The temperature is rising. The birds are singing. Trees are budding, and spring flowers are blooming. Welcome to the first long weekend of the summer (even if the beginning of summer is a month away)! Hopefully Mother Nature cooperates making outside activities a possibility.
Whatever your plans, I wish you a restful and enjoyable weekend. See you next week.
Ah Valentine’s Day! For some, it’s the most romantic day of the year…for others it’s the biggest ‘Hallmark Holiday’ of all time. However, no matter where you fit on that continuum, February 14 can be an opportunity for you to create a personal experience of love, while avoiding the pitfalls that can accompany the day.
The Dark History of Valentine’s Day
Traditionally we may think of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love, cute stuffed toys, kisses and chocolate; however, it’s beginnings were not so cozy. According to a 2011 opinion piece presented on National Public Radio (US), the Romans had a lot to do with the creation of Valentine’s Day.
“From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.
The Roman romantics “were drunk. They were naked,” says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.
The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival — or longer, if the match was right.
The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.”
There wasn’t a cupid in sight!
As time went on, through the 15th and 16th century works of Chaucer and Shakespeare, February 14 took on the more romantic tone that we recognize today. In Britain and Europe, hand-make paper cards became part of the tradition during that time.
Modern Valentine’s Day
What about now? How does an ordinary Canadian mark Valentine’s Day?
A 2016 Montreal Gazette article stated that in 2015, Canadians spent $3.3 billion on chocolate. When we add in money spent on other gifts (flowers, jewelry) and dinners out, our bank accounts went down by an average of $177–all in aid of February 14.
Businesses appreciate this ‘love festival’ as there are no associated discounts associated as there are with Christmas (i.e. pre-holiday and Boxing Day sales).
This holiday is seen to be such a romantic day, that 10 percent of marriage proposals happen on Valentine’s Day!
What If I’m Single?
Traditionally, we think of Valentine’s Day as a celebration for couples. But what if we’re un-coupled? No worries! Business has found a solution! Thanks to the Canadian Association of Professional Cuddlers (CAPC), you can hire a professional cuddler to spend Valentine’s Day with. Cuddling starts at $45 for 30 minutes and goes up to $155 for two hours. If you’re looking for skin-to-skin cuddling, there is an additional fee per hour. Cuddlers are trained to ensure that everyone is safe and comfortable at all times.
Some single people will participate in Single Awareness Day–a celebration of the love of friends, family and self. Individuals recognize the day by getting together with loved ones, buying themselves a gift and/or taking part in a favourite activity.
It appears that if you want to celebrate, there are many options.
Expectations…A Roadblock on the Road of Romance
Sometimes this ‘holiday of love’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Based on what I hear personally and professionally, Valentine’s Day can be a minefield…and I don’t mean the “Will you be mine” variety! The problem comes down to expectations about how our partners should show their love. However, there may be a solution.
Gary Chapman, in his 1995 book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate; outlines the five ways that we show and accept love from our significant other(s). These are: giving/receiving gifts, spending quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion) and physical touch. When a couple doesn’t understand each other’s ‘love language’ hurt feelings can erupt.
Let’s look at Bob and Sue…Valentine’s Day is around the corner and Bob has dropped many (what he thinks are obvious) hints about his ideal gift (Kitchener Rangers tickets). Sue has decided that she will surprise Bob by taking their children to her parents home for an over-night visit and then making him a romantic dinner. A clash is possible as Bob is looking forward to tickets, and Sue is imaging Bob’s appreciation and delight at all the work she has done to make Bob feel loved.
When we are part of a couple, it’s important to communicate with each other about our expectations–especially as these can change over time. If you’re curious about your ‘love language’, check out Dr. Chapman’s site and take the quiz. It may be useful pre-Valentine’s Day activity!
Speaking of Communication…
Valentine’s Day can bring a lot of pressure to new relationships. What does my new person want? Will dinner out be too much? Too little? My last partner really loved jewelry, but is it too soon in this relationship? What impression will my gift give? Maybe I’ll just go out of town on February 14 and skip the entire thing!
What would happen if Valentine’s Day became an opportunity to have a meaningful conversation around expectations–what we like, what we don’t? Is this something we want to celebrate as a couple?
I wonder how many hurt feelings and broken relationships could be avoided by having a simple conversation?
Despite all the buildup, February 14 is just another day on the calendar. No matter how you choose to spend it, I wish you love and your fair share of chocolate!
When I was a pre-teen, I would spend New Year’s Eve with my grandmother. She would sleep over to be with me and my younger sibling while our parents celebrated with friends. For me, it was a highlight of the holiday season. After everyone else was in bed, Nana and I would spend the evening watching TV–alternating between Guy Lombardo and Dick Clarke’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. At midnight, we’d “be” in Times Square watching the magic of the ball dropping and a new year beginning.
Snap Shots of Our Lives
Certain life stages often become equated with a particular event. For some people, hearing a certain song will immediately transport them back to memories of a high school friend or their first summer job. For others, the smell of a favourite food reminds them of summers at a cottage or time spent in a grandparent’s kitchen.
Annual events, like New Year’s Eve, can lead us to revisit past times. If you’re old enough to remember the more than a few opportunities that you brought in the new year, you can track your life stages by your memories. Each stage has its own flavour–from being the child allowed to stay up and watch the ball drop, to the parties with friends or extended family, to sharing the event with the children in your life. This is just one example. Everyone has their own story. Not all the chapters may be happy ones; in fact, some may be very painful–but they are our own personal stories, and looking back at them can provide insight into how we arrived to this place.
An Alternative to New Year’s Resolutions
Last year at this time, I wrote a post about the problems with setting New Year’s resolutions. This year, I offer an alternative–The Annual Theme!
The idea behind having a theme is that it sets a course for the year, without tying us down to specific actions. Instead of “thou shalt not”, we can be kinder to ourselves by choosing activities that fit into an area where we would like to focus.
One of the big resolutions that come up at this time is about losing weight. If we follow the “resolution” way of working on this goal, we might banish junk food from our cupboards, hold ourselves to a strict gym schedule, and count fat grams and/or calories…we may even try the latest trendy diet. Often, by the end of January we find ourselves to be tired, resentful and craving large doses of sugar, fat and salt. We are left feeling that we have failed yet another resolution, with a plan to try again next year.
But what if?….
Let’s take the same goal (losing weight), and instead of being fixed on this outcome, took a look at the bigger picture–health. Maybe our motivation to lose weight is from a beauty perspective (and that’s ok, we all want to look good!), but for a lot of us, there is also a health component to this desire. We want to feel better, be able to run up a flight of stairs or go for a walk without running out of breath.
If health becomes the theme for the year, then we look at all our decisions through that lens. By doing this, we change our actions because we are comparing possible outcomes of choices against improving our health. Walk a block to the store or take the car? Which will improve my health? Eat the second piece of cake or walk away from the table? How will this effect my health?
Over time, looking through the lens becomes easier and the choices second nature because we start to see how those small, daily choices reflect our annual theme.
Another Reasons Why a Theme is a Good Idea
When we set resolutions, we often spread ourselves very thin. Sometimes we “resolve” to change every bad habit that we own. We’re going to quit smoking, lose weight, get off the couch, rid our homes of clutter…the list is endless. It takes a lot of energy trying to keep up with all those plans and activities.
When we pick a theme, we focus on one area–and then make individual choices–usually one at a time. For this reason, I recommend not choosing more than two themes for the year. If you are going to have more than one, it’s important that they can co-exist (for example, health and spending more time with family members).
This New Year’s Eve, I encourage you to take some time and think about the stages you’ve gone through as you’ve rung in the new year (past and present)–celebrating the joys and sorrows.
As I wish you all the best for 2018, here’s a slice of nostalgia from Guy Lombardo as he and his Royal Canadians rang in 1958…and New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 1974 (hosted by George Carlin)…Enjoy!
The following poem, written by Maureen Killoran , found me the other day. It summarizes what I wish for you, not just for this holiday season, but every season. Take care.
A CHRISTMAS PRAYER
Not gold, nor myrrh, nor even frankincense
would I have for you this season,
but simple gifts, the ones that are hardest to find,
the ones that are perfect, even for those who have everything (if such there be).
I would (if I could) have for you the gift of courage,
the strength to face the gauntlets only you can name,
and the firmness in your heart to know that you (yes, you!)
can be a bearer of the quiet dignity that is the human glorified.
I would (if by my intention I could make it happen) have for you the gift of connection,
the sense of standing on the hinge of time,
touching past and future
standing with certainty that you (yes, you!) are the point where it all comes together.
I would (if wishing could make it so) have for you the gift of community,
a nucleus of love and challenge,
to convince you in your soul that you (yes, you!) are a source of light in a world too long believing in the dark.
Not gold, nor myrrh, nor even frankincense, would I have for you this season,
but simple gifts, the ones that are hardest to find,
the ones that are perfect,
even for those who have everything (if such there be).
As I write this, the weather has become colder, decorations are in store windows and the local grocery store has been playing carols since the day after Halloween. Whatever your tradition: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Festivus, it’s becoming impossible to ignore the fact that the holidays are fast approaching.
While main-stream media perpetuates the idea of the holidays as a time of gift-giving, spending time with family and friends and eating beautifully prepared food; this is not the reality for many people. For some people, financial difficulties may prevent them from buying the same number or type of gifts they were able to give in previous years. For others, 2017 may have brought a change in family/relationship structures either through death, divorce or family members and/or friends moving away. Even happy events such as the birth of a child or the addition of a new adult member into the family can lead to changes in previous holiday traditions.
Instead of anticipating the holidays with a sense of dread, how can we make the ‘season’ as peaceful as possible?
Consult and Plan Ahead
Once we recognize that not only is the festive season coming, but that it will be ‘different’ this year; having a plan for the holidays goes a long way to working through any potential rough spots.
Contrary to popular belief, traditions can adapt to deal with new circumstances. However, consultation is key. If these traditions involve others, a sound idea is to have ‘the conversation’ before the event is looming. That way everyone is agreed on the new plan and has time to make necessary changes. For example, Aunt Shirley may not be open to limiting the price of gifts to $10, if you tell her the week before Christmas, and she has already spent $100 on your gift.
Do Something Completely Different
Sometimes it can be fun to take a break from our traditions and do something completely different. Rather than missing what isn’t there, we focus on doing something new. Often families may choose to travel over the holiday season rather than be reminded of a loss–whether it’s loved one, relationship, job, pet, etc. Once they are through the ‘year of firsts’ they may return to their regular plans, but in the short-term creating a new plan is a way of getting through the ‘first holiday’.
If You Are Going To Be Alone, Take Advantage of the Holiday Buildup
In most traditions, the celebrations last for more than one day. Let’s take Christmas for example. While the main focus is usually on December 25th, many events start to happen anytime from mid-November onward. If you know that you are going to be alone on “the day” (and this isn’t your first choice), get your fill of pre-December 25th events, and then plan a special day for yourself filled with activities that have special meaning for you.
No matter your holiday tradition, one common factor is love for each other. This time of year provides many opportunities to give back to your community. Volunteer at a shelter, visit seniors in retirement homes whose family members are unable to visit, offer to take care of a friend’s pet (who wasn’t invited to holiday celebrations)…the list is endless.
By lifting our eyes from our own situations, we have a wider view of the world and places where we can be helpful.
“Festivas for the Rest of Us!”
And now…Festivas! Enjoy! Warning…Seinfeld’s humour may not appeal to everyone.
For Canadians, this weekend is Thanksgiving–a time to get together with family and friends, eat copious amounts of food and think about what/who we are thankful for. While as a culture we have set aside Thanksgiving to be a time of gratitude, I suggest that gratitude is something we should be aware of daily.
What is Gratitude?
One of my recent, favourite books is The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, written by Douglas Abrams. In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama spent five days together in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday and to discuss, in detail, their thoughts on joy (it’s nature, components, and the obstacles to experiencing it). The details of these conversations were chronicled by Abrams and compiled into this book.
How do these esteemed spiritual leaders define gratitude?
“Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment we are experiencing. Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savour it.”
While gratitude may be a natural response to life, our experiences aren’t always positive. What about thankfulness when life is difficult?
Gratitude When The Going Gets Rough
The opening sentences in M. Scott Peck’s classic book The Road Less Traveled is: “Life is difficult. This is a great truth. One of the greatest truths.” We know this. As humans, we experience grief, loss, stress, sickness, anger, anxiety. Our fellow humans disappoint us, or we disappoint ourselves. “Life is difficult.”
However, what if there are seams of light, threaded throughout the difficulty? If we can trust that they are there, thankfulness helps us to recognize these glimmers in the dark.
Why Practice Gratitude?
As human beings it’s easy to get stuck in the “full catastrophe”of our lives–the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s often hard to look up from our challenges, and it’s easy to take our good fortune for granted. As Joni Mitchell famously sang in Big Yellow Taxi, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone”. That’s why it’s important that we focus and be grateful for what is in our lives in this moment.
“Both Christian and Buddhist traditions, perhaps all spiritual traditions, recognize the importance of gratefulness. It allows us to shift our perspective, as the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop counseled, toward all we have been given and all that we have. It moves us away from the narrow-minded focus on fault and lack and to the wider perspective of benefit and abundance.”
The magic of gratitude comes from this shift in perspective. When we are grateful, the glass is no longer half empty, but half full.
When I work with individuals who are coping with challenges, we often explore their history for times when they have survived and grown from past difficulties. As we look at what they learned and the resiliency gained from this experiences, they may feel thankful. While they wouldn’t want to re-live the rough times, in hindsight, they also wouldn’t ask to have them taken away–the benefits are too great. This new perspective helps them to see the opportunities for growth in their current situation.
A Way to Practice Gratitude
One of the easiest ways to practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. At the end of the day, take some time to reflect on the day and what gave you joy. What helped you to learn or grow? Did an interaction with someone give you a lift? Were you able to help someone else? Perhaps, not all the events were positive, and look for the benefits in those as well. Maybe your flat tire gave you a chance to relax while you waited for CAA. Maybe you kept your cool during a conflict. Think about the seams of light in the darkness.
Once you have thought about the day, pick a few to write about.
The benefits of this practice are a change of perspective (as discussed above), as well as an increasing sense of awareness. When we commit to this daily exercise, we start to be mindful of things we can be thankful for. As we practice, our gratitude grows.
Gratitude is an enhancement to life.
Now, one of the best gratitude songs of all time…Enjoy! And Happy Thanksgiving!
We are a hardy people living in the northern hemisphere! While we may enjoy snowy and cold activities–we also lust for spring–especially after an especially cold, dark or wet winter. Whether it’s a longing for spring or the desire for a distraction from the cold, enter Ground Hog Day!
First popular in 1956, February 2nd is set aside each year as a day to place our faith in the predictions of a ground hog to forecast the coming of spring. While Wiarton Willie (an albino ground hog from Wiarton, Ontario) was the original weather-forecasting rodent, he has been joined by Shubenacadie Sam (Nova Scotia), Gary the Ground Hog (Ontario), Balzac Billy (Alberta) and Brandon Bob (Manitoba).
For those who are unaware of the process–people get up before dawn to wait for their groundhog of choice to come out of his den. If the animal sees his shadow, he flees back into his den and we’re destined for six more weeks of winter. If not, spring is on the way.
According to Willie’s website, he has been able to predict Spring with a 90% accuracy rate.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
All fun aside, some people need spring, and the longer hours of daylight, for bigger reasons than to get a break from the cold and dark. These are people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a type of depression that is related to the change of season. It is experienced by individuals who are not usually depressed at other times of the year. It often begins, and ends, at the same time every year. While most people who suffer from SAD do so in the winter, some may do so in the summer instead.
How Do I Know If I Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?
There are a variety of symptoms that people coping with SAD are dealing with. These include:
Problems getting along with other people
Hypersensitivity to rejection
Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
What Causes SAD?
While there are no known clear-cut causes, we do have some ideas of what may bring on SAD.
Your biological clock (circadian rhythm).The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
Serotonin levels.A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
Melatonin levels.The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
What Can I Do?
There are many ways that you can cope with SAD symptoms. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, some or all may help.
Increase Your Exercise
While it’s easy to hunker down during the winter, especially when feeling depressed, increasing your level of exercise has been shown to improve negative effects of SAD. Exercise releases endorphins (the ‘feel good’) hormone as well as improving seratonin levels.
Cut Back on Simple Carbs
During cold days, when we spend more time on the couch, we may also be spending more time with white pasta, candy, potato chips, cookies and other ‘comfort’ foods. Unfortunately, these foods cause sharp spikes in our glucose levels that play havoc with our moods. If you’re suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder, it’s a good idea to pay special attention to eating well.
Take Advantage of Natural Light
When possible open your drapes or shutters to let in the sun (when it makes an appearance!). Spend time outside by going for a walk, shoveling the driveway, or inviting friends over for a snowball fight or snowman-building competition. As long as you dress warmly, it can be fun.
Use a Natural Spectrum Energy Light
If Mother Nature doesn’t provide enough natural light, box light therapy is an alternative. Natural spectrum energy lights mimic the sun’s rays. While data on the results of these lights is mixed, many people say that they are helpful.
Make a Point of Socializing
When we’re feeling depressed, often the last thing we want to do is be with other people. However, this is often what is needed. If possible, plan a regular get-together with friends–even a coffee date will do.
Meet with a Therapist and/or Medical Professional
As with any form of depression, sometimes it becomes difficult to cope with. If you are feeling unsafe, hopeless, attempting to self-soothe with self-harming behaviours, alcohol or drugs, feel that SAD is taking over life or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for professional help ASAP. You don’t have to cope with this alone.
Spring, and with it warmer and longer days, will come again! For laughter…here’s a clip from the iconic movie Ground Hog Day…featuring the famous Punxsutawney Phil (Pennsylvania’s Ground Hog)….and Bill Murray. (Spoiler alert…contrary to what the ending looks like…they survive!). Enjoy!
Welcome to 2017 and the first blog post at Blaikie Psychotherapy! My hope is that you will find them useful and thought-provoking.
As humans, we are fascinated by new beginnings. It’s an opportunity to turn the page on what has gone before and start again. While some people see the beginning of a new school year in this light, the clicking over into a new calendar year is culturally treated as a chance to sweep out the old and bring in the new. Some people, myself included, like to clean house and put away Christmas decorations on New Year’s Day as a way to welcome the new year.
A big component of this ‘starting over’ philosophy is New Year’s resolutions. The idea that we set intentions for the New Year has become such a large part of our cultural experience, that talking about our resolutions is a frequent topic of conversation in the time between December 26 and midnight on the 31st.
A web search for New Year’s resolutions shows 3,700,000 results–everything from why we should make them, how to make them, how to keep them, and statistics on if we keep them. According to one site, the top 10 resolutions for 2015 were: lose weight/exercise more, stop smoking, drink less, eat healthier food, spend less/save more, learn new things, travel, give back to the community and spend more time with family. All admirable goals; and we all know how busy the gym gets in January, only to fall back to normal levels in February!
A Problem with New Year’s Resolutions
I have to admit that I have a problem with New Year’s resolutions. After decades of falling short on the ones I’ve set, I wonder if we are set up to fail. There’s something about the ‘stroke of midnight’ starter’s pistol…ready, set, eat healthy food!…that feels abrupt. All the top 10 resolutions involve lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes require planning, dedication and support. With all the business of the holidays, I was never able to find the time to plan for January lifestyle changes.
Let’s take the resolution to stop smoking for example: are you a person who can quit cold-turkey or do you need to taper off? Do you need medical support to conquer this addiction? Do family members and/or friends smoke? Have you thought about how not smoking may affect these relationships or spoken to them about the change you want to make? Will they be supportive in whatever way you need?
We can do the same exercise for any resolutions.
This year, my resolution will be to encourage gentleness—both to myself and others. This means that I will try to accept others and myself as we are. Holding the both/and of who we are now along with the people that we would like to become as we experience life—and being OK with both. Rather than a change that will start at the stroke of midnight on January 1, it will be a way of being that I hope to grow into. I know that I may not always be successful, and that there is value in the attempt.
Happy New Year! I wish you all the gentleness, peace, health and joy that exist.
Now, on a lighter note, let’s dance into the new year.