The Ripple Effect: How our Feelings can Change the World

Feelings Emotions | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Feelings Emotions | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

You know those days when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed. You feel irritable, low on patience and everything feels overwhelming.

What happens in your interactions with others? Maybe you’re a bit snappier with your kids? You roll your eyes at your partner’s joke that he has made to try to cheer you up. You don’t let someone pull in front of you in traffic.  It’s really hard to listen to your co-worker’s complaints again.  

And then you feel guilty. You didn’t want to feel like this or treat others badly. You want to have a good day. You beat yourself up and vow that things will be different. And maybe they are. And sometimes, despite your best intentions, things still feel crappy.

How about those days when you are feeling great? You are feeling energized and positive. Your kid is freaking out and you are able to get to their level and diffuse the situation.  You look at your partner, feel grateful for your imperfect relationship and give them a hug. This time you do let someone go ahead of you. You are able to empathize with your co-worker; she is really having a hard time.


How we feel has a ripple effect. Our emotional well-being impacts how we interact with both our most intimate friends and complete strangers. How we treat them may impact how they treat someone else later that day.


So, now  I’m responsible for the emotional well-being of everyone else?!?!?

Of course not.  We are all ultimately responsible for our own well-being.

I cannot make you happy.

You cannot make me happy.

However, our emotional experiences do not happen in a vacuum. We affect others and others affect us. Even if we decide to live on a deserted island all by ourselves, our lack of others will affect us.  It’s part of being human; we desire connection yet are scared by it.

The truth is we are all the walking wounded. We all have our emotional bump and bruises. For some of us, our emotional injuries are catastrophic. We differ in how we tend to those wounds.

Some of us pretend that the wound doesn’t exist, even though it’s gushing blood.

Some of us pick at our wounds. We scratch and pick and can’t find relief.

Sometimes we allow the wound to heal, but a bump or jostle can make it twinge.

Then we go out into the world and we interact with other wounded people. Sometimes we find solace when we find someone who truly gets our wound, because they have a matching scar. Sometimes our wounds make it impossible for us to connect, even though it’s what we so desperately need. Sometimes all we can see is someone’s wound and not the person that they are underneath all that messiness. 

We are expected to be the perfect parent and empathize with our kids, even though we have never been on the receiving end of empathy ourselves. We are expected to have this passionate, amazing romantic relationship even when we have no clue what a realistic relationship looks like. We are expected to maintain relationships that are incredibly harmful to us to keep up appearances.

We are the walking wounded.

This can be a pretty depressing thought. It definitely doesn’t me give the warm fuzzies.

However, it is amazing to be a witness when someone acknowledges their wounds. When rather than shaming, judging or criticizing yourself for an emotional response, you allow it to happen and understand why it’s happening.

You start showing yourself compassion and kindness.

You start making choices that are healthier for you.

You make space for true connection with others.

The healing starts.

And then the amazing ripple effects happen.

You may make someone feel so much better just be being authentic and honest. You are finally able to put all of those parenting strategies into place because you are actually functioning from a healthy place (have you ever noticed how so much parenting advice doesn’t actually consider how the parent is doing?). You may model to your daughter that self-care is okay. You may model to your son that having feelings is okay. You may show your partner that you accept them, flaws and all.


I want you to heal your wounds for you. I want you to feel less anxiety, to feel that you’re enough, to feel like you’re living the life that fits for you.

However, the impact that your healing can have on the world can be truly amazing. I see it every day. As wounds begin to heal, the ripple effects begin.

Our feelings can change the world. 

38 Therapists, 3 Days, 1 Huge Lesson

Vulnerability | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Vulnerability | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

This is a story about connection, vulnerability and showing up just as you are. I just came back from a conference. It wasn't your usual conference though. I travelled across three time zones to spend 3 days with 37 other therapists that I had never met in person. As my depature date drew nearer and near, my anxiety began to creep up.

“What if they don't like me?”

“What am I going to say? What if I sound dumb?”

“What am I going to wear?”

I knew that in order to get the most out of the conference, I would need to be authentic. Honest. Actually admit that I didn't always know what I was doing. This was both terrifying but also curiously freeing. I was not only permitted, but actually encouraged, to just show up as I was.

So I did show up, anxiety and all.

And the most amazing things started to happen.

My anxiety started to go down. I began to learn not only skills, but started to learn about myself. Other attendees were sharing about their own fears and vulnerability. Walls came down. People started sharing parts of themselves.

And then the connections started happening.

People were developing relationships. Finding kindred spirits.

Soul sisters.

Spirit animals.

People who had only met the day before were sharing their struggles and supporting each other. We had found our tribe. A group of people that understood us, appreciated us and wanted to support us as we grew.

At the end of the conference, many tears were shed. My own protective shell had completely crumbled and the soft marshmallowy core of me was seeping out of my eyeballs. We were sad that we were parting ways but also so grateful that when we showed up with vulnerability, we were received with warmth, acceptance and kindness.

This is what we all need. We need our tribe. We need to feel safe to just show up as we are. We need those people who we can be vulnerable with.

But it's so, so hard. Even walking into a space filled with therapists, some of the most non-judgmental, empathetic people in the world, was really scary. Leaning in to our own vulnerability leaves us feeling so exposed, so at risk for hurt and rejection.

However, the alternative is just as scary. If we walk around all the time with our walls up, we miss the opportunity to truly connect with others. By tapping into our own vulnerability, we are able to truly show up and then allow others to show up as well.

Here is a challenge for you; show up just as you are. We want to see you.

Please share this with the people that you truly want to see #ShowUpAsYouAre

Why Trying to be "Strong" Is Making You Miserable

Resilience | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Resilience | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

I’m not sure when it happened, but we’ve all been duped. We have been told that being “strong” is something that we should be striving for. “She’s so strong” is the highest form of praise. Now if you mean “she’s so strong, she can squat 200 lbs”, then yes!  Correct use of strong! If you mean, “she’s so strong because she never seems to be fazed, never seems to have an emotional reaction, doesn’t cry at funerals” then maybe we need to start re-evaluating what “strong” means. One of the most common phrases I hear in my therapy office is “I should be stronger.” When I dig into what it means to be “stronger” the overwhelming majority actually mean:

“I don’t want to feel a normal, understandable, uncomfortable human emotion to something stressful in my life.” 

We have been conditioned to believe that having emotional responses is a bad thing, when actually emotional responses are highly adaptive.  We are born with a full and complete set of emotions.  We may differ in temperament (early on, you can often tell who the chill baby is versus the one that’s a bit more high strung), but the basic emotions are the same.  These emotions are a gift.  They allow us to connect with other people.  They drive behavior that is protective (ex. Run into a bear, feel fear, run!). Emotions can be messages that things we are doing aren’t good or healthy for us.  Emotions, even the most uncomfortable and intense, can be useful.

Somehow along the way though, we have been conditioned to view emotional responses as some sort of personality flaw.  Actually, we view *negative* emotional responses as being weak.  Be happy, be pleasant, say that you’re fine through clenched teeth, but never, ever admit to struggling.

This is crap.

This is not being strong.

This is emotional avoidance and it is not good.

When we try to avoid, ignore, deny or squish down our feelings, we are interfering with the emotional system. Just because we pretend that the feeling is not there, this does not mean it just disappears.  They come out some way.  Maybe you start feeling physical symptoms like headaches or stomach upset.  You may start feeling anxious or on the verge of tears all the time, even if there is no clear trigger.  You may keep it together most of the time, but occasionally explode at the smallest provocation (road rage, anyone?).  You may have a hard time falling or staying asleep.  Our emotional system is annoyingly brilliant; there is no way to trick it.

On the other hand, healthy emotional expression does not mean that we can throw a tantrum at the slightest disappointment.  Emotional health requires a healthy dose of emotional regulation.  We need to learn how to self-soothe when we are distressed.  We do need to sometimes delay our emotional expression (delay, not avoid completely!).  We don’t need to tell everyone our most inner struggles.  We do need to allow ourselves to feel our feelings, stop the avoidance, the judgment, the criticism.  Your feelings are there for a reason.  Not sure what those reasons are anymore? That’s probably a sign that there’s been a bit of emotional interference going on and we’ve got some work to do to realign things. Let’s ditch the “strong” myth and start getting real about our feelings. 

Do I Worry Too Much? 9 Signs that Your Worry is Excessive

Stress Anxiety Worry | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Stress Anxiety Worry | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

It can be hard to figure out what a “normal” level of worrying is, especially if worry is a regular part of your life.  You may describe yourself as a “worrier”, or know that you come from a long line of “worriers” or other people may tell you that you worry too much.  But how do you really know if you worry too much? 

How can you differentiate between regular worry and anxiety that may be impacting your quality of life? 

1.       You worry about everything.  Health, finances, job, your kids, your relationship, vacations, your house; nothing is safe from the possibility of worry.  You may not worry about everything all at once, but there is a constant hum of possible worries.  You even worry about things that are supposed to be relaxing or enjoyable (Am I doing yoga right? Do I feel how I’m supposed to be feeling? Gah, I can’t even get zen right!). 

2.       You worry most of the time.  You may have moments of calm, but for the most part, you’re worrying about something the majority of your waking hours.

3.       You have a plan for the worst case scenario, even though the probability of it happening is pretty slim.  You may even have contingency plans for multiple worst case scenarios!

4.       You experience physical symptoms that flare up during times of stress, including tummy upset or headaches.

5.       You have a hard time just being in the present moment.  Your mind is constantly going and it’s tough to just sit and be.

6.       You plan, plan, plan and sometimes it feels that you’ve planned the fun out of things that are supposed to be enjoyable.  Upcoming vacations?  Between making packing lists, researching accommodations and activities, keeping passports and tickets organized, you are exhausted!  By the time the vacation rolls around you’ve lost your enthusiasm for it or you’re already planning the next thing.

7.       You’re constantly thinking about “the next phase.”  It could be getting married, buying a house, having children, finishing your degree, the next promotion.  Rather than just living in your current circumstances, you’re always looking ahead to the next thing.  While it’s good to have goals and plans, this way of thinking can suck all the enjoyment out of the present moment.

8.       Your sleep is being affected by worry.  You may be having a hard time falling asleep because of the worries racing through your mind or you’re waking up feeling panicked in the middle of the night.  The worry is a constant companion.

9.       Your behaviour is being impacted by the worry.  You may avoid certain activities because the anxiety is too high.  You may be having a hard time initiating an activity because you’re worried about the potential outcomes.  The worry is interfering with the things you want to do.

If any of these points resonate, you may actually be worrying too much. It may be hard to imagine, but it is possible to not constantly be in a state of anxiety.  Know a fellow worrier?  Share this blog post with them.  

Imposter Syndrome: Coping with "I'm Not Good Enough Anxiety"

Imposter Syndrome | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Imposter Syndrome | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

When I first started grad school, we were warned of a very serious condition that would likely affect us all at some point; the dreaded imposter syndrome. 

Symptoms of imposter syndrome could include:

– feeling like were not good enough to succeed at grad school

-feeling like a mistake had been made at the admissions office.  Very soon someone would have to awkwardly pull us to the side and break it to us that we needed to leave

– feeling that everyone around was much smarter, better qualified, and overall just better than us

– anxiety that someone would find out about the fact that we sucked

– feeling that we would never live up to be the ideal “grad student”; we would always be lacking in some way

– feeling like we needed to change things about ourselves to fit in

Sure enough, within a few months (or weeks…or days) many of us came down with imposter syndrome. I remember looking around at all of these brilliant future psychologists and thinking that while I had everyone fooled for the time being, soon enough my facade would crumble and everyone would realize how much I didn’t belong.  Turned out that I was not the only one, as all our anxieties came tumbling out at various times (I’m pretty sure that a mandatory  part of the graduate school experience is having a tearful freak out in a peer’s office).   Unfortunately imposter syndrome isn’t unique to graduate students (although it does seem to be rampant there!).  Many of us may feel imposter syndrome in various parts of our lives.

Have you ever felt like an imposter?  Maybe when you started a school program or a new job?  New moms will often feel that they feel like an imposter (um, why did the hospital actually let me take this baby home?  I have no idea what I am doing!).   You may have even felt like an imposter when making new friends (if they knew the real me they would never be my friend).  Usually we are infected by imposter syndrome when we are doing something new and feel anxiety about our abilities and whether we belong (anxious over achievers are often prone to imposter syndrome).

 How can we cope with imposter syndrome?  Can it ever be cured? 

Imposter syndrome is often linked with anxiety.  We worry about our abilities, our skill set and there is also a fear of being “discovered” by other people.  We do not feel good enough.  While it is very normal to feel anxious when starting a new experience, imposter syndrome can chip away at our belief in ourselves.  We begin to view things through the lens of anxiety and may misinterpret normal growing pains as a lack of our own abilities.  In order to cope with imposter syndrome we need to do a few things;

  • Accept that it is totally normal to feel anxiety in new situations; how the heck are you supposed to know how to do something if you’ve never done it before?

  • Acknowledge that it will take time to figure out how to do things and that once you’ve figured those out, there will be new challenges. We may always feel a bit out of our element

  • Talk to others about imposter syndrome; you may be surprised to see how many people have experienced this

  • Remind yourself of other times when you may have felt like an imposter; did that feeling resolve?

  • Ask for help! I know this is a scary one, since you may be scared that this will reveal that you are an imposter, but part of the learning process is getting help from those who have gone before us

Feeling like an imposter sucks, but over time and with some self-compassion, these feelings can go away.  Know someone who suffers from imposter syndrome?  Share this blog post with them!

7 Signs That You May be an Anxious Over Achiever (Even if You Would Never Describe Yourself as One)

Anxious Overachiever | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Anxious Overachiever | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

We all know one.  That person who always seems to have it together.  She seems to always be on the go, getting involved in committees and projects.  She gets up at 5:00 a.m. to fit in a morning work-out.  She is kind and gracious, with a large group of friends.  Her home is beautifully decorated.  She gets recognition at work.  She always looks put together.  However, despite this, she feels that she is never good enough.  There is a constant sense of “should do more.”  The anxiety may be overwhelming that pops up every now and again or it may be a constant, quiet hum that is always there.  She is always striving to do more, yet it never feels good enough.  She is the anxious over achiever.  She is prone to worry and her way of coping is to achieve.  However, it is never enough.  There is always more to do.  It is exhausting.  

Are you an anxious over-achiever?

  1. The idea that you are an over achiever is laughable (to you).  However, you likely have heard from other people “I don’t know how you do it.”  You may have done really well in school, even gone on to advanced degrees.  You get involved in your community, whether it’s sitting on committees or even starting a group.  You have a skill or talent that you are known for. If you objectively assess, you have probably done things that most people do not do.
  1. You have a difficult time acknowledging your accomplishments.  It might feel like you are bragging.  You minimize your successes (“It’s really not that big of a deal that I made partner at my firm”).  You tend to surround yourself with other accomplished people and feel that you never quite measure up to their successes.
  1. You have a hard time finishing projects because they won’t be “perfect.”  Whether it’s a craft, an article that you’re trying to write, or decorating a room, there is a block.  You have an ideal outcome, and if you feel that you can’t reach it, it’s not worth doing.  The idea of making mistakes terrorizes you.  You have struggled with procrastination.
  1. You would describe yourself as a worrier.  You worry about your family.  You worry about your finances.  You worry about your health.  You worry about your job.  You worry about your parenting skills.  You worry about the future.  The anxiety has likely been a life-long companion.
  1. You cope with the worry by making plans.  You have a plan A, B, C & D.  You make lists (it gives you a thrill to check something off as completed!).  You have an idea of where you want to be in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years.  You try to map out your life.
  1. You’re both drawn to and completely confused by “laid back” people.  You can’t understand how someone can just leave packing a suitcase until the last minute.  You’re baffled by their approach to just “play it by ear.”  However, you are drawn to this type of person and may even choose someone like this as your partner (which then can lead to frustrations down the road).
  1. There is a discrepancy between your expectations of yourself (very high), your perceptions of yourself (low) and reality (likely closer to your expectations than you acknowledge).  While setting high expectations is not necessarily a bad thing, you often set them *too* high and often in all parts of your life.  You want to be the best mother, wife, professional, yogi, scrapbooker and baker that Pinterest tells you that you should be.  However, you are hard on yourself, and perceive yourself as falling very short of your expectations.  You have a mental list of the mistakes you’ve made, how you are failing and you are your own worst critic.  If you objectively assessed your successes (or had other people judge them), there is a great likelihood that your reality is much closer to your expectations then you give yourself credit for.

How do you break the anxious over achiever cycle?  First acknowledge that you are one.  This may be a tough one, since it involves accepting that you are indeed an over achiever.  Own your accomplishments and your strengths.  There is nothing shameful about acknowledging it.  Once you have accepted that you are an anxious over achiever, start becoming aware of 1) your expectations 2) your perceptions and 3) reality.  Often there is a tension between the three which can create anxiety; if you feel that you’re never living up to a certain ideal (despite evidence to the contrary) this is going to fuel the anxiety.  You will be stuck in a place of feeling never “enough. “

Often anxious over achievers seek therapy because the anxiety becomes overwhelming.  While over achieving may keep the anxiety at bay for a period of time, as life becomes more challenging, this coping mechanism is just not sustainable.   There is no way to be amazing at all things.  Learning to be more compassionate to ourselves, allowing ourselves to fail, allowing ourselves to lower the bar and learning to tolerate, rather than fight, the anxiety are ways to break this anxiety cycle.  Believe that you are good enough.