Body Positive, or Unhealthy?

Being body-positive is so important to ensure that we are caring for ourselves, but what happens when it goes too far?

If someone is severely underweight or severely overweight, but happy with their bodies, is that okay? What if they have underlying health problems as a result of their weight?

This problem often arises because we don’t always have a good picture of what it means to be a healthy weight, and the idea of what our bodies are supposed to look like can be extremely distorted. While measures such as BMI can be helpful in determining a healthy weight range for someone of a given age and height, the reality is that everyone’s body is different, and certain weights may not be realistic for some people compared to others.

So what does all of this mean? The crux of it is that while we want to be body positive and love ourselves regardless of what’s on the outside, we also have to be realistic, and we want to strive for healthy lifestyles.

That leads to the next question… what does it truly mean to be “healthy”? While this may seem like a complicated question, it’s actually quite simple.

In order to be healthy, it is recommended that you eat a variety of different foods (balancing macro and micronutrient intake), and exercise regularly. There is a lot of misinformation about health and nutrition out there, so I want to take some time to dispel some of these myths.

Myth: I have to eat a low carbohydrate diet in order to reach or maintain a normal weight

This is a very common myth that many people believe. With diets like Atkins and the Keto diet, there has been a lot of talk about low carbohydrate diets being the only way (or best way) to lose weight and be healthy.

While this is certainly an option for many people and many are successful using this method, it’s not recommended by most professionals. There are a few reasons for this, especially that it’s likely not a sustainable diet. As time passes, people are more likely to gain the weight back later on once they stop eating low-carb, as is the case for many diets that include dietary or food restrictions (Insel, Ross, McMahon, & Bernstein, 2013).

 Additionally, low-carb diets may be ineffective because of how our bodies work. Carbohydrates are actually quite useful! Our bodies use carbohydrates for fuel and many internal processes, including digestion and absorption of important vitamins and minerals.

Not only do most health professionals not recommend a low-carbohydrate diet, but the golden standard ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), suggest that the majority of your calories should come from carbohydrates (Insel, Ross, McMahon, & Bernstein, 2013).

If you want to lose weight, or maintain a healthy weight, the best way to do so is to eat a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fats from a variety of different sources. If you want to lose weight, decreasing your overall intake of food is the best way to lose weight and stay healthy. MyPlate is a great resource to help you pick meals and foods that balance essential nutrients for our bodies. Stay tuned for part 3 of this blog series for more tips on how to lose or gain weight, depending on your goals.

Myth: I have to take up running or other high-intensity exercise to be healthy

General recommendations for adults and exercise is 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and get a gym membership – there are many different things that you can do to stay active! Some of these include:

  • Walking at a moderate to brisk pace
  • Cleaning
  • Working a job that requires physical labour, such as housekeeper, mechanic, or factory worker
  • Doing yoga
  • Swimming
  • Gardening
  • Shoveling snow
  • Cutting the grass, and many other household chores

Getting enough exercise is important to ensure that our bodies are strong. Moderate exercise helps us maintain bone, joint, and muscle strength, flexibility, cardiovascular health, and increases endorphins that make us feel good!

Not only that, but studies have shown that getting 30 minutes of exercise per day can help reduce your risk of health problems, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and even many types of cancer (Mayo Clinic, 2018).

Myth: I have to be within a certain weight range to be healthy

It’s true that BMI (body mass index) is a common method of determining whether or not someone is in a healthy weight category based on their height an age. While many healthcare professionals use this as a baseline to determine if someone is over or underweight, it is important to note that it is not a tried and true method to determine someone’s overall health.

Tom Brady
CJ Anderson

In reality, there are many factors that contribute to someone’s weight, including genetics, body-fat percentage, and bone structure. Consider this: Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, is 6’4” tall and weights approximately 225lbs. Based on BMI, he is overweight. However, Tom Brady is an elite athlete who has 6 Superbowl rings; we would be hard-pressed to suggest that he is unhealthy. The former running back for the Los Angeles Rams, CJ Anderson, is considered obese by BMI standards, and he played against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl last year!

Of course, most of us are not Tom Brady or CJ Anderson, and are not elite athletes. However, what this illustrates is that BMI is not always the best way to determine whether or not someone is healthy.

Instead of using BMI, try setting some goals for yourself based on the performance of your body, what you’d like your body to be able to do, or goals you have for your future.

Myth: I can’t have treats or eat the food I like if I want to be healthy

I think this myth scares a lot of people because honestly, food is SO GOOD and the thought of having to restrict or cut out certain types of foods can be upsetting. But I have good news! You don’t have to cut anything completely out of your diet in order to be healthy!

As I mentioned before, being healthy is all about getting a variety of nutrients from a range of different foods. Health is all about balance. Do you have to cut out McDonald’s from your life and give up those sweet, sweet chicken nuggets? No! Should you eat chicken nuggets every day? Also no.

Have a sweet tooth? Eat some chocolate. Just don’t each excessive amounts of chocolate every day. If you’re trying to lose weight, a big part of the difficulty can be training your body to eat smaller portions. In addition to portion control, it can be beneficial to get a better balance of different types of food in your diets, such as fruit, vegetables, protein found in meats or meat alternatives, and whole grains.

Myth: I have to be skinny and look like models and actors in order to be considered healthy

The media fills us with images of thin women and muscular men, suggesting that that’s how ‘normal’ or healthy people look. But this isn’t always the case, and the goals and ideals for one person may vary drastically from another person’s.

Consider the body image differences between an NFL linebacker and an acrobat. Both are arguably fit and healthy, but the physique goals for the NFL linebacker are likely going to be very different from that of the acrobat. The linebacker may be focused more on size and strength, whereas the acrobat might be focused on strength and flexibility, and not gaining size.

Again, health is about what you do, not necessarily about how you look. Think about what you want from your body, and what you want it to do. Is that in line with how you envision yourself looking? As always, you should consult with your doctor before making any food or exercise changes.

In our next edition of this blog series, we will explore how you can work to focus more on health and your personal goals, and less on how you look in the mirror.

References

Insel, P., Ross, D., McMahon, K., & Bernstein, M. (2013). Nutrition (5th ed.). Jones & Bartlett Learning, LLC.

Mayo Clinic. (2018, December 14). Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT, FNS

Living with chronic pain is a struggle every day; you have aches and pains but it seems like there’s no answers for you. While I can’t say that I’ve experienced chronic pain myself, my mother, Lisa, has been living with Crohn’s disease, Fibromyalgia, and chronic pain for most of her life.

This is what she had to say about living with chronic pain:

“Chronic pain affects every aspect of daily living. Most mornings I am so stiff it is hard to get out of bed; it takes over an hour to get moving normally. Everything you do is affected by the pain. I have frequent body aches and spasms – it’s exhausting to deal with. The fatigue takes over and most days I have to lay down and rest.”

Everyone’s experience with chronic pain is different, but in my experience the general idea is the same; dealing with constant pain and aches is exhausting and it truly does affect every single thing you do.

Chronic pain can be extremely debilitating, and even lead to symptoms of depression. Studies have found that those with multiple pain symptoms are three to five times more likely to experience depression than those without pain (Meshreki & Cosio, 2017).

While I can’t cure your chronic pain with extensive Psychotherapy or by having you read this blog, I hope that I can help provide you with some tips to be able to cope a little more easily with your pain.

Spend Time with Loved Ones

Jennifer and her mother, Lisa

This is important for everyone; not just those who suffer from chronic pain. Spending time with loved ones can be beneficial because we receive love, compassion, and care from that that we may not be getting from ourselves.

Being grateful for the wonderful people in our lives can help to lift our spirits and remind us of how lucky we are. We can also benefit from helping those around us; helping others reminds us that we have purpose and meaning in our own lives and the lives of others.

Ask for Help

This is a big one, and one that I know a lot of people struggle with (even those without chronic pain). Asking for help is tough. It can make us feel weak and lead to feelings of ‘less than’. The reality is, we all need help from time to time. Whether or not we ask for it, we inevitably get help from others, whether it’s emotional, physical, financial, or otherwise.

If you have a good circle of people around you, they won’t mind if you ask for help. And asking for help when you need it can alleviate some of the pressure that you put on yourself to do things on your own.

Often, when we begin to ask others for help, it opens up for them to ask as well. Once we know that we have an opportunity to help someone that we’ve asked for help, it can make us feel more at peace with the process, as we’ve developed a sense of reciprocity in the relationship.

Remember: you don’t have to do this alone.

Embrace Your Body

It’s understandable that when you’re experiencing chronic pain, you may not have a lot of appreciation for your body, what it can do, how it looks, or how it feels. We feel like we have no control over how our body feels, so we can sometimes take that as we have no control over our bodies at all.

Lisa recently lost over 30 pounds by making some changes to her diet, and has begun going to the gym. While she doesn’t indicate that going to the gym improves her symptoms, her weight loss has done wonders for her confidence and her mental health.

“I push myself to work out and to keep my muscles working, but it is definitely a struggle.”

Knowing that you have some control over your body and being able to see that it can improve and do wonderful things (like lift heavy weights or increase your time doing cardio) can be truly empowering.

Work on Your Mental Health

As I mentioned earlier, the rates of depression in individuals with chronic pain are higher than the general population. While this may not come as a surprise to many, what may surprise you is that your mental health can actually impact your physical health.

The Medical Journal of Australia reports that chronic pain patients who struggle with depression report decreased function and have poorer responses to treatment (Holmes, Christelis, & Arnold, 2013). Not only that, but the link between mental and physical health has been widely recognize for quite some time, yet it is often overlooked by physicians.

If you notice that your mental health is suffering, there are some things you can do to help. You can speak with your doctor, turn to self-help books or mental health blogs, or seek out Psychotherapy. It’s okay to ask for help!

Do Things that you Love

Lisa with some of her crafts

Lisa didn’t mention this when we spoke, but she loves to do crafts. She does woodworking, painting, and other home décor-type projects. But doing these things is difficult for her as she experiences tingling and numbness in her hands and fingers at times. So how does she deal?

She takes her time, listens to her body, and takes frequent breaks. She will often spend more frequent, shorter periods of time working on her crafts instead of a full day to ensure she doesn’t overdo it.

There may be things you used to love to do that you can’t do anymore. Sometimes we have to be creative and really dig deep down to find something we will enjoy.

For example, let’s say you love to play soccer, but as your symptoms increase, you find you can no longer play. So what now? Well, I would encourage you to ask yourself what it was about soccer that you enjoyed.

If it’s being competitive, that’s great! There are lots of less physical or non-physical things that are competitive, so perhaps looking into those options. If it’s the team aspect, then maybe you look into a lower-impact team sport. And if it’s the physical work that you enjoy, getting a gym membership and doing what you can on your own time and at your own pace may be a great way to push yourself physically without overdoing it.

It’s difficult to look at some of these things because we often associate our hobbies and interests with our identities. It’s a hard thing to redefine who you are, but having chronic pain doesn’t make you less of a person; it may just make your life look a little different.

Nothing

Sometimes we have to just ‘drop the rope’ and do nothing.

“The fatigue takes over and most days I am forced to lay down and rest. This helps relieve some of the exhaustion.”

Lisa Stere

It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to listen to your body and give it a break. Having some self-compassion and allowing yourself to take care of you and your body is important.

We may have internal judgement for resting, or even external judgement from others. But at the end of the day if resting is what is going to help you live your best life, so that you can wake up from your nap and conquer the rest of the day – then you do that!

“I would love to wake up and feel rested and pain free, just for a few days. The pain is real but I try not to let it take over my life.”

Lisa Stere

Chronic pain is real. It sucks and it is a struggle and it is hard. And you can get through it, because you’ve been getting through it. You can take back some control and keep moving forward the best that you can.

We can’t control everything, but when we focus on the things we can control, we become empowered, strong, and resilient, just like my mom, Lisa.

Thank you to Lisa Stere for speaking to me about her experiences. You’re truly an inspiration.

Jennifer Thomson, RP, MACP

Part 1: How to Stop Hating Your Body and Start Loving Yourself

I’m too fat. I’m too skinny. My butt is too big. I have no curves.

How often have you heard these things from your friends? What about from yourself?

I imagine your response to friends and family is reassurance that their body is beautiful and they have nothing to worry about. But I’m guessing your response to yourself isn’t the same. So why the double-standard?

Body image, self-esteem, and self-worth in general are all things that people struggle with from time to time (some of us more than others). Where does this come from? The answer is likely complicated, but I believe that the media, and in particular social media, has contributed significantly to the decline in self-esteem in women and men.

A study done at Simon Fraser University found that women who used the internet more often were more likely to be dissatisfied with their bodies (Ghoussoub, 2017). Furthermore, a study in Ontario concluded that 30% of females and 25% of males between 10 and 14 years old reported that they had dieted in order to lose weight in the past (National Initiative for Eating Disorders, 2017). These numbers suggest that our self-image begins to decline at a young age and can persist into adulthood, for both women and men.

Think about when you were between the ages of 10 and 14 years old. I know for me, I was never happy with my body at that age. And looking back on photos now, it’s difficult for me to understand why – my body seemed perfectly normal.

Having said all that… what do we do about it? It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of negative body image, as we have so many factors influencing us: the media, friends and family, how we were raised, the food industry, etc. But regardless of where those negative thoughts come from, there are a few things we can do to help.

Stop Trying to Compare

Social media is filled with success stories of weight loss, athletes, and models showing off their products and bodies to the world. While these stories and images can be inspiring, they can also lead to a great deal of comparisons, which can then lead to negative self-esteem.

If you find yourself saying “I wish I was more like him/her”, or “I’m not as good as him/her” while cruising social media, it might be a good idea to shift gears a little bit. Maybe try filtering what you see so that you see posts of people who can lift you up rather than making you feel down about yourself. This may be more body-positive blogs, or just accounts that focus less on body image and more on other values or interests that you have. Taking a break from social media altogether might be something to think about as well, as for some of us, the pressure to be like others and compare ourselves can become too much.  

Remember, your journey is uniquely yours. No one else has been through what you’ve been through with the tools that you have, surrounded by the people you’re around. You have to decide what you want your journey to look like, and it doesn’t have to (and probably won’t) look like anyone else’s.

You are More than Just the Way You Look

Who are you? How would you describe yourself? You might include your age, your family, your occupation… do you include your weight? While we may not explicitly describe ourselves to others based on our weight, many people have their identity tied to their size.

Perhaps you’ve always seen yourself as the chubby one in your group, or you’ve always been known to be petite. We can get really fused to these ideas and it can be difficult to step away from that and envision ourselves as anything else.

Your identity is tied to a lot of different, least of which is likely your appearance. Whether you are tall, short, thin, or heavy-set, the important aspects of who you are are unlikely to change. So the next time you find yourself focusing on the negative aspects of your body, try refocusing to the positive aspects of your personality and who you are.

Having said that…

Appreciate Your Body

Our bodies are amazing things. From our digestive systems breaking down food and nutrients to fuel our bodies, to our musculoskeletal system that allows us to move around, we’re a lucky species!

We often neglect to focus on what our body can do for us, and instead focus on how our bodies look. Think about it, for most of us, our bodies allow us to: breathe automatically without thinking about it; digest a wide array of foods; fuel our bodies for intense exercise; support our bodies through walking, sitting, twisting, and other movements; grow a baby inside a woman’s body; and so much more!

These things are all amazing, and even if your body can’t do some of these, it can still do unbelievable things. Rather than focusing on how your body looks, remind yourself of what it can do for you, and what it’s capable of. Want to get stronger and be able to life your body weight? Great! Go for it. With some training, time, and effort, you can do that.

Instead of having goals that focus on how you look or the number on the scale, try for some goals related to your physical abilities, such as being able to walk or run a certain distance, lift a certain amount of weight, or be more flexible. For example, I’ve recently shifted my fitness goals from looking at the number on the scale, to working on my cardiovascular fitness, and I’m currently training to do a 10km run in August.

Reframe your Self-Talk

This is probably the hardest one. We are often so hard on ourselves, especially when it comes to our personal appearance, and we constantly put ourselves down. So how can you change that? Well, when we truly believe the negative things that we say about ourselves, it can be difficult.

The more that we put ourselves down, the less positive we feel, and the less likely we are to make changes to our routines in order to improve on our habits. Picture this: you’re on Instagram late at night, and see a model who you feel is more fit than you. You resolve to diet so you can be more like her. The next day someone brings donuts into the office, and you have one. You feel terrible after and criticize yourself for not being successful for even one day of the diet. You view the rest of the day as a write-off, because what’s the point anyways? Then that night you’re on Instagram again and the cycle continues. The worse we feel, the more we restrict, the more we restrict, the less realistic it is and the more likely we are to fail. The more that we fail, the more discouraged we get, etc. We have to be able to break this cycle, and it starts with our self-talk.

Think about how you talk to yourself when you look at your body. Would you talk to a friend in the same way? I’m guessing the answer to that is no. Why not? Is it because you don’t want to hurt their feelings? Because you think they’re wonderful regardless of how they look? Take some time to think about some of these things, and see if you can apply them to your own self talk.

Another tip that can be helpful is to repeat positive affirmations to yourself. Think about some of the things that you like about yourself; these can be general or specific. Repeat these things to yourself each day, and even more general things, such as “I am beautiful/handsome”.

Even if you don’t fully believe these things right away, they can be a powerful tool for giving yourself confidence.

Try out some of these tips to see if you can improve your relationship with your body, and if you can be kinder to yourself. It may take some time for these changes to take effect, but it may help to take some importance off of your appearance and instead put it on your abilities, values, and personality traits.

It’s great to be positive about your body. But what if you’re so positive about your body that you end up inadvertently reinforcing unhealthy habits? This can happen as well, and will be the topic of the next blog in this series. Stay tuned in April for its release!

References

Ghoussoub, M. (2017, February 20). Women with higher internet use report increased body dissatisfaction, study finds. Retrieved from CBC: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/women-with-higher-internet-use-report-increased-body-dissatisfaction-study-finds-1.3991513

National Initiative for Eating Disorders. (2017). Canadian Reearch on Eating Disorders. Toronto: NIED.



Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT



Therapy dogs are becoming more commonplace in universities, hospitals, retirement homes, and more recently, airports. Personal therapy dogs have also widely been used with individuals who experience anxiety, depression, PTSD, and physical health concerns such as blindness, autism, and diabetes, to name a few.

According to Psychology Today, bonding with dogs is said to have benefits such as reducing stress levels, decreasing perceived loneliness, and increased overall life satisfaction.

Similarly, a study by McConnell et al. (2011) found that pet owners had improved self-esteem, were more physically fit, less lonely, more extraverted, and less fearful than people who did not have pets. It seems clear in the research that having a pet significantly improves overall wellbeing, including both physical and mental health. But what does this look like in real life?

 

When we adopted our dog Callie, the impact on my life was almost immediately noticeable. These are the major differences I noticed:

 

I’m more active.

We generally walk Callie twice a day, every day for 15-30 minutes each time. Prior to having a dog, I definitely did not walk regularly or spend as much time outdoors. This is especially true in the winter and when it’s raining – times when I never would have gone for a walk on my own before having a dog.IMG_0762.JPG

I’ve noticed now that if I don’t get our walks in, I feel it! I feel more fatigued overall, and sometimes I notice feeling more anxious. It’s funny to me how I wouldn’t think of missing Callie’s walks, but that before having her it didn’t cross my mind to make walking a regular part of my daily routine.

 

I’m more social with neighbours.

Prior to having a dog, it was pretty rare (if at all!) that we saw neighbours or stopped to talk to them on the street. After having the dog, we have definitely noticed increased social interaction with our neighbours. I now know the names of some neighbours (and their dogs!) whom I wouldn’t have known if we didn’t have a dog.

 

I live more in the moment.

Anyone who has a dog knows that dogs are exceptionally good at stopping to smell… well, just about anything. Having a dog has been an excellent reminder to stop and appreciate the little things. When I’m walking Callie, I like to leave my phone at home so I can be totally present with her, noticing all of the sights, smells, and sounds during that time.

IMG_8928.JPG

 

I’m happier overall.

When you come home from a long, difficult day and there’s someone running at the door to meet you, dancing around because they’re so excited you’re home – it’s pretty difficult not to be happy! Callie’s presence adds excitement and joy to our home, even on days that are more difficult.

 

Although there are many benefits to having a dog, having a dog isn’t for everyone and it’s not a decision that should be made lightly. It’s always a good idea to factor in time and money available for caring for a pet, and understanding that it is a big commitment.

If you do decide having a pet is right for you, I strongly recommend adopting over shopping! There are so many wonderful pets that are waiting at shelters or rescues for their forever homes.

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Below are some links to organizations local to Hamilton that may be worth looking into:

Hamilton/Burlington SPCA:          https://hbspca.com/

Brant County SPCA:                       https://www.brantcountyspca.com/

Ugly Mutts:                                       http://www.uglymuttsdogrescue.com/

Lady Bird Animal Sanctuary:         https://www.ladybirdanimalsanctuary.com/

 

By Kayleen Edwards, MA ,RP

 

Sources:

McConnell, A.R., Brown, C.M., Shoda, T.M., Stayton, L.E., & Martin, C.E. (2011). Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(6).

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/toronto/article-torontos-pearson-airport-enlists-the-help-of-therapy-dogs-to-help/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/canine-corner/200906/health-and-psychological-benefits-bonding-pet-dog

Having a strong support network is crucial for our mental health.

As humans we are social creatures and it can be difficult, if not impossible, to get through life without some other humans by our side cheering us on. But what happens when the humans that are supposed be by our side aren’t?

We can sometimes feel like our friends aren’t being supportive, and if we’ve been friends with them for a long time, recognizing this can be even more difficult.

‘Toxic’ relationships are named as such because they are negative and can permeate every part of our lives. When we have someone who is constantly negative or putting us down, those negative feelings don’t stop once the person is no longer in our presence; we take those thoughts and feelings with us, and sometimes we start to feel like they’re true.

Don’t get me wrong; friends shouldn’t just constantly be praising you either (that would be sort of weird); we also need an element of honesty and, frankly, someone to call us out on our BS sometimes. These close friendships, which we will likely have only a few of, consist of a level of respect that allows you to have a conversation about something you’re doing wrong, while also lifting you up and supporting you.

So how can you make sure you have a great support network, and that you can be a great support for others? Here are some true signs of a great friendship:

1.You feel good about yourself when you’re around them

We often meet our first friends in school, and a lot of time spent with them is engaging in leisure activities, so it makes sense that you’d feel good when you’re with your friends. But even more than that, your friends should make you feel good about yourself as a person. If you have a friend who is constantly putting you down, pointing out your faults, or telling you that you’re not good enough, they may not be acting as supportive as they could be. No one is perfect, but if you have someone around you who constantly talks about your downfalls and never praises you or brings up how great you are, they may need to go. Another red flag here is when someone is constantly gossiping about others and seems to have nothing positive to say about anyone else.

2. They support you in your goals and aspirations

Picture this: you’ve never been athletic in your life, always been a book worm and don’t have a lot of experience with exercise. But you go to a soccer match one day and decide that you’d love to try it, so you excitedly message your best friend about how you’ve signed up for house league soccer. She replies with “LOL, good luck with that”, and says nothing more. How do you feel?

I’m guessing not great. You’ve decided to do something for yourself and get healthy and be active, and you’re excited about it, and you feel like your friend just deflated you like a balloon. You try to talk to them more about it and they just shrug it off, insisting you’ll never stick to it so why bother. You start to think about that, and wonder if it’s true. You’ve tried things in the past that have failed, so maybe she’s right.

This type of friend can quickly become a ‘toxic’ friend, because the act of them putting you down can easily permeate your own mind and lead to lowered self-esteem. Likely, the next time you see them, you’re not going to be excited to see them, and you may even believe that they think less of you, upsetting the balance in the friendship. A good friend should support you, even if it’s something difficult. A response such as “Wow that’s exciting! Good for you! If you need extra motivation, I’m here to help”, would have been much more supportive and uplifting.

3. You can be yourself around them

Personally, for me, this one is extremely important. If you feel like you have to put a mask on every time you’re with your friends, then you may have to ask yourself if they’re friends with you, or someone you’re pretending to be. This is especially true if, when you try to be yourself, your friends make fun of you, put you down, or seem uninterested. We want to have authentic and true friends that we can relax with and be ourselves around, not people that we have to hide from who make us feel ashamed of who we are.

4. They’re honest with you

No one is perfect, and relationships aren’t perfect. They take effort and compromise and sometimes we get hurt by the people we love and care about. We can’t know what everyone wants all the time, so it’s important in relationships that we express what it is that we need and want, and when we’re not getting it.

A good friend will let you know when you’re being a jerk to them – or someone else, and help you correct it without being rude or mean. Being able to call you out when you’re being unreasonable is an important trait to have, and it takes both sides to make this happen. We have to be approachable and open to criticism (not taking it personally), and our friends have to be willing and able to be in a bit of an uncomfortable situation. At the end of the day, it leaves everyone in a better spot if we can be honest about how we feel. Which brings me to my next point…

5. They argue with you – nicely

Similar to number four is arguing. If you think about your closest relationships and think to yourself “oh my friend and I never argue or disagree”, you may want to look a little deeper there. As I mentioned, relationships can be difficult and no two people are going to agree on everything – that’s okay! A true sign of friendship is being able to argue or disagree about something, and to work it out together without the friendship dissolving. So when you’ve accidentally hurt a friend’s feelings and they bring it up to you, you may not agree with what they have to say. The important thing is to be honest and talk it out, because it’s likely going to boil down to a misunderstanding.

If you’re reading these and thinking that maybe your friends really aren’t great friends after all, don’t worry. If someone doesn’t fit this list, it doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed.

Sometimes you just need to have a discussion about your expectations and theirs, and work to improve things over time. If not, it may be time to move on and look for new, more fulfilling relationships. It can seem scary but over time our needs can change and that’s okay. You deserve to have a good support network.

I would also encourage you to do some self-reflection when you read this list and see if you’re doing everything you can do to be a good friend. We can all benefit from making some changes and improving how we interact with people, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Having a great group of friends and surrounding yourself with support and positivity can make a world of difference in your life.

Jennifer Thomson

RP, MACP, CPT

P.S. Happy birthday to my best friend, Ali!