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4 More Ways to Manage Your Fear & Anxiety During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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“Worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.”

Currently, humanity is in a prolonged state of crisis.  What happens tomorrow is unknown.  People fear the unknown.  It feels unstable, unpredictable and scary.  You are acting aggressively.  You are in denial.  You feel frozen.  You are anxious and sad.  You feel alone and are missing family, friends, and loved ones.  These are all common responses when your mind believes you are in danger.  You can learn more about the anatomy of fear by reading the first part of our COVID-19 blog, 4 Ways to Manage Your Fear & Anxiety During the Corona Virus Pandemic.  You are grieving your old normalcy.  However, although the world has and will continue to change, you are still in control of yourself regardless of what your emotional experience is telling you.

To ensure your safety and the safety of those around you as well as to help slow down the spread of COVID, the government has established a set of strict rules and guidelines and are enforcing social distancing until further notice.  These vast social changes along with possible financial hardships are just the right 1-2 combo to knock the wind out of you.  For some, this may have knocked you off of your feet.  Regardless, it is up to you to regroup and get back up.  But what does it take to stand back up again?  The following 4 tips may give you the boost you need.

  1. Focus on your basic needs first.  Practice safe social distancing.  If you need to go out to buy food, wear a mask.  Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds when you get home.  Learn more about how to take proper precautions by going to cdc.gov.  Make sure to still eat nutritious food throughout the day, find time to exercise, and get enough sleep at night.  To learn more about ways to maximize energy, you can read the following blogs:

4 Ways to Maximize Energy

4 Ways to Maximize Energy: Part 2

4 Ways to Maximize Energy: Part 3

4 Ways to Maximize Energy: Part 4

Symptoms of anxiety, stress, and, if you are a parent, taking care of children can be extremely draining.  Make sure to maximize your energy by focusing on your basic needs.  If you don’t maximize your energy, your days will be physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing on you.  You will be more likely to lose control of your emotions if you do not care for your basic needs.

2. Develop structure.  During the pandemic, it is easy to fall off the tracks of structure.  You may go to sleep later, wake up later, take your time getting out of bed in the morning, and skip a meal during the day.  The more you fall out of a routine, the more likely you will be impacted physically, mentally, and emotionally.  You may become more withdrawn and lose energy and motivation to do things.  Create a schedule for you and your family and make sure you keep consistency.  Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.  Continue to eat at least 3 meals per day around the same time.  Incorporate free time in your days for you and your children so you can change things up a bit.  However, the more you stick to a schedule and find structure, the more stable you will feel.

3. Shift your mindset.  When emotions deliver a message (thoughts), it doesn’t mean the message is accurate.  For example, your anxiety may have delivered a message that the pandemic won’t ever end.  If you needed to apply for unemployment and the check didn’t come yet, the emotional message may be that it won’t ever come.  Your heart will race, your breathing will be heavy, and your stress and anxiety will spill into your relationships with others.  Shift your mindset.  Don’t believe every message your emotions deliver.  Counter these messages and have a positive mindset.  Do what is in your control and what you can to help your situation as well as your family’s.  Be persistent and perseverant if necessary.  Make sure to breath as you persevere.  You will run into obstacles.  Find another way.  It is there to be found.  However, worrisome thoughts will not help you back up from being knocked down.  Positive thoughts and energy will.

4. Live for today, plan for tomorrow.  You will most likely never get this opportunity again.  The world is paused.  There is no rush to be anywhere but home with your family.  Go outside and play with your children.  Make a picnic in your backyard for you and your partner and enjoy some sunlight.  Meditate.  Practice yoga.  Learn how to paint, play a musical instrument, or another skill that will enrich your life.  There will be a time when life will be fast paced again.  That time isn’t today, tomorrow, or next week.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

Tomorrow will eventually come.  Be prepared.  Discuss a plan with your family for when regulations are loosened.  Do all of your family members have access to a mask?  What will life look like for you and your family?  What will safe socialization look like for you?  Start to think about the answers to these questions.  Don’t let the COVID pandemic cause you to freeze and do nothing.  Take action.  A solid plan will help to ease your anxiety and you will be ready for when the time comes.

4 Ways to Manage Your Child’s Anxiety, Depression, & Behaviors During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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It has been close to a month now since COVID-19 has changed society forever.  More and more people are realizing the seriousness of the pandemic, that it is not going away for the foreseeable future, and have been practicing social distancing as a result.  Initially, people were in a state of denial.  Now, anxiety and sadness has taken over as individuals and families are starting to break down emotionally.  In our last blog, 4 Ways to Manage Your Fear & Anxiety During the Corona Virus Pandemic, we discussed ways to manage anxiety during the pandemic.  In this blog, we are going to focus on 4 ways to manage children during the pandemic.

My wife and I have 4 young girls.  We have a 7 year old, a 4 year old, and two 16 month old twins.  If your family is anything like ours, it is quite challenging managing children during the pandemic, especially with no additional support (ie: grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.).  You need to be able to maintain finances during a time when finances are limited and you need to keep up with your child’s education at home since they are not in school.  You need to do this while managing your fears and worries along with your children’s emotions.  It almost seems impossible to keep your family moving forward during these times.  However, if you take a step back and shift your mindset a bit, you will realize the silver lining of this pandemic.  We will discuss this later in the blog.  For now, here are a few ways you can help manage your children while you are at home during the pandemic.

  1. Maintain structure and keep things predictable even during unstructured times

If your child was at school, their days would be predictable for the most part.  This is because they received a schedule at the beginning of the year and their teachers mapped out expectations early (ie: classroom procedures, behavioral expectations, etc.).  They would get to class, complete a do now, turn in homework from the night before, and then sit quietly for instruction, all without prompting from the teacher.  There would be some sort of group activity followed by a classroom discussion.  Although the group activity does not require a teacher present, children remain on task because they are engaged in the assignment.  For the most part, the flow of the lesson would run smoothly, mainly because the teacher spent time prepping and planning.  Without this prep work and planning, it would be difficult to manage a classroom of children.  This is mainly due to the level of engagement.  In order to keep your children engaged, you may need to get creative and change things up a bit.  This will require daily planning and prep work.  Incorporate time in your day to do this.  Otherwise, it is likely your child will be less engaged and the days will be much less structured.  If you thought your child would sit still for an hour or two and complete their work without getting off task every couple of minutes, you probably realized by now that this is not the case.

2. Send your child outside to play and do not let them come back inside until you say it’s ok!

If you are a parent, you probably remember the times when we were children.  We would come home from school and play outside until dark when our parents called us in for dinner.  We used our imagination, got dirty, built forts, hiked in the woods, and played ball in the street.  Today, you will rarely see children doing this.  They come home from school, quickly do their homework, and then their parents drive them from one activity to the next.  There is no time for imagination or play.  This is one of the silver linings of the pandemic.  Since activities are canceled for a while, your child is now able to take advantage of time and play.  They may be resistant to going outside at first because it is new for them.  However, encourage them to create a game, build a fort, build an obstacle course, and use their imagination!  If you set the expectation that they are not allowed to come back inside until lunch or dinner (depending on the time of the day), they will adjust and start to enjoy that time.  Who knows, maybe when this pandemic ends, children’s play and use of imagination will remain.

3. Spend time and connect with your child.  

There will never be more of an opportunity to spend time and connect with your child than now.  If you have young children, get on the floor and play with them.  They will want to create a game.  Go along with it.  Color with them, create a puppet show, paint your nails, push them on the swings, or create other crafts and projects.  If you have older children, go for a short hike, ride bikes, play kickball, dodgeball or another sport, or do something else outdoors.  If your child is into video, create a stop motion or a movie.  Learn an instrument together.  Exercise together.  Find a way to help the community with your child (create masks for health care workers, donate, or deliver food to people who need it and don’t feel comfortable leaving the house).  Whatever you choose to do to spend time and connect with your child, your relationship will come out stronger when the pandemic ends.  This will also SIGNIFICANTLY help to maintain your child’s behavior as they will feel grounded and secure during these difficult times.

4. Listen & talk to your child about their feelings regarding the pandemic

The other day, my 7 year old daughter told me she feels worried about the pandemic.  She said that she is afraid that she will never get to go back to school again.  She shared that she is worried that her grandparents will die from COVID-19.  Clients who I have spoken to through telehealth the last few weeks have said the same.  Listen to your children and help them process their emotions.  Acknowledge your own fears and worrisome thoughts as well while talking to your child.  For example, it is okay to say, “I am afraid too.”  However, provide comfort and reason as well.  For instance, you may say, “There are a lot of unknown factors right now but as long as we stay home and practice social distancing, we should be safe.”  Remain calm.  Check in with your own emotions and find ways to cope.  Let your child know that you are there to listen and provide reassurance that we are in this together.  Ask your child about ways they can help others during these times.  Although there are a lot of uncertainties, your child will see and remember how you and your family dealt with crisis and the pandemic.  This teaching will be extremely valuable in their future as they will have a better understanding of how to deal with uncertain times and crisis situations.

We hope you and your family stay safe and are well.  If you need any support, please do not hesitate to reach out to us!

4 Ways to Manage Your Fear & Anxiety During the Corona Virus Pandemic

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The corona virus has captured everyone and everything.  The world is on hold until further notice.  Schools are closed, sporting events are cancelled, Broadway is postponed, and grocery stores are packed as people prepare to be home.  Fear and panic has taken over and humans are in an extended state of fight or flight.  For those who struggle with anxiety on a normal day, this can be crippling to their mental health.  For others, this can be the start of what can turn into a long-term anxiety and fear issue.

The anatomy of fear

When a person senses fear, the body responds with “fight or flight.”  Hormones are released including Cortisol and Adrenaline.  Your heart rate increases, you begin breathing faster, and your body prepares itself for survival.  Typically, this doesn’t last long as your body starts to go back to normal again.  However, with stressful situations that linger, a continued state of fight or flight can occur.  This can take a toll on a person’s physical, mental and emotional health.  In the case of the coronavirus, since there is a lot of unknown factors, people are remaining in a state of fight or flight.  This is when panic sets in and irrational thinking happens.

4 Ways to Manage Fear & Anxiety

  1. Pause & breathe

When your body is going through fight or flight, you are inclined to react immediately.  Run to the store to load up on essentials!  Wipe down your entire house!  Yell at your kids because they aren’t listening!  When you react quickly without a plan, others around you feed into your panic and experience fear and anxiety as well.  Take a moment and breathe.  It will help manage your body’s fight or flight reaction so that you can begin to think rationally.  If you remain calm so will others around you.

2. Create a plan

If you have any children, you can imagine what educators and other school staff members have been doing the past few weeks to prepare.  This consisted of many school officials meeting to collaborate a plan so education continues during school closures.  This didn’t happen overnight.  These plans were well thought out and carefully planned before it was communicated with all staff, parents, and eventually students.  Do the same for you and your family.  Take a moment when you are calm, sit down, and create a plan so you and your family are prepared.  Do you need to stock up on food and staples for the next few weeks?  If you take medication, did you order a bigger supply?  Keep in mind, there are others who are also planning.  Be courteous and only buy what you need.  It is not necessary to purchase 24 rolls of toilet paper for yourself.  If you do, you are probably still in a state of fight or flight and need to pause and breathe.

3. Educate yourself

As you probably have noticed, there is a lot of information going around regarding the coronavirus.  People are glued to the news and their phones as they read articles and comments and posts from friends and family on social media.  Find reputable sources, use common sense, and learn how to keep you and your family safe during this time.  The more knowledge you have, the less anxious and fearful you will be.  Although there are unknown factors with this particular situation, do what you can based on what you learn and continue to breathe through the fear and anxiety that you may experience due to the unknown factors.  Disconnect from information as well.  Too much information will cause overload, increase anxiety and will be counterproductive.

4. Take time to enjoy the break

There is usually a silver lining in the midst of a crisis if you look for it.  In this case, everything is on hold until further notice.  Individuals and families are forced to remain where they are and activities are limited.  No sports.  No activities.  No school.  Work has decreased or become remote.  Your once fast paced lifestyle has suddenly come to a halt. Enjoy the moment.  Be with your kids.  Play with them.  Take out some board games, a catch outside, a movie day (at home of course!), or spend the day cooking together as a family so you can freeze some meals.  Go outside and enjoy the weather.  It is Spring after all!

Don’t forget, this pandemic will eventually end and you will go right back to your once fast paced life.  If there is anything that this pandemic has taught you, it is that health is the top priority.  Everything else is not as important.  That is why everyone and everything is on hold for now.  Reflect on this so when life goes back to normal again, your priorities and values will reset.

We hope you and your family stay safe and we wish you well.  If your fear and anxiety is difficult to manage alone during this time, we are just a call away!

 

Seek Happiness, Not Pleasure: The Difference Between Happiness and Pleasure & How to Keep Your Mood Leveled

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It is easy to confuse pleasure with happiness as they both feel very similar.  If people sit down to a delicious meal at their favorite restaurant, are they feeling happiness or pleasure?  What if you unwrap a gift during the holidays and find it’s exactly what you wanted?  Pleasure or happiness?  Or maybe you come home after a long week of work and your partner is waiting for you with a glass of wine and a good movie ready to go?  Before I discuss ways on how to find happiness, it is important to understand the difference between pleasure and happiness.

What is pleasure?

Pleasure is produced when the neurotransmitter, dopamine is released in the brain.  It is the “feel good” neurotransmitter which is why people continue to chase it.  This is also why, in psychology, it is called the “reward pathway” in the brain.  For instance, when you have sex, eat your favorite food, gamble, use any sort of drug, open up a gift, or even gossip, dopamine is released in your brain and pleasure is produced.  Since the experience feels good, you go after them again…and again…and again.  It gets to a point that the thought or anticipation of the experience can release dopamine.  However, once the experience ends, so does the feeling of pleasure, only leaving you wanting more.  Pleasure is short lived.  It doesn’t last long and can ultimately be unhealthy if it leads to addictive behaviors (ie: drug, sex, gambling, food addictions).

What is happiness?

Happiness is produced when the neurotransmitter, serotonin is released in the brain.  When people feel happiness, they are at an even keel for an extended period of time.  Their mood is level and they are feeling good about their life.  You may feel happy with life at home, at work, or where you are in life.  For example, if you are sitting around a table full of family and friends during the holidays, you may pause, reflect, and experience happiness since you are surrounded by people you love.  This feeling will most likely last through dinner and for the remainder of the night.

What is the difference between pleasure and happiness?

Although they feel similar, there are a good amount of differences between pleasure and happiness.  Some of these differences are listed below:

Pleasure

Short lived

Dopamine is released

Serves as a “reward.”  As a result, you may continue to seek it.

Can lead to unhealthy addictive behaviors

Happiness

Lasts longer

Serotonin is released

No reward is present.  It serves as a result.

Mood is level

How to seek happiness?

People often ask what the secret to happiness is.  In my opinion, this can be different for everyone depending on what you are looking for in life.  And there is plenty to find!  A good place to start is to imagine how you would want your life to look like when you wake up in the morning.  Do you want to surround yourself with people or would you prefer to go for a run with your dog?  Would you stay in bed and snuggle your partner for 15 minutes or would you enjoy sitting together on your porch and talking instead?  Do you prefer to work at a job around other co-workers you really connect with or would you rather be an entrepreneur and have more flexibility in your day?  What would you do if you had that flexibility?  There are no secrets to finding happiness since it is different for all.  What works for some people may not work for others.  However, the path to happiness is rarely short and there is no quick route to getting there.  This is not the case for pleasure, which means if you continue to seek it, you will realize that it will not lead to happiness as pleasure is its own separate path.  This will leave you feeling empty in the end since pleasure is short lived.  If you want to find happiness, start thinking about how you want to live your life.  Then, start taking the necessary steps to get there.  Start off small and work your way up.  Do what ultimately makes you happy as opposed to chasing a temporary reward.

What if I can’t find happiness?

If you find yourself struggling to find happiness regardless of what you do, you may need to seek professional help.  This may be a therapist, a psychiatrist, or a combination of the two.  Life is challenging in general.  If you find that nothing you do brings you happiness, it is possible that there is also a chemical imbalance that is causing this, as opposed to life just being challenging in general.  A therapist can help you figure this out and also point you in the right direction.  Not only this, but they will stay on the path and walk alongside you as long as you need them to.  This will provide the support you need until you are able to find happiness.

We hope you and your family had a wonderful holiday and New Year, and that you find your happiness!

 

How to Cope with Anxiety by Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Techniques

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Anxiety is powerful and persistent.  It can hit you as soon as you wake up in the morning and can keep you from going to sleep at night.  It can cause you to shut down, feel numb, and become immobile, but can also provide you with a burst of energy due to racing, and worrisome thoughts.  Anxiety is uncomfortable and consuming.  It impacts relationships, decision making, self-esteem, and confidence among other things.  Anxiety can be a symptom of environmental stressors and can also be caused by your biological makeup (i.e. genetics).  Regardless, it can be quite disruptive to your life.  Although anxiety is strong, it can be managed using a variety of techniques.  In this blog, I am going to cover one of these techniques, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  CBT is a method some therapists use to help clients cope with anxiety.  If you would like to learn some other strategies to help you cope with anxiety, you can read some of my previous blogs including:

Panic Attacks – Don’t Panic! Do These 4 Things Instead!

Anxiety & the Here & Now

Hike, Connect with Nature, & Break From Anxiety

CBT methods teach people to challenge their thoughts and beliefs which will then have an impact on their emotions.  Typically, when a person is experiencing an episode of anxiety, they are having automatic thoughts (i.e.: self talk, toxic thoughts, etc.).  The worst case scenario may play out in your head regardless of whether or not it is realistic or logical.  For example, for parents of young children, if your 2 year old child is climbing on a play set, you may think they will fall, break something, and then you will have to rush them to the ER.  As a result, you quickly tell them they aren’t allowed to climb or you stand directly behind them with your hands supporting their body so they most certainly won’t fall.  The result is a child who doesn’t learn risk assessing skills or develop confidence in their ability to climb.  For adolescents, failing a test or getting a poor grade on an assignment may trigger anxiety, which may result in negative thoughts including, “I’m not going to get into a good college,” or “I’m so stupid.”  Anxiety escalates and automatic toxic thoughts intensify.

Challenging your thoughts and beliefs can be a challenge in itself.  Anxiety is a bit more invasive than just a few negative, irrational thoughts.  Anxiety impacts your breathing, heart rate, digestion, and more.  It releases stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol which feels like your whole body has been hijacked.  As a result, it takes a lot of self control, commitment, and will power to challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that anxiety can produce.  It can be a constant thing as well.  In some instances, it may be more beneficial to redirect yourself first if you experience stronger episodes of anxiety.  Breathing exercises along with a mindful activity such as playing an instrument or doing a crossword puzzle can help relieve the physiological symptoms of anxiety enough so you feel like you are more in control of your thoughts.  The following are steps you can take in order to challenge irrational thoughts that surface from anxiety once you are more in control:

  1. Recognize your symptoms of anxiety.
  2. If your anxiety is significant, redirect yourself, breath, and participate in a mindful activity to alleviate the physiological symptoms of anxiety.
  3. Identify irrational, negative thoughts/beliefs that are produced due to your anxiety episode.
  4. Challenge these thoughts and beliefs.  Remember, just because your mind is producing the thoughts and beliefs does not mean they are true or realistic .
  5. Counter your irrational thoughts and beliefs with more realistic thoughts and beliefs.  For example, you can tell yourself that your 2 year old child most likely will not fall and break something if they climb a few steps on a play set.  Offer words of encouragement to your child, provide enough space for them, and be present should they fall and scrape a knee.

Predicting the worst case scenario (catastrophizing), overgeneralizing, and jumping to conclusions are all examples of cognitive distortions.  Cognitive distortions play a key role with anxiety.  It is essentially your mind convincing you of something that isn’t true or realistic.  Convincing is the key word here.  One way to put this into perspective is to compare this to a game of Texas Holdem Poker.  For instance, if you and I are playing a game of poker, you can have a hand that is much better than mine.  However, I can bet a good amount of chips, which will produce anxiety and fear for you.  As a result, your mind will convince you that I have a better hand than you causing you to fold.  If you are able to recognize your own anxiety, cognitive distortions, and challenge your thinking and beliefs, you will know to raise my bet which will cause me to fold since my hand isn’t as good as yours.  Similarly, if you challenge other cognitive distortions in your life, your decision making will be much more logical and you will not allow anxiety to dictate your life and actions.  It is a way for you to regain control.