Finding hidden strengths inside of anxious behaviours.
Our responses to stress (heart pounding, breathing quickening, muscles tensing) evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling us to react quickly to life-threatening situations. With a perceived danger, our sympathetic nervous system sends a burst of energy to the body so that we might have the energy to fight or flee. However, an anxiety disorder triggers these responses from the intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.
Excessive and persistent worry about everyday situations is a cornerstone of anxiety. These feelings of anxiety can interfere with daily activities, are difficult to control, are out of proportion to the actual danger present. When these thoughts tend to revolve around performance, evaluation, success, failure or accomplishments, the stakes can seem really high when trying to judge even simple, everyday situations. Nearly every decision becomes make or break, doesn’t it?
But, have you ever considered the positive aspects of anxiety?
Positive you say? Well, believe it or not, many of the habits people with anxiety express can actually be good qualities if reframed in the right way. Managing anxiety tends to involve the development of certain process-based, relational, and time-dependent coping skills. These skills can be real strengths and of great use to your life and relationships. It’s important to remember that these skills come from YOU and your resiliency, not your anxiety.
So, let’s look at how you can find your secret strengths inside of these behaviours.
Powers of perception.
The fear of possible terrible outcomes and consequences is often the driving force for an anxious cycle to begin taking hold of your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. But the reality is, that fear is an important and necessary human emotion. It motivates us to keep ourselves safe; both physically and emotionally. This is another way of saying your anxiety is born out of an impulse to protect you from threats of either a physical or (more often) emotional nature.
For this reason, you may find yourself hyperaware of other people’s thoughts, emotional states, and behaviours; as well as your impact on them. The truth is, often when we find our thoughts impulsively occupied by what other people think of us, it is fundamentally because we care a great deal about our impact on others. So, we direct a lot more energy to what is happening in the situations around us, and as a result, can become very detail-oriented in many other areas of our life. Highly organized? Attentive listener? Very attuned to the feelings and experiences of others? These make up a large part of what might be described as your intuition, or ‘gut’. The same attention to detail that anxiety can take advantage of, could in fact be the thing that gives you an advantage and often keeps you out of hot water.
Powers of empathy.
While experiencing anxiety we are often highly energized by the thoughts of others, and we are most often also very attuned with other people’s feelings. This means that you can probably sense things in others before most, and as a result have an advantage when it comes to how you want to act and react in social situations. You may be more empathetic, loving, and accepting when friends and family members are dealing with personal challenges.
But balance is also important. Just because you have a great capacity to understand the feelings of other people, doesn’t mean you have to guilt, or ‘should’ yourself into feeling other people’s feelings. Because after all, how could we ever truly know what it feels like to be in someone else’s reality, or mind? So, settle for understanding, and you’ll most likely find that your efforts to protect/prevent yourself from anxious worries like becoming an insensitive or bad friend, partner, child, parent, or employee become far more effective.
The power of creativity.
Anxiety draws the incredible capacity of deeply creative people to detect and predict emotional danger. Think about what it takes to systematically create every possible scenario we may encounter in an hour, a day, or a moment… All in our mind. Think about those projects, assignments, or presentations you’ve gone through when anxiety may have presented itself and tried to push you to your creative limits. This creative ability also presents itself in other areas of your life as well and probably serves you in a bunch of other ways that you might not even be aware of. Your creativity is innate within you and exists completely independent of your anxiety.
These are all superpowers that anxiety loves to take advantage of and piggyback on. But honestly, these are positive traits that have nothing fundamentally to do with anxiety. The superpowers do not depend on the anxiety… they are innately within you. (The anxious tendencies are simply negative or intrusive applications of your positive qualities!) Looking at anxiety through these different lenses can help lend perspective, and offer options to cope and even thrive with anxiety. I hope this helped you to understand the deep strengths you have within you.
If you’re looking for more strategies or support, why not try therapy?
Have you ever been given a work assignment late on a Friday with a Monday morning deadline?
Maybe you spent the whole weekend working yourself up to address the issue only to lose your nerve Monday morning. Standing up for ourselves can be very scary, especially in the workplace where the consequences can be high. Each of us has a button (or two or three) that, when pushed, leads us to shut down. Fear of looking stupid, avoiding criticism, and wanting to be “likeable” are just a few examples. If you’re not used to standing up for yourself, it can be uncomfortable and scary. You may be worried that you will come across as aggressive and demanding. Not speaking up lets us avoid those uncomfortable feelings in the short term, but what happens over time? For starters, we don’t get our needs met. Bosses and colleagues don’t change their behaviour and we slowly feel more resentful, disconnected, and powerless. It also impacts our self-esteem when we feel invisible or taken for granted at work.
When I first learned about the communication tips below, I remember thinking “I wish they taught this to me in school.” Here are some strategies to use when you want to stand up for yourself at work:
It can be hard to assert ourselves if we don’t have a general outline for how to communicate. Describe. Express. Specify.
Start by describing the situation
Generalizations like “you always ask me to do projects first…” can lead to exception finding (“Not true, I asked Bob first last month this one time…”) that let the other person invalidate your whole argument. Instead describe the most recent issue and describe the behaviour or action “I noticed today you…” or, if there is a pattern of behaviour, try framing it as “frequently” or “more than once.” This will describe the behaviour or action you’re addressing with a concrete and recent example. This concrete example and using specific behavioural description allows you to avoid using labels that hinder the other person’s acceptance of your message
Use behavioural descriptions: avoid using labels For example: “I noticed you made that decision on my behalf” rather than “You’re controlling”
Avoid generalizations such as, “you always…” or “you never”
Avoid “why” questions to reduce the likelihood of the other person becoming defensive.
Be specific and objective when describing the behaviour or situation. For example: “You don’t appreciate me and I need to feel appreciated” doesn’t give the listener much direction.
Give a concrete example and focus on the most recent incident of the behaviour For example: “I noticed today you….when you do that I feel…”
Use “I” language
Using “I” statements helps make it clear what you want, think and feel. For example: “I feel….” rather than “You make me feel…”. “I feel” statements are powerful because no one can really dispute what you are feeling. This also invites the other person to think about things from your point of view.
Avoid “you” statements. These are likely to make the other person defensive, and not fully hear your message For example: “I felt frustrated when you….” rather than “You were being inconsiderate when…”
Avoid interpreting the other person’s intention For example: “It upsets me when you make comments like….” rather than “You’re trying to make me feel guilty.”
“Own” your request of the other person. For example: “I’d really appreciate it if you…” rather than “You should…”
Communicate your message directly to the intended person, whether it’s your colleague or a supervisor.
Be direct, don’t be overly apologetic
Make eye contact
Try not to be overly wordy otherwise, the message may get lost
Keep on Track
Choose a good time and place when you’re likely to get the person’s full attention
Only address one issue at a time. Do not bring in past “laundry lists” of grievances.
Repeat the request if needed. Use the same statement if necessary (”broken record”)
Be specific about the action required from the other person
If necessary describe the consequences of the other person’s behaviour. For example: “Otherwise, this may continue to negatively affect our friendship”
The key to standing up for yourself at work is to remain respectful to the other person. We can show respect by demonstrating through words and actions that we understand the other person’s point of view, thoughts and feelings about the situation. We can show respect by:
Being open and honest
Using I statements
Naming the emotion word
Checking out the impact
Has the other person understood the message you tried to communicate? Is there a gap between what you tried to say and how it was understood?
Acknowledge both the feelings shown and expressed by the other person
Acknowledge any issues the other person brings up then return to your point
Be sure to take into account the rights, needs, and feelings of the other person.
When you’re assertive, you ask for what you need, you talk openly about what you want, and you recognize when someone is taking advantage of you. You can approach the things you do with confidence and make a direct impact on your environment. But this does not come easily for everyone.
Stress is a silent killer.
It is more complex than that headache you feel after a long day at work or the aches and pains in your joints. It is more than the general body fatigue you experience when you wake up in the morning, and you feel at you have not had enough rest, or that you have not rested at all. Stress is a cascade of chemicals overreacting the nervous system causing muscle tension and feeling of irritability and exhaustion.
Let’s face it, in modern day society, we are faced with numerous bills, responsibilities, social pressures, juggling work and school as well as caring for those we love and admire in our lives. In order to avoid breaking down or lashing out, you need to find ways to calm your body after each stressful day, because when you live in a world of incredible health, you will experience happiness and contentment.
Daily existence takes a lot from people’s health; from the strenuous to the least difficult tasks, claims of exhaustion are made on the human body. The ways your body reacts to these stressors are conditioned by what it already has in surplus or lacks. You may want to know that nutrition and adequate rest are the first steps to take if you want to manage your health very well and, thereby, reduce the counter effects stress has on your wholesomeness. Nutrition is not only about eating balanced diets, rather it also calls for maintaining healthier lifestyles, of which you must know that the eight-hour sleep and adequate exercises are mandatory for good over-all health and well being.
Here are some tips for recognizing and managing stress:
1) Allow yourself to be helped and supported
Sometimes people who are facing a lot, think they are the only ones struggling or going through a difficult time. Seeking help is key to normalizing your reactions as well as realizing you are not alone in your world. Accepting help from the people who matter in your life will give you an opportunity to recognize triggers and how to deal with stressful situations. It will also open an opportunity to discuss and explore stress management tools, techniques as well as brainstorm options available.
There are tons of stress reducing activities you can engage in if you want to effectively manage your stress and emerge from it. You should consider all the stress management options such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing techniques, mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy, online group strengthening, talking to family, friends and people you trust to name a few ideas.
2) Plan your day the night before
A lot of people have fallen out of routine. A good old fashioned to-do list is an essential technique to employ if you want to reduce your stress. Drafting a list of your future activities will help you manage your day and remain calm when people and events are overwhelming. If you already have a fixed routine, try adding in plans the night before. This should help carve out time to see what you need to accomplish and how much time you must allocate to each activity. You will be in control of your day, making it difficult for a stressful occurrence to happen. You will also have a plan and be able to calm your body when you recognize yourself becoming stressed and tense. Writing down and scheduling time for exercise, meditation, and self-care will create a structure and you will more likely stick to it.
3) Practice gratitude
I highly encourage you to take time to reminisce on the things that have gone well in your life. It means taking time to remind yourself you are moving according to your pace. Practicing gratitude means you will no longer use the events you see on social media or the good things happening to your friends as a yard stick to measure your own growth. If you are content with your life as it is while working harder to improve your station in life, you will have little to worry about and your mind will be at peace with you and your environment. If you compare yourself with others, you will become bitter and vain. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Many studies show illness begins with worry and fear. When you are constantly anxious and perturbed by happenings are you, you lose focus on what you can really achieve. What went well so far today?
Meditation comes in many different methods, but if you want to subdue and rule over your worries, fears and doubts, consider mindfulness meditation as the approach. This approach allows you to focus objectively on your troubles. It allows you to dissect your anxiety, laying it bare to its intangibility. It allows you to conquer your fears when you have realized the adverse effects they have on your health. Mindfulness meditation reduces the buildup of cortisol in the blood, thereby reducing the risk of developing diseases caused by stress. Meditation helps you to have stronger memory, happier moments, a healthier body, a positive perspective and less stress. You should know that the scientific benefits behind meditation such as mindfulness are phenomenal, and above all else, your will feel a state of calmness, balance and centredness.
5) Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is amazing for your lungs and over-all general well-being. Taking a deep breath, can be instantly therapeutic. When you breath in and out, your body releases toxins piled up in the body through carbon dioxide. When your body is adequately detoxified and cleansing out tension through deep breathing, your mind becomes clear, and most of your emotional tension starts easing off. Deep breathing is a natural way to maintain overall balance within the body by reducing stress levels and strengthening the immune system. When your immune system is calm, everything in your mind and body is benefiting including organs improving digestive functions. Practicing deep breathing increases the secretion of the anti-aging hormones in your body which decreases your aging process. Deep breathing works best combined with meditation, hence the practice of mindfulness meditation.
Taking five deep slow soothing breaths of a smell you enjoy will increase and light up the dopamine in your brain, another feels good chemical. I suggest having a bottle of your favourite smell near by and diffuse pleasant chemical free aromas often.
The effort is not in the things you do, but in how you do them. When your daily activities are packed with exhausting routines and tasks that crawl over each other for attention, what you do and how you do them should revolve around the best ways to not be completely spent, both physically and otherwise.
You should also know that stress does not only arise as the outcome of the amount of energy you expend on a daily basis, those persistent worrisome thoughts and concerns are stressors too. The worrisome thoughts might follow the following concerns: financial constraint, challenges at work, strained relationships, and other situations that have a tendency to induce anxiety and its antecedent: stress.
We’re over a year into the pandemic, and I see more stress building in my clients, friends, co-workers, and family as the days go by.
Of course, right?
Isolation prevents holidays with family, hanging out with friends, or just interacting with strangers at a café or local watering hole.
Feeling defeated is normal.
We might even wonder why no one reaches out to us first.
Sending a simple, light-hearted text is an uncomplicated way to combat our own isolation while offering compassion to another without intruding on their busy life too much.
Texting is personal, supplying instant connection from anywhere.
Texting is Low Risk, Easy, and Low Pressure
When we feel stressed or overwhelmed, communicating/connecting with others like texting can provide a buffer to lessen the impact.
Whether we want to vent or just feel grounded to other humans who relate to us, simple talks are vital to our well-being.
Even national helplines and therapists offer texting now.
Especially in emotionally turbulent times when we feel overwhelmed or burnt out, texting helps us collect our thoughts. It’s lower pressure than a call or video, too.
Both parties have the freedom to respond when and how they’re comfortable.
Human Connections are Vital for All Facets of Health
Simple connections are critical to every part of our life: physical, mental, emotional, social, and how we see ourselves.
As the Canadian Mental Health Association points out, human interaction can lower anxiety and depression symptoms, improve our self-esteem, boost empathy, and even keep our immune systems healthy.
I’ve noticed people are struggling to manage this new loss of control.
Change isn’t easy. Big, sudden changes are even more challenging. Accepting that massive, sudden change is constant, and we can’t control it. Now, that’s quite a challenge for anyone.
Our brains are hardwired to seek patterns, sometimes even where they don’t exist! Patterns are comfortable, predictable, safe, and low risk. They help us plan and make important decisions. That’s why constant change can be stressful, even if we don’t realize it.
Texting someone is a tangible action within our control. Texting someone who provides a source of support and comfort? Even better!
It’s a win-win for both parties, too.
Texting is powerful: We have at our fingertips people to break the isolation any time. We have options.
“But No One Wants to Talk to Me”
I know it’s not always easy to reach out.
Our brains play tricks on us. We think “if they wanted to talk, they would have reached out already” or “I’ll probably say something stupid or annoying.” Again, change isn’t easy.
We really make friendships much harder than they have to be. (Those BFF movie tropes don’t help either.) We must make an effort and put ourselves out there — and that effort alone is a victory.
Texting is low risk, too.
Still feeling daunted or not sure where to start? Look at the last meme you saved and think of who would like it. Send it to them.
Just “Hey, miss seeing you around. How’s your kids/move/work going?” works, too.
Provide (Don’t Just Offer) Support, Reassurance, and Vulnerability
We might be surprised how the most unexpected people open up to us.
Make sure to offer reassurance first and avoid dismissive messages like “don’t worry about it/you’ll get over it.”
We often try to convey reassurance through those statements by implying things will get better. But to the other person, those don’t help while they’re beaten down or feeling weak from being emotional in the first place.
Instead, acknowledge and validate their feelings without trying to change them.
If they seem open, ask for more details to show you’re invested and offer to do a specific favour. Maybe send them their favourite Starbucks order without being asked.
Sometimes, saying “I’m here if you need anything” makes the other person feel like a burden. Offer your interest and a specific action if the situation calls for it.
Sharing our own stress is also important, so the other person feels comfortable sharing with us. It shows we trust them. Vulnerability invites vulnerability.
When we feel stressed, it’s surprising and reassuring to realize others feel the same way we do.
Friendship and Texting are What We Make Them
On the other hand, not every friendship has to involve a deep emotional connection.
Many times, all we need is to share a laugh in the face of challenges.
Sharing a funny TikTok, meme, or video can open the door. I recently shared a lemon pasta recipe I was trying out with a friend. Likewise, asking questions and talking about a mutual hobby can let us connect over something positive instead of negative.
This year has been hard, it’s time to choose you!!
Take the chance to commit to yourself.
It doesn’t matter what your relationship status is – you can double dose on self-love.
I’m not talking ego-driven, narcissistic, self-aggrandizing stuff here. This is real, unadulterated, self-worth boosting, confidence building, unconditional love of yourself.
You know, all that love bottled up inside that oozes for others – get you some of that, like asap!
You want the kinda self-love that we should all be giving ourselves, no matter our flaws and limitations. No, not after you find the ‘right’ partner, become a success, and trim off those extra Covid-19 lbs. Now.
You deserve to love yourself, as you are. Get radical. Accept yourself, flaws and all. Don’t worry, you can still work on those things that aren’t serving you so well, because that’s self-love too.
Your flaws don’t take away from your worth – hint – perfection does not exist. So, unless you like eternal limbo, stop waiting to get all your ducks in a row before you take your You-Relationship to the next level.
Take this unusual time to break free from the esteem-crushing comparison game that leaves you void, angry, depressed, and feeling alone. Instead, fill up on that double dose of compassionate self-love!
It all starts with a commitment to YOU.
Need a place to start, try these tips:
Get Radical – accept yourself, flaws, and all. Period.
Be aware – start to tune into yourself so you can be aware of your needs and meet them with compassion and love – are you hungry, sad, tired, angry, and so on.
Let go – leave old expectations and self-limiting beliefs behind. Forge a new way.
Forgive – yourself for any past wrongdoings and mistakes you’ve made, unhealthy relationship patterns, and the time it took for you to get to this place of committing to love yourself.
Write – make a contract with yourself to focus on self-love. Write a letter to yourself to help you forgive and let go. Journal your thoughts. Write about your future self-loved you in present tense.
Affirm – create “I AM” affirmations that highlight the loveable person you are and/or want to be – I am loveable, I am beautiful, I am intelligent, I am talented, etc. Repeat them often.
Boost Esteem – try to boost your esteem daily – list the things that you are proud of, your strengths, accomplishments…no matter how small.
Reach Out – just because you’re focused on loving you from within doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Surround yourself with loving kindness support, whether friendship, a partner, family, community, or a professional.
Fill Your Soul-Cup – tap into what brings you joy and fill your boots with it. Whether it’s being creative, getting out in nature, music, a hobby – whatever it is, make it a priority.
Invest – Invest in YOU – your health, mental health, and wellbeing. And, well, it’s v-day, so treat yourself and indulge a little. Pamper yourself. Buy yourself flowers or a treat. Spoil yourself with you-time.
And remember, self-love is a journey, and not always an easy one. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Just always come back to your commitment to keep loving yourself, imperfections and all.