Brene Brown has said “Choose courage over comfort. Choose whole hearts over armor. And choose the great adventure of being brave AND afraid at the exact same time.” (Emphasis added)
After months of living through the pandemic, homeschooling two of my four children, having a newborn and busy toddler vying for attention during homeschooling, working over Telehealth, quarantining from family and friends, kissing my husband goodbye as he goes to works with sick people, and managing my own thoughts and anxiety about the world I have learned a very important lesson. You can feel brave and afraid at the same time.
My emotional journey the last several months has been sporadic. At times, I have felt very hopeful and optimistic. Other times, I have felt sad and anxious. After experiencing an anxiety attack in April, I realized I had to change my thought process. My mantra became “cautious but not fearful.” I pushed fear away and decided to let hope reign supreme. Gone were the days of worrying about what would happen if my parents contracted the virus. Say goodbye to stressing about exposure to people, and what it would be like if/when my family got sick. My mind was aware of the hospitals and medical staff, but I would not let that transfer into fear and worry. I let myself think that if I felt any fear at all I was letting fear win. I was wrong.
What have I learned about myself during this pandemic? I have learned that I can feel brave and afraid at the same time. In reality, the worried and stressful thoughts were and are still coming at regular intervals. The difference is when the fear comes, I no longer hide from it. Pushing the fear/worry/anxiety down gives it more power. Locked in the recess of your mind fear-or whatever you would like to call it-is biding its time until you are not ready for it. Then BAM out it comes with a lethal vengeance. Covid-19 has taught me to acknowledge the fear. When those fearful thoughts come into my mind I identify them and acknowledge their existence. Instead of running from the thoughts, I put my arm around them and let my bravery take over.
I can be fearful and brave at the same time. I can worry about what is happening across the world and still have hope that it will get better. I can be worried about our healthcare workers while allowing my gratitude for them to overshadow that worry. I can stand in the face of my husband, children, parents, and loved ones contracting the virus because I know that there are people and enough love in my life that will help me get through it. I have learned to hold both of these things in my hands and heart and be alright with that. And Brene is right…it is truly an adventure.
We live in a world where we are being fed a constant stream of information at, seemingly, every turn. It can be easy to get lost in all the noise, and disconnect from our core sense of self, worth, and values. When that happens, one might experience depression, anxiety, feeling untethered, resentment, and unhealthy relationships, among others. One of my greatest steps in my own journey was learning how to come out of the self-betrayal that had become familiar and comfortable.
What is self betrayal? Self betrayal can manifest in many different ways. It can be sacrificing your own values and boundaries to maintain a relationship, saying “yes” when you actually want to say “no,” people pleasing, perfectionist tendencies in an effort to feel, or be seen as, “enough,” or living in a cycle of shame from not understanding the wounds that drive behavior. In a sense, it is disconnecting from that voice of truth within.
Learning to connect to your most authentic self can be scary and liberating, all in the same breath. Some tools to help you connect to this authentic self can be:
-Meditation and mindfulness exercises -Truth and distortion journaling prompts -Future self authoring exercises -EMDR, and other somatic work to process past trauma -Inner child work and attachment healing
As you learn to connect and find belonging to your truest self, you will find deeper and more meaningful connections in your relationships, as they are no longer responsible for filling your cup of worth. If you have experienced self betrayal in your life, and are wanting to find healing, know that you have all the tools of healing within you to begin this journey. An experienced counselor can help you unlock those tools when you find yourself feeling stuck.
Are you wondering why so many people who don’t have COVID-19, or even know anyone who has been diagnosed are seeing a spike in feelings of anxiety? It’s not just because of the many changes in our communities and around the world since the pandemic began: over 26 million Americans were out of work, K-12 schools and universities nationwide closed overnight and many of us spent weeks or months inside our homes and yards not socializing. However,change and stress are not the main sources that fuel anxiety, they are simply kindling. The real lighter fluid and gasoline is UNCERTAINTY.
When is school going to start back up? What is that going to be like? Will students really wear a mask all day? How long until we REALLY know how this disease affects people? What if someone I care about gets COVID-19 and dies? What if I test positive for COVID-19 and have to stay home for 14 days?
All of these are valid concerns and questions. It is normal to feel some anxiety in new situations,like starting a new school year, a new job, moving to a new place or living through a worldwide pandemic for the first time. Uncertainty lies underneath all of these situations and questions. We often think, “If I have answers and information I can be prepared, and my anxiety will calm down.” It might, for like a minute. But that doesn’t prevent uncertainty popping up in other areas of our life, on a regular basis. (More on that in my next post).
Anxiety serves a very important function of protecting us. It’s the feeling that tells us we should put our seat belt on when we get into a car or wash our hands after touching common surfaces in public.
However, for some of us, anxiety has too much power and control in our lives. It acts as a bossy, know-it-all alarm and yells loudly about horrible, scary things that could (but are not likely to) happen and that is when it becomes problematic. It often starts with one worry or concern and quickly spirals into 10 worries or more. Remember, ANXIETY LOVES UNCERTAINTY. It feeds on it and grows exponentially like Mentos dropped in a Coke bottle:
“What if people don’t wear masks and I get sick? What if I spread it to my sweet old neighbor (who I have never talked to or met) who walks her dog and she dies and its my fault? What if all my friends get COVID-19 from me and then they don’t want to be my friend anymore? Who am I going to sit with at lunch? What if we don’t ever go back to school?!!! How am I going to get into college and get a good job? What if this pandemic never ends…?” And on and on it spirals.
Anxious thoughts often have a small grain of truth in them and frequently center around a possible, but unlikely, scenario or chain of events.
So, what can we do to handle so much uncertainty in our lives and manage out of control anxiety? It starts with externalizing the anxious thoughts and worry, (it’s not you, it’s the anxiety that hangs out with you) predicting when it will show up and creating phrases to say back to and refute the worry.
Example: “Listen anxiety, I knew you were going to show up when I went to school today, but none of the bad things you predict EVER happen. I don’t need you right now, you can go away.”
When we predict the anxiety, we won’t feel blindsided by it and we already know it’s anxiety overreacting. In my next post, I will go into more detail about how to access the resources within ourselves we all have to manage bossy, know-it-all anxious thoughts and retrain our brain to be more helpful and accurate instead of a Chicken Little alarm clock.
Bessel A. van der Kolk, a leading trauma expert, said, “As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are “Notice that” and “What happens next?” Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”
Through my clinical work over the past 10 years, I have found the body to be one of the greatest teachers in helping clients to connect with, and heal from, trauma that is stored in the body. Stored trauma often manifests itself physically, such as with anxiety, panic attacks, nightmares, fear, and other “uncomfortable” emotions. Consequently, our bodies are often feared, rather than embraced as the wise teacher it is.
I have found one of the most powerful tools in helping myself, and my clients, stay in a state of curiosity, rather than fear, of these bodily sensations is the breath. When triggered by these bodily sensations mentioned above the body typically moves into the sympathetic, or fight or flight nervous system. Often, clients with trauma have learned to operate in this nervous system more often than is useful. The breath is a powerful bridge between the sympathetic and parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” nervous systems.
Next time you find yourself filled with anxiety, I challenge you to take four deep “box” breaths, where you breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out of four counts, and hold for four counts. After which, maintain the deep breathing pattern and notice what is happening in your body physically, and breathe into any tension you find. Then, remain curious and ask yourself what is needed to help you feel safe and secure in the present moment. At that point you may ask, “what happens next?” Take note of what inner child wounds or beliefs may be surfacing, and allow yourself to sit with that wound to find truth. Learning to become curious about thoughts that once seemed overwhelming, scary, or insurmountable can be an empowering exercise when you start unwinding unhelpful past conditioning.
Sometimes with trauma, clients may find themselves feeling stuck at certain points of traditional talk therapy. If that has been the case, it is helpful to explore other modalities to help release trauma on a cellular level, such as EMDR. Other movement based interventions such as yoga, tai chi, qigong, and dancing have also been found to be helpful in healing trauma. If you have found yourself stuck in processing past trauma, please feel free to reach out to see if we can explore some additional healing modalities. You can schedule by calling 801.944.4555.
We’ve all heard of postpartum depression. A lot of us have known someone with postpartum depression. It’s those weeks, and sometimes months, after a woman has delivered her baby that trigger depression and anxiety. Little do people know, postpartum depression has a sister that is rarely talked about and sometimes, unknown. This is called antepartum depression.
Allow me to break this down just a bit. Ante is a latin term that means before. Partum refers to the delivery phase of the pregnancy. Depression has many definitions, so we will define it here as an overwhelming feelings of sadness. Therefore, antepartum depression means depression that happens before you deliver your baby. In other words, it is depression while you are pregnant.
I was first introduced to antepartum depression when I was pregnant with my third child. In my years of practice, I had worked with several pregnant mothers that described feeling down and blue. We worked through the depression, but I never named it or did a great deal of research on it. During my third pregnancy, I was very sick. Days of sickness turned into weeks. The weeks turned into months. It turned out that my entire pregnancy, I was extremely sick. After feeling sick for weeks on end, I started feeling depressed. My desire to do things that usually brought me happiness seemed unimportant. My energy was incredibly low. I had a hard time getting out with friends and family because I didn’t feel up to it. For weeks, I complained that I didn’t feel like my normal self.
After some time, I set out to find more information about antepartum depression. Realizing that it is a real problem that many women struggle with made me feel a lot better. I started naming it, talking to people about it, and taking steps to make myself feel better. This did not come easily and took me a long time to do. In fact, while I was diligent about doing all of those things, I still feel that my depression lasted until I delivered my daughter. However, talking about it and getting the help I needed really made all of the difference in the world.
What are the symptoms of Antepartum Depression?
The symptoms of antepartum depression are very similar to depression outside of pregnancy. This include but are not limited to:
-Feelings of worthlessness
-Feelings of guilt
-Change in sleep (sleeping more or less than usual)
-Change in eating habits
-Change in desire to do things that once brought happiness
-Thoughts of hurting yourself
-Thoughts of suicide
What can I do to treat my antepartum depression?
-Psychotherapy is one of the best tools to use when dealing with antepartum depression. A therapist can help guide you through your thoughts, feelings, and help give you solutions to work through them
-Medication is another route to take. This has implications on your baby and you will want to talk in depth with your medical provider. There are some medications that are safer to take while pregnant.
-Herbal supplements are another option. Again, talk to your doctor about what he/she feels is best for you and your pregnancy. There are several herbal treatments that can help.
-Foot zoning was a major help while I was dealing with antepartum depression. It eased my sickness and helped me feel more centered with my thoughts and feelings.
-Exercise is the last thing you want to to when pregnant (and depressed) but it is truly one of the best things you can do. Even walking around the block will release endorphins that will help your mood.
-Eating a balanced and healthy diet will be beneficial for you physically and mentally during your pregnancy.
-Sleeping and getting enough rest is essential during this time.
If you are suffering from Antepartum Depression, please know you are not alone! Thousands of women suffer from this on a daily basis. Share this blog post with someone you feel needs to hear about this. Antepartum depression is rarely talked about and needs to be an active conversation with women who are expecting babies. If you need further help, please call Wasatch Family Therapy. There are kind and professional therapists here to help you through this difficult time.
Most people are aware that eating healthy and exercising will result in a smaller waistline. I am not sure, however, that people understand the impact eating healthy and exercising have on your mental health. Think about it: your brain is a body part, right? If poor eating can make your heart suffer and not function properly, why wouldn’t poor eating make your brain suffer as well?
There is a lot of scientific research supporting the fact that eating a whole foods, plant-based diet can improve mood and decrease the occurrence of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. In a study published in the 2012 Nutritional Journal, participants who decreased consumption of meat, fish, and poultry improved several mood scores in just a few weeks. In 2009 Arch Intern Med, Dr. Grant Brinkworth and colleagues found that a high carbohydrate, low fat, and low protein diet (plant-based) resulted in significantly lower rates of depression and anxiety. These are just a few of the many studies showing the mental health benefits of eating a plant-based diet.
Part of the benefit of eating plants is that there are thousands and thousands of chemicals and nutrients that our body uses on a cellular level to rebuild and repair itself. Scientists haven’t even identified all the advantages to these chemicals and nutrients there are so many. We need to trust our body to use nature to be in optimal health. The evidence is clear: our brain needs natural plant food to function the most optimally. Sadly, we are often misinformed on nutrition-related topics because there are a lot of people who make a lot of money if you eat poorly (there isn’t necessarily a lot of money for marketers to make off of you if you follow a plant-based diet).
When it comes to exercise, most people think of endorphins and all that jazz. This is all good and well, but I love exercise for my clients more for its ability to increase distress tolerance. Physical exercise is ALWAYS a mental exercise also. If I can push my body to a point of discomfort for my overall benefit, what else can I do that is hard? If you talk to avid exercisers, none of them say, “Yeah, I have been doing this long enough that it doesn’t hurt anymore. I feel only pleasure in mile 13.” Seasoned athletes still experience discomfort and pain (if not more) but have learned to tolerate it.
Your increased distress tolerance works as a shield against debilitating hardship. I have seen so many clients begin to exercise and all of a sudden, they have increased confidence and start to believe they can do hard things! While going to the gym may not seem like a big deal, it is a huge deal for your brain. The important key to implement this is to find an activity YOU love. If it isn’t running on a treadmill, then don’t do that. Walk your dogs or play frisbee or do something else entirely.
Some clients I have are weary of taking mood-altering pharmaceuticals, but are they bothered enough to get really uncomfortable and change their eating and movement patterns? I am not suggesting that research shows these changes to be a direct cure for mental health problems. Research can’t entirely do that. However, I am suggesting that it is certainly worth adding to the tool box and trying in order to have an overall better mood and mental health.
For more tips and support changing your lifestyle to improve your mental health, schedule an appointment today!
In 2007, my sisters and I decided to run a 10k together. It was perfect timing, as I had just moved from Logan (Go Aggies!) and needed a new hobby. I trained hard and finished the 10K in a little under an hour. The morning of the race was an emotional high. All of the runners at the starting line anxiously waiting for the race to begin. The high as you finished the race. The amazing feeling of accomplishing something. I had found my new passion.
Fast forward to 2009 when my husband, sister, and I decided to run the Wasatch Back Relay Race. I had recently gone through a very difficult miscarriage, and, without knowing it, was headed into almost two years of infertility battles. My second leg of the race was at two in the morning. The stars were bright as I ran along the side of the road in the dark with just myself, my music, and my headlamp. At some point, I remember starting to cry and allowing that to happen. The rest of the race, something magical occurred. A lot of my worry, anxiety, sadness, and fear got translated into my running. I allowed all of those feelings to fuel my run, and it felt amazing. That race helped me heal from a lot of sadness. Over the next two years, I ran races and trained to help myself get through a lot of the feelings that came from infertility.
Now, let’s fast forward to 2018. Modern medicine is a wonderful thing, and my husband and I have three wonderful children. They are seven, four, and eighteen months old. Now running takes on a different role in my life. It helps keep me in shape. It is a hobby that gives me some time away from my kids so I can be a better mother. It motivates me to make and accomplish new goals. It makes me a happier, more satisfied person. It helps my patience with my kids and my husband. Running keeps me sane.
When you exercise, your body releases something called endorphins. These chemicals helps reduce your perception of pain and can also trigger a positive feeling. These chemicals will help you fight feelings of depression and anxiety. Exercise is consistently something I encourage my clients to participate in.
What do you like to do to stay active? What kind of exercise keeps you sane? This summer, get outdoors and experience some different activities and find which one you like the best. It will be one of the best things you do for your physical and mental health.
“Today on Fresh Living Clair Mellenthin, a therapist at Wasatch Family Therapy, sat down with Brooke with some coping skills anyone can use to help deal with anxiety. About Clair Mellenthin: Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S is a sought after speaker, author, and trainer.” – KUTV 2News
When I was a small child, my family had several large German shepherds as pets. I don’t remember the times those dogs jumped on me and knocked me down, though I have been told it happened. I do remember growing up with an intense fear of large dogs. Throughout my childhood, when I saw a large dog, my primary instinct was to run away.
Unfortunately for the young-child-me, dogs enjoy a good game of chase. By running away, and encouraging the “big scary dog” to chase me, I was reinforcing my own fear: that dogs were scary and should be avoided at all costs.
Anxiety is often a “big scary dog”. We feel the discomfort, and seek to avoid it by running away, or avoiding situations that cause anxiety. When we avoid anxiety-provoking situations, we reinforce in our brains that those situations are unsafe, creating a cycle of fear and anxiety that grows the more we avoid specific situations.
In order to retrain our brain, we have to confront the big scary dog. This can be an overwhelming task, so it is important to have tools to draw from. Three helpful tools are box breathing, positive affirmations, and challenging thinking errors.
Take a deep breath, filling your lungs completely while imagining moving your lungs in the outline of a square. At each corner, pause and hold the breath for 4 seconds, then exhale along the next side of the square. Breathing in this way helps to regulate your nervous system, increasing your sense of calm.
Words are powerful, and we tend to believe the words we tell ourselves. A friend recently recounted her experience on a climbing wall. “I was doing really well, until I looked down. At that point I panicked and told myself, “I can’t do this”, I sat frozen for several seconds and then let go of the wall, letting the ropes catch me and return me to the ground.”
If we constantly tell ourselves “I can’t do this”, “This is too hard”, or “My anxiety is too high for coping right now”, we are likely to give up early or avoid the situation entirely. When those thoughts pop into our minds, we can replace them with a positive affirmation. “I can do this”,“I am capable”, and “I’m stronger than I feel” are all positive affirmations that can help push back against the anxiety that is preventing us from reaching our goals or functioning in daily life.
Challenging Thinking Errors:
Thinking errors are irrational patterns of thinking that often come along with anxiety or depression. As with positive affirmations, we can replace thinking errors by challenging them. Common thinking errors include all-or-nothing thinking (where we view things in very black and white terms), mind reading (where we assume we know what another person is thinking), filtering out the positive (where we focus entirely on the negative, and ignore anything that might counter our current thoughts), and emotional reasoning (taking our feelings as signs, i.e., I feel scared, so I shouldn’t attend this event).
Recognizing then challenging these kinds of thinking errors can help us confront our anxiety by reminding our brain that there are other ways to see the world and we do not have to be stuck in our anxiety.
If you have tried utilizing these tools and need more support in confronting the big scary dog of anxiety in your life, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy can help retrain your brain to see the dog not as a snarling beast, but as something more approachable. ERP therapy is effective in treating anxiety as well as obsessive compulsive disorder.
If you are struggling with these issues, schedule an appointment with Alice in either the Bountiful or Cottonwood Heights office at (801) 944-4555.