Manners and Mental Health

It is difficult to admit that I visited McDonald’s at midnight this past week, mostly because I am a long way from my teens and aware that the product quality may not be the best choice for my physical wellness. Nutritional value aside, I did not expect to experience such disdain for people, human disconnection and absolute dishonour at this giant retailer’s hands?

There was a day when manners were expected by everyone, especially every staff member employed by the Golden Arches conglomerate McDonald’s.

At fifteen, I appreciated the opportunity to be employed by this company, making it possible to afford food and housing at a very difficult time in my life. I recall being offered the job, but only, as the manager said “if you cut your hair“. Yes, I had fairly long hair in the mid-seventies and that was not considered appropriate for working in the food service industry. We were also required to use manners for every request. The front staff would call out; “Six Macs please” (twelve or twenty-four if it was busy) and, as a grill person, I was required to respond; “Laying six Macs thank you“. This was required for Macs, Fries, Quarterpounders and even the Filet-O-Fish. You may get a caution or two but manners were an essential part of the McDonald’s staffing philosophy. Essential meaning do it or you do not work here!

McDonald’s strives to offer the same experience at every store in every country so I hope what happened to us is not spreading globally. Still today, their Canadian website offers McDonald’s staffing vision (see below) of top quality service which is a direct contradiction to our experience;

“Our People Vision”

“At McDonald’s® Canada our People Vision is for our people to feel valued and proud to work here. In fact we aim to be the best employer in every one of our Canadian communities.”          https://www.mcdonalds.com/ca/en-ca/careers/our-people.html

Manners Optional ? – Ask Macdonald’s

So what did we experience and was it as bad as we think it was? You be the judge. Just after midnight we had the idea to get a cone so we pulled into the drive through at Crossroads McDonald’s – Weston Road and 401. It took nearly ten minutes to approach the ordering sign alone. Either we really wanted a cone or the fact we had not way to exit influenced or patience? When we arrived to order a really upbeat and friendly automated voice greeted us followed by silence. We asked “Are you there” with another half minute of silence broken through by what sounded like a very depressed young lady’s voice… “Yes, what do you want”. The reverberation and distortion in the speaker system was also unusually high.

We placed our order which was not responded to with a thank you that is so commonly spoken in retail and fast food services. The woman did not even say the usual “please pull up to the next window”? Ok, maybe she is just having a bad day? We then waited for ten more minutes to get to the window to pay. What happened next was appalling. The young girl opened the window, went out of her way to not make eye contact, reached out her hand for our money, took the money, gave the change and closed the window without a single word spoken or any semblance of kindness or caring. The young girl later opened the service window and handed us our food, closing the window again without saying one word during the entire interaction… no please, no apology for a twenty-five minute drive through wait and no thank you at all.

Am I making a big deal over something small or is this discourteous approach to retail becoming all too commonplace? I have experienced this at a number of places over that past few years. Are employers resigned to not expect their staff to great people politely, to use common courtesy and to act happy about their decision to shop at their stores? Is it too much effort to train staff due to high turnover in low or minimum wage workplaces? I think NOT!

When I was struggling as a young teen, I was angry, upset, frustrated to be living on my own and quite comfortable with being rude to others fairly regularly. I was in an “I don’t care” mode almost daily. I had more “Stinkin Thinkin” about myself and others, than probably any other time in my life, but, when the manager said “cut your hair” and “you must use manners consistently” I had a decision to make – eat or keep being rude. Nine months of following the courteous and polite requirements at McDonald’s (circa 1973) taught me the importance of manners. I had to “fake it to make it” for manners to become a real part of my life.  Eric Erikson identified this stage of personality development as the identity crisis.  Successful completion of this stage involves the young person’s development of a clearer understanding of who they are, relative to others, their likes and dislikes and their place in the world.  Erikson postulated that a failure during this stage would inevitably lead to role confusion.  Role confusion is certainly one of the factors in life that contributes to anxious and depressed mood.

I sure hope the management and owner(s) at Crossroads McDonald’s behave better manners than those staff last Thursday night. I have my doubts though as I have come to learn that staff often mimic or follow the way they are treated. Perhaps this is why www.Hiringtowin is listed right on their sales slip. Right on their careers web link below, they state;

Careers | McDonalds Canada – McDonald’s https://www.mcdonalds.com/ca/en-ca/careers.html

“We believe the best people in the world work right here.”

I believe, if McDonald’s management had not expected me to be polite during my middle teens I would not have been just like the staff I had the displeasure of meeting the other day. Sadly, I may likely have never realized the value of being polite, the impact that using manners has on how I feel and, possibly, I may have never grown to expect this from our children, colleagues and staff?

Being nice to one another is one major way we can improve our mental health. Research shows that being kind, altruistic and using of polite, personal gestures helps both the receiver and the sender feel happier and more satisfaction.

Manners matter McDonald’s and every other retailer out there. When you insist upon this you help staff and customers feel better. Please change your training expectations accordingly to foster improved overall wellness.

 

 

Counting to Ten is Not Enough so How do I Calm Myself Down?

When I was a kid, my parents used to say “count to ten” or “take a deep breath” however this never seemed to work. Either I would refuse to do it as they were TELLING me to do something, telling me during an argument or I would do it only to find I was still very upset and not relaxed at all! Arguments and fights full of “potty mouth” were regular elements of my childhood. What perpetuated this poor, hurtful behaviour and why did it no go away? I mean, we all knew it was not good?

Unfortunately my parents, like so many of us, didn’t know or understand the basic science around properly oxygenating our bodies. We also did not know the creative way our body manages stress… so cool is the body’s Physiological Stress Response. Yes, during a 1988 York University lecture, it was said to be the body’s smart” response to stress!  When I heard that stress was actually a positive thing I was shocked.

Why had I not heard this in over two decades of life? (Not even in school? At least not that I remember 🙂

Turns out our bodies, yes all 7+ billion of us, do something amazing when we are faced with a real or even perceived threat. Oxygen is depleted in a millisecond, the brain senses the problem and sends out the alarm “WE’RE UNDER ATTACK”!  We know how the story goes from there. Well, if not and by way of a refresher, the adrenal gland releases stress hormones (- known on the street as adrenaline -) called cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, etc., then the heart rate and blood pressure surge, our muscles tense and tighten and the cooling system or sweat glands kick in with the intensity of a thunderclap. As stated, it all happens in a millisecond, the body’s smart response to an attack.

Imagine you’re walking through the woods, down a rocky path on a beautiful sunny day, and you hear a rustling sound. Off to your left, in the grass, about twenty five feet or so, you see a bear! The body immediately acts to bring about a surge of energy often referred to as the fight or flight response. Our bodies are creatively designed to move us into either fight, flight, faint or freeze during heightened stress. Remember, the stressor may be real or not.

The lecturer then asked us to consider the four systems that rocket into action under stress: Under the sympathetic side of our nervous system, the endocrine system releases hormones to fuel the great burst in energy, the cardiovascular system, muscular and cooling systems also engage. What the professor asked next taught me so much more about the benefits of relaxing our bodies.  He said “If four of your body’s systems kick-in intensely to address the stress then where does the energy come from… what four or five systems give up energy or transfer energy?”

What physiological systems are not required when a bear attack is present? What is not required?

Wow! Of course! When a bear comes out we’re not going to require much thought or higher order reasoning. I recall reference to this as the ‘brain drain’. You certainly wouldn’t need to ask your friend “where do you think the bear came from, is he a brown or kodiak?“.  Brain drain? No wonder I have said such silly, hurtful and ridiculous things in stressful moments.

Next, we do not need our digestive system… not a great time to eat.  Probably not going to say “let’s have a sandwich, get some energy, before dealing with that bear“. Probably not going to go to the washroom either. That’s right. The gastrointestinal (GI) system also gives up energy for the fight or flight, “body’s smart” response to stress. Amazingly, the limbic system (sleep regulation) and the reproductive system (do I need to say what this one can do?) also give energy into the pot for our sympathetic system’s quick response to the bear.

Makes sense right? We’re not going to need our upper level thinking, sleep system, eat a meal, get frisky nor go to the washroom, although the latter may happen involuntarily in the face of a bear.

Toward the end of this dramatically presented bear story, the professor said “Of course you need this stress response when facing a bear, an attacker or an oncoming car in the way of… but… (he yells) you don’t usually need the physiological stress response in family relationships, bank line ups or while driving! However, it is exactly the same physiological response.

How did this all begin? What was the first physical change? Loss of Oxygen!!!!!!!!!! Then Breathe, Breathe, Breathe, Breathe

We can shut down the sympathetic response from our nervous system, engage the parasympathetic thereby relaxing and rebalancing our bodies with, not one, four deep breaths, slowed down, paced twenty second breaths

Reduce stress, relax heart rate and lower blood pressure… did I mention increase mental clarity and concentration, appear friendlier, be more amorous and improve your sleep 🙂

Have you heard of “box breathing”? Below is a little video to show how to breathe around the box shape. Remember, you can do this almost anywhere, anytime in almost any situation where you experience stress – low, moderate, high or severe.

 

Be seated or lying down if your doing more than 5 or 6 breaths

You can practice tens or hundreds of times per day so that when you really need this skill it will often come to you seemingly naturally. It will become your go to relaxation skill. You can also add many variations of thinking patterns to help. Some might imagine beautiful and relaxing scenes, call up past images that are calming and refreshing (guided imagery) or breathe in a calm word and exhale a stress heightening term. Others still use meditation and prayer along with deep breathing. Example of  “breath prayers” are below

Breath Prayers can bring believers closer to God.

“Be still and know …mississippi 184 that I am God”(Psalm 46:10)

“Come into my heart, … Lord Jesus.” (Rev. 22:20)

“Say … the word” (Luke 7:7)

“Not my will,… but yours.” (Luke 22:42)

“Show … your power.” (Psalm 68:28)

“Here … I am.” (Isaiah 6:8)

“My help … comes from the Lord.” (Psalm 121:2)

“Speak, Lord,… for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9)

“Lord, … have mercy.”(Psalm 123:3, Luke 18:13, 38)

This simple deep breathing exercise, box breathing, changed my life, improved my ability to manage high stress moments, not perfectly but better and better the more I use oxygen well.

Have fun practising oxygenation exercises, deep breathing and managing your body’s multiple systems to bring about calm under fire, sensibilities when facing pressure, politeness during disagreements and balance when all seems out of balance. 

How a Head Injury Changed My Life

Imagine having a head injury that took away your capacity to remember day to day events.  Imagine waking up and not knowing what happened yesterday while having a much less fuzzy recollection of things that happened years ago. Imagine waking up and reading the sticky notes and papers that are taped to your wall before leaving your bedroom in order to understand the world you are about to face; the people who are close to you, healthcare professional appointments. Imagine social emptiness.

This is the story of one young adult, as written in his poem below. After suffering a major head injury, life was altered irreparably.

******

          Untitled

I draw blood everyday

so I am very familiar with its stain

Now I need to read the whole manual

first before I will try any new GAME.

So now I need to learn more than a new language

in order, just to fix my FRAME.

But then I see the wall marks, to remind myself

that to learn my new stuff or meet any new ones,

requires a new one.

So whose sum?

Others must remind me that I am a new some,

who is now without sum,

in which resulted in me now having to take a few some

in order just to process some or one.

So now I find that the ones experiencing similar,

are those obese anorexics on the constant ketchup,

breakfast, Lunch and Dinner.

Lost myself, after Falling like timber.

Left-over broken and incomplete.

Most would have cowardess in defeat.

But as my thoughts were echoed

and I tried to fix myself

my emotion was let go.

So I am now left in despair,

trying to understand myself

just through the reflection in the mirror.

******

Be thankful for the memories you have, the good and the bad, for they give us our identity, our sense of belongingness and connection in the world. Our ability to remember allows each one of us to know just enough to build upon day by day, to grow and develop, to learn and improve. Hopefully we use our memories well.


Do You Feel You’re Not Getting Anywhere?

How often do we feel frustrated and alone, like no matter what we try life doesn’t seem to get any better. We might change this or that behaviour, for at least a short while, only to end up back in the same situation. We can gradually or not so gradually get more down, hopeless and tried as we seem to return to the same ‘rut’. I heard once the only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth?

The poem below, written by Portia Nelson, conveys these very sentiments and walks the reader through five ‘chapters’ in order to signal a flicker of hope somewhere on the road of life.

There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk (five chapters)

                     1

“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

5

I walk down another street.”
Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

I think most of us want to believe we can change, that things will improve, and that one day we will reach that illusive better place? While there are certainly no guarantees and we really don’t know anything for sure about the future, what is life without hope? How do we, in the face of severe difficulties, loss, pain and grief, manage to hold onto hope? What can we do to regain a sense of hope we may have one had?

These and other questions strike a nerve in our spiritual being. Who am I? Why be good to myself and others? What does the end of life really mean? Almost all people will contemplate questions like these, pondering issues that do not seem to be answerable by science; at least not yet anyway. This is both a frustrating and exciting element of human life. This is where faith and one’s belief system becomes essential. Our task is to examine our hearts and minds, our emotional selves and seek to discover an improved understanding of ourselves and the amazingly contradictory world we live in.

A journey that doesn’t include the unknown is not really much of a journey at all. Imagine a trip with no surprises, no unexpected discoveries, whether this is an actual holiday or the challenging journey in a close relationship. As we said to our children in preparation for our adventures, “let’s find a way to look forward to and enjoy the journey”.   Rather than being a burden, this attitude seemed to improve our ‘getting along’ and each leg of the trip a more enjoyable and exciting adventure.

Cognitive shifting can help us see situations a bit more positively and in a way that helps us achieve a more balanced emotional state. We can change our thought patterns about almost any event or situation when we are determined to stop falling into the holes in the sidewalk.

 

 

Photo credit 1: willybearden from morguefile.com
Photo credit 2: quicksandala from morguefile.com
Oshawa therapist, durham region counseling

One Young Woman’s Journey Toward Change

There was a time in my life when I was feeling stuck and needed something new. I hated my job, I felt unfulfilled and completely unmotivated to do anything. Then I went to a fundraiser and met a yoga teacher who was promoting her studio and her energy and happiness was palpable! Now let me clarify, at this time I tolerated working out and I had tried yoga before and I sincerely disliked it! I thought for sure I would never try this again. However without thinking too much, I jumped in a class and tried it. My life transformed and I have found myself yet again.

Sometimes we need some transformation in our lives, we need to change to grow and feel again. When life feels the same everyday with no hope of growth, it can feel awful and terrifying! There were three things that this practise of yoga offered me that helped me in my transformation: physical activity, self-awareness and community. We know from several studies that physical activity (and yes this is a very physical practise of yoga!) can prevent physical diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, obesity and osteoporosis (Warburton, Nichol & Bredin, 2006). However physical exercise and yoga in particular can also help with mental health issues related to self-esteem, mental fatigue, feelings of depression and anxiety (Taspinari, Bas Aslan, Agbuga and Taspinar, 2014). Not only was I now working out to improve my physical and mental health, but now because it was an exercise I connected with and enjoyed, it really helped me in a more meaningful way.

Opportunities for self-awareness are also built into this practise and in this studio. There are so many opportunities to learn about yourself and what you want! Besides the amazing self-awareness workshops available, the practise itself is meditative and helps you look at how you think, behave and feel in your life. With the yoga teachers’ kind words, accepting nature and words of wisdom they transform your practise from a work out to a chance for transformation.

And let’s talk about those people some more! The community of people within this studio are loving, funny, supportive, accepting and were a huge part of my ability to have the courage to transform my life. I took me a year but I was able to find my purpose again and find the courage and strength within me to transform my life. I had settled for a job that I was not happy in, felt no fulfillment in and was not in line with what I always wanted to do with my life. I have always wanted to counsel and support other people and with the support of this practise, studio and family I quit my full time job, went back to school and now have plans for my future that I’m excited about!

So in what areas of your life are you feeling stuck, lost or hopeless? How is this impacting your mental health, physical health, relationships and feelings about your future? What action will you take to take back your life and transform it? Yoga is just one method of transformation. It has worked for me and many others. The great part is that there are many other methods and journeys to transformation and growth.

There are so many things that can help people cope and regain a sense of themselves again – reading helpful books, counseling, reconnecting with friends and family, meditation or joining community groups. However, as I have always envisioned being a counselor and am now furthering my education to become a registered psychotherapist, I really believe and value the immense support and growth a therapist can help people find. A person’s struggles and journeys do not need to be handled alone. Talking with an empathetic, supportive and non-judgemental counsellor can truly change a person’s life and provide a means to transformation.

I encourage you to find your method of transformation today.  Contact us today!

 

Photo credit: Quicksandala from morguefile.com
Photo credit: Giulian from morguefile.com

Sorting Socks Too Difficult? It May Be Work Related?

Whether it is meeting a deadline, getting along with colleagues, dealing with a work crisis, managing a big deal, catching up on reports or supervising staff—work-related stress can become overwhelming.

Sometimes all we want to do is leave work at work, get out and forget about it. We want to reach our homes and provide our families with all of our energy to help around the house, whether with helping kids with their homework, preparing meals or any of the numerous other tasks around home. When we are overly stressed, time we want to spend with our families may feel like a burden, added things to do on a seemingly never-ending list of daunting duties.

Excessive stress can lead to the failure of our usually effective coping strategies and significantly impair daily functioning. Things like humour, relaxation, music and other coping methods no longer seem to work. We may then appear to be ‘trying’ to do all these tasks and functions with our families, yet not really meeting the mark and finding we feel adaquate in our role.

If we could step outside of our bodies for a moment and watch ourselves try to do it all, what would we look like?

Are we snappy when our kids ask for help? Do the simple requests from our spouses annoy us? Is sleep being disrupted by racing thoughts or tension? Would you see yourself struggling to get to sleep, waking at night or simply feeling unrested in the morning? Do you find it hard to sit down and enjoy a meal? Is it becoming more difficult to show family that we genuinely enjoy time with them?

When we are unable to effectively cope with work-related stress (or other stressors), it resides within us and enters our homes as we do. We may like to think we have a handle on things but our relationships with our families can tell us differently. Others may also become quick to anger, less open to hearing our concerns and feelings and may become more tired and drained. Unmanaged stress can be very draining on energy levels and, of course, get in the way of sleep, intimacy, eating and overall quality of life.

Often, when under too much stress, we can easily turn to less healthy coping strategies such as drinking, smoking, over or under eating and arguing and fighting in an attempt to resolve matters.

Seeking counseling for work-related concerns can help us sort through work challenges and create strategies to potentially resolve some issues and find new ways to cope with stress in a healthy and effective manner.

When we identify our difficulties at work, and home, and talk through them we can find solutions that lead to increased peace and contentment. We can also be more engaging with our loved ones. If you would like assistance  Contact us today!

 

Photo credit 1: clarita from morguefile.com
Photo credit 2: orchid from morguefile.com
 
  
Photo credit: MGDboston from morguefile.com

Prescription For Improved Mental Health:

  1. Help Others – 2 to 5 times a week or as often as you can, preferably do this anonymously
  2. Activity – 10 to 30 minutes of healthy activity each day to create positive energy and release those “happy hormones”… endorphins that trigger happy feelings
  3. Cook – 2 to 3 times a week or as often as you would like, especially for others as you can feel better by helping others be healthier too
  4. Clean – do up to 4 chores per week, i.e. dishes, vacuuming, purge items and give items away. This gives energy and helps keep a cleaner, healthier place to live
  5. Vocation – while still at school or working, keep searching for your dream full time job, upgrade your education, learn more to reach your goals
  6. Social – get together or connect with friends/family a couple of times per week. Constructing healthy relationships requires consistent work over time
  7. Self-Care – do a few things each week (if not daily) that you enjoy. Also engage in positive self-talk… coaching yourself as if encouraging a 5 or 6 year old you.

Over the coming month, apply these gradually, yet more and more consistently in your life. Track the results. You will likely be very surprised at how a few little adjustments in your routine, small shifts in behaviour, can have such a positive and profound impact on your mental health and quality of life.

Happy New Year !