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.

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.

A Grief Like No Other: Surviving Pregnancy and Infant Loss

Grief Loss Miscarriage | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Grief Loss Miscarriage | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Your period is late.  You feel a little off, maybe a bit nauseous or you’re running to the bathroom all the time.  Something is up.  You go to the drugstore, pick up a pregnancy test and chug a litre of water.  You pee on the stick and then you wait.  Whether you were trying to get pregnant or this is a bit of a surprise, you feel an overwhelming wave of emotion that comes over you as the positive symbol appears on the test.  It’s official, you are pregnant.  If things go according to plan, in the next nine months (plus or minus a few weeks), there will be a new addition to your family.  You may start envisioning what your baby will look like.  You may start making plans around the due date.  You may buy a pregnancy book, or sign up for pregnancy update e-mails, or buy a cute onesie as a way of telling your partner.  The baby has already become a part of your life.

Unfortunately, for many women, things do not always go according to plan.

All too often, women will experience the horrifying knowledge that they are no longer pregnant and their baby is lost to them.  The pain of the loss is often compounded by the general silence around the experience of pregnancy and infant loss.  Society does not want to talk about it.  There is an unspoken code of silence that exists.   Women are left to suffer in silence, for fear of making others uncomfortable.  However, these losses are very real and deserve to be grieved.

If you were only a few weeks pregnant, you deserve to grieve.

If you had to make the devastating decision to terminate a pregnancy due to a medical condition, you deserve to grieve.

If you had a stillbirth and only held your infant for a few brief moments, you deserve to grieve.

If you have lost your baby, at any stage, in any manner, you deserve to grieve.

Grief can come in many forms.   You may want to wear a piece of jewelry that symbolizes your baby.  You may want to acknowledge your child’s birthday or the date of their loss each year.  You may need to spend some time away with your partner. There is no wrong or right way to grieve; you need to do what works for you.  The most important thing is to acknowledge how you are feelings; do not try to minimize, avoid or shame yourself out of your feelings.  Be prepared for the grief to come in waves.  It may be months or years since your loss, but the intensity of your grief may be triggered by an anniversary, a song, the cry of a new baby.  While the grief may become less intense, more tolerable, there may always be a sense of loss.

One of the most powerful healers can be talking about your loss.  Many women who have experienced a loss, such as miscarriage, find that talking will often open up a floodgate of women who have experienced something similar and are desperate to talk about it.  Considering that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage there is a good chance that someone you know has had a loss.  Today, October 15 is Pregnancy and Infancy Loss Awareness Day.  Reach out.  Grieve your loss.  You are not alone in this.

10 Things to Know About Postpartum Anxiety

Postpartum Depression | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Postpartum Depression | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

  1. Anxiety can begin during pregnancy, the perinatal period, in addition to after birth.  You may start feeling anxiety symptoms up to 12 months after birth.
  1. Anxiety symptoms can be physical; heart racing, feeling flushed and sweaty, tightness in chest, difficulties with sleeping.  You might feel revved up all the time, like you want to jump out of your own skin.  Sitting still feels impossible.
  1. Anxiety symptoms can be experienced in our mind; worrying about all sorts of things, imagining the worst case scenario, second guessing yourself, feeling unable to make a decision.  You might be having constant racing thoughts about whether you are capable of taking care of a baby, whether you are doing things the "right" way, imagining all of the possible consequences of every decision.  Your brain feels like it's on overload.
  1. Anxiety can impact our behaviour; you may avoid situations that provoke anxiety, repetitively do a task, constantly check things.  You may spend hours perfectly folding wash cloths, stacking diapers into equally distributed piles, checking the oven repetitively to make sure it's not on.  Doing these behaviours may calm the anxiety for a brief period of time, but the anxiety always returns.
  1. You might have very upsetting, disturbing thoughts ("what if I smothered my baby with a blanket").  You know that you would never act on the thought, but the thought seems to pop out of nowhere and is very upsetting.  These are called intrusive thoughts and can be quite common (but obviously very distressing).
  1. You may try to control your environment to cope with anxiety; cleaning and organizing things while the baby sleeps (even though you are on the brink of exhaustion).
  1. You may feel very anxious about being alone with your baby.  You are not sure if you can take care of your baby, get overwhelmed when the baby is crying and feel like you're never doing anything right.
  1. You may avoid going out of the house because you're worried that the baby might cry in public, or you're not sure how you're going to manage to feed your baby or you're overwhelmed with the idea of interacting with other people.  However, staying at home may also be challenging as you may feel trapped.
  1. Perinatal and postpartum anxiety is not limited to first-time moms.  Even if you have had previous experiences with a baby, you may still develop anxiety.  Anxiety is not about lacking skills in caring for a baby, it is an emotional reaction.There are treatment options available, including therapy, medications or a combination of both.  Please reach out to a healthcare provider if you feel that you are experiencing anxiety symptoms.  While all new moms will experience some level of worries and anxieties, if you are feeling anxious all the time and it is interfering with your ability to enjoy this time of your life, please reach out.

10.  There are treatment options available, including therapy, medications or a combination of both.  Please reach out to a healthcare provider if you feel that you are experiencing anxiety symptoms.  While all new moms will experience some level of worries and anxieties, if you are feeling anxious all the time and it is interfering with your ability to enjoy this time of your life, please reach out.

10 Things to Know about Postpartum Depression

Postpartum Depression | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Postpartum Depression | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Here are some things you should know about postpartum depression.

1.  Depression can actually begin during pregnancy (the perinatal period) and not just after birth.

2.  One of the strongest predictors of postpartum depression is previous episodes of depression.

3.  While some women experience feelings of sadness, other women report an absence of feelings (feeling "blah" and disconnected) or even intense anger.

4.  Other symptoms of postpartum depression include difficulties sleeping or sleeping more than often, changes in appetite, feeling guilty about how you are feeling, feeling like things will never get better, difficulties bonding with your baby, feeling disconnected from others.

5.  While it is normal to feel all of these feelings after having a child, during postpartum depression the feelings are severe, last longer than 2 weeks and you experience them the majority of the time.

6.  Postpartum depression is one of the most common complications of childbirth.

7. Media coverage of mothers who hurt themselves or their babies often confuse postpartum depression with postpartum psychosis, which is a very rare disorder that includes symptoms like hearing or seeing things that others do not see, feeling like you are being controlled by something or someone and feeling driven to hurt yourself or your child.  If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is essential to present to the emergency department immediately.

8.  Having postpartum depression does not mean that you don't want or love your child.

9.  Postpartum depression affects approximately 15% of all mothers.

10.  Postpartum depression is treatable, either through therapy, medication, or a combination of both.  You do not have to feel like this.

Balancing Self-Care and Care Giving

Care giving can come in many forms. You might be caring for children, for elderly parents, an ill spouse, siblings who turn to you at a time of need. Your profession may involve care giving. Care giving can be physical acts (feeding, clothing, wiping snotty noses!) or providing emotional support. Regardless of whom you are caring for and what that care looks like, it can be exhausting! While there is no doubt that taking care of others can feel good (and is often necessary), it can be tricky to balance the care of others and your own self care. Self care is critical to your own emotional well being. There is basic self care such as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and engaging in physical activity. Even these basics can be neglected when caring for other people. Sleepless parents can definitely relate to the experience of having their own sleep affected by care giving to a child in the middle of the night. In addition to basic self care, we greatly benefit from participating in activities that we find enjoyable. Having a hobby is linked to greater creativity, increased problem solving skills and overall emotional well being. Self care can also include seeing friends and engaging with our support system. Feeling a sense of connection is associated with better mental health, decreased levels of depression and anxiety and can help us cope better with stressors.

Often caregivers feel that their own self care is very low on the priority list. There may even be guilt associated with engaging in self care. This lack of self care however, can have detrimental effects. If we do not engage in our own self care, we can start to suffer both emotionally and physically. Our ability to cope begins to decrease and we start to feel overwhelmed. When we feel overwhelmed, we are unable to provide optimal care giving. We may start to feel frustrated with those that we are caring for. Requests for our help can feel enormously stressful. We may eventually feel so burnt out, that we are no longer able to provide care giving.

In order to avoid these feelings of being frustrated, overwhelmed and burnt out, we need to make self care a priority. It is not a luxury, but a necessity in order for us to be able to take care of those that we love and value. By taking care of ourselves, we are taking care of others as well. Take the time today to do something that is just for you, something that you enjoy and value. Banish feelings of guilt, as you are not doing anything wrong by taking care of yourself. Just enjoy, recharge and reap the benefits of self care.