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
Article: "Video Game Anxiety is Real. Here's How To Manage It."
Thanks to Robin Mosley for interviewing me on how games can cause us to feel more anxious instead of relaxed and steps you can take to reduce game anxiety.
So great to have been featured in Real Simple today as a goal-setting and productivity expert! Check out my advice on setting small goals...
Published by Breathe Magazine (2020): https://www.breathemagazine.com/2020/12/24/breathe-issue-35/
Artwork by: Sophie Standing
Article Link/LA Parent Magazine: https://www.laparent.com/digital-detox-break/
How to Take a Digital Detox Break
By Risa Williams, LMFT
Are you having trouble sleeping lately? Are you frequently stressing yourself out with the late night doom-scroll through news headlines? You’re not alone. Since quarantine, most of us have spent a large amount of time scrolling through our phones all day long, and it’s causing a lot of anxiety, stress, and sometimes, insomnia, too. But, how can we stop ourselves from doom-scrolling when our phones have become our number one distraction?
After working with clients who were struggling with anxiety and insomnia, I started suggesting scheduling frequent “digital detox” breaks throughout the day as way to reset and relax. At first, I struggled to apply this idea myself. It seemed so tempting to constantly check my phone for work emails, news stories, or social media updates. However, I started to notice I was feeling a general restlessness at night that I couldn’t shake after being on my phone all day long. So, I decided to take my own advice and put the phone away for a scheduled chunk of time each day and I started feeling more relaxed as a result. Now, I’ve learned that I do much better overall in terms of night-time mood when I give my phone a daily break.
When we’re always on our phones, we’re cutting ourselves off from the present moment, we’re missing things as they happen around us in real time. As parents, it’s not uncommon for our kids to have to stick their faces right up in ours to even get our attention when we’re busy scrolling. Typically, we’re not giving our brains a rest from new “information overload” either. A simple solution is to set aside blocks of time where you aren’t on your phone (or computer) to reset yourself.
Here are some tips that might be useful in learning to put down the phone:
Put the phone away at meal times.
When we put the phone away during meals, and connect with the food we’re eating by focusing on it, we help our brains relax and we aid our digestion. Unplugging from devices and slowing down intentionally can also help you connect with your family at meal times more, too.
Leave your phone on a charger in a different room at night.
When you have your phone plugged in on your nightstand, the temptation is to doom-scroll into the night. Instead, try plugging your phone in somewhere a bit farther away and harder to reach, like the living room or kitchen. While you might find yourself sneaking a look at your phone when you go to get a glass of water, chances are, you’ll remember to leave it there instead of taking it with you.
Be okay with not doing anything.
When we’re on our phones, we’re doing a lot, we’re reading, we’re scrolling, we’re searching for things. Sometimes, instead, it’s okay to do nothing. Tell yourself, “I don’t have to do or be anything right now. I can just sit here and feel peaceful for a while.” It can be beneficial to model for our kids how to take time away from our devices to reset ourselves. How often do we tell our kids to take a break from their ipads when we’re actually still on our phones, not taking our own advice?
Learn to navigate the uncomfortable FOMO feeling.
Many of my clients tell me they can’t get off their phone because of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). These days, it’s mostly a FOMO of news updates that’s getting to people, but it can also be a fear of missing out on what your friends are doing. Sit with the feeling as it arises and breathe into it. You can find out what everyone’s up to during non-digital-detox time, and the news headlines will still be there when you check them later.
Remind yourself: Most of the time, phones are adding to our stress, not calming us down.
Picture how you will feel after a night of doom-scrolling. Picture how you feel the next morning and how hard it will be to get through the day after feeling stressed all night. Now, picture how relaxed it will feel to take a break from your phone, to notice the present moment more, to connect with your family more, and to not experience “information overload” for an hour or two. Don’t you feel better, just thinking about it? The choice is yours. Doom-scroll, or, enjoy some digital downtime?
Risa Williams (www.risawilliams.com) is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in anxiety and stress reduction techniques, a mom of two, and a professor. Risa is the author of “The Ultimate Anxiety Toolkit: 25 Tools to Worry Less, Relax More and Boost Your Self-Esteem” (June 2021, Jessica Kingsley Publishers). You can read more of her stress reduction tips on IG @risawilliamstherapy.
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.
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:
Published on Cultural Weekly: https://www.culturalweekly.com/set-small-goals-to-stress-less/
"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/
Feeling emotional burnout these days? Many people are. Check out my tips for coping with fatigue and read other advice from therapists!
ARTICLE LINK: https://theeverygirl.com/emotional-burnout/
Thanks to Shoutout LA for interviewing me this week!