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.

Continue reading “Exercising Technological Self-Care: The importance of setting online boundaries”

Talking to your Child or Teen about Tragedy

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Wishing that our children can be free of tragedy and sadness (Photo Credit: Teresa Sumerfield Photography)

It seems like more and more frequently, we find ourselves bombarded with media coverage about tragedies that occur randomly and unexpected.  School shootings.  Bus accidents.  Innocent children and youth dying. Acts of violence towards strangers.  Sometimes, watching the local news can be more terrifying than the movies and television shows we “responsibly” use our parental blocks to shield our children from the horrors of computer animation and gratuitous gore and bloodshed.

It is not surprising, then, that our young ones are becoming increasingly anxious about arbitrary and general and unspecific situations.  We may wonder why our sons and daughters are worried about practically everything and we may try to comfort them by telling them that they have nothing to worry about.  However, in my work with children and youth, although this interaction is, at best, full of positive intentions to support and help, it is often viewed as minimizing and insincere.  It can also send the message that these feelings are not okay or “normal”.

Continue reading “Talking to your Child or Teen about Tragedy”

Anti-Bullying Week – Nov. 22 – 25

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Anti-bullying Week 2016 is starting in my community’s school boards.  This is a very important time and it reflects a cause that I am extremely passionate about.  So, as I prepare to educate the students at my children’s school for the second year in a row, I am dedicating time to share significant information for children, youth, parents, and educators about the severity of bullying and its implications on the victims, perpetrators, bystanders and communities.

The term “bullying” has gradually lost its true meaning and has been used to describe isolated incidents of abuse, violence and other inappropriate behaviours between peers.  “Bullying” refers to a chronic victimization that is based on a perceived power imbalance and is meant to make the victim feel hurt and pain, both physically and emotionally.  As much as we believe that bullies are confined to the schoolyard, it is a behaviour that presents itself across the lifespan, from children to the elderly.

Anti-bullying initiatives in the schools evolved from the research that focused on the long-term effects of bullying, such as increased anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, social isolation or withdrawal, and unhealthy relationships.

According to the statistics provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (For more information, click on the following link:  http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cycp-cpcj/bull-inti/index-eng.htm):

  • Canadian 13 year olds have the 9th highest rate of bullying compared to 35 other countries;
  • 47% of Canadian parents have a child who has been bullied;
  • Between 6 to 8% of victims avoid school due to bullying;
  • 49.5% of middle and high school students in Toronto reported being cyberbullied and most did not report it
  • 85% of bullying occurs in the presence of others

Similarly, in a study conducted by PrevNet.ca, 75% of university students reported being affected by bullying.  (For more information, download the following pdf: Bullying Statistics – Prevnet.ca.

What does this all mean?

Many adults can acknowledge that bullying is something that seems to have been around forever.  It is almost considered to be a normative rite of passage.  However, we are now seeing bullying behaviours that extend past the schoolyard and into our children’s bedrooms through technology.

In my practice with youth and families, I have counselled many victims, as well as, individuals who admitted to bullying others.  One thing I have learned about this experience is that everyone has a story.  While the victims can recall and describe experiences of trauma and ongoing issues with trust, social anxiety and depression (to name a few), those who bully have also reflected on feelings of anger, loneliness and trauma.  Throw in the dangers of social media and the result is a large population of young people who are experiencing an overwhelming amount of emotions but may not have the capacity or maturity to understand the permanency of their online and in-person behaviours.

However, since we have seen bullying and its many faces for so long, we focus on the same messages.  Punish the bullying behaviours.  Teach the victims about social skills and coping. Tell the victims to ignore the hurtful comments and actions of others.  Encourage them to hug and shake hands.  Yet, these messages are not being received.  We have young children who are retaliating or defending themselves, who are now being told that they will also be suspended or expelled from their schools due to zero tolerance policy.  Some are bullying other children in order to feel powerful or validated.  And most, but not all, do not feel comfortable telling an adult about what is happening to them because of fear that the bullying will continue and possibly escalate.

Other lessons that may be more beneficial should encompass providing valuable skills to bullies, victims and bystanders. Not only is it important to educate young ones about what bullying can do to people, but it is also essential to teach them valuable skills and lessons on empowerment, empathy, responsibility, respect, self-esteem, kindness, compassion, and leadership.  Teach them about friendship, acceptance, tolerance, recognizing their strengths, and resiliency.  Remind both those who are victimized and those who are victimizing of their worth and value.  Believe them when they say they are in pain instead of minimizing it by telling them that “it happens” and emphasizing the need to “get over it”.  Encourage them to care about one another and be role models.

Love them. Embrace them.  Tell them they matter.  All of them.

There shouldn’t just be one week in a year to teach our young ones these important life lessons.  We need to emphasize this at all times.  Yet here we are.  I am wishing everyone a successful and powerful Anti-Bullying Week.

 

My first article for Marriage.com

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I have officially been named an “expert” by marriage.com, a leading website providing resources and information about marriage and related topics.

Please check out my first article, “Differing communication styles can both fail and strengthen your relationship”, using the link below:

http://www.marriage.com/advice/communication/differing-communication-styles-can-both-fail-and-strengthen-your-relationship/

 

The “tip of the Iceberg”: Looking beneath our child’s behaviours.

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You are feeling utterly exhausted as you endure your child’s latest “meltdown”.  You watch him (or her) helplessly as he (or she) thrashes about, yelling and screaming, and saying hurtful things to you and others.  You desperately want to help your child but don’t know how.

For some of you, reading this scenario resonates with you.  Observing angry or aggressive behaviour can elicit feelings of sadness, fear and frustration.  You can’t seem to understand how your sweet, loving child can switch, almost instantly, to someone who seems inconsolable, uncontrollable, and unrecognizable.

In my practice, I share with families the theory of the Feelings Iceberg, which can be helpful in understanding a child or youth’s behaviours and guiding effective responses.  Continue reading “The “tip of the Iceberg”: Looking beneath our child’s behaviours.”

When you need more than “I don’t know”: The High/Low Game

The school year has finally begun and you are dying to know how your child’s day went.  How was their teacher?  Were their peers nice to them? Did they find the work hard? So you ask your child and, after a long pause where you think he or she is thinking about a response, you get, “I don’t know” or “Nothing”.  You are left starving for more but you don’t know what else to ask.  And now you are just frustrated.

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Getting your children to talk about their day can be challenging, especially if you want to know if he or she is experiencing stress oranxiety.  On one hand, you don’t want your child focusing only on the negative parts of the day.  We don’t want to begin the pattern of mental filtering early, after all. (Note: Mental filtering refers to the tendency to filter out the positive things and focus on the negative things, even when the positive things outweigh the negative).  It is essential to encourage balanced thinking by prompting our children to think not only about the negative parts of their day, but the highlights of their day as well.  We also don’t want to ask them close-ended questions that require them only to answer with one word (ex. “How was your day?” Good. “Did you learn anything fun?” No.). Continue reading “When you need more than “I don’t know”: The High/Low Game”