As Winnipeg schools start welcoming students back into their classrooms, along with Universities and Colleges opening their doors to online and in-classroom learning, many of us are feeling a bit more edgy this week. If you are anything like me, you are both excited for students to see peers face-to-face (masks and all) but worry that all will be sent home as they were in March 2020. I anticipate the disruption that would follow after such a change. Winnipeg and Manitoba were doing quite well prior to larger group gatherings, so of course our minds anticipate the same now with the schools re-opening.

“When you notice thoughts getting out of control, it is usually a sign that you need to challenge irrational thoughts rather than distracting yourself from them.”

via @luellajonk

When you notice thoughts getting out of control, it is usually a sign that you need to challenge irrational thoughts rather than distracting yourself from them. For example, instead of seeing every thought that enters your head as rational or fact, see every thought that enters your head as neutral. The thought is neither good nor bad, it is just a thought that has entered your head.

The only reason a particular thought has entered your head is because there was a past event or experience that conjured up the thought.

So while it might seem totally rational for your friend to have a thought enter their head (since it was based on a previous experience they had), you on the other hand, would have never had this thought. This is the primary reason for why we think differently. This is why one person might be anxious, while another is not. As I remind many of my clients ‘You did not inherit the anxiety gene’ when they report General Anxiety Disorder or GAD ‘runs in my family’.

Let me give you an analogy. I will use a romantic relationship since I am a marriage therapist in Winnipeg who sees many couples. Let’s say that you are having trouble trusting your spouse or partner. You are constantly wondering or accusing your partner of flirting with another person or questioning why he/she arrived home 1-2 hours later than they initially told you they were supposed to arrive. Why does your mind right away go to the idea that ‘they are late because of spending time with another woman/man’? It is very likely because you were once cheated on in the past. The thought might be completely irrational. And even if you were cheated upon in this particular relationship or a previous one, you must see this as a new event or beginning – and make the thought neutral.

Easier said than done right? Because the mind loves to protect you – and scope out any potential harm. This is when we have to become masters of the inner dialogue that goes on within our minds.

Those that experience GAD know all too much about ‘racing thoughts’ or ‘spiralling out of control’. When one loses a central locus of control within themselves and allow irrational thoughts to seemingly become fact or truth, then one will feel hopeless and helpless. My role as your therapist is to regain that control. I want to remind you that each and every day you have the choice of how you will approach every situation. Look at a situation with a yearning to understand and be curious. Remind yourself that YOU have the CHOICE on how to perceive every interaction or event you experience and not to live in the past.

At one time in your life you may have experienced anxiety, but that does not warrant you to be labelled ‘an anxious person’. I personally hate labels. They have no merit in my psychotherapy practice. Every day, interaction, situation, problem, experience or event is new. You are a person that is constantly learning, growing, and evolving. Labels make us feel stuck and stagnant.

As much as September 2020 brings with it a measure of uncertainty, it also brings routine and familiarity of joining a community, whether that be online or in-person. We are all in it together. Let’s see the last quarter of 2020 as one of newness and an invitation for a fresh outlook and a new chapter in our book. A book that you are the author of.