What Is Gender Dysphoria? Definition And Symptoms

When you look in the mirror, do you recognize the person looking back at you as you? Do you see the clothes you’re wearing as the ones you would choose for yourself? Or on a more fundamental level, do you see the person you know yourself to be represented in your reflection? 

Someone with gender dysphoria feels like the gender they were assigned at birth is at odds with the gender identity they feel best represents them. It feels like there’s a disconnect between one’s physical body and their self-image. 

Gender used to be commonly interpreted as a binary: you are either male or female. But as more and more is understood about human gender, it’s clear that’s not the case… and there are many non-binary possibilities. 

What Is Gender Dysphoria?

In the holy grail of mental illness information aka the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders aka the DSM-5, the American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as “a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender.” 

Gender dysphoria used to be known as gender identity disorder. It was renamed in 2013 to be more clear that dysphoria is the clinical problem (the pain and discomfort someone may experience) and not someone’s identity. 

If you’re here because you’re wondering “do I have gender dysphoria?” — that’s ultimately a question only you can answer. Only you truly know what you’re feeling. While you don’t need to fully understand what’s happening before you get a diagnosis, you do need to recognize the symptoms enough to talk about them with a medical professional. 

Symptoms of Gender Dysphoria

There are different symptoms of gender dysphoria for adults and children. As you read through the list of symptoms below, you’ll notice two scientific terms that may be confusing — let’s define them first!

Primary sex characteristics: the traits and sex organs involved directly in reproduction (for example, ovaries and testes)

Secondary sex characteristics: visible features not directly involved in reproduction (for example, voice quality, facial hair, breast size)

Symptoms in Adolescents and Adults

At least two of the following must be causing clinically-significant distress for at least six months: 

  • A marked incongruence between one’s gender and their primary/ secondary sex characteristics 
  • A strong desire:
    • to be rid of one’s primary and/ or secondary sex characteristics because of a marked incongruence with one’s experienced gender. This can also present as a desire to prevent the development of secondary sex characteristics in puberty 
    • for the primary and/or secondary sex characteristics of another gender
    • to be of another gender 
    • to be treated as another gender 
  • A strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of another gender

Symptoms in Children Under 10

Six of the following must be present and causing distress for six months: 

  • A strong desire to be of another gender or an insistence that one is another gender
  • A strong preference for:
    • clothing associated with another gender
    • cross-gender roles in make-believe play or fantasy play 
    • toys, games, or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by another gender 
    • playmates of another gender 
  • A strong rejection of toys, games, and activities typically associated with their assigned gender
  • Strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy
  • A strong desire for the physical sex characteristics that match one’s experienced gender

If you read the list of symptoms and recognized the things you’re questioning, it might be a good idea to chat with a trans/non-binary affirmng therapist. They can answer any questions you might have too or pass along awesome resources! Here’s a guide that will help you find a therapist specializing in 2SLGBTQIA+ experiences.

What Does Gender Dysphoria Feel Like? 

Genderqueer activist, author, and television host Jacob Tobia (they/ them) described it as feeling like they “just had so much gender. I just had, like, gender oozing everywhere.” 

Ashlee Marie Preston (she/her) described gender dysphoria as “the ‘battle of the beliefs’: hanging on to your belief that you are who you are despite how others may define you, while also challenging yourself not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. It’s a constant effort to align yourself externally with how you feel internally.”

Beyond the internal dissonance of trying to figure out your gender identity, Tobia says societal constructs like gendered language make trans and non-binary people feel like outsiders. “Even saying ‘I am gender non-conforming is a lie.’ There’s no such thing as gender conforming. “You can’t be an outsider to human gender. If you are a human being, you are instead human gender… But, we don’t even have the language for me to describe why I struggle to be at peace with myself without singling out why I don’t belong.” 

Chella Man (he/him) also believes language can help people. “I simply wish I knew the word ‘dysphoria’ existed. If I had understood the blend of intense emotions stemmed from my experience with gender identity, it would have brought me an incredible amount of comfort and relief. I would realize there must be an entire community in the same boat as me if there is a label for it.”

Transgender & Non-Binary Identities

The terms cisgender, transgender, and non-binary have become more common recently (thanks to the efforts of so many 2SLGBTQIA+ activists!). Cisgender refers to people whose gender identity coincides with their sex assigned at birth. Transgender people identify with a different gender than they were initially assigned. But there’s more than just trans and cis — there are many non-binary genders. 

Third gender people do not identify with either male or female. There are many examples of this throughout the world, from two-spirit among Indigenous North Americans to the Māhū of Native Hawaiians and Tahitians. 

Gender fluid is when a person’s gender identity fluctuates. These changes and shifts can occur daily, weekly, monthly, or whenever!

People can also be intersex. That’s when someone is born with a reproductive system or sexual organs that aren’t traditionally male or female. This can present in a variety of ways and each intersex person’s experience, or identity, is different. One example could be a person born with male genitalia and a female reproductive system. 

There’s at least a dozen more gender identities. We have an entire article outlining what they are. Point is, gender is a social construct and there’s waaay more than two options. It’s also worth mentioning that gender identity ≠ sexual orientation. Being trans or non-binary doesn’t automatically dictate who that person will be physically or romantically attracted to. 

What Causes Gender Dysphoria?

There’s no one cause of gender dysphoria. It’s most likely a mix of cultural and personal factors. Some cultures are more accepting of non-binary genders, giving people more leeway to explore their identity without fear of repercussions if they fall outside male or female. 

Gender Dysphoria Treatment

First, we want to be clear that the treatment is for the dysphoria, not the gender identity. There’s nothing wrong with any gender identity; the issue being treated is the psychological distress caused by incongruences between one’s assigned gender and their gender identity. 

The goal of treatment for gender dysphoria is acceptance. That can mean self-acceptance, social and legal affirmation, and/ or medical care to reduce cognitive dissonance around gender identity. 

Self-acceptance is a journey of self-exploration, with or without a therapist. It’s a process of considering your true identity and becoming open to the possibility of a different gender identity than what was assigned at birth. 

Social affirmation can mean changing your pronouns, appearance, and feeling accepted by your loved ones and society. Legal affirmation can include changing your name and gender on your identification. Medical treatments can include things like hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgery. 

How to Support a Loved One With Gender Dysphoria

One of the biggest predictors of mental health issues related to gender dysphoria is feeling rejected by the people you care about. That means it’s very important to treat loved ones with respect and compassion if and when they open up about their dysphoria. But it also means showing respect whenever the topic comes up, regardless of whether you know someone personally affected. Elliot Page won’t read your snarky tweet about his pronouns, but a friend or family member dealing with gender dysphoria probably will. All you’re accomplishing is making it clear to the genderqueer or questioning people in your life that you’re not a safe person for them. Just don’t be disrespectful. Good advice right? 

5 TV Shows About Mental Illness That Depict It Realistically

TV isn’t real life, and we’re thankful for that. If reality was a television-esque emotional roller coaster filled with ups and downs, drama, intrigue, and plot twists galore, then holy cow, we’d need some very intense therapy. Maybe a vacation or two. But sometimes, TV tries its best to represent real issues. TV shows about mental illness can be harmful when done poorly (we’re looking at you, 13 Reasons Why), but it can also be validating when approached in a respectful way. We’d obvs love to see more shows about mental health with the latter approach.

No tv shows about mental illness will be perfect. Things are often glamorized, dramatized, and shortened for run times. Romanticizing mental illness for views is quite common. So which TV shows have the best representations of mental illness? Let’s break down five tv shows about mental illness that got it (mostly) right. 

A quick warning: because these shows deal with mental health topics, they may be triggering. There are resources available to find out if TV shows about mental illness would be okay for you to watch. Does The Dog Die was started to help people avoid movies where the dog dies, but is now used to list a variety of triggers for TV shows and movies. Unconsenting Media focuses on sexual violence trigger warnings. IMDb’s Parental Guide sections goes into detail about what viewers can expect to see in a show or movie.

Bojack Horseman

Depression can sometimes be presented on television as a glamorous “life is pain” attitude that makes you mysterious and brooding. But a lot of the time, depression can manifest in the absence of any feeling at all — with a lot of self-destructive tendencies. This is what Bojack Horseman presents with the main character.

Bojack’s struggles with depression and substance abuse hurt him and often other people in his life. His past fame and current wealth does nothing to remedy his depression, nor does any amount of recognition or love from the people in his life. It’s a really honest portrayal of depression because there is no one-stop fix or magic cure for it. Bojack tries everything to feel anything and often ends up feeling empty and alone.

There are moments of real hope in the show, though, which makes Bojack Horseman such a nuanced portrayal. Depression is absolutely an uphill battle, but as shown in the show, there are ways to manage it.

The Bridge

There have been some bumps in the road for TV shows about mental illness—especially when it comes to portraying autism. Autism will look different for every person, and it exists on a spectrum, which means that different people will have symptoms and a variety of ways the symptoms will present themselves. Even when shows consult autism experts, like The Good Doctor and Atypical did, there can be missteps along the way. One thing that The Bridge does differently in their portrayal of autism is that the autistic protagonist is a woman.

The Bridge is an American TV show that was adapted from a Scandinavian crime thriller. It has an autistic protagonist named Sonya Cross. She struggles with social conventions and protocols, like many people with autism do. She also has some physical self-soothing stims that are displayed in the show. While her high functioning autism is clear in the way her character acts and interacts with other characters, it’s not the focus of the show itself. The character’s portrayal has inspired women watching by seeing themselves on the screen, or bringing them to seek an autism diagnosis. 

Young girls are less likely to be diagnosed with autism than young boys. This is because they tend to be better at masking than boys (particularly on the high functioning end of the spectrum). As well, autism is thought to affect men at a 4:1 ratio to women. Seeing Sonya Cross portrayed on screen can really make an autistic woman feel validated by the representation, which is a major benefit of TV shows about mental illnesses. 

Big Mouth

Big Mouth is great at taking abstract feelings and experiences and personifying them. Their Hormone Monsters explain what it’s like to go through puberty in crass and hilarious ways. But the show also takes on mental health.

The Depression Kitty that follows Jessi around is comforting at first, but quickly becomes a bigger weight than she can handle — much like the experiences that many have with depression. As well, Anxiety Mosquitoes appear in the fourth season, biting and nagging at the characters until their worries become catastrophes in their minds, driving them to distance themselves from their friends or even lash out. The therapist in the show introduces the characters to a gratitude practice (which is personified by the Gratitoad). While it doesn’t get rid of depression and anxiety, it does provide them with tools to manage the feelings when they crop up.

Even though Big Mouth is a whole lot of dick jokes and crude humour, it addresses mental health in a very empathetic and understanding way. It validates teens’ experiences with mental health rather than dismissing them, which is suuuper important. 

If you’re also looking to start a gratitude practice, check out our course, Practicing Gratitude, in the DiveThru app! Registered therapist Simone Saunders will walk you through the benefits of gratitude, how to practise it, and how to make it a consistent habit. It’s not just for Netflix cartoon characters!

Sex Education

The charming hit Sex Education is about sex. Obviously. But like Big Mouth, it’s about so much more than that, and the second season really makes that clear.

In Season 2, Sex Education dealt with issues like sexual assault, self-harm, sexualities like asexuality, exploring attraction, finding support groups and talking about trauma, and honestly so many more mental health topics. Teen-focused shows often moralize these issues, but Sex Education does not. The unfortunate reality is that many teens will face sexual assault in their lifetimes. The show explores that traumatizing reality. Addressing the shit things that happen in life through TV can start conversations about at home, or validate someone’s experience. 

It also depicts adults having healthy and pleasurable sex lives, which helps normalize healthy sexuality for every age group. Just go watch it. So good.

Ted Lasso

Even people who seem very happy-go-lucky can struggle with their mental health. Ted Lasso does a fantastic job of portraying that with its main character. 

Ted’s public persona is a positive thinker who believes in the power of hard work and optimism. But as viewers soon see signs of toxic positivity. Ted struggles with his marriage, his relationship with his son, and his past with his father. He begins to have panic attacks at the end of the first season, and throughout season two. Ted speaks to a psychologist and begins working through past trauma. 

The show does a great job of portraying two under-discussed aspects of mental health: outwardly-happy people hiding mental health struggles, and mental health in professional sports. Athletes like Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles have opened up about the importance of taking care of your mental health as an athlete. Ted Lasso shows how mental health support can really help athletes, coaches, and basically anyone work through their concerns.

Next time you’re looking for something to binge on your day off but don’t want to waste your time with shows that get mental health all wrong, give these a watch! 

Coercive Control: What Is It and How Can You Spot It?

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Sometimes, things that are painful aren’t obvious from the outside. A migraine can force you to call in sick to work. A chronic pain disorder can make you unable to get out of bed, though nothing looks obviously wrong. And domestic abuse can cause immense emotional pain, even if it isn’t physically violent. 

In the same way that mental health is as important as physical health, emotional abuse is as damaging as physical abuse. Knowing the signs of domestic abuse, and getting help and support if you’re in an abusive relationship, is so important. In this article, we’ll explain what coercive control means, and the ways to spot it in a relationship.

What Is Coercive Control?

According to Women’s Aid, a domestic abuse organization in the United Kingdom, coercive control is “an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.” The abuser will often control the victim’s life to the point that the victim feels like they couldn’t live without them, or couldn’t escape the situation if they tried.

Coercive control can make the abused feel trapped and helpless. Even though there may not be any physical barriers to the abused getting help, the abuse tactics used on the victim can make them feel like help isn’t an option. 

In some cases, the victim might not be comfortable labelling their treatment as abusive because of the mental and emotional manipulation they’ve experienced. This is called trauma bonding, and is reflective of the cycle of abuse. A lot of relationships aren’t constantly abusive. Instead, the abuser will mix in reassurance, love, and praise, to make the victim stay with them and remember the “good times.” But good times aren’t actually good in an abusive situation. 

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Signs of Coercive Control

1. Control Over Finances

Controlling the victim’s finances is a way to ensure that the victim is completely dependent on the abuser. This might look like an abuser making the victim get money from them instead of them having their own account, not letting the abused access their bank account, or hiding financial matters from the victim. Without that control, the abused would have more financial freedom to be able to leave the situation.

2. Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a tool used by abusers to make their victims question their own thoughts and feelings. It’s one of the more covert signs of a toxic relationship and a way of maintaining power and control. If the victim doubts their own memories, thoughts, and interactions, they may also doubt whether or not they’re being abused.

3. Isolation From Others

By isolating a victim from their support system, the abuser maintains control in the relationship. The victim will feel like they have no one to turn to or to confide in about the abuse. As well, if there was someone the abused was close to, they might spot signs of abuse. By eliminating that possibility, the abuser maintains the power.

4. Monitoring Activity

A victim of coercive control may find their activity monitored constantly. The abuser may track where they are during the day, go through their phone to check messages and calls, and keep tabs on their online activity. The abuser may also demand to know all the details of where they were and what they did when the abuser wasn’t with them. This surveillance reminds the victim of the abuser’s constant presence in their life and of how difficult it would be to escape the situation.

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5. Control Over Sex Life

An abuser might exert their power by having sole control over the couple’s sex life. This can include how frequently they have sex, what they do during sex, choosing whether or not they use protection, and taking photos or videos of sexual acts that the victim doesn’t want or doesn’t know about. None of this is consensual and none of this is okay.

6. Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse can include name-calling, bullying, and putting down the victim. By making the victim feel weak and worthless, the abuser will keep their control over the victim.

7. Threatening Violence Against the Victim or Themselves

An abuser might threaten violence to maintain power in the relationship. This can include violence against the victim and violence that they’d inflict upon themselves or others if the victim left them. The threats, even if they’re not acted upon, will make the victim scared of repercussions should they try to leave. 

8. Threatening Pets and/or Children

If an abuser believes that it could control their victim, they might threaten the victim’s pet or children. This can include threatening violence against them and threatening to get kids or pets taken away by authorities.

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How To Get Help

Domestic abuse is way too common. Over 1 in 3 women and over 1 in 4 men in the United States will be the victim of some form of domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Almost half of all men and women have experienced psychological aggression in their lifetime, which can include coercive control. 

With this in mind, remember that if you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, there are so many people who’ve gone through the same thing, it is not the victim’s fault, and there are resources in place to help you. Everyone deserves to feel safe, secure, and respected in their relationship.


If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call your local emergency helpline (like 911).

For other domestic abuse helplines, you can contact the following:

Here are some tips to minimize the risk of someone knowing that you’re researching domestic violence-related topics (via Tech Safety): 

  • If you think your devices or internet search activities are being monitored, access this information from a device that isn’t being monitored. That should be a device that the person does not or has not had physical or remote access. This is the safest thing to do if you don’t want someone to know that you are visiting these websites.
  • Sign out of other accounts, such as Google or Facebook, before visiting these sites.
  • Use your internet browser settings to increase your privacy, such as turning off browsing history or using the browser in-private mode.
  • If it is safe to do so, delete the websites URLs that you don’t want stored from the browser history.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to increase the security of your internet browsing and activity. 

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How To Cope With a Friend Breakup

A friend breakup can hurt just as much as a romantic breakup! If you think about it, they’re both close relationships in your life, right? So if you and a friend part ways, the pain can be just as real. 

Unlike a romantic breakup, friend breakups aren’t really talked about. There isn’t a cliche about working through ending a friendship while watching best friend movies like Booksmart, but pulling a Jessica Day and sobbing over Dirty Dancing is expected with a romantic breakup. It seems like you’re supposed to shrug it off and move on. But you’re sad, moody, and wondering what happened, just like a romantic relationship. So how do you get through it?? 

If you’re going through a friend breakup, here’s some ways you can cope.

1. Talk to Someone

You probably aren’t able to talk to that (now former) friend, but talking to another friend, family member, or someone you trust will be a good way to have your feelings validated and to work through the breakup. Basically everyone has had a friendship breakup in their life, and swapping stories will help remind you that you’re not alone and the pain won’t last forever. 

But here’s the thing: if you and the person you broke up with are in the same friend group, the friendship breakup can get more complicated. It will be worthwhile to explain to your mutual friends what happened. They’ll also have complicated feelings on the topic, so give them time to work through it. 

Friends and family will always have some sort of bias, whether they’re aware of it or not. They know you, they care about you, but they’re not totally objective. This is where a mental health professional might be a good idea! They can help you see the whole thing with an outside perspective, and give you the tools to work through your feelings. 

2. Let It Out

You’re hurting right now, and that’s totally okay. Whether you decided to end things or they did, it still means you’re losing a friend and there are a lot of emotions you’re working through. The emotions are good, even the tough ones! It’s a sign that you gave yourself fully to the friendship and were genuinely vulnerable, which is a healthy way to live.

We definitely recommend journaling. Write down every thought and feeling you have about the breakup. Journaling can help you work through your emotions while feeling and validating them. You can journal about why you think the friendship ended, how that made you feel, and ways you can get through it. Psst… check out DiveThru’s app for a ton of journaling prompts. We’re a little biased but we think it’s a pretty great resource… 

The major thing we want to avoid is avoidance. There’s no better way out than through! 

3. Respect Boundaries

This will be a little different if you ended the friendship with them, or if they ended it with you, but either way, boundaries will be super important.

If you’re the one ending a friendship, it’s for the best that you don’t contact them again. They deserve the time to work through their feelings on everything without you confusing them or giving them hope. This isn’t to say that your friendship needs to be done forever, but if that’s what you decided and told them, then you should treat that as a boundary. If you feel safe and/ or comfortable doing so, you can talk with them about what they need for closure. That does not mean you need to let them try to change your mind! But if you both want to, you can have a conversation to give you both some closure. Even if you’re the one ending the friendship, they’re totally within their rights to draw their own lines right now, too. 

If you’re the one who was broken up with by a friend, deciding on and setting boundaries will be key. Whether it’s a conversation you have in the moment or at some point in the future (if they ghosted you or didn’t explain their reasoning clearly), telling them your boundaries is important. You can set boundaries about contact (virtual and/ or in-person), how to react if you run into each other somewhere, returning any borrowed possessions, and make it clear that neither of you should talk shit about each other with other people. You absolutely deserve to have your boundaries respected at this time and setting those boundaries will be key to both of you moving on. 

4. Remember That Endings Are Okay

It’s okay – and even healthy – to remember that a friendship has the potential to end. People enter romantic relationships with the knowledge that it might not work out. That’s not always the case with friendships. After all, we say “best friends forever” but rarely “boyfriend/girlfriends forever!” 

A broken friendship is normal. It doesn’t have to reflect your other friendships or who you are as a person. Sometimes things end, and that can be for the best. Look at your fave shows! So many of the really good ones have a point where they end, the plots are wrapped up, and it’s all pretty satisfying, and a lot of the not-so-good ones drag it on too long and end up jumping the shark

So if your friendship ended, you can think of it like Game of Thrones or How I Met Your Mother: you made some good memories that you’ll eventually look back at fondly, even though you don’t love the way it ended. 

5. Take Time To Know Yourself

Losing a friendship can be rough. What do you do with yourself now that you can’t text them and hang? Well, you can go do everything you wanted to do before, by yourself!

You might hesitate to spend time alone, if you’re used to going out with friends, which is totally reasonable. But being alone can be healthy! Spending time by yourself can let you get to know what you want a little better, without any outside influence. Try to reframe a shopping trip by yourself as an opportunity to figure out exactly what your style is, not what other people think you should wear. Or you can go see that movie that your friend wasn’t excited about but you were dying to see. 

Losing a friendship doesn’t mean that you lose yourself, too. In fact, it can be an opportunity to get to know yourself better, re-engage in hobbies and interests you had, and prioritize the other dope people that you still have in your life.

A loss of a friendship doesn’t mean you’re wrong, broken, or totally alone. On the other hand, cutting ties with someone when the friendship isn’t working doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, or that future friendships won’t work out. Friendships, like all relationships, are complicated, stressful, and sometimes messy. So whoever decided to end the friendship, you should still treat yourself with love, and maybe take yourself on a solo movie date. 

Employee Burnout: How To Support Your Team When They’re Feeling Drained

If you manage a team or own a business, you’ve probably figured out that your team does its best work when everyone is satisfied with their jobs. But sometimes, even if you’ve done your best to create a mentally healthy workplace, employee burnout can rear its ugly head. 

People are becoming more aware of the ways their job affects their mental health. The uncertainty of the pandemic and the struggles of being an essential worker or working remotely have people quitting their jobs in unprecedented numbers. In August 2021, more Americans left their jobs than any other month on record. Workers of all ages and income levels are saying, in no uncertain terms, that they’re not going to compromise their mental health for a job. And that’s totally valid, no one should be miserable because of their job. 

The American Psychological Association found that employees who feel burned out are two-and-a-half times more likely to be actively job searching, 63% more likely to take a sick day, and 23% more likely to require emergency health care. The APA reports a stunning 550 million workdays are lost EACH YEAR because of stress. Stress is also believed to be a factor in 60-to-80 percent of workplace accidents. Stanford researchers estimate that each year in the United States alone, work burnout leads to about 120,000 deaths and $190 billion dollars in health spending. That’s a pretty serious issue. 

Signs of Employee Burnout

First off, here are some of the ways burnout can affect workers

  • Increased cynicism 
  • Difficulty starting and completing tasks 
  • Feeling drained, often for no reason 
  • Irritability with coworkers or clients 
  • Trouble concentrating 
  • Feelings of disillusionment about the workplace 
  • Increased reliance on substances like alcohol, drugs, or food to feel better or numb feelings 
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, stomach issues, and difficulty falling asleep 

Employees can experience burnout for a number of reasons, including:

  • Unfair treatment 
  • Too much to do/ not enough time  
  • Unclear performance expectations 
  • Lack of communication or support from their manager 
  • A lack (real or perceived) of control 
  • Dysfunctional workplace dynamics 
  • Work-life imbalance 

Those reasons have been exacerbated by the pandemic, causing employees to experience burnout at a very high rate; a study by the job site Indeed found that more than half of the people surveyed were experiencing work burnout, up 9% from pre-pandemic levels. 

So, the question is: how can you help your employees recover from burnout? 

If you’re an employee feeling burned out and looking for support, we also have an article on managing stress and avoiding burnout. Burnout sucks, so we’re here for you!! 

How To Help Your Team Recover From Burnout 

If you’re a manager or team lead, let’s dive into some ways to help support your team when they’re feeling burnt out at work!

1. What’s Causing Employee Burnout?

Before you jump into solution-mode and come up with a bunch of ideas, take time to understand why your team is feeling this way. In some organizations, employee burnout may be caused by an expansion phase and very quick turnarounds. For others, the workload may have been too high for too long. Or, it could be something as simple as poor communication. 

This is why an open conversation is crucial — it will tell you what needs to change in order for your team to recover. When managers use pizza parties to cope with employee burnout, it kinda feels like putting on one of those flimsy bandaids that fall off before you’ve even had the chance to throw away the wrapper. 

2. Allow Time To Recover

If your team has reached the point of burnout, you’ll need to allow time to recover. Depending on what the root cause of the burnout is, you might have to adjust workloads and push back deadlines. Become an advocate for your team and suggest a new game plan that takes into account what your employees are feeling right now. The risk of not doing it and pushing through anyways won’t just alienate you from your team but it will also mean you’ll likely lose some of them to other organizations. 

If you really can’t adjust, make sure to show your appreciation and find tangible ways to let them know they will be able to recover once the project or phase is complete. 

3. Be Flexible  

Whether an employee is working from home or the office, offering flexible work hours can help with burnout. People might want to sleep in and get a later start, or work earlier hours so they can pick up their kids from school (or really any number of other reasons).

Work-life imbalance can be a major cause of job burnout. Working from home has blurred the line between work and personal life for many people. Work from home can end up feeling more like you’re living at the office. 

If someone feels like they’re supposed to be “on” at all times, they’re going to drain their batteries pretty quick. Make it clear to your employees that their personal time is their own. They do not need to pay attention to their email or phone at all hours. If you’re the kind of person who likes to work in the evenings, but your team doesn’t — maaaybe wait until the next day to hit send on that email (or just schedule it to send in the morning). 

In that previously-referenced Stanford research study on burnout, one of the recommendations was to implement family-friendly policies to reduce the strain of family-vs-work conflicts. Flexible hours, location, and clearly-defined expectations about personal vs work hours are all ways you can help your employees feel less burned out by making work something they choose to do, instead of it being forced upon them. 

4. Adjust Wages

Financial stress is a major contributor to burnout. If people are living paycheck-to-paycheck (which nearly two-thirds of Americans are doing right now), then that’s a big-time cause of stress. Despite what the saying says, there actually is a correlation between money and emotional wellbeing; though we’ll admit “an annual income over $75,000 doesn’t buy any additional happiness” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. 

But while people who make more than $75,000 annually don’t see any increase in emotional wellbeing, people who make less than that do see a decrease. 

Ultimately the takeaway is that people who are comfortable financially feel happier than those who aren’t. People who are able to pay all their bills and still have some rainy day money are way less likely to get burned out by their job, because they’re not one fender-bender or unexpected medical issue away from financial ruin — and they’re not working second jobs or worrying about side-hustles in their personal time. 

5. Be More Open  

Remember before you were the boss? Remember how frustrating it was when a decision was made above your head and you just had to implement it with no explanation?

People want to feel that they’re part of the decision process and that the work they do has an impact. You can help combat burnout by communicating openly about decisions. If you have an idea you want to implement, talk with the people who will be impacted by it, and do it with an open mind. If they express concerns about the impact, or offer suggestions for altering/ improving the idea, listen and find ways to incorporate that feedback.

This cause of burnout has been especially exacerbated by the pandemic. The pandemic has turned nearly every aspect of our lives upside down. Being open and communicating with your team will help people feel more in control and less burned out. 

We know that not every decision is up to you. Sometimes your boss passes down a decision that’s been made without consulting you, but you’re expected to implement it. You can still be open and communicate with your team, though, and work together to find the best path forward. 

6. Change the Culture  

All the pay and flexibility and communication in the world doesn’t make a lick of difference if there’s still a toxic culture

If just the act of going to work is stressful, not much else matters. Heck, even The Beatles broke up because their working situation became toxic, not because they didn’t make enough money or have flexibility with their working hours. 

The most important action you can take to reverse employee burnout is to foster a good culture. That means actively working to be the best workplace possible. It’s a commitment but it’s also so worth it. Workplaces like to talk about having a family atmosphere… so walk the walk! 

That means offering benefits with positive impacts on mental health, like health insurance, parental leave, and allowing for displays of vulnerability without judgement. Employees should feel empowered to take a mental health day or see a therapist through their benefit package without fear of being seen as weak or a bad employee. It doesn’t take much to discourage employees from taking care of their mental health. It could be as subtle as commending and promoting people who work extra hours. That implicitly tells the rest of the staff that overworking yourself and sacrificing your work-life balance will help you advance in the company. 

Ultimately, reversing employee burnout is a twofold effort. Leaders need to do everything they can to reduce stress, while maintaining a positive and open culture. 

When leaders are vulnerable and open about mental health, their employees are more likely to use the mental health resources provided to them because the stigma around the topic is gone. And why bother providing the resources if no one is comfortable using them, right??

5 Ways to Create a Mentally-Healthy Workplace

Employee mental health is becoming more of a hot topic these days, and for good reason! Phrases like “The Great Resignation” are being used to label the rise in unsatisfied and exploited employees leaving their jobs. In the United States in August 2021, more people left their jobs than any other month on record. People of all income levels and ages are saying loud and clear: “I could do better.” 

Let’s face it, 2020 was a shitshow. And 2021 was a slightly more-organized shitshow. The stress of being an essential worker during a pandemic, a poor work-life balance, and stagnating wages and opportunities are all totally valid reasons to leave a job.

Retail, healthcare, and hospitality sectors are seeing the highest numbers of resignations, but every sector is being affected. You gotta keep employees satisfied! And employee satisfaction definitely includes a workplace that prioritizes mental health. 

So how do you create a mentally-healthy workplace? If you’re a leader in any level at your work, or you’re looking for ideas to bring to your management team, here are five ways a workplace can prioritize mental health to make everyone’s work lives a little better.

Increase Wages

Seems obvious, right? Higher wages = less financial stress = mentally healthier workplace. But does it really work?

We’ll give you an example. Dan Price is the CEO of Gravity Payments. He took a big risk six years ago by paying every one of his employees $70K USD per year, including himself. He sold his second house, and downsized his life to adjust from his former million dollar salary.

For Price, the return was worth it. He’s nearly doubled the number of employees in his company, still maintaining that $70K yearly salary. Employee turnover was reduced by half, which saved money on hiring and training new employees. And because employees stay longer, they have more experience and maintain high customer satisfaction. 

When the pandemic hit, employees felt loyal to the company and took a voluntary pay cut. Those lost wages have now been paid back, and salaries are once again $70K/ year. Some employees credit Price for allowing them to buy houses and start a family. Price himself says that he’s much happier than he was before.

It’s interesting as hell, but that’s just one company. What does science have to say about it?

A 2018 study found that a salary anywhere from $60K to $75K USD is ideal for emotional well-being, and $95K USD is ideal for total life satisfaction. To put that into perspective, the average minimum wage in the United States is $11.80, which works out to just over $24K USD per year at full-time hours. 

That’s a big freaking gap. So, if you’re really looking to take care of your employees, wages should be one of the first things you consider. Maybe your company can’t reach $60K per year for every employee, but the closer you get, the better off your workers will be.

Work-Life Balance

Having a good work-life balance is so vital for your mental health. As many people have transitioned to working from home, the lines between work and personal time have blurred. Many toxic workplaces have used the change to justify near-constant digital supervision—even more than in an office setting—and use the convenience of technology to reach their employees at all hours of the day. 

We mean this in the nicest way possible: fuck that. 

How important is work-life balance, really? A poor work-life balance where you sacrifice your personal wellness for your work can lead to fatigue, health issues caused by chronic stress, and less time with friends and loved ones. 

When managers don’t expect employees to be reachable 24/7, set achievable expectations, and show empathy for employees facing personal challenges, it helps avoid burnout.

It’s also worth considering switching to a project-oriented work structure rather than a time-oriented structure, if possible. The 40-hour work week is a cultural and legal default setting that often goes unquestioned. It’s often not an effective, evidence-based work structure. And even if you do need to stick with a 40 hour work week, check with your employees about what they want that to look like. If they want to get their 40 hours done in 3-4 days rather than 5, try to explore that. 

Things are hectic right now. Many people are trying to balance work, life, health, and so much more. A little empathy can mean the difference between being honest and open about your struggles with your workplace and outright leaving your job. 

Mental Health Safety Disclosures and Trainings

Most workplaces have safety disclosures to go over the hazards of a job, like potentially harmful chemicals, dangerous machinery, and ergonomic strain. But adding employee mental health into your safety programs can address potential long-term issues before they happen and protect employees in the long run.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends addressing the psychological hazards of a workplace, which can include expected pace of work, long hours, working alone or in isolation, conflicting demands between tasks, and fatigue. If your workplace has regular safety meetings, we suggest adding mental health to the list of concerns being brought up. 

Surveying the staff confidentially can help people feel comfortable opening up. When employees feel heard and company policies prioritize mental health, a company can see reductions in time taken off, employee turnover, and lower work output caused by mental health struggles. Pretty great, pretty important, definitely worth looking into!

Free or Subsidized Mental Health Programs

Lots of companies offer incentives for employees to take care of their physical health. But what about incentives that take care of their mental health? 

Employees that struggle with their mental health and burnout have higher rates of absenteeism, lower productivity, negative or cynical views of their job, feelings of exhaustion, and are more likely to resign. 

This is where mental health benefits come in! Think of them in the same way you would think of other health benefits, like medical or dental. Implementing employee mental health benefits has been shown to lower rates of burnout, onsite violence, and workplace injuries. 

Employers can provide mental health support through so many avenues! One can be paying for counselling for employees. Within the workplace, employers can provide quiet rooms, guided meditation and yoga programs, and hold workshops on things like grief, stress, anxiety, and emotional resilience. A great mental health resource that’s appealing because of the anonymity are mental health and wellness apps, which employees can use to navigate their concerns on their own time.

Speaking of apps! The DiveThru app has so many mental health resources to use, like a daily feelings tracker, hundreds of journal prompts, articles on mental health topics, and therapist-led courses on things like navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, managing stress and anxiety, and emotional self-regulation. Oh, and did we mention it’s free to download?? Check it out!

It’s one thing to say that there are resources available to workers, but if workplace culture tells people that they shouldn’t be taking mental health days or using those resources, these things will all go to waste! That’s why company culture is SO important when it comes to employee mental health. Which brings us to our next point!

Changing Company Culture

This part is going to take a conscious effort, time, and serious investment by leadership teams. Maybe your company culture is already embracing the importance of mental health. If so, heck yeah! We love that for you.

But some companies have a toxic workplace culture where they go on and on about the importance of mental health and then overwork their employees, fail to recognize their contributions to the company, or make them feel guilty when they want to take a break for their mental health. Companies need to practise what they preach if they want to keep their employees happy, healthy, and productive. 

A place of work doesn’t have to be obviously toxic to be damaging, either. Subtle things can discourage employees from being open about their mental health. Maybe an employer says employees don’t neeeeeed to work overtime, but those who do are praised and promoted more often. That implicitly tells the rest of the staff that sacrificing your work-life balance and mental health will help you advance in the company. Not okay!

If a company offers mental health services, it’s super important for people in leadership positions to walk the walk. That means encouraging employees to use those services without judgment, and without rewarding those who choose not to partake. 

Embracing Vulnerability

When one person starts the conversation around mental health, more people will feel comfortable with sharing their own struggles. This is especially important if you’re in a leadership position. When leaders are vulnerable about mental health, their employees are more likely to use the mental health resources provided to them because the stigma around the topic is gone. And why bother providing the resources if no one is comfortable using them, right??

But not all vulnerability is appropriate or helpful at work. Take the advice from vulnerability researcher Brené Brown: vulnerability needs boundaries. In her TED WorkLife podcast interview, Brown says, “Are you sharing your emotions and your experiences to move your work, connection or relationship forward? Or are you working your shit out with somebody? Work is not a place to do that.

While it is true that leaders should be vulnerable with their employees to establish trust and openness in a company culture, there’s a difference between disclosing that you’re also feeling the stress from a particularly busy time of year for your company, and discussing your marital problems with people who work for you. The former can foster an open and honest workplace. The latter is pretty inappropriate.

Now that you know the ways that you can create a mentally healthy workplace, start looking at your own workplace with a critical eye. What’s working? What needs to change? What steps can you start to take to encourage employee mental health in a tangible, nonjudgmental way? With resignations accelerating and the view of the ideal workplace shifting, there’s no time like the present to make workplace mental health a real priority!

How to Stop Worrying About the Future

Are you worrying about the future? We don’t blame you. Thinking about the climate crisis, a lingering pandemic, school/work, money, and relationships… it’s kind of a lot.

The tough thing about the future is that it’s going to become the present, whether you want it to or not. If you’re concerned about what will happen after you finish school, fretting about all your friends getting hitched while you’re still unattached, or worried about not being able to pay your bills next month, we feel you. The future has endless possibilities, and sometimes, those possibilities don’t look so good!

We want you to stop worrying so you can live in the present and take the future as it comes. Let’s DiveThru five ways you can stop worrying about the future!

1. Find Local Causes and Organizations

Feeling anxious about the future is totally reasonable, because, well, there’s a whole lot of big things to feel anxious about: climate change, social and economic inequality, the pandemic, and more. Oof.

One person can’t solve these problems alone. But that doesn’t mean you don’t worry about them! So rather than thinking super high-level, you can start locally.

Get online and find local activists interested in the same causes. By reaching out and connecting, you’ll find like-minded people who are passionate about making a change. You can attend a local rally, volunteer with a charity, or get a group together to clean up litter in your area. 

You won’t cure world hunger overnight, but you can donate to a food bank and help one person not go hungry for a day. Like Spider-Man’s Aunt May says, “when you help someone, you help everyone.” Focusing on things you can do can help you stop worrying about the things you can’t control.

But we really need to stress this part: taking care of yourself as an activist is SO IMPORTANT. Activism without self-care can be detrimental to your mental health! 

That’s why we created the course Sustaining the Activist: How to Take Care of Yourself While Changing the World. Therapist Hannah Fuhlendorf shares so many tips on fighting for your cause, getting involved, and practising self-care while making a change. Check it out in the DiveThru app!

2. Smaller Goals, Smaller Time Frames

The thing about the human brain is that we looove short term rewards. It’s why apps like TikTok are so addicting: it shows you a minute or so of the funniest video you’ve ever seen, followed by an endless loop of more funny videos. So much short-term satisfaction! But long-term, there’s nothing there. The key is to take that drive for short-term rewards and turn it into long-term goals.

Say you want to write a screenplay. Rather than picturing it as a whole finished product, think of it as a collection of individual scenes. That way, you break down that big, lofty goal into something more reasonable. Writing a page each day feels much more accomplishable than writing an entire screenplay. 

Getting your small goals done will give you that boost of satisfaction from completing a goal while contributing to the longer overall goal. Before you know it, your film Air Bud: Bark to the Future is ready to start production! (Yes, in this imaginary scenario, you create a time-travelling Air Bud movie. Just go with it.)

So how does this relate to worrying about the future? Well, if you’re making small, consistent steps towards your future goals, it can help you alleviate some of that worry about thinking a goal is too big and unattainable, and instead allows you to see satisfying results in short term accomplishments. You might be unsure about when you’ll graduate, but you can focus on nailing your essay that’s due next week, and go from there.

3. Organize Your Life

If you’re the kind of person who shows up to class and finds out that the exam is today, or is always rushing to appointments because you totally forgot to put it in your calendar, getting organized will be a huge step towards not worrying about the future. 

Worrying about what you need to remember, or about forgetting what it even was that you forgot (like a Harry Potter Remembrall situation) is stressful af. This is only compounded when the things you’re forgetting are important, like anniversaries, birthdays, due dates, and bills. Ooohh, bills.

It’s important to tackle these issues head on. Getting organized is going to take time and consistency, and taking the first steps is the hardest part. 

Set aside some time to go over all of the important dates in your life. Make a calendar with all the stuff you need to remember, like birthdays, anniversaries, due dates, important milestones, bill payments, all of that stuff. Set notifications to come up an appropriate amount of time ahead (project due dates might need a week or two, but your cousin’s birthday could be the day-of). After that’s all set, make it part of your Sunday routine to review the coming week. Need to add a new appointment? Anything you need to prepare for? 

A major benefit of maintaining a calendar is reducing the burden on your brain. Your brain keeps important things top-of-mind by constantly making you think of them. That’s why you suddenly remember important things when you’re lying in bed about to fall asleep! But this leads to immense stress. Your brain is already doing A LOT without also being your executive assistant. 

Getting all your important dates in one place, along with the weekly check-in, will help you stop worrying, plan ahead, and stay organized. 

4. Question Overthinking

Overthinking can definitely make you scared of the future. Your thoughts will start small, but then snowball into something bigger, heavier, and much more self-destructive, like an anxiety avalanche. We don’t want you to get buried in your thoughts! 

We have a whole article on overthinking, but we’ll bring up a few points here.Remember that overthinking will make you feel things way more intensely. Instead of worrying about all the awful things that could happen if you mess up something at work in the future, consider something else that you made a mistake on. What was the worst outcome? How did you survive it? How could you survive if your fears about the future became a reality? You’re waaaay more resilient than your overthinking mind will give you credit for.

You can also bust out your journal to work on overthinking (tons of journal prompts in the DiveThru app, just fyi). Write down what you’re worried about, and the evidence for and against it happening. If you’re worried that your future will be awful because you think you’ll be single forever, write down the evidence for that future, and the evidence against it happening. Most of the time, the evidence against is going to be way more convincing than the evidence for. 

Besides, if it does seem like something bad is going to happen in the future, you are resilient enough to take it on! You’ve done it before and you can do it again. 

5. Practice Mindfulness

Worry is your brain trying to prepare for the worst case future scenarios. Rather than being helpful, worrying raises your stress and anxiety levels, and can lead to rumination, overthinking, and, in extreme cases, anxiety attacks. This is where mindfulness can be super helpful.

Day-to-day life is full of distractions. You exercise with a podcast playing in your ear buds, you watch TV while you eat dinner, and you scroll through social media before bed. You might not even have any obvious external distractions, but your own thoughts are racing in your head all the time. Mindfulness works by slowing down your thoughts and bringing your awareness back to the present moment. 

Mindfulness has varying degrees of commitment, so it’s up to you how you want to do it. You can sit criss-cross applesauce on your living room floor and practise steady, slow breathing, feeling the sensations come up, recognizing the worries you may face, accepting them without judgement and letting them drift away. Or you can take five minutes after your commute home to sit in your vehicle in silence to bring awareness to your mind and body. 

When you practise mindfulness regularly, you’ll be able to use it as a tool to deal with worrying about the future. It brings you into the present, grounds you, and allows you to accept worried thoughts without being critical of yourself and let those worried thoughts go. SO useful. SO great. There’s a reason why the ancient Buddhist tradition is still practised today! 

Basically, You Got This

The future can seem scary, and sometimes, it’s totally justified to be scared. But whether it’s a matter of organization, rallying behind a cause, or practising mindfulness, just know that you can get through it. Everything that you once worried about either didn’t happen, or it did and you survived it. So take a deep breath and embrace the future!

Trauma Bonding & 10 Clear Signs To Recognize It

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Okay, before we start talking about trauma bonding, we should give you a trigger warning! We’re going to be talking about abuse and how it affects victims. If this content is difficult for you to read, please take care of yourself and step away. All right, let’s get started! 

Have you heard of Stockholm syndrome? It’s basically a psychological response to trauma, in which victims bond or sympathize with the perpetrator of their trauma. This is a specific type of trauma bond that is usually applied to very serious hostage or kidnapping situations. But trauma bonding can also happen in abusive relationships. So, we’re going to discuss what that means, how it shows up, and how to start breaking those bonds.

What Is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding happens when abusive relationships turn into a cyclical manner of abuse. This usually involves abusive behaviour followed by acts of kindness and affection and then the cycle repeats continuously. It can form after weeks, months, or even years, but not everyone in an abusive situation forms a trauma bond. You reeeaally struggle to make sense of what you’re feeling, because the abuse always goes hand-in-hand with love and intimacy, and you end up developing sympathy for the perpetrator. What the heck, right?! And it doesn’t just happen in domestic abuse, it can also happen in: 

  • Child abuse 
  • Incest situations 
  • Elder abuse 
  • Exploitative employment
  • Kidnapping or hostage situations
  • Human trafficking 
  • High control religious environments 

There are multiple factors that increase a person’s risk of trauma bonding. Low socioeconomic status, mental health issues, and not having a support system all increase the chances that someone can become trapped in an abusive relationship. A steady job, a safe place to call home, mental health care, and friends/family all boost self-worth, which can help reduce the risk. 

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Recognizing Signs of Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding is a powerful emotional attachment that stems from the cycle of loving behaviour and abuse. The victim can struggle to make sense of the strong emotions they feel as the subject of both abusive behaviour and intense love and kindness. Oftentimes the relationship begins with intimacy and love before the abusive behaviours develop over time, making the victim struggle to reconcile the strong attachment they’ve formed with someone who also does bad things. People want to feel loved, so they can be inclined to stay with someone who does at times show them affection and kindness, even if there’s other unwanted behaviour. 

1. Cycle of Abuse 

Recognizing and deciding to leave a relationship can be easier when it’s all bad. But abusers don’t always treat their victims poorly; they can apologize, promise to change, profess to be in love, and do other things to try to keep their relationship. To be clear, there’s no excuse for abuse, but it’s this cycle of tension>abuse>reconciliation>calm that keeps people trapped because they think the calm might last this time. There are five main types of abuse that might be present:

  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse

Some of them can be easier to spot than others. When these behaviours begin to be repeated in a pattern, it becomes a cycle of abuse.

2. Power Imbalance

Another reason the victim might be hesitant to leave an abusive situation is when the abuser holds power over them. That can be financial power — i.e. the victim is unemployed and the abuser has a job and pays rent — or emotional power, where the victim’s emotional defences have been broken down and they feel defined by the relationship with their abuser. 

3. Not Being Able To Leave

The power imbalance can also explain why people sometimes return to their abuser after leaving — they feel unable to exist outside the relationship. Because trauma bonds are powerful, it can take outside help to break. That usually means therapy, but could also be friends or family members keeping the person accountable and supporting them as they work on breaking the attachment. 

Another reason that could keep people from trying to leave: the threat of physical violence. Possibly the most dangerous time for a victim of domestic violence is when they’re in the process of leaving. The abuser could also threaten or do harm to others around the victim — children, pets, or even people who attempt to intervene. A study published in the Journal of American Health in 2013 looked at homicides related to domestic violence in 16 U.S. states. Researchers found that one-fifth of the homicide victims were not the initial victim of the abuse, but were their kids, other family members, new romantic partners, friends, or law enforcement who attempted to intervene. The fear of escalating violence can be a powerful factor that keeps people from leaving. 

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4. Making Excuses for the Behaviour 

The victim can try to excuse away the abuse by downplaying the severity or by blaming themselves. Saying things like “it’s not that bad, they didn’t hit me very hard” or “I made them jealous, so I deserved it” are just attempts to justify abusive behaviour. 

This can also happen because of gaslighting. The abuser tells the victim that the abuse never happened, wasn’t actually that bad, or they deserved it. Eventually the victim questions reality and starts to believe the lies they were told — and repeats them to themselves and others. 

Remember, there’s absolutely no excuse for physical or emotional violence — no matter what. Nobody deserves that.  

5. Keeping the Abuse a Secret

Why would the victim of abuse try to keep it a secret? They could be excusing the behaviour and think that others wouldn’t understand why it wasn’t a big deal; fear the consequences of it becoming public; feel ashamed of being abused — or all of the above. Not to mention that trauma bonds lead to powerful emotional attachments… meaning the victim likely feels something they think is love towards their abuser, and wants to protect them. If you’ve seen Big Little Lies then a good example to draw on is Celeste’s relationship.

6. Wanting To “Please” the Abuser

Someone who is being abused might believe that pleasing the abuser will keep things from escalating… or genuinely want to please the abuser because “they do things for me” (like provide financially). Hormones also can play a role — the intense love shown during the cycle of abuse causes the release of dopamine, which serves a “reward” for the abuse. It’s similar to how people become addicted to any other high dopamine-producing process like gambling or sex . Most know that their addiction isn’t a good thing but they’re dependent on dopamine to feel the reward they’ve come to associate with the behaviour. 

Physical intimacy also causes the release of oxytocin. It’s essentially a distorted version of the chemical process that happens when people fall in love. Normally, it’s a good thing that kindness and intimacy create strong relationship bonds… but trauma bonds are actually created by kindness and intimacy being used to override our natural negative feelings that result from abuse.  

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7. Distancing from People Trying To Help 

Abusers work to distance their victims from their support system. The abuser might position themselves as the only trustworthy person in their victim’s life — “you know your mother doesn’t want you to be happy” — or by forcing the victim to cut off friendships — “I don’t want you to see that friend anymore.” The less people around, the lower the chance that the victim can be reminded that the abuse they experience is unacceptable. 

8. Fixating on “The Good Days”

We’ve talked about the cycle of abuse and how it can cause victims to feel love for their abuser. In a healthy relationship, you don’t have to like everything about your partner. But focusing on the common interests and having separate hobbies is one thing; focusing on the good days and ignoring domestic violence or other types of abuse is another thing entirely. No amount of kindness or affection outweighs emotional or physical abuse. Period. No matter what trauma bonding would have you believe. 

9. Hoping To Change Them

“If they would just stop [abusive behaviour], we’d have the perfect relationship.” Because there are good times in the relationship that cause the victim to feel love, it may feel like change is possible. But those good times aren’t signs that the abuser is capable of changing — they’re attempts to coerce the victim into staying. Often abusers will temporarily make the changes their partner requests of them only to return to perpetrating the abuse shortly after. No relationship is perfect, but there’s a key difference between encouraging your partner to learn how to clean up after themselves or cook for themselves and hoping they stop abusing you. 

10. Wanting Love Despite the Abuse

In Perks of Being a Wallflower, the main character asks his teacher why people stay with people who don’t treat them well. The teacher answers that “we accept the love we think we deserve.” 

People who are being abused often have low self-esteem and they want to feel loved, even if that love is part of the cycle of abuse. Feeling worthless might make someone feel like no one else will love them, so they can think they might as well accept the love being shown by their abuser. 

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How To Break Traumatic Bonds

Now, even though we’ve just spent hundreds of words explaining why traumatic bonds are so hard to break, it’s not impossible. There are a few key ways to help get through the break-up process.  

Separate Yourself

This means leaving and cutting all methods of contact. It might also mean moving to a different city. As mentioned, the time of leaving can be very dangerous, so it’s important to plan ahead and know what you’re going to do. There are resources available to help you (see below). 

Develop a Support Network 

Maybe it’s your best friend, parent, or coworker. But finding someone you can trust, who knows the situation, is important. They can keep you accountable when it comes to cutting off contact, and you’ll have someone you can lean on for advice or a shoulder to cry on when you need it. As with any other breakup, it will take time to recover. Having a friend there for you will help you heal and see that there’s more to life than one relationship. 

Recognize Your Trauma 

It’s important to understand the seriousness of your experience. Trauma can manifest in a number of ways, and it’s important to work through your feelings. 

If you have access to therapy, that’s the best option. Look for a therapist who has experience in trauma. Therapy can help you heal and prevent you from coping in more dangerous ways, like substance use. 

Ask yourself what you would say to a friend who was telling you about their relationship. By exploring the trauma in a detached way, it might be easier to recognize the different problems and understand the ways you’ve been abused. 

It can also be helpful to write things down. Keeping a diary or journal to document your progress can help you see how far you’ve come and motivate you to keep going. 

Please remember — abuse is not the victim’s fault. Trauma bonding is not the victim’s fault. 

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If you’re experiencing abuse in your relationship and feel you are in danger, you can call domestic violence hotlines at 1-604-875-0885 (Canada) and 1-800-799-7233 (United States). You can also find resources online here (Canada) and here (United States)

Here are some tips to minimize the risk of someone knowing that you’re researching domestic violence-related topics (via Tech Safety): 

  • If you think your devices or internet search activities are being monitored, access this information from a device that isn’t being monitored. That should be a device that the person does not or has not had physical or remote access. This is the safest thing to do if you don’t want someone to know that you are visiting these websites.
  • Sign out of other accounts, such as Google or Facebook, before visiting these sites.
  • Use your internet browser settings to increase your privacy, such as turning off browsing history or using the browser in-private mode.
  • If it is safe to do so, delete the websites URLs that you don’t want stored from the browser history.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to increase the security of your internet browsing and activity.

How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack

Have you ever been with someone while they had a panic attack? One moment, you’re hanging with your friend, and everything is business as usual. You’re going over last night’s Bachelor episode, and the drama was *chef’s kiss*. The next moment, they’re doubled over, saying that they feel scared, like they’re going to die. They’re hyperventilating, shaking, and sweating. What is happening?!

They might be having a panic attack. If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you’ll know that it’s scary af and suuuper overwhelming. But if you don’t know what a panic attack is or why they happen, it can be a big shock to see someone else go through one. But they can happen to anyone, anytime! Even our fave happy-go-lucky Ted Lasso deals with panic attacks. 

We’ve already written about what you can do for yourself during a panic attack, but how do you help someone else? We’ll describe the symptoms, why they happen, and some ways you can help someone during a panic attack. Alright, let’s DiveThru it!

How To Help Someone Having a Panic Attack

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

Before you can learn how to help someone, you should probably learn how to spot a panic attack. Important to note: A panic attack can look similar to other things, like a heart attack. The most intense panic attack symptoms usually last around 5-10 minutes, but can go up to an hour. If symptoms come with arm or chest pain and vomiting, seek medical help as soon as you can. 

It will look a little different for every person, but here are some common signs of a panic attack that you can look for:

  • Intense sense of fear or doom
  • Sweating
  • Racing heart
  • Chills
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

Panic attacks come out of nowhere and can happen at any time. Even in your sleep! That’s part of what makes them so overwhelming and scary for the person that’s experiencing it.

Wanna know more about panic? We have a course in our app on Understanding Panic that’s got all that info for you! Our DiveThru therapist Dr. Justin Puder will teach you about the biological causes of panic, why it might happen, dealing with a panic attack in the moment, and how to manage them in the future. Check the DiveThru app for all that helpful content. 

Panic Attack or Anxiety Attack?

If you’re wondering whether or not your friend is having an anxiety attack or a panic attack, there are a few distinctions between the two. Anxiety attacks are not officially recognized by the American Psychological Association, so there’s no official definition. Generally speaking, an anxiety attack is a sudden increase in the symptoms of anxiety because of a certain situation. 

That could be a job change, relationship problem, school stress, or really anything that’s causing them to worry. Their anxiety over the situation may push them to have panic attack-like symptoms. A panic attack is different because it can happen at any time, may or may not have a specific trigger, and the symptoms feel way more intense. 

Panic attacks come with a sudden and strong feeling of fear, to the point where the person might feel like they’re dying, whereas an anxiety attack has more of a gradual build-up of worry, apprehension, and stress that boils over. 

Panic attacks are separated into two categories: expected or unexpected. An unexpected panic attack comes out of nowhere with no clear trigger. An expected panic attack may come from a specific trigger, like a phobia or a situation that’s associated with a previously traumatizing event. 

So if you’re at a carnival with your friend and they feel a huge rush of fear just waiting in line for corn dogs, that’s unexpected. But if they’re super scared of clowns and a Pennywise wannabe runs at them and they have a panic attack, that’s expected. Also kiiiiind of a dick move on the clown’s part. 

How to Help Someone During a Panic Attack

Now that we know how to spot a panic attack, let’s go through some of the ways you can help a friend who’s experiencing one.

1. Ask Them What They Need Before It Happens

Okay, this kinda seems obvious, but it will help you so much. If your friend has a history of panic attacks, you may want to have the conversation about what they need ahead of time. Would they be okay with physical contact? Would they want you to get them away from other people, if possible? Having them write a list of what helps them in the moment can really come in handy when they have a panic attack.

Buuut life isn’t always that simple, and sometimes a friend with zero history of panic attacks can experience their first when you’re around. Or, they didn’t tell you about it, because it’s mental health and sometimes people aren’t comfortable sharing stuff like that. If that’s the case, you can also ask them what they need as it happens. 

2. Talk to Them

There’s some helpful things you can say to someone having a panic attack, and some things that definitely won’t help. 

On the helpful side: you can talk to them by asking what they need you to do, keeping up a light convo if they’re up for it, or reminding them to breathe deep and slow. Don’t take it personally if their answers are snippy or short. They are having a very bad time and they may not be able to communicate in a way that takes your feelings into account. Totally fair.

And on the unhelpful side: telling them what they’re feeling is not going to help right now. They are super aware that they’re freaking out, and probably freaking about the fact that they’re freaking out. There’s layers of freak out going on here! Imagine if you were in a haunted house and your friend yelled “YOU’RE SCARED RIGHT NOW!” at you. No shit, Sherlock!! Stick with words that they can put into action, or stuff that keeps their mind off the panic attack.

They may not want you to talk at all, which is cool too. This is their panic attack and you’ll want to help them get through it in whatever way works for them.

3. Stay Calm

Yes, we mean you need to stay calm too. Your friend is panicking, so it’s important that you remain level-headed in the situation. Panic attacks can happen anytime, anywhere, so it might be inconvenient or uncomfortable for you as well as them. But your friend is definitely not choosing to have this panic attack, and might feel guilty or ashamed about it already. So your calm support will be super helpful. 

4. Try Grounding Techniques with Them

This tip will be dependent on how communicative they want to be in the moment. If they’re not down to talk, simply getting them to sit somewhere can help ground them and get them to focus on slow, steady breathing. 

If they are okay to talk with you, trying the 5-4-3-2-1 technique can also ground them. With this technique, you get them to name 5 things they can see, 4 they can touch, 3 they can hear, 2 they can smell, and 1 they can taste. This brings them back to the present moment rather than letting their panicked thoughts spiral away from them. You can also try categories, where you offer different topics and they name as many as they can remember, like Bachelor contestants that didn’t get the rose. 

The idea here is to get them to focus on something that isn’t their current big scary panic attack will help. Grounding techniques aren’t going to stop the panic attack completely, but it will help make it more bearable for the person experiencing it.

5. Go to the Hospital

This can be a tough call. If your friend has had panic attacks in the past and is certain that this is what they’re going through, they might not feel the need for medical attention. But if this is their first time, it may be for the best. Like we said above, a panic attack can look like other medical issues. Plus, doctors and nurses are trained on how to handle panic attacks and have people going to the hospital for them pretty often. I mean, if it feels like you’re dying, totally makes sense to head to the ER, right? 

So talk about this option with your friend, monitor the length and severity of the symptoms, and keep in mind whether or not this is their first panic attack. A little professional help can’t hurt!

6. Support Them After, in Whatever Way They Need

Like a lot of the tips on this list, this will depend on the person. If you’re out in public, your friend may want to go somewhere more private, or head home. If they want you to go with them, great, but if not, it’s best you respect their boundaries and let them go alone. 

Empathising with them is key here. They just had a huge, overwhelming rush of fear, and they’re probably wiped out from it. Maybe you go home with them and binge watch Gilmore Girls, maybe they go home alone and take a hard 3 hour nap. How they choose to calm down from the panic attack is up to them. The best you can do is say that you understand, that you support them in whatever way they need, and that you’re there if they want to talk. 

Phew! Panic attacks are a lot to handle if you’re having one, and it can help so much to have someone supporting you. By reading this list, you’re equipping yourself with the tools to help someone out, and you’re going to be an incredibly supportive person the next time it happens. If there were Good Mental Health Buddy awards, we’d give you a gold freaking medal. Maybe even an engraved trophy if we wanted to get fancy.


Tattoos and Mental Health: Honouring Recovery

TW: this article mentions sexual assault, self-harm and suicide, white supremacy, and life-threatening medical conditions

Scars come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe you fell into a coffee table as a toddler or crashed your bike as a kid! Or maybe you survived a deadly curse as a baby and now you have a lightning bolt-shaped scar… 

Whatever the cause, physical scars are a visible sign that we survived something. Emotional scars are invisible, but represent a much deeper cut. They’re the result of our experiences that don’t necessarily leave a permanent physical mark, but cause us significant pain. They’re often the result of things that happen to us, out of our direct control, like being the victim of abuse or receiving a life-changing medical diagnosis. 

Tattoos, like scars, are a signifier of a story. It could be as simple as a favourite song lyric or your life motto of living with “no ragrets,” but it can also be a tangible representation of something invisible. 

Tattoos For Mental Health

For people with mental health disorders and survivors of abuse or illness, a tattoo can be part of the recovery process: a reminder of what they’ve been through, and a way to honour their courage. Here are just a few ways people have done that! 

Mental Illness and the Semicolon 

One of the more popular mental health awareness tattoos is the semicolon. It’s a representation of mental health struggles and suicide. It comes from Project Semicolon, a nonprofit started in 2013 by Amy Bluel to advocate for people with mental illnesses. 

If you don’t remember from English class, the semicolon links two related complete sentences together. Or as Project Semicolon describes it, when the author could have ended a sentence but chose not to. That’s why the semicolon is a symbol representing the movement. We’re all the authors of our own lives, and the semicolon shows that we’ve chosen to continue writing. 

Sexual Assault 

Unfortunately, the number of people who are survivors of sexual assault is really big. The World Health Organization estimates that one-third of women worldwide have been subjected to sexual violence; for men, it’s estimated to be one-in-six. And sexual assaults are notoriously underreported (an estimate of 80%). 

Sexual assault, at its core, is a violation of one person’s body by someone else. Survivors feel a wide variety of emotions and responses to being assaulted, like fear, anger, guilt, and powerlessness. Any and all emotions are valid responses!

For some, tattoos can be a way to achieve catharsis. After the assault, they might feel as though they don’t have control over their own body. Putting a permanent mark can be one way to take back control. A small study done in 2018 found that sexual assault survivors who got tattoos had much different reasons for getting inked than the general population. 

The study’s author, herself a survivor, said most of the people she spoke with didn’t realize how much pain they were holding on to inside, until they began the process of picking a design to symbolize it. Tattoos can help the mental health of survivors by giving them an outlet to release those feelings. It also serves as a reminder that the person survived something, the way a physical scar can be a reminder.

The designs can be anything. Lady Gaga got the fire rose unity tattoo to commemorate being a survivor, and her geometric design has become a popular option. Other designs have included sayings like “no means no,” “survivor,” or “I am still whole.” For survivors, it’s a personal choice to decide how to symbolize their experience — it is their body, after all. 

Healing and Recovery

Cancer is a scary word for a scary time. And if you or someone you love has gotten through that time, it’s going to leave a mark—physically, emotionally, or both. Some popular designs include ribbons, flowers, and words like “survivor,” “fighter,” or “still here.”

One tattoo becoming more popular among breast cancer patients and survivors: areola replacement (FYI some links in this section contain pictures). It’s a tattoo that recreates nipples that have been removed during mastectomies. For survivors, it can be traumatic to relive their experience every time they see themselves topless in the mirror. One artist, who is also a breast cancer survivor, said she was afraid of losing her nipple because “it’s part of our womanhood, motherhood.” As she describes it, the tattoos “bring life” back to an area that has been traumatized. 

By all accounts, the tattoos have a very positive effect on the mental health of those who get them. One woman said when she looks in the mirror she feels “so much more complete.”

Chronic Illness

Illness-related tattoos aren’t just for people with cancer — they can also be for other chronic or long-term health conditions, like diabetes. Chronic illness can be a draw on your mental health, and a tattoo symbolizing your fight can provide a boost. 

Some people choose to get tattoos as a form of medical identification — the same way you might wear a bracelet to make others aware that you have a severe allergy or type one diabetes. That’s not always the best choice, depending on the condition you’re wanting to represent. There’s no standardized system for those tattoos, like there is for medical jewelry, and first responders aren’t trained to check for a tattoo. 

Tattoos as a Fresh Start 

Self-harm scars can be uncomfortable to live with. Because of the stigma around mental health disorders, visible signs of self-harm can be a source of shame. People with self-harm scars face questions, pity, and judgement just for wearing a tank top or shorts, and that’s not cool. 

Getting a tattoo over top of the scars is more than a fresh coat of paint! It can symbolize growth and a new beginning. As one writer described it, “there comes a point at which you realize you no longer want to be constantly confronted by your past.” 

Like we mentioned earlier, the tattooing process can also be cathartic. A Scottish tattoo artist who does cover-ups said he doesn’t ask people any questions about their scars, but “nine times out of 10 they let their story come out when [he’s] doing the tattoo and it is a release.”

Starting Over

While this whole article is about tattoos that were done for mental health, there are also tattoos that no longer symbolize who the person is. For people who have left gangs, hate groups, or other toxic ideologies behind, their tattoo is a constant reminder of who they used to be. New ink can cover up those old tattoos that no longer represent who we believe ourselves to be.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the protests that followed, several tattoo shops offered free coverups of racist or gang-related tattoos. After years in a white supremacist gang, one Canadian man committed to unlearning his racist beliefs and values. Erik Smith was constantly reminded of his old life by several tattoos, including a large swastika. It took more than 30 hours in the chair, but his chest is now covered by a large eagle instead. Smith says it was painful, but good for his mental health and his recovery to have his body reflect his new mindset. 

In Solidarity 

There are also tattoos that help someone else’s mental health. Maybe your friend, partner, or family member is a survivor, and you get matching tattoos! It can be a great way to commemorate a difficult time you got through together. 

It could also be something like what this dad did for his son. The boy has a large birthmark on his chest, and as he got older he began to feel self-conscious about it. To help him feel better, the dad got a large tattoo on his own chest, matching his son’s birthmark. The dad’s tattoo definitely had a huge impact on his son’s mental health… We cannot recommend enough that you watch the video of the dad and his son… just make sure you have a box of tissues handy. 

For survivors thinking about getting ink to represent their fight, it’s definitely a good idea to do your research. That includes talking to your doctor first. They’ll be able to give you a professional opinion, like possible illness-related impacts on the tattoo process. You should also do research on the parlor, to make sure they’re reputable. Set up a consultation and talk to your tattoo artist about the reason you’re getting the tattoo! They’re also experts and may be able to adjust the process or aftercare plan to suit your needs. 

Whatever the backstory behind your mental health tattoo, we’re proud of you for being strong and surviving. We know your new ink is gonna look amazing — after all, it’s part of you and we think you’re pretty swell!