One thing I can say with confidence about remote work: It does absolutely nothing to ease impostor syndrome. Over the past year, even as the world turned upside down, many of my therapy clients have continued to battle work-related worries: They don’t deserve a recent promotion; they aren’t qualified to give that upcoming Zoom presentation; they find it hard to feel professional and accomplished when the sink is full of dishes and they haven’t worn real pants in weeks.
After a January defined by a constant barrage of major news events, from insurrection to inauguration — which came after a year of chaos, or wait, four years of chaos — this past month has felt, well… quiet. Uncomfortably quiet. Like we’ve spent so long on edge that we’ve forgotten how to be any other way. My therapy clients seem to be finding that all the anxiety they’ve stored up all the past four years is still with them, stubbornly hanging on like the worst type of relic.
When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently shared her traumatic experience of the Capitol riot, the flurry of criticism that followed struck me as an utterly familiar dynamic. As a therapist who works with families, I often see the pushback people will get, even from those closest to them, for talking about their trauma. In this case, the country seemed to be functioning just like an anxious family.
One thing I’ve observed with my therapy clients over the course of the pandemic is that many of us have become anxious mind readers, constantly certain that our friends think we’re terrible or our co-workers think we’re lazy. A tiff between siblings suddenly feels irreparable. A Zoom session with a grumpy boss feels like a guarantee that a firing is on the horizon. In isolation, we read every sign as pointing to the same conclusion: Someone is probably upset with us.
Being able to predict how other people are feeling is a useful skill to have. But when we’re cut…
As a therapist, I can’t tell you how much I dislike the platitude, “Your emotions are valid.” Sometimes, they aren’t. When rioters stormed the Capitol this month, they demonstrated how dangerous emotions can be when they aren’t rooted in reality.
The relationship between conspiracy-fueled narratives and emotions is a two-way street. As I tell my clients, when you feel anxious or angry, you’re more likely to believe statements that confirm those feelings. And the greater your exposure to emotion-filled propaganda, the more likely you are to absorb those emotions.
How can I make myself productive again? It’s a question that has come up again and again in my sessions with therapy clients, especially in the first few weeks of the new year: Amid all the crises of 2020 and a brand-new 2021, many of us are grasping for a way to stop feeling paralyzed and unfocused — to get back some amount of motivation as a way of holding on to a semblance of normalcy.
But what does that mean, anyway? When humans are anxious, we are quick to latch on to a definition of productivity that says humans…
Worrying about relationships is a common topic of conversation with my therapy clients at the end of any year, as people take stock of what’s working in their lives and what isn’t — but this year, those conversations feel especially urgent. Friend networks are crumbling without the cement of regular gatherings and adventures. Long Zoom calls with family have turned into terse check-ins about the weather and Covid stats. Spouses, now stuck inside together for months on end, are finding they retreat to opposite ends of the house at the end of a stressful day.
We may be used to motivating ourselves with the promise of a reward — grind all day and relax at night, or break for a treat only after finishing a project — but in talking with my therapy clients over the past several months, I’ve found that we simply can’t strong-arm ourselves into productivity when we feel anxious and isolated. The promise of happiness isn’t enough when we need it right this minute.
We shouldn’t wait to reward ourselves with conversations with friends, a walk outside, or a mystery novel. Instead, we should pepper our days with them. …
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we need to grab happiness wherever we can find it — which is why the cancellation of holiday celebrations in the face of the worsening pandemic has felt especially hard to take. It’s a cruel irony that we’re losing an opportunity for connection, relaxation, and joy right when we most need one.
But here’s what I’ve been reminding my therapy clients: We aren’t. Or at least, we don’t have to. There’s no reason to let the calendar dictate how and when we take care of each other. …
We think of Thanksgiving as a time to reconnect with family — but for many of us, even in normal times, the reality doesn’t exactly match up. Often, Thanksgiving dinner comes with a generous helping of awkwardness that can put us on edge. This social tension may also get in the way of our ability to nurture family relationships: Maybe you use your spouse or kid as a buffer to keep people from asking probing questions about your job. Perhaps you use alcohol as a crutch. Some families have football games blaring to keep the discussion away from politics.
Kathleen Smith is a therapist and author of the book Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down.