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How To Turn Anxiety Into Your Superpower

How To Turn Anxiety Into Your Superpower

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?

Tips for Recognizing & Managing Stress

Tips for Recognizing & Managing Stress

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?

4) Meditation

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.

6)Aromatherapy

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.

Tips for Recognizing & Managing Stress

Tips for Recognizing & Managing Stress

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?

4) Meditation

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.

6)Aromatherapy

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.

Dealing with Today’s Election Anxiety

Dealing with Today’s Election Anxiety

Today marks the 2020 US election. 😱

Okay, take a deep breath. 

Now, as a Canadian company, you may think… well, why are you thinking/writing/worried about the US election?

A couple reasons. First, we deliver a ton of mental health training in the US and have a ton of American clients. Second, personally, I consider the US my second home having lived and worked there. Third, we can’t deny that this is a global moment or reckoning of the kind of world that we want to build.

While that sounds heady, it’s not really. This election has very real consequences for us in Canada, the kinds of behaviour that’s normalized among our leaders, and the validation (or rebuttal) of the worst human impulses.

Feeling anxious yet? If you are (like me), here’s what we can all do today…

Trust our gut

Over the past four years, we’ve been exposed to a firehose of hate, division, fear-mongering, alienation, and cruelty in a way that was previously unfathomable. Many of us have become addicted to staying up to date on each development (see John Mulaney’s bit on comparing the Trump Whitehouse to a horse in a hospital). The emotional scars of the past four years are immense, let alone the anticipation of an election that could make this chapter history.

All of this is to say, there’s no need to feel guilt or shame in how you feel about this election. This anxiety runs deep. So trust whatever you’re feeling — because you’re feeling it with good reason.

Take any action

This kind of nervous-jittery-anxiety is best countered by taking civic action. What kind of action? Well, anything really, so long as you are using that same fire that’s within you right now for good.

Write something on Facebook about how you’re feeling about today. WhatsApp your American friends and ask how tensions are in their community. Use this as an opportunity to reconnect with old peers or friends. Moments of collective anxiety are ripe for reconnection. Take advantage of that.

If you’re hungry for more, shift your focus to what’s local, even if you’re in Canada. Know that crosswalk in your neighbourhood that’s dangerous? Write to your counsellor. Know that provincial proposal that’s frustrating you? Sign a petition. Know that issue you’ve been meaning to learn more about? Dive into it. Action beats inaction. Choosing our focus is an act of control. And when we feel a sense of control, our anxiety can be tamed.

Limit the scrolling and reloading

Refreshing CNN or FiveThirtyEight all day won’t make a difference. Nor will scanning Twitter incessantly. The results will come in as they do (or don’t… looking at you Pennsylvania!). Make a plan to consume coverage in a measured way and stick to it. That means, for example, checking out the news once an hour for five minutes. Later tonight when results start coming in, pick a channel you’ll watch and set a window for when you’ll tune in. Don’t be afraid to break up that CNN time with something funny — like an episode of It’s Me or the Dog.

Find solace in like-minded voices

I’ve found a great deal of comfort in the content from Crooked, the media juggernaut launched by ex-Obama staffers that include podcasts like Pod Save America. On these big nights, they do something called the “Group Thread” where they broadcast their own Slack channel with a feed from MSNBC on YouTube. Their team shares their candid, hilarious reactions to each development in a way that humanizes the profundity of the moment. It’s a great normalizer, reminding us that if you’re outraged, scared, or hopeful that there are millions of people out there just like you. If you’re looking for something lighter, Steven Colbert is doing a long livestream over on Showtime. And if you’re looking for something insightful, The Daily is doing their first-ever live show starting at 4pm EST.

Accept that we’re not done yet

Regardless of what happens, tonight won’t be the end of the past four years or the messes that it’s caused. There will be uncalled races, heightened tensions, and a — at a minimum — a president that won’t be out of office until January. Accept that there’s still a lot to happen beyond this evening — and believe that you have more control over your anxiety than you might think.

And if you need support at any time in the aftermath of tonight, we’re always here for you.

How to Keep Moving Through the Unknown

How to Keep Moving Through the Unknown

The past few weeks have felt like the intro scene to a zombie apocalypse movie. The streets are getting quieter and quieter since the pandemic was announced. I know we’re all just at home doing our best to keep everybody safe, but it still seems eerie when I look outside.

It makes sense that many people are feeling some degree of anxiety these days. There are so many unknowns around COVID-19, it can be difficult to assure ourselves we are safe and secure.

One of the many challenges when we’re presented with huge unknowns in our lives is figuring out how to make and adjust our plans and how to accept when our previous plans are no longer possible.

It can be really hard to adjust especially when we’re facing the unknown. You may find yourself having to change your well-honed daily routine, lose out on your well-earned vacation plans, modify a milestone event, isolate yourself from loved ones, or perhaps all of the above. What’s worse is that many of the usual strategies you use for coping with these sorts of challenges, i.e. going to the gym or visiting with a friend, may not be possible anymore. Thus, whether you’re adjusting a financial plan, figuring out a new school schedule, solving childcare needs, etc., all of this unknown can create a spiral of anxiety. Our brains are always trying to help us plan and figure out the best course of action in a given situation. When we can’t, our bodies react.

Another effect we may experience as we try to manage and adjust to sudden change is loss. The initial response to a sudden change is often panic and/or shock, which is a sign of grief. We tend to go through many of the stages of the grief cycle, which includes: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are not linear so we might experience different stages at different times or sometimes all at once.

Sometimes, throughout this process, our brains want to fill in the blanks to try to make sense of the unknown. In order to regain some control over this process, here are some tips on dealing with the loss you might be experiencing:

  • Consider alternatives/other options for your plans

  • Ask for help! Talk to those you trust for emotional support, assistance with logistics, etc.

  • Use strategies that feel soothing, comforting, and enjoyable

  • Give yourself permission to feel sad, angry, or anything else that comes up. Whatever it is, your feeling is valid.

  • It’s not necessary to resolve everything at once. Take the time you need to make a decision.

  • Keep to your usual routines as much as possible by modifying them to your situation (e.g. workout at home or go for a walk, get dressed for work even if you’re working from home, etc.)

  • Find ways to be safe (e.g. currently that means washing your hands, sanitizing, staying inside, etc.)

  • Ask for and take time to yourself

There’s a lot going on for all of us as we try to adjust to these changes without having the answers. That’s okay! Myself and Shift’s team of therapists are here to support you if you have further questions on how to manage your mental health during this challenging time.

5 Ways to Manage Financial Anxiety

5 Ways to Manage Financial Anxiety

The past week saw a huge stir in the markets with oil prices dropping, the threat of COVID-19, and folks rushing into the supermarkets.

It’s perfectly normal that we start feeling the turbulence at home. Here are five tips to help us refine and manage that “stock anxiety” so we’re better able to manage emotions in stressful times.

1. Recognize and analyze the cognitive biases that impact judgement

One common bias at times like these is loss aversion. We often feel the impacts of loss to a greater extent than the gains we have experienced. Acknowledging this helps us to gain perspective: while highlighting a drastic drop we may be discounting the prior gains we have made.

Another is catastrophizing. It’s when we give greater weight to the potential outcome that would be most damaging. This is a troublesome bias to hold when working with something as unpredictable as the stock market because it moves along arbitrarily and is often hard to predict. This bias accelerates and enforces damaging thought patterns that may have negative impacts and increase our feelings of anxiety.

2. Seek mentorship and peer support

This provides us with a platform to meet with like-minded individuals that have dealt with similar situations. We can gain realistic tips on how to manage our anxiety when dealing with the stock market. In addition, it reminds and reassures us that the ebbs and flows of the market are to be expected.

3. Put things into perspective— adopt a bigger picture

We can use graphs to highlight the peaks and valleys that our stocks show. Adopting a bigger picture perspective allows us to see that these peaks and valleys are all over the stock market and this is not the first dip in the market and it won’t be the last. Adopting a perspective that considers the impact these dips will have in the future can be beneficial for our next moves and it can reduce some initial anxiety.

4. Research

Find an area you’re unsure of and learn. These moments of anxiety are often exacerbated by lack of understanding about markets. We can ground our anxiety and manage our expectations with validated expertise about trends from objective viewpoints that are outside of our own. We can also use this research to challenge some of the negative thought patterns that may reinforce anxiety.

5. Relax

When we experience dips in the market this triggers a fight or flight response in our body that is having a real impact on our anxiety. It is important to remind ourselves that we are safe from harm and practice exercises like meditation and mindfulness to ground ourselves in the knowledge that we are safe.

It’s completely normal to have anxiety when we face financial and fiscal challenges in the stock market. These challenges bring on new feelings of unknowing that impact our bodies in very real ways. It is integral to sit with ourselves, pay attention, and notice how stress is manifesting in our bodies.

The effort we put in now can be the foundation on which we build a strategic response to anxiety with a goal of preventing overwhelm. We’ll feel the benefits now and in the future.