Monthly Archive: July 2014

To be Stressed or Not To be Stressed

All of us experience stress in our lives and some of us are able to maintain a healthy balance of stress and relaxation. If that balance is lost, stress or no stressthen we are in danger of becoming chronically stressed.


What are some symptoms of chronic stress?

  • Tense and anxious much of the time
  • Chronic muscle tension, usually in the shoulders, face, forehead, jaw and hands
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Feeling shaky inside, experience skipped heartbeats or have palpitations
  • Chronically sweaty palms
  • Frequent urges to flee, or impulses to lash out
  • Sleep issues for a prolonged period of time
  • Chronic digestive issues
  • Burnout
  • Feeling helpless, overwhelmed


What are some “symptoms” of living well?

  • Mentally present most of the time
  • Relaxed
  • Normal heart rate
  • Feeling calm, grounded and centred
  • Steady hands
  • Restful sleep
  • Good digestion
  • Energized and engaged with life
  • Feeling personally powerful and in control of your life


How to get from Stress to Living Well?

The short answer is to change our relationship to stress, including our attitude.

Is the following familiar to you? I find myself over-committed, or I have three days and a ton of things on my plate, or I have to care for my parents, husband and kids and am beginning to feel ragged …. . Whatever it is, it keeps us running both mentally and physically. Then at some point we simply can’t do it anymore, so we blank out. We watch whatever is on TV, play Solitaire, eat something comforting, have a few glasses of wine, take a pill. Then after a few hours or a day (if we haven’t burned out), we launch back into frantic activity once more.

We know that a rest is good, even essential. We may have purchased a few months at a gym or a yoga studio; and when we go, we find it makes us feel good, relaxed even. We know what is healthy and what isn’t, and we often are healthy. But once we are into stress, anything truly healthy takes a back seat.

Why? Because we don’t have time for those things. We don’t have time to prepare good food, to meditate, to go for a slow walk, to do yoga or work out. Those precious hours involved in relaxing and healthy activity could be much better spent, we believe, checking off the next item on our list. And because the list is really endless, we, in fact, spend a lot of days stressing and not really taking care of ourselves.

Stress – anxiety – is often about fear, specifically fear of what we anticipate. It may be based on something that happened in the past; something we lost, some kind of trauma, or it may be based on our beliefs – what we believe we must do or accomplish. When we periodically reach a place that gives us some peace, we want things to stay that way forever. We know it won’t last, and that knowledge adds more stress.

What we need to change, in fact the key to overcoming stress and anxiety, is to change our own attitude and approach to our living. A tall order, but one that is attainable.

Next week I’ll talk about how you can find a less stressed approach to living.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

What Happens When We’re Stressing Out Too Much


Last night I wanted a piece of information off my website. So I casually and light-heartedly typed the address – hit enter – and got a lot of Computer stresslines of error code.

Panic! I entered my web hosting address. More error messages! More panic.

For 6 weeks I’ve been getting messages from my internet provider that there’s something I have to fix and if I don’t fix it they will cut me off. After working with two techies,  several virus scans, reconfiguring the router, changing all the passwords, then uninstalling and reinstalling a lot of applications that no longer worked, I’m still getting threatening messages from the provider.

Back to last night.  I see a problem. I assume I’ve been seriously hacked. I have a melt-down.

Sound familiar?

That would be an example of a panic attack. Yes it’s kind of funny, and in some ways it’s simply life happening. But if it happens too much, here’s what it does to you.


Stress impacts us physically, emotionally/mentally, and socially; and each of these influence one another.


Physically, our bodies respond to any stressor – internal or external – in the same way. It does not distinguish between the kind of stress we encounter – whether it is the threat of being harmed by a bear or being humiliated in front of our boss. Our response to stress is a generalized adaptation of our physical body.


If the threat goes away or is minimized, our response and physical reactions will go back to normal. Otherwise, we will go through an automatic alarm system, often referred to as “fight or flight”. This alarm system puts us into a state of hyper-arousal, and includes a tensing of our muscles, activation of strong fight/flight emotions (such as terror, anxiety, embarrassment, rage, anger). This rapidly releases stress hormones which heightens our senses, dilates our eyes, increases our heart rate – pumping more blood into our extremities, and shutting down our digestive system. A continuous state of hyper-arousal will eventually degrade our physical body.


Emotionally and mentally, we are constantly reacting to life’s situations. Since most modern-day situations involving stress are not the kind that we can either fight or flee from, we tend to shut down our emotions. This prevents the completion of the normal stress cycle, and we continue to be physically aroused. This physical arousal shuts down parts of our thinking brain; our thinking becomes fuzzy and distracted.


Socially, we become isolated. Hyper-vigilance does not lead to relaxed social interaction. Our reactive responses can and often do alienate those around us.


That’s what stress can do once it becomes chronic. Next week I’ll talk about some key things we can learn to overcome stress.


Worry – Mindfulness

worry - mindfulness

I’ve had a meditation practice, off and on, for many years now. When I began, my life was chaotic. Many changes, much of them unwanted by me, drove me toward finding something that would anchor me, and, along with other supports, I turned to meditation and yoga.

Since that time, my meditation practice has come and gone, mostly as my life has been more or less challenging. What I mean is that, as I get busy and find myself in a period of positive and energizing activity, I begin to spend less time meditating. Then after a period of difficult challenges, I remember the value of meditation, and begin my practice once again.

Now I am in a time of challenge, many aspects positive, and have chosen – for a change – to resume my daily practice of meditation sooner rather than later. What I am discovering is that I worry a lot.

When I meditate mindfully, I am not trying to do anything. I am, instead, simply being present. In order to be present, I pay attention to something that is always present – my breath, for instance. When I notice myself wandering into thoughts of, say, worry, I acknowledge it, then go back to my focus.

What I discovered is that my mind, when I notice it, spends many hours worrying – about what I need for the day, what others in my life need, whether I can meet those needs, how I’m going to meet those needs, if I’m going to meet those needs, if those needs are valid, whether some needs I am not worrying about are more important.

In his book The Worry Cure: 7 Steps to Stop Worry From Stopping You, Robert Leahy says “People worry because they think something bad will happen or could happen, so they activate a hyper vigilant strategy of worry and think that ‘if I worry I can prevent this bad thing from happening or catch it early,'”

Bingo! Right now things are beginning to go well, and I want to make sure they keep going that way. So I think of everything I can to be pro-active, then plan with lists of to-do’s, turn those plans into action, think more, plan more, activate more, and on and on.

Leahy has his own list – of things you can do about your worries. I’m wondering about the wisdom of that. It may work for some – many in fact – but I’m thinking I’d like to try something that doesn’t include more lists.

Mindful meditation is about being present. Worrying is about not being present. It’s about being in my head and not being able to notice what’s really going on around me and inside me.

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace


 Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

Not Doing

child and flower


“The momentum of unbridled doing can carry us for decades, even to the grave, without our quite knowing that we are living out our lives and that we have only moments to live.” From Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

What is this saying to you? I’m a doer, so to me, it’s saying that if I don’t want to miss my life, I have to take time to not do anything. I’m reminded of the workaholic who works 20 hours a day, then retires and wonders where their life went, or worse, dies shortly after.

Have you ever wondered how we as kids seemed to make the day last forever, but as adults it flies by? Maybe it has something to do with not paying attention because we’re too engrossed in planning every future minute in the present, or worrying how tomorrow’s presentation is going to go, or regretting what we’ed done a week ago. Or daydreaming about surfing on the Pacific instead of facing an uncomfortable situation.

What if we dropped everything for half an hour. That’s all. Like we did as kids.

 Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.