Anxiety often shows up when a person feels like they are not allowed to express who they truly are, which includes the ability to discuss uncomfortable emotions. When people suppress who they are and instead take on traits of who they think they should be, anxiety often shows up in various areas of life. It can include both intrusive and repetitive thought patterns and very visceral physical symptoms of panic and distress. This is due to anxiety being based on perceived threat. Often times our internal warning system that signals fight, freeze, or flee is on high alert as if we were in immediate danger of being attacked by a predator.
With this in mind, I work with clients to see the threat as it really is rather that rely solely on relaxation techniques. Additionally, I help clients express their full being in a way that feels safe so they can courageously walk the Earth as their true selves. Eventually, clients come to realize that the perceived threat is much lower than the true threat, and the courage to be authentic replaces the fear.
Everyone feels sad, hurt, anger, or grief at different points in their lives. When these emotions are given the space to be felt, they are healthy and temporary feelings. However, when these emotions are forced to be buried under a viscad of other emotions, depression often occurs.
Similar to anxiety (and why depression and anxiety often go hand in hand) depression can also deals with the inability to be who we really are but includes the suppression of what has been labeled “negative emotions”.
When working with clients, we work together to get to the root of the depression to reveal what is laying buried underneath it. There is no timeline to do this as everyone has different layers and needs. In this process, I also like to incorporate some nature-based work as multiple studies have shown time outside has helped people reduce rumination and alleviate symptoms of depression.
According to author and journalist Johann Hari “The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection.”
In my year interning at an addiction treatment facility, I never saw a case that proved to be otherwise. Some clients had friends, spouses, families, but almost all were missing someone they felt deeply connected with. We also live in a society that has never before been so connected with internet and phone signals, and yet is so dis-connected at a human to human and human to nature level. When we lose that sense of safety, we find something else to turn to. As it turns out, many addictions, be it alcohol, drugs, shopping, food, exercise, sex, etc, do for the brain the same thing that a secure mother/infant relationship does, sending oxytocin and other feel good chemicals to the brain.
To support the healing process, I work with clients to facilitate healthy attachments in other relationships with people and with nature.
*Trauma is also at the heart of many addictions as well as many other mental health challenges. The trauma may be small “t” (ex: as a child, their parent forgot to pick them up after soccer practice) or big “T” (ex: sexual abuse). Regardless of the type of trauma, it has caused the person to feel like the world is unsafe. In addition to the above paragraph, a major factor is to establish trust and safety within relationships.
Eating & Body Challenges
Challenges with food and body image are symptoms of other issues, not the root cause. Many times, they are intertwined with depression and anxiety, and a focus on food or body can help lessen the weight of those emotions.
There are many theories about the formation of eating disorders, though not all fit for everyone challenged by an eating disorder. What can be said is there is usually some type of oppression/suppression at play. In general, women have faced a long history of oppression in society, and many subtleties of inequality still exist. It can be found in both the gender roles given to women, and society’s rape-like treatment of Mother Earth. Suppression of food and over-eating help suppress the trapped feelings of oppression.
In working with eating and body image challenges, it is important to work with factors of self-worth and acceptance. I use cognitive behavioral therapy to help change the narrative in one’s head that they are “not enough” in addition to mirror work so clients can help match their new narrative “I am enough” to what they see in a mirror.
(Athletes) & Identity
People tend to introduce themselves by their labels. Athlete, runner, teacher, lawyer, chef, mom, etc. That label may or may not give a small clue to who that person is, but the rest of the person becomes lost and pushed back, until one actually identifies more with their label than the core of their being. As an athlete, things like injury or moving on from a sport often creates and existential crisis. But not all who wander are lost. As a therapist, I help provide a space for athletes and other individuals to explore their inner being so they can live an authentic and full life.