Ask the Psychologist Newsletter - February 2022

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Dear Psychologist,

WHAT'S IN THIS MONTH'S ISSUE: Online Fatigue Relationships Studying

How do I find my ikigai? Where can I go for a COVID detox? How do I find my IKIGAI? How do I find my IKYGAI during COVID-19? I'm tired of online and virtual connections for everything - meetings, classes, talking with family and friends. Everything is just virtual! It leaves me constantly drained at the end of the day and the week. Because of covid, I only go out when I absolutely need to, however, I miss being able to connect with friends and people "in real life". What can I do?

Dear Reader, I totally understand how you are feeling. There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are having similar experiences with lethargy, demotivation and feeling a lack or loss of purpose. Many were experiencing these feelings before the Covid19 pandemic, so the health crisis has made things worse. I would encourage you to reframe how you are thinking about the current situation – find the positive in it. This is a time marked by isolation from friends and family, but it can also be used as an opportunity to meditate and create a deeper understanding of self which can connect you to your IKIGAI. It could also be the perfect time to develop healthy self-care rituals like exercising, yoga and creating a balanced diet. While the world seems to have slowed down right now, it is already regaining momentum. Right now, you have a window of opportunity that you can use to engage in more reflective activities. I would also recommend starting a daily gratitude journal to remind yourself of blessings and keep your mind focused on the positives. I think it is also important for you to develop safe plans to meet with select close friends in an outdoor environment where health protocols can be maintained. You can also consider joining with a small group of friends and doing online school in the same environment. It is important to change your environment every now and then to ease the stress associated with feeling disconnected from your IKIGAI. The reality is that we must find ways to stay connected and re-engage with life while being responsible. Footnotes: IKIGAI is a Japanese concept. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ikigai as "a motivating force; something or someone that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living".

Dear Psychologist, How do I prepare for getting a Masters, a PhD and scholarships while coping with imposter syndrome?

Dear Reader, This is a great question! And one I think many high achieving folks struggle with (I know I definitely still do!) and more so, within spaces where we are in the minority. Remember that you are not alone in this feeling. For example, a recent 2020 systematic review of imposter syndrome prevalence rates found that 9% - 82% of individuals experienced imposter syndrome (highest within women and racial/ethnic minorities) and found it to be associated with increased symptoms of depression and anxiety in addition to decrease feelings of job satisfaction (Bravata et al., 2020). It’s important to discuss how you’re feeling with mentors, faculty, and other support systems. Finding people that will support you and help counter these thoughts is important yet, it will take a level of vulnerability to be open and share how you are feeling.

Additionally, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, remember your past successes and look for data (and write them down) to counter these thoughts. It’s important to try to internalize your successes. A close graduate school friend once told me – it’s best not to compare yourself to others but rather acknowledge that we are all on our own path and journey. Comparing yourself to others in your cohort is normal but likely isn’t helpful. Further, making mistakes is part of being human but messing up may increase imposter feelings so remember to engage in self-compassion and try to let go of perfectionistic tendencies. Your success isn’t due to luck! Finally, increased imposter feelings may also be a symptom of burnout so remember to engage in selfcare!

Footnotes: People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. ( Tulshyn & Burey, 2021)

Dear Psychologist, I left a long-term relationship three years ago (other party cheated and gaslighted; he also had poor financial habits, was lazy , had a lot of potential but did nothing with it and used most of his free time to play internet games). Since then, I have worked on myself (emotional, physical, financial wellness). I recently reconnected with a great guy who has all the hallmarks for a healthy relationship. However, I am now nervous what if my past poor relationship has messed me up so bad that I mess this good thing up? How do I prevent that from happening? How do I not use that past guy's poor qualities to judge this new guy?

Dear Reader, I appreciate the vulnerability you have shared in your post and the questions posed. Ending a long-term relationship is never easy and it sounds like you were able to recognize many red flags in your prior one, set boundaries, and learn what you value in relationships. It’s quite common for fears or prior unhealthy experiences to manifest in future relationships. Oftentimes, it’s a coping mechanism to protect yourself but it is important to make sure this does not prevent you from connecting in the present or future relationships. Prior stressors or unhealthy experiences can lead to thinking in extremes and our minds can convince us of things that aren’t true. For example, one might say, “My past partner was unfaithful, I can no longer trust anyone”. Spend time examining the evidence for these types of thoughts. A thorough examination of an experience will allow us to identify the basis for unhelpful thinking styles that can occur in relationships. If you

find that you are overgeneralizing, challenge the thought by asking what evidence do you have to support it. Also, attempt to focus on the present and the qualities that make this potential new partner different. If they are trustworthy enough to date, that should translate into you trusting them. If not, you might be violating your boundaries. In closing, make sure you have a genuine interest in the person instead of being attracted to the idea of being in a relationship. Too often it’s easy to repeat what’s not repaired. If there are any unresolved feelings coming up from your prior relationship that can’t be worked out on your own, seek out the help of a professional to help you sort through them. The thoughts you have about yourself and future relationships are powerful. Be self-compassionate and trust your judgement and intuition. I’m also a fan of affirmations; try practicing some of these: “I deserve to be loved and to give love”, “I trust and believe in myself”, I” am ready for a loving relationship”, and “Vulnerability is my great strength”. All the best.

Dear Reader, Achieving personal goals may on the surface appear to be very simple, so 'study= get good grades'. But as you have shared, it is not as simple as you would like it to be, especially when it involves the beautiful yet complicated organ such as the brain. Thoughts such as self-doubt, or other intrusive thoughts are normal processes of the brain. The brain generates billions of thoughts- positive and negative, rational and irrational. The problem is not with the thoughts that the brain generates, rather it is our response. Often, our response during times of stress or the pursuit of important goals, or even unchartered territories is to blindly give our undivided attention to the negative thoughts. Unfortunately, this type of response only distracts us from what we truly desire and is likely to end in a lack of productivity and additional stress.

Dear Psychologist, Greetings, I struggle with my attention span and ability to focus. While I am studying, intrusive thoughts constantly enter my mind. Some take the form of what if questions. It is really annoying because it lessens my studying and mental energy levels. Sometimes just the thought of studying is so stressful. Please provide ways in which I can deal with this issue. I would like to remain anonymous. Thank you for considering my question.

It is clear based on what you have shared, that your studies matter to you; perhaps you haven’t fully clarified how important they are to you. In which case you may need to spend some time being clear about the type of student that you would like to be, and what you value about learning. Once you are clear about your values then you can use this to drive an intentional response and demonstrate actions that are in keeping with your values, any other actions such as giving your focus to distracting thoughts only take you away from your values, takes more mental energy and results in the less productive outcome. That being said, it is natural to have moments of distraction, these are human tendencies, we go in and out of consciousness. If you do find yourself going back to the distracting thoughts imagine yourself making a U-turn, going in the opposite direction, away from the negative distracting thoughts and towards conscious and deliberate curiosity for your study material. To become more present, you can say aloud “What is this material communicating? What is my understanding?" Questions like these can help to keep you more focused and are in alignment with your values as a student. Now, remember that this approach takes practice so be gentle with yourself while you work towards what matters to you.

Dear Psychologist, HOW DO I FIND MY IKIGAI DURING COVID-19 I’m dealing with the loss of family and close friends during COVID-19 AND because of COVID-19. The COVID protocols have meant restrictions left, right and centre; for so many areas of life. Plans to see family members living overseas seem to be shut down with each passing year, since COVID-19 new versions and variants of the global pandemic continue to swirl. In fact, living with family members right here in Kingston, feels like they are million miles away, when you have to go through what seems now to be routine quarantine for every time you get sick. And no other sickness seems to exist nowadays except COVID-19. This new world order seems to have overtaken us overnight. No vote. No consultation. No prepping. Mandates left, right and centre. It’s a global emergency. Now action is needed. I get that. But this seems like forever. I only see this in the movies. I’m only used to reading this in history books. This can’t be for real. And life is supposed to still run in the middle of all of this? Home life? Schooling? Spiritual fellowship? Fun outside? Work – where at all, there is any? COVID ransack everything including people’s ability to work or pay for services – including services for new business and new business ideas. Now what? Where do we go? Moment of hope. Is there hope. Can we grow from here? Can we really build back? How do I recoup? How do I regroup? Where do I turn for consolation, for reprieve, for spiritual or mental and emotional cleansing & restoration?

Dear Reader, The pandemic has been extremely overwhelming and exhausting for so many of us. Fear of sickness, limited social interactions, movement restrictions, job difficulties, changes in education, and a lack of closeness to our families and friends, and in some cases death can seem like more than any human can bear to contemplate. It is normal and absolutely expected to have many moments of overwhelm in all of this, as well as a lack of motivation (IKIGAI). Because of this, it is important that we each take time to develop an accurate perspective of our individual lives moment by moment. One of the most effective ways to do this is to engage in daily mindfulness practice. Free yourself of any distractions for a few minutes of intentional focus on the present. Focus on your senses in the present moment and feel grounded in the fact that, in that very moment, you are safe, and connected to your immediate surroundings. Practicing mindfulness for just a few minutes each day can significantly help to “take the edge off” and provide us with just the motivation we need to keep going. Some other things that may help you to cope in this difficult time include daily exercise, which has been shown to increase chemicals in the brain that can promote motivation. Also, don’t be afraid to set limits on the time you spend consuming COVID-19 news and information each day. Constant exposure to news and information related to COVID-19 can certainly overload us and contribute to the sense of overwhelm. Limit time on social media daily and take as many opportunities as possible to spend time in nature (even if this means standing outside in the sun for 10 minutes after being inside all day). Finally, reach out to your loved ones via telephone and video calls as regularly as you can. This will be incredibly useful in helping you to feel connected with them, even though they are far away. If you continue to feel overwhelmed and lack motivation, please know that this is normal and that you can reach out to a therapist to schedule regular psychotherapy sessions for support.

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