Anxiety

Simple daily mindfulness exercises

What would your life be like if you had control over your attention or thoughts? How could you shift your behaviours if you became aware of when your emotions started to take a downward shift? What would happen if you could become more present with your environment or the people around you?

Mindfulness is the skill of moment to moment awareness of what is happening (both internally in your system, and externally in your environment). It involves noticing what is taking place without judging or trying to change things. While this skill takes practice, it does not have to involve complicated or lengthy exercises. Here are some simple ideas of how you can practice being mindful daily:

1) Drinking your morning coffee (or insert beverage of choice).

Take a few minutes to bring your attention to the experience of drinking. What does your coffee taste like, smell like, look like? Can you slow the process down so you can notice all the steps in between pouring a cup of coffee to taking your first sip? How does your body move around your kitchen? What noises do you hear as you take out a mug? I encourage you to practice this exercise for 5 minutes. Of course, your mind will wander (don’t worry! It’s meant to wander!) Being mindful involves noticing when your attention wanders, and bringing it back to our set anchor (in this case, the experience of drinking coffee).

2) Listen to music.

Close your eyes to reduce distractions from outside and bring your attention to the song. Notice the shifts in your body as you listen to music. Are there moments when you feel activated? (Can you notice a spark of irritation? An urge to dance? Do you feel it is easier to breathe?) Are there moments when music calms your body, or perhaps leave you feeling unsettled? Take a listen to these two very different pieces of music. Mindfully observe the changes that happen in your body (and of course, try not to change the experience, or judge it!)

3) Describe a person you dislike nonjudgmentally.

How often are you critical? Do you tend to make quick conclusions about people? Has this behaviour gotten you in trouble? Being nonjudgmental involves describing what we observe with our five senses (therefore, sticking with objective facts) versus evaluating or interpreting people or things. Being nonjudgmental moves us away from relying on harsh, emotional language. Choose a celebrity, a teacher, a family member, a TV personality, or anyone that you have found annoying and describe them using nonjudgmental language (To learn more about the skill of non-judgement visit DBT Self-Help). Why am I mentioning mindfulness today? Well, let’s be honest, we’re all a little anxious right now because of this pandemic. Mindfulness is one of many strategies that can support our emotions at this time.

As always, please feel free to share or reach out if you have any questions!

Cheers,
Kasi

Anxiety · Mental Health

5 Tips to handle stress

Many times in life we come across a problem that we cannot fix right away. During these times, therapists encourage a fancy term called “distress tolerance”. But what exactly does this term mean? Distress tolerance is all about handling a stressful moment without making matters worse.

Let’s say you’re expecting to have a difficult conversation with your spouse that evening. It makes sense that you feel at edge most of the day. You may end up drinking, avoiding your family members, being snippy with your colleagues, cancelling work, or any other strategy to cope with the edginess. These behaviours all make sense given that you’re stressed about the upcoming conversation. However, all of these behaviours tend to create further complications. Not only do you have to deal with the difficult conversation with your partner, but you also have to sober up, apologize for the avoidant behaviours, make amends to your relationships with colleagues, and grovel to your boss. All in all, we’ve taken a crappy situation, and made it significantly harder.

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON
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Don’t get me wrong, I have also chosen some not-so effective strategies on my worst days. We all make mistakes. The point is not to judge ourselves for these mistakes. Instead, we want to see if there are better ways to help us cope. This is where distress tolerance skills come into play. Using well-known strategies like distractions (i.e. video games, reading, watching TV, exercise) and self-care (i.e. comfort foods, long bath, getting a massage) are perfect at these times. They help you tolerate the waiting period until the end of the day when you can finally address the real issue with your spouse.

People often get frustrated with coping strategies because “they don’t make us feel good”. Fair enough. Distress tolerance isn’t meant to make you feel better (although, if they do put you in a better mood, enjoy it 🙂 ). These coping skills are all about tolerating the pain, not actually fixing the pain. In the above example, your primary concern is getting through a hard conversation with your spouse. Unless this is addressed and resolved, why expect that watching TV, taking a walk, or any other distraction will make you feel better? So how do we practice “distress tolerance skills” effectively? Here are a few key points:

1) Find distractions that actually get you distracted

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON
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If you are going to be bored out of your mind reading a textbook, this is not an effective coping strategy! Your mind will naturally return back to whatever is stressing you out. If you’re stuck thinking of effective distractions, I recommend an activity that is active or new so that you have to concentrate on the task at hand. Think about the first time you drove a car on your own. If you were angry that day, consider how difficult it would have been to maintain the intensity of your anger AND concentrate on following all the steps to drive. Your mind doesn’t have the mental capacity to do both at the same time effectively. Instead, you have to mindfully focus on driving so that you don’t crash.

2) Have a bunch of coping strategies to use in a moment of crisis.

Some days we’ll only need to dance along with music in the car to ease our anxieties. Other days, we may have to eat a chocolate bar, go for a bike ride, snuggle up with our pets AND practice some breathing exercises. Neither options are wrong. It just depends on our needs in that moment.

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3) Use the acronym ACCEPTS

This is a great term from dialectical behaviour therapy that is useful for distress tolerance.

A= Activities (Participate in activities that you enjoy, or help you stay effectively distracted)

C= Contribute (Helping others out makes us feel better about ourselves, and it takes us away from our own stress)

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON

C= Compare (Think about a time when you struggled more than this present moment. This helps you recognize that you were able to overcome hardships, and puts this current issue into perspective).

E= Emotions (What will create a different emotion than the one you’re feeling? Watching sitcoms makes me laugh. Going for a run makes me feel confident. Giving my son hugs makes me happy. What works for you?)

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON

P= Push away thoughts (Definitely not one I recommend long-term. It’s okay to tell yourself that you cannot think about a certain stressor right now. For example, if you’re supposed to be concentrating on your exam, it’s probably not the ideal time to be thinking about a fight you had with your partner the day before. Pushing away thoughts is a helpful method so long as you come back to the thought at a more convenient time).

T= replace Thoughts (Focus on something else. Plan your family vacation. Think about the book you’re reading. How do you think it will end? Basically, focus on anything else except the present issue).

S= Sensations (Find safe physical sensations to use as distractions. i.e. a soothing cup of tea, a cold ice cube, a hot compress).

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON
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4) It’s okay to take a mini-vacation from the stressor if it takes a long time to get things sorted.

5 tips to deal with stress: Reach out to Kasi Shan Therapy for counselling support online & in-person in Kitchener, ON

Whether this is a physical escape or a short mental break (i.e. guided meditation, pushing away thoughts). The stressor is still there when you return from the break, but the rest gives you some time to feel calmer and more at peace

5) Problem solve whenever possible!

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At the end of the day, nothing will help you feel fully at peace until the stressor is resolved (or you willingly radically accept that the issue will not be fixed). This means hunkering down and brainstorming various solutions. As always, everyone’s situation is unique. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out.

Mental Health

Do you have trouble sleeping? Here’s quick strategy to improve sleep hygiene

How many sheep do you have to count before you get frustrated and give up on sleep? Here’s another option to get your mind to settle, and help you fall asleep.

There are many changes you can make to improve your sleep hygiene, and counting sheep does not have to be your only option. Whether you have anxiety or not, it’s natural for the mind to ruminate at bed time when you’ve got no other distractions to occupy you. Just because your body is physically done for the day doesn’t mean your mind is automatically ready to calm down.

I’m sure many of us have tried counting sheep and it hasn’t been a hundred percent successful. Instead, I’d encourage you to focus on some elaboration strategies. This means thinking about and expanding on a NEUTRAL topic. Some options include: thinking about the ending to a book you’re reading, imagining being at your favorite vacation spot, running through the steps of a recipe, decorating your dream home, etc. These are not the most exciting topics and that’s actually the point. If you focus on an issue that is important to you, you will become hooked and your mind will keep racing. For example, if you go to bed thinking of your to-do list for the next day, chances are your anxieties will just escalate.

Improve your sleep hygiene with this quick tip. Kas Shan Therapy in Kitchener, ON

My favorite elaboration strategy is playing scattergories in my mind before falling asleep.

  • Step one: choose a category of your liking (i.e. countries, TV shows, food)
  • Step two: start with a letter and run through all of the examples you can think of under that category (I.e. Angola, Australia, Argentina, Albania…)
  • Step three: when you run out of examples, move on to the next letter.
  • Step four: continue for as many letters as needed.

I love this strategy for two particular reasons. First, the categories are neutral. I won’t get caught up in a story or memory. My self-esteem will also not be crushed if I get stuck on the letter Q. The second factor is mindfulness. Yes, that term gets used so frequently nowadays, but it really is helpful! With scattergories, I can be mindful of bringing by attention back to the last letter I was thinking of before getting distracted. It’s rare to get to the end of the alphabet because most have fallen asleep at some point throughout the exercise. My fellow sleep-deprived friends, this is only one strategy!

There are lots of factors that go into improving your sleep hygiene. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to review some suggestions for your specific concerns.

Cheers,
Kasi