Hold the Chocolate Chips: Change and How to Do It

Today, I scooped myself a bowl of ice cream. This is no different from countless other times I’ve done the same thing, save for one fact: I didn’t add chocolate chips. Now, let me back up for a second. I’ve been putting chocolate chips in my ice cream since I was a small boy. (somewhere out there in internet land, there is a mention of me eating too much ice cream-it’s true!).

Vanilla ice cream? Add some chocolate chips. Chocolate? Add chocolate chips. Cookie dough brownie with fudge? You guessed it, that’s going to get some chocolate chips too. So why didn’t I add them tonight? The answer: the global pandemic.

By now, I’m sure we’re all sick of reading about and talking about and hearing about the COVID-19 pandemic. So, I won’t belabour that. However, one side effect of the situation is that it’s caused almost all of us to re-think our routines. I didn’t add chocolate chips because when I went to grab another package at the grocery store earlier this week, they were all out (we really do seem to modulate our emotions with baked goods). That made me change a tiny part of my daily routine in a way I haven’t done for probably 20 years.

I’m betting that you, dear reader, might have had something similar happen to you in your week. Maybe you made that meal that you’ve been planning on for months. Maybe you cleaned the baseboards. Maybe you finally reached out and actually called your mother, or your grandmother (or their male counterparts!). Whatever it was, I’m betting that it felt weird at first, but that you felt better after doing it.

See, massive societal changes don’t just change things on the macro (read: big picture) level; they change on the micro, too.

Brent Mulrooney, M.A.S.P. | Therapist

See, massive societal changes don’t just change things on the macro (read: big picture) level; they change it on the micro, too. For 20 years, I have consistently thought that ice cream just wasn’t right without chocolate chips, so I consistently added them to every bowl I’ve ever eaten. Today, because of a situation entirely out of my control, I changed my habit. But here’s the thing: I liked it better. I tried it and I liked it better.

That got me to thinking. How often do we recognize that there’s something happening in our lives that just doesn’t sit right with us? Maybe you don’t call your friends because you think you’re going to bother them? Maybe you want to say hello to someone in an elevator, but you get shy because you’ve never done it before and …don’t weird people do that? (I say hello quite often, so make of that what you will). Maybe you want to start going to the gym, but you haven’t found the right day, or the right time, or the right gym outfit.

Yet, when we actually try something new, those tales we tell ourselves don’t often hold water. Sometimes they’re just not true. Sometimes, the ice cream is better without the chocolate chips.

Looking to start a journey towards change and your life? Mental health professionals at CFIR can help you navigate where you’re coming from and support you in developing healthy strategies to build an emotionally healthy future.

Brent Mulrooney, Ph.D., is a therapist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships. He works with individuals and families to improve mood, anxiety, relationships, work, and school. He also works to alleviate problems associated with substance use, learning difficulties (including ADHD and Learning Disabilities), bullying, trauma, violence, grief and loss, transitions in life, self-esteem, gender identity, sexuality, and intimate relationships.

To Game or Not to Game?

In an earlier post, my colleague Mathilde Theriault, B.A. Hons., Clinical Psychology Resident, wrote about the paradoxical effect of social media. Despite its potential to connect us, reducing the usage of social media has the paradoxical effect of helping people feel less lonely and depressed. This perspective got me thinking about other ways in which we engage in online activities and their impact on wellbeing. 

The Entertainment Software Association’s Annual Report 2019 revealed that 65% of Americans surveyed played video games every day. Video games are ofte viewed as a pass time for adolescent boys. However, this popular stereotype contradicts actual trends. The vast majority of people who play video games are age 18 or older, and nearly half of them (45%) are women. 

In 2018, the term “Gaming Disorder” was introduced in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by:

  • impaired control over gaming, 
  • increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and
  • continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences. 

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. It would typically have been evident for at least 12 months.

Despite how widespread video gaming is, research reveals that gaming disorder only impacts a small proportion of those who play them. However, many people are likely to engage in a pattern of video gaming that, while sub-clinical, could negatively impact wellbeing. I would encourage you to remain alert to the amount of time spent gaming, especially when this behavior becomes repetitive, routine, and at the exclusion of other activities. 

I have often heard from people who play video games that they do so routinely because it’s accessible, and they don’t have to overthink it. If that is the case for you, I challenge you to experiment and become more intentional in what games you play and how you play them. If you mainly play online games, try single-player games. Instead of competing against others online, try competing against yourself. Conversely, if you mostly play single-player games, try an online multiplayer game with your group of friends. It can be fun and more engaging to play as a team, and a lot of them are free. Another fun way to experiment would be to take video games (like table-top role-playing games) and bring it to the real world. Get together with your friends, gather around a table, and roll some dice to go on an imagined adventure together that rivals and surpasses even the best video games available today!

Dr. Miguel Robichaud, C.Psych. is a psychologist in Supervised Practice at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Toronto. In therapy, he specializes in helping individuals understand and change long-standing personality patterns and process unresolved issues stemming from family relations and upbringing (i.e., attachment issues, past or ongoing emotional deprivation, traumatic experiences). His work is currently supervised by Dr. Rylie Moore, C.Psych. and Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

Childhood Anxiety: Early Warning Signs

Do you have an anxious child?

Childhood fears are a part of normal growing up. Fears of the dark, monsters under the bed, starting at a new daycare or school – all of these may be part of typical child development. Anxiety is also a signal to help all of us protect ourselves from situations that are dangerous- a warning signal about a lack of safety in your child’s world. Under normal circumstances, anxiety diminishes when a child’s sense of security and safety is restored—anxious thoughts and feelings subside.

When is your child’s anxiety something you should be concerned about?

Anxiety is considered a disorder not based on what a child is worrying about, but rather how that worry is impacting a child’s functioning. The content may be ‘normal’ but reach out for help for your child under the following circumstances:

  1. when your child is experiencing too much worry or suffering immensely over what may appear to be insignificant situations;
  2. when worry and avoidance become your child’s automatic response to many situations;
  3. when your child feels continuously keyed up, or,
  4. when coaxing or reassurance is ineffective in helping your child through his or her anxious thoughts and feelings.

Under these circumstances, anxiety is not a signal that tells them to protect themselves but instead prevents them from fully participating in typical activities of daily life-school, friendships, and academic performance.

What to look for:

If your child is showing any of the following it may be time to seek help from a qualified professional:

  • Anticipatory anxiety, worrying hours, days, weeks ahead
  • Asking repetitive reassurance questions, “what if” concerns, inconsolable, won’t respond to logical arguments
  • Headaches, stomachaches, regularly too sick to go to school
  • Disruptions of sleep with difficulty falling asleep, frequent nightmares, trouble sleeping alone
  • Perfectionism, self-critical, very high standards that make nothing good enough
  • Overly-responsible, people pleasing, an excessive concern that others are upset with him or her, unnecessary apologizing
  • Easily distressed, or agitated when in a stressful situation

child, adolescent and family psychologist at CFIR can help you and your child to diminish unhealthy anxiety. A thorough assessment of your child will provide you and your child with valuable information about the sources of your child’s anxiety, and evidence-based psychological treatment will be employed to help your child deal with his or her anxiety symptoms.

(This post was originally written by Dr. Rebecca Moore C.Psych.)

CFIR OTTAWA is moving to its new home JULY 4TH, 2022. Click here for more details.