By Risa Williams, author of The Ultimate Anxiety Toolkit
Posted on Jessica Kingsley Publishers' blog
As a therapist who specializes in anxiety and stress reduction tools, this last year definitely made me more aware of how anxiety was rising for so many people at the exact same time.
At first, as the pandemic was unfolding, there was an initial wave of change anxiety surrounding the feeling of uncertainty: How long will this continue? How will I get basic supplies? How will I home school the kids and work out of the bedroom on a makeshift desk?
Over the holidays, there was a definite FOMO anxiety: When will I see people again? When will holidays go back to normal? How will we cope with missing out on so much this year?
Now, as we get to the “end” of lockdown, another wave of anxiety is hitting people all at once: How safe is it back in the office? Where should I wear a mask now? Can’t I just keep telecommuting now that I’m finally used to it?
With every new change, new anxiety is bound to be triggered in many people. And this year has had non-stop change! So, it makes sense that people are reporting higher than ever anxiety levels (62% of Americans were already reporting high anxiety last March and it’s probably much, much higher now).
In other words, if you’re currently experiencing any anxiety, you’re really not alone.
Here are some ways to help you cope with the uncomfortable feelings that new change brings:
Sometimes anxiety wants us to solve a dozen future problems all in one single moment! It can be helpful to remember that you can choose to deliberately slow things down when you need to. Take things one problem at a time, one day at a time, one month at a time. Then, try to connect with how you want to feel in the future and start to trust that you’ll get there in time.
Risa Williams is a licensed psychotherapist and coach specializing in anxiety reduction tools, a wellness writer, and a professor in Los Angeles. For more anxiety reduction tools, please check out: “The Ultimate Anxiety Toolkit: 25 Tools to Worry Less, Relax More and Boost Your Self-Esteem” by Risa Williams (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, June 2021), www.theultimateanxietytoolkit.com
by Risa Williams, LMFT
Published by LA PARENT, 2020: https://www.laparent.com/accept-compliments/
Do you have trouble receiving compliments? When someone says something nice to you, do you wince, blurt out an awkward reply, or swat the compliment away like it’s a fly that’s trying to land on you? You’re not alone. Many people have trouble receiving compliments. Even though we, as humans, really desire praise and positive feedback, when we finally get it, we have trouble accepting the very thing that we wanted!
Sometimes when I tell a client how far they’ve come, or that they did a good job completing a goal, they go into the “compliment overwhelm” zone where they do one of the things I described above. The most common answer is, “Oh, it was nothing!” which negates the compliment completely. Or another frequent reply is, “There were some parts I didn’t do well…” which basically adds an insult to yourself on top of the compliment. Some people instantly brush off the compliment and then immediately list a worry about a different topic, which stops them from connecting with the positive feeling at all, and also makes the compliment-giver ask themselves, “Did they hear me?”
Sometimes, this response comes from our upbringing. I know I grew up thinking I should always be humble and that I shouldn’t make other people feel bad by talking about my own accomplishments. Whether this was directly stated to me or not, it seemed to be the behavior the adults around me were demonstrating a lot of the time, so that’s what stuck. Other clients tell me that they were raised to think “it’s obnoxious” to talk about things you’ve done, but when pressed, they will admit that they themselves don’t act “obnoxious”, so they’re not sure why they fear becoming this so much.
Over time, if we consistently don’t allow ourselves to feel proud of what we’ve done in life, out of a vague unexamined notion that we are making others unhappy, we might develop low self-esteem. Generally, I find that when people are genuinely feeling good about themselves, they are more positive, kind, and generous to those around them. They aren’t actively trying to make other people feel bad. It’s usually the opposite!
As parents, it can be beneficial to our kids to model to them how to both give and accept compliments in a healthy way by practicing these things ourselves. We can also watch how we speak about other peoples’ accomplishments in front of our kids so that they learn that it’s okay to let other people feel proud of what they’ve done, too.
So, how do we start accepting compliments in a healthier way?
Count to three before you respond.
If you have a bad habit of swatting away compliments or negating them with self-deprecating talk, is to count to three mentally after you receive one. Let there be a short silence before you decide to say, “thank you”. The silence can be truly uncomfortable for some, but it will help you learn to respond in a more positive way. Sit with the feeling. Then, choose to respond.
Say “thank you” and then, send a compliment back.
Consider that when someone gives you a compliment about something you’ve done, generally they’re just trying to give you a positive boost. Saying thank you acknowledges their positivity, and then you can decide, if you want, to add to the moment, by sending a compliment back to the person who gave it to you. Generally, this increases the positive feelings overall for both people.
Connect with the feeling of success.
I have found that most of us don’t allow ourselves to connect with our successes very often, if at all. If you finish a task or a goal, sit with the feeling. Feel proud of yourself. Feel relieved it’s over. But…really, really feel the feeling. Then, when someone compliments you, you’ve already felt the feeling. So… hearing it won’t feel as weird to you anymore.
Give yourself more praise more often.
Part of the reason that compliments feel so uncomfortable is that most of us are battling our inner critics for most of the day. Our inner critics say so many negative things, that it can be confusing for us to hear the exact opposite coming from someone else. Lighten up a little on yourself! Tell yourself kinder, gentler things more of the time, instead of listening to your inner critic so frequently.
Practice gratitude on a daily basis.
Many scientific studies have shown that practicing gratitude is not only good for our brains, it’s also good for bodies, especially our hearts and immune system. Feel grateful for little things throughout your day. Feel grateful for yourself and for the kindness of other people more often. This helps you navigate receiving kindness, because you’re practicing the mindset of seeing the world with kindness, as well as seeing yourself with kindness more frequently. A beneficial practice can be to keep a gratitude or appreciation journal by writing down a few things you feel grateful for each day.
Remind yourself: It’s just communication.
Compliments are just one way humans communicate with each other. It’s really nothing to feel strange about when you look at it that way. So the next time someone tells you that you did a good job, instead of arguing with the person about why that it isn’t true, count to three, feel grateful, and say thank you. Then, send some positivity back into the world and let yourself ride out the positive feeling a little longer.
Risa Williams (www.risawilliams.com) is a licensed psychotherapist, a wellness writer, a professor, and a mom of two. Her book, The Ultimate Anxiety Toolkit will be published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in 2021. You can read more of her self-esteem tips on IG @risawilliamstherapy or at www.risawilliams.com.
Featured in a larger UpJourney Article: How to Deal with a Condescending Coworker
by Risa Williams, LMFT
Sometimes when people have to interact with a coworker who comes across as condescending, the natural reaction would be to get defensive or feel insecure.
It’s good to remember that you have a choice not to feel these feelings however challenging the encounter can feel to navigate. It takes practice to learn how to navigate these situations without letting it affect your self-esteem afterward.
Mentally prepare yourself for future encounters
One tool that can help is to mentally prep yourself for future encounters with the coworker and mentally rehearse different ways you can navigate these situations in the future.
Practice ahead of time what you need to communicate to them by writing it down in a clear and succinct way – this will help bring your stress and anxiety levels down. Mentally rehearse being assertive without being aggressive or defensive, and clearly state what you would like or need to communicate in a calm voice, and talk to yourself internally in a kind and soothing way.
Reward yourself with self-praise
After the encounter, be sure to give yourself a lot of praise for handling a difficult situation well. The more you can give yourself self-praise and positive self-talk, the less your coworker will be able to affect your overall mood and confidence.
by Risa Williams, LMFT
Time is blurring together. That’s the main thing I’m hearing from people these days. Many can’t remember what day of the week it is, many are having trouble keeping track of what month it is, and it is challenging to mentally process how much time has already gone by and what the near future will look like. Time is starting to feel really surreal to most people, especially here in Los Angeles, where many of us have been stuck inside since March.
Before March, our brains were used to a daily story that happened: We got in our cars to commute and/or drop kids off at school and we eventually arrived at our work destination. Sometimes, on good days when we remembered to stop working, we took lunch breaks. After a few hours, we picked kids up from school and/or returned home, made dinner, and sometimes relaxed for a little while. On top of that, there were seasons to divvy up the time. In the summer, the kids’ schedules changed, and sometimes, we went on vacations or trips, and all of this helped us keep track of where we were in the year. Now, all of this has drastically changed. We are navigating our offices from inside our bedrooms (or hallways/dining rooms/living rooms), our kids are wearing headsets like mini-office workers, and everyone is shushing each other to avoid accidentally saying something embarrassing while on calls with supervisors/teachers. As a result, our brains no longer know what day/time/month/season it is, it just feels like one endless stretch of Zoom meetings.
So, how do we break up our days to help us navigate the time ahead? My solution has been setting mini-goals for myself each week. It’s something I’ve been working with my clients on, and it generally helps people feel like they are making progress, moving forward, and creating more of a personal journey during these stressful times. Our brains like to accomplish small goals and to feel rewarded for doing them. It can help reduce anxiety, it can give us something to look forward to, and it can help increase the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with the reward center in our brains. Also, it can help ground you in what feels like a sea of indistinguishable time. Here are a few simple goal-setting techniques that might help you:
"How to Become Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable" by Risa Williams, Breathe Magazine, Issue 31, 2020
©GMC Publications/Breathe 2020, Illustrator: Olivia Waller
To read full article, please visit: https://www.breathemagazine.com/2020/07/09/breathe-issue-31/
by Risa Williams, LMFT
A few years ago, I was working a full-time job, two part-time jobs on the side, while commuting two hours a day and raising my kids. I was rushing from teaching to work, to seeing clients, to picking up kids, to making meals and running errands… it felt like an endless hamster wheel. And whenever I did have a little downtime, my brain would just start listing all the stuff I had to do in the future, instead of… relaxing.
Does this scenario sound familiar to you? Now, as a clinical therapist who specializes in time management and productivity skills, I see my clients frequently getting stuck in the same mindset of “endless hamster wheel” that doesn’t allow them to relax or enjoy their successes. Even now, when many of us are working from home due to quarantine, people still find ways to over-work themselves into missing lunch breaks and pushing past workday end times.
Over the last years, as I pared down my jobs and prioritized tasks more, I made an interesting discovery: When I narrowed my focus and took things slowly, one task at a time, I actually wound up accomplishing more! I learned that multitasking was not only making me stressed out, it was making me accomplish less overall.
So, how do we keep ourselves off of the multi-tasking hamster wheel of stress? Here are six strategies I’ve seen be effective:
Make a daily list of things that you need to do. When our brains feel overloaded and stressed, we have trouble making decisions, prioritizing tasks, and moving forward. Write down a daily list of things you need to do. Keep your list simple – leave off things that aren’t important to accomplish on that particular day. The fewer things you put on your list, the less overwhelmed you will feel, and the easier it will be to begin.
Take it one task at a time. What is one small simple task you can do to move forward? What is the easiest task to start with on your list? Pick one to start with, and then block off a few hours to concentrate on only doing that one task. Avoid multi-tasking during this time in order to reduce feeling overwhelmed.
Block off chunks of time for each task. Using “time blocking”, set aside a few hours for each task on your daily calendar where you can focus all of your attention on completing the task. The goal is to narrow your focus by minimizing distractions, so I often encourage clients to set their phone aside or to leave it on the charger to avoid getting derailed. Try to resist jumping around from one task to another, and instead narrow your focus on what’s in front of you.
After each task is done, give yourself downtime in between. Mental downtime is just as important as taking action. Schedule in breaks in between your “time blocks” to reset yourself. Leave your work area, take a walk, sit in a different room, read a book. You might find that the breaks give you the clarity and focus you need to tackle the next task ahead. At the end of day, have a clear “end time” when work is over and stick to it as much as possible.
Celebrate your small successes. Are you giving yourself enough praise for all the things you do each day? During your breaks in between tasks, remember to connect with the feeling of relief that the task is done. Allow yourself to feel proud of yourself for the small things you do each day.
Remind yourself: Balance is key. Sometimes, when we keep pushing ourselves to multi-task and to constantly overwork, we might need to step back and get some perspective. What is reasonable to expect of ourselves each day in terms of tasks? Relaxing, being in the “now”, and connecting with our loved ones is also important to our stress levels and our emotional states. When you think of these things as essential to your well-being, you can find ways to get back in balance.
When you do less with the clear intention of maintaining your balance and focus, you might find that you actually accomplish more. And more importantly, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy what you’ve accomplished…instead of just rushing off to the next stressful task on the endless hamster wheel.
ARTICLE LINK: https://airapy.io/blog/six-strategies-to-get-more-done-by-doing-less/
Your Monday self talk mantra: “Every morning is a chance for me to reset my emotional state and start again. I don’t need to carry yesterday’s stress into today. I am getting better at resetting myself every morning as I wake up and start my day.”
During this time, it can be easy to get into a stressed out mindset that carries over into the next day. When you wake up at in the morning, you can make a conscious decision to start fresh by taking a few mindful, slow deep breaths and mentally resetting your brain and body. Ease into each day slowly with this awareness and it will ease you into a state of calm instead of stress.
Start the day mindfully aware of how your thoughts can change your mood. Try to pick thoughts that are easy and gentle, instead of harsh, negative and critical. As you move to get coffee, or brush your teeth, take deep breaths to let all the stress go. If you find your mind gravitating towards your "to-do" lists, or toward stressful future encounters you are picturing, take deep breaths and try to let those thoughts go as quickly as they come in. Remind yourself to pick helpful thoughts, not un-helpful ones, as often as you can remember to do it.
How you start each day matters. If you can start the day right with your thinking, you can change your future mood.
Every morning is a chance to start over with your thinking patterns. Keep reminding yourself of this throughout the week.
"How to Relax" and all of Thich Nhat Hanh's wonderful books are a good read during quarantine. If you are just getting into mindfulness, "How to Relax" is a great place to start, as it's a simple short read that reminds us how to breathe into our emotional states.
I often re-read the book and feel that its calm words help ground me in remembering what I already know about being aware of my breath, my feelings, and letting things go in a simple and easy way.
Your Monday self talk mantra: “Even the smallest change in a positive direction leads me to a different outcome. I can make small changes each week and still move forward. Every time I make a choice to think a thought that helps me, I know I am making progress.”
One of my main beliefs is that if you change one small thing in a positive way each week, you will change the way your life is going overall. I like to break things down into simple easy steps. When I don't know how to do a new task or to change a habit, I tell myself, "I'm figuring it out one step at a time" and this usually brings my own stress level down. The self-talk mantra above is good to remind yourself that you are making progress with each small step you take forward. If you can repeat it to yourself frequently, throughout your day, it might just be the boost you need to get you through your day.
Sometimes we think that if we want to change, we have to do it all in one giant leap. This type of thinking often prevents us from getting started with any of our goals because it feels overwhelming. We think we have to be in the right "mindset" to take it all on all at once, and then we freeze up, and wind up not taking any action forward. A different approach that I use is to break things down into simple, easy steps that you can tackle one at a time, at a consistent rate for you. It can be more helpful to take things at your own pace that you can sustain, where you can practice positive patterns consistently, rather than to try to do too much and overwhelm yourself. Small positive changes add up, too. Take things at a pace that you can sustain consistently and trust that progress will happen over time.