My coaching and researching over the years have resulted in the awareness that stress and anxiousness are rooted in three main drivers. Only one of these drivers needs to be present for anyone to start experiencing nervousness. This can easily lead to feeling powerless over time.
The three drivers are:
- A perceived lack of control
- Perceived lack of information, knowledge, and wisdom
- Perceived lack of feeling safe and sure.
When these drivers present in our lives for extended periods, they can show up in our bodies as uncomfortable feelings like heaviness or resistance. We use names for these bodily feelings like fear, unease, worry, overwhelm, stress, and anxiety.
It’s Only Natural
As human beings, we naturally crave certainty. We want to feel safe and secure in our environment and for our future. Our ability to accept and live with heightened levels of uncertainty has become second nature since the COVID-19 pandemic. Factors such as the economy, employment, finances, and health (both mental and physical) are challenging us like never before.
Everyone is different in how much uncertainty they tolerate before they feel the strain on bodily and neurological systems. For some, taking risks and living unpredictable lives is fun, exciting and they can’t imagine running their lives any other way. For others, high levels of randomness are deeply distressing.
The bottom line is that we all have a limit and that if you are feeling overwhelmed by the current level of current uncertainty, you are not alone. Many people are experiencing the same emotions right now. Know that no matter how helpless and hopeless you may feel right now, there are valuable steps that you can take to better deal with the level of uncertainty, alleviate your anxiousness and allow you to face the unknown.
Learning to Copy
Let’s face it, this feeling of uncertainty is not going anywhere. It has been with us since the beginning of time and an unavoidable part of life over the millennia. Very little is constant and you can’t control everything that happens. The 2020 pandemic has shown us that life can change radically and very quickly.
To cope with uncertainty, we try to predict the future thinking that will help us avoid any nasty surprises. In many ways this is a waste of time and energy, as this type of thinking only leads to overwhelm and worry. Conjuring up endless scenarios of negative outcomes is simultaneously robbing you of the enjoyment and pleasure of the present moment. It saps your energy, eliminates joy and many times creates unwanted and unnecessary behavior and habits.
Two Coping Mechanisms
Two ways to cope with uncertainty are more healthily are:
- Focus on what you can control
Whatever your fears or personal circumstances are, instead of worrying about the uncontrollable, refocus your mind to acting over the aspects that are within your control. For example, if you are worried about your health during the pandemic, act by regularly washing your hands, cleaning surfaces, and avoiding crowds. You can also amplify your ability to control your outcome by relentlessly focusing on you and your family being healthy. Allow only those images and thoughts to come into your awareness. Refuse to engage in any dialogue that does not support this as a reality.
- Accept that life is uncertain
The one thing that is sure about life is that it is unsure – but that isn’t always a bad thing. For every unpleasant surprise, there are good things that happen out of the blue as well. Think about the job offer that appeared, the unexpected phone call from a friend, or the chance awareness of information when you needed it. An opportunity arises from the unexpected and learning to deal with uncertainty can allow you to reap the rewards of the unknown.
Life is filled with uncertainty and these times are especially trying with so much unknown. Taking positive steps to reduce your overall stress and anxiousness can help interrupt the downward spiral of a negative thought. It will help you find your inner calm, and better cope with the ups and downs in your life. If you are interested in learning how my proprietary coaching method, Rewire Your Mind® can help you go from stressing to progressing in 3 proven steps, click HERE for a complimentary consultation.
I am a planner. I have a long-term, detailed plan for all aspects of my life; work, travel, health, finances. What has secretly driven me to become such an excellent planner is my naturally anxious state. My plans give me ease and assurances when my nervousness is heightened. I review them, re-write them and imagine them coming into reality almost on a daily basis.
As a young child, I had a pink teddy bear that I adored. He was my comforter and who I turned to in times when I felt uncertain. I would cling to Teddy each night as I lay in my bed. I would tell Teddy my future plans each night before I fell asleep.
Why Do I Plan?
I grew up in a household that was controlled by a very strict mother. The uncertainty of her moods made me and everyone else in household live on edge. One of her particular characteristics was her habit to change her mind on just about everything at the last minute. Premade plans were pretty much always cancelled. I am still not sure what all of that was about for her, but I know it had a profound effect on me growing up and still does as an adult. The sense of unreliability of anything turning out as orchestrated has turned me into the obsessive planner that I am today.
Obsessive Planning vs COVID-19
So, here is the question. What does an obsessive planner do in a COVID-19 pandemic environment where all previous plans deserve a toss into the garbage and there is no reliable foundation upon which to write new ones?
We have all been thrown into what is known as a “limit situation”. By definition, a limit situation is any situation in which a human being is said to have differing experiences from those arising from ordinary situations. Limit situations unsettle us, remove us from our social bonds and force us to find new ways of existing with ourselves and others. They also trigger anxiety from the knowledge that the old way of being cannot survive.
Letting Go of Long-Term Planning
So, the work that I have engaged myself in lately is discovering how to let go of my love for long-term planning and at the same time, keep my anxiety down during COVID-19. I’ve come to realize that I need to now think in terms of short-term projects and give up on long-term planning. I need to shift my focus to projects that are quick to come to fruition and that can stimulate a sense of momentum. I need to change my activities to anything that I can complete in a month, a week or even a day.
So, instead of spending time planning a trip to see my family in Australia because I truly don’t know when international travel will open up again, I am taking small steps each day to reach out to them on social media, to send over a package every once in a while and even to write handwritten notes that can be mailed overseas. Before the pandemic, sending a social media post seemed rather inconsequential. Today, it is small step that makes me feel less anxious about my connection with my loved ones so far away.
Trust Your Instincts and Think Smaller
We are in a perfect time to engage in small, micro activities. We can choose to trust our instincts. The larger purpose of what we will focus on will be revealed to us in due time. The leap of faith is that even without a long-term plan, we are still on course and that all of our micro activities during the pandemic will add up in the end and everything will work itself out.
It is not a time for go big or go home, we are already home. It is a time for our focus to be on small, meaningful steps towards contributing the best we can to our family, our work and to the virus containment efforts and let these smaller activities melt our anxiousness away.
If you are interested in how my trademarked coaching program can move from fear to courage, request a complimentary consultation today. Alternatively, tune into my bi-weekly webinars by registering on my website and learn how you can reset your emotions easily and effortlessly even during this global pandemic.
To our Health and Wellbeing,
At times such as these, our life is uncertain and each day we are exposed to additional information about the health of our world, communities and families. It is important that we resist reacting and instead we consciously choose to calmly respond.
What is Reacting?
While react and respond are similar words, they mean completely different things. Reacting in stressful times is instinctual and it comes from the unconscious mind. It is a process of operating on autopilot without any filtering. This is when you say things without thinking or you act without considering the ramifications of your behaviour.
What is Responding?
Responding on the other hand is more thoughtful and it involves exploring possible outcomes and thinking through options. It is when you take a step back and weigh the pros and cons of your choices. What would be best for yourself and others in the situation?
What kind of person would you rather be, especially at this stressful time? Would you rather be the type of person who creates a calm and happy environment for yourself and your family or would you prefer to be the kind of person who is a wild card, totally out of control and moving rapidly from one emotional state to another? The key to being calm and collected is to be mindfully present and have awareness of when you have been triggered.
How to Stay Mindfully Present Through Anxiety
So how do you become mindfully present when anxiety has yet again washed over you? The best way is to step back and create some distance, physically and energetically, between the trigger (the event) and yourself. Become the observer of your emotional state and be inquisitive as to why you are feeling that way. Refrain from judging how you feel and instead just accept it and observe it.
It is also good to take a few deep breaths as you allow the effects of the trigger to reduce or fade away. The fading could take a minute, an hour, a day or even a week. Every person and every situation are different. The gift of creating distance when you are triggered is the allowance for you to consciously choose how you are going to respond.
Here is an acronym that I came up with to help myself and my clients in the moment when we are triggered, and we want to avoid reacting negatively. It is AWARE.
A – Awareness
Just recognize that you have been triggered. For example, you are listening to the news and the headline is about a negative prediction about the pandemic and it causes you to feel anxious. This is also a good time to ask yourself, what is actually triggering you. Was it the event itself (the news headline) or was it related to your thinking around the event (the story you are telling yourself about the imagined outcome)?
W – Wait
This is where you give yourself time to breathe and create space. It could be shutting off the newsfeed, hanging up from the phone call, ending the conversation, walking away or any other means to create physical or energetic distance.
A – Accept
Here is where you make sure you accept your emotions and you do not judge them as bad. Remember, a healthy adult feels all of their emotions. Tell yourself that it is ok to feel the negative emotions and that it is normal and appropriate.
R – Respond
This is the big step. Here is the fork in the road. Here lies your opportunity to choose the road that has the best overall outcome. This is where you ask yourself, what is my goal and how can I respond in such a way that supports my goal in the best manner? Evaluate each possible response as to whether it takes you closer or further away from your goal.
E – Energy
Now you move forward from a place of awareness that you can choose the best, healthiest and most empowered response for yourself and others.
Although responding instead of reacting is not easy initially it can become easier with practice. It is unlikely to be responsive all of the time. However, decreasing the amount of time you are reactive and staying centered most of the time is a worthy enterprise. The faster you have awareness of when you are triggered, the faster you will be able to regulate yourself and get yourself back on track.
If you are curious as to how my coaching can assist you in developing your ability to respond instead of react and to keep your life moving forward even in stressful times, request a complimentary consultation.
To our Health and Wellbeing,
It was an honour to be chosen to be a co- panelist at this year’s Newmarket Chamber Women in Business Luncheon, along with Erin Cerenzia from Magna Neighbourhood Network and Jennifer Walker from Carruthers Financial. Both women had inspirational messages about corporate social responsibility and personal financial management. I led a discussion on living with anxiety and gave some insights and learnings from my own personal life experiences.
Living with Anxiety
Some of the key points outlined in my talk were:
- Anxiety is our natural response to a perceived direct threat to our wellbeing. Whenever we sense a threat to our wellbeing our natural flight or fight response kicks in. This triggers our sympathetic nervous system and releases a cascade of hormones into our body such as adrenaline and epinephrine. These hormones cause a change in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and eyesight.
- Anxiety becomes a problem when our flight or fight response is triggered by cues that are not threatening at all – either physically or otherwise. This is called an imagined threat as opposed to a real threat. This is known a maladaptive anxiety.
- Maladaptive anxiety sets off “what if”, worse-case scenario thinking.
- Maladaptive anxiety can also trigger a core negative belief(s) that is based in our unconscious thinking about ourselves.
- This maladaptive anxiety is causing the same body response as adaptive anxiety that is caused by a real threat.
- One of the key differences between maladaptive and adaptive anxiety is that unlike adaptive anxiety, maladaptive is not founded in reality or truth. It is chronic and never ending.
- The key to reducing the experience of maladaptive anxiety and experiencing relief from the feeling of it in our body is to address the core negative beliefs that are deep in our unconscious thinking.
- Addressing these negative core beliefs can be done through a number of approaches, one of them being through the recognized somatic treatment offered by NLP.
If you are interested in knowing how my coaching can help you manage your emotional state so that you are experiencing more joy and less fear, sign up for a complimentary consultation.
To our Health and Wellbeing,
Sitting in my home office and looking outside my window onto the street below I see the neighbourhood children playing. The boys are practicing their basketball skills, each imagining that they are the next Kawhi Leonard. A group of younger girls are kneeling down together as they draw a colourful game of hopscotch on the sidewalk with chalk. Farther down the street I can see a lemonade stand being attended to by a bunch of cheerful want-to-be entrepreneurs.
Remember When We Were Children?
Taking all of this in has made me wonder, when did I stop using my imagination and why? When was the last time I imagined that I was the “star” player, an artist, or even a successful entrepreneur?
As we grow up and move into our teenage and then adult years, we begin to stop “pretending”. We begin to believe that we need to take life seriously. Many of us get repeated messaging from adults like, “get your head out of the clouds”, “quit dreaming” or “act serious”.
Imagination is a Gift
This move away from using our imagination does us a disservice in the long run for it is our imagination that keeps life interesting. It is in our imagination where new ideas flourish, we solve our problems in unique ways, and where we develop our self-confidence. Imagining ourselves successfully facing a job interview or nailing a work presentation, or even imaging ourselves enjoying a first date wires our brain with the necessary neurology to execute that act exactly as desired.
Actively using our imagination also turns on positive, super-charged chemicals in our brains and we get an immediate lift in how we feel in the moment. And the more we run the imaginary events over and over again in our brain, the better and more positive and confident we feel and the probability of the positive result actually occurring goes up exponentially. And isn’t it better to live in an imaginary world of positivity than rooted in fear or anxiety?
This gift that we have of imagination is just that, a gift for it is what separates us humans from most other forms of life on this planet. No other animal has the ability to garner imagination. Only us humans can look forward, plan, and “see” our imagined future from where we stand today.
We must stop assuming that imagination is only for children. It is for anyone who wants to set goals, achieve results, or generally become happier in life.
How can you practice imagination today? What in your life can you build an imaginary story around? What’s stopping you from imagining – nothing!
To our Health and Wellbeing,
What Is a Panic Attack?
If you have ever experienced one then you can probably clearly explain the body sensation of an attack. Heart palpitations, sweating, trembling and shaking, feeling nausea and dizzy are what are most common to people. What is equally scary however is the fear of losing control and even dying.
During the years of living with my anxiety, I had a number of panic attacks. Some worse than others and some forcing me to go to the hospital convinced that I was having a heart attack. What I found out later was that due to the intensity of the symptoms that a panic attack can bring on, they tend to mimic those of heart disease and breathing disorders and that it is common for people experiencing a panic attack to be convinced they are having a life-threatening issue.
What is annoying about panic attacks is that they can occur unexpectedly. Doesn’t matter if you start out feeling calm or anxious, the attack can occur regardless. And since they are so unpleasant to experience and very frightening, you end up becoming worried about having another panic attack.
Detecting The Onset of An Attack
Through my trial and error with panic attacks I discovered that having a plan, a way to respond when one came one was the best approach for me. It reduced my ongoing worry about getting another attack because I felt more confident that I could manage myself out of one and it also reduced the length of time that I was experiencing the symptoms of the attack. Here is what I found worked for me.
What Works For Me
Firstly, I just recognize that I am feeling afraid and starting to panic. I found it is best to not ignore the symptoms and pretend they are not happening. I also remind myself that I am not in danger. Usually the thought of being in danger accompanies panic attacks. I found that reminding myself that I am safe is very useful. How I do this is I look around and say to myself, “See, you are fine. You are safe. You are secure.”
Next, I choose to not fight the feeling. This goes against all of my instinct. I just say to myself, “Well, it looks like I am having a panic attack right now.” Then, I allow myself to just accept the symptoms. I see the physical sensations that I am experiencing as a logical and expected response to whatever thoughts I am having that are causing the panic. My body is functioning exactly as it should, and I know that my thoughts are creating the physical response. I thank my body for being so well-built and responsive. This is a nice twist to what I used to do which was to worry and struggle which actually made it worse.
I then remind myself that I have been through this before and it always ended. I remember that my last panic attack and the one before that and the one before that all came to an end and so this one will also end.
And lastly and most importantly, I focus on something outside of myself. I find that getting into the present moment and focusing on something that is in my sight I can stop my imagination from making up the future stories that are negative and which are probably triggering the panic in the first place. I stop any thinking that is accompanied by “what if….” by turning my focus on something is actually happening right in front of me. I then work with my body by relaxing it using breath work. Relaxing the muscles of my jaw, neck, shoulders and back really help. I also make sure I am not standing rigid with muscles tensed and that I am NOT holding my breath.
I have found that by following these simple steps I can start making myself feel better rather quickly when a panic attack comes on. Sometime I have to do the steps a couple of times before I start to see any results. The important thing is to keep doing them and not give up.
You’re Not Alone
Panic is a normal response to either a real or imagined situation. If you are like me and it is your mind making up “what if…” stories that are triggering the panic, then give the steps that I use a try and see if you can shorten the length and number of attacks you are experiencing. And as always, I invite you to join in on the conversation on Facebook and Instagram.
To our health and wellbeing,
What is Anxiety?
The Fight or Flight Response
Anxiety Can Be Lethal in the Long Run
To our health and wellbeing,
It has been a difficult start to 2019 for me.
I began the year doing all of the necessary things to ensure that I was starting off on the right foot – I set goals, I outlined strategies, I made detailed plans, and I landed on targets for both my personal and business life and yet…. for some reason, I have completely ignored my personal goals. I have been blocking myself from doing what it is that I want to do for my own health and well-being. My self-sabotaging behaviour, which has looked very much like shooting myself in my own foot, is preventing me from being my best, healthiest self.
I am baffled as to why I am doing this kind of self-sabotage behaviour and I am also very interested and motivated to stop it. I know that one of the easiest ways to self-sabotage yourself is to NOT set clear, specific goals. Not having clarity or precision on where you are going allows you to convince yourself easily that your goal is not important. This however was not where I am letting myself down. I have clear and well-defined targets. So why am I not achieving them? After some reflection, I have come up with three reasons.
I am doing too much
I am realizing that I am doing too much as it relates to my commitments to others and therefore I am feeling like I am running on empty. I am putting myself last too often and when I have time for myself it consequently feels like a chore instead of something that is enjoyable and a well-deserved treat.
I am over-blending
When I am not working, I need to not work. When I am taking time off, I need to completely unplug, thus allowing myself the time and leisure to enjoy self-care. By taking up bits of time on my days off to fit in some work duties here and there, I am actually chewing into the opportunity for me to explore what it is that I want to do for myself. What I want to do is not always obvious. Some days I want to go for a walk. Other days I want to visit a friend. Some days I want to go shopping or get myself to a yoga class. These decisions need to be fully explored and by jamming my off days with busy work at every opportunity, I am not giving myself the time to investigate.
I am managing stuff that isn’t mine
When I step outside of my own business and try to control things in other people’s lives, I start to feel disempowered. And rightfully so because outside of our own lives, I have no power to affect anything else. This activity is wasting my precious time and energy, and is leaving me depleted and not excited about doing anything for my own self-care.
So with these revelations and the honest self-talk that comes with them, I have decided to change my approach to my personal goals around self-care. I am going to set clear and consistent boundaries with others ensuring that I am preserving and protecting my energy and time. I am also going to begin to block off time and respect that it means that I am off of work completely. No more sneaking into my office to look at emails or complete a half-done article. And lastly, I am going to come back to my own business. I am going to focus only on things that are in my arena to manage – within my power to control like: my actions, my perspectives, and my attitudes.
Are you self-sabotaging? Are you struggling with indulgences like procrastination, distraction, overwhelm? Can you realize that when we say we want something and we don’t make sure it happens we are only hurting ourselves and preventing our own greatness?
You can also check out this great resource for more information watch the AHA Process to End Self Sabotage and learn how to stop self-sabotaging behavior.
To our health and wellbeing,
Here is a question for you. In general, do you tend to respond or do you tend to react to life? At first you may say, “Aren’t they the same thing?” Actually, they are not and how you perceive their difference can have a huge impact on how happy you are. It did for me. On my journey out of relentless anxiety, the above question about responding or reacting catapulted my transformation towards healing.
When I started my journey out of anxiety, I was not even aware that every day I was choosing how I was thinking about my life. Wasn’t life just happening to me? I thought I was supposed to just respond to it in the best way I could? Wasn’t I just a helpless victim? I clearly saw my life as a random set of happenstances that I had to find a way to deal with the best I could.
During my experience with transformational coaching, I began to see that my life was not a force outside of my control and by stepping up to the fact that I could always choose how I was going to respond to anything that was occurring, that I indeed had control of my life. In any situation, good or bad, I could always choose the most empowering response for myself. For the first time in my life, I felt both powerful and calm at the same time!
The Hard Truth
And then one day I was told something by my coach which was initially upsetting however it was exactly what I needed to hear, “Karen”, she said, “your life, as it exists today, is the sum total of all of the conscious and unconscious decisions you have made to date.” What? I was responsible for my shitty life! It took some time for me to accept this notion of responsibility fully and completely and when I finally did, it was liberating. As a matter of fact, it is perhaps the single most liberating thing I have ever done. I was off the hook for playing the victim. Although I didn’t like where I had directed my life to at that point, the single act of taking responsibility was empowering.
The Responsibility is Ours
To take full responsibility for both our past and current experiences is indeed empowering because when we blame others or situations, we are giving our power away. And when we do that, we are saying that something outside of ourselves is causing a reaction within us. When we take ownership of our response, even when others are at fault or are wrong, we control both our behaviour and our life’s direction.
Over the years since my experience with transformational coaching, I have made a clear switch in my thinking. Negative stuff still does happen and it happens to all of us, however it is how we respond, and how we view the circumstances and conditions that makes the difference between happiness and no happiness.
Are you ready for happiness to show up? And are you ready to respond and not react? If you are, learn more about how transformational coaching can move you from victim to controller of your life.
To our health and wellbeing,
Karen Spencer, Life Coach and Practitioner is a legal Complementary Healthcare Provider, and not a licensed Medical Doctor, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Masters in Family and Child Counseling (MFCC), or a Masters in Social Work (MSW). The client understands that the Practitioner is not providing psychological or medical advice and that any services provided should in no way replace sound treatment from a licensed healthcare provider.