Have Social Anxiety? Try this tip!

When clients come into therapy with the issue of social anxiety, one of the most common statements I hear is “I am afraid of what people will think of me.” It would seem that somewhere along the line, what was incorporated into their core belief system was a fear of judgement, a fear that somehow they weren’t going to live up to someone else’s expectations. “What happens if I say something stupid?” “I worry that all eyes will be on me.” They fret about what they should wear, how they look, what they should say or not say, that people will talk about them.”

Although it is important to gain an understanding as to how this core belief developed, it is also important to understand the thinking trap that we get into called ‘Mind Reading.’ Mind Reading is when you assume what others are thinking and feeling about you without having any concrete evidence about what they are really thinking. The problem is that we often respond to these assumptions as it they were true.

And in challenging this thinking trap, I ask you to think about why it is that we always assume that what another person is thinking about us is negative? Why aren’t we assuming that they might like our outfit, or laugh at our joke?

Because when we go into a situation already geared up for a negative response, we will distort or misinterpret the information we are receiving. As we are getting ready for the social event, we lean into the negative feelings and thoughts, we feed our fears.

We are much better served to tell ourselves, “I am not going to mind read. I am not going to assume that people are thinking anything of me. I am going to remind myself about the reality of the situation which is that people really aren’t paying that much attention.” (Which really is the truth.)

Accept the social invitation. Smile. Have good manners. Remember to breathe. Pat yourself on the back. Oh, and remember to have fun. 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

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A Tip About Panic Attacks

One of the books that I read on vacation was entitled “maid” by Stephanie Land. A memoir, “maid” was  Stephanie’s story about how an unplanned pregnancy, and subsequent life as a single mom, saw her strapped in poverty for years as she struggled to support herself and her daughter.

For anyone who suffers from panic attacks, you know first hand how frightening and debilitating in the moment they can be. You most likely also know that they do tend to pass, and when we ground ourselves, we can help to dissipate the panic. A passage in the book that I earmarked spoke about how Stephanie handled her overwhelming feelings:

“At the stop sign at the end of the street, I pulled over to the curb. I leaned forward, pressing my forehead against the steering wheel. This had happened often in the last year. Whenever I felt the pain of loss – my chest caving in right at the hollow spot in the center – I found it best to stop and wait, to give the feeling a moment to pass. The pain didn’t like to be ignored. It needed to be loved, just as I needed to be loved. As I sat in my car, I breathed in and out, counting to five each time. I love you, I whispered to myself. I’m here for you. Reassurance of self-love was all I had.”

What I like about this passage is process, grounding, and affirmations; a great combination in how we can focus on the panic to help ourselves get through the overwhelming feelings. Being able to acknowledge our fears in the moment, breathe through them while focusing on our courage will help us to keep the love for our self close by.

A lovely story, “maid” is a worthy read.

Photo credit: Me!

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Two Common Thinking Traps of the Anxious Mind

There are times when our internal dialogue works against us. Sometimes this comes in the form of our core beliefs, but other times it can come from our thinking styles. For someone with anxiety, two common thinking traps tend to have the capacity to influence and reinforce their anxious mind:

  • Catastrophising: the tendency to magnify the situation; to blow things out of proportion. This is really the “what if” kind of thinking that can lead someone into a loop of rumination, as they work themselves into worst case scenario thinking. It is the type of thinking style that keeps you very centered on the future, and what you can’t control. Very often, what started out as a legitimate worry, becomes so magnified that it takes over the ability to rationalize it.
  • Jumping to Conclusions: Very often, we imagine we know what others are thinking and begin to guess at what their actions mean; we become so focused on what it “could mean” that we lose sight of using effective communication, and end up in another all consuming thought loop.

The first step to changing a thinking style is simply to recognize it. Understanding that it has developed as a habit can give us permission to create newer, healthier thinking styles that focus more on the present and on what we know. Allowing our logic to play some role in our thinking will take away some of the power that our emotions have in those moments.

With the overall goal of having flexible thought, we can begin to recognize when we are feeling trapped by our thinking and remind ourselves to “Take a deep breath, focus on the facts, ask for clarification or support.”

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Meet Ellen Grickites; an Algonquin student who speaks her truth

I came across the website “Hope Heals;” an initiative being led by the Public Relations class of Algonquin College. In one of their featured stories, a student named Ellen Grickites, speaks about her experience with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is a fairly well known therapy and is often accompanied by other types of therapies as a practical approach to challenging some of our core beliefs and automatic thoughts.

There is a natural link between our thoughts, our feelings and our behaviours. Very often, we can be triggered by a feeling or thought that will, in turn, influence our behaviour. Ellen writes about her own experience with CBT: “Most of my early sessions included me explaining how I was feeling: Low, numb, stressed, insecure. My psychiatrist and I then began to question why I was feeling these things: Was it school? Friends? Bullying? The next step was to figure out how I could combat these feelings. I could distract myself, talk to my mom, or write them down. We discussed many options for distraction, and how I could make myself feel better.”

Although the article is about Ellen’s experience with a particular therapy, I am also able to appreciate her willingness to enter therapy and her openness about how tenacious we have to sometimes be with some of our ingrained patterns. I quote: “I am very proud of myself for having practiced cognitive behaviour therapy for the past four years. It’s a big step, and takes a lot of effort, but in the end, your mental health is worth it.”

Well said, Miss Grickites, well said. 🙂

To read the full article: https://www.hopeheals.care/ellens-story

To read an article introducing you to CBT: https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/what-is-cbt-definition-meaning/

Photo credit: http://Photo by Kristel Hayes on Unsplash

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What Anxiety and Anger Have in Common

You’re running late, feeling keyed up about not being on time; no one seems to be co-operating and the littlest one is starting to have a meltdown because she can’t find her favourite hat. Before you know it, you are yelling at the kids and yanking the closet door practically off of its hinges.

How did you go from anxious to angry so easily? Simply answered, our bodies set us up for it. When we are anxious, our body’s muscles tense up, our blood pressure rises, our heart rate increases, our breathing becomes more shallow and our attention narrows. The same thing happens when we are angry. Both our anxiety and our anger activate what is called the sympathetic nervous system which gets us ready for action. It becomes very easy when feeling stressed, to simply shift into anger because our bodies are already there.

It is our parasympathetic system that gets us back to a relaxed state. Eventually, whether anxious or angry, built in mechanisms eventually bring us back to calmness (picture driving to work after having dropped off the kids, coffee purchased and music playing). In the midst of feeling stressed, we can help that process along and allow it to get us there sooner by taking some deep breaths.

Focusing on slowing down our breathing pushes the reset button on both our physiological state and our mindset. We are much better served to stop, take some deep breaths and state to ourselves “It’s okay, like every other morning, we’ll get there.” Leaving everyone less rattled and the door still on its hinges 🙂

Photo credit: http://Photo by Michelle on Unsplash

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Anxiety and it’s Toll on Relationships

In a recent article entitled “How Anxiety Destroys Relationships (And How to Stop It) by Kristine Tye and featured on Good Therapy, Tye talks about the ways that anxiety can take it’s toll on relationships. Two of the points I found especially relevant:

  • “Anxiety breaks down trust and connection. Anxiety causes fear or worry that can make you less aware of your true needs in a given moment. It can also make you less attuned to the needs of your partner. If you’re worried about what could be happening, it’s difficult to pay attention to what is happening. When you feel overwhelmed, your partner may feel as though you aren’t present.”
  • “Anxiety is the opposite of acceptance. Unhealthy levels of anxiety make you feel as though an emotional “rock” is in your stomach almost all the time. Anxiety causes you to reject things that are not dangerous and avoid things that might benefit you. It also can stop you from taking healthy action to change things in your life that are hurting you because it makes you feel hopeless or stuck.”

Tye also notes that challenging your anxiety by focusing on the present and being okay with the feeling of discomfort are ways that you can counteract anxiety and the subsequent strain it may be putting on your relationships.

There is never a doubt that living with mental illness of any form can be taxing, to not only the individual experiencing it, but to their loved ones as well. Working towards coping strategies and leaning into healthier choices are ways that we can help counteract the after effects of emotional struggles, whether they are our own or those of whom we care about.

To read the full article (she has three more points!): https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-anxiety-destroys-relationships-and-how-to-stop-it-0622155

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Anxiety Fact #6

Anxiety can become a problem. This is when people usually seek therapy as their anxiety has reached a disruptive place in their life. If your body is reacting in alarm when there is in fact no danger, it creates a distressful cycle as we try to manage our worries and fears physiologically. Our body produces symptoms based on our fearful thoughts, but without any real danger, our body then has no signals that “Everything is okay. We got this.”

If anxiety reaches a level that has become disruptive, it really is okay to ask ourselves, “Does it have to be this way?” Reducing stress levels as well as actively reducing worry can help.

“Thinking will not overcome fear but action will.” – W. Clement Stone

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Anxiety Fact #5

Anxiety is mostly anonymous. As much as our anxiety makes us feel exposed and vulnerable, most people (except those closest to you) cannot tell when you are anxious. I can remember how nervous I used to feel when having to present something in front of my peers in graduate school; I would have that sinking feeling in my stomach and it felt as though everyone could see my uneasiness.  It was a physiological reaction and one that felt both out of my control and very obvious. Afterwards, my classmates would complement me on how calm, cool and collected I was. 🙂

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” – Armit Ray

Information for this post and a great website: https://www.anxietycanada.com/

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Anxiety Fact #4

Anxiety does not last forever. Even though anxiety can feel very permanent in the moment, it is a temporary process and does decrease. It ebbs and flows, existing as part of our adaptive mind-body system; when we process what we are worried about, we can often move to a position of feeling calmer. In a past post, we learned that emotion tends to trump reason which will often allow our fears to take over; taking a few deep breaths and then asking ourselves “What can I do about this worry right now?” will help us to allow our rational mind to come in and have some influence over our emotion, therefore decreasing the anxiety.

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” – Corrie Ten Boom

Information for this post and a great website is: https://www.anxietycanada.com/

Photo credit: http://Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

Anxiety Fact #3

Anxiety is not dangerous. Can it feel threatening? Sure it can; our fears often take over and it makes us feel as though we have no control. We call this thought process “catastrophic or worst-case scenario thinking” which at times, if left to its own devices, can lead to obsessive ruminating and/or a panic attack. But even panic attacks are not harmful or dangerous to us, even though they may feel that way.  Although there certainly is research that shows that chronic stress (which always carries with it anxiety) is, and can be harmful to our health, that is not the type I am referring to in this anxiety fact. Rather it is the act of anxiety itself that is not dangerous; it is a physiological response, one that can be calmed through the act of deep breathing.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – thich nhat hanh

Information for this post and a great website: https://www.anxietycanada.com/

Photo credit: http://Photo by Geran de Klerk on Unsplash