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.

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:

Continue reading “My 3 Principles of Stress Reduction: Putting my words into Practice”

#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!

bookshelf.jpg

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!!

Dealing with “Starting-high-school” Worries

Every year, beginning around April or May, many of my young clients express worries and fears about starting high school in the following year.  This feeling can be described as a general worry, but can escalate to crippling fear and panic.

There are many reasons why this fear and worry is understandable.  It involves transitioning from the oldest in elementary school to the youngest in a larger, more intimidating school environment.  Socially, high school amalgamates several elementary and middle school classes into one gigantic grade 9 class, filled with unfamiliar people.  Some of my clients also worry about the perceived increase in difficulty level of school work and expectations.  And even though grade 9 is the beginning of high school, it sometimes symbolizes that need to confirm long-term goals, which can include university or college programs and future careers.

On a more personal level, I empathize with my young clients because the frame of reference that they have regarding high school is a lot more darker and surreal than what I was exposed to when I was transitioning.  I was bombarded by the bright colours and cheerful casts of shows like “Saved by the Bell”, “Boy Meets World”, “Full House”, and “Beverly Hills, 90210”.  Now, high school series show more mature themes, such as “Pretty Little Liars”, “Riverdale” and “13 Reasons Why”.  It is no wonder that some of our young ones are more nervous about this major life change!

When supporting youth through this time, I found the following things helpful and they may be helpful for you when talking to your teen:

  1. Normalize how they are feeling.  “I am sure that a large percentage of soon-to-be grade 9 students are experiencing similar fears and worries”.  Remind your teen that uncertainty and unfamiliar situations are always worrisome until they become more predictable and familiar.  This will take some time.  It is also okay to remind your teen that there are some experiences in life that cannot be avoided and this may be one of them.  Challenging our fears can teach us about our resiliency and our ability to adapt to new and different surroundings.
  2. Focus on balanced thinking.  “In addition to the things that worry you about high school, what are some of the things that you are excited about?”  This could include meeting new people, joining clubs and extra-curricular activities, having their own locker, etc.
  3. Process specific worries.  “What is the worst case scenario that you are worried about?  Let’s find some strategies that may be helpful if this happens.  What is the likelihood that this will happen anyways?”
  4. Connect your youth with appropriate supports.  Some schools are now hosting “orientation” weeks that allow grade 9 students to acclimate to their new surroundings and get used to the new routines and structures.  Participating in these programs may help in familiarizing themselves with their high school.
  5. Talk about it.  Even when your child says, “I don’t want to talk about it. It makes me nervous”, remind him or her that the more he or she talks about it, the less scary the topic may become.  Obviously, you don’t want to force your child to talk about it, but engaging in small dialogues about things that are exciting about high school may make it less daunting.
  6. Remind ourselves that of the social pressures that we may not understand, especially if we went to high school without social media, cell phones, the internet, and super-sized high schools.  High school is definitely a different experience now than when I was a teenager a very, VERY, long time ago, and I am okay with admitting that I may not fully understand the new pressures that our youth today have to face.  But I am also confident that with many of our youth, the passage of time and the support from others can make a positive difference when making this transition.

Here are some other helpful articles that may be of some use:

“Starting High School” – http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/starting-high-school.html

http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetails.aspx?p=243&np=295&id=2196

Helping Your Teen Adjust – http://www.drpaul.com/adolescent/highschool.php