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.

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.

10 Simple Ways to Manage Holiday Stress

Holiday Stress | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Holiday Stress | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

December, and the holidays, can be a tough month for many people.  There are so many expectations and ideals of what the holidays “should” look like.  Striving to meet these ideals can be incredibly stressful though.  Travel, over-scheduling, financial strains, family conflict and over-stimulation can create feelings of anxiety, stress and feeling overwhelmed.  Now is probably the time when you need to manage the stress the most, but when your resources are limited.  It is probably not the best time to start an intensive meditation practice or learn a new hobby.  Here are a few simple ways to manage holiday stress (you can start meditating in January!).

  1. Create realistic expectations about what the holidays will be like.  Having realistic expectations can protect us from feeling disappointed or frustrated by our situations.  Base your expectations on previous years.  If most years are chaotic and hurried, there is a good chance that this year will be like that again (unless we make conscious changes to alter the experience-more on that next!).   Many people feel disappointed when their holiday celebrations don’t turn out to be the picture perfect Norman Rockwell experience, even when they have zero evidence to support that fantasy.  Even if it’s uncomfortable, base your expectations on your previous experiences.
  2. Make changes if previous experiences have been stressful, even if those changes may not be accepted by everyone.  One of the most common stressors for my clients is establishing new traditions with their created families while maintaining the traditions with their family of origin.  Sometimes it’s impossible for the two to co-exist together, and difficult changes need to be made.  A few years ago my husband and I decided that it was too stressful to travel on Christmas day with young children.  While this decision changed the holiday experience for us and our extended family, it made things much more manageable.  You need to decide what the right balance for you and your family is.
  3. Take a deep breath when things start feeling overwhelming.  Make sure it’s a true deep breath.  Most of us have trained ourselves to be chest breathers and very rarely take truly deep breaths.  Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.  Take a deep breath.  If the hand on your chest moves, your breathing is too shallow.  The hand on your belly should move as your belly expands.  Watch babies and animals breathing – that’s what you’re striving for.
  4. Don't rely on caffeine to get through the holiday season.  I understand, this one is painful.  Caffeine can be fabulous.  It can perk you up, make long days bearable, and give you that boost that you need to face the shopping crowds.  However, it can also boost our heart rate, make us feel jittery and essentially mimic symptoms of anxiety.  If you’re already revved up by stress, probably not a good idea to caffeinate.
  5. Be in the present moment during the enjoyable moments.  Often we are on autopilot, especially when we feel that there is a lot to achieve, and we then miss out on the positive effects of a pleasurable moment.  During a holiday dinner, truly taste the food that you are eating.   Give a friend or family member that you may not see very often all of your attention and focus on the connection between the two of you.  Enjoy the quiet moments.
  6. Make time for exercise.  You don’t have to train for a marathon, become a competitive body builder or manage to turn yourself into a human pretzel, especially during a hectic time like the holidays.  Just move your body in a way that you enjoy, get the blood pumping, and spend some time doing something that is healthy for both your mind and body.
  7. Help someone.  Help an elderly person load groceries into their cars.  Drop off a home cooked meal to a new mom.  Turn the focus away from yourself and find a way to make someone else’s day a little better.  It doesn’t have to be a long term, highly invested commitment on your part, just a simple act that someone may appreciate.  During the holidays, there are usually lots of opportunities to help others.
  8. Go outside for a few minutes.  You don’t have to go on a 100 kilometre hike, just get out of your house or office.  Get some fresh air, eyeball some nature and just change up your scenery for a few minutes.
  9. Stretch.  Sitting for long periods of time is bad for our bodies and our minds.  Get up, stretch out and get the blood flowing.  This is particularly important if you are doing a lot of travelling and are trapped in a car/plane/train for long periods of time.
  10. Practice being grateful.  Experiencing gratitude has many benefits (see here for more information) and the holidays can be an ideal time to exercise our gratitude muscles.  Reflect on the last year; what are some of the highlights?  What progress did you make?  What parts of the holiday celebrations do you most enjoy and feel grateful to be able to participate in?

While is is likely that the holiday season will bring some stress, it is possible to manage the holiday stress and enjoy.

Is Counselling for Me?

Counselling | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Counselling | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services


If you’re on this website and reading this blog, you may be trying to figure out if counselling is something that you may want to try out.  First of all, welcome and thank you for taking the time to read this blog!  It is totally normal to be unsure about this whole therapy thing.  There are so many stereotypes, misinformation, and mystery about counselling and how it all works and whether it is the right choice.  I have had many clients confess that they had been debating whether to start therapy for years.  It is a big decision, and a very brave one. So how do you decide whether to give it a try?

Counselling may be the right choice for you If:

  1. There is something in your life that is bothering you.  You may be feeling down.  You may be feeling anxious all the time.  You may be grieving a loss.  You may be having problems in your relationships.  You may have experienced a trauma and are having difficulties coping with it.  You may still be going to work, meeting your obligations, socializing, but something just doesn’t feel right.  I don’t decide whether something is “therapy worthy” – you do.
  2. You want to feel better.  You want to get through a day (or hour, or minute) without feeling bad.
  3. You feel ready to talk about what is bothering you.  You may not feel ready to talk about all of it just yet, but you’re feeling ready to start.  Only you can determine when you are ready.  It can’t be when your partner/parent/friend/child tells you that you should seek therapy.  If you’re not ready right now, that’s okay.  One day, you may be.
  4. You are ready to work.  Being in therapy is hard work.  You will be acknowledging things in your life that are painful.  You will likely need to make some changes.  You will leave some sessions feeling like you’ve just run a marathon.  It will be hard at times.
  5. You are ready to make the investment in yourself.  Being in therapy is a big commitment.  It takes time and money.  You will need to find a time to come to your appointment on a regular basis (most people begin coming on a weekly basis).  You will need to earmark money for your counselling.  If you are covered under benefits, you should look into the amount of coverage that you have and when your benefits are renewed.  Some people like to begin therapy at the end of the calendar year to use up the current year’s entitlement and move right into the new year’s entitlement.
  6.  You aren’t looking for someone to tell you what to do.  It would be presumptuous of me to tell you how you should live your life.  My role is to help you look at your life from different perspectives, but ultimately, only you can decide what is best for you.  Despite the image of the therapist who tells you what to do (Dr. Phil, I’m looking at you), that is definitely not how things happen in therapy.
  7. If you’re totally honest with yourself, your own well-being has been sorely neglected.  It is difficult to imagine having a whole hour that is dedicated just to you, your feelings, your experience (it may be even a bit overwhelming to think of all that attention devoted to you!).

Counselling may not be the right solution for everyone, but if the above resonates with you than that may be a sign that you’re ready to give it a shot.  It is totally normal to feel nervous.  It is totally normal to wonder whether counselling will make any difference at all.  Making that first appointment is a huge step.  Take a deep breath, pick up the phone, give us a call.  You can do this.