Mental Health

Stress and Burnout

»Posted on Nov 18, 2014 in Family Life, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 0 comments

stress and burnout

I’m seeing an alarming trend of clients coming into my office: Overworked, overtired, and stressed-out. They come complaining of depression and anxiety symptoms, but when I assess what’s going on in their lives, it sounds a lot like they’re well on the way to burn-out. Stress is becoming one of the number one killers in North America today.  We all know that, I think.  We’ve certainly all heard the warnings and likely most of us know at least one person who died prematurely due to stress-related diseases.  Many of us are now living at an unsustainable pace but we don’t know how to stop.

I have kids as young as 6 coming into my office suffering from stress symptoms.  Families suffer, marriages break down and kids fail out of school because of stress.  Corporations lose billions of dollars each year due to stress-related illnesses.  It costs all of us. So take heed and make some healthy changes before it’s too late.  Not only is this important to your life expectancy, your health and your happiness, but it’s also God-honouring to live a life that is paced according to the way our bodies were designed to live. So what can you do?


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Healthy Boundaries

»Posted on Oct 30, 2014 in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 0 comments


One of the biggest issues that crop up time and time again when I work with people is that of boundaries. As Christians, we often confuse the mandate to love others with tolerating all sorts of boundary violations.

Learning to set healthy boundaries is essential for maintaining a positive self-image. It is our way of communicating to others that we have self-respect, and we will not allow others to define us. They are the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used, or violated by others. They allow us to separate who we are, and what we think and feel, from the thoughts and feelings of others.

Without boundaries and our willingness to communicate those limits directly and honestly with others, it would not be possible to enjoy healthy relationships. Respecting ourselves in this way is honouring the worth that God sees in each one of us. To set personal boundaries means to preserve your God-given identity and integrity, to take responsibility for who you are, and to take control of your life.  So what should you do?

Here’s a short video clip to get you started on setting healthy boundaries!


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Self-Care for Women

»Posted on Oct 21, 2014 in Inspirational, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 0 comments

exhausted woman

Today’s post is primarily for women because they are often neglected in their focus on caring for others and their responsibilities. But it’s also helpful for men to watch this video so they can better understand and support the women in their lives.

In fact, many of the women I counsel are overloaded with too many demands, and they struggle with worry, guilt and failure. They will often take care of others, but leave no time to take care of themselves. And as Christians, the stakes are even higher as we’re taught about sacrificial living and serving others, and so we “should” ourselves into a breakdown.

One of the things I’ve noticed about women is that we are terrible at self-care. And we struggle with feeling guilty if we were to be so “selfish” as to care about ourselves. On top of that, women today are expected to be educated and successful as professionals, yet we’re also expected to be great wives and mothers. But doesn’t it sometimes seem as if we can’t win? We’re judged if we’re too career focused, but we’re also judged if we chose to be stay-at-home moms. And so, we struggle with feeling like we’re a failure in both realms. How do we pursue the calling God has placed in our lives– whether as a professional, pastor, or stay at home mom? And how do we move forward in spite of how we may be judged, criticized or misunderstood?

My hope is that the video in this blog will encourage us to a place of greater self-acceptance and self-care so that we can be authentic women after God’s own heart.


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Mental Health

»Posted on Oct 14, 2014 in Mental Health, Psychology and Faith, Trauma and Abuse | 0 comments

mental health

Mental health issues are something that many people struggle with on a daily basis – from small children to the elderly.  In fact, recent statistics from The World Health Organization named depression the second most common cause of disability worldwide after cardiovascular disease, and it is expected to become number one in the next ten years.  Studies of religious groups reveal no evidence that the frequency of depression or anxiety varies across groups.

Mental health issues are very real and need to be responded to with care and understanding, not judgment or condemnation.  My passion is to increase awareness about mental illness, de-mystify it for everyone, and begin a campaign to teach all of us how to treat those suffering from mental illness with compassion and acceptance.  And if you are the one who is suffering from mental illness, my heart goes out to you.  Please… no more shame.  No more isolation.  Please hold onto hope and reach out for help.

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Stress and Burnout

»Posted on Nov 26, 2013 in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Mental Health, Personal Growth | 0 comments


I have to confess that I’ve been struggling with guilt over the last few weeks because I’ve let some of my responsibilities slide.  You’ve ever had days like that – a blur of busyness so intense you can hardly think straight?

Like a drumbeat in my head, go, go go – the taskmaster in my head that doesn’t seem to let up.  There’s always more to do.  And because that darn people pleaser in me has a hard time saying no, I pile more and more responsibilities on my plate.  So I end up feeling like no matter how hard I work, things keep slipping between the cracks.  And I can’t keep up.  You ever feel that way?

How about these symptoms:

  • sleepless nights tossing and turning
  • feeling tired but wired, unable to relax
  • no time to exercise and no energy to even try
  • eating on the run and binging on junkfood or caffeine to keep going
  • brain feeling fuzzy, memory lapses becoming more frequent
  • ruminating thoughts that don’t seem to stop
  • irritable mood and a joyless spirit
  • emotional numbness and/or mood swings
  • anxiety or depression symptoms
  • unexplained physical symptoms
  • frequent colds, allergy symptoms or recurring illnesses

If you’re experiencing some or most of these symptoms, beware:  you may be well on the way to suffering from adrenal fatigue, a common result of unrelenting stress and a unhealthy lifestyle.  In case you’re still not sure, try taking this quiz.

Got your attention yet?

Stress is now becoming one of the number one killers in North America today.  We all know that, I think.  We’ve certainly all heard the warnings and likely most of us know at least one person who died prematurely due to stress-related diseases.  Many of us are now living at an unsustainable pace but we don’t know how to stop.

The vast number of people who are experiencing adrenal fatigue but do nothing about it is astounding.  Every day, I meet people who are stressed out but figure that they have no choice but to live under the tyranny of stress in their lives.  Sure life is out of control, but what can they do?

I have kids as young as 6 coming into my office suffering from stress symptoms.  Families suffer, marriages break down and kids fail out of school because of stress.  Corporations lose billions of dollars each year due to stress-related illnesses.  It costs all of us. And yet, many people still express surprise when I tell them that they’re suffering from adrenal fatigue.

And they definitely don’t have the motivation to do the hard work of repairing their bodies, minds and emotions. They just want me to fix their spouses, or their kids or help them cope with their toxic work situation.  They don’t have time to change their lifestyle or slow down.  Because they don’t realize how serious this is.  And how deadly.

OK, so I can preach it but I have to admit it’s hard to practice it.  Me – I’m a recovering burn-out victim.  Years of living beyond what my body was designed to endure, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I still struggle today to manage my stress. But what I’ve learned is this:

You MUST fix your sleep and nutrition.  If your body isn’t getting the proper fuel, it will break down.  Don’t ignore this!  (I speak more about this in a previous blog). One of the smartest things I ever did was consult a naturopathic doctor who specialized in adrenal fatigue.  She helped me get my sleep and nutrition back on track, as well as my hormonal system.  No, naturopaths are not quacks – they can be a fantastic part of your health care team because they look at the underlying causes of disease, not just an isolated set of symptoms.   They combine modern science with functional medicine to help your body heal itself.

You have to learn to say NO.  Remember, when you say no to someone or something, you’re saying YES to yourself and your health.  I did that for myself recently, on the encouragement of a friend.  I was feeling guilty for not blogging over the last few weeks and she gently reminded me that it was okay to say no to this task.  She encouraged me to listen to my body and rest, rather than drive myself crazy trying to fulfill all my “shoulds”.  Think about all the things you tell yourself that you “should” do, and ask yourself what is really driving you.  Really, the world won’t fall apart if you choose to set that task aside.

Take the time to identify your values and priorities and choose to live by them.  Another great thing I did for myself was meet with a life coach,  who helped me understand what was truly important to me and what I needed to cut out from my life. Focus on what’s vital in your life and let go of the less important things.  What are your top 4 or 5 values?  What are you carrying or doing in your life that isn’t consistent with your values?  You will note how draining and negative those activities or situations will be. When you make decisions now, filter them through your values and priorities before deciding whether you will take something on.

Be ruthless in creating a daily schedule that is sustainable for you, and then stick to it. And do it backwards to the way you would normally do it.  FIRST, schedule in regular times of things that fill your tank: rest, exercise, fun and relaxation, time with family or friends, leisure activities.  THEN fill in what’s left of your schedule with your tasks.  If your schedule gets too busy or you’re too tired, drop your tasks first, NOT your times of rest and self-care.  Those should remain non-negotiable.

Surround yourself with people who fill your tank.  Find people who will cheer you on, believe in you, help you laugh – people who are a POSITIVE influence in your life.  Invest in these life-giving relationships and make them a priority.  We are all wired to be in relationship.  Connection is life.  Don’t get so busy that you let your friendships slide.  If you’re married, nurture your marriage – and if your marriage is broken, invest the energy to re-build and make some healthy changes in this vital relationship.  Any toxic relationships in your life?  Consider whether you need to let them go, set better boundaries or work to reconcile.  And get help if you need it!  YOU are worth it!

Learn to do nothing.  When was the last time you did nothing other than putter around?  Put your feet up?  Our mind and bodies need down time on a regular basis – time to do nothing but just rest.  Many people come into my office and tell me they can’t relax.  Their bodies are so geared towards adrenaline-driven activities that they don’t know how to slow down.  They literally can’t shut down their minds and they feel jittery and anxious if they are still.  Does that sound like you?  If this is you, I urge you – get some help before it’s too late!  Otherwise you’re heading down a road that will only lead to big problems.

Practice the art of savouringSee life as a gift, and chose to be thankful and notice the good.  I speak a lot more about this in a previous blog so I would encourage you to review it and choose savouring as a lifelong perspective.  Research clearly shows the power of focusing on the good things in our life, and hey, isn’t that Biblical?  “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” (Philippians 4:8, 9 MSG)

Lastly, but most important of all:  Cultivate your spiritual life.  You were created to be in close communion with your Father.  Spend time with God, resting in him, seeking him out.  Listen to what he has to say to you.  Hear your Father’s heart for you as his beloved.  Learn to find God everywhere – in the scriptures, in the hug from a friend, in the sunset, or in the smile from your baby.  He is the source of your joy, peace and love.  Trust me, you were created to be most fulfilled and content with God at the centre of your life.

Listen to what God has to say to you:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG)


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Family Ties – Part 4

»Posted on Jul 30, 2013 in Family Life, Marriage and Relationships, Mental Health, Parenting, Personal Growth | 1 comment

 family ties 4

My eyes darted back and forth as I tried to keep up with everything that was being said.  Dad started talking, but then mom interrupted him, incensed by what he was saying.  Then the two kids jumped in, yelling angrily and adding fuel to the fire.  It was no use; by this point, the “conversation” had degenerated to everyone shouting over each other and no one listening.  There were tears, finger pointing, and angry outbursts.  It was total chaos.  Sigh…a day in the life of a family therapist.

But what was even more painful for me to see was that this interaction was normal for this family.  Mom and dad admitted to me that it was common for there to be yelling and angry outbursts, and that it had been this way for years.  It was only when their eldest son got charged by the police with assault that they finally came in for some help.

This is what I’d call a chaotic family – a home where emotions are out of control; roles and family expectations are unclear (and changed depending on the parents’ mood); discipline was applied inconsistently, from too lenient to too harsh; kids had far more power than they should; and they went from one crisis to another.  There was no stability or predictability.  Kids growing up in these homes learn that their emotions rule their lives, and crises are but a step away.  They aren’t taught how to regulate their emotions or tolerate distress, nor are they able to understand boundaries.  Drama is the norm. They then have difficulty maintaining stable relationships because their emotional chaos tends to push people away.

Contrast this to the disengaged family.  Independence is valued but to the point where there is very little involvement in each other’s lives.  No one talks about anything personal, emotions are frowned upon or shut down, and everyone is taught to be self-sufficient.  While this can appear to be a step above the chaotic family in that everything appears fine on the surface, often there can be hidden addictions, traumas that occur to the members that no one knows about, and the belief that everyone is ultimately on their own to deal with life.  Kids who grow up in this type of family have difficulty forming strong emotional bonds with others or learning how to be inter-dependent with a mate.  They also have little capacity to understand their own inner world, and so they don’t have the skills to know how to deal with symptoms of anxiety or depression, nor do they know how to deal with relationship challenges.  Avoidance is a strong feature of this type of family.

Then there’s the enmeshed family.  This type of family can seem to be very close and loving from the outside, but often, there are poor emotional boundaries between members.  People know too much about each other, and step in too often to rescue each other.  Members find it difficult to step back from the emotions of their loved ones.  Ties are strong in this type of family and very hard to break, because behaviour that doesn’t fall in line with what’s expected is quickly confronted (many times by guilt and emotional blackmail).  Because everything is done in the name of love, kids can find it very difficult to break free from the emotional obligations to their family of origin – the expectation to stay close and take care of each others’ emotions.  They’re responsible for each other’s emotional well-being, and so kids that come from this type of family will often find themselves pulled into unhealthy co-dependent relationships with others.  And they can also find it difficult to break free from their family of origin to bond in a healthy way with their spouse.

Finally, there’s the rigid family.   This is a family that has little capacity to adapt to change because things have always been done a certain way.  Often, it is ruled with an iron hand by a matriarch or patriarch, and everyone learns to dance to their tune.  Kids are expected to obey without argument, and questions about why things are done a certain way are not tolerated.  Roles and expectations are clearly laid out, and woe to the family member who tries to change this.  Because everyone suffers if someone tries to change things, all the other members work hard to control the “rebellious” one.  In-laws who marry into this family can find it very difficult to be accepted, especially if they’re not willing to toe the line or they dare to question the family rules.  They can then be ostracized, as can their spouse if they chose to break free.  Sometimes, family ties are severed so badly that family members refuse to talk to each other for years, the message being that until they’re willing to fall back in line, they aren’t going to be acknowledged.

As you can probably tell, I’ve described some of the more extreme cases of these types of problematic family dynamics.  Most families don’t look completely like this, and often, families can be a blend of some of these traits.   But take some time now to consider your family of origin, and see whether any of these patterns fit.  Consider your current relational and emotional struggles and see whether the roots of some of that is in your family system.  If you come from a family of abuse – emotional, physical or sexual – you may still recognize some of the family patterns I describe above.  But for you, your family has stepped very much beyond the line and has caused you harm.  If this is you, please get some professional help to process through the abuse, heal from the trauma and learn how to change those patterns in your own life so that you can break free.  If you live in the Greater Toronto Area in Ontario, Canada, please check out LifeCare Centres, where I’m the Clinical Director overseeing an incredible team of therapists.  Or talk to your doctor or pastor for a referral to someone reputable in your area.

Very often, these family characteristics or relationship dynamics are repeated generationally within a family – through genetics, attitude, behavioural patterns or belief systems.  Do you see this in your family?  This can include alcoholism, adultery, abuse and divorce.  Knowing your family history can help you choose to break the patterns.  With God’s help, you can begin new healthy generational patterns and develop healthy fruit.

Next week, I conclude this series on Family Ties by talking about ways in which you can break your family cycle.  If you haven’t read the first 3 parts of this series, please remember to check out Parts 1, 2 and 3!


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