Wait a minute, that whole “What you focus on grows” thing actually works?!

I don’t know about you, but I have heard the phrase “What you focus on grows” since I was a child. It is actually used as the tagline for the church I grew up in. Going through daily life, I have heard about the importance of making gratitude lists and “the power of positive thinking”. And then, going into the field of psychology, I learned all about the structure of the brain and different types of therapeutic models and all things pointed towards this phrase………but despite all of this, I wasn’t sure of the evidence.

Yes, I always believed that focusing on good things couldn’t hurt…but I have anxiety, so of course there was that part of my brain that thought “is this just a bunch of bulls***?”

               Guess what? It’s not bulls***!

So I won’t go into all the dirty details (because unless you really love brain science, it’s a little boring). But basically, there are these neural pathways in our brains comprised of all sorts of neurons. These neural pathways in our brains are created by habits and the things we do! So the more we do something, the stronger that neural pathway gets.

For example, I never used to exercise. About a year ago, I joined a gym that I really love (check them out actually they’re awesome: burn boot camp) and that new activity created a new neural pathway. The more I went to the gym, the stronger that neural pathway became. So now, even in quarantine, I am still doing burn boot camp exercises, talking to people from burn, and thinking about burn often….that’s because my habit, strengthen my neural pathway….this sounds great, right?

It’s not always great…..what if what you’re focusing on is the death rates from COVID-19. Or all the possible ways that you could have been exposed. Or basically anything scary about what we’re living in right now…..how strong do you think those neural pathways are in your brain?

Look, I’m not saying to think about the bad stuff. We want to stay well informed, we need to look at the tough, nasty stuff to work through those things (a lot of what I do with people in therapy)…

…but if we’re only focusing on the negative…

…if we’re only focusing on our anxieties…

…if we’re only focusing on our fears…

Those neural pathways are going to be so strong it’s going to be near impossible to build up new pathways.    

So next time you see someone on Instagram tell you to make a gratitude list…try it. Maybe some of those things on the list will stick in your mind and create a new pathway.

So what is this teletherapy I keep hearing all about?

“So I am quarantined, and I know I probably need more support…but is this teletherapy thing legitimate?”

Most every therapist I know is offering teletherapy sessions right now during COVID-19. Some people think it’s the best thing ever and immediately say “sign me up!” and some people are more hesitant. I get it…therapy is very awkward to begin with, and then doing sessions over a video chat? Well, that can be weird. So I am here to clear a few things up.

  • First of all, teletherapy is HIPAA compliant. I am not quite sure how, but fancy IT people have developed fancy software to make HIPAA compliant video sessions. It is just as easy as FaceTime, but definitely more secure! Most of the platforms that have HIPAA secure video chat require you to simply click a link that your therapist sends you to join the session! Even my 71 year old father could figure it out!
  • Secondly…no, it doesn’t feel the same as being in the office. There are pros and cons to both in office and teletherapy, but for me, I really enjoy connecting with people in person and I am an extrovert through and through, so I get great energy connecting with others and being around people. It stinks that I don’t have that in person connection and it is different than being in the office.
  • All of that being said, there are some really neat parts about teletherapy. For example, I can get a glimpse into your home life which is always fun (I have virtually met so many dogs, children who have been screaming, and seen the inside of lots of people’s houses). Although that can be a distraction from therapy for sure, it can also be really cool to connect on that level. Plus, I have a 2 pound dog that I will often bring into the picture if it doesn’t distract from the session too much 😉
  • Another really great part of teletherapy, is that it’s easy! As I mentioned, all it takes on your part is clicking a link, but you don’t have to leave your house, you don’t even have to get out of bed! It keeps you safe and socially distant while getting the support you need!

The bottom line is that I know it’s not always ideal. I know that it can be frustrating. But this is a really weird time in the world and it is NOT the time to put your mental health last. Anxiety levels are at an all time high according to the American Psychological Association. Please don’t let your anxiety take over…just try teletherapy…maybe you’ll even like it!

Anxiety and COVID-19

“Excuse me, you’re really going to talk to me about managing my anxiety during a global pandemic? You must be the crazy one.”

As a Licensed Mental Health Therapist, I am getting a lot of comments like the one above. I hear so many people telling me that they have just accepted they are going to live in a puddle of anxiety until this is all over. Well, that sounds miserable to me. Of course we are going to feel a bit more anxious than usual during this time in the world, but we don’t have to just sit and let our anxiety take over.

If I had to guess, we are doing other things that actually increase our anxiety. Some of the top triggers for anxiety are boredom, fear, and loneliness.

Can any of us relate to these feelings right now?…..I know I can!

Although we can’t directly do anything to stop the global pandemic, we can work on our boredom, fear, and loneliness which ultimately lead us to managing our anxiety. I want to share with you some of the best and easiest ways to manage your anxiety during this time!

  1. Recognize that you have anxiety. It’s okay to admit that right now is a stressful time in life. If we ignore anxiety, it has this tendency to bubble up underneath the surface until we feel like we’re losing it! Talk about it. Share with a loved one how you’re feeling. Have compassion for yourself for feeling this way.
  2. Stop reading the news!! Okay, maybe not completely, because it’s important to stay informed. But we are inundating ourselves with news articles with so many statistics, opinions, and hypotheticals. Stay up to date, but put the phone down!
  3. Stick to a schedule. Just like babies have feeding and sleeping schedules, so do we! To keep some sense of normalcy try to go to bed and wake up around the same time each day as well as eating three meals around the same time each day.
  4. Breathe! Breathe! Breathe! If you notice your shoulders going up and down, you’re breathing shallowly which can increase anxiety. Put your hand on your stomach and try to breathe in deep in your belly, your stomach should grow when you inhale and shrink back when you exhale.
  5. Distract yourself. Make a quarantine bucket list of things you want to accomplish during this time and every time you feel bored, go to something on the bucket list. Call a friend. Read a book. Go outside. Anything to distract from the spiral of anxious mush in your brain!

Please don’t put your mental health last. Please don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed, anxious, stressed, and panicked to reach out for support. Right now, (not all) but most insurance companies are even waiving copays for mental health therapy to meet the growing needs of the community.