Five Ways You’re Violating Women’s Personal Boundaries (And Probably Don’t Even Realize It)


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

Personal boundaries are your personal rules and principles that spell out what you will or won’t do or allow. Most people can identify obvious boundary violations, such as sexual assault, physical violence, name calling, cutting ahead of others in a line, stealing, and reading someone else’s email, text messages, or diary. While it’s obvious that the preceding five examples are boundary violations, there are five subtle boundary violations that women experience so often that most people don’t even realize they’re boundary violations because they’re accepted as normal behaviour. It’s important to note that these boundary violations are committed by both men and women. Even though the following examples also happen to men (and shouldn’t be tolerated when they do), they happen to women more often and are typically dismissed as the woman being “too sensitive”, “bitchy”, or “making a big deal out of nothing”. Read on to find out more:

1)Asking “Why?” when a woman says no.

The word “no” is a complete sentence and doesn’t require an explanation or justification.

If a woman doesn’t want to do something, that’s the end of the conversation. You must accept that and not interrogate her or try to negotiate with her. It is not your right to try and talk her out of doing something she doesn’t want to do.

Unfortunately, the following scenarios happen to women far too often and have led many to believe that it’s acceptable to have their “no” questioned:

  • Asking her why she declined an alcoholic beverage that you offered her.
  • Asking her why she didn’t order alcohol at a restaurant.
  • Questioning her decision not to attend a wedding, baby shower, bridal shower, or any event where attendance and gift giving are typically expected of women.
  • Questioning why she declined your offer to spend time with you.
    • If she provided a reason, trying to convince her to go out with you anyway. Or simply dismissing her reason altogether (“Instead of going to the gym after work, you could go to the gym in the morning, and see your dentist another day so we can have dinner together tomorrow night.”).
    • Judging her reason for not wanting to spend time with you (“Why do you want to stay home when you can have dinner with me?”).

While some may think it’s not a big deal to question why a woman doesn’t want to go out for dinner or tell her to go to the gym at a different time, it’s actually sending the message that when a woman says “no”, it can be ignored, dismissed, criticized, or even made fun of.

What if this was a sexual situation? If she said no to sexual activity and you repeatedly asked her why, criticized her, or dismissed her and tried to make her do something she wasn’t comfortable doing, you’re telling her that you don’t respect her “no”– and that includes her decision not to have sex with you (and you just sexually assaulted someone, which is a crime and could lead to jail time). Boundaries – whether physical (including sexual), emotional, or spiritual – are non-negotiable.

2) Touching a woman’s hair or clothing without asking.

Just because we like the way a woman looks or what she’s wearing doesn’t give us the right to touch her. How many times have you reached out to feel a woman’s hair or touch her sweater without asking? Remember: Other people’s bodies (including what they put on their bodies) don’t belong to you. If something doesn’t belong to you, you’re not allowed to touch it.

3) Touching a pregnant woman’s belly without asking.

This technically falls under point #2, but for some, common sense disappears when pregnancy and children are involved. Whether you know the pregnant woman or not, it’s never ok to touch a pregnant woman’s belly. Think about it: would you want someone coming up to you and touching your belly (pregnant or not) without asking? The fact that people do this shows how women’s bodies are considered public property. Keep your hands off pregnant women’s bellies. If you want to touch a pregnant woman’s belly, ask her first if it’s okay. Just don’t be surprised when she say no (and if she does say no, refer to point #1).

4) Addressing a woman by her first name when the situation doesn’t warrant it or when she tells you not to.

Times have changed since the 1950s when we would address our superiors at work as Mister or Miss. Nowadays, most people would laugh at the thought of addressing their manager by their proper title and family name. While this might be acceptable where you work, not everyone in your life wants to be addressed by their given (first) name. Next time you’re at a medical, dental, counselling, naturopathic, or chiropractic appointment, pay attention to how the female health care practitioners introduce themselves. When she introduces herself as Doctor, do you then address her by her given name? Do you do this to the male health care practitioners or do you address them as Doctor? Why would you comply with a male doctor’s request but ignore the request of a female doctor? Don’t assume that the professionals you meet are comfortable being on a first-name basis with you. If you’re unsure, ask.

5) Telling women how to live their lives.

You might think you would never do this, but think about what you’ve said to women who have told you something about their lives that is different from your own. For example, maybe they don’t want to get married, have children, work a traditional 9-5 job, own a home, have pets, drink alcohol, eat certain foods (e.g. meat, chips, chocolate, strawberries), dye their grey or white hair, or own a car. Did you ask why with the intention of trying to understand her choice or to shame her for not living her life the way you think she should? If you chose the former, your desire to expand your worldview is commendable. If, after hearing her reasons, you told her why you believe she should live her life like you, you have violated her emotional boundaries.

Think twice before trying to convince someone to think, feel, or act like you. Don’t demand an explanation when you’re not owed one. It’s none of your business why a woman isn’t living her life the way you think she ought to. Respect that people are different from you and don’t owe you an explanation for why they live their lives differently than yours.

The lesser-known, but more frequently violated personal boundaries, include asking “Why?” when a woman says no, touching a woman’s hair, clothing, or pregnant belly without asking, addressing a woman by her first name when the situation doesn’t warrant it or when she tells you not to, and telling women how to live their lives. If you’ve committed any of these errors, don’t despair. Read this list over a few times (because you’re probably going to forget that these are boundary violations). Be aware of your actions, listen and respect the boundaries of others when they tell you to stop doing something, and work on identifying and strengthening your own personal boundaries.  Asking to understand is very different than asking to force others to live like you do. You may not think it’s a big difference, but I assure you that it comes across not just in your words, but in your body language and tone of voice.

If you’ve been on the receiving end of these boundary violations, it’s up to you to enforce your boundaries assertively. Your boundaries teach others how to treat you. Make sure you’re setting a good example.


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Self-Esteem: The Immune System of the Mind


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

Dr. Lee Pulos, a Vancouver-based Psychologist, has graciously given me permission to share his article on self-esteem:

Regardless of one’s background, educational level, income, or occupation – the hub of the wheel of life and success has to do with one’s self-estimate or self-esteem. Our self-esteem will vary and co-vary in different areas of our life and our effectiveness level, performance, or success will correspond to one’s self-estimate on that particular level. For example, one may have a high self-esteem as a manager or communicator of ideas and their performance will correspond accordingly. Whereas, the same individual may have a low estimate when it comes to working with numbers or keeping track of business expenditures. Their effectiveness level correspondingly will be low or on “shaky stilts” in this area. Thus, self-esteem can be considered to be the immune system of the mind and genuine self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves when things are not going right.

What can we do on a conscious level without years of psychotherapy or psychological excavation to strengthen our self-estimate?

People with high self-esteem possess the following four attributes:

1)High self-esteem people have good boundaries. They can draw that line in the sand and say ‘no’ to what doesn’t fit or seem right to them. In other words, they choose to define themselves, their needs, and beliefs rather than giving their power away and allowing others to define them.

2)High self-esteem people avoid all judgments of themselves or others. Discernment, yes – but whenever you judge someone else, you are judging a part of yourself in them that you don’t approve of in yourself. Thus, all judgments implicitly are self-judgments. Learning to love yourself and learning to love others go hand in hand.

3)High self-esteem people have positive self-talk. Our self-talk (or inner dialogue) carries on throughout our waking hours at 150 to 300 words per minute or 45,000 to 51,000 thoughts a day! Since all thoughts are treated like “prayers” by the subconscious (it does not judge), high self-esteem people carefully monitor their inner dialogue as to whether they’re “drugging” their minds all day long with good or bad thoughts. Are we planting weeds or flowers in the garden of our subconscious?

4)High self-esteem people feel worthy of both receiving from and giving to others. Generally, people with a low self-estimate will be over accommodating and pleasing so as to not risk being rejected by expressing their needs. In some instances, the only way pleasers can justify receiving is to subconsciously get “sick” or have an accident which makes it acceptable to be nurtured or taken care of.

What if you have low-esteem? Can you change your underlying beliefs? Of course! All of the above can be controlled consciously – with mindfulness, giving from the heart, and embracing one’s self without judgment.


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Five Tips for Choosing the Right Therapist


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

The first time I went to see a therapist was pretty awful. The therapist began the session with a relaxation exercise (for her benefit, not mine. She didn’t even know why I was there to see her so she had no idea whether or not I needed to learn relaxation techniques). Her phone rang shortly afterwards…and she answered it. Then she took out an apple and started chomping away while I began telling her what prompted me to seek help.

I wasn’t impressed with her, so I didn’t go back after our first (and only) session. I’m grateful I had this experience because it showed me what bad therapy looks and feels like. Something didn’t feel right when she started the session with a relaxation exercise without knowing why I was there to see her. Answering the phone and eating that apple while I was talking just made things worse.

It’s really important to find the right therapist to work with. Research has shown that the most important ingredient for successful therapy is the relationship with your therapist. Techniques are secondary, contrary to what many believe. Since you’ll be sharing the intimate details of your life with a therapist, you want to make sure you choose one who is right for you.

Here are five tips to help you choose a therapist:

1)Ask around.

Asking family, friends, your family physician, dentist, etc., is a great place to start. If you know people in therapy, ask them if they like their therapist. If they do, find out what it is they like about their therapist and give them a call. Even if you don’t end up seeing that particular therapist, s/he can provide you with a list of referrals, if you ask.

You can call institutes (e.g., Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Centre of Vancouver) to find which therapists are in your area. You can also call professional associations, such as the British Columbia Psychological Association, and ask for a list of referrals.

With all of that being said, don’t choose a therapist who is convenient. You want someone who is good. Good and convenient often don’t go hand in hand. You could have a mediocre therapist who is five minutes from your home, but you could have an amazing therapist an hour away. Why would you settle for someone mediocre?

2)Search online.

A lot of people begin their search for a therapist online. Some people use therapist locator services such as counsellingbc.com or psychologytoday.com while others type what they’re looking for in a search engine (e.g., anxiety counselling Kamloops). You’ll probably find at least a few therapists’ names this way. Read their bios and put together a list of the ones you think you might connect with.

3)Gender.

People usually have an idea of the gender of the therapist they’d like to work with. Some people are adamant about their preferences for a certain gender while others don’t really care much, as long as the therapist is professional and competent. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to choosing a particular gender. However, I think it’s a good idea to pay attention to which gender you absolutely wouldn’t want to work with. Make a note of that and let your therapist know. It’s valuable clinical information.

4)Call potential therapists.

Once you’ve created your list, call each therapist before you meet with them in person. When you talk to a therapist, you should ask them the following questions. You don’t just want to hear their answers; you want to get a feel for how comfortable you are talking to them:

  • Are they licensed? If they say yes, you should still contact their regulatory body just to make sure. Don’t be afraid to ask for their registration number. A therapist with something to hide would refuse to provide this information. It also doesn’t hurt to check with their regulatory body whether they have any infractions against their license.
  • Where did they go to school? With this question, you want to make sure they graduated from an accredited program and not an online coaching certificate program.
  • What is their specialty? Be wary of generalists. Don’t see someone who specializes in EVERYTHING. Would you go to your family physician if you needed knee surgery or would you go see an orthopedic surgeon?
  • What is their training? If they say they’re trained in Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy, find out where (and for how long) they received their training. Was it a one day seminar, a two hour online course, or a six month practicum in graduate school? RUN if they claim they’re an expert in something after a one day seminar or two hour online course.
  • Do they have experience working with people with your issues? This is not the same as asking how long they’ve worked in the field. You want someone who has experience working with the issues you’re dealing with.
  • If you choose to set up an appointment with a therapist, ask about their fees and methods of payment. If their fee is too high, ask if they have a sliding scale and whether they can lower your fee. If they say no, ask them if they can refer you to someone who works like they do, but charges less. With that being said, cheaper is not always better.
  • If you’ve called and left a message and the therapist doesn’t respond within two business days, it’s best to call the next person on your list.

Having said all that, don’t email potential therapists. You won’t get a sense of who they are over email. It’s always best to call them. If you find the therapist arrogant, impatient, or evasive, move on. Obviously, nobody will spend an hour talking to you on the phone, but if they won’t answer some of the above questions over the phone or they insist on a paid consultation, end the call.

5)Pay attention.

Pay attention to how you feel during and after the phone conversation with the therapist. It’s normal to feel nervous during the first call to a therapist (it took me months to call that first therapist!). And it’s pretty normal not to have an immediate “Yes! That’s the one!” feeling, too (although this can certainly happen).

When you go for your first session, pay attention to everything. Is the waiting room neat and tidy? Is the therapist professional? Notice how you feel while you’re talking to the therapist. Do you feel heard when you speak? Does the therapist look bored or irritated when you talk? The relationship with your therapist is essential to the process, so you want to find someone with whom you feel comfortable and safe. Remember that in therapy, you intentionally make yourself vulnerable to another human being, which can be pretty scary.

You may not decide at the first session if the therapist is right for you; sometimes, it can take a few sessions. If you decide the therapist isn’t right for you, let them know what you’re looking for. The therapist may have some referrals that would work better for you. Don’t be afraid of telling the therapist that you don’t want to continue with the sessions. A secure therapist would not take this personally. If they do, you know you’ve made the right choice to stop seeing them.

Of course, the desire not to go back may stem from anxiety about being in therapy. Talk to your therapist about this, too.

If your therapist is behaving unethically or unprofessionally (eating and answering the phone during a session come to mind for me), don’t go back. The search for the right therapist may take some time, but it’s well worth the effort when you find the right one.


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Being Happy All the Time Isn’t Normal


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

An important part of counselling is for clients to come up with a counselling goal that is meaningful to them. When I ask my clients what they’d like to work on during the course of their counselling treatment, the most common answer I get is:

“I want to be happy all the time.”

Who doesn’t want to be happy all the time? (Anyone?)

Yet being happy all the time isn’t normal.

If you followed your mom, dad, teacher, friend, colleague, dentist, or plumber over a 24 hour period, the first thing you’d notice is that they’re not happy all the time. Emotions tend to wax and wane. Good things, bad things, neutral things, annoying things, and unpleasant things can all happen in a 24 hour period.

To show you what I mean, consider Kelly, a fictional elementary school teacher. If I followed her for a day, this is what I would see:

Kelly wakes up feeling tired and groggy because she was up late writing report cards. After a latte and bagel with cream cheese, she feels more alert and content. As the morning goes on, her students entertain her with jokes and funny faces and she laughs and feels happier. One of her female students starts crying because she skinned her knee and it’s bleeding. Kelly starts feeling nauseous as she doesn’t like the sight of blood. She tries to clean up her student’s wound and put on the band-aid as fast as she can while trying to comfort her.

It’s lunch time and Kelly realizes she forgot to bring her lunch. Annoyed, she walks to the nearby deli for a sandwich. On the way there, she runs into a colleague whom she doesn’t like very much. Her colleague wants to gossip, but Kelly doesn’t want to hear any of it. She tells her colleague she needs to run some errands and doesn’t have time to chat. Her colleague rolls her eyes and Kelly feels taken aback by her colleague’s rudeness. She arrives at the deli, orders a roast beef sandwich, and sits down to eat. She walks back to the school feeling full and a bit annoyed at her colleague’s eye rolling.

Mid-afternoon, Kelly feels tired and has a hard time staying awake. After work, she’s excited to meet some friends for dinner at her favourite restaurant. When she arrives at the restaurant, she gets a great table. As she waits for her friends to show up, she starts feeling annoyed because they’re late. When they show up, Kelly feels angry. One of her friends buys her a martini so she feels less angry. Shortly after, Kelly feels annoyed when the server tells her that the butter chicken is no longer on the menu. She chooses the halibut with seasonal vegetables and loves it.

After dinner, Kelly goes home, unwinds, and turns on the t.v. and watches the news. She watches about half an hour and starts feeling sad hearing and seeing stories about famine and civil unrest. She decides to take a bath and starts feeling more relaxed. Kelly ends the night with a phone call to her brother to remind him to pick up their parents’ wedding anniversary gift tomorrow. He tells her he doesn’t have time. She’s frustrated with her brother’s response and tells him that she can’t do it tomorrow because she’s coaching track and field and that he’d better find the time to do it. Kelly goes to bed feeling annoyed and tries to put the thoughts about her brother not following through on his promises out of her mind as she tries to fall asleep.

Did you notice that Kelly wasn’t happy every minute of the day? How could she be? She dealt with some annoyances. She was treated rudely by a colleague. She was disappointed. Kelly’s emotional reactions to the events of her day were normal and to be expected.

The media wants you to believe that if you’re not happy all the time, there’s something wrong with you. Remember that it’s normal to experience both highs and lows during the course of your day. Good and bad things happen. Being sad, angry, or frustrated doesn’t mean you aren’t coping with a situation. In fact, embracing sadness for a short period of time can be a good thing because it helps you think about, and come to terms with, whatever has upset you so you can move on and feel good again.

If, however, your low mood starts to interfere with your regular routine and the way you normally function, talk to a mental health professional. Talking to someone about how you’re feeling can help determine whether you may need professional help dealing with your low mood.


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Valentine’s Day Is About Love, Not Lovers


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

Do you get so caught up with Valentine’s Day and wanting to make sure your spouse/partner shows you how special you are that you forget to demonstrate the same level of appreciation to your family and friends? Or are you single and dreading Valentine’s Day because it reminds you of what you don’t have?

Valentine’s Day is typically thought of as a day for lovers to adorn each other with gifts, compliments, affection, and a nice meal. Yet this narrow view of who is worthy of a Valentine’s Day celebration has left out the most important people in your life: your family and friends. They’re the ones who’ve been with you for a long time (usually longer than your spouse or partner), have seen you through the good times AND the bad, and gave you kindness, patience, support, companionship, laughter, and great memories.

Isn’t this what love is?

We know our family and friends are here for us (or, worse, we assume they always will be), but we don’t bother telling them or showing them how important they are to us, how they’ve helped us change and grow over the years, and how much our lives have been enhanced by their presence.

Don’t your friends and family deserve the same appreciation and thoughtfulness you’d show your spouse or partner?

This Valentine’s Day, make sure you celebrate all of your relationships, no matter what your relationship status is.


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Anxious? Worried? HALT!


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

Have you noticed that when you’re anxious or worried, you’re more prone to making bad decisions? There’s a biological reason why this happens. The amygdala, which is the part of your brain responsible for emotional regulation, becomes flooded when you’re anxious or worried. This makes it hard for the prefrontal cortex to engage in planning, reasoning, and problem-solving. When you’re anxious, you literally can’t think clearly!

The next time you find yourself feeling anxious and worried and you have the urge to make a decision right away because you think it’ll lower your anxiety, HALT!

What does HALT even mean?

HALT is an acronym that’s often used in addictions counselling, but it can also be used by people who struggle with anxiety or worry. When you’re anxious or worried, you can’t reason, plan, or problem-solve. What you need to do is HALT; that is, immediately stop what you’re doing and pay attention to your basic needs. Are you:

H – Hungry

A – Angry, Anxious

L – Lonely

T – Tired, Thirsty

When you HALT, you become aware of which of your basic needs are not being met in the moment. Sometimes, the onset of anxiety or a sudden decrease in mood can be traced back to having forgotten to eat so your blood sugar levels are off course. Other times, you may be feeling lonely or angry towards someone who has hurt you. And, of course, there are days or weeks when you’re really busy and you don’t get enough sleep.

Being too hungry, angry, anxious, lonely, tired or thirst can make you vulnerable to even more anxiety and worry. When this happens, you’re more likely to make bad choices to get rid of the uncomfortable feelings that result when your basic needs aren’t being met.

Learn to pay attention to your signs of hunger, anger, anxiety, loneliness, tiredness, and thirst. Practice ways to get your basic needs met and resolve any personal issues you have with the people in your life in ways that will enhance your life, not take away from it.


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Are Anxiety Disorders Hereditary?


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

Do you believe that you were born a worrier, panicker, or phobic? Have you been told that worry and panic “run in the family?” The medical establishment and the popular media would like you to think so. You might even think so yourself. For years, researchers studying anxiety disorders thought so, too. The idea that people are born worriers, panickers, or phobics stems from the belief that biology and heredity are at the core of anxiety disorders. Now, the research is showing us that genes and biology are only a small part of the equation.

So what does this mean?

It means that people aren’t born with anxiety disorders. Researchers (e.g., Leonardo & Hen, 2006) have found that the genetic contribution to anxiety disorders is about 30-40%. While your genes may make you more vulnerable to an anxiety problem, it’s not the same as inheriting an anxiety disorder.

So what makes an anxiety problem cross the line to an anxiety disorder? A lot of it has to do with how you relate to anxiety and fear – what you do about anxious feelings and thoughts. How you relate to anxiety is important because it’s something you can control and change.

You can’t change your genes, but you can change what you do when anxious thoughts and feelings come up. And that makes a world of difference when you’re feeling anxious or worried.

 

References:

Leonardo, E. D., & Hen, R. (2006). Genetics of affective and anxiety disorders. Annual Review of Psychology, 57, 117-137.


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Am I Going Crazy?


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

“Am I going crazy?”

This is a question I’m asked every week by some of my patients. When people come to see me, they’re experiencing symptoms that are out of the ordinary for them: rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, stomach upset (peeing a lot or diarrhea), muscle tension, dizziness, headaches, irritability, insomnia, or lack of concentration. Some of my clients have experienced these symptoms for a few months while others have experienced them for many years. My answer is always the same:

No, you’re not going crazy.

The symptoms I’ve just described are typical of anxiety. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to danger. Think of anxiety as an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened. For example, it’s normal to feel anxious or scared when you’re facing a challenging or stressful situation like an exam, a job interview, a presentation, a first date, or a confrontation with a friend, romantic partner, or co-worker.

Anxiety isn’t a bad thing in moderation. In fact, anxiety can help you stay alert and focused, get you going, and motivate you to solve problems. However, if your worries and fears are starting to feel overwhelming and are interfering with your daily life, you may have a problem with anxiety.

If you’re one of millions of Canadians who is experiencing the debilitating effects of anxiety, you’re not alone (though you may feel alone some days). You may think that nobody understands what you’re going through. You may have hidden the anxiety for so long that your family, friends, and co-workers would be shocked to learn that you’ve been struggling emotionally.

It’s important to remember that anxiety problems respond very well to treatment – and often in shorter amounts of time than you may think. While you may feel like you’re going crazy, it’s important to remember that you’re not. Help is out there if you’re ready.


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Being Too Nice Can Literally Make You Sick


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

In my private practice, I focus primarily on teens and adults struggling with anxiety. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the majority of my clients who struggle with anxiety all have one thing in common: They’re all nice. Too nice, actually. Their kindness and generosity was making them sick. Literally. They suffered from excessive worry, headaches, shakiness, muscle tension, irritability, sleep difficulties, nausea, and gastro-intestinal problems. Some even developed ulcers.

It was hard for many of my clients to accept that the very qualities they were taught were desirable were the very qualities that were making them sick. They were people-pleasers. They sought approval from everybody. They were afraid of saying “no.” They avoided conflict at all costs, even at the cost of their own health.

Out of the many theories of anxiety, the Hidden Emotion Model is one that a lot of people who struggle with anxiety can relate to. This model is based on the idea that niceness is the cause of all anxiety. People who are prone to anxiety are almost always people-pleasers who fear conflict and distressing emotions such as guilt and anger. They ignore the guilt and anger they’re afraid to express. They do this so well that they’re usually not aware they’re doing it. These distressing emotions resurface in disguised forms as anxiety, panic, worry, and fear.

When you expose the hidden, distressing feelings and solve the problem that’s bothering you, your anxiety will often decrease. Your health will improve and you’ll begin to see the world through a different lens. You’ll find the courage to set and maintain boundaries with others.

Remember: Being nice shouldn’t cost you your health.


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Go Ahead! Make A Mistake!


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

Did you grow up hearing that if you do things slowly and carefully enough, you won’t make any mistakes? Or that if you take the time to learn from other people’s mistakes, you can avoid making your own?

As well-meaning as this advice probably was, it likely did you more harm than good. How? By teaching you that it’s unacceptable to make mistakes and not to try anything new because of fear of failure. Research shows that perfectionists fear challenging tasks, take fewer risks, and are less creative than non-perfectionists

No wonder so many people struggle with perfectionism and the feelings of anxiety and fear that can come with it.

So how do you break free from perfectionism and allow yourself to make mistakes? Read on to find out:

1)Determine where your perfectionism comes from.

Many people are afraid to make mistakes because they’re afraid of being criticized or seen as incompetent by parents, teachers, friends, co-workers, or people in general. Were you judged harshly or criticized for making mistakes growing up? Were you singled out in class for making a mistake and ridiculed by your teacher or peers? Think about where your perfectionism comes from. These early childhood experiences can have a lasting effect on you.

2)Examine your beliefs about failure.

‘Failure’ is the other f-word that people don’t like to hear. Examine your thoughts about what would happen if you failed at something. For many people, if they fail at something, they automatically think that their mistake will lead to a catastrophe.

For example, I failed my very first midterm in university. When I received my mark, I automatically thought that I would fail out of university and end up poor and homeless. Obviously, these thoughts were illogical, but that’s the nature of perfectionism – perfectionism is illogical because nobody can be perfect. What are your beliefs about failure? Chances are, they’re probably illogical. Think of an instance when you were scared to fail or make a mistake. What’s the worst thing that could happen if you failed or messed up? What would happen after that? How do you think you’d handle it?

3)Find examples that prove your beliefs about failure are wrong.

I’ve failed more than one test since my first midterm in university and forgotten what to say during more than one presentation. Guess what? I didn’t get kicked out of school and become homeless. More importantly, the world didn’t come to an end. Can you think of any facts that challenge your beliefs about making mistakes?

4)Develop new and healthy beliefs.

One reason why we fear making mistakes is because of the negative or critical reactions of others to our screw-ups. When we see others respond negatively to our mistakes, we learn to think that making mistakes is bad. Yet making mistakes is actually a good thing! How else would you learn? Think about when you were learning how to ride a bike. If you hadn’t fallen off your bike a few dozen times, you wouldn’t be able to ride a bike today.

5)Allow yourself to make a mistake.

So many people beat themselves up for making a mistake that they lose sight of the fact that they’ve just been given a great learning opportunity. You may feel ashamed or embarrassed and tell yourself you’re a loser, an idiot, you’ve let down your family and friends, and think about your screw up over and over again. When you notice yourself doing this, stop and notice the emotions you’re experiencing and where you’re experiencing them in your body. Observe the thoughts going through your mind and label them as just that – thoughts. Thoughts are not facts. Ask yourself what you’ve learned from your mistake and how you might use what you’ve learned in the future.

It’s easy to feel the pressure to excel in a society where our worth is largely dependent on how others evaluate us. Yet if you wish to learn and grow, you need to allow yourself to not only make mistakes, but to also learn how to handle the inevitable disappointment that comes with making them.


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How to Stop Struggling Against Anxiety


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

In my previous post, I talked about why your anxiety isn’t getting better, no matter how much you exercise, sleep, eat better, or take vitamins or anti-anxiety medication. The reason is because these strategies teach you that anxiety is abnormal and should be avoided or managed in order to live a rich and fulfilling life.

So what are you supposed to do when anxiety starts to creep up on you?

The most important step you can take is to stop struggling against anxiety. Stop trying to control unwanted thoughts, feelings, images, fears, and worries. Stop the relentless tug-of-war. Allow yourself to feel the anxiety just as it is, in its entirety, without judgment, and without beating yourself up. One way of doing this is by practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness involves paying attention to your present experience on a moment-to-moment basis in a curious, open, and nonjudgmental way. It involves being aware of what’s going on in your mind, body, and heart. Mindfulness is about connecting with yourself and appreciating the richness and fullness of each moment of life (yes, even those anxiety-filled moments!).

Mindfulness can help you learn to experience unwanted thoughts and feelings AND learn how to distance yourself from them so you can keep doing what you want to do, like go to the movies, ride on an airplane, take an elevator, meet new people, etc. Mindfulness can help you live a rich and full life, in spite of anxiety and fear.

When you’re no longer struggling against anxiety, you’re doing three things:

1) You’re acknowledging the struggle itself

2) You’re allowing yourself to experience just how exhausting and pointless that struggle is (and has been and will continue to be)

3) You’re facing how the struggle has kept you stuck in the same place for months, or even years. This can be an incredibly liberating experience

No longer fighting or running away from your anxiety is probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Yet trying to control your anxiety will make your life worse, not better. Practicing mindfulness can help you become aware of what you’re avoiding while allowing you to experience unpleasant thoughts and feelings safely while developing self-acceptance and compassion for yourself.


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The Real Reason Why Your Anxiety Isn’t Getting Better


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

If you’re struggling with anxiety or worry, you’ve probably been told by well meaning friends, and even some health care professionals, to exercise more frequently, eat better, sleep more, make time each day for relaxation exercises, sign up for yoga, or take vitamin supplements or anti-anxiety medication.

Guess what?

None of these strategies will work in the long run. In fact, they can make the anxiety you’re experiencing worse.

How is this possible? What these strategies teach us is that intense anxiety is abnormal and must be avoided or managed to live a worthwhile life. This is not true. Intense anxiety is not abnormal; it’s not a sign of weakness; and it’s not a sign of ‘bad genes.’

Many people often confuse fear with anxiety. Fear is an intense, present-oriented emotion needed for survival when your health or safety is threatened. When you’re afraid, your body will do many things to make sure you get moving to take care of yourself, like increase your heartbeat and blood pressure, or stop digestion (who has the energy to digest a pie when you’re faced with a black bear?). Sometimes, your body will ‘freeze’ to prevent you from being harmed even further in the face of danger. These are all adaptive responses to fear that will help you take fast action to protect yourself.

Anxiety, by contrast, is a future-oriented emotion. People who are anxious feel a sense of doom, worry, or apprehension about the future. Their muscles become tenser. The bodily changes that accompany anxiety are much less intense than those associated with fear. Yet anxiety can last a lot longer than fear, sometimes for weeks, months, or even years. How is this possible? It’s because anxiety tends to be fed more by what your mind says than by real sources of threat or danger.

Anxiety is not the enemy; it’s the rigid avoidance of anxiety that’s preventing you from living a calmer and healthier life. Research has shown that avoidance is the most important factor responsible for turning anxieties, fears, and worries into serious physical and mental health problems. Avoidance means you’re running away from the people, places, or situations that bring about unpleasant feelings. No amount of exercise, sleep, or anti-anxiety medication will help with avoidance behaviours.

So if the well-meaning advice of your friends, family, and health care professionals isn’t helpful, then what can you do? Stay tuned for my next article on the most important step you need to take to stop struggling with anxiety and start living your best life.


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Who Are You Trying To Impress?


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

Do you find yourself exhausted most of the time, yet feel that you’re not doing enough?

Do you resolve to do things differently every year, but then fall back into the same habits?

Do people tell you that you take on too much or that you need to slow down?

Stop and ask yourself why you’re doing so much. Is it because you want to do it all? Or do you feel obligated to do it all? If you truly enjoy doing it all – making nutritious home cooked meals every day, keeping an immaculate home, making sure you buy the perfect gifts for the people in your life and truly feel satisfied, then keep doing it.

If you find yourself feeling more tired and resentful at the myriad of things you have committed to, then stop and ask yourself the following questions: Who is telling you to “do it all”? Do you feel like a failure if everything isn’t perfect? Do you think others will think you’re a failure if you haven’t done something “just so” or according to what you think are their standards?

Read no further if you truly enjoy doing everything for everybody and don’t feel an ounce of resentment when being pulled in many different directions by different people (and still enjoy making a ten course meal).

If, on the other hand, you find yourself doing things for others hoping to impress them, one-up them, seek their love or approval, or otherwise distract yourself from pain and hurt in other areas of your life, then it’s time to seriously re-evaluate why you are catering to the needs to others while neglecting your own health and well-being.

You’re not doing anybody any good by being unkind to yourself. If anything, you’re showing others how to treat you. And you’re probably not setting a very good example, right?

When you don’t treat yourself kindly, then why should others?


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Ten Tips for Living your Best Life


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist

What does living your best life mean? It means honouring your most important values, needs, and complexities. It means living a life you are proud of. If you’re ready to live your best life, follow these ten tips:

1) Know what is truly important to you and why.

Take the time to write down what’s important to you and what’s not. Some questions to ask yourself: What makes you feel alive? What gives you purpose and meaning? What type of person would you loathe to become? What are you planning for and why? Your values are your compass, which help to draw the map of your life and guide you in your daily decision making.

2) Make your health a priority.

The time to make your health a priority is all the time. When life gets hectic, our health is often the first thing we compromise. Make sure you eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of water. Exercise regularly and consistently. Be emotionally healthy. Find a faith or spiritual community if this is important to you. When you don’t have your health, what do you really have?

3) Throw away the people-pleasing scripts.

Take charge of your life by making your own decisions. Learn to recognize and throw away the people-pleasing scripts that have been holding you back. Write your own script and make it your mission to live your life for yourself and not others. Create a life you feel good about.

4) Make mistakes.

It’s easy to feel the pressure to excel in a society where our worth is largely dependent on how others evaluate us. Yet if you wish to learn and grow, you need to allow yourself to not only make mistakes, but to also learn how to handle the inevitable disappointment that comes with making them.

5) Take responsibility for your life.

Your actions cause your rewards and consequences. Take control of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Change the way you think. Take control of your feelings. Stop blaming your parents, siblings, friends, teachers, etc., for your problems. Don’t rely on anybody for your happiness, self-esteem, and financial security. Start taking control of your life.

6) Give back to your community.

Part of living your best life is sharing the lessons and gifts you were given with others. Volunteer. Be a mentor. Care about your community and the environment. Get involved in a cause that you’re passionate about. Think about the legacy you want to leave.

7) Re-think how you view romantic relationships.

A lot of people place too many expectations on their partner. Ask yourself why it is you expect your partner to meet all of your needs when you can have some of these needs met in other ways (e.g., through friends, family, hobbies, yourself). Don’t make someone your everything because when they’re emotionally or physically gone, you’ll have nothing.

8) Be kind and compassionate to yourself and others.

Treat yourself and others with the kindness, compassion, and respect that you wish to be treated with. Set and maintain healthy boundaries. Learn to give and accept compliments. Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may appear. Give yourself permission to live the life you want.

9) Surround yourself with supportive people.

Surround yourself with people who love and support you and accept you for who you are. Let go of negative, toxic, and dishonest people. How do you know which relationships need to be reconsidered? One sure fire way to know is to monitor how you feel before, during, and after a get together with someone. If you dread seeing that person, feel like your time with them is forced, and are relieved when it’s time to say good-bye, chances are, this relationship has run its course.

10) Learn to forgive.

Forgiveness is giving up the hope of a different past. While it’s important not to deny your past, it’s also vital not to let it define your future. Reframe the trials and tribulations you went through by learning from them and forgiving yourself for what you did or did not do, as well as the person who hurt you. Forgiveness is not for the person who hurt you; it’s for you.

Take a good look at how you’re living your life: Are you surviving or thriving? If you’re surviving, you’re settling. When you’re thriving, you’re living a life that fills your soul with vitality and energy. Make it your mission to live the life you truly want: your best life.


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The Importance of Values


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist
What are your values?

This may seem like a silly question, but read it again and take a moment to think about it.

What are your values? What is important to you? Why is it important to you?

Part of living a healthy life means knowing what your values are. Values are the standards you choose to live your life by. Your values are your compass, which help to draw the map of your life and guide you in your daily decision making. They help you live a life that you feel passionate and excited about.

Many people are unaware of their value system. They may have been instilled with certain values growing up, but may come to a different conclusion about what’s important to them when they’ve reached a certain age or have accumulated more life experience. This is perfectly okay. Values can change according to age, life stage, or going through an experience that challenges us to rethink our standards.

What isn’t okay is living a life according to other people’s standards. Some people are afraid to live the life they want because they’re worried about what others will think of them.  When you let others dictate how to live your life, you are letting them impose their values onto you. For example, if you don’t think marriage is important for happiness or fulfillment, then don’t get married. If material wealth isn’t important to you, then don’t buy ‘stuff’ for the sake of having ‘stuff’.

Don’t be afraid to live the life you want because of what others may think. Let go of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts.’ Remember that what others think of you is actually a reflection of them. When they try to impose their values onto you, they are being selfish. What good can come out of a relationship in which somebody is telling you what you should think is important and, even worse, how to live your life?

The challenge for many people is to identify their values without letting others influence what these values should be.Forget what others want you to think is important. Remember that the key to failure is trying to please everybody.

Ask yourself not only what your values are, but why they’re important to you. When you know what’s important to you and why, the world will look and feel much clearer. You will make decisions more easily. You will live life more fully.

Most importantly, you will live your life on your own terms.


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Take Charge of Your Own Changes


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist
Are you looking to change something in your life? In this podcast, host Michael Anne Conley includes an experiential exercise to support you in starting your changes.

http://habitsintohealth.podomatic.com/entry/2012-12-24T00_00_00-08_00


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The One Step To Take To Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions


By: Dr. Anoosha Avni
Registered Psychologist
It’s the beginning of a new year and, chances are, you’ve created some new year’s resolutions. You’ve probably heard that the majority of people who create new year’s resolutions don’t achieve them. This is true. Why is this the case?

One reason is because many people don’t track their progress.

You’ve probably thought long and hard about your new year’s resolutions. You may have even written them down, and that’s a great start.

But it’s not enough.

In order to maximize your chances of fulfilling your new year’s resolutions, you need to track your progress. This means measuring and tracking your efforts. Take the time to map out the efforts, steps, and actions you take along your journey, including the things that are hindering your progress. Write them down regularly.

In order to make tracking and measuring your efforts a regular part of your journey to fulfilling your new year’s resolutions, ask yourself these three questions on a weekly basis:

1)What have I tried this week to maximize my chances* of achieving my new year’s resolution?

2)What have I tried that isn’t working and, as a result, decreasing my chances of achieving my new year’s resolution?

3)What are the lessons I’m learning as I work towards fulfilling my new year’s resolution?

Be creative in your measurement efforts. It’s not all about numbers. And it’s not about whether you’ve fulfilled the final outcome of your new year’s resolutions. The lessons and insights you learn about yourself during this process are invaluable.

Happy New Year and happy tracking!

*An excellent resource for goal-setting is Allison Foskett’s book, “How Smart Women Achieve Big Goals – Motivation to Focus and Follow Through with your Life Dreams.” Allison developed a solid approach to goal-setting by reviewing the research on how people actually succeed in achieving their goals.


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