Category Archives: Anxiety and Depression

When a Feeling Is Not Really a Feeling

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

One of the most important aspects of healthy communication is being able to share our feelings, thoughts, and needs respectfully. But, what happens when commonly used words are expressed as feelings, but are actually thoughts and assumptions about what someone else did to us?

See if any of the following sentences sound familiar. Perhaps these are words that you’ve said, thought, or heard.

“I feel abandoned.” “I feel manipulated.” I feel betrayed.”

Although statements like these may seem and even claim to be expressing feelings, words, like abandoned, manipulated, and betrayed, are not emotions. They are words to describe what we think another person did to us. Psychologist, author, and founder of Non-Violent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg refers to such words as pseudo-feelings.

In addition to abandoned, manipulated, and betrayed, here are a few additional pseudo-feelings that often get mistaken for emotions:

  • blamed
  • judged
  • neglected
  • unappreciated
  • unloved
  • used
  • rejected
  • ignored
  • misunderstood
  • pressured

This list is not exhaustive, but if you’re new to the concept of pseudo-feelings, perhaps you can see that the words listed above are not emotions. They are assumptions about how someone else treated us.

What often happens when people use pseudo-feelings in a conversation is that it puts the receiver on the defense because the “feeling “it’s about the receiver rather than the speaker.

When we feel an emotion, it’s inside of us. It’s our truth, our experience. Nobody can argue that we feel the way we do because we feel it. (Well, someone might try to talk us out of how we feel, but that’s another story or article.) If I tell you I feel sad, that’s how I feel. That feeling is inside of me.

But, if I tell you I feel judged, now I’m telling you/assuming/accusing you of judging me and this significantly decreases the chances of connection, clarity, or resolution.

In general, when we express our emotions to someone, we have a deeper need that’s connected to those emotions. Since pseudo-feelings tend to put the listener on the defensive, they usually don’t help us get our needs met. They often do just the opposite.

So, what’s the alternative to a pseudo-feeling? This would be to identify your true feelings and needs. For example, if you’re thinking you “feel abandoned,” this might mean that you feel hurt, angry, or afraid. These feelings could indicate a need for support, mourning, or hope. If you’re thinking you “feel manipulated,” you might feel angry or confused and have a need to be understood or to understand.

If you find yourself focusing on what someone else did to you or how someone else “made” you feel, try tuning inside and identifying your authentic emotions and needs instead. Here’s a list if you get stuck.

Naming our feelings and needs often brings a sense of clarity, especially if we do it with self-compassion. Once we get clear on our needs, we can see if there’s something we can offer ourselves or perhaps there’s a need we can respectfully request from someone else.

Keeping an eye out for pseudo-feelings and shifting our focus to authentic emotions and needs can have a profoundly positive impact on our relationships with ourselves and others.

Respectful communication requires intention, awareness, and for most of us, lots of practice, but it’s well worth the effort. Once we’re fluent in this most important language, it significantly increases the chances of both people feeling heard and connected. And after all, isn’t that what we all want?

View on Psychology Today

13 Ways to Quiet a Worried Mind

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Our minds are basically recorders that play (and replay) their soundtracks all day long, sometimes all night long too. Some people have recordings that tend to be more pleasant and present. Some people’s thinking patterns lean towards the optimistic or realistic side. Others, not so much. Many people are plagued with worrisome thoughts that lead them to feel chronically stressed, anxious, depressed, or pessimistic. This is where compassionate awareness and regular upgrades come in.

While we don’t have a say in the type of mind we were born with, or developed as a result of our life experiences, we do have the option of staying aware of our thoughts and pressing pause, delete, or re-record. We do have choice about how often we become aware of the nature of our thoughts and how we respond when we realize that our thoughts are unhelpful, unkind, or untrue.

If you realize that you’ve been lost in a trance of worrisome thoughts, praise yourself for breaking the trance and then try some of these mind quieting tools.

Come to Your Senses 

If you become aware of worrisome thoughts, shift your attention to actual, factual reality: your body breathing, the surface you’re sitting, standing, or lying on, any colors or shapes you see, the sounds you hear. Shifting into sensory mode is a wonderful way to redirect an overactive mind.

Notice Who’s Noticing 

Once you become aware that your mind has been playing an unpleasant, scary, or stressful soundtrack, you now have two different internal parts: your thoughts, and the part of you that is aware of your thoughts. They are not the same thing. Your awareness is like the vast, open sky and your thoughts are like clouds. Try tuning into that vast awareness. Ask yourself: Who or what is noticing my thoughts? See what that feels like. Sometimes, it can feel like we are our thoughts, but if that were true then when our thoughts passed, we would pass too. Our thoughts come and go, but this vast awareness is always here and we can get better at tapping into it and spending more time in it.

Air Out Your Mind

Try picturing an imaginary window or door on top, behind, or on the sides of your head. Then see or sense yourself opening those windows and doors and airing out your mind like you would air out a room.

Tropical Breeze Breathing 

Take a few slow deep breaths and imagine that your breath is like a soothing tropical breeze blowing through your body.

Spreading Calm

Locate one body part that feels either neutral or calm. (It could even be the tip of a toe!) Tune into that sense of neutrality or calm and visualize it spreading throughout your entire body.

Compassionate Connection

Imagine that your worries are like a frightened child and your wise mind and compassionate heart can connect to that child in a compassionate manner. You can do this in writing, verbally, or in your imagination.

Thank Worry

It can seem counterintuitive to thank worry, but the truth is that our worries are only attempting to help. They’re trying to prepare, plan, or prevent. The system glitch, however, is that in most cases, worry doesn’t actually help. It just makes our nervous systems feel like whatever we’re worrying about is already happening. Thanking worry for trying to help, as opposed to letting it take over or berating yourself for worrying, can help soften and shift out of a chronic worry loop.

Reassure Worry 

When we’re feeling unsafe or in danger, we don’t generally have time to worry. We take action or we deal with the situation as best we can. Worry usually occurs when we’re thinking that we (or someone or something) won’t be safe or okay in the future. Try reassuring yourself that in this moment, you are safe. You can even repeat that to yourself: “In this moment, I am safe.” Then notice if, how, or where in your body or your environment this feels true.

Check Your Responses

How do you tend to speak to yourself when you’re worried? Is your internal soundtrack harsh and critical or kind and empathic? Even if you realize you’ve been berating yourself, you can still be kind to yourself about that. Any moment you can drop the internal criticism and pick up some inner kindness.

Wonderful What Ifs

Oftentimes, worried thoughts take the form of, What if… What if this horrible thing happens? What if this doesn’t happen? Ideally, we spend most of our time in the present moment rather than future What ifs, but if your mind is stuck in a worrisome What if loop, try a What if upgrade: What if this works out really well? What if my test results are good? 

Worry Inventory 

Reflect back on some of the things you’ve worried about in the past. Chances are, in many cases, the things you worried about never even happened. In some instances, they may have, and you’re now on the other side of the situation. Either way, it can help to acknowledge that it’s not our worries that help us through our challenges, it’s action when needed, time, support, and acceptance.

Action Inventory 

If your mind is spinning with worries, ask yourself if there’s anything that needs to (or can) be done. If there is, you can write down your action plan and free up your mind. If there aren’t any actual steps to take, let your well-intentioned mind know this and then redirect yourself to something calming, uplifting, present, or practical.

Trust Your Future Self

Oftentimes, when we’re worried about something in the future, we don’t have the information and intuition that we’ll need (and have) if our worried scenarios ever come to pass. We can’t know what we’ll need in the future because we aren’t there yet. Of course, if you get an intuitive sense about how you can take care of a future situation, honor that. But, if your mind is stuck in worry mode and there’s nothing you can do in the present, try trusting your future self. Tell yourself: If that happens, I’ll deal with it then. I’ll have information and intuition that I don’t have now because it’s not happening now. Then come back to the actual, factual present moment and take the best care of yourself that you can. This will pave the way for strength and clarity to help you face whatever the future may bring.

View on Psychology Today

How to Deal with Morning Anxiety

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you commonly wake up in the morning filled with anxiety, you are not alone. Many people wake up with fight-or-flight sensations and feel baffled as to how they can already feel anxious when their feet haven’t even touched the floor yet.

A variety of factors can play a part in morning anxiety: excess stress, low blood sugar, medication side effects, poor sleep, and hormonal changes, to name a few.

Let’s say you just woke up and are greeted by a flood of anxious sensations. What do you do?

Consider the following two scenarios of a parent responding to a child with morning anxiety. As you read these scenarios, imagine that the child is the anxiety you feel and the parent’s responses are you responding to your anxious feelings.

Which scenario seems most familiar?

Scenario one

Susan’s daughter, Chloe, struggles with anxiety. Chloe often wakes up with a busy mind that spins with all the worst-case scenarios of the day. This morning, Chloe climbs into bed with her mom and says she feels like there’s a rock in her chest and butterflies in her tummy.

Susan responds by telling Chloe these feelings are not okay and she agrees that a lot of scary things can happen. She tells Chloe to focus on the anxious feelings and watch as they get even bigger. Susan tells Chloe she might not ever feel any better. Then Chloe starts to panic. Susan tells her even more scary things that could happen and how something might really be wrong.

After a little while, Susan grabs her smartphone and mindlessly surfs the internet for a few hours. Finally, she tells Chloe she needs to just get it together. She tells Chloe to get in the shower and grabs her a bottle of juice on the way out the door.

Scenario two

Kelly’s son, Jake, struggles with anxiety. Jake often wakes up with a busy mind that spins with all the worst-case scenarios of the day. This morning, Jake climbs into bed with his mom and says he feels like there’s a rock in his chest and butterflies in his tummy.

Kelly responds by wrapping her arms around Jake. She tells him that it’s okay to feel afraid. She asks him to tell her all the things he’s afraid of. After hearing his list, she is able to offer him compassion and reassure him that the scary thoughts in his mind are made-up stories and that none of those things are actually happening right now.

Kelly points out several things that are real and true in the moment. She asks Jake to focus on the softness of the blanket as she snuggles him up even closer. She asks him to focus on the pillow and the mattress under his body. She softly suggests that he try to relax his body as he focuses on his breathing.

Then Kelly asks Jake to tell her several things that he can see with his eyes, hear with his ears, and feel with his hands and feet. She reminds him of many times in the past when he felt anxious about things that either never happened or that he got through and hardly even remembers.

Kelly opens up one of her favorite guided meditations on her phone and asks Jake to listen to it with her. She tells him it’s totally fine if he still feels scared in his tummy while he’s listening. He can just breathe and follow along with the teacher’s voice as best he can.

Then Kelly makes her son a mug of warm tea and, even though he tells her he has no appetite, she makes him a delicious, nutritious breakfast and asks him to eat as much of it as he can.

Kelly plays Jake’s favorite songs while he takes a warm shower and gets dressed for school. On the way to school, she reminds Jake that hard things pass and that he can and will get through this. She teaches him that we are all born with different types of personalities and that some of us have to work a bit harder to quiet our minds. She says there are good things about being the way he is, even if he can’t feel or know it right now. Kelly tells Jake she loves him and reminds him that he is very lovable.

Does either scene resemble how you usually speak to or treat yourself when you’re experiencing challenging emotions?

While it might be hard to imagine speaking to a child like the parent did in the first scene, that is sadly how many people speak to themselves when they’re anxious.

If you struggle with morning (or anytime) anxiety, imagine the anxious feelings are your child and your wise, compassionate mind and respectful actions are the parents. Offer yourself compassion and comfort. Anchor yourself in the present moment. Give your sensations permission to exist while questioning their accompanying stories. Treat yourself like a loving, conscious parent would treat their child. Reassure yourself that all sensations, emotions, and thoughts pass, and notice the effects of your own comfort.

View on Psychology Today

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Tips for Sleep Support

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you struggle with insomnia, you know only too well the effects it can have on your quality of life. Consider the following tips from a therapist who used to toss and turn the nights away and, with a few simple adjustments, developed a peaceful relationship with sleep. May these practices bring you the rest you seek and deserve.

Attitude Adjusting

Ironically, one of the biggest contributors to insomnia is worrying about insomnia. Most people who have difficulty falling or staying asleep have thoughts along these lines: Uh oh. What if I can’t fall asleep?I have to get back to sleep. How am I going to function tomorrow? Another hour has passed. I need to get to sleep!

Though completely understandable, thoughts and questions like these do nothing to quiet our minds and calm our nervous systems. They usually generate anxiety, which is the opposite of sleep-inducing. Imagine shifting to thoughts like It’s okay. I can practice mindfulness by tuning into what is actually, factually, here right now. This is an opportunity to rest. Rest is the sibling of sleep. 

It’s amazing what happens when we turn down the pressure to sleep and turn up the intention to rest.

Soothing the Mind 

Sometimes physical factors contribute to insomnia, but oftentimes it‘s worrisome thoughts that keep us awake. Many people spend hours swimming in a swirl of anxiety, which of course, does nothing to help them rest or fall asleep. What if you could tend to your worried mind as you might tend to a scared child? Imagine a child came into your room in the middle of the night and told you they couldn’t sleep. My guess is you would soothe and comfort them. We can do the same thing with our minds. If worried thoughts keep you up at night, try soothing and comforting your mind like you would an anxious child and notice the calming effects.

Screening and Scrolling 

The pull of screens can be fierce and lead many people to spend their pre-sleep time scrolling on their devices. Using screens right before sleep can throw off our systems and have the opposite effect of winding down, which is precisely what we need to be doing to prepare for rest and a good night’s sleep. Turning off screens and devices at least an hour before sleep can positively affect our ability to fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and wake up feeling more rested.

Since it’s much easier to start a new behavior rather than stop doing a habitual one, if going screen-less before sleep is something you’d like to try, consider creating a list of calming practices that could take the place of screening and scrolling. Breathing practices can be very calming, like keeping your laser-focused attention on your breathing or counting your breaths. Many people count backward from 100 to zero and report that they rarely make it all the way to zero.

Repeating a soothing word or phrase can also help keep the mind focused and elicit relaxation. One of my favorites is, Mind-Quiet, where you mentally say Mind as you inhale and Quiet as you exhale. If your mind wanders, as minds will do, you gently shift back to your chosen phrase as soon as you become aware that your mind has wandered. I also like Deep-Peace or Deep-Rest. You can experiment with words or phrases and find ones that feel calming.

You can also download sleep meditations on your device to listen to a calming guided meditation without Wi-Fi. There are countless ones available. If you want to join me, I have several free sleep meditations. It’s actually the only time in my life when someone tells me that they fell asleep while I was talking, and I consider it a good thing!

Belly and Bladder Balance 

Another important aspect of sleep support is taking care of our physical needs. This means making sure that you’re not going to bed hungry or overly full. Also, make sure that you haven’t had caffeine late in the day, and trying not to drink too much water right before sleep so you don’t have to get up for too many bathroom breaks, but also be hydrated enough that you don’t wake up in the middle of the night, parched. Of course (and thankfully!), this doesn’t have to be perfect, but if we do our best to balance our hunger and thirst, we can better support our rest.


Many people find great benefits from white sound and earplugs. White sound machines are easy to find, as are white sound apps that can be listened to in airplane mode. Doing your best to ensure a quiet space can really assist in creating a cozy and peaceful environment.

Lights Out

Even with lights and devices off, many people still surround themselves with small lights that can adversely affect sleep. I have found black duct tape extremely handy to cover up all the little lights in the bedroom. Some people enjoy wearing a soft eye mask to block out any light. Additionally, the blue light from screens can convince our bodies that it’s daytime instead of nighttime, so you might consider changing the blue light on your devices to a different color and adjusting the brightness on your screens when the sun goes down to help you shift from daytime energy to nighttime relaxation.

Check In for a Check-Up

While many people attribute their sleep disturbances to mental, emotional, or environmental factors, it’s also important to rule out or address any potential medical conditions or medication side effects contributing to sleep problems. Hopefully, you have a health practitioner who can help address any physical factors that might adversely impact your sleep.

Sprinkling Subconscious Seeds 

Right before sleep or in a state of deep rest are wonderful times to plant seeds into our subconscious minds. Consider what thoughts to plant and grow in your pre-sleep garden. Thinking about things we love, appreciate, or feel grateful for can make for a wonderful bedtime ritual. We can also imagine ourselves being how we wish to be. For example, if you are someone who wants more confidence, you could come up with a scene or a feeling where you feel confident as you drift into deep rest or sleep. If you want more peace, you could envision yourself on a peaceful vacation. You can picture or think of any image or feeling that conjures a state you wish to have or have more of.

As Thomas Edison said, “Never go to sleep without a request to your subconscious.”

View on Psychology Today

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Trying Not to Try

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you are someone who has struggled with disordered eating and body image, there’s a good chance you have also struggled with perfectionism. If this is the case for you, you’re likely no stranger to the concept of trying.

Back in the days of my eating disorder, my trying looked something like this:

  • Trying to change my appearance
  • Trying new diets
  • Trying to recover from a binge
  • Trying not to binge
  • Trying to work out
  • Trying to work out more (Pull up a chair, this could take a while!)
  • Trying to improve my looks
  • Trying to get a boyfriend
  • Trying to look good
  • Trying to fit in
  • Trying to do well in school
  • Trying to be perfect

Next up were my early years in recovery: 

  • Trying to listen to my body
  • Trying to eat intuitively
  • Trying to get it right
  • Trying to be perfect
  • Trying to let go of being perfect
  • Trying to be balanced
  • Trying to be healthy
  • Trying to be a good person
  • Trying not to beat myself up
  • Trying to get a career
  • Trying to get “likes”
  • Trying to let go of caring about “likes”
  • Trying to do the right thing
  • Trying to know what the right thing was
  • Trying to look good
  • Trying not to care how I looked

In recent years, it’s more like this:

  • Trying to let go
  • Trying to be more present
  • Trying to surrender
  • Trying to live in acceptance
  • Trying to quiet my mind
  • Trying not to get injured
  • Trying to be kinder to myself
  • Trying to find my glasses
  • Trying to have a balanced life
  • Trying to be peaceful
  • Trying to welcome all emotions
  • Trying to age well
  • Trying to surrender to aging
  • Trying to practice gratitude
  • Trying not to lose my keys
  • Trying to practice mindfulness
  • Trying not to beat myself up
  • Trying not to try so hard (I told you this could take a while!)

Recently, while on a lovely walk in the redwood forest, (my personal place of worship), I started thinking about all this trying. How for as long as I can remember, I have been trying, and then more recently, trying not to try so hard. I’d set out to take a lovely, quiet walk and commune with nature, yet that day, my mind was as busy as ever. I decided to call order in the court.

Hey! Can we give it a rest? Can we just stop trying? Can we stop trying to stop trying? Can we admit that the only reason we ever try to get or get rid of anything is because we think we will feel better if we did? Can we step off the mental treadmill and simply be?

And then, perhaps being witnessed by the majestic trees, the swaying ferns, and the glistening creek, or perhaps because I made a conscious decision to drop trying (the new stop, drop, and roll), something inside me gave way. My little tryer said, “Uncle,” and I began to steer my mind to the breeze, my feet on the ground, my arms moving in time, my breathing, a bird song. Much like pointing a tantruming child back to something soothing in the present moment, I steered my busy mind back home, back to reality.

The promises of attainment, achievement and accomplishment will pop up again and again, I’m sure. Many of us have been raised on way too much Disney and happily-ever-afters. But I’m onto it now. I am onto my mind’s seductive nature. Our minds seduce us into thinking if we just got this fill-in-the-blank, we would be happy, but all we have to do is remember the last several hundred things we were convinced would bring us happy-ever-after-ness to see that it’s not the case. If it were, we would have just lived happily-ever-after.

So, if you struggle with a busy little tryer inside of you, see if you can reel it back in now and then. Notice the simplicity of the moment. Remind your mind that anything you acquire will have pros and cons and ups and downs so there really is nowhere to get. This is the best news of all.

In any given moment, we all have a feast of temptations to take us away from this moment. And then we have this moment. Reality. Right here. Right now. We get to choose… fantasies and fears or that which is actually, factually here. This breath. This surface. This sensation. This sound. I’m willing to give it a whirl if you are.

View on The Huffington Post

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Tips to Support Conscious and Balanced Screen Use

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

The average American spends 7 hours and 4 minutes a day looking at a screen. Digital burnout is a growing problem that’s taking a toll on people’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

If your screen use habits could use an upgrade, consider the following menu of tips. Perhaps one or more can provide you with a realistic and helpful opportunity.

  • Postpone picking up your phone first thing in the morning. You can use this time to envision how you’d like your day to go, practice mindfulness, or recite or do a gratitude list.
  • Turn off any unnecessary notifications and alerts.
  • Postpone checking a text immediately. You can even use the text chime as a reminder to take a deep breath or have a mindful moment.
  • Leave a room without your phone.
  • If you always take a device outside with you, consider going out without a screen, or taking it but turning it off for a little while. You can use the opportunity to practice being present with your body and your surroundings.
  • Set reminders, alarms, or an intention to check in with your body when you’re screening or scrolling. See if your posture needs adjusting or if your body is ready for food, water, movement, or fresh air. Notice if your brain is feeling foggy. Our bodies and our intuition will tell us what we need if we pay attention.
  • Look for opportunities to put your devices on airplane mode with wifi off. These windows of time can help you practice getting comfortable with unstimulated moments.
  • Avoid multitasking. Although doing more than one thing at a time can appear to be productive, it can actually do more harm than good. Multitasking can lead to excess stress, memory problems, and ironically, decreased productivity. Stay on the lookout for double or triple screening and know that your nervous system will benefit from you slowing down and doing one thing at a time.
  • Consider deleting any apps that you find depressing or depleting.
  • Move apps that you consider time killers to the second or third page on your devices so you don’t see them as frequently.
  • Set digital limits with yourself. Some devices have settings that allow you to choose when certain apps will automatically close. This can help if you tend to get caught up screening and scrolling and lose track of time.
  • Set a timer to be online for a certain amount of time and then take a screen break.
  • Set a timer to be offline a certain amount of time before you go back on. You can use these breaks to check in with yourself, sit in silence, connect with someone in-person, get some fresh air, or allow for creative ideas.
  • Browse in a craft or hobby store and see if anything looks like something you might want to try. It could be an old hobby you used to enjoy, or a new hobby, craft, or project.
  • Purchase a book or workbook on a topic of interest.
  • If you always eat with a screen, try a screen-less meal, or even part of a meal.
  • If you use screens at night, the blue light can disturb your sleep so consider changing the light on your devices to a different color and reducing the brightness.
  • If you use screens right up until you fall asleep, try turning them off earlier than you normally would. Consider reading a book, journaling, listening to soothing music, meditating, mindful breathing, reciting a calming word or phrase, writing or thinking about things you appreciate or feel grateful for, or imagining yourself accomplishing a goal or a dream. (Right before sleep is a wonderful time to plant seeds into our subconscious minds.)
  • Set reminders to ask yourself if you are time killing or spirit filling. Of course, we get to play or check out sometimes. It’s just helpful to check in about how often we are checking out so it doesn’t contribute to depressionanxiety, depletion, or sleep disturbances.
  • Create a list of healthy non-screen activities that might fill your spirits. Here are some ideas from clients who’ve created spirit filler lists to support themselves having more off-screen time: getting into nature, listening to music, reading a good book, taking a bath or a foot bath, walking, swimming, biking, dancing at home or taking a dance class, playing cards or a board game, meditating or practicing mindfulness, gentle stretching, qigong, playing or learning an instrument, crafting or starting a hobby, resting, visiting with friends and family, laughter yoga, writing or reciting a gratitude list.

Creating an easily accessible list of potentially fulfilling activities can really help since it tends to be easier to start a behavior rather than stop one. So if you’re wanting or needing a screen break, you can try doing something on your list.

If you do decide to cut back on screens, it’s important to know that some feelings might come up, feelings that will definitely need compassion and may need support. Screens might appear to be innocent little devices but they can have an incredibly strong pull on us, and our use of them can sometimes be attempting to distract us from deeper issues. What’s most important is to stay conscious about how and how often you are using screens so you don’t feel used or used up by them.

View on Psychology Today

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Conscious and Balanced Screen Use

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Screens and devices can be incredible. They give us access to an endless stream of information, enable us to work from home, attend virtual classes and groups, visit with long distance loved ones, play fun games, watch movies, even read articles about screens!

Screens can also be incredibly draining, leading many people to feel isolated, disconnected, anxioussleep-deprived, and depressed. So, how can we use screens and devices in a conscious and balanced manner that doesn’t zap us of our vital life force energy?

Here are five points to consider if your screen-use habits could benefit from an upgrade.

Conscious Awareness

Screens can absorb our attention like sponges. Most of us can easily become engrossed in computer games, social media feeds, endless videos, and TV shows while countless hours pass by. It’s extremely important to stay aware of how much time we are spending on screens and if we are consciously choosing the time and content or if we are simply getting caught up in the online whirlpool.

In addition to how often we’re using screens, it’s also really important to be conscious about when we are screening and scrolling. I often see people driving cars or riding bikes while looking down at their phones or taking care of children with their eyes fixed on a screen. I wonder if that behavior is a conscious choice that’s aligned with their values, or if they’ve just gotten sucked into the seductive pull of screens.

Of course, I have no idea what’s going on for strangers I see in passing. I need to stay aware of my own screen use and support my clients to be conscious about theirs. And, if you’d like, let’s take a look at your screen use as well.

Reflective Questions: Are you using screens in the manner and amount that is aligned with your values? Do you stay aware of your self-care and other aspects of your life when you’re screening and scrolling, or do you tend to get “lost” in screen activities and neglect your body and other important needs and commitments? Is your screen use similar to what you would advise a young person to have?

My hope is that you will ponder these questions with curiosity and compassion, not with self-criticism or defeat.

The Power of Choice 

Many people feel compelled to screen and scroll, like they have truly lost the power of choice. Many people spend several hours a day on their devices without even considering how the content is affecting them, or what else they might be doing with their time.

We can begin to regain our power by weaning ourselves off screens, even a little bit.

For some, this might mean turning their phone off for a few minutes a day. For others it might mean one screen-less meal. For some, it might mean a full day off screens. (Challenging, I know!)

Reflective Questions: Is it easy for you to turn off your screens and spend time in other ways? Separate from work obligations and other commitments, do you feel like you have a choice about picking up (or not picking up) your screens? Do you feel compelled to watch programs or look at sites that contribute to insecurity, depression, anxiety, or exhaustion?

If you are constantly picking up a device or remote control, consider choosing one behavior that would feel like a healthy step towards regaining your power of choice.

Conscious Etiquette

Depending on your age, you might not even remember a world without computers, tablets, and phones. The digital age came upon us so rapidly that many of us have not been able or taught to adjust to the rapid changes, particularly in the area of etiquette.

My husband and I made a few agreements when devices came into our lives. One is that if we are hanging out together, we decide together how the screen use will go. We might decide to each be on our individual screens while we’re next to each other. Or we might do something together on one screen, like play a game or watch a movie. Or we go screenless! If one of us is on a screen and the other one wants to say something, as long as we’re not in the middle of work or something essential, we put down our screens and make eye contact. It’s a new day when people have to agree on eye contact and undivided attention, but this is the world we live in. Of course, we can all make our own agreements with the people we spend time with, but it really helps to communicate and make respectful requests when needed.

Reflective Questions: If you are using a screen for non-essential purposes and someone in your life speaks to you, do you typically pause and make eye contact? When spending time with people, do you decide together how the screen use will go? If you are with someone and you need or want to do something on a screen, do you let the other person know when you’ll be present with them again? Do you think your relationships could benefit from a few respectful agreements in the area of screen etiquette?

Seek Balance

In many areas of life, when we become aware of doing a little too much or not enough of something, we have the opportunity to recalculate back to center. Of course, this is much easier said than done if we are compelled to do something, or if there are deeper issues we’re attempting to avoid, numb, or distract ourselves from.

Since the pull of screens can be extremely strong and tempting, it can help to stay compassionate and consistent about how balanced you feel in your life and if screen use may be contributing to you feeling imbalanced.

Reflective Questions: Do you feel well-balanced between your on-screen and off-screen time? How about your alone time vs. connecting with others? Do you have a healthy balance between work and play? Rest and movement?

If you suspect your screen use is contributing to a state of imbalance, consider some gentle recalculating towards center. Even small changes can make a positive difference.

Time Killer or Spirit Filler

Screens can definitely help us fill our spirits. We can listen to uplifting talks on screens, access calming meditations, attend virtual gatherings, listen to inspiring podcasts, read engaging books, just to name a few. And screens can be serious time killers and energy zappers.

Pay attention to how you feel, both during screen use, and afterwards. When we truly fill our spirits, we generally feel good during an activity as well as afterwards.

Some screen activities might fill our spirits every time, like meditation or watching a lighthearted movie, while others might feel good for a little while but can then feel depleting. For example, it might be enjoyable to play a computer game for a half an hour, but after two hours it might be time to eat something and get some fresh air. It might be enjoyable to watch a new comedy series, but five episodes later we might feel zapped of energy rather than uplifted and entertained.

Reflective Questions: How do you feel while you’re using screens? How do you tend to feel afterwards? Does your screen use feel depleting or fulfilling? Disconnecting or connecting? Depressing or uplifting?

Some final questions to ponder: What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? What do you typically do when you eat your meals? What do you do if you have a break in between scheduled events or a few free hours? What do you do when you transition from day to evening or wind down before bed? What do you do right before you fall asleep at night? How do spend your weekends or days off?

If screen use is involved in the majority of your responses, consider the percentage of time they feel like time killers or spirit fillers.

These questions are not about self-berating, rather they’re about increasing your awareness and seeing if you are finding enough opportunities to use screens in fulfilling ways, as well as getting sufficient off-screen time. Excessive screen use is a global problem but it’s up to each one of us to integrate changes in our lives that will make our screen use more balanced.

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The Path of Anxiety Relief

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

If you struggle with anxiety, perhaps you will relate to the following scenario:

Imagine you are on a path. I will call it the path of anxiety. One of the most common experiences on this path is anxious physical sensations, a chemical cocktail of cortisol and adrenaline that can bring on a knotted stomach, a racing heart, trembling, fatigue, headache, brain fog, or nausea.

In addition to anxious sensations, many people experience worrisome thoughts on the path of anxiety. I call them the “What ifs.” What if this happens? What if that happens again? What if it doesn’t happen?

Usually, anxious thoughts lead to anxious sensations, but sometimes people have anxious sensations, and they’re not aware of any prior worries. Of course, there may have been unconscious thoughts. It’s also important to rule out any medical conditions or medications that could be causing fight or flight sensations. Still, some people with a clean bill of health find themselves feeling regular rushes of anxious sensations with no anxious thoughts. Then, what often occurs is that they have anxious thoughts about the anxious sensations. Why is this happening? What if this never ends? What if I feel this way at work?

So, we can have anxious thoughts that trigger anxious sensations, or we can have anxious thoughts about anxious sensations.

Next on the path of anxiety, many people experience self-blame. What’s wrong with me? I can’t believe I’m still so anxious with how much therapy I’ve done. I’m going to ruin my health or my relationships if I don’t get it together.

Not only is self-blame unhelpful, it’s also unfortunate, because if you struggle with anxiety, it’s not your fault. Anxious sensations and thoughts are automatic, unconscious reactions that occur for a variety of reasons, none of which are your fault. Nobody decides to worry or wake up with a pit in their stomach. We need compassion when we’re anxious, not blame.

Finally, on the path of anxiety, many people disapprove of the anxiety itself. I hate this feeling. I can’t stand feeling this way. I’m so sick of being anxious. Believe me, I get it. Anxiety can feel extremely unpleasant. It makes perfect sense that we would disapprove of it and want it gone. But disapproving of a feeling is simply not helpful. Disapproval leads most people to feel more stressed and constricted, not less.

Let’s say you are on the path of anxiety, and you come to a fork in the road. I will call this the fork of awareness. At this fork, you see that there is an alternate path, the path of anxiety relief tools.

Every change is preceded by awareness. So, every time you arrive at the fork of awareness and you realize you’ve been on the path of anxiety, you have the opportunity to choose an anxiety relief tool. You can choose a tool that will help you calm your nervous system. You can choose a tool that will guide you to question, quiet, or upgrade worried thoughts. Or you can shift your focus to something present, pleasant, or peaceful. Eventually, the path of anxiety relief becomes your most well-worn path, leading you to experience more moments of calm and presence.

Let’s shift now to the path of anxiety relief tools. I like to teach a wide variety of tools to increase the chances that students and clients will find at least a few that resonate.

First, one of my favorites, Compassionate Connection.

Become aware of the anxious sensations like a curious observer. Try letting go of the idea that the sensations should be gone. Notice what happens when you become aware of anxious sensations without having any judgment or stories about them.

The part of you that is observing anxiety is not the anxiety. This can give you a bit of separation from the sensations, like you are the open sky, and the sensations are clouds. They can simply exist, and in time, pass right on by.

Practice offering the sensations compassion, like you might offer an anxious child. You can place your hand over the body part where you feel anxious sensations, and imagine sending them warmth and comfort with your own touch.

Tell yourself, or remind yourself, that this will pass, that all sensations, thoughts, feelings, and situations eventually pass.

As you breathe, imagine that your breath is like a relaxing tropical breeze, soothing any sensations or tension it passes by.

You can have a compassionate dialogue with anxiety, either in writing, in your imagination, or even aloud if you have privacy. Allow the anxiety to express itself and then respond back in a compassionate manner. If you have difficulty fostering compassion, you can think about how someone else compassionate and wise might respond.

The main themes here are compassion, warmth, and kindness, however that might look or feel to you in any given moment.

It’s like the anxious sensations are your child, and your compassionate responses and respectful actions are the parents.

Additional Anxiety Relief Tools:

Mindfulness: Practice bringing yourself back to actual, factual reality. You can do this anytime by focusing on your senses: notice any shapes or colors you see, sounds you hear, what you’re touching or sensing, or your body breathing.

MeditationThis could be a mindfulness meditation, repeating a mantra (a soothing or healing word, phrase, or sound), a calming visualization, loving-kindness meditation, or yoga nidra, to name a few.

Breathing Practices:  Bringing your focused attention to your breathing, as well as deepening your breath can have calming effects on the nervous system. Deep breathing allows more air flow into our bodies and can help reduce anxiety.

Channel Changing: When it feels appropriate, you can shift your focus off of anxiety and onto something that is uplifting, soothing, inspiring, or engaging.

The Work: A powerful thought-questioning process.

Internal Family Systems (IFS): A therapeutic model that guides people to identify and compassionately connect with various internal “parts”.

Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT): Tapping specific points on your body to reduce anxiety.

Self-Havening: Using your own touch to signal the brain to boost serotonin and calm your system.

Voo Chanting: A powerful chant that helps stimulate the vagus nerve and activate the parasympathetic nervous system for relaxation.

Trauma Release Exercises (TRE): A simple series of shaking exercises that helps the body release stress.

May the path of anxiety relief tools be your most well-traveled path and may you have many moments of peace and presence.

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Is Worry Useful?

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

It’s human nature to worry. Having spent a lot of my time lost in the depths of worry, I’ve often wondered if it’s actually useful.

When it comes to worries, I like to distinguish between spinning and solving. Spinning is when our minds weave their fearful futuristic “what ifs” and there’s really no productive or effective outcome. Our nervous systems take the brunt of the worrisome webs our minds spin and nothing really gets resolved.

Solving, as opposed to spinning, is when we bring conscious awareness to the content of our worries and determine if there’s something we can actually do to address the situation, either internally through self-compassion and soothing self-talk, or externally with some type of action or realistic preparation.

These days, there’s certainly no shortage of issues we could worry about—from personal to global. Besides being natural and completely understandable to worry about people and situations we care about, for the most part, worry doesn’t help us navigate difficult situations.

Thoughtful planning and action can help. Asking someone else for help can help. Offering support or resources can help. Sometimes, deciding to let go and focus on the present moment can help. And sometimes, asking an invisible force that’s bigger than our minds and the material world can help.

Author and teacher, Eckhart Tolle says, “Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.”

Worry sure does pretend to be necessary and useful. In my therapy practice, I’ve worked with many people who struggle with worry— some part-time, some full-time. When we take a deeper look at their relationship to worry, I often notice a theme. A lot of people think that worrying will somehow protect them from or prepare them for painful situations that may or may not happen in the future. But does it really?

Worry doesn’t tend to prepare us for the future. It robs us of the present. Worrying is like trying to prevent something hard from happening in the future while causing something hard to happen in the present— worry. Worry is stressful and it’s hard work. We might tell ourselves that the right amount of worrying will help us get through a future hardship or disaster, but worry typically doesn’t have that kind of power.

I’m not suggesting that all worries could or should be ignored. Sometimes our worries are a natural result of care and concern and they need to be honored and met with compassion. Sometimes a worry might be indicating a need for an action step or a realistic preventative measure. If you’re worried about a physical issue, it might make sense to see a medical professional. If you’re worried about the state of your marriage, you might decide to see a couples counselor. If a big storm is predicted in your area, loading up on groceries and batteries might help, but worrying won’t. Unless you’re taking steps to actively do something about an issue or event that you’re worried about, worry isn’t actually helpful.

So, what does worry do? Worry makes our bodies feel as if the circumstances we’re worried about are actually happening, when in most cases they’re not. After experiencing my first big earthquake, I found myself frequently worrying about there being another one. Every little jolt, door slam, foot stomp, or thunderstorm sent me into a tizzy. Not to mention the quiet times my mind decided to get a jump on things and just plain worry without any noise or shake whatsoever. I realized after a while that if another earthquake actually happened, I wouldn’t have time to worry. I’d head to the nearest door or react in whatever way I managed to at the time. Worrying now won’t help me then. Canned goods, batteries, and bottled water might. But not worry.

So, I began to thank my mind for trying to anticipate and prepare for every possible future catastrophic quake. I began to reassure myself that I was actually safe in the moment. And, I continued my resolve to spend more time in reality and deal with life’s challenges when they actually arrived, rather than allow my mind to continuously create them in an ineffective attempt to prevent and prepare for them. Of course, like any change, this takes practice. It takes practice to have our wise, grounded, present selves be in charge rather than our primitive limbic systems. Fortunately, we get better at what we practice.

Even though worry feels like serious business, a sense of humor can help sometimes too. I remember a session with a client who was preparing to travel abroad for a few months. She was excited for the opportunity to travel, but she was also very worried about going off to a foreign country. She said, “I’m worried that my anxiety will ruin my trip.” Then she laughed and playfully said, “I’m worried about ruining my trip and I’m actually ruining my day by worrying about being worried!”

Another client was facing a frightening medical procedure. She spent months worrying about how much the procedure would hurt and how long it would take to heal. She worried about having to go through it all again if her condition didn’t improve. The dreaded day finally came and went. She later told me that the procedure wasn’t nearly as bad as she’d anticipated. She talked about how many months she spent worrying about the pain compared to how many minutes the actual pain lasted and she was amazed. When she began to talk about how much time she’d “wasted” worrying, I told her that the time wouldn’t be a waste if she could use it as a reminder to stay more conscious of her mind movies. We made a plan for her to increase her awareness of when her mind began spinning out on worries. She could then soothe her worries, like she might soothe an anxious child. She could ask herself if there were any realistic action steps to be taken. And she could gently redirect her worried mind back to the present moment.

I think we can all use this lesson. We can deal with the challenging parts of life when they actually occur, or we can deal with them in our minds constantly and also when they occur.

Nowadays, there’s plenty of grist for the worry mill. Personally, I could lock and load my worry full-time if I’m not careful, conscious, and in charge of who’s steering this tender ship. But I am. I realize every day that worrying about war, climate, school shootings, health, or my loved ones is not going to keep something really hard from happening. Worrying only makes my nervous system feel like the hard things are happening now.

So, if you are a periodic or perpetual worrier, try asking yourself: Is this worry actually helping me or anyone else? Is there some action I could take to prepare for this worrisome possibility? Can I soothe my worried mind and encourage it to loosen its well-intended grip? Can I reassure myself that whatever challenges life brings, I will handle them in the best ways that I can at that time?

And then, ever so gently, reel ourselves back from the not-now and into now.

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The Benefits of a Responsible Adult Tantrum

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Tantrums are usually associated with children and are often considered unpleasant and unwanted. But what if we could welcome and accept tantrums the same way we do stormy days? And what if tantrums weren’t just for kids? Couldn’t we all use a healthy, conscious, grown-up tantrum sometimes?

Our emotions appear like weather patterns. We just get to choose whether we judge them, numb them, lash them out at others, or responsibly allow them up and out.

When I was studying to become a psychotherapist, a professor once told me that people generally seek therapy for one of two reasons: They’re either having a tantrum or they need to have one. I’ve actually counseled people for many additional reasons, but my teacher’s tantrum theory stuck with me over the years. As I‘ve worked with many clients (as well as myself), I’ve recognized the importance of an occasional adult tantrum.

We all experience bumps in the road that trigger emotions. These bumps can range from minor irritations to challenging hardships to major traumas.

A flat tire, a root canal, lost luggage: not fun, but likely something you’ll get over fairly quickly. Your child’s difficulties in school, a rough patch at work, financial problems, marital problems: these can get you down for months. And then there are those life-changing, sucker-punch events that can knock us down for the count: a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, an unwanted divorce, a natural or unnatural disaster. Personally, I’d like to speak to the manager in charge of doling these out, but there’s no escaping the fact that they are part of the human experience.

Obviously, minor glitches are easier to deal with and recover from, but what about those ongoing stressful circumstances or the overwhelming realities we have to bear that truly feel unbearable?

How can we allow and express our natural emotions so that we don’t have to implode and hurt ourselves or explode and hurt others? This is where a self-induced, responsible tantrum comes in.

I remember a time many years ago when my little nephew (now a grown man with a child of his own) came over for a sleepover. We’d just finished a fun day at an amusement park and I informed him that it was time to leave. He was not at all happy about this new development in our day and he proceeded to have a full-on tantrum.

Being a new therapist (not to mention an aunt, which is infinitely less challenging than a parent), I told him it was fine for him to have his feelings, but we were still going to need to head home in a few minutes.

Well, have his feelings he did. That boy let it rip. He proceeded to fling his little body onto the ground, kick, scream, and roll around in the dirt. After what felt like a really long time (but was probably about a minute), he picked himself up, walked over to me, and with a tear-stained, dirty little face said, “I was mad. And then I was sad. Now I’m ready to go.”

Out of the mouths of babes.

In the therapy world, we might refer to my nephew’s actions as “fully expressing your feelings” or going through one or more of the natural stages of grief. Practically speaking, a healthy, grown-up tantrum can look like many things: hitting a punching bag, mattress, or pillow, talking about your feelings with someone who’s comfortable with emotions, crying, wailing, screaming, shaking, writing, drawing, or scribbling. Anything your body wants to do to express your emotions, as long as nobody (including yourself) and nothing of value gets hurt.

A friend of mine will occasionally email me a long string of curse words when life throws her a doozy. No spaces. Just one long string of words. She takes several of her favorite curse words and merges them into one very long word to emphasize her feelings. Depending on the difficulty of the situation and her level of emotions, several or more exclamation points might follow it up. This seems to do the trick for her.

If it’s not practical or possible to have a tantrum out loud, we can also have one in our imaginations. A client recently told me about a night when she’d been struggling with insomnia. She tried her usual list of calming tools—meditation, counting breaths, repeating a mantra—but nothing seemed to help. She knew she was filled with feelings and felt like she was about to burst.

Then, she remembered a time when she’d had a responsible tantrum during one of our sessions and how it really released the internal pressure valve. In my office, she’d hit a chair with a tennis racquet and screamed into a pillow, but here she was in the middle of the night next to a sleeping husband, next door to a sleeping child. So, she decided to imagine her tantrum. She pictured herself screaming at the top of her lungs and throwing around mattresses. Lots of mattresses. She said it really helped and she was eventually able to get back to sleep.

Whatever your choices of expression are, when you consciously, responsibly, unabashedly, compassionately, and safely allow yourself to have an adult tantrum, you’re more likely to move through your emotions and organically arrive at some form of relief and acceptance.

Of course, the more serious the life event, the longer the tantrum may need to last and reoccur. But, we all have the options of stuffing our feelings down, blasting them out in unhealthy ways, or fully expressing what we feel in a healthy manner and eventually coming to accept what life has brought to our door.

When we compassionately and safely allow ourselves to express our strong emotions, we can navigate the turbulent phases of life without hurting ourselves or anyone else. We naturally return to acceptance and presence rather than stay stuck in denial, depression, anxiety, addiction, or self-defeating behaviors.

So, the next time you feel filled to the brim with feelings, how about letting yourself have a healthy, safe, responsible tantrum? How about some extra support, extra tissues, and extra self-care, until your tear-stained self is ready to move on?

May we all, in the face of our adversities, follow in the footsteps of my young nephew: feel mad, feel sad, and then feel ready to go.

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