Category Archives: Anxiety

Self-Compassion

Self-compassion is one of the most important ways to improve our relationship with ourselves.

Society has taught us to be perfect, work harder, achieve more,  and be the best at everything we do.  While it is great to have goals in life to help us grow and develop, unfortunately, many people struggle with not knowing when to stop and are constantly self-critical.  When our self worth depends on being “better” than others, we become anxious, insecure, and self critical.  This competition and frequent self judgement, can lead to social isolation.  This self-criticism gets in the way of our brain’s social wiring goals – which is to belong and be loved.

Self-compassion is not artificially boosting ourselves up, being too easy on ourselves, or giving up.  It is the actually the opposite – the source of learning, empowerment and inner strength.  Our performance after failure can also be improved through self-compassion, and it helps us maintain peace of mind throughout the day.  

Kristen Neff, one of the leading researchers and practitioners in the field of Self-Compassion says, “Self-compassion soothes the mind like a loving friend who’s willing to listen to our difficulties without giving advice, until we can sort out our problems for ourselves.” 

Self-compassion involves facing mistakes, failure or insecurity in a different way.  Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the same support, kindness, and concern you would show to a child, loved one or close friend.  When facing with struggles in life (which we all experience), self-compassion involves responding with kindness rather than harshness and judgement.  For example, “Mallory, that sucks you are struggling with feeling left out of the group.  That feeling is normal and many people feel the same way.”  I like to use my name my self-compassion statements (see my tips on positive self talk).  If you would like to learn more about self-compassion, here is a Ted Talk by Kristen Neff I strongly recommend seeing.

Kristin Neff also has some free guided Loving Kindness Meditations as well – that are a great way to learn how to speak to ourselves differently, especially if you have no idea where to start.

And finally, here is a Self Compassion Exercise that I use with clients and myself, to practise self compassion.  It often does not come naturally, so we need to have a script to repeat to ourselves – until it becomes automatic.  If self-compassion is something you want to work on in your life, I often suggest practising either a meditation, repeating your own personalized self-compassion scripts (set an alarm), and use the worksheet – and then personalize the worksheet to situations in your life that you are currently facing (feel free to get some ideas from family and friends too).

Weeks 5 & 6 – Decluttering the Mind: Changing Negative Self-Talk to Something Helpful

 

Negative Self-Talk

The way your talk to yourself in your mind, otherwise known as self-talk, can have a major impact on your life, from your confidence to your choices. Research has shown that most of our self-talk is negative, and is working against us rather than helping us. These negative thoughts often create feelings of frustration, irritation, anger, hopelessness and disappointment.

 

WHAT IS ‘SELF-TALK’?

Even though you might not always be aware of it, we all have self-talk. Self-talk is a positive or negative running commentary about life. Typically, our self-talk happens without us noticing because we are often on ‘auto-pilot’ or that we are so accustomed to our thinking that we don’t reflect on how our thoughts are influencing us.

 

Changing Your Negative Self-Talk Can Help You to:

  • Feel better about yourself
  • Boost your confidence
  • Improve your social life
  • Feel more in control of your life
  • Be more optimistic and effective in life
  • Improve athletic performance (researchers found 11-15% improvement with positive self talk)
  • Improves academic performance
  • Decrease school and work absences

 

Tips

  • Self-talk works best when it is scripted ahead of time and practiced.
  • What works for each person is a matter of personal preference – so make sure your new changes are personalized for you.
  • Addressing yourself by name is found to be more powerful than ‘I’ statements – (i.e. Mallory, you are going to have a good bike ride, all you need to do is start).

 

Negative Self-Talk Personalities

 

 

 

  1.  The Worrier

…. creates anxiety by imagining the worst-case scenario and scares you with ideas of upcoming disaster. The worrier often over-reacts to the first physical symptoms of panic (such as sweaty palms, tightening chest or increased heart rate) and recycles thinking of over-exaggerated fears. The worrier is always vigilant and watching with uneasy anticipation for any tiny sign that trouble is ahead. It over-estimates the odds that something bad or embarrassing will happen and imagines scenes of failure and disaster. The worrier’s favorite expression is “what if…” Our self-talk from the worrier’s perspective will say “Oh no! My chest feels tight. What if I panic, and lose control.” “What if I’m alone and there is no one around to help me?” What if I do something that is really embarrassing?” This fear can immobilize a person and keep them from really living, because of the anxiety that it produces.

 

2.  The Critic

…is the part of you that is constantly judging and evaluating your behavior and promotes a low self-esteem. It tends to point out your flaws and shortcomings at every opportunity. It emphasizes your mistakes and reminds you that you are a failure. It tends to ignore your positive qualities and emphasizes your weaknesses and shortcomings at an unproportional amount. The critic generates anxiety by putting you down for not being able to handle your symptoms of fear or anxiety, for not being able to go places that you previously were able to go, or for having to rely on someone else. It also loves to compare you to others with you always falling short. The critic’s favorite expressions are: “What a disappointment you are!”, “That was stupid”, “Can’t you ever get it right?”, “I am unworthy of others”, or “I am not good enough”.

 

3.  The Perfectionist

…is a close cousin to the critic because it is less concerned about putting you down, but relentlessly tries to push you to do better, and is rarely satisfied. It promotes chronic stress and burnout. It keeps reminding you that you can always do better and you should be working harder, your efforts are not good enough, you should always be pleasing, competent, and should always have everything under control. The critic’s favorite expressions are: “I should… I have to …”. It wants you to be the best and is intolerant of mistakes or setbacks. It tries to convince you that your self-worth is dependent on external indicators such as : work/school/job achievement, money, status, acceptance by others, or the ability to please others. The perfectionist pushes you into stress, exhaustion and burnout.

 

4.  The Victim

…is the part of you that feels helpless or hopeless and promotes depression.  It believes that there is something inherently wrong with you, and there must be something deprived, defective or unworthy about you.  It generates anxiety by assuming that you will never be cured, and assumes the road to recovery is way too steep because you are not making any progress. Victims feel as you are stuck and things will never change, no matter what you do. The victim’s favorite expression is: “I can’t”, and “I never will be able to”. “I have had this problem too long and I will never get better”, “I’ve tried everything and nothing ever seems to work.”

 

Countering Negative Self-Talk

The best way to stop the effects of negative self-talk is to counter it with positive, self-compassionate, and supportive statements. It starts by writing down and rehearsing statements that directly refute and invalidate your negative self-talk.  Remember, your negative, anxiety producing, self-statements have been reinforced for years, and it will take some practice and time to get rid of them. You must slow down your automatic thoughts, and really pay close attention to what you are saying to yourself. These four sub-personalities will help you to decipher which is your favorite way to generate anxiety.

Some of your expressions are simply bad habits and you don’t want to be deceived by them any more. Some are deep seated and you still believe that they are true. You can weaken the hold of your negative self-statements by exposing them to the following questions:

What is the evidence for this?

Is it always true?

Has this always been true in the past?

What is the realistic percentage of this really happening?

What is the very worse that this could happen? What would you do if the worse did happen?

Are you looking at the whole picture?

Are you being completely objective?

 

After noticing the negative self-talk thoughts in your mind, another way to improve your headspace is to add positive coping thoughts. Examples of coping thoughts might be:

  • Stop, and breathe, I can do this
  • This will pass
  • I can be anxious/angry/sad and still deal with this
  • I have done this before, and I can do it again
  • This feels bad, it’s a normal body reaction – it will pass
  • This feels bad, and feelings are very often wrong
  • These are just feelings, they will go away
  • This won’t last forever
  • Short term pain for long term gain
  • I can feel bad and still choose to take a new and healthy direction
  • I don’t need to rush, I can take things slowly
  • I have survived before, I will survive now
  • I feel this way because of my past experiences, but I am safe right now
  • It’s okay to feel this way, it’s a normal reaction
  • Right now, I am not in danger. Right now, I’m safe
  • My mind is not always my friend
  • Thoughts are just thoughts – they’re not necessarily true or factual
  • This is difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s only temporary
  • I can use my coping skills and get through this
  • I can learn from this and it will be easier next time
  • Keep calm and carry on

 

 

Sources

“The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook” by Edmund J. Bourne, p. 164-168.

Helmstetter, 1982; Stranulis & Manning, 2002

 

Why don’t you like me: When approval seeking becomes a problem

 

Are you a people-pleaser?

We all want approval.  We want our partners to think we’re attractive and funny, we want our bosses to think we’re intelligent and hard-working, we want our friends to think we’re fun and dependable, we want our children to think we’re cool parents…and the list goes on.  It’s perfectly normal to want to be seen in a positive light, but for some people, approval-seeking can become an automatic and unaviodable behaviour that severely impairs one’s functioning and well-being.  This might sound familiar to you because it’s something that you’re currently struggling with, or it might be a problem that you’ve noticed in others.  Either way, it’s important to recognize when approval-seeking has become an oft-used crutch, and to take steps to reduce this maladaptive behaviour.  As Bob Marley said, “you can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool everybody all the time”.  The same goes for pleasing people – sooner or later, one of your approval-seeking attempts will inevitably fail, and you won’t feel very good about yourself.

At this point, you may be wondering, how can you tell whether approval-seeking is a problem in your own life?  Some potential clues to watch out for include extreme anxiety at the thought of any potential conflict or disapproval from others, altering your own opinions or behaviour because you perceive that someone disapproves, acting contrary to your values and beliefs in order to please others, apologizing excessively, and finding yourself afraid to say ‘no’ to any request made of you.

On a clinical level, approval-seeking can sometimes be indicative of an underlying diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, but more commonly, the behaviour can stem from many different roots such as childhood bullying or insecure attachment.  Approval-seeking behaviour, many argue, is learned rather than inherent; therefore, it can also be ‘un-learned’. If you feel that this behaviour may be a problem in your own life, there are a few strategies that you can employ to try to reduce it:

Start by identifying: Are you aware of when you’re engaging in approval-seeking behaviour?  Sometimes, this behaviour can manifest in rather obvious ways (for example, doing things that you don’t want to do in order to gain approval), while other times, it may appear more subtly (for example, you might find yourself paying someone an insincere compliment).  Dedicate a few days to paying close attention to your own behaviour – don’t judge or criticize yourself, simply notice the patterns that emerge.  Pay attention to your own thought processes, and try to identify the areas of life (or the specific social situations) in which you tend to seek approval.

Move on to questioning: Now that you’ve identified where your approval-seeking manifests, you can move on to the harder work: questioning why you’ve been engaging in these behaviours.  The reasons may not always be clear – as mentioned earlier, approval-seeking often originates as a result of childhood experiences that you may not recall completely – but just do your best.  For example, if you find yourself spending your Friday night at a club with your friends even though you’re exhausted and were dying to spend the evening curled up on the couch with popcorn and a movie, ask yourself why you went out.  Were you scared that your friends would be disappointed in you if you bailed? And if they were disappointed in you, what would happen then?  Take the time to really interrogate your own beliefs and motivations – you might gain a lot of insight.

Tell everyone: If you feel comfortable, try explaining your quest to decrease approval-seeking to your friends and family.  Saying something like “I’ve noticed that people-pleasing behaviour has become a problem for me, and I’ve decided to work on it – so you might notice me saying no to things more than usual” can go a long way in setting the social stage for your behaviour change.  If your friends have been forewarned that you might say no to their requests sometimes, you might just feel more comfortable doing so.  If they truly care about you, they’ll almost certainly understand.  If you want to take it a (brave) step further, you can even try asking your loved ones to point out to you when they notice you seeking approval.  This last tactic runs the risk of hurting your feelings, however, so make sure to be cognizant of that.

Engage in self-care: You’ve been worrying yourself sick about pleasing other people, so it’s likely that you haven’t given much thought to taking good care of yourself.  Try using the time you gain back as a result of decreasing your approval-seeking to engage in some good old-fashioned self care.  Queue up your favourite Netflix show, sink into a hot bath, catch up with your significant other, read a book, plan a trip, or do all of the above – just make sure to take time for yourself to fully relax, and turn off your phone while you do so!

As always, it’s important to consider the valuable and often-neglected option of sourcing the help of a Psychologist to help you examine the reasons behind your approval-seeking behaviour and help you work to reduce said behaviour.  Above all, remember to be kind and patient with yourself when you’re trying to reduce approval-seeking behaviour.  This kind of big behavioural change definitely doesn’t occur overnight, and for many of us, this behaviour has been with us since childhood, so treat yourself with kindness and appreciate the small victories.  You’re doing something good for yourself just by reading this article – and before you know it, you’ll be enjoying a new sense of control over your life and toasting to your people-pleasing past.

How Survive Edmonton Job Loss or Uncertainty

5 Ways to Survive Job Loss or Uncertainty in Edmonton – by Mallory Becker, R. Psych.

 

Let’s face it – the job market in the land once known for its high paying jobs, opportunity for advancement, where people would flock to from far and wide currently sucks. It is dismal at best in Edmonton and Alberta. The poor job market came out of nowhere with many people unprepared, and it seems like those who took a pay cut to do the work of 2 other people are the ‘lucky.’  While many things are out of our control, there are some things we can do to increase our chances of survival – as it will (eventually) get better.

 question_mark

  1. Plan Ahead

I’m not saying you need to be collecting bottles in all your spare time, but organizing can help. The issue with many people in Alberta is that we don’t have a rainy day fund, and we don’t do a good job at being prepared. Keep an eye on the job market, make a budget (use a helpful tool such as mint.com), and make sure your resume is ready to go. Get in touch with a headhunter to get pointers about your presentation to employer and get in touch with another job market.

  1. Manage Your Anxiety

There are so many people around us that feel uncertainty and insecurity can be transferred others. The job climate, coupled with a lack of control is the perfect recipe for anxiety. It is always easier to cope with a job loss when you all ready have coping tools. Most people who seek out counseling for crisis, or to “put out fires” often require more sessions and have a longer recovery than those who come to acquire life coping skills. Either way we are here to help, but if you have benefits, use them to inoculate yourself. This way if you loose your job, you can spend your time searching for a new position rather than being debilitated by fear and overwhelming emotions.

causes-of-anxiety-disorders

  1. Network, Network, Network

Many people are worried to “use” the people they are connected to for job prospects. I understand the frustration family and friends have when people only come to them when they are out of a job, rather than discussing opportunities coming out of proactive and mutual 2-way conversation. Talk to your friends and family about their workplaces including potential opportunities, and attend networking opportunities (such an Edmonton Business Association lunch and learn or ask someone on LinkedIn you have similar interests to have coffee). If there is a company you have always been interested in, set up a time to meet up and learn more about the company including potential future opportunities. Remember, 80-85% of jobs are not advertised.

  1. Define Your Brand

Many people in the job market have a difficult time because of the “I’ll take what I can get mentality.” It is very important to get to know your strengths and weakness so you can have a clear sense of what you can bring to a company. It can also be helpful to work with a career counselor (which is a service we provide) or a business mentor to help you focus your brand. A focused brand also demonstrates confidence, which is a trait highly correlated to trust.

  1. Balance

The people who experience the most distress after a job loss often spend too much time and focus on work. They live to work, rather than work to live. This is very unhealthy and can lead to many physical, psychological and relationship issues

business_balance

Make sure you are spending time with your family, friends, hobbies, volunteering, fitness and personal development. A well-rounded person also looks better on paper and in a job interview. The more interests you have, the higher the probability you will have something in common with the individuals hiring you.

 

In the event of a job loss, or if you feel it may be coming – we can help. Avoid having the stress boil over onto your loved ones. We can work on gaining more self-awareness for your personal brand, discuss job-searching strategies, and learn tools to deal with stress and anxiety.