Major life transitions can occur at any stage in life. Whether it is starting university or college and living on your own for the first time, starting a new job, becoming a parent, or experiencing a death or loss of a loved one, life transitions can evoke many complex feelings. When we experience a big life-altering change, we are often faced with many unknowns and a sense of unpredictability regarding our future. Confronting the unknown and uncertain can evoke feelings of stress, worry, fear, self-doubt, grief, and depressive experiences. While these feelings are normal when faced with a major life change, they can still feel intense and overwhelming. To support yourself or loved ones during a time of major life transition, it is important to remember to: 

  1. Acknowledge and validate your feelings—Sometimes our emotions can feel so overwhelming and intense because we don’t yet know why or what we are experiencing. Acknowledging that a life transition is likely to evoke strong emotions and finding new and healthy ways to identify and validate your feelings can help you navigate change. 
  1. Accept the inevitability of change— We are constantly changing, growing, and evolving in our lives and relationships. Change can be difficult and overwhelming, but it can also provide an opportunity for self-growth and development. Through experiencing change, we can discover new possibilities and parts of ourselves, which can be exciting and motivating!
  1. Reach Out and Connect—Sometimes experiencing a major change in your life can feel lonely and isolating. Connecting with loved ones, members of your community, or others who may be experiencing a similar life change can help you to navigate this difficult time. Engaging in psychotherapy can be another way to address any difficulties that you are facing because of a major life change. In the process of psychotherapy, you can learn new ways to navigate difficult emotions, and develop a deeper understanding and meaning about what this major life change means to you. 

If you are experiencing a major life transition, and wanting to better understand and navigate your experience, CFIR has counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists who are available to support you!

Jennifer Bradley, M. A. is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at CFIR. She works with individuals experiencing a wide range of psychological and relational difficulties including life transitions, anxiety and stress, trauma, depression, mood and grief, interpersonal difficulties, and issues related to self-esteem. Jennifer is an integrative therapist with a particular interest in existential, relational, and psychodynamic approaches to psychotherapy. 

Emotional Dialogues in Couples: 9 Steps to Greater Emotional Communication and Connection!

Learning how to experience and express our emotions and needs to a partner can be very difficult, particularly if in our own family of origin, our inner feelings and needs were not addressed. Working through feelings and emotions requires adequate time and space to complete these types of interactions.  Couples often struggle and elevate distress when trying to engage in discussions of feelings and needs while multi-tasking (e.g., cooking, driving, shopping, taking care of the children). 

Discovering how to efficiently and effectively process your partner’s and your emotional experience is essential, so each of you feels understood and seen by the other. Picking the right time to have these dialogues is crucial, taking turns so that each partner feels sufficiently validated in their experience and their needs resolved is also important. Emotional accessibility and responsiveness to our partner’s emotional experiences and needs help our partners distress to lower and deepens the connection between partners. To be accessibility means to be able to be present and engaged sufficiently with your partner’s emotional experience. Responsiveness involves interest and engagement in identifying and resolving the underlying needs associated with emotions. These types of interactions are the essence of secure attachment.

The clinicians at CFIR support couple clients to develop emotional attunement through nine different steps. Learning how to complete these types of emotional interactions can lower distress and stress levels when partners have a guide to help them to process their emotions and needs. Come learn how to emotionally communicate and connect using steps developed by clinicians at CFIR’s offices.

Combatting Depression: Strategies for Your Relationships

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini and Tatijana Busic

Finding a path toward recovery from your depression symptoms can be challenging, but is doable! In this third post in our depression blogs, we provide strategies to help you deal with depression symptoms associated with your thinking and how you might be processing your feelings, emotions, and needs.

We’ve offered you some tips to help take the first few steps toward feeling better. We suggest that you start your recovery journey by employing strategies for your self first, and then once you’ve started on those, our fourth blog post offers you strategies for your relationships.

Strategies for Your Self: Develop Structure, Routine, and Self-Care into Your Life

When we are depressed, we tend to become depleted of energy. We move less and feel tired. These circumstances can drain us of important mental and physical stimulation that we need for our well-being.

Put structure and everyday routine back into your life and begin to increase your level of self-care. Create a routine. Make sure to schedule activities that are meaningful or pleasurable to you. Include 20 minutes of physical exercise each day. Prepare healthy meals that will nourish your body and mind. Get good rest. If you are having difficulties sleeping, consult resources that will assist you to develop a soothing nightly ritual that will help you to unwind and relax and ultimately improve your sleep.

Learn How to Regulate and Soothe Stress, Negative Feelings and Emotions

With depression, we can struggle with our feelings and emotions – we feel too much or too little. When we are overwhelmed by strong, intense feelings and emotions, it is important to develop practices and strategies to effectively deal with these internal reactions.

Pause before you act on your thoughts and feelings and try to restore a sense of calm and ease. Learning how to restore calm and ease within ourselves is an important life skill. Make a list of activities that are calming and soothing for you, and engage in these activities when you are emotionally distressed. For example, sipping tea in a peaceful place, going for a walk, engaging in deep body and muscle relaxation, taking a warm bath, learning how to breathe rhythmically and deeply, visualizing peaceful and tranquil settings, quietly reading a book, and listening to calming music are examples of ways to enhance coping.

Try to remember, intense feelings and emotions mellow with time. Try to reassure yourself that these feelings and emotions will pass and you will be okay once again. Once we are calmer, we can begin to think about the thoughts and feelings we are experiencing that are contributing to our depression.

Challenge Negative Thoughts and Feelings about Your Self and Others

Negative views of our ‘self’ and of other people can create a deep sense of hopelessness, as discussed previously. In the midst of feeling depressed, pay attention to the thoughts, interpretations, assumptions, and beliefs you have about yourself or others. Do you notice a negative bias in how you are thinking or feeling about yourself and others?

Try to challenge these negative views and find counter-examples to these negative thoughts. Try to recognize good things about yourself and others at home, work, and in play. Practice noticing positive attributes about you and other people—at least once a day. You can also develop a list of positive things about yourself and other people in your life. Have your list handy and read it whenever you are feeling negative. Do not be surprised if your list of good things begins to grow as you start to engage in this exercise of positive appreciation.

Sometimes our negative thoughts and feelings towards others are grounded in real experiences in which others are behaving inappropriately toward us. If people are behaving toward you in a negative manner that is harmful (i.e., verbal, physical, emotional or sexual abuse), it is important to seek out support and professional help to find a way to address these circumstances.

Develop Self-Compassion in Place of Harsh Self-Criticism and Perfectionism

Sometimes a negative, critical voice toward our ‘self’ and others may be at the root of our depression. When left unchecked, this voice can make life unbearable.

Do you notice a highly critical or perfectionistic inner voice that pervades your life? How do you feel while and after you have berated, attacked, or criticized yourself? Probably not very good. Try to develop a more compassionate and understanding counter-voice at these times. Making mistakes and not meeting expectations and demands are bound to happen throughout our lives. It is part of being human. Remind yourself that no one is perfect nor do we need to be in order to be worthy, lovable, and valuable as human beings. Ask yourself if you would be as harsh toward others, such as a family member, partner or friend if they had not met an expectation? Would you be more understanding of others? Try to develop a kind, gentle, understanding and reassuring voice toward yourself in these moments.

Try to lighten the impact of this oppressive voice by reframing the self-criticism in positive terms. For example, ask yourself what you can learn from the present situation that may help you grow as a person in the future as opposed to harshly attacking yourself. Try to find constructive solutions to your mistakes or problems, rather than senselessly depleting your energy and berating yourself.

Try to find ways to challenge harsh self-criticism. Ask yourself, “How realistic are the expectations and demands that I hold of myself and others?”. Remember that human beings are limited in terms of what we can achieve. We can’t always meet all of our or others’ expectations or needs. In addition to negotiating our needs with those of other people in our lives, we also have to balance a lot of competing needs in different contexts, including work, family, and play.

Find counter-examples that contradict the extreme and global way you are putting yourself down. Create a more balanced and accurate view of yourself. Think about what is good enough and possible in your current life situation rather than how things should be in order to be perfect.

Be Mindful, Build Awareness of the Present Moment

When we are depressed our thoughts are often focused on worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. Depression impedes on our ability to live in the present moment, which often further aggravates the cycle of worry and negative rumination.

Try to notice these moments as they are happening without any judgment. Simply notice your ‘self’ thinking or feeling something that is connected to worry about the future or rumination about something that happened in the past. As you notice what is happening, try to gently shift your attention to your body. For example, if you are walking notice how the soles of your feet feel with every step you take. Practice using your senses to notice how things look, feel, taste and smell around you.

By gently shifting your attention to the present moment, you rest your awareness in the here and now of being alive. This mindful practice can help you to build an inner sense of refuge from the stresses of life. Also, this practice can occur under any circumstances and over time, will help you to develop greater resilience and freedom from the negative thought and emotional patterns associated with depression.

Identify, Label, and Access Emotions and Needs and Make a Plan of Action

Emotions provide us with important information about what our concerns, goals, and needs are for ourselves and in our relationships with others in the world around us. Depression is a signal, calling for us to listen to what our feelings are telling us about what concerns or goals have gone unmet, or what we might want or need for ourselves or in our relationships with others.

Being able to identify, label, and express these feelings in words is important if we are to appreciate what our concerns are and what we might need as individuals and from our relationships. When we figure out what our emotions are telling us, we can then develop a plan of action toward taking care of ourselves more effectively. We can develop strategies to address our goals and concerns, and meet our wants and needs in a manner that does not create further difficulties for us.

Try to identify and label your emotions. Pay close attention to the feelings that underlie what you are experiencing. For example, you may be feeling numb, but masked underneath resides hurt and sadness. Or you may feel outwardly sad, but are also angry deep down. This may not be easy to do at first and takes practice.

Also, try to tune into what the concerns, unmet goals or needs are that come with these feelings and emotions. What do you need for yourself in your sadness or anger? Write about your feelings in a journal with a particular focus on what these feelings are telling you about what you might need for yourself or in your relationships with others.

Begin to plan and create strategies of how you can go about meeting your goals, wants, needs, or desires in a manner that is constructive for you and for those around you. You may require support from others to help you organize your thoughts and to develop plans to have your goals, wants, or needs met.

Seek out Professional Support: Consulting with your Physician and a Registered Clinical Psychologist

Consulting with a physician may also be an important first step to assess your current mental health status. Depression can be associated with many biological and medical causes that require medical interventions.

Seeking the professional support of a registered clinical psychologist may be important to help you address the negative thoughts and feelings you are having about yourself, or others. Learning how to address perfectionism, self-criticalness, and process your emotions and clarify wants, needs, and goals can be challenging. Contact a registered clinical psychologist if you find that dealing with your thoughts and feelings on your own has become unmanageable.

Read more additional posts from the ‘Depression’ series:

Learn more about our Depression, Mood & Grief Treatment Service.

Depression: The Role of Unprocessed Feelings and Emotions

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini and Tatijana Busic

Do you find yourself struggling to cope with the intense feelings and emotions associated with depression?

In this second post of our four-part series about depression, we’ll provide you with a few of many psychological views of how unprocessed feelings and emotions might lead to depressed feelings. In the following post, we’ll provide you with various strategies you can use to deal with depression on your own, or in your relationships with others.

Feelings and Emotions Associated with Depression

Depression involves different types of difficult emotional experiences, including chronic negative feelings and emotions (e.g., fear, sadness, anger, worthlessness, guilt, shame, irritability, restlessness or lethargy, detachment and numbing). Depression is, of course, a broader mental health diagnosis that consists of many different features, as outlined in this series’ first post in which we addressed what is depression. Depression is different than normal grief in which we feel sadness for a prolonged period of time in the aftermath of the loss of a loved one (i.e., loss of a parent, child, sibling or friend).

Unprocessed Feelings and Emotions as Signals of Need in Depression

Our feelings and emotions provide us with important information about our self, others and the world around us. Depression is a signal to us—a calling for us to listen to our feelings, emotions, desires, and needs.

Some of us are unable to clearly identify, label or express our feelings and assert our needs. Being able to figure out our feelings, emotions, and needs is, however, critically important. It is important because our feelings and emotions guide us by providing us with a sense of what is significant to us in our environment both at home and work. Emotions signal to us that we have concerns, goals, and needs and that some type of action may be required by us to deal with these concerns, goals, and needs in our environment. When we do not attend to our feelings, emotions, and needs, we can create a world that feels false to us. We can become disconnected from what’s really important to us and in our relationships, which can result in hopelessness, anger, or detachment and withdrawn feelings.

In our relationships, it’s important to process our feelings, emotions, wants, and needs. Depressed individuals may have difficulties managing their emotions and figuring out what they need from others. If we can’t figure out our feelings, emotions, wants and needs, we won’t be able to approach our friends, family members, partners, or even employers with our concerns or needs. Some individuals become out of touch with how others can sometimes provide us with responses that can be valuable to us—-only if we actually know what it is that we need from others, feel entitled to ask for support, and risk expressing our vulnerabilities and needs to others (i.e., to listen to us, help us sort out our feelings, verbal reassurance or physical reassurance through a hug etc.) can we realize how others can be a source of contact-comfort, and soothing to assuage the distress in our everyday world.
When we can’t sort out our feelings, emotions, and needs, we can’t get in touch with ourselves and how others might be able to respond to us in ways that can make life better for us. Depression sets in as hopelessness grows—with depression, it becomes more and more difficult to reach for support and increasingly we withdraw, detach, or are irritable and angry, which pushes people further away from us.

Loss and Grief, Meaninglessness and Purposelessness

Life can be a symphony of losses. Many of us struggle to cope with unresolved losses that are accompanied by grief, and possibly a sense of meaninglessness and purposelessness. We can experience loss in many ways—loss of loved ones in our close relationships (i.e., death, separation), and the loss of self and identity as we transition through various life stages or as a result of unexpected changes to our mental or physical health.

We may experience the loss of a parent, partner, child or friend through death, separation or divorce—and experience normal grief. Some individuals will grieve these types of losses and eventually return to feeling better—albeit life is never the same with the loss of a loved one. Some individuals, however, will not recover as well. The loss may create a deep sense of loss and grief about the relationship with the loved one—this loss may also remind you of various other past losses in life in which your emotional needs were unmet—increasing a sense of loneliness, pain, guilt, shame, and isolation. When we have not appropriately grieved our losses, the pain and sadness of previous losses can accumulate and surface unexpectedly—prolonging your recovery time.

Loss of a loved one might also leave you with a shattered sense of your self, identity, and future—if so many of your life plans were associated with the lost loved one. Re-discovering who you are separate from your lost one can take time. Hopeless despair, sadness, and anger can also emerge when it is difficult to reconnect with others, and re-create a renewed sense of meaning and purpose after these types of losses.

We also experience loss and grief as a result of changes caused by normal lifespan changes (i.e., change in roles and identity), changes in our physical and mental abilities, and health status. When these changes occur, some individuals have to face loss related to unmet expectations and unachieved goals—the lost hopes of what we thought our lives would be. Changes in our life circumstances (i.e., children leaving home, loss of employment etc.), health status (i.e., mental and physical changes associated with illness or aging), alter our capacities and possibilities of functioning in ‘old’ ways. When we experience loss or a lot of change, we can lose our bearings and struggle to find meaning and purpose in life again. Over time, we can begin to feel hopeless about ourselves. You can lose a sense of vitality as you try to re-define what’s of importance to you in the aftermath of all of these changes.

How Psychotherapists at CFIR Can Help

Psychotherapists at CFIR can support you to deal with your emotions, including helping you to get to know your feelings and emotions, label them and figure out what they might mean to you. Some of us of have strong emotions that need to be dimmed somewhat but still understood. Sometimes strong emotional reactions come from unprocessed feelings, emotions and needs from our past relationships, and losses, or from losses in present-day life. Psychologists at CFIR provide cognitive-behaviors, existential-humanistic, emotionally-focused and psychodynamic therapy strategies to support you to deal with your emotions, understand what these important signals mean to you, and to help you to take action in the world that will promote self-growth and recovery from your losses.

In the next blog post of the series, we will be providing you with strategies on how to deal with your feelings of depression. We’ll be outlining strategies for ‘yourself’ and strategies for ‘your relationships’. Aside from seeking psychological services to help you with your symptoms, there are many things you can do to feel better on your own.

Read more additional posts from the ‘Depression’ series:

Learn more about our Depression, Mood & Grief Treatment Service.