With Valentine’s Day approaching, there is a lot of buzz in the air about love. We buy gifts and make plans with our loved ones to show them how much we love them and that we care. But what about ourselves? How often do you do something for yourself to show that you care?

I’m not talking about the typical acts of self-care (we’ve already covered those, here and here). What I’m talking about is your internal dialogue; that little voice that either tells you that you’re awesome or tells you that you suck. Society is hard on us growing up, always expecting us to be the best; get the best grades, get a high-paying job, etc. As we grow older and begin to develop our own ideas about ourselves, we often begin to adopt these feelings.

It’s wonderful to have drive and to want to improveourselves, we need that in order to have purpose in life. But oftentimes itgoes too far and we have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, whichinevitably leads to failure. When we experience this failure, it can be sounbelievably detrimental to our emotional wellbeing that we lose all sense ofourselves, our self-worth, and our self-esteem. This can in turn lead to adownward spiral of feeling anxious and depressed.

So how do we stop this cycle? Well, it’s not easy. Most ofus have spent our whole lives believing that we need to be perfect and gaugingour self-worth on our accomplishments in life rather than our character orintegrity as people.

This is a complicated issue, but I’ve broken down some tipsthat you can use to help be your own Valentine this February and give yourselfsome love.

Give YourselfPermission to be Imperfect

Everyone knows that logically, none of us are perfect. Weall make mistakes. But social media and the expectations that others put on us(and we put on ourselves) can cause us to lose sight of that. We only see whatother people want us to see; typically, the positive things in their lives, andtheir successes but not their failures.

When we stop comparing ourselves to those around us, we giveourselves permission to be imperfect. It’s okay to make mistakes; in fact, somewould argue that it’s necessary in order to grow and improve in life! Youcannot improve or learn if you don’t fall down or fail sometimes. So the nexttime that you make a mistake or recognize that you should/could have donesomething better, give yourself permission to make that mistake, learn from it,and move on.

Which brings me to my next point:

Look at the BigPicture

We often get really upset with ourselves when we make mistakes.We can’t believe that we forgot to do this thing, or didn’t get a good enoughgrade, and we’re mad at ourselves for it. But what does that get us? If youfail an exam and get angry at yourself and beat yourself up, that’s probablynot going to give you the confidence to do well next time.

In addition from accepting our mistakes and learning fromthem, we also have to put things into perspective and really see the bigpicture. So you fail an exam, and your mind automatically goes into panic mode,thinking you’ll never amount to anything. But think about it: is one exam goingto make you flunk out of school? Probably not.

Even if it does, does that mean you can never get a job? No;perhaps not in your desired field, or you may have to return to school. Doesthat mean you’re going to be homeless? Again, doubtful. You can likely get ajob somewhere and support yourself, or get some help from friends and family.Mistakes feel like failure and they make us question our worth, but we are notdefined by any one, two, or even three events in our lives. We are defined byour character and our ability to grow, learn, and bounce back from adversity.

Have RealisticExpectations of Yourself

Having said that, we also have to have realisticexpectations of ourselves. Sure, on the surface it may seem like a given thatyou expect yourself to pass your exams. But what if you were battling somefamily, financial, or personal issues at the time? What if you had a millionthings on your plate and couldn’t concentrate to study?

We don’t want to make excuses for negative behavior, but wedo need to be realistic. We can’t take on the whole world and come outunscathed (not even the Avengers could do that; spoiler alert).

So the next time you’re beating yourself up because youdidn’t work out after coming home from a 12-hour shift, making and eatingdinner, helping your kids with their homework, and spending time with yourfamily – remind yourself that you can’t do it all. No one can, and THAT’S OKAY!You can work out tomorrow. The world will not end (and you won’t get fat)because you missed one workout.

Let Yourself FeelNegative and Positive Emotions

While it’s all fine and dandy for me to suggest that yougive yourself a break, inevitably those negative emotions are going to pop up.‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I’m a failure’, ‘I never do anything right’, ‘I’llnever amount to anything’ – sound familiar? If so, you’re certainly not alone.We all have these thoughts that pop up once in a while, and that will probablynever change. Without some of these thoughts, it may make it difficult for usto grow. But what we can do is decrease their impact on us by not allowing themto take control of us.

The next time you’re feeling down because you made amistake, let yourself feel that disappointment. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean thatyou ARE a disappointment, it just means that this event was disappointing toyou, and next time you want to do better. Rather than trying to get rid ofthese feelings, embrace them and learn from them.

Embrace Your Flawsand Your Strengths

Not only are we not all perfect, but we all possessdifferent skills and strengths. As they say, it takes all kinds to make theworld turn.

We often see certain thoughts, feelings and skills andnegative or positive. Happiness, excitement, empathy, and selflessness areoften seen as positive. Sadness, anxiety, grief, feeling down, and selfishnessare often seen as negative. But can you think of any instances in which theopposite is true?

What about someone who is so selfless that they don’t takecare of themselves? We likely wouldn’t see this as positive. What about someonewho is feeling down because they haven’t slept well and they’re tired andoverwhelmed? While this may not feel good, I doubt most of us would blame theother person for feeling down.

The point is, emotions, thoughts, feelings, and even skillsdo not have to be positive or negative, each one has their place in society andin life, and we need all of them to make the world turn. Even things like anxietyand worry can be extremely beneficial in some circumstances, like the worrierwho always checks traffic before they leave the house to ensure they don’t runinto a backed-up highway (and they never do).

What Would You Tell aFriend?

Sometimes when negative events come up, or we make a mistake, we get so caught up in all of our negative feelings that it can be difficult to put things in perspective in the moment. One of my favourite techniques to use in these instances is flipping the situation and imagining that a friend was in your shoes and telling you what you’re telling yourself.  What would you say or how would you respond to a friend in the same situation? Would you tell them the same things you tell yourself? I’m guessing not. We’re often extremely hard on ourselves and much more kind to others. It can be helpful to write some things down to give you better perspective, and Self-Compassion.org has some wonderful writing prompts to help you do so.

This Valentine’s Day, treat yourself to some internal love and self-compassion, and be your own Valentine for once!

Jennifer Thomson

Registered Psychotherapist


It’s officially fall and the colder weather is already here. Many of us stay active in the summer months by going for walks, swimming, running outside, gardening, or engaging in other outdoor activities. The winter months can provide a challenge for staying active, as it’s often cold outdoors and we can’t do a lot of the things we enjoy in the summer.

As a result of this, we often become much more sedentary, spending more time indoors watching television (it is football season after all) and snacking. This can lead to weight gain, depressed mood, and an overall decrease in your well-being. You may not realize this, but being sedentary, spending more time at home, and decreasing your activity level can not only affect your overall mood, but it can also increase your level of anxiety (Otto & Smits, 2011).

For those of you with a year-long gym membership, continuing to be active likely won’t be a problem. But if you’re not a gym rat or you can’t afford to pay for a gym membership all year round, we’ve compiled some additional ways you can stay active this year!

Join an Active Team or Club

downloadOrganized sports don’t exist exclusively for children; there are many adult sports and activity leagues, especially in big cities. Often these are recreational leagues that require little to no prior experience or expertise. Joining something like this may give you an opportunity to learn a new skill, meet some new people, and stay active over the summer! Here are some local (Hamilton) leagues that I found with a quick Google search:

  • Soccer World Hamilton: Offering soccer, baseball, football, and drop-ins
  • Wentworth Arenas: Offering soccer and hockey
  • Average Joe Sports: Offering co-ed recreational basketball, dodgeball, flag football, floor hockey, soccer, softball, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, and youth sports
  • City of Hamilton: Information on badminton, swimming, volleyball, and basketball leagues
  • Sport & Social Club: Offering floor hockey, basketball, curling, dodgeball, fitness classes, flag football, hockey, soccer, softball, tennis, ultimate frisbee, volleyball, and water polo

Organized sports can sometimes be expensive, but by doing a search in your home town you may find some drop-in leagues available as well.

Go Swimming Indoors/Aquafit

swimming-659903_960_720Swimming is a fantastic aerobic exercise, and most cities have an indoor pool that offers lane swimming, classes, and free swim. This is something you can do on your own or with the whole family! The city of Hamilton has a list of local pools that you can check out by clicking here.

Most pools have the option to get a membership for the year or season, or pay per visit, decreasing the overall cost to you.

Attend a Yoga Class

Yoga_Class_at_a_Gym3Yoga is more than just meditation and stretching. For those of you who have never done yoga, it can be an intense workout and can help you with strength, flexibility, and the connection between body and mind.

Kayleen holds regular drop-in yoga classes in Hamilton, and we periodically hold yoga-therapy groups. There are also a number of other yoga services in Hamilton, and you can do your own yoga at home using YouTube!

Workout in Your Home

weight-loss-1207555_960_720You have to have expensive equipment or a lot of space to do your own aerobic workouts at home. You can work up a sweat and build muscle by doing bodyweight workouts or using household items as weights, such as jugs of water, water bottles filled with sand or rice, cans, etc.

If you’re not sure where to start, HIIT workouts are a great start as they are short but high intensity, so they get your heart rate up and really make you sweat! You can also make your own workout plans. Some exercises you can do that require no equipment include:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Jumping jacks
  • Push ups
  • Sit ups
  • Planks
  • Mountain climbers

There is really an endless list! There are many resources online where you can find pre-made workout plans or even fitness videos on YouTube. Make sure that you check with your doctor first to ensure that you can engage in any exercises you’re unfamiliar with.

Go Outside

run-1096683_960_720Winter can suck, but there are often really beautiful sights to see in the winter time. If the weather isn’t too bad, you can go for a walk outside on a trail or in your neighbourhood. You can also look into outdoor skating rinks in your area, or go to a lake or pond near your home that has been cleared to be safe for skating on. These can be fun family activities, or things you can do on your own!

If it’s not too cold or icy, you can even take elements of your home workout outside, and do some running, skipping, or your entire workout in the backyard. You can also try out some fun winter sports, such as snow shoeing, downhill, or cross-country skiing!

Get a Gym Membership

download (1)The idea of going to the gym can be daunting, and sometimes the price can be an even bigger deterrent. But a $50/month gym membership at a fancy gym isn’t your only option. There are many smaller gyms around that offer cheaper monthly fees, such as Planet Fitness and Fit4Less, or discounted rates based on your income such as at the YMCA.

Not only that, but many gyms have an option to put your membership on hold or only have it for certain times in the year, so that you can use it in the winter and put it on hold in the summer. The advantage to going to a gym is that:

  • It gets you out of the house
  • You have access to expensive equipment you may not have at home
  • You can often attend classes
  • Some offer free orientations to help you get acquainted
  • You have an opportunity to be social

Practice Gratitude

My last tidbit of information or advice is to practice gratitude. The idea that winter sucks can really get us down and cause us to lose motivation and not put in the effort to stay active. Practicing gratitude for family, friends, our environment, and where we live can help us move in the direction of more positive health. Rather than seeing winter as a gloomy time where you can’t go outside and nothing gets done, think of it as an opportunity to try new things. Remind yourself of how lucky we are to live in this beautiful country, and think of all of the positive aspects of winter, such as Christmas time, more time with family, fuzzy warm sweaters, and football season!



Otto, M., & Smits, J. A. (2011). Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being. Oxford University Press.







Jennifer Thomson

Registered Psychotherapist


Today is World Mental Health Day. I feel it’s inevitable that the question of “Why?” may come up. Why do we have multiple Mental Health Days / weeks / months? Why do we have to keep talking about this, to keep bringing up a subject that seems so obvious? Are we beating a dead horse?

Let’s first look at some stats for the hard facts:

  • In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will personally experience a mental health problem or illness (CAMH)
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for individuals aged 15-29 (WHO)
  • By age 40, 50% of the population will have or have experienced a mental health disorder (CAMH)
  • Approximately 21.6% of Canadians met criteria or a substance use disorder during their lifetime (Statistics Canada)

Do any of these surprise you? What’s more surprising is the fact that many of these statistics are an underestimate, due to many studies not including Aboriginal populations, Armed Forces, homeless individuals, and the fact that many individuals under-report mental illness.

As a therapist working in mental health, I see the faces of people who live this struggle each and every day. I hear the stories about how they haven’t known how to talk about it with someone, or how they have talked about it and were told “Just don’t think about it” or “It’ll be okay”. It is my belief that these words are generally said with intentions of comfort, but that their actual impact is one of feeling invalidated, brushed off, or unheard. This is one of the reasons I think calling attention to mental health so important – so the general population is better-informed with how to acknowledge people when they come forward with a struggle so as not to further invalidate the individual who is struggling.

So what can we say? What is a more helpful response when a friend, coworker, or loved one comes to us with a struggle?

I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.

This must be really hard for you. Do you want to talk more about it?

What is it that is making you feel that way?

I am here for you.

It means a lot to me that you opened up about this.

Is there something I can do to help? 

Do you think it would be helpful to talk to a professional? Can I help you find one?

The key here is sitting with this person and listening, even when it’s uncomfortable. Not immediately trying to problem-solve or fix the situation, because often it is not a problem that can be quickly fixed. Not telling the person they’re okay or they’re going to be okay, because sometimes it’s okay not to be okay. Not being afraid to ask hard questions such as inquiring further if suicide is mentioned. There is a common misconception that talking about suicide may further increase chances of it happening – but really the opposite is true. The more we talk about this uncomfortable thing, the more we open the door for that individual to express how they truly feel. This rings true for any difficult emotion, thought, or feeling.

Today a friend posted on Instagram, “You could ask someone 99 times if they are okay and only receive their cry for help on the 100th response”. This rang so true to me. I’m currently getting over a cold, and have been touched with the amount of times friends and family have texted to ask how I’m feeling. Why can’t we do the same for mental health?


Ask if someone doesn’t seem like themselves. Ask if someone seems quiet. Ask if someone cancels coming to events frequently. Ask if someone doesn’t show up for work. Ask if someone makes an off-hand joke about killing themselves. Ask if you have a gut feeling but outside everything seems okay. Ask just for the sake of asking!

It never hurts to ask – even if it takes 99 times.


Statistic Links:

CAMH: https://cmha.ca/about-cmha/fast-facts-about-mental-illness

WHO: http://www.who.int/mental_health/world-mental-health-day/2018/en/

Statistics Canada: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-624-x/2013001/article/11855-eng.htm

Kayleen Edwards, MA, RP