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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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Managing Loss over the Holidays

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Loss and grief are some of the most powerful emotions we can experience and during the holiday season, symptoms of grief that have previously relented, might suddenly return.  Such is the case with many clients I treat. For some, grief is new, for some their loss has occurred years earlier.  Either way, the truth of loss is that we are never truly finished with grieving when someone significant to us dies.  However, (and my clients challenge this!) there are many ways to live with the loss without suffering from it. Here are some suggestions to manage grief during the holidays:
1 – Create rituals and memorials of your loved one. It is helpful to draw on your personal spiritual and cultural beliefs to guide you in the creation of a meaningful remembrance.  For example, one client put up a “Chicago Bulls” tree in honor of her son, who was an avid fan.
2 – Meditate by intentionally remembering both the happy and sad memories.  Avoidance rarely works and leads to more suffering.  Set aside time and space to do this meditation-either journaling, listening to calming music or looking at fun pictures shared with your loved one.
3 – Draw on your support system. Reach out to friends or others who share your grief and let them know this is a difficult time for you.  Attend an event with them or just spend time with friends as a diversion.  Isolation creates more suffering.
4 – Reconnect with a therapist or former grief group.  Re-entering therapy for a session or two can aid in reminding yourself of tools used in grieving.  Or just simply processing what you are experiencing with a professional can be helpful.  Attending a grief group often helps as well.
5 – Change holiday gatherings to limit painful reminders. Maybe it’s time to gather for a breakfast instead of a traditional dinner that your loved one was the focus of.  Having gift exchanges on a new day or omitting them and volunteering for a charity in behalf of your loved one can be very healing.
Using the above suggesting can decrease suffering.  Of course there will always be a void when someone you have loved so much is no longer seen on
a daily basis, but many have found every year hurts a little less than the year before, and as one client stated ” I try not to focus on my own individual pain and try to focus more on the fact that those I have lost are no longer hurting”. Thinking about it that way can bring more comfort and solace.
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