Guest Post by Dr. Stuart A Ross (thatpsychologyguy.ca)

Guest Post by Dr. Stuart A Ross (thatpsychologyguy.ca)

We think it’s important to tap real experts and sources of deep knowledge to share content relevant especially during these times where anxiety may be more prevalent. We present this view from Dr. Stuart Ross, psychologist.

American author Mark Twain was quoted as saying, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Anxiety is an evolutionary-based emotion connected to our need to avoid harm. Like a constant radar, it is always left in the “ON” position for our safety. When the alarm gets too loud for too long, our biological systems get trapped in a no-win flight-or-fight maze with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

I’ve conducted psychological assessments for more than 30 years and 90% met the diagnosis for anxiety and/or depression. Depression often overlaps with anxiety in its development, starting with a build-up of emotional stress, burning so much energy the hyper mood turns into an exhausted depression. These clinical concepts were considered biological in nature at the time I started, treated primarily with medications.

Psychotherapy is now light-years beyond the limitations of treating mood disorders solely with mood sedating medications. Mindfulness-based cognitive psychotherapists currently employ perspectives unheard of during my graduate training.  In the past, we would struggle to challenge mood-related thinking with logic and behaviour change, without fully knowing what we were up against. And struggle we did, resulting in a disappointing 50% success rate.

Since then, researchers have identified seven mental properties that interfere with verbal therapies to treat mood disorders. Consider the following as shared challenges to our well-being during the Covid-19 threat:

  • Our thinking operates on automatic pilot. Though we can distract ourselves, our minds are always in goal-seeking mode. Covid-19 worries can create ‘high-rotation’ ruminations resulting in constant anxiety.
  • Our minds run on thoughts and ideas reminiscent of Mark Twain’s fear of the unknown.
  • Memories of past failures and future fears will fuel anxiety.
  • Avoidance of harm is part of our biological makeup, but the ongoing threat of Covid-19 can lead to burnout.
  • Goal-focused – a virus free world is an ongoing source of stress.
  • Our minds confuse our thoughts and beliefs with real solid objects turning fear into a reality.
  • Our minds never stop driving us toward what we think will make us happy or to reduce our suffering. Covid-19, something currently beyond our control, is the perfect mental environment for anxiety and depression, beyond whatever else is going on in life.

Awareness of the seven properties allow a new way of reducing anxiety and depression. With a little training, anyone can learn how to distract, shift and sustain attention, replacing the need of challenging irrational beliefs. Mindfulness-based practices offer a profoundly different approach that is revolutionary.

With the practice of mindful detachment, we can ‘befriend’ our anxiety, considering it simply as an alarm system concerned for our safety. When it alerts us to real or potential danger, we can learn to respond to our anxiety as if it were a worrisome parent warning us about something instead of reacting to it as if it were actually happening. There are plenty of mindfulness-based websites such as Mindful.org offering free samples for those willing to give it a try.

Being unpredictable, Covid-19 provides an ideal playground for fear. Personal illness, family illness, job loss or loss of home are real concerns for many. However, worry creates anxiety that, in itself, changes nothing. Instead, while we wait for the virus to pass, breathe deeply and remember the words of that wise old man, “…but most of them never happened.”

Other resources:

Life Recovery Program “Inward Strong”: You may access three months of support here: https://liferecoveryprogra.wixsite.com/innovationguelph

Mindful.org

Connexontario: Addiction, Mental Health, and Problem Gambling Treatment Services

COVID-19: Helping ourselves. Helping each other. CAMH