Tag Archives: anxiety

7 tips for coping with modern day stress

 

stress photo

7 tips for coping with modern day stress

Stress is unavoidable in today’s world. There are bills to pay, debt, traffic jams. difficult people, relationship issues – the list is infinite. Finding ways to cope with modern day stress will put you ahead of the pack in terms of effectiveness, happiness levels and quality of life.

Here’s how: ACCEPTS

Activities

When we engage in activities, we give our brains a rest from the continuous worrying. Activities that require engagement and thought are a great way to alleviate stress. One of the main principles of mindfulness involves being in the moment and when you are highly focused on playing a sport, exercising or doing a hobby, you give yourself a psychological break from anxiety and stress.

Contributing

Give something back to the community – do something for someone else. When we focus on something other than ourselves, we take the focus off our own worries and engage with someone else. Helping others can also help us to feel gratitude, especially if we are helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Spread a little love and kindness – always a great antidote for stress.

Comparisons

Comparisons need to be used wisely. Never compare yourself negatively to someone else. We all tend to do it, assuming others have better and more exciting lives than we do. Facebook is a bad culprit for this, increasing the feeling of deprivation. This type of comparison is unhelpful as it never helps us to feel better about ourselves.

It can be helpful though to compare yourself to those that aren’t doing as well as you are as this encourages perspective and helps us to feel more gratitude and appreciation for what is good in our lives. It is equally useful to compare times in your life when things were worse and how you managed then – remind yourself of your strengths and previous examples of your resilience.

Emotions

Do something that will create a happy emotion for you to counterbalance your stress. Watch a funny movie or put on inspiring or soothing music. Have a pillow fight with someone, be playful. Choose the opposite behaviour to improve your mood. Stress tends to lead to isolation, rumination and feeling sorry for ourselves. Try to get yourself out of that funk but doing something fun.

Pushing Away

Some thoughts tend to want to stick around. Learn to let go of worrisome thoughts. Picture them as leaves floating past you on a stream. You can watch them float by, you don’t need to pick each one up and focus on it. You can’t stop thoughts but you can choose how long you want to focus on them. Imagine writing your problem on a piece of paper, crumpling it up and throwing it away. Dismiss thoughts that are unhelpful.

Thoughts

Choose thoughts carefully. We all tend to engage in thinking errors. Examples: mind reading: where we assume we know what someone else is thinking when in fact we don’t know for sure. We often assume negative thoughts and this leads to further stress. Watch what your inner ‘mental diet’ is – what are you feeding yourself mentally? Is it balanced and fair or is it self critical and full of catastrophising (imagining the worst). Stop the self torture. Replace negative thoughts with more neutral ones. Example: Negative thought=I am never good in social situations. This will create anxiety. Another more neutral thought: I may not feel comfortable in social situations but that doesn’t mean I can’t handle them.

Sensations

Find safe physical sensations to distract you from intense negative emotions. Wear a rubber band and snap it on your wrist, hold an ice cube in your hand or eat something sour that you like. This focuses your mind on something other than your worries. Remind yourself of the difference between a real worry (eg. your car has broken down) and a hyopthetical, non-real worry. (example: what if the bus is full tomorrow and I don”t get a seat?) “What if” worries are wasted mental energy.

There are many strategies we can use to manage stress. We cannot stop stress altogether but knowing how to cope with stress can make the difference between sinking and swimming.

Mandy X

Past experiences and current triggers

 

thinking photo

Past experiences and current triggers

Cognitive Behavioural Therapists look for links between past experiences and current triggers of anxiety and depression. We all have thought systems or schemas – these are a set of thoughts that become a habit. We tend to see the world within a frame of reference and that is made up of our past experiences.

For example: depression is characterised by schemas/thought systems  about loss, deprivation and failure. Anxiety is characterised by schemas about threat or fear of failure. Each of us looks at our experiences in terms of these habitual patterns of thinking. One person might focus a lot on issues of achievement (unrelenting standards), another around issues of rejection and someone else on fears of being abandoned. Let’s say that your schema – your particular issue or vulnerability – is related to achievement. Things can be going well for you at work, but then you have a setback that activates your schema about achievement – your personal issue about needing to be very successful so that you will not see yourself as a failure. The setback at work might lead to the schema about being a failure (being seen as a failure) and then you get anxious or depressed. The current trigger would be a setback at work. The intensity of your reaction will, to a large degree, be influenced by your thought system and beliefs about yourself. Positive beliefs about yourself will lead to a less intense emotional response.

 

We often try to compensate for our schemas. For example, if you have a schema about failure or that being average is bad, you might work excessively hard as you are trying to compensate for your perception that you might turn out to be inferior or not live up to your standards of perfection. You might compensate by checking your work over and over again. You might have a hard time relaxing because you are worried that you are not working enough. It might also manifest as a lack of discipline to avoid the possibility of failing if you really do put all your effort into it. With a lack of discipline, it serves as a fallback plan/reason if you aren’t successful and you can then comfort yourself by telling yourself that you would’ve done better if you had put all your effort into it.

Often we engage in behaviour in an attempt to avoid what we fear coming true. If we fear abandonment, we might engage in behaviours that we believe will make it less likely for abandonment to happen. This is false thinking though because, often, our schemas are not based on reality and are more a product of our own thoughts, perceptions and past experiences.

And the most important thing about these compensations is that we never really address our underlying thought system. (ie. I have to keep up standards of perfection so as not to be seen as a ‘failure’). This is a rigid rule which will be tough to live up to in reality. Rigid rules get broken more easily (the key to happiness is psychological flexibility) and this will lead to higher levels of anxiety and/or depression.

How we avoid facing our schemas:

An example to do with failure: If your view is that deep down inside, you might be really incompetent (a thought), one way you might avoid testing out this schema is to never take on challenging tasks or to quit early on tasks. Another way people avoid their schemas is by emotional escape through substance use or through extreme behaviours such as drinking too much, using drugs to dull feelings, binge eating.

Where do schemas come from?

Parents, siblings, peers and partners. Parents might contribute to negative schemas by making you feel that you are not good enough unless you are superior to everyone, comparing you to other children, intruding on you and ordering you around etc

Some examples:

“You could do better – why did you get that B?” schema about the need to be perfect or avoid inferiority

“Your cousin went to Harvard, why can’t you be more like him?” schema about inferiority and incompetence

“Why are you always complaining? Can’t you see that I have problems taking care of you?” schema about the selfishness of needs

We internalise schemas from popular culture, such images of being thin, having the perfect body, “what real men should be like”, perfect sex, lots of money and enormous success. These unrealistic images reinforce schemas about perfection, superiority, inadequacy and defectiveness.

It’s also important to mention the importance of needs in schema formation and perpetuation.  Schemas are formed when needs are not met during childhood and then the schema prevents similar needs from being fulfilled in adulthood.  For instance a child whose need for secure attachments is not fulfilled by his parents may go for many years in later life without secure relationships.

Even though schemas persist once they are formed, they are not always in our awareness. Usually they operate in subtle ways, out of our awareness. However, when a schema erupts or is triggered by events, our thoughts and feelings are dominated by these schemas. It is at these moments that people tend to experience extreme negative emotions and have dysfunctional thoughts.

Schemas are obstacles to reaching goals but they do not tell us what we need to be happy. Develop a set of life goals – develop a strategy to outline where you want to go with your life. The clearer the objectives, the easier it is to define steps to achieve your vision.

Discover your natural inclinations – each person has an innate set of preferences. The best clues are found in our emotions and bodily sensations. Unfortunately, many of us are trained as children to disregard our natural inclinations and to do what is expected of us. We are forced to be tough when by nature we are sensitive, forced to pursue medicine when our natural preference is for outdoor activities…it is important to find a balance between the needs of society and our personal fulfilment.

The areas of change and focus – relationships, autonomy, self esteem, self assertion and self expression, concern for others.

Try having empathy for yourself and remind yourself of the origins of your schemas. Surrender the security of childhood patterns in order to grow into the adult you want to be.

Mandy X

Your thoughts aren’t real

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“The quality of your life is determined solely by the relationship you have to your own thinking” – R.Carlson

Your thoughts aren’t real

Okay, hear me out. The idea that your thoughts aren’t real may seem bizarre but once I have finished explaining you will see the logic. Your thoughts are your perceptions about the world. We don’t experience the world directly, we experience the world through our preconceived ideas and attitudes that have been created during our lives. We all have ‘filters’ that change how we perceive things around us. For example, the same event can happen to two people, the exact same experience, yet these two people may take very different lessons and experiences from that one event. If thoughts were real and standardised, we would all experience the world exactly the same way.

Imagine that you are sitting on a park bench with a friend and a dog approaches you. Imagine that you were once attacked by a dog. Your thoughts would be fearful and you would try to escape the dog. Your friend may not have the same filter of fear for dogs and may want to pet the dog. The exact same event yet very different outcomes. The difference between the two people was their thinking. Their thinking influenced their experience.

Your consciousness produces a stream of thought, one after the other. When we pay attention and focus on a thought it seems real but as soon as we distract ourselves the thought and the emotion attached to that thought disappears. Thoughts come and go.

Once you understand that you are the creator/thinker of your thoughts and that your mind doesn’t produce reality, it produces thoughts, you won’t be as affected by what you think.

Thoughts directly affect how we feel. It’s impossible to feel without thinking something first. Try feel angry without first thinking about something that makes you angry – it’s impossible. Focusing on negative thoughts will cause you to feel low. It’s common sense. Analyse less and live more in the moment. By all means, create goals and problem solve but don’t believe that you can think your way our of depression.The more you analyse, the worse it will be. Try mindfulness as a way to distract yourself from your mental torture.

Overthinking is one of the worst things you can do. Learn to let go of the thoughts, dismiss them and picture them passing you by…you can choose the ones you want to focus on and the ones you wish to dismiss. It takes practise but becoming a better ‘thought/mind manager’ will make you a whole lot happier.

Mandy X

 

What are safety behaviours?

person looking at phone photo

Photo by UltraSlo1

What are safety behaviours?

We all engage in safety behaviours to differing degrees. A safety behaviour is something we do to provide us relief from anxiety. The problem with safety behaviours is that they only work temporarily and our attempts to self soothe end up becoming a repetitive pattern. The safety behaviour inadvertently ends up prolonging the anxiety.

For example: For someone who finds being in social situations anxiety provoking, they might avoid a social situation altogether. This helps them avoid the anxiety but doesn’t deal with the underlying fear. The threat of social situations stays unchallenged. So the avoidance is the safety behaviour but the anxiety will always be there when faced with a social situation. The anxiety of social situations will remain.

Another example of a safety behaviour: Someone who is insecure in a relationship might constantly check up on their partner by texting and phoning their partner. Initially, once they have checked on their partner, they might feel better…but only until the next thing triggers their anxiety and they need to check again. The need to check will not go away and in this way the anxiety is maintained.

The idea is to reduce safety behaviours, ‘sit’ with the anxiety and realise you can cope without the safety behaviour. This is the correct way to reduce non-productive safety behaviours.

Learning to challenge the threat with using a safety behaviours allows us to learn how to cope with the anxiety. Do what you fear – that’s the basic premise.

Be aware of what you do to reduce your anxiety…do you check your phone constantly? Do you avoid situations you fear? Work at approaching your fears and learning to deal with them. This will improve confidence and help you to be more resilient.

Mandy X