Typically I start my blogs with asking, “What has been going well?”. This time I’d like to ask, What have you been doing to feel good?
This is usually the goal whenever someone comes to me for therapy. They want to feel better. Who doesn’t? I let them know early on that they will need to work in therapy to achieve such a goal. This is pretty difficult for most of us. We typically prefer to just explain how bad we feel and then hope that somehow in doing so we will then feel better. Oh, if this was the case how easy life would be!
One of the discussions I usually have with my clients involves the process involved in maintaining feelings. It may be true that situations often cause our feelings but it is our thoughts, perceptions and interpretations of such situations and our subsequent behavior/reactions that maintain our feelings. Therefore, the work in therapy will involve changing those thoughts, perceptions and interpretations and behaviors/reactions. This is easily said and extremely difficult to carry out. What is essential is having a plan.
If you want to feel better or feel good, what is your plan to achieve that? Some people will say, “I go to therapy and take my medications.” If that works, then good for you. However, this does not work for most of the people I see in therapy. If you are like most people, success involves a little more than just going to an appointment or filling a prescription.
If you feel depressed or anxious and you want to feel energized and confident, that would involve a change. For that change to last, you have to be different. You have to be different in how you think about things and how you behave.
One thing to get you started is to just notice what you are thinking about when you feel bad/depressed/anxious. Write down such thoughts. Take a look at them and read them over. In doing so, you will start the process of becoming an observer to your thinking. Most of the time we function on autopilot. We tend to believe that what ever we are thinking is true and accurate. What if it isn’t? If I have 3 out of 5 people cancel appointments with me in one day I could have lots of different interpretations and reactions to that. If I think, “No one wants to see me anymore. They must think I am not very good. Maybe I should start looking for another kind of job.” This could lead me to feeling bad/depressed/anxious and “make me” stop calling people back because, “they’re just going to cancel on me and not want to see me anymore.”
Now this may sound a little silly when you read it or say it out loud, but such thinking is very very common. If I stop and take a step back and ask, “What if that’s not true? What if there is another explanation?” For example, “What if it’s flu season and a number of people happen to be sick? What if one is sick, another had a flat tire and another had a family emergency?” All of these explanations/interpretations and thoughts are just if not more feasible. How would this change my reaction?
You can use this same exercise as part of your plan. Once or twice a day take a moment to check out your thoughts. If you are feeling bad, ask yourself, “How else can I think about this?”
Make it a plan to practice this each day over the next couple weeks.
I’ll talk to you soon.
~ Dr. Lou