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Indigenous Student Centre
Indigenous Clinical Counsellor
Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC)

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Anxiety presents itself for a reason; it is there to alert us to danger, protect us, and it’s also a valuable teacher in our everyday life when we allow ourselves to understand the message anxiety is asking, such as “What is important here? or “What is at risk?”

Folks can often feel as if experiencing anxiety is a disadvantage to their health and well-being, and while it does sometimes feel this way, is it also there to guide? Support? Help? Anxiety presents itself for a reason; it is there to alert us to danger, protect us, and it’s also a valuable teacher in our everyday life when we allow ourselves to understand the message anxiety is asking, such as “What is important here? or “What is at risk?” If anxiety is inhibiting you from engaging with something you want to do, such as attending social outings, completing assignments, leaving home, or asking questions in class; it may be time to explore in a therapeutic setting or through self-help resources.

Common Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety comes in all shapes and forms. For instance, you may feel the need to people-please, say sorry when unwarranted, self-sabotage when parts of your life aren’t within control, and it can make you want to isolate yourself from the world.

While anxiety symptoms may make you feel helpless and isolated, they come and go.

Sometimes symptoms are mild, and sometimes symptoms can last in intensity for 20 minutes until the adrenaline runs through our blood, leaving us feeling tired, hopeless, and bothered. When this happens, it’s an important indication that it’s time to give our body and mind some extra care, whether that is by eating something nutritious, going outdoors to move, or taking some space to pause and breathe.

 It’s also an indication that it might be helpful to make an appointment with a counsellor.

The Importance of Thinking Patterns

Sometimes when we’re feeling anxious, we may find ourselves getting caught up in unhelpful thinking patterns. Here are three common examples, including tips and tricks for managing unhelpful thoughts.

Mental Filter 

A mental filter is when we notice only what the filter allows or wants us to notice, and we dismiss anything that doesn’t fit. Like looking through “gloomy specs” or only catching the negative stuff while anything more positive or realistic is dismissed. 

Example:

  • I didn't get the grade I wanted
  • I missed the bus
  • I had a bad sleep

If you catch yourself only noticing the negative stuff or filtering out the positive, sometimes it’s helpful to try to reframe or balance these thoughts out.

Example:

  • I got a better grade than last time
  • I was still on time even though I missed the bus
  • I get off early today so I can go home and nap

Reframing some of our thoughts can sometimes pull us out of using this mental filter by giving us a different outlook on situations that may otherwise seem negative.

Shoulds and Musts

A 'should and must' way of thinking, or saying “I should/shouldn’t” and “I must” puts pressure on us, and sets up unrealistic expectations for ourselves.

Example:

  • I should have known the answer when the professor asked me in class
  • I shouldn't stay up so late
  • I must exercise five times a week, even when I'm tired

If you notice yourself thinking in a 'should and must' way, ask yourself: "Am I setting up unrealistic expectations? What would be more realistic?"

Example:

  • I didn't know the answer because I'm still learning, and that's okay—that's why I'm here
  • I stay up late sometimes to connect with friends or catch up on shows that bring me joy
  • I move my body as much as I can to feel good and rest when I need it

It’s very common to set high expectations for ourselves, but it’s also important to practice self-compassion and pay attention to what we need when we need it, and why.

Mind Reading

Lastly, mind reading is assuming we know what others are thinking, usually about ourselves or even situations we’re in.

Example:

  • She's mad because I didn't email her on time
  • They probably think I'm dumb because I asked a million questions
  • He seems upset, it must be because of what I said earlier

If you find yourself thinking this way, take a moment to pause and ask yourself:

  • What would an Elder from my community say about these thoughts?
  • What advice would I give a friend or child with thoughts like this?
  • What consequences are there if these worries are true?
  • Would I be able to endure the consequences if the worry happened? For example, if he really was upset because of something I said?

Catching ourselves in this pattern of thinking is important because we all have different experiences, perspectives, and feelings, and no matter how in-tune we are with others, we can’t read minds.


Paying attention to our thinking patterns is one important way to recognize and reframe our anxiety, but there are others. Want to explore more? Counselling allows a safe, nonjudgmental space to talk. The Indigenous Student Center (ISC) is open Monday to Friday, from 8:30AM – 4:30PM and Indigenous Counsellors are available for appointments all week. To connect with a counsellor or to view other support options, visit our website or email: iscwell@sfu.ca.

SFU Staff
Indigenous Student Centre
Indigenous Clinical Counsellor
Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC)
Jennifer is a registered clinical counsellor working with SFU’s Indigenous Student Centre (ISC). She works from a braided practice that honours Indigenous knowledge, strength-based person/community centered approach and relevant, respectful, mainstream therapeutic orientations that strive for holistic balance (emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual).

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