How do we navigate solitude in a world that tells us we need other people around us in order to feel valuable, and, further, how do we manage this when our neurobiology screams at us that being alone is dangerous? The messages we get from society tell us that relationships, especially the intimate ones, are a large key to our lifelong happiness.  On top of that, brain research demonstrates that loneliness can trigger the brain’s fight/flight/freeze response (the nervous system’s way of telling us we are in a potentially dangerous situation) and need to be on alert in order to stay alive. It is no surprise then, that being alone can lead to strong feelings of loneliness.

All of us have felt lonely. It’s part of the human experience. Ironically, we can be surrounded by others and still feel alone.  Loneliness is fickle – one moment masquerading as depression, the next moment rushing in on a cloud of anxiety. It is a feeling that sinks into your whole being, down to your bones. It’s hollow, yet fills you completely with a vast emptiness. It may come in waves or always be present.  It is a whole-being experience, meaning it affects our emotions, our thoughts, our bodies, our unconscious, and of course, our relationships.

The way we form relationships stems from our attachment systems – these are the ways in which we can (or cannot) get close to others.  Our attachment systems are generally created in childhood, but have the ability to change. The way we attached to others can add to what is perhaps the greatest irony in human life: the fact that what takes away loneliness can also be the source of it. Human connection can be fleeting, unreliable, untrustworthy. And when it falls apart, it can leave us lonelier than before.  Being alone can be a choice or can happen outside our control.

“Loneliness is a sign that you are in desperate need of yourself.” Rupi Kaur

How can we survive this?

  • Perhaps we should start with addressing the stigma that surrounds being without a partner. Society tells us that we need to be in a relationships in order to be fulfilled, but this simply isn’t the case. Let’s start to reframe loneliness as solitude, so that when it occurs, it becomes a powerful and necessary experience leading to personal growth.
  • Acknowledge that you are sitting in solitude – and that you are human. When we validate our emotional experience, we are better able to move through those emotions.
  • We will never not have the experience of solitude when it is warranted. It’s wired within us to feel that kind of pain, and it’s all there for a reason. Accepting the grief, despair, pain, numbness, etc that comes with the feeling can often be the next step toward moving through these powerful emotions.

How do we move forward?

  • After facing solitude, we often level up and become better versions of ourselves. Reminding ourselves that this kind of growth may not have been able to occur while surrounded by others is important.
  • We become resilient – not in a way that makes us immune to solitude– but in a way that makes us better able to tolerate and perhaps even welcome the opportunity to become more intimate with ourselves.
  • We become woke – if we can figure out what we have just learned about ourselves through being alone. Reflecting, creating insight, and being creative are all ways we can find meaning in a situation.
  • We can use the opportunity to focus on the most important human connection and fall deeper into love and knowing with ourselves.

 If you find yourself alone, especially on a day like this one – full of hearts, cupids, chocolates, and materialistic love – it can be especially hard. Remember, though, that you are likely in a phase of intense personal growth, so remember to do the hard work of loving yourself each step of the way.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.

Rushing into the winter break in December, you probably thought that going back to the grind after some time off would sparkle your rusty motivation. After all, most of us had at least a couple of days off in a warm company of family, friends, and delicious food. Away from the daily hustle, our minds and bodies hit reset and regrouped for a new adventure. But why, after the January lull and into the dark month of February, is motivation lagging behind?

Despite high expectations, January might be a year’s most unproductive month and cold temperatures in the following month can extend that lack of productivity. As you ease into 2019—powered by family gatherings, friendly get-togethers, and, most likely, a disrupted routine—it almost feels like you need to remind yourself of your past pre-holiday self in order to function. We’re resurfacing from a timeless, placeless oblivion back to the world of order and responsibility. Not only are we burdened by the societal pressures, but also self-imposed resolutions to start a new life when the clock strikes midnight – resolutions which many of us have already tossed aside as the months chug along. Alongside our efforts to re-establish a routine, living life inspired might be a bigger challenge than we think.

Inspiration is often perceived as a metaphysical concept: a transcendental phenomenon, a feeling that has to be nourished and pampered. An inspired life is living with purpose every minute, despite any curveballs that may arise. Along with identifying the triggers that awaken inspiration, it is equally important to sustain it—through many roadblocks and downturns. This is where most people begin to struggle. Once life throws us out of the environment or mindset conducive to an inspired living, we can quickly lose our mojo, plummeting into what we perceive to be a dull existence.

Staying inspired is a skill that you can pick up and hone. Follow these tips to turn inspiration into a habit.

  1. Actions over feelings. Think “inspire” rather than “inspiration”. Instead of waiting around for a feeling, focus on the actions that you can take to evoke it. Inspire yourself and inspire others. Why do you do what you do? When inspiration is hard to summon, zoom out to the bigger picture and think of the impact of your work, how your actions affect your family and friends, and the community at large. Remember, an inspired living is living with purpose. Be clear about your purpose and go back to it when inspiration starts to fade.
  2. Seek inspiration in the mundane. Unless you live in a perfect world, you can’t always surround yourself with things that inspire you. While it is instrumental to design a personal inspiration heaven—an image of an environment where you feel most inspired—it is equally important to find inspiration in the mundane: in a grocery store, on your way to work, on the bus. We touch thousands of lives every day. Every interaction matters. Listen to the stories around you, learn from the incredible people out there in the world. Find someone who inspires you. If you wish to be more proactive, challenge yourself to inspire at least one person a day. This can be your family member, a co-worker, or a complete stranger.
  3. Practice makes perfect. Life can wreak havoc our plans, throw off our inspiration, and turn our habits upside down. It is in these moments when you need to remind yourself that actions trigger feelings, and practice actions that inspire.

Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

 

Last week I made what might look like a reverse-resolution: to aim to go to the gym just twice a week instead of three times a week. I’m not a compulsive calorie-burner; in fact, my relationship with exercise is quite healthy and positive. I enjoy working out because it feels good and helps disperse mental stress and physical tension. I just don’t have time for all the self-care routines I’ve taken on to balance my life and keep myself happy, healthy and whole. At this point I’m managing stress that’s partly caused by the stress of stress-management routines.

The notion of self-care – that it is not just OK, but radical to take time to look after your own physical, mental and emotional needs in a world that is not always built for human well-being – originates in activist and mental health communities. The message was originally espoused by and directed at individuals most at risk of burn-out: people who daily navigate and resist heteropatriarchal, white supremacist , capitalist social structures designed to oppress, marginalize and stigmatize them. In the hands of white feminist social media personalities, self-care has morphed into a trendy aesthetic: a variety of the performative vulnerability that is so often rewarded on Instagram. Crying selfies, face masks, hydration, and unapologetically cancelling plans in favour of staying in bed are all #selfcare.

I don’t want to suggest that white privilege precludes the need for self-care or that selfies, face masks and napping are not legitimate tools of self-care. At its heart, self-care is about making a more loving world by starting with self-love and that is a worthy message for everyone. But as is its nature, social media has both contributed to the propagation of a positive idea and blunted its critical edge. Self-care contains an implied critique of the capitalist imperative of productivity, but it has been easily subverted to sell Band-Aid solutions for the symptoms of burn-out without addressing their root causes. It is a way to market everything from $5 face masks at the drugstore to expensive yoga retreats in Costa Rica.  Self-care is no longer about surviving and thriving despite capitalism, it is about maximizing one’s use of capitalism by maintaining productive functionality. And that is problematic for so many reasons.

Like a lot of millennials, I’m an overworked non-profit employee doing creative work on the side, but I’m also healthy, childless, dog-less and have a 15 minute commute to work. I have no reason to be as tired as I am, but maintaining an exercise routine to keep myself energized and relaxed, meal planning and packing lunch every night to stay healthy and on budget, tidying clutter to keep a pleasant space to come home to, pursuing hobbies for the satisfaction of making something, keeping a journal for mental clarity, etc., etc. is too much to fit in alongside a full-time job and basic domestic chores, let alone real leisure. When I inevitably fail to keep up with my checklist of self-care because I’ve been actually resting I get… stressed out! I’m driven by the feeling that if I don’t keep up on all these good habits, things will be much worse down the road. I’ll turn into one big knotted muscle or something. Worst of all, my time and energy for more fulfilling creative work dwindles as it is repeatedly postponed to the end of the night, and then the next day and the next.

Consumerist self-care is marketed at women (it meshes well with existing gendered complexes that marketing capitalizes on, such as body image) and women have been at the forefront of espousing self-care in all its varieties. There’s good reason for this. Women have historically been care givers, and that legacy continues to inform the expectations placed on women by themselves and others. Self-care can be an antidote to the toll of all that other-care. Real self-care as it was originally conceived is not pretty or cute. It can look like taking medication, or setting boundaries in relationships, or making genuinely difficult and rewarding life changes. But it is always work and the mainstreaming of #selfcare obscures the work and the mess and conflict that come when people who are routinely and systematically expected to care for or accommodate others center their own needs in a meaningful way.

As self-care eats into my leisure hours, becoming a source of pressure itself, I wonder if #selfcare is just another way that women are pressured to have it all, and be it all. As delayed (or foregone) parenthood, house ownership and career stability are increasingly accepted parts of millennial adulthood, perhaps the balanced lifestyle promised by self-care is just a new form of unrealistic feminine perfection that conveniently keeps us busy and keeps us buying.

In comparison “Treat yo’self”, a motto popularized by characters on Parks and Recreation, so transparently invites indulgence and consumption that it resists the same insidious subversion of message.  If not taken in moderation, “Treat yo’self” may lead to debt before balance but at least it promotes a self-love based on giving yourself permission to enjoy life, rather on grimly doing things for your own good.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

To start off, I will offer a disclaimer that I am not an Indigenous knowledge keeper, and I don’t have generations of knowledge behind me to teach and to share. But I am an Indigenous knowledge-seeker. And it is within my process of information gathering that I find myself and my connections. As I began to discover Indigenous beliefs in the sacredness of land, it is here that I found my place. I will attempt to share my ways of knowing, my ways of integrating my Indigenous and non-Indigenous worldviews.

Within the purview of most worldviews, I think we can all agree that land brings us life. It is from nature that we get our food, water, clothing, shelter, transportation and warmth.  Over time, humans have been able to create some of these necessary things in non-nature environments, but without the land we cannot manage all of these needs. What sets Indigenous views apart from this is the belief that land relations are bidirectional, meaning that in as much as we take from the land, we must also give back to maintain holistic balance.  One of the biggest questions that tends to be asked is what this balance is and how we can strike it.

“Country is loved, needed, and cared for, and country loves, needs, and cares for her peoples in turn. Country is family, culture, identity. Country is self.”

Ambelin Kwaymullina

Meaning of Land to Aboriginal people – Creative Spirits

First Nations people have centuries of knowledge of the land to which they have been connected and just as long studying the balance that occurs within the ecosystem. This knowledge, in itself, is a well-accepted form of scientific study different from western science.  In this worldview, knowledge and the learner are interconnected. What this means is that the very act of learning can impact the knowledge. For example, an ecology student watching coyotes in their natural environment will have an impact on vegetation and the microsystems through which she walks. As a result, some Indigenous worldviews of the land tend to be very much about relationships.

Can this knowledge be applied to human relationships? Can Indigenous ways of knowing be valued alongside non-Indigenous views? The answer is yes, if we honour and understand this bidirectional approach. Each worldview influences the other in a way that maintains balance.

Recent events occurring on Wet’suwet’en land and in solidarity events across Turtle Island have ignited passions on all sides. It appears that at least two worldviews are in conflict: those who honour the bidirectional view of the land and those who are looking for the extraction of resources for profit and possibly survival in a particularly brutal and unforgiving economic system. In fact, this conflict in itself demonstrates how connected we all are, but in a way that does not promote balance.  I urge us all to explore ways of looking for healing, while honouring both worldviews and very importantly, honouring reconciliation and the long term effects of the worldview responsible for colonialism.

Just like plants connect to a geographical place, we are all connected to where we live, and to each other.  To keep a balance within the world, the connection requires us to be bidirectional in our relationships with the living and with the land. You as the reader and me as the writer have now been connected through this writing. I present to you my knowledge, you read and absorb this offering, and I receive the gift of your audience.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.

Over my lifetime, I have gone from being a voracious reader to being a voracious Netflix and podcast enthusiast. A common story for childhood bookworms, this transition occurred over the course of a text-heavy university degree or two which didn’t exactly make me dislike reading but certainly sapped my enthusiasm for recreational reading.

My reading habit remained broken for years after finishing school, so I set a 2018 reading goal of twenty-four books. I thought, “Two books a month! That should be doable!” I quickly lagged behind my goal until moving in with my partner, who completed a truly astonishing 60+ books in 2018. With his good example and (real or imagined) judgement hanging over me I curtailed my Netflix marathons and began reading more frequently. By the end of the year I was not only reading more often and finding it easier to get into new books, I was actually reading faster! I ended up exceeding my 2018 goal by one book and in 2019 I’ve challenged myself to thirty-six books.

Just like physical fitness, reading is something you can practice and there are many benefits to doing so. Health benefits include better sleep, improved brain function and health and reduced tension and stress. Regular reading improves focus and memory and it relieves tension by absorbing your attention and taking your out of your daily stresses. Reading fiction has even been shown to aid the development of empathy and emotional intelligence.

I don’t extol the benefits of reading to smugly denigrate the internet, TV, film or video games. Each of those media have made and continue to make unique and valuable contributions to storytelling and communication, but little compares to a book as a vessel for depth and nuance. In a world saturated by information, hot takes and high speed entertainment, taking the time to read a book or even a long-read article, whether to learn or escape, is a relief. It can be difficult too, even for those of us who have identified as Readers our whole lives! Attention and focus need to be trained, just like physical strength and stamina.

To read more in 2019, start practicing now!

Cultivate a habit

The more frequently you read, the more natural it will feel and the faster you’ll get. Look at other habits that might preventing you from doing all the reading you want. One less episode of Friends = twenty-five minutes of reading before bed!

Set a goal – or don’t!

If setting and accomplishing goals motivates you, choose the number of books or articles you want to read this year and keep a checklist to track your progress. Keep your goal realistic, though. If goals feel more like work than fun, focus on the habit. Instead of tracking pages or books, pay attention to how often you pick up a book, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour.

Read something you enjoy

Choose books you are genuinely interested in. Don’t try to challenge yourself with the classics or relive your lofty university reading habits with long academic works if that’s not what excites you. If you’re not enjoying a book, don’t finish it!

Carry a book with you

Keep a book in your bag and grab five minutes of reading at the bus stop or fifteen minutes on your break.

Have multiple books on the go

This might seem counter to the idea of developing focus or pushing yourself to a reading goal, but having a few different types of books on the go means that you have options depending on how you feel.

Make it social

Share reading recommendations with friends or on social media. Join a website like Goodreads to show off your progress and see what other people are reading. If you’re feeling ambitious, join or create a book club. Creating social interactions around reading adds fun, a sense of reward and accountability.

Gamify it

Make a reading bingo game, with different types of books or topics for each square and share it with friends. I have to give credit to my partner for this idea. Thanks to him I have to read Finnigan’s Wake and a “book about music production” this year!

Don’t force it

Just because you picked up a book doesn’t mean you have to settle in for an hour. You won’t have the same level of focus every day, and if five or ten minutes is all you can enjoy that is OK.

Get inspired

For me, being around someone who reads a lot inspired and motivated me to read more. Browse bookstores or libraries, read reviews and author interviews, and attend author events to get inspired and find books you really want to read.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

As a therapist, one of the first conversations I often to have with individuals involves the question of how one copes with the intense emotions experienced in the face of difficult situations. Often, people refer to their distractions as ways of coping; however, those are different. Distractions allow us to focus our full attention on things other than our emotions, while coping strategies help us acknowledge, accept and stay within our difficult emotions. Sometimes this helps us move through an emotional experience quite quickly, while other coping strategies force us to be emotional for some time. Below, I’ve compiled a list of what seem to be the top coping strategies for teenagers and adults and why they work!

Talking: Giving words to our situation can be cathartic. Dr. Dan Siegel states that we need to “name it to tame it”, meaning, that if we are able to identify our emotions, and further, to share out loud our emotional experience, that is the first step in helping gather our emotions back into a manageable state.

Drawing and other art: Humans have a need to be creative. The process of creating art can be an experience that impacts mental health. This might be partially due to the idea that creating art stimulates many areas of the brain to create new neural connections, and research shows that this may occur in areas that ultimately lead to more emotional resilience.

Writing/Journalling: Writing has many healing benefits, so many, that I’ve written entire blog post dedicated to the positive effects of writing. Putting our story to paper can provide clarity, can allow for letting go, and can inspire hope.

Breathing: Sometimes this is one of the simplest things that we can do. Taking deep breaths into the diaphragm helps infuse the body with oxygen, which creates a calming effect on both the physical body and in the mind. This is because deep breathing helps reduce cortisol levels in our bodies.

Music: Brain studies show that when we listen to some music, the blood flow in our brain changes, particularly in the area of the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. These areas are important for logical reasoning, and in the case of the amygdala, our emotions. Music can directly influence the way we feel and the way we think.

Exercise: Research shows that exercise can be just as effective as antidepressants in managing symptoms of depression, like exhaustion, sadness, and low motivation. Daily exercise may work over time by increasing our levels of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter implicated in depression.

Actively introducing positive thoughts: When our emotions are difficult, our thoughts tend to become negative. It takes practice and conscious thought to be able to actively introduce positive thoughts into our thinking. One way to do this is to name your thinking traps and find ways to respond to these thoughts.

Changing up your surroundings: Sometimes switching the environment we are in can be helpful. Often the change is subtle, like moving out of your bedroom and into another room. Sometimes the change is more drastic, like rearranging furniture in your living room.

Taking a step back, taking a break: This is especially helpful when our difficult emotions are stemming from relationships. Taking a step back from the relationship, either with physical distance or mental distance, can help us find room to problem solve.

Communicating your needs: It takes skill to be able to recognize what we need, and more hard work to communicate these needs to those in our lives. Perhaps you need an hour of me-time, maybe you want to say “no” to an upcoming social event, or maybe it is important to tell a family member you’ve been hurt by their actions. Communicating your needs assertively helps you to not only get what you need, but can help with self-esteem and feeling accomplished.

Using coping strategies when our emotions seem to be out of control can help bring them back to being regulated again. Moreover, coping strategies, when used over time, can help make changes that increase our ability to become resilient in the face of life events.  Remember, you got this.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.