Author Archives: Reena Sandhu

How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Posted by: Reena Sandhu on January 16, 2015 10:19 am

As a follow up to the CBC TV interview, “   “ Dr. Reena Sandhu expands on her tips on how to keep a New Year’s resolutions.

A New Year significances a fresh start, a clean slate, and a time to reflect on setting new goals and intentions to make changes in our lives. Typically, by mid February our resolutions are either disregarded or lost.

So, why is it so difficult for us to set goals and follow through on them for the year? The answer may lye in the way we go about creating our resolutions. Instead of focusing on broad goals, create a plan to form better habits. Routine and habit are powerful in forming our behavior. Habit and routine have an enormous impact on our way of being. Habit impacts our health, efficiency, happiness and much more. Creating a habit can impact whether we keep or abandoned our resolutions in 2015.

The psychology of habit can provide insight into making your resolutions stick in 2015. Below are 5 ways to keep your resolutions in 2015.

  1. Get Specific: Instead of writing a list of goals, write a list of actions that can be incorporated into your daily routine. The key here is to structure the behavior so it becomes a habit. For example, Instead of writing a goal that you will lose 15 pounds by the end of the year, write a list of actions that you will incorporate into your day- so this can be scheduling 3 workouts a week, after work. People who break their resolutions up into manageable chunks, typically have more success because they have more control over the actions.
  1. Build in a Reward: Every habit has a cue that triggers the habit to start and makes our brain go into autopilot mode, then the behavior follows, and the reward is experienced. This is how the brain leans to remember and habitually craves to create the experience again. For example, if your resolution is to lose weight, your cue may be to wake up at 6am to be at a spin class by 7am. Taking out 10 minutes to enjoy the steam room may serve as the reward that helps your brain associate the spin class with something enjoyable.
  1. Create Accountability: Share your goals with the world! Tell your friends and family what your resolutions are. Research shows that people who explicitly state their goals are more likely to keep them. Telling people about your goal can give you both a support system and a way to hold yourself accountable. It also makes the goal you’re trying to reach less initiating. Publicly announcing what you intend to do I not only empowering, but it can also hold you socially accountable for making it happen. In general, making a public commitment adds motivation.
  1. Anticipate obstacles: In my practice, I like to encourage my clients to dig deep into their vault to explore their thoughts and feelings in order to understand what obstacles can get in the way of reaching their goals. So if we’re honest with ourselves, we can actually plan for the obstacles – And it’s much more likely that we will still follow through with our resolutions. It’s important to note that a slip up might just be part of the process- it might be an indication that you need to refer back to the 3 techniques to see which one of those components are not working.
  1. Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself– Resolutions are all about becoming a Better Version of yourself, and not the Perfect Version of yourself.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Reflections on “Unconscious Racism” in Turbulent Times

Posted by: Reena Sandhu on December 5, 2014 3:55 pm

UR PicHow do you know if you are prejudice against a certain cultural group? Most people are not overtly racist against cultural groups because of the fear that they will be perceived as a racist. However, the deep internalized feelings towards particular cultural groups may translate into unconscious racist attitudes, which could lead to a pattern of discrimination over time. Unconscious racism is attributed to implicit negative feelings or beliefs, which are formed by biases and are non-verbally expressed. Negative biases regarding race may occur without full awareness and commonly function as an automatic thought. In comparison, racial prejudice is a conscious and deliberate racial attitude that is verbally expressed. It is important to acknowledge our unconscious biases regarding race because it can govern our thoughts and behaviors.

In light of the recent events in the United States, and the many opinions around whether racism exists and what constitutes as racism, we are presented with an opportunity to reflect on our own internal dialogue around race and equality.

Society has come a long way, from being explicit and out right prejudice against cultural groups to being subtle and discrete about racial prejudices. These categorizations have resulted in the division of people and are supported by cultural discourse. Socialization has taught people to not explicitly voice negative feelings about cultural groups. Instead, most people store these associations and attitudes in their long-term memory; these thoughts become unconsciously based, and are then acted out through nonverbal behaviors. Most people have negative biases, which are deeply held unconsciously and thus may surface automatically and without full awareness. People categorized others to be bad or good based on what they look like. For instance, we are taught that white is good, and the fairer one is, the more acceptance he/she will receive in society. The maintenance of this division of thought is supported by collective views. Each culture has its own cultural norms and in turn, their own cultural biases, described as cultural discourses. As a result, people belong to a multitude of cultural discourses. Literature has stated that people tend to internalize cultural discourses, and therefore automatically form biases about others. It is imperative to understand your own biases regarding race. I encourage you to be honest with yourself to uncover your own unconscious biases by being aware of your internal self-talk and your body language. By taking personal responsibility, together we can work to build a stronger social fabric by promoting laws and social discourse that are fair and equitable across cultural groups.

Written By: Dr. Reena Sandhu

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Discover Your Authentic Self

Posted by: Reena Sandhu on November 6, 2014 4:04 pm

AuthenticityHow Identify is Formed

As children, many of us have tried to mold ourselves to the expectations and perceived demands of our parents. We either tried to please our parents, or rebel and fight against them. At a young age, we are taught to think that we are either very good or very bad. This message of being either really good or really bad is carried forward into adulthood. As a result, most of us create an identity that is formed from our parents’ reactions to our behaviors. Consequently, their reactions become internalized and labeled as our identity. John Bowlby, the pioneer of attachment theory, called these messages an “Internal Working Model of Behavior”. These internalized messages can run like tapes in our minds. For some, the messages in the tapes are “What will people think” or “Taking care of others is more important than taking care of myself.” We all have some variation of these internalized messages, which help us make sense of the world and to understand others and ourselves. But what happens when these messages and expectations trigger feelings of unworthiness? First, we’ll likely start negative self-talk and second, we’ll stop believing in our worthiness and start hustling for acceptance to disguise our vulnerability.

How to Find the Authentic You

Brene Brown describes authenticity as a practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be to embrace who we really are. It’s a collection of choices we make daily to be real with ourselves by speaking honestly and openly about who are, what we’re feeling and our experiences. When we put our vulnerabilities on the line, we’re choosing to accept our authentic and imperfect selves. But, why would we want to be vulnerable in a world that encourages perfectionism? I can think of two reasons 1) There is no such thing as perfect 2) Perfectionism is all about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we can avoid pain, judgment, and shame and instead fit in with society. For example, some people will try to mitigate the feelings of vulnerability by numbing themselves with a few glasses of wine. The drinking often takes the edge off and reduces the anxiety that is powered by the vulnerability. Others may try to shield their vulnerability by turning to judgment or by immediately going into a fix-it mode. Instead, if we lean into the discomfort, we can learn to take a balanced approach to the negative emotions so that we neither resist nor amplify these feelings. To overcome self doubt and the “supposed to” messages, we have to start owning the messages by asking, “What’s on our supposed to list? Who says? Why?”

3 ways to Cultivate Authenticity

Be Honest- Speak honestly and openly about who you are, what you are feeling, thinking and experiencing- regardless if it is good or bad.

Compassion- At the core of compassion, is acceptance. Learn to relax (via deep breathing techniques) and gradually move towards your fears. Be compassionate with yourself by knowing that we all have strengths and set backs. The better we get at accepting ourselves and others, the more compassionate we become.

Connection- Connection is a bond that joins two people together, which is free of judgment. We are all social beings, and are wired to connect with others; It’s in our biology. Therefore, the connection that we experience in relationships allows us to be valued, seen and heard. Let go of comparisons and connect at an emotional level.

By: Dr. Reena Sandhu

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Creating Change with Anger

Posted by: Reena Sandhu on September 9, 2014 9:16 am

tagged-3789Anger is a “signal” that informs us of when we are being hurt, violated, or that our needs and wants are not being met. People usually fall in two categories when trying to manage their anger: 1)The Avoiders- try to avoid the anger and the conflict it may bring. 2) The Fighters- fight, complain or blame others. Both styles are ways of managing anger that serve to protect others, and not themselves.

“Avoiders” avoid making clear statements about what they think and feel in order to make the person they are conflict with feel comfortable. Psychologically, they may become anxious to expose differences between themselves and the person they are in conflict with due to a fear of being rejected, abandoned, or punished by them. Over time, by preserving the harmony in the relationship, they may loose clarity in themselves. As a protective measure, the avoiders put effort into reading other people’s reactions, and consequently less energy into understanding their own own thought, feelings, and wants. Ultimately, they block the feeling of anger with guilt and self-doubt. Although society rewards compliance behavior, the personal cost is high and affects every aspect of their emotional and intellectual life.

Conversely, “Fighters” vent their anger ineffectively, and can easily get into a downward spiral of negative behavior. When they voice their anger ineffectively, without clarity or direction, they allow themselves to be written off, as others may not take them seriously. Blowing up does offer temporary relief, however, when the argument is over no real change will have occurred.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

10 Ways to Support a Loved One with a Mental Illness

Posted by: Reena Sandhu on July 25, 2014 2:00 pm

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Mental Health problems affect Canadians of all ages, genders, cultures, education, and income levels. Studies indicate that in any given year, one in every 5 Canadian adults will have a mental health problem. The main cause of mental illnesses is a complex combination of genetics, biology, and physical and social environments. There is no simple answer but research has determined that the brain and the body interact in a way that produces the symptoms of mental illness. Most mental illnesses are chronic and lifelong. However, the symptoms of mental illness are treatable and can go into remission. How you treat your loved ones with a mental illness can have a big impact on their wellbeing.

Below are 10 ways to support a loved one with a mental illness:

  1. Educate yourself about the illness- Not understanding how a family member’s illness affects their functioning can create misconceptions and may prevent families from giving their loved ones effective help. Seek out resources and books about the disorder.
  2. Seek out support groups- Stigma can usually prevent families from seeking support, but it’s through support groups that you will gain more strength and knowledge. Support groups also help normalize your families’ experience.
  3. Work closely with the treatment team- The important players in your loved one’s treatment team are the case manager, the psychiatrist, and the therapist. Many treatment teams will allow the families into these care team meetings. Attend all meeting to educated yourself on your loved one’s current conditions. In additions, these meeting are chance to express how things are going at home, which will in turn impact treatment decisions. Ask the care team how you can help your loved one, find out what is a reasonable expectation for recovery, and how functional you can expect your loved one to be.
  4. Be prepared when meeting with the psychiatrist- If your loved one is complaining about mood swings, behaviors, irrational thoughts during the weeks leading up the appointments encourage them to write down their symptoms and the duration of each of these symptoms. Most often, patients will see their psychiatrist for 30 minutes every month. It is important to be as descriptive as possible during these visits to help the psychiatrist measure if the medication at the right dosage.
  5. Set appropriate boundaries- Although it is important to treat your loved ones with respect and allow them to establish control, it is also just as important to set limits to protect the wellbeing of others. Establish clear rules such as, “in order to live in this house, you need to seek treatment and take your medication.” Families typically do not want to step in too much and give mandatory conditions to a member who is ill, however it is important to be clear and firm with loved ones with a mental illness.
  6. Be fair in setting rules – When setting limits, don’t single out your loved one as the “sick one” instead establish some kind of equality that is expected of every family member in the household. For example, establishing a family rule that aggressive behavior is not tolerated in the household for anyone.
  7. Recognize Feelings of shame and guilt are normal- guilt and shame are typical reactions, as some families may think they did not do enough to treat the disorder sooner. It is important to remember that families do not cause mental disorder, such as schizophrenia or bipolar.
  8. Help yourself- If you help yourself, you’re in a much better position to help your loved one who is suffering form a mental illness. Take a few minutes out of each day for yourself to clear your mind.
  9. Be calm- Often times your behaviors can influence your loved one and impact their symptoms. Thus, avoid responding with anger, as you may be met with anger by your loved one. If you need a minute to unwind, take a break and return back to the conversation when you’re calm.
  10. Recognize the courage of your loved one- Society often views people with a physical illness such as cancer and diabetes as courageous, but rarely do we acknowledge people with a mental illness as courageous. It takes enormous bravery the lifelong symptoms of mental illness and to seek and stay in recovery.

By Dr. Reena Sandhu

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Positivity Blog

Posted by: Reena Sandhu on July 7, 2014 2:46 pm

Positivity is a mindset. We all have the ability to turn on positive feelings. To do so, takes honesty and an authentic look at your present state of mind to allow yourself to find the good. If you tap into what’s right about your current circumstance or what’s wrong with it, you’ll elicit opposite emotions and behaviours. Positive emotions will expand your ideas about possible action, unlike negative emotions that will narrow your ideas about your behaviour and reactions. This dependency of thinking about the positives is what makes positivity so fragile.

After ten years of research, Barbara Frederickson, a pioneer of positivity, outlined the following emotions that help elicit a state of positivity: Joy, Gratitude, Serenity, Interest, Hope, Pride, Amusement, Inspiration, Awe, and Love. Notice that happiness is not among this list, that’s because happiness is a judgment about life. Happiness is the overall outcome of many positive moments. Instead, if you focus on your day-to-day feelings, you will end up building a resource and becoming the best version of yourself. In the long-term you’ll be happier with life. Rather than staring down happiness as your goal and asking yourself “How do I get there?” think about how to create positive emotions in the moment.


1. Be Open- Temporarily rid your mind of expectations and judgments. Often these cloud our ability to be open. Give yourself permission and time to experience the present moment. No matter what you encounter in your day, experiment with awareness and acceptance.

2. Create Quality Connections- Notice how different you feel compared with when you’re gossiping with or oblivious to others.

3. Cultivate Kindness- Give yourself a goal of performing 5 new acts of kindness each day. Aim for actions that make a difference and come to some cost to you, such as donating blood.

4. Develop Distractions- Distractions are important for breaking the cycle of rumination and redirecting needless negativity. The goal is to get your mind off your worries. The best distractions demand your full attention, so that when you emerge your cleansed of your negativity.

5. Dispute Negative Thinking- When a negative thought arises, dispute the thoughts with facts.

6. Find Nature- Get outside and find a few places you can get to that will connect you to trees, water or the sky. These have been researched to boost positivity.

7. Learn and Apply your Strengths- Take a free online survey from that ranks your top 24 strengths. Allow yourself plenty of time to complete the 240 item measure. Once you have learned your strengths apply them to redesign your job and life, so that you can use them daily.

8. Mediate Mindfully- Find a quit place where you can sit comfortably without distraction. Take a few deep breathes and notice where you feel your breath. Always bring yourself back to yourself when your mind wanders. Observe your mind in action and practice being where you are now. Attending to your breathe is a vehicle for strengthen your ability to stay present.

9. Mediate with Guided Imagery- Start by focusing on your breath. Once your grounded, reflect on a person for whom you already feel warm and compassionate towards. Visualize how being with that person makes you feel. Thereafter, extent that warm feeling towards yourself. These feelings of love and compassionate will create positivity in you.

10. Savor Positivity- Remember a past moment of positivity and allow yourself time to visualize this moment. The goal is to savor these valuable good feelings in your mind.

11. Visualize your Future- Imagine yourself 10 years from now, after everything has gone as well as it possibility could. You have worked hard on your goals and succeeded. Visualize where and how you would be if all your current dreams came true. From these dreams, draw out what purpose you want to drive you?

12. Experience the 10 Positive Emotions- Think of the 10 positive emotions and when you felt each of these emotions. Rearrange your daily routine to capture these emotions.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Find Control Through Mindfulness

Posted by: Reena Sandhu on May 28, 2014 9:00 am

The busier our lives get, the more we get pulled into different directions. Often people describe this experience as being on autopilot. The Buddhist describe this experience as suffering. The old Buddhist thought is that if we are always on autopilot we must be fighting feelings that we do not want to feel. As a result, the suffering increases enormously and we try every attempt to avoid the initial feelings we were fighting by staying in autopilot. With awareness of every thought, image or sensation, simultaneously there is a feeling attached that is either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. If you’re like most people and you’re running on autopilot daily, these feelings usually go unnoticed and you’re left with just your thoughts, and perhaps even an emotional reaction or two.

Naturally, our mind wants more of the pleasant feelings in life and we want to avoid those feelings that are unpleasant. The more we react to the pleasant feelings, the more we are strengthen a neuro-connection in the mind that reduces the unpleasant experience. In other words, you either attach to something pleasant or move away from the unpleasant feeling. The more we attach to sensations, the more we build habitual reactions. These habitual reactions then become the basis for our emotions. When we avoid these feelings, they often produce anxiety within us.

If we open ourselves up to every experience we will realize that we can increase our tolerance and acceptance for uncomfortable feelings. This is the basis of mindfulness. Mindfulness works by being attentive, accepting, and non-judgmental towards every thought and feeling that arises. By being insightful towards your emotional life, you will start to become more aware, in control, and less reactive. As a result, you may be able to increase your tolerance in situations, rather than reacting to the situation.

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*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

How to Reduce Anxiety and Enhance Self-Esteem through Personal Mastery

Posted by: Reena Sandhu on April 18, 2014 10:54 am

Anxiety may profoundly affect an individual’s sense of self.  For example, children and adults who continuously fail at a task may eventually learn to believe that they are a failure at that task, and extend that belief to thinking that they are ultimately a failure as a person. These individuals use more shame-based talk (“I am a failure”) and attack their self-worth, instead of using guilt-based talk (“I did something bad”) that speaks about their behavior. Consequently, their self-esteem may be impacted in the process due to internalizing messages of self-deficiency. Many researchers have found self-esteem to be directly correlated to a sense of personal mastery. Personal mastery is more than just the discipline of personal growth and learning what we are good at, it starts by clarifying what really matters most to us and focusing our energies on creating that picture. Children and adults who learn that they “can do” eventually try new activities without the fear of failure. According to this theory, if we can identify what we are good at and accordingly, accomplish a sense of personal mastery in it, it will impact our self-esteem. Positive psychologists have found that identifying strengths is a major contributor to our well-being. Both identifying our strengths and using them has been found to increase individuals’ sense of happiness. Thus, the key to enhancing our self-esteem rests in our ability to identify our strengths.

Below are list of ideas and resources to help identify and cultivate your signature strengths:

  1. Find and Use Your Top Strength– Fill out the VIA character of signature strengths and use one top strength each day:
  1. Volunteer- Find a volunteer opportunity that speaks to your interests.
  1. Watch for Signs of Excitement– When you engage in an activity, your excitement will become apparent through your body language. Your pupils may dilate, your body language may be more open, and your speech may get faster. You’re more alive and motivated when you’re using your core strengths.
  1. Reflect- At the end of each day ask yourself, “What are three things that went well today?”
  1. Set Yourself up Success- Instead of creating a “to do list” create an “I did it list”.


By Dr. Reena Sandhu

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

Father Attachment Predicts Adolescent Girls’ Social and Emotional Development

Posted by: Reena Sandhu on April 1, 2014 3:48 pm

The principle focus of research on parental attachment and involvement has been about mothers and their young children, with the role of fathers relatively neglected. In addition, the study of father–child relational processes during the adolescent period has been meager, compared to mother–child influences during adolescence. The few studies on father–adolescent relationships rarely focus on the father–daughter attachment bond. Dr. Sandhu’s research study aimed primarily to consider the nature of father attachment on the social and emotional development of adolescent girls. The variables of interest were Father Attachment, Social Problems, Social Competence, and Internalizing Behavioral Problems, as perceived by adolescent girls. The archival survey data for this study were gathered from 246 adolescent females from a Catholic school between the ages of 14 and 16 years old who participated in Dr. Ferrari’s 2008 study on “Attachment, personal resources and coping in trait-anxious adolescent girls.”

Results supported the proposed hypotheses, revealing statistically significant correlations among perceived quality of Father Attachment, and adolescent girls’ Social Competence, Social Problems, and Internalizing Behavioral Problems. Together, Father Attachment, Social Competence and Social Problems accounted for over half of the variance (54.5%) of Internalizing Behavioral Problems. In addition, Father Attachment and Social Problems each uniquely predicted Internalizing Behavioral Problems in a standard multiple regression analysis. However, once Father Attachment and Social Problems were accounted for, the relationship between Social Competence and Internalizing Behavioral Problems was no longer significant.

Incorporating these findings in prevention and treatment programs could prove to be crucial, particularly for programs aimed at promoting emotional well being among adolescent girls. Specifically, these findings are important for mental health therapists on several levels. When compared to mothers, fathers rarely are included by clinicians to participate in the treatment of their children’s psychological problems. This pattern is true for single parents (e.g., separated, divorced, or never-married parents) and married or remarried parents. Offering father–daughter treatment in therapy may have important ramifications for the effectiveness of the therapy, as there has been empirical evidence that engaging fathers in therapy can enhance the therapeutic effectiveness of those services. Perhaps more educational efforts, such as highlighting the influence fathers have on their adolescent daughters’ psychosocial development, could help therapy seem more appealing to fathers. In this realm of educational training, graduate programs should include more extensive training on family systems to alert therapists to the importance of father attachment on their adolescent daughters’ psychosocial development.

Furthermore, the findings indicated that social problems place adolescent girls in Catholic schools at risk for developing internalizing behavioral problems such as anxiety, depression, and somatic complaints, but also inhibit social competence in girls. This interaction likely has a bidirectional and transactional influence on each element; that is, social problems lead to internalizing behavioral problems, which in turn leads to more social problems. These findings are clinically significant for educators and mental health practitioners treating adolescent girls at subclinical levels of emotional and social problems. Specifically, research affirms that more targeted prevention programs are cost effective, practical, and beneficial in the long run to help adolescent girls with subclinical problems, compared to adolescent girls with internalizing disorder.

Dr. Sandhu’s research offers greater understanding of the role fathers play in their adolescent daughters’ lives and the influences fathers have on their daughter’s social and emotional development from the perspective of Canadian Catholic adolescent girls’ self-reports. The current study adds to the limited existing literature on father–daughter attachment. However, more research is needed to fully understand fatherhood as a construct and to make the role of fathers one that is publically visible and highly appreciated.

By: Dr. Reena Sandhu


*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA