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Is It True That the Stress Response “Overreacts” Sometimes?: A Critique of Psychology and Society in the 21st Century

We are taught that the stress response is unwarranted when our brain perceives things in our environment which are not a real threat to safety. It happens when we’re in a traffic jam, struggling with tight finances, and when we have a major test coming up. These things won’t kill us and therefore the stress response that we experience from them is something unnecessary and maladaptive. This is stress theory 101. It’s what you learn within the first minute of any stress-related psychology class: sometimes the stress response is silly.

Lately I’ve found myself questioning this premise.

We know that the stress response was designed to occur in the face of some perceived danger. When we need to “fight or flight,” a body full of stress hormones prepares us. The second our brain detects a threat it is triggered. ACTH and cortisol do their thing. Epinephrine sharpens our senses, makes our heart pump faster sending blood to our organs and muscles, the lungs expand so that we can inhale more oxygen for alertness, and triggers the release of glucose so that we have more energy. This temporary systemic imbalance equips us for serious action. But sometimes it gets triggered when we don’t need to act. That’s what we’re taught.

But let’s say we’re at work and we’re stressed out about work. Let’s say we’re stressed out because we’re not passionate about what we do or we’re surrounded by assholes. No, we’re not at the immediate risk of death, but is it really true to say that this poses no real threat to us?

Obviously our needs for food, air, water, and not-being-eaten-by-a-huge-scary-animal are essential for life on Earth. The stress response undoubtedly protects us when we’re at risk in that department. But we also have an inherent need as human beings to self-actualize and to thrive. If we don’t feel that this need is being met, isn’t it rational to assume that being stressed is a legitimate response? Maybe the stress response is our body simply telling us that we are in some general situation which is not good for us and that we need to get out. Maybe it’s not a threat to our life but it is certainly a threat to our identity, our authenticity, and our wellbeing.

Who was it that decided only a select few of our needs as human beings merit our bodies responding in an attempt to help us get those needs met?

I call your attention to the multitude of research studies that have a very straightforward conclusion: psychological stress is literally a threat to our life.

  • Chronic stress is associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and the evidence is strong (Dong et al., 2004; Gruska et al., 2005, Kawachi et al., 1995; Niaura & Goldstein, 1992; Steptoe, 2000). One study even showed that higher amounts of work stress were associated with a whopping 50% increased risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) (Kivimaki et al., 2006). Researchers Landsbergis and his colleagues (2001) concluded that the most consistent predictor of CVD is a particular source of this stress known as low decision latitude – in other words, having a low degree of control over your work. Considering CHD is the leading cause of death in the world, this is kind of a big deal.
  • Chronic stress is associated with inflammation and other immune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematous (Affleck et al., 1994; Brody, 1956; Danese et al., 2007; Dube et al., 2009; Straub & Kalden, 2009).
  • Chronic stress is associated with skeletal muscle conditions including headaches and bruxism (De Benedittis and Lorenzetti, 1992; Biondi & Picardi, 1993; Giraki et al., 2010; Ficek & Wittrock, 1995; Sauro & Becker, 2009; Venable et al., 2001; Waldie, 2001). Luckily, treatments for these conditions are more often aimed at addressing stress levels.
  • Chronic stress is associated with gastrointestinal (GI) disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chrons disease, ulcerative colitis, and peptic ulcers (Hertig et al., 2007; Searle & Bennett, 2001; Talley & Spiller, 2002). For this reason serotonin treatments are currently being investigated but if you have a GI disorder your doctor will probably just tell you to exercise more and eat enough fibre/probiotics…
  • Chronic stress is associated with atopic disorders like rhinitis, asthma, and dermatitis (Chida, Hamer, & Steptoe, 2008).
  • Chronic Stress is associated with type 2 diabetes (Charmandari, Tsigos, & Chrousos, 2005).
  • There is even some supporting evidence that chronic stress is associated with cancer (Scherg & Blohmke, 1988; Levenson and Bemis, 1991; McKenna et al., 1999).
  • This list does not even include the annoying problems like weight gain, obesity, hormonal imbalance, and mental illnesses which can also be triggered by stress.

The pathways involved between these illnesses and stress are irrelevant and even deterring to the point. Here’s the thing…

The conclusions in the literature tend to reflect this pattern: chronic stress is associated with illness because of the stress hormones themselves wreaking havoc on our bodies over a prolonged period of time. Shortened telomeres, depleted vitamins, androgens, backed up livers, etc. are to blame. In other words, the problem is a malfunction of our BIOLOGY and if only we could just handle uncomfortable situations without experiencing a stress response then we would be just fine. We “can’t avoid” stressful events so we just need to meditate more often or develop better coping strategies.

Literature like the article “Too Toxic to Ignore” by Blackburn & Epel (2012) suggests that we focus on medical treatments or help people change certain maladaptive behaviours in order to address the the issue of stress.

But, what if instead of blaming ourselves and our biology we blame our shitty system which forces us to do things that don’t feel good in order to survive? Are we being inadvertently brainwashed to ignore something serious that our bodies are trying to tell us?

Low socioeconomic status (SES) is one of the strongest and most consistent predictors of disease and mortality and stress is a key mediator (Cohen, 2007; Kristenson et al., 2004); the lower you are on the social ladder, the poorer the health you can expect. Very few diseases are an exception to this fact. It makes sense – low SES individuals tend to face unhealthier living conditions and more stress.

In response to this, a lot of people will say “But look at all of the opportunities we have! We can go to university, or get a better job! We are free to choose whatever path we want! If someone is stuck in a shitty situation, it’s their fault for being lazy and not working harder to get out of it.” If you fall into this category, I’m afraid you’re a victim of the postmodernist brainwashing. Getting out of a low SES bracket is incredibly difficult – so difficult in fact, that staying in the situation is sometimes healthier than going through the amount of stress required to get out of it. Ergo, low SES individuals DO NOT have true autonomy. Try getting good grades when you also have to work 25 hours a week and come home to cooking, cleaning, and possibly even caretaking everyday. Add a dance class, a modest beauty regimen, a workout, a meditation, and an occasional evening out on top of that. Good luck. Try getting a better job when you show up to the interview looking like shit because you had to take a 2-hour public transit trip in extreme heat, after running 10 other errands, going to class, doing a shift at your other job, and by the time you finally get there you’re so tired you can’t even respond properly to the interview questions so you’re perceived as “unmotivated.” This is the shit that the middle class will never understand. To them it sounds like bitching. That’s what they’ll think as they read this, probably sitting in an uber on their way to an avo toast brunch.

And the government, who so devotedly caters to the middle class, designs initiatives to address the issue of psychological stress by targeting individuals who are already suffering. They develop campaigns to reduce stigma, crisis support lines, support centres, and training programs for employers to help them support mentally ill employees. There are also wellness workshops and educational programs to teach people how to reduce stress and live healthier. But what the hell does enhancing education do when poor people still can’t afford to buy fresh produce or relax in a car ride home after a stressful day? What if you don’t have the time to meditate because you need to work for 12 hours a day to make ends meet? And if you think about it, this approach is kind of ironic because the very act of participating in such programs means more things added on to an already-stressed-out person’s to-do list.

In Canada, leaders are attempting to implement such “organizational changes.” The Mental Health Strategy for Canada outlines the initiatives. Nowhere does it talk about addressing the mental health crisis by increasing autonomy. Essentially, it talks about how we can improve the lives of those already living with mental illness. In a way we are being force-fed the idea that low autonomy is a fact of life and if you’re faced with it then you basically just gotta learn to deal with it and get support.

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As Jordan Peterson put it, “Everything improves when the poor get richer. We need to make them richer as fast as possible.” I agree. Money is a resource which can buy you time therefore increasing autonomy and giving you the freedom to pursue your passions. And it has been well theorized just how amazing and prosperous this world would be if we could all pursue our passions.

So what if the source of much illness is not within the people but in system that enslaves them? Despite the wealth of opportunity that capitalism has brought us, things are still imperfect. But is the lack of autonomy solely to blame?

Earlier this month, fashion designer Kate Spade made the decision to end her life. She was a highly successful, wealthy entrepreneur with a significant level of autonomy. Those who were close to her knew that she suffered from depression and a great source of it was relational. She and her husband had been living quite separate and unaffectionate lives and he eventually wanted a divorce. Being a family oriented woman, she didn’t. That was the very reason why she left the company in 2006 – to raise her daughter and focus more on the family. According to her sister, Spade didn’t even care that much for her massive fame and success. It stressed her out more than anything.

Spade is far from alone. I draw your attention back to the fact that we are in the midst of a mental health crisis, particularly with respect to depression. It makes sense given that depression is a mental illness which is often attributed to a perceived lack of control over one’s life – and in our current society, many of us are forced to put aside our passions in order to make a living at jobs where we are told what to do. What the death of Spade shows us however is that lacking control over your own life isn’t just about being held back from expressing yourself or achieving personal goals.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-34 in Canada, with depression being the most common illness among those who die (Statistics Canada, 2017). Coincidentally this is also a pivotal phase of life for developing long lasting intimate relationships. It’s when people tend to think the most about dating, love, and marriage. Erik Erikson’s famous theory of psychosocial development calls this the stage of Intimacy vs. Isolation, where the biggest psychological conflict that individuals are faced with is the task of forming loving relationships. Successfully making it through this stage results in fulfilment, whereas failure results in isolation and depression.

Among the suicide statistics, we do see that married people in this age range have a much lower death rate than those who are single, widowed, or divorced. It is theorized that the companionship and social support offered by marriage are the factors which decrease the risk of suicide (Kposowa, 2000). Keep in mind that these are fatalities, not attempts (women attempt suicide two to four time more often than men. Men are more successful because they tend to use more aggressive means [Krug, 2002]).

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Back in 1983, Dr. Aaron Beck and colleagues presented a theory which suggested that there are two personality styles which make a person vulnerable to developing depression. More specifically, individuals with a high need for belonging, or those high in sociotropy, would likely become depressed when their social needs are not met, and individuals with a high need for autonomy would likely become depressed when their needs for personal achievement are not met. With this theory, they created the sociotropy-autonomy scale which was designed to predict a person’s likelihood of developing depression. Sato & McCann’s (2000) study used this scale and found that sociotrophy was in fact a risk factor for depression.

Fast forward to today. Not only are we in the midst of a mental health crisis, we are also in the midst of a social crisis. Under the influence of postmodernism, we are being taught that autonomy is the be-all end-all of our existence. Traditional values of family and belonging go ignored, even shamed. To feel the need to belong is considered “needy” in our current culture. We see it everywhere – just go on any dating app and read a few profiles. The most sought after qualities in a woman are “a mind of her own,” “ambitious,” and “strong and independent.” Dependency is the most feared quality with very few people caring whether you’re mean or apathetic. Marriage is seen as outdated and relationships as transient.

Of course those who feel lonely are depressed! They are stuck in a situation that they have little to no control over due to the fact that they live in a society which makes them feel like their need for belonging IS NOT OKAY. Furthermore, it is a need that cannot be achieved through personal development – it can only come from other people. We can do our best to make relationships work, but ultimately we are not in control over the decisions that other people make. We cannot control whether our dates call us back, whether our family abandons us, or whether our partner asks for a divorce.

And as a result of this lack of control we seek love in manipulative ways – evident by the hoards of mainstream dating advice which are essentially different spins on how to play hard to get. They’re not wrong – people are wired to want more of what they can’t have. But what is the social cost of normalizing this behaviour? We are all suffering. We play these games to achieve power and control and in the process we leave others in a position of being without control. Great relationships suffer, fail, or perhaps never even start because people are too afraid to be vulnerable.

The praise for autonomy is also reinforced by almost every higher education advertisement. Every other poster on the subway tells us to “Be a Leader!” and go to such-and-such university because we’re “Born to Make a Difference.” This advertising plants subconscious beliefs in people’s minds that it’s not good enough to be who they already are and want what they want. If anything it perpetuates the mental health crisis. It’s annoying at best and harmful at worst. What if I don’t really care about making a difference in the world? What if I am happy as a barista, or a mom, or a hairdresser? If I feel like being a “leader” I will fucking google nearby MBA programs. I don’t need someone else to tell me how I “should” be living my life…

Autonomy is incredibly valuable but it isn’t the whole story. As humans, we also need to belong and feel like part of a group. Abraham Maslow acknowledged this back in the 1940s when traditional family-oriented values were not only socially acceptable but something to be celebrated. In his model the need for belonging was represented as even more important than our autonomous needs:

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And we all know this model is legit.

Honestly though, how many stories have you heard about someone achieving great success only to become depressed because they realized they had no one special to share it with?

We are suffering because our society is suffering. We want to love and to be loved, and we also want to pursue our passions, but we are held back from those things because of the false widespread beliefs that a) it’s not okay to need others, and b) you need to work for a living and sometimes that means getting a job you don’t like.

So essentially, we have a mental health crisis as the result of erroneous social values and we are addressing the problem with band-aid mental health programs targeted to individuals and their behaviour. We are praising autonomy while simultaneously refusing to address the fact that so many of us simply don’t have it. We are also devaluing belongingness while simultaneously ignoring that it is a massive buffer against stress and mental illness.

Back to the topic of disease – this problem goes beyond the psychological and social. We aren’t just depressed and naive. People are literally physically ill and dying as a result of the psychological stress attributed to unfilfilment and lack of control.

So what can we do about this?

Part 1 of the solution is balancing our values. We need to see the merit in both autonomy and belongingness. I believe that having personal autonomy and the freedom to pursue what you are passionate about is absolutely integral to health and wellness. However, I also believe that we need to start acknowledging the fact that we are social creatures with a deep need for connection, who need each other, and who can’t always do everything on our own. Not only that, but there is no real reason why we should have to. We evolved as homo sapiens because we learned how to work together. We are wired for it. Deep down, we all want (and need!) love and connection. And just as autonomy acts as a buffer in the stress-illness relationship, so does social support (in fact to an even higher degree). If there is anything I’ve learned from psychology, it’s that we need to know when to ask for help. I’d add on that we also need to learn when to ask for love.

Part 2 of the solution is changing how we encourage people to contribute to society. Notice I didn’t say “work.” That’s because I don’t believe it should be work. We should be pursuing something that we are so passionate about it’s akin to breathing. I’ve met CEO’s, engineers, hairdressers, and mom’s who all loved what they do for a living and they were perfectly content – all except those who couldn’t afford to live decently. Why aren’t people working at jobs that give them purpose and fulfillment? Why don’t they have access to them? Why are only some jobs considered socially desirable? Why do more difficult and laborious jobs often pay less? Why do artists have to struggle? And more importantly, how can we change this?

In sum, the stress response is telling us something very important. We feel out of control, not only because we lack autonomy in a society that glorifies it, but we also lack the freedom to reach out and ask for love. Our needs as human beings are going unmet to the extent that premature death is sometimes the result. There is a wealth of research on society and its impact on health. Maybe we should start talking more about that.

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References

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  • Kposowa AJ. Marital status and suicide in the National Longitudinal Mortality Study. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2000;54:254-61.
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  • Searle, A., & Bennett, P. (2001). Psychological factors and inflammatory bowel disease: A review of a decade of literature. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 6(2), 121-135. doi:10.1080/13548500120035382
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  • Straub, R. H., & Kalden, J. R. (2009). Stress of different types increases the proinflammatory load in rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 11(3), 114-114. doi:10.1186/ar2712
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  • Waldie, K. E. (2001). Childhood headache, stress in adolescence, and primary headache in young adulthood: A longitudinal cohort study. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 41(1), 1-10. doi:10.1046/j.1526-4610.2001.111006001.x

Trust, Vulnerability, and Snails: A Personal Update

I have several books and blog posts in the making right now but for weeks I haven’t been able to bring myself to write a single word let alone post any of them. I get fleeting ideas for good topics here and there, but I can’t retain enough focus to properly compose anything.

In fact I can barely sleep or eat.

My mind is currently consumed with thoughts. I am living with anxiety, scarcity, insecurity, sadness, anger, emptiness, and disappointment. I have an abundance of (kind and caring) people in my life who want my attention but the things that they do and say lose my focus within seconds.

In addition to big life changes recently, something unfortunate took place. The miscommunication was prolonged, confusing, and ultimately tragic. Mostly because it simply doesn’t make sense. Why did it become so complicated? I am left with no closure, wondering whether my vulnerability and trust have been greatly misplaced…

There is an excellent Ted Talk by Brené Brown on trust. A wonderful counsellor told me about it recently after I opened up to her, shared some of my life experiences, and asked her if she saw evidence that I struggled with trust. In the midst of my recent conflict I was questioning whether some of my feelings and personal values were based on a “trust issue,” or whether they were valid. What she had to say really opened up my eyes to distrust, what that means, and what my own personal relationship with it is. Naturally I did a ton of research in order to verify and expand on her account.

Here are some key realizations:

  1. I learned something awesome about myself: as a person, I definitely do not struggle with trusting and I am actually capable of being extremely vulnerable. I don’t fit the criteria for having “trust issues” at all (super proud of myself considering certain events from my past = personal development success!).
  2. I have an incredible power not only to feel but also to acquire knowledge and resources that I can trust in, completely self-sufficiently, and use them to solve almost any personal problem that comes my way. I am powerful.
  3. Being Canadian I naturally and recklessly share personal information about myself and my life – no strings attached. Maybe it’s a boundary issue in theory but I think we really just like feeling close to each other 🙂 If there is something that I am not sharing then there is probably a valid reason for that which is most likely a harmless, temporary side effect of some circumstance.
  4. I understand now how trust in others needs to be earned. It is earned not just by sharing information about yourself but even more-so by the things you do and say to show someone that you are (or want to be) a stable, consistent, supportive, dependable, nonjudgemental, and caring person in someone’s life.
  5. In a circumstance where you are lacking proximity that may involve telling them explicitly what you want, how you feel, and making plans with them. If you don’t tell them these things they will be left to make an educated guess based on limited information. They will tend to make generous assumptions if they are trusting. But for anyone, this will eventually become tiring and unsatisfactory and ultimately make them feel unappreciated and undesired. Nobody should have to guess.
  6. Trust can go up and down, especially if someone’s behaviour is inconsistent.
  7. If you trust someone more than their level of investment merits then you are being harmfully reckless, not vulnerable. As Brené puts it, you need to share your life selectively and slowly over time as you see them making “trust deposits” into your account. If you share inappropriately it’s a sign of a personal boundary problem and it shows a lack of self care.
  8. Your own personal intuition is always right. You should trust it above all else.
  9. I thought of three things that I felt I personally needed to trust someone in a romantic context. My counsellor showed overwhelming agreement that this was standard and she even added essential numbers 4 and 5 to my list. This validation made me feel really good so I shared the list with others who’s opinion I have high respect for. Everyone agreed it’s common sense. I’m not crazy.
  10. Deep connections are created over time as trust is built.

There is a theoretical model of trust that reflects a lot of this:

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Credibility is the level at which a person’s words are backed by knowledge and experience.

Reliability is the consistency factor – do they consistently do what they say they will do when they say they are going to do it? Do their behaviours match their words? Have they ever supplied words to match their behaviours?

Authenticity is the level at which they are in touch with their real thoughts and emotions and whether or not they express them openly to you, particularly the difficult topics and their insecurities. To be authentic often requires vulnerability as well.

Perception of Self Interest is the level at which the other person seems to be in the relationship for their own personal benefit. Do they acknowledge your feelings, needs, and desires? Do they validate you? Or do they see their own agenda and rationale as more important/superior?

Trust is a lot trickier than we think. Unfortunately there is no universal truth about when you should trust, who you should trust, and in what ways you should express your trust. It is completely dependent on a mesh of interconnected subjective experiences. Maybe some people place more importance on authenticity and the equation looks slightly different for them. Or maybe someone just wants to see people acting out of care for the best interests of everyone involved. Maybe someone had inconsistent parenting as a child and if you show them reliability then you score major trust deposits in their account. But by what coefficient? And what coefficient indicates a “trust issue” or mental illness? The questions we could add to this list are endless…

This is why we have the social sciences. People are complex. It’s also why the DSM changes as society changes and as research progress is made. We are slowly waking up to the fact that there are simply no universal truths in the social sphere – change appears to be the only constant.

It’s also why we need to validate the feelings, needs, and desires of others as equally valid to our own. Our experience is not superior to anyone else’s experience – it is simply different. Your trust equation therefore cannot be illogical. What is right for someone else is not always right for you and that is OKAY.

One question you may ask then is: can you still make a relationship work if your equations are quite different? Could you still be compatible? The answer is YES (of course! If we all trust a bit differently then we have to find a way to get along somehow unless we want to be totally alone forever). It ultimately depends on whether or not you want the person to be a part of your life.

Furthermore, whether or not you should welcome that person into your life should be based on how good they make you feel (since our emotions are the most reliable indicator of what we truly want and need).

When we find these people we accommodate them in our life by adapting to their needs in order to make them feel safe (without crossing our own personal boundaries of course). In conflict, we need to meet them halfway. It’s a small sacrifice in our personal rationale that we have to make. It’s perspective taking. It’s compromise. It’s fairness. It’s what we do if we genuinely care. Because when we genuinely care about someone we’re not happy if they’re not happy. It should be something we actually want to do, even if we think we’re right and they’re wrong. And so if someone else does not compromise with us they are not worth our time.

Note: Sometimes we may have the same needs but different ways of satisfying them. If you are struggling to come to a compromise with someone, find out whether you are incompatible in terms of your positions or your interests. Positions are the things you say you want, whereas your interests are the underlying motivations for wanting those things. You can compromise on your positions, but you should never compromise on your interests. I have another article in the making discussing this topic in depth. I highly recommend trying an exercise called “The 5 Whys” with your partner in order to begin the process of coming to a compromise.

My counsellor also said that this kind of conscious bonding is sometimes the only way to heal certain wounds from the past. Sometimes we literally aren’t capable of healing them on our own and we need others to show us certain kinds of love first in order to learn how we can start giving it to ourselves (I have an unpublished blog post expanding on a theory which posits that marriage is an excellent tool for taking this even further. I will eventually update this post linking to it.). This has HUGE implications but goes sadly unrecognized. It is baffling how western society still continues to glorify individuality and actualization so much despite the wealth of evidence that connection and belonging are so much more fundamental for personal health and safety. But I digress…

Brené concludes her talk on trust by saying that we need to learn to trust ourselves above anyone or anything else. This is where intuition comes in. Teal Swan made a pretty great YouTube video about trusting yourself by learning to harness the power of your intuition. TLDW: discover your true needs and desires by paying attention to your emotions, identify what things feel good and right for YOU, and keep the people in your life who make you feel good. That is the #1 key to fulfilment.

That brings me to my current dilemma though: sometimes following your intuition can be really difficult.

What happens when you are given only some of the essential variables for trust (and in a great quantity) but little or nothing of others? Aren’t all of the variables at least somewhat essential for everyone? What if there is a massive elephant in the room and they’re completely ignoring it but at the same time showing other signs of trustworthiness? What if your intuition says “yes” but there’s a whole lot of the evidence telling you “no” and THAT starts to make the situation not feel good? Are trust of the person and trust of the situation two different things? What if you wanted to be closer to that person so, for a while, you were vulnerable, trusting, and shared your inner world despite the lack of evidence that they wanted to be in your life but that started to go on for a long time, achieving nothing tangible? What if all along you couldn’t reach a compromise because you were trying to discuss your interests while they were disputing positions? What if you just needed to hear the person explicitly say “you can trust me because I want X” (where X = some fair, tangible, good, and mutually desirable outcome). And then everything could all be good and natural from then on?

Or what if their behaviour instead became reckless and apathetic and now you’re just too disappointed and tired to keep trying? Or what if it’s actually your fault because you should have trusted your own intuition and said “I’m sorry but I can’t do this because it simply doesn’t feel right for me to do it this way” from the start?

My counsellor told me that I have deep and solid knowing of what I want and what’s socially “normal” but that I am sometimes easily susceptible to doubting myself when under the influence of others (a drawback of empathy)… add to that equation the 21st century and it’s overabundance of information, painful past experiences, and a geographically local dishonesty crisis. What then? It makes sense for someone to need standard fucking social practices and be rational rather than torture themselves emotionally in order to accommodate the preferences of others.

In addition, here’s something real: right now I feel like a failure in some ways. If there’s anything I have accomplished it’s a great deal of personal development and self awareness. I can trust, cope, be vulnerable, solve difficult problems, take good care of things, create beautiful things, think big, and love deeply. But I feel like I don’t really have anything real and meaningful to show for that. I finally entered an amazingly fulfilling career as a behavioural instructor therapist but I may have to leave because it’s not giving me enough hours yet. My skin, hair, and nails suck at the moment. Excessive lifestyle demands consume a lot of my vitamins and energy and leave me little time for self care. I’m almost 30 and single af because my great capacity for deep love is also a great weakness as a tool for other people’s power and control. Whenever I get to the point where I start caring, I’m always the one who cares more. Literally, always.

Like a snail, things have sometimes been painfully slow for me. My life has been full of joy and wonder but also some obstacles and setbacks. Sometimes it can feel like I am moving forward accumulating nothing but the weight of a constantly growing protection mechanism on my shoulders. I am not quite where I want to be at this point in my life. I know the solution in that case is to be content as things are now but that’s easier said than done. Even if you finally achieve that state of internal peace you can still be brainwashed into thinking it’s not good enough again.

These aren’t nice feelings. I am not my best self right now. It makes me want to withdraw from the world to be in solitude so that people won’t see how much of a failure I am. It makes me emotionally unavailable to them anyways.

These feelings of insecurity are naturally the hardest to share… but sharing them anyway is the strongest indicator of courage, authenticity, and vulnerability. And maybe if I was trying to get close to someone else and they felt similarly then we could connect on that and it would bring us closer…

Here are some random facts about snails:

  • They are small and adorable 🙂
  • Most are completely harmless.
  • In some cultures snails are a symbol of joy.
  • They have big families and they like to dine together. They love.
  • Snails carry the same shell for their entire life; it grows along with them as they themselves grow and mature.
  • They spend their entire lives scaling rough terrain because they can – they are protected by their own slime. They could crawl over a razor and still be ok. They are capable.
  • They are emotionally fragile however. When they are threatened they sometimes feel the need to retreat into their shell to protect themselves until they feel safe enough to come out.
  • Despite their size, they are very strong – they can lift up to 10 times their own body weight in a vertical position.
  • They are notoriously slow, traveling from 0.013 – 0.0028 m/s. This has some downsides but it also means that they are patient and won’t “run away” from you the minute you don’t show them your best self.

To be vulnerable and expose your weaknesses you have to be strong, especially when you are fragile. It takes courage. Snails are awesome. I’m proud to be one 🙂

The moral of this story is: just be vulnerable as you begin to feel that the situation is right for you. Anyone who is worth your time will wait or compromise.

This is the most real (if not the only) thing I could possibly write about right now. So here you see art in action; a glimpse into my soul, the part that I am experiencing and acknowledging at this moment. Half of it probably sounds weird or doesn’t make sense to you. A lot of it makes me feel incredibly exposed and and I’m posting it here for my 1K+ followers to see anyway – those who are waiting for my professional, “informative and practical content.” I do it while knowing that some may cringe in embarrassment for me. But it’s vulnerability. It’s essential for establishing trust.

It’s also the first step to healing new wounds 😦

So I do hope, in some way, you found this informative and practical.

Acknowledging Earth Day

Today, Sunday April 22nd 2018 is the 48th annual celebration of earth day! What do you know about Earth Day?

Earth Day is a day to gather as one and raise environmental awareness regarding pollution, global warming, climate change etc. but shouldn’t we be doing that everyday? We are given this planet with amazing landscapes, ecosystems, and resources, we should do our part to take better care of it.

A little background on Earth Day; Earth day was founded by US senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970. Nelson was motivated to educate the public about the environment following the Santa Barbra oil spill in 1969. On the first ever Earth Day celebration held in 1970 over 20 million Americans took to streets and public spaces to demonstrate and raise awareness of environmental sustainability. Within the next year, the US EPA had been created. The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts were also passed.

Years later Earth Day went global celebrating the 20th anniversary. This celebration in 1990 reached 200 million people in 141 different countries.

As the 2000s approached the internet was used to organize activists. Thousands of environmental groups in 184 countries reached out to hundreds of millions of people. This mass interest demonstrated to world leaders people of planet earth were ready for action on global warming and clean energy.

Over the years it has continued to thrive in communities across the world who recognize Earth Day on the 22nd of April each year. Communities schedule conferences, rallies, outdoor activities and other unique events annually for people to partake and help raise awareness. Checkout the Earth Day activities in your community today to help to do your part today.

Want to make a difference not only today but everyday? Below are some simple ways to make a difference. Share with your friends and family to help spread the word!

  • Use Reusable Grocery Bags
  • Use Reusable Water Bottles
  • Reduce, Reuse & Recycle
  • Carpool to save on gas and reduce carbon emissions
  • Buy local & in season produce
  • Buy natural/organic clothing
  • Buy natural beauty and body products
  • Invest in a compost bin to reduce the amount of trash & create your own nutrient rich soil
  • Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth
  • Look for products with little to no packaging
  • Avoid single use products
  • Turn off lights and electronics when not in use
  • Close window shades in summer to keep indoor temperatures cool and reduce the need for AC Units or fans
  • Wash clothes in cold water and air dry when possible

Earth Day is now considered the largest secular holiday with the participation of billions each year. We all need to do our part to help make a difference, after all we only have one Earth.

Know Your Soap

Soap; we lather up with it each time we shower and we (hopefully) use it whenever we leave the washroom or prepare food, but have you ever stopped to reflect on what it is you are actually cleansing your body with? Your skin is your largest organ and is porous, meaning it absorbs everything it comes in contact with – are you treating it well?

If you are using commercial soaps you may be surprised as to what it is you are actually introducing your body to. These products may smell good and leave you thinking you’re clean but hard truth is that the bulk of them are full of toxins. If you ever read the ingredients list when purchasing new health and beauty products you’ll notice that common soaps often contain harmful synthetic compounds such as parabens, phthalates, perfumes, and artificial colours. Studies have shown that these ingredients can lead to a wide variety of health problems including dry skin, irritation, and allergies. Some of them have even been shown to cause cancer (Edward, 2016).

Aside from having a negative impact on your body these commercial goods also wreak havoc on the environment. They are usually mass produced leading to immense amounts of waste as a result of the production and packaging process (Vemb, 2015).

So what should we be using instead? Natural handmade soaps are a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative. They are created from all natural oils and ingredients such as arrowroot, beeswax, clays, flowers, aloe, and cocoa butter. This makes them very gentle and moisturizing, all while fully cleansing the skin. Natural soaps also tend to be cruelty free and are produced in small batches leading to less waste and environmental harm.

References

Is Synthetic Clothing Really Harmful?

TLDR: Yes!

Synthetic clothing materials such as rayon, nylon, acrylic, and polyester are made from coal and petroleum derivatives. They do not exist naturally in the environment. They are not biodegradable. They wreak havoc on the Earth, as well as your body.

These fabrics are most commonly used in fashion products because they are cheap and are easier to produce. They also appeal to potential buyers because they can give clothing some additional features such as being “wrinkle-free” or “breathable.”

The costs outweigh these benefits however because synthetic materials are very bad for our health. Phthalates, for example, are synthetic ingredients which are commonly used in clothing today and are known to disrupt hormones making them a valid cause of chronic illness. Formaldehyde is another typical ingredient used in synthetic clothing which is also a known carcinogen. This article on Pri.org talks more in depth about the health issues associated with these chemicals.

Not only are these materials detrimental to our health but they also pose significant harm to the environment. Many people don’t realize that textile dying is actually the second largest source of water pollution after agriculture. The fashion industry is largely responsible for this massive impact as it promotes the idea that clothes constantly need to be updated, leading to clothing waste.

Jewelry is not exempt from creating a negative impact either. As discussed in a recent article on Jezebel.com, fashion jewelry is predominantly made of alloy blends that contain heavy metals like nickel, lead, and cadmium – all known to cause severe neurological problems such as Alzheimer’s disease. The article refrences a study that found high levels of these hazardous chemicals in products from common clothing stores such as H&M and Walmart.

So what can we do to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our planet?

Well, every piece of clothing that exists does undergo some form of processing and will come into contact with chemicals at some point – cotton, for example, is often grown with pesticides by necessity. So while it is nearly impossible to find clothing that is completely free of these nasty chemicals, it is possible to find clothing which is minimally processed. There are a few different ways of going about that:

1) Read the labels of every single garment you find, like, and want to try on. This way, you can make sure that all or most of the materials are natural. Shopping for clothes and jewelry could be like a fun part-time job, except instead of making money you spend it. You have nothing better to do anyway, right?

2) Shop at expensive new age clothing and accessory shops and get a bunch of nice handmade, organic stuff. You won’t be able to afford rent but at least you’ll have your pride.

3) Run away from society, live off the land, and spend your days making clothes out of straw, coconuts, and animal skins that you harvest yourself.

Or, you know… not.

In my online shop, I source clothing and related products that are minimally processed and make them available to you at a fraction of the cost you would pay at a local natural clothing distributor. Check it out.