Finding Hope in the Midst of an Anxiety Provoking World
Expert in Group of San Ramon Psychologists and Psychotherapists Discusses Staying Hopeful
Looking back, 2019 has been a depressing, anxiety-filled, and anger-provoking year. Daily events and happenings have occurred with varied intensity and impact on our personal lives. A sharply divided political climate, numerous wildfires, and an increase in mass shootings and terror events around the country and the world have directly impacted our feelings of security and safety within our homes, local communities, our country, and the world. The news headlines in our city, state, and country are also filled with age-old topics such as serving the mentally ill, caring for the homeless, and the housing crisis. In addition, we have our own personal headlines and stories, such as the death of a parent, child, other family member, or good friend, oneself or a loved one being diagnosed with cancer, an incident of domestic assault, a verbal fight with a friend or family member, divorce, diagnosis of a medical or mental health disorder, personal or familial substance abuse or dependence, or arrest. Even the wonderful moments such as weddings, young love, graduations, or a long-planned holiday have their stressful moments. These all lead us to feel overwhelmed. Our stressors are at an all-time high, and thus the subsequent anxiety, depression, and anger we experience lead us to our breaking points. Amidst life stressors, it may seem like a challenge itself to find he resources to help us cope with it all.
Deciding to be more conscious about our lives and taking charge of our personal mental health is a priority if we want to continue to move forward with a healthy mindset. The biggest conflict is frequently our own self-defeating patterns, such as our habits, immediate negative thoughts (or thinking errors), and our core beliefs that drive our responses to life events.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) looks at our thoughts, feelings, core beliefs, and responses to the key events that happen to or around us each day. As individuals, we tend to live in a chronic state of anger and rage, depression, or chronic anxiety. How we feel is a direct reflection of our thoughts and beliefs about those events. Our personal reaction clocks are set with diverse speeds as unique and individual as we are. We frequently respond quickly by the fight or flight response when our personal values, triggers, or buttons are pushed.
Of critical impact are the cognitive distortions: Filtering, Shoulds, Catastrophizing, Black or White thinking, etc., that drive our pattern of thinking. Filtering is like an oil filter that filters out the bad oil from the good oil. For many, we filter out all the positive – or clean oil – and focus only, or primarily, on the negative. Frequently our thoughts lead us to conclusions of how we believe things “should” be, which may come into direct opposition to other’s values or beliefs, or even pushing ourselves into a state of unrealistic perfectionism. Other times everything is a disaster; if the cake doesn’t rise like it should, the whole meal is destroyed. In black or white thinking things are either/or where there is no middle ground, such as “If I fail once I always fail, or bad things always happen to me.“ When we use these distortions we are much more tended toward negative responses, such as lashing out in anger, feeling keyed up and anxious, or isolating in a state of depression.
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Looking forward, the holidays are a time to come together with family and friends to celebrate, share remembrances, engage in family traditions, all while creating new memories. For the remainder of this year, may we each commit to avoiding the traps of our negative thinking patterns or cognitive distortions. May we seek solutions to problems and find the positives in ourselves and each other, all while not being afraid to call upon the aid of professionals in family and couples counseling. May we be less critical, love more, and instill hope in our future and our world.
Deb Harder, MSW, LCSW, Psychotherapist