Accepting Our Anxiety: Coping with Uncertainty in an Unpredictable World

I returned to work this week – the first time since the global pandemic was announced. I was able to connect with my clients online and on the telephone, for which I was grateful.

One thing is for sure: we are all stressed.

And it makes sense, right? In a short period of time, the entire world has been infiltrated by an invisible predator. Countries all over the world are locking down and we are bombarded by dismal and tragic updates on a daily basis and on an international stage. We have lost our sense of normalcy and routine in all of our systems. Our work and school environments. Our extra-curricular activities and social events. Our freedom to utilize public spaces. All taken away or drastically changing.

So, yes, it makes sense that we are stressed. Because anxiety if fueled by uncertainty. When we do not have predictability and routine, we can feel unsafe – physically and emotionally. Every day, we see different systemic changes and restrictions. We hear the phrase “day to day” all the time and there cannot be any commitment to any timeframes. We have no control over the trajectory that this virus is going to have on the world, other than our own personal choices to socially and physically distance from others and self-quarantine if we are sick. We don’t know what to expect on any given day. And when our anxiety rises, we see all of our other negative feelings surface more readily. We are more irritable. Angry. Sad. Lonely. Guilty.

Is it hopeless? Is it inevitable that we will feel this way forever? It certainly feels that way. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We will have to be creative and flexible. We will have to let go of expectations to a certain degree. But there are things that we can control that we can try while we are at home.

  • We can control when and how long we watch the news or check social media and internet sites, as abysmal as they are. Are you the type that has to know everything in order to feel less anxious? Or does knowing too much make you more anxious? Whichever one fits, do what makes your anxiety less.
  • We can make time every day to use our social outlets to connect with people. Create group chats on Facebook or WhatsApp and schedule video chats with your loved ones. Go through your contact list and create a list of people that you want to check in on every day and send them a text or call them. We are in a technological world, people. Let’s make use of it.
  • We can set small goals for each day to give ourselves those small victories. That closet that you always wanted to organize but never had the time? Now you do! Go around the house with a recycling and garbage bag and start throwing stuff out. It feels powerful and freeing to purge! Those lonely socks that seem to accumulate with no pair in sight? Throw them out or find their partners.
  • We can enjoy the moments we have our family members. You know who those people are, right? The ones that are we hardly see during the week because of work and soccer practice and dance class and commuting. Start a movie marathon, play a board game, play a video game, put on some music and just dance.
  • We can be kind to ourselves and recognize that are anxiety makes sense. We can accept it for now and label it as such. It’s a stressful time for all of us.

Even though it feels like there will be no end to this pandemic, it will end. It has to. And our lives will return to the regular chaos that we have learned to accept as normal. So, we have the ability to enjoy the moment the best way we can. We are being given the opportunity to slow down.

This situation is can be everlasting or fleeting – it just depends on the lens from which we are seeing it.

Exercising Technological Self-Care: The importance of setting online boundaries

Having two young boys of my own, I have acknowledged that we now live in a technologically-dependent society: everywhere we go, we can access information and create social networks through our electronic devices – cellphones, tablets, laptops, computers, etc. The idea of being in an area with no WIFI can be devastating to some and losing our mobile devices can be as stressful as losing our wallets, cameras, calendars, and any other vital possession that we may own to keep in touch with the modern world.

On International Women’s Day, I was honoured to be asked to co-facilitate a workshop on communication, with a focus on technological boundaries and navigating through difficult conversations. So, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to share this information for my latest blog entry.

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Valentine’s Day: The Day to Celebrate LOVE for everyone

Photo Credit: Teresa Sumerfield Photography (http://www.teresa-sumerfield.com)

It’s February 14th…which means the romantic comedies and love songs have been playing on repeat for the past few weeks on television and radio, the jewellery commercials have been in full force to remind you of the “perfect” gift of diamonds, and the stores are littered with all shades of pink and red. It’s Valentine’s Day. For some, this day can be exciting and romantic. For others, this day can bring about feelings of loneliness and sadness. And for others, this day is just Thursday.

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Bell Let’s Talk Day is Tomorrow!

January 30, 2019 is Bell Let’s Talk Day!! If you don’t know what this initiative is, make sure to visit their website at: https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/bell-lets-talk-day

From: https://letstalk.bell.ca/en/bell-lets-talk-day

As a therapist and counsellor, I hear it often: “I don’t know if I need counselling. I’m not crazy”. Language is a powerful thing. And the first thing I try to do is NORMALIZE. I remind them that our mental health is the same as our physical health: just as we all have vital organs that keep us alive, we all have emotions that naturally respond to the environment or situation surrounding us. When we have aches and pains, we sometimes postpone our visits to the doctor or forget to take our medication. We may skip our daily jog or indulge in a double burger with bacon and cheese. And, sometimes, we have difficulties managing our emotions or taking care of ourselves mentally by engaging in regular self-care or seeking professional help.

Our emotions are vital to our existence and all serve an important function – even the unpleasant ones. They tell us that we either like or dislike what is going around us, they tell us to take extra caution if we feel that we are at risk of being physically, socially, or emotionally harmed. When we try to deny our emotions or minimize them, we introduce another emotion – GUILT. And this feeling can make whatever we are experiencing seem a million times worse.

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My 3 Principles of Stress Reduction: Putting my words into Practice

Organization isn’t about perfection. It is about efficiency, reducing stress & clutter, and saving time & money, & improving your overall quality of life.

Christina Scalise
Some call it ‘organized chaos’…

There are many constants that I like to emphasize during my counselling sessions. Some are based on theory, some on personal or professional experience. Regardless of the presenting issue, I have three principles of stress reduction that I like to encourage all of my clients to embrace:

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And Just Like That, We Say Goodbye to 2018!

Another year has come and gone, most likely with some highs and lows. It can be very easy for us to “filter” and direct our focus on our most difficult times, but recalling the steps forward, regardless of whether they are significant strides or tiny steps, is always helpful in maintaining hope for the year to come.  And so, here is my Year in Review: the Good, the Not-So-Good and the Hopeful.

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We Want Your Stories! A Callout for Narratives about Experiences with Loved Ones with Dementia & Alzheimer’s

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In collaboration with Caron Leid, an international speaker and advocate, we are embarking on an exciting opportunity to publish a book about the narratives of caregivers and families who have experienced struggles with managing their loved ones with Dementia or Alzheimer’s.  Our vision is to share and inspire individuals who are also going through this experience and provide validation and support from people who have developed resiliency and strength throughout the process.

So this is an official CALL OUT to those who want to contribute to this project.  We are looking for written entries for our book that can reflect on various aspects of caregiving.  This can include topics such as grief and loss, compassion fatigue, self-care and self-compassion, and aspects of these diseases that cannot be found in textbooks.  In other words, we are looking for lived experiences.

Additionally, our hope is to not only compensate those whose entries are chosen for the book, but also forward a percentage of the proceeds to an exciting foundation that is in development as we speak, which will focus on helping caregivers receive the support that they need during this journey.

For more information or to submit your entry, please feel free to contact me or Caron.

#gettingreadyforchange: A one-day workshop coming to Georgetown!

My colleague, Uresha Salgado, and I are VERY excited to host our first workshop in the Georgetown area!

On Tuesday, August 14th, we will be having a one-day workshop for students transitioning from grade 8 to high school and are feeling worried or nervous about this change.  It will be a supportive group that will explore, process, and work through some of the common worries that occur during this time.

If you know of anyone in the Georgetown area that may benefit from this program, or for more information, contact me.  Depending on the number of referrals, there also may be a possibility to extend to another day at the end of August.

summer group flyer

It’s Exam Time!

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With the end of the school year approaching, there is always excitement about summer vacation.  But with this, is the seemingly gigantic obstacle that needs to be overcome before the bliss of sunny days and freedom: exams.  Your teen may be experiencing some anxiety about this time of the year because of the cumulative projects and upcoming exams.  You may see more irritability or expressions of stress and frustration rise in their words and their behaviour. Just remember that it’s only temporary and once that final exam is completed, the excitement of summer will return!

During this time, I always try to remind myself when working with my teenage clients that it can be a very stressful time.  I try to incorporate strategies to help in managing test anxiety, whether or not they believe they experience it. So, I wanted to share a few main points that I find to be helpful with surviving exam time:

1. Studying requires breaks! Our brains can only retain a certain amount of information before it begins to shut down on its own.  Therefore, even though we are entering into our third hour of studying, the likelihood of remembering is quite low.  So take those breaks to give your poor brain a rest, please.

2. When we “blank out” during exams, it is usually not because we are unprepared.  It is usually because our anxiety is so high that it is interfering with our ability to remember.  If this is the case, it is important to enter the exam environment in a calmer state.  Right before the exam, put away the notes (you’re not going to learn anything new in the next few minutes) and focus on relaxation.  Sit and listen to your favourite song, sketch in your sketchbook that you haven’t used in a while, watch a television show.  Bring your anxiety down from a 10 to a 7. It will make a big difference.

3. Try to reframe your thoughts if they are negative.  If you think that you are going to fail, remind yourself of the good (or “okay”) marks you have received in this class so far this semester. Instead of focusing on what you still don’t understand, think of the things that you studied and know backwards and forwards.  If you think that it will be a long and grueling process, remind yourself that you will be on summer vacation in less than a week.  This time tomorrow, this class will be done and over!

4. Before you start writing anything down on your exam, read over all of the questions and take a deep and slow breath. Exhale all of the worries and remember all of the work that you have put forth to get there.

5. Get a good night’s sleep and eat something small before the exam.  Fatigue and exhaustion will make it very difficult to focus, formulate your thoughts, understand the questions, etc.

6. Once the exam is over, IT IS OVER. Don’t spend too much time thinking about the questions and whether or not you got this one right or that one wrong.  Leave it in the classroom and take the night off if you can by doing something enjoyable.

7. If you feel panicked or anxious before your exam, remind yourself that it’s normal to feel this way.  It may not mean that it is because you are going to fail. But it is definitely a reflection of your desire to do well, which means it is important to you.

Below is a link to a pdf file that has a lot of helpful strategies to prepare for exams and write them.  I give this to my clients all the time, even if they are not worried about their exams.

https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/Test_Anxiety_Booklet.pdf

Good luck to all and I hope this post was helpful to you!!

The Stress of Being a Caregiver

Before I became a Social Worker, I wanted to be a teacher.  And before I wanted to be a teacher, I vaguely remember wanting to be a banker or a cashier.  When I was 12 years old, my father, who was a financial controller for a business firm, suffered a brain injury, called encephalitis, which was a swelling in the brain.  He lost his ability to speak and express himself in coherent words.  He lost his ability to recall how to do basic functions of self-care.  I watched my mother transition from a secondary provider to the primary provider, as well as, a caregiver.  I observed her stress levels increase and her physical health deteriorate because of it.  My father never really recovered.  I think we, as a family, just learned to adjust to the new language he spoke and the reminders that he needed on an everyday basis.  We observed him become progressively more irritable and frustrated because of his inability to communicate his thoughts effectively.  My mother’s hypertension and angina were often affected with the added stress that my father’s sudden change in presentation and needs brought to the family.

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