Climate change anxiety and what to do about it

In the last year I’ve had my first few client presenting with what boils down at least in significant part, to climate change anxiety.


Clients have been presenting with panic, overwhelm, insomnia, and an incline towards depressive symptoms. Their dominating thoughts and worries are about the hopelessness of the climate situation.

The magnitude of the climate crisis paired with a sense of powerlessness makes these reactions quite reasonable. In fact I along with Greta think that it’s good to panic… for a bit.

Clearly we need to move panic into action and create meaning for our lives rather than letting it slide us into depression. What more awful outcome for the planet than to let those who are concerned become ineffectual?

“Of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to nuclear war, none is so great as the deadening of our response.” Joanna Macy

I often wonder whether the backdrop of the current political and ecological crisis isn’t a contributor to many people’s experience whether they name it as such or not. Certainly the extent of use of social media seems very tied into anxiety levels though many clients either dismiss the impact or don’t want to change their behaviour.

What can a therapist do?

As any decent therapist I want to know other factors going on, in order to make a therapeutic plan. Some places to explore include:

  • Is there also a history of anxiety stemming from another source?
  • Any history of trauma?
  • How much action related to the climate are they taking?
  • How connected with others are they around this issue? And what impact does this have (helpful/unhelpful)?
  • Are there other reasons they feel stuck in life or hopeless?
  • What internal voices or parts are they aware of around this theme? What relationship did their family of origin have with their environment and climate change, and with action in general? What roles did they have in their family of origin? Were their ideas and action valued?

My goal isn’t to dismiss a client’s climate concerns as they are indeed real. I want to explore in order to understand more about how the individual responds to challenges, and for example how they deal with difficult feelings, whether they can regulate their emotions and use them to inform their thinking. After we broaden the picture we can make specific goals together and move forward.

Ultimately I believe we can use this challenge as a way to understand ourselves and where we get stuck, thus opening the opportunity to evolve individually and in relationship, so that we can be of use collectively.

What do other people say?

Eco-psychology approach

The Open University offers a useful introduction to an eco-psychology approach to climate anxiety (written by Mary-Jayne Rust and David Key). It is simple to read and comes with interesting activities to do with a friend, including sentence stems like:

  • “When I think about what is happening to our world I feel …
  • The feelings I find difficult to tolerate are (e.g. anger, fear, powerlessness, hopelessness, grief, etc.) …
  • The way I deal with these feelings is …
  • What inspires me about living at this time of crisis is …
  • My gift that I have to contribute to this time of crisis is …”

Joanna Macy – The work that reconnects

Joanna Macy PhD is an author, teacher, a scholar of Buddhism, Systems Thinking and Deep Ecology. I strongly recommend her inspiring and hopeful work that reconnects which brings together wisdom from her 6 decades of activism.

“Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. We belong to this world” Joanna Macy

The good ol’ BBC – optimism and influence

Perhaps as a Brit I’m biased but I did find some good articles here. BBC Three in the UK has a series on eco-anxiety including Eco-anxiety: How to spot it and what to do about it. In this article Owen Gaffney, author of a climate action paper says “Eco-anxiety is the right response to the scale of the challenge. But I am an optimist. We live in an age where individuals have more power than at any time in history. Look at your sphere of influence – employer, networks, family – and influence them. We don’t need to convince 100% of people, only 25%, then an idea can go from marginal to mainstream.”

Duncan Geere who edited the report points to the action we can take: “Firstly, make climate change a factor in the decisions you make around what you eat, how you travel, and what you buy. Secondly, talk about climate change with your friends, family and colleagues. Finally, demand that politicians and companies make it easier and cheaper to do the right thing for the climate.”

Flight shame and train bragging: Apparently these are new popular terms originated by the Finns as explained in another good BBC article. #jagstannarpåmarken for example translates as #istayontheground.

Managing your well-being: free advice

As with any manifestation of anxiety, basic self care is fundamental. Check out anxiety counselling for info on symptoms and approaches.

  • Check the basics: food, water, sleep and exercise. Without these building blocks nothing much else can help.
  • What are you doing that brings joy to your life? What quality social connection time you’re getting? What impact are you having on those around you?
  • Consider the impact of your social media time and your connection with your widget. Is it enhancing life or increasing stress? There is such a thing as too-much-information and we have to be the ones to create strong boundaries for ourselves here, cos facebook ain’t going to.
  • Consider reducing your on-line time and increasing your in-nature time (have you tried a forest bath!)
  • What other practices support the state of mind that you’re after? Find some of my ideas in 5 Unusual ways to reduce stress.

In terms of self-regulation tools, check out my post on the polyvagal ladder, and a simple qi gong practice that I love.

Get involved! Groups in Hamilton Ontario

Please feel free to add other resources in the comments section.

One of my ways of taking action. Friday 27th Sept 2019, Hamilton, Ontario.
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The polyvagal “ladder” and how it can help you

I’ve been learning lately about polyvagal theory, developed by Stephen Porges. I find it to be a really clear and helpful way of thinking about our feeling states that can give us more agency to feel better.

The theory is based on Porges’ research of  the vagus nerve, a nerve with several branches that wanders from the brain to the internal organs below the diaphragm and also up into the face. Consequently the name vagus comes from the latin for vagrant or wanderer.

Story follows state

Polyvagal theory shows that from the moment of birth our autonomic nervous system, without us thinking about it, is constantly scanning for signs of safety or danger. This scanning process is called neuroception.

What I find particularly interesting is that Porges has shown that neuroception happens before perception. This means that it happens automatically prior to any conscious awareness.

The Autonomic Ladder

A neuroception of safety brings us into a ventral vagal state, at the top of the “ladder”. This is a state of social engagement and connection. From this state you might say the world is a safe place and describe yourself as happy, active and interested. As Porges says, story follows state.

The polyvagal ladder, adapted by Deb Dana. Source: NICABM.

If something happens to alert us to danger (e.g. you are driving and you hear police car sirens, your boss asks for a meeting in a stern tone), we go into a sympathic nervous system state of mobilisation. This is the state of fight or flight and is evolutionarily linked to mammals. We feel adrenalin, feel anxious or angry and ready for action. The world may feel dangerous, chaotic, unfriendly. You may feel you need to protect yourself.

Going down a step on the ladder, if we sense signs of extreme danger, neurologically we go into the dorsal vagal state of immobilisation. Think of a turtle drawing its head inside its shell. You might feel frozen, numb, not here, alone, hopeless. From here the world is not safe.

Shifting states

Throughout the day we shift through these states. We work our way up and down the ladder. Some of us live mostly in the ventral vagal zone, but others, often due to adverse life circumstances and trauma, tend to spend more time further down the ladder and have a harder time “climbing” up.

The more time we spend on different points on the ladder, the more we’re likely to get stuck in negative patterns.  Porges even suggests we develop related physical symptoms.

Polyvagal-informed therapy offers tools to help you be closer to the top of the ladder, more of the time. In Deb Dana’s excellent book, The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy which informs this article, there many tools for mapping out your own nervous system ladder, including how you can help yourself climb up the ladder.

How can this theory help you?

Understanding your nervous system in this way can change the way you think of these states in yourself.  Therefore there can be less self-judgement and more compassion for your state.

By recognising what state you are in a given moment, and understanding how you shift between states, you can change your state so you can feel connected and safer more of the time.  You can feel less hopeless when you’re in the dorsal vagal shut down state, as you’ll know ways to help yourself out of it. You can also more easily enlist the help of others in this, since as mammals we need connection with others to feel safe.

This theory, as I mentioned above, is especially relevant for those with trauma in their background. A trauma history often creates a hyper- or hypo-vigilant state, where either one is scanning for safety all of the time, and one can interpret neutral events or interactions as threatening ones, or one is shut down and depressed. This is a natural result of trauma as our nervous systems have had to protect us against danger, and have now got used to that protection mode. The good news is that through positive connections (and possibly some therapy) we can help retrain the nervous system to be able to relax and feel safe.

For more information read Deb Dana’s article A Beginner’s Guide to Polyvagal Theory. Dana also has worksheets available but do check her guidelines first from her other writing to make it safe and to get the full benefit of the exercises. I would also be happy to help you complete your own maps.

Much of the embodied work I specialise in helps regulate nervous system states to bring you “up the ladder”. See the following articles for examples of this.

Related articles

If you’re interested in working with me, get in touch!

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Using Internal Family Systems parts-work with an overwhelmed parent!

I’ve been studying Internal Family Systems (a modality developed by Richard Swartz) lately. Today I decided to practice this new parts work on myself, to help get to the bottom of a familiar (and unhelpful) reaction in myself.

What follows is an example of what’s called work with a protector part. A “protector” is part of us that protects us against difficult feelings or experience. If it’s in charge it could result in shutting down or getting mad (defences),  getting busy, drinking or other addictive behaviour (coping mechanisms) or other strategies or adaptions you might employ unconsciously.

One key piece about Internal Family Systems that I need to mention before I begin, is the idea of the self or self-energy. We all have this inherently and this is the aspect that helps us heal and integrate. We are in connection with this self when we feel curious, calm, compassionate and aware.

Here we go

The piece that I am choosing today is a familiar inner struggle, perhaps shared by other parents. It’s the version of me that gets stern and harsh with my child sometimes, when really I want to stay in a “kind, firm, not emotionally-loaded” place.

  1. Find the target part. My chosen part to work with today is my part that gets very busy, very serious and quite harsh, with myself and with others around me. When I say find it, I personally find an image of it. So my image is of a small but fuming and feverishly working picture of me.
  2. How do I feel towards it? First off I feel annoyed, but there’s also some understanding… like, “yes, of course this is overwhelming”. So I try to build the understanding, curious part.
  3. Let the part know that you understand it, and perhaps are concerned about it. I let my part know that and it starts to get sad and feel softer.
  4. Let it share what it wants to about its experience with you. It says it feels panicked and scared and that this is all too much. It also says if I don’t do all of this work, no one else will.
  5. I ask it what it’s afraid of if it doesn’t do all this. It says there’ll be chaos, entropy, my child will take over. I probe… what would happen then? I’m afraid of having no control, no power, even not existing… not having my way. [This gives a sense of what my busy, serious part is protecting me from].
  6. I ask the part if it likes it’s job. It says no way, it’s stressful, but there’s no one else to do it.
  7. I ask where did it learn to do this job. It feels familiar from how my Dad was with me.
  8. I say I can help it with that no power, no control, not existing feeling, so that it doesn’t have to get so harsh. I have to sit for a while with the part to let it start to believe this. I ask if that harsh part willing to step back so I can talk with the afraid part? This naturally seems to have happened inside anyway, and the harsh protector is happy to step back.
  9. I check “who” is there now that protector has stepped back. There is an uncomfortable powerless feeling. Aha! [The work is now to be with the “exile”, in my case the powerless feeling. This stage involves building trust between the “I” or the self and the exile, witnessing the exile’s experience, unburdening, and retrieving that part if/when it’s ready.]

That’s got to be for another day since I have to pick up my son now! But having done that process I feel softer, lighter, and more emotionally open. And the house is still a mess, but from this state I can take care of it from a kinder place.

I’d be happy to walk you through an Internal Family System’s process like this for yourself if you are interested. Get in touch! 

For more on Internal Family Systems (IFS) see Derek Swartz’s Centre for Self Leadership. I also like this introduction to the IFS process offered by Ontario-based therapist Derek Scott.

Related posts:

Posted in Anxiety, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Parenthood, Stress | Leave a comment

Trauma-informed yoga: upcoming classes

My colleague Andrew Towler is starting up a range of new trauma-informed yoga classes. She is a kind and calm teacher with a depth of practice and knowledge. I recommend her classes for those with a history of trauma who are also in therapy. Find out more at Healing Together Yoga.

Andrea’s work builds on mindfulness skills such as those I mention in Mindfulness tools for everyday sanity and one of my favourite qi gong movement practices. Approaches that integrate movement and body awareness into healing are so important especially for trauma survivors.

“Healing Together provides hope, support and a holistic approach to healing from trauma.  It integrates the time-tested wisdom of classical yoga philosophy with an evidence based mindful movement practice and current research in the field of trauma. Healing Together offers workshops and private sessions for individuals healing from trauma as well as training for yoga teachers and service providers.”

Upcoming classes

“Once your abuser stops abusing you, who continues the abuse?’ was a central reflection at the sweatlodge which formed the core of my spiritual practice for many years. Speaking to the violence inherent in abuse or attachment trauma, as well as the more insidious internalization of violence that can occur as a result of abuse and trauma, this question allows us to recognize and challenge the self-destructive tendencies which occur as a result of internalized violence.” Andrea Towler

In Andrea’s courses you can learn more about how to practice (rather than just think about) self-compassion, something I’m relying on more and more in my work with clients.


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Mindfulness tools for everyday sanity

Amidst the stresses of daily life it’s all too easy to get caught on the hamster wheel of activities and forget to get off. We can get hijacked by stress and loose the capacity to think clearly. Here I share what I think of as 101 Being Human; basic skills in mindfulness or self-awareness that we all can forget, or perhaps are learning them for the first time.

I think of these mindfulness tools as is the basis of self-care. Stepping stonesSelf-care is not necessarily an expensive and/or time-intensive activity. Self-care is being interested and attentive to how you actually are, to what you might need, and responding to that. 

If you are parenting a young child, or are a caregiver, these things are even more essential. 

Mindfulness tools and tips

Preemptive self-care:

  1. Pause. Make pauses throughout your day even as you juggle or rush. Even now, just stop whatever you’re doing and pause.  Perhaps it feels good to take a breath, or to relax your shoulders. Jump off the hamster wheel for a moment.
  2. Check-in. Take time to check in with yourself. It can just be a few moments. Stressors can pile up in no time and if we don’t check-in and take care of ourselves we can end up unknowingly with a headache or in a bad mood. That’s the time we end up acting in ways we regret later. So here are some steps to help you sort out how you are. 

    1. Body: Ask how is my body doing right now? Areas of tightness? Areas of ease? Just notice what you’re drawn to and let it be. 
    2. Breath: Ask how is my breath right now? Shallow? Full? Jaggedy? Smooth? Again notice the quality of breath. Often just noticing it invites a fuller breath naturally. It’s easier to relax when we breath more fully. 
    3. Mind: Ask What am I thinking about right now? What mode is my mind in?Planning? Dreamy? Worrying?
    4. Feelings: Ask into the body how am I feeling right now? You may not know at first, that’s okay. Just stay with yourself, paying attention. If a “something” emerges hang out with it. Be patient, feelings often have layers, so stay with it a while.  
    5. Overall, how am I? Once you’ve checked into this various areas you’ll be in a better place to answer the question. Then you can take action.

It can be hard to remember to check in with yourself so you could make sticky notes and put them in strategic places.

For a more in depth version of the checking in process see Focusing Steps. See The story of the upside down bird for an example of a session using Focusing.

When you get overwhelmed or are starting to behave unhelpfully:

  1. Orient yourself to your body and surroundings. When we get overwhelmed our emotional brain (limbic system) has taken over. (More about the emotional brain in this article.)
    1. To get the clear thinking part of the brain back online one of the fastest ways is to feel your feet, or whatever is touching the ground or seat. Notice your weight pushing down. Feel the sensations of the contact with the seat/floor.  Put your attention there and take deeper belly-breaths.
    2. Look around – notice what’s around you. What do you see? What do you hear? Check out the 54321 exercise
  2. If you can’t calm yourself then and there, stop whatever you are doing and leave the situation to take the time you need. Try to tell whoever is there that you need time to cool off and you’ll be back. Then come back and repair. 

Be kind to yourself in all this. It takes practice to change habits. It’s hard to be human sometimes! We all struggle at times. 

Read my Chicken dance wisdom article where I describe my own flounderings with my reactivity in parenting, and try to apply a pause and some playfulness. Believe me it’s an ongoing process!

We can learn by practicing, by talking things out, by seeking help. You can also check out my article 5 unusual ways to reduce stress. 

Posted in Mindfulness-based psychotherapy, Parenthood, Stress | Comments Off on Mindfulness tools for everyday sanity

The eel and the axe-man: a therapy session

A man in his mid-life came for counselling to help with anger that wells up inside him playing certain sports. He had a sense that it’s deep and old anger. After the first session he no longer experienced it in the same venue so it wasn’t so much a “make this anger go away” agenda as a “what is going on inside” query.

My sense was that this was someone who could hold his experience and not get violent. He also did not have violence in his history, so I offered a somatic approach based in Focusing and Internal Family Systems. Here is what happened in one appointment. I offer it to demonstrate how we can work in an embodied way using imagery that comes from the client, to do direct work that leads to palpable shifts in state that would not be possible by only talking about an issue, in this case the man’s anger. 

I invite my client to notice what happens in his body as he remembers some things that get him mad. He notices a tightly coiled sensation in his belly. He makes a connection between that and stomach troubles that sometimes keep him up at night. We return to the sensation.

The image that comes is of a terrifying eel, twisting and turning in his belly. His sense is it wants to devour him. He is surprised by the intensity of this and confused. He wants to know how to get rid of it. With his consent we go back to the body.

I ask what else happens in his body or experience as the eel is there? There’s a wish to destroy it. We hang out with that part that wants it gone. We get to know it a bit. The image that comes is of a younger version of himself: a feisty, scared part that wants to control the eelit since it’s not normal and shouldn’t be there. The young man is wielding an axe with which he wants to dismember the eel. I offer some empathy towards that part and it slowly calms down. It gets to express some of it’s concerns.

After a while I ask what that axe-wielding might do if he didn’t have to guard against the eel so vigilantly. He said he would go travel, and my client looked quite pleased. The young man was also concerned still about the eel and it wasn’t safe to go (we hadn’t done much work with the eel itself yet). So I asked the wiser, bigger part of my client what he sees as needed.

Something shifted quickly in my client and he looked at me bewildered: “he just put the axe down and walked away, and then… the eel swam away too.  They were co-dependent”. He is incredulous. 

He explains that what needed to happen was that this part hasn’t grown up but needed to. As soon as he thought that it did grow up started showing a bit of grey hair. The main piece for him though was that he realised it was that the young man was turned towards the light, or the good in life, and that’s what was helping, not actually holding the axe. So then it was automatic for the  part to put down the axe. My client said he then felt a shift and the Hebraic words for “Heal the world” came to him. He became very quiet inside.  

My client took himself through this last part in an organic flow it seemed. To conclude I suggested offering the young man part some thanks for his time protecting him, and for showing up and relating with him in this session.  By the end the eel had shifted form and become part of his intestines in a gentle way. The tension in his stomach was gone. 

This was clearly a very experiential session where something shifted. I don’t think either of our conscious brains knew what exactly these forces were, but we stayed present and what needed to happen happened, or at least that’s the way I see it.

In another session we could explore the eel energy a little more if indeed it’s there. Or perhaps look more at the experience of turning towards the light and how that has served him in his life and how it might continue to do so. What was significant to me about this session was that a fight between parts that was getting him stuck in anger had been released. 

Posted in Anger Management, Creativity, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy | Leave a comment

The story of the upside down bird

A bird flying upside down.
A tightly wound coil.
An open lake.
A powerful dragon getting flight and exploring the world for the first time. 

What do these have in common?

These are all inner images that clients have found during sessions in the last few weeks.

Clients often are surprised in Focusing sessions when I help them tune in, and the images come so easily. The images always hold special significance for the person, and become a way they can engage with their own experience, and help change it. 

A woman struggles with a long-standing addiction. She’s ready for change and has been clean for 3 days but is understandably scared. What is it to live without the substance? How would she manage? She has some plans but is unsettled. In Focusing the image she finds is of an upside down bird flying.

The upside down bird is struggling to fly, belly to the sky, head stretched back uncomfortably, eyes unable to see the ground or trees to rest in. Tired. Yet it can’t seem to rollover or land. It doesn’t know how.

What does it need?  It doesn’t know. 

What would you like to offer it? A parachute. 

As I imagine it this would be the bird coming down by parachute. Photo credit to Margie Carroll

The bird’s legs flutter in front as it’s wing tips hold the parachute strings. It comes down to land softly with the help of my client who is now able to imagine catching it and kindly stroking its wings.

The bird feels calmer and settles in her arms. My client is calmer too, and upon opening her eyes, looks truly delighted with her images.

She leaves my office saying she feels more in charge.

From my perspective she seems to have shifted her attitude towards herself, from being annoyed that this is so difficult and being submerged in the suffering, to an appreciation and a caring concern for her struggle.  The latter is much more conducive to healing. With that outlook she has more chance of building different coping strategies and making good choices, since she is now the caregiver.


If you’re interested in learning Focusing, please join me this Fall in a small group I will be leading. Contact me for more info. 

Posted in Addiction, Creativity, Mindfulness-based psychotherapy | Leave a comment

2 kinds of loneliness: why we feel alone in a crowd

Guest post by Lisa Voth, Somatic Therapist in Vancouver.   


I have a theory that there are 2 kinds of loneliness.

I know this is false because any kind of binary is automatically going to have holes in it. I get it.

In the meantime this theory is brought to you by my understanding of the nervous system as well as by watching myself feel so f-ing alone in moments even though I could make a list of people that love me. In the moment I feel f-ing alone, “none of those friendships are real. They’re pretending to like me.”

I see this consistently in the people I work with as well, when they’re in a trance/funk state, I can ask them who’s got their back and they will not be able to think of a single friend. Two sessions later they end up talking about the amazing weekend they had with a bunch of close friends.

So, what the heck is going on…


It’s the “real” sense of loneliness, in the sense that it’s true in our present reality. There is less social connection than decades ago and we live independently (a fancy word for alone).

  • Your family lives in Toronto, a $500 plane ticket away.
  • Your bank teller is a machine on the corner of Commercial and 1st Ave.
  • Your city is expensive requiring you to work more and “hang out” less.
  • Your community is online or promised to you by a clothing store’s Instagram.
  • Your “hangouts” must be booked weeks in advance.
  • It is normal in your city to have one person living in a house alone over a long period of time.
  • You live in a different country than your grandparents.

This is true; this is North America. This is something that is exhausting to fight against, should we even care to try.


The second kind of loneliness is trickier, as it’s programmed into our nervous system generally before 7 years of age. It’s an old and deep kind of loneliness. It’s not indicative of our present time reality though it will affect our perspective of present time.

It’s the kind of loneliness where you feel alone even though you…

  • just hung out with your best friend. 
  • have tried various different groups/tribes/communities.
  • are in the middle of a party.

That’s because it’s IN YOUR BODY.

It’s deep. It’s old. It’s a feeling of “I’m alone in the world,” or “I don’t belong.”

And I think everybody has a piece of this, but some people have a big enormous piece of it.

If you’re one of those people you live feeling alone, gut-level alone. If you imagine a pack animal wandering alone in the forest, this is a similar thing that we feel in our nervous system, often unconsciously. It feels dangerous and even desperate at times.

This kind of loneliness started early, before you consciously remember. It started in our families who were surrounded by our communities, cities and countries.

Let’s clarify something to start. All parents love their kids.

I’m pretty sure that this is a biological imperative.

However, not all parents are able to translate that love to their kids. Not all parents get how to meet their kid’s needs which is how we FEEL love.

This is the difference between love and attunement.

Love is there, it’s a given. 

Attunement is the real deep understanding of what a kid needs, and how to nurture them, that has to make it through all the layers of defences, filters, tragedies and hurts of your life so that your kids FEEL the love.

And the way I write this it might sound like what I’m describing is going to look “bad” or “serious” from the outside. Not true. Chances are it’s going to be subtle. (check out this blog post)

If we didn’t get attunement we are going to FEEL alone. Deeply, deeply alone. And this is a terrifying feeling. As a child it’s deeply problematic, and as an adult, carrying this belief in their nervous system, it can feel huge (again, like a lost animal wandering through the forest.) 

This kind of loneliness is where talking and logical analysis fail to make us feel better.

You have friends.

No I don’t. 

No, you really do.

No, they don’t really like me.

Everybody likes you.

No they don’t.

In this state it’s impossible to see around us what our nervous systems doesn’t believe. It’s impossible to see people that love us when our nervous system believes it’s alone. See the below video for an example of this.

We have to work with this second kind of loneliness at the nervous system level. Which means we have to slow down and get conscious of the sensations in our body.

Try this. Take a moment, sit down, take a few breaths, and imagine a good friend is sitting beside you. Notice how your body responds. Does it soften? Does it want to move away? Is it uncomfortable? Does your breath change? Do you cry?

This will give us some clues about how supported and accustomed to support our nervous system is.

And it’s a cycle, the one kind of loneliness leads to more of the other kind of loneliness.

How do we break it?

  • Work with the image I mentioned above over and over and over (a few times a day even).
  • Work with a somatic therapist. I don’t say this so I get your business, but often I will write something here and you’ll need someone in the room to support you in experiencing it. This isn’t because you’re not doing it wrong but because of the nature of the work.
  • Go to places where you have to sit your butt down beside people (my friend’s bottom line praise of AA meetings).
  • Choose connection over screen time. 
  • Choose human contact when you get the option.
  • Understand that it’s not you, it’s about society and it’s about your nervous system, and both can be changed slowly over time.
  • Take a moment at the end of the day, think of a moment of connection with soeone else. Slow down to imagine it and pay attention to how the subtle sensations in your body feel. Do this over and over and over.

When you’re feeling lonely you might also try this tonglen meditation that brings awareness from the narrow view we often have in the middle of pain out to include other humans in the world feeling the same thing.

I hope you are surrounded by kind eyes.

I hope you can slow down and take in those kind eyes.

I hope you soften in their gaze.

And if you aren’t yet able to see them, I hope you learn to see the kind eyes in the world around you and move towards them.



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What do parents need? Results from my survey

In February 2018 I asked Hamilton-area parents of children aged 0-12yrs  these questions:

  • How would you describe the kind of social and emotional support you have for being a parent / caregiver? What’s going well? What’s missing?
  • If there were 3 things you could have that would make being a mother or father easier what would they be? Why are these important?

5 major themes of need: 18 people responded, all women. 17 respondents fit the description of living in/around Hamilton and having children age 0-12yrs. (I have only reported the answers from these 17 respondents). The most prevalent needs mentioned were the need for practical help and deeper interpersonal connection. The other needs mentioned by many were more time to self, better indoor options for parents and small children, and partner-related wishes including more time together. 

Practical help

Most respondents wanted more practical help. Specifically many wished for more people they could ask for help irregularly or at the last minute (e.g. to watch the kids, to take kids to activities), as opposed to regular babysitting/child care time. 

Many wanted more help with household tasks like cleaning and cooking. It seemed that this was due to different situations, such as partners being a) not present (i.e. at work a lot) b) not helpful c) not existing.

One respondent wished for affordable grocery delivery. One wished for better access to helpers skilled with newborns. One asked for better access to other adult childcare (vs teenagers). 

Some respondents referred to a difficulty asking for help and a guilt about asking for help. 

Deeper Connections / Emotional Support

Equally referred to was a need for greater connectedness with others, specifically other mothers. Respondents refer to lacking deeper connections where they can talk openly, and feel bonded to other women who are there for each other. A range of respondents mention wanting connections with those with similar interests, someone to talk to with unbiased responses, support for a slower lifestyle, social/emotional support for SAHM.

In a similar vein a respondent wished for a “potluck and play” monthly. Another wanted “more spontaneous interactions”, and more “low prep hangouts”. One suggested creating a searchable database (or app) of parenting advice based on behaviours.

Partner and wider family-related concerns

Many people said they had very helpful partners but it was the wider family that was lacking (either by distance or by lack of interest/connection). Others were very grateful for wider family help and said it made a world of difference.

Some wanted more balance of responsibility in the home, that is wanting partners to share the load rather than just “help”, for example participating in the organising and planning of social/emotional/practical/activity levels of home and family life. One woman named she’d like her husband to have an equal interest in improving their parenting

Several respondents wanted more couple time and felt they was letting the relationship go in order to focus on the kids. Several single moms wanted a decent partner

Programming/Physical amenities

Several respondents wished for more or better indoor places that they could go in bad weather. One respondent named a gap in programming for children between 12 and 24 months.  

Several moms of younger children wanted more options for things to do that were not schedule-dependent (i.e. to allow for unpredictable and changing nap schedules). One respondent mentioned that whilst she valued programming, she didn’t make deeper connections there and missed this. 

Time to self

Last but not least many respondents want more time to themselves.

Other needs mentioned:

  • better quality education in public schools
  • better quality and more spaces for after-school care
  • more options for well-paying, part-time, flexible work

The outliers: One respondent’s main point was that they didn’t think anything much would make it better or different. One respondant named that she was much older and had finished with the active parenting years and didn’t live near Hamilton.


It was notable that so many respondents named the “small asks” kind of help. The kind of help provided by core friends you know you can rely on. The kind of friendship whereby the existence of the relationship, with offer of help close by, reduces ones stress and sense of doing this alone. 

Another theme of note was how many respondents wished for deeper relationships outside the nuclear family. And those who had satisfying family and social connections put their well-being as a parent down to this. With the prevalence of loneliness in our society this is not surprising, just alarming. 

As strong social relationships seem to be eroding more and more with the reliance on social media and the reality of busy disparate lives, I can only see this problem getting worse. So to me the need for practical support and the need for deeper connections and relationships seem to go hand in hand. 

I wonder as I read the surveys regarding the need for practical support if this a question of:

  • having the willingness to ask for help from friends?
  • actually having friends one can ask for it from?
  • the financial ability, or the willingness to prioritise paying for paid help?

Limitations of survey: The number of respondents was small (18) and very likely a narrow demographic. I didn’t ask for a “distress measure” of the pain created by these needs. That is something I could have included. 

And now?

Out of these responses, I have been reflecting what can I as a Psychotherapist provide to meet a need, either alone or in conjunction with other facilitators. If you have thoughts and requests to share, please get in touch


Posted in Parenthood, Society | Leave a comment

Finding peace this holiday season

Concerned about the holidays? You’re not alone. Clients are coming in thick and fast with a range of holiday concerns these days. It’s a topic I’ve written extensively on, so here’s a little overview of what I can offer: 

  • Finding Your Holiday Compass helps you plan for a sane time, whatever your situation. How do you want to feel? What do you want to create?
  • Christmas can be a difficult time is a story about a scene I witnessed at a family holiday concert.
  • Tools for challenging family visits offers some beyond-breathing-deeply tips and can easily be adapted for challenging in-law situations and really a whole bunch of stuff… aka a few of my most favourite things to share and explore with clients.

For parents Dr Laura Markham’s post on surviving the holidays is a short but good one.

“The most essential skill for parents, at the holidays and every day? Manage yourself so you can stay calm and loving with your child.” Dr Laura

Dr Laura Markham also sells a workbook for creating the December of your dreams for $9.99.


Refinding Peace

I like to remind myself that this time of year can indeed be a time for quiet reflection, meditation and slowing down… enjoying the dark! Here’s a poem that sends me in that direction. 


Photo ©ChloëRain Seattle, Washington 2014 Carkeek Park.


by David Whyte

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
enscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes
of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light
fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

Posted in Holidays, Parenthood, Stress | Leave a comment