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Understanding Trauma and PTSD

Traumatic events are situations that are shocking and emotionally overwhelming. They may involve actual or threaten death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity. Such traumatic events may include a hurricane, car accident, physical assault or abuse in childhood. The way people react to such events can vary from being mild to debilitating. In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, it is common to experience shock or denial. It is also common to have feelings of helplessness or vulnerability.

Many people commonly associate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with combat veterans, but this can occur in anyone who has experienced trauma. The exposure to trauma can also be indirect such as learning about the violent death of a loved one or from repeated exposure to trauma details as a police officer.

 

There are four categories of PTSD symptoms that you may identify with:

 

  • Intrusive Thoughts; recurring and unwanted memories, nightmares or flashbacks of the traumatic event

 

  • Avoidance; avoiding people or places that are reminders of the trauma or avoiding remembering anything about the event

 

  • Negative Thoughts and Feelings; distorted beliefs about oneself or the world (ex. “no one can be trusted,” prolonged anger, guilt, shame, feeling detached from others

 

  • Arousal/ Reactivity; irritability, angry outbursts, reckless or self-destructive behaviour, easily startled, and difficulty sleeping

 

It is important to understand that not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. There are so many factors to account for including prior trauma exposure and how well that was dealt with as well as current life stressors and supports. Intentional interpersonal trauma (including child abuse and neglect) tends to have the greatest impact in terms of harmful psychological consequences. This is often referred to by many professionals as complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

 

For a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms must last for more than a month, often persisting for many months and sometimes years. Many people develop some symptoms within 3 months of the original trauma but it is not uncommon for other symptoms to appear later on. For those with PTSD, symptoms cause significant distress or impact their ability to function. Many people with PTSD need professional treatment to recover. The distress caused by trauma is not someone’s fault, and PTSD is treatable with counselling.

 

Written by Kennedy McLean, Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.

 

To learn more about how we can support you with building trust in your current and/ or future relationships, contact us at 647-961-9669 or info@balancedmindandwellness.com.

 

 

Understanding and Reducing Anger and Resentment

Many people seem to be carrying their anger and resentment wherever they go. Carrying these heavy, negative emotions weigh you down and demand considerable attention and energy. At times, this negative feeling can impact more than just ‘you’ – it can also impact your actions toward your career, your family, your friends, and/ or your romantic relationship.

Is it Wrong to Feel Angry?

The answer is no. Anger is a normal, natural emotion. In many situations, it’s a healthy and appropriate emotional reaction. Anger is an emotional response to a real or imagined “wrong” or injustice, but sometimes people get angry simply because things took a different course than they feel they should have. Anger can be destructive, as we can experience it as a push against present-moment reality. In a sense, we experience thoughts representing a refusal to accept what is.

Most often, anger is a secondary emotion. It can take shape instantly, and sometimes unconsciously, in response to feelings of being hurt, fear, and/or feelings of inadequacy. When most people experience these primary emotions, they feel vulnerable, and might withdraw, experiencing their feelings internally. This way, it is easy for most to avoid expressing these more difficult emotions, as they can make us feel ‘out of control’. For many people, this revealing of vulnerability creates so much distress that the underlying emotions are automatically transformed into anger, a feeling people are more comfortable with expressing externally/ outwardly. Expressing anger outwardly is often associated with a feeling of being ‘in control’, by projecting focusing on projecting feelings onto others, rather than processing the primary emotion.

Resentment

Resentment is closely related to anger. Resentments are negative feelings, basically ill will, toward someone or something as a result of a past experience. Resentment is the re-experiencing of past injustices. Some people hold resentments for many years, and choose to not let go of them. The trigger for resentment has usually left, while we still may hold onto the emotion connected to it. It is important to note that the stronger the resentment is, the more time you spend thinking about it, caught up in the anger connected to it.

Ultimately, the person holding the resentment is the one who suffers most. If you allow yourself to become angry or resentful whenever situations do not end up how you want or expect them to, then you are effectively giving control of your feelings to others.

Here are some tips on how to address feelings of anger and resentment in more healthy and helpful ways:

1. Practice identifying and allowing yourself to feel the primary emotions underneath the anger. 

2. Be conscious and present with your anger and resentment. Notice the thoughts, push and pull of different feelings and urges, and/or physical sensations.

3. Identify how you may have contributed to the situation(s) that you are angry or resentful about. Look inward and identify an alternative perspective of the situation which makes you feel anger.

4. Try an alternative method of expressing anger and resentment. Share these feelings with supportive individuals whom you trust. Journal or write about them. Choose a physical outlet, such as going to the gym, walking/ running, going to yoga, etc.

5. Learn and practice relaxation and self-calming techniques. Examples include deep breaths, mindfulness, meditation, and/or detaching from social media.

6. Although challenging, it can be helpful to create an opposite shift in urge and action. Try treating those you feel anger and resentment toward with kindness and compassion. This shift can create a circular effect in that it can also influence their actions in a positive way toward you.

7. Do not give into acting as an avenue for others’ anger and resentment. Try not to get stuck in the toxicity of interactions filled with negative emotions. Disengage from negative, unhelpful thoughts and actions.

8. Remind yourself that you cannot change the past. Acting in anger and resentment will not change or undo what has upset you. Accepting this will enable you to be more present and less stuck in the past.

If you find that you have difficulty letting go of angry feelings, consider consulting a mental health provider to move forward with anger management counselling. Angry thoughts and feelings can be isolated, or they can be part of a mental health disorder that professionals can treat effectively with psychotherapy. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), among other therapies, can help to work toward enhancing skills for regulating emotions.

If you have any questions or would like help with working to increase your mental wellness, call our Director, Carly, at 647-961-9669, or email us at info@balancedmindandwellness.com

Supporting Someone with Mental Health Issues

When it comes to talking to a loved one about mental health, it can be very uncomfortable. As a society, we are still living with a lot of stigma when

 it comes to mental health. There is not enough information out there to help us know how to start; however, we are making some great strides in mental health awareness, for example, with Canada’s annual Bell Let’s Talk Day this past Wednesday.

 

Try these R-E-S-P-E-C-T tips to support your loved one with mental health issues:

 

Realize it will take them time to understand where you are coming from.

When you approach the topic of mental illness with a loved one you know/ suspect are struggling, they might be having a hard time coming to terms with their mental health condition. Some might experience “anosognosia”, a symptom where one does not have self-awareness of the condition they are experiencing. Their acknowledgement of your concerns may take time. This TED Talk by Dr. Xavier Amador might be helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXxytf6kfPM

 

Educate yourself and others.

It can be really helpful to speak to a professional about your concerns and what you are observing. While you may not be suffering from mental health symptoms as a primary patient, you certainly experience secondary symptoms, which are equally deserving of support and conversations with a professional.

 

Say to yourself “it’s okay to feel what I’m feeling”.

It can be really challenging for family members to support a loved one with mental health concerns. Caregiver burnout is a feeling of mental, physical, and/or emotional exhaustion due to the demands of providing care. It is important to have support if you relate to feelings of this ‘caregiver burnout’. Your loved one needs you to be healthy in order for them to be healthy.

 

Patience is a virtue, and definitely hard to practice.

Not only will you need to be patient with your loved one, but it is also important to be patient with yourself and the difficult feelings that might come up for you. We want ourselves and others to stop feeling bad right now, and we want the solution to our problem to come more quickly. Remember: recovery usually takes longer than we thought it would, and it can become frustrating… but you can push through. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

 

Expect that there will be good days and bad days.

In supporting a loved one with mental illness, it is important to know that healing is not a linear path. There are ups and downs and some days feel like you are taking 10 steps backwards instead of forwards.This can trigger feelings of anxiety and/ or depression. When we are not intentional in caring for our mental health, we can be more susceptible to experiencing bad mental health days. Remind your loved one of the simple self-care items they could try to get back on track.

 

Crisis plans are important.

A crisis plan is a plan that is discussed in calm moments to decide which supports (personal and professional) to access and how we can keep our loved ones safe. Here is a great template to use: https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/samhs/mentalhealth/rights-legal/crisis-plan/home.html.

 

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Think about who to involve in your “team” to support your loved one and you as well. List out people like mental health professionals (e.g. psychiatrists, family doctors, therapists), peer support (e.g. groups, crisis helplines), and family and/or friends. It can be a lot easier, and less painful, if we all contribute to one’s healing together.

 

To learn more about how we can support you in managing your stress and feelings of anxiety about your loved one, please contact Vivian Zhang at vivian@balancedmindandwellness.com.

Please see our previous blog post for some more tips on how to talk about mental health.

Self-Care in Our Technology Driven World

I admit, it is very tempting to throw around words like “self-care” in the context of therapy. Sometimes, what ends up happening when words are so easily used is that we forget their true intention and meaning.

Self-care as it is used today is about finding ways to attend to ourselves. In today’s busy world we really forget to pay attention to ourselves as boundaries and limits are blurred by technology and the mentality of always “being on”. Without giving ourselves any true time off, we tend to feel anxious, stressed, stuck, alone, unable to connect with others, and unproductive to name a few things. It is now more important than ever to use self-care strategies in order to maintain our physical and mental health, which ultimately helps to manage our stress.

Here are three self-care strategies to use in our technology driven world:

  • Unplug from technology. In theory, this is about taking time away from technology so we can have a few minutes of peace in our lives. It’s important to think about how you’ll unplug from technology. This can include:
    • deactivating a social media account for awhile (for example, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat)
    • putting your phone on airplane mode for at least an hour
    • putting your gadgets away in a drawer or another room – out of sight, out of mind
  • Use the time you’re unplugging from technology to do something you enjoy or used to enjoy. Go for a walk, read a book, go see family and/or friends, try a new hobby, take a nap, or maybe learn to practice mindfulness.
  • When you reconnect with technology, challenge yourself to delay responding to texts and emails unless if it’s urgent. This one can be tricky, because it’s easy to tell ourselves something is super important and needs to be responded to immediately.
    • Put your thoughts through a test: if you wouldn’t call someone that moment to respond to them, it’s probably not urgent and can wait.
    • By setting different expectations we ourselves can feel less of an urgency, which will make it easier to unplug from technology.

There are some very interesting pieces on the history and importance of self-care you can read about:

By taking time away from technology we are caring for ourselves and giving ourselves opportunities to connect with our internal needs. If you’re wondering about how to develop more strategies to help improve your life, you can always develop these strategies with a life coach, counsellor, or therapist. Please visit here for more information, or email vivian@balancedmindandwellness.com to book an appointment.

 

Holiday Social Anxiety: 6 Common Causes and How to Cope

  1. Staying with friends or relatives (unfamiliar surroundings)…

If you are going to be staying with friends or relatives in unfamiliar surroundings, ensure you have your regular comfort items and some coping strategies on hand. These might include: your usual snacks, a good book, a friend to call, or an ‘excuse’ to remove yourself from any uncomfortable situations.

 

  1. Spending time with your significant others’ friends and/or family…

If you are with your significant other and worried about spending more time with someone on their side, let them know what might make you feel more comfortable. This might include a pre-established signal to help you both step away from the group at times.

 

  1. You feel like you’re bad at small talk and don’t know what to say…

Ask yourself if it’s really true that you have nothing to talk about. You probably have at least one or two interests or experiences you can talk about, but you may be dismissing them as silly or uninteresting. If this is the case, you’re likely being too self-critical. Or, if talking about yourself makes you nervous, focus instead on learning three new things about the person you’re talking to.

 

  1. Being questioned…

This is often uncomfortable at family and friend gatherings when you haven’t seen them in a while. Rather than focusing on being put on the spot, remember that they miss you and are genuinely interested in hearing about what’s going on in your life.

 

  1. Coping with loneliness…

Spending too much time on your own can make you feel anxious, lonely and depressed. Part of why the holidays feel more lonely is high societal expectations for this time of year. Not having a romantic partner or close family can feel more uncomfortable than usual. Try re-thinking your expectations, and shift your focus to the things that you do have (and are grateful for) in your life. Bring a friend as your plus one, or that the sometimes sporadic love of a difficult family member still counts as love, has helped many people feel less lonely.

 

  1. Coping with large numbers of people…

You might worry that other people are watching you, judging your appearance, or judging what you are doing. Shopping malls are especially packed this time of year and can cause a great deal of stress. If these thoughts resonate with you, remember that most people are there with their own worries/ shopping lists, and likely are too preoccupied to be worrying about what you are. If malls generally overwhelm you, go in with a specific list and make a plan according to the mall map ahead of time.

 

Do you want to conquer your social anxiety and be more comfortable around new people? If you spend time thinking about what other people think, that’s when people notice. So, have fun, and do what feels right to you.

If you’re constantly worried about others judging you and it’s getting in the way of your work, life or relationships, you might consider seeking help. There’s no quick-fix for social anxiety therapy involving Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help you overcome your social anxiety over time.

6 Tips for Overcoming Holiday Anxiety and Stress

It is known that a stable routine can reduce psychological problems like anxiety. Our daily schedule is safe and predictable. The end of the year involves an unavoidable change of routine. While we may look forward to the change, it can also cause us to feel unsafe and overwhelmed.

 

These six tips may help lower your stress levels during the holidays:

 

  1. Plan ahead

Create a list of people you would like to buy gifts for, and some ideas you have for them. Look up some fun recipes for meals or baking that you want to try this year. Have fun with it, too – pick up some decorations to get yourself in the spirit ahead of time!

 

  1. Stick to a budget

Decide what you want to spend over Christmas and stick to your budget to avoid anxiety over money. If your family and/ or friends are up for it, secret Santa (a draw) can also reduce anxiety by avoiding last-minute shopping and the need to find the ‘right gift’.

 

  1. Stay Social

Surround yourself with people you like. If being around your relatives provides stress, keep family gatherings to a minimum and celebrate with friends who you can just be yourself with.

 

  1. Learn to say no

You don’t have to attend every social occasion you’re invited to. It’s okay to put yourself first and balance what’s important to you this season. Make a list and prioritize your needs for the month or week ahead to ensure you’re taking care of (and enjoying) yourself.

 

  1. Don’t abandon healthy habits

It’s important to maintain some of your healthy habits. You may not feel like it, but there’s a lot of evidence that exercise can help with anxiety and depression. It will be worth cutting back on some of the ‘holiday hangover’.

 

  1. Take a breather

Take time to do things you want to do, rather than things you feel you have to do. When you feel overwhelmed, go for a walk, have a bath, or take that little break to spend some time with you.

 

If you have any questions or would like help with working to reduce stress and anxiety during the holiday season, call Carly at 647-961-9669, or email carly@balancedmindandwellness.com