"I just feel like I'm battling impostor syndrome all the time."
"This project is proving I can do this job, so any little mistake feels like I'm not capable."
"It's like I've had the wind knocked out of me."
All quotes from my female clients in the last week about work. The self-doubt and insecurity is stunting.
It's not a problem unique to women, but perhaps faced by women more often than men. Am I faking it? Do I really know what I'm doing? Am I not getting a promotion because I'm a woman? Will I get fired if I mess this up? Shouldn't I be more confident in myself?
It's easy to feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and insecure. Unchecked, these thoughts of inadequacy and insecurity turn into anxiety. Suddenly every task feels daunting, there's no way to get started, and the world feels heavy and scary.
Working with a trusted professional therapist can help remove these roadblocks, empowering you to move forward with confidence and ease.
This first in a multi-part series exploring the types of therapy I practice.
I've been a big believer in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) since studying it in graduate school. The simple premise behind CBT is that your thoughts influence your feelings, which influence your behavior. Understanding this pattern allow you to change it, right at the core.
Say you're in a meeting with your boss and she's not saying much. 'Is she annoyed with me?' you think. 'Maybe what I'm saying is totally off base.' These thoughts might make you anxious and start second guessing everything you're saying. These emotion-filled thoughts are called automatic thoughts, and they pop up based on beliefs about ourselves and the way the world works. Instead of automatically thinking your boss was annoyed, wondering if your boss was tired or preoccupied may change how you behave.
Automatic thoughts rely on perceptions about yourself and others called core beliefs. Core beliefs are developed from childhood experiences, cultural influences, your environment and more. Common core beliefs often follow themes of abandonment, un-lovability, defectiveness, helplessness, and entitlement.
I have to be in control to be ok.
If I don't succeed, I am worthless.
It's not ok to ask for help.
I'm bound to be rejected.
Challenging these automatic thoughts is the key to accessing and changing these core beliefs. Asking yourself questions like "Am I jumping to conclusions?" or "Am I condemning myself as a total person based on a single event?" or "Am I using all-or-nothing thinking?" can help challenge these thoughts.
Noticing these automatic thoughts and changing them to a more realistic view can relieve distress. Changing the thought pattern from 'My boss is thinks I've done a terrible job; I'm worthless' to 'She's had a busy day and isn't saying much; Can I ask for feedback?' will change your behavior.
CBT is effective in treating:
- alcohol use and abuse
- substance abuse
- chronic pain
- chronic fatigue
- eating problems
- health problems
- relationship problems
- sleep problems
It's a short-term, problem-focused therapy that aims to systematically change the way you think about yourself and the world.
It's only been out for days, but Pokemon Go is taking the world by storm. The app-based game combines the virtual world with the real world by tasking players to hunt Pokemon in the real world.
Intended or not, players are getting out and about, what researchers have proven to be effective in treatment of depression.
It's a great step in the gaming world, connecting the virtual and real worlds to encourage movement and socialization.
Self-compassion, where one extends compassion to themselves in instances of struggle, failure, or inadequacy, can be a tremendous therapeutic tool. Instead of ignoring or piling on to pain, it's reminding yourself how difficult this is right now, and asking yourself what you can do to comfort yourself.
Dr. Kristin Neff, the leading researcher of self-compassion, has identified three key components to self-compassion:
- self-kindness - being warm and kind toward yourself in times of personal failings instead of critical and judgmental.
- common humanity - recognizing that we all make mistakes. Suffering is part of the human experience.
- mindfulness - a non-judgmental, receptive mind state that allows you to have a more balanced approach to emotions
The more you open your heart to disappointments, frustrations, personal failings, and imperfections, the kinder you are to yourself and others.
In the therapy room, I use self-compassion on client's who are intensely critical of themselves. I often ask questions like, "How can you be kinder to yourself?" or "What would you say to a friend who was experiencing the same thing?" I'm aiming to pull the client out of their destructive thinking cycle and introduce a more compassionate and kinder way of thinking.
Test it out for yourself. Take the quiz to see how self-compassionate you are.
The review found women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety, and the highest proportion of people with anxiety was in North America.
"Our study helps to clarify and shed light on the following important issue: Anxiety is common not only in people with serious chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, but it frequently develops in healthy, young people," says lead researcher Olivia Remes. "Once it develops, it can lead to a host of negative outcomes. Anxiety can develop in anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or race, and it affects populations around the world."
Incorporating mindfulness into your daily life doesn't have to take much time. This simple exercise takes less than 5 minutes and provides an opportunity for reflection, something we often forget to do.
In a journal, reflect on the following:
G: Write one thing you're grateful for. It could be basic, like the shoes on your feet or the bed you can sleep on, or it can be a meaningful relationship in your life.
I'm grateful for my dog, as she provides me entertainment and company.
L: Write one thing you learned today. It can be something you learned about yourself, about how you relate to the world, or a new skill or piece of information you discovered.
I learned I do my best work when my office is in order.
A: Write one thing you accomplished today. This is a small accomplishment (unless you have a big one to celebrate), but is a simple reminder of the things you do every day.
- getting out of bed
- getting enough sleep
- paying all my bills on time
- making it to work on time
- completed all my domestic chores
D: Write one thing that delighted you today. These are things that made you smile or laugh, things that entertained you, or simply made you happy.
I was delighted by the Youtube video I watched today, which made me laugh.
Set yourself a reminder and practice this exercise everyday for a week. Notice how you feel during and after this exercise.
A recent survey from CareerCast, a job-hunting website, finds unpredictability is the greatest cause of workplace stress in America.
"But that pervasive sense of insecurity comes in many forms, ranging from employees being tasked with new duties and sudden staff changes to unexpected shifts in company priorities. Other sources of stress that ranked nearly as high as unpredictability included workplace environment (21 percent) and deadlines (20 percent).
Among the professions that found unpredictability to be the biggest source of stress were those in academia (40 percent), engineering (33 percent) and customer service (30 percent), while only 15 percent of transportation workers found unpredictability to be a stress factor at work."
Managing stress in the workplace is difficult, but possible. Surrounding yourself with positive people, focusing on your accomplishments, and looking for opportunities to learn can improve your experience.
A brilliant post about anxiety from the Human of New York:
“I knew a girl in high school that always complained about having anxiety. I used to make fun of her a little bit. It looked like nothing to me. So I assumed it was nothing. And I dealt with it by trying to convince her that it was nothing. I called her recently to apologize. I’ve had really bad anxiety ever since my father died. And it’s definitely not nothing. It’s the indescribable fear of nothing.”
Knowing when to ask for help a brave and courageous step. How do you know when or if you need therapy?
We all experience a range of emotions, from happiness and excitement, to grief and stress, and none of this is necessarily problematic. However, if your emotions feel out of control or unmanageable, it's time to seek help from a psychotherapist.
If you struggle with regular eating, hear voices, or have difficulty sleeping through the night, it's time to seek help.
If your relationships are suffering, be it a parent/child relationship, spousal relationship, friendship, etc., it's time to seek help.
If you find yourself using (and/or abusing) substances to cope with unwanted feelings, it's time to seek help.
If you no longer find pleasure from activities you used to enjoy, it's time to seek help.
If a friend, family member, or loved one suggests you need help, it's time to seek help.
A trusted relationship with a mental health counselor can drastically improve your life.
"I just don't want to feel like this anymore," I remember saying to my therapist. I was anxious and sad and didn't know what to do about it, but knew I didn't want to feel that way anymore. I was fed up.
What I didn't know then was that I was experiencing distress intolerance. We often feel uncomfortable. There are times we're too hot, too cold, have achy or sore muscles. The type of discomfort I'm talking about is emotional discomfort - feeling sad, ashamed, disappointed, etc. Some find they're able to ride out difficult emotions, but for others, they "can't bear," or "must get rid" of these difficult feelings. This desperate need to escape emotional distress has a compounding impact, often interfering with other areas of one's life.
It makes sense to move away from things that feel unpleasant but for emotional distress, it often causes more problems than it solves. Often people intolerant of distress use the following tactics:
Avoidance. Avoiding people, places, or things that trigger an emotional response. Distracting and suppressing the emotion.
Numbing and withdrawing. Using drugs or alcohol to numb the emotional pain. Binge eating or excessive sleep to withdraw from others.
Harmful releases. Taking the distress out on ourselves, including scratching, cutting, and picking.
These tactics can provide short-term relief, but often cause more problems in one's life. From neglecting relationships to drug and alcohol abuse, the effect compounds upon itself. Now, in addition to dealing with upsetting depression or anxiety, you're struggling with an addiction that prevents you from holding down a job. Because you feel so ashamed and cut yourself, you're constantly living in fear that someone will find the scars.
The more we struggle with and fear distress, the worse it gets. In fact, the best solution is to lean in and tackle the distress head on. Since it's impossible to get rid of emotional distress, it's imperative to learn how to live with it. Working with a trusted mental health professional can help you develop a distress tolerance action plan to move through the pain and discomfort.
'Tis the season! What's the most wonderful time of the year for some is a complete nightmare for others. The holiday season, stretching from Thanksgiving through New Year's, can often be long, stress-inducing, and painful for people.
Learning how to manage your stress level, especially around the holidays, is a great skill to develop.
Plan. Start thinking about your holiday plans before they sneak up on you. Who are you celebrating with? Are you traveling? What will you need to do in anticipation of the holidays? Spending time considering the impact your plans have on your life may reduce your stress level.
Set aside differences. Beyond the actual holiday (are you celebrating Christmas? Hanukkah? Kwanzaa?), learning to set aside differences to enjoy time with family and friends is key to reducing stress level. If your Aunt Anne thinks Donald Trump is the best thing to happen to America, just let her. Your brother's kids driving you up the wall and you wish he'd step in to discipline them? Let go of your parenting ideas. Setting your ideas of "how the world should be" aside and allowing everyone to experience it themselves, no matter how frustrating, will reduce your stress level!
Act intentionally. The holidays come with a lot of obligation. You have to make Christmas cookies for the gift exchange party. You always go to your grandmother's house for Christmas Eve, even though you hate it. And if you don't: disaster. Instead of acting out of obligation this year, focus on acting out of intention. What will happen if you don't go to your grandmother's house for Christmas? Could you take her to brunch a week later instead? What will happen if you purchase cookies for the office exchange instead of spending five hours in the kitchen making from scratch? Look beyond your initial reaction to consider what will actually happen. And from there, choose to act intentionally.
Make a budget. Holidays are expensive! Travel cost, gifts, parties, etc ... it adds up quickly. Spending a few minutes planning your holiday budget will help you feel in control of your finances and live within your means.
Honor yourself. Above all else, choosing what's best for you is most important! Be reflective. Take inventory of what you're willing to do and what you'd rather not. Stick to your healthy habits. Be mindful of how you feel. If you'd rather stay in with a good book on Saturday night than attend the company holiday party, it's ok to do so. It's ok to take 30 minutes on Christmas morning for a jog. It's also ok to feel occasional sadness, despite the holiday season!
Seek professional help. If your anxiety or depression isn't going anywhere, don't hesitate to see a counselor. Bouncing what's happening off a trained professional may help reduce your symptoms and help you navigate this stressful time.
Transitions are a natural part of life, and even the most positive life changes can be stressful. Moving to a new city, losing a loved one, accepting a new job, becoming a parent, settling a divorce - all bring a mix of emotions. Navigating these life transitions can be aided with a few simple tools.
Expect the emotional roller coaster. Some days will be easier than others. You may feel a range of emotions, from angst and worry, to excitement and anticipation. This is normal! Curbing your expectations (and removing should's from your vocabulary) will help you adjust to the new normal.
View situations as opportunities. Just a minor tweak in viewpoint can make a tremendous change. Instead of viewing unexpected transitions as setbacks, challenge yourself to make a positive re-frame. This situation is a forced opportunity for you to learn and grow as a person.
Develop a self-care ritual. There's no time like the present to develop a practice that makes you feel happy. From painting, to bubble baths, to yoga, there are a billion things you can carve into your life to take care of yourself. Setting aside intentional time to nurture your body/mind/soul can ease the pain of a growth period and help gain perspective.
Get support. Talk to family and friends. Seek support from a licensed mental health practitioner. Attend a church or religious organization. Do what makes you feel understood and supported. Chances are, you aren't the first person in the world to go through this experience.
Seize the moment -- a new chapter of your life is here!
Over the last few years Mindfulness, the process of active, nonjudgmental awareness, has exploded in the mental health field. It's a practice that's been proven to reduce anxiety, help with emotional regulation, and improve overall well-being. The goal is to become aware of what's true, moment by moment.
There are a variety of ways to practice mindfulness, including yoga and martial arts. The majority of research has focused on mindfulness meditation.
If you've never tried meditation, it can be an incredibly difficult practice. I've found the Stop, Breathe, Think iPhone app to be a great tool for developing a practice. The app allows you to "check-in," with questions regarding your mood and physical state. Depending on your responses, the app generates guided meditations that vary in length to focus on specific topics. Best of all, the app is free.
I remember the first time my therapist asked me, "so what if that did happen?"
Six years later I don't even remember what we were talking about, but I remember exactly how it made me feel. Anxious. Silly. Stubborn. I knew the words coming out of my mouth sounded dumb, but it was how I knew the world to be. There was a way things should be. It's not supposed to be like this.
Knowing what I know now, I realize just how rigid my thoughts were. I'm forever indebted to that graduate student intern who nudged me into a less stressful way of being.
One of the first things I share with new clients is the Unhelpful Thinking Styles worksheet shown below. It covers several ways our mind traps us, from black and white thinking, to ignoring truths, and emotional reasoning. Just knowing the unhelpful thinking styles sometimes isn't enough. Having a therapist to catch you in these traps and challenge you to break free can bring relief almost instantly.