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Nicole McCance, psychotherapist / TV relationship expert and author, is releasing her book,“52 Ways to Beat Depression Naturally”, today, on January 21, 2013, known as Blue Monday. Nicole is a licensed Harvard-educated psychotherapist in Toronto and also the Relationship Expert on the TV show, Love Trap on Cosmo TV. Nicole says, “This is a deeply personal project that extends far beyond my professional ambition”. When she was a teenager, her father died by suicide. His funeral was on Nicole’s 18th birthday. She made a decision that if she could make it through that terrible time in her life that she would devote her life to helping others. In our interview, we talk to Nicole about depression, her book release and how she made it through a time of painful and tragic time of loss.
Why did you choose to launch your book on January 21st, known as Blue Monday?
I picked this day because it’s known as the most depressing day of the year. Here’s why: holiday credit card bills are starting to roll in, some are still traumatized from holiday family gatherings, most have already dropped their new year’s resolutions, and it’s dark, cold and it’s Monday.I think that people tend to get used to their depression, and sometimes need a push to get motivated to find help. As this is known as the most depressing day of the year, I thought that I would release my book as the boost many people need to overcome their depression. This is a more reflective day for some, and even those who are not suffering from depression most likely know someone who is. This is a day to start the conversation about depression, reach out for help, and to have an open dialogue with family and friends.
Tragically, your father died by suicide when you were a teenager and his funeral was on your 18th birthday. That must have been an unbearably painful loss to go through. What helped you to get through this time of loss and grief?
It is common that when facing a loss of someone close to you, feelings such as, “How can I be happy when this person is gone?” may appear. You may feel guilty at experiencing joy, laughter, or a bit of happiness, because you are in the midst of grief.In the moment I learned I had lost my father, I felt an overwhelming sense that I needed to make him proud, and more importantly, that my father would want me to be happy. I had a sort of “cross-roads” moment, where I could collapse and let the grief take over me, or I could mourn my father, but also honour him by finding happiness. I took all of the pain, sadness, anger, and fear, and funnelled these feelings into moving forward. I took time to grieve, but then, took action by working toward helping people, and making a difference. I really wanted to turn the sadness my father experienced, and the devastating path it led him down, into something good. This is why I became a therapist, and why I always wanted to write a book focused on overcoming depression.
How do you take care of yourself on your birthdays?
My 18th birthday was devastating, and it was really hard. My mother tried her best to make such a big milestone into a good day, but obviously, that day will forever hold sad memories for me. On my birthday now, I surround myself with people I love. I find that it’s hard to experience sadness when there is love around you. It also acts as a distraction, which can be helpful on certain low days. When I do have moments of sadness, I think about what my father would want for me, and how he would have wanted nothing but happiness and hope on my birthdays.
You made a decision that if you could make it through that terrible time in your life that you would devote your life to helping others, so you became a psychotherapist. Has this been a rewarding experience for you?
It has been more than a rewarding experience. I have absolute clarity in the belief that I was put on this earth to help others. I love it so much that I live and breathe my work. I receive so much joy when I see my clients feeling better. Even though they experience hardships, and tough times, I see them grow and become more resilient. To be present for that change is amazing.
Being a psychotherapist must be difficult at times too. How do you separate yourself from other’s problems and emotions, being mindful to not take on too much? What helps you to self-care?
I often get asked how I cope with hearing other people’s problems all day. Yet, I don’t think about it that way at all. I really focus on the progress that my client is making. I am focusing on how far that person has come, and what the next steps will be in overcoming their depression, anxiety, or other problems. I am able to separate myself from my work at the end of the day, by holding onto my belief that my clients are strong, and that they will be alright until I see them next. I have given them tools to cope with their issues, and healing, however painful, is taking place. I believe in my clients, sometimes more than they believe in themselves. I have trained myself to let issues go, and to focus on the next client.Of course, self-care is important for all mental healthcare professionals. I often need my own space, because I have been talking to people all day. I often take time for myself by reading, taking baths, and exercising daily. I also make sure to have fun and maintain a social life. Surrounding myself with positive people is crucial. My friends are unbelievable people, and having fun with them is such an important part of my life.
In your new book "52 Ways to Beat Depression Naturally", you give people concrete psychological techniques they can do on their own. Are there any techniques you have found to be most useful for your clients or for yourself?
In my practice, I rely heavily on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The book also focuses on CBT techniques as a way of overcoming depression. The main theme in the book is about examining and changing the negative thoughts we hold onto. I help clients to start noticing the thoughts that are impacting their moods. I use reframing techniques a lot, so in the moment, asking, “How can I see this differently?” Often, a client will be stuck in negative thought patterns to an unbearable point, which is called ruminating. In these cases, I recommend that they shake up their patterns by doing something differently. This could be a temporary distraction, participating in an activity to boost motivation (a technique called Behavioural Activation), or connecting socially. It is important that we are not consumed by our negative thoughts, because these thoughts are not the truth. When we learn to be kinder to ourselves, and focus on the good, we are able to make lasting change in our moods.I also pay attention to nutrition and sleep, as both can affect our moods adversely. I recommend good sleep hygiene (including supplements and a routine), as well as ensuring that clients are eating foods that have been proven to have a positive impact on mood. For example, I have found that Omega 3 (whether in food or supplement form) can significantly boost psychological well-being. Vitamin B is also important for motivation and energy.
Your book focuses on natural ways to combat depression, such as relaxation techniques, ways to shift negative thinking, tips to get motivated and sleep therapy, to name just a few, without the use of medication. What inspired you to focus on natural remedies?
Many people are nervous about medication, out of fear of dependency and possible side effects. I understand those fears. I feel that a natural approach is much gentler on the body and mind. However, there are absolutely those suffering from a spectrum of mental issues who need medication to reduce their symptoms. Many of my clients combine anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication with counselling. My first response to depression has always been to take a holistic and natural approach. I know that targeting one’s psychological, sometimes spiritual, as well as physical health is often quite effective in the treatment of depression. Most of all, once a person learns the skills I offer in my book, or in our sessions together, they have these skills for a lifetime.For most, not all, people, the body is out of balance. Providing the body with a sleep regimen, proper nutrition, and by targeting aspects of one’s mood, we are able to work toward a system of homeostasis. This means that the body and mind are able to regulate themselves and function without interference. I look at the whole person first, and then if this approach is not effective, I will look into pharmaceutical options.
You are currently the Relationship Expert on the TV show Love Trap, on Cosmo TV. What is a fun aspect of working on this show for you?
I feel that I wear two hats in my professional life. One is that I am a psychotherapist, dealing with heavy psychological concerns, including depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, panic, and a spectrum of disorders. The other is that I appear as a relationship expert on TV, which is upbeat, playful, and fun. These roles don’t always make sense to others, but I find that both of these roles represent me, professionally and personally. As a relationship expert on TV, I get to be playful which is a large part of who I am. A lot of my dating tips on the show are forward-focused. In my practice, we focus a lot on letting go of the past, and quite dark issues at times. But in the show, I am able to improve relationships in a light-hearted way. I also enjoy working with Evan Starkman, who is hilarious. The entire show, cast and crew are so much fun!
As a relationship expert, is there one most important piece of advice that you would want to give to people about relationships?
I have been counselling couples for over seven years. I have witnessed couples who probably should not have started dating. I have seen people who are so happy and strong 20-30 years into a relationship. I have seen relationships that have crumbled over time, but that after receiving counselling, the relationship is repaired and renewed. I have witnessed patterns that repeat themselves in many relationships.The biggest tip is to let things go. Let’s say that your partner is in a bad mood. Rather than making it about you, being defensive, or starting an argument, try letting it go. It sounds so simple, but so many of my couples create arguments and aggravate situations that could have been easily avoided by just letting it go. If you don’t let it go, you are fighting all the time about the same issues. Or, you pretend to let it go, but hold it inside and resentment builds. Resentment is the enemy of a happy relationship, and will destroy every aspect, including intimacy, fun, and sex.
Do you have a favourite movie that you find positive and uplifting or that promotes mental wellness?
- “The Secret” is a great movie that talks about how powerful our thoughts are.
- “What the BLEEP Do We Know!?” is about consciousness, the power of our thoughts, and the spiritual connection our thoughts have to the world.
There is a lot of stigma towards mental illness. Suppose that I am a reporter who contributes to myths and misleading information. What would you want say to me?
I would tell the reporter that depression is not a choice. There is a biological aspect of depression, and a number of other factors contribute to it. If you have a cold or flu, you may feel lethargic, down, and ill. You don’t want to feel this way, but you do. Depression is the same. I would also ask the reporter to think back on a time when they experienced a bout of depressed mood, because the reality is that depression is a mood, characterized by debilitating sadness. When depression becomes persistent and pervasive (long-lasting and interfering with your life), it becomes a mood disorder. If the reporter could recall a time when they felt so sad that they loss interest and pleasure in things, didn’t feel like eating, had trouble sleeping, were down and irritable they might gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be depressed. Depression is an illness.
What advice would you want to give to a young person that is struggling with mental health issues?
I would tell the young person that being young is an especially hard time to struggle with mental health issues, particularly because when you’re young, you are often not in control of your own life. Your parents most likely control your living, financial, and social situations. This is even more problematic if your mental health issues stem from your family and home life.I would let them know that they are not alone, and that mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, are quite common.I would tell them to talk to someone, because there are so many resources available. If the young person has a friend, family member, teacher, or counsellor to talk to, it can make all the difference. Talking about our problems helps us to release sadness and anger. If talking to a counsellor, this person will be able to learn strategies to cope with the issues they face. There is hope, and it starts with reaching out for help.