Decluttering the Hamsters in My Brain: How to Calm the Overwhelmed Mind

Calming the Overwhelmed Mind | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Calming the Overwhelmed Mind | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

I recently a took a week away from my counselling practice in London, Ontario to have some down time, spend time with my family and re-energize.  I didn’t have a ton of plans other than a few days away. Minimal plans, low stress; my kind of holiday.

During my first day off, I stumbled across the new trend in decluttering, the KonMari method. I immediately downloaded the book to my Kindle and fell in love. The basic principle of this method is to only keep the things that “spark joy”, and discarding all of the rest. Once you are left with only the things that you truly love, everything gets its own spot, which allows you to maintain a tidy space.

According to the method, you begin with categories of items rather than locations. The first category was clothes. I pulled out all of the clothing that I owned and ruthlessly started to purge. I only kept the items that truly sparked joy and got rid of 2 huge garbage bags of clothing that only sparked mediocrity.

I loved this process. When I look into my closet, it makes me happy. Everything has a spot, everything is neatly hung up or folded and I have actually been able to maintain the tidiness.

As I decluttered my physical home, I also realized that I needed to do some mental decluttering. My brain can be an overwhelming place. There is a lot going on in there at any given moment; I may be thinking of my clinical work, blog posts that I want to write, the books that I want to read, the plans that I have for the next week, what I’m going to pack my kids for lunch, what I want life to look like 5 years from now.

Essentially my brain is rows and rows of hamsters.

Hamsters on treadmills.

All going at various speeds.

Occasionally a few of the hamsters crank up their treadmills way too fast and all of a sudden they start flying off their treadmills. My brain becomes a hamster explosion.

This is overwhelming.

I realized that I was dealing with a hamster infestation in my brain. I needed to declutter ASAP.

I first needed to identify all of the hamsters. Seriously, there are probably hundreds of them. There were work related ones, family related ones, money related ones, body image related ones, self-worth related ones.

Hamster infestation.

I soon realized that there was no way to identify every single hamster. There were just too many. However, I could start to prioritize which hamsters should be running their little tails off and which needed to chill for the moment, or be escorted off the premises.

I started doing a categorization of my hamsters. There were ones that absolutely needed to keep running. There were things that do need attention now.

However, there were hamsters that were going full force that could be slowed down. Yes, I needed to write a new blog post but I didn’t need to be thinking of it constantly. I plugged in the treadmill for that hamster now, when I actually sat down to write this post.

There were also hamsters that needed to be escorted out of my brain for good. So often we think about other people and how we can change them or their behaviour. These hamsters needed to go.

There was the “you’re not good enough, you totally suck!” hamsters. They also needed to be escorted out. I have no doubt that they will eventually set up their treadmills at some point again, and will need to be yet again shown the door.

There were also a few hamsters that needed to be put on their treadmills. They wanted to stay on the couch, eating Doritos and binge watching Gossip Girl on Netflix. My self-care hamsters were being lazy. They are the ones who say “you don’t have time to take of yourself! You don’t need self-care.”

These are some of the trickiest hamsters to deal with. While I pride myself on encouraging others of the importance of self-care, it can be hard for me to do so as well. I need to plunk those hamsters on their treadmills and crank up the speed. It is important.

Right now my brain feels calmer. Some hamsters are gone. Some hamsters are jogging at a nice light jog. Others are benched for the time being.

However, I have no doubt that I will have to declutter again. While I have high hopes that my closets will remain a calm and serene space filled with items that spark joy, my mind is bound to get cluttered again. The evicted hamsters will try to get back in. The lazy hamsters will make their way back to the couch. Future focused hamsters will start sprinting.

I will need to declutter.

How are the hamsters in your brain?

The Epidemic of the Overwhelmed, Worried Woman

Stress Anxiety | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Stress Anxiety | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

When people find out that I am a psychologist, one of the first questions they ask is

 “What is your speciality/who do you work with?”

(Sometimes they also ask if I’m trying to read their minds and that’s when I need to remind myself that it’s not polite to roll my eyes.)

When I reply that my primary focus is overwhelmed and worried women, the typical response is:

“Isn’t that all of them?”

“You must be really busy.”

“Can I have your card?”

While I’m incredibly grateful that I have found my professional passion and there is a need for the work that I do, it’s also super disheartening that we have come to a place that we have accepted that a woman’s natural resting state should be “overwhelmed and worried.”

What is contributing to your overwhelmed and worried state?

1.       You think of “worried” as a stable personality trait, rather than something that can be changed. You may come from a long line of “worriers” and been exposed to excessive worry, so it’s the norm for you. You may have integrated “worrier” into a part of your identity and can’t envision a life without worry.  It is not even on the radar that maybe you don’t have to worry so much.

2.       You have unrealistic expectations of yourself.  You feel that you should be able to do it all; be a great mom, great wife, great friend, great professional, great decorator, great cook, great “insert favourite Pinterest board.” This is a great way to end up overwhelmed, because there is no way you can be great at everything.

3.       You have a hard time saying no. Sure, you’re more than happy to bake 100 cupcakes for the school bake sale! Of course, chairing that awful committee is no problem!  You would absolutely love to organize a camping trip for 20 people. Or not. But, saying no feels icky and then you have to deal with the guilt, so you just say yes.  And then feel resentment. And tired. And you vow that you will never agree to something that you don’t want to do again. Until someone asks again.

4.       You link your self-worth to what you do, rather than who you are.  It feels that you need a long to-do list to prove your value. If you’re not doing, you’re not worthy. It is hard to accept that you are enough simply because you are you.

5.       Your coping tank is empty and you need refuelling. When you are running on empty, worry can take over. Most things feel so much more difficult and challenging when you have nothing left in the tank.  

While this overwhelmed and worried state is common, it is not normal or healthy. We cannot simply accept that our lives should make us emotionally and physically ill. One of the easiest things we can do to reduce our feelings of being overwhelmed and worried is to start making a conscious effort to engage in more self-care. Make your own well-being a priority.

If you’re ready to ditch the worry and create a life that truly works for you, please contact me. I would be happy to help you start shedding the overwhelmed and worry label. 

5 Easy Ways to Shush the "Not Good Enoughs"

Negative Self-talk | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Negative Self-talk | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

You know that feeling that you're not enough. Not good enough, not smart enough, not thin enough, not pretty enough, not “fill in the blank” enough. It is a terrible feeling. It fills you with shame. It makes you feel like you should be doing more (although you're not sure what you should be doing or when you should do it).

This feeling is fueled by unrealistic expectations. You have an idea of what you are supposed to be based on what you see in the movies and on tv, the magazines you read, the carefully edited Facebook profiles of your friends. These unrealistic expectations are well, unrealistic. No one is the ideal anything because we are human beings and part of our charm is that we kind of make things up as we go along.

This is okay.

There is no protocol on how to be the perfect mom, or the perfect wife, or the perfect career woman. Sure, there are some general guidelines (you probably need to actually show up to keep a job) but there is no mold that you need to squeeze yourself into. You are enough.

Seriously, you are enough.

This can be really hard to accept especially if you have been exposed to judgement and criticism (and seriously, who hasn't) and you have internalized those messages. The voice in your head never fails to tell you that you are not enough.

How to silence the “not enough” thoughts

  1. Notice the thoughts. Thoughts are constantly running through your head that you may not be consciously aware of. You can't change what you're not aware of.

  2. When you notice the “not enough” thought, weigh the evidence for or against that thought. Take the thought to court.

  3. Is your evidence based on reality? Are you comparing yourself to an ideal that only exists in a photo shopped magazine spread?

  4. Show yourself some compassion. You know that kindness you show to everyone else in your life? Do that with yourself.

  5. Accept you for you. Yes, you can set goals for yourself and strive to make changes. That is not a bad thing. However, even without these changes, you are still pretty awesome. You are awesome enough.

Imagine what it would feel like once you shush the not good enough thoughts. Pretty amazing, huh? Know someone who also struggles with the not good enoughs? Feel free to share this post with them. Let's support each other in our enoughness.

Going on too many Guilt Trips? 5 Steps to Get Off the Guilt Train

Guilt | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Guilt | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Guilt is my least favorite emotion.  I know, I know, all feelings have purpose and meaning, but guilt is truly awful.  It makes you agree to things that you really don’t want to do so that you can avoid feeling guilty.  It can breed resentment.  It can make you feel ashamed.  It can make you angry.  Basically guilt is one of those feelings where it’s hard to see the positive. However, guilt does have a purpose. 

Guilt is the response to feeling that we have done something wrong.  However, how do we determine whether something is truly wrong?  There are some things that we can universally agree are wrong.  If you kill someone, you should feel guilty.  You have done something that  is wrong.  However, most of the time, things aren’t necessarily this black or white.  Often, we feel guilty over things that actually aren’t wrong at all.  Sometimes we have defined things as wrong for ourselves.  Sometimes other people have defined something as wrong for us.  We may hold on to these beliefs about right or wrong without even knowing that we believe them!  So, how do we start chipping away at the guilt angst?

Step 1:  When you start feeling guilty, do not act on it.  Do not say yes to make the guilt go away.  Do not try to push the guilt away.  Do not fall into a pit of self-criticism.  Just sit with the guilt.  

Step 2: Figure out what triggered the guilt.  Was it a direct request of you? Was it an implied expectation?  Was it a passive-aggressive criticism?  Was it your own thoughts?

Step 3:  When you have identified the trigger, define why it feels wrong.  Who has defined this as wrong? You may have unrealistic expectations of yourself and not living up to them creates guilt.  Other people may have defined things as wrong, but it’s just a way for them to get their own needs met.  This step can be really tricky and you may need some help with this one.  Sometimes it can be hard to be objective about the expectations we place on ourselves and expectations that others place on us.  This can often be a focus during therapy.

Step 4: Assess your own needs.  Often we do things out of guilt because we want to meet the needs of others, but totally ignore our own in the process.  Are your own needs and the expectations placed on you aligned?

Step 5: Identify other possible responses rather than just giving in to the guilt.

 An illustration of our five step guilt plan:

You have just had a baby.  Your baby is colicky and cries for hours on end.  You are not sleeping, you are barely functional.  You receive an e-mail from an older family member who really wants to see you and meet the baby.  They think it would be a fabulous idea for you to trek out to their place, which happens to be two hours away.  This person has a tendency to make remarks about family responsibilities and the importance of making an effort to stay connected with family. Your immediate internal response is “heck no!”.....and then the guilt sets in.  What will they think if you say no? You’re off of work anyway, why can’t you go? What if they tell other family members that they haven’t met the baby and it’s all your fault?  Why should you drive all the way out there? Because that’s what nice people do.....guilt, guilt, guilt.

Step 1: STOP.  Hello guilt, my old friend.  Nice of you to stop to by for a visit, let’s hang.

Step 2: Trigger – request from another person to do something  that feels really, really hard. 

Step 3:  Is saying no to the request WRONG?

                Is there something wrong in turning down an invitation? 

                Is it wrong to potentially disappoint another person?  

                Does saying no to the request make you a bad family member?

Step 4:  You are exhausted, overwhelmed and need to do the bare minimum (other than keeping another human being alive).  A long drive and visit is not manageable for you.

Step 5:  Provide an alternate plan to your family member; “We would love to see you but driving that long is really not doable right now.  You are more than welcome to visit us at home.”   

Easy, right?!?  Ha, not so much! I wish that guilt could be banished this easily but that would not be a realistic expectation.  Our guilt is often tied to core beliefs that we have about ourselves, others and our relationships.  These can’t simply be broken through in 5 easy steps.  However, these steps may help you start developing an awareness of how you can start to change your relationship with guilt.  If you think that this is an area that you would like further help with, please get in touch.  I would love to help you turn down the ticket to your next guilt trip.

How to Survive Motherhood In One Piece

Burnout New Mom | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Burnout New Mom | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Okay, I admit it, the title of this blog is a bit melodramatic but my guess is that many moms have had the thought; “how am I going to survive motherhood in one piece?”  Being a parent is hard work, and it can feel that by the time your children are grown and out of the house, you may only be a watered down version of the fabulous woman you used to be.  This does not need to be the case!  

How can you manage when you’re in the mothering trenches?

  • Keep the judgement to a minimum. It is human nature to judge both ourselves and others, so it may be a lofty goal to eliminate all judgement, but let’s try to at least dial it down a tad.  We can be so hard on ourselves, especially when it comes to parenting.  There will be times when we make mistakes with our kids, there will be times when we’ll have no idea what we’re doing, and then there will be times when we absolutely lose it.  That’s okay, that’s what makes us human.  Show yourself some compassion when you’ve made a mistake.  Let’s also extend that same non-judgemental compassion to other moms.  We are all in this boat together and judging each other is not a great or helpful way to spending our time.  The next time you see a mom at the grocery store and her kid is freaking out, shoot her a knowing smile or even say “I’ve been there.”  You will make her day.
  • Spend more time with your own friends. Part of our job description as moms is to help our children thrive socially.  We take them to playdates, host playdates, get the scoop on their friendships at school and hope that they are forming healthy relationships.  In all of this, we may start neglecting our own friendships which can be so detrimental to our own well-being.  We need our friends, their support, the laughter and the sense of camaraderie.  I know, the last thing you want to do after the kids have gone to bed is to head out into the world to grab a drink with a girlfriend.  Trust me though, you need to, you will enjoy it when you get there, and your future self will thank you.
  • Invest time and effort into your romantic relationship. See that person sitting across from you at the dinner table?  Remember when you got butterflies just thinking about the next time that you would see them?   Remember how exciting the prospect of spending the rest of your life with them was?  You picked this person for a reason, and yes sometimes it can be hard to see them as anything other than a co-parent right now, but the person you love is still there.  Hang out with them.  Make sure to carve out time where you talk about things that have nothing to do with the kids.  Invest the effort now so that once the kids left you aren’t left looking at each other and thinking “now what?”
  • Integrate “mom” into your identity rather than making it your entire identity. We all have an “identity pie” with various slices making up the whole of the pie.  Take stock of what makes up your identity pie.  It’s perfectly understandable that the “mom” slice may be the biggest slice right now, but you want to ensure that you continue to incorporate other slices into the pie, whether it be your professional identity, your hobbies, your passion for fitness, your interests.
  • Self-care, self-care, self-care. I know, you’ve heard this one a million times and it can get a little old.  I hear from women all the time that they don’t have the time, or aren’t sure what to do, or that it doesn’t actually work all that well.  I think the most important thing about self-care is that you find something that you actually enjoy rather than just picking something from a list.  If you pick something that isn’t a good fit, it can actually backfire.  I know that many people benefit greatly from meditation and it can be a core part of someone’s self-care routine; however, for me, it is pure and utter torture.  It feels unnatural to me to be that still and quiet, so it’s not good self-care for me.  Find something that does work for you.
  • Know the signs that you are starting to feel burnt out. Many of us will push through feeling stressed and overwhelmed, because sometimes we just have no choice.  However, we will often ignore signs that maybe we are stretched too thin.  Many times women will end up in my office because they have ignored their own warning signs and now things feel pretty terrible; they feel emotionally and physically exhausted, their romantic relationship feels strained and unsatisfying, previous ways of coping are no longer working, things feels out of control and they barely recognize the woman in the mirror looking back at them.  While it’s definitely possible to emerge from this bleakness, it’s probably a better idea to not get there in the first place.  What are some of your signs that you are heading to Burnt Out Town, Population: You?  Do you feel snappy and irritated a lot of the time? Are you spending way too much time on the couch?  Do you feel that you’re just going through the motions without a feeling of connection or enjoyment to anything?

Once you know your signs, do something about it! Ignoring your stress warning signs is kind of like ignoring the rotting lettuce in your vegetable drawer.  Yes, you really don’t want to do it now, but leave it long enough and it will become a liquefied, stinky mess  (the lettuce, not you ;).  Figure out what will bring your stress levels down to a more manageable levels; getting together with friends, watching a silly movie, getting a pedicure.  Or maybe it’s a sign that more significant changes need to made.  Maybe home responsibilities need to be reorganized.  Maybe you need to make some changes to your schedule.  Maybe you need some quality time just hanging out with your kids.  Find what works for you.

There will always be moments in your parenting journey that will make you want to crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head and not come out for a week.  That’s okay, that’s part of the gig.  However, you can do this, and even thrive while doing so!  Hop over to our Facebook page ( for Motherhood March, for more articles, discussions and information about being a mom and our emotional health.

Wanna Feel Glad? You Gotta Make Room for Sad, Mad and Bad

Managing Emotions | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Managing Emotions | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

We are often hit over the head with the message that we need to “think positive!” or “look for the silver lining” or “there’s always someone who has it worse than you” when we are faced with a difficult situation.  When bad things happen, the old adage "everything happens for a reason" is whipped out at least once to try to change how we feel about it. When we are struggling, we may downplay our own experience so that we don't make other people uncomfortable.  We just don't want to feel bad. However, this can get us into emotional trouble. We all came into this world with a full and complete set of emotions, ranging from the most joyous to the depths of despair.  We are meant to feel them all.  Our feelings are responses, messages, information for us to use to make sense of our world.

Despite the usefulness of all emotions, we seem to have a tense relationship with the "negative" emotions.   We may pile on judgement and criticism for feeling very reasonable and normal responses to stressful situations.  We may be shamed by others for our feelings. Every day I work with people who are beating themselves up for having normal, human reactions to incredibly tough situations (one of my most commonly used phrases in therapy is “it would be weird if you were okay with that”).Let’s stop shaming ourselves for having normal feelings.

If you are struggling with infertility and desperately want a baby, it’s okay to feel sad.

If you are concerned about your job security, it’s okay to feel anxiety.

If your child is struggling in school, it’s okay to be worried about it.

If you can’t remember the last time you really connected with another person, it’s okay to feel lonely.

If you have lost a loved one, it’s okay to feel grief.

If someone has taken advantage of you, it’s okay to feel anger.

There is nothing inherently bad about these feelings.  Yes, they feel uncomfortable.  Yes, they may bring some painful truths into our awareness.  Yes, we much rather feel the more warm and fuzzy feelings, but there is nothing inherently bad about “negative” emotions.  Where things can start going off the rails is when we start piling on unrealistic expectations about feelings on ourselves.

“I need to be strong.”

“Why am I being such a baby?”

“This is not a big deal; I don’t need to freak out.”

We judge and criticize ourselves for normal reactions, which is the equivalent of dumping a canister of gasoline on a fire.  Or we try to avoid the feelings, which is kind of like trying to shove one more thing into an already overflowing drawer.   However, by interfering with the negative feelings, we also interfere with our ability to experience positive feelings.  We can't just stop one part of the system, without impacting the entire emotional system.  Feelings can get too overwhelming, too intense or we feel emotionally paralyzed or detached.   This is usually the point when people end up in my office; they are confused, overwhelmed and tired of their own feelings.

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, in order to make room for happiness and joy, we also need to make room for the negative feelings.  We need to accept our own responses and reactions.  However, this can be tough, especially if you have been struggling with your feelings for a long time.  It can be hard to regain emotional balance.  A large component of the therapy process is identifying feelings, understanding why those feelings are present, accepting the feelings for what they are and adjusting expectations about feelings.  Your feelings don't need to be a battle.

Is Facebook Making you Depressed? 5 Ways to Beat the Social Media Blues

Social Media Depression | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Social Media Depression | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

I have been spending a lot of time on Pinterest lately.  While much of what I do on Pinterest is related to the work that I do (my fancy new Pinterest page) I can’t help but occasionally fall down the rabbit hole of fabulous decor, scrumptious recipes and incredibly impressive crafts (have you seen what some people can do with stuff from the dollar store?!?!).  Social media has given us access to so much information including how other people appear to live their lives.  While in the pre-social media era, we would only get brief glimpses into the lives of our friends and neighbours, now it feels like we have an all-access pass.  We see how people decorate, vacation, the meals that they make, the pet names they call their partners, their children’s accomplishments.  We are privy to the joys in people’s lives and sometimes even their tragedies.  However, is all this information a good thing?

One of the problems with having all of this access to other people’s lives is that it can set the stage for some unfair comparisons.  We start to compare our own lives, which we have an intimate knowledge of, to the sanitized, highlights reel of someone else’s.  If we are struggling in our own romantic relationship, it can be heart wrenching  to read a friend posting about the amazing anniversary surprise she received from her partner.  If we are feeling overwhelmed with the clutter and chaos in our own home, someone’s pictures of their freshly renovated, gleaming kitchen can make us feel like we are living in filth.  If we are feeling lonely and come across pictures from the most recent girls’ night out (your invite must have got lost in the mail), this can make us feel like we will never find our place.  However, it is likely that all of those people who are posting these fabulous parts of their lives, are experiencing their own struggles.  Look through your own social media accounts; what do people probably think about your life? Given that social media isn’t going away anytime soon, how can we moderate its impact on how we feel about ourselves?

  1. Have an awareness that a few posts on Facebook or Twitter is not the whole picture about another person’s life.  Do not compare your entire life, with its ups and downs, good and bad parts, with someone’s sanitized version of their life.  You will never win that comparison.
  2. Acknowledge that your own online media presence may not be the full version of yourself.  If you’re only selecting certain things to post about, it is likely that others are doing the same.  This is a good thing!  We need to be selective about what we choose to share about ourselves and maintain some level of privacy.
  3.  If you find that being on certain social media is making you feel depressed or anxious, it may be a good idea to take a break.  Check in with how you are feeling after spending some time on social media.  If your mood is being negatively affected, that may be a sign that it’s time to step away from the screen.
  4. Go interact with your friends and family offline.  Give someone a call or set-up a coffee date.  People tend to be more genuine with each other in person than over the computer and it’s a great way to connect with the people in your life.  You may discover that the person with the fabulously renovated kitchen is struggling with something else in their lives.
  5. Accept that your skills and strengths many not match up with someone else’s.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an amazing crafter who posts their creations on Pinterest, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be one as well.  We all have things that we are good at and enjoy.

There is no debate that social media has a tremendous impact on our lives, but we need to ensure that we are protecting ourselves from the possible downfalls.