I don’t know about all of you, but my anxiety levels are running a little bit higher right now with everything going on in the world. That’s why today’s Wellness Expert interview with Laura Sauerberg Raine, LCPC, M.Ed., feels especially well-timed (so grateful for you, Laura!). Laura is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who specializes in individual counseling for anxiety and depression, as well as improving communication in couples and families. As a solution-focused and person-centered therapist for 11 years, her goal is to help you see improvement as quickly as possible. Laura’s passion lies in teaching clients practical skills to combat negative thoughts and feelings and overcome their symptoms of anxiety and depression. In addition, Laura specializes in helping clients to strengthen their relationships with family and friends through openness and communication.
Whether you’re a new mom, a young professional, or just dealing with the stressors of everyday life, I think so many of us will be able to relate to the questions that were submitted!
Q: This first question addresses a number of related questions: What is a “normal” level of anxiety? My anxiety levels seem different from other people I know. / I constantly feel overwhelmed and it seems like the cycle of anxious thoughts never ends. How should I be dealing with this? / How do you know if you should start therapy or start taking medication for anxiety or depression?
A: This question is both easy and difficult to answer. If consistent feelings of dread, sadness, and/or worry are affecting your life in any way, then you should seek help from a professional. The onset of depression and anxiety can be gradual enough (or consistent as long as we can remember) that we often believe this is just how we are, and the severity of our condition is impossible to see. Anxiety and depression trick us into thinking about the negative things in our life or the world, and this accumulates over time. This makes it difficult to know when to draw the line in getting help. I could go on and on about different ways you can identify whether your anxiety is “bad enough,” but I think that if you are asking yourself (and me) this question, then it is. Again, if you feel that you may have anxiety or depression, please set something up with a counselor, social worker, clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. It is always best to be proactive with something that can affect your health and wellbeing so deeply. Worst case scenario: you go to an appointment, they tell you that you have no concerning symptoms, and you go home relieved!
Q: I know that I need to go to counseling for depression but I’m intimidated. How do I start the process? How will I know that a therapist is right for me?
A: Do a little research and ask around. Do you have a friend who you know has gotten a lot out of therapy? Ask for a referral! Another great resource is websites such as psychoglogytoday.com and goodtherapy.org. These sites give you the opportunity to search by location, insurance coverage, specialties, etc. to find the best fit. Then you can peruse the profiles to get a better feeling for each therapist’s personality and approach. Give yourself and the therapist a few appointments to get established. I have had clients tell me later on in our work that they weren’t sure about me at first (I was too young, didn’t have their condition myself so I might not understand them) but were so glad they gave me a chance. There are a lot of therapists out there who are very different from one another, so keep trying until you find someone you feel is helping you to improve.
Q: How can I get someone I love to start going to therapy? How should I be communicating and engaging with a spouse who suffers from anxiety and depression?
A: GREAT question! Approach them with a loving and concerned attitude. Avoid beginning with or including certain phrases in your discussion. (“You need to do this because I think…”) Criticism of their recent behaviors or choices will most likely not be helpful in getting your point across. I suggest you begin with, “I have been wanting to talk to you about this because you seem really stressed and unhappy lately. I am worried about you.” Ask leading questions to help get them to feel safe to open up. “Do you feel ok?” “Have you noticed a change in yourself?” Also, see your quest to help them as longterm. Don’t give up talking with them about it after one or two attempts. Many people (unfortunately) have a negative connotation with therapy so while there is no guarantee you will get them to call a health professional, it is a better approach to show consistent concern and care rather than frustration and disapproval. Also, having the contact information for a good therapist on hand once they agree can be the difference between someone going and not going to therapy. They can call or send an email in that moment they are feeling hopeful about the prospect of therapy.
Q: Ever since I became a mom, my anxiety is through the roof! What can I do to stop worrying so much? Is it possible to feel the onset of postpartum anxiety when my child is a year old?
A: Part of becoming a parent is accepting we have more responsibility for this little person (or people, I have twins…ah!) than we ever imagined. We have the false belief that if we can just do this perfectly, then things will be great. Throw in huge changes in your hormones, body, and lifestyle, and who even stands a chance at feeling normal?! Babies and kids get sick. Nursing can be painful or impossible. My friends all seem to be so happy. We have to work and find someone to watch them. I don’t have time for my partner. The list goes on!
The chemical and biological shifts in new parents’ bodies and brains are no joke, and this is why we have to take these feelings very seriously. As I stated earlier, I advise you to see a professional if you have any concerns that you are suffering from anxiety or depression. You need treatment suited to you because there is no catch-all to help these complicated conditions subside.
One intervention is to identify unhelpful thoughts and dispute them. This worksheet helps to break down whether a negative thought is unproductive, or just a normal worry. In a journal, or on your computer or phone, list out which of these categories (maybe all of them!) relate to you, and the specific beliefs that come along with each. Examples: Judgments — “I am a bad mom because I want a break.” Shoulds and musts — “I should always want to be with my kids.” Cross that out, and write something more helpful, accurate or positive. Each time that unhelpful thinking habit comes back, refer to the more helpful way of thinking. This requires consistency over time to see the benefits, but I promise it helps if you stick with it!
In addition, try to take some time to hone in on whether your concerns are logical or emotion-based. We want our thoughts to have a balance. If your child has a fever, you want to be cautious and monitor them, but not let the very slim possibility that it is serious take over your well-being. Ask yourself when you are through the roof: What is most likely happening here? What would I tell a friend if I was trying to help her?
PLEASE view caring for yourself as caring for your children and family. In order to care for yourself, you need to first know what makes you feel fulfilled and energized. This might be working out, spending time with adults, journaling, going to therapy, meditating, working, or NOT working. Start observing what makes you feel happy and what seems to really be depleting you. This will give you a starting point to take care of yourself and decrease anxiety symptoms.
Q: I know I’m anxious, but don’t know how to discuss my anxiety with my partner. How do I initiate these conversations?
Q: Educate them. Find a book or article that you feel really illustrates the way you experience anxiety. Tell them you think it would be very helpful for your relationship if they read it, and you two talked it over. This can open dialogue between the two of you, and you will feel less overwhelmed at the prospect of needing to find your own words to describe what is going on inside of you.
Q: How do I work through residual issues from my childhood that tend to result in low self-esteem and anxiety?
Q: Negative childhood experiences that stick with us over the years are often a form of trauma. Many people usually associate “trauma” with soldiers who have been to war OR someone who has been attacked, but in fact, we all have experienced trauma on some scale in our lives. It could be our parents’ divorce, being bullied as a child, getting fired, or losing someone we cared about. There are some amazing therapeutic approaches out there to help work through the long-term issues we have managed to shove down. I advise you to let your therapist know right away that working through these is a main goal for you.
Q: I take all of my work/life grievances out on my husband. How can I be better about this?
A: A specific approach you can take today regarding work stress: stop and take a moment between work and walking through the door to take ownership of your mood and behavior. It is your responsibility to get it under control before you reenter home life. You won’t be perfect (no one is!), but if you can stop yourself each day and commit to taking deep breaths and setting a positive tone for the rest of the evening, you can improve this. Also, you can talk with your partner about what you can both do at that time of day that could help lower tensions. Maybe you need 5 minutes to change when you get home. Maybe they could make efforts to tidy up before you get there. Also, be receptive to what they may need from you to improve this dynamic. Have this conversation when things are calm and you have a clear head. This is also a great topic to work on in therapy. Of course. 🙂
Q: Do you have any tips for dealing with anxiety around eating and exercising? / How do I know if I’m overdoing things, and/or how do I deal with guilt when I “fall off the wagon” or miss a workout? / I deal with a lot of negative self-talk, particularly surrounding body image. How can I feel better about myself?
A: Improving this aspect of self-care is a long-term process (like so many others) that is best resolved in therapy. You are unique, as are your experiences. One-on-one attention to your journey with food and body image is the best approach. There are still a few things that you can do that might help. Most of all, be kind to yourself. By switching up which words you use when speaking to yourself, you can build up a more positive self-image. Instead of, “I’m not working out again today, I’m so lazy,” say “I will get to exercising consistently when I feel up to it and have some more energy. No point in beating myself up about it right now.” I know, I know, MUCH easier said than done. But have you ever noticed how the more you beat yourself up, the less likely you are to make better decisions? This is the cycle of negative self-talk. My clients have argued with me that being cruel to themselves acts as motivation, but time and time again, we see that it doesn’t. Shame is not a healthy emotion, and it usually further strengthens whatever negative pattern is holding us back from making better choices.
Q: I’m struggling with infertility and it’s starting to affect my relationships (especially when it seems like everyone else is getting pregnant easily). What can I do?
A: Speaking from professional AND personal experience, this is a wonderful time to seek therapy. A therapist who specializes in or has experienced this would be ideal, as the complexity of the methods and science around it can be exhausting to talk someone new through. Also, lean on those friends and family members who you feel are most in tune with you. Try not to hold onto anger towards those who are having a positive experience on their journey to parenthood, for it is not their fault. LET IT OUT to someone you trust, and who understands, on the really hard days. Don’t hold yourself to unrealistic standards of having to be at every baby shower or birthday party. You can still be a good friend and family member without having to sacrifice your emotional well-being. This is another wonderful example of an opportunity to educate those around you. Here are links to a few articles that you may find helpful in communicating with your families and friends about where you are in your infertility journey:
Q: How can I calm down when experiencing a panic attack?
Q: I know I am a broken record, but if you are experiencing panic attacks, you need to see a doctor and go to therapy. Through personalized treatment, you will learn which techniques best help you cope during panic attacks. Your therapist can help you learning grounding techniques, how to practice mindfulness, and calm the physical symptoms. Make an appointment! You can look into some well-known approaches in the meantime in these links:
The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique
Deep Breathing for Panic Disorders
4 Ways to Curb a Panic Attack
Take notes on which aspects of these techniques help you. Bring them with you to therapy. Your therapist will be impressed 🙂 and you will have a running start on finding solutions tailored to you!
Q: How do I combat thoughts that my partner isn’t “the one” for me?
A: We have been conditioned by entertainment to expect relationships to be a certain way if someone is the “right” person. We don’t expect perfection, but pretty close. The reality is you and your partner are two flawed (albeit wonderful) people, which makes it impossible to have a flawless relationship! Ask yourself if you think you are experiencing the “normal” growing pains of a long-term relationship (i.e.less sex, trouble resolving certain issues) or if there are things about this person you really don’t see in your forever partner? Are your values and morals aligned? Do you want the same things in the future? Happiness in relationships looks different for each of us, so I think some soul searching is in order if your concerns are pervasive.
Q: I’ve been married for three months (we’ve been together for three years) and we’re really struggling to communicate. How can my partner and I improve our communication?
A: Set time aside each day for 5 minutes, as well as each week for 30-60 minutes, to connect and fill each other in on important happenings in your life. This is still doable in our busy world. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. You must make a conscious effort to speak effectively AND listen effectively.
Q: My spouse and I argue on a daily basis. Is this normal, and what can we do to avoid these blow-ups?
A: I often resist telling people who I don’t know what is and is not healthy because every relationship is so different. However, I can say with confidence that intensely fighting every day is not healthy for you and your spouse. You need to become a united front against these ongoing habits. AND here I go again…therapy should not be the last line of defense for couples. The more you can invest in your relationship now, the better it will be in the long run. Ask around to see if friends or family have any therapist recommendations. I think you will be surprised! In the meantime, you can start to identify (and maybe even change) some patterns that science has shown to be detrimental to marriages:
Also, pick up a book by Dr. John Gottman. He is a highly regarded couple’s therapist who spent years doing research on relationships and communication. Everyone can benefit from the resources on his site!