As we begin to list the things we’d like to do in order to improve ourselves in the coming year, seeking out therapy doesn’t seem to make the list as often as eating better and exercising more, but as far as improving your overall health, going to therapy should be right up there, priority-wise. Given our over-scheduled, over-stimulated, chaotic lives, routinely taking an hour to sort out what is going on in our minds and with our moods will help align nearly everything in our lives. As we learn more about the mind/body connection, we also realize that in order to be successful in every endeavor we undertake in the name of self-improvement, we must first and foremost get our minds right. Even companies who are in the business of helping us lose weight are now incorporating therapeutic methods into their services. The latest example of this is the weight loss app, Noom, which utilizes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (better known as CBT), a cornerstone of psychology, as part of its program.
It may seem odd to consider therapy right after the holidays. The stress, anxiety, and depression that seems to come on with the season is beginning to dissipate. Life is getting back to normal as we all get back to our regularly scheduled lives. Most importantly, there is the post-holiday financial crunch we all have to go through after nearly a month of consistent spending, followed by our favorite time of year, tax season. This may seem like the least possible time to even consider adding the expense of therapy to the mix.
Ironically, it is right after the holidays where we see an increase in clients who notice that their anxiety symptoms have ramped up. They complain of tense interactions with co-workers, issues with supervisors, being quick to jump to a negative mindset, and overall negative energy throughout their workplace. As we all begin to come down from the hectic pace of the holidays, and we try to decompress, the fight, flight, or freeze mechanism that gets us through the season may still be activated. That combined with having a less than ideal sleep schedule and diet for nearly a month and also facing the reality of the aforementioned expenses, and perhaps also dealing with the variety of illnesses that seem to come on strong right after Christmas can be a recipe for, at the least, potential misunderstandings, and at the worst, total dysfunction.
At ARC, we always advise people not to wait until their symptoms become unmanageable before seeking out the help of a therapist. Noticing even slight changes in your ability to co-exist with your anxiety, or even get out of a slump can be worth examining with a professional. Just like you schedule with a primary care physician if physical ailments don’t change after a period of time, you should look into seeing a therapist if you are finding mental or emotional symptoms hanging around.
It’s important to understand why investing in your mental health is important. Even though we have come a long way in normalizing the importance of therapy, there is always room for improvement. A large part of the population still considers therapy a sort of luxury afforded by people who have considerable disposable income. This logic is strengthened by the fact that many insurance plans do not cover mental health visits at 100% and several therapists are not contracted through insurance, which means that clients are expected to pay for their entire visit at the time of service. Shelling out a couple hundred dollars to talk to someone can seem inconceivable to those who find themselves already budgeted within an inch of their life, but just like a nagging cough can turn into pneumonia if not treated in a timely manner, mental and emotional issues can also trigger much larger, more expensive and potentially devastating issues down the line.
Therapy can help us look at our issues from a different perspective. We tend to vent to our friends and family when we have an argument with a co-worker or feel stressed out by a deadline, and that can make us feel better, but discussing topics with an objective third party can help you to see things that you are unable to while in the emotional thick of it. Friends and family are biased, and while their support can be invaluable when you are needing an ear to gripe to, their opinions and feedback may inadvertently make a situation worse instead of better. Also, while venting about your problems can provide temporary relief, if you are not armed with valid solutions or sound advice, things can go from bad to worse. Furthermore, if the issues you are facing are within your family, sharing your feelings with close friends or other relatives can cause lines to be drawn and sides to be picked. Ultimately, without the observations of a neutral party, you can run the risk of unintentionally turning any conflict into a much bigger issue. Having the ability to discuss problems with a therapist not only allows you to get a fresh perspective, but you are also able to share your feelings in a safe space.
When you’re in the thick of a stressful or traumatizing situation, it can be difficult to see any solutions. Your infamous fight, flight or freeze response does what it can to protect you, which can sometimes prevent you from moving forward toward healing. Talking with a therapist can help provide distance between you and your issue so that you can see new ways to approach it that you never would have come to on your own. A therapist can offer an alternative way to look at your situation and provide you with methods and advice to help you. A good therapist also understands that the journey of healing isn’t always a straight line and that even the most compliant client has setbacks. They are there to help you without judgment or shame.
The time you spend in session can help you to find meaning not just in your struggles but also in your healing. Our clients have told us about amazing progress they make in aspects of their life that they didn’t even realize were affected by their primary issues. We’ve even had clients tell us that they realize that they stand up straighter since beginning therapy! The realization that the emotional weight we carry can actually affect us physically in so many ways is enlightening. Most of us cannot find the causal link between what is ailing us physically and what could be bothering us mentally. Talking it all out with a trained professional help. It’s like an adjustment for your psyche.
Self-care seems to be the hot trend of later, and at ARC we advocate for it, not just with our clients, but among our clinicians and staff as well. The concept of self-care can be ambiguous, encompassing everything from manicures, massages, yoga, to utilizing all of your vacation time at work, and even taking an occasional mental health day to curl up on your couch with a good book with a cup of hot cocoa. Whatever your idea of self-care may be, the goal is to help you feel better overall, and therapy will do that. Having the ability to discuss your problems freely and get valid advice is as important as paying attention to your diet and exercise. In fact, because symptoms of anxiety can manifest as actual physical ailments like headaches and GI distress as well as wreak havoc on your immune system, being able to talk with a therapist can not just help get your mind right, but can also offset potential physical issues that could arise as a result of your emotional issues.
The goal of therapy is to help you get to the root of your issues while also teaching you skills that you can utilize in your day-to-day. Seeing a therapist regularly means that you will get coping strategies that will work for you that are also evidence-based. We love to offer our clients as many tricks and tools as possible to help them to soothe their symptoms of stress and anxiety. We know that what works for one client may not work for another, or something that worked well for a while can stop being effective. As treatment evolves, we work to offer our clients coping strategies that will fit their lifestyle and are science-based. Living in the Golden Age of technology means that there are stress relief exercises available literally at your fingertips, but it can be frustrating if you try multiple techniques to no avail. Being able to follow up with your therapist when you feel as though you are backsliding is important. We often have clients who come to see us after months or even years of being away, simply to get a bit of an emotional and mental tune-up because they’ve become experts on their own symptoms and can tell when they reappear and threaten to hinder their day to day life.
The decision to seek out therapy should not be taken lightly, but it does not have to be scary or intimidating. Most importantly it is nothing wrong with it! Choosing to pursue therapy shows that you are prioritizing your health in all of its forms. If you have been considering therapy, do your homework. The Psychology Today website is an excellent tool for researching therapists in your area. Check with your insurance for therapists who are covered under your plan while also checking your Out of Network benefits to see if a monetary reimbursement is available if you choose to see a therapist who is not contracted through your insurance. A lot of our clients have been pleasantly surprised by the amount their insurance will reimburse for an out of network therapist. Visit websites of therapists you are interested in seeing and think of questions you may want to ask during your first session, or even as you are scheduling your appointment. If you are not feeling compatible with a therapist after the initial evaluation, do not be afraid to seek out other options. Most therapists will let you know at the end of that session whether they feel that they are a good fit and have the ability to help you and will then outline a treatment plan with you. A good therapist/client relationship is collaborative, and the more comfortable you feel with your therapist, the more likely you are to remain accountable and proactive in your treatment.
At ARC, we don’t just consider therapy our job, it is truly a calling that we have been honored and privileged to fulfill on a daily basis. We are passionate about our mission to help change the way the world thinks about anxiety, stress and their symptoms and we are grateful to have the opportunity to do that one-on-one in session or in groups with presentations and workshops. We have been encouraged by the progress made in the way that society approaches mental health, but we also know that we still have some work to do. Informing and educating on the importance of mental and emotional health for overall well being is an important step in normalizing the process of seeking out and participating in therapy.