Here’s how I know you’re not “weak.”

There’s a myth that people who “need” therapy or who are interested in self help (or “personal growth,” “personal transformation,” insert whatever the currently fashionable synonym is for “self help”) are somehow “weak.” 

The myth says that these people reach out for professional help or read books or attend seminars about how to improve their lives because there’s something “wrong” with them. 

My experience is exactly the opposite. 

In my experience, the vast majority of people who seek therapy (especially the kind of treatment that I specialize in, working with complex trauma and dissociative disorders) are exceptionally strong. 

I say “exceptionally” strong because that’s precisely what I mean: they’ve HAD to be stronger than most of the people around them. 

They’ve HAD to be stronger, in fact, than most people will ever really know. 

A lot of people don’t seem to appreciate what it takes to grow up in an abusive or neglectful environment. 

Which is ironic, because growing up in an abusive or neglectful environment is actually a lot more common than many people think. 

A lot more people around you are traumatized than you’ll ever know. 

Why won’t you know? Because people who have been traumatized learn to keep it to themselves. 

We learn, over time, that nobody wants to hear about our pain. 

We learn, over time, that advertising our woundedness can sometimes make us vulnerable. 

We learn, over time, that people are uncomfortable hearing about what we went through and how it affected us. 

So: we learn to keep it under wraps. 

Do you realize how difficult it is to function out in the world, when you’re keeping a significant chunk of your life experience in the closet like that? 

(If you’re reading this, chances are you DO know something about this.) 

As a result, people who have struggled have HAD to learn to be strong. 

We develop defenses. 

Sometimes those defenses work well, sometimes they don’t— and a lot of times, our defenses outlive their usefulness over time, and end up creating more problems than they solve for us. 

But the point is: to even get up and function in life, when you’re secretly carrying the kind of burdens a lot of people out there, carry, takes strength. 

It’s almost a miracle that so many people are able to do it.

So, no: I don’t think people who seek therapy are weak. 

I think many people seek therapy because they’ve HAD to be strong for so long…that eventually, something has to give. 

When you drive a car for years, and you max out the engine and drive it over rough terrain and overload its weight capacity and subject it to the kind of pressures that it wasn’t designed for— eventually that car’s going to need service. 

So you take it into the shop. 

And the mechanic will tell you the kinds of things that are wrong with the car— and they’ll give you a list of things that will need to be done not only to fix the car, but to keep it it in good working order once it’s back on the road. 

That’s what therapy and self-help do. 

There is not a car out there that will NEVER need to go into the shop. 

Likewise, there is not a survivor of trauma out there— or depression, or anxiety, or addiction— who will not at some point need the support of therapy or self-help resources. 

There’s no shame in it. 

There’s no connotation of weakness. 

In fact, the it’s a testament to how strong you are that you took the car into the shop when you needed to, instead of continuing to wear it down. 

Accept that you’ve been strong. 

Accept that you’ve HAD to be strong. 

Give yourself credit. 

And give yourself the gift of the resources and support that you need to get back out there on the road. 

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The boring truth about how I lost 100 pounds.

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The way I lost 100 pounds worked for me. There’s no guarantee it’d work for you— or for anyone else, really. 

That’s one of the big problems I have with the way many self-help teachers advertise: even though many of them have inspiring stories, they have a tendency to broadcast that the way THEY overcame THEIR obstacles will work for EVERYONE. 

Then they charge you for the scoop on how THEY did it. 

I’m a bad self-help guru, because giving it to you free on a blog post— but I’m also being realistic about the fact that may way may or may not resonate with you. 

(I’m also being realistic about the fact that I’m not a nutritionist, dietitian, or otherwise qualified to tell anybody what to eat. I’m writing from the point of view of an authority on behavior change ONLY.)

There wasn’t any magic to it. 

I adhered to a calorie budget designed for me by an app (MyFitnessPal). 

For well over a year, I adhered to that calorie budget every day. No days off, no “cheat” days. 

(Eventually, after hitting and maintaining my goal weight for the better part of another year, I did allow myself the odd cheat meal– but even now, after logging into the app for well over 1,000 consecutive days, I follow its calorie recommendations between 5 and 7 days a week.)

I chose to monitor just that one variable— calories in and calories out— instead of macros or the composition of my diet, because I knew that it was very likely that if I tried to monitor/restrict more than one variable, I’d get overwhelmed and use that as an excuse to quit. 

All of that was important— but to me, the most important step was this: 

Every single day, at the end of the day, I’d take a screen shot of my food and exercise log, and texted it to a good friend who had agreed to be my accountability buddy for this project. 

She wasn’t there to shame or chastise me if I had a rough day with it. Nor was she necessarily there to encourage or reward me for having a good day. 

She was just there as an extra set of eyes on my project, so it existed somewhere other than in my head. 

That’s it. That’s the entire story. 

I did that for a period of about two years or so before settling in at my current weight, which hovers about a hundred pounds below where my highest weight was. 

See, this is the reason why my approach to behavior change is so straightforward. 

This is why I’m constantly banging on about habits and patterns over time instead of INSTANT insight and LIGHTBULB moments. 

I believe that the simple things we do every day, matter. 

i believe accountability matters. 

I believe self-kindness and self-compassion, matters. 

I believe what we choose to submit to, matters. 

In my case, I had to come to terms that there was no way I was losing this weight without learning to submit to a calorie budget. 

I had to come to terms with the fact that I needed pair of eyes on this project that were not mine. 

I had to come to terms with the fact that I needed an app to tell me how many calories I needed to consume to lose weight, instead of relying on my own instinct about what felt “right” to eat. 

None of that was easy. 

But over time, I got used to it. 

We get used to changes we choose to make, in the service of goals we find important. 

I wish there was some flashy, sexy behavior change trick that I could tell you would make all the difference in the world when you’re trying to make a change. 

But there isn’t. 

For me, it was math, an app, and a friend. 

The most effective solutions are very often the simplest. 

 

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Trauma and hope.

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People who don’t know your story, will expect you to behave as if you did not endure the things you have endured. 

For that matter, most people will pretty much expect you to behave as if your story, was their story. 

People who have not experienced abuse, often do not take into account the impact of abuse on others’ thoughts, feelings, and behavior. 

Often they do not know or appreciate the impact of living with reality-based fear and anxiety over a period of years. 

They’ll often expect you to “get over it” or “not be so dramatic” when your post traumatic responses kick in. 

Sometimes they will be impatient or dismissive or your responses or symptoms. 

All of which is frustrating, insofar as most people who suffer from the aftereffects of abuse or trauma would love NOTHING MORE than to not be so affected by it. 

They would love NOTHING MORE than to be able to “not be so dramatic.’ 

They would love NOTHING MORE than to “just get over it.” 

But, as trauma survivors, we do not have that straightforward option— to just behave as if we are not trauma survivors. 

Consequently, we must learn to live in a world that often does not understand us, our reactions, or our needs. 

This can feel lonely. 

This can even feel hopeless. 

There is a reason why self-harm and suicidal ideation are such common symptoms of severe post traumatic disorders: because post traumatic difficulties are very often among the most alienating difficulties humans can struggle with. 

It’s hard to endure post traumatic symptoms, while at the same time being misunderstood and often rejected by the world around us…and still look to the future with any kind of hope. 

Why am I writing about any of this? 
Because you, reading this, need to know that you are not alone. 

You, reading this, need to know that you are not the first or the only person to experience what you’re experiencing. 

You, reading this, need to know that there ARE things that you can do and things that can happen that will increase the quality of your life and decrease the intensity of your symptoms. 

Recovery from post traumatic difficulties is possible. We have science and we have experiences that bear that out. 

But I’m writing this because I know full well that a lot of people struggle, a lot, to believe that. 

It’s true that you might have a set of specific experiences that I do not know about, or that nobody else has EXACTLY experienced before. 

I’m not in any way saying that I, or anyone, knows EXACTLY what you’re going through or EXACTLY what you’ve endured. 

What I am saying is that there absolutely ARE people who have endured absolutely HELLISH traumatic experiences…who have not only survived, but gone on to recover and thrive. 

I am in no way saying it is easy. I am in no way minimizing the struggle. I am in no way dismissing the pain that you, specifically, have had to face. 

But I absolutely believe that there is a way out of the pain for everybody reading this…that does not involve hurting oneself or anyone else. 

If you haven’t found the right supports yet, if you haven’t found the right program yet, if you haven’t found the right tools and skills yet…please keep looking. 

I have a lot of experience in this area— starting with my own recovery. 

I would not put this assertion out into the world unless I believed it to be true. 

You can recover. 

You can live. 

You can wholly transform the way you feel and function. 

Please keep trying. 

 

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You are not your job.

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There seems to be a pervasive emphasis in our culture on making your job your main source of life satisfaction. 

Our cultural mythos is full of people who became “successful” by either landing or creating their “dream job.” 

When we think of people we consider “successful,” we very often think of people who are awesome at and highly paid for their job. 

The self help movement in Western culture in particular has really pushed this idea. 

Very often self-help gurus prominently push the idea that, if you adopt their philosophies and use their tools, you’ll experience a renaissance in your professional life— you’ll earn a lot more money, get a lot better at your job, or maybe even leave an unfulfilling job in favor of a new job or career that you DO find fulfilling. 

Conversely, we very often feel we are a failure if we are not working our “dream job.” 

It seems we often assume that if we’re working a job we don’t love, mostly to pay the bills, it’s because we lack the creativity or initiative to really “live our dreams.” 

A large subset of people look at their professional life, and they feel that they’ve somehow wasted the potential they once had because they didn’t get to be an astronaut or a movie star or the CEO of a company. 

I’m all for people working jobs they enjoy. I’m all for taking steps to improve your level of happiness and satisfaction at your job. 

But I also think we very much overestimate and overstate the importance of finding that “dream” job or career. 

I understand that for many people, our job consumes an overwhelming amount of time and attention. OF COURSE it makes sense to do everything we can to find ourselves in a job we enjoy, and which we feel makes a difference. 

The truth, however, is that your job doesn’t need to be the main source of your happiness or life satisfaction. 

For some people, their job will NEVER be their main source of happiness or life satisfaction— and that’s okay. 

There are people whose interests and passions are incompatible with making a living. 

There are people who are not built to do the things they’d need to do to earn a lot of money— not because they lack character or intelligence, but because the way our economic reality is structured just doesn’t fit wit who they are. 

For these people, this relentless focus on finding a “dream job” or somehow earning a fortune from their passions or interests can be incredibly alienating. 

Furthermore, the world cannot sustain every human being achieving their “dream career,” insofar as we NEED people to work all sorts of jobs that very few people would consider ideal. 

Every time I talk about this, I get people pushing back at me because a lot of people hate their jobs, and they seem to think I’m saying you shouldn’t try to change it if you do hate your job. 

I’m not saying that. I am emphatically for trying to be as happy and satisfied as possible in every domain in your life. 

What I am saying is, don’t lock yourself into imagining that your job HAS to be the centerpiece of your happiness— or even the centerpiece of your life. 

We all know some people who are unhappy specifically BECAUSE their job is the centerpiece of their happiness— or lack thereof. 

A job is something you do to pay the bills. Yes, it can be more than that— but you are not a failure if you haven’t managed to find or create that “dream career.” 

Focus on what you need out of life— regardless of what you do for a living. 

Focus on the feelings and experiences you want to create and feel on the regular— and if your professional life can facilitate those, great!

If your job cannot or does not facilitate your preferred feelings and experiences, don’t panic— and don’t get down on yourself for failing to “succeed” professionally. 

There’s a lot more to life than what you do for a living. 

Take care to create and nurture sources of happiness that do not depend on your professional life. 

Remember who you are independent of your salary or your work performance. 

 

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Figuring out self-sabotage.

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Self-sabotage is extremely common, and it happens for a number of reasons. 

One of the most common reasons we self-sabotage is, we have mixed— or even negative— feelings about the goal we’re pursuing. 

Sometimes we feel intimidated by a goal. We think that doing the things we’d need to do to achieve that goal will involve more pain or hassle than we want in our lives. 

Sometimes we feel that if we actually achieve a goal, it’ll turn out to be an ultimately negative thing. 

People who have a “fear of success” often feel this way. They think that if they actually succeed, it might change them or their lives in ways they don’t actually want. 

Sometimes we self-sabotage because a goal wasn’t something we actually wanted in the first place. It was a goal picked FOR us by somebody else. 

You see this a lot with people whose parents or families have strong feelings about what they should do with their lives. 

Sometimes we self-sabotage because we haven’t sufficiently listened to ourselves or paid attention our needs. 

If we are denying or ignoring some of our basic needs in the pursuit of a goal, those needs won’t just stay quiet. 

Rather, they’ll get our attention via any means necessary— including sabotaging our attempts to achieve our goals. 

Sometimes we self-sabotage because we don’t believe we deserve a goal. 

We imagine achieving a goal, and we feel like a fraud or an imposter— and our brains don’t want us to have to deal with those feelings. 

So they throw a wrench into our plans. 

Sometimes we self-sabotage because we like the process of working toward our goal much better than the idea of actually achieving that goal. 

We worry that if we achieve a goal, we’ll be without the process that has given our life structure and meaning— and who needs that? 

There are lots of reasons why we might get in our own way when working toward a goal. 

If we’re really going to address our own self-sabotage, we need to understand it— and that means observing our own behavior and listening to our own feelings and needs, without judgment. 

Goal achievement is VERY much wrapped up in judgement. 

From a very young age, we are told that in order to be “worthy,” we need to be working toward certain goals (very often specific goals that other people choose FOR us). 

If we don’t work “hard” enough, we judge ourselves (or other people judge us) to be lazy or incompetent. 

It’s a recipe for self-hatred and demotivation. 

We need to separate our self-worth from our life goals. 

You can go your entire life without achieving one meaningful goal, and still have worth. 

Goal achievement does have to do with happiness and fulfillment— but not basic worth. 

You are worthy whether or not you achieve goals easily. 

You do not have to be a high achiever to be deserving of happiness and respect. 

We need to rethink how we set goals. Setting goals is not about proving our worth. 

Setting goals CAN be about creating lives that are interesting and feel good. 

But only if we move away from the myth that goal achievement equals worth. 

Pay attention to how you’re thinking about your life goals. 

When you get in your own way, pay attention to that too. 

If we observe ourselves and our behavior with enough patience and compassion, we WILL figure out what’s going on. 

 

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Reclaiming your focus.

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Most of what I do with people is aimed at putting them back in control of their own experience. 

A lot of what the world does to us, is make us feel like we can’t control anything. 

For much of our lives, especially much of our early lives, we are forced to focus where other people want us to focus. 

In school, we are forced to focus on what the teachers want us to focus on. We get in trouble if we don’t. 

At work, we are forced to focus on what our employers want us to focus on. If we don’t we get fired. 

I’m not saying that every time someone has an expectation about our focus, it’s necessarily bad. 

ButI do think that, over time, we get used to not choosing our focus. 

We stop trying to control our focus, because we’ve had so many experiences of our focus being determined by other people. 

Even in social situations, there is strong pressure to focus on the people and issues that are the most popular and pressing within our group. 

Those who do not want to focus on those people and issues face criticism and ostracism. 

So after awhile, we just get used to surrendering our focus, and letting other people decide our focus for us. 

Then, when we wind up depressed, anxious, or addicted, we get criticism from others for not having taken enough initiative in deciding our own focus. 

This is especially a problem with people who suffer from depression. 

Very often, the world responds to depressed people by telling them to just shift their focus, and they’ll be happier. 

When they have difficulty shifting their focus, they are shamed and blamed for feeling the way they do. 

This is after DECADES of being shamed and blamed for NOT focusing where other people want us to focus. 

The good news is, we can take our focus back. 

We don’t have COMPLETE control over our focus— but we can develop increasingly MORE control over it. 

It takes practice and the willingness to go against old programming (specifically, the programming that says to choose our own focus is selfish and futile). 

But we CAN get better at directing our focus. 

We CAN direct our focus in such a way that life seems more livable. 

We CAN create a world inside our heads and hearts that we actually LIKE and VALUE living. 

The thing we have to come to terms with, is the fact that he world sends us overwhelmingly mixed messages about choosing our focus.

We get penalized for NOT focusing where other people want us to focus. 

Then we get criticized for directing our focus in such a way that exacerbates feelings of depression, anxiety, or loneliness. 

Eventually we need to come to a realization that WE are in charge of the world inside our heads and hearts. 

Other people may not like it— but they don’t get a vote in how we direct our focus or interpret the world.

They will try to bully their way into your head and heart.

But you don’t have to let them. 

The world inside your head and heart is yours. 

Reclaim it step by manageable, realistic step. 

 

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I assure you: you can’t do “anything.”

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The self-help world is full of terrible, dumb advice. 

“Anything the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve!” 

“If I can do it, you can do it!” 

A lot of self-help slogans are designed to make you feel better…but aren’t actually based on anything substantive, like science or clinical experience. 

It is NOT the case that you can “do anything.” 

It is NOT the case that whatever someone else can do, you can do also. 

That’s not because you’re somehow broken or unusually limited; it’s because you just can’t make blanket statements like this about human nature. 

I can do things you can’t do. 

You can do things that I can’t do. 

And we can ALL imagine things that NONE of us can do. 

For example: I can IMAGINE a world in which we all just feel awesome, all of the time— without having to learn and practice coping skills and emotional management tools. 

Will that ever be the reality? No. No it will not. 

In order to feel good or feel better, we need to develop skills and acquire tools. 

Most of the time it’s not particularly easy to develop skills and acquire tools. 

Much of the time it’s a slow, frustrating, trial-and-error process— which we often have to undertake while STILL experiencing symptoms. 

Our minds can “conceive” of LOTS of things that don’t actually work in the real world— whether or not we work ourselves into “believing” it. 

Why is it reasonable to assume that we can do “anything” someone else can do? 

Other people have different genetic advantages and vulnerabilities than we do. 

Other people have had different developmental experiences. 

I may be able to do a lot— but I’ll never run a marathon at the same pace as an Olympic champion. 

And still: self-help INSISTS on cramming such “can do” nonsense down our throats at every opportunity. 

Why? 

Because it sells. 

People WANT to believe that they are actually “limitless” beings. 

People WANT to believe that, through a mysterious Law of Attraction, they can carve the life they want literally out of thin air. 

I’m actually a big fan of positive thinking generally. I do think— and the science supports— that there IS a relationship between optimism and results. 

I DO think that what we visualize and what we believe can have a PROFOUND impact on our results. 

But that DOESN’T mean we should buy into a world where “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!” 

No. “Anything” is not possible. 

And that’s okay. 

We don’t need to live in that world where we can “do, have, or be ANYTHING” in order to create a life of meaning and satisfaction. 

We don’t need to delude ourselves with simplistic self-help pseudoscience in order to take advantage of what we really DO know about making our lives better and achieving our goals. 

When you’re looking into self-help resources, please: be aware of and realistic about the outsized promises self-help teachers sometimes make in order to sell their products and services. 

I strongly believe in a world where people CAN help and improve themselves through books and seminars and courses and the mentorship of teachers, guides, and even gurus. 

But I also strongly believe self-help can do better. 

 

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Kickstart your way out of denial.

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If we’re not careful, we will get obsessed with mistakes we’ve made in the past. 

It’s not that we want to get stuck on those mistakes. 

It’s not even that we think, rationally, that we can go back and do things over. We know we can’t. 

Yet…when we think about the past, we struggle to accept that it actually happened. 

We struggle to accept that we made the decisions we did. 

We struggle to accept that the people in our lives responded as they did. 

And we get paralyzed. 

In the front of our minds we may “know” we need to move forward— but emotionally, we just can’t seem to move on. 

In the back of our minds, we hold on to the hope that somehow, someway, we can “correct” the thing that went wrong. 

We think that if we just REFUSE to accept that reality was what it was and happened like it did, that we can somehow will it out of existence. 

The truth is, moving on is tougher than we think. 

When someone tells us to just “move on,” they assume that moving on is something that should be obvious how to do, or easy to do. 

It is neither. 

How do we accept that we were abused or neglected by the people who were supposed to love and support us the most? 

How do we accept that we let opportunities and relationships slip through our fingers— and they’re gone forever? 

If you look around, you’ll see many people actively refusing to accept that reality is as it is. 

You’ll see plenty of people pretending that what happened, didn’t. 

You’ll see plenty of people trying to behave as if the world is fundamentally the same as it was before whatever happened, happened. 

As long as we continue to deny and disown reality, we can’t really grow emotionally. 

We can’t really be free. We can’t really create the life we want to create. 

So we need to get curious about what skills and tools are necessary to really accept that what happened, happened. 

First thing’s first: we need to be able to handle the emotions that come with acceptance. 

Many people refuse to accept reality because they don’t think they can handle the feelings that will come with it. 

Identifying and coping with feelings such as anger and grief require tools and skills such as containment, self-nurturing, verbalization, and trauma processing. 

They can be learned, and they can be used— but they don’t get learned and used by accident. 

We have to set out with the intention to learn and use the appropriate skills. 

Moving on also requires us to use the cognitive skills of reality testing, reframing, and shifting to task-oriented cognitions. 

Often we need to use the skill of behavior activation to get out of a slump and back into our lives. 

Why is any of this important? 

Because you NEED to know that you don’t have to stay stuck. 

You don’t have to deny reality. 

No matter how upsetting what happened was, you CAN learn and use the proper skills to deal with it. 

And in so doing, you can kickstart your way out of denial. 

Which is the only real path to genuine growth and lasting happiness. 

 

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Mentally, we are what we watch.

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Our brains respond to what we expose ourselves to. 

That sounds simple, obvious. But we often seem to forget it. 

Our brains respond to the pictures we put in front of our eyes. That is to say, what we watch. 

We often like to think that we can watch violent or sad or infuriating things, with no emotional repercussions— that we’re sufficiently “tough” that our entertainment choices don’t affect us. 

We need to keep in mind that television and movies did not exist when our nervous systems were evolving. 

As organisms, we are ill-equipped to meaningfully distinguish between things that are seen on a television or movie screen, and things we see right in front of our eyes. 

When we’re children, we’re VERY responsive to things we see on TV and in movies. Our parents and caretakers often have to remind us that what we’re seeing is “just a movie,” and we have to be shown that the actors involved survived to make other movies. 

That’s a distinction understand with our cerebral cortex— the part of our brain responsible for higher-order thinking and reasoning. 

That top/front part of our brain gets that “it’s just a movie.” 

But our limbic system— the deeper, lower part of our brain, which doesn’t really communicate with language and doesn’t really respond to well-reasoned argument— continues to respond to things we see as if they were real. 

This is why, even though we know it’s “just a movie,” we still get sad at sad movies, we still get an adrenaline rush while watching action movies, we still hate the bad guys on the screen, and we still root for the heroes of the story. 

It makes no sense to assume that we can repeatedly expose ourselves to sad, violent, infuriating, or otherwise negatively activating entertainment, day in and day out, and remain unaffected. 

Of course it’s “just a movie” or “just a show.” 

But does every part of you know that? 

When we close our eyes, the images we see are highly dependent upon the images we’ve seen. 

When we go to sleep, our brain has to somehow make sense of everything we’ve seen and experienced during the day. 

When we’ve fed ourselves a steady diet of violent or activating entertainment, our limbic systems are working overtime to sort out what we’re “allowed” to react to emotionally— and what emotions and reactions we need to keep “bottled up,” because we’re not “supposed to” react. 

Why is any of this relevant? People like the entertainment they like. 

It’s relevant when we’re trying to heal emotionally. 

When we’re trying to return to a sense of normalcy after trauma. 

When we’re trying to regain emotional equilibrium on the other side of depression. 

When we’re trying to convince our anxious brain that we are effectively safe. 

It’s not that we can NEVER distinguish between real life and violent or depressing entertainment. 

It’s that in exposing ourselves to a steady diet of violence or powerfully negative images and stories, we are asking our brains to work overtime. 

And when we are in recovery, our brains already have a lot to do in just helping us function every day. 

Does this mean we can NEVER expose ourselves to potentially triggering entertainment if we want to be happy and stable? 

Not necessarily. Everybody’s going to have a slightly different tolerance for violent or otherwise heavy entertainment. 

The point is: pay attention. 

Maybe consider mixing up the kind of entertainment you expose yourself to. 

Maybe consider putting some limits on things that could be triggering. 

As usual, there’s no “one size fits all” fix to this issue. Everybody needs to take responsibility for what works for them. 

All I know is that, especially in the early stages of recovery, I strongly encourage my patients and clients to devote serious thought to what they are putting in front of their eyes every day. 

Emotionally, we are what we watch, what we read, what we expose ourselves to. 

Make good choices. 

 

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The Doc’s Quick Guide to Anxiety Management.

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Philosophy and theory are nice. 

But when it comes to managing anxiety, skills and tools are better. 

Any effective strategy for managing anxiety includes at least three components: acceptance, mental focus, and physiology. 

There are various skills and tools we can use to address each component— but each component needs to be addressed if we’re going to make a dent in our anxiety. 

An anxiety management strategy that DOESN’T address one of those components will be incomplete. It might work for a minute— but it won’t ultimately be as effective as we need it to be. 

Acceptance means acknowledging the problem of anxiety— and the specific level and kind of anxiety we’re experiencing at the moment. 

We can’t manage what we don’t accept is happening. We really can’t. 

A lot of people think they’re going to skip this component. They find anxiety so unpleasant and overwhelming that they resist acknowledging that it’s exactly as bad as it is. 

(We’ve all known someone who is clearly melting down and overwhelmingly anxious— but who stubbornly insists they are “JUST FINE.”)

Denial is not an anxiety management strategy. It’s a very effective anxiety exacerbation strategy, though. 

Once we’ve accepted that we’re anxious, and it’s exactly as bad as it is, then we can get on to effectively managing it. 

Mental focus involves becoming aware of the story in our heads that is fueling the anxiety. 

We don’t develop anxiety in a vacuum. Anxiety arises in response to our thoughts— usually our thoughts about things that are outside of our control. 

What often happens is, an external event will trigger a well-rehearsed “story” that we often tell ourselves— and we tumble down the anxiety rabbit hole as a result. 

In order to effectively manage our anxiety, we need to shift our mental focus, somehow, some way. 

There are lots of tools and skills we can use to shift our mental focus— containment, distraction, music, self-talk, internal communication, poetry, quotes, visualization. The list goes on and on. 

The important thing is that we get something new and different in front of our mind’s eye than the mental “story” that triggered our anxiety. 

We cannot manage our anxiety without shifting our mental focus. 

Physiology is the state of our physical body. Our posture, breathing, muscle tension, heart rate— anything going on that involves your body (as opposed what’s happening in your mind). 

It’s hard to mange your anxiety if you’re holding on to anxious physiology. 

It’s not at all easy to relax your muscles, slow your breathing, or straighten your posture while you’re in a state of anxiety— but if you really want to change that anxiety, you’re going to have to address that physiology. 

With practice those three components— acceptance, mental focus, and physiology— can all be addressed in a short period of time. 

At first, the temptation is to get “stuck” on one of the components— but, over time, we can get into the habit of going through our mental checklist and making quick adjustments to each component. 

There are anxiety management strategies that focus on each of those components. Cognitive therapy, for example, addresses mental focus. Progressive relaxation and medication address physiology. The mindfulness tools of Dialectical Behavior Therapy addresses acceptance. 

Any long-term strategy for handling anxiety, however, NEEDS to address all three components. 

Anxiety management can be learned. It can be practiced, and you WILL get better at it. 

That said: anxiety is no fun, and managing it isn’t easy under the best of circumstances. 

Be patient with yourself. Give yourself time to experiment with the strategies that work for you. 

And don’t give up. 

You’ve come too far. 

 

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