Five Pieces of Advice a Therapist Would Give You

September 9th 2016

Tricia Tongco

Therapy can be incredibly beneficial, but the thought of seeing a therapist can daunting.

The cost of a session can vary wildly, from $5 to $300. Plus, if you don't have health insurance, seeing a therapist could cost you even more. Of course, your mental health is priceless, and you should seek out professional help if you need it.

In the meantime, here are some general pieces of advice anyone could use to help improve their psychological well-being care of Dr. Jill Stoddard, a clinical psychologist and the director of The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, who spoke to ATTN:.

1. A certain level of stress and anxiety is good for us.

Simply put, anxiety is worry about future things happening, and according to Stoddard, it's not all bad. "If anxiety is very high or too low, it can affect your performance, but there’s this moderate level of anxiety that helps you prepare for a job interview, study for an exam, and practice for a big game," said Stoddard. "We don’t want to get rid of all of our anxiety, because we would be sitting around not caring."

In addition to seeing anxiety as adaptive, she wants to let people know that it can also be normal, depending on the situation. "Don’t worry about it if you’re feeling stress, especially in response to a normative trigger, like a first date or a recital," said Stoddard. "If you do determine it is interfering in functioning — being chronically late, missing work or school, creating problems in your relationship, or causing financial difficulties — that's a red flag and it’s time for professional help."

2. Listen to your body.

You might easily recognize the aforementioned "red flags" in the long-run, but you should also pay attention to physical signs in your body. This could mean chronic problems such as sleeping too much or too little, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, or any other chronic physical issues with no medical cause (all of which fall under the umbrella of functional impairment), according to Stoddard.

In cognitive behavioral therapy, it's important to ask yourself if your thoughts are "accurate, helpful, and healthy," explained Stoddard. That last one might seem tricky, but she recommends asking another question: "How does this thought make my body feel?" And if it doesn't meet those criteria — change the thought.

3. Balance is more important than positivity.

So how do you change your thoughts for the better? Stoddard offers a simple example to help illustrate this shift: "You're sitting in traffic and thinking, 'This is terrible. I'm going to be late. Why are all these people out here?' While those thoughts are accurate, you're going to feel frustrated and tense. Those thoughts aren't helpful or healthy, and they're not making your body feel good. So instead, you can think, 'This isn't ideal, but it's not the end of the world.'"

According to Stoddard, keeping your thoughts balanced is more important and helpful than “the power of positive thinking.” Stoddard said, "You're not going to fool yourself by saying, 'I love traffic! This is great!" But if you can have a stable, accurate, and helpful perception, it pulls the intensity of those frustrated emotions — or any depressive, anxious, or negative thinking — down quite a lot."

4. Look at the evidence.

Coming up with a new, positive thought can be difficult. So, Stoddard offers a classic cognitive therapy technique, the evidence test, to help you arrive at a more balanced state of mind. It involves looking at evidence, such as data and facts, to see whether they support your negative thoughts.

She illustrated it with an example: "Let's say someone is afraid of flying. That person can look up statistics online [of the odds of an airplane crashing], which would refute your fear and lead to a more balanced thought."

5. Avoidance is the enemy.

"With both anxiety and depression, the main problematic behavior that maintains these issues is avoidance, which is anything you do or don’t do to avoid some feared outcome from happening," said Stoddard. She offered the example of someone who is depressed turning down an invite to go bowling: "That person might think 'I'm going to be bad at it,' 'it's not going to be fun,' or 'no one is going to want to be around me,' and then just stay home. As long as you’re avoiding, procrastinating, or isolating, you don’t ever get to disprove that those bad things don’t happen."

As great as that sounds, Stoddard says the subsequent sense of relief is a short-term benefit that doesn't help in the long-term — instead it fuels a harmful cycle of increasing avoidance. "Now you’ve taught yourself that’s the only way to get relief, and you don’t get to disprove these thoughts." Through avoidance, people can miss out on an important ingredient of mental well-being. "By getting out there, facing your fears, and forcing yourself to do stuff when it’s hard, you get the benefit of new learning and telling yourself 'I can handle this, and it's not so bad.'"