When the World Feels Like its Falling Apart a Little (a lot!). Understanding Phases of Disaster Model and 6 Things You Can Do About It Today.

When I transitioned to working from home after the schools closed on March 16th of this year, I was feeling optimistic! I was thinking to myself- I will have quality time with my kids, get a good exercise routine going, see my clients virtually, and maintain a clean home.

Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

Well that idealistic dream burst when I started to realize that triple duty; mom, teacher, and psychologist, within a 12-14 hour day is…..um…..ludicrous! It turns out I’m not alone and there is actually a fair bit of research on this whole responding to pandemics and crisis stuff. I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of weeks and I’d like to share one thing with you all that has helped me gain some perspective. ​

​It is called “The Phases of Disaster Response” or sometimes called “The Emotional Phases of a Disaster Response” and “Phases of Collective Trauma Response”. This model has helped me understand the ups and downs that my family and I have been experiencing as well as given me hope for what might come next.

As I am learning about this model and its 4 phases (heroic, disillusionment, rebuilding and restoration, and wiser living), I have also been considering different ways to cope. This is not a rigid model and everyone’s experience is unique so you may not follow the exact flow of what is described and that is OK!

THE 4 PHASES OF DISASTER RESPONSE

Heroic Phase – The heroic phase generally happens right after a disaster has hit.  A disaster such as a crisis or a pandemic. One of the main qualities is a rush of endorphins. It is like having a surge of energy where we take action almost automatically. We jump in, doing whatever we can to help. We can tend to hyperfocus on “necessary” tasks and be in “get it done” mode. This might look like planning schedules for school and work at home during the pandemic, making to do lists, buying lots of toilet paper, and tightening control over things we have a say in. Lists, routines, and planning are the name of the game.  We may feel resourceful and come up with creative ways to spend our days with self and family.

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

Disillusionment Phase– This is where the endorphin train halts hard! We may notice constantly feeling exhausted, like a burnout of “this too much and there is nothing I can do to make it better”. This usually shows up as physical tiredness and lethargic feelings. It might be hard to get out of bed. Our emotions are running high. We might be feeling grief, stress, helplessness, frustrated, irritated, and these emotions might be wearing us down. Some people may experience different types of feeling like appreciation and gratitude for some of the changes. There can be a sense that there is nothing we can do to change what has happened and that there is no going back to the way it was.

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Turning– This is not a phase but lies between disillusionment and rebuild/restoration. This is usually described as coming to two truths- one where we acknowledge the loss and grief of the old normal and at the same time feel that there is still good in the world. There may be a balance in productive energy and rest/recovery. We might give ourselves permission to not know everything. We feel a sense of acceptance of some of the more negatively experienced emotions (sadness, confusion, anxiety, frustration, boredom, etc.) and know that there are still positive emotions to be experienced (joy, fun, excitement, gratitude, etc.).

We may miss things from our “normal life” like friends, teachers, routines, learning a certain way, and activities. We may also start to adjust to a “new normal” with new routines, different ways to connect with friends and family, etc.

Rebuilding and Restoration Phase – This phase is considered an action phase. It is one that is collective and collaborative. Families coming together, professionals, community, government, etc. Is it marked by a focus on the “best interest of the most people”. We may see that this phase strikes creativity and an invitation for many voices from the community. This phase takes time and we experience the ups and downs of grief with a sense of moving forward.

Wiser Living Phase – This phase occurs when communities are well into their “new normal”. Families and communities have considered measures and preparation to help with future experiences. There is an acknowledgement of what has changed for people in more permanent ways. There is an awareness of existential questioning and a recognition of our mortality. This phase is an oscillation between scars and healing.

6 THINGS YOU CAN START DOING RIGHT NOW TO COPE

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

1. Recognize this is a collective trauma response – Many of us have heard this or something like this “We are in this together”. As social creatures, knowing we are not alone and that everyone is impacted by this global experience is an important coping strategy. There are others who are badly wishing they could hang out with their friends, go outside, play on their sports teams, and not constantly be frightened of someone they love getting ill. ​

2. ​Have a sense of what phase you are in -If you identify where you most closely find yourself in this model, it can help you decide what you need next. For example, if you are in disillusionment, care and rest are so important as well as giving yourself permission to NOT do. Also, knowing where you are right now, might give you a sense of what might be ahead.

3. Everyone’s experience is unique – ​Know that this model is just a guideline. In some ways this might contradict my second point. It is important to recognize that this is one model with some good information and that our experiences are unique and may not follow a linear path. As a role model of mine often says, “take what fits and leave the rest”.

4. Start with safety (bottom up approach) – If we think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the very basic needs must be met before we can tend to other needs. Our physical needs are first, followed by safety, love and belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization. Basically we need a roof over our head and food in our belly before we can “desire to be the most we can be”. Think about your physical needs and what you might be needing right now. Are you tired? Are you hungry? Are you staying somewhere that is not safe right now?

Two truths- One where we acknowledge the loss and grief of the old normal and at the same time know that there is still good and hope in the world.

Our nervous systems work the same way. If we start from the bottom-up, we can help kick in our parasympathetic (rest and relax) nervous system. This can help us feel calmer and manage moments that are overwhelming. Start with something simple, like finger breathing (tracing your breath on one hand using a finger from your other hand), finding 10 items in the space where you are that are the colour blue, imagining a calm place and tapping gently from side to side on your upper legs. The more you practice these types of tools, the more automatic they become.

5. Nourish yourself throughout the day -I feel like you can’t overdo this one. Find moments, even slivers, throughout your day that bring calm, well-being, laughter, inspiration, creativity, play, exercise, rest, and more each day. You can begin by focusing on one of those and peppering your day with activities that bring that into your life. If you choose laughter for example, Facetime someone who puts a smile on your face, watch a stand up comedy show, funny cat videos (are those still a thing?), or try not laughs, fake laugh for 10 seconds- and it shouldn’t take long before it becomes a real laugh. Let me tell you by experience it is super contagious to fake laugh, as my 12 year old said between giggles, “stop mom you’re being so weird!”.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

6. Know your village​ – Who are the people that you feel good around. Do they live in your home with you? Are they elsewhere? What is about them that makes them important to you? List those people, think about them, and think about ways you are connected to them right now. You might be meeting up on video games or during virtual games nights. You may be part of a WhatsApp or Marco Polo group. You might call them once in a while. You might sit down to a meal together every day. Be intentional about connecting to your village, to your people. ​

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Feelings As Visitors: How To Welcome All Feelings Even The “Bad” Ones

  

Learning From Our Feelings 

Ok today we’re writing about tricky feelings, those feelings that are difficult to experience, those that are pleasant, and feelings in general. I want to highlight that our relationship with our feelings is pretty important and if we learn to approach feelings with curiosity rather than resistance and judgement, we may find that we can cope much better. 

​I’ve decided to start by sharing a poem that I find quite profound and helpful in how I experience feelings. I like this poem for many different reasons, but mainly because, for me, it talks about how we can have a relationship with feelings and experience feelings in a way that isn’t scary. If we spend less time trying to avoid or deny a feeling and more time listening and learning about it,  the experience may be easier to have and may teach us something.

Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

— Jellaludin Rumi,

Feelings Don’t Last That Long

Learning and listening to our feelings may open the door to opportunities, as Rumi said, and the reality is feelings don’t necessarily last as long as we think. Feelings come and go and are constantly changing, but we may tend to perceive them as lasting a long time or not lasting long enough.

I saw a post on social media that shared a picture with two lines. The top line symbolized
How long we think a feeling is going to last.

Beneath it was another line that symbolized
How long a feeling actually lasts.

​What it showed is typically we anticipate that tricky feelings are going to be more intense, last much longer, or be more scary than they actually are. It’s important for me to say that feelings are legitimate and some feelings are very difficult and painful to experience. YES, this is true and this is the human condition. Even those feelings don’t continually happen, we kind of tend to bob in and out of them in the mix of all our other experiences.

So this topic is about how to deal with tricky feelings and feelings that are difficult to have.

​In our society, we are kind of taught to do a couple things with feelings.

One of them is to chase or gather a feeling that we really love. Say for example the feeling of happiness, excitement or joy. We’re always striving to have that feeling and have lots of that feeling, you know like the pursuit of happiness. In this case there is often a scarcity mentality, like there is just never enough of that feel good emotion. We can also become concerned about moments we are not feeling those more positive feelings, sending us on a futile hunt.

Another thing that we’re taught is not let ‘bad feelings’ in or to avoid, deny, or change them. There seems to be messages of shame around experiencing certain emotions that are perceived as negative like anger, sadness, anxiety, boredom, etc.

if we learn to approach feelings with curiosity rather than resistance and judgement, we may find that we can cope much better

If you imagine yourself as a little person inside a house and you think about feelings as visitors or guests, there are some that we openly invite in,

“oh yes, come on in and take up all the space you need”,

feelings like happiness, joy,  peace, or calm.

Then there are other feelings like sadness, pain, or anxiety that we decide “I don’t want to have this feeling” so we slam the door in their face.

The thing is these guests, the feelings, don’t just go away like that. They are quite persistent that they have something to share with you, and will just keep trying to find a way to get in. Those feelings end up kind of sticking around a lot longer than they need to, which can cause problems.

 

Photo by Canva

Thinking of feelings as guests or visitors, like Rumi wrote about and another book I will share with you, allows us to interact with them in a very curious way instead of being scared or reluctant to experience feelings, even if it’s one we think may not be great to have around.

The book ‘Visiting Feelings’ by Lauren Rubenstein is a great resource. It has beautiful artwork and a poetic tone to the writing. This book invites people to consider what a feeling might look like, sound like, feel like, and takes a curious approach to feelings.

I really wanted you to take a moment to sit with that possibility. Feelings as visitors, as guests.

Temporary. Impermanent. Not forever.

They will not last forever: good, bad, or terrible. I want to invite you to think about the different feelings you experience everyday and approach them with curiosity rather than judgement.

​Consider asking the following questions of your feelings:

What does this feeling want me to know? What does it need right now? What is one thing I can do to learn more about it? Can I journal, draw, talk to someone about it, build it with clay, splatter paint to represent it, blast music that sounds like it?

Box Journaling

 

If you’re onboard with this idea of feelings as visitors or at least onboard with trying it out, I would invite you to try a journaling exercise. There are so many ways to journal and I am going to share one as I was inspired by Carla Sonheim, who shared this in a webinar.

Ok in reviewing my video above, I chuckled because I don’t quite know my left from my right, but rest assured the concept of box journaling is legitimate. I like box journaling because it combines free flowing ideas and creativity, as well as, some structure and idea prompting so that you can come away with an idea or an action to take that might be helpful.

For box journaling you will need a sheet of paper and a black marker (you can use a pen or pencil also). If you have pencil crayons or coloured markers, you can also use those. Start out by drawing a large box on your paper. You will then be dividing the box into 5 sections.

Section one: ​Draw a horizontal line under the top line of the box (creating its own little box within the larger box) and this is where you will put the date and you can add where you were when you journaled.

Section two and three: Underneath the horizontal box create two vertical boxes. These will take about two thirds of the page. The one on the left is the largest and the one on the right is slimmer. The left box is where you will put your free writing. The slimmer panel box on the right is where you will grab ideas from the free write and create a list of themes, ideas, key phrases, action items, etc.

Section four and five: Underneath the section 2/3 boxes you will create two smaller boxes that are about equal in size. They will take up the rest of the space on the paper. The box on the left will be for a drawing. This can be a squiggle, scribble, symbol, stick figure, or any kind of image that helps represent something about your writing or how you are feeling in that moment. The last box on the right is a miscellaneous box. You can continue some free writing here, continue your image, paste a quote, add an affirmation or word that inspires you, etc. You get to decide what goes here.

 

Box journaling can take as much or as little time as you have. If you only have 10 minutes, spend 5 minutes on the free write journaling and the rest in the other sections. If you have a little longer, give yourself at least 5-10 minutes to free write and then a few minutes with each of the other sections.

There’s an idea of what you can do to start to be curious about feelings. Consider for yourself, what are some other things you can do to invite feelings in and learn more about them while they are visiting?

If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook- Thanks!


Chantal Côté

5 Practical Ways to Take Control of your Happiness

Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with.

If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.

Anxiety and Nightmares: How To Curb Their Appearance

 

Everyone Has Nightmares

Everyone has had a nightmare at one time, or at least it’s safe to say that most people will have a nightmare at some point in their life.

How old we are (developmental stage), what’s going on in our lives, and what we’ve been exposed to can impact the type, frequency and intensity of the nightmares we might experience.

In this video and blog we will talk a little about why we have nightmares as well as some ideas to help prevent and respond if you or your child are having nightmares.

I have to apologize (and laugh a bit) because my dog burst into the room in the last few minutes of the video demanding attention. You can hear her nails tapping along on the floor as she gets closer to me. It’s slightly distracting but I was on a roll and I didn’t want to stop. There will be no clickety clacking in future videos.

I promise!

The noisy culprit on our summer vacation last year

​I really enjoyed creating the video and blog because I decided to ask the young people in my life. I have a demographic from 6-20 years old. My husband also wanted to share his input, but he did not quite fit the demographic of the folks I’m reaching out to – so thank you and a shout out to him for his passionate support of my practice.

Why Do People Have Nightmares? 

Well the thing is, it is not entirely understood- here is what science is telling us so far:

  • At night, our brain continues to actively process the daytime sensory input (what it saw, heard, smelt, tasted, felt)
  • The brain connects to memories and past experiences at night
  • Emotionally charged thoughts that we have during the day that the brain is still working through, like thoughts that lead to us feeling worried, scared, anxious, appear during sleep
  • At night, we process thoughts and memories that we might be avoiding during the day
  • Being stimulated by an image, video, or event that we continue to think about can cause nightmares
  • Food intake and exercise that interact with our body and brain and impact our sleep

One thing research tells us for sure is that while we are sleeping there is still a lot of electrical activity happening in the brain which activates certain parts of our brain and that can create images and narrative (or stories) if you will, which are our dreams and our nightmares.

Routines, reassurance, protective symbols, grounding and making meaning can be helpful in coping with nightmares

 

Photo by Tayla Jeffs on Unsplash

When it comes to anxiety and nightmares, it is common that a person with a lot of thoughts that lead to anxious or fearful feelings can be a prime candidate for having nightmares.

It’s not to say that everyone that has anxious, negative, or fearful thoughts and feelings will have nightmares, but there is some information that states a link there. Nightmares linked to anxiety can be difficult because they may be caused by anxious and fearful thoughts and feelings, but they may also leave us feeling more anxious and fearful, thus becoming a bit of a loop.

Photo by Tine Ivanic on Unsplash

The young people I spoke to said the reasons they have nightmares are, seeing something scary, like an image or a video, or something that lead to a scary feeling could result in a nightmare. Another reason might be if they are experiencing something stressful that they are thinking a lot about or something they are worried about, it can carry over into their sleep. Also, if there is an event or a circumstance that played out and left them feeling worried or scared or anxious, it could be a traumatic event or it could be something that they’ve got on their mind, whether it be an upcoming performance or a fight that they had with someone they care about.

Photo by Anaya Katlego on Unsplash

Ways to Curb Nightmares

Food
I was curious about the possible link between food, exercise and the impact on  nightmares. I didn’t find anything so specific that said “eat this and you won’t have nightmares” or “avoid this to stay clear of nightmares”, but I certainly found some information about the quality and quantity of food that we have just before bed or sleep time and the potential impact.

For example, if there is something interfering with your digestive process at night, that can impact our sleep and lead to nightmares. If there are certain types of foods that are rich in certain nutrients or lack certain nutrients that can impact your sleep, increasing your chance of having nightmares.

A quick personal anecdote, I’ve noticed a link between eating cheese late at night and having the most bizarre dreams/nightmares. There is no scientific research to back that one up, but for me it’s about noticing and being aware of how certain foods might impact the dreams and nightmares that I have.

Photo by Lidye on Unsplash

Exercise
I found information that linked exercise to the prevention of nightmares. If we exercise regularly during the day, it releases different hormones into our system and those are mood enhancing hormones. If we have an enhanced mood, then it’s more likely that our thoughts are leading to more positively experienced feelings. If we have more positive feelings, it decreases the amount of time for stress and negative thoughts. If you are not going to sleep with a lot of stress or negative thinking, then it lessens the chances of having nightmares.

​Love it!

Continuing on with the exercise piece,  one way of lessening the frequency of nightmares is ensuring that you are doing things throughout the day that produce happy feelings and encourage joyful moods.

Photo by Tevarak Phanduang on Unsplash

Routines and Rituals
The young people I chatted with said that it was helpful for them to have some sort of routine and ritual that is part of their bed time. Some examples of this were using prayer or some sort of affirmative statement (may I be safe, may I be free from bad dreams).

We also talked about actions that contribute to relaxing and calming the mind and body as being helpful. For example, focused breathing, massage, meditation, snuggling a pet, a bath, journalling or using essential oils.

Photo by Sarah Darweiler on Unsplash

Protective Symbols
A more commonly known symbol of protection when it comes to dreams is the dream catcher. The specific symbol isn’t necessary, if there is a symbol that works for you to introduce, it’s more about what it represents. I’ve known people to use guardian angels pins, horseshoes, crucifixes over a bedroom door and red fabric meant to keep bad dreams away- it can be anything really. The representation of the protective symbol or ritual that has to do with going to sleep and feeling protected and comforted.

Photo by Dyaa Eldin on Unsplash

Comfort and Reassurance
Reassurance from a parent or another safe person after a nightmare can also provide that necessary comfort. A simple, “I know that was scary for you”- can provide the gentle reassurance that is calming and soothing. Hugging a pillow can be another comforting action.

Dreams and nightmares can be caused by the ongoing electrical activity in our brains at night

Distraction and Grounding Practices
Transitioning from the feeling and state of having a nightmare to a more safe and settled state is really important. Thinking about something completely different or something really good may be helpful. Having a book by your bedside that makes you feel good or makes you laugh can be a great to have. If you have a younger person that has had a nightmare, you can read the story to them. and you can also place the book gently on their lap. The weight of the book along with the soothing voice as you read combines comfort, distraction and a grounding response.

You can try taking a drink of water or splashing your face with water. Colouring, writing, petting a furry friend, looking at your fish aquarium, are some other ideas and really anything that gets your mind off of the nightmare can be helpful.

Caging the Nightmare
I really like the idea of “caging the nightmare” and I’ve used it for kids as old as 11 but I think it could be a reflective exercise at any age.   This is a simple art activity where you invite the person to draw a picture that represent the nightmare in some way. They do not have to put details if they don’t want to. Once they have complete the image, invite them to draw or create a cage for the nightmare in some way. Children can get pretty creative with this. I always encourage them to create a cage that is secure and strong and that only they have the power to open it if they choose. This act can be pretty helpful to prevent future nightmares.

Sometimes, once the nightmare is caged up really good, I might invite them to have a conversation with the nightmare and ask them questions like, why did they come to visit? what is it they wanted them to know? what makes them stronger/weaker? It can give some good insight on what our child is worried about or frightened of.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Thought Dump
Our active minds may begin to race especially at bedtime when there is a little less stimulus coming our way and things are a little quieter. Some of those thoughts may be the ones that interfere with our sleep. Having a way to write those down or draw them can be a way of getting them out so that it doesn’t carry into our sleep.

The “thought dump” is where you take your journal or something you can write or draw your thoughts out on- unfiltered, pouring them out freely for a set amount of time, maybe 2-5 minutes. This technique can literally and metaphorically feel like it is getting the thoughts out so that they are not ruminating in the mind or carrying as much weight as you go to sleep.

Sometimes it can help at the end, after you are done writing or drawing to crumple the paper up or if you are typing it on your phone doing a big DELETE.

Making Meaning, not Interpreting
The last thing that the young folks shared with me is getting to the root of the nightmare. Not necessarily interpreting the nightmare, but rather understanding and being curious: “why is it that I might be having this kind of thought? What’s happening in my life right now that is stressful that might be leading me to have nightmares? What is it that I’ve been thinking about? What are some things that have been making me feel scared, anxious, negative?”. You can entertain these as self-reflections, journaling, or talking to a trusted person.

There are links between the foods we eat, exercise, and preventing nightmares.

Ok so that’s a little bit on nightmares. I would like to invite you to share in the comments any strategies that you use that work really well to prevent nightmares or respond after a nightmare. Or, if you have a great book that you’ve used to help children or teens respond to nightmares, let us know.

If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook- Thanks!

Happy dreaming.


Chantal Côté

5 Practical Ways to Take Control of your Happiness

Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with.

If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.

Anxious thoughts and feelings in the age of pandemics and uncertainty – How can we help our children and teens

Ok, I must admit when I pulled up to our local grocery store in the middle of a typical work day to find a full parking lot and checkouts with long lines, I started to feel a little uneasy. To add to my nerves were the empty aisles of canned goods and toilet paper and the hushed side conversations between couples and families on the current Covid 19 pandemic situation while shopping.

If you are reading this and beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable or nervous, you are not alone and this is a normal response to the fear of the unknown.

Times are uncertain, and information regarding this situation is changing rapidly. The thing is, and this might sound like a bold statement, times are always uncertain and things are always changing and transforming.

So why might this feel different?

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Well for one, the amount of communication coming our way regarding this situation is intense and reaching many facets of our lives; politics, national sports, social media, global neighbours, and local communities. If we have the same messages on repeat coming at us from many sources, it begins to infiltrate- the psychology of panic.

It is like taking a hyper powerful microscope and pointing it right on the coronavirus- it will look quite dramatic and absolute from that lens. Historical peaks in flu season are typically December, February and March in North America, we know that other strains of coronavirus such as SARS and MERS have shown much higher mortality rates, and we know that focusing on basic hygiene practices can be effective ways to minimize the spread of viruses. This information however, may fall into the background during the panicked feelings under the hyper powerful microscope.

The best thing we may do is to zoom that microscope out, get a wider perspective, and use that larger understanding to guide us through yet another moment in time that has uncertainty.

Photo by Merakist on Unsplash

HOW DOES THIS TRANSLATE TO OUR KIDS AND HOW CAN WE SUPPORT THEM DURING THIS UNCERTAIN, CHANGING TIME?

​HERE ARE 7 IDEAS TO CONSIDER:

RESILIENCE AND ADAPTABILITY– Life is just this- it is uncertain and is in constant flux of change and transformation. Yet, we do not (for the most part) hyperfocus on the fact that we may get into an accident today or that a natural disaster may hit at any given moment. We manage, we tolerate, and we accept a certain amount of unknown to live. We share those traits of resilience with our children as well. We teach them the joy in playing together, the enjoyment of a good meal, the mundane of boring but necessary tasks, and the comfort in connecting with someone we love. All of this exists within the bigger scope of life’s uncertainty but the focus shifts, the attention is drawn elsewhere. Take a moment to highlight your child/teen’s resources and resilience to life’s general unknowns and how they are already handling it, they’ve got this and so do you!

things are always changing and transforming, so why might this feel different?

LIMITING ACCESS TO INFORMATION THAT WILL FUEL THE FIRE OF PANIC– Of course, having some information can be helpful to have a sense of preparedness and knowing how to respond. However, the is a point when the amount of information we and our children are receiving is not serving those purposes anymore and is simply sending us into a state of anxiety and alarm. Now there is no magic here in terms of how much information is too much.

Consider your child/teens age and their developmental stage. If they are 5, the information we will share with them will likely be a lot simpler and lot less than if they are 15. Consider their personality: is my teen someone who is naturally more anxious? Is my child someone who already worries about health matters? Is my child someone who just really isn’t phased by too much?  Consider your family values and what you believe young people should know and think about the current environment in which you live in.

In our case, being a family involved in different sports, the cancellations have been something we have had to address with our kids. You are the expert of your own family. Focus on providing truthful information, the minimum you need to help support your child and teen. Know that your conversation may have “I don’t knows” and unknowns with the possibility of giving more information if a child/teen is asking or it feels important to do so. You can always give more information, you can’t really take away information.

Photo by Markus Spiske – Unsplash

SHARING ACCURATE AND TRUTHFUL INFORMATION– Think about what kind of information you are sharing with your child/teen and how you are sharing this information. Where are you getting your information? Is it on the latest Facebook feed or from someone in the checkout line at the grocery store? Where are your children/teens getting their information and what are they hearing? Find sources that you feel are as accurate as possible and reputable. I am currently checking in with the Alberta Health Services page, the Government of Canada page, and I have checked the World Health Organization site. I appreciate places where I can find the most factual information and information on how we can respond to minimize the spread.

It’s also important to think about how we are sharing information with our kiddos. Try delivering information in a way that is consistent, calm, and honest. It’s ok to share some feelings of worry and uncertainty, but probably best to avoid panicked delivered message.

ROUTINES– When there are cancellations of sporting events, gatherings, hobbies, and in some cases school, life can quickly feel out of control. As parents, focus on ways that you can promote routine and predictability. If your children/teens are staying home from school, are there some basic school tasks  they can do for part of the day (reading, some math, working on an assignment)? Can you offer some time outside, some art making, or some scheduled meal times that provide routine?

If sports plans or events you were going to attend were cancelled, check-in with your child/teen and see what they might want to do instead. Would they still like to get some exercise, even if it’s taking the dog for a walk, or shooting some hoops with you at the local school. Consider how they continue to connect with their peers and provide opportunities for this to happen.

Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

KEEP THE FUN GOING​- Life continues in the face of change and the unknown. Continue to encourage conversations outside of this topic. Share funny stories and experiences that keep positive emotions flowing. Continue to encourage fun and laughter. Create opportunities for excitement, joy, doing things they enjoy, and connections with others. You may not be going to public spaces in the same way at this time, but you could try playing board games, going outdoors (weather permitting), spending some time as a family, inviting a few friends over, etc.

INFORM CHILDREN/TEENS ON WHAT THEY CAN CONTROL– Letting young people know that they can be an important part of prevention and they can help and do their part can be very meaningful and supportive. Informing them about health hygiene practices like hand washing, coughing and sneezing “properly” into your ‘chicken wing’, and social distancing are all things children and teens can be active agents in.

Photo by CDC – Unsplash

HARNESS OPPORTUNITIES TO HELP OTHERS– In heightened moments of uncertainty, being able to help others and to feel part of a community can be important. Consider ideas that help your child/teen feel like they are part of a caring community. Maybe they are an advocate for handwashing at their school, maybe they are delivering a box of food to the doorstep of someone who is not feeling well, maybe they are the calm presence for someone who is feeling panicked.

There you have it.

​I’d like to take a moment to thank Renee Jain for providing some interview information on how to help young people manage anxiety regarding the coronavirus.


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

How to Combat Anxiety – Part 5 of 5 Miniseries – Practical Ideas to Settle and Soothe – the Body

WHAT DOES ‘CONNECTING WITH OUR BODY TO SETTLE AND SOOTHE’ EVEN MEAN?


Our society has a tendency to live in our heads- we focus on our thoughts as a way to make sense of the world. We sometimes forget that below our shoulders is this incredible resource and barometer: our body.

I want to focus on how we can use our body as resource when anxious or worried thoughts are flooding in or we are feeling distressed or upset.

Connecting with the physical self can be larger movements or it can be more subtle movements. The idea of connecting to our bodies in our current environment or space can be a very grounding way to settle and soothe.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

 

Here are some ideas you may want to try:

Taking a walk getting up and walking around or out of the space you are currently in. This combines movement along with a change of environment, which can be very helpful.

Have a drink of water Again movement and change of context. Drinking water disrupts our anxious thought patterns with an act of responding to our body in this very specific way. Also, our brain needs to engage other parts in order to coordinate the movement necessary to drink.

Yoga- If you are familiar with any yoga forms you can use those (e.g. child’s pose or warrior) or you can try stretching. Stretching can be light and doesn’t have to include your full body. I like to do legs up the wall for a few minutes, but this is not always an option. Something simple like a calf stretch using the wall or a shoulder stretch by bringing one arm across and in front you and holding those stretches, even for 30 seconds, can be helpful. It depends on what is accessible for you at the time.

Our brains are pretty amazing. Connecting with our imagination and our thoughts is something that people are very interested in and that scientists have been increasingly researching especially in the fields of athleticism and mindfulness.

Walking, drinking water, pushing up again a wall, squeezing your toes, yoga, can all be helpful in settling our minds and bodies

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

LOOKING FOR SOMETHING A LITTLE MORE SUBTLE?

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

Maybe you are in your classroom or an area where legs up the wall stretch or getting up for a walk might not be an option in that moment ?

Try tense and release– You can do this with just about any body part. One example is “scrunch your toes”, so tensing your toes in your shoes (boots or other footwear) and holding the tension for a few seconds and then slowly (sssslllllloooooowwwwwllllllyyyyyy) releasing. You can do this a few times for it to be most effective.

You can also choose different body parts like your jaw, your fists, your shoulders, your glutes. You can work your way up or down your body by focusing on different parts. There are a lot of variations that may be options for you.

 

Photo by Guilia Bertelli on Unsplash

Soothing touch– This is something that can try in many different ways. The idea is finding a way to connect to your body in a way that brings some comfort.

It can be something like a self-hug (that’s right, a  hug for yourself) by placing your hands on your opposite elbows and giving yourself a gentle and caring squeeze.

Butterfly hugs or butterfly taps (crossing your arms in front of you and placing your hands on the opposite upper arm and tapping gently back and forth).

Some other ideas are placing your hand on your heart or placing your hands on your upper legs if that feels ok and just taking a focused breath while you connect with your body and physical self.

You can also squeezing your muscles gently. You can do this on your arms or legs or hands. For example, if you start with your arms, use your opposite hand to gently put pressure on your other arm’s muscles and work your way up and down on that arm. Once you’ve done that, switch to the next arm.

Rocking or swaying gently– This idea may not be an option for you depending on the environment you find yourself in. If you want to try this one, try a gentle rocking or swaying – you could even be on a swing or rocking chair and this can be soothing for the body.

There you have it- in this mini series we have covered a variety of ideas you can use to settle and soothe the mind and body when you are experiencing anxious or distressing thoughts and feelings. We talked about ideas using senses, breathing, visualization and imagery, and now connecting with the body. Check the other videos/posts out to see what’s there.

We spend so much time in our heads, hopefully this will help you connect with your body in a supportive way.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

How to Combat Anxiety – Part 4 of 5 Miniseries – Practical Ideas to Settle and Soothe- Visualization and Imagery

How can we use imagery and visualization to settle and soothe our minds and bodies from anxious, fearful, and negative thoughts?

Let’s continue the conversation on how to let our body and mind know, “thanks for keeping me on alert but I’m ok right now and I’ve got this”.

I wanted to be outdoors when recording, although I did sacrifice sound and video quality to some degree, I decided to go with it. Being outdoors is definitely my happy place and whenever I use guided imagery or visualization, some elements of nature always make their way in. Visualizing nature might also work for you or you might have some other things that really connect when it comes to using your imagination as a resource.

whenever I use guided imagery or visualization, some elements of nature always make their way in.

Photo by Riccardo Ciarini on Unsplash

What is visualization and imagery?
​Imagery or visualization involves using your imagination to help put your body and mind in a different state. In most cases, it is used to help create a more relaxed state but it can also help with things like focus and performance.

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Imagining has the power to change brain activity

 

Our brains are pretty amazing. Connecting with our imagination and our thoughts is something that people are very interested in and that scientists have been increasingly researching especially in the fields of athleticism and mindfulness.

 

 

 

 

​after an 8-week meditation program, the amygdala (brain’s smoke alarm) was less activated when exposed to emotional content

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Research studying the brain of those who meditate or practice mindfulness on a regular basis have shown that brain activity changes during meditation. What’s even more interesting is that the changes that take place during meditation are maintained even when participants are not meditating. One study using FMRI (takes pictures of the brain and records brain activity) found that after an eight week meditation based program, the amygdala (our brain’s smoke alarm) was less activated when exposed to emotional content.

Why do we care to know this?!?!

​Well the amygdala is like the brain’s smoke alarm, it alongside with other brain structures, take the stimulus we receive in the world and helps our brain (and body) decide what to make of it- is this a threat? Is this enjoyable? Do I need to freak out right now? So if research on the brain is telling us that our amygdala activation is changing that is important to a society that has more recently been living in the crux of perpetual anxiety. It means we can play an active role in helping ourselves out when it comes to upsetting thoughts and feelings and our response.

 

Photo by Sean Kong on Unsplash

The thing is that the emotions of fear and anxiety are based in the memory of something that was scary or in the anticipation that something terrible might happen which, “triggers a habitual fear response…… even if there is no actual present-moment threat”.

The take away- it is VERY good to have a brain and body that can respond to threat when we are in ACTUAL danger AND it is even better if we can help that brain and body to become super efficient at sifting through what is actually a threat and what is not.

Photo by Chau Cedric on Unsplash

Another way that imagery and visualization has been researched is in the realm of athletics. Imagining doing an activity, like a sport, prior to actually doing the activity can help our brain remember the neural pathways needed for that physical activityAthletes can use imagery and visualization to improve physical performance and to perform under pressure- Amazing!

So that’s pretty cool and speaks to the power of visualization and imagery, but before I digress any further let me bring us back to using visualization and imagery to settle and soothe our minds and bodies when we are flooded with anxious, fearful, or negative thoughts and feelings.

What I like to use when it comes to settling and soothing the mind and the body are visualizations such as containment, safe place or safe state imagery. The reason I like these in particular is because I find they are very effective at kicking in the parasympathetic system (rest and relax) and I can access them any time.

Image par Reimund Bertrams de Piaxbay

Container Visualization
This visualization focuses on creating some imagery of a container or vessel of sorts that can hold upsetting, painful, or difficult thoughts and feelings until you are ready to come back to them. This is great for in the moment settling of the mind and body. The idea here is that you can use your imagination to put difficult thoughts and feelings “on the shelf” temporarily to be able to focus again or continue on with your day, but that you can come back to them when you feel supported to do so.

​Here is an example of a guided visualization that is about 7 minutes long.

Safe Place Visualization
Safe place visualization can be a great tool to respond to overwhelming moments. Sometimes the idea of a safe place may be difficult for a person to imagine. In particular if your experiences hold trauma or spaces that generally felt unsafe. I will always invite clients to consider that the space may be one they’ve been before, one they imagine they want to go to one day, or perhaps it is a completely imagery place. At the end of a safe place visualization, you can also imagine a word or phrase that might help bring your mind and body back to this more relaxed and settled state at another time. An alternative is to take a few moments after the visualization to draw, paint, or write about the place. This can help it to stay with us in a meaningful way  to come back to at another time, if that feels like an option.

it is very good to have a brain and body that can respond to threat when we are in ACTUAL danger AND it is even better if we can help that brain and body to become super efficient at sifting through what is actually a threat and what is not.

A note on making it more meaningful-
Introducing and using visualization and imagery to help settle your mind and body comes with a few considerations. In my experience, they can be very effective as a one off. If you are needing something in the moment and don’t plan on using it again, it is ok to access this practice once and you may see that it is quite helpful.

Saying that, I think the more you practice, the more benefit you will get from it. Just like in those studies looking at the effects of meditation and imagery for athletics on the brain, the more we activate certain parts of the brain, the more efficient our brain becomes at lighting those areas up.

There may be some scripts that work better for you than others. There are lots of videos, books, blogs, apps and websites that offer so many different types of visualization and imagery scripts. Some are specific to theme, timing, or for specific areas of life (sports performance, addictions, anxiety, stress, etc). I would really encourage you to look at some different options and see what fits for you. On that note, the voice and the pace of guided visualizations are unique. Have a listen to the first few seconds of some guided visualizations and if you don’t like the voice or something is just not sitting well for you, try something different!

Here are some resources to consider checking out:
https://psychcentral.com/lib/imagery-basic-relaxation-script/
https://www.innerhealthstudio.com/imagery-and-visualization.html
https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/
https://www.developgoodhabits.com/best-mindfulness-apps/
https://www.mirecc.va.gov/cih-visn2/Documents/Patient_Education_Handouts/Visualization_Guided_Imagery_2013.pdf

 

Photo by Robert Lukeman on Unsplash

 

If you found this post helpful, spread it by emailing to a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook- Thanks! Also, be sure to come back and check out Part V, where I’ll be talking about how connecting to our physical self (our body) can help combat anxiety.

Happy imaginings!


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

How to Combat Anxiety – Part 2 of 5 Miniseries – Practical Ideas and Tips to Help Settle and Soothe the Mind and Body

USING OUR SENSES

Our brain processes the world through our senses- what we see, feel, hear, smell, and taste. How we think, dream, and how our memories are stored are all encoded through our senses (e.g. imagining the sound of someone’s voice, smelling cookies and remembering a time you baked cookies with your favourite aunt, dreaming of a familiar place or person). Bringing awareness to our senses can be a powerful tool to help us cope with anxious and negative thoughts and feelings.

We can use our senses to tune into the present moment and to our current environment, which can help our mind and body settle

By doing this, we help bring our prefrontal cortex (reasoning and logic part of the brain) online and tune into the “now”. This can be something that can be really helpful if we are feeling upset, overwhelmed or just overly activated as it can help us to settle and soothe our mind and body.

 

Photo by Solstice Hannan on Unsplash

What are some ideas you can try to bring awareness to your senses?
The 54321 strategy
This strategy uses a countdown using each of your senses. The most commonly known way that I know of practicing this strategy is going through each sense and pairing it with a number. For example, using your sense of sight, name 5 things you can see in your current environment right now.

***You can name things aloud if you want but you can also name them in your head, both can be effective!

Next, name 4 things you can feel right now. For this one, consider internal and external feelings. Internal feeling like “I’m worried, I’m stressed, I’m tired” and external feelings like “I can feel my feet on the ground” or “I can feel the back of legs on the chair”.

Next, name 3 things you can hear right now. Next, name 2 things you can smell right now. Sometimes smell can be a little bit tricky, if that is your experience, perhaps you can access the smell of your clothes or your hair or even just the smell of the air.

Lastly, name 1 thing you can taste right now. I like to use a variation on this one and I often invite teens to say one statement that lets them know they are going to be ok in some way, for example “I am ok”, “I will get through this”, “I’ve got this”., “I am going to be ok”.

Photo by Matthew Payne on Unplash

 

54321 Variation
Another way to try this strategy is to use the countdown idea and this time honing in on some of the senses that are generally more accessible. I mean senses that are a little easier to access for most people for example, our sense of sight, touch/feel, and hearing. This time you would begin a countdown that is naming things like this: 5 things you can see right now, 5 things you can feel right now, 5 things you can hear right now. Next, name 4 things you can see right now, 4 things you can feel right now, 4 things you can hear right now. Next, name 3 things you can see right now…… well you get the point and you would continue until you get to naming 1 of each of the senses. This variation can be helpful if you are needing a little extra time to get your “thinking brain” back online.

The insight timer blog also has an article on the 54321 strategy, a variation called the HALT technique, and an audio clip with a guide 54321 exercise.

Photo by Hayes Potter on Unsplash

Tuning into one specific sense 
In this strategy you choose a specific sense to focus on and you can give yourself a few different challenges. One example of this is a hearing challenge, where you name as many things as you can hear in 10 or 20 seconds.

Another strategy is distance hearing, where you begin by noticing sounds you can hear as a part of you (inside) such as your breathing or your stomach noises (especially if lunch time is approaching!). Next, you distance your hearing and name sounds (things, people, animals, etc.) you can hear around you and nearby. Next, you distance your hearing even more and challenge yourself to  name sounds you can hear in the next room or further until you can’t notice any new sounds.

 

Photo by Alex Jackman on Unsplash

Another idea using our sense of sight is spot a colour. You start by choosing a colour and naming as many things as you can that are the selected colour or a close variation of that colour. You can lengthen this exercise by repeating it using every colour of the rainbow. I particularly like this one in an outdoor setting, especially in fall or spring when a variety of colours are available to us.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Our sense of smell is another option. If there are smells that you experience as comforting or soothing (for me that would cinnamon or the smell of a warm pot of homemade spaghetti sauce- yes I like food!), perhaps you can have those smells accessible for you. Now, having the smell of homemade spaghetti sauce on hand is not super practical, but if there are other scents like lavender, rosewater, peppermint, citrus, or a blend of essential oils, it is much easier to work with.

Some people will use roll on scent sticks or lava bead bracelets with a few drops of a soothing scent. If you find the smell of your laundry soap of shampoo, you can use your clothes or hair, and take some sniffs of those. I would add one point of caution around our sense of smell-  smell is highly linked to memory, so I would advise testing out a smell before you use it in a situation where you are upset and are trying to settle and soothe.

If you found this post helpful, spread it by emailing to a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook- Thanks! Also, be sure to come back and check out Part III, where I’ll be talking about using breathing to combat anxiety.


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

How to Combat Anxiety – Part 3 of 5 Miniseries – Practical Ideas to Settle and Sooth Breathing

Part 3 is all about breathing. Breathing is essential to human life and we all do it, but we each have a unique rhythm.

How can you use breathing to cope with anxious and unhelpful thoughts?

How does breathing let your body know, “thanks for being on alert, but I’m ok right now and I’ve got this”?

​Read on my friends.

Our breath pattern changes depending on what we are doing and how we are doing. If we are exercising, for example, our breath will deepen and speed up in order to get more oxygen to our muscle groups. When we are sleeping, our breath generally slows down to respond to our state of rest.

Our breathing is also linked to our emotions. When we are scared or really stressed our breathing can become rapid and shallow, preparing us to fight, freeze, or flee. When we are relaxed, for example during a meditation or enjoying a good book, our breathing slows in response.

​Breathing may seem automatic and for a lot of things it is, but the really cool thing  is that we can adjust our breathing to settle and soothe our system on purpose.

This kicks in our parasympathetic system which is our ‘rest and relax’ system, the opposite system that kicks in when we are under stress.

One important note about breathing- everyone’s breathing pattern is unique to them! Although breathing instructions and breathing exercises may encourage you to take breaths in certain ways, it is really about what is an option for you at that moment. In going over some of the ideas in this blog and video, please keep in mind that whatever kind of breathing is available for you today- is ok!

For example, people who have experienced a lot of trauma sometimes tend to have shallower breaths, so if a breathing exercise or instruction is inviting you to take deep breaths that can actually be quite activating and overwhelming. It’s about listening to our body and well…..learning to listen to our body.

Photo by Carlos de Miguel on Unsplash

 

Breathing in through my nose? Through my mouth?

Again listening to yourself and what’s possible in that moment. It can be helpful to breathe in through your nose when trying breathing patterns that are designed to help kick in the parasympathetic system, but it doesn’t have to be that way- so just keep that in mind.

If you have allergies (Oh do I know hay fever season!) or a cold and it’s a matter of mouth breathing- then go with that! When I’m practicing breathing patterns to relax, I generally tend to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth but again, whatever is an option for you.

Photo by Emiliana Hall on Unsplash

There are different types of breathing strategies that can be used and using simple reminders and cues can help guide the breath. 

Finger breathing– tracing your breath using your hand as a guide. What I usually do is take an in breath (breathe in) when tracing the outside of my first finger (perhaps your thumb), pause or hold at the top, and then take an out breath (breathe out) as you trace the other side of that same finger. Just keep that pattern as you trace out the entire hand. The added bonus is that the touch of you tracing your fingers can add some extra focus and soothing.

 

Photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

Shape breathing– If you have something to write with and write on handy, draw out a shape of your choice, any shape will do. Then you can use your writing tool (pencil, pen, sharpie, lipstick- you can be creative here!) and trace over the shape you’ve drawn and have your breath mirror that shape. For example, if you choose to draw a rectangle, you will trace over one line and breathe in, trace over the next line and take a pause, trace over the next line and breathe out. Trace over the shape until you’ve taken a few breaths (I like to do between 5-10)

Photo by Kyndall Ramirez on Unsplash

Being aware and noticing your breath– Simply bringing some focus and attention to your breath and where you notice it the most. For some folks that might be more in the chest, for some it may be more in the stomach area. The invitation is to place your hand on that area (your chest, your stomach, or both) and just take a moment to notice as it rises and falls with your breath. Notice your hand(s) as they go up and down with your breath. Repeat for a few breaths.

Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

 

Imagery or object breathing (feather breathing, candle breathing, flower breathing)- While bringing an image to mind, use that to guide your breath. Let’s take the feather breathing example. You can have an actual feather for this idea or you can just pretend you have a feather handy. Place the feather in your hand and as take your in breath and out breath, trying to make the feather move. Same thing with the candle breathing- imagine you have a candle in front of you and as you breathe in and out, you are moving the flame of the candle, but not blowing the candle out. This helps to control and bring awareness to the breath.

If you found this post helpful, spread it by emailing to a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook- Thanks! Also, be sure to come back and check out Part IV, where I’ll be talking about using visualization and imagery to combat anxiety.

Breathe on! 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

How to Combat Anxiety – Part 1 of 5 Miniseries – Practical Ideas and Tips to Help Settle and Soothe the Mind and Body

 

 

Welcome to the first part of a 5 mini series on how to combat anxiety. Combat might sound a little harsh or not quite the way you view your relationship with anxiety. What I mean by this is how to let your body and your mind know, “thank you for keeping me on alert, but I’ve got some ideas and strategies, I’m ok, and I’ve got this right now”.

I’m writing with teen anxiety in mind, but these ideas can be useful for anyone!

Here’s a video in case that works better for your style.

The next four video/blog combinations in this series will describe some practical ideas and strategies that can help settle and soothe your body and your mind when you are experiencing a flood of anxious or distressing thoughts.

Today, I will be laying out the framework that I’m using to understand how anxious and distressing thoughts impact us and what it is that we can do about it.

Photo by Fabrizio Chiagano on Unsplash

 

​I won’t be talking about thinking patterns or thought (cognitive) processes in this series – I will mainly focus on things that you can use “in the moment” to start to settle and soothe your mind and your body. Some of the ideas and tips will cover using our breath, our senses, our imagination, and our bodies to basically bring on-line our systems that are most relaxed-based.

I have been working from the framework of Compassion Focused Therapy. Some of the folks in this field are: Paul Gilbert, Deborah LeeKristin NeffPaul Tirsch, just to name a few. All of these folks have done some great work in the compassion focused realm and I think they do a good job at explaining how anxious thoughts, trauma, and different systems impact us in different ways.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

​The model I specifically  like is the three circle model because it describes three systems that we experience that affect our mind and our bodies. The first system is the threat system and this system is designed to protect us and keep us safe from danger.

​It is a really important system if our goal is to stay alive. When this system is activated, it is often associated with feelings of anxiety, anger, disgust, sadness and shame. The model talks about different hormones and endorphins that are released in different systems and cortisol (our primary stress hormone) is the main one in the threat system.

THREE CIRCLE MODEL

​The next system is the drive system. This system is linked to motivation and desire. This system kicks in if we are trying to achieve a goal, accomplish a task or moving towards something or someone we desire. This system often leads to feelings of excitement, drive, motivation, and joy. The related hormones with this system are primarily dopamine and serotonin, which are associated with pleasure, reward, and feel good sensations.

Photo by Clique Images on Unsplash

The third system is the soothe system. This system is thought to be one that is often underdeveloped or not as large as the other systems, in particular if you are someone who often experiences anxious or distressing thoughts or if you are someone who often feels shame or guilt. This system kicks in and leads us to feel content, calm, safe and soothed. The related hormone linked to this system is oxytocin.

The soothe system is the one that compassion focused therapies encourage us to develop and grow as a way to support when we are experiencing threat system feelings and are not in fact in immediate danger. Compassion focused therapy also teaches about balance of the systems and getting to know which of our systems is more developed, understanding how it is serving us (helpful vs. harmful), and considering room to develop one of the other systems to better support us.

I like this model because it talks about these systems as ones that exist globally, in all humans. They also talk about it from the framework of it being not a matter of choice, but rather these are the systems we are born with, they are systems that exist in us, and they have specific roles and purposes. There is a reason each system is wired the way it is and they can serve us quite well in different circumstances. They language used is “it is not your fault”.

Now, in saying it’s not our fault leaves room for compassion and understanding, but another important point is that we still have a lot of ability to cultivate, grow, and develop certain systems. I like this because it’s saying: “yes we have this hardwiring to respond to certain things and this can serve us well and sometimes it can get in the way, but we have the ability to make some changes in that”.

​We can train our brain and help guide it to respond in ways that might be more helpful rather than harmful.

If you found this post helpful, spread it by emailing to a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook- Thanks! Also, be sure to come back and check out Part II, where I’ll be talking about using our 5 senses to combat anxiety.

 

 

 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.