Online Therapy: What To Consider

With a steady rise of demand from the public, more and more practitioners are starting to offer counselling services online. For a client, this can be a really great option, especially if there are mobility issues, time restrictions or great distances that are in the way of in-person meetings. I am one of many therapists who does offer video sessions and genuinely believe that when appropriate*, this service can be a fantastic and accessible option for many seeking support. That being said, it is also important to recognize and evaluate the limitations of this service carefully before committing.
Below, I've listed a few important factors to consider before booking your first video therapy session, that you may find helpful.

1) Online therapy can never be 100% guaranteed to be confidential. 
While there are many platforms offering video meetings, no online platform can ever guarantee that there would not be any unforeseen hacking or privacy compromise.  Of course, the likelihood is very minimal, but it's always good to do some research on the platform offered before hand to ensure they comply with a certain standard of safety. I prefer zoom.us as it is very easy to use and has great video and quality audio, in addition to advanced security features!

2) It may not always be as effective as in-person meeting.
Depending on the nature of the topics discussed, some clients find it more difficult to experience deep emotional release due to lack of in-person connection between them and the therapist. Sharing physical space can often offer a level of comfort and rapport that may be a difficult (though not impossible) to achieve online. That beings said, it is worth mentioning that many people do find it reassuring to be in the safety of their own home/office when speaking about sensitive subjects and exploring new emotional grounds.

3) You are in charge of your environment. 
When you are in a therapists office, you can rely on the fact that the space was designed with your comfort and relaxation in mind. However, for online meetings, it is up to the client to ensure their comfort and privacy during the length of the session. It's important to consider possible interruptions, especially if you are home and not alone. Your seat, the temperature of the room, the lighting and the noise level are all contributing to the level of engagement and focus in session. Therefore, it is important to take the time and consider these various factors to get the most out of your appointment.

Oh yeah, and don't forget to turn that phone off too!

Hopefully, this blog was helpful for getting some clarity and perspective on the topic, but if you are interested in finding out more, or have any questions, please feel free to contact me

*Disclaimer: Video therapy is not suggested for those who are seeking counselling for trauma or trauma related symptoms due to safety reasons, as triggered responses can vary and be unpredictable.

Wishing you all a wonderful week ahead!

Warmly,
Irina

 

5 Ways to Battle the Winter Blues

It's that time of year where the cold begins to envelop the city and settle deeply in our bones. This season has now broken a records for all time low temperature and looking around, it's easy to see the effects. More people are staying in on weekends, more frustrated commuters on the TTC, and there is less desire to do physical activity or partake in healthy eating habits. SAD ( Seasonal Affective Disorder) affects many of us in this part of the country, and while some can be affected to the point of being unable to perform daily tasks (2%-5%),  many just struggle with feeling down, unmotivated and sluggish (15%).**

For us Canadians, these months can last for a while, and that's why there are many great resources online for supplementing for the winter blues. (Vitamin D is a must!) In addition to what is already out there, I wanted to list a few more easy daily practices that can help manage not just your physical or mental well-being, but also your emotions as we move through the season.   

1. Morning Mantra
We've all heard that the way we begin our day sets the tone for the rest of it. In winter, many of us are waking up while it's still dark, which makes it so much more difficult and often results in us dragging ourselves out (after hitting the snooze button too many times) and mindlessly following our morning routine.  However, this little life hack can begin your day with a bit more intention and positivity. Every evening before bed, write yourself a message/mantra that you would like to start the next day with, and put it under your pillow or on your nightstand. It can be as simple as "I feel motivated" or " I feel energetic", but do include the word FEEL as part of it,  as a reminder to anchor emotionally. When you wake up, take a look at the piece of paper to remind yourself and repeat this message in your mind while you are still laying in bed, at least 10 to 15 times. As you do, focus on the emotion that you feel when you allow yourself to believe the message! This is a sneaky way to bypass our mind and set an emotional baseline for the day.

2. Shake it off
Sure, it would be ideal to get up and go to the gym to get that boost of serotonin first thing in the morning, but if you are dreading the idea, there are other ways we can connect to our body.  Once you are out of bed, take a few moments to do a couple of basic stretches (i.e.rotating the neck, rolling the shoulders, stretching your hamstrings). Once you are done, begin to shake each part individually and then together. Start with each leg, then each arm, and allowing yourself to really let loose and shake yourself free of resistance and stiffness. Our bodies are in a constant state of contraction during winter months, and allowing it to expand through movement can affect our whole being!  The looser the physical body, the looser our emotional and mental bodies become too! 
     *Tip: Do a forward fold and allow your head to hang loosely, with a micro               bend in the knees and your arms resting where they land. Stay here for a few         moments as having your head below your heart is great for your circulation           and calms the nervous system.

3. Smile yourself into a better mood
One of my personal favorites, smiling therapy has gained a lot of merit due to it's effectiveness and simplicity. In fact, it's been discovered that that the same amount of endorphins are released in the brain regardless of whether the smile is real or fake. This means, even when we are smiling without the authentic emotion attached to it, our body doesn't know the difference and we are still reaping the therapeutic effects! 

This therapy is even more effective when done in front of a mirror, so let yourself break into a grin first thing in the morning as you finish brushing your teeth, and sneak an extra few throughout the day! 

4. Talk about your emotions
One of the most common misconceptions we have about being honest or authentic about feeling down is that others will dismiss us or change their view of us. But in fact, when we are able to share our truth, we inadvertently give others the permission to do the same. Talking about our emotions and how they affect us is an important part of our basic needs, as we are social beings looking to connect on a deeper level. We get so caught up projecting an image, we begin to suffer in silence, unnecessarily. So next time someone you trust asks you how are you doing, answer honestly and you will see that some of the weight is lifted just in sharing!

5. Hug, snuggle, kiss and hold
Physical touch is so important, especially in the cold winter months when our bodies are using up all that energy reserve to keep us warm.  Fuel yourself emotionally and physically by giving longer and more frequent hugs to your loved ones. ( If they are ok with it, of course!) With partners or friends, hold hands, interlock legs, rest your head on their shoulder, share massages...keep that physical contact ongoing as it is known to improve overall quality of life, boost self esteem and strengthen our physical health. 

Hope you all find this article helpful! Of course, if winter months are affecting you in ways that feel a bit too hard to manage, please reach out to a professional to get the help you need. 

Wishing you lots of warmth,
Irina

Meditation: Tips for a Fruitful Practice

No matter where we look nowadays, we would be hard pressed not to come across an article, blog or a video telling us to meditate.

There is good reason why.

In the last decade alone, there have been countless studies conducted on the many benefits of this ancient practice. Schools across the world have begun to include it as part of regular curriculum, doctors and mental health professionals recommend it to patients suffering from a variety of illnesses or disorders, and corporate wellness programs are increasing their employee performance rates by offering it to their staff. Never mind that this practice has been around for thousands of years, the proof can be found in the present time!

So what is meditation exactly? It is an ancient practice that aims to bring one into full awareness of the present moment, and allows one to experience the center of consciousness within. This practice tunes us into our inner world, and away from our regular cognitive functioning, bringing clarity and grounding into our lives.

Meditation benefits are many and they are quite profound:

-          Creates clarity and a deeper understanding of inner desires/patterns/habits/emotions
-          Calms the nervous system, bringing it back to parasympathetic mode
-          Reduces heart rate and decreases the production of cortisol, the stress hormone
-          Increases mental alertness and flexibility
-          Enables us to stay focused and calm in stressful or unpredictable situations
-          Offers better awareness of self and our surroundings, being attuned more with other beings
-          Increase in energy and productivity
-          Ability to feel deeper joy and happiness in life

The list can go on and on.

I, myself, have meditated on and off for years. When I was in my “off” stage, I could really feel it. From my mood to my work and personal life, there was a constant feeling of being off keel. When hard life circumstance forced me to begin evaluating my lack of self-care, I went on a journey to reconnect with my rich inner world. The first stop: MEDITATION. Meditation brought the type of clarity into my life that reminded me of the many things we so often forget:  my choice in the creation of every feeling and every reaction, my ability to change things I did not like or no longer served me, and the gift of experiencing true joy in just being.  My yoga practice improved, my relationships with others and myself improved and even my career and direction in life changed in the best possible way! I attribute the ability to create those things in my life very much to my practice. Since then, I have facilitated many individuals and groups in starting a practice that is both sustainable and joyous and can be incorporated into their daily life. Below are some of the basics that I recommend you consider if you are looking to begin your journey.

Get excited!

First off, approach meditation in an inquisitive and playful manner. This practice is a gift, not a chore and our attitude towards it is integral to our commitment. I have had many clients say they don’t believe they can meditate because they can’t turn off their thoughts and that’s like saying that you can’t do yoga because you’re not flexible. That’s the whole purpose of the practice! Of course, no one is going to be able to turn off their thoughts completely, but we can master our mind and we can detach from its persistent and often redundant storyline for a deeper perspective and awareness.  Simply put, success in meditation is not measured by the length of time without thought but rather simply in the practice itself.

Through comfort and discomfort

Whether you are partaking in walking meditation, sitting, or even laying down – comfort is key. If sitting, allow your hips to be higher than the knees by placing a cushion, pillow or block underneath you. This will be easier on the knees and can allow for a longer sit without the distraction of discomfort. If walking, buy comfortable shoes that provide full support! If and when discomfort does occur, see if you can let it go without it consuming your mind. Of course, if in pain, please readjust!

The Art of Looking

The gaze during meditation is important. Eyes are the windows to the soul, and it is through looking inward that we can truly get in touch with that beautiful essence. During your practice, you can try alternating between closing the eyes fully and having a soft gaze ( closing the eyes 90% and focusing the gaze on tip of the nose or third eye) Some people also enjoy meditating with open eyes, though it may create more distraction.  

Prana: The Life Force

Breath is our life force! It sustains us but it also serves as a powerful detoxifier.  Unfortunately, most of us have never really been taught the correct way of breathing. Majority of us take shallow breaths, strictly breathing with our lungs. That means our organs, our brain and our extremities are not being as fully nourished as they can be, which often results in susceptibility to anxiety, dissociation and panic attacks. On the other hand, sending the breath to our abdomen allows us to take in significantly more air, which calms our nervous system and helps quite the mind.

                Tip:  Begin by placing your right hand on your abdomen, just an inch below your belly button. Send each breath all the way down into your belly, pushing your stomach against your palm. As you exhale, send your navel far back into your spine to fully expel toxins. Take about 5 – 10 breaths like this before returning to your natural breath.  The breath is the main anchor in meditation, so come back to the awareness and sensation of it when thoughts begin to arise.

Connect with intention:

Energy follows intention. What does this mean? When we are fully engaging with our desire, we become a clearer conduit for attracting that outcome.  Aligning ourselves emotionally with our intention is a powerful practice, and can be a focus point for our meditation.

                Tip: Set an intention before your practice by focusing on the emotion attached to your desired outcome. (i.e. sense of relief attached to being relaxed)  Throughout your practice, periodically come back to this feeling as a way of reaffirming it to yourself.

Connect through sound:

I do recommend relaxing sound to compliment your practice, especially in the beginning, and there are lots of free resources online. You can choose nature sounds or soft relaxing melody, but make sure there are no lyrics, as those can be too distracting!  (Here is a link to a free album I really enjoy, created by an artist named Moby http://moby.com/la1/)

In addition to the tips above, I encourage everyone to get curious and research various techniques available, and see if any resonate with you more than others. And if you are still a bit intimidated by the silent experience, I invite you to go online and find guided meditations, many available on YouTube.  You can also join free meditation circles held around the city to become more acquainted and to connect to others on the same path.

I am wishing you all a joyous and fruitful practice, and would like to leave you with this wonderful quote by David Lynch, “The thing about meditation is; you become more and more you.”

Warmly,
Irina