Treading Water

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.

I have never been a strong swimmer. Despite many years that my parents insisted I take swimming lessons, I rarely advanced to next levels and struggled grasping the basic skills. I remember, from all those years ago, the importance that was placed on treading water. We would be taken into the deep end of the pool, and taught how to keep our heads above water. The rational was always should we ever find ourselves in deep water, we needed to be able to keep our heads above water. With our legs and arms moving rhythmically to the point of exhaustion, sometimes sinking under but popping back up again, we kept our heads above water. The exercise always ended before the point of complete exhaustion, when the instructor would throw us a life preserver of sorts. We would make our way to the side of the pool in relief, letting our exhausted limbs be still.

Today is World Suicide Awareness Day. Despite awareness programs in many communities and schools, suicide largely remains a difficult topic to discuss – shrouded in misunderstanding, denial, and secrecy. Those contemplating suicide often feel unheard, sensing help unavailable. (Please read on for resources that are available.) Those wanting to help often feel powerless, unsure of how to proceed – sometimes reacting in anger or panic.

When I think about the emotional turmoil someone experiences at the point when suicide becomes an option, I think about treading water. I think about the utter exhaustion they are feeling, often building overtime, of not being able to keep their head above water. When a life preserver isn’t thrown at the moment it is needed or when it is thrown but it seems just out of reach. When they feel there isn’t an once of strength left to keep their head above water. This is the reason I write this blog – to help even just one person grab that life preserver, and connect with a glimpse of

If ending your life is starting to make sense as an option, please reach out for help. Suicide is a permanent solution that we cannot turn back from. All other options may not seem adequate enough in your moment of despair. So many of us are conditioned to be self-reliant and self-sufficient and reaching out for help can seem like a weakness. It might even feel as though you are not worthy of receiving help, or that if you ask for help it will not be given. “Once you choose hope, anything is possible”. If there is no one you feel you can reach out to, please call the helpline, or use an on-line anonymous suicide prevention chat site. Suicide is not the only way out. 

quote_-far-better-things-aheadHere is a list of options if you are feeling suicidal right now: 


Reference: the quote “Once you choose hope, anything is possible” is from Christopher Reeve

Spending Time with the Green-eyed Monster

(A.K.A. Jealousy and Envy)

In January, my class with the VCS focused on jealousy and envy. We explored the differences between the two, and the messages each brings (using the work of Karla McLaren). We explored the concepts in the context of a real life scenario – which lead to some interesting discussion and ideas! We ended the class with a boundary exercise designed to 1) ground students when the strong emotions come on, and 2) create a boundary (felt-sense of safety) in order to work through the emotion.

Jealousy and envy are often used interchangeably. While they do have similar messages, they are actually different emotional states. After exploring a few different resources, including the dictionary, I found the following statement helpful in determining the difference between the two:

“You can feel envy about something you don’t have but want, but you feel jealousy over something you already have and are afraid of losing” (McLaren, 2010).

Some important points to remember here:

  • there are no good vs. bad emotions
  • all our emotions arise to give us powerful messages
  • we can learn to tune in, and listen to those messages
  • we can learn to notice the felt-sense of the emotion
  • when we can be with our emotions (and not fear them) we tend to feel more balanced

Both jealousy and envy include anger and fear, and both can leave us feeling inadequate. The message in them often pertains to our intuition (we are sensing that something isn’t right), and self-protection (we are not feeling safe, and have an intrinsic desire to return to state of safety). Now, with strong emotions arising, we typically have three courses of action:

  1. Suppress it: When we do not feel comfortable with our emotions, we tend to stuff them and put on a happy face. It doesn’t feel right though, and we know we are not being true to ourselves. And to make matters worse, when we suppress our emotions, they tend to find their way out in unhealthy ways.
  2. Express it: Sounds good, right? Not really – when we express our emotions in their mood state, we tend to say hurtful things. Things that later make us feel shameful for saying, and really only have a negative impact on our relationships.
  3. Understand why the jealousy or envy came up, and work through the emotions that came flooding forward. While this may seem like the hardest option, it is also the one that brings with it greater self-awareness and an opportunity for regulation.

Practice 4: Grounding with a Boundary for Jealousy

The technique we used for regulation was a boundary exercise from Karla McLaren. While I cannot provide the entire write-up here, I’d love to share some point-form prompts, to help you stay on track with your practice.

  • Allow yourself to settle into your chair, noticing the warmth of your breath in, and out. Notice solid floor beneath you, imagine the warmth of  your breath moving down, right into the ground. Take a moment to notice what’s going on in your body; just be curious about what you are sensing, and without trying to change it. If you notice any tension or emotional upset, notice where in your body you feel it. Notice what it’s about for a moment, then imagine directing it downward into the earth. Letting your breath envelop it, and see if the tension eases up a little
  • Take a moment to image a protective boundary around you. What colour would it be
  • Notice that connection between your feet and the ground. What sensations are arising in your body? How does it feel to set a boundary for self?
  • Jealousy contains anger. It feels fiery, flaring and intense or simmering and steaming.  If we move it into the boundary – outside yourself so you can make sense of the message it is giving you – then you can reclaim your personal space and connect with a sense of calm.
  • Visualizing the boundary helps us make sense of the anger that accompanies jealousy, so that we can make sense of what it is really telling us
  • Emotions want us to take action: but if you try to take action before you restore your boundary, you will likely over-compensate (explode) or under-compensate (and collapse and suppress)
  • Noticing your breath in, the warmth of your breath as you inhale and slowly exhale
  • When you think of feeling jealousy, what is the message in the emotion? What has been betrayed? Examine your own sense of worthiness and security – what needs to be healed, secured? The goal is to return to a sense of feeling emotionally resourced, rather than powerless.
  • Sensing into that connection between your feet and the ground. Just know you can call upon the visualization of your boundary anytime, to slow down and settle strong emotions, and return to balance.

All of our emotions bring with them important messages. If we tune in and listen, we can hear that message and respond appropriately. I hope that is what students are able to take away from these classes – the ability to notice their emotions, tune in for the message, settle strong emotional upset in healthy ways, and learn to respond to those emotions, and thus to others, in healthy ways


McLaren, K (2010). The Language of Emotions: What your feelings are trying to tell you.

Rethinking Worry

My class at the VCS in December focused on worry and anxiety. Starting with a description and discussion of the differences between these, the focus was on strategies to be with emotions differently (working from a felt-sense, and building both grounding and emotion-regulation skills).

So what does worry, anxiety, fear, and panic have in common? Each state amps up our nervous system: awakening our senses and moving us into readiness for action – for our survival. Each state has a helpful side to it as well as a problematic side.worry_bird

Worry can encourage us to take action to change a situation. For example, a few years back I was worried that I wasn’t confident driving a car with standard transmission (which was all I had to drive at the time). I took a few extra driving lessons to gain experience and build confidence. The problematic side of worry however, shifts our thinking into a negative and catastrophic cycle. Focusing on themes that exacerbate a sense of helplessness, incongruence, and unpredictability can spiral us into anxiety. Worrying at this end of the continuum tends of focus on imagined future problems, which, by their very nature exceed our present-moment problem-solving abilities. In my example, had I focused on stalling the car while at an intersection, or rolling back down a hill, my worries would have shifted into anxiety and I might have found excuses to just not drive the car!

The trouble with worrying is that it appears as though it should be helpful. After all, we are in a sense working through a problem from many different angels! As practical as that sounds, worrying does not help us find solutions to our problems, mainly because the focus of worry tends to center on problems that can not be solved with present-moment resources.

“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened”
– Mark Twain

The anxiety reaction serves us well if we are presented with real-life danger and need to respond rapidly and effectively to the situation. It activates our body and our mind, putting us on high alert and causing us to scan for possible danger. Anxiety is always an attempt to stay safe – our bodies built-in survival mechanism. Anxiety becomes problematic when there is no real danger and the anxiety response goes off anyway. It becomes a problem when the intense felt-sense of anxiety and the cognitions of anxiety get in the way of our daily activities. The thoughts associated with anxiety most often focus on the future, which can lead to too many unresolved “what ifs”. These are problematic by nature because we can not foresee the future, and they have a tendency to lead us towards the negative. As we move into anxiety, subtle changes start to take place in the body as the nervous system moves into activation. The anxiety response serves us well if we are faced with real danger (flight/fight/freeze response). It is less helpful when the danger is imagined and we are trying to evaluate a future course of action: forecasting the worst-case scenario just leaves us feeling apprehensive and fearful.

Practice 1: Grounding
Learning a new way to be with emotions can ben challenging. And just reading about it, or talking about it, doesn’t really help us learn how to do it. We have to actually learn to connect with the felt sense of emotion, and develop ways to settle the discomfort or fear that can arise when we do that. To do this, I used a guided mindfulness meditation for grounding that worked with deepening the breath.

Practice 2: Noticing the Felt-Sense of Emotion
Instead of running from worry, try focusing your attention on the way worry impacts you (for example, when you notice yourself worrying, what triggered it, how do your thoughts change, what sensations do you experience in your body, what is your typical response pattern for coping?). Once you have tuned in, use the grounding technique, and then prepare yourself to deal with the situation. Sometimes we need to pause and tune in so that we can respond to the situation with conscious intention. 

Practice 3: Linguistics Play a Role
The words we use play a strong role in how we perceive our self, others, and the world around us. Our words have the power to impact our quality of life – some words can be destructive, and other words can be empowering. Over the next few days, tune in to the words you use. Do you use a lot of “I can’t”, or should, could, always, never, or other words that focus on pain, scarcity, or blame? If you catch yourself using them, try swapping them out for statements that are more empowering. For example:

  • I can’t = I’m currently struggling with
  • It’s a problem = It’s an opportunity
  • I’m not getting it = I am learning and growing
  • What am I going to do? = I will be able to handle this
  • It’s terrible! = I can move on from this

McLaren, K (2010). The Language of Emotions: What your feelings are trying to tell you.
Miller, K (2012). Mind-Body Attunement Therapy: Clinical Strategies

You want me to do What??! A Recipe for Creating Presence

I recently started an on-line parenting workshop. My motivation for taking it was 2-fold:

  1. I am a parent, and often have moments of complete bewilderment. I read a quote recently that completely sums it up: “Parenting is like looking both ways before crossing the road, and then being hit by an airplane”
  2. I often work with parents in my counselling practice, and want to ensure I am knowledgeable on age-appropriate approaches and research

It is a brilliant program – based on theory first, with the goal of inspiring parents to work from a philosophical approach that acknowledges both child developmental needs and attachment theory – then branching out to assist parents in understanding how to apply that theory. I am really enjoying it.

However, I have noticed that while the approaches are fantastic, there isn’t mention of why parents often are not able to stick with their best parenting intentions. I’m talking about how often child behaviours can trigger a parent. When a person is triggered, they are no longer in the moment. When a person is triggered, they are experiencing emotions, physical sensations, and thoughts from a past time when perhaps they were hurt in some way. These are the moments when our reactions do not fit the situation at hand. These are the moments when we tend to say things we regret. And these are the moments that as parents, we stray from our best intentions.

Working through our painful memories and experiences in therapy is certainly one way to end the power of triggers. Deep breathing is another tool that is super powerful at moving a person out of a trigger and back into the present moment. I’d like to offer another tool that can be used right away. It’s a form of mindfulness meditation that when used daily, can take both the power out of the trigger and also reduce the chances of your child’s behaviour triggering you. It’s called the Loving Kindness Meditation. While there are many versions, I’d like to share one that was written up by Jack Kornfield, a leader in mindfulness writings.

Here is how it works:

Take a few moments every day – perhaps in the morning, or before you go to bed at night. Read each of the following lines, pausing after each to genuinely visualize what that would look like for you – without judgment, and with loving kindness in your heart. Once you are finished, read the lines again, this time pausing to visualize your child. Genuinely wish these things for your child, without judgment, and with loving kindness in your heart.

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be safe from internal and external danger.

May I be well in my body and my mind.

May I be at ease and happy.

Hint: when reading it with your child in mind, change the phrases to read “May you be…”. Taking just a few minutes each day to shift your focus into loving kindness can have a profound impact on how you handle those tough situations. Give it a go – I’d love to hear how you find it!

Loving Kindness meditation from Jack Kornfield,

Fresh Start (Welcome 2015-2016 School Year!)

wonderfulI am so pleased to be welcomed back to another year mentoring with the Vernon Community School students. I always see fresh starts as a chance to evaluate what I’ve been doing – what has worked and what hasn’t – and how can I do better? The start of a new school year is no different. Last year with the VCS, I taught a bunch of concepts in emotions and assisted students with the beginnings of affect regulation. This year, I wanted to invite the students into my curriculum planning process. We talked about what we did last year, and created a plan for this year. Thank you to all the students returning to my class – you know who you are and I am so pleased to see you! And welcome to all the new faces! I invite to join me with an open mind, a curious heart, and a playful attitude.

The Topics
I asked the class about the big emotions we should work on, and the following this was generated. I present it here in the same order in which we will follow over the next few months.

1. Fear, Terror, and Panic
2. Jealousy and Envy
3. Anger
4. Stress and Anxiety
5. Guilt and Shame
6. Sadness and Grief
7. Depression

Themes and Theoretical Underpinnings:
There is a lot of learning material, research, and theory that informs my work with the Vernon Community School students. If you are curious about what I will be bringing to the table during each class, please explore the list below.

  • Emotion Regulation Skills
    • Grounding
    • Resourcing
    • Breathing
    • Mindfulness
    • Bilateral Stimulation
  • Creating connections with happiness, joy, calm, and quiet
  • Neuroscience
  • Empathetic Skills
    • Getting grounded
    • Defining boundaries
    • Burning contacts
    • Conscious planning
    • Rejuvenating yourself
  • Narrative Therapy
  • Communicating emotions
    • Non-violent communication
  • Understanding the role of distraction, avoidance, addiction, resistance

It will be a great year!

What does Change mean to You?

If you are like most people, change can feel over-whelming. Change is about moving beyond the familiar, the predictable, the traversed terrain. And to be honest, that can evoke a little fear. And a whole lot of uncertainty. What do we most often do when we feel fearful and uncertain? We proceed with caution. In the face of change, that might look like vacillating between options with indecision; it might look like clinging to the past; or worse, seeing the past as all good through those delusory rose-colored glasses. Fear kicks our survival instincts into action, which might just leave us sticking with what we know, leaving us fleeing from change.

A sense of loss is another emotion that accompanies change. We often associate loss with emotional suffering. When we allow ourselves to fully experience and allow all of our emotions, we find that it’s less about ‘suffering’, and more about processing, letting go, and kindling hope. We need to feel our emotions, and allow ourselves to embrace the hard work of planning and implementing and revising that new life directions invite.

A Recent Big Change

After several years having an office at Arise Chiropractic, I found myself in for a change. I was in need of a new office location. And like so many of us, I experienced strong emotions as I encountered uncertainty, hesitance, and doubt. Eventually, uncertainty melted away as a new opportunity unfolded, and hope began to re-ignite. As the move became a reality I felt a bittersweet sadness: excitement for the new opportunity combined with loss as I said goodbye to the Team I’d spent the last 3 years being a part of. I took my time: having the important conversations with others but as well as with my own emotional processing. I do believe that change can make us stronger. We come face to face with our doubts. Moving out of our comfort zone challenges us to be braver, to be stronger, to be more self-aware, and maybe even a little more compassionate. I took the leap of faith and moved. I ordered new furniture, then cancelled the order and started over. I painted, then I re-painted. I moved in the furniture, only to move some out and re-arrange other pieces. I put art up. I took art down. I sat in the room and pondered the space. But in the end it all came together. And the creation is now a beautiful, comfortable, cozy, private space for the healing work of counselling to unfold.

When we embrace change, including all the emotions change evokes – anxiety, worry, frustration, and anger and sadness – we grow as people. Sometimes it’s about taking a leap of faith. And it is always about believing in yourself. Trusting that no matter how the cards fall, you won’t fall. Be open to change – you are capable of more than you know!

Check Live Happy Counselling out at my new location: The White House Wellness Centre. 

Featured image

Listening to our Emotions

(Lesson 3 with the Vernon Community School, SD22) Let’s try to make sense today of what it would mean to experience our emotions in a different way. Rather than fearing them and shutting them down – actually noticing the sensations of our emotions, and considering the messages within the emotions. How do we learn to hear the message of the emotion? Well, emotions are often felt in the body – there is some sensation stirred up. Because of that, it seemed fitting to start our group today by thinking about a recent situation (unique to each student) that triggered some emotion. Once each student had an example in mind, I asked them to notice what sensations stirred up in their bodies. The students noticed that there was a lot of muscle tension that accompanied their emotions: tightness in their chest, throat, and stomach. Some students giggled and noticed a lot of nervous energy in their bodies. The key is to notice the emotion in your body: just observing the sensations the emotion evokes in your body, and less of those verbal descriptions. Become a curious observer – notice and track the sensations, and how they change (intensifying or lessening). Ultimately, if we learn to notice our emotions and how they impact us, we can tap into the message of the emotion and perhaps even the energy of that emotion – and that emotion will then despite. But what if it doesn’t? Sometimes our emotions do run awry. What if fear bubbles up in a person and when she tunes in, she notices the energy of her fear response but there is no message? We need to change the way we understand these emotions in our bodies, and have an understanding of how our brain processes emotion. For a great description of how the brain processes emotion, check out the Integrated Wellness blog. Fear rises up from our reptilian brain (I know, why the heck does it have to be called the ‘reptilian’ brain?? Well, its because 3 important parts of the human brain emerged successively in the course of evolution. These include the brain stem, the limbic system, and the neocortex). The term ‘reptilian brain’ refers to the brain stem and the cerebellum. These parts of the brain control vital body functions such as heart rate, temperature, and breathing. It is the center for our survival and instinctual behaviours – they are reliable but often rigid and compulsive (and thus resistant to change!). Back to the example of fear flaring up. These situations can trigger panic responses in our bodies. If we fear the panic response in the body, we grow to fear emotions that lead to fear and panic, which can lead to avoidance behaviour. Unfortunately, if we don’t want to have an emotion, try as we might not to have it, we still will – just in covert ways. (For example – not wanting to feel the energy of ‘anxiety’ but then noticing this energy has converted into an argumentative communication style in relationships). So instead of being so quick to shut down those emotions – let’s try working through them over the next few weeks.

  1. Notice the emotion instead of quickly shutting it down, bracing or defending against it.
  2. Notice how that emotion manifests in your body (use that ‘curious observer’ to notice what sensations are there in your body – what muscles tighten? How does your breathing change? How does your posture or body movements change?)
  3. If the sensations you notice with the emotion are over-whelming – use one of the techniques we discussed for grounding:
  • usearrow your imagination and visualize the uncomfortable sensations as a colour – allow the colour to move through your body and out through your feet
  • take a moment to write/draw/scribble in your journal as a way to process the emotion
  • imagination technique of protection

These 3 points are all designed to just get you grounded, so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed by the emotions. Once grounded and back in your thinking brain, it becomes a little easier to decide what course of action you would like to take (responding to the emotion).   To learn more, check out Karla McLaren’s blog. She talks a great deal about being with our emotions, and breaking cycles of fearing our emotions.