Written by Dr. Chelsea Sanders
Fear shows up in a lot of sneaky ways for some really important reasons, but if we aren’t aware of it, it can dictate our lives in ways that don’t actually serve us. How does fear show up for you? Think back over the last few weeks, has fear been driving your decisions? Have you been held back from doing something that seems important, challenging, or fun? Perhaps you were recently invited to try something new, and you immediately declined due to self-doubt, uncertainty, or a vague sense of unease. Is there something calling to you lately – pulling your body into action, but you find yourself frozen, unable to make a move? To quote the ever-dreamy Brandon Boyd et al. (i.e. major heartthrob of my generation), is it time to ask yourself how much you “let the fear take the wheel and steer”?
I invite you to join me in a brief exercise that can sometimes show us the power of the present moment, especially when uncomfortable emotions (like fear) are feeling like “too much” or seem to be getting in the way. If you feel up for it, I’ll instruct you through a series of suggestions and prompts for where to direct your attention – like a read-along, guided meditation or visualization exercise. I recognize that I may be asking a lot of you, to take this time to check in with yourself. If you could be brave, or patient, or curious, please take a few minutes to try it out.
First, take a moment to get comfortable in your seat, adjust your posture, allowing for realignment if that is necessary, and find a position to rest comfortably.
Now take a couple moments to close your eyes and turn your attention towards your breath. When you feel content with that, you may read on.
Now that you have connected with your breath, check in with your body. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you notice going on under the skin? Is there a sense of tension in your chest? A sense of suspended apprehension in your core? Perhaps a lump in your throat, a sense of dread or uncertainty… grief, sadness, helplessness, desperation. Or maybe you feel light; perhaps today is one of buoyancy in your heart, and it feels like light is permeating your being, filtering through your skin like sun rays piercing through the clouds. Your experience is yours… unique to you, your body, this moment in time. Whatever is there, notice that.
Breathe. Stay here as long as you like. When you feel ready, read on.
Once you’ve noticed what’s happening in your body, you could try to observe it, label it, and describe it. Where is it located in your body? What is its color and size? Does it have a temperature? What about its texture? Shape? Does it move or change? Go on. See if you can give yourself permission to explore what is there and describe its physical characteristics to yourself. See if you are able to connect with the invisible parts of yourself in this somewhat tangible way.
Breathe. Try to direct your breath to the part of your body that currently holds your awareness, where most of the observing and describing has taken place. Try to make space with your breath. When you feel ready, read on.
As you watch your experience, notice what it feels like to see it from this perspective. How can you hold space for your experience this way? If you feel an urge to turn away from it, notice that and describe that too. See how long you can sit with yourself this way.
When you feel ready to move on, turn your attention back to your breath. Notice yourself sitting, notice the space you occupy. Notice any sounds around you, and allow yourself to move on with your day.
What did we just do there? What was the point of that? Do you notice anything different? Was it easy? Was it uncomfortable? Has anything changed about the way that you are holding yourself right now?
Connecting with the present moment can be a powerful tool for facing our fears. Fear is an automatic response in our body to the presence of threat – it’s like a built-in alarm system, warning us of possible danger. It’s there to keep us safe, helping us learn what to avoid in order to survive. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, the sensors for our alarm systems become dysregulated and need recalibrating. Sometimes, the alarm continues to sound long after the threat is gone, or in response to a threat that isn’t actually there. An overactive alarm is responsible for things like PTSD, anxiety and panic disorders, OCD, and sometimes contributes to other challenges like substance use disorders and psychosis.
Perhaps you know exactly what I mean when I talk about an overactive alarm – sometimes it is really obvious – but fear can also be more subtle in the ways it runs in the background and informs our actions. It could be what is keeping you in a job that you can’t stand, making you feel “stuck” or “in a rut.” It could be keeping you from dating and making new friends, under the guise of being “too busy.” It might even be keeping you from doing day-to-day activities, a low level procrastination that has convinced you that you’re “lazy.”
Without present moment awareness, we may go on existing in this subconscious state, automatically reacting to our alarms, seemingly without choice in the matter. Present moment awareness takes work. It is a skill that we can develop and practice, so we can learn to recognize our patterns, sit with the discomfort of the alarm reverberating through our bodies, and choose a response that works for our goals and values.
Folks end up in dissatisfying situations for lots of different reasons. I hope that this post has been helpful for you today. If not, I hope you find something helpful soon. If you’d like to talk through your specific situation and see if we can identify what is steering the wheel of your life, please feel free to contact any of the Grounded therapists for an appointment.
Written by Dr. Shawnee Brew
Hey Kitty Cats, your resident down with the system Doc here,
It’s about that time of year that social media will be flooded with all the best ways to lose those few extra pounds just in time for “bikini season.” Posts suggesting that if you can just find the right cut, tan the right places, tone the wrong ones, and get enough hair removal to resemble your prepubescent self, then everyone at the beach will simply forget you even have a body. And if all else fails, “nothing is sexier than confidence!" (Beachbody on Demand 2015)
What these influencers and companies forget to tell you is that the diet industry made $946 billion dollars in 2020; making it one of the few sectors that maintained positive growth during the initial stages of the pandemic (Global Wellness Institute). These numbers continue to grow each year as companies continue to profit off of people feeling like their bodies need to change in some way. We live in a society that has deemed thinness the ultimate social capital; from the minute we’re born, we’re being fed media about maintaining the smallest body possible (NY Daily News). The diet industry preps us for failure by consistently selling “quick fixes” that result in weight coming back causing folks to get caught in a perpetual cycle of yo-yo dieting. However, we have extensive research indicating that diets are not effective and do not work in the long term (Ge et al. 2020). Name another industry out there with a 95% failure rate that is still being lauded as successful...no, it’s fine, I’ll wait.
There are many physical health concerns noted with chronic dieting including: unhealthy changes in body composition, hormonal changes, reduced bone density, menstrual disturbances, and lower resting energy expenditure (Lindner Center of Hope). Beyond physical health concerns there are a number of ways dieting can impact our mental health over time as well. Chronic dieters report feelings of guilt, self-blame, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, and fatigue. Dieting in adolescents is a known precursor to disordered eating; statistics indicate that moderate dieters are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder than non-dieters (Berkeley kNOw Dieting).
We’ve clearly made a case for the fact that diet culture has trapped us into believing that thinness will be our savior while prepping most of us for a disordered relationship with food and our bodies. So, what the heck do we do about it? The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) suggests starting by imagining all the time and energy you could save by decreasing the amount of time spent thinking about dieting. This may seem trivial but really take a minute to examine how much time is spent thinking about your body, the food you consume, the amount of time spent exercising, etc. Is this really a values consistent way for you to spend your precious minutes? If so, congrats! You’ve probably done some really tough unlearning to arrive at this place. If no, awesome, let’s hang out a bit more and continue this chat.
Everything we’ve spoken about until now is a result of diet culture. Christy Harrison, author of The Anti-Diet, defines diet culture as, “a system of beliefs that equates thinness to health and moral virtue, promotes weight loss as a means of attaining higher status, and demonizes certain ways of eating while elevating others. It's sexist, racist, and classist, yet this way of thinking about food and bodies is so embedded in the fabric of our society that it can be hard to recognize. It masquerades as health, wellness, and fitness, and for some, it is all-consuming.” Her book was released in 2019 and offers its readers “a radical alternative to diet culture, and helps readers reclaim their bodies, minds, and lives so they can focus on the things that truly matter” (Anti-Diet, Christy Harrison). For many, this journey begins with the unlearning. Unlearning of the ways we’ve been taught to exist in the world. Unlearning of who and what we’re supposed to be based on Eurocentric standards of beauty.
My own journey began here in 2020 when a (now ex) friend of mine shared that my social media was a wasteland of triggers and inappropriate content. My initial reaction was to scoff, get angry, and completely dismiss that which she had shared with me. I sent it to my best friend saying something along the lines of “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!” She gently replied, “well, I actually don’t disagree with most of this...” and I remember it being a punch to my gut. Here I was, a very thin, very white, very privileged being lording my weight loss all over my social media like I was some kind of success story. Meanwhile, the people closest to me were being harmed by these actions. This was the impetus for me to start my own unlearning. I turned to fat activists and their work to start unlearning all the things I had deemed health, success, etc.
Sabrina Strings’ Fearing the Black Body was my entry point. Her 2019 book details the 200+ year history of demonizing Black women’s bodies, especially fat Black female bodies. From here I turned to Sonya Renee Taylor and her radical self-love narrative The Body Is Not an Apology where she “invites us to reconnect with the radical origins of our minds and bodies and celebrate our collective, enduring strength.” This work was slow and arduous (It still is, this is work I continue to do daily even now). I found myself angry and resistant more often than not. How could these things be true in a world where weight is the center of almost all discussions around health; I felt like I had to be missing something.
This was a pivotal time for me in many ways, it was also height of the protests around the murder of George Floyd and a time where race based oppression was on the minds of many. As a person who has self-identified as a feminist all my life, I was coming up against all the ways that I have perpetuated harm. I was learning that my need to center myself and my feelings is a symptom of the white supremacy that lives in my bones. It feels so clear to me now, being on the other side of the this learning (not at the end of, simply viewing from a different angle for the first time), that all the things I believed were put in place by a system to keep minoritized folks down. The more unlearning I do, the more I realize how sick our systems are and the amount of work we have ahead of us to realize a different world.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure (lol) of being in the therapy room with me, you know my ask at the end of every session is, “what are our action steps?” This is a way of consolidating the work that we’ve done in a session into tangible tasks that we can do throughout our days/weeks that will be in service of this growth. So I’d like to offer some action steps for getting at to the root of our unlearning around diet culture and disordered eating.
We are all imperfect in a society that deems perfection the ultimate goal. So as we move through this work, this great unlearning, we will come up against many road blocks. But one way to start, is by going immediately from this blog post to a store, buying the fucking bikini, and wearing it this summer; no matter what your body looks like. Because you deserve liberation, we all do.
Until next time,
Written by Dr. Stacy Bonds
It has been an especially long two years. It has been said, “there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” This definitely rings true as the past few years have been full of life-changing events. Just a few weeks ago, the Russia-Ukraine war started, reverberating throughout the world. There have been many ongoing world and life events as we navigate a global pandemic. Humans have shown their adaptability and resilience in the face of massive, ongoing stressors. Many have adjusted and started to see these conditions as normal, losing sight of the persistent and sustained high levels of stress they are under.
During these stressful times, we have seen large increases in mental health symptoms. Research has found 1 in 4 youth are experiencing depressive symptoms and 1 in 5 youth are experiencing anxiety symptoms (double the pre-pandemic rates; Racine et al., 2021). Research has also supported that adults are experiencing much higher rates of mental health problems following the pandemic (Nochaiwong et al., 2021). With stress levels quite high, we are seeing an increase in mental health symptoms across the board globally. Even normal stress is always accompanied by coping (whatever thoughts and behaviors we use to deal with stress). When we are under high levels of stress, there can be fewer coping resources available. For example, if your children keep having COVID exposures at school or daycare, so you are constantly playing catch up and have no time for adaptive coping (e.g., time with friends, take a break, work out). Additionally, there are many major stressors that are outside of individual control. It might also feel like the world is ending, that there is no hope, and that there’s nothing you can do. Under those circumstances, folks often feel depressed, hopeless, and don’t want to do anything (e.g., get out of bed, shower, work). It can seem near impossible to keep managing when your coping tank is empty.
It is easy to lose sight of this context, that we are still in a pandemic as history unfolds around us. Without considering the larger environment, folks may be experiencing mental health symptoms for the first time or notice a higher level of mental health symptoms, and then blame themselves. I’m being too sensitive. Why am I struggling so much? Everyone else seems to be managing okay. Focusing on ourselves can give us a sense of control over the situation. If I can just figure out how to stop being so sensitive and manage like everyone else, then this situation is okay and sustainable. Heaping this responsibility on you, when much of it may be out of your control, can make you feel worse. Furthermore, this situation is not sustainable. There is not some magic coping mechanism that makes it possible to keep going and feel happy when everything seems to be coming apart at the seams. It makes sense to be feeling overwhelmed and filled with dread when it matches the circumstances.
Folks can be very hard on themselves and self-critical. It’s so silly that I feel sad and don’t want to do anything. I should be different. Everyone else is able to handle this, I should be able to as well. When we blame ourselves, it increases our own suffering. One way or another, we all end up in difficult, painful situations. Situations where pain is going to be there, no matter what. Blaming ourselves adds another layer of suffering to what is happening. For example, in the latest COVID wave, I had several clients that contracted COVID. They had done everything they could to not get COVID (e.g., being vaccinated) and then got COVID anyway. There is pain inherent in getting COVID including the symptoms of the illness and isolation from loved ones. Often self-criticism followed their diagnosis. I should have made different choices. If I had just not gone to the grocery store that day, then I wouldn’t have gotten COVID. Being critical and blaming self does not change the reality of the situation. It does turn up the suffering.
Self-compassion is an alternative to self-criticism. Compassion is when we recognize suffering and try to alleviate that suffering. We can direct compassion towards ourselves and cultivate self-compassion as a practice, where we treat ourselves with kindness and care. Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer have created a program called Mindful Self-Compassion (Neff & Germer, 2018). They characterize self-compassion as having three core elements: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
In my above example, self-compassion might look like:
We need the tools of self-compassion for our current circumstances. As we continue to weather events that will end up in the history books, we must take care of ourselves and find ways to include ourselves in the circle of compassion. Here are some ways to explore making contact with self-compassion:
If you want to learn more about self-compassion, Kristen Neff and Christopher Germer’s Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook is a great self-directed way to learn more about self-compassion. It is broken down into approachable pieces to practice and use in daily life. The Center for Mindful Self Compassion (CMSC) is an organization based in San Diego that works to spread the practice of self-compassion. CMSC offers free audio guided meditations, daily online self-compassion meditations, as well as online and in-person courses in self-compassion. Therapy can be another way to cultivate self-compassion with support. Available from any of the providers at Grounded Therapy.
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” - Dalai Lama
Racine, N., McArthur, B. A., Cooke, J. E., Eirich, R., Zhu, J., & Madigan, S. (2021). Global prevalence of depressive and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents during COVID-19: A meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics, 175(11), 1142-1150.
Nochaiwong, S., Ruengorn, C., Thavorn, K., Hutton, B., Awiphan, R., Phosuya, C., Ruanta, Y., Wongpakaran, N., & Wongpakaran, T. (2021). Global prevalence of mental health issues among the general population during the coronavirus disease-2019 pandemic: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 11, 10173.
Kristin Neff & Christopher Germer (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. Guilford Press.
Written by Dr. Eli Reding
Hi all Eli/FiveColorQueer/Dr. Dragons here,
I’m so excited to be sharing one of my passions with you in our new blog series. While topics are likely to range across the mental health spectrum, I thought a little fun discussion of personalities in one of my favorite games, Magic: The Gathering would be a fun place to start. Magic: The Gathering is a collectible trading card game that has shaped the world of gaming since 1993. It boasts five colors, each of which have a unique play style and color identity (although like personalities, these traits get muddied across the board from time to time). These colors include White, Blue, Black, Red, and Green. Even if you’re not a Magic player, if you ever try it out, maybe this post will give you a place to start. So before I blather on too much here are the goods!
White players love to play the game fairly and want everyone to have a good time. They trust the other players to play in good faith, even with evidence to the contrary (looking at you Black and Blue players). Often, White decks excel in an open and honest playstyle, a direct mix of little creatures and spells that eventually grow by working together. This altruistic sense of play is likely present in your day-to-day life and White players tend to be good community builders, working to unite the other styles into a community that works for everyone. White players tend to be courteous and are the most likely to patiently show a new person how to play. They tend to steer away from the conflicts that are hallmarks of the other styles. Instead, they carefully reduce your life total with numerous creatures over time, arresting and removing obstacles in their way. Due to a lack of flashiness and focus on protection, White players are frequently underestimated at the table and there is nothing they love more than showing that the best offense is a good defense. Quick with a smile and a handshake, a White player is likely to give you a “Good Game” after absolutely trouncing your deck and you will often want to scream obscenities at them if you are not also a White player. The weakness of the White player lies in their goodness and their trust that others are playing a fair game as well as their predictability. However, when their patience runs out, you’ll find your creatures exiled and your counterspells failing against waves of tiny soldier tokens.
Blue players are the best players (this is my personal bias as I’m a Blue player largely). However, I specifically mean that Blue players work to play any game in the “best way possible.” They tend to love new play ideas, appreciate interactions, flex with their knowledge of the game, and their playstyle is likely to feel unique, even when compared to other Blue players. While their decks may seem low powered, they excel as synergy and manipulation of others play styles to gain the win. For Blue players, however, the win may be secondary as their true desire may be to learn and appreciate their opponent’s style, so as to crush them with their own weaknesses in the end. As long as you suffered in playing them, the Blue player has won in their heart. Blue excels at using all different styles of play but you’ll likely see them respond quickly and decisively to problems, using instants and sorceries to counter and bounce key pieces at the most opportune times. Their weakness is their double-edged sword, as Blue players love to toy with opponents and set up convoluted conditions to win, often falling to faster and more direct styles of play. However, the Blue player is likely to label a loss as just another piece of information and continue playing metamagic as they “get lost in the sauce” of the game. If no one is having any fun at all, it is likely that the Blue player is in the lead. This makes veteran and highly intelligent Blue players especially dangerous, leaving you desperately trying to scrape a win while they sit there with a hand full of cards and an answer to a play you didn’t even know was possible.
Black players love to feel powerful. These players are always working towards a final plan with no regard for the sacrifices (lol) that they have to make to get there. Black players often must keep composure and work with multiple pieces to achieve their final goals. They often deliberate carefully and are masters at reading a changing landscape of play, both in Magic and in their real lives. Rarely spontaneous unless forced to react, a black player may seem collected and competent, playing the right cards at the right time. This is largely due to a willingness to make sacrifices and to look at the long game rather than get lost in the ups and downs of the early game. Where White players expect rules to be followed, Black players often make rules that both they and everyone else must follow. Because they rig the system for themselves, they often succeed if the game is long and drawn out and facing a Black player in the long game is a bit like slaying a giant. Sure, it happens, but nine out of ten times that giant is coming out on top. The thing about Black players is that you never really know when you lost control of the game. The perfect plan often needs the perfect pieces and if Black players do not draw their cards right or have the right tools to correct a situation, their perfect setup can quickly erode, leaving them with next to nothing. However, when excelling, a Black player is smiling while telling you that your best resources are gone and there are still six more turns until you will actually lose, giving a sense of inevitability and smug satisfaction to their wins.
Red players love to go fast and take chances. Red players love to ramp up quickly and then hit again harder. Unperturbed by the consequences (such as watching their creatures die or their life total drain), playing Red is about grinding your opponents down before they have a chance to respond. Red players tend to be quick on the draw, excited by new opportunities, comfortable with taking risks, and working with few resources. Due to the fact that these players tend to like upfront and dramatic playstyles, they tend to be weak in the late game and their lack of appreciation for long-term satisfaction may be evident in their personal lives, jumping from activity to activity with a general preference for highly stimulating activities. Red players tend to amp up people around them and can also lead others to take risks (although this may or may not work out for them). Generally, a Red player’s weakness is a lack of foresight for the long game, both on the table and in their lives and they know that sometimes taking risks doesn’t work out in their favor. When at their best, however, a Red player is likely to leave your strategy in a smoldering crater, having hit you where it hurts before you can even react and gleefully dancing away with a quick win.
Green players tend to be reserved for a time, setting up movements until they can overwhelm you with pure force. Because of this play style, Green players may seem shy or reserved at first and then really shine after you get to know them. Appreciative of multi-step plans but also enjoying simple, straightforward strength, Green can be the middle of the road compared to other play styles but because of this draws others into their sphere of influence. While other players want you to react to their plans or try to outsmart you, Green players focus on powerful creatures and breathtaking enchantments to turn the field to their advantage, either right after Red and White run out of steam or before Blue and Black get their claws on the end game. In life, Green players may like similar things, being the center of the crowd and working with big, flashy ideas and pursuits. Standing in the Goldilocks zone of just right, Green players tend to be weakest to key pieces of the midgame strategies getting taken out, prolonging the game. A Green win is likely to feel absolutely dominant, with a few big creatures taking a chunk out of their life and literally running over the competition.
I hope you all enjoyed this post and know that it’s all a bit of fun. These personalities are not hard and fast rules but hopefully it gives you a little insight into not only this game but how psychology can be fun and applicable to daily life, rather than just therapy and hard work.
Your internet psychonerd,
Dr. Eli Reding
All of the clinicians will be contributing to the blog!