Unhappy relationship after a baby

Relationships are tested all the time when life throws curve balls. As much as we’d love for a new family member to bring us closer together, having a baby can actually worsen the sense of an unhappy relationship.

Working in perinatal mental health, I hear a lot of parents talking about their relationship dissatisfaction. I know they are struggling with poor communication, lack of sleep, and adjustments to new responsibilities. One parent is trying to maintain a sense of normalcy, continuing to work long hours to provide financial stability to the family. The other parent is spending hours with their infant intent on keeping their baby alive and thriving. While these goals are both compatible, it’s easy to get lost in our own perspective of what is most important or necessary. During postpartum stages, I hear parents constantly share how much they yearn to feel connected with their partners. They want the security of knowing they have their partner’s love, understanding, and support.

The Four Types of Relationship Conflicts

There are many factors that can create an unhappy relationship; however, I’ll focus on communication struggles for this post. The Gottman Institute recognizes that there are four common trends in relationship conflict, which they’ve coined “the four horsemen”. With decades of research, the Gottman Institute can confirm that the presence of these four conflict styles create and exacerbate unhappy relationships. These communication conflicts can happen to the best of us, but it’s important to recognize when it is an off-chance occurrence versus a continued pattern.


Unhappy relationship after a baby: Things to notice, and ways to fix.

This type of relationship conflict involves one partner expressing criticisms about the other’s personality or defects. Often, with criticism, the angry party will state “you always-” or “you never-” or others forms of extreme language in order to highlight a partner’s inadequacies. Instead of voicing the actual complaint, the focus is instead on attacking your partner’s character to the core. Rather than stating “I feel frustrated that the dishes haven’t been washed tonight,” the angry individual will state, “you are such a lazy slob” or “you always watch TV instead of doing what you promised.” It leaves the other person, whether he or she is in the right or wrong, to feel hurt and assaulted.


Unhappy relationship after a baby: Things to notice, and ways to fix.

When met with criticism, it’s natural that you wish to defend yourself. In an ideal world where our defensiveness is less heightened, we can hear a complaint, take responsibility of our actions, and apologize if necessary. Instead, the hurt partner gets angry and attacks in turn. The argument cycle continues as the other partner then feels blamed and hurt.

There are various ways in which we can become defensive:

  • attack back with a critical comment of your own “Well, they’re mostly your dishes from breakfast. What made you so lazy this morning?”
  • claim innocence “I rarely watch TV. Why are you bugging me the one time I get to sit down?”
  • express righteous indignation “I was going to do it after this show.”
  • whine “I’ve had such a long day at work. Can’t you give me a break?”


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Contempt is the extreme version of relationship conflict. It is the highest predictor for divorce. When we are being contemptuous, we are genuinely being mean and disrespectful. This includes: name calling, using sarcasm, ridiculing, giving condescending lectures, throwing insults, eye rolling, etc. When we use this form of conflict style, it makes it hard for partners to move past our sense of disgust and superiority towards them.


This form of unhappy relationship conflict involves shutting down or “becoming a stone wall” when our partners express their feelings. This means we offer zero verbal or non-verbal language in response to their comments and questions. Stonewalling is a protective mechanism that attempts to block out rather than take in our partners’ criticisms, defensiveness or contempt. The stonewaller often feels overwhelmed and unable to think clearly or know what do about the situation. Rather than face the conflict, a stonewalling partner may instead tune out, become distracted by other activities, or simply walk away.

Crap! I do some of these things! How do I fix my relationship?

Unhappy relationship after a baby: Things to notice, and ways to fix.

If you happen to fall into some of these conflict styles, don’t worry! We all have moments of falling into these conflict styles. The following suggestions are some ways to improve the situation.

Use gentle and assertive communication

I love the DEARMAN acronym from DBT to help with assertive communication. This acronym helps us make requests or say no in a confident and conflict-reduced fashion. By using a gentle and assertive approach right from the start of a conflict, there is less likelihood for your partner to feel defensive or need to attack or shut down. Speaking assertively can push some of us outside our comfort zone, especially if your tendency is to stone wall and not express your feelings or needs. However, by asking clearly and respectfully, your partner has the opportunity to hear what you would like, and have the chance to negotiate with you on terms that seem manageable for him/her/them.

D= Describe the situation. Use a brief statement that sticks with objective facts. “I noticed there are still dishes in the sink.”

E= Express how you feel. Use an I statement to explain what emotions are showing up for you because of this situation. “I feel upset that the dishes haven’t been done because we had talked about sharing the household chores more equally. I feel disappointed that this task wasn’t completed.”

A= Assert what you want. Be clear about what change you are looking for at this time. “I would like for the dishes to be done after supper.”

R= Reinforce what is in it for the other person to follow through. It’s absolutely fair that you want your partner to “just know” that it’s right thing to do. However, it’s more helpful and efficient to provide a reminder for why it’s important to maintain a specific behaviour or make a change. “I was looking forward to relaxing at the end of the night with you. I’d love to cuddle up to watch some TV rather than waste our short chunk of evening time scrubbing away at dishes.”

M= be Mindful. Don’t use this as an opportunity to throw in twelve other requests. Focus just on this one situation.

A= Appear confident. There is no need to apologize when you are making a request for change.

N= Negotiate. Sometimes your partner will be willing to make a change so long as there is some wiggle room. Be willing to negotiate so that you can both come to a satisfactory middle ground.

Express appreciation and respect regularly

Unhappy relationship after a baby: Things to notice, and ways to fix.

One of the best antidotes for anger in a relationship is to voice appreciation and respect regularly. Are you turning towards your partner and commenting when they do a task you genuinely appreciate? Did you thank them for tidying up the garage or watering the grass this morning? It may seem unnecessary, but check in on the ratio of negative to positive attention that you provide your partner. How often are you expressing factors that you dislike? How often are you taking the time to express things you do like?

Expressing appreciation can also be done through behaviours. Consider small steps that would be helpful for your partner that he/she/they have expressed. Appreciative behaviours should not be grand gestures since this is unsustainable and can only happen so often. Instead, Dr. Gottman recommends “small things often.”

It’s also important during this phase to take note of our partner’s attempts for connection. When they are talking about their day, asking questions, or seeking physical touch, how do you respond? These are opportunities to express fondness, which goes a long way in strengthening your relationship.

Agree on safe time outs

For those who stone wall, it’s hard to problem solve or engage in an effective conversation. Turning away actually seems like the safest thing to do in that moment; however, it drives the other partner mad because they are getting zero feedback about how to move forward. In these situations, it’s important to have a clear conversation with one another on safe ways to ask for space. Perhaps this means stating clearly “I’m feeling overwhelmed. I need a few minutes.” It may mean practising some deep breathing exercises to help calm your body to feel less tense.

Turning your unhappy relationship into a positive relationship

Your baby needs you. No matter what the conflict or how intense it may feel, your baby need its parents to feel safe and secure. Your little one picks up on your emotional cues and recognizes signs of conflict at home. These comments are not meant to scare you but to encourage some introspection on the reality of your relationship. If it truly feels like your conflicts are getting out of control, reach out. Individual therapy can help you understand why you feel so contemptuous towards your partner or why there is a need to stone wall. Couples counselling can soften communication patterns and help you recognize when your partners makes attempts for connection. While conflicts are common, you do not need to be stuck in an unhappy relationship forever.

Best wishes,

15 mindfulness exercises to try today

There are so many ways to incorporate mindfulness in to your daily life and one post doesn’t suffice. Mindfulness is a moment to moment awareness of what’s happening internally (your emotions and physical sensations) and externally (using your senses to note what you see, hear, smell, taste and touch). While the definition may sound complicated, the actual practice can be quite simple.

It may seem like I’m constantly talking about mindfulness, but there’s a reason I keep encouraging its practice. By trying mindfulness exercises, you can gain various benefits such as:

  • feeling more in control of your emotions
  • improving your attention and concentration
  • reducing stress and anxiety
  • becoming aware of your thoughts and triggers
  • having more capacity to pause and reflect versus acting automatically
  • improving relationships
  • living in the present moment (rather than worrying about the past or future)
Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com

How to be mindful:

When we start our mindfulness exercises, it’s important to keep the following components in mind. These four factors shift our normal daily activities into intentional mindfulness practice.

  • Observe: When we are mindful, we are observing using our five senses to notice what is going on internally and externally.
    • Note: You stop being mindful when you move away from observing with your senses to focusing instead on interpretations (e.g. “That person is looking away from me” versus “that person must think I’m the worst”)
  • Participate: When we are mindful, we throw ourselves into an activity and fully engage with the present task. Rather than shying away, or being an observer, you want to be an active participant.
  • Non-judgement: When we are mindful, we describe only what we observe. This means noticing and moving away from interpretations, evaluations or judgements.
  • One thing at a time: Mindfulness means the end of multitasking! Instead, we want to only focus on ONE activity at a time.
observing with our senses

15 Mindfulness Exercises

So let’s dive in! There are many ways to practice being mindful. The importance is doing these activities by observing with your senses, participating fully, being non-judgemental and doing one thing at a time. Whenever your thoughts stray away from the activity, you want to bring it back. This may involve bringing your attention back many times, and that’s okay! Mindfulness is like a muscle, and the more often you practice, the stronger it becomes. With practice, your attention will improve.

Eating a meal

Notice how the food tastes and smells. Pay attention to the movement involved in taking a bite. Notice the visual presentation and the sounds that you hear from the moment you pick up your food to swallowing.

Going for a walk

This is a great way to be mindfully aware of how your internal environment interacts with the external environment (e.g. can you notice how it feels when your feet hit the floor? What happens in your body when you notice your surroundings? How does your body respond when it hears a bird chirping versus a loud car horn?

20 mindfulness exercises that you can practice today. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling online and in Kitchener, ON.

Listening to the news

This is a great way to practice being non-judgemental! Try and sit through the evening news noting when judgemental thoughts arise. When they show up, can you try and bring your attention back to the material shared on the TV instead of evaluating the information?


This works especially well if you feel self-conscious about dancing. Can you throw yourself into this activity letting go of all judgemental thoughts and insecurities?

Watching TV

Yes! You can watch TV mindfully. It involves only doing this activity (not also playing on your phone, talking to your family member, or get supper ready). Can you bring all your thoughts back to the show that you are watching whenever you get distracted?

Washing dishes

Can you notice the sense of touch when you are washing dishes? What temperature is the water? What does the suds and sponge feel like? Are you able to focus on just watching dishes instead of thinking of something else?

Describing your home

Can you close your eyes and describe your home? What is actually observable? Where are items located? Can you notice if any judgemental thoughts come up and replace them with observable facts?

Mindfulness exercises to practice today. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling services online and in-person (Kitchener, ON)

Engaging in a conversation

Can you participate in a conversation with someone mindfully? This means truly taking the time and effort to hear what the other person is saying (as opposed to planning your retort). Are you able to focus on the conversation and not multitask?

Mindful breathing

Paying attention to your breath is boring, which is what makes it a great mindfulness exercise! It’s easy to have your attention wander if all you’re doing is focusing on your inhale and exhale. This means ample opportunity to gently bring your mind back whenever it shifts away from the breath.

Observing your thoughts

Set a timer for two minutes and notice the various thoughts that come to mind. We want to teach your brain to not become hooked to these thoughts. This means acknowledging a thought when it pops up, but not going down the train of thought to elaborate. This one takes practice and can be frustrating, and it’s part of the reason I recommend sticking with a two-minute timer to begin.

15 mindfulness exercises to practice today. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling services online and in person (Kitchener, ON)
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

Using a meditation app

There are many online apps that can guide you through meditation such as: Insight Timer, Calm, Pacifica or Head Space.

Completing a body scan exercise

Take the time to start noticing the various shifts that happen internally. This video is a great starter to help you start mindfully observing your body.

Courtesy of The Mindfulness Teacher


It’s so easy to get critical of others’ driving when you’re on the road. Can you observe what is happening around you without these critical thoughts? If critical thoughts happen, can you rephrase so that you focus on observation rather than evaluations?

Finding music that puts you in a specific mood (sad, angry, happy)

Listen to each song, and observe the shifts it has in your body when various emotions come up.

Cleaning your home

Try and create a plan of cleaning your home one step at a time. Once a task is done, move on the next. Pay attention to judgemental thoughts if they arise, and bring your attention back to the task at hand. Notice how it feels when you are sweeping. What do your muscles feel like when you are dusting? Instead of focusing on the end result, can you slow the process down to being in the present moment?

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out.


Using validation to improve your relationship

When it comes to some challenging relationships, we all recognize that miscommunications and frustration seem endless. It feels like every conversation hits a roadblocks, and both you and the other person walk away feeling hurt, pissed off, and unheard. So how do we work through these blocks so that we can improve our relationship with these individuals? Whether you are a family member, a partner, a friend, or a work colleague, validation is an incredibly simple and powerful skill that can help reduce conflict and improve your relationships.

What is validation?

Validation involves acknowledging how another person’s thoughts, behaviours, or actions make sense given the context. This means finding even the smallest piece of the other person’s argument that you can appreciate and find valid or reasonable. Not only do you need to recognize this understanding, but you’ll need to take the time to express that understanding to the other person.

Validation to improve your relationship. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling services online and in Kitchener, ON.
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There might be some guess work when it comes to validation. After all, you can’t know for sure what a person is thinking or feeling unless they are actually stating these points. However, can you look at the situation with an empathetic perspective, and guess as to what may causing them to behave this way at this time? If not, can you ask them to help you understand why they feel so passionately about a certain stance?

Let’s take an example of parenting teenagers. Let’s say that, most recently, your arguments have been about curfew and arriving home on time. Typically, when you and your teens get into a conflict, it is the most exasperating conversation. It feels next to impossible to find any points that your teens are voicing that makes sense. In the end, you all end up screaming at one another, and the relationship stays rocky.

Validation to improve your relationship. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling services online and in Kitchener, ON.
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If you could step back from the conflict at this moment, is there any understanding for why your teenagers want to push back a curfew time, and how that makes sense? If you were in your teens’ shoes, what might they be feeling? What does staying out later mean to them? What opportunities are they hoping to meet by staying out later? Would having a slightly later curfew mean more time with friends? Would it mean they feel like they belong in their peer group? Are they worried about not having time with their partners? What do they worry will happen if they don’t get to have this time? If they are worried about their social status, does it make sense that they are pissed off right now that they can’t stay out later? If they are wanting to spend time with their friends, and feel socially isolated right now, does it make sense that they are arguing so strongly?

Validation is not approval or agreement

Validation to improve your relationship. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling services online and in Kitchener, ON.

I tend to lose parents in trying to see things from their teens’ point of view because they worry that validation will mean approval or acceptance of their behaviour. And of course, at the end of the day, you don’t want to condone them to stay out later. You’re worried about what kind of trouble they’ll get into at later hours. You’re concerned about safety and whether their peers will be making responsible choices at this time. You’re tired of being anxious, and staying up late in order to ensure they’re coming home safely…. Did you notice what I just did there? I focused on validating how you may be feeling. I didn’t agree with you or claim that your point of view was correct. However, I focused on trying to find kernels of truth that I can appreciate from your point of view, and expressed how they are valid and reasonable. When you read these words of validation, how did they land with you? Did you get more upset or was there some softening on your part?

When we validate, it helps us shift out of stuck patterns of all-or-nothing thinking, where either you are right or the other person is right. When we are focused on findings things to validate, it forces us to pay attention to how an experience might be for another person. This can be tough because our natural instinct is to focus on our own emotions, thoughts and feel affronted that the other person “doesn’t get it.” By taking their perspective, it helps us move away from the extreme all-or-nothing framework that we often get caught in when we’re angry. Validation helps us shift into more dialectical thinking, teaching us that there can be more than one side to an argument.

Validation to improve your relationship. Kasi Shan Therapy offers counselling services online and in Kitchener, ON.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Once the emotional intensity goes down during an argument, there is more capacity to work together and find options that likely fall somewhere in the middle. When we express words of validation, the other person will feel more understood, and therefore, more amenable to talking. While the actual problem will still need to be addressed and resolved, you’re both more grounded in order to have a conversation that improves your relationship rather than cause harm.

When it comes to validation, I try and follow the rules of Dr. Adele LaFrance, founder of Emotion Focused-Family Therapy Dr. LaFrance recommends working validation in sets of threes, meaning, can you find three points to validate? Let’s assume that your partner is really angry that you didn’t wash the dishes. If you were to say the following validating statement to your partner, how do you imagine it would go?

I can really appreciate that you’re frustrated right now. (1) You’ve had a long day at work, and (2) you’ve been so excited to come home and relax, and (3) seeing the pile of dirty dishes would feel so cumbersome when you already feel so tired.

Notice how in the above statement, there was acknowledgement of how your partner may be feeling, thinking or behaving, and how you can genuinely empathize with these factors. If you’re feeling stuck with how to validate, try and begin with statements such as:

  • I can appreciate that you
  • I could understand how you…
  • I could imagine that..
  • It makes sense that…

Stuck places: When does it go wrong?

  • Not knowing what to validate: If you really feel stuck, and can’t guess what to validate, simply ask. Ask the person to help you understand why they feel this way or to explain why it’s so important that they push this specific agenda. By asking for clarification, it will give them a chance to express their feelings, and also provide you some opportunities for potential validation points.
  • Using BUT after you validate: There is no other way to kill a beautiful validating sentence than using “but”. It negates the initial positive statement, and focuses more on selling your point of view. It’s not that your point of view is wrong. However, validation is all about helping to lower the intensity of emotions so that the other person will be more willing to listen and work amicably. This won’t happen if you’re agenda is to convince them that you’re right (even though you may be right! Nevertheless, it doesn’t change their willingness to work with you).
  • Forgetting to be mindful of our tone and non-verbal cues: What’s the point of saying all these lovely words if we don’t express them in a genuine and gentle fashion? Your friend will not feel understood if you’re rolling your eyes and scoffing while you tell him/her/them that you get it. So check in on your external presentation. Can it soften? How is your volume? Does it need to lower? What is your body posture like? Is your tone clipped or curt? Can you express your interest in hearing what the other person has to say?

So the next time you find your in a stagnant conflict, give validation a try and let me know how it goes. As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out.

COVID-19: Working with the fear of not knowing

One of the biggest struggles with COVID-19 is the uncertainty with this virus. How do we treat it? Will we become infected? How long will we need to maintain physical distance?
Given that there is so much that is unknown right now, it is understandable that many of us are struggling with anxiety. The following are some suggestions that may help support your emotions.

1) Find areas in your life where you have control.

Do you have a routine that you follow? How are you managing to get adequate sleep, exercise, and diet? How are you practicing physical distancing? While there is a lot of uncertainty right now, notice and foster the many areas in your life where you have control.

2) Physical distancing is not the same as social distancing.

For many extroverts, it is extremely difficult to not have access to other people. Practicing physical distancing does not mean emotional isolation. Stay in touch via electronics. Yes, for once in our lives, it is acceptable to encourage screen time!

Are you feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the coronavirus? You are not alone. Read these strategies to calm down your emotions during this pandemic.
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3) Limit your time reading the news

Stay informed, but do not stay glued to CNN, CTV, BBC, or wherever you get your news stories. Set a limited amount of time to tune in during the day so that you are aware of what is going on. Too much time reading about COVID-19 can leave us overwhelmed.

4) Validate your anxieties

Of course, you are overwhelmed right now. We have not faced COVID-19 before, and we don’t know what to expect. Your anxiety is a natural human emotion that is letting you know it’s worried about something bad happening in in the future. Validation does not cure anxiety. However, notice what happens to your emotions when you recognize the normalcy of feeling scared versus pushing it away or trying to argue with it.

5) Notice how you take care of yourself

Your anxiety will feel calmer once it trust that you will take care of yourself today, as well as in the future. This might involve creating a plan for your finances, your work, your health, your education, and so forth. What are you doing right now to ensure you are staying safe and well? Remind yourself often of these steps to help reinforce to your anxiety that you are doing your very best.

Are you feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the coronavirus? You are not alone. Read these strategies to calm down your emotions during this pandemic.
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6) Create a plan if you were to get sick

This does not mean ruminate for hours, but set aside 10 minutes to plan for this possibility. If you were to start showing symptoms, what would be your first step? Knowing even a few of the steps you will need to take can balance out the fear of uncertainty.

7) Enjoy your space

A patient recently told me “your home is not your prison”, and I really resonated with this statement. You’ve worked so hard to create a beautiful home, and now you’re finally allowed to spend time in it. You may have considered slowing down with the busyness of life. Now, many tasks and errands have been removed from your daily responsibilities. Don’t get me wrong- this is no one’s idea of a vacation. However, there is a sense of release when given permission to spend time at home and enjoy activities at a slower pace.

Are you feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the coronavirus? You are not alone. Read these strategies to calm down your emotions during this pandemic.
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As always, please feel free to reach out or share this post.


Understanding our Window of Tolerance

A few weeks ago, I wrote Why is everything harder after trauma? In continuing the conversation about trauma’s shift to our nervous system, I came across this great little video that explains the window of tolerance in a very accessible way. For my fellow learners, I hope this piques your interest! For fellow parents, I hope this opens the door to speaking to your teens and children about common signs following trauma.

As a refresher, the window of tolerance is a term that describes our ideal state. It shows the most effective state of arousal where we can thrive and handle daily stressors. When we experience too much trauma or distress, our window of tolerance narrows, and we become more emotionally vulnerable (i.e. more quick to shut down, become angry, etc.)

Knowing more about window of tolerance is only the first step. Let’s bring this to your own experiences. Try this quick assessment to see how you normally respond when you are out of your optimal zone. Check off the symptoms that you typically experience and rate the intensity of these behaviours from 1 (mild), 2 (moderate), or 3 (severe).

Window of tolerance and hyperaroused. Kasi Shan Therapy support individuals needing support with perinatal mental health and trauma.

Here are few simple exercises that you can practice to get you back within your window of tolerance:

  • Mindfulness practice: i.e. Pay attention to your external environment by noting 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
  • Focusing on getting grounded by pushing your feet firmly into the ground
  • Deep breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation exercises
  • Exercise
  • Using items that soothe or activate your physical senses (i.e. eating comfort foods, being wrapped in a warm blanket, soothing music, touching an ice cube)

We do not have to be in these states of distress forever. For further information and support, please reach out.

Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW
Kasi Shan, MSW, RSW

Kasi Shan Therapy is located in Kitchener, Ontario. She offers in-person and online appointments supporting individuals with struggling with trauma and perinatal mental health.

Race and Culture in Therapy

Given the atrocities that have cost lives in the past few weeks (e.g., George Floyd, Breonna Taylor), race and ethnicity are at the forefront of many minds. I have been thinking a lot about racial and cultural sensitivity within a counselling space, and I wanted to take some time to share how I address both in therapy.

I am a woman of color, and in many ways I will understand and empathize with your experiences. In many ways, your experiences will be fundamentally different from mine. My understanding will then come from the openness to learn and engage in nonjudgmental conversations with you. This is not a pressure to share and talk about race and culture, but the invitation to do so. I will not presume to know what life has been like for you. I can provide compassion, but I have not walked in your shoes and lived out your years of experience. At the end of the day, our relationship grows from continued dialogue. Your healing comes from feeling the safety to share, and gaining skills to address the traumas that you have experienced. It is fostered by the knowledge that there is mutual respect and kindness between you and your therapist.

Race and cultural sensitivity in counselling
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I practice cultural sensitivity by engaging in continuous conversations of how your history has shaped you into becoming the person you are today. It’s essential in therapy to understand context. It is important to understand how your traditions, religion, culture, socioeconomic status, family values, beliefs, and other factors all work together to influence your experiences and worldview. We need to acknowledge how all of these pieces create unique benefits and barriers to accessing the life you would like to live. There is no space for judgement in therapy; whatever choices you made or actions you took to get yourself here are all moments of survival.

Race and cultural sensitivity in psychotherapy

I am always hesitant to self-disclose, whether in blogs or in sessions, because I do not want our sessions to be about me. This is your time for healing, and my job is to support. However, trust is an integral part of counselling, and now more than ever, talking about race and culture is pivotal.

So here is my story: My family and I are refugees from Sri Lanka. I came to Canada at a young age and experienced the pains and joys of being a first generation Canadian. We lived in a financially-constrained household as my parents began to build roots and security in a new country. The first time I travelled, I was shocked to experience more racism abroad than I had ever experienced in my ethnically-diverse hometown (Scarborough). I have been told that I am not Canadian-enough and picked over for a Caucasian-peer. I have also been selected for roles due to tokenism. None of these experiences feel positive. I am married to a Caucasian, and we have had some interesting times learning to grow as a couple, while also working to recognize that interracial couples are not always accepted. I also have many privileges, such as my education, having a safe home, a loving family, and being able-bodied. These are my experiences, and they are unique to me. Just like your experiences are your own.

If you would like to engage in dialogues about cultural sensitivity in therapy, or other counselling needs, please reach out.


5 Tips to handle stress

Many times in life we come across a problem that we cannot fix right away. During these times, therapists encourage a fancy term called “distress tolerance”. But what exactly does this term mean? Distress tolerance is all about handling a stressful moment without making matters worse.

Let’s say you’re expecting to have a difficult conversation with your spouse that evening. It makes sense that you feel at edge most of the day. You may end up drinking, avoiding your family members, being snippy with your colleagues, cancelling work, or any other strategy to cope with the edginess. These behaviours all make sense given that you’re stressed about the upcoming conversation. However, all of these behaviours tend to create further complications. Not only do you have to deal with the difficult conversation with your partner, but you also have to sober up, apologize for the avoidant behaviours, make amends to your relationships with colleagues, and grovel to your boss. All in all, we’ve taken a crappy situation, and made it significantly harder.

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON
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Don’t get me wrong, I have also chosen some not-so effective strategies on my worst days. We all make mistakes. The point is not to judge ourselves for these mistakes. Instead, we want to see if there are better ways to help us cope. This is where distress tolerance skills come into play. Using well-known strategies like distractions (i.e. video games, reading, watching TV, exercise) and self-care (i.e. comfort foods, long bath, getting a massage) are perfect at these times. They help you tolerate the waiting period until the end of the day when you can finally address the real issue with your spouse.

People often get frustrated with coping strategies because “they don’t make us feel good”. Fair enough. Distress tolerance isn’t meant to make you feel better (although, if they do put you in a better mood, enjoy it 🙂 ). These coping skills are all about tolerating the pain, not actually fixing the pain. In the above example, your primary concern is getting through a hard conversation with your spouse. Unless this is addressed and resolved, why expect that watching TV, taking a walk, or any other distraction will make you feel better? So how do we practice “distress tolerance skills” effectively? Here are a few key points:

1) Find distractions that actually get you distracted

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON
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If you are going to be bored out of your mind reading a textbook, this is not an effective coping strategy! Your mind will naturally return back to whatever is stressing you out. If you’re stuck thinking of effective distractions, I recommend an activity that is active or new so that you have to concentrate on the task at hand. Think about the first time you drove a car on your own. If you were angry that day, consider how difficult it would have been to maintain the intensity of your anger AND concentrate on following all the steps to drive. Your mind doesn’t have the mental capacity to do both at the same time effectively. Instead, you have to mindfully focus on driving so that you don’t crash.

2) Have a bunch of coping strategies to use in a moment of crisis.

Some days we’ll only need to dance along with music in the car to ease our anxieties. Other days, we may have to eat a chocolate bar, go for a bike ride, snuggle up with our pets AND practice some breathing exercises. Neither options are wrong. It just depends on our needs in that moment.

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3) Use the acronym ACCEPTS

This is a great term from dialectical behaviour therapy that is useful for distress tolerance.

A= Activities (Participate in activities that you enjoy, or help you stay effectively distracted)

C= Contribute (Helping others out makes us feel better about ourselves, and it takes us away from our own stress)

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON

C= Compare (Think about a time when you struggled more than this present moment. This helps you recognize that you were able to overcome hardships, and puts this current issue into perspective).

E= Emotions (What will create a different emotion than the one you’re feeling? Watching sitcoms makes me laugh. Going for a run makes me feel confident. Giving my son hugs makes me happy. What works for you?)

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON

P= Push away thoughts (Definitely not one I recommend long-term. It’s okay to tell yourself that you cannot think about a certain stressor right now. For example, if you’re supposed to be concentrating on your exam, it’s probably not the ideal time to be thinking about a fight you had with your partner the day before. Pushing away thoughts is a helpful method so long as you come back to the thought at a more convenient time).

T= replace Thoughts (Focus on something else. Plan your family vacation. Think about the book you’re reading. How do you think it will end? Basically, focus on anything else except the present issue).

S= Sensations (Find safe physical sensations to use as distractions. i.e. a soothing cup of tea, a cold ice cube, a hot compress).

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON
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4) It’s okay to take a mini-vacation from the stressor if it takes a long time to get things sorted.

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON

Whether this is a physical escape or a short mental break (i.e. guided meditation, pushing away thoughts). The stressor is still there when you return from the break, but the rest gives you some time to feel calmer and more at peace

5) Problem solve whenever possible!

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At the end of the day, nothing will help you feel fully at peace until the stressor is resolved (or you willingly radically accept that the issue will not be fixed). This means hunkering down and brainstorming various solutions. As always, everyone’s situation is unique. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out.

Do you have trouble sleeping? Here’s quick strategy to improve sleep hygiene

How many sheep do you have to count before you get frustrated and give up on sleep? Here’s another option to get your mind to settle, and help you fall asleep.

There are many changes you can make to improve your sleep hygiene, and counting sheep does not have to be your only option. Whether you have anxiety or not, it’s natural for the mind to ruminate at bed time when you’ve got no other distractions to occupy you. Just because your body is physically done for the day doesn’t mean your mind is automatically ready to calm down.

I’m sure many of us have tried counting sheep and it hasn’t been a hundred percent successful. Instead, I’d encourage you to focus on some elaboration strategies. This means thinking about and expanding on a NEUTRAL topic. Some options include: thinking about the ending to a book you’re reading, imagining being at your favorite vacation spot, running through the steps of a recipe, decorating your dream home, etc. These are not the most exciting topics and that’s actually the point. If you focus on an issue that is important to you, you will become hooked and your mind will keep racing. For example, if you go to bed thinking of your to-do list for the next day, chances are your anxieties will just escalate.

Improve your sleep hygiene with this quick tip. Kas Shan Therapy in Kitchener, ON

My favorite elaboration strategy is playing scattergories in my mind before falling asleep.

  • Step one: choose a category of your liking (i.e. countries, TV shows, food)
  • Step two: start with a letter and run through all of the examples you can think of under that category (I.e. Angola, Australia, Argentina, Albania…)
  • Step three: when you run out of examples, move on to the next letter.
  • Step four: continue for as many letters as needed.

I love this strategy for two particular reasons. First, the categories are neutral. I won’t get caught up in a story or memory. My self-esteem will also not be crushed if I get stuck on the letter Q. The second factor is mindfulness. Yes, that term gets used so frequently nowadays, but it really is helpful! With scattergories, I can be mindful of bringing by attention back to the last letter I was thinking of before getting distracted. It’s rare to get to the end of the alphabet because most have fallen asleep at some point throughout the exercise. My fellow sleep-deprived friends, this is only one strategy!

There are lots of factors that go into improving your sleep hygiene. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to review some suggestions for your specific concerns.