Take a Sensory Break

How to know when enough is enough

The human nervous system is a sophisticated, if not miraculous system of neural pathways that impacts all aspects of health and wellbeing. The past two decades have been an exciting time to work in mental health and health related fields. Science of the mind research has revealed what many practitioners have intuitively been using for years to help in processes of healing. Functional Imaging MRI & CT scans have provided photos of the brain’s electrical activity when engaged in regular tasks of daily living or a battery of prescribed tests. In order to understand the science behind your physical body, “bio-system terminology” has been created to categorize the body according to the related-functions that each system performs, such as digestive, cardiac, and neurological systems. For example, neurotransmitters technically belong to the neurological system, and hormones belong to the endocrine system. However, a neurotransmitter may act as a hormone in different parts of the body thereby serving two significant yet discrete functions overtime.

It is easiest to understand the complexity of the brain and the ways that it interprets multiple internal and external stimuli at any one time as a complex system of roads and highways that intersect and cross-over throughout your body. Each thought in your brain actually triggers a bio-chemical release that travels throughout your body via the spinal cord and its intricate neural pathways that immediately impacts your “senses”. The exciting aspect of this confirming research is that people do indeed have the capacity to cultivate new or different pathways in the brain that grow healthy and well-response patterns instead of habitually negative thoughts or self-harming behaviours.

You will know the impacts of your thoughts by how you feel. In short, learning to trust and honour your feelings is truly the first step on your journey of healing. So, when you have a thought about a particular person, event, situation, or memory that troubles your mind and body, then it may be time for you to meet with a licensed or registered mental health clinician or professional counsellor. Professionally trained and experienced therapists can help you to identify your habitual thought patterns and what to do to remove or diminish the distortions that cause the ruminative & obsessive features in your thinking.

The human body is naturally designed to protect you. The self-preserving feature of human life, and perhaps to a degree all carbon-matter is an essential component of evolution. Cognitive distortions occur in response to elevated negative sensory experiences in a manner designed to distract you from the real stressors you face in your everyday life. Once you identify the ways that your emotions and/or senses distort your thoughts, you can master evidence-based strategies proven to balance your perspectives and restore your rational problem solving skills to deal with everyday problems.

So, how will you know when “enough is enough”? Your feelings will instruct you. City dwellers are mostly familiar with unusually high level of sensory experiences required to get through a typical work day. Communities within well-designed cities like Toronto have naturally thriving parklands, parkettes, paths, and walks-ways that are easily accessible on foot or bicycle. Building in regular sensory breaks throughout your day is a perfect way to buffer the sensory assaults that many of you navigate on a daily basis. A 20-30 minute walk or bike ride each day offers your body, mind, and spirit a refreshing dose of wellness that heals, restores, and sustains good health over the long term.

Trust when you need a break from the stressors in your life, and enjoy the gifts of nature that surround you.

Do. Think. Feel Well.

Dr. Lisa Romano-Dwyer, Owner

The World’s Entrust in Human Hands

Several years ago, I had the profound opportunity to go “whale watching” off the Nova Scotian shoreline from the Bay of Fundy. Many of us squeezed onto a relatively small traditional sea craft designed for day’s jaunt out into the deep cold blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Years earlier, we had tried a similar adventure off the coast of Newfoundland without much luck. The Bay of Bulls was rugged and gorgeous and littered with Puffins tucked along the cave-like crevices outlining the shore. But during this first attempt, no whales were willing to come to the surface of the water for a breath or a visit.

We were very lucky to spot a family of North Atlantic Right Whales during our second attempt! Most especially, we were all graced by the playfulness of a mother and her calf who decided that our small group of people were worthy of exploration. At the time, it truly seemed as though the mother whale had spotted us. She made the decision to “come a little closer” to the now rocking boat as everyone watched in quiet amazement.

The captain of this small ship had turned off the motor and allowed the boat to sway in unison with movement of the waves. The quiet rocking captured the curiosity of this fierce and beautiful sea creature who swam with her calf about half of a kilometer from our location to take a closer look at the curious human creatures aboard.

After several moments of what seemed to be looking at the boat and the people, the mother and her calf began to swim, shallow dive, and show off their tale flukes. In the generosity of spirit that we are sometimes fortunate to experience firsthand in life, nature entertained us freely and with what seemed to be joy!

Mother and calf swam and chased each other playfully, and we all felt the harmonious impact of nature firsthand. I will always treasure these moments and feel privileged to have had this and several other similar opportunities in the wild.

During the 1990’s, many North Atlantic Right Whales were trapped in high seas fishing gear innocently suffering injury and death due to what is now understood to be a natural intellectual curiosity of this ancient mammal with whom humanity shares the earth.

As you continue to cope with Covid and the restrictions to your everyday freedom caused by infection control rules and regulations, you might find that yourself reflecting more about the health of our planet. These are certainly big ideas that may result in you feeling overwhelmed, or guilty for not recycling enough, or sorting your garbage properly, relying on fossil fuel, or more.

The call of nature is truly an overpowering and beautiful one.

Covid also sprang up from a series of natural factors that together wreaked havoc on people on a global scale. The pace at which this virus spread and continues to spread is worrisome. It provides all of us with cause to pause and re-evaluate what we hold most dear in our world. It also gives us cause to consider our collective impact on the health of the planet and the many creatures entrusted to our care.

Take some time this week to look at your old photo albums, and pictures from your adventures in nature. It is a practical and effective way to reclaim some of those feelings you had when you engaged in these experiences, and will help to remind you what life will be like again once covid is a thing of the past. It might also inspire you to contribute to a program by volunteering or donating your support.

If you find that you are feeling more depressed in response to persisting stay at home orders, please reach out to a professional counsellor for help. Processing your feelings is a healthy and effective way to maintain your wellness through Covid.

We care how you feel.

Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW

Worrisome Relational Aggression in Girls

There is an emerging problem of relational aggression in girls that continues to worry me. Bullying has always been a social phenomenon that caused great concern in teachers and mental health practitioners for many years now. In the last decade, a new meaner form of bullying has taken hold mostly in “girl groups” as young as 11-12 years old. The deep wounds created by this fierce social targeting, and then outright rejection of one girl in the group carry into adulthood.

In fact, girls who are at first accepted into a social group, and then gradually targeted and rejected by the group is identified as one significant event in a woman’s life that sets her on an alternate and often self-destructive trajectory. The group members are increasingly silent in the face of this dynamic, fearing that they too will be targeted. In many instances, each girl in the group becomes a target over time, socially rejected for a period of time, or forever outcast.

In my lengthy experiences working with children and youth, this form of relational aggression specifically among girls has intensified over time with little to no room for processes of forgiveness, relationship repair, or healthy group reconstitution to occur.

Certainly, in my earlier career, efforts related to social reconciliation in small groups were effective at healing harm caused by natural competition for leadership, adolescent psycho-sexual development, or early onset mental illnesses including personality disorders or impaired social skills development caused by significant underlying undiagnosed psychiatric conditions, family dysfunction, or abuse.

Despite our collective efforts in education, mental health, and community social services, something has gone amiss. We continue to miss the mark at identifying and supporting girls who are persistently hurt by their peers, and now are rejected by all their friends. It is a horrible new development in social relationships that requires intervention. The by-stander phenomenon appears to have been gradually replaced by a false and dangerous mindset of socially acceptable exclusion. It is false – and perhaps criminal – to socially accept that any one person or citizen in a group is not worthy of full inclusion in all areas of life.

The view that children can ignore or walk away from another child has morphed into one of the negative impacts of a common parenting strategy that aimed to reduce conflict and violence at schools and in the community. Many children support this false view that it is okay to reject a person that the group believes is annoying, bothersome, weird, or different. Parents are in part responsible for this new meaner form of relational aggression that emotionally injures and scars girls and women.

The danger of parenting strategies that support the exclusion of any person or persons is the real emotional injury created by social isolation and rejection. Signs and symptoms of emotional pain caused by broken friendships include increased anxiety, panic attacks, somatic pain in the stomach or chest areas, problems breathing, intense sadness, and depression.

Parents are encouraged to support their daughters to cultivate several social circles of friendships, and not just one. Girls often bond intensely to one or two other friends. It is a devastating experience for your child and for you when or if you child is rejected and excluded by this close-knit group of friends. To offset, what is sadly now a more common social reality for girls, it is best to enroll and register your child into as many opportunities to make friendships.

Deciding to live in a family-friendly neighbourhood, exploring extra-curricular activities that promote social interaction, and becoming involved in your child’s school are all ways to mediate the problems of relational aggression in girls. If your daughter is particularly competitive then enroll her in challenging competitive sports, science, or dramatic programs where her need to win can be developed in a healthy manner.

Competition is a healthy feature of leadership in girls and needs to be cultivated. Compassionate leadership calls for people to have an inclusive orientation with an embedded key sense of justice that supports all voices in a group, mediates difficult conversations, and renders fair and balanced decisions or judgements. Leaders are called to make decisions on behalf of a group. Social group members choose a leader to follow based on a sense of fair treatment and reasonable decision-making.

I have always walked away from an intensely competitive dynamic that “feels” mean, “exclusionary”, and simply unkind. Raised in a large family, my belief system is founded on the perspective that there is always room for one more at the dinner table. We were raised to share, invite, host, and include.

I remain hopeful for a world where girls and women can lead without retraumatizing others in a repetitive-compulsive fashion or in ways that they themselves were hurt. Leaders with reputations of questionable and “mean” conduct towards peers over several years shows this repetition compulsion likely formed in early social groups at school where being mean first appeared.

The absence of trauma-replication is evidentiary support that healing has occurred. Compassionate leaders speak to our humanity and recognize that imperfection is part of the human experience. They lead, direct, and shape change with understanding, care, support, encouragement, inclusion, and fairness.

Be proactive and learn parenting strategies that build compassionate leaders for our tomorrow! The world needs it.

Lisa Romano-Dwyer BSc, MSW, PhD, RSW