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mental health

mental health, reflections

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT FEELINGS

I can’t pinpoint exactly when feelings went viral, but it happened. 

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me, as a munchkin, feeling all the things

And now we’re surrounded by posts, memes, snaps, grams and vines that talk all about feels: catching feelings, having feelings, knowing feelings, getting hit in the feelings. You get the idea. Most of this feelings-based content hinges on the fact that it’s detached and irreverent. Feelings are the punchline.

But lately I’ve been wondering, since psychoanalysis taught us that humour is often a window to our unconscious, what are we really talking about when we talk about feelings online? Based on some very unscientific twitter, tumblr and instagram trolling I have learned that, most of the time, we are talking about 1 of 3 things:

  1. DRAKE.
    The king of pop-feelings. From his first mixtape, Drake was publicly mocked for talking about his feelings too much. However it was exactly this vulnerability (and his IDGAF attitude about it) that made him famous. Fans like to vicariously experience difficult emotions –  things like regret, nostalgia, loneliness, isolation – major themes in Drake’s music. It’s the same reason Kurt Cobain resonated with Gen X’ers. Or why I can’t stop playing that new Adele song even though I don’t like it. We struggle to express ourselves, to identify our emotions, and music helps us put words to what we don’t understand.
  2. CRUSHES.
    The majority of #feelings on the internet are unsuprisingly related to crushes, breakups and relationships. “Catching feelings” is an especially common turn of phrase. And sure it’s pretty cute. I like the idea that emotions are something that overtake you – unexpected and often unwanted. The thing I don’t love is the negative connotation of “catching feelings.” If we think of feelings as a contagion, it perpetuates the idea that our natural state is somehow “neutral” or without emotions. Which is not true and sets people up for unrealistic expectations of both love and life. The reality is, emotional stability is something you will always have to contend with.
  3. TEENAGERS.
    Obviously teenagers rule the internet in a myriad of ways because they are so much better at it than the rest of us, but nowhere is their reign more supreme than the public expression of irrational emotion. Twitter – the epicentre of anonymous feelings – is full of teens who unabashedly post about their latest dramas. It’s so embarassingly, beautifully earnest. No thirty-something is going to post 80 updates in a day about the guy who won’t text them back, but a teenager will! They are saying what everyone else wants to say, but won’t because we are adults with self-respect and boundaries. Do yourself a favour and search #teenfeelings. It’s like a livetweeted bildungsroman.

Okay…then what aren’t we talking about?

I’m not breaking ground when I say that social media places a high value on positive emotions and experiences. An instagram post with you looking happy and full of joie de vivre will get you likes. But what happens when you’re not feeling so hot? The trouble is that with so much value placed on appearing positive, fun, outgoing and excited online we devalue and deny our negative emotions. And moreso, in our desire to connect and “be social,” we forget be alone with ourselves which gives us less time to identify and express those difficult emotions.

I think ultimately our fascination with feels and feelings is our attempt to experience and contend with emotions we’re uncomfortable with. Experiencing the intimacy of male friendship? Post a pic of you and your bro #feels. Struggling with the relationship between you and your mother? Post a review of the new Meryl Streep movie #feels. It’s our attempt to go there without really going there. 

And yet, safely expressing difficult emotions allows us to identify what’s causing them and to address those causes. This is an important – essential – coping skill that contributes to our overall mental health and well-being.

So, to wrap up this touchy feely post about feels, here are a few ways to express negative emotions…positively:

  1. Write them in a journal.
  2. Talk to a professional.
  3. Talk to a trusted friend.
  4. Draw or paint them

And once you’ve done those things? Learn from them. Make positive changes. And release them. Through exercise, dance, cooking, writing, painting, or (if you prefer) as hit records….like Drake 🙂

mental health, reflections

HOW TO MAKE DECISIONS

IMG_2105.JPGI am chronically indecisive. Otherwise known as a libra.

I had my first panic attack at a Japanese restaurant when I was 12, deciding between the spicy tuna and the unagi. At 21, after hearing the news that I’d been accepted to a prestigious Masters program overseas, I was so paralyzed by the decision I contracted a stress-related viral infection usually reserved for octogenarians. Decisions – big and small – have the ability to bring even confident, self-assured people to their knees. There are many reasons for this but here are a few of the ones I tend to get stuck on:

  1. Decisions require us to commit to a path while it is still uncertain. We have to take a chance. Take the classic airplane conundrum: “Chicken or beef?” You can watch as each passenger on the plane goes through a mini-existential crisis over the question. But it’s because we’re forced to make the decision before we really know which is the better option. And, in that case, there is always a better option.
  2. Decisions mean choosing one thing over another (potentially) better thing. If you’re the anxious type, the ambitious type or the curious type, this is simply unacceptable. When you give something up you might never have the opportunity to get it again. What if this is the best unagi in the world and I missed my chance to eat it? Like FOMO, but for commitment.
  3. Decisions require us to take responsibility for ourselves. When you make a decision, the result – good or bad – falls on you. Suggest a dinner spot to a group of friends? If they love it, great. But if they think it’s too expensive or loud or there aren’t enough gluten-free menu options, all eyes side-glance to Mr. Know-it-all.  When you avoid committing to a decision you can say “it wasn’t really up to me” or “I never wanted to do this in the first place.” Those are much easier to say than, “I was wrong.”

With all of that said, the benefits of committing to a decision are limitless. Your Saturday night is more fun when don’t you troll facebook obsessing over which event will be the most fun, you just pick something and go for it. Your career flourishes when you put your all into it and don’t criticize yourself for “selling out” or doing the wrong thing. Your relationship will be more rewarding when you’re all-in and not constantly considering who else might be out there. The best way to counteract decision paralysis is to do the hard work of finding out what you honestly want. Once you know that, it’s so much easier to go after.

So…how do you figure out what you want? There’s no easy way to do this. Self-awareness is a process that takes time. But there are a few questions I have started to ask myself when I feel deep-leveindecision that have helped me figure out what my real desires are.

The first question is HOW DOES THIS MAKE ME FEEL? Think short-term and long-term here. Does it feel good today? Will it keep feeling good in a week? A month?  Which brings up the next question CAN I ENVISION THIS IN MY FUTURE? If you can’t seem to picture it, you probably don’t want it. Even if you want to want it. The last question, and the one that has helped most is DOES THIS MAKE ME PROUD? In my experience, if you don’t want to shout it from the rooftops or brag about it to the people you care about you probably don’t really want it.

Figuring out what you want takes time, patience and practice. But saving yourself the struggle of indecision or (worse) decisions made for the wrong reasons makes it a worthy effort.

inspiration, mental health

Art as Meditation / Meditations on Art

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I have known some exceptionally talented visual artists in my life. Dear friends of mine like Christel who designed my gorgeous new website, these cats, this babe, etc. etc. forever. But I am not one of them. I have other skills. I can write a lucid sentence. Hold down a steady 9 to 5. Rock red lipstick like it’s nobody’s business. But “Art” has never been my strong suit.

Nevertheless, I recently discovered that painting and drawing actually help reduce – even eliminate – my anxiety. So I’ve done my best to integrate art more fully into my life as part of my mental health regimen (something I don’t think we talk about enough). Going to the gym for an hour might help you “turn off your brain” but creating a piece of art helps you tap into it. Rather than mentally checking out, you’re actually learning more about your thoughts and feelings at a given time.

When I decide I’m going to spend a night doing something creative, I put away my cellphone, turn on some low key jams, light candles and zen the eff out. No matter you make, I guarantee you’ll feel better than a night of wine and netflix.

For those of you looking to integrate a little creativity into your life, but who don’t know where to start, these are some of the things I’ve done to dip my toe in the water:

  1. COLOURING: You laugh, but colouring for adults is coming back in a big way. Try these free printable mandala colouring books and embrace your inner hippie child.
    mandala
  2.  PHOTOGRAPHYLeave the house one day with nothing but a camera and your own eye. Be a tourist in your own town. Finding beauty in your daily surroundings is a fun challenge that leaves you appreciating the space you live in.
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  3. KNIT: Just because it’s springtime doesn’t mean you have to give up cozy handicrafts all together. Find some youtube videos like this one on basic knit stitches, and get to it. I like to buy large amounts of undyed yarn and then hand-dye my scarves at home as a cheap alternative to some of the fancy pants yarn you can buy in the stores.
  4. COLLAGE: I am really into collaging right now. I troll newspapers and magazines for images that inspire me and then see how they piece together and tell a story. Afterwards I always look at what I made and gain some insight into how I’m thinking/feeling at any given time.
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  5. PAINT: Don’t be scared, pal you got this. Painting is intimidating but it’s also tactile and immersive in a way that’s unlike anything other kind of artistic form. Drink a glass of pinot if you have to, but I recommend you give it a try.