.  Instead of admitting this, I come up with some diversion that lets me off the hook, wondering if I need to test myself once again for Alzheimer’s. Then I reassure myself by recalling that my mother routinely forgot things all her life without ever developing that disease.

The thing is… I assumed that as we get older we naturally begin to forget more things.  But that isn’t true.  Our hippocampus – our memory centre – continues to grow new cells even into our 90’s.  And yet it’s undeniable that most of us begin to forget more things as we age. If not declining brain power, then why?

As you might have guessed, it’s about food, exercise, sleep, mindfulness, and training.

Food: Dr. Mercola lists 9 foods that contain ingredients that keep our brain healthy:

  • Curcumin – which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties; found in curry and tumeric
  • Luteolin, calming inflammation in the brain; found in celery, peppers and carrots
  • Choline, super-charging the brain; found in broccoli and cauliflower
  • Omega-3, shown to reverse brain-aging in rats; found in walnuts, flax seed, and in general – seeds, nuts and fatty fish
  • phenylalanine, an amino acid that helps make the neurotransmitter dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline and thyroid hormone; found in concentrated amounts in soybeans, parmesan cheese, pumpkin seeds, and seafood
  • Magnesium, helps brain cell receptors transmit messages; found in chickpeas, kelp and green leafy vegetables
  • Vitamin B12, for healthy brain function. Without it, the brain can actually shrink; found in red meats, and also in eggs, milk and cheese
  • Fruits that are high in anti-oxidants and low in sugar, such as blueberries
  • Healthy fats, such as organic butter, coconut oil and olive oil, supply the energy needed for good brain function.  Our brain is mostly made of fat, and uses up to 20% of our daily energy requirements.

Exercise: When we exercise, the brain releases proteins that promote neural health. It also promotes blood flow. In a year-long study, researchers found that people who exercise actually expanded their brain’s memory centre. 30 to 40 minutes a day of some form of exercise – walking, bike-riding, dancing, swimming – anything that gets the blood flowing – is all it takes.

Sleep: It’s during the deep and dream (REM) sleep periods that our brains refresh and regenerate.  Without a good night’s sleep, we aren’t able to think clearly, and if this continues, our memory begins to deteriorate.

Mindfulness: It takes our brain about 8 seconds to commit something to memory. So if we try to do too much at once – like talk on the phone, compose an email, and listen to one of our kid’s complaints, it’s likely we’ll forget what we were about to write.  Multitasking is distracting; so is worrying and planning.  Research has shown that being mindful and present improves working memory capacity.

Training: Memory is something we can improve substantially with training.  If we don’t challenge our brain, then we can expect it will begin to deteriorate – just like any muscle.  It begins to lose its “plasticity”. There are at least three ways we can train our brain.

  • Learning new skills is one way.  It challenges us, requiring our undivided attention.
  • Brain games, found in sites like Lumosity and Brain HQ; or well-established games like cross-words, jigsaw and Sudoku.
  • Learning mnemonic skills. These are memory tools that help us remember better. Sometimes substantially better.

I remember reading a paper many years ago titled The Magic Number 7, where researchers observed a group of crows at the edge of a forest.  A crow would warn the others every time one or more people entered the forest, and would also signal when they left again.  This was true and accurate for up to 5 to 7 people, after which the sentry crow would lose count.  The thing is that us humans can do no better: we can remember up to 7 or so things at a time – be they actual things, concepts, or abstractions.  So in order to do this, we learn to lump things together.  For instance, if I have to remember a long list of items, I might do it by separating them into colors, or by linking them to a story, reducing them to 2 or three things to remember.

Here’s an example of 6 random words: teapot, tiger, book, piano, pillow, scarf.  That isn’t much, but if I imaging a tiger painted on a teapot, where the tiger is sitting on a pillow, leaning against a piano, with a scarf around its neck and reading a book, I’ll remember it pretty easily.

The main point is this: the more we engage in life, the healthier our brain is, and the more we can remember and rely on our memory.

Avishai Cohen Trio – Remembering

Quote of the Week
Right now I’m having amnesia and déjà vu at the same time. I think I’ve forgotten this before. 
― Steven Wright

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


Creative Misfires

I was reading a blog by someone who pens often about their secret battle with depression. Outside of talk therapy, the blog is a great way to get it all “out there” without truly revealing one’s identity.  I read this blog to understand the human / patient perspective of the battle. You know, the stuff composed outside of what is often discussed with me, the therapist, during a session. When I was reading a recent post, I realized that there is a common point that most of my patients, and those who suffer with depression, don’t walk about …. the lack of creativity.

In the blog I was reading, she penned a simple – “I can’t write anymore. I simply don’t feel like it. I’m empty and there is no creativity left.” The very paralyzing symptoms of depression literally spelled out. When people come to me for help, or self-realize a problem even exists, it is usually the lack of energy, the crying, the anger, or the dullness that is the precursor to realizing help is even needed. But what about the feeling of lack of purpose? Lack of creativity? This often exists with cases of depression, but most people fail to discuss it in session. They don’t think of a lack of creativity as a symptom of depression. Well, it can be. Creative or not, if you no longer enjoy something that you previously woke up in the morning for, ask yourself why this is.

Are negative thoughts putting it (writing, walking, painting, gardening) in a bad light? Are you feeling like you are loosing a part of you by not doing it and becoming angrier because of this? Do you feel so sick all of the time that the attempt to be creative or do whatever it is that normally makes you happy or acts as a healthy outlet is simply an overwhelming effort?

Depression comes in many forms, but the “lack of creativity” – as put on a patient’s blog- is a common symptom. It is not just you. You are not alone. You can overcome the battle with the right type of help. There is hope. There is help. You can get your creativity back.

Interested in learning more? Please contact me.

When Optimism?

I’m a skeptic, especially about anyone who says that there’s always a bright side.  Sometimes there isn’t, and not acknowledging this can mean missing an opportunity to acknowledge and mourn the passing of something dear to me.

I just watched a documentary titled Requiem for the American Dream, narrated by Noam Chomsky. It’s on Netflix. In it, Chomsky clearly outlines what’s happened to the American Dream, and the outcome of continuing on the same route.  It isn’t optimistic. I found myself often feeling a sense of helpless hopelessness while I watched and listened.

Then, at the very end, he let us know what we could do about it, because there issomething we can do.  And I thought: well, this guy has been looking at and thinking about this issue for years; so maybe his solution is possible, even though it’s simple. I began to feel a sense of hopefulness – there was something that I could do that would make a real difference.

A dear friend of mine is battling a debilitating illness that renders her non-functional a good part of every day. When the attacks come, she has very little warning, and they can come at any time.  At first, she was bewildered and scared, wondering how she could live any kind of quality life in these circumstances.  Little by little, she learned what triggered an attack, and modified her lifestyle to minimize them.  With that renewed control, she gained renewed hope.

Hope is the key. Children feel optimistic most of the time, focusing on making the very best of any situation.  Often, it’s because their focus is on what’s happening right now rather than worrying about how the future is going to be. People in terrible circumstances who, in spite of their circumstances, find the strength to keep going, are able to do this because they have hope that things will get better, or that what they do will positively impact their loved ones.

Optimism is a belief that the future will be positive. It isn’t simply the refuge of bubbleheads, as Lisa Funderburg phrases it – those Pollyannas who glide through life with their heads in the clouds, blissfully unaware of their own denial (I confess to being guilty of that). Science has discovered that people who are generally optimistic are resilient. They tend to see setbacks as temporary rather than permanent; they approach life with a sense of possibility.

There are three factors that make a person optimistic in a healthy way:  their genes, their mother, and their grasp of what’s realistic. Research using identical twins indicates that some aspects of our personality and approach are genetic – there’s really nothing we can do about that.  Other research shows a strong correlation between our level of optimism and our mother’s (not our father’s).  As for our grasp, if we insist on trying something we’re no good at, over and over, our sense of optimism will eventually exhaust itself.

Healthy optimism means we expect good things in our future, and continue to be aware of what’s really happening. Pessimism means we expect pain and suffering; and this ultimately leads to increased depression.

When we’re depressed, we can lose that sense of hope and optimism. We all experience times of difficulty that feel as though they will last forever.  It’s during those dark times that it helps to remember that life isn’t like that. Nothing lasts forever; both happy and unhappy times. When I’m down, I often think of the weather report – if you don’t like the weather now, simply wait a few minutes.

Optimism is like a muscle that gets stronger with use (Robin Roberts). The secret to being optimistic in the face of pain is to deliberately focus on the little victories and silver linings every day; knowing that the best is yet to come.

The Optimism Bias


Quote of the Week
You’ve got many problems
And life is a mess
Every choice you make doesn’t work out
Don’t be sad

Don’t be sad, everything is possible
Don’t be sad, life still has hope

Don’t be sad.

From A lesson in Optimism from Children with Cancer in Hospital


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


Psychological Trauma Symptoms

Would you know the signs of psychological trauma? The strange part of this question, which seems so obvious, is that many of my clients don’t feel like they have symptoms of trauma. They may feel anxious or depressed, sometimes even angry. The same goes for stress, we often live in a chaotic bubble thinking hectic lives and schedules are just that – and nothing more.  Many of us are walking around with symptoms for trauma. Discovering the impact of the trauma is important because it can trigger a reaction to get help coping and moving on from the trauma.

So, I have decided to post the classic symptoms of trauma. Please look over the list and if you have two or more symptoms, it should be time to start thinking about professional help to better able you to have a productive life!

 Emotional and psychological symptoms of trauma:

Shock, denial, or disbelief
Anger, irritability, mood swings
Guilt, shame, self-blame
Feeling sad or hopeless
Confusion, difficulty concentrating
Anxiety and fear
Withdrawing from others
Feeling disconnected or numb

Physical symptoms of trauma:

Insomnia or nightmares
Being startled easily
Racing heartbeat
Aches and pains
Difficulty concentrating
Edginess and agitation
Muscle tension

Compassion Training – falling in love with life

This past weekend, I was at a conference on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy that included, among many worthwhile things, a talk on compassion training. The presenter was Susan Polluck. Much was said about the background and basis for this training – I simply want to focus on what it is and how we can incorporate it into our own lives.

Compassion training is about falling in love with life, and includes extending that loving kindness to those around us. The training has three parts:  self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness vs self-criticism; Common humanity vs isolation (It’s not just me who suffers); and mindfulness vs overidentification – be with our suffering as it is. Overidentification happens when we’re engaged in something with little awareness of being engaged, like those times when we’re watching a mini-series and forget that it’s only a show.

It helps us cultivate good will or good intentions towards ourselves and our world. More importantly, it invites us to be fully human, learning to accept ourselves just as we are, here and now, learning to motivate ourselves with kindness and encouragement instead of with criticism, just as a loving grandmother would.

Compassion means to “suffer with” another person, beginning with ourselves.  Moments of suffering happen to each of us ever day – compassion training teaches us how to be with this suffering with kindness and care. Right now, here’s something you can build into your day any time you have a moment of pain, or fear, or shame, or suffering. Ms. Polluck gave this presentation on behalf of her colleague, Chris Germer, who was sick.  She’d been asked only the evening before and was, herself, having a moment of pain.  Here’s what she gave herself, and taught us – she calls it a self-compassion break.

Self-compassion break

Place one or both hands over your heart or belly; and say in your own words
  • This is a moment of suffering (or of shame, of fear, of anxiety, of pain, the word that captures this moment for you)
  • Life has many such moments
  • And I’m not alone
  • May I accept myself just as I am

The Three Components of Self-Compassion – Kristin Neff

Quote of the Week

Close your eyes, Fall in love, Stay there. – Rumi


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


Whenever we venture into something new, we experience uncertainty. It can be exciting, or daunting and stress-making.  Whenever I start something new, I experience the excitement; if I start trying to predict how it will turn out, I experience stress: the very fact that this is new means I might fail, and that’s daunting.

Because we can plan, we can also worry about the future. In other animals, uncertainty leads to increased vigilance, but in us, depending on how we deal with uncertainty, it can lead to increased stress, brought on by worry.

In general, all of us prefer certainty over worry. Studies show that people prefer getting a shock for certain now rather than a possible shock later in the future. In 1994, researchers at the University of Quebec developed an Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale (IU) that was able to assess the level of predictability a person sought out, and how that person reacted to uncertain situations.  They found that a high IU was linked to several anxiety disorders, as well as to eating disorders and depression. This includes every-day worry that leads to prolonged stress. They found that the difference between anxiety and stress due to worry is really a matter of degree.

There are attitudes and habits we can form that can help us mitigate fear and worry in the face of uncertainty.  Travis Bradberry  suggests a few.

  1. Learn to spot it: When you begin to feel wary or fearful in the face of uncertainty, learn to recognize it.  Simply being aware that you are fearful because the situation is uncertain can help you re-focus, and tone down those feelings of fear.
  2. Stay positive.  Give that fearful part of you some support in calming down by choosing to focus on positive aspects of what’s happening.  The key here is to make sure that what you chose to focus on is actually within your grasp.  For instance, if I’m about to jump from a bungee chord (which I wouldn’t likely do to begin with – reality check), focusing on the idea that nothing bad will happen won’t help – because something bad might happen; if instead I focused on the fact that I chose a reputable company who uses experienced guides and top-notch equipment, and that the day is cloudless and calm, and that this has been on my to-do list for a long time – that would help.
  3. Have a plan B. This makes sense and is often over-looked.  Having a Plan B isn’t the same as having a back door: a back door means you’re not fully committed – you have an escape hatch. A Plan B means you are fully committed – you’ve considered multiple possibilities.
  4. Trust your gut.  This may be tricky if you aren’t used to doing it, because you may think you’re trusting your gut when you aren’t.  My way of knowing is if I physically feel solid about my decision or direction, and it isn’t accompanied by any rationalizations or reasonings that somehow make what I’m doing OK.
  5. Let go. You’ve planned, prepared and supported yourself the best you can.  Now it’s time to trust in your own process and relax.

Pema Chodron: Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

Quote of the Week

I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100.
-Woody Allen

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