How to Stop Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

This photo was taken a few weeks ago up in the Adirondacks, one of my family’s favorite spots. Before sitting down for dinner, we set my son loose in a big open soccer field to “get his ya-yas out” first. We all ended up laughing a lot as the toddler repeatedly face planted in the grass (clearly still getting used to his new sneaks) and would just get right back up and keep running and giggling. In this moment I was thinking, “this is perfection,” which was closely followed by “…now when will the other shoe drop?”

The conundrum of joyful moments is that they are often entangled with a shadow of fear lurking around the corner. The “what ifs” and “when will it” and “how will I cope when it does” whispering in the background when everything in that moment is “right.”

When we let our guard down to joy, anxiety leaps into the foreground in an effort to protect us from an imagined threat that has not happened (and may not ever happen).

This is our wiring, our biology, intended to help us survive. What do we do about these moments? How do we enjoy life while managing this voice in the background?

First, start by gently acknowledging that your anxiety is actually meant to be a protector that is trying to help you. Sometimes that protector is in overdrive due to your life experience, genetic predisposition, or combination of both.

Anxiety tends to latch on to things we care about and create a lot of false urgency around the need to fix, solve, plan, and prevent. When we attempt to stop thoughts from being there, our stress increases. When we engage in behavioral compulsions, rumination, or mentally review a situation repeatedly – we don’t ever close the loop. We might feel better temporarily, but then the anxiety comes back, full-fledged. We create suffering.

While we can’t control what thoughts will pop into our brains, we can influence the extent to which we suffer as a result of them.

As the saying goes, “what we resist, persists.” The more you try to suppress thoughts, the stronger they get. Instead, it better serves us to meet our anxiety head-on.

The second step is to observe what thoughts are surfacing. When we can observe our thoughts in a nonjudgmental and nonreactive way, we can then start to make decisions.

Once you have identified what is making you anxious, ask yourself, “What things are within my control that are sensible to give to attention to?”

One challenge that people with anxiety often experience is discerning what is a reasonable worry vs. what is irrational. It can help to ask the question, “what would 90% of people I know think or do in this situation?” Asking this question can help us to properly discern when our thoughts are unreasonable, and this can help us to take the next reasonable action.

For example, if you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming meeting or presentation, you could think about specific action steps you could take to prepare for this. It is reasonable to have an appropriate amount of stress about public speaking. This allows you to properly plan, prepare, and complete the task effectively.

Once you have prepared sufficiently, any further rumination or worrying would be treated by increasing your tolerance to the uncertainty. Obsessing about the situation then enters the unreasonable realm, as you have already done everything within your control.

The antidote to obsessive worrying is NOT to convince yourself that the bad thing won’t happen.

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, the response that will help you the most in the long wrong is to build your tolerance to the unknown and accept that there could actually be a less than ideal outcome!

You might say things like, “maybe I will mess up, maybe I won’t, but I trust myself to handle whatever comes my way.” When there is a problem to address, you will solve it then. This strategy is the foundation of Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy, which research has shown is one of the most effective treatments for OCD and other anxiety disorders.

When a shoe does drop (it will, this is life) – you must learn to trust that future you can solve whatever problems come your way. 

When we can radically accept that uncertainty is a part of life and learn to tolerate this, rather than try to fix or plan our way out of it, we experience relief. We must accept that many things in life are out of our control. The bad thing might actually happen at some point. We have to understand that this is the nature of being human and that all that we can tackle is what is right in front of us today.

Try saying it out loud or writing it down on a sticky note. “I trust myself to handle tomorrow’s problems, whatever those might be.” Visualize those worries of later or tomorrow like leaves floating down a stream that you are sitting next to. Watch the thoughts come and go without picking them out of the water and then creating a story about them. Thoughts are simply thoughts and do not necessarily mean anything. As you coexist alongside your thoughts as they float by, bring your attention to what’s happening in this moment. 

Here are some questions to get in the habit of asking yourself when you need to hop out of your worries and back into this moment:

  • What are the facts of what’s happening right now? How can I reasonably respond to those facts?
  • Is this a problem that needs my attention right now, or is this something I need to postpone worrying about until I have more information?
  • What do you feel, see, hear, smell, & taste? Scan your environment for something that can ground you and help you savor beauty in the present.

This way of looking at life, of working with our anxiety (as opposed to fighting against) is a constant practice. It takes repetition, moment after moment, day after day, year after year.

This work is hard work, but it does get easier in time. Eventually, you build your tolerance to the unknown and to uncertainty with repeated practice. Your fears will still pop up, but you learn to respond to them in a completely new way that no longer interferes with living your life. Treatment works and there is hope.

If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety, intrusive thoughts, or any other mental health crisis, here are some resources below:

Suicide and Crisis Lifeline


OCD Support

Resilience During Difficult Times

As this year is starting to wind-down, I am painfully aware of the exhaustion, disappointment, fear, grief, sadness, and anxiety the community and world are feeling.

As a mom, a helper, and a human, I continually search for ways to help myself so that I can be there for others.

I do the meditating and the exercising and the (trying) to eat healthy and the breathing and the list goes on.

These coping strategies help, but on these things alone, the gas eventually runs out and the engine sputters.

They can take the edge of the moment, but sometimes they fall short of touching the depth of what we’ve all experienced the past few years, and continue to experience.

I’ve been doing some exploration to see why those coping skills are missing the mark for us and asking, what exists at that edge between coping skills running out and the freefall?

At that edge is resilience.

Resilience is what we are made of when our tank is on E.

Resilience develops throughout the course of our lives as a complicated interplay of nature and nurture.

It can also be cultivated and grown through the courageous act of showing up and answering the call to be fully present for each moment of our life.

The ultimate coping skill for us all is really learning to just be there with what’s happening, with our bodies firmly planted in the moment, without creating a narrative about it.

Instead of making up stories about what’s happening or trying to create a future that we don’t know yet, we can take inventory of this exact moment with questions like:

What’s happening in this VERY moment? What things are actually okay right now? What do I see, taste, smell, hear, feel?

When we want to pace and ruminate and Google and catastrophize – instead, we make a cup of tea and pay attention to the temperature of the water on our tongue.

Instead, we ask for a hug, bury our face in a familiar shoulder and feel our heart rate go down.

Instead, we stop ourselves in our hurry to the coffee pot in the morning, just long enough to glance out the window to catch a surprisingly pink winter sunrise.

Instead, we remind ourselves that we don’t know about tomorrow, but we do know about today, this moment. (We’ll deal with tomorrow, tomorrow).

Because that’s all there is right now (and always).

Resilience can be grown, and is a renewable resource.

It will ebb and flow for us all in different seasons.

The greatest gift we can give one another in this season, and moving forward, is borrowed strength.

When others around us our suffering, we can’t pretend to know, but we can allow the strength of our presence to be borrowed by someone else who needs it.

Through a kind word, through offering to take something off of their plate, and sitting with them without jumping in to fix or solve too quickly as they move through their own hard emotions.

And on those days where our own fire might go out, we can count on someone else to lend us a match.

We can work on skills to help take the edge off of the hard things in the world right now.

But we might have to dig deeper than that, and that’s where resilience comes in.

In this digging and excavation, we can discover the indestructible power of being present; being here now; and facing the realities of our lives with acceptance, openness, willingness, and hope.

And when we’re on E, we rely on one another.

As the year winds down, let’s ditch the resolutions and instead make this the year of giving and receiving help from one another without reservation.

May this new year, 2022, ring in with gentleness and grace.

Social Media and Mental Health: Why We Can’t Stop Scrolling

Have you ever found yourself feeling upset at someone on Instagram you don’t even know? Or felt offended that one of your friends did not “like” your most recent photos? Or maybe even felt jealous of a stranger’s feed showcasing their seemingly perfect life?

Social media has created a second world for us to navigate, in addition to our already busy and complicated in-person lives. Navigating world #2 is not only time-consuming, but also psychologically confusing for people.

On the one hand, your online world #2 can’t be touched or quantified – it’s vague, elusive, and exists in your head. On the other hand, the emotional experiences that occur as a result of what happens on social media are completely real; these “events” cause physical and neurological changes in our bodies. What can be particularly troublesome about this type of stress is that it has become a baseline for people that lurks in the background of our day-to-day.

Social media creates a constant anxious and uneasy feeling that can only be quelled by logging in again and hitting “refresh.”

I did a little research on my Instagram stories to learn more about how people are feeling about social media lately. The percentage of my followers who participated was pretty astounding, and was the most responses I’ve ever received when doing polls. This tells me that this topic is definitely on people’s mind.

The results were as follows:

  • 99% of people who participated have questioned if social media is good for their mental health.
  • 76% of people try to set limits on social media.
    • Less than 1% said these limits always work.
    • 39% said that the limits either rarely or never work.
  • Less than 1% of people indicated that they consistently feel good after going on social media.
    • 16% of people almost always feel badly after.
    • Most people experienced a mix of both good and bad experiences.
  • The top two reasons for staying on social media were not wanting to miss out on resources (47%) and wanting to stay in the loop with friends and family (35%).
  • When asked about the biggest drawbacks of social media, 42% identified that social media is addictive.
  • When asked about what gets in the way of spending less time on social, the top choice was that it’s hard to break the scrolling habit (76%).
  • 73% of people feel that the negatives of social media outweigh the positives.
  • 99% of participants were open to hearing about how to meet their needs in ways other than social media.

(Disclaimer: these polls were VERY informal, and by no means are formal research. There are GAPING deficits in this if you were to critique this from a research standpoint! However, the results tell us some things that are worth talking about).

What I gained from these polls was the following: a LOT of people are questioning if their social media use is good for their health.

The biggest issue that people have with social media is that it is addictive and difficult to stop.

Limit setting works for some, but not others. People often don’t feel good after spending time on social media, and this can be luck of the draw. You don’t want to give it up because there are valuable resources they enjoy, and you want to keep in touch with friends and family….But you still feel the negatives largely outweigh the positives. And here is where we get stuck.

Many people asked for boundaries and tips to help with this; and I have good news and bad news about this.

The good news: There are strategies that can be effective. These strategies are going to work well for the personality type that is good at moderation.

The bad news: most of us are NOT good at moderation when it comes to things that are designed to be addictive, thus beginning the Russian Roulette. Most of the time, things might go fine for us; but all that it takes is one scrolling and comparison bender to bring you back to that anxious, uneasy, and unhappy feeling.

Your love/hate relationship with social media is not your fault, nor is it a sign of a personal weakness. It actually makes perfect sense.

Social media is designed to keep us coming back (thus creating addictive habits) through intermittent reinforcement. Intermittent reinforcement is the most likely to produce repeat behavior when we are rewarded only some of the time, at an unpredictable frequency. This is how slot machines operate, to give you context. And most of the time, you don’t win.

Sometimes when you post on social media, you get lots of likes and comments. Other times, you get fewer. And the kicker is, there is no true rhyme or reason as to why. Number of likes is not indicative of value of your post because of the infamous “algorithm.”

The algorithm rewards content that drives more users to their platform – not things that are particularly meaningful, or even true. Whatever is going to keep people clicking and scrolling is going to be showcased. You might be going on social to scroll through what your friends were up to, and all that you see are reels of people doing viral dances or ads for products from celebrities you follow.

This is not to say that there isn’t truly valuable content rewarded by the algorithm – I follow quite a few mental health professionals on Instagram who post some fantastic stuff, and they go viral. They are good at what they do and their content is great. My point here is that this is not always the case. I see a lot of highly questionable and unethical things posted by mental health professionals as well, and some of my trusted colleagues and I definitely raise an eyebrow and sanity check one another about what we are seeing.

Social media has always been problematic for mental health because of the fact that it leads us to constantly evaluate ourselves through others’ eyes.

Add in Instagram changing the rules of the game without giving you the rulebook, and you have a recipe for anxiety and low self-esteem.

Now let’s go back to social media being world #2 for us to navigate. In this world, it’s like a fun house with mirrors all over, and you can’t really tell where you are going. You fumble around, and some moves work, but a lot of moves don’t. You leave feeling confused and unsure if you really want to do that again.

This is inherently stressful for us.

Our brains were also not designed to manage such a large “circle of concern” (aka people and things that matter to you).

So, what do we do about this?

In order to make decisions about our time spent on social media, we need to become clear about what matters to us – and then make decisions based on those values.

I could very easily give you “ten tips to reduce screen time.” But the thing is, you’ve probably already tried these things, and you’re reading this blog because they haven’t worked. That’s because when we implement a one-sized-fits-all approach to our habits without careful consideration of our values, these methods end up falling flat.

When you take inventory of what is important in your life and then decide how social media both adds and detracts from this, you will have a workable foundation from which to make changes.

Next on the docket will be an IG video that will cover the following:

  • How to identify your core values
  • How to decide how to spend your time according to these values
  • Habit hacks and strategies for implementing these decisions

In the meantime, if you are eager to get started on some more material about how to have a healthier relationship with social media, two books that can get you started are Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport, and How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life, by Catherine Price.

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On Transition

As the sticky summer heat fades into chilly fall mornings that greet us with the crunch of leaves under our feet, we are reminded of how temporary everything is. We wait all year for summer, and then it’s over in a blink. We savor the brief interlude of fall’s beauty before winter comes through with its darkness and chill.

This fall season, nature’s transition, becomes an opportunity to reflect on our own personal transitions, like starting up work again; ending a relationship; moving; going away to college; or having a baby.

When transitions occur, we make lots of arbitrary rules for ourselves in an attempt to get some ground under our feet.

We impose strict routines, rigid schedules, and abide by fixed ideas that place things into neat and tidy categories.

On the one hand, these structures can be building blocks for sound mental health. They are stabilizing, grounding, and help us simplify our little corner of a complicated world.

However, there is a shadow side to this intense structure. When we are beholden to these fixed habits, routines, and rules, we may unintentionally be going against the natural current of our lives.

This rigidity might be avoidance of our inevitable encounters with new versions of ourselves that are born of transitions.

When our lives change, we change. The fabric of who we are becomes newly woven with experiences that shape us into someone different.

There is a new you that emerges with each new chapter. In one lifetime, we will meet many different versions of ourselves.

Anxiety can result when we cling in desperation to who we were before, when that “you” isn’t there as it was before. We experience internal tension when we fight this newness and attempt to return to what was before.

After all, it’s scary to change. We spend a lot of energy curating and cultivating the person we want to be. When our lives and circumstances change and we find ourselves becoming someone we don’t recognize in the mirror, it is unsettling at best and more likely terrifying.

We are reminded that a lot of the control we *think* we have is really an illusion and an attempt to feel safe in a truly unpredictable life.

This is not to say that who you were is gone when things change – but rather, more colors are added to the fabric of your identity and threads of wisdom are gifted to us.

An antidote to anxiety in the face of transition is radical acceptance, which means that we accept reality for what it is, rather than willing it to be different. When we let go of the illusion of control that we all so desperately seek, we can experience a huge exhale, like the one that happens after a good, long cry. The relief of this exhale comes from acceptance of the flow of life’s seasons and chapters – rather than resistance.

My heartfelt message to you is this: It can feel scary to change, but it’s healthy (and inevitable) that we change.

If you can hold on through the feelings of groundlessness that accompany these transitions, there can be something beautiful on the other side. This is not to say that all routine and structure be thrown away; rather, it can be helpful to use these methods as tools to ground you as you make room for new things to emerge.

Breathe through the changes, be gentle with yourself as you adapt, and keep an open mind as you get to know new parts of yourself through these transitions. While change might start out as feeling scary and unwanted, it may just be the beginning of a beautiful metamorphosis.

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