Learning from Life's Transitions

Many of us have a list in our minds of the things we want, and most of us go through life trying to get these things. Sometimes we rely on our beliefs as a roadmap on this journey –follow these rules and you’ll be enlightened, be happier and have healthier relationships. I used to think that there was a secret recipe to life, and when things are going great, I do tend to think I have it all figured out. However, reality eventually sets in when we realize that’s not always the case, and when that reality hits, we turn inwards and think that something is wrong with us because if nothing was wrong, we’d be getting what we want. Right?

When life isn’t easy or when we are dealing with a major transition we often look for the ‘bad guy’ and sometimes blame ourselves or our partners instead of turning towards each other or asking for help. An all-too-common negative dialogue emerges where we think, “I must be a bad person or a failure because [insert reasons here].”

That ‘looking for the bad guy tendency arises during periods of transition when we are overwhelmed, scared, or uncertain. However, I want to remind some of you that transitions are hard because they are opportunities for growth and growth is hard.

“Life opens up opportunities to you, and you either take them or you stay afraid of taking them.” — Jim Carrey

Marina Keegan wrote a wonderful article on her perspective of what her university experience meant for her. Although graduating university, much like starting university, can be a difficult period of transition; it is both natural and expected. It should, in fact, be something we aim for.

Some transitions are marked as natural development for many of us unless interrupted and then problems can emerge with some sort of pathology. Some transitions happen unexpectedly: loss of child, being diagnosed with Cancer, losing one’s job. Then sometimes that “find the bad guy tendency” arises and we need to deal with it.

No matter the type of transition you are struggling with, I find it helps to take a moment to breathe and reflect on what is happening before moving forward. Whatever that new you or situation looks like: Stop, Breathe, and, Reflect. By reflecting we help clarify how far we have come and it helps to recognize our own strengths and areas of growth and future growth. Reflection can also allow us a time to see if we are moving in a direction that corresponds with our values. Many of us fail to reflect and end up having a life based on being reactive and non reflective vs living life inline with our values.

Some tips to help navigate transitions and avoid ‘finding the bad guy’ tendency:

1. Go back to get to the future

Sometimes we need to think about passed struggles we have dealt with and how we overcame them. What skills or resources you’ve used that helped or didn’t help you. And then think about your current situation and see if these same character strengths or skills may help you deal with your current situation. Con with this technique: some people keep using the same strategies and don’t try to develop new ones.

2. Remember to ABC which means: Always Be Curious.

Things that help us be curious is having an open mind. Another thing that helps us to be curious is asking ourselves questions that force us to think about alternative solutions and ways of doing things. Noticing emotions and really questioning where they are coming from and what they are telling us may help us deal with the current situation. Con with technique: Overusing this technique so that you end up naval gazing and it prevents you from taking the leap or making a choice.

3. Learn to ride the Wave

You may not be able to change your course or whatever event you are dealing with and you may need to grab onto some coping skills and hold tight. Some may find learning mindfulness or learning to connect with the support system as 2 ways that help people ride the wave when dealing with a particularly hard transition. Con: Some people will ride the wave and end back at the same place they started at. When dealing with transitions sometimes we have to accept things will not go back to how they use to be.

Moving from one of life’s milestones to the next can be exciting, but if you are struggling with it, remember that it is a normal reaction and there are ways of managing it. For example if you are unhappy with your job and are thinking of taking a leap to something new, you may be interested in Barbara Hagerty’s article here that talks about the upside of making a mid-life transition. If you like the article I would suggest you read her book, Life Reimagined. Instead of relying on finding the bad guy try one of the above techniques, read Barbara’s article or book and see if it helps or perhaps considering booking a session to process your life transition in counselling.

Get to Know Our Therapists: Kayla Pratchett

Kayla is new to the Shift team, but we're so excited to introduce her! She's a phenomenal writer and an awesome therapist who specializes in helping clients cope with anxiety, emotional trauma and parenting. 

We sat down for a fun Q&A with her. 

1. Are you more of a hunter or a gatherer? 
Definitely a gatherer

2. What were you like in high school? 
Shy and serious and very creative


3. What do you think about when you're alone in the car? 
Where everyone else is going. Who are they? What are their lives like? What brings us all here sharing the road at the same time?


4. If you could be any animal in the world, what would you be and why? 
A puffin - because they can fly, swim, and are adorable!


5. What's your favourite '90s jam? 
If you could read my mind - Stars on 54


6. What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? 
New Girl because it actually makes me laugh out loud


7. What are you known for? 
Being honest but also my love of small boxes and tins


8. What inspires you? 
People who tell the world who they are and fight to be their true selves


9. What's your favourite memory from childhood? 
Spending all my time swimming


10. What is your greatest fear? 
Being lonely - but also heights


11. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? 
"That's amazing," "perfect," "it's an experience," and "what if both are true?"


12. What is a talent you would most like to have? 
The ability to dance!

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The theme this year is Leave No One Behind and so we’re thinking about the ways that violence impacts women differently due to race, class, ability, sexuality, gender expression, status, age, and location. Violence against women is complex but it affects us ALL.

Some things we’re doing:

Watching the documentary A Better Man on TVO or online. The film follows Toronto-based Attiya Khan as she confronts her abuser and asks for his side of the story as a part of her journey toward justice and healing. 

Dismantling rape culture by believing and supporting survivors and by having conversations with people of all ages about informed, enthusiastic consent.
Teaching our children, especially girls, that they have bodily autonomy by letting them choose when (and how) they want to give and receive physical affection. Check out this awesome campaign from Girl Scouts.
Advocating for our government officials to keep their promises on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry and on upholding Jordan’s Principle (which ensures Indigenous children have access to healthcare when they need it). Find your MP here: http://www.ourcommons.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members

Calling out the mansplainers, the “not all men” guys, the cat-callers and anyone else we witness harassing or disrespecting women, especially if we have male privilege.
Getting to know and supporting amazing local organizations like: Maggie’s, PASAN, Sistering, Toronto Newsgirls, Native Youth Sexual Health Network and Shameless Magazine. We support by following on social media, responding to calls to action, attending their events, and donating.

Maggie's Toronto Sex Worker Action Project: Maggie’s mission is to provide education, advocacy, and support to assist sex workers to live and work with safety and dignity. 

PASAN: A community-based prisoner health and harm reduction organization that provides support, education and advocacy to prisoners and ex-prisoners across Canada.

Sistering: A multi-service agency for at-risk, socially isolated women in Toronto who are homeless or precariously housed.

Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club: The mission of the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club is to provide a safe and positive space for women and trans people to explore the sport of boxing. TNG started the Shape Your Life, a free boxing program for female-identified survivors of violence.

Native Youth Sexual Health Network: NYSHN is an organization by and for Indigenous youth that works across issues of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice throughout the United States and Canada.

Shameless MagazineShameless is an independent Canadian voice for smart, strong, sassy young women and trans youth. As a fresh alternative to typical teen magazines, Shameless aims to do more than just publish a magazine: they aim to inspire, inform, and advocate for young women and trans youth.

 An Indian social activist holds a placard as policemen (background R) look on during a rally on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Kolkata on November 25, 2013. Getty Images.

An Indian social activist holds a placard as policemen (background R) look on during a rally on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in Kolkata on November 25, 2013. Getty Images.

5 Tips To Help You Succeed In University

University can be tough. Here are my 5 tips for surviving university:

1. Plan out your weeks at the beginning of the semester

Every professor should be giving you a detailed syllabus at the beginning of the semester with dates for your assignments, midterms, and eventually exams. Spending time to build a calendar to include these dates is so key to our success throughout the semester.

2. Know the weight of each assignment or midterm      

The weight of each assignment and midterm in your courses is different. Maybe in our sociology class we have a paper due on Tuesday worth 20% of our final grade, but our psychology midterm is 35% and taken on Wednesday of the same week. Prioritizing your agenda each day so that you spend more time on studying for that midterm is going to make that 35% a lot less daunting after you’ve spent 90% of your Monday and Tuesday writing your paper. We have to be able to focus on what has the most weight and allocate our time—and priorities—appropriately.

3. Practice self-care

This is a word that is now overused in my vocabulary, but unfortunately I had no idea what it meant until my third year of undergrad. We don't function well unless we take time away for ourselves to do something to away from our studies. Take a bubble bath, go for a run, go to a yoga class, grab a tea with a friend. Make sure you make time for yourself or your friends—however you re-energize yourself is key.

4. Catching enough zzz’s

It’s definitely not easy to prioritize sleep, but this is an absolute must. Studies show that sleep has a major impact on our ability to learn and retain information. Having a good night’s sleep as regularly as possible can help us to improve our grades. In fact, a study conducted just this year showed that irregular sleeping patterns directly links to having lower grades and poorer academic performance.

5. Access campus resources

A great way to help yourself learn study skills on things like taking multiple choice tests, writing effective papers, and how to stress less for tests; are all things that can be found for free on your campus. Try looking on your institution's search for "writing help," or "study skills" and see what comes up. I went to the University of Guelph for my undergrad and found the multiple choice test taking workshop in the library so helpful.

These things considered, there are so many other things that can help us to achieve academic success throughout the tough and stressful times of the year. After being a student for eight years myself (unreal, right?!)—I’ve learned a couple tricks along the way. You can now book with me to learn study strategies and skills to help yourself improve your wellbeing to achieve academic success now at Shift.

Happy Studying!

What I Learned From Staying Quiet for One Week

This passed summer I was fortunate enough to gain an amazing friend and mentor, Mel Mah. Mel is the co-founder of You Got This, Girl! and an expert yogi, dancer, independent film maker, human, as well as a million other things. Over the course of several weeks Mel helped me work on personal goals of all kinds and coached me in mediation, spirituality, and how to be a kick-ass woman. We read books, did exercises, and I walked away from our time together with a greater understanding of many things.

Before I go any further one thing you must understand about me is that I am constantly overflowing. With thoughts, words, ideas, laughter, emotions, you name it. I am chalk-full of everything and bursting at the seams. I am rarely quiet, and I am constantly interrupting people. It can be a good thing, but I also exasperate my partner and can verge on being an annoyance to my team.

This is something Mel noticed almost immediately, and so, she came up with a challenge for me: For one week, whenever you’re in conversation with someone, don’t say anything unless it’s absolutely crucial, and when it is, take a brief pause before you speak.

Initially this sounds like it could create a lot of awkward situations, right? Standing there staring at someone while they wait for you to respond. But the results shocked me.

1. Choose Your Words Carefully

I am an avid reader and writer, and I believe in the power of words. But despite this, I have a tendency to use words willy nilly. In speaking only when I truly had to, I found that not only was I much more careful about the words I chose, people started taking the words I did use more seriously. Friends nodded vigorously when I gave them advice and my colleagues perked up and gave greater consideration to my ideas and suggestions at work.

2. Don’t Monopolize the Silences

Even more powerful than my words were the things that happened in the silences. When conversations took on natural pauses, instead of rushing to fill the silent void, I waited. And what do you know, others filled the void!

On just the first day of this practice it felt like my partner was much more open with me. As I (uncharacteristically) let him lead the conversation, he spoke freely about his hobbies and shared details of his day he normally wouldn’t have (or maybe wouldn’t have been able to). I could see him relax as he realized he didn’t have to fight to get a word in during our conversations, and it led him to being warm and open.

3. Listening is Rewarding

When I expected to be bored, I instead found myself happy listening to him talk about car engines, and other things that normally wouldn’t interest me, and seeing his face light up. It was wonderful watching him talking about his passions, and I felt closer to him than I had in a long time.

This trend continued in my other relationships. My sister, who is normally quite guarded, opened up more to me than she ever had in the past. I learned more in a week about the people around me than I had perhaps in the last two months.

When I speak, I don’t intend to be selfish. In fact, I often view (over)sharing as my way of developing trust. I view talking as a wonderful way to connect with people, but I often forget that what’s more important is listening.

This week, if you’re up for it, make hearing more important than being heard. You’d be surprised at how rewarding it is and at how much you’ll learn.

Get to Know Our Therapists: Ashley Falco

Get to Know Our Therapists: Ashley Falco

Ashley is a recent and special addition to the Shift family. As a McGill graduate, one of the most meaningful times in Ashley’s life was her time spent earning her degree. She has a strong appreciation for the difficulties and challenges presented by university life because, well, she can relate!