Tag Archives: anxiety

Do You Feel Like an Underdog?

Underdog

Harry Potter. Katniss Everdeen. The Chicago Cubs.

These are a few of the underdogs many of us have rooted for. (OK, if you’re a Cleveland Indians fan, you weren’t rooting for the Cubs, but millions of people were!) They are people who seem to have the deck stacked against them, but who persevere anyway.

Why do we love underdogs?  One idea is that we believe life should be fair, which leads us to favor the underdog. Underdogs are also perceived to work harder than their rivals. A team or entity that seems likely to lose is not, however, championed as an underdog if it has a lot of money or other resources. (retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/12/24/why-do-we-root-for-the-underdog/1699.html) That last statement might have thrown the Cubs’ underdog status in doubt, as they clearly had lots of resources at their disposal. Still, 108 years without a World Series win carried a lot of weight! [I will also say, as a side note, that it seems the statement excludes a certain presidential candidate from underdog status.]

I think another reason we root for the underdog is that we can readily identify with him or her. Of course, there are people who are used to success and expect to win, but many of us don’t. In fact, a person can easily feel like an underdog even when she isn’t one, just because she’s used to that mindset. I think experiences of being “one down,” particularly in childhood when we’re at our most impressionable, translate into a lifelong feeling of being an underdog. There is still a part of us that identifies with the powerless child we once were.

It’s no coincidence that characters like Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen are children fighting adults. This accentuates the seeming futility of their quests. Knowing how these stories go, we expect them to win in the end, but that doesn’t stop us from being afraid that they won’t. In cheering for them, we also cheer for ourselves and our own chances to triumph.

What are some of the challenges that you face? Do you believe that you can prevail, as you believe the novels’ protagonists (or the baseball team) can, or do you feel like you’re not good enough to rise to the challenge?

I’ve written before about Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. These ANTs tell you that you won’t come out on top. For instance, if you own a business, you question the worthiness of your product or service and wonder why anyone would want to pay you for it. If you aren’t self-employed, you feel “less than” other employees and assume someone else will always get the big project, promotion, etc.  If you’re on an online dating site, you figure that your profile will be overlooked by anyone worth dating.

The thing about ANTs is that they’re usually exaggerated or false; if there is some truth to them, there’s often something that can be done about it.

The next time you find yourself assuming you’re going to be the loser in a situation, step back and look again. Look at yourself as if you’re a friend who’s on the outside looking in. What are the chances that you’re right? Is there any truth at all to your belief? If there is, can you do something to improve your chances?

If you’re a business owner, look at your business history. Unless you’ve just started your business, I’ll assume you have succeeded in finding at least one customer or client, probably many of them. What was it that attracted them to you? Is that point of attraction still there? What can you do to make your product or service even more appealing? There’s nothing more empowering than finding specific actions that will help you to improve your chances of success.

If you’re worried that you won’t be assigned a big project or get a promotion at work, remind yourself of what has happened in the past. Have you been assigned projects or gotten promotions in the past? If so, did you rise to the challenge and do a good job? If you did, chances are good that you will continue to succeed and get noticed by your employer. Success breeds success, right? If, on the other hand, you haven’t been assigned big projects or gotten promotions (and there are projects and/or promotions to be had), or they haven’t gone well, look at what you can do to change that. Can you get more training? Can you speak up more on your own behalf? Can you take some initiative to show what you can do? If it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere in your current job, can you consider looking for another job?

And regarding online dating…as I tell my clients, there are lots of potential partners out there, and you only need to find one. What are the chances that there isn’t even one person with whom you are compatible? (Here come the ANTs again…take a moment to stomp on them. Look at this situation from the perspective of one of your friends. Would he or she say that there’s no one out there for you? Probably not!)

How will you rise to the challenge today (or maybe tomorrow)?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

Your Mind Is a Dangerous Place

Committee signs

“Your mind is a dangerous place. Don’t go in there alone.”—author unknown

For several years I worked at Chrysalis House, a residential treatment center in Crownsville, MD for women with addictions. Chrysalis House residents who spent significant amounts of time by themselves were regularly warned of the danger of “isolating.” Many of them had a problem with this, as they felt a need for time away from the other 20+ plus residents of the house. How were they to tell the difference between healthy solitude and “isolating?”

The difference, I think, lies in what is going on inside a person’s head when she’s alone. Twelve step groups speak of the “committee” meeting, meaning that a person’s unhealthy thoughts are getting the better of her. The committee causes isolation; solitude alone does not. Isolation, therefore, can happen even when a person is surrounded by other people.

What does the committee tell you? Nothing good! Here are some of the messages you may get from your committee:

“You’re not good enough.”

“You’re going to fail.”

“Nobody likes you.”

“You’re unlovable.”

“You’re on your own.”

“You don’t have the right to exist.”

You’re not [thin, smart, rich…] enough.”

Do any of those sound familiar?

The committee plays a significant role in anxiety and depression. One reason that depression and anxiety tend to persist is that we use our minds to understand our world. If you are dealing with anxiety or depression, your means of perceiving and interacting with the world is filtered through negative thoughts and feelings. This is the committee at work.

A great way to defy the committee is to get an outside perspective, possibly from a family member, a friend, a therapist, or a member of the clergy. He or she will be able to look at your situation more objectively and help you to see the flaws in your internal logic. If you are self-critical, talking to someone who cares about you will help to cut the committee down to size.

The committee uses a variety of techniques, often called cognitive distortions, to make you feel inadequate or just plain wrong. These cognitive distortions can also be called Automatic Negative Thoughts, or ANTs. There are different types of ANTs, including mind reading; fortune telling/catastrophizing; a negative mental filter; maximizing and minimizing; and all or nothing/black and white thinking. For more information on ANTs and how to “stomp” on them, sign up for my free “Don’t Believe Everything You Think” e-course by filling out the form on this page.

Early Losses

Little Girl On Swing

The losses I mentioned in my last post are, of course, not the only ones. For instance, what about the loss of things or people you never actually had? Do you consciously feel a sense of loss in those cases, or maybe just a vague sense that something is not right, or do you never even think about the fact that your “normal” is not that of most people?

I’m thinking particularly of the loss of a parent’s love and attention. Some children, for instance, have parents die before they’re born, or early enough in their lives that they don’t remember them.

Death isn’t the only way to lose a parent, though. I mentioned divorce in my previous post, in the sense of losing a spouse. But divorce also affects children. If divorced parents don’t share custody of their children, one parent may essentially be lost, even if he has not died. At times one parent will desert the family and rarely, if ever, be heard from again.

These are pretty obvious losses; one or both parents is/are physically absent. What happens, though, when a parent is physically, but not emotionally, present? Some possible reasons for this are chronic mental or physical illness, alcoholism or some other addiction, and frequent absences from home (traveling for business or working late, for instance).

Let’s look at chronic mental or physical illness first. Actor Alan Alda said, “I was a child, and my mother was psychotic. She loved me, but I didn’t really feel I had a mother. And when you live with somebody who is paranoid and thinks you’re trying to kill them all the time, you tend to feel a little betrayed.” He had a mother who was physically present in his life, but she was unable to give him the positive attention he deserved. In this case, the adult, rather than the child, became the focus of attention in the family.

Your parent doesn’t have to be psychotic for this to apply, though. Many times I’ve had a client talk to me about having a mother who was so depressed that she didn’t leave her bedroom for days on end; she didn’t take care of the kids or the house, so it became their job to do so. This can also happen with a parent whose chronic physical illness renders her unable to care for her kids the way they need her to do.

And then there’s the alcoholic parent. What do you do when your father is as likely to be drunk as not, and your mother focuses all of her attention on trying to fix him? What is left for the children? Not much. What they get, instead, is unpredictability and emotional and/or physical danger.

It’s possible for none of these things to be true, but for a child to nevertheless not have her needs met. There are parents who are too self-absorbed or too busy to parent their children. Or they may suffer from anxiety or a type of low-grade depression called dysthymia. In this case, it’s not as apparent that something is wrong. The parents are not obviously mentally or physically ill, but still they are unable, or unwilling, to give their children positive attention.

Do you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios? If so, you may want to read books on the subject and/or seek counseling to work through the issues that have resulted from your loss(es).

There are many books that may help you to better understand yourself and overcome the effects of your childhood. One is my book, Me Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself. Many other helpful books can be found in the “Resources” section at the end of the book.

If this post did resonate with you, what will you do to help yourself overcome the effects your childhood has had upon you?

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!

Tag With Relax

Most of us often feel like we have too much to do and not enough time to do it, but this time of year can be particularly bad. If you want to relieve some of that stress, it’s the perfect time to practice meditation!

“Wait a second,” I can hear you saying, “How am I supposed to add more to my schedule when I’m already too busy? And how is that supposed to make me feel better?”

First of all, forget the stereotypical picture of someone sitting in lotus position for an hour, keeping her mind completely blank. This is not what meditation is for most of us.

You can meditate using any amount of time that you have. In fact, it makes sense to start for a maximum of five minutes while you’re getting used to it. You can gradually work up to a longer amount of time, but there’s no “right” length for a meditation session.

There are many kinds of meditation, but one of the easiest is a breathing meditation. Sit or lie in a comfortable position, preferably somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed. It often helps to turn off the lights. Close your eyes or look at a neutral spot ahead of you.

Take deep, slow breaths, inhaling to the count of five, pausing, then exhaling to the count of five. You can either continue counting or just say “in” during your inhale and “out” during your exhale. Don’t expect to be able to keep your mind completely blank; thoughts will pop up. When you do have a thought, just notice it and let it go, like a cloud floating across the sky; then return to your breath.

Continue this for whatever period of time works for you. The more you do it, the more relaxed you are likely to feel, not only while meditating, but during the rest of your day, as well. At times when you feel stress coming on but you can’t meditate, just take some deep, slow breaths. This will help restore you to calm.

No matter how daunting meditation seems to you, it is a doable practice. You don’t have to be a Zen master to benefit from it. Why not give it a try?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

When Facebook Isn’t Your Friend

I have several clients who are considering deleting their Facebook accounts. Shocking, isn’t it?

You know the benefits of Facebook. You can reconnect with friends from the past. (For instance, how many of you, like me, are now connected to people you hadn’t heard from since high school?) You can also keep up with the goings-on of people who are closer to you. And don’t forget all of those cute pictures of children and pets!

If you want to be outraged, there’s usually at least one link to an article about something really bad someone did to someone else. There are article links you may find funny or helpful, as well. There are posts that make statements you agree with, and ones you don’t (which you can critique, of course). There are as many quizzes as you have time for (“Which ‘Big Bang Theory’ character are you?” “What color best represents you?” etc.)

So what’s not to love? One thing is the amount of potentially productive time that is swallowed up by Facebook. You know you’ve done it—spent time on Facebook when you could have been doing something that actually needed to be done, or even something that you wanted to do. Sometimes, if you’re like some of my clients, part of that time is spent “cyber-stalking” old boyfriends or girlfriends, even though the “stalker” knows it’s best to just move on. It’s so tempting, though, and so easy to do…

The main complaint that I have heard from clients, though, is that Facebook doesn’t represent reality. People post their triumphs, their happy photos, and their “Aren’t I silly?” moments. They post things they’re doing that no one would have asked about. Sometimes they post updates about their health or that of their loved ones.

But where are the posts about their failures? How many people have you seen admitting to having wronged someone? How many people say, “I have a drinking problem and I’m afraid I can’t stop” or “I treat my spouse and children badly on a daily basis” or “I’m lost and don’t know what to do with my life”?

We know that Facebook generally isn’t the place for really deep self-revelation. For someone with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or a history of trauma, though, reading Facebook posts can make it seem as though she’s the only one who doesn’t have it all together. Everyone else leads a successful, happy life; she’s the only one who doesn’t get it. What is she doing wrong? Where’s the missing rulebook for life? These thoughts can make a lonely person even lonelier, or a person who feels broken feel even more so.

I’m not saying that you should abandon Facebook, but take some time to think about it and what it represents. Remember that if you base your opinion of others’ lives on their Facebook posts, you will get a very distorted picture. And, as always, remember not to compare your insides to someone else’s outside!

 

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

What’s Your Superpower?

My daughter loves the PBS show “Wild Kratts,” in which the Kratt brothers explore the amazing powers of various creatures in the wild. Often, the brothers point out that humans have so far been unable to replicate those powers. One example is the gecko’s ability to walk on walls and ceilings. (I won’t attempt an explanation of that ability here!)

Does this make you envious of geckos? It is a pretty cool ability, and it might be useful at times, but would it be worth trading all of our uniquely human abilities to get it? Of course not.

You may not envy geckos, but I’ll bet you’ve envied another person at some point in your life. You might be surprised at what or whom they envy, though—it might be you! As they say in 12-step programs, “Don’t compare your insides to someone else’s outside.” In other words, other people, even if they seem self-confident, may have more insecurities than you think.

For instance, consider Suzanne, who was at her daughter’s dance class. She noticed, as she had in the past, a couple of the other mothers who were considerably thinner than she was; she found herself envying them for this. This was put into perspective, though, when their conversation made it obvious that they felt self-conscious about their bodies compared to certain other women they’d seen recently.

I sometimes see other people and wish I had some quality of theirs—physical appearance, athletic ability, cooking or craft-making skills, etc. But then I realize that I wouldn’t want to trade all of who I am for whatever that quality might be. Would I want to give up the job and the family that I love so that I could be that person? Would I want to give up my unique strengths and abilities? No, I wouldn’t.

Take some time to think about the qualities you wish you had. Then take some more time and think about all of the positive qualities and abilities that you already have. You may discover that you have superpowers after all!

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

What’s Wrong With You?

Woman looking through dirty broken glass

Probably a lot less than you think!

If you grew up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional family, there’s a good chance you grew up feeling like you were just plain wrong or unfixably broken.

In your early childhood, when you still believed the world revolved around you, you learned to feel responsible for everything that went on in your family. At that age, you were entirely dependent upon your parents, so you couldn’t risk thinking there was something wrong with them. Instead, you decided there must be something wrong with you. Why else wouldn’t (or couldn’t) they meet your needs, including your need to be seen, loved, and nurtured?

Many people, rather than learning as they grow up that they are not really failures, continue to listen, without realizing it, to that hurt, self-defeating child inside.

This generally leads to a continued negative self-image; you notice your faults, but not your positive qualities. You make a big deal about the times you mess up, but barely notice the times you do something right. Even though you don’t really want to feel this way, it’s comfortable, because it’s what you’re used to.

You can change these negative thinking patterns, although it will take time. I’ve created a free 5-part e-course called “Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Five Simple Ways to Change Your Thinking and Change Your Life” that will help you recognize and change your negative self-talk. You can sign up for it here.

It is actually possible to rewire your brain so you can think differently about yourself. Give it a try—what have you got to lose?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Thoughts to Destiny

Woman looking out a window

 

“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”

–Frank Outlaw, Late President of the Bi-Lo Stores

 

 

Wow…start with your thoughts and end up with your destiny!

This may seem unlikely at first, but I think there’s a lot of truth to it. I believe that positive thoughts tend to bring positive life circumstances, and negative thoughts tend to bring negative ones.

You’ve probably, at some point in your life, known someone who was like Eeyore: always gloomy and expecting the worst. What do you think it was like for that person? Did he or she have hopes and dreams? Were they realized?

You’ve probably also known someone who always seemed to have a positive attitude, always believing that things would turn out well.  How did things go for that person? Was his or her positive outlook rewarded by an overall happy and/or successful life?

Now think of yourself. Chances are that you’re neither of the extremes I described above.  You’re probably not negative all of the time, but you probably don’t always see the bright side of things, either. What are the situations in which you tend to be optimistic? What are the ones that bring out your inner Eeyore?

Take a week or so to track your thoughts and feelings in different situations. Keep a log of times that you notice you’re happy and optimistic, and times you’re not. At the end of the week, look over your log. What patterns do you see? Are there particular times of day when it seems easier or harder for you to feel good about your present and your future? What situations bring out the optimist or the pessimist in you?

Once you’ve found these patterns, be alert for them. When you’re feeling optimistic, do what you can to amplify and encourage your positive thoughts and feelings. When you’re feeling pessimistic, do the opposite: notice your negative thoughts and find positive challenges to them. Do what you can to turn your negatives into positives. The more you practice this, the easier it will be.

How will you change your destiny for the better?

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

 

 

 

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Think!

Don't Believe Everything You Think

Have you ever stopped to notice that not everything you think is correct? That’s a thought that doesn’t often come to us, because our brains are the only interpreters we have of what’s going on in the world. Of course we believe what we think!

Automatic Negative Thoughts (abbreviated ANTs) are  particularly destructive thoughts that need to be noticed and disbelieved. Let’s look at five types of ANTs: mind reading, fortune telling/ catastrophizing, negative mental filter, maximizing/ minimizing, and black and white/all or nothing thinking. I’ll use examples of potential ANTs I might encounter regarding my book, “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself.

Let’s look at mind reading first. Mind reading is something many of us learn early in life, often as a defense mechanism; we try to guess what other people are thinking. We can become convinced that we know what they’re thinking, not considering the possibility that our guesses might be wrong.

How might the mind reading ANT mess with my head regarding my book? Authors can be very insecure about the reception their books will receive. If I engage in mind reading in this situation, the ANT might say, “You know that people don’t like your book, don’t you? When they read it, they realize that you don’t really know what you’re talking about. The only people who are saying positive things about it are people who want to make you feel good.”

That brings us to the next ANT: fortune telling or catastrophizing. This ANT tells you that you know what’s going to happen in the future and that it’s going to be bad. In the case of my book, this ANT might say, “This book is going to be disastrous for your career. Not only will you not sell many books, but prospective clients who read it will decide not to work with you because they’ll think you’re incompetent.”

The third ANT is a negative mental filter. This will filter out all of the positives in the situation and only look at the negatives. For example, my book is available for sale on Amazon.com, and has been reviewed there. All except one of those reviews have been very positive, but if I use a negative mental filter, I will not notice all of the positive reviews; I will only look at the single critical review I received. The ANT will whisper in my ear, “Look at that negative review! That person didn’t enjoy your book or find it particularly useful. I told you that you never should have written it!”

ANT number four is maximizing/minimizing. Similar to the negative mental filter, this ANT will make any negatives seem huge and any positives seem very small. This ANT might whisper, “Ignore those people who said positive things about how much your book has helped them. I’m sure it wasn’t really that helpful. Think of all of the people who read your book but didn’t review it; I’ll bet they didn’t get anything good out of it at all, but they were too nice to say anything. Those people are the majority of the people who read your book, not the positive ones.”

Black and white, all or nothing thinking is the fifth ANT I will talk about here. This ANT sees things only one way. Things are either all good or all bad; there is no gray area. This ANT might whisper, “Writing that book was a total waste of time. Think of all of the hours you spent writing and revising it. There are a lot more useful things you could have done with that time. A book is only worth writing if it sells hundreds of thousands of copies, and there’s no way that’s going to happen with your book.”

You’ve probably fallen victim to each of these ANTs at one time or another. The important thing is to start to notice the ANTs whispering in your ear and to find positive responses to challenge the negative thoughts. The more you do this, the easier it will be, and the more likely that the positive thoughts will be the first ones that come to mind.

I have created a five-part e-course called “Don’t Believe Everything You Think: Five Simple Ways to Change Your Thinking and Change Your Life.” You can sign up for that e-course at www.BeallPastoralCounseling.com. You can find out more about my book and order it by visiting www.FindYourMeTime.com. And by the way, those ANTs are lying; the book really is an invaluable resource that you will enjoy reading!

 

Jennifer Beall is a psychotherapist in private practice near Annapolis, Maryland. She is the author of  “Me” Time: Finding the Balance Between Taking Care of Others and Taking Care of Yourself, available on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com in print editions, and as an e-book for Kindle, Nook, and all other major e-readers.

Believing Is Seeing

Believing Is Seeing

Yes, you read that right: believing is seeing. If you believe something is possible, if you can picture it as being a “done deal,” it is much more likely that you will be able to achieve it.

For instance, a woman reviewing an exercise DVD on Amazon.com said that, thanks to working out with the DVD, she was “rocking size 6 skinny jeans.” Imagine you were considering buying that DVD, and your goal was to get down to a size 6. You know that this other person succeeded, so theoretically you can, too.

Can you picture yourself going into a store, picking out a pair of size 6 skinny jeans, trying them on, and looking fabulous in them? If you can picture that, don’t you think you’ll be more motivated to work out? After all, you’re more likely to go through all of the pain of the workouts if you’re reasonably confident that you’ll get the results you want.

You can do this with anything. If you want a new house, picture it in as much detail as you can, then imagine yourself going through your day-to-day activities in the house. If you want a new job, visualize the new place of work and picture yourself there, doing the new job. If you want more money, imagine yourself spending all of that money.

It also helps to be grateful for what you have. Maybe you don’t weigh what you’d like to, maybe you don’t love your job, maybe you’re having trouble paying the bills. You have to start where you are and work from there. Take the time to notice the things you appreciate about your current body, job, or financial situation; appreciation for the present can lead to even better things in the future.

What dreams can you make real?