“I can’t wait to get up on stage and share my ideas, I’m going to be amazing”
“I’m really excited to get to work tomorrow and see what my boss does next, and how well I cope with it”
“I am really looking forward to the Christmas party where I know nobody and don’t speak the language, it will be an adventure”
Does this sound like you? Probably not, but it’s a great technique to help people conquer their fears by flipping their thoughts around from fear to excitement; from crippling to enabling.
The process of anxiety involves our brain surveying our environment, deciding there is a potential danger and flooding the body with stress hormones such as cortisol, the fight or flight sequence that enables us to respond quickly. Often this process is triggered by memories of times when we have felt fear, such as standing up to speak in public or entering a crowded room at a party where we don’t know anyone, and while there isn’t a life-threatening situation, our brain still reacts as though there is.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily true if we are facing a true danger such as being in the path of an oncoming car, when your brain needs to signal to your body that you need to save yourself. That’s when our anxiety system is working well for us. However, there are other times when it fails us, opportunities where we can be feeling fear about a situation to the extent that it becomes overwhelming, even crippling.
At these times, most people say take some deep breaths to try and calm down, but instead say ‘I am excited’. Here’s why this works - both fear and excitement are states of high arousal where the body is preparing for action, so it’s much easier to go from anxious to excitement than from anxious to calm, which is generally what we are asking our brain and body to do when we combat the fear with breathing or just avoidance (the latter can set us up for all kinds of problems down the road, so it’s generally better to avoid avoidance!).
Here are some things to remember:
Give this technique a try next time you feel anxious about something you are putting off or dreading and see what happens!
If the subject matter in this article resonates with you, then counseling might be a good option to help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you. Find my details on the Contact page and drop me an email, and I'll contact you to arrange a no-obligation chat where you can tell me more about your problem and ask questions about the process of therapy.
2016 has been a rocky year for many people. There have been the emotional rollercoasters of political shakeups and public tragedies that have taken their toll on many of us, in addition to our own personal challenges. The holiday season in December can be just another pressure as we try to plan the perfect family day with all the trimmings, and for some Christmas can just be a big black cloud of sadness. Endless shopping, limited finances, spending time with family you don’t see that often, over-excited children, or just a powerful sense of loneliness, all of this can pile up and add up until you dread the coming festivities.
To set yourself up right for the holiday season this year, here are 12 tips to help. You don’t have to try all of them, just choose one or two that resonate for you:
1. Set your expectations to good and not perfect. Don’t knock yourself out, plan to make it an enjoyable rather than a hectic time, even if it means cooking one less course or attending one less social get together.
2. Ask for help. Don’t feel you should take on everything yourself, whether it be gift buying, wrapping, putting up a tree or cooking, decide what you can cope with comfortably and what is going to push you over your limits, and ask people to chip in.
3. Choose your own way. Decide how you really want to spend the holidays and plan it, whether it be a quiet day at home for two, lunch at a Chinese restaurant or cooking for others at a homeless shelter, decide what would make the day happy for you and go for it. And don’t be afraid to say “No” if you are being pushed into doing things you would prefer not to.
4. Even if the weather is not good, commit to getting outside and doing some physical activity such as walking or raking up leaves. Exercise and fresh air is always an antidote to stress and a great way to lift your mood.
5. Try to balance the excess of alcohol and junk food with some healthy plant-based options so that your energy levels stay high and your mood isn’t dependent on sugar and caffeine highs.
6. Take quiet mind breaks. Whether it be first thing when you wake up, or when you are waiting in line in a busy shop, take a moment to close your eyes and breathe, let your mind wander to a happy place for a few minutes until you start to feel calm, and then come back to your usual surroundings feeling that little bit more able to cope.
7. Don’t isolate yourself completely. In previous posts, I have written about the importance of having people around us. So, whether or not you want to celebrate, find a way to spend some time with others, even if it means phoning around to get yourself invited somewhere, or volunteering for a local charity on the day.
8. Don’t use alcohol or similar substances to numb yourself to get through the holidays. Instead take some time to reflect on what has been difficult this year and how you want to move forward.
9. While you are so focused on gift buying for others, don’t forget to put your own name on the list. What are you going to do or buy to treat yourself this Christmas?
10. If you want to get into the holiday spirit but are struggling this year, reenact some ritual from happier times, even if it means going back to your childhood for inspiration. Don’t worry about who is judging you, just allow yourself some moments of enjoyment and silliness
11. Know that the holidays are just a piece of time, and if you find them stressful they will be over soon enough. Use your energy to plan something to look forward to in January so that the festive period doesn’t leave you feeling flat.
12. If you are finding the dark short days tough, remember that the shortest day is just before Christmas, and after that each day will be increasingly longer while the dark nights are increasingly shorter. Know that there is a natural rhythm to life and the darkest days often precede the brightest of new beginnings.
Whatever you are planning for this festive holiday period, I wish you a wonderful time and much happiness.
If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed by the festive period and the coming new year, counselling can help you to find strategies to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you. Please contact me via the contact sheet on this website.
In the last few weeks in France I have been coming across more cases of people who are isolated, either as individuals, or as couples who rely totally upon each other and rarely get out into the world. When you don’t speak the local language fluently it is all too easy to stay in your own little bubble. In general, our society is increasingly an isolating experience with more young people leaving home to live a single life, marrying later or becoming elderly and living apart from family. Many of us rely on social media and the internet to fill the void of real interaction, which can leave us vulnerable for a number of reasons.
The important thing to understand is that humans are pack animals. Our brains are hardwired for social interaction and living in a close community. Early humans did not live alone, they stayed in groups and worked together to hunt, make shelter, raise children and provide protection and support for each other.
Even though we have evolved in many ways since then, research confirms that being isolated and feeling alone is not good for our health. Lack of emotional support and regular interaction with others has been shown to increase anxiety while gradually decreasing our ability to cope. When we are alone too much our level of stress hormones increases, which can lead to a poor quality of sleep and a compromised immune system. In elderly people, isolation also leads to cognitive decline, as monotonous lack of stimulation day in and day out can cause people to turn their attention inwards far too much. There is a good reason why solitary confinement is considered a cruel and unusual form of punishment in prisons!
The evidence is clear that connection with other people is essential to health and those connections need to be meaningful and with a variety of people who challenge and support us in different ways. Whether you are in rural France or a big city in the U.K., it is vital to avoid prolonged periods of isolation. Seek out more social contacts, get to know your neighbours, learn the local language, find voluntary work, take an evening class, start a book club or a new hobby, talk to your spouse about how you can get out more as a couple and as individuals … in short find ways to build relationships and reduce seclusion, and take care of your mental health.
If you are feeling stuck in your life, counselling can help you to move forward. I offer a free 20-minute consultation so we can explore how I might be able to help you. Please contact me via the Contact page to discuss whether counselling is right for you.