(As seen on Huff Post)
If you’re considering a career as a psychologist AND you plan to practice in New York City, you’re in luck.
Serving the mental health needs of New Yorkers as a psychologist in private practice is more than just great…it’s the most rewarding career path available. Of course, I’m just a tiny bit biased, but I stand by my assertion and you’ll learn why I feel so strongly about it.
Keep in mind that I’m generally referring to what it’s like to be a New York City psychologist in private practice as opposed to working in a hospital, school or clinic setting. You can also have a rewarding career as a psychologist outside of the private practice setting, but running your own show takes the experience a hundred levels higher. And even if you want to be in private practice, you almost always have to train and work in other settings before you can practice independently
All I will say to qualify my bold statement is that a career as a psychologist can only be so profoundly amazing if the following are true:
- You can handle the uncertainty of lacking a regular, predictable paycheck.
- You don’t worship money.
- You have exceptional listening skills, you tend to root for the underdog, you have the humility to take responsibility for your actions in interpersonal conflict and you don’t unravel when you hear about extreme mental suffering.
Yes, this is a gross oversimplification of what makes a solid psychologist, but it will have to do for now.
The Life of the NYC Psychologist
- First and foremost, you get to meet the most intelligent, dynamic and talented group of people in the world. Can you imagine how enjoyable it would be to spend your day enhancing the lives of the movers and shakers of the world? It’s wildly exciting to help younger generations who have the drive, talent, creativity and mental ability to change the world. A typical day may involve working with an ambitious student, then a programmer, then a talented finance or professional, then an entertainer, then a C-suite executive. It’s amazing! I learn as much from my patients as they do from me.
- You learn how to mix art with science to enhance the lives of people who are the world’s best artists and scientists. The best therapy is one that mixes objectively proven techniques with artful, interpersonal maneuvers. Psychologists, especially skilled ones, take mental health care to the next level by offering much than what a book or manual can teach. They mix art into their approach, which adds an intangible element that promotes personal transformation.
- You feel like you’re making a difference in the world on a daily basis. Since New York attracts such a unique type of individual, it can feel like you’re having a profound effect on society by improving the lives of people who make things happen for the world. As your skillset grows, so will your ability to create significant changes for your patients, which in turn, will make them more effective in their influence on the world.
- You become an expert in New York City culture without trying. Imagine being constantly taught about the subtleties of city life, the latest trends, memes, metaphors, fashion, art and everything that makes NYC so unique. It gives you the sense that you have your finger on the pulse of the Center of the Universe, the world’s largest think tank. Clients will incorporate their vast array of cultural opportunities into their therapy. For example, you will get to talk with clients about Hamilton after they see the show, or an art installation, gala or tech convention.
- Investing in self-improvement becomes a thunderclap of wellness that spreads across the city. If you read about an interesting concept, you’re suddenly equipped with a powerful metaphor to use with certain clients. Take on the task of reading a self-help book or attending a seminar and your clients will indirectly benefit from what you personally reap.
- You make your own hours which gives you a invigorating sense of freedom.While everyone else is counting vacation days, imprisoned within a cube city and reporting to a boss, you get to do whatever you feel like. Even with a full roster of patients, there’s still tons of time to play in the city. This can be problematic if you’re undisciplined or you crave the structure offered by a regular paycheck. To be honest, I would give up the predictability of a regular paycheck in a heartbeat for the freedom to walk outside on a two-hour break between sessions to sit in a wonderful coffee shop and write a blog post, take an hour-long stroll and soak in the city’s spirit and beauty, schmooze with New Yorkers or casually browse through a magic shop or a used book store.
- You’re exposed to the most diverse group of people and ideas on the planet. In a single day, you might work with people from six different countries, or help someone manage the stress of the inner city right after assisting someone with managing the stress of running a large company. You get to talk with people with high aspirations, people from backgrounds unlike your own who care about the world and want to make it a better place.
The decision to start therapy in New York City can be scary as hell.
After all, it’s hard to know what to expect before you actually begin your sessions.
I’m going to take some of the confusion out of the decision-making process. I’m also going to give you an idea about what to expect in the first session, even though the way the start of therapy is structured varies from therapist to therapist.
My ultimate goal is to make you feel less anxiety about the decision to begin therapy and more primed for success with the process.
A quick note…If you’re reading this as you prepare to start therapy under my care, please feel free to ask me any questions about what I’ve written below. I want you to get the most out of the first session and beyond.
Preparing for the First Therapy Session
So here it goes, 11 thoughts about starting therapy in NYC that you need to know.
1. Once you sit down on the couch and start talking, it will be the greatest relief you’ve felt in a long time, nothing like the anxiety you experienced around the decision to enter therapy.
Most people feel immense relief after the first session at least partially because they experience a release of a buildup of emotion they’ve been holding on to for days, weeks or months. This benefit is wonderful, but the most impressive emotional gains are made once you roll your sleeves up and get deeper into the intervention.
2. It can be helpful to write down what you’ve been struggling with before you begin the first session.
Taking a few notes ahead of the initial appointment is by no means necessary, but very often people have a hard time articulating what they want to work on. Writing is a great way to organize your thoughts heading into therapy.
3. Most, but not all, therapists will ask you in the first session what you hope to accomplish in therapy.
4. The blistering pace of modern life makes therapy a necessity.
If you’re living in a bustling city, therapy is the ultimate place to combat the stress and pressure you feel on a daily basis as a result of the lifestyle you’ve signed up for. We are evolving as a culture to fill up every potential moment for self-reflection with our screens. Therapy offers an opportunity to check in with yourself and a good look at what needs to be worked on.
5. Insight alone rarely produces significant improvement.
Your willingness to test reality and make cognitive and behavioral changes is the real spark. Amazing insights gained through therapy can be mind openers, but not game changers. Therapy that relies on insight as the dominant force of transformation takes much longer to produce substantial changes. In my experience, therapy designed to create new insights, which is fortified by active interventions, such as disputing irrational beliefs, is much, much more effective. This is why I’m big on CBT therapy. As a cognitive behavioral therapist in New York City, I strive to offer tools for clients, in addition to insight. Tools + insight = better outcomes.
6. Some people are raised to view therapy as unnecessary or hocus pocus. Your therapist will probably prove them wrong.
From the outside looking in, it’s hard to see the potential benefits of therapy. The nature of emotional suffering is such that it can be hard to imagine feeling substantially better just by talking to a therapist. Most therapists do more than just talk to you. They are trained in applying specific interventions to alleviate suffering and they know how to build a strong therapeutic relationship that will predict a positive outcome for you.
7. If you’re therapist considers himself or herself a psychoanalyst, expect to do most of the talking. If the therapist identifies with CBT as the primary mode of therapy, expect him or her to be more active in the process.
The truth is that most therapists do not take a single approach to conducting therapy. Feel free to ask your therapist-to-be how active he or she is in the sessions so there are no surprises. With that said, like most therapists in New York City, I tend to do much less talking in the first session because I’m asking questions and planning my intervention. Therefore, it’s hard to use the therapist’s engagement level in the first session to determine how collaborative the therapy will be.
8. Don’t expect your therapist to force things out of you.
Therapy tends to go at a pace set by the patient. Your therapist is likely to be sensitive to your signals that certain topics are off limits until you’re ready to go there. Just know that a seasoned therapist will pick up on what is omitted from your story. You don’t have to do anything about that.
9. The trend among newer generations of therapists is to act more “real” with patients.
Unless you’re in the market for 3-times-a-week, lying-on-the-couch psychoanalysis, you can safely assume that your psychologist won’t present as a tabula rasa, the latin phrase for “blank slate.” In other words, he won’t strive to remain 100% nonreactive, cold and neutral. In my experience, most patients appreciate realness from a therapist, which doesn’t mean that he will be constantly sharing about his own personal experiences. Rather, it means that his reactions will seem genuine and empathic. Another wonderful consequence of your therapist being real with you is that it can feel like you have a coach in your corner, which most patients enjoy.
10. Therapy is not as helpful if you don’t a bit of take time between sessions to reflect on what was discussed in session.
If you want to get the most out of your sessions, consider actively applying what you’ve learned in sessions to your life. Feel free to challenge your therapist to help you plan for testing in real life any lessons learned during sessions.
11. Therapy will be helpful to the extent that you’re open to change and willing to look at your contributions to your own suffering.
This is a tough one to really, truly understand for most people. Success in therapy involves a willingness to examine some of your most uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and experiences. If someone is pushing you into therapy kicking and screaming, then chances are it’s not going to be very effective. You need to want to make changes irrespective of what someone who cares about says you should do. If you tend to blame other people for your problems, you’ll be limited in how much you’ll get out of your sessions. That doesn’t mean that a little parent blaming here and there doesn’t feel super relieving. It just means that entering therapy with a sense of personal responsibility will predict success with the process.
Good luck with your therapy.
Find out exactly what a clinical psychologist does. Here are some commonly asked questions regarding the role of a clinical psychologist in New York City.
What is the role of a clinical psychologist?
A clinical psychologist works with people to improve their social, emotional, mental and behavioral problems. First, a clinical psychologist conducts an assessment of the problem to arrive at a diagnosis via interviews, observation and sometimes psychological testing. Next, they create a treatment plan with the client and help them to identify goals that the client wants to work on. Then, the clinical psychologist carries out psychological treatment to help the client achieve the goals. Progress is monitored over the course of treatment.
I have been conducting psychotherapy in New York City for over 20 years. One benefit of being a clinical psychologist, as opposed to other types of therapists in NYC, is that my clinical doctoral training in assessment and diagnosis tends to be more extensive than what is offered in most other mental health degree programs.
Some clinical psychologists do research, teach or consult for organizations/businesses to solve systemic and individual issues.
Is the job of a clinical psychologist in New York City different than that in other places?
The role of clinical psychologists in New York City is generally the same as that in other parts of the country. However, there are a few subtle but important differences when compared to clinical psychologists in New York State or other places.
First, in NYC clinical psychologists tend to be more trained in working with people from diverse backgrounds. The amazing diversity of NYC’s population necessitates that New York City clinical psychologists have an added sensitivity to people with alternative lifestyles and varied backgrounds.
Second, the fast-paced speed of everyday life, the noise, the lack of space and the general pressure to achieve success makes New York City a challenging place to live. As a Manhattan clinical psychologist, I am frequently helping people manage their career achievement needs and the stress generated from wanting to “make it big” here in New York. As a result, I have the honor of working with some incredibly ambitious people who are changing the world.
Third, it is my belief that a New York City clinical psychologist also helps people cope with the lack of a sense of community in the city. Other parts of the country have more of a community feel. The absence of community creates the potential for feeling a sense of emptiness, isolation and loneliness, especially when you are new to NYC. A clinical psychologist in New York City who has been in practice for a long time must know how to help patients cope with this kind of challenge.
Please note that other kinds of NYC psychotherapists with lots of clinical experience also learn to help people manage the unique combination of isolation and pressure found in New York City.
What is the Difference Between a Therapist and a Psychologist?
A therapist is a generic term for any mental health clinician who meets face-to-face (or online) with patients to alleviate their emotional suffering. Be careful though. There are also many types of therapists that are not associated with mental health, such as a physical therapist, speech therapist and occupational therapist.
A psychologist is a type of therapist, one with the most rigorous training out of all the types of mental health therapists. Psychologists tend to have more years of clinical training and more hours of supervision and clinical experience even before they graduate from their program.
How long does it take to become a clinical psychologist?
In order to become a clinical psychologist, you need to complete your Bachelor’s Degree first. Some clinical psychologist also complete a two-year Master’s Program in Counseling or a related mental health field before their clinical psychology doctoral program. However, clinical psychology doctoral program students are awarded a Master’s Degree after two years and them they continue on for their doctorate.
Overall, a doctorate in clinical psychology can take between 4-7 years, sometimes even longer. There are three years of graduate classes during which doctoral students are completing supervised clinical training (aka externships) in various mental health settings, such as a hospital, clinic or school counseling center. Once the coursework is complete, the doctoral student has to complete a one-year internship in an accredited mental health setting. After the internship the doctorate is awarded. Then the new psychologist must complete about 2000 hours of post-graduate training before receiving a license in a particular state. Please note that the information provided here varies greatly across states in the US. Please see here for more on the topic.
What is the difference between a psychologist and a clinical psychologist?
A psychologist is a general term for a professional who went to a doctoral program in psychology. A clinical psychologist is an expert in the human mind that attended an accredited doctoral program in clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists also work directly with human subjects. In other words, clinical psychologists work with clients. Other non-clinical psychologists may draw from the same knowledge based but they do not necessarily work directly with clients.
There are other types of psychologists, including industrial psychologists, social psychologists, forensic psychologists and sports psychologists.
Do you need a doctorate to be a clinical psychologist?
Yes, you need a doctoral degree to be a clinical psychologist. You can get a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree or a Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology (PhD) degree in order to be a psychologist.
In some mental health settings, I have seen people loosely use the word “psychologist” to refer to the mental health clinician on staff regardless of their degree, but the true definition of the role implies earning a doctorate in psychology.
What is a PsyD ?
A PsyD or Psy.D. represents a “doctor of psychology,” which is a practitioner’s degree in clinical, counseling or school psychology). In contrast to a PhD, the training you receive at a PsyD program tends to involve more clinical training and more hours of supervised face-to-face interaction with patients. There are probably exceptions. Phd programs in clinical psychology tend to have more of a research focus. While a lot more PhDs are hired for teaching roles, PsyDs are hired as well in universities.
In my PsyD program I received extensive training in clinical psychology, conducted hundreds of hours of supervised psychotherapy AND I wrote a PhD-level dissertation. It was not my original intention to create such a mammoth dissertation, and you generally do not have to write a huge dissertation in a PsyD program. It can be a more contained project.
Is a clinical psychologist a doctor?
Yes, a clinical psychologist is considered a doctor of psychology (not to be confused with an MD, or medical doctor.
What is the difference between a clinical psychologist, a clinical social worker, a mental health counselor and a marriage and family therapist?
A clinical social worker (LCSW) helps people to cope with emotional, behavioral and mental issues, but the training does not include as much emphasis on assessment and diagnosis as compared to a clinical psychology doctoral program. Many LCSWs take their education a step further by attending extensive training programs in specific areas following the completion of their clinical hours for licensure. Social workers receive impressive training in understanding and navigating through various systems that interact with the individual. See here for more on this degree.
A mental health counselor is a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. See here for more on this degree.
A marriage and family therapist (LMFT) is a specialized degree that focuses primarily on marital and family counseling. There is also training in individual therapy. See here for more on this degree.
What is the difference between clinical psychologists and psychiatrists in New York State?
A clinical psychologist is a PhD or PsyD helps alleviate emotional suffering via various forms of talk therapy.
A psychiatrist is a Medical Doctor (M.D.) who went on to specialize in psychiatry. Psychiatrists tend to work with people who are grappling with more serious forms of emotional suffering, but not always. Some psychiatrists also conduct psychotherapy. They tend to lean toward medication as the solution for emotional problems.
Clinical psychologists in New York State are not permitted to prescribe medication. Nor do they do not receive any formal training in prescribing medication.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions about the field of clinical psychology or to get started in therapy.Learn More
How Much Do You Need to Be Right or Point Out Other People’s Faults?
Why do we invest so much time and effort watering the roots of the relationships that make us happy, yet when we’re grappling with a sour mood, our ability to see the world from someone else’s eyes feels impossible? Does this ever happen to you?
The man or woman you love so much is sitting right in front of you, but all you can think about is how you won’t give in until they not only acknowledge how you feel, but tell you that you’re also RIGHT!. You’re even willing to ruin a date night, sabotage an opportunity for intimacy, or avoid talking to them for days until they submit. You’re furious and you can’t step out of it.
We’ve all been there. We usually reserve this type of behavior for the ones we love the most or have known the longest. If we are feeling unheard or misunderstood, we may forget to listen. If we feel accused of wrongdoing, we may dodge responsibility at all cost and focus on convincing the accuser that they’re wrong.
If a deep-seated insecurity fuels the need to be right, then the fight to prove rightness can potentially go on for days, weeks, months, and even years. The need to be right and the tendency to make others wrong tends to promote long-term resentment and animosity in relationships. This state of mind may suppress the immune system and invite illness into the body, and it is likely to limit our repertoire of problem-solving behaviors.
I find that an overinvestment in being right tends to promote more frequent states of dissatisfaction in relationships and with life in general. Depression may promote the need to be right (and vice versa). When we feel low, the act of making other people wrong can give a temporary lift to our sense of self-importance. The problem with this kind of lift is that it only lasts for a brief moment, and as soon as the high of asserting our rightness passes, we either sink back into a depressed state, or we feel even lower than we did before we made a heavy investment in making someone wrong. In more intense states of depression, we often lack motivation to perform the activities that we usually enjoy. Our energy is devoted to completing the most basic of tasks, as we do our best just to get through the day. In this state of decreased motivation, the mental energy available for entertaining the perspective of others is often quite limited.
The truth is that we are all forced to endure depression at some point, although its severity, duration and impact on our functioning varies from person to person. Depression typically involves periods of sad mood, decreased motivation, and a heightened tendency to avoid feelings and situations that normally brings us a sense of connection, purpose, and fulfillment.
When we are feeling significantly depressed, we may experience anger that is directed inward toward the self, or outward toward other people or the world as a whole. These angry feelings may take the form of an “addiction” to making other people wrong. In such a state of mind, our world becomes very small. We see with blinders on. There is only one way and it is our way. Hence, when anger takes over, our ability to see things from someone else’s point of view can become severely compromised, especially if our tendency is to cope with our anger by punishing others (and giving ourselves the illusion of ridding ourselves of negative feelings) by making them feel as we feel. An openness to entertaining multiple perspectives may also be limited if we typically handle our anger by withdrawing and avoiding conflict, which tends to minimize opportunities for rectifying disagreements.
Anxiety is similar to anger in its influence on perspective-taking abilities, as it can promote a narrowing the lense of our perspective at the expense of appreciating alternative vantage points. When we are anxious, our mental resources are channeled toward coping with the belief that we must prepare for a feared event. This preparation creates a self-preserving state of mind that narrows our perspective to a limited number of possible outcomes. We repeat to ourselves in one form or another the idea that “I will not be OK if this event happens.” When we are gripped by high anxiety, predicting a catastrophe requires a huge amount of mental energy, which deprives us of the energy required to appreciate someone else’s perspective.
Would you like to achieve lasting states of positive emotion? Would you like to feel more strongly connected to your loved ones, and to your world in general? If so, cultivate your ability to see someone else’s perspective, and recognize the impact that your words and actions have on the ones you love; this will tame your innate human need to be right. Your willingness to acknowledge the perspective of others, even if you disagree with their stance, is one of the most important mental muscles to build.
How to Build Empathy and Improve Perspective-Taking Skills
Here are a few brief suggestions for assessing and improving your ability to appreciate the perspective of others.
1) Conduct an honest assessment of how invested you are in making people wrong, especially the people closest to you. Ask a trusted friend or family member to give their opinion on this. Try to be open to their feedback, especially if you are both emotionally invested in the relationship. When it comes to how often we feel the need to be right, we are usually poor self-evaluators.
2) Practice the art of listening without interrupting. Avoid telling others how they should feel. Try to listen well enough to be able to convey to the speaker what you just heard them say, and then share what you learned from them.
3) Try to embrace the idea that there are “two rights” in every disagreement between two people.
4) Seek professional help if you determine that your need to make others wrong significantly interferes with your relationships, or if you can see that depression, anger, or anxiety present obstacles to appreciating others’ perspectives.
5) Practice doing gratitude exercises. This is one of the most powerful ways to cultivate the ability to appreciate others’ opinions and struggles. There are many self-help books available to assist you with this.
6) When you are sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop, or another setting conducive to “people-watching,” imagine what life might look like from the eyes of someone you are observing. Try to get in touch with what this person might be feeling, even if you are guessing . Do this exercise at least once a week.
7) If you recognize that you are particularly depressed or angry on a given day, take a pause in each interaction with the people you love and acknowledge to yourself (or to them) how your negative mood may be making you more argumentative or less understanding. Sometimes our loved ones deserve this “heads up.”
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you commit to improving your ability to adopt another person’s perspective and avoid the habit of making other people wrong, I am confident that you will like the way that it makes you feel. It might even bring you closer to the people you love.Learn More
During this unique time we’ve had to adjust to life behind a face mask. The world outside your window has changed, which necessitates a shift in the way you protect our physical and mental health.
While casual use of a mask in open spaces is generally easier to manage, many of us are experiencing uncomfortable levels of anxiety, even panic, while wearing a mask around others, especially as we transition toward slightly increased exposure to more people and places.
Uncertain times like these demand increased confidence in our physical and psychological protection as we encounter real or imagined danger. Below you’ll find 18 great tips for overcoming mask anxiety.
18 Ways to Reduce Mask Anxiety
1. Take your self-talk to the next level.
Remind yourself 20 times during each outdoor journey that you’re going to be ok. Literally, say to yourself. “No matter what happens, I’m going to be ok.” This self-talk may boost your immune system by giving you an enhanced sense of control during this strange time.
2. Wear your mask at home for short periods of time.
Let the mask feel like it can be a part of you. Dance with your mask. Listen to music. Take selfies. Do whatever makes the mask feel like your mask is a part of you.
3. Remind yourself of your free will to choose.
If your anxiety spikes during a mask-wearing outing, keep telling yourself different choices you’re making in real time. Say, “I choose to…” For example, if you’re about to turn right on as you approach a perpendicular street, tell yourself, “I choose to turn right.” Repeat this for the smallest of choices. Consciously exercising your free will to make choices reduces a perception of powerlessness and increases a sense of personal agency.
4. Strive to better understand your triggers.
Pay attention to the situations that trigger your anxiety. Keep a log of each bout of mask anxiety. A note on your phone will suffice. For each occurrence, write down where it occurred, what you were thinking at the time, rate your anxiety from 1-10 and remind yourself of what you did to calm down. Read over your notes. Talk through your triggers with trusted loved ones and a mental health professional.
5. Practice breathing techniques with and without your mask on.
The more you practice bringing your breathing under control, the easier it will be to self-soothe when you’re feeling anxious with a mask on. Do relaxation exercises at home with your mask on. Here’s an example of a anxiety-reducing relaxation exercise you can try.
6. Practice visualization exercises to simulate wearing a mask in real life.
Picture yourself wearing a mask in different environments that represent varying levels of stress. Begin with the least stressful environment you can imagine encountering and rehearse relaxation exercises to calm your breath. See yourself as relaxed in your mind’s eye. Then move on to visualize more stressful places where a mask may be a challenge.
7. Give your mask a name.
Build a nice relationship with your mask by naming it. Talk to it. Reason with it. Laugh at it and with it. Relate to it as a friend. “Buddy, I gotta loosen you. You’re too uptight.”
8. Consciously send healing vibes to people you see.
Focus your thoughts on how your mask is protecting the people around you. Wish each person well as they pass you by. Transmit thoughts of love and healing. We’re all struggling these days. Bringing your attention to other people’s well-being can get you outside of your own anxiety. Tell them in your mind that you’re protecting them. The world desperately needs your good vibes and sense of social responsibility to heal.
9. Think of the children.
Remind yourself of the children you’re potentially saving by wearing a mask. Imagine kids thanking you in their cute little voices. Step outside of your suffering by picturing their smiles of gratitude. You’re making a sacrifice by being so uncomfortable.
10. Embrace the anonymity.
Your mask offers you a level of public anonymity that you’ve probably never experienced before. A teenager told me he likes to think of himself as a ninja when he wears his mask. Find a fascinating angle on mask anonymity. Embrace temporary hiding out. Enlist your imagination.
11. Get angry at your anxiety.
This is not my first choice compared to the other anxiety reduction techniques, but some people find it effective. Anger is the flip side of anxiety. You can’t feel both at the same time. Focus on how annoying your anxiety can be. Talk back to your anxiety. Yell at it in your mind. Tell it that it can’t control you.
12. Try name calling. That is, give your anxiety a name.
Naming your anxiety reminds you that anxiety is not all of you: rather, it’s a part of you. This anxiety reduction technique represents another way to increase your sense of control in the face of uncertainty, similar to my recommendation to get angry about your anxiety. Call your anxiety a person’s name and let it know how you feel. There’s something comical in this, but it can work if you buy into this technique. “Herbert, you suck! Go away!”
13. Find the humor in your situation.
I know that there’s nothing funny about all of the tragedy that the Covid-19 virus has inflicted on the world, but for survival’s sake, look for what funny about a given situation. Laughter can be neutralizer of mask anxiety. I think about the inevitably awkward moments that this pandemic has created. How would Larry David respond to a scenario you find yourself in? George Costanza? Kramer? The Modern Family characters? What about your favorite comedic characters?
14. Wear a funny, protective mask.
There are plenty of masks for sale with slogans that will give you and strangers a good chuckle. Knowing that you’re delivering humor to the world may help you feel less anxious with your mask on.
15. Make your mask a fashion statement.
If a humorous mask isn’t your thing, then can you make it about fashion? A few masks that match your clothing can go a long way. I wouldn’t make this recommendation if we weren’t in the midst of a global pandemic, but a little style can go a long way for easing your mask anxiety.
16. Online therapy = an anxiety game changer.
Seeking out an online therapist in a global pandemic is a sign of massive strength. Work on lowering your anxiety from the comfort of your own home with an online therapist. This experience can improve more than mask anxiety. Online therapy for anxiety with the right mental health professional can give you the perspective you need to understand and control your triggers, as well as the less obvious influences on your anxiety.
17. Imagine a light around you that protects you.
Imagine a blue light protecting you from all danger. Focus your energy on this force field. Picture a round aura protecting you. Send love to it. Repeat to yourself in a loving and confident voice, “I am protected.” This exercise is no joke. Creating a reminder of your safety can reduce your anxiety.
18. Start a creative, mask-related phone or video project.
Talk to yourself on camera about what you’re going through. Document this time in your life so that future generations can see what you endured. Share your wisdom from lessons learned. Creative projects lower anxiety.Learn More
Welcome to the ultimate happiness guide!
I’m going to teach you how to be happy by focusing on everyday habits that may be hurting you more than you realize. I tend to be concrete in my approach to helping people overcome obstacles preventing happiness from shining through. In fact, there’s usually an easy solution to every habit that harms your happiness. It’s just a matter of taking the time to look inward and think about your everyday behavior. Most habits are on autopilot, but they can be switched to manual if you’re motivated to make small but consistent changes to the way you conduct your day.
A Bit About Why We Sabotage Our Happiness
Happiness is something you have to learn how to accept. Otherwise, you will self-sabotage. You default sense of self dictates whether or not you believe you deserve happiness. At your psychological epicenter you maintain core beliefs about your worth, and for many of us these beliefs are distorted so badly that we reject anything good that happens because they’re not in sync with how we feel about ourselves.
Modern technological advances don’t help matters either. The lightning-fast availability of our phones further warps our relationship with happiness. Think about it — your phone allows you to feel like you can escape psychological pain on a moment’s notice and control your world by directing all of your focus to a tiny little, satisfying screen. You jump around your apps looking for anything that sufficiently satisfies your need for stimulation or escape. This habit, repeated 100 times a day, makes life outside of your phone less satisfying.
A Fix for 18 Happiness-Stealing Habits
Below are 18 problems and fixes. Tweaking the ones you relate to can skyrocket your happiness potential.
1. You’re afraid to make a big change that’s weighing on your conscience.
There’s so many directions I can go here. It all depends on what you fear would happen if you actually pursued what you REALLY want. What are you fearing will happen if you make the change you crave? Do you have an accurate view of your ability to cope with the psychological pain that this change will bring? Yes, you can survive for many years like this, but do you really want to? As far as your relationship is concerned, there’s always room for improvement if you want to be with him or her long term.
Your next move toward happiness: Start by working on overcoming resentment toward your partner, listening with (and modeling) a higher quality of attention and promoting open communication about the state of the union. If your job totally sucks, can you self-educate via online courses to build additional skills that will appeal to potential, new employers? Set a timeline for yourself with a commitment to making a switch if your job doesn’t improve. Are you even in the right career that matches your strengths and personality. Consider a few sessions with a career counselor and pick the brain of a professor, headhunter, or a person with knowledge of a field that speaks to you.
2. You think about money way too often. (In the pandemic this is less applicable)
Who doesn’t want more money? We all do, but some people are completely preoccupied with the pursuit of material wealth. An obsession with money detracts steals your life force from most areas of life that require your investment…your ability to value your relationships, the simple joys in life and so much more. But the real problem with constantly wanting more money is how it impacts your fantasy world and your interpretation of your everyday reality.
Your daydreams about what you’ll do with more money create an idealized state of existence that can never actually be experienced. In other words, frequent fantasies about money create a huge discrepancy between what you expect life will be like with more money and the ACTUAL experience of wealth should you gain greater wealth. Even worse, your current reality is steadily downgraded every time you dream of some other financial reality. You’re essentially feeding yourself the idea that life sucks now.
Your next move toward happiness: So what’s the cure, Doc? It’s not a cliche that the best happiness boosters cost nothing. Force yourself to cut back on fantasies about wealth. Think of good times with friends. Dream of your hobbies. Focus more on having a healthy mind and body. One more important point: Your view of money is usually a product of your upbringing. Consider therapy to examine your relationship with money and any unhealthy family influences. The Bottom line: The less you fantasize about money, the more it will buy you happiness.
3. You’re too obsessed with changing yourself, which is making you stay the same.
Ok, now this might seem to contradict what I said about the importance of committing to personal growth, but I mean something different here. Happiness becomes severely limited when you’re preoccupied with changing something about yourself. The most common type of change addiction has to do with weight loss. People who diet constantly are highly prone to limiting happiness because they have trouble celebrating the reality of their existence. Change addiction actually keeps you the same. To make a change you usually have to come from a place of love or fear. If change is generated by self-loathing or low self-esteem, then you will inevitably undo whatever efforts you make to change. Your mind and body need a break from change, and self-acceptance is that place of peace and strength.
Your next move toward happiness: A desire to change requires self-love. You can love your body AND want to lose weight. If you’re trying to cut back on alcohol consumption, you can treat yourself nicely in other ways during the process. If you’re trying to stop smoking, you can work on creating other self-loving habits that promote health and wellness. Work on your self-talk. What do you say in your head that’s mean and degrading? For every three moments of wanting something else, force yourself to think about the things you currently love about yourself with regard to the quality you want to change. Don’t wait for some horrible event to be the motivating force behind change. You’ll regret it.
4. Too many things make you feel guilty.
Guilt is a dangerous emotion. It’s the equivalent of two opposing forces acting upon you at the same time, with the net effect being that you suffer in a powerless and painful state of non-action. One side of you says, “I should really do this.” I have news for you. Most thoughts that start with the phrase “I should” do much more harm than good. Should-thoughts are paralyzing and they RARELY lead to action. (See Albert Ellis, an amazing psychologist who perfected the theory around the shoulds.) If the shouldsrepresent one force that destroy your ability to act to resolve a problem, the other side of the equation is the shame and disgust that you feel about not doing what you think needs to get done. You ruminate about the potential consquences of what you’ve done or failed to deal with and it freezes you. The end result is obsessing about what you should do while feeling terrible about yourself, which hurts you on so many levels because ultimately, you’re stuck feeling the psychological weight of something unfinished and messy. Why? Here’s the answer….
Your next move toward happiness: Feeling guilty implies that you owe a debt to yourself or someone else before you can authorize yourself to be happy. Ask yourself (or a few well-respected people) if you truly owe a debt. Examples of a debt unpaid are usually either about (1) avoidance, such as ignoring the texts of someone you need to apologize to or avoiding checking your bank account for any unwanted recurring subscriptions or (2) breaking a commitment, such as neglecting your need for “me time” when you have children who depend on you. Maybe you’ve already payed your debt and never fully acknowledged it to yourself. If you think you’re still in debt, pay it! But if you can conclude that no owe nuttin’ to no one, then you’re having what’s considered “false guilt,” which necessitates that you tell yourself 30 times that you have no reason to feel guilt and act accordingly. New mothers are at high risk for this problem.
5. You’ve forgotten how to sit with your own thoughts.
If you can’t be with yourself — uncomfortable thoughts and all — why would someone want to be around you? Do you jump from one vice to another? One app to another? One news site to another? Do you have the patience to sit for five minutes away from your phone? Can you avoid TV for a night?
Your next move toward happiness: Commit to a longer process of developing your spiritual side, which promotes patience and self-acceptance. Read or listen to books by Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron. Essentially, you’re probably having difficulty sitting with your thoughts for a long enough period of time. The goal is to recognize that just because you think you need something right now doesn’t mean you have to have it. Interference that prevents you from constantly satisfying your needs can be helpful over the long run. Spend time with someone who can inspire you to figure out which slower-to-develop, longer-lasting happiness generators you can invest in.
6. You can’t shake the nasty habit of procrastination.
If you can relate to this, I’m going to venture a guess and say that you fear failure…and possibly even success (getting what you actually want). Add bad habits to a fear of failure and you have the recipe for avoidance. Think of procrastination as a crafty way to make sure that life verifies your negative qualities.
Your next move toward happiness: First some practical advice. Have you ever heard of functional procrastination? It means doing something not directly related to what needs to get done, but an action that will make you feel like you’re taking care of some other task in the spirit of gaining a sense of personal control. For example, if you need to send an important work email but you just can’t bring yourself to do it, try cleaning the kitchen counter, starting your laundry or cleaning off the top layer of mess on your desk. This allows you to feel more productive and reduces the shame and self-doubt associated with avoidance.
If that doesn’t help, do the task you’re avoiding in your head while engaging in functional procrastination. As far as the email example is concerned, you would construct the email in your head while you’re making basketballs out of useless mail cluttering your desk. Trust me. You’ll feel better about yourself and it will make the dreaded email feel less dreadful.
On a psychological and internal level, strive to have the humility to accept that you need outside help to create better habits and dispel your irrational beliefs about failure. Therapy can be helpful. The risk is that you’ll actually achieve the change you’ve always wanted. Ultimately, you must face what you’re constantly trying to avoid. Keep a log of new events that you want to avoid. Write down all of your beliefs about why you want to avoid. Dispute each belief with or without a mental health professional. Time how long it takes you to face what you’re running from and try to repeat your successes in future scenarios.
7. You believe you should only do what you love.
Ahh. I love the Millennial-esque “DO WHAT YOU LOVE” mentality. It’s a sexy idea, but if you organize too much of your belief system around this purist notion, you’re in big trouble. Why? Because life is not that easy. You will frequently have to do things you DON’T want to do. That’s life! It all boils down to expectations. If you set your expectations too high in the wrong places, it’s a huge setup for disappointment.
Your next move toward happiness: Manage your expectations for how much you’re supposed to love working. I’m not saying you should self-handicap to avoid letdowns. Of course, it’s healthy to aim for a career trajectory in which you’ll eventuallycall the shots and have other people do what you can’t stand. Life becomes so much easier if you train yourself to find value in facing adversity and you push yourself to go one extra step into the land of mental discomfort just to train your mind and body to be stronger.
Learn to love a good challenge even if the task isn’t your favorite. And know that success brings new expectations and obligations that will inevitably take you further from the work tasks you’ve enjoyed the most.
8. You don’t allow yourself to celebrate the little things that make you happier.
What do you consider a reason to celebrate? Are your expectations too high? Your long term health and happiness depends on your ability to shift out of a serious mentality and laugh at life…and celebrate.
Your next move toward happiness: Begin by searching for the smallest increments of happiness — any sign. Create a dance, sing your favorite song, shadow box, karate kick the air…do anything physical or dramatic, even if no one else sees, that celebrates mini-successes. Even more importantly, create a note in your phone that lists every single accomplishment or victory, small or large. Keep adding to it and rereading it. Let yourself re-experience your successes and pat yourself on the back no matter what it is. I don’t care if it’s about not picking your cuticles on the subway or only eating half of a muffin you don’t want to be eating. Just celebrate ANYTHING! Please note that I’m not promoting finding any reason to drink alcohol. I’m referring to healthy forms of celebration.
9. You’re a “yes, but” happiness minimizer.
Some people can acknowledge it when their mood improves but they’re hellbent on protecting themselves from fully embracing it. If you often say, “Yes, but” when you have reason to be happy, the feeling is probably not sticking around long enough to register in your mind and body. Deep down you believe there are risks to being happy. The “Debbie Downer” in you is addicted to shooting down and flattening happiness.
Your next move toward happiness: The fix here is simple. Challenge yourself not to put into language the “but” part of the sentence. Don’t let that thought enter the atmosphere. Sometimes avoiding giving bad thoughts life helps you to avoid investing in them. Follow the celebratory advice from #5.
10. You’re constantly shopping online.
I love buying stuff on Amazon as much as you do, but if we don’t have a system of checks and balances, then it rarely feels like we have what we need to be happy.
Your next move toward happiness: Pay attention to how often you think about buying things you don’t have right now. Regulate the amount of time you shop online. I’m positive that if you’re shopping online on a daily basis, it’s covering up some wildly neglected or avoided aspect of your life. Are you delaying sending your resume to potential employers? Is your relationship in dire need of more honest communication that would lead to a more powerful connection? The key is to tell yourself 10 times a day, “I’m rich because I have everything I need.” Live it. Breathe it. Believe it. Life will feel more “full” if what you have is celebrated more often.
11. Your phone has hijacked your happiness.
As I mentioned above, your phone may be making you miserable on multiple levels. Often times, its impact is indirect. Phones teach you to value immediate gratification over waiting for something good. They promote “bonding” with your friends via text rather than in person, which deprives you of true human bonding that serves as a protective factor against depression. A phone’s worst crime is that it makes you forget how to simply exist in your own head with your own thoughts, which is a major requirement for happiness. Do you need your phone to be part of every segment of the day?
Your next move toward happiness: If you’re in a relationship, it’s important to assess whether or not you’re choosing to be on your phone at night when your relationship is in desperate need of quality time minus screens. What is the quality of attention you and your partner pay to each other? Do you try to listen while you’re looking at your phone? Commit to time with the people you love and put your phone away. Here’s the challenge:Turn off your phone or keep your it in another room for 30-minute segments of time, even once a day. When you transition from one place to another, such as walking to the train after work, see if you can avoid your phone until you’ sit down. Good luck.
12. You undervalue the importance of personal growth and goals.
I’ll be blunt. If you don’t believe in the importance of doing things to better yourself, then you’ll never be happy. You’re lying to yourself if you disagree with me.
Your next move toward happiness: Focus on who you are for people. What do people get when they spend time with you? What is your gift to the world? Ask someone close to you if you’re not sure. Commit to offering the world something and strive to make corrections when you’re not providing the world this gift. Aside from who you want to BE, what do you want to accomplish in life that isn’t about money, power or titles? Do you nurture your spiritual self or do you avoid anything labeled “spiritual?” Ask a friend to set goals together and hold each other accountable. Create short and long-term goals. Make sure some goals involve hobbies and fun interests.
13. You think you can predict the future and it’s always a grim forecast.
When anxiety meets negativity it compels you to predict that bad things will happen. Negative forecasting makes you grieve painful outcomes before they occur, which leaves almost no room for positivity and hope. This is a devastating form of self-sabotage. It makes people risk averse and less mindful in the present moment. Psychologically speaking, forecasting negative events is way to protect yourself from potentially negative emotional states in case something bad happens. In truth, you’re no more prepared to deal with disappointment just because you guessed something bad might happen. Ruminating about future pain or disappointment is meant to give you a sense of control or mastery…but it doesn’t!
Your next move toward happiness: There are many ways to overcome negative forecasting. The most easily applicable one is to vow to keep all negativity to yourself. Even if you think something bad will happen, don’t put it in language. You’re messing up your life just to be able to say, “I told you so.” Just don’t say it. Well, maybe to your therapist. Another thing to work on is telling yourself that you’ll be able to handle anything that happens. This is hardiness, an implicit knowing that things will still work out fine even if something bad happens.
14. You haven’t yet learned how to overcome resentment.
Do you hold onto resentment from your past? Do you ruminate about things that happened to you long ago? If so, then you’re happiness potential is drastically limited. Resenting someone hurts you exponentially more than the target of your negative thoughts and feelings. It actually eats away at your cells and can cause an early death for you. There are countless reasons to let go.
Your next move toward happiness: First, understand that all of the world is a mirror. What you can’t accept about someone else is what you can’t accept about yourself. This is especially true for family resentment since family members generally share a lot of the same traits and behaviors. Some are learned, some are biologically influenced. If you take a sober look in the mirror, you’ll probably find that you exhibit some of the same behaviors as the person you resent. When you reach adulthood, you have a choice to change your ways. Nothing holds you back from choosing to do things differently, but resentment locks you in place, making it very, very difficult to change. Take responsibility for your part in things. How are you perpetuating the issues you have with someone? What can you own? You MUST own it, accept it. Stop blaming someone else for your problems or you’ll never grow and you’ll never reach your happiness potential.
Second, it’s a fact that you lose when you resent. Whatever you think you gain by holding on tightly to resentment is really your loss. The psychological and physical protection you think you get from refusing to forgive is usually an illusion. You don’t have to get close with someone just because you forgive them. It can be a remote act. If you’re saying to yourself something like, “My father/mother/brother/uncle/____ hurt me. They don’t deserve my forgiveness.” Well, maybe they don’t deserve to get the benefits of your awesomeness, but that’s like punching yourself in the head because you can’t stand someone. Talk with a religious figure or someone close to you who is better at forgiveness than you are. Let yourself be inspired. It will lengthen your life.
15. You take before you give in conversation.
Entitlement and habit makes people take before they give. Do you think the world owes you something? Did your parents raise you to believe you don’t have to put in the hard work to get what you want? Are you a poor listener who cuts people off before they finish what they’re saying? Do you hold resentment toward your caretakers? Do the concepts of gratitude and thankfulness sound like spiritual bullshit or something you do on only on holidays? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, then you can unlock a huge amount of happiness by learning to give before you take. I don’t just mean volunteering or donating. I mean giving in the micro-moments of life.
Your next move toward happiness: First, when you’re communicating in person or via messaging, make it about the other person before you make it about you. Wait for someone else to speak. Then respond to what they say before making it about you. Stay focused on them. This is giving. This will make you happier. For example, your friend texts you….”I can’t stand my boss. How are you?” Don’t answer that question until you’ve thoroughly addressed their feelings about their boss. Give before taking.
Second, commit to improving your listening skills. Listen for what someone really wants from the conversation. You can even ask them, “What do you need from me right now? I want to be as helpful as possible.” If you’re waiting for a chance to speak, then you’re making it about you. Give and then take.
16. You’d rather get a laugh from gossipping than be inspired by sharing great ideas.
Do you find yourself saying to friends, “Did you hear that….?” If you love to be the first one to spread new information about someone in your community, it has to stop here. Otherwise, you have to accept a life of shallowness and unhappiness. A little gossip is fun and can temporarily help you manage boredom and a lack of deep and meaningful relationships, but a habit of gossiping reveals a character flaw in need of fixing.
Gossip is a sign of insecurity and a lack of sophistication. Unhappy people gossip, but you’d only know that if you look beyond false appearances. People who love to gossip are the most invested in keeping up the appearance of being happy. Just check their Facebook or Instagram feed. They’re the ones who look like they’re living a dream life, but whose social media presence lacks depth and meaning. A love of gossip reflects neglect of important areas of your life that could potentially be a source of greater happiness. For example, are you gossiping about the clothing someone wore or a neighbor’s recent divorce? If so, it’s time to commit to focusing on other topics.
Your next move toward happiness: Challenge yourself to only say nice things about people. Nothing negative. Period. But for enhanced happiness, come up with theories and ideas about the world that don’t involve specific people. Find like-minded people who would be interested in thinking big. Gossip is for small-minded people stuck in a smaller world devoid of humility and intellectual stimulation…both happiness stimulators. If you love to gossip, you probably need to look deep within and refocus on what really matters in life. You should finally address whichever facet of your life you’re so actively neglecting, which forces you to focus on your own affairs rather than that of others. Notice that I’m not referring to consuming gossip, a less damaging habit.
17. You never fully grieved the loss of someone important to you.
Did you lose someone important to you in the past few years? If so, have you sufficiently grieved their departure? Has your mood been suppressed or your behavior changed since the loss?
Everyone grieves differently. The way you grieve is influenced by many factors, including culture, religious and family norms. Some people refuse to accept the loss of a loved one, which can delay working through the grief for years. Other people grieve “half way.”
Your next move toward happiness: While it may feel like an impossible task, try to search inside yourself for what you need to move on. I would recommend short-term work with a grief counselor if you feel stuck in perpetual grief or avoidance mode. Sometimes it’s hard to see how the loss of a loved one influences us. Some people don’t feel like they deserve happiness after someone dies. Other people struggle to find hope for the future even after life is rebuilt. Are you honoring this person’s wishes or what he or she stood for? Commit to some act of honor. It will help you to move on and maybe even feel more hopeful.
18. Your word means very little.
It’s time to worship and practice integrity. Do your words match your deeds? Do you practice what you preach? Do you often cancel plans with friends? Can people rely on you? Trust you? Or do they say, “Yeah right” when you vow to do something?
Your next move toward happiness: Be the one who people can depend on. Don’t bail on plans when you already said you’d go. Don’t promise more than you can deliver. Be realistic and predictable in a positive way. Integrity feels wonderful. It makes you happy even if you don’t realize it. Being a person of your word is one of the healthiest habits to strive toward. Why does integrity make you happy? Integrity makes you feel productive and in control of your life. It makes life clean and satisfying, and it draws people toward you because they know they can rely on you, which ultimately expands your support network when you’re in a state of need. Integrity fuels the boomerang of intention and action. Once you’ve acted on your word, you’re more likely to keep it up.
If you break your word, clean it up. Apologize. Take responsibility. Make a new commitment and ACT. Don’t dwell on it. Replaying your integrity failures is one of the most unhealthy, unproductive happiness killers.
Integrity is also about keeping your actions and words in line with your values and morals. Don’t just preach about how others have it wrong. Do something healthy and productive about it. In order to have integrity in this way, you must decide what you believe in. What matters to you? Do you take REAL action or are you just the social media morality police?
Worship and practice integrity. You’ll notice a significant difference in your baseline levels of happiness. In fact, this last habit might be the biggest secret to happiness…that is, being your word.It makes life feel organized and you have a solid guideline for how to act when you’re unsure or when the future feels uncertain.
I hope you found this helpful. May you connect with all of the happiness in the world and find your own.
Which of the 18 habits do you relate to the most?Learn More
There are many great benefits of Telehealth, but it’s important to choose the right CBT psychologist for online therapy. The key to caring for your mental health via a video screen is to choose a therapist who has the experience to create a similar therapeutic benefit online as you would receive in person.
This is not an easy accomplishment. It takes the right therapist to build a strong therapeutic relationship via online therapy. People underestimate this skill’s importance in creating change.
I have sincerely enjoyed providing telehealth services to clients as we all adjust to life under quarantined conditions.
The Benefits of Telehealth Services
The Covid-19 pandemic has created unique challenges for everyone. I am currently working with clients to reduce coronavirus anxiety, improve relationships and marriages, process depression, grief and loss, manage new rules and conditions created by confined conditions, develop new habits, explore career changes, eliminate panic attacks, improve sleep and many more challenges.
Online therapy can be a powerful experience, especially when the timing is just right. That is, you’re ready to make changes.
Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Online?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy online will give you practical tools to get through the quarantine and beyond. I offer Enhanced CBT to my clients, which is a unique version of online therapy involving altering unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior, enhancing mindfulness skills and preparing you with concrete strategies to use in the face of emotional challenges.
CBT is more suitable for online therapy than many other forms of therapy because it is collaborative, practical and directly applicable. While other psychologists may focus on overanalyzing your past and the therapeutic relationship, I am in the present with you as a collaborator for personal change.
The Quarantine as an Opportunity to Care for Your Mental Health on a New Level
Given how life has temporarily changed for all of us, the quarantine represents a unique time to create new habits and patterns of thinking. I can help you to jumpstart a mental health initiative. Many things are hard to start under quarantine. Most of us have found that our expectations for personal change have been met with disappointment during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s very hard to cope, let alone make dramatic changes. Many people report feeling shame and self-critical thinking given how hard it is to begin a new habit while under quarantine.
This is where therapy online can help. We can work together to clear obstacles preventing you from beginning new personal initiatives. We can help you to reduce anxiety, stress, shame and more.
Please reach out if you have any questions.
Stay safe and healthy!
Dr. KLearn More
Dr. Greg Kushnick, A Top Mental Health Expert in New York City
Here are some of my most recent media mentions and contributions:
- A New York Times article on depression and Covid-19 in New York City.
- A Fortune Magazine piece on 311 calls, Covid-19 and social distancing complaints in New York City.
- An appearance in a new Amazon Prime documentary on the challenges of being a social media influencer.
For the full list of media contributions, click here.Learn More
Social distance and food storage are occupying much of our headspace these days, but it is just as important to prepare for the mental health challenges that are likely to arise in the coming weeks.
The way I see it, we have no choice but to allocate some of our inner resources toward making smart mental adjustments that complement temporary but necessary lifestyle changes.
In this post, I will cover a few essential, actionable steps you can take to bolster your emotional well-being. These tips represent a starting point for managing your mental health during this strange chapter in our lives.
You Need A Strong Emotional Immune System
First, consider that you have an emotional immune system designed to help you deal with emotional distress, including anxiety, stress and depression.
What is an emotional immune system? It is the part of you that manages your mental response when when potential threat is introduced. Currently, the most common threat to our mind is the fear of us or the people we care about contracting COVID-19. I will assume that you are taking the appropriate preventative steps.
The next threat would be your news consumption. Constant exposure to breaking news about COVID-19 will overwork your emotional immune system, leaving you anxious, even panicked, at random moments. You may justify your constant news exposure by thinking that being informed gives you a greater sense of control, but this is simply untrue.
My concern is that the constant flow of troubling information available on our screens functions like a virus of the mind.
Your cortisol levels are likely to skyrocket, and this is not healthy. Your body does what the mind tells it to do. Sounding the alarm in your body with messages of fear and helplessness may impact your body’s immune system.
This is why it is so important to restrict your exposure to social media and news sites since they bombard you with mostly bad news.
Chatrooms are the less obvious offender. I recommend that you propose to a ban on introducing any breaking news while you are supporting one another in chatrooms and group messages. Any emotional gains from virtual support usually get cancelled out when one of your introduces more bad news.
Consider the following: Most self-care activities, including meditation, journaling, sitting with feelings and other behaviors meant to give you the feeling of control will be less effective if do not reduce your intake of news that usually tells you what to worry about.
Life is harder to manage with so many cues to worry and this is just not healthy for you. I recommend limiting social media and news intake to 2-3 times a day at most, and none before bed.
Cognitive Strategies Go Nicely with Less News Consumption
Once the news floodgates are well managed, you can do more effective inner work. This brings us to a cognitive strategy that can strengthen your emotional immune system. It all comes down to what you tell yourself. As I said, your body is listening very carefully to the messages.
Start paying greater attention to how you talk to yourself when you think about the virus. If you find that you are frequently telling yourself sound something like, “I can’t handle this,” or “this is too much,” then you need to adjust this self-talk.
When you are tell yourself that you cannot handle something, you are telling your body what to do. Sound the alarm! Fire up the fight-or-flight response.
The good news is that your mental habits can be altered by actively substituting alarming messages with self-talk that promotes resilience and hardiness.
Even if you first feel anxious and tell yourself you cannot handle something, you still have the opportunity to say to yourself, “That reminds me of the opposite….” and then state something positive.
I like to say to myself, “No matter what happens I will be ok.”
A variation on this is “I can handle this” or “we will get though this” or “this this hard but we can do it.” Come up with affirmations that work for you. It might sound simplistic but it can be very effective over time. Just stick with it.
Say these messages to yourself at least 50 times a day, including in response to noticing negativity.
Take this self-soothing method seriously even if you only connect with the messages on an intellectual level. Over time your emotional side will join the resistance.
You have the power to alter your mind and body’s response to new information. Use that power and you will increase your faith in your ability to cope, which reduces the frequency of anxious moments.
Refuse to be a passive recipient of bad news. Fight any helpless state with this mental exercise. If you need to vent your anxiety, which is a valid reaction to some of the news we are learning, then call a friend or chat with another adult at home. In addition, you can do things that make you feel in control. Worry about any new onset of OCD later.
It must be said that sometimes the feeling may be so strong that all you can do is sit with it, engage in distracting behaviors or find a way to self-express.
In addition, try one or more meditative approach, even if it means enlisting one of the meditation apps like Calm or Headspace, the latter of which is free right now. Of course, it is normal to feel nervous. We all do to some extent, but you have a choice to turn states of helplessness and stress into empowerment and strength.
Get used to conducting check-ins with your body as you read the news when disturbing thoughts pop into mind. Look for bodily signs of tenseness, stress and anxiety. If you they are present, begin to parent yourself through negative mental states with messages of being able to handle this temporary phase in life. The more you experience yourself bringing negative states into the positive range, the more prepared you’ll be for life’s challenges.
Journaling can also be quite helpful when you are feeling nervous. Write down everything that you are worried about in a given moment. It truly helps you to gain perspective and calmness. One further journaling option is to keep rereading your entry containing all of your worries until the words have less emotional power over you.
And remember, do not underestimate your mind’s contribution to your body’s ability to fend off foreign germs.
Check in soon for more tips on managing your anxiety in the time of adjustment.
(Disclaimer: The information shared in this blog post is for informational and educational purposes only. Reading this post does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with the author.)
As you prepare for your first session, you may have questions about the process of being in therapy. Please don’t hesitate to write them down and ask me. It can be confusing to figure out how to say everything you want to say in one visit. I urge you to relieve yourself of that pressure and try to trust in the process.
I am highly skilled in building a solid therapeutic relationship, so you can rest assured that you won’t feel judged for what you’re reluctant to talk about. I’m here to help.
Here’s my Huff Post article about starting therapy:
P.S.- You can also call me or email me. I’d be happy to answer all of your questions.