How ya holding up? Pretty wild, draining, unusual and challenging times, huh? I’ve been pretty up and down. I found something hopeful and fun and want to share it with you.

I was having a really hard time a couple months ago and watched some YouTube videos of adorable animals. They made me laugh, but I felt guilty. Distracting myself with silly videos – that can’t be helpful, right?  I’m just wasting my time, right? But nope! Research shows cute can equal a boost in mood.  I think we could all use some good news about our guilty pleasures.

Scientific studies demonstrate watching these kind of clips is a tonic for our brain and can increase positive emotions. We release all sorts of feel good chemicals when we see something cute and novel – we’re wired to positively respond to cuteness. 

My most recent ‘therapy session’ has been with Pluto the talking dog .

In an interview with CBC, University of Victoria neuroscientist Olav Krigolson explains  when “you are not expecting to see something cute and cuddly and then you see it, it’s perceived by the brain as a reward,” said Krigolson. The cute image triggers the chemical reward system and the brain receives a mini dose of dopamine. 

The benefit is even stronger when reward and emotions are paired together Krigolson explains. The amygdala (a part of the brain involved with experiencing emotions) is turned on when you stare at cute pictures or videos  But the trick here is that the image needs to be a surprise otherwise the reward system won’t get ‘tripped’.

Who woulda thought surfing for different cute puppy videos or getting new ones from your friends, wasn’t a bad thing after all? In moderation of course. Spending an hour watching the cute and cuddly isn’t what we’re talking about here. Mini-breaks of staring at lovable little cats or hedgehogs that you’ve never seen before is all that’s needed to grab a dose of dopamine.  

Findings in a survey of 7000 internet users revealed similar outcomes for improved mood and increased energy.  In an article for The Conversation, Jessica Myrick, Associate Professor of Media Studies at Penn State writes “some research suggests that taking short breaks for a mood-boosting activity, be it petting an actual dog or watching a video of one online, may not only improve your mood but also decrease stress or re-energize you when you do return to your work.” 

This Hiroshima University study shows watching cute animal videos improves focus and productivity too.

Cythnia Johnson a psychotherapist and social worker in Toronto, was pleasantly surprised to see the science behind watching cute animal videos. 

Johnson suggests it to her clients and explains to them “they may find watching cute animal videos a great “distress tolerance” activity. For my clients, such videos could be used as a distracting activity or as a means to replace emotion with another emotion.”

Distress tolerance, which is a key element in Dialectal Behavioral Therapy is defined by Psychology Today as “ distress tolerance is geared toward increasing a person’s tolerance of negative emotion, rather than trying to escape from it.”

My foray into viral videos of bears in hammocks, and the antics of dogs isn’t just fluff or wasted time. 

Let’s hear it: “Power to the Puppies”. Oh and if you’re a cat fan (I’m learning to be more of a meow buff), how about “Kudo’s to the Kitty”?. I thought about power to the pussy, but that just doesn’t sound right – at least not for this post. Now go ahead, click on a  couple or five. No need for guilt. Your brain will thank you for it. 

What are the cute animal videos you watch? C’mon, I know you watch ’em. From time to time at least. No shame in that. Remember, you’re doing something good for you and your brain.

© Victoria Maxwell

Anxiety Canada is presenting town hall meetings each week on guess what topic? Anxiety! And boy, the one I recently watched titled “Uncertainty during COVID-19” was so helpful! 

Knowledge is power they say. Getting accurate information about anxiety, how it works, and the tips to increase ‘uncertainty tolerance’ was anxiety reducing in itself. 

Most people are feeling more anxious than usual. A pretty natural response to a global pandemic, I’d say. For those of us with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), like myself, or other anxiety disorders, these times can be even more challenging. I know they have been for me.

Psychology Today describes generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as a “chronic state of severe worry and tension, often without provocation. Those with GAD regularly anticipate disaster, often worrying excessively about health, money, family, or work. Merely getting through the day brings on anxiety.” Sounds comfy huh? Not.

Research tells us that people with GAD have difficulty tolerating uncertainty.1 In Anxiety Canada’s video, psychologist Dr. Melisa Robichaud, explains “intolerance of uncertainty means the person with GAD will worry about an imagined feared event as long as there is even the slightest risk of it happening.”

Most people are a little uncomfortable with uncertainty. There’s nothing wrong with that. But being VERY uncomfortable with it, is problematic. It can lead to extreme levels of stress, anxiety and worry and time-consuming behaviors.

Increasing our ability to tolerate uncertainty can go a long way to helping us feel more at ease when things are stressful. This is the case whether you have an anxiety disorder or not. 

Robichaud continues, “uncertainty is a component of a situation where you can’t predict the outcome which is great fodder for anxiety and worry.” 

It’s important to differentiate. Worry is of the mind (those negative ‘what if’s’ that roll around in our heads). Anxiety is of the body (racing heart, shortness of breath, the physical feelings we get). 

In my personal experience of GAD, difficulty tolerating uncertainty drives my worry. 

In general, this is how it works for most people. Dr. Robichaud says “worry is a mental attempt to reduce the unknown and feel more certain by thinking through anything that could possibly happen.” Unfortunately, complete certainty is always out of reach and this feeds the relentless cycle of anxiety and worry. 

Recognize any of these behaviours? To feel more certain, do you:

  • ask for reassurance from others a lot?
  • get 2nd, 3rd, 9th opinions on things? 
  • do unending research and information-gathering? 
  • worry about negative events happening even if the likelihood is very low? 
  • make lists upon lists, maybe making multiple ones in a day?

On my ‘not-so-good-filled-with-worry’ days, yes I do. These and other thoughts and behaviors indicate an intolerance of uncertainty.2

There’s actually an assessment to measure it. It’s called, what else? The Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale (the IUS)!

Even though we will always live with uncertainty, there is good news. There are ways we can improve our ability to tolerate it and thus increase our everyday sense of ease.

6 Ways to increase tolerance for uncertainty:

1. Acknowledge and accept – First, it’s ok to be anxious about the current uncertain times. It’s not just ok, it’s understandable. Even without the pandemic, anxiety is ok. Yes – it’s uncomfortable, but it is also acceptable. Accept and acknowledge it’s natural to feel anxious – you’re not alone. This in and of itself can create space to relax.

In the video above, clinical psychologist Dr. Anne Marie Albano suggests we recognize and accept that “we can’t (ever) be completely certain, but we can do the best we can, for who we are. You do what you can to take care of yourself and to make (positive) outcomes more likely.” 

2. Knowledge – Education is powerful. Learning about uncertainty tolerance, understanding how anxiety works etc. can improve our ability to tolerate uncertainty. Watching the video and reading this blog can increase our understanding and decrease our anxiety. 

3. Flexible thinking – As Dr. Anne Marie Albano describes, it is learning to “roll with things when you can’t control them. The ability to make good use of accurate information”. Shifting our thinking when we get new information and allowing that to positively influence our behavior is what developing flexibility in our thinking is all about.

4. Create a healthy relationship to threat – Dr. Robichaud explains “a healthy relationship to threat (or uncertainty) is based on probability not possibility.” That is, I use my rational mind, not my anxious mind, to determine the likelihood of an event occurring. If it’s a low probability that it will happen, then, in Dr. Robichaud’s words, “I will not act as if it is a threat.”

5. Strategically gather information – Determine if the information gathering is helping and actually informing or is it another sneaky form of seeking reassurance? If it’s an attempt to find reassurance, then choose to stop. Intentionally choose when to gather information, and where to get it. That is healthy control. 

6. Problem solve from the rational mind – When there is a concrete issue (for example, job uncertainty) problem solve. Create a healthy plan using your rational mind not anxious mind. 

Dr. Robichaud describes a ‘wait and see’ approach. If you make a plan when you’re anxious, wait until the next day and review it. If it really is a good idea, it will still be a good one the following day when you’re less anxious. 

One of my favorite psychiatrists said to me “life is learning to live with uncertainty without being paralyzed by fear”. Uncertainty in life is unavoidable. The pandemic highlights this in neon. There are a lot of things in life that are out of our control. Fortunately, the way we choose to respond and relate to the unknown isn’t one of them.

© Victoria Maxwell


1 Boswell JF, Thompson-Hollands J, Farchione TJ, Barlw DH. Intolerance of uncertainty: a common factor in the treatment of emotional disorders. J Clin Psychol. 2013;69(6):630-645. doi:10.1002/jclp.21965).2 Lee JK, Orsillo SM, Roemer L, Allen LB. Distress and avoidance in generalized anxiety disorder: exploring the relationships with intolerance of uncertainty and worry. Cogn Behav Ther. 2010;39(2):126-136. doi:10.1080/16506070902966918

As a speaker who shares her story of mental illness and recovery, I’m often asked what helped me most when I didn’t want help. What benefited me most when I was struggling and pushing people (and their assistance) away? What worked I call the “Crazy Naked Truths” (CNT).

CNT are principles healthcare providers, savvy friends, and my parents, in particular, embodied. They are strategies they utilized which facilitated my wellness journey. Eventually, I lived into these tenets– allowing me to flourish on my own. 

I was learning to manage bipolar disorder, anxiety, psychosis and the aftermath of a spiritual emergency. But these pointers encourage wellness in general. They’re applicable to many situations where someone is in distress or for anyone wanting to increase their ‘contentment quotient’. The guidelines transcend condition and illness, gender, age, ethnic background, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, even political persuasion. Darkness knows no bounds. Neither does light. 

The 20 Crazy Naked Truths 

1. You can’t get well for me. You can’t change or control my behavior, reactions or choices. You can create conditions and options to help me accept my illness and make positive choices.

2. Acceptance is my greatest liberator; denial my greatest barrier.

3. Who you are and how you show up, matter as much as what you do and how much you know.

4. Find support and skills for yourself so you have the strength to say ‘no’ to me and offer me alternatives I may not welcome.

5. Learn to set boundaries with me so I can learn to set boundaries for myself.

6. Stay calm in conversations. Practice responding rather than reacting. Before you get to your “wits’ end”, walk away. Take a time out.

7. Show me how to use my anger not lose my temper.

8. If conversations always escalate into arguments, consider family therapy.

9. Learn to empower, not enable. As consistently as you can, offer me choices that work for YOU. Incorporate your needs and wants. IE: In exchange for living with you (the parent), I (your adult child) needs to get up by 9am and do a chore everyday. If I don’t want to do that, then you can still be there to help me and explore ways to find subsidized housing. 

10. Slowly, in small steps, create a reciprocal relationship with me. A relationship that is based on respecting the needs of others. Julie Fast has two excellent articles about this: The Hijacked House  and Reciprocal Relationships: Parenting your Adult Child with Mental Illness While Meeting your Needs

11. Sometimes I need a kick in the butt more than a pat on the back. Sometimes, the opposite.

12. Don’t protect me from the privilege of failure. 

13. You may never know which of your words created my tipping point into wellness; but know our conversations matter. 

14. I will rise to your expectations.

15. Hold a vision for me until I can hold it myself.

16. Explore what helped me in the past and focus on those strengths and tools to help me in the present.

17. Help me discover what I yearn for most deeply, and you will have helped me find the intrinsic motivation I need to participate in my wellness journey.

18. Push back indicates that fear is afoot. Model and teach me tools to manage and articulate my anxiety and needs, and I will move forward.

19. Respect my timetable. It is likely different (and slower) than yours. 

20. Once I’m well, support me to make ‘a good thing better’.

What do you think? In the comments section, let me know which one you’d like further information on. Who knows, it might appear as a future blog post.

© Victoria Maxwell




As my husband and I move past the 40-day mark of staying at home due to COVID-19 (egad!), I thought another excerpt from my ‘work-in-progress’ memoir might be a nice diversion. Not much context is needed for this. Gentle feedback welcome. Email me at victoria@victoriamaxwell.com or leave a comment. Happy reading!


For years I tried to manage without help from the medical system. I put up all the clichéd roadblocks: I don’t trust big pharma. Doctors just want to push their agenda, their pills. I don’t have mental illness. I didn’t have psychotic episodes. I had spiritual awakenings. I don’t like the labels. I don’t want the drugs. I want to treat it, heal it the ‘natural’ way. Read: the ‘healthy’, morally superior, spiritually evolved way.

I tried everything from colour therapy, primal therapy, aromatherapy, psychotherapy (you gotta wonder why they call it “psycho”-therapy – pretty insulting if you ask me), astrology, numerology, reiki and pranic healing. I saw channelers, tarot card readers, psychics. I studied A Course in Miracles, the Alcoholics Anonymous’ big book. I went to halfway houses, support groups, 1-day workshops, weekend retreats. Did muscle testing, moving meditation, insight meditation. Got acupuncture, shiatsu, massage. Took flower remedies, Chinese herbs; did affirmations, journaling, morning pages, automatic writing, body work, dream work, aura cleansing, aura reading, chakra balancing, chakra clearing. Joined AA, OA, OY-VEY.

 You name it. If it was New Age, Self-“Yelp” or somewhere on the shelves of Banyan Books (Vancouver’s oldest new-age bookstore), I had read it, paid for it, trained in it, practiced it, meditated over it, ingested it, sniffed it, got fleeced by it. And none of it, not really, super down deep, was enough to keep me well.

 My last resort? Enlightenment. See, I thought if I got enlightened, I wouldn’t feel depressed anymore. I wouldn’t feel anything anymore.

I have more trouble telling you I went to India to visit a guru to get enlightened than I do admitting I ran down the street naked in a euphoric psychotic episode and ended up in the psych ward. 4 times.

I don’t know why. Maybe because the perfectionistic overachiever that I am, is ashamed I failed to reach my goal. I am definitely not enlightened. Maybe because mental illness is common. Enlightenment not so much, and what’s the point of it, really? It’s not like being enlightened is practical or even attainable. Mental illness however, now THAT’S attainable. Though mental illness isn’t all that practical either. Practically fatal, perhaps.

Spiritual searching (more like lurching in my case) is…embarrassing.  My fervent hunt for enlightenment revealed my desperation. Granted, it kept hope alive and as a result, it kept me alive.

Depression led me to question everything. Like paint thinner, depression denatures our lives of purpose and point. Living with dramatic despair and mangy meaninglessness, I spiraled into an existential crisis. Over and over and OVER again, I was caught in an Escher-like maze of questions: “What is God? Why are we here? What’s the meaning of it all?”

On a cloudy North Vancouver day, my dad sat beside me on my springy mattress in my bedroom. Both of us looking at the floor, him shaking his head as I rattled off those questions that ricocheted between my temples. With that furrowed brow of his, he sighed and grunted “Man has been asking those questions from the beginning of time. If you keep that up, you’ll go crazy.” More prophetic than either of us knew.

Instead of focusing on a traditional way of combating my malaise by going to my doctor, treating the symptoms or continuing with counseling, I assumed if I discovered the meaning of life, I’d be fine! Enlightenment, the end of suffering, the Buddha said. What’s not to love? Those contemporary gurus seem pretty chill too, right?  The Dalai Lama is pretty much always giggling. Eckhart Tolle – though a bit creepy in an elfish kind of way – seems fairly content. Thich Nhat Hanh – now that dude is laid back. Pema Chodron? My rock star. She exudes equanimity while also readily embracing her messy humanity. I put all my energy into seeking the answers to life. Because that was the real root cause of my suffering. Not this thing called mental illness.

The new age movement says the psychoses I experienced were spiritual emergencies and awakenings. I didn’t need to ‘resort to’ medication or medical treatment to heal. The medical system has one perspective: mental illness is a disease; a complex interplay of genes and environment. I hadn’t experienced God. 

It’s a blessing OR a curse. I was caught in a psychiatric “Sophie’s Choice”. Choose the spiritual perspective: suffer. Choose the medical perspective: suffer. But over the course of 25 years since I’ve been diagnosed, I’ve discovered, it’s not that clear cut. It never is.

Maybe I have a hard time telling you I went to India to sit with a guru and “wake up” because I think my seeking actually led me into the foul spiral of mental collapse. Maybe. Just maybe – I feel like I’m to blame for bringing my mental illness on myself. Or that I failed myself. If I had just been more grounded, more prepared, that massive burst of energy that coursed through my body on that particular evening in a meditation room wouldn’t have resulted in me believing that I saw my own grave and that I could drive my car with my thoughts. Maybe just maybe I’m disappointed in myself. That somehow, I could have harnessed that moment into permanent liberation, instead of plummeting me into a fight for my vision of spirituality and for my mental health.

Does mental illness and spiritual experiences have to be mutually exclusive? That’s what I felt the medical system was telling me. That’s what I thought my spiritual community was telling me. It was one or the other. But I needed it to be both. Both. For me to stay alive, I needed to find a way to be spiritual and crazy.

To be continued…

© Victoria Maxwell



I’m struggling a bit right now with anxiety and depression. So I’m practicing what I preach. I’m being as kind to myself as I can and simplifying what I need to do. Instead of writing a full blog post and long newsletter, I’m sending out this mini-mental health memo to you.

A cute animal video. For your viewing pleasure, here’s Justin (baby) Beaver.

One of my tactics when I’m in this uncomfortable place is to watch cute animal videos as therapy. And guess what? It really is therapeutic. Scientific studies show watching cute videos is good for our brain and mood. We release all sorts of feel good chemicals when we see something cute – we’re wired to positively respond to cuteness. 

So go ahead, click on a couple or five. No need for guilt. Watching cute videos is scientifically proven to raise mood! Read this CBC article to learn how it happens.

I hope Justin Beaver brings a moment of joy to your day. Be kind to yourself my friends.

© Victoria Maxwell


Ok before anything. Let’s take a deep breath. I’m serious. Do this with me. Inhale 1 – 2 – 3. Pause. Exhale 1 – 2 – 3. A little better? 

Like many of you, if you subscribe to newsletters, many are focused on information about the unusual times we are in and what we can do to prevent the spread of the COVID-9 virus and the anxiety that surrounds it. 

I’m not going to repeat what you probably have in your inbox. Instead I’m going to share with you my experience and what I’ve unexpectedly gleaned from this collective situation. I realize many aren’t as fortunate as I am: a privileged middle-aged white woman, not working the frontlines, with some small savings in the bank, in my home country and healthy. The following “COVID19 Silver Linings” might not be relevant to you – but I offer it in the spirit of kindness and support.

1.It’s OK to go slow: I have felt strangely comforted by this surreal global experience. Let me explain. It’s put the brakes on my work – allowing the pace of my life to sloooooow down. Three of my speaking events have been cancelled and I expect more. Although this comes with financial consequences, I’m ok with this. Everyone is facing uncertainty. Businesses everywhere are having to make changes. I know I am not alone. We’re all going to be given time and wiggle room as we find solutions to support ourselves and each other. On my day off, like last Sunday, I made banana bread. For the life of me, I can’t remember the last time I baked banana bread! The more I slow down, the easier it is to breathe deeply and calm myself.

2. Perspective: A global pandemic puts things into perspective. Like any illness, it can help us reprioritize what’s really paramount and recognize what we thought was important (finding a better fitting pair of jeans for instance) maybe isn’t so important after all. I’ve phoned (yes, phoned not texted!) people I haven’t in awhile. A friend’s mother who I knew had fallen, a writerly friend (ok I did text her), good friend who’s been facing other life bumps.

3. One thing at a time tactic: What used to be urgent isn’t. I don’t feel the pressure to be busy-busy-busy and get my usual to do’s done. I identify the ONE thing I know needs to be done today. Then I take one slow, gentle step at a time to get it done. This ‘one-thing-at-a-time’ focus helps me soften into the present moment, allowing surfacing anxiety to pass on its own. If I get that ONE thing done, I identify the next one thing that needs to be done and so on. This is also a great antidote for fuzzy thinking.

I hope some of my experiences spark an insight or small gentle sense of ok-ness for you while we ride the waves of this. Share with me what you have discovered to help you stay grounded and connected. We really are in this together.

© Victoria Maxwell



I love this initiative. Rob Osman from Bristol in the UK, who has struggled with social anxiety and depression, created a dog walking group for guys to gab about their feelings and struggles (if they so choose). He did so after he found walking his dog, Mali, was such a huge help for his own mental health. 

For anyone, but for men especially, ‘let’s go for a walk’ is so much more appealing than ‘let’s have a talk’. 

Dudes & Dogs Walk & Talk he calls it. Don’t you just love that? 

The program is there to make it easier for men to talk or, even just to join in and go for a walk with another dude and a dog. No pressure or requirement to say a thing.

In a Somerset Live interview, Rob Osman says “”It [walking a dog] is a good way (for people to relax and drop their barriers) because you do not have to look at each other in the eye and are in an open space.”

I talk about how to create an encouraging space for folks to talk in my most recently developed “keyshop” (combo of a keynote and workshop) Creating Comfortable Mental Health Conversations at Work

When you’re talking to someone about a potentially delicate issue (like mental health, or simply feelings), you want the individual to feel safe. You don’t want them to feel cornered (as in a hallway) or too exposed (in view of co-workers in the break room) or threatened or defensive (like sitting across a table or a desk even).

I suggest the very initial ‘how are you doing?’ questions happen while casually walking through the parking lot away from others. Strolling from one job site to another is another good place to start a conversation. 

Osman continues: “It is at their pace and there is no expectation for them to have to talk – it could be that they just listen the first few times.” 

Men and women relate and express their feelings in very different ways and environments. We women sit across from each other, looking supportively into each other’s eyes, drinking tea or coffee and talk, and talk and TALK. 

I can call a girlfriend who I will be seeing that same night, talk on the phone for an hour or more during the day, and still have things to say to her in the evening. My husband just shakes his head and wonders how on earth could we have so much to say to each other. That’s women for ya.

Men on the other hand, so I’ve been told, open up when they are side-by-side doing things together. None of this eye contact kind of stuff. They watch ‘the game’, sit around a fire, go for a hike, or as Osman knows, go walking with a dog. Then talking flows from the activity.

We need our men to talk. The stoic ‘I-can-tough-anything-out’ is killing them. 11 people die every day by suicide In Canada. Most of them are males. That doesn’t even capture the individuals who attempt it. 

We need to normalize talking and explore ways of sharing that’re comfortable so men are willing to participate. Having women suggest ways ain’t gonna fly too far. Role models are the best way to create change. Rob Osman is one of those who is pioneering new methods to get his brothers in arms to stop suffering in silence and instead get into nature, with dude and dog, and share some of the tough stuff. 

When men find healthy ways to express themselves and their struggles it positively impacts their families, their workplaces, and their communities. And THAT is something definitely worth talking about! 

© Victoria Maxwell


I’m writing a book. There, I said it. Not quite sure if it’s going to be a straight-up memoir. Perhaps titled, as someone joked, “Not Another Bipolar Memoir”. Or, the book might be a combination ‘memoir/personal-essay-with-action-tips” kinda book. Either way, as I write it, I’m going to, from time to time, share excerpts with you. I love the idea of having a friend like you (‘cause that’s how I think of you) getting a peek into what I’m thinking and what I’m writing. 

I don’t have a date set for the final draft, or a publisher (if I go that direction) in place. But as a valued reader, I value sharing these pieces with you. If you have thoughts about them, resources that might be helpful as I get closer to publication, people you think I should contact or just general cheerleading comments and encouragement – email them my way! 

This piece is pretty self-explanatory. If it’s not, then I need to do a major rewrite! Read on and hope you enjoy it.

Cute Guy in the Psych Ward

One month in on A2 at Lion’s Gate hospital – A2: the acute psychiatric ward. By the way, there is nothin’ cute about a psych ward.  I’m following this blue line down the middle of the hospital hallway. It leads to the smoke ‘garden’. That’s where all the chain smokers hang out. I never smoked before until I got here, but the cute guy from room 17 lights up every 35 minutes. I won’t see him otherwise. I don’t think he knows I’m alive. I must be invisible. Oh, don’t ever say that to your doctor: ‘IN-VISIBLE’. Red flag phrase for psychiatrists.

Anyway, I’m in the smoke ‘garden’ wearing those regulation blue hospital PJs, sitting on one of those flimsy white plastic patio chairs.  One leg is shorter than the others, so I’m trying to find my balance and at the same time trying to be all flirty while I look at Sam. That’s his name, Sam, the cute guy (red hair, pulsing biceps) who undoubtedly has a girlfriend. I know his name because we’re all assigned orderlies for the day and it’s posted on a white board with our names listed under them. Wednesdays I’m with Liam. So is Sam. Isn’t that cute? We’re a couple without even trying. This is my manic hypersexual ‘super’ logic. 

“Can I have a light?”  I lean towards him, careful not to topple over. A silky hand carries his Bic lighter close to my mouth. I inhale, the flame flares and cigarette ignites. I cough. “Thanks.” And I cough again. Not quite the impression I wanted to make. 

Despite the giant hedge of fir trees running the circumference of the unit, the grass of the smoke garden and beyond is scorched. Rays of late afternoon summer sun lasers through the foliage onto the top of Sam’s head. His red hair lights up like sparkles in a snow globe. 

And then? Out of his mouth comes poetry, snippets from his therapy journal. His words make me think of tangerines and the smell of sandalwood. He says these things and I just laugh. Like a lunatic. NO. I mean really like a lunatic. And he looks at me like I’m crazy or something “‘cause,” as he tells me “it wasn’t supposed to be funny”. And there I am with my burning butt of a cigarette feeling like an idiot, a crazy woman, thinking about the tie-dyed sunsets of India. And then, guess what Sam does? He leans back, takes a drag of his cigarette and smiles.  For the next 5 minutes, we sit in comfortable quiet, staring at each other, waiting ‘til our smokes die.

© Victoria Maxwell

I’m excited to pass along this new workplace mental health resource I’ve discovered: the evidence-based Workplace Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders. 

The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is a whopping $51 billion annually1. That’s billion with a ‘B’, every single year. Even more striking is that the cost of a disability claim due to a mental illness is almost double the cost of a claim due to physical illness2

When I speak to executives and managers, I hear they want to do something; they know they need to do something. But often they’re unclear as to the best path to take to make the biggest difference. 

If you are one of those of leaders, this guide might offer some welcomed clarity.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in partnership with BMO, launched the playbook at the end of January.

I was sceptical when I first heard about it. But when I looked at it more closely, I was encouraged. It includes feedback from Canadian corporate leaders and case studies of top companies that are implementing mental health strategies. 

It includes research-informed recommendations to help leaders and organizations successfully put into action a mental health strategy that enhances employee wellness and performance, and increases company profits. The guide states that “Organizations with comprehensive mental health strategies perform better on average in all areas – from health and safety to shareholder returns.3,4

Some suggestions you will have already read about, some you may not have. A key idea is that any mental health strategy must be integrated into the overall long-term business strategy. Equally important is to create a work environment that is safe for everyone to discuss mental health. How a company goes about that will differ depending on various factors in their workplace. 

One concrete way is to have senior leaders share their own journeys with mental health. I for one, would love to see more individuals ‘from the top’ champion and role model what they would like to happen in their workplace. When CEO’s step up and discuss their mental health experiences, that person is walking the talk. Honest and vulnerable communication from leadership helps reduce stigma and discrimination. 5,6

In my new keynote workshop called ‘Creating Comfortable Mental Health Conversations at Work’, I emphasize the power of simple but regular ‘how are you doing’ check-ins to help people feel free to discuss any issues and help managers and supervisors to prevent serious issues from occurring early on. 

At least every other day I hear on the radio or I read in a magazine, a piece on a psychiatric disorder, an individual telling of their experience, or an initiative to help those suffering. That’s a big change since I started sharing my story back in 2002. And that, my friend, is a good thing. A very good thing.

However, businesses are still learning how to really make their workplaces psychologically safe and mentally healthy. I’m hoping this new playbook can help. What mental health initiatives is your organization putting in place? Email me to let me know.

© Victoria Maxwell

References

1 Lim, K.L., Jacobs, P., Ohinmaa, A., Schopflocher, D. and Dewa, C.S. (2008). A new population-based measure of the economic burden of mental Illness in Canada. Chronic Diseases in Canada, 28(3), 92-98.

2 Dewa C.S., Chau N. and Dermer S. (2010). Examining the comparative incidence and costs of physical and mental health-related disabilities in an employed population. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52(7), 758-62.

3 Deloitte. (2019). The ROI in workplace mental health programs: Good for people, good for business – A blueprint for workplace mental health programs. Deloitte Insights.

4 CSA Group. (Reaffirmed 2018). Psychological health and safety in the workplace —Prevention, promotion, and guidance to staged implementation CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 National Standard of Canada. CSA Group.

5 Howatt, B. and Palvetzian, S. (2018). How leadership can impact workplace mental health. Globe and Mail. Retrieved from: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/careers/workplace-award/article-how-leadership-can-impact-workplace-mental-health/

6 LaMontagne, A.D., Martin, A., Page, K.M., Reavley, N.J., Noblet, A.J., Milner, A.J., Keegel, T. & Smith, P.M. (2014). Workplace mental health: Developing an integrated intervention approach, BMC Psychiatry 14. Retrieved from: https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-244X-14-131


I’ve noticed perfectionism hits me hardest at work. Or maybe it’s just easier for me to recognize it in that area of my life. I procrastinate tasks because I’m scared I won’t do it ‘right’. I start getting sleepy, not because I’m tired, but because I’m avoiding a job responsibility I feel has to be done flawlessly. 

When perfectionism is running roughshod all over me and my (now) mushy mind, one way I manage it is by creating my own mantras. These little reminders help put things into perspective, pivot my thinking and reassure me the sky isn’t falling. They help me get out of my head and into perfectly imperfect action. I write them on sticky notes and plunk them all over my desk. 

My current, self-penned “progress-not-perfection” prompts are the following. See if any help kick your perfectionistic paralysis to the sidelines.

1.Don’t overthink it

Sometimes I find myself rewriting and rewriting and rewriting AND rewriting blog posts, emails, even text messages. This ‘don’t overthink it’ quip tells me I can take things less seriously and trust myself (and other people). I’ve learned I can send off that email more quickly, do only one or two revisions of my posts (yes, including THIS one!) and trust my texts don’t have to be eloquent or even intelligible (not for friends anyway). 

2. Good enough really IS good enough

Those of you who’ve been reading my posts, or following me for some time, know this is my touchstone. It’s a comforting and truthful mantra. It reiterates what I often forget: other people don’t care as much about the mistakes I make, most won’t care at all, some won’t even notice them. Good enough, helps me get to done. Voltaire and Confucius are considered cool cats for a reason. They both understood the importance of good old ‘enough-ness’. Voltaire said, “The best is the enemy of the good” and Confucius, “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without”. Maybe it should be perfect is the enemy of done!?

3. What if… I let myself be happy? 

When I start to spin my wheels, or launch into a whirligig of negatives ‘what ifs’, I ask myself this: ‘what if… I let myself be happy?’. I think about this. Really think about it, just… letting myself be happy. Relaxing and letting myself trust I can do whatever is in front of me while letting go a bit. Whatever the task, I can experiment doing it without fear or worry. When I do this, I start to feel a little lighter, a little happier even. I also forget about why I should hang on to my white-knuckle control. Try it. It’s not a question we often ask ourselves. See what happens when you do. This little glimmer of happy helps me be more productive with less emphasis on doing things impeccably.  *Note: this isn’t when I’m in an arm wrestle with depression or acute anxiety – that needs a different approach and sometimes an appointment with my therapist or doctor.  

4. Leave it ugly. Let it be messy. 

I have a hang up about making documents look pretty. Documents that don’t need a design flair. Documents that don’t even get seen by the public. Like colour coordinating my brand colours in my on-line to do list I share with my virtual assistant, or neatly entering data just so with proper punctuation in my CRM. Yes, it looked nice. But it took me forever and to what end? I fretted over bolding titles, changing font colours instead of just getting the task done. It was a sneaky way to feel productive. Now I leave things ugly and let them be messy. 

5. Try it and see what happens

This one really took me a long time to really get in my bones. Indecision has been a comforting friend and way to avoid uncertainty in an ass-backward way. But the experimenting approach has brought the most fruit and a lot of relief. Indecision masked my fear of failure and belief that one wrong move would collapse my career. “Trying it” simple as it sounds, wasn’t exactly simple. Not for this ‘risk-adverse-need-a-guarantee-it’ll-all-turn-out-ok’ kinda girl.  I started by taking micro-sized healthy risks and seeing what the outcome was. Then gradually took on bigger and bigger ones. This is all relative. For example, first it was writing a cold sales email to a potential client. Then it was choosing to do a follow up phone call (egad!) to a client instead of another email. Instead of postponing my webinar again until I knew exactly what topic people wanted, I chose to do one that I was excited about and tried it out. 

These action steps might be easy for others but for me they were huge. Perfectionism is an insidious, heavy and often sneaky culprit. What were the outcomes? Phone calls were nerve racking but effective, and actually welcomed by some clients. The “Catalyst for Creativity and Courage”: Intro to Storytelling webinar was…well it WAS! It happened and was a success.  

With these aphorisms I experience less anxiety and self-criticism. They help me get my work done, get more done and get it done more easily. The momentum of caring less about perfection carries me to a place of completed good work rather than almost perfect but never done work. 

Now that is pretty perfect. Not that it needs to be. 

© Victoria Maxwell