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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