3 IMPORTANT Lessons I Learned About Resilience in 2019 ✨ | + Tips on Remaining Resilient During Difficult Times

My beautiful friend Olivia (check out her blog here) wrote a post about the lessons she learned in 2019. I thought I’d continue this momentum and discuss the lessons 2019 taught me about resilience.

Not going to lie, 2019 was a bad year. Like really bad…

At the beginning of 2019, I ironically chose the word “resilience” as my word for the year because resilience was something I was hoping to learn more about and incorporate into my everyday life.

Resilience (noun) re-sil-ience
“The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress… it means bouncing back from difficult experiences”

resilience definition

A year later, I didn’t realize just how much 2019 was going to teach me about being resilient… From experiencing housing issues to losing a family member, I really feel like I experienced it all 2019. Despite all of my personal challenges, I learned a lot as a result of my setbacks this year. Before I get into my blog post, I want to preface it by saying, if you are struggling with any mental health issues, it’s important to seek help and work through your struggles with a qualified professional. Given my personal experience with hardship this year, I will share the top 3 lessons 2019 taught me about resilience:


Resilience Lesson 1: It’s okay to not be okay

After feeling “not okay” at times throughout this year, I feel like I have a better understanding of why it’s okay to not be okay.

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For years I looked at this quote and never really understood it. In all honesty, I kind of thought it was a stupid quote because none of us want to feel “not okay”. Thinking of social media, we tend to post our best experiences and highlights of our lives, while down-playing the hardships we endure in silence. In feeling “not okay”, it’s easy to feel alone because nobody wants to talk about our hardships, and we fear sharing our negative experiences is almost like “airing our our dirty laundry”.

In reality, it is 100% completely normal to experience difficult times and we all go through periods where we are not okay. In fact, it’s part of the human experience. Life is full of ups and downs. Life is difficult sometimes too. Life is beautiful, yet it can be full of adversity. In feeling “not okay” it’s easy to feel like something is wrong with us, however, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

It’s okay to feel pain, it’s okay to feel discomfort, it’s okay to feel lonely, it’s okay to feel grief.

Rather than focus on ignoring these feelings and putting on a smile, sit with these feelings and work through them. Find an open ear to talk about your feelings, whether it be a counsellor or a friend. Ask for help when you need it. At the end of the day it’s about riding with the waves, showing up for yourself, feeling the pain, and loving yourself through the good and bad times. It’s about working through the difficult moments, one step at a time and learning about yourself in the process.


Resilience Lesson 2: “There is always good things in the storm”

56d85ab3a597a73eb90c293655e29c7f.jpgThis year, I counted my blessings and learned the importance of GRATITUDE! To explain this concept, I’ll start with an analogy. In March of this year, I helped clean up my university campus through participating in a garbage pick-up day. This pick-up day occurred after some campus clubs had gone around and picked up trash, so the campus did not look bad at first sight. With a trash bag in hand, I scoured the campus with some fun people and picked up any garbage in sight. As I started looking for garbage, I started to notice small pieces of wrappers lingering in the bushes, cigarette butts hiding in the cracks on the sidewalks, and beer bottles hiding in the snowbanks. For weeks after picking up garbage, I couldn’t help but notice the garbage that was all around me. Any time I went outside, I noticed small pieces of garbage everywhere. It was as if I had changed my focus and now started to recognize all of the garbage that was around me.

What’s interesting about our perceptions is we have the ability to change them. As the spring brought forward lots of plants, flowers and leaves, I started to shift my attention to notice that even with all the garbage around me, there were still beautiful things. As I shifted my focus to notice all of the flowers around me, I began to appreciate the beauty of nature.

gratitude definitionGratitude is a way of noticing the goodness in the world, without being blind of the difficult things that we all experience at times.

Gratitude allows us to continue to see the good, even throughout bad times. Gratitude is like seeing the flowers throughout all the garbage around us.

Connecting this to my own personal life, the quote “every day may not be a good day, but there is good in every day” comes to mind. Despite this horrible year, I was still able to have some pretty awesome accomplishments and good moments scattered throughout the storm. I found my community at a local spin studio and achieved my dream of becoming a spin instructor. I finally finished writing my Master’s Thesis (and will be defending it later this month and graduating in June!), I moved out of my childhood home and took “adulting” to a new level when I got offered my dream job. Even with the sad times that were highly prevalent in 2019, I still had many positive moments throughout the storm.


Resilience Lesson 3: Focus on Self-Care

To help myself get through the year, I tuned my focus inwards and prioritized my own self-care.

self care definitionSelf-Care
“Any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health”

Self-care is about identifying your needs and taking care of your own health. It’s about finding strategies (you enjoy) that help you take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health. These strategies should help to refuel your mind and body. Everyone is different and you don’t necessarily have to do it all, but finding the coping strategies that work for you are key.

Some of the self-care practices which helped me be more resilient in 2019 included:

1. COMMUNITY

This year, I was fortunate to connect with a few different communities and I focused on participating in group exercise. I tried yoga classes, spin classes, boxing classes which helped me connect with others and get myself out the house. I was able to meet some amazing people in my community through group exercise, which helped me feel more connected and less alone.

2. PHYSICAL HEALTH

As mentioned above, participating in group exercise classes helped me focus on obtaining adequate physical activity this year. Although this strategy does not work for everyone – being physically active is how I enjoy taking care of my body. For me personally, I like to think of exercise as a “mindfulness” practice because it forces me to focus on the present moment and enjoy my workout. Trying group exercise classes, becoming a spin instructor, and going to the gym were my favourite ways to care for my physical health. In addition to fitness, I focused on sleep. I ensured I was getting enough sleep each night by waking up at the same time each morning, which helped me feel more energized and ready to tackle my day.

3. NUTRITION

I’ve been pretty open about my dietary struggles with allergies and stomach issues. This year I got serious about eating foods that made me feel my best (and did not trigger reactions). Speaking with a dietitian helped me figure out the foods that worked best with my body, and I focused on incorporating foods that were rich in protein, healthy fats, and whole grain carbohydrates. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you’re not bloated or feeling sick from the foods you are eating.

4. MENTAL HEALTH

I focused on my mental health this year through attending regular counselling sessions, journaling, and “saying no” to commitments or things that did not bring me joy. I focused on treating myself like a friend, and I tried to be non-judgemental towards myself as I worked through things. Even though I still have a lot of work to do in this aspect of well-being, I definitely made some strides forward with self-love and self confidence.


Moving forward and looking at 2020, I am looking forward to a new start. My word for this year is “fierce” because I would like to live my life with transparency and I want to live unapologetically. Even though there’s plenty of things I still need to work on, I am grateful for all the lessons 2019 has taught me, and I am excited to move into 2020 with a “fierce” attitude. I am ready to tackle my goals, get things done, and do more of what I love.

Cheers to 2020!

xoxo,

Heather 💕

three important lessons i learnd about resilience in 2019

 

I HATE FALL | My Experience Living With Seasonal Affective Disorder & How I Manage My Symptoms

flock of birds

By the end of August, I begin to hear people talk about Fall and say how excited they are to carve pumpkins, wear warm sweaters and enjoy a PSL (pumpkin spied laté). Even though I typically respond by saying something like “me too”, or “omg I can’t wait”, I can’t help but feel like I am telling a white lie. This is because deep down, I know that I am forcing these feelings upon myself, because I want to like fall, and I think that faking it might actually change my attitude. The hard thing about fall is that I have to accept that the seasons are changing, and there is nothing I can do about it.

The truth is, I hate fall, and as someone who suffers with seasonal affective disorder, this is my most dreaded time of year.

42586412_164283454476951_1436665873317232640_nSomeone I know shared this totally relatable “Harry Potter” meme on Facebook the other day, and I can’t get over how amazingly “spot-on” it is. Whenever the fall rolls around, I find myself in a mental health crisis, and I didn’t even realize it was happening right before my eyes! Before I know it, I am feeling sad, demotivated and unable to get myself out of bed in the morning. Much like this meme, by the time I finally realize I am getting depressed, I am able to put the puzzle pieces together and blame stress, a lack of sunshine, poor eating/food cravings, non-existent sleep, a lack of exercise, and not booking a counselling appointment (because I was feeling great up until that point). It’s the perfect storm that sets me up for a depressive episode EVERY year!

Sure, Fall should be all about carving pumpkins, getting lost in a corn maze, and going to haunted houses, but the thing I’m the most afraid of during this season is falling back into a deep, dark depression.

sad.pngThe CAMH defines Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as a “type of depression that occurs during the same season each year” (CAMH, n.d.). SAD is believed to be influenced by the changing patterns of light and darkness that occur in the winter (Sleep Foundation, n.d.). It typically occurs in the fall or winter, but it can also occur in the spring or summer (CAMH, n.d.). In my personal experience, some of the symptoms I have during the fall and winter months include a very sad mood that lasts weeks, a loss of interest in hobbies like exercise, feeling useless and irritable, trouble making decisions and concentrating, crying a lot, and weight gain. Sleep is no joke, as I often find myself awake into unusually late hours in the night. It seems that regardless of how much sleep I get, I find myself unable to wake up in the morning and feeling tired during the day. I find that I experience these symptoms throughout the entire winter, and once the spring hits, everything seems to fall back into place, and all is well again.

So why does this happen?

The earth rotates around the sun once per year, and it rotates on an axis every 24-hours bringing forth changes in sunlight and temperature that make up the seasons, and the day/night respectively. As the seasons change and fall/winter begins, the amount of sunlight that reaches our side of the world decreases, causing biological and behavioural responses in animals including hibernation, and the change in the colour of the leaves in plants. These seasonal responses occur as a result of the organism’s circadian rhythm being influenced by the reduction in light. Humans are no exception, as we too have circadian rhythms that are regulated by the sunlight. A circadian rhythm is essentially a 24-hour internal clock that regulates hormone production, the sleep-wake cycle and body temperature in humans. Circadian rhythms are typically set by changes in sunlight, however, they can also run in the absence of light. Individuals with SAD may be more sensitive to the seasonal changes in light than others. In individuals with SAD, the changing patterns of light during the change in seasons disrupts the circadian rhythm causing fatigue, low mood, hypersomnia (an increase in sleep), and insomnia (lack of sleep).

circadian.jpegWhen the circadian rhythm is disrupted, the body’s production of serotonin and melatonin is also disrupted. Essentially, the reduction in sunlight that is associated with the fall/winter causes a reduction in Vitamin D absorption, which disrupts serotonin production. Serotonin plays a role in the regulation of mood and the sleep/wake cycle, and a disruption in serotonin causes both mood and sleep disturbances. An increase in fatigue that is experienced in the fall/winter can also be attributed to an increase in darkness, which causes more melatonin (a sleep hormone) to be produced by the body, making you feel more tired. Putting together all of these factors contributes to many of the signs and symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder, such as a depressed mood, oversleeping (hypersomnia), insomnia, and increased irritability.

So… now that I find myself here again, how do I possibly cope?

Over the years, I have learned a few key lessons in dealing with my anxiety and seasonal depression. Whenever I find myself overwhelmed, stressed, or unable to cope, I try to take a step back from the situation and determine what I cannot control, versus what I can control. I try to find strategies to accept the things I cannot control, and work to utilize the things I can control.

Determine the things you CAN control, and control them.

The Things I Cannot Control: I cannot control the fact that the seasons are changing. This is a natural part of life, and it brings about fun activities, beautiful fall colours, and thanksgiving. I cannot control the fact that the earth is rotating, providing me with sub-optimal sunshine, and messing with my circadian rhythm.

The Things I CAN Control: Sure, this time of year is my least favourite, and I fear that I might fall back into a depression.  I am lucky to have been through a few major depressive episodes in my past, and have learned how climb out of the pit that is depression. With time, I have learned some coping mechanisms that I can implement, such as seeking counselling, and trying “light therapy”. Even though I do not always want to exercise or be active, I can control the activities I do by making time to go for a walk, or going to the gym with a friend. Even though I cannot control the time I fall asleep each night, I can control the time I wake up each morning. Waking up at the same time every day will help to reset my circadian rhythm. Finally, I can control the foods that fuel my body. I can add in one vegetable with each meal, and snack on fruit to nourish my body.

Now that I can have distinguished what I can control versus what I cannot control, I can create a game plan. Below, I will go through the aspects of my life I am currently trying to control to help me cope with (and hopefully prevent) seasonal affective disorder.

1. Reach out for help ASAP

Be proactive and book a counselling appointment in anticipation that this will happen EVER YEAR

In the summer, I find that I always cope well, and do not need to access counselling or other treatment services, because I am doing well. By the end of September or early October, this is no longer the case for me, and I am in need of counselling or other forms of treatment. The biggest issue with counselling or seeing a doctor is that appointments typically have a 2-week waitlist to get in. In my experience, by the time I actually book a counselling appointment, I’m already in a bad place, and I can’t wait the two weeks.

Even if you find yourself feeling great, with no signs of mental health issues, I’d recommend you book an appointment with your doctor or counsellor. Even as a means to just “check up” with your mental health and make sure you are doing alright. Worst case scenario, you can cancel your appointment if you really don’t need it, as long as you give a few days notice.

This year, I luckily booked a counselling appointment a few weeks ago, because I wasn’t sure if I would need it or not. Now that my appointment is on Monday, I am very pleased that I booked it, because everything went downhill for me within the span of two weeks. I am in desperate need of the appointment right now, and am so thankful I thought ahead to book it.

If you find yourself already struggling, I’d still recommend booking an appointment with your doctor or counsellor ASAP. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you can start to manage your symptoms.

2. Get more sunlight or try Light Therapy

afterglow background beautiful branchesSince SAD is mainly influenced by the changes in light that are associated with the fall/winter, it is important to still try and expose yourself to sunlight. This year, my mom gave me a light box, that I have been using each morning upon waking. The light box is supposed to simulate sunlight, and it is a promising therapy for depression. The light stimulates the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the brain, which is responsible for controlling the sleep/wake cycle. Exposing oneself to light helps the body produce melatonin at the appropriate times, allowing you to fall asleep at night and awake easier in the morning. If you do not have access to light therapy, try maximizing sun exposure throughout the day by going outside, or working beside a window. Increasing your exposure to natural light will work in a similar manner to light therapy.

3. Stick with a routine

In order to help restore your circadian rhythm, it is important to make sure that you go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. This allows your body to better regulate hormone production, the sleep-wake cycle and body temperature. If you find yourself struggling to fall asleep at night, you can try taking a melatonin supplement (anywhere from 3 to 10 milligrams) before you go to bed at night. This will help you fall asleep, as your body naturally produces melatonin which helps you fall asleep at night. If you find yourself taking melatonin every night for an entire month, the bottle recommends that you contact your physician to help with sleep difficulties.

In my personal experience, I struggle with both insomnia and hypersomnia it seems. Basically, I find myself unable to fall asleep at night (until 3 or even 5 in the morning), then once I fall asleep, I cannot wake up (no matter how hard I try). My counsellor told me that, “I cannot control the time I fall asleep at night, but I can better control the time I wake up each morning”. I live by this statement, and whenever I find my sleep schedule is struggling, I change what I can control, and I force myself to wake up at the same time each morning (regardless of how little sleep I got that night). Obviously, you want to be reasonable, and not force yourself to wake up too early, however, it is a great strategy to help reset your clock. I try to begin by waking at 9am each morning, and every few days wake up 10-15 minutes earlier, until I wake up at 7:30am or 8:30am.

4. Exercise!

woman girl silhouette jogger

As mentioned above, serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that helps to regulate your mood and your sleep/wake cycle. Exercise helps to produce serotonin, which will help to cause an elevation in mood, and a better sleep! Try to engage in activities that you enjoy, as it will be much easier to build something you enjoy into your schedule. For me personally, I have joined a synchronized swimming team at school, and I intend to continue going to the gym a minimum of twice per week. If you can exercise outside, this may also help because you get the added benefit of sunlight exposure, which will help reset your circadian rhythm!

5. Curb Cravings and Enjoy Healthy Foods

Many people with SAD (myself included) find themselves with heavy cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods, such as breads. The reasons why we crave these foods is that they temporarily boost the serotonin levels in the brain, offering an elevation in mood and an increase in energy. Carbohydrate cravings are more likely to occur at the end of the day/evening, and these cravings are often the cause of the seemingly uncontrollable weight gain that occurs throughout the winter months. To maintain some control over carbohydrate cravings, I would recommend that you try to create healthier alternatives that you enjoy just as much as the unhealthy foods. Some examples of healthier snack alternatives includes popcorn, bananas, or hummus and crackers. Further, it is a good strategy to eat healthier carbs with dinner, as it may help to reduce late night cravings. Some healthy alternatives I try to eat include sweet potatoes, brown rice, or lentils.

6. Socialize and Join in the Fun

In the Fall I find it easy to “fall” (no pun intended) into social isolation as I lose motivation to leave the house due to my “poor mood”. Socializing with others is a great strategy to boost your mood and fight against SAD. Being social can cause the release of oxytocin in the brain, which supports the release of serotonin. In my experience, the more I connect with others, the better I feel. Even on days when I don’t feel like leaving the house, I often find myself glad that I left the house and talked with friends.

backlit black candle candlelightWhat’s the point of Fall if you don’t allow yourself to enjoy it. Sure, for some Fall is full of cheesy activities like carving pumpkins. However, since you can’t beat it, you might as well join it. Find small things to make the Fall a little more bearable – walking in the crisp leaves always leaves a smile on my face. Carve pumpkins with your friends, or have a Halloween themed dinner party. I understand it may be one of the last things you want to do, but pushing yourself out of your comfort zone may actually help your symptoms. This year, I am challenging myself to jump into the leaves and actually partake in the festivities.

I really hope that this article met you well, and it sheds some light into my experience living with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Over the years I have learned to anticipate SAD, and as much as it sucks, I now feel like I understand what is happening with my body and why I feel the way I do. I am curious if other people out there struggle with seasonal affective disorder, and whether they have found other means of coping with it? Please leave me a comment with your experience below!

xoxo,

Heather 💕

I created an infograph about Seasonal Affective disorder below for my fellow Pinterest users! If you are not following me on social media, be sure to do so as a post a lot of additional content on Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube!

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What's in my gym bag (3)

5 Affirmations for People with Anxiety

Anxiety can be hard to manage sometimes because it feels like your brain is running in five different directions at once. Here are five affirmations that have helped me deal with my anxiety struggles, and I hope they help you too 💕.

photo of woman


I have made it through this before and I will make it through again.

Look around you and realize how far you have come in your life. You have made it to this moment, through the ups and downs, and have overcome much adversity. This moment will pass, and soon enough you will find yourself reflecting on its significance (or lack thereof).

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This is only temporary.

Everything is in constant transition and in motion. Every year the seasons change, the school year ends, and time continues. Enjoy each moment but know that these anxious thoughts are temporary.

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I trust that everything will work out.

You’re on a sacred journey through life and regardless of what will happen, everything will work out. You are well equipped to deal with any adversity that comes your way.

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Tomorrow is a new day.

The end of each night brings forth a new day, and a new beginning. Even though it may feel like the end of the world, it’s not. Just as the seasons change, tomorrow will bring about something new and brighter.

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There is no wrong decision.

No matter how many times you go back and forth, or weigh the pros and cons of your decisions, any decision will put you on the right path – the path you are meant to follow. Trust in the journey and know that you will end up where you are meant to be. To read more about decision making, check out my article ‘There is NO Wrong Decision’ here!

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Even though anxiety can be difficult to deal with, I know that it is simply another challenge that I will learn to live with in time. Trust your journey, and know that life is not meant to be easy. At the end of the day, I am happy to be here and happy to be alive 💕

If you are feeling anxious, I would recommend you check out my FREE Grounding Meditation exercise to help during times of elevated stress and anxiety. You can access it here.

Have a wonderful week!

xoxo,

Heather 💕

Five Affirmations