Lent Intersecting Therapy

Lent is usually a season of giving up oppressive habits and taking on new patterns of living. We often think of Lent in terms of giving up chocolates or coffee for a time, but when we think of Lent in the broader sense of observing and breaking the chains that lead us on a negative path, we can see how it plays into our mental health.

This year, I’m going to stop drinking coffee because I’ve noticed I get irritable and am prone to withdrawal headaches if I don’t get my morning cup. Coffee is a good thing, but it’s become a weight on my life- I have to have it, I’ve grown dependent on it.

Similarly, I’ve noticed a pattern of thinking that’s unhelpful. When I’m worried or have a concern, I’ve fallen back into ruminating on all the possibilities. This makes me feel tense, and I can feel it all through my body. And when I start to feel the anxious tension in my body, the mental distress escalates which again turns back to mental chatter. It’s a vicious cycle and I don’t like it at all. So this year, I’m also giving up anxious thinking.

Breaking a thought pattern is very different from breaking a physical habit. I can stop drinking coffee by simply not picking it up or ordering it. But thoughts are often unconscious, and there’s not an option to simply not think at all or to filter your thoughts to block out the ones you’re trying to avoid. Wouldn’t that be nice?

In the Christian tradition, we’re told to “take every thought captive” (2 Cor 10:5) and “think on things that are true, noble, pure, right, admirable, and lovely” (Phil 4:8-9). These suggest two key points: first that thoughts happen unconsciously, and when they do, we have a choice about that to do with them when we notice them. Second, that we can consciously direct our thoughts, and we are not entirely at the whim of our unconscious minds.

Taking unconscious thoughts captive starts with awareness. We can’t capture a thought that we don’t know is even happening. And awareness starts with slowing down and paying attention. Most of our life happens on autopilot. And most of the time that’s okay. You don’t need to pay close attention to every detail of your commute, and it’s normal to want to zone out a bit after a busy day. But sometimes autopilot goes wrong, and our default thoughts turn toward the negative.

That’s what happened to me- I consciously managed my anxiety years ago and haven’t been super prone to anxious thoughts for a while. But lately, it’s crept up again, and it’s important to deal with it early so it doesn’t get out of hand. My autopilot has turned to worry, and that’s not okay with me.

You may be surprised to hear this from a therapist, but I’m not the best at noticing my emotions. It’s something I’m working to get better at through this conscious practice of noticing and increasing my awareness. I usually notice my anxiety when my neck and shoulders start feeling tense and I notice the shift in my breathing. Once I notice these physical shifts, I can usually trace them back to the frantic thoughts. Taking time throughout the day to check in with my thoughts, emotions, and body feelings is so helpful in allowing me a chance to notice in advance what’s going on in my mind before it starts affecting my body.

But what to do with anxious thoughts once you notice them? They feel like they’re racing so fast, they almost have a life and power of their own. I think it’s enough to simply say no to the thoughts. No, I’m not doing this right now. No, this isn’t helpful. No, you’re just going in circles and getting nowhere. No, no, no. Some theories say that it’s helpful to debate the thoughts or analyze them to see if they’re true. And if that works for you, go for it! But that doesn’t work for me.

I’ve mentioned before about how a tree branch fell on my car in a windstorm and I would get super anxious when it got windy with the thought that another branch could fall again. It wasn’t helpful to challenge those thoughts because my anxious mind doesn’t care that a branch fell only once in the ten years I’ve lived here- it happened once and could happen again. The only thing that truly helped was saying no from a place of acceptance. Yes, the tree could blow around so hard that another branch falls on the car or the house or a person. But my worry thoughts can’t stop it. If I stay up awake at night worried about what the tree might do, that won’t keep it from falling if it’s going to.

This brings us to the second part. You may have heard the saying “Life abhors a vacuum.” This is equally true of our thoughts. It’s not enough to simply say no to the anxious thoughts, we have to replace them with something else or another thought will quickly come up from our unconscious minds.

Whatever is true, whatever is right…
The “what-if” thoughts aren’t true. They’re hypothetical. They’re future focused. The best way to think of what is true and right is to turn your attention to the present. Give direct, focused, mindful awareness to who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing.

Whatever is pure, whatever is noble…
The “worst case scenario” thoughts aren’t pure. Pure means “without unnecessary elements” or “without contamination.” Worry adds to your reality with all the ways things could go wrong. And again, the antidote is present focus, getting back to what is currently happening without the added extras that the anxious thoughts are focused on.

Whatever is admirable, whatever is lovely…
Anxious thoughts often take us to the lowest place. Thinking of things that are admirable or lovely helps to lift us back up. When we set our minds on higher things, we are reminded of the good things in this world. Lately, I’ve seen articles of studies that show how good it is for people to experience things like awe, wonder, beauty, and glory. Whether it’s going out in nature, experiencing art, or simply marveling at the majesty of the world, focusing outside ourselves helps us get out of our minds and back into a proper perspective of who we are and how we fit into the world.

As we approach the beginning of Lent, I hope you consider how Lenten practices can intersect your personal work in your thoughts and habits. If you have a similar experience or want to join me on this journey, leave a comment and share your perspective!

The Benefits of Failure

Nobody likes to fail, especially in front of others. But failure carries with it two implications- first that you were willing to try something, and second that you have a chance to learn. These are the benefits of failure.

For some of us who have at least one area in life where we are at least moderately successful if not highly proficient, we are faced with the temptation to stay within our realm of competence. This is a key danger in life because once we develop a core competence and choose to remain within it, we can shut down from novel and difficult experiences. We can keep ourselves safe from not knowing, not being very good, being the worst, but only at the cost of our ability to learn and grow and explore.

So failing in itself isn’t necessarily the benefit. But failing means that you tried something outside of your core set of competencies. It means you were willing to stretch yourself and be open to the many different possibilities that could await you. Any time you want to learn how to paint or try a yoga class or sew your own clothes, you probably won’t be a master the first time you do it.

The way out is through acceptance. When you try something new, you might fail. You might look silly. Other people might form opinions of you and your capability. Let me share a story from my life to illustrate.

My Inner Critic is deeply focused on worrying how I’ll do at physical activities. When I was about ten years old, I thought about asking my parents if I could start taking karate lessons like many of my friends did. I never asked because my mind told me that ten was just too late to start learning karate and I’d be behind all the other kids who started even younger.

Looking back, it seems objectively silly. As an adult, ten doesn’t seem to old to learn a new skill. But in the moment, my mind had convinced me it was way too late. Of course, everything seems more obvious in hindsight. The real trick is to be able to notice in the moment when my mind is telling me an untrue story.

I think of some of the things I was interested in but didn’t do. That cookie decorating class- why didn’t I go? That book group- why didn’t I sign up? I can tell myself that the class was too expensive, but in reality if it were half the price I still wouldn’t have gone because what if everyone else is there with a friend and they notice I’m by myself?

Shame says: I don’t want to be the fattest, weakest, and least flexible person in the Pilates class!
Acceptance answers: You might be! But you’ll be doing something you’ve been wanting to try for years.
Shame says: I should have started ceramics years ago if I wanted to be any good.
Acceptance counters: But you can’t start years ago. You can only start now.

I can choose to think back on some of the times I did go to a class alone. I met new people, and others in the class were happy to include me even though they came with friends. I can remember how it felt to finally try karate in college and I did struggle compared to some of the other students but I got stronger and learned a lot, and nobody was as hard on me as I was on myself.

Here’s your challenge- think of something that you’ve wanted to do but just haven’t managed. Explore your reasoning and question deeper to see if the surface reasons are covering over some internal shame or Inner Critic narrative. And then try it. Just once. Just to show your Inner Critic that you’re strong and resilient, that you don’t want to be trapped by worry.

Developing a Philosophy of Wellness

Your philosophy of wellness shapes your expectations of what you want to get out of your time in therapy. In the first few sessions, I try to get a picture of what my clients are looking for. Most give an answer like this:
“I want things to go back to how they were before”
“I just want to feel normal again”
“I want to feel good and for everything to be okay”

Many people have a philosophy of wellness that looks something like the above examples. They have some idea of a time when things were going well, and they want to have that feeling all the time. There are two problems with this kind of philosophy. First, it’s not realistic to expect that things will be good for you all the time if only you can reach a particular point of wellness. Second, the idea of “good” and “normal” is undefined and nebulous, and it’s hardest to hit a moving target.

To address these problems, we can safely say that we need to develop a philosophy of wellness that accounts for the normal ups and downs of life. Your definition of what it means for you to be and feel well can’t depend on your life circumstances always being positive. And your understanding of wellness should include specific, measurable targets that are well defined and understandable.

With that in mind, what does it mean to be well? What does it look like in terms of how I behave? How does it feel mentally and emotionally? How do I handle negative experiences when I am well? I’ll show you how I answer these questions and how I use them to develop an overarching philosophy of wellness.

To me, being well means that I am okay with just being. When I am unwell, I tend to rush around and have a sense of striving in hopes of working myself into wellness. When I am well, my actions show it by the pace. Instead of a frantic energy, my behavior is characterized by a centeredness that shows even when I am working quickly. When I am well, this centeredness allows me to be more patient with my family, more open to my friends, and more able to respond to events rather than react. My feeling mentally and emotionally is calm and open, and when I am doing very well, I am curious, creative, and energized by new ideas. When I am well, I handle negative experiences thoughtfully without being derailed by anxiety or panic. I am able to process and analyze the situation, asking for help without feeling frantic or shutting down. I am able to deal with catastrophic thoughts without being caught up in them.

My natural tendency is toward anxiety, so my philosophy of wellness is focused on my ability to move away from my unwellness- frantic, striving, rushing, catastrophizing- toward its opposite. For me, that means calm centeredness, openness, curiosity, and creativity. I feel it mostly in my chest. The sense of striving feels tight and hot, and I notice it in my breathing. I also feel it in my mind. The thoughts move from swirling, ruminating, overwhelming, catastrophizing into stepping back, watching the thoughts without being swept up in them, taking time to think clearly.

So while there’s nothing really wrong with saying that you want to feel normal again, or back to your old self, I’d like to challenge you to really dig into those statements. Make them more specific. What is it that you’re feeling right now that you’d like to manage differently? How would you prefer to handle difficult circumstances? What was different about your behaviors, thoughts, and emotions in the past? How do you know when you’re feeling well or unwell based on your physical sensations in your body, your behavior, and your thoughts?

Building Resilience

We all know we should build resilience, but how? Learn three ways to build resilience before things go wrong and three ways to enhance resilience in a crisis.

We all know that resilience is the factor that allows us to deal with life’s ups and downs. And we all know that resilience is a skill that can be built up. But not everyone knows exactly how to build resilience. I’ll give you some key steps to take to build up resilience before things feel overwhelming as well as some extra things you can do when you already feel overwhelmed.

  1. Be socially connected. One of the things I look for as a therapist is if my clients have at least 5 people or groups they can look to for support. For children, peer support is nice, but I’m looking for at least 3 adults and 2 peer age kids. Support doesn’t have to mean telling them about your deepest fears and worries. Support from one person could be a casual friendship where you go for walks or out to coffee. Groups like AA, NA, or GriefShare are a great source of support.
  2. Practice self-care. The idea of self-care includes fun things like treating yourself to a nice dinner or a spa day, but it also includes routine care for your body and mind like exercise, sleep, and taking a bath or shower. Develop a basic self-care routine that incorporates exercise and hygiene with occasional additional treats.
  3. Practice mindfulness. This could include journaling, meditation, art, or any other form of mindfulness. The goal is to learn how to recognize your thoughts and emotions from a distance, separate from your self-identity. Mindfulness also has a core of non-judgment. It doesn’t help to beat yourself up for “being anxious,” but it can help to recognize when you are having an anxious thought or experiencing anxiety in your body.

These three factors- social support, self-care, and mindfulness- are the basis of developing resilience. By practicing these skills when you’re feeling good and things are going well, you’ll improve your ability to use them when things aren’t so good. Here are three additional things you can do to increase your resilience during a time of stress or overwhelm:

  1. Disconnect from devices. News media and social media can contribute to your sense of stress. Taking a break can help you clear your head and focus on yourself.
  2. Reconnect with your goals and values. Sometimes, a sense of stress is a signal that we’re going in the wrong direction. Check in with yourself to see if anything in your environment- work, relationships, living situation- is contributing to your feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes, stress is a part of moving toward your desired goals and remembering why you are choosing this path may give you the strength to carry on.
  3. Talk to a therapist. When things become more than you can handle, a therapist can teach you skills to navigate the situation. A therapist provides a neutral, outside perspective which can be helpful when friends and family all have their own opinions on what you should do.

What skills do you use regularly and when you feel overwhelmed by stress? Is there anything that’s worked for you that I missed? Is it time for you to talk to a therapist about your situation?

Curiosity and Defensiveness

Defensiveness is a natural response to feeling threatened, but it can be hard on relationships. A posture of curiosity allows you to empathize with the other person.

Most of the time when people start therapy, they are approaching life- relationships, change, work- with a defensive stance.

A defensive stance is natural. Our responses to new situations are usually fight, flight, or freeze. The instinct of self-protection is key to our survival. It’s important, and we can’t completely ignore it.

But when we carry this defensiveness into familiar situations and routines, it can create relational problems. You may have the experience of feeling defensive at work, perhaps you had a bad week and now the boss wants to talk to you- or in your close relationships, when your spouse is washing the dishes angrily and you’re wondering what you did wrong this time.

I’m sure you know the feeling of defensiveness. Your breath is shallow and tight, you start to notice the tension in your neck and chest. You may start to feel something in the pit of your stomach.

When you’re feeling defensive, your body tightens and closes up to protect you from danger. Often, people who feel defensive show it by crossing their arms and leaning back. Your thoughts and emotions close up too. Your mental focus is on analyzing possible threats and making sure you have a way out. Emotionally, you may balance your fear by getting angry or crying.

In contrast, imagine a picture of curiosity. When you’re curious, you lean forward to look. You may reach out with your hands, you may move closer. Your thoughts are open, your mental energy is exploring. Emotionally, you are prepared to discover.

Curiosity defuses closed off defensiveness. Imagine the earlier scenarios. You’re called into your boss’s office after a terrible week at work when everything seems to have gone wrong. Your spouse is angry at you and you don’t know why.

If you go into these situations defensively, you’re looking for threats. And when you look for threats, you’ll either find them or connect the dots to create them. Humans naturally look for patterns, whether they’re there or not.

It takes effort to overcome the natural sense of fight-flight-freeze when we feel like we’re in danger. And of course if you’re truly in danger, you wouldn’t want to shift to an open and curious posture. But in relationships, whether at home or at work, curiosity helps maintain your connection to the other person. You’re able to take a step back and look from the other person’s perspective. You can only empathize with them if you’re first curious about them and their needs. And you can only admit your mistakes when you’re not trying to protect yourself.

In difficult situations, like when you’re sure your boss is going to want an explanation for your bad work week, defensiveness works against you. If your boss sees you justifying poor work or blaming others for mistakes, they may not feel confident that you would be able to do things differently in the future. In contrast, if you can admit it was a down week and take responsibility for your part in the problem, your boss may develop trust that you are aware of the situation, your part, and possible solutions. Curiosity shows you’re teachable.

And when your spouse is angry, defensiveness calls up all the ways they wronged you. Defensiveness is ready to attack or blame. Curiosity recognizes that they are feeling angry and is ready to listen to their perspective. Curiosity can hear the unmet need behind the anger and is willing to work to meet it.

So how do we shift from defensiveness to curiosity? The first step is recognizing defensiveness when it comes up. Notice the physical sensations. Notice your thoughts and emotions. Then challenge those thoughts by shifting your focus to the other person. Wonder to yourself what they might be thinking or feeling. Change your physical breathing patterns. Deep breathing calms your vagus nerve. Stretch your body to break out of any tightness. Notice any tension and deliberately tighten and then relax those muscles.

This shift takes time, especially at the beginning. If you notice yourself getting defensive, take a break. Give yourself a few minutes alone to get into curiosity before going into a situation where you usually feel defensive. If you can, ask for a break. Start with easier situations before trying to get curious around a hot button issue.

What do you think of the idea of curiosity? Do you notice when you’re in a posture of defensiveness? How do you think defensiveness and curiosity have played a role in your relationships?

If you find that your relationships have been severely affected by defensiveness or you aren’t able to shift into curiosity, therapy can help. Even a few sessions of guided curiosity can help you create new patterns of relating.

What is ACT?

Curious about ACT? Check out this overview to see if it’s right for you.

ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT is a kind of cognitive therapy that works to help you live your desired life by identifying your values and aligning what you do to make sure your values come out in how you live.

ACT is best explained through a metaphor. One of my favorites is the metaphor of the backseat drivers. Imagine you’re driving a car toward the life you want to live. But fear, anxiety, sadness, grief, and all their friends are piled in your back seat talking over you and pointing you down different roads.

You can pull over, stop the car, and work on trying to get the backseat drivers out of your car. But it takes a lot of effort to get rid of them, and while you’re doing that you’re not moving forward in your life. And when you get back on the road, those backseat drivers will eventually find their way into your car again.

ACT believes that the most effective way to get to your desired life is to keep driving. Focusing on the backseat drivers only leads to a crash. And stopping to get them out of your car is a lot of effort for not much payoff. It might be difficult to learn how to tune them out, but the important part is that you keep going where you want to go, not derailing your dreams because of anxiety, not taking a different path because your low self-esteem says you don’t deserve to get what you want.

This takes effort. The first part of ACT is based in mindfulness. You need to know how to tell the difference between your unhelpful backseat driver thoughts and your core self and its desires.

Once you can separate your unhelpful thoughts, you’ll learn skills to simply observe your thoughts as they come up rather than reacting to them. Observing in the present moment is a key skill.

Then we’ll start looking at your values. Everyone has different values, but because they’re such a core part of who we are, it can be hard to recognize them and put them into words.

Finally, your values will turn into committed action. You’re probably already living out your values in some areas of your life, but we’ll look at where you need help reshaping your life. We’ll identify specific action steps for you to take to transform your life to align with your values so every day feels purposeful and meaningful.

ACT helps anyone who feels like their thoughts and emotions are out of control backseat drivers who are derailing you from living the life you want. It works well for both individuals and couples. ACT has special workbooks for anxiety, depression, couples’ issues, and even chronic pain. But like most cognitive therapies, it can be helpful even if you don’t identify with any of those categories.

If you’re interested in ACT or in learning more, text, call, or email me for a free consultation.

Therapeutic Journaling

Keeping a journal can be very beneficial for your mental health, but not all journaling gives you the benefits you’re looking for. If you want to make the most out of your writing time, try these tips to make sure your journal is a therapeutic part of your day.

Know your focus. Journaling for therapy benefits is different from simply keeping a daily diary. Dedicated therapy journals should focus on the issue you’re dealing with. If you’re trying to be more outgoing to improve your dating life, your therapy journal should focus on your thoughts, feelings, and dreams about dating as well as reminiscing about past dates, family attitudes about dating, and your ideal dating life.

Keep it secure. One of the major drawbacks of traditional journaling is that your intimate details are open to the world. Whether you lock it up, hide it away, or use a private online journal, it’s important to keep things secure. Journaling for therapy is most beneficial if you can be completely honest and get everything out, but you won’t want to do this if you’re worried about someone else getting access. Find a secure place to keep your journal so you can get the most by being the most honest.

Stay in the habit. Just like traditional therapy is most effective when you go weekly, therapeutic journaling is most beneficial when you practice often. Regular journaling is the key to noticing trends in your thoughts and emotions. This is most important if you’re using journaling to help track depression or anxiety. The more you can observe yourself and your processes that might be fueling your negative emotions, the easier it will be to learn how to interrupt those processes and overcome the cycle.

Check in with how you feel. For the most part, therapeutic journaling is highly beneficial. But if you notice yourself feeling more angry, tense, or sad after you spend time writing, you might be using your journal time wrong. If your journal is just a repeat of the negative thoughts, feelings, and experiences you had in your day, it might easily make you feel worse by the end. This is a sign you need to change up your focus. Instead of writing down why everything is the worst, use your journal space constructively to challenge your negative thoughts and reframe them to something more positive and helpful.

 

Was this helpful? Look out for future series on journaling tips just for anxiety, depression, parenting, and relationships!

Community and Vulnerability

Vulnerability- the willingness to be open, to share our weaknesses, to be honest with others- is the foundation of true, authentic, healing community.

Most people want to be part of a group where they feel fully known and accepted for who they are. Most of the time, that’s not our experience. How many times have we shared something about ourselves and had a negative reaction from others? It’s discouraging to say the least.

This often starts in childhood. Your family usually knows you the best, and when you feel like your family doesn’t accept you as you are, it’s difficult to trust others. The solution is to create a community where you can be vulnerable and seen and known and accepted and loved just as you are. The difficult part is bridging that gap.

As we try to create community, the only way to do that is to increase our vulnerability. We all have our stories we use to test the waters to see if people are safe to trust and if they will be open or rejecting.

This is where boundaries come into play. Some people, desperate for connection, overshare from the start. They want to get everything out in the open right away to create a deeper bond with a new person. Others, careful of their privacy, don’t share much if anything when they meet new people in order to protect themselves. Neither is ideal.

Appropriate levels of openness and engagement include five stages, each with an increasing amount of self-disclosure. People should only move down the stages to closer relationship as they demonstrate that they are worthy of your trust. This can be incredibly difficult, especially if you’ve been abused, abandoned, or betrayed.

  1. Strangers. These are the people you run into at the store, at church, at a party. You may know their name or recognize their face but that’s about it. The appropriate level of openness for a Stranger is called External Facts. These External Facts give and receive knowledge that is publicly available. Appropriate self-disclosure includes how you know the host if you are at a party of a mutual friend, commenting on the weather, or talking about the activity if you are at an event. You don’t have to decide if they’re safe to trust because you’re not sharing anything personal.
  2. Acquaintances. This step up from Stranger occurs when you see them enough to feel like you have a sense of their habits and way of being. Many coworkers are Acquaintances since we spend a significant amount of time around them. Even during a long conversation, a Stranger could become an Acquaintance fairly soon after meeting. Acquaintances should have a Basic Knowledge level of openness. This includes some information about your personal history including where you were raised, where you were educated, what neighborhood you live in, your current family, and any hobbies you have. As a step up from Strangers, Acquaintances don’t necessarily need to prove trustworthiness since Basic Knowledge tends not to be very private.
  3. Friends. As you continue to spend time with Acquaintances, they may become Friends, particularly if you live near each other, have hobbies in common, or have children at the same school. Friends get to a level of openness called History and Process. History refers to your own personal history, how you came to be who you are. Process refers to your current thoughts and plans, your working determination of where you are now and where you plan to be in the immediate future. These are people you share your free time with doing mutual activities. It takes the most trust to move from an Acquaintance to a Friend. These people should be able to keep your confidence and be consistent when you agree to meet up.
  4. Close Friends. Not all Friends are suitable to be Close Friends. The level of openness here is Internal Knowledge. The distinction here is that you don’t just share your activities, thoughts, and plans but also more intimate knowledge of your hopes, dreams, fears, and concerns. More than just sharing your plan to leave your job and start your own business, you also share how excited you are to have your own store and how worried you are about paying the mortgage if it doesn’t go well. Close Friends are those you can trust to hear your hopes and fears and give you support and encouragement along the way. The shift from Friends to Close Friends usually takes trust over time to develop. It often happens slowly and organically.
  5. Inner Circle. While it seems like Close Friends should be enough, it’s also good to have and Inner Circle that gets access to your Core Knowledge. Even Close Friends shouldn’t necessarily know everything about you. Ideally, your Inner Circle contains only a select few people who you can absolutely trust. That’s why this shift should be a very conscious decision on your part.

How do you relate to this list? Do you find yourself oversharing or undersharing with new people? Most importantly, how do you decide when someone is safe to trust with an increasing level of openness?

Openness and Engagement

Teresa’s Prayer

Teresa of Avila wrote a prayer that helps me refocus my negative thoughts when I’m worried about change.

Lately, I have been meditating on this prayer written by Teresa of Avila. Meditating on prayers is one of my favorite ways to refocus my mind when I’m feeling anxious or stressed. I hope it helps you in the same way.

Let nothing disturb you, let nothing upset you

Everything changes, God alone is unchanging

With patience all things are possible

Whoever has God lacks nothing

God alone is enough

When everything seems to be changing around me and I feel worried, I think it’s helpful to remember that everything changes. Change can be very stressful, and there’s a tendency to think that change is the exception and if only things could settle down we could get back to normal. But this prayer reminds me that that’s not how life works.

In therapy, I often meet with people whose goal is to always be happy, have a relationship without any conflict, or find a perfect job. If your goal is to be happy or positive all the time, that’s unrealistic. There is no perfect relationship or job that will completely fulfill you or complete you. Having negative moods or a bad day at work fan derail you, but only if you let it.

Part of the goal of therapy is to build resilience. Given that change is constant and nothing will be perfect, how can you develop the mental skills to handle the ups and downs of life?

The stories we tell ourselves shape the way we perceive and react to the world. If your mental narrative tells you that you need to always be happy all the time in order to be okay, you’ll be consistently on the lookout for negative thoughts and emotions and it will ruin your day and your self-image. And a consistent focus on your negative thoughts can create a downward spiral that sucks you down into depression.

If this sounds familiar to you, consider meditating on this prayer to help break the negative thought cycle and get you back to a healthier narrative.

When things change, remember the times you overcame difficulty in the past, all the times change brought you a positive result, and how you made it through negative changes through your own strength and help from others.

Then ask yourself this question: What if everything works out well?

 

About Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are common. Learn about the three types of anxiety and the best ways to treat them in this introductory post.

Anxiety

Along with depression, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent of all mental health problems. The majority of people, sometimes estimated as high as 80%, will experience clinically significant anxiety during their lifetimes.

What Causes Anxiety?
There are a number of possible causes for anxiety. The three general categories are environmental, biological, and psychological. A serious anxiety disorder may involve one source or several. Different treatments will be more or less effective depending on the reason for your anxiety. Talking with a therapist about your anxiety can help you identify the reason for your anxiety and how it can be treated.

Environmental anxiety comes up when you are in a stressful situation. Outside stressors from your personal life, work, school, or home can result in clinically significant anxiety. When you deal with the stress, either by managing the situation or increasing your coping skills, the anxiety usually diminishes or goes away. Therapy can help you find ways to manage your environment to reduce stress. A therapist can also help you develop skills to increase your internal resilience to stressful situations that you can’t control and come up with things you can do to manage your feelings of anxiety in those situations.

Biological anxiety is caused by neurochemical imbalances in your brain that result in you feeling anxious even though there is no apparent reason for the feeling. These imbalances can happen for a number of reasons, and they can be treated by re-balancing your neurotransmitters through medication. There are several different kinds of medications that can be effective, and your doctor or psychiatrist can walk you
through your options. You may also benefit from therapy even with medication because when you experience anxiety, you can learn negative thought patterns that may continue even on medication.

Psychological anxiety is the result of your thought patterns. When you focus on anxiety-provoking thoughts, you begin to feel anxious. The feeling of anxiety reinforces the negative thought patterns which results in feeling even more anxiety. This kind of anxiety is treated best with therapy, though you may need medication to help break the cycle of negative thoughts before therapy is effective. Therapy can help you change the way you think to help you feel better.

Any questions about anxiety you want answered by a therapist? Leave a comment below or send a message and we may feature your question in a future post.