Thursday

How to prevent Social Media Depression


For the most part, I like social media. I think we are lucky to live in this age of unprecedented connectedness. When used appropriately, social media can be an incredibly powerful tool to give voices to people who might otherwise not be heard. Or simply to connect with like-minded people across the planet.

But. Social Media is making people depressed. Or at least negatively affecting their mood and wellbeing. We now have more and more data to back this up. (here's a good review on the topic).

I have definitely gone through phases where I overuse social media (ahem: Instagram) and it results in me feeling depleted, and simply put, down on myself.
It's so easy to lose perspective of real life when you scroll through all those seemingly happy shiny people's feeds, and in comparison, your own life can seem rather boring.

So what can a person do? How can we prevent social media depression?
Obviously, not going on social media in the first place would do the trick. But for a lot of people, that's not a realistic or desirable solution.

I've been thinking a lot about this lately.
And I think we can learn to survive in this age social media if we continuously remind ourselves of a few fundamental truths about human nature:

TRUTH #1:
PICTURES DO NOT ACCURATELY REPRESENT A PERSON'S LIFE

People post carefully curated, highly edited/filtered photos of themselves and their lives on social media, which can give the illusion of perfection.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this. Most people want to show the best version of themselves to the world. This is why we dress nicely, put on make-up, brush our hair, etc.

But with the incredible photo editing apps available these days, you can make yourself (and your life) appear way better than it is. And when everyone is doing this, especially when viewed by someone emotionally vulnerable, it has the potential to create a false understanding of what is normal ("the grand social media illusion").

I love this picture. But it doesn't show the whole truth.
My son was cold & miserable and whined most of the time.
Pictures are deceiving.

TRUTH #2:
NO ONE'S LIFE IS PERFECT. NO ONE!

The perfect life does not exist. Everyone has problems.

Social media makes some people depressed because of the way they interpret what they are seeing on it. People draw false conclusions about other people's pictures/lives and then make it mean something equally false about their own lives.

  • That gorgeous couple in the sunset who live in an eternal state of romance.  They don't.
  • That family with five perfect kids who have it all together and never lose their temper.  They don't.
  • That girl with the amazing wardrobe and perfect face who is completely flawless.  She isn't.
  • The ones with the gorgeous houses, and cars, and wealth, who literally have it all.  They don't.
As a family physician, I am privy to some very personal information. And let me tell you, everyone has problems! Even the seemingly "perfect" ones. I remember being completely blown away by this when I first started practicing. So many people's emotional lives do not match what you see on the surface.
I remember naively thinking: how could this woman be depressed when she has everything?! She has the perfect life, she has no excuse! Well it just doesn't work like that. (Obviously!)

You can be rich and depressed. You can be skinny and depressed. You can be pretty and depressed. You can have 500K followers on social media and still be depressed.
Everyone knows this, of course, but it is easy to forget.



TRUTH #3:
COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY

Ok so maybe this isn't always true, but on social media it's a heavy hitter.

At it's best, comparison can be a tool to inspire you. To motivate you to make positive changes in your life. But more often than not, comparison leads to feelings of inadequacy and jealousy.

(Ugh - jealousy is such a yucky feeling to have - I hate when I catch myself feeling that way!)

We scroll though social media for whatever length of time, and leave feeling bad about ourselves. Whether it's about our bodies, the way we dress, our lifestyles, where we live, whatever.

Usually we are sitting at home wasting an hour or more of our precious free time on our devices, looking at pictures of other people getting out and doing fun things. And then we feel bad about just being on our couches and not getting out and doing fun things ourselves. It's a vicious cycle!

If you want to survive in the age of social media, in my opinion, you need to stop comparing yourself to others.
How does one do that? With a lot of practise!

If you catch your mind going down a negative comparison cycle, or feeling unwanted jealousy creeping in, here's what I do:

  • Stop and acknowledge the feelings. Name them! Tell yourself - "this is jealousy", "this is envy",  etc. Naming and acknowledging emotions is a very powerful tool.
  • Once you've named the negative emotion, you can choose if you want to keep feeling it or not.
  • Remind yourself of what you do have. Remind yourself of what is good about your own life. Honest gratitude and being thankful for what you have will always help you feel better.

TRUTH #4
TRUE HAPPINESS DOES NOT COME FROM EXTERNAL SOURCES


It's human nature to want to be "liked" and accepted and popular. It feels amazing when our posts get a lot of attention and positive feedback.
But we need to be careful here. Anything external that produces a temporary "high" is potentially addictive.

People can actually become dependent on social media attention and validation for their happiness, and this is a precarious situation to be in. Because when the reverse happens (when you lose followers, when you get "un-friended",  or when your post gets little attention), then the source of your happiness is gone and you feel empty.

External sources of happiness are not constant, and they are usually not in your control.  In other words, you can't count on them. So it's a much better idea to gather your happiness from your own internal sources.

For more reading on cultivating those internal sources of happiness, read this and this and this.

* A little side note about dealing with those negative feelings that come from being unfriended/unfollowed... 
Think about a peach: 
You can be the most succulent, most perfect peach in the world, but there is always going to be someone out there who just doesn't like peaches.
It's not the peach's fault, and it's not that person's fault either. Just the way it is.
You cannot please everybody. Fact of life! Just keep on being the beautiful peach that you are!



So what's the bottom line?

  • limit your time on social media to make time for real life
  • remember to keep things in perspective. Constantly remind yourself that the photos you are seeing are edited and curated and staged, and that there are real people behind those photos with real people problems.
  • remember that true happiness does not come from external sources
  • And finally, choose kindness. Always. When you are commenting, with your opinions, and with yourself. There is way too much negativity and hostility on social media. Choose to be kind.
  • Here's another great piece on this topic with additional tips.

I'd love to hear your comments here. Does social media ever get to you? If not, what are your tricks?!

Tuesday

My Tips for Traveling with Kids


Before we had our kids, we travelled a lot. When we had one kid we travelled a fair bit. And when we had two kids, I became terrified. 

At the time, we lived in the far north and I had to take flights every 6-8 weeks, often on my own, with a baby and a toddler, and it was SO stressful at first.
Initially I would only do short flights of max 3hrs, but slowly but surely I built up my confidence.

My kids are pros at the airport now. They go through security faster and more efficiently than a lot of adults do!

We are still learning and evolving but we have certainly gained a lot of parental-travel experience over the past 5 years.

So I thought I'd share my tips for traveling with young kids with you. I'm not claiming to be an expert here, and obviously every family is different, with different numbers, dynamics, needs and budgets.
But this is how we like to travel, and what works well for our family...




1. Stay in an apartment, not a hotel.


This is hands down the most important "tip", in my opinion. It's usually way cheaper than a hotel, and you get separate bedrooms, a common living space, and most importantly a fully-equipped kitchen.
Being able to make meals at home is such a stress reliever. I love going to restaurants, but I hate eating out 3 times a day for a full week.

We usually eat our breakfasts at home and lunches/dinners in restaurants. But I love having the option of a healthy home-cooked meal if we want it.

We usually book our rentals with Airbnb or VRBO. Sometimes we hit the jackpot and rent a place from a family with kids - which means it's stocked with toys and books and kiddie cutlery.


Enjoying a lazy morning in our rental apartment



2. You can still go to nice restaurants


Good food is really important to me. And trying out great local restaurants is a major part of the whole travel experience for me. The problem is that a lot of the restaurants that I want to try aren't exactly "family-style" restaurants with kids menus and crayons, if you know what I mean.

We get around this in a few ways.... First, we go early - like at 5:30pm or 6pm. The restaurants aren't usually busy, the waiters are less stressed, our kids are generally in better moods, and we don't have to wait long to get our food. Second, we don't stress about the kids eating a full "balanced" meal. The fact that I even get to go to a "fancy" restaurant with my young kids is already a huge success. I pick my battles. Who cares if they eat 3 slices of bread - it keeps them quiet and happy and I get to enjoy my wine ;)

I find that most restaurants are extremely accommodating. They can usually modify a dish and omit "kid-offensive" things from the plate if you ask them to (get that fresh green herb sprig out of my sight!). And if all else fails, and there's nothing remotely child-friendly on the menu, we ask the chef to serve up a bowl of plain buttered noodles. We've never been denied, and the boys think it's the best restaurant ever!


raw salmon? - why not!

Oh and I almost forgot - very important - make sure your kids are hungry! Not hungry to the point of being hangry, of course, because that could backfire... but they should be ready to eat. I find that kids are much more willing to try new foods when they have a good appetite. So if we have a 5:30pm dinner reservation, we don't let the kids snack in the afternoon (except for maybe an apple).


When I clearly pushed it too far,
and they can't make it through dinner.

3. Don't set your expectations too high. 


You probably won't be able to see and do everything you would if you didn't have your kids with you.

This has taken me a while to accept. I'm the kind of person who wants to see everything! But loss of routine can be hard for kids, and too many structured adult-centred activities is asking a lot of them. When I try to pack in too much site-seeing, I usually pay for 
it in bad moods and tantrums.

So as we become more seasoned parental-travellers we have
 learned to take a more laid-back approach... We usually plan one daily outing/event in the morning and then schedule some down-time in the afternoon (an outdoor kids park is ideal, weather permitting, or even just some free play time at home). If the kids 
are up for it emotionally/mentally we will add another outing spontaneously later on in the day.


4. Keep your basic routine from home 


Most kids thrive on routine. I know ours certainly do!
So we try to keep somewhat of a consistent wake-time, mealtime and bedtime schedule, to what they are used to at home.

This isn't always possible. We completely caved on this one when we were in Disney World, and we let the boys stay up until 10pm to watch the fireworks (a few days in a row!)... and well, we were all very exhausted and a little cranky. Sometimes it's worth it though.

Keeping a routine can be especially challenging with time-zone changes, but I find that it only takes around 1-2 days to adjust. 
We've tried both methods of forcing them to stay awake until bedtime (local time) on the day of arrival, as well as just letting them sleep whenever they're tired. In my opinion, there's no big difference, and there are no real tricks here - you just have to surrender to it ;)

Despite the challenges, and occasional extra late night, we really strive for consistency with their natural rhythms as much as possible. I think it makes for happier children.





5. If you can, travel with others!


Some of our best trips have been when we rented a shared house with friends and their children. We put the kids to bed early and then enjoy some lavish late night cooking and cocktails with our friends. 

Or if you have willing parents/in-laws, see if they want to come along. We love traveling with the grandparents.. and the kids love it too (Plus: babysitters!)




6. A final note on Airplane Travel

This is more of an issue with really young children. If your little one is going to sit on your lap for the flight, I highly recommend a baby carrier to free up your arms while your baby naps. This saved me so many times when traveling alone with an infant and toddler.

And if your child is used to watching videos, or is old enough to have a video sustain his attention, this is all I have to say:

easiest flight ever!

Ok I think that's all I've got!
If you have any tips, I'd love to hear them in the comments below!
xo
Vanessa


Saturday

New Beginnings....

So it's been a few years, but I've missed this space.
I've missed this blog.
And I've missed you!


Year after year, I've kept renewing this blog domain (it only costs 10$ per year), even though I haven't been posting. Because somewhere I knew I'd want to return to it. Ok, maybe "knew" is a strong word. I had an *inkling* I might return to it one day.
(Also, when I travel - I just really love having online access to my favourite recipes!)

I don't think of myself as a writer by any means, but one of the things I've missed the most has been the writing. It's therapeutic for me.

I have continued to share my life on instagram, which has fulfilled my need for connectedness in the interim, but it's not enough. 

Nothing compares to the freedom of a blog. 
I can write as little or as much as I want.
There are no hashtags, no "like" buttons, or filters.
This post isn't going to appear in anyone's feed, or bombard them if they don't choose to see it.
People read your blog only if they want to. I don't even know if they did or didn't.
And to me, that is what makes it magic. 

And so, here I go again. 
No promises of commitment of course, because life is unpredictable. 
But I've changed and I've grown and also I'm just completely the same. 
And I miss this space. And I miss you.

 

Sunday

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins


I make these muffins about 5 times every year... in rapid succession, every October. They're so good! Delicately spiced, pillowy and moist on the inside, with a crisp top, and loaded with pure pumpkin... everything I want in an autumn muffin.

Here's a copy of my recipe (let me know if you can't read it, and I'll get around to actually typing it out)...







Super simple, crazy delicious three-ingredient Nutella brownies


The title of this post really does say it all....

These little brownies take a whole of about 5 minutes to whip up, and they are SO GOOD! 
Not too sweet, with crisp crinkly edges and a rich fudgey interior. 
And the best part of all is that they're really not all that bad for you. They're made of whole eggs, nutella and ground almonds. That's it! 
They're flourless and gluten-free as well, though you would never know it.


Ingredients:
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup Nutella 
  • 1/2 cup ground whole almonds (almond meal) *see note below

Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and line the bottom of an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.
  2. Using an electric mixer (or by hand with a whisk), beat the eggs until they are pale and frothy and have approximately doubled in volume (about 5 minutes, on med-high speed)
  3. Meanwhile, measure out 1 cup of nutella in a glass measuring cup and microwave on high power for 1 minute.
  4. With the mixer running on medium speed, slowly drizzle in the warm nutella until just combined. Then mix in the ground almonds.
  5. Poor the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20-22 minutes (the centre should be set).
  6. Allow the brownies to cool completely in their pan before slicing into squares.

Enjoy! These won't last long at all!



* These can actually be made as Two-ingredient brownies, with just the eggs and nutella. However, I find that the texture is a million times better with the ground almonds. I haven't tried it, but I imagine that ground hazelnuts would be especially good as a substitute for the almonds.

Monday

Modern Day Spiced Shortbread Cookies (that melt in your mouth and put a spark in your step)

Spiced shortbread cookies

Shortbread is my thing. It has always been my thing.
Hand me a platter of Christmas cookies, and I'll always choose the plain old shortbread. It's just the best.

Shortbread's perfection lies in its simplicity. Well, that's not entirely true... who are we kidding? It's perfection lies in it's butter content.

Every year around this time, I start baking shortbread. I revisit favourite old recipes (like this one and this one), and I always try a few new ones too... just to make sure I'm not missing out on anything spectacular.

There are literally millions of shortbread recipes out there... some make a crispier, snappier cookie (typically made with rice flour), others have more of a sandy texture (the French sablés), while others are softer, more melt-in-your-mouth kind of thing (typically made with cornstarch). And you know what? I love them all. I truly do. Give me a coffee and a shortbread cookie and some lightly falling snow, and I will have had a good day.


Modern day spiced shortbread cookies

This year I decided to shake things up a bit. I wanted to make a spiced shortbread, but not with your traditional holiday spices... because that's old and boring and overdone at Christmas. I wanted to modernize things.

So I used a reliable (and fantastic) shortbread recipe as a base (from San Francisco's Tartine bakery), and I threw at it a bold mix of new holiday spices (cardamom, lots of freshly ground black pepper, ginger & cinnamon)... and the results were otherworldly!

How to describe them?
Imagine a traditional Scottish shortbread lass marrying a classic gingerbread man, and them having a rebellious lovechild who refused to conform, and who always challenged the status quo. That's this cookie. It's dramatic like that ;)

These shortbread cookies are delicately soft and melt in your mouth. They are spiced just enough.... enough to excite your palate and spark your brain to try and decipher the unique blend of flavours, but not overly spiced so as to drown out that fundamental buttery goodness that makes shortbread, well shortbread.

Modern day spiced shortbread cookies

So yes, you need to make these. Come on, there's one week left until Christmas. You got this!

And if you already have a favourite shortbread recipe that you are loyal to and don't feel like betraying, then I'd encourage you to try adding this spice blend to them. It'll blow your mind :)

Read on for the details....


Friday

A few of my favourite online recipes


There are billions of free recipes available online, literally at the tips of our fingers, whenever and wherever we want. And that is simply extraordinary.
But it is also incredibly overwhelming.

How do you know if you can trust an online recipe? How do you know if it's actually been tested? If it will actually be as good as it claims?

Well, obviously, start by using trusted websites (Smitten Kitchen is my all-time favourite because she really tests her recipes before posting them). And when you use larger sites like Epicuious, Food.com, or Allrecipes, take the time to read some of the readers comments; they can be so helpful. And finally, be weary of huge mega-sites that mass-produce recipes just for the sake of turning out new content 5 times a day. It's quality not quantity.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my favourite go-to recipes from around the web. The ones I keep going back to and making over and over again because they are so good, or so easy and so good.
I would love to hear yours as well, so leave a link to them in the comments section if you feel like sharing :)

  • Perfect Cornmeal Muffins from Smitten Kitchen - these are just outrageously good. I've probably made them 10-12 times already. I'll never look for another cornbread recipe again.
  • Avocado Kale Salad from Design for Mankind. This incredibly healthy kale salad is made utterly delicious by massaging chopped avocado and mustard into raw kale leaves.... which completely transforms them. The trick is to chop the kale really small and make sure to remove all the thick stems and veins first.
  • Ottolenghi's basic Hummus - you can buy great hummus everywhere, but if you're going to make your own, this is the one to make. Surprisingly, it doesn't contain any oil at all, and it is still the creamiest hummus out there.
  • Coconut Red Lentil Soup by 101 Cookbooks - this is my all-time favourite soup, in the history of the entire world! Dramatic? Perhaps. But it's a really good soup :)
  • Dijon Rosemary Glazed Racks of Lamb - I don't cook a lot of meat, but this is one of the dishes I do cook on the rare occasion, and it is amazing.
  • Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread - the original recipe that propelled me (and much of the world)  into a frenzy of bread-making, that persists to this day.
  • The Best Chocolate Cake by Add a Pinch (whenever I need to bake a birthday cake for someone), equally rivalled by Pioneer Woman's Chocolate Sheet Cake (for when I need to feed a crowd).
  • Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies - there are a lot of cookie recipes out there claiming to be the best. Rest assured, these ones are the ones! Make the dough, form them into balls and then freeze them. Store the unbaked balls in a ziplock bag in your freezer and bake a few up fresh - straight from the freezer - whenever you have company (or for yourself) for the most amazing dessert ever!

virtual reality check


Hello there world, it has been a really, really long time.

I can't quite seem to get around to blogging anymore, and I'm not entirely sure why....
Yes I'm busy... as a mother of two, preparing for my return to a career as a family physician. Life is very, very full.
But I've always been busy. I've always managed to (over)fill my time one way or another, regardless of how many babies I have around me. So I don't think that's the real reason.
No. The blogging world has changed a lot over the years. And I'm not sure it's really for me anymore. I wish I had more time to blog, as I truly did (and do) love it. But I can't seem to make it a priority these days. Truth be told, maybe I've just outgrown it.
Or maybe it's the ease and immediacy of sharing on other forms of social media (I'm looking at you, Instagram), that makes blogging seem like so much more effort. It is infinitely faster to share a quick photo than to craft and edit an entire blog post.

But I can't say goodbye-forever just yet. I've been doing this long enough to suspect I might get another wave of blogging enthusiasm in the future, or come across a recipe that is simply too good not to share.
So until then....

Lots of love,
Vanessa.
(and ya, I'm still very active on instagram, so please follow along and stay in touch!)

Wednesday

Make your own Pho - it's easy, pho real!!


Pho, if you don't know, is a delicious Vietnamese noodle soup (also known as Tonkinese soup). I don't know if it's popular in every big city, but it's pretty huge here in Montreal.
It's served in wonderfully oversized bowls and topped with generous handfuls of fresh herbs and lime.  We lived off the stuff during our medical training - it is deeply satisfying.


And it turns out, really good Pho is actually really easy to make at home.
You'll need to buy some cinnamon sticks, star anise & fish sauce to make that authentic tasting complex flavoured broth. But it is so worth it!

Read on for the recipe...

Monday

On taking care of yourself, and the six-month wake-up call.


Noah hit the 6 month mark the other week. And that's HUGE for a mother. I did it! I survived the hardest part. Hooray, hoorah.
He can sit, he can eat, he can sleep, he can be entertained by his brother. It's great. Honestly, it's great.

and how cute, right?!

But, on the other hand, this 6 month mark came as a slap to the face.

I have no more excuses.

I've been on maternity leave for six whole months now. Six months!
I should probably be taking better care of myself by now.
I still spend most of the day in my pyjamas. Most days I shower, but not all.

And my body. Ugh! my poor, exhausted body - how I've neglected you. Two pregnancies and two deliveries later, things aren't the way they used to be.
It's funny how you can slim down to your pre-pregnancy clothes size, but nothing's the same at all. It's all loose skin and stretched out muscles. It's permanently hunched shoulders from midnight breastfeeding, and odd-looking gigantic arm muscles from carrying oversized babies all day long. It's skipped meals and too much late night snacking.
And why oh why can't I get my shit together and finally do some real exercise?!

And my brain. My poor, depreciated brain! I was a doctor once, right? Wasn't I?
I can't go back to work! Not like this. I don't remember anything!
And why oh why can't I get my shit together and finally pick up a medical journal from that mile-high dusty pile at my bedside?!

It's not like I don't have any free time.
I waste plenty of time zoned out on the computer. And I bake pies, for crying out loud! I definitely do not need to be baking pies. Or cakes, or cookies... ok I admit it, I'm a compulsive baking procrastinator.

But being a mother of two is insanely hard. And utterly exhausting. It is. It's true.
And it's the excuse I tell myself every day for not picking up that medical journal and for not exercising.

But the reality is that this is the life I chose for myself (I didn't exactly have two kids by accident). And so, this is the life I have to continue living.
And if I'm not taking care of myself now, when is that supposed to change?
I mean, it's not really going to get all that easier any time soon (maybe it gets easier when your kids are school-aged, but that's still years away. And then there will be new challenges, and new excuses).
I know deep down that I just need to get my priorities straight.

I'm not berating myself here. I've accomplished a lot in these past 6 months. I have a wonderfully chubby adorable baby to show for it, and a sharply intelligent, well-adjusted two-and-a-half year old. I still manage to cook great meals for my family on most days. I bake pies and fresh bread! I find time to play individually with both of my boys and to teach them all about this world and this life.
These are all very important things, and as a mother, I am proud of my accomplishments.

But I also know that there are other parts of me, parts of me that pre-dated motherhood. Parts that are being severely ignored. And it's time I started taking better care of myself, the individual, again.
Because if not now, then when?

So this is my 6-month wake up call.

I am halfway done my luxurious year-long maternity leave. This leaves me the next 6 months to whip my brain back into shape before I have to function as a doctor again. And it's high time I  got physically back in shape again too. I'm not talking about being skinny (because apparently you can be skinny and still be terribly out of shape). It's about being fit and leading an active lifestyle. Because being active every day is the single most important thing you can do for your health.
And while I realize this is thinking way in the future, but I have two incredibly beautiful boys now, and I want to be a witness to their evolving lives for as long as I possibly can!


Related Posts with Thumbnails