Do you have questions for the AWAL experts? If so, then we have the answers. Introducing a new monthly blog post “Ask the Experts”. Since the first week of May is national mental health awareness week, we thought we’d kick off this new blog post with a question about anxiety. If you have a specific question for our experts please let us know.
What is the best way to control anxiety at the office so that it doesn’t interfere with work quality, focus, and ability to concentrate? Also, how could this method help to reduce my anxiety carrying over to my home life – sometimes I get anxious thoughts about work and I have a hard time unwinding at home.
Expert Judy Hissong (Professional Athlete. Accredited Executive Coach. Certified Personal Trainer. Decade in legal management.)
Understanding that stress and anxiety are very close cousins, I know that they are both about my perceptions of what is happening, not what is actually happening to me. And my perception is my reality. So mitigating anxiety is first about slowing down – my breath and my mind. Breathe consciously for at least three breaths. Canvas the world around you for new perceptions and opportunities, whether at home or at work. Breathe again as you ponder the shift from your current perception to another. Feel yourself slow down. Repeat as often as you’d like!
Expert Dr. Joseph Steyr, ND (Naturopathic Doctor and corporate health and wellness speaker)
Overcoming anxiety at the office can seem like an impossible task, but doesn’t have to be. I definitely believe in lifestyle changes, including meditation, however what we need to remember is that change takes time; and the accumulation of small changes over time will have a big impact on your life. I personally see anxiety not only has mental health concern but also as a hormonal and biochemical issue. The hormone here is cortisol that is high with anxiety, but also is the culprit in the energy crash that is so often associated with anxiety. We can help to balance cortisol levels with herbs that stop cortisol from spiking but also don’t make us feel tired and drained. My treatment approach is to start with a saliva cortisol test that shows if we need to build up a person who is depleted, or calm down a person who is showing signs of cortisol excess. The herbal products help to rebalance the person and get the person feeling better. This then leads to more motivation and gets the person started on the path to healthy lifestyle changes, such as mediation.
Here are some symptoms that may indicate you are having an issue with cortisol: feeling cold all the time, muscle aches, morning sluggishness, later in the day being ‘tired but wired’, gaining weight only around the waist, low sex drive, poor memory, fatigue, and of course depression alternating with anxiety. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, talk to your healthcare practitioner about how the best way to balance your cortisol levels.
Expert Ashleigh Frankel (Ashleigh has enjoyed success as a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a business & leadership consultant and coach. She is also certified as a Positive Psychology Coach)
This is a topic I am very familiar with – both professionally, in my role as a mindfulness educator & consultant, but also personally. 6 years ago, upon returning to my role as in-house counsel following my first maternity leave, I suffered severe anxiety at work that all but debilitated me.
Mindfulness was the single most effective tool in helping me manage my anxiety and also thrive again in work and life.
So, what is this ‘mindfulness’ people speak of?
At the core of mindfulness is being in the present moment. “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally,” “It’s about knowing what is on your mind” says Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leading researcher in the field.
Why is mindfulness/meditation helpful?
Countless scientific studies have shown that the practice of mindfulness, which I like to refer to as wellbeing workouts or brain physio, can actually change the size of key areas of our brains responsible for improving our ability to focus, increasing our resiliency under stress, and fostering decision making.
Mindfulness practice helps us change the way we respond to the feelings of anxiety and the thoughts that are arising. It helps us move from auto-pilot towards a more intentional state where we can be responsive instead of simply reactive.
So, how do we do that?
If you are thinking that mindfulness means you will have to find time to sit on a cushion, in silence, with a quiet mind, for long periods of time in the middle of your undoubtedly busy workday, I have great news for you – it doesn’t. There are countless ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day; we will start with one of the simplest, but most powerful tools – your breath. Today I want to share with you a simple, mindful breathing exercise that you can invite into your day to help manage your anxiety; and the best part is, it can be done anytime, and anywhere:
5-Second Breathing Cycles
breath in for 5 seconds
hold in for 5 seconds
breath out for 5 seconds
hold out for 5 seconds
You can practice moving from your “thinking mind” (a place we, as lawyers, are particularly comfortable) into an “observing mind” to help you step back, slow down and bring calm. While you are doing the 5-second breathing cycle, pay attention, without assessing, to the feeling of the cool air entering through the nose, and on the exhale, to the warm air exiting the body. Notice the movement in the belly and any other sensations in the body.
This exercise encourages you to breathe deeply, instead of the shallow breathing that often accompanies stress and anxiety. When you breathe deeply and slowly, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which reverses the stress response in your body.
How could this method help to reduce the anxiety we carry over to our home life?
I have noticed that sometimes I get anxious thoughts about work and I have a hard time unwinding at home.
The increasing demands of work and the constant connection made possible due to technology have definitely made it harder to leave work at the office, and also harder to quiet our minds.
You can use the breathing exercise provided above any time to help bring your focus out of your swirling thoughts and into the moment and to help calm the sensations that may arise in your body due to your anxiety.
In addition, the simple act of writing down any persistent thoughts about work helps to ditch the distractions. You want to avoid trying to force the worry away, and also avoid engaging with the anxiety. Writing down the worries and recurring thoughts gives you a space to connect with them, and let them go from your mind.
Lastly, if you have children at home, let them lead. Kids are naturally mindful and present. Engage with them. Put your phone away, get down and play; color with them, or build the lego tower. Use this time to single-task. If your mind wonders, just gently bring yourself back to your activity. If something keeps coming up for you, you can grab that pen and paper, add to your list, and then head back to your playdate.
If you are interested in further developing your mindfulness practice, I am running a free, online 30-day Mindfulness Challenge to strengthen wellbeing and leadership skills. You can reach me at Ashleigh@clickandco.ca