How to be merry even though it’s Christmas.

IT’S THE MERRY CHRISTMAS season, a holy time, joy-to-the-world days, happy Chanukah, the heartiest and most beautiful holiday of the year — except that it often doesn’t work out that way. And the only way to deal with this paradox is to understand how and why it works.

The truth is, few people get through these gala days without feeling decidedly annoyed by the season. With some, it’s only a flinching reaction to the insistent jollity. Others, particularly those suspended in the middle years between taskless childhood and self-indulgent old age, are harassed by shopping, wrapping, mailing, cooking and debts — and the notion that what started out to be a gentle religious festival has been hoked out of shape by the vendors.

Quite a number of people have an old grudge against Christmas: it is a regular reminder of disappointment, suffering or isolation in some less-than-perfect Christmas past. A proportion of these have what amounts to an annual breakdown at Christmas, one that is now being investigated by psychiatrists who call it either the Holiday Syndrome or Christmas Neurosis. Their main symptoms are depression and deep anger, though they may conceal them gallantly under the requisite degree of ho-ho heartiness.

These individuals are gloomy because of the idealized warmth and sweetness of the season, not in spite of it. Since they cannot, for various reasons, experience all the elation that seems to abound, their private desolation is the mark of failure, and a bitter one.

Most people can bask in Christmas as children do, frankly relishing the food and drink treats, the conspiracy of gift hiding, the expectancy of wish-fulfillment, the tumult of parties and gaudy decorations, the simplicity and sentiment of a baby Saviour. It’s a mass regression to untroubled pre-adolescence, and the pleasure seeking can be atoned for neatly by New Year’s resolutions.

But there are flickers of doubt. Carol singing can grow tedious, week after week, outdoor decorations are competitive and oath provoking, gift-shopping is exhaustion and frustration in a pure form. The relatives gather, not always a happy sight. A lot of people accordingly plan trips to remove themselves from Christmas, only to find themselves sourly marking the oddity of Christmas lights in a palm tree or the cheeriness of strangers in a ski lodge.

“Not being joyous during the Christmas season is much more common than most of us realize,” observed a report by four psychiatrists at the University of Utah, who recently completed a study of psychological complaints at yuletime.

Dismay, in a mild degree, is universal. Sociologists have been noting that ordinary conversations during the pre-Christmas rush are rarely luminous with goodwill. Women complain of weariness, anxiety while shopping, the greediness of their get; men are uneasy over expenses and drinking too much. “There are few spontaneous exclamations about how wonderful it all is,” comments a noted Canadian psychiatrist, Montreal’s Dr. Alastair MacLeod. “There seems to be a great deal of hostility and anger over being impelled into something.”

The tender concepts of the season, in the Christian religion of the Nativity and in Judaism the candlelight memorial to freedom, are hard to confront under the smothering of carnival commercialism. There is a resultant loss of tranquillity felt by everyone.

One of the world’s most distinguished psychoanalysts, Ernest Jones, once wrote that Christmas represents psychologically “the ideal of resolving all family discord in happy reunion.” It’s an excruciatingly vulnerable ideal, since distance, divorce and death can shatter it, while old grievances within the family can make success chancy.

There is a sharp rap of despair when the family can’t be together, or when it can and the gathering tends to stir up old irritations rather than erase them. The disappointment can be so acute that rage breaks out readily — murders are not uncommon at Christmas, or accidents involving a violent mood and family dissension on a monumental scale. In some countries,o notably Germany, the suicide rate climbs at this season.

Scientists became intrigued some twenty years ago with the special depression that Christmas creates, with glancing attention to the lesser blues that sometimes attend vacations in the summer or even Sunday afternoons. Comparing notes, doctors discovered that many of their psychiatric patients suffered severe setbacks during the Christmas season. Succeeding studies of normal people revealed a vast, subsurface ocean of unrest, a distress that seems so ill-timed that its victims usually hide it under a pseudo-enthusiastic and tiring kind of gaiety.

The United States psychoanalyst J. P. Cattell describes the Holiday Syndrome as extending for more than a month before Christmas to a few days after New Year’s Day. It is characterized, he reported in 1954 to the American Psychoanalytic Association, by the “presence of diffuse anxiety, numerous regressive phenomena including marked feelings of helplessness, possessiveness and increased irritability, nostalgic or bitter rumination about holiday experiences of youth, depressive effect and a wish for magical resolution of problems.”

That’s a wordy nutshell. Many people bear with year-long humiliations and misery but cannot avoid the futile hope that Christmas morning will cure it all. The season brings forth an inner child, a loitering Peter Pan who wants coddling and gets instead a hatful of bills. The knowledge that Christmas is an expensive cheat, with only a flash or two of lovely lustre, creates a general jangling of nerves that silver bells cannot quite cover.

Some people have a clear idea why they are unhappy at Christmas. One famous Canadian writer, for instance, was deserted by his wife on Christmas Eve and another buried his only daughter shortly after she had helped decorate the Christmas tree. A young mother of three whose critical in-laws visited her for six weeks before every Christmas, bulging the facilities of a small apartment, eventually detested the entire season. A Montreal engineer felt a chill every Christmas until he was nearly forty, a residue of his mother’s insistence that he open all his gifts alone in his room. A man who was raised in an orphanage doesn’t feel comfortable watching his children receive their presents — they’re never grateful enough.

Some experts feel that the North American accent on gift exchanging is causing a good deal of Christmas blues. To a child’s mind — and many an adult’s as well — the quantity and quality of gifts received is tangible evidence of his valuableness in the world. Friends who receive more and better gifts are assumed to be better loved, a brother or sister getting more lavish presents is a catastrophe. For this reason even mature people feel a droop in spirits as the last gift is unwrapped, while children are inclined to protest violently.

The emotional involvement in gift-giving is such that people who are unable to love their families, or who feel inadequate in some way, tend to give luxurious presents, beyond their means, as a conscience calmer.

Christmas, accordingly, can be an economic disaster and many heads are filled at this season with a dance of debts. The financial demands of gifts, decorations, tips and entertainment is a strain that creates panic, making tempers snappish.

Dr. MacLeod, the Montreal psychiatrist, is reminded at this time of the year of the potlatch customs of some British Columbia Indian tribes, who destroy their enemies by loading them with gifts and food. The guests of honor are expected to give an even more sumptuous feast and gifts in return, wrecking their resources if they comply and disgracing themselves if they don’t. Christmas gift-giving can also be persecution: there is a mutually ruinous trend on this continent to give back a slightly better gift than was received.

But worry over debt is only one of the many factors which disturb people at Christmas. Some scientists, notably Ernest Jones, suspect that a primitive identification with the sun affects mankind, so that the waning of the winter sun rekindles a primitive fear in everyone that human powers are weakening as well.

Some of the responsibility for Christmas depression would then lie with the early Christians who somewhat arbitrarily chose December 25 as Christ’s birthday, usurping the date of the most widely celebrated of pagan festivals. Ardent sunworshippers believed that the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, was the date on which the old sun died and a new one was born. They celebrated giddily: plentiful food and drink, their best attire, fires lit to support the burgeoning young sun. The Romans ornamented their homes with wreaths and exchanged gifts and visits. The Druids gathered mistletoe and the Saxons holly and ivy.

More than three hundred years after the death of Christ, many of the new church’s followers were distressed that the teachings of the forgiving, love-honoring Son were being overshadowed by the harsher tenets of the Father. To elevate the importance of the Son, they decided to establish His birthday as a festival. Since the actual date was debatable (many modern scholars place it in the spring), the symbolism of the pagan feast to the newborn sun made it the most apt choice of several that were tried.

Bawdy beginnings of holy days

It was a technique of the time to smooth the way for conversion by supplanting pagan ceremonies with Christian likenesses. The Feast of the Epiphany, for instance, takes place on the day that Egyptians marked the virgin birth of their god Aeon. The festival of the goddess Diana was replaced with the Assumption of the Virgin and the Celtic Feast of the Dead became All Souls Day.

(Occasionally Christians grow fretful at the bawdy beginnings of some of their holiest days: An act of English parliament in 1644 abolished Christmas as a “heathen festival”; it was reinstated promptly when the Merry Monarch, Charles II, took the throne. )

Similarly, the Jewish ceremonial lighting of candles during Chanukah bears the imprint of pagan sunworshipping. The eight days of Chanukah have some points of resemblance to the Roman Saturnalia, also a festival of goodwill and rejoicing which was observed originally on December 19 and later extended for seven days. Chanukah, the happiest of all Jewish ceremonial days, celebrates the victory of a Jewish tribe, the Maccabees, in history’s first war of conscience.

The selection of deep. dark, cold winter for determined merrymaking sets up an inevitable conflict that many experts blame for some of the despondency of the season. Days of brief sunshine produce their own melancholy. And so does the imminence of the year’s end — the dying of time, years running out, life running out.

In addition to this, for many North American Jews Chanukah has become a period of painful yielding. Their holiday pales beside the more widely and conspicuously celebrated Christmas, a comparison which causes Jewish children to feel bereft. To offset this, some Jewish parents decorate a Christmas tree — calling it a Chanukah bush — and put presents beneath it. These concessions shame the devout. both those who practise them and those who observe their fellow Jews practising them, and thus contribute to holiday depression.

But the deepest and most serious depressions at this time, bordering on a temporary mental illness, are believed to be a legacy of jealousy in childhood. Some doctors have reported in scientific journals that some adults under psychoanalysis even demonstrate an unconscious and corrosive envy of the Infant who receives so much love and attention at Christmas and cannot be competed against.

Other experts are examining a theory that problems arise at Christmas because reality is suspended by the childish pursuit of pleasure. Dr. Cattell observed that most people are healthy enough to manage the intoxication of tinsel, spruce and incense without losing sight of maturity, but others regress firmly into childhood and find a chamber of horrors awaiting them.

The Christmas-Chanukah observances. however, cannot in themselves create an untypical mood. They only exaggerate feelings which during the rest of the year are simmering but kept repressed by the thumb of conscience. At holiday time the conscience relaxes and releases whatever malice and envy it has been hiding.

Sandor Ferenczi, a brilliant Hungarian psychoanalyst, believed that the loosening of external and internal restrictions, which accompanies a holiday-inspired release from routine, is frightening to some people, causing them to grow alarmed, despondent, restive and ill. Among the side-effects of festive easing of the conscience are an aroused sexual appetite and an interest in aberration.

The period surrounding Chanukah, Christmas and New Year’s Day is not only the most chaotic of the year but the most permissive of exuberant behavior. As a consequence it can exert a most disastrous effect on people who are confident only when they are under the control of a routine-filled life. Dr. Jules Eisenbud, a New York psychoanalyst, observed in a paper, Negative Reactions to Christmas, that this season permits “social sanction to forms of enjoyment which at other times must be held to a judicious minimum.” Another psychoanalyst, Dr. L. Bruce Boyer, added, “It is to be expected that the degree of neurotic response to such an intense holiday release would be frequent and severe.”

Psychiatrists arc collecting an interesting dossier of Holiday Syndrome case histories. One of them describes a woman engineer who was exhibitionistic, aggressive and convinced she was unwanted. At Christmas she always felt especially forlorn. “I used to feel that if I didn’t find something wonderful that Christmas, I’d find it another,” she told her doctor. The “something wonderful” was proof that her parents loved her, a gift that was perpetually withheld.

Another woman expressed hatred of her preferred brother only when Christmas approached, a malevolence that always surprised and terrified her. A psychiatrist drew out the underlying cause. As a child, the woman had always felt that her parents favored her brother. This feeling became particularly poignant at Christmas, and in later years, although she had long since forgotten the supposed favoritism, the coming of Christmas revived the hurt.

A department store buyer who also grew up with a much-favored brother became savage in her business relationships with men during the Christmas season and twice was fired because of it. Her doctor discovered she had once asked Santa Claus to change her into a boy so her parents would like her better. The collapse of this confidently expected miracle left her with an annual vendetta against the masculine sex.

A salesman who loathed Christmas traced it to an event when he was nine years old. He discovered a new bicycle hidden behind his house and assumed it was intended for his Christmas gift. When it went instead to his younger, handsomer and more clever brother, he formed a distrust for Christmas that thirty years of living hadn’t healed.

A strongly religious woman went to a psychiatrist when she realized she hated Christ every year at Christmas. She was blaming the Baby, it turned out, for her own emotionally barren childhood. A beautiful young girl began to quarrel viciously with her boy friend at Christmas, becoming demanding and petulant. Her father had deserted her mother, an absence the girl felt most acutely at Christmas and which ever after prodded her apprehension that all men eventually desert their wives.

The Utah psychiatrists studied the case of a man who was so wretched in his home town at Christmas time that he fled to a nudist camp. One father, otherwise a responsible citizen, passed bad cheques every Christmas. Another, who delighted his family with his choice of birthday and anniversary gifts, always refused to do any Christmas shopping at all. A divorcee who felt sentimental about Christmas couldn’t endure being alone then — she cried and broke out in hives.

“Some of the ordinary unhappiness at Christmas is related to the turbulence in the family,” explains Dr. MacLeod. “Quite a few people are sensitive to the strain of household upheaval and are upset by it. The home becomes unfamiliar, which disturbs and worries everyone. You’ll notice that children react by contracting some kind of ailment. We now know there is a definite connection between emotions and the body’s ability to defend itself against some of tile causes of illness.”

Whatever causes it — lack of sunshine, childhood jealousy, confusion, old wounds or apprehension because the lid is off — the Holiday Syndrome is now drawing considerable medical attention. The chief benefit so far is that those who endure the strange malady of loneliness in the midst of gladness, ire instead of awe, know at least that they are not oddities, but members of a substantial group.

They have some practical solutions to ponder. Some families have stopped sending Christmas cards and others exchange few gifts or none at all, investing the resultant saving in CARE packages or local givings. Some individuals have overcome their aversion to Christmas by rooting out their prized collection of old injustices. There is an evident trend toward quieter, sweeter family celebrations, a tendency to savor that has been accelerated by current portents of doom. With the hustle out, it’s astonishing what remains — a sense of holiness, for one, and peace, and even joy.

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What Not To Say To Those Struggling With Mental Illness.

For those who are grieving, the holidays are hardly “the most wonderful time of the year.” Not only are they navigating their pain, they’re doing it during a time that’s supposed to be joyous.

Loved ones often try to alleviate some of the grief a person may be feeling by offering helpful phrases or advice, but what may seem like a supportive statement could actually be exacerbating a person’s sadness, Dan Reidenberg, chair of the American Psychotherapy Association, told The Huffington Post.“Certain statements don’t take into account what the grieving person is feeling,” Reidenberg said. “They end up really focused on the person who isn’t grieving.”

Take a look at advice from Reidenberg and a couple of additional experts and avoid these common pitfalls:

1. “Smile, it’s the holidays.”

While this is a good intentioned way of trying to cheer someone up, it may come across as invalidating.

“Statements like these end up sending a message to the grieving person ‘hide your sadness’ or “’it’s not okay to be sad,’” Reidenberg said. “This hurts them, makes them feel more alone and that their grief might somehow be wrong.”

2. “Next year will be better.”

Grief often makes the future look foggy.

“The holidays are filled with memories of good times, happy times, when loved ones and friends shared experiences and made memories together,” Reidenberg said. “Those are now in the past for the person grieving and that is very hard on them.”
Include the individual in your holiday preparations and just spend quality time with them when they need it, Reidenberg suggested. A supportive presence goes further than you think.

3. Any questions about the details of the death.

Curiosity should be stifled in this case, according to Nancy Marshall, a licensed professional counselor and author of Getting Through It: A Workbook for Suicide Survivors.

“Don’t force anyone to tell the story over and re-expose the trauma,” Marshall told HuffPost. “Your right to the ‘news’ does not trump their need for well-being.”

4. “Let’s try not to think about them right now.”

“People have a hard time being around someone who is sad and grieving, so they often try to take their mind off it or somehow make it better and the reality is that sometimes it just can’t be better,” Reidenberg said.

Acknowledging a person’s loss is crucial. Instead, try asking the grieving individual about any traditions they used to love to do with the person who passed, Reidenberg advised. Allow the person to guide you on how much or little they want to discuss.

5. “They’re in a better place.”

It’s easy to default on cliches, but they often come across as impersonal. Phrases like “everything happens for a reason” and “they’re in a better place now,” can often make a person grieving feel even more isolated if they aren’t at a place where they can accept what happened yet, Reidenberg said.

Try saying something like “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling” or “Is there anything I can do for you?” instead. And never underestimate the power of saying that you’re sorry this happened to them.
Ultimately, grief will subside but your support through the process is vital for the person who is in pain.
“It certainly will never be ‘okay’ that this happened, but time will pass and the sharpest pain will recede from consciousness,” Marshall said. “Always be compassionate with yourself as an observer and with your friend who experienced a horrible loss.”


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Michael Phelps on Life After Swimming and His Battle With Depression.

The most decorated Olympian of all time wants you to know he has bad days — some very bad days — just like so many people. “I’m not a superhuman,” Michael Phelps tells LIVESTRONG.COM. “I’m a human being who was very fortunate to find something that I love and find something that I’m good at and really never give up. But, really, that’s it.”

While he made success in the pool look easy, a shadow hung over the star athlete for years as he battled depression. Now Phelps is sharing more about his mental health issues. “These are things that have been a part of me for so long,” he says. “I just decided it was time to open up and talk about some of the struggles I’ve had in my life. Just being able to get out and talk about it and communicate about it — almost become vulnerable — I think is something that will help a lot of people,” Phelps, who will appear in a new documentary titled “Angst” to talk about his depression and being bullied, tells LIVESTRONG.COM.

Since retiring from swimming with 23 gold medals after the Rio Olympics in 2016, Phelps has had to readjust his routine and figure out what’s next for him. “For a long time, swimming was that thing that got me out of bed every morning early to go and jump in a freezing-cold pool. But now, kind of starting the next chapter for me, I’ve been asking myself where I want to be and what I want to do.”

Those next steps include working on a cause close to his heart: water conservation. “I obviously grew up in water and in around water for a very long time,” Phelps, a global ambassador for Colgate’s Save Water campaign, says about the world’s most vital resource. “I think it’s little small things that we can do together — no-brainers like not leaving the faucet running when you brush your teeth [and taking] shorter showers.”

His life at home with his wife, Nicole Johnson, is also becoming more of a focus, as their son, Boomer, is now 17 months old and they are about to become parents for a second time. But Phelps says he would never force his kids into the athlete life. “For me, I had an awesome mom growing up who was just so supportive of everything that we did,” Phelps says. “If I wanted to quit swimming, she was fine with it because she wanted us to follow our hearts. The only thing I’m adamant about is that [Boomer] has to learn to swim. Other than that, he can play another sport, whatever makes him happy.”

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Almost half of Ontario youth miss school because of anxiety, study suggests.

At five years old, Shannon Nagy told her mother she wanted to die. In Grade 6, she missed almost the entire school year because more often than not, she couldn’t get out of bed.

Nagy, now 20, was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and borderline personality disorder and was never able to finish high school. She spent most of her childhood immersed in a mental health care system that she said “did more harm than good.”

Her struggle to get help and the impact that struggle had on her education is a trend captured in a new survey commissioned by Children’s Mental Health Ontario, released Tuesday.

It found of the 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed across the province:

  • 46 per cent had missed school due to issues related to anxiety.
  • 40 per cent had sought mental health help.
  • Of those, 50 per cent found the experience of getting help challenging.
  • 42 per cent did not get the help they needed or are still waiting.

Parents are also impacted when their child has to wait as long as 18 months for mental health care, said Kimberly Moran, CEO of CMHO, the association that represents Ontario’s publicly funded Mental Health Centres and advocates for government policies and programs.

“Parents miss work and certainly myself as a parent, I have to take time to look after my daughter,” Moran said.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and Ministry of Children and Youth Services did not respond to requests from the Star for comment, with Monday being a holiday.

The study, conducted by research firm Ipsos, surveyed 806 people in October and suggests that a quarter of parents have had to miss work to care for their child due to issues related to anxiety.

When her 11-year-old daughter tried to die by suicide while on a year-long wait list for mental health care, Moran took a four-month leave of absence and then worked part-time. Six years later, she still takes about 10 per cent of the year off to help her daughter.

Half of the parents surveyed found getting their child mental health help was challenging because wait times are long, they don’t know where to go, or service providers don’t offer what their child needs, don’t exist in their community, are too far away or aren’t available at convenient times.

Anxiety is one of the “big front-runners” when it comes to mental illness in youth, said Lydia Sai-Chew, CEO of Skylark Children, Youth and Families, which offers free counselling and mental health services in Toronto. Wait times at Skylark for in-patient programs can be up to six months.

“The difficulty with wait times is that the youth gets more stressed, but so does the family,” Sai-Chew said. “Anxieties build up. They don’t have the strategies and it just gets worse.”

For 13 years, Michele Sparling of Oakville has juggled owning a business and taking care of her son who was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when he was 10 years old.

“If your child is home from school, you’re not leaving them alone,” Sparling said. “You’re worried when you have to step out for a moment. When a fire truck goes through your neighbourhood, you think ‘not my kid, not my kid.’

“That worry is constant.”

She said her family struggled to get her son the help he needed. In between driving him to and from appointments in Toronto, she got used to telling clients she might have to end a meeting at a moment’s notice if a crisis occurred. She watched as her son had to miss school, and continues to care for him now as he struggles with mental illness in university.

“This is not just about this one person, it’s about the bigger picture, the lost potential,” Sparling said. “I think we’re doing young people such a disservice.”

CMHO is asking the province to invest $125 million in community-based mental health centres, staffing and services for children and youth.

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The Power of Empathy.

It’s not so much about sympathizing with people and making them feel better with things or with stories to please their ego. It’s about getting to the core of things with people. Connecting with them, feeling what they are feeling, relating to them and bringing no judgement into the situation at all. Next time you are the ear that listens, provide words that don’t fulfill an ego/mind story and see how much of a difference it makes for the other person.

Read more “The Power of Empathy.”

I’m Depressed And Employed: How I Make It Work.

Since I was 15, I’ve been dealing with depression. I’m not talking about the blues, sadness, or simply the Mondays, but suffocating, full-blown depression—the kind that leaves you empty and hurting all at the same time.

Throughout early adulthood, I had to constantly force myself to go to high school, college, and eventually, a full-time job. But then at 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar and things got even more complicated, adding mania, anxiety, and rapid cycling to the mix of symptoms. It seemed impossible to be productive, and there have been countless days, weeks, and even months when I worried I would lose my job to the all-consuming force of my depression.

In 2013, MacMillan published Perfect Chaos, a memoir co-written by me and my mother, detailing my struggles with depression and her efforts to be there for me. Over the years, I’ve become an expert in my own symptoms and the hows and whys of leading a productive life under these conditions. And while the conversation is being brought further and further out of the dark with each person that decides to speak up, I’d like to offer up some practical advice that’s served me well, because here’s the thing, dear reader: In my many moments of debilitating depression, I have not once lost my job, nor even been reprimanded. Here’s how I make sure to take care of myself within the context of getting out of bed to go to work every day, even when it seems impossible:

1.     I create the quickest morning routine possible, one painful, brilliant step at a time. The night before, I take a shower and choose an outfit. One that makes me feel comfortable, smart, and capable—that just says, “Yes, that’s me, a total badass. I got this.” The next morning, I dress, apply mascara and a bright punch of lipstick, and then I leave. No time to climb back into my closet trying to find body acceptance in a state of morning confusion. Out the door in fifteen minutes flat. No excuses.

2.     Once I arrive at work,  it’s time to make a daily task list. Tasks in general feel utterly impossible when you are depressed. The word “task” makes you want to cry on your desk. But this is important: I ask myself what needs to get done and what I can get done. I break each overwhelming, essential task down to the smallest possible steps and write an in-depth to-do list. Then I only focus on that task. I don’t allow myself to look further down the list. Once I manage that first task, I force myself to do two things: proudly revel in my success and—this is crucial—take a five-minute break.

3.   Next—and this is the hard one—I decide if I need to inform my supervisor. Because depression is constantly recurring in my life, it’s important to let my supervisor know I have a chronic illness. On those days when I do call in, he knows it’s valid. This is also something that you can discuss with your HR manager. Your supervisor doesn’t need to know the gritty details of your struggles; they simply need to know that you are experiencing a health struggle and that you are doing your best to work to your highest ability. You may need to present a doctor’s note to HR, but management may surprise you and support you beyond your expectations.

4.     Lastly, at the end of that exhausting day, I do my best to prepare for the next day and attempt some exercise (those endorphins do help!). Most importantly, I celebrate my victory. When you are depressed, the most powerful thing you can do for yourself is celebrate each accomplishment. You got out of bed; I’m so proud of you! You ate food; you are killing it! You stayed at work for a whole eight hours; you are a superstar! Never stop praising these steps, and slowly but surely you will find your way back out of that hole into the productive light of day.

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Strategies to calm the anxious brain.

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2017 winners of the award at

Does your mind sometimes create thoughts – ones that make you anxious or worried – that you’d rather not have?

When our unconscious brain provides a random thought like this – if we’re not aware – we can become overly focused on these thoughts that can negatively impact our mental health.

This micro skill introduces a concept called cognitive defusion – a strategy we can use when we need to become untangled from our thoughts.

By learning how to defuse unwanted thoughts we can remove their power over us. Those thoughts can be as simple as our mind telling us there’s a difference between what we have and what we want. The thought is nothing more than a warning light. What we do with this thought defines our thinking and emotions.


When an automatic, unwanted, negative thought comes to the top of your mind, doesn’t feel good, and is distracting, the first step is not to fight it or hide from it. Acknowledge it as being present and a source of information. By “thanking our mind” for this thought without fighting it or judging we position ourselves to defuse its intensity, allowing us to use the information for some healthy action.


Dr. William Glasser, author of choice theory, suggested that we may not have 100 per cent control over our thinking, but we have 100 per cent control over our actions. Where our body goes, our mind follows. By changing our focus from troublesome thoughts to an action we enjoy, or by giving our mind an opportunity to engage in something we find interesting, we can leave the negative thought at the curb and take control of our thinking. This is not hiding from the negative thought; it’s moving past it. There may be nothing to do now, and there’s no value in focusing on negativity that’s distracting.


Persistent, negative thoughts that refocused attention doesn’t curb may require more action. Negative thoughts can be like weeds; they can multiply and take over our mind.

Cognitive defusing is about helping gain perspective so that we don’t give negative thoughts power to grow. “See thoughts as what they are, not what they say they are,” advises Steven Hayes, a professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada. Meaning a thought is just a thought – nothing more less.

Accept thoughts by name without any judgment – If negative thoughts are hanging around after you’ve engaged in an activity to re-direct them, this is fine. Stop for a moment and acknowledge the thought by name, like you would when meeting a new person. For example, “So it seems there’s anxiety, because I’m having thoughts that are due to my concerns about money and work.”

Redirect your mind – Take charge of your mind. Unhelpful thoughts are projections of some past or future concern that aren’t happening right now, so re-direct your mind in a non-judgmental way to something more positive. For example, “I get that this thought is providing me information and isn’t as helpful as it could be. Thanks for the anxiety, but I think I’d rather be calm.”

Focus on the now – We live in the now, not the future. Take a deep breath, focus on the now, and recognize that the unhealthy thought has no connection with what’s happening in the present; it’s just a thought. Practice focusing on the now, accept the thought and redirect your focus “since this isn’t happening now and there’s no danger, I’ll focus on getting my planned work done, then get to the gym for a good workout.”

By practicing cognitive defusion you can learn to look at negative thoughts as not being bad, just words and images in your mind that you can shape, process and release. The benefit is that this micro skill can teach you how to accept negative thoughts as information only; they don’t need to dictate your actions or feelings.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell’s Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this

New clinic to support mental health in kids.

The numbers aren’t pretty, but the future may be brighter for families with children experiencing learning or mental-health issues, thanks to a new initiative led by Western Education.

According to Children’s Mental Health Ontario, as many as 1-in-5 children and youth in the province will experience some form of mental-health problem, with 5-in-6 of those not receiving the treatment they need.

The Child and Youth Development Clinic hopes to fill that gap by welcoming children who are currently without access to the types of services the clinic offers. This week, Western opened the clinic’s doors in the former Bank of Montreal Building, 1163 Richmond St., just outside the Western Gates.

“Every family has a child who, at one time or another, is at risk of learning or mental-health issues,” said Vicki Schwean, Education Dean and the clinic’s founder. “Ensuring the mental health and wellbeing of our next generation is immensely important and we’re thrilled to open the doors to the community at our new clinic.”

The clinic offers services for kids 3-18 years of age with educational, psychological, behavioural and speech and language difficulties – without a doctor’s referral.

Parents, guardians and service providers, such as school officials, mental-health providers and doctors, may refer children and youths to the clinic.

Families may call 519-661-4257 to make an appointment. They will be emailed a package asking them to fill out the child’s or youth’s developmental, medical, social or academic history. This information, along with any reports from previous evaluations and/or school information, will help the clinic plan the most appropriate assessment(s).

Cost is based on a sliding scale based on a parent’s income. No health card is required.

Western graduate students – under the supervision of experts in their field – will provide assessment and treatment options for children with educational, psychological, behavioural and speech and language difficulties either individually or in groups.

The clinic has eight Psychology graduate students and eight Speech and Language students.

As a school and clinical child psychologist, Education professor Colin King has learned a lot working in a variety of hospital, community and private settings with children having various learning, social-emotional and behavioural challenges.

“An interdisciplinary assessment provides families with the most complete profile for their child,” said King, who serves as the clinic’s director.

“It takes a village to raise a child. Once we fully understand a child’s developmental, medical and academic history, we can provide the most informed evidence-based psychological assessment, intervention and treatment.”

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“The way someone treats you isn’t meant to be taken lightly. How they treat you, is how they view you‬.”

– j.m.n

The Times You Live In.

It’s been a chaotic few weeks to say the least. I’m grateful for having had the chance to get away for my reading week and take some time to focus on something other than school.

I guess I would say the past couple weeks have been filled with a lot of anxiety and recurrences of my depression. Coming back into school to find out half my courses are cancelled because of a provincial wide strike was a bit much. I pay to learn and I pay to gain experience but yet half my courses including my clinical have been shut down until an agreement has been reached between the two parties. It’s a pretty crappy feeling to not be able to do something you love. It’s even worse when you come across articles pointing out the strike will be ‘protracted’ and previous strike have been 3 weeks +.

I guess I shouldn’t complain too much because I have at least my science courses to focus on and i’m grateful for what the Faculty has done in moving our classes to off campus locations across the city. I also can still attend my community placement which is also always a treat. I think the more I work with kids, the more I enjoy what I do.

Aside from that I can finally say I have recovered from strep throat. I’m usually not one to go see a doctor but even that was rough, who would think a sore throat could cause THAT much misery over three days. It got to the point I realized ibuprofen, lozenges, and my throat spray were not doing anything that I decided I needed to make a visit to the doctor. After sitting in a lecture and half way through googling the nearest walk-in clinic because I had chills and was literally in the most pain i’d ever experienced. I have a lot of respect for people that get it often, it was terrible.

But obviously bad news comes in threes….lucky me. Last week also saw my first car accident happen. Physically I was okay but emotionally I was shaken (or ‘shook’ as the youngin’s say). It was an experience and it still gives me anxiety if I think to hard about it but it’d definitely a learning experience and luckily the car can be fixed and my health is okay. I would say i’ll be more on edge driving now and I choose to walk more to do things rather than drive, but in time my confidence will grow again for driving but for now it’ll be one step at a time.

Aside from that, life is moving forward and i’m just trying to focus on making it through this term. The past couple weeks i’ve found myself in a rut where i’m not feeling motivated but then stress myself out because I don’t feel motivated. A vicious cycle. I guess it’s exciting to think I may actually have a long Christmas break this year (permitted everything goes smoothly) finishing around mid-December. Hopefully will also hear some positive news in regards to the results of my Master’s dissertation in the coming weeks.  Hopefully the new year will see me heading to London to collect my degree and see some good friends :).