Meet stress with mindfulness
Deena Kara Shaffer
“We are,” says registered psychotherapist Robert Malowany, “in a time and place where it’s much more ‘acceptable’ to engage in discussions around stress, burnout, and mental health. Use this as an opportunity. Mental health is a real thing; talk about it!” Malowany points out that everything adds to stress levels: school and work demands, career hopes and future plans, family and other relationships. Stress isn’t all bad, though, he says, as long as it’s in mindful balance. “Stress is good until it’s not,” Malowany explains. “… stress can help propel us to perform at an optimal level, but too much of it impacts our ability to perform well, and can lead to anxiety and burnout.” When we become overrun by stress gone too far, he adds, we begin to sacrifice the activities and practices that energize us, like seeing friends, working out, and sleeping restfully.
“Time for recovery and relaxation are critical in order to perform well at anything: sleep well, eat well, exercise well, relate well, and don’t forget to play!”
We need to prioritize the very things that keep us mentally well, he emphasizes, especially during stressful times in our lives.
“Become more aware and mindful of how stress impacts your abilities, your mood, your outlook on life.”
“Bisexual, gay, queer, and trans individuals identifying as male continue to experience significantly higher rates of violence, systemic discrimination, mental health challenges, and suicide,” Rick Ezekiel, Director of Equitable Learning, Health and Wellness at Centennial College, tells us.
“In childhood, holding a gender or sexual orientation outside the norm can lead to queer youth experiencing a lack of safety, often resulting from direct or systemic homophobia and transphobia in the home, school, and community settings.
“In adulthood, queer and trans men might be navigating continued efforts to develop and understand their identity, cope with trauma, and explore strategies for healthy relationships.”
Ezekiel stresses, “We need to continue to work to challenge stigmas, and ensure that queer and trans male-identified individuals have compassionate, trauma-informed supports available when and how they wish to access them, in their own time, and at their own stage of readiness.”
Rick Ezekiel, Director of Equitable Learning, Health, and Wellness at Centennial College, shares his personal journey.
I grew up as a closeted queer kid in a pretty conservative community, family, and school. Explicit homophobia was rampant. I also come from a large extended family where mental health challenges are quite common.
After coming out several years after wrapping up high school, I had a lot of work to do on myself. I had internalized a lot of messages about what it meant to be a man. Vulnerability—knowing, processing, and openly communicating difficult emotions—was tough for me.
I accessed counselling supports through my workplace at the time and discovered a fantastic therapist. He had a transformational impact on me and my development as a person, friend, partner, and professional. I remember how I felt when I decided to access therapy: more than anything, a sense of loneliness and emptiness that I couldn’t quite understand on my own, despite feeling that I had rewarding work and great friends and family around me.
This counselling relationship helped me process my own experiences during childhood. It was the start of a long and hard journey that continues today and has been focused on taking down my guard, getting comfortable with vulnerability, being more present with people and in relationships, and communicating my own emotions effectively.
I’ve learned to disrupt my negative thought spirals, catch obsessive thinking, sustain healthy boundaries, and leverage my support networks. Through all of this, I have come to realize the true beauty of self-discovery and understanding. We have so much resilience and strength as individuals and communities to enable positive outcomes in the face of really difficult stuff.
Don Eckler, senior meditation instructor at the Toronto Shambhala Meditation Centre, shares his journey through meditation.
I came to meditation almost 50 years ago for the same reason people continue to come: my mind was driving me crazy! I had a list of things I didn’t like about myself and a shorter list of things I appreciated.
I somehow hoped that my faults and shortcomings would disappear, but, much to my eventual delight, I discovered my richness—my sadness, my anxiety, or my anger—can either make me more isolated and more aggressive, or be my way to recognize that we all suffer.
They are my strengths as well as my challenges. Turning toward them with openness can benefit myself as well as others.
This is a web exclusive for the article "MENtal Health" from the June 2020 issue of alive magazine.