Physical vs. Emotional Hunger: How to Differentiate Between the Two?

Recognizing our hunger signals is an essential ability to ensure we are fueling our bodies properly. Without food energy, it isn’t easy to function cognitively, physically, socially, or emotionally. But have you ever noticed a difference between your physical and emotional hunger? 

Physical hunger is defined as a feeling of discomfort caused by a lack of food. Typical cues for this type of hunger include stomach growling, headache, feeling faint or weak, loss of energy, and irritability. When we recognize this physical need and tend to it with food, we’re usually satisfied and relieved. 

Emotional hunger does not stem from a need to eat. It arises from an emotion that we are not giving enough attention to. It is a sense of emptiness, a feeling that something is missing, a craving for comfort. In other words, emotional hunger does not come from the stomach; it’s derived from an unmet emotional need. 

“Emotional hunger does not come from the stomach; it’s derived from an unmet emotional need.”

According to the American Psychological Association, there is a strong connection between negative emotions and food. More than 35% of adults reveal turning to food to cope with their feelings monthly, and more specifically, seeking high-calorie and high-fat foods during periods of stress. This behavioral cycle can lead to different difficulties, including feelings of guilt and shame, heightened anxiety and lower mood, body image concerns, and disordered eating behaviors.

Being able to distinguish our physical hunger from our emotional hunger is, therefore, a valuable skill. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help meet your real needs, whether physical or emotional.

“Did my hunger come suddenly?”

Have your hunger cues developed progressively, or did they appear spontaneously? If your hunger is emerging gradually, eating a snack or a meal will be helpful. However, if the urge to eat is sudden and you are craving specific comfort food, you may be experiencing emotions that need your attention. 

“Is my hunger located in my stomach or not?” 

If you are not experiencing physical signals of hunger (e.g., stomach growling, feeling sluggish, headache), it can be worthwhile to ask yourself how you feel and what you need right now. Is it possible that you are feeling stressed, sad, or simply bored? What would help to cope with these emotions?

“Why am I still hungry after a full meal?”

If your hunger is still present after a typically satisfying portion, it may be necessary to employ coping or self-care strategies to support your emotional needs. These can include reaching out to a friend, journaling, doing breathing exercises, moving your body, or doing an activity you enjoy.

Our hunger signals can inform us on how we are feeling and what we are needing, and it can be valuable to learn how to understand them better. If you need more support to cope with difficult emotions or are experiencing overwhelming body image concerns or problematic eating behaviors, professionals at CFIR can work collaboratively with you. 

Dr. Karine Côté, D.Psy., C.Psych. is a psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Dr. Côté provides psychological services to individual adults and couples experiencing a wide range of psychological and relationship difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, eating disorders, sleep disruptions, and interpersonal betrayal. She works from a humanistic approach and integrates therapeutic techniques from gestalt and object relations psychotherapies, emotion-focused therapy (EFT), and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Defining Self-Boundaries – Types of Boundaries (Part 3)


This final post of the 3-part series on boundaries will provide you with definitions for different types of boundaries. It is important to know these differences; doing so allows you to self-appraise how you maintain your sense of self with others. Research mostly focuses on three general types of boundaries: rigid, diffuse, and flexible. 

Let’s imagine boundaries as a wall you build up to protect yourself. They can be defined by the following:

Rigid – Walls are very high up, thick, and do not come down

Diffuse – Walls are very low, foggy, and confusing

Flexible: Walls are clear, go down and go up (to different levels) as needed.  

Rigid Boundaries: We might feel protected (especially if we have been through any type of trauma) when we set a rigid boundary without sharing more intimately about our feelings and needs. However, we are closed off to the other when we set a fixed limit — meaning that it’s difficult or nearly impossible for us to connect to others and to have others get close to us (emotionally, physically, etc.). This type of boundary makes it hard for others to understand our feelings and needs as little of ourselves is shared. We also may not be flexible enough to respond to the demands of others. 

Diffuse Boundaries: When we have diffuse boundaries, we might have difficulties communicating and/or understanding our boundaries (maybe from how you were raised, difficult experiences with limits). With diffuse boundaries, our borders are foggy, unclear, and are not defined. This particular boundary is difficult in relationships because you most likely tend to internalize other people’s emotions or let intrusive arrows (see the second blog in this 3-part series) right into your inner world. It often leads to feelings of resentment, frustration, shame, or sadness (etc.). 

Flexible Boundaries: When we have flexible boundaries, we can easily adapt to different situations in our relationships with others. Our boundaries are clear, healthy, and reflect our needs, desires, emotions, and values. We also maintain some openness to the other’s reality, thoughts, feelings, and needs. This creates a space in our relationships where it’s safe to discuss our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and desires and listen to the other and make adjustments to fulfill both parties. It also creates respect within your relationship and brings you closer together. Lastly, flexible boundaries prevent you from feeling overwhelmed or building up resentment, all while letting other people in, creating a secure attachment, and fulfilling your needs. 

We must establish a boundary to get to know who we are and what we need in our relationships to maintain a sense of safety and security and a sense of value and worth. Flexible boundaries might be ideal in relationships.

Mélodie Brown, B.A., is a therapist and completing a clinical psychology doctorate (D.Psy). At Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, she provides psychological services to adults and couples under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. In the last year of her clinical psychology doctorate, Mélodie has completed all of her clinical training. She is in the process of finishing her thesis before receiving her licence as a clinical psychologist. 

Defining Self-Boundaries – When Is It Okay to Assert My Boundary?

After reading Part 1 and getting familiarized with boundaries and the difficulties we often face while setting them, you are probably wondering when or in what situations is it okay to set a limit in your interpersonal relationships?

The answer is: A boundary is set in our relationships with others to establish a felt sense of internal safety and security or maintain our sense of self-value and worth. We assert a boundary with another person to ensure we do not experience excessively high levels of negative emotional distress based on what others say, do, or express to us.

The model below has been devised to help you think about when it might be okay to set boundaries for yourself in everyday life. See model down below:

When you, your partner, or children receive an intrusive arrow (something that makes you feel bad—can be threats, insults, shaming, pressure, etc.) from anyone in circles 2, 3 & 4, it’s absolutely okay and healthy to put up a boundary to protect yourself, your partner or your child.

It’s also important to remember that in circle 1, each person is also a separate individual with their respective thoughts, opinions, feelings, emotions, wants, needs, values, and desires. Every individual can benefit from knowing this information as it’s the basis for setting a boundary. In terms of the diagram below, an individual has to establish a boundary with each member of their family and those relationships in the outer circle.

Remember that boundaries set with respect & authenticity are a way to protect yourself and your mental health. When you don’t set boundaries, you can be overwhelmed with stress and negative emotions that can lead to difficulties in your relationships. We become overwhelmed when we don’t listen to our feelings and bodies and set boundaries to protect ourselves from going into a space that is too much for us physically or psychologically. By setting boundaries, you also help yourself & the relationships around you grow. You and others learn more about who you are and how to relate to each other, and you are capable of being more invested and present for your romantic partners and other relationships.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Types of Boundaries.

Mélodie Brown, B.A., is a therapist and completing a clinical psychology doctorate (D.Psy). At Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, she provides psychological services to adults and couples under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.. In the last year of her clinical psychology doctorate, Mélodie has completed all of her clinical training. She is in the process of finishing her thesis before receiving her license as a clinical psychologist.

Reconnecting with Yourself During Social Distancing

It’s been a strange time. There are daily news updates regarding the current pandemic; still, it’s uncertain how long we’ll be required to stay home. Some of us have found this period at home to be calming, while others have found it to be monotonous. The change of pace has left us with time to spend with (and learn more about) our selves. Here are a few things you may wish to explore:

Do Things You Enjoy: When life gets busy, we may start to neglect aspects of ourselves to make time for things that seem even more essential. During this time, allow yourself to reconnect with the things that bring you joy (e.g., art, music, writing, etc.). Reignite those passions and take note of how they affect your wellbeing. 

Unplug: The ongoing dissemination of news can become overwhelming. It is okay to allow yourself a chance to step away and take a breath. Instead of tending to something that may exacerbate feelings of anxiety and being out of control, shift your focus to what can be controlled-you. Do the things that bring you peace of mind (e.g., yoga, reading, cooking, etc.) 

Reminisce: It’s not uncommon to want to press ‘pause’ sometimes during fast-paced times. If you have some extra time now, reconnect with who you are, and how far you’ve come, whether it’s looking at old pictures or looking at mementos; allow yourself to look back on special memories. Reconnect with the forgotten parts of yourself and reflect on how they affect your wellbeing. If distressing feelings or thoughts arise, it may be an indication for you to reach out for support.

Re-Evaluate: With the opportunity to disconnect from ‘auto-piloting’ through life, we may start to evaluate our thoughts and feelings concerning our experiences in the present. Allow yourself to acknowledge this information. Sometimes, we may need to re-evaluate what is working and what is not working in our lives and how it’s affecting our wellbeing.

Social isolation can be a confusing and anxiety-provoking state to be in, but it may also teach you a lot about yourself. Taking the time to reflect on who we are, how far we’ve come, and where we would like to head in life can be a compelling experience. Therapists at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships can help you process different aspects of your identity during this time. We are currently offering virtual sessions that you can connect to from the safety and comfort of your home. Click here to learn more. 

Nereah Felix, B.A. is a registered psychotherapist (Qualifying) at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Ottawa and is under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych and Dr. Natalina Salmaso, C. Psych. The clients who come to see her are provided with an authentic, non-judgmental, safe, and supportive environment to share their experiences and improve their wellbeing. Nereah is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology at the University of Ottawa.

Practicing Self-Compassion

Our emotions and thoughts can sometimes take over our minds in ways that are not helpful for us, and that can make us feel uncomfortable or distressed. Responding to situations and ourselves in kind and compassionate ways can allow us to feel safe and create a space to respond to our needs. Self-compassion can enable us to let go of self-criticism, and to respond to our critical thoughts in a supportive and caring manner. 

Next time you notice distressing thoughts and emotions arising in your mind, you may try the following to help yourself through in a self-compassionate way. Think of what you can say to yourself that is kind and soothing. Or, think of what you would say to a good friend when they are in distress and try applying that to yourself. Or, consider what a good friend might say to you during difficult times. For example, try these statements: “It’s okay for me to feel this way,” “I know this is difficult, but it will pass,” ; “I know it is scary, but I am here to keep you safe.” 

Don’t forget that you can comfort yourself physically, too. You might gently rub your chest or hold your hand. You may go for a nice walk, take a long bath, and change into comfortable clothes. It’s essential to stay kind and gentle towards yourself.

Dr. Khuraman Mamedova, C.Psych. is a psychologist in supervised practice at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (Toronto). She works with adults in psychotherapy, to support them to overcome difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, psychosis, trauma-related experiences, and relationships. She has completed research on the relationship between clients and therapists in psychotherapy.

Five Easy Tips to Improve Your Sleep Quality

by: Dr. Karine Côté, D.Psy., C.Psych. 

Do you have a hard time falling asleep? Do you wake up frequently during the night? Do you tend to wake up too early? Do you feel like your sleep is never really restful? You are definitely not alone! According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, about 30% of adults experience occasional insomnia, and 10% of the population suffers from chronic insomnia. 

The impacts of sleep difficulties on our psychological and physical functioning are diverse. They can include mood fluctuations, increased stress and irritability, problems with concentration and motivation, low energy and fatigue, an upset stomach, and muscle tension and headaches. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help improve your sleep quality. 

1. Practice sleep hygiene

Limit coffee, tea, and sugar intake after 3 PM. Eat your dinner and exercise at least two hours before your bedtime. Your bedroom should be comfortable and quiet, and try to limit looking at electronics, screens, and alarm clocks while in bed.

2. Implement a sleep routine

Maintaining a consistent routine throughout the week is vital. Ideally, your bedtime and wake-up time should be the same every day, even on weekends! 

3. Limit time spent in bed to sleeping

Time spent in bed should be reserved for sleeping (and romantic activities) only. Activities such as watching TV or reading in bed can contribute to your sleep difficulties. It is, therefore, more beneficial to engage in these activities in a comfortable space outside of your room and go to bed only when feeling sleepy. 

4. No napping

It is often tough to resist napping when we feel tired. However, to give you the best chance of sleeping during the night, eliminating any length of napping is essential.

5. Regulate your anxiety

Our sleep difficulties are often related to anxious thoughts that are hard to control. Writing them down before bedtime can help release anxious feelings, while also being reassured that your thoughts are not forgotten in the morning!

Consistently practicing these strategies will give you the best chance to overcome your sleep difficulties. However, if these tips do not work and insomnia persists, don’t be discouraged! Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) offered in psychotherapy can help you regulate your sleep and provide beneficial effects that last well beyond the end of treatment. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Centre for Interpersonal Relationships for support – it is time to prioritize your sleep and regain restful nights! 

Dr. Karine Côté, D.Psy., C.Psych. is a psychologist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR). Dr. Côté provides psychological services to individual adults and couples experiencing a wide range of psychological and relationship difficulties related to mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, eating disorders, sleep disruptions, and interpersonal betrayal. She works from a humanistic approach and integrates therapeutic techniques from gestalt and object relations psychotherapies, emotion-focused therapy (EFT), and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Whole-Person Self-Care for the Holiday Period

by: Reesa Packard, M.A., Ph.D., R.P.

The dawn of a new holiday period is upon us once again; as the cool air sets in, the decorations are mounted, and typically, the to-do lists begin to grow… The holidays can be ripe with joy and celebration, but they can also be a time of stress. Being pulled out of our regular routines, eating more indulgent food, spending more money, being more immersed in the mixed experiences of family time, etc. can add up to create a holiday period that is harder than we hoped it would be. 

Whether there are specific stressors awaiting you this holiday period or you simply want to make the most of it, whole-person self-care can help you get there. So, what exactly is self-care? Self-care has its roots in 1950s medical communities, where it was learned that patients’ taking their own actions to care for themselves physically, spiritually, psychologically and emotionally was essential to their healing, health, and wellbeing. Now, decades later, the concept of self-care has been picked up by mainstream society. On social media, #selfcare now seems to depict a culture of luxurious consumerism and self-indulgence, but that is only part of its story. 

So, then what is whole-person self-care? While some versions of self-care can focus on a specific task that might help you feel better in one specific way, whole-person self-care is more like an attitude of overall self-reflection, and of building self-awareness, so that you can honour many different parts of yourself at once and care for your ‘entire self’. In this way, self-care is not only about taking a quick break or reveling in indulgences—self-care is about developing yourself, and your life, in a way that makes those breaks and indulgences less necessary to begin with. 

So, how can whole-person self-care help you this holiday season? You can use it as inspiration to get you thinking about questions like: “What is happening right now, how well is this working for me, and why?” “What is really important to me, out of all of this?” “How am I really doing?:” “How are my physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional parts doing right now?” “How are my relational, occupational, and financial parts doing right now?” “What do I want right now, what do I need right now, and how might those be different?”… These questions are the type that can lead you to become more self-aware, and as you build this self-awareness, you can have more clarity about the ways in which you might act to help yourself. 

Give yourself the best holiday gift this season, by connecting with yourself in the present! Try out some of the self-care strategies below: 

  • Physical: move your body or take rest, eat some nutrient-dense foods, quench your thirst, stretch your muscles, breathe deeply; 
  • Spiritual: immerse in a moment of silence, (re)discover some nature, attune deeply to yourself and others, contemplate some higher power or higher-order, seek experiences of awe and wonderment;
  • Psychological: build gratitude by naming what you are grateful for, emphasize relationships that fuel, and de-emphasize those that drain, ground yourself by scanning and taking in the details of the room and space around you; 
  • Emotional: practice feeling feelings as they arise, practice taking small breaks from feelings when they feel too intense, notice bodily sensations associated with feelings, try to fathom perspectives different than your own.

Professionals at CFIR can help you learn about and practice whole-person self-care. Contact us to inquire more and to begin or continue on your journey toward making yourself and your mental health a priority.

Reesa Packard is an Associate at CFIR. She has a doctoral degree from the Saint Paul School of Psychotherapy & Spirituality and works in private practice as a registered psychotherapist. She works with clients hoping to develop a more integrated sense of self as a means to well-being and meaningful, lasting transformation. Reesa is currently building a new service at CFIR called ‘The Integral Self’, which offers a place for clients to receive support and guidance in their advanced self-development, including spiritual and body-based growth. Reesa is also involved in the teaching and supervision of psychotherapists-in-training and advanced knowledge through research in her specialty fields.

The Power of Mindful Compassion: What It Is, Why It Can Influence Mental Health, and How to Begin Cultivating It In Four Steps

by: Kamala Pilgrim, Ph.D.,C. Psych (Interim Autonomous Practice)

Mindful compassion is a concept that has garnered increasing attention in the scientific community especially over the last two decades. It is taken from the Eastern spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism and in recent years, research demonstrating the benefits of the practice for mental health have fuelled efforts to discover the mechanisms through which it exerts positive outcomes.

The practice can be broken down into two integral components: Mindfulness and compassion.

Mindfulness is defined as an openness to and acceptance of all that is occurring in the present moment, without judgment or over-identification with our experience including our thoughts, beliefs, feelings, urges, and actions (Gilbert & Choden, 2014; Kabatt-Zinn, 2012; Neff, 2011).

Compassion has been described as the ability to adopt a supportive attitude toward ourselves. It also involves taking courageous, wise, and healthy action to promote care for ourselves and/or of others.

Why mindfulness and compassion combined are important?

The practice of mindfulness stabilizes the mind so that we can step back and bring awareness to patterns that are not serving us well. Compassion fosters the kindness and understanding needed to sustain and commit to really seeing what is happening and to take committed action (Gilbert & Choden, 2014).

Through the practice of mindful compassion we strive to recognize our common humanity by accepting that we all make mistakes, stumble, fall, get up again, and sometimes triumph; we start to see that we are all average in many ways and unique in others (Neff, 2011). We stop dwelling on labelling ourselves as sometimes bad and on other occasions, good; we make efforts to embrace the full range of what it means to be a human and approach ourselves as we would a close friend, child, or other family member we love. 

This attitude is not carried out in a “fluffy” or self-indulgent way; rather when we observe our thoughts, emotions, behaviours, motivations, and intentions in a caring framework, we paradoxically become more open to doing something differently; we become willing to make necessary changes because we clearly see how we may be perpetuating our own pain and/or that of others.

Mindful compassion does not make us a pushover either; in fact, fully observing what is happening in our lives aids us in understanding how the behaviours of others may be impacting us in harmful ways and can help us in making the decisions necessary to foster growth and healing for ourselves, and perhaps for the other as well. There are times when mindful compassion can help you respond quickly and efficiently to ensure your safety as you develop a deeper ability to observe everything going on in the environment for what it is and not for what you may want it to be. 

By considering everything we observe in ourselves as different aspects of what it means to be a human being we can become less self-critical with time. We can understand that there are basic needs that underlie our initial or habitual reactions and we can strive to take action to attain what we’re really looking for at our core.

To summarize, I like to envision mindful compassion in the following way, based on Buddhist and Hindu perspectives:

The mind is like the seed of a lotus flower buried deep in the shallow, warm, and still waters of a pond.

Our basic emotions such as, rage, lust, despair, and fear, as well as our drives for freedom, dominance, protection, belonging, and connection, are akin to the mud that covers the seed of the mind. 

Compassion is the sunlight the seed absorbs; the resulting roots are the elements of mindfulness that create a firm foundation of non-judgemental awareness, settling deep into the earth so that the stem can navigate up and through the dark environment to the surface where the lotus of greater wisdom and clarity can manifest.

Here are four ways you can begin to shine the warm, rejuvenating sunlight of mindful compassion in your own life:

1. Discover patterns

Start to bring some gentle awareness to the automatic thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, urges, and behaviours you have in response to various situations such as:

  • When you look in the mirror?
  • When you experience a setback?
  • When you say something you didn’t mean?
  • When you make a mistake?
  • When you argue with someone close to you?

Simply practice noticing without judging. 

2. Practice expansion and self-soothing speech 

When you observe a painful thought or feeling, practice pausing before reacting as you normally might. Notice where you experience any disturbing emotions in your body. If you are anxious or afraid you may notice a tightness in your chest and/or butterflies in your stomach. When you are angry you may feel your jaw clenching. Breathe into and around the region(s) to give the feeling more space. As you do this, say something nurturing to yourself such as:

  • “I know this is hard for you right now.”
  • “This feeling is distressing but it will pass in time; may I give myself the understanding I need right now, may I take good care of myself in this moment.”

3. Understand your needs

Sometimes we assume that our knee jerk reactions are true reflections of what we actually require.  Mindful compassion can help you pause with these initial experiences long enough to discover what underlies them. For example:

  • Arriving home from work you may suddenly feel overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness and anger when you see the kitchen sink filled up with the morning’s breakfast dishes. You may notice yourself begin to criticize yourself or others for not cleaning up immediately after eating. If you practice taking a moment to pause before reacting, to observe these feelings from a non-judgemental, loving and supportive frame of mind and heart space, you may discover that you are actually exhausted and just need to take a few minutes to relax on your own before interacting with others or starting in on your evening routine.

Though you won’t always be able to get exactly what you need in the timing or in the form you would like, you can still respond to yourself kindly, see if you can take small steps toward providing yourself with what you really need, and/or consider asking someone to help you. Sometimes just taking these few brief moments to recognize and validate your feelings is enough. 

4. Set aside time for a loving kindness meditation

Find a few minutes in your daily schedule to try the following:

  • Sit in a comfortable, but alert position
  • Close your eyes
  • Notice the rise and fall of your belly, diaphragm, and chest as you breathe in and out naturally several times without trying to control your respiration in any way
  • Visualize someone you love, respect, and care for
  • Imagine sending them your love and appreciation
  • Next, see yourself in your minds’ eye and practice surrounding yourself with the same feelings

This is by no means an exhaustive list about how to foster mindful compassion; There are many contextual factors, including our societal and cultural perspectives and early life experiences which strongly shape our sense of self, our perceptions of others, our views of and how we operate within the world, which each in turn affect our capacities for mindful compassion and our mental health and well-being overall. 

Mental health professionals at CFIR can help you learn about and practice mindful compassion. Please don’t hesitate to contact us to inquire more and to begin or continue on your journey toward making yourself and your mental health a priority. 

For more information please see the following sources:

Gilbert, P. & Choden. (2014). Mindful Compassion: How the science of compassion can help you understand your emotions, live in the present, and connect deeply with others. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Harris, R. (2008). The Happiness Trap: How to stop struggling and start living. Boston, MA: Trumpeter.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2012). Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the present moment – and your life. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.

Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. New York: William Morrow.

6 Ways to Enjoy Valentine’s Day When You’re Single

For some, Valentine’s Day is synonymous with flowers, candy, romantic evenings, sentimental greeting cards and couples expressing love (or strong “like”!). With this holiday right around the corner, we took a moment to ask CFIR Psychotherapist, Joshua Peters, M.A., R.P, “What tips can you offer to help single people who want to enjoy the day without focusing on being uncoupled?”.  Here’s his response: 

Valentine’s Day can be a difficult time for those who find themselves single on a holiday that celebrates romantic relationships. However, fear not, you can still find many great ways to celebrate this holiday that don’t involve finding or having a romantic partner. Here are a few tips for enjoying the day – as a single person:

  • Reach out to your other single friends to connect and enjoy these relationships. After all, creating strong social ties is one of the best ways we can maintain our happiness — and this doesn’t mean having a romantic partner. 
  • Be inventive! In recent years, many individuals have created “Anti-Valentine’s Day” or “Singles Awareness Day” celebrations. It can sometimes be a fun way to shake off any Valentine’s blues while also making light the holiday a bit lighter and fun. 
  • Treat yourself! Splurge on that nice bottle of wine (or non-alcoholic sparkling cider) and a great meal. You deserve it and learning to do this for yourself can help you grow as a person.
  • Self-Care Extravaganza! Start your day off right by trying one of the many mindfulness activities you can find online (there are some great options here) or try a new physical activity (go to the gym, try out that yoga class you’ve been wondering about, or go for a hike at a park you’ve never been too). 
  • Challenge yourself! Try something new to broaden your experience of Valentine’s Day – let it be the start of something new in your life.
  • Most importantly, let yourself experience whatever emotions you’re having! Try your best to label each experience (Sadness, happiness, excitement, hurt, pain, etc.) and provide yourself some time to journal at some point during the day about these experience. Your emotions are important and deserve to be explored.

If you can engage with even one of these activities you should consider it a success. Being single on Valentine’s Day isn’t always easy — but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate some fun activities.  

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.

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