Wouldn’t you agree this has been one of the worst years yet? The isolation created by the COVID pandemic, and everything surrounding it? Depending on who you talk to the answer to this question varies. Some become engulfed in the negativity of their surroundings, spiraling into a toxic cycle of thought. While others who practice gratitude may tell you something different.
We all have unique experiences, among the shared one that is the pandemic. I am sure we are all familiar with our own personal struggles brought on or worsened by it. Many clients I have talked to have highlighted the isolation caused by the pandemic, with the majority focusing on the negative effects of it. However, some have recognized the opportunity for self-improvement and reflection that has been provided by this isolation.
Are you the same person as you were before COVID? What changes have you noticed? Instead of going to the negative (as our minds often do), try to put a name on the positive changes you have noticed in yourself: have you become stronger? More resilient? This type of thinking is characterized as challenging negative thought processes.
How we perceive things is our reality, which is why challenging these negative thought processes and practicing gratitude is critical to our well-being and happiness. When I notice myself spiraling into negative thought processes, I consciously make the decision to stop myself and list a few things that I am grateful for (however big or small). It can be difficult at first to recognize negative and unproductive trains of thought, but the more this is done the easier it becomes.
Here are some simple ways to practice gratitude:
Watch inspiring videos that will remind you of the good in the world.
Call your loved ones more often.
Add to your gratitude list daily.
Challenge your inner critic.
See the opportunities for growth and development in your mistakes.
Finally, do not forget to be grateful for yourself! For all your capabilities, your passions, and even your quirks. Reflect on all that you have accomplished in your life, and those who have supported you along the way.
What is GAD? Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events for no obvious reason. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to always expect disaster and can’t stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school.
Mental Symptoms of GAD
Persistent worrying about things that are out of your control
Believing an unproportionally negative outcome of events (worst case scenario)
Inability to relax
Feeling restless or on edge
Fear of making the wrong decision
Fear of failure, can cause excessive procrastination Perfectionism
Physical Symptoms GAD
Exhaustion and/or trouble sleeping
Muscle tension and aches
Chronic nervousness (easily startled)
Nausea or vomiting
Using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to cope with GAD
GAD programs your brain to think in a certain way, and deeply affects your thought processes. CBT is a method of challenging those thought processes, until they are no longer influenced by GAD. A method that many find to be very useful is challenging your inner critic. Your inner critic referring to the voice in your head that tells you things like everyone is judging you, you’ll never be good enough, etc. Instead of accepting these thoughts and allowing them to affect your mental health, contradict them. (1) Identify the anxious thought. (2) Break it down into its core components. (3) Truly consider the reasoning behind this thought. (4) Come up with a list of facts that disprove the thought. The more you use this method the easier it becomes, until it is second nature; rendering these negative thoughts powerless.
When to seek medical help
When your worrying (anxiety) interferes with your social life, work, mental health, relationships.
If you feel chronically depressed or anxious
If you are struggling with substance use as a method of coping
History of other mental health concerns
Have suicidal thoughts or behaviours- seek help immediately (833-456-4566)
GAD Related Shame Diagnosed or undiagnosed, having GAD can feel debilitating. It can cause you to feel like there is something innately wrong with you, and you are less than capable. This is not the case. It is estimated that over 700,000 adults in Canada struggle with GAD, it is one of the most common mental illnesses. Its effects are also as real as any other illness. For example If you had a heart condition that affected your daily life, you wouldn’t blame yourself. Do the same for GAD, it is a physical chemical imbalance in your brain, you cannot control it, you can only control how you deal with it.
Accepting GAD It is easier said than done but the first step is accepting that you have an illness that can affect your ability to function. Then decide: what are you going to do with that information? Are you going to spiral into the negative thoughts? Or identify what parts of the illness you can control? Seek out resources. And continue being a functional happy person; because it is what you deserve. If you just went through the above thought process and chose the second option, congratulations you just practiced CBT successfully. Keep at it! Your mental health will thank you.
Have you ever tried dieting? Like most, I have tried diets from time to time. When done in moderation and carried out sustainably diets can be a good way to maintain a healthy psysique. Dieting can become dangerous when the motivation to diet originates from negative internal or external beliefs. Diets driven by negative thoughts or feelings towards oneself are becoming increasingly common, one of the drivers of this is diet culture. Diet culture is a set of beliefs that idealizes thinness and equates it with health and moral virtue. It has become one of the most dominant cultures we are immersed in, with many individuals unaware of its existence and influences.
The Importance of Awareness It is critical to be aware of your motivation for dieting, and the influence of diet culture on your thought processes. Being aware is the key to changing these thought processes and achieving your ideal physique in a healthy way.
Your diet may be coming from an unhealthy mindset if: • You have persistent negative thoughts about your body • Your diet is unsustainable (i.e. too restrictive) • You feel shame around eating • You obsessively count calories/exercise to a point that it becomes overwhelming.
Thoughts that may be encouraged by diet culture: • Your weight defines your self-worth • You value being thin over your mental and physical health • You are not happy with your body because it is not the “ideal” size
The Dangers of Unhealthy Dieting Unhealthy dieting occurs when the motivation behind the diet is negative. This can mean negative thoughts, poor mental health, related mental illness, etc. The main risk of continuing with an unhealthy diet, is the reinforcement of negative thoughts about your worth and body. Continuing with an unhealthy diet increases your risk for an eating disorder. Those who diet moderately are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder, while those who restrict food intake extremely were 18 times more likely (Golden et al., 2016). (If you are struggling with an eating disorder, contact the Eating Disorder Federation of Canada toll-free 1-866-633-4220 Toronto 416-340-4156).
How to Diet Healthily Before you begin dieting do a self-check-in, make sure your mental health and body image is in a good place. Consider your reasoning for dieting, the main motivation should always be your health, not meeting unhealthy standards. Do your research. Make sure your diet is sustainable, healthy, and manageable. Lastly, consult your physician to ensure the diet is healthy for you, everyone’s body is different. Regularly check-in with your doctor to make sure you are within a healthy weight range.
How to Mitigate the Impacts of Diet Culture
Consider a weight-neutral approach to health. Do not define your health by how much you weigh. Instead consider your happiness, mental health, and physical health as a measure of your overall health.
Curate your social media. Seeing ads for detoxes and cleanses that are essentially laxatives promoted by people of the same excessively thin body type does not reinforce a body inclusive/positive mindset.
Eat for you. Remember that you deserve to be happy and healthy, food is your way of fuelling your body.
Lastly, remember that everyone has a different relationship with their body and food. What works for you may not work for someone else. Having a healthy relationship with yourself and your body takes time and work, as does anything that is worth doing. Remember that you deserve to feel comfortable in your body, so educate yourself, work on having a healthy mindset, and remember to love yourself at whatever stage in your body positivity journey you are at.
What is Addiction? What do you think of when you hear the term “addiction”? The first thing that comes to mind for most people is alcoholism or gambling. In reality addiction encompasses so much more. By definition addiction is a behaviour or activity done repeatedly, that causes harm to the individual. The harm caused by the activity does not need to be physical to fall into this category. In my experience many addictions come from the same source: avoidance. Avoidance of memories related to trauma, negative thoughts, negative emotions, etc.
Why are certain behaviours addictive? When we engage in enjoyable behaviours dopamine (the happy or feel-good chemical) is released in the brain. Increases in dopamine release can be due to substance use, or certain (enjoyable) behaviours. [Behaviours related to dopamine release are not always negative, for example: exercise, getting a promotion at work, or socializing.] Although dopamine is not considered addictive, the feeling it provides is one of the main drivers behind most addictions. Release of this chemical can effectively help us avoid negative emotions and thoughts.
Am I a Shopaholic? As said in Time magazine: “The Science of addiction”, almost anything deeply enjoyable has the potential to be addictive. Shopping is a fun pastime for most, for some it is a compulsion.
I am sure we have all thought to ourselves at one time or another: “am I a shopaholic?”, particularly after a shopping spree. Below I have listed some of the signs of a shopaholic:
Do you shop when you feel upset?
Has overspending created problems in your life (personal or financial)?
While shopping do you feel overly happy or anxious?
Post-shopping do you feel embarrassed?
Do you feel the need to hide your shopping habit?
Do you buy things that you do not need?
Do you think about money often or all the time
I am sure you have all heard the term “retail therapy” to describe shopping after going through something emotional (ie. loss of a job, a breakup, or a difficult week at work). When done in moderation this is not an issue. It is when it begins to affect other areas of your life (home, relationships, financial stability) that it should be considered a problem.
Healing To begin moving past any addiction it is important to understand what is driving it. If you think you have a shopping addiction use a journal, to keep track of when you go shopping, how often, and how you are feeling before and after. Another helpful method is to reach out to a therapist, who can help you determine which negative feelings are associated with your addiction. Working with a therapist in this way can help you get to the root of the problem. Understanding the cause is the first step, after this you can begin to mitigate the cause of the addiction and start to change negative behaviours.
Addiction-related shame Throughout the recovery process one of the most important things to be aware of is shame. Shaming yourself for any addiction is counterproductive. The negative feelings associated with shame can make you feel worse, which continues the cycle of addiction. If you are struggling with addiction know that you are only human, people make mistakes, and the best you can do is reach out for help and change your habits. While doing so, you should be nothing except proud of yourself. Proud for taking steps to better yourself, and the strength it takes to do so.
It seems like a lifetime ago when we could freely roam about our communities without worries of catching a deadly virus. Life is certainly more unpredictable these days with the COVID-19 pandemic running its course. It used to be that we’d wake up and know fairly well how our day was going to go. We had the security of a job, a fairly good assurance of coming home without any type of virus, and a routine that helped us feel stable.
However, since COVID-19, we’re living in a world where fear and panic have risen to the surface, with many people struggling to cope each day.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), fear and panic are defined as intensified or excessive fear launched by something specific. Panic is defined as intense or paralyzing fear that tends to come on suddenly.
Life as normal changed when our everyday lives were hit with COVID-19. No longer could we wake up and use our freedom to engage in work or our communities as we pleased. No longer could we face each day with a certainty that we and our loved ones would be alright. The underlying emotion in most homes has become fear and panic.
Effects On Mental Health Workers
As a psychotherapist working in a hospital, I’ve witnessed the direct effects COVID-19 has had on health care workers. A co-worker shared with me how challenging it’s been for her to watch patients suffer alone. In one instance, she had a patient quarantined with the virus. His family was not allowed in the room to see him, so she moved his bed by the window so he could see them as he talked to them on the phone. The grief and fear healthcare workers are carrying can become quite heavy at times. They are courageously stepping it up to care for those that fall ill, all-the-while trying to practice self-care.
COVID-19 And Generalized Anxiety
When someone experiences persistent, intense worry, it’s diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It could very well be that most of the world is experiencing these symptoms directly due to the pandemic. Anxiety, fear, and panic have set the stage for communities to begin living life in a different, self-distancing, isolated way. All of us have had to change our routines and make life adjustments that we hope will keep ourselves and our families safe.
To date, statistics report that almost four million people have COVID-19 around the world. Over 265,000 have died. The tragedy of loss behind the numbers is huge. The grief that cries out around the globe monstrous. All the while, most people continue to struggle with the same questions.
When will this be over?
Will I be alright? Will my family be alright?
What if I get sick?
Will I get my job back?
How am I going to recover from this?
What will life be like after the pandemic?
Moving forward, it will be important that all of us try to cultivate a new sense of normal. A sense of stability post COVID-19.
Preparing For Life After The Virus
Most people want to get back to work and a sense of normalcy. They’re eager to get back to a routine with some stability. Routines help us feel stable and help bring a calming to our emotions. For children, parents can help them prepare for going back to school or being at home without parents when they return to work by keeping routine and structure in place at home during the pandemic. Children tend to thrive better when there are schedules and consistency.
For adults, practicing self-care is essential. With the excess free time we’re experiencing, be sure to fill that time with things that nurture yourself. Get plenty of sleep. Take time to exercise. Do things that you enjoy. It’s easy to let boredom in the cracks, so consciously take on each day as it comes, engaging in meaningful tasks for yourself and with your loved ones.
Hope For Life Post COVID-19
There will be a day when the pandemic is over. Keep that in mind. People will return to work. Children will return to school or daycare. The economy will startup again. Offer gratitude for what will be once again in the near future, as well as for all the good in your life right now. Enjoy the simple things right under your nose.
In the grand scheme of things, it is an opportune time to evaluate our values and priorities. We have some time to reflect on what’s most important to us, as well as learn valuable lessons along the way regarding health, relationships with loved ones, community, and life in general.
We all have different voices: one that uplifts and one that pulls us down, one that is encouraging and another that is discouraging. All these voices play different roles in shaping our lives. The critical inner voice focuses on what you are doing wrong while the inner nurturing voice brings encouragement. However, some people’s inner critic goes beyond, giving the feeling of aggression and shame.
What is an inner critic? Inner critics are streams of destructive thoughts that discourage people from expressing their interests and living their lives. These voices may sound like, “why can’t you?” “What is wrong with you?” “you are fat,” “it is impossible,” “that is hard for you.” The critical inner voice constitutes of all the emotions, beliefs and thoughts that try to control people’s lives by telling them they are doing something wrong. These internal thoughts develop as we grow older.
Our inner critic is shaped by any external input, including our interaction, environment and the society in general. As young kids, we depend on our caregivers. Basing on their conditions, they try to raise us to ways that conform to there believes of reality. They shape us by giving reinforcements if we behave the way they want us to or punishment if we behave otherwise. Since we are dependent on them, we tend to suppress our enthusiasm and aliveness to act the way they want us to. In the long run, we get to internalize the rewards and punishments, limiting our views and range of action.
Our inner critic can be painful and harsh, depending on our upbringing. However, everyone has a critical inner voice that can impede our expressions. To learn and grow, we need to manage the critical inner voice.
Self-awareness – The first step to managing the inner critic is by being aware that they exist. Most individuals do not know that they have an inner critical voice because it has been their all their lives. So it feels natural. Pay attention to the voice that downgrades your accomplishments and catch yourself when you are too negative. Observe the continuous patterns of discouragement and doubts.
Stop ruminating – When you do something wrong or have embarrassed yourself, it may feel natural to keep replaying it over and over again in your mind. In most cases, the critical inner voice focuses on chastising rather than providing a solution. This makes you feel worse. When you find yourself ruminating, get a distraction, like talking about something or taking a walk.
Get that friendly advice – If a friend is doubtful about something, you will be compassionate enough to offer words of encouragement. “You can do it,” “it was not your fault.” Treat yourself as your friend and encourage yourself. Be kind to yourself.
Challenge your inner voice – In most cases, we try to ignore our inner critic. This is worse because the more you ignore the inner critic the stronger it becomes. You can challenge it by evaluating the evidence. If your inner voice says, I am never going to succeed in this job,” look at the evidence that supports and negates it. This helps evaluate the situation rationally.
Get a balance between acceptance and self-improvement – We all have flaws. Embrace your flaws and work to improve them. There is a big difference in accepting you have a fault and reminding yourself that you can be better. Acknowledging your flaws does not mean that they stay with you. It may seem challenging to overcome the critical inner voice but is possible. You deserve positivity in your life!
It’s completely okay to feel anxious from time-to-time. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and often a healthy reaction to emotion. It can happen in children and adults.
In most cases, feelings of anxiety come and go, only lasting a short time. Feelings of anxiety can last from a few minutes to a couple of days. Unfortunately, in other cases, the anxiety can last much longer. It can go on for weeks, months, or even years.
What is anxiety? Impending dread senses that your brain tries to rationalize by coming up with plausible-sounding excuses as to why you need to worry (when you don’t). It can also be described as a feeling that causes your body to go on high alert and to be hypersensitive to possible dangers and in turn, it activates your fight or flight response.
Recognize anxiety Anxiety symptoms manifest themselves differently from individual to individual. A good rule of thumb is to keep in mind of how your body reacts to anxiety. If you have experienced anxiety previously, it is important to take note of the clues that your body is giving you about your anxiety levels to help be in control of what you are feeling.
This is a list including the most common anxiety symptoms:
nervousness, restlessness, or being tense
feeling in danger
experiencing dread or panic
rapid heart rate and/or rapid breathing, or hyperventilation
difficulty concentrating or obsessive patterns
Can anxiety become a disorder? The short answer is yes. If your anxiety lingers and persists to stay in your life until it begins to interfere with your daily activities such as family life, work, school. Thankfully, anxiety is a common, treatable, and most importantly manageable condition.
How to cope with anxiety with the help of strategies and tools If you are feeling overwhelmed, try these tricks:
Get enough sleep each night.
Limit alcohol and caffeine intake, especially before sleep.
Take deep breaths and slowly count to ten. It stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for activities that occur when our body is at rest.
Talk to someone that can and wants to listen, such as a friend or close family member.
See a therapist who is trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Understand the difference between hypothetical worry vs practical worry
How to react during a panic attack A panic attack is the result of an overload of anxiety, it is a sudden onset of fear or distress that peaks in within a handful of minutes. There are five steps that you can take to try to manage a panic attack “AWARE”.
Acknowledge & Accept: Take a moment to acknowledge and accept: that you are not in real danger and accept your feelings as you would a minor headache. It’s a passing feeling and you will feel better.
Wait: If you have the urge to leave the situation, give yourself a moment to process what you are feeling. Do not rob yourself of the option to leave but do try to keep yourself in control. Remember to count to ten before taking any decision as panic attacks often rob us of our ability to think rationally.
Actions (to make myself more comfortable): Every panic attack ends no matter what you do. Even when you have the thoughts that it will last forever, it still ends because everything ends. Your job is to ensure that you are as comfortable as possible.
Repeat: Sometimes as soon as you end a panic attack, you can enter another one. In the case of a relapse, go through the steps again as often as necessary. Just take it from the top of the list again. You can make it through a second panic attack, just like you have through your first one.
End: This step simply is here to remind you that the panic attack does eventually end, even if it comes in cycles or if you relapse at a later date. Do not pressure yourself to accelerate the panic attack or to suppress it, your only concern should be to feel comfortable and to “wait it out”.
The urge to please people can be incredibly strong. It’s natural to want people to like, admire, and think highly of you. The problem is, when your priority is on pleasing others, then you’re selling yourself out. At the end of the day, some people will like you, and some won’t. It’s tempting to think that people liking you is what’s valuable and important. It’s not. Being the kind of person YOU want to be and doing YOUR own thing is actually what’s valuable. Here are some tips to help you drop the pleasing and start living the life that reflects who you are and all the amazing things about you.