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On Winning and Losing

The recent commotion about Lance Armstrong’s admission of cheating prompted a thought-provoking discussion about winning and losing between Jian Ghomeshi, host of the CBC Radio program “Q” and recurrent guest, actor/musician Torquill Campbell on January 24, 2013 (click here to download the podcast).

The thrust of the discussion was that it’s unfortunate that so many of us are trained to focus only on the importance of winning and being ‘The Best’ because the results seem to be feelings of aloneness and stress. Since there can only ever be one winner, Campbell suggested, winning is something we do alone; and because winning is made out to be of such great importance, the joy of winning at anything must be abandonned quickly in order to focus on trying to win the next thing. When we become convinced that the only thing that matters is whether we win, Campbell argued, we run the risk of being sucked into believing what he described as “the tragedy of the Lance Armstrongs of the world,” that winning must continue indefinitely for us to be okay as individual people.

By contrast, Campbell suggest, losing is a more collective experience because it is something that we all go through. Every single person has to face loss and struggle in his or her life and because of that, it is something that we do together. It may be that having things not work out as planned opens us up to empathy and wisdom because, he said, it forces us to accept our weaknesses and tune into our strengths in order to make it through the tough times. Campbell closed the discussion with the encouragement to strive to love and understand the weak things inside you because when you own those things as acceptable parts of yourself, you can take on bigger challenges more freely and with greater confidence that stumbles along the way are nothing more than just a part of the process.

Their discussion is an interesting one and occurs in the last 10 minutes of the show.
Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice that helps people learn to manage anxiety, stress and depression.

Thirteen Healthy Ways to Comfort Yourself

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S., Associate Editor

Whenever you’re anxious, sad or overwhelmed or simply need some soothing, it helps to have a collection of comforting — and healthy — tools to turn to.

But some calming activities don’t work for everyone.

For instance, some people are allergic to bath salts, while others can’t drink herbal tea because of possible drug interactions (e.g., blood thinners). Many of us also can’t afford manicures or massages. And most of us are pressed for time.

So we asked three experts for their take on how readers can truly soothe their minds and bodies without needing more money, time or anything else, for that matter. Below are 13 strategies anyone can use to comfort themselves when they’re having a bad day.

Read more …

Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice that helps people learn to manage anxiety, stress and depression.

Shift Supports Oakville’s Fareshare Food Bank

At Christmas this year the staff at Shift Cognitive Therapy donated 100% of a day’s revenue to Oakville’s Fareshare Food Bank to support the work of that organization. According to their website, the Fareshare Food Bank is a not-for-profit organization run by volunteers that has been providing for needy members of the Halton community since 1988. They support approximately 1200 people each month and collect most of their non-perishable food items during the holidays. Monetary donations are used throughout the year to purchase perishables like milk, cheese, meat and vegetables. Their website provides information about how members of the community can host a successful food-drive.

The food bank is located at 1240 Speers Road in Oakville and can be reached by phone at 905-847-3988.

Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice that helps people learn to manage anxiety, stress and depression.

Rates of Depression and Anxiety Rising in Ontario Young Adults

Findings released recently in the Monitor survey published by the Centre For Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) revealed interesting facts about the mental health of young adults in Ontario. The latest findings, from 2011, come from the reports of more than 3000 adults in the province.

While the survey looked at the entire adult age range, the findings suggest that the group between the ages of 18 and 29 years may be struggling the most. For example, this group reported experiencing greater psychological distress than any other age group in the weeks just before the survey. And, while all age groups showed a trend of increased use of anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications over time, this group had the greatest increase (see table below).




Percentage Increase

Anti-Depressant Medications




Anti-Anxiety Medications




Unfortunately, statistics can’t tell us why young adults are reporting more distress or taking medications to cope so much more often. It may be that the stigma around acknowledging our feelings is decreasing and young people feel more comfortable telling it like it is, but it might also be that life just feels tougher, especially for this group, which is facing higher costs for post-secondary education and fewer job prospects than the generations who came before them.

Medications are only one option for treating depression, anxiety and stress. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is another and has been shown to be as or more effective than medication, especially when it comes to preventing relapse. CBT teaches skills to help manage depression and anxiety, like learning how to become more aware of and challenge ‘invisible’ thought patterns that can lead to feelings of hopelessness and being overwhelmed. CBT also helps people learn how to go about the process of changing behaviour to make their efforts at coping more effective.

Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice that helps people learn to manage anxiety, stress and depression.

Treat Anxiety with Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a cornerstone of the treatment of anxiety because it enables people who are afraid of something to gather realistic evidence about what that thing is REALLY like, and then make more thoughtful decisions about whether they want to continue being afraid. This is a difficult concept for most people because anxiety usually feels so automatic and scary that it seems odd to consider that we might be able to control it. However, it’s true.

As outlined in previous posts (see ‘The Trouble With Automatic Thoughts” and “Reacting AND Responding” for examples) the body is built to protect itself by acting without the need for conscious thought. When we’re young, our brain begins the lifelong process of developing models and understandings about what is ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous.’ We learn from direct experience, by watching others, and by putting two and two together that we should move towards some things stay away from others. Over time, these models become ingrained and we no longer need to spend much brainpower on figuring out what might happen, freeing the brain for other, more important activities. Whenever we see, hear, smell, taste or touch something, the brain consults these models and instantly prepares the body to fight or flee. The physical and emotional arousal that results is what we commonly refer to as ‘anxiety.’

Treating anxiety with exposure therapy involves gradually bringing yourself into contact with elements of the things, places or situations you fear. Over time, two important discoveries emerge: First, you learn that the situation isn’t as bad as you anticipated and, second, you learn that you can actually cope with it. As the body’s arousal comes down beliefs about being in danger are replaced with beliefs about coping (eg, ‘I can do this’). The act of facing your fears instead of running away gives you time to experience the feared object/situation realistically, as it truly is, instead of continuing to view it through the lens of the worst-case scenario.

Consider the case of a young woman on a camping trip who was afraid to swim in a lake. Her brain told her that the murky water was “gross” and “dirty” and full of animals that might be dangerous. She had heard tales of snapping turtles and knew that fish felt slimy when you touched them. She had also seen movies like “Jaws” and others that highlighted dangerous things that might lurk in the shadows. She was terrified of entering the water and avoided it even though her friends were having a great time swimming in the sun.

With encouragement and a strong desire to see what she could do, she broke the challenge of entering the lake into smaller, more manageable steps and began the process of exposing herself to her fear. First she sat with her legs in the water and waited about 10 minutes for her anxiety to come down. When she was comfortable with that she eased more of herself in and stopped when she felt to afraid to continue. Again, she waited about 10 minutes until her fear came down and asked her friends to stay close by, ‘just in case.’ When she felt comfortable with that, she pushed off the rocks and moved cautiously out into the lake. She left the water after only a few seconds on her first try, but calmed herself and tried again. Within a few minutes her anxiety came down and she was able to swim farther out.

Although the young woman never totally lost her fear and continued to dislike it whenever her feet touched the slippery rocks below, she took the time to believe in herself. With exposure and the support of those around her, she discovered that she could actually cope with something that scared her.

Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice that helps people learn to manage anxiety, stress and depression.

Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being

Exercise for Mood and Anxiety

Click to purchase.

Authors: Michael W. Otto and Jasper A.J. Smits  Oxford University Press (2011).

With Exercise for Mood and Anxiety, Michael Otto and Jasper Smits, well-known authorities on cognitive behavioral therapy, take their empirically-based mood regulation strategy from the clinic to the general public. Written for those with diagnosed mood disorders as well as those who simply need a new strategy for managing the low mood and stress that is an everyday part of life, this book provides readers with step-by-step guidance on how to start and maintain an exercise program geared towards improving mood, with a particular emphasis on understanding the relationship between mood and motivation. Readers learn to attend carefully to mood states prior to and following physical activity in order to leverage the full benefits of exercise, and that the trick to maintaining an exercise program is not in applying more effort, but in arranging one’s environment so that less effort is needed. As a result readers not only acquire effective strategies for adopting a successful program, but are introduced to a broader philosophy for enhancing overall well-being.

Providing patient vignettes, rich examples, and extensive step-by-step guidance on overcoming the obstacles that prevent adoption of regular exercise for mood, Exercise for Mood and Anxiety is a unique translation of scientific principles of clinical and social psychology into an action-based strategy for mood change. (From the publisher.)

Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice that helps with depression, anxiety and changing behaviour.


Using Willpower: Set Yourself Up For Success

Many consider September to be the ‘other’ New Year because its arrival signals the end of summer vacation and the start of school. This return to routine and so-called ‘regular life’ is also a time when many people make resolutions to improve their lives and health. However, by the start of October, when life has resumed and schedules fill it can be difficult to keep up; commitments to new goals often waver. Understanding the psychology behind willpower can help you to harness your strength and succeed in whatever goals you set.

People mistakenly believe that willpower is an internal thing, a quality or an element of personality that some have but others lack. The truth is that we all have willpower and its abilities are limitless. But willpower is like a muscle: we can only use it so much before it tires and needs a break. Retailers know this, so it’s no accident that low-cost-high-profit items like candy and magazines are located near the checkouts in the grocery store – after using willpower to make so many decisions throughout the rest of the store, shoppers are often so fatigued that by the time they make it to the cashier they have little left in the tank to withstand the temptations of sugary sweets and trashy magazines. Knowing how to conserve our important willpower resources and use them effectively greatly improves our chances of succeeding in realizing life goals.

One useful strategy is to break activities that require large amounts of effort into several smaller activities that each require less effort. Consider exercise as an example. It is tremendously difficult to begin an exercise routine because it takes a lot of energy and our environment may be set up to keep us sedentary. At the end of a busy day, going from resting to exercising may require more effort than is available, leaving us open to feeling defeated.

Although exercising does require a lot of effort, it’s easier to start by avoiding using all of it all at once. Instead of doing it all in a single step, focus your willpower only on the very next step in the process: Put on your exercise gear. Once that’s done it will become increasingly more likely that you’ll take the second step and get yourself outside or onto the workout machine. From there it won’t require much additional effort to begin. And once you’ve started, it will be that much easier to increase your effort to something that offers good health benefits.

By focusing on small steps that you link into longer chains of action you can put yourself into contexts where your natural motivations take over and desired goals feel easier to achieve.
Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice where we focus on helping people improve their lives.

The Three Questions

The Three QuestionsAuthor: Jon J Muth. Scholastic (2002).

Based on a story of the same name by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, Jon J Muth’s The Three Questions invites readers to consider the very big mystery of why we are all here. Intended as a children’s book, but one that can be enjoyed by adults as well, Muth tells the story of a boy named Nikolai who is unsure about the right way to act. He looks to his animal friends for answers to three nagging questions: ‘When is the best time to do things?’ ‘Who is the most important one?’ and ‘What is the right thing to do?’ Each friend has their own ideas but it isn’t until Nikolai is faced with the challenge of helping someone else (in this case a mother panda and her baby) that he discovers his own answers.

The book features Muth’s signature style of water colour illustrations and is one of his many works that presents complex Zen Buddhist philosophies in ways that are accessible and easy for readers of all ages to grasp. His other series of books features Stillwater the panda and include Zen Shorts, Zen Ties and Zen Ghosts. They are at once beautiful pieces of artwork and invitations to reflect on our own beliefs and the ways we choose to relate to other people. It is through this same lens that The Three Questions crosses the line between children’s book and useful clinical tool.

Common to each of anxiety, worry and depression is the tendency to ruminate, that is, to get lost within our own thoughts, to dwell on the possibility of future concerns, to get stuck in endless loops of doubt and dread and, in the process, lose touch with the real opportunities for calm and connection that are always right there in front of us. In answering Nikolai’s three questions, Muth offers a simple set of lessons that, when practiced, provides an escape from the ruminative traps of anxiety and depression and an opportunity to reconnect with the present moment and those things that really matter.

Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice with a focus on anxiety, depression and change.

The Assertiveness Workbook: How to Express Your Ideas and Stand Up For Yourself at Work and in Relationships

The Assertiveness WorkbookAuthor: Randy J. Paterson. New Harbinger (2000).

If you feel guilty saying ‘no’ to unreasonable requests or shy away from expressing your needs and opinions; if you find yourself passively going along with the crowd instead of doing what you want; or if you find yourself exploding angrily after long periods of holding your tongue, then you might be struggling with assertiveness.

Being assertive means communicating your needs, thoughts and opinions in ways that are respectful and preserve the relationship between yourself and the other person. It means really being with another person, listening and connecting with them, and taking the chance to expose more of your true self. Many people never learn to assert themselves and struggle with the consequences of resentment and feeling unappreciated and misunderstood. Not realizing that unassertiveness is the result of our own habits of mistaken thinking we often blame others for our discomfort and fears, weakening relationships and increasing the likelihood of destructive conflicts.

Randy Paterson’s The Assertiveness Workbook is a useful resource to help readers develop the tools and skills necessary to begin communicating more effectively and more honestly. It explains the differences between aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive and assertive forms of communication and offers a variety of exercises to build confidence through regular practice. Coming from a cognitive behavioural perspective, Paterson discusses how thoughts, feelings and behavioural habits all contribute to the ineffective strategies of hiding from and dominating others that people who are unassertive typically rely on. He teaches readers to recognize faulty beliefs that tell us we are inadequate or unworthy of other people’s attention, and structures behavioural experiments to begin changing such ideas through positive practice. He also provides detailed information about how to turn disruptive conflicts with others into constructive experiences that build and strengthen relationships.

The psychologists at Shift Cognitive Therapy regularly work with people who struggle to express themselves and may recommend this book to you as a part of your treatment.
Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice with a focus on change.


Core Beliefs – The ‘I’ That is ‘Me’

If you ask people how old they feel, many will say they feel younger than their years, as if they’re still a kid, existing somehow within the body of a much older person. This happens because we all have an ‘I’ existing somewhere within us that never ages and is somehow separate from our physical body. This ‘I’ is the ‘Me’ that we know ourselves to be, the collection of stories and beliefs that have accumulated over the whole of our lives and contribute to our impressions about who we are and what we can and cannot do.

You can get in touch with that ‘Me’ simply by considering whether you would be willing to do something outrageous. Would you go sky-diving right now? Get on stage and sing, dance or tell jokes in front of a hundred people? Would you run a marathon? Would you switch careers and do something totally different? Regardless of whether that little voice in your head said “Sure” or “Never!” the fact that your little voice said anything at all demonstrates that you too have a collection of stories that tells you who You are and what is and isn’t possible in your life. Psychologists call these core beliefs.

Core beliefs are formed in our earliest years when we have only the most basic ability to understand the complexities of the world. When we feel afraid as children, when we’re separated from our caregivers or when they’re angry, our young brains instantly create terribly unsophisticated stories to explain why those things happened. The theme of the stories often goes something like ‘There’s something wrong with ME that made that painful thing happen. It was my fault.’ (Of course, the stories can be positive as well.) The brain accepts those stories as The Truth, carving them into the granite of our knowledge base, and we move on from there forever believing that that is just how things are.

Core beliefs are tenacious and sticky, meaning that they hold onto their existence with a fierce intensity, bending facts to fit them, blinding vision so we cannot see things that don’t fit and convincing us in so many ways that they are the real truth. Negative core beliefs try to convince us that no matter how much we achieve in life or which positive things happen, for some reason or another those things simply don’t count, we’re not really that good, strong or worthy. The beliefs influence our actions, resulting in choices that seem only to confirm what the beliefs say is true.

Examining and changing disruptive core beliefs, for example through cognitive behaviour therapy with a psychologist, can be a rewarding process. The world can suddenly seem much more open and available when we realize that the ‘Me’ I always thought I was is not the only ‘Me’ I can be.
Shift Cognitive Therapy Oakville is a psychology practice with a focus on change.

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