I was walking around Newtown yesterday and saw the sign to the left on display in one of the cafes near the railway station. It caught my attention, and I thought I would share! Worrying is one of the things we often do without thinking, even though sometimes we wouldn't consider it to be worrying. We might call it, being lost in thought, replaying an argument, having a conversation in our head that hasn't happened yet, or just thinking about the worst case scenario.
As we have talked about before, there are often good reasons why our brains work the way they do. Think about the cave people that came before us, they had to think about the worst case scenario. If they didn't they would be eaten! They developed strategies to help them manage this, you can read about it more here.
Sometimes worrying about something can feel quite helpful, and will give a sense that things are more in control than what they really are. Often what happens though is that we spend tonnes of time thinking through a scenario, all of the possible outcomes and ways that it might go wrong, with no actual control over the outcome. For instance, if you have a fight with someone that you care about, you may spend hours and hours thinking over what you each said, how it was left, and even how you feel. Perhaps you try and call them and they don't respond. So you might get more and more anxious, which will make you think over the details more and more. After all of this, you are probably more anxious and worried than you were just after the argument, and I suspect that nothing will have changed. Ultimately, the outcome is dependent on you and the person you had the argument with, so you can spend all day thinking about it, but you have no control at all over what happens next.
I am not suggesting that you don't worry at all. Its not likely to happen. Worries will pop into your head hundreds of times a day, and sometimes you might not even notice them. If you try not to worry, they will come anyway, and probably more than they had before. Instead, perhaps a more helpful way of managing them is to be ok with them being there. You don't have to like them, you don't have to challenge them, but just notice them. Sometimes they might be loud, sometimes soft. Sometimes they will speed up or slow down, and at 3am they may be scary. When they come, notice that they are worries, and just let them be.
What do you think might happen?
Next week, we are going to talk more about watching and noticing your worries, and the ways that you can manage them.
Back to work, university, school etc and the holidays I wrote about a couple of weeks ago are now a distant memory. Everyone seems to be back in working mode, and trying to soak up as much of the summer as they can before it becomes dark at 5pm, and we all embark on winter hibernation. This time of year is always interesting for me, and I often see my clients becoming quite concerned and despondent about what they are going to achieve for the year ahead, and how they can make the most of their time. Unfortunatley, for many people, these thoughts become completely overwhelming, and find themselves paralysed by what they feel like they need to do.
Feeling overwhelmed is a powerful space, and often prevents people doing anything at all. Procrastination is the good friend of being overwhelmed, and often without awareness people can get stuck in a cycle of procrastination and difficulty regaining momentum. I don't have a cure for procrastination. I wish I did. Instead, my approach tends to be to help people manage smaller tasks, and help them kick start their momentum rather than fixing the procrastinating. The smaller and more manageable the tasks feel is directly related to how often they are completed. This is particularly relevant when I am seeing clients around the management of school or university tasks, when looking at the idea of completing a full assignment is completely overwhelming, but doing the introduction, or writing 200 words is quite achievable.
My tips for when you find yourself procrastinating about something....
1. Feel like you have a sense of the problem. For instance, using our above example, what does the question ask? What resources do you need?
2. Using the things you identify above, how can you break these into smaller steps? If you need to get some books, do you need to go to the library, log onto google, or can you use a textbook. If you are working on an essay, what are the parts of the essay?
3. Write yourself a plan with logical small steps. For instance, step 1 is to write the question out. Step 2 is to go to the local library and get the book. Step 3 is to read the appropriate chapter etc.
4. Set time frames for these and make them manageable and yourself accountable for them. If your essay is due in 3 weeks, start it now!
5. GET STARTED!!!!!
I can imagine that when you looked at these steps you probably thought "they are so small". That's the plan, If something is too big, your procrastination will kick in, and it will feel too overwhelming.
I would love to hear your tips of how you use these strategies, or ones of your own!
So it's the holiday season again! It comes around quickly (unless you are under the age of 10!). For many of you, the festive season marks the end of a long year, a time to reflect and have a nice time with people around you. For just as many people though, Christmas and associated stuff is a really stressful time, and for many of my clients, it's a time of firsts. The first Christmas without their partner, the first holiday since someone has become unwell, the first holiday on treatment. Everyone deals with this differently, which is ok, but I think at this time of reflection, it's worth taking stock for everyone about how to make sense of everything that happens for us.
Our instinct is often to busy ourselves so we don't have to deal with difficult and painful emotions and hope that they will go away. Sometimes this can be a good short term strategy. But, perhaps instead a helpful skill is to learn how to sit with the emotions and to not be fearful of them. If we try and block them out and ignore them, they often just keep bouncing back at us. But, if we acknowledge the sadness, happiness, grief, anger and everything else that our brain throws at us we are able to change our relationship with it a little bit. It won't make it go away, but powerful emotions will never just disappear! Instead, by noticing what happens when you feel angry, sad etc then you can change the relationship you have to it. If you google some "sitting with emotions" there will be a heap of exercises come up which will be helpful.
And so, when these difficult things come up over the next couple of weeks (as I am sure they will for everyone), take the time to notice it, pay attention to it, and sit with the discomfort rather than trying to push it aside. This time of year leads to reflection and perhaps for you, it will bring you to decisions about changes or things to do differently. All of these things are good, even if they feel uncomfortable. Most change does.
So, on that note, I am going to sign off for the year, but I am looking forward to what the next one brings! Stay safe, look after yourself and the people around you.
Cheers Toni :)
It must be terrifying to be acutely aware of all of the bad things that might happen to us. If you wake up in the morning and head to work, there are probably hundreds of potentially harmful situations that we don't even think twice about. Unless of course you suffer from anxiety. We are all anxious at times, and there are situations which are inherently anxiety provoking, such as giving a speech, going to the dentist, job interviews, breakups etc. You might even have some that other people don't. That's ok, we all do. Although if you are amongst the group of people who suffer from anxiety on a daily basis, it can be horribly debilitating. On top of that, often unless someone tells you about it, you might not even know about it, so there may be people wandering about who are struggling through everyday, and you might even be one of them.
Why do we get anxious?
Well, the cliff notes version is that it keeps us alive. Without anxiety we wouldn't get anything done, wouldn't evolve and would walk ourselves into all kind of danger. If we didn't have these skills, the lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) that were running around in our ancestors past wouldn't have had much of a challenge. Our anxiety keeps us safe, the problem is that in our worlds right now there isn't a whole lot of things chasing us and eating us. But there are lots of other threats, generally fueled by our thoughts and perceptions. To keep us aware of these things, our brains are pretty good at sizing up threat and working out what to do with it.
Thanks for the history lesson, however I am still anxious...
First up, you will never get rid of your anxiety completely. No one does. Anxiety is very purposeful, and so getting rid of it would be unhelpful, but if you have lots of it, it's about scaling it down so it feels manageable. There are lots of schools of thought about how to manage your anxiety, and you can read about some of them by googling CBTor ACT. If you find a model that makes sense for you, it helps to find a therapist who works in that model and you are both on the same page.
Another helpful strategy, and the most effective if you are having panic attacks, is to use your breathing. When you become anxious, your breathing becomes fast and shallow (you may not notice) and tells your brain to get ready to escape or get ready to deal with whatever the problem is. If you slow your breathing down, you can tell your brain that you are ok, and it will reduce those anxious feelings.
I can guarantee that if you wait until you feel really anxious to try the breathing strategy, it won't work! You need to practice when you are feeling calm! There are whole bunch of exercises out there, but the one that I like is 6 second breathing, breath in for 3 seconds and then out for 3 seconds. Do this as many times as you like, but usually for at least 10 cycles (1min!).
It's hard to manage anxiety on your own, particularly if it's really bad and eating up a lot of your mind space. If this sounds like you, then I recommend getting some professional support.
Anyone have any strategies that work really well they would like to share?