What a therapist does with her own anxiety: a story

This week was a bit crazy. It gave me an “opportunity” to see how I experienced anxiety and stress, and how I… teacher of Mental Health and psychotherapist… navigated it. I thought I’d write about it, mostly to debrief it with myself, but partly to see what I did that helped, and what I did that didn’t. A case study if you like. panic

My week:

  • I started facilitating 3 different psycho-educational groups for the Hamilton Family Health Team. 2 of them were new to me and I’d signed up for them on the Monday after another facilitator dropped out. 
  • I started participating in a Hakomi learning group in Toronto
  • I gave a talk at a library
  • Private practice clients
  • Care for my 2-yr old in between
  • Organising childcare and car-use with my also-self-employed husband
  • Some admin/home-care action for our still new and somewhat unfurnished home.

Specific sources of stress?

As a newbie to Ontario, much of my stress this week was of finding the places I had to be – especially the one in Toronto, and figuring out public transit. go_busesI knew it’d all be okay but I was anxious anyway. I felt like a real newcomer.  (One that spoke English though and had some Western World Big City Skills in my back pocket, and no significant trauma history possibly unlike the refugees coming from Syria. Ah… reframing and contextualising is a coping strategy!)

Teaching and facilitating new groups is anxiety-provoking for me too, especially in the getting acquainted stages.

The other main source of stress was wondering if my husband and I had coordinated well enough, and if we were going to get to some point where my 2 yr old was left behind somewhere because we didn’t know which of us was “on”.  

Then I had a background concern that husband would be unhappy because he was taking on more childcare responsibility than usual.  I know that can make him grumpy! 

How I felt my anxiety

I was surprised at the level of anxiety I experienced. I will divide it up a la Cognitive Behavioural Therapy:

  • Physical changes: Heart rate up much of the time. Shallow breathing. Muscle tension. “Always on” feeling. 
  • Cognitive changes: In panicky states – rushing mind, fast thoughts, focus on “potential threat” (logistics and planning). 
  • Behavioural changes: preparing for each group and task ahead of time to avoid extra anxiety, coping strategies: exercise. Surprisingly I arrived early for everything.

What I did with my anxiety/stress:

  • I noticed shortness of breath and shallow breathing. I often said outloud “wow, I’m stressed right now!” I tried to breath more deeply. 
  • My favourite “54321” exercise: name 5 things you see (e.g. “I see the cup on my desk”), 5 things you hear (e.g. “I hear the tapping on my keyboard”), 5 things you sense with your body (e.g. I feel my wrists on the hard computer). Then 4, then 3, then 2, then 1 of each. A way for the fight/flight sympathetic nervous system to shift to the rest/digest parasympathetic nervous system. I was surprised (again) how it helped calm me down.
  • Chose to walk one-way rather than navigate a new subway system in Toronto. Got some exercise too in this which helped. (Stopped by a good 50% off sale too – bonus! Got trousers I’ve been wanting and some for besieged husband too)
  • Decided to note the quirky parts of the trip to Toronto which made me laugh
  • Made the seemingly impossible task of getting to a Hamilton swimming pool at a time it’s open, and exercised.
  • Followed the advice of the Naturopath I co-taught with and ate well: half a plate of veggies, quarter protein, quarter carbs. Basics, right?
  • Bought a chocolate bar to ease my stress and enjoyed it.
  • I realise that one of the main ways I cope when stressed is to create connections with others and ask for help, and that this makes opportunity for enjoyable interactions.
  • I also like telling the stories afterwards – it helps re-story my experience. 

What about you? What helps you get through stressful patches?

n.b. It’s notable of course that this is a story of tending to regular, everyday anxiety that is “reasonable” in relation to my context, rather than a story of an anxiety disorder which many struggle with. Some approaches I mention may be still appropriate though. 

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