Each of us at Carrie Ann Conversations is on our own path to wellness, and for each of us this has involved or continues to involve going to therapy to help us live our best lives. We know that there are many who are wary of therapy, or who don’t have the means to see a therapist right now, so we wanted to share some of the best lessons we’ve taken away from therapy with you.
1. Avoid “Gaslighting” Yourself.
Welp! I was blown away by this when my therapist told me this. I was so tough on myself in the way I spoke to myself that he considered it gaslighting. Since then I have been very careful about the way I talk to myself. Most of the time I am positive, but deep inside of me there is a very dark, very hurt part that feels like she is not enough. I have struggled with this most of my life. I have always felt different, and unlike other people. I have always known that the way my mind works is a bit different than others. I have come to a peace with this and have learned to accept my ‘different-ness.’ But every once in a while I will have an experience that makes me frustrated with the way my mind works, I get stuck, or caught, or confused and I feel shame about myself and it makes its way into my self-talk. I didn’t realize how incredibly negative my self-talk could be until I shared it with my therapist. He was surprised to find that I had such negative self-talk, but once we shed some light on it and gained an understanding of the thought processes behind it, it became easier to stop the negative pattern in its tracks. It can be so easy to slip into negative self-talk and harm ourselves in this way, and sometimes it can take an outside perspective to show you how warped that self-talk can become. Be careful of the language you direct towards yourself and ask if you would say that to a close friend— you deserve the same love and respect as anyone else! —Carrie Ann
2. “Fight or Flight” Can Actually Help You.
My therapist once told me that anxiety is your brain reacting to normal incidents (a disagreement with a coworker or roommate, an unexpected setback) as if they are physically threatening your safety. Your body releases a lot of adrenaline to help you fight or fly from what it perceives as a very real danger; sometimes physically moving can help you burn off these chemicals and help your heart stop racing. Whether it’s taking a walk or just pacing your room, a little movement can help your brain get back on track. —Becca
3. Check Your Anxiety Against Reality.
If you’re really anxious about something, journaling or listing your worries out doesn’t mean you’re giving them life. Sometimes I have the tendency to go to the worst possible outcome in my head, and my brain can get pretty creative with how something is going to go sideways. By writing your worries down, you have the ability to check back at the end of the week and see if any of them actually came true. Most of the time they haven’t, and this can help retrain your brain to stop the worries in their tracks.— Ellyn
4. Shift Your Perspective Back Onto You.
Often the tendency is for me to go in and talk about things that happened to me, or something that triggered me throughout the week. And an old pattern is to want to say, “Why did they do that?” That is not something anyone but that person can explain, so my therapist isn’t going to be able to answer that kind of question. Instead, he can help me shift my thinking back to what I can do something about, which is my thinking and my reaction, and the “why’s” become more about me and less about them. This shift in perspective always brings me peace because the world feels less overwhelming when I am only worried about my reaction to it rather than worrying how to help, fix, or change everyone else. I was always taught to help others which put me in the background. This tip from my therapist to focus on me may sound egocentric, but it’s actually healthy to look at your actions or emotions when trying to understand why a situation was so painful, difficult or triggering in general. —Carrie Ann
5. Don’t Fight Panic.
I used to occasionally have panic attacks, and once I knew what they were, they became much easier to move through. My therapist told me not to fight them, but to recognize them and know that they would end. If I felt one coming on, I would say to myself “Okay, this is just a panic attack. It will be over soon and I will be okay”. Simply recognizing the fact that it was panic allowed me to focus on deep breathing and not let thoughts like “Oh my god what’s happening!! This is horrible!!” keep swirling through my brain. — Ellyn
6. Have Empathy For Your Anxiety.
Having dealt with anxiety for most of my life, I often deal with anger and frustration over my own anxious thoughts. I often feel like they make me weaker and I’d be a better, stronger person without them. My therapist once told me that having resentment for this side of me and trying to ignore or suppress it isn’t always the best option because these thoughts, to some extent, will always be a part of me. She explained that I developed these thoughts for a reason; my more cautious side is just trying to look out for and protect me, even if it’s not always doing the best job. She told me to thank this side of myself when it brings me things to be concerned about and respectfully tell it, “thank you for bringing this to my attention but I don’t think this is something I need to put my energy towards.” This puts me back in the driver’s seat while treating my anxious side with compassion and respect instead of self-loathing. — Becca
7. Speak Up For Your Inner Child.
Often when we are upset about something, or frustrated, it is because we haven’t spoken up in a way that takes care of the little child inside of us. As we become adults, we are now in charge of our own welfare. And it’s important that we speak up for what we need, and to express how we are feeling. It’s important for us to ask, “What is the little child inside trying to say?” If we communicate out of that desire to take care of ourselves in a loving and compassionate way, we do not need to act out like a child. If we speak up for them, that child doesn’t have to act out or throw a tantrum, or feel like withdrawing into safety is their only option for coping with the amount of anxiety and discomfort they feel. When the inner child feels safe, we as adults will feel more connected and cohesive in this world. And we will be better able to show up in the world in a more honest way. We all have experienced trauma as children. That’s the process of growing — facing difficult things and moving through them. When we speak up for our inner child in a mature and “adult” fashion, we heal. And we welcome and show that child we love and accept them as they are. We show them that they are worthy of being protected and that is very healing. — Carrie Ann
8. Add A Little Humor To Your Self-Talk.
If you catch yourself in catastrophe mode, or thinking of all of the ways something could go awry, you can diffuse the situation in your own brain by adding a little humor. Saying something like “Wow you really got creative with that one didn’t you! Haven’t heard that one before. Ok anxiety, I see you,” can really take the life out of a thought. It takes practice to recognize the anxiety in the first place, but once you do, it’s easier to remove yourself from the situation that is your overactive imagination. —Ellyn
9. Watch Out For Black-And-White Thinking.
If your first reaction to a new circumstance, unexpected behavior or new person is to think “is this good or bad for me?” then you might have a tendency toward black and white thinking. It’s a trauma response designed to help us cope and survive, usually forged in times when quickly figuring out whether you are safe or in danger is very important. However, in many situations this need to distinguish can keep us from coming to the best conclusion. I used to spend whole days trying to figure out if a good friend doing something that hurt my feelings meant I could no longer trust them ever again instead of simply realizing that that friend is a human who is neither perfect nor evil and untrustworthy. It can feel safer and easier to put people and situations in big boxes labelled GOOD or BAD but the truth is that most things don’t and you could miss out on a lot by trying to see the world this way.—Becca
10. Sometimes We Need To Connect To Nature To Connect To Ourselves.
We can often forget how much of a difference it can make to stay grounded. Human beings have been living in harmony with this planet for millennia, walking on the ground and staying in tune with it. While convenient, our modern lives often interrupt our ability to connect to nature in the same way that our ancestors did. Going outside and putting your feet on the earth is so important. So is seeing nature, inhaling the aromas of the natural world we came from. When you sit in nature, you remember your place in this world and it can be very soothing. Whether it’s taking a hike, sitting at the beach, lying in your backyard looking at the stars or just standing in the morning grass with your bare feet… it reminds you of the beauty of the world in which we live and are a part of. — Carrie Ann
The benefits of seeing a therapist can be hard to quantify. The process of therapy can be long and we are all constantly growing and learning new things about ourselves. Many of the ways that therapy is helpful can feel very intangible or abstract; these breakthroughs are crucial and valuable, but there are also lightning-like moments where something finally clicks into place all at once. These are a few of the biggest “aha” moments we had in our journeys; we hope they are helpful for you in your own journey.