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Anxiety in a Time of COVID: Part 2

We have many internal and external resources available to us when anxiety becomes overwhelming. We can typically recognize an unhelpful anxious thought because it often starts with some variation of “What if…” and or is predicting negative events that are possible but incredibly unlikely.  In this post, I will briefly outline some of the internal and external resources that can be extremely effective in confronting and managing anxiety.

Internal Resources

1)    Talking back to and Challenging Anxious Thoughts:

Anxiety is like an annoying know-it-all and overly critical boss; it constantly points out what might go wrong or what it thinks you didn’t do right, and it is usually flat out wrong! When we talk back to or challenge anxious thoughts with phrases like, “I’m allowed to make mistakes!” or “I’m enough as I am!” and “You don’t know everything!” we are bossing back our anxiety and taking charge.

2)    Past Successes:

What difficulties have you overcome in the past? How did you do that? What did you learn about yourself? Anxiety likes to make us forget or discount all the challenges we have overcome in the past. But, as we stack up our past successes, we are reminded of just how capable we really are, no matter what anxiety says.

3)    Problem Solving Skills, Creativity/Imagination:

Clearly you have gotten yourself this far in life, which means you have solved literally thousands of problems. Life throws curve balls at us regularly, and it is our creativity, imagination and problem-solving skills that help us work through them. When anxiety says things like, “What if you get sick?” We can say back to anxiety, “Then I will rest, get lots of fluids and take care of myself. I know what to do when I am sick.”

External Resources

Support Systems:

Some problems and concerns are outside of our experience and skill set to solve. Who do you have in your life that you could go to for help? Make a list of people in each arena of your life that you feel comfortable approaching and asking for help. For example, who at work can help you when you have questions or problems? When you are at school, who is most likely to have the information you need? Our external resources include people in our support systems, people who know us and care about our well-being and are invested in our success: parents, teachers, friends, family members, coaches and teammates, therapists etc.

When anxious thoughts and feelings begin to escalate, start by recognizing these feelings for what they are, ANXIETY, and then access your internal and external resources to challenge and talk back to your anxiety. 

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All Hope is Not Lost

Whether it is hardships from the pandemic, civil unrest, political discourse, loss of a loved one, fear of the future, or many other aspects of life, it sometimes may feel there is no end in sight to the pain that life can sometimes bring. Finding continued hope through the burdens of daily life can often feel daunting, uncertain, and just out of reach. Through the recent year, many people may have found themselves uttering these simple words either to another or to themselves:

Ex: “ I would like to… but I don’t want to get my hopes up”…

 While the simple rhetoric is often over looked, the profound impact on our lives is not to be underestimated.

Hope: “ (A belief that things can be better than what they are”) is one of the most powerful aspects of human life. The instillment of hope can offer peace in a moment of chaos; comfort in a moment of fear; and courage in a moment of despair. The loss of hope, or (hopelessness) often results in a person loss of will to live. 

Maybe this past year you have found yourself not planning, not hoping out of fear of disappointment. Maybe you have felt lost, overwhelmed, or out of control. Maybe you have lost a family member or loved one and need to find a way to some how keep moving forward.  The joy of hope is that it is accessible to all who seek it, and is found all around us. May I offer 3 principles of Resiliency  to help you increase your hope, and in turn, increase your ability to manage hard times in your life. 

  1. Commitment 

We commit to the challenge ahead of us. We commit to the strength, the endurance, and the help needed to survive. Asking for help is not weakness. Everybody in life needs help. Most of all we commit to not let our burden consume us, destroy us, or allow us to lose our selves in the process. We tell ourselves, “ no matter what happens, I will be ok”. 

2. Control

A main source for unmanageability and discourse is caused by trying to control things that are out of our ability to control. Learning to let go of what is out of your ability to control, and having the courage to do something about what you can control can drastically reduce the out of control feeling life can bring. 

3. Challenge 

Much of the research about resiliency and hardiness speaks to how we choose to look at a situation. Some are financial, others physical, some trauma, others mental health related. Challenge, adversity, and pain are essential to provide opportunities for growth. Seeing our problems through a lens of opportunity rather than suffering can help provided a new perspective of hope that will allow us to face our trials with gratitude. 

Symbols of hope can often provide something that reminds us to have hope in a moment we need it. Find something that inspires you, makes you feel happy, or gives you courage to keep moving forward. Symbols of Hope include:

  • A favorite quote, 
  • A poem, 
  • A song, 
  • A picture, 
  • An experience. 
  • A person you look up to
  • A deity, religion, or spirituality practice

Surround yourself with little things that bring hope into your life. As we move into a new year I am reminded of a statement from Viktor Frankel:

“ We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.” 

Frankl, V. E. (2006). The meaning of life. In Man’s search for meaning: An introduction to logotherapy (p. 108). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

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Help!!!! I’m Going Crazy!

Over the last month, you may have had that exact thought cross your mind a time or two (okay maybe a million depending on how well your kids are adjusting to on-line school). Seriously though, during this global pandemic and all the changes to our daily schedules and lives there seems to have been an overwhelming sense of discombobulation and unease with each new declaration. At least that’s my perception from my personal experiences with friends, family, neighbors, clients, and written accounts that I’ve read. It seems to leave a lot of us feeling like we’re living in an alternate universe….(cue the music), “You have entered the Twilight Zone!”.

How do we build some continuity into our “new normal”? By being creative and flexible with our expectations and focusing on our priorities we can reduce some of the anxiety of the unknown. Now, you’re probably wondering what exactly I mean by that and are wondering if I’m going to tell you to create a “schedule” that is color coded with daily achievement goals that is Pinterest or Instagram worthy? Nope!!!! I am going to suggest a couple of things that I have seen have huge impact, both personally and professionally, when trying to create a new normal.

First, set a consistent wake up time. If you are a natural early riser and like to be up with the sun and that helps you feel grounded and ready to start your day; set an early morning time. If you are more of a “I like to laze in bed a bit and then start my day”, type of person then set a little later time. Having a set time to get up every morning creates a natural sense of normalcy for our bodies.

Next, find a purpose in every day no matter how small. It can be from walking the dog to creating a presentation for your work Zoom meeting tomorrow. Just find one thing that will give you a purpose for that day.

Get outside the four walls of your house!!! Even the most introverted are struggling with feeling confined during the stay at home directives and orders. We don’t realize that over the course of a typical day many of us are in and out of our homes, offices, cars, stores, and schools many times. The loss of this freedom of movement can have a strong impact on our mental, and physical, well- being. Combat this by getting outside 2-3 times a day for at least 10 minutes each time. It doesn’t need to be for exercise purposes, although that certainly has added benefits, but just the change of scenery.

Make a connection with friends, family, coworkers, or neighbors every day. No, I am not saying throw the social distancing guidelines out the window and be reckless with your health. I am saying it is important to feel connected to those around us, especially in a time of stress. Isolation and loneliness are not our friends. We are social beings that have a need for connection. Think about it, how does the penal system punish inmates? They put them in isolation…solitary confinement. Break out of your solitary confinement and talk to your neighbor from your porch. Call your sister on FaceTime. Set up a virtual girls’ night. Stay connected!

Lastly, find a way to connect meaningfully with your source of power, whether that be through meditation, prayer, therapy, gratitude affirmations… whatever makes you feel grounded, empowered, and centered. Take the time everyday to find your inner peace and quiet the fears or worries in your mind. And, if you need help and are struggling then there are therapists and resources available on-line that can help you.

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I’ve Had It! What Should I Do?

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We’ve all been there before. Stress can build until you feel out of control. I often have clients come in so defeated because of a myriad of different reasons. In session, I always ask a few questions to see if we can find a pattern to what lead them to this difficult place. If you are are feeling overwhelmed and unable to figure out what to do next, ask yourself the following questions.
  1. Have you eaten recently? If your car was out of gas, would you still expect it to run smoothly on a road trip? Of course not! You would make sure your tank was full so you had plenty of fuel to take you where you wanted to go. Our bodies need the same fuel. You cannot manage your stress, anxiety, depression, or life without properly fueling your body with healthy food. Want to have more energy to fight through difficult times? Make sure you’re eating!
  2. Are you  properly hydrated? My family laughed at our aunt growing up that always gave the advice to go have a glass of water. Having a bad day? Go grab a glass of water. Stressed out? Water. Feeling sad? Water. Can’t focus? You guessed it…water. However simple it may sound drinking a proper amount of water each day helps keep energy up and will make you feel healthy. Instead of grabbing a caffeine filled drink when you’re out of energy, slow down and grab a nice glass of water. Being properly hydrated will help more than you know. 
  3. When was the last time you showered and got ready for the day? People often skip over this important daily ritual when life gets busy. Slowing down and taking time for yourself will make a big difference in how you feel about yourself and the day ahead of you. 
  4. When was the last time your heart rate was up? Walking briskly for even five minutes can get your heart rate up and provide your body with much needed chemicals that will help you feel healthy and focused. 
  5. Are you sleeping too much or too little? Make sure you are getting a healthy amount of sleep. It can be a tricky balance. Too much sleep can result in feeling lazy, lethargic, and depressed. Too little sleep can leave you feeling tightly wound, exhausted, and stressed. Make sure you are balancing sleep correctly so you can have enough energy and motivation to get through your day. 
  6. When was the last time you got out of your house and connected with someone? Go out and connect with someone face to face. Technological connections are great, but actual face to face connections will do much more for your mental health. 
While these questions may seem like a “no brainer,” you may be surprised to find how many of these small things get neglected when you are stressed or having a difficult time. Try asking yourself these questions next time you find yourself frustrated and stressed out to see if they help.
If you need further help managing your anxiety or depression, call Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555. You can learn further tips and tools to help  you through your difficult time.
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