HIH: Ask A Therapist

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We live in a culture where we have endless deadlines, tasks and commitments demanding our time, attention and energy. On top of these commitments, we are striving to live a healthy and balanced life. We schedule regular work out classes, or go to the gym to keep our bodies healthy and well. Unfortunately we forget to set some time aside for our mental health. The key to solving life's problems is therapy, but don't worry if you don't have time to schedule regular therapy sessions! We're here to bring therapy to YOU by answering your questions every week, hopefully facilitating some introspection and change.

Q: My mind doesn't turn off when I'm in bed and trying to sleep! How do I relax my anxious mind?

A: You are not alone in this predicament; we are a collective group of workaholics who spend their entire day pushing through stress, anxiety and deadlines. The good news is that we get things done; but the bad news is that our brain doesn't shut off at 5 PM as it should. We carry the stress and anxiety with us all evening and into the night. If you find yourself in bed, unable to sleep, and trying to calm a racing mind, try this little trick: first, let go of tension in your body by relaxing your forehead, unclenching your jaw, and dropping your shoulders. Try to breathe slowly and deeply as you scan your body for any tension or tightness, consciously relaxing these parts one by one. If this feels hard at first, try some guided meditations for sleep! You can find these on YouTube. The trick is to breathe, and shift your attention from your mind to your body. After all, in the words of Sakyong Mipham, the body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness.

Q: I get really anxious in evenings! What could be causing this?

A: For those who are living with anxiety, feeling heightened anxiety in the evenings is not uncommon. There could be many reasons for this. First, a lot of us experience considerable anxiety after work because we are quite distracted for most of the day at work. From the point of waking up and until we are done with work, we are juggling deadlines, work stress and our to-do lists. Due to these distractions we become so detached from our emotional experience during the day that this causes heightened anxiety at night time. Another explanation could be that you have developed evening-specific triggers. These could include the darkness, certain smells, or any other associations from a previous experience. In either case, the most efficient way to learn more about your anxiety is by tracking it. I recommend keeping a mood journal where at different points in the day where you mindfully write down your emotions, any tension in your body, and notice your surroundings for possible triggers.

Q: I am new to therapy and wondering what I can do to ensure that treatment can go as well as it can?

A:

  1. Your therapist doesn’t have a magic wand they can wave over you to make your problems vanish. The therapeutic alliance is just that – a collaboration between you and your therapist that will work if you show up on time to all your sessions, complete required homework, express your needs, ask questions, read books, and ask for clarification.

  2. The counselling space is safe and non-judgemental, so don’t censor yourself, try to be politically correct, or fear that you’re coming off as impolite. Being a good client doesn’t mean that you have to be on your best behavior. You will get the most out of therapy when you are an authentic and unfiltered version of yourself.

  3. Your therapy session will only be 50 minutes weekly/bi-weekly/monthly and that’s not enough! If you want to get the most out of therapy, think about it as happening 24/7. After your first session, buy a journal to reflect after each session and to prepare for your next one. Use this journal to also generally pay attention to your thoughts and feelings throughout the week. Bring this journal to sessions so that you and your therapist can work through the material together. Any good therapist will tell you that the real hard work is done in between sessions.

  4. Be selective about what you share and with whom regarding your therapy sessions. This may mean having to create boundaries with people who gossip or give unsolicited advice. When you open up your therapy boundaries to everyone, you are risking letting in influences that may undermine your own self-trust and confuse you. Therapy is intimate and beautiful, so be selective about what you share.