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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.

Understanding Perfectionism

Understanding Perfectionism

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is NOT the same thing as being goal-oriented or motivated to grow and better yourself. Perfectionism is this idea that one must be perfect in the way they act, look, communicate, and appear. It is an intangible standard, one that not a single person in the world can achieve!

Perfectionism is believing that you are what you accomplish, and that only when you accomplish your goals will you be worthy. The problem with this is that when you do accomplish those goals, you often only temporarily feel satisfied, not ever truly feeling worthy.

Perfectionism often leaves you feeling like you are not good enough. It is very hard to be happy with yourself when your perfectionism tricks you into believing you are a failure if you cannot achieve perfection.

How to work through feelings of unworthiness and perfectionism?

  1. Identify it. When you are feeling self-critical, ask yourself “is this goal SMART”?

S– Specific (simple and significant)

M– Measurable (how would you know you have achieved this goal?)

A-Achievable (attainable)

R- Relevant (reasonable)

T- Time-bound (is it possible to achieve this goal in this amount of time?)

If your goal does not fit these criteria, your perfectionism might be setting unrealistic expectations.

  1. Remind yourself that perfect does not exist. No human being is perfect. Making mistakes and growing is part of the human experience.

  2. Remind yourself perfect is not relatable. It is a lot easier to talk about strengths, talents, and accomplishments than it is to talk about failures, weaknesses, or challenges. However, allowing others to see your challenges can create a mutual bond of trust, allowing for deeper, more meaningful connection. Own who you are! You are wonderfully imperfect!

  3. Have some self-compassion. Talk to yourself the way you talk to your friends. It feels silly at first but with practice it comes more naturally. “I love you (to yourself). I am sorry you are disappointed you did not do/get/achieve____. It is okay to be upset. I still love you. You are still enough”.

  4. Remind yourself of WHO you are, not WHAT you are. You are not defined by your accomplishments. You are enough NOW, not “if” or “when” you achieve a certain goal.

  5. Take care of yourself. Engage in activities that make you feel good, remind you of what you love, who you are, and what truly matters to you.

Embracing your wonderful imperfections allows you to be your best, truest self. Be yourself, it is more fun anyways!

The Purpose of Emotions

The Purpose of Emotions

Every one of us experiences a number of different emotions throughout the day.

Experiences, circumstances, thoughts, relationships, and our physical health play a major role in influencing the emotions we may experience at a given time. While some emotions may get a bad wrap for feeling overwhelming and tough to deal with, every emotion serves an important purpose. They can motivate us to take meaningful action, influence us to make an important decision, and allow us to better understand ourselves and others.

When we experience an emotion, it may help to look at it as an expression of a need that needs to be met. In order to better regulate and accept our emotions, we first need to better understand their unique purpose.

Emotions play an essential role in how we communicate with others.

About 70 – 90% of communication is non-verbal, meaning that our body language, tone, and facial expressions may communicate even more in a moment than our words do. For example, crying with a friend after a shared conflict may indicate to them that you are hurt and in need of empathy. It may also indicate to a friend the emotional pain that occurs at the thought of losing that relationship, and can signal the personal importance of that friendship.

Emotions also motivate us to take action.

For example, the feeling of fear can indicate to us where we lack a sense of safety. It may motivate us to fight, fight, or freeze at the first sign of danger. Feeling the emotion of fear can motivate our body to act when it is really essential. On the hand, when we feel anger, we may feel motivated to notice where a boundary needs to be drawn and then take action.

Emotions also signal a need.

If we look at emotions this way, we can build a better understanding of our values and what is truly important to us. When we feel guilt, we may look at it as a sign that we have acted against our core values. We may be motivated to then reflect on those values and move forward accordingly. Feeling jealousy can motivate us to better understand where we need internal validation, security, and self-compassion. Jealousy within a relationship can even be viewed through the lens curiosity rather than judgment, and can then allow us to communicate our needs to our partner(s). Feeling joy can remind us of who and what is important in our lives, and can inspire us to focus more attention on those particular things.

When we feel a difficult emotion, we may be tempted to ignore or push down the feeling. Ignoring our emotions can over an extended period of time may lead to further emotional stress. Learning how to feel our feelings rather than push them away can be helpful, healthy, and useful in growing our self-awareness and caring for our mental health.

Why It’s SO Important to Connect, Even While Distancing

Why It’s SO Important to Connect, Even While Distancing

You’re not alone in feeling alone.

With the increase of isolation and social distancing due to the global pandemic, many individuals are experiencing heightened feelings of stress, anxiety, and loneliness. Though stress and anxiety have been receiving much attention, little attention is given towards how loneliness can influence one’s mental health.

Human beings are creatures of connection. We need social interaction to survive and maintain our well-being. Evolutionarily speaking, belonging to a social group quite literally kept you safe from threat or risk of harm. Thus, our need for connection is an evolutionary response and is part of our human biology!

Hence, no wonder we are feeling lonely during a time when physical interaction is discouraged and is deemed unsafe and against the law.

If social connection is so important to the human experience, why is it so hard to talk about loneliness?

Loneliness tricks us into thinking that we are the only ones who are lonely. It tells us to keep quiet about our challenges and pain and that we will be a burden to other people if we share how we are feeling. We are discouraged from reaching out because we are worried we will be deemed crazy, weak, weird, needy, or emotionally unstable, if we let people in on our struggles.

In reality, loneliness has been proven to be contagious, where if one individual is feeling lonely, chances are those in their close circle may be feeling lonely as well. Many of us are catching the lonely bug these days!

If we reach out, we can #BeThere for one another.

The less we talk about mental health, the more we are contributing to the false narrative that mental illness is “abnormal.” Talking about it is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness.

All humans struggle from time to time. It is a part of life. The more we talk about our challenges and hardships, the more we recognize mental health challenges as being a normal part of the human experience. Through continuing the conversation surrounding mental illness and loneliness, we can create unity amongst one another. It becomes a lot easier to attend to what we need and develop “real” connections once we share our struggles with other people.

What constitutes “real” connection?

You can have 10 000 followers on Instagram and still feel extremely lonely and disconnected. This is the difference between communication and truly feeling a connection.

Real connection happens when we receive advice, validation, concrete help, and emotional support from others. This is ironic because loneliness tells us to stay quiet, however sharing our feelings can simultaneously make us feel better and help us achieve real connection, thus attending to our feelings of loneliness.

It is ok to not feel our strongest right now. We have been experiencing the challenges of the pandemic for several months. Recurring distress can make it hard to feel as strong as we normally are. Lean on real connection for strength and support.

Here are 10 ways to feel connected during a global disconnect.

  1. Turn on your video camera on zoom calls (if possible). Speaking directly to one another, responding to facial expressions and body cues are important for connection.

  2. Check in often. Call the people in your life that provide you with “real” connection and genuinely care about your well-being.

  3. Start meaningful conversations. #BeThere. Normalize conversations around “How are you?” “How are you handling the pandemic?” “What can I do to help?”

  4. Make a list of people you want to connect with consistently. This gives you schedule and routine and holds you accountable to connect.

  5. Enroll in a class that intrigues you or join a club. This way you are growing your supports and frequency of connection.

  6. Hold on to your sentimental belongings. Photos, old cards, gifted objects remind you of your pre-existing connections.

  7. Be present with your bubble. Put the phones away and make deliberate time for quality interaction and connection with those in your bubble.

  8. Connect with nature. Nature soothes pain and helps you feel connected with others, your community, and the larger outside world.

  9. Connect with your pets and animals. Animals encourage exercise and playfulness in your day, and answer to the human need for touch.

  10. Connect with yourself. Ask yourself how you are feeling and what you might need. Engage in activities, hobbies or pass times that make you feel joyful and refreshed.

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is a global day of recognition that celebrates the economic, cultural, social and political achievements of women and the work that still needs to be done.

That’s a lot to celebrate and consider in just one day, especially during a time in history when a global pandemic has left women carrying what has been referred to as the “shadow pandemic.”

The tremendous losses that women have disproportionately faced compared to their male counterparts this year is yet to be fully understood but it iss being felt by women across the globe. “The magnitude of inequality is striking”, suggests this article by McKinsey, noting that their analysis tied to gender inequality during the pandemic suggests that the “gendered nature of work across industries explains one-fourth of the difference between job-loss rates for men and women. The lack of systemic progress to resolve other societal barriers for women explains the rest”.

When considering this information, I didn’t have far to look for examples as inside my own industry, mental healthcare, the gender disparity is striking. Traditionally the profession of social work and the practice of psychotherapy has been performed by women, often under the presumption, and the great privilege, of helping. Despite training as skilled professionals, there is still a gender gap in the way society views and respects professions typically held by women who offer help (I’m looking at you, teachers, nurses, caregivers, child care workers…).

When I look at my professional colleagues and network, I see women and strong allies who are growing tired of trying to help in a system full of barriers and are continually told to do more, give more, and ask for less.

I’m watching my women-identified colleagues experience burnout from navigating providing care for others while now carrying the burden of the shadow pandemic themselves. I’m watching them engage in the unpaid labour of raising their children, supporting their loved ones and giving beyond their means. I’m watching this while I’m pregnant with my first child and due to give birth in two weeks. As a soon-to-be mother, to a son, what can I do to scream out for the helpers, for the women who are at higher risk during this pandemic and who have historically faced and continue to face significant societal barriers. How will I cope with the shadow pandemic, too?

I also watch women who love what they do, who have so much to give and who wouldn’t wish to work in any other profession, through simply being recognized for the work that they are doing and offered seats at leadership tables would be presumed to be unattainable.

I write this as a white cis-middle class woman and the question that’s on my mind is “now what?” I want to use my privilege for good. What can I do to change the perception of women’s work as simply “helping.” Helping is what keeps our economy moving but helping is also what perpetuates a disproportionate amount of male spokespeople on the screens and male leaders at the table.

It’s time to reframe the narrative of who we help, starting with helping ourselves.

When we take care of ourselves, we take better care of our clients. When our industry can take care of us, and prioritize what women have to say, we can have a larger impact overall and bridge existing gaps. This is no small feat and I don’t pretend to have the answers. I simply know that I want to challenge you to think about them with me.

In the years before now, I used to spend today sharing the quote, “Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them,” but today I stand here and tell you that we are already those women.

We are already strong. We’ve been strong. It’s not about being strong anymore, is it?

It’s about being valued, being equal, being given a voice and being seen.

I see you showing up today and every day. I see you showing your authentic self and supporting countless others in doing the same. It’s time for those sharing this world with women to make more space at the table.

Give us your seat. Give us your microphone. Stand in our shadows for just a second, and give us the room we need to change this world for the better.

How to Cope with Socio-Political Unrest

How to Cope with Socio-Political Unrest

Over the last several months, I imagine you have been experiencing a cascade of emotions, in response to what can be described as, on-going sociopolitical unrest, to say the least. This theme of unrest has been a result of an evolving global pandemic, a growing movement to challenge the long-standing systemic structures and traditions that support injustice and inequality, the underlying existential threat of the climate crisis, and most recently, the domestic terrorist attack on Capitol Hill. As a result, we continue to face uncertainties and threats to our physical, emotional, and mental health. Many of us are experiencing heightened feelings of anxiety, insecurity, hopelessness, and general emotional exhaustion. It has become imperative to learn how to develop the awareness and tools needed to help cope with and maintain our emotional mental well-being, as we continue to face these challenges and uncertainties.

Disclaimer: It is important to acknowledge that how I suggest we can cope with sociopolitical unrest is impacted by my social location and the privileged experience that I have been afforded as a middle-class, white, cis-male and therefore there will be some limitations to the scope of this article.  

Emotional Awareness

The feelings experienced as a result of these on-going and evolving sociopolitical challenges should not be dismissed as irrational, but rather something to engage with. You don’t need to find the silver lining or replace your difficult emotions with gratitude. It is completely fair and healthy to experience a challenging emotional response when faced with existential, social, and physical threats. You should not project guilt on yourself for having this difficult reaction or suppress the feelings that you are experiencing. These feelings and this reaction are warranted. You must be able to develop your emotional awareness so that you can monitor your emotional response on an on-going basis. It is valuable to stay aware and mindful of any indicators that might suggest you are struggling to cope with these challenges. Some possible indicators might be that you are withdrawing from your friends or activities, finding it hard to sleep, or facing overwhelming feelings of hopelessness. By practicing self-monitoring, you can develop an awareness of not just the emotions you are experiencing, but also develop control over the trajectory of those emotions.

Developing emotional awareness is crucial in managing our emotional regulation and preventing our emotions from spiralling into heightened anxieties or feelings of depression. Also, when we can accurately identify our emotions, we can better identify our needs and our values. We can use this engagement as an opportunity to explore what our needs are at that moment, as well as how we might be able to propel ourselves closer to our values. Otherwise, we might react in a way that is based solely on an emotional response, which might contradict those needs or values. An accessible tool to use to help engage and understand your emotional experience is through the use of reflective writing. Through reflective writing, we can more accurately understand our experience and process the difficult emotions we are experiencing, rather than suppressing or deferring them.

Radical Acceptance

As with many other threats that are out of our control, an effective strategy to manage those feelings is through the practice of radical acceptance. When I say radical acceptance, I am not suggesting that we submit to those that promote and perpetuate sociopolitical unrest, I am more so suggesting that it can be healthy to accept the terms of our reality and take the time to accept what you do not have control over. It can be easy for us to become hyper focussed on the things we cannot control, which will, in turn, heighten the risk of cynicism, anxiety, hopelessness, and feelings of depression. It is valuable to shift your focus to what you do you do have control over and with that insight, explore how you can make a difference.

You won’t always be able to impact the actions and attitudes of your peers or control how our leaders or the corporate interest responds to these events, but what you can control is how you respond to your emotional response, how you take care of yourself, and the degree to which you engage with toxic information outlets. One way that is often helpful in promoting feelings of agency and control, is to redirect the difficult emotions from the situation, into civic action.

Getting Involved

Activism is often a daunting endeavour for those with no prior experience. It is best to start where you feel comfortable. Explore efforts and initiatives that are accessible to you as an individual. This doesn’t mean you have to join marching protests (though this is never a bad idea!), but maybe you can create posters, sign petitions, or join a local group with similar objectives. As previously mentioned, reflective writing can be a very useful tool in our development of emotional awareness, but this also can be a very useful tool within your approach to activism. You might want to use your reflective writing practice, as an opportunity to write a letter to your local government representative or an opinion piece for a news outlet.

Perhaps you already have individuals in your life who are actively engaged in working to resolve current sociopolitical challenges. Access those available in your social network, they will likely be enthused to have you join. If not, I would recommend that you connect with your local community, and more importantly your neighbourhood. Becoming more involved in initiatives within your neighbourhood, is not only one of the most practical approaches to change and action but also a valuable approach to connect with your community. With that said, it is valuable to find others that you can connect with on a personal and emotional level.

Connecting with Others

Strong social and emotional support is vital for your maintaining your mental well-being and capacity for resiliency. When facing challenges such as anxiety, cynicism, and exhaustion we may feel inclined to isolate ourselves and retreat from socialization, and this, unfortunately, is only going to exacerbate those thoughts and feelings. As discussed, it is fair to feel cynical, apathetic and discouraged when engaging with current events, but you do not need to experience that alone. It can be helpful to explore these thoughts and feelings with others. Likely, those around you are having very similar experiences. Not only will talking with others help validate your experience, but it might also offer the opportunity to discuss different approaches for you to get active and involved with your community.

On the topic of connecting with others, it is important to reflect on who you choose to engage with. You want to make sure that you aren’t using your emotional energy to engage with individuals that contribute to the difficult emotions or that perpetrate sentiments of social toxicity. This is not to say that you should dismiss those with opposing opinions or perspectives, as I believe there is great value to be found in having those conversations, but rather you should try to evaluate how engaging with that person is going to serve you as an individual.

Seeking Balance

As with any sociopolitical issue that continues to plague our societal development, it is important to find a balance between staying informed and being overexposed. Staying informed is vital and having an educated understanding of the current events can help in promoting positive change and informing your activism. Though with that said, it is not helpful to constantly refresh your Twitter feed or to have the news cycle incessantly playing in the background. Often news headlines sensationalize, misreport, and misrepresent current events.

This is not to say all mainstream media is fake news, though we should be wary of the narratives that are being construed and how we consume news media. In addition to news media, the same can be said about how you use your social media. Using platforms such as Instagram often gives us the feeling that we are connecting to like-minded and individuals, and although the use of the infographic threads can offer an accessible source of information, this also can come with its own price of emotional exhaustion. You are allowed to take a break. As much as you may feel like certain issues warrant you to spend every waking minute and ounce of extracurricular energy to dedicate to these issues, you will be able to create greater change if your efforts can be sustainable. At the end of the day, you need to take care of yourself, to help others.

Seeking Support

As this article describes, we are currently living during a time of unprecedented social and political unrest and you do not need to feel like you are in this alone or need to cope with this in isolation. Seeking peer or professional support is necessary through these times and if you are finding it challenging to manage on your own, that is expected. Allow yourself to receive support from others and challenge any thoughts or feelings that are preventing you from seeking the support you may need.