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Keeping your head above water

Keeping your head above water

I’m not a surfer, but I have a world of respect for those who have mastered the skill. It’s a sport that’s both thrilling, and terrifying.  

We took a family trip to Florida once, and devoted ourselves to learning to surf.  I did manage to get up a few times, but when I fell off, I wasn’t prepared for the crushing blow of the waves that snuck up from behind, pummeling me further under.  Just as I was coming up for air,  a massive wave would crash on top of me, leaving me coughing, disoriented, and gasping.  I just couldn’t catch my breath.

In many ways, recent news has been like that.  Just when we think we’re starting to get a handle on the latest events, another wave comes pounding down upon us, leaving us reeling. Canada (and Nova Scotia) has suffered another devastating loss with the recent crash of a Cyclone helicopter off the coast of Greece.  Our hearts and prayers extend the the families of those who who were on that flight.  The military is an extended family, and any losses or injuries cut deeply.

If we didn’t care, it wouldn’t hurt so much.

I don’t recall a time when there have been so many repeated waves of challenge and tragedy in such a short space of time.  At least not in my generation…and not in this country.

It’s important to acknowledge that there’s a backdrop to all of these current events.  Personal challenges or struggles each of us face in our immediate circles.  Family members who are sick or struggling, losses that people can’t formally grieve, economic hardship and uncertainty.

Yes, it is important to stay informed.  But it’s equally important not to oversaturate oneself with the news.  I’ve spoken with many veterans and first responders in recent weeks who’ve been glued to their televisions trying to get a handle on the steadily changing state of things.  Doing their best to be prepared.  After all, knowledge is power.

Or is it? If we watch too much, it starts to control us.  Maybe it’s time we cut way back, limiting our news exposure to a few basics.  Taking a break entirely, or limiting our exposure to a few minutes per day so that we gain the latest highlights. 

Putting distance between ourselves and the news does not mean that we don’t care.  It’s evidence that we do.  Because we care so much, it’s important that we don’t immerse ourselves in it.

So if you can, this weekend, turn off your electronics.  Go for a walk.  Bake, cook and be creative.  It’s a great time to make some flower boxes in preparation for transplanting your indoor garden outside.  Ride a bike, enjoy a hike and take some time to enjoy the signs of spring.  

Take some time to catch your breath, allowing ourselves to realize that this too shall pass.

Warm Regards,
Belinda

Snow day

Snow day

Do you remember dreaming of snow days as a child?  I’d cross my fingers in hopes that school would be cancelled.  Snow day.  These two beautiful words evoke excitement and anticipation, with the thought of an unstructured and unsupervised day laying ahead.  Even as we grow older, the freedom associated with snow days persists.  Some of us might make a last-minute rush to the grocery store to stock up on storm chips.  Others might curl up on the couch for Netflix marathons.  
 
Although I know that heavy snowfalls will precipitate massive cancellations in my client schedule, I have to confess… a part of me gets excited.  I’ll have a whole day of no structure, and little supervision.  What kind of trouble can I get myself into, I wonder?
 
Okay, I know I’ll end up using this time to catch up on overdue work.  But it’s incredibly satisfying knowing that I don’t have to. 
 
At Landing Strong, we recognize that snow days aren’t as much fun for everyone.  Driving in such conditions is stressful.  For those of you in first responder roles, we acknowledge that you are putting your coats on as we are coming home and taking ours off.  For this, we thank you.  
 
Snow days are a reminder that the emotional meaning of current events is coloured by the lens of past experiences.  What might be positive for one person could be alarming or stressful to another.  Trauma is like that too. 
 
Trauma isn’t about what happens to us, rather, it’s the personal meaning of the event in the context of our lives that’s important. 
 
That’s why we can’t judge others’ reactions to things when they differ from ours.  We haven’t walked in their shoes, or seen things through the lens of their experiences.  By seeking to understand, we diminish the aloneness of their experience. 

Warm wishes,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Small flakes big snow

Small flakes big snow

This week I looked out the window and noticed a flurry of tiny snowflakes making their way down from the skies. Weather forecasters were calling for a large storm, and I knew that was going to make for a complicated day at the office.

“Small flakes big snow” one of the clients mentioned on their way out, “get your snow shovels ready!”

I’ve heard that expression before, and wondered about its origins.  Is there some ancient wisdom I’m unaware of that would allow me to be able to better predict my day simply by looking at the size of snowflakes?   A few minutes of google research later, I realize it’s not quite so simple.  Warmer temperatures lead to higher water content, and thus larger flakes.  Colder atmospheric temperature forms smaller flakes because there isn’t as much sticky stuff to hold the flakes together.  So in a way It’s true: if it’s warm outside it isn’t likely to stay snowy for long…it might turn to slushy wet stuff or rain.  Small snowflakes and lower temperatures are a sign that whatever falls is likely to hang around for longer.

It strikes me that change is a bit like the snow.  If we try to do too much too soon (large flakes) it isn’t likely to be lasting.  Small repeated steps in the right direction, however, accumulate over time and can lead to a mountain of change. If we turn the heat up on ourselves too quickly, it’s not sustainable.   If I want to take up running, for example, and start by trying to run 5 km at once, it’s likely too much.  Sure I did it some years ago, but that doesn’t mean my body will recognize that movement now.  A series of small steps, building up over time will increase my stamina so that I’m better equipped to do the run.  Maybe a better goal is to start walking 10,000 steps a day instead.   If I want any positive change to be lasting, easing in with gradual small changes is the way to go.

Keeping in line with our New Year commitment to self-compassion, I will embrace my inner (running) warrior, and enjoy pleasant walks through the snow this winter. Enjoying each small flake as it accumulates into something bigger. Maybe you will too?

Warm wishes,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Savouring what matters

Savouring what matters

The Holidays can be a difficult time for many, with increased expectations around social engagements, drinking, crowds and overindulgences.  What if we simply focus on what the holiday spirit truly means.  No matter what our spiritual beliefs may be, it’s a time when people come together to celebrate, offer support to one another, and reflect on the passing year.  

It’s undeniably a time of year where shopping, preparing elaborate meals, and commercialism seemingly take over.  It’s also true that almost half of all charitable donations made by Canadians happen in the last two months of the year.  This suggests that despite the stress associated with the season, it’s a time when people are thinking of those who face more challenging circumstances.  

In the midst of one of the busiest times of the year, we are able to set aside our differences and recognize our shared humanity.  When people are spending the most and perhaps are feeling the stress of their financial state, they recognize that this discomfort isn’t temporary for many.  When they are surrounded by those they love, thoughts turn to those who may not be as fortunate.  

We hope you’re able to take some time over the holidays to reflect on all the small things that are meaningful to you in your life.  We are grateful for our connection with you, our sense of shared purpose as we support those who are injured, and our appreciation for those who continue to put themselves in harm’s way so we may be safe.

Warmest wishes for a safe and happy holiday season,

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

Recovery isn’t linear

Recovery isn’t linear

High performance athletes can’t always do what’s expected.  Occasionally, they might have a minor sprain or injury that needs nurturing.  In the case of a major setback, they might be on the sidelines for a longer period of time.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t a top performer.  It simply means that no matter what we’re good at, or what we’re trying to work on, none of us can be good at it all of the time.  
 
Sometimes when we have a setback, it might be easy to doubt whether we’ve made any progress at all.  
 
Maybe the good mood I had last month wasn’t real…”
 
I feel like I’m back at square one”
 
I thought I was doing so much better, what does it mean now that I’m really struggling?”
 
As in any journey, the path has peaks and valleys.  The emotions you feel at any one point in time will never be a constant.  True, the good times will pass… but so will the bad. 
 
The most important thing to remember in those moments of self-doubt is that’s the time to reach out.  It’s totally counter-intuitive, but a certain way to turn things around quickly.  When we most want to retreat, that’s actually when we need to advance.  
 
Don’t wait until you’re feeling good to join one of our groups… it would be a very empty room if we all took that approach.  Take a look at the programs we’re offering in the new year and see if there’s one that seems right for you.  There’s a seat waiting for you. 

Warm regards, 

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong

The wisdom of tolerance

The wisdom of tolerance

I started reading Michelle Obama’s book Becoming this weekend, and was reminded that unless I have walked in someone’s shoes, I really have no way of knowing what they’ve been through.  Michelle speaks kindly of her stern and humourless Aunt Robbie who lived on floor below Michelle’s family.  If young Michelle and her brother Craig got too wound up, Aunt Robbie let them know:

Aunt Robbie would flick the light switch on our shared stairwell, controlling the lightbulb in our upstairs hallway, off and on, again and again- her polite-ish was of telling us to pipe down. 

Michelle’s parents took this in stride, reminding the children that even if they didn’t know the context, they were instructed to remember that context existed.

Everyone on earth, they’d tell us, was carrying around an unseen history, and that alone deserved some tolerance.

What incredible wisdom, to remember this simple fact.  If someone does something rude or thoughtless, I can assume it’s deliberate.  Alternatively, I can remind myself that I don’t know what’s been happening in their day, or what kind of life they’ve had.  I can tell myself that that seemingly unkind action may simply be out of context.

So the next time someone cuts you off in traffic, or is rude to you in line, it may help to send a request to the universe that their day will get better.  Wish them a bit of happiness in what may be a difficult day.

Warm regards, 

Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong