The presence of chronic, intense anxiety is an expression of the body’s wisdom that demands gentle attention. When it comes to this unpleasant experience, I’m a big fan of Tara Brach’s RAIN approach: Recognize what’s happening inside you, Accept it and make room for it, Investigate the beliefs behind it, and Nourish it however you can. I see anxiety as a heart issue, a heart-felt fear that wants to be understood. I also find that ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) provides helpful tools for handling anxiety. This therapeutic approach helps us recognize certain thoughts and feelings for what they are, not what they say they are. Mindfulness plays a huge part in contacting the truth of the present moment and therefore reducing anxiety, so our work together will likely incorporate that, too. You can also expect a lot of focus on self-compassion.
Like all psychological and emotional struggles, depression is here to teach us something. At its root is the debilitating belief that we are fundamentally flawed. We believe that we are to blame for a given hardship. An inner critic tells us over and over again that we aren’t good enough, that we don’t belong. This voice becomes so constant that it’s like the water fish swim in without knowing they are wet. It provides the background hum to our lives. We hardly notice it anymore, and yet we are slaves to it. Shining the light of awareness on this harsh inner critic is the first step toward choosing not to believe what it says.
The next step is to investigate what stories we fabricate in response to the natural experiences of fear, anger, and sadness. These emotions are what help define our humanity. But experience trains us to turn away from them or shun them as unacceptable. In essence we say, if only subconsciously, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way,” or, on the other end of the spectrum, “I deserve to feel this way.” Stripping away these messages and tapping into our immediate, felt experience as it exists in the body is an essential element in working through depression, as opposed to simply trying to eradicate it. This process of working-through provides us with a deeper connection to our hearts and the true nature of our experience.
Eating Disorder Treatment
Among the therapeutic services I offer is treatment for anorexia, bulimia, exercise addiction, and other body image issues. I struggled in the food and exercise realms as an adolescent and young adult, and that experience has inspired me to help others who suffer from similarly exhausting patterns of thought and behavior. To that end, I completed my graduate school internship at an outpatient eating disorder treatment center in New Mexico, and I wrote my Master’s thesis on in-home care for eating disorders.
Conditions like anorexia and bulimia are incredibly complex, but with regular therapy we can demystify these complexities. What purpose, for instance, does your eating disorder serve in your family system? How does it help you manage anxiety? To what extent has your brain rewired itself to expect eating disorder behaviors? How can you better protect yourself from the toxic social messages that imply you should eat, exercise, and look a certain way in order to be worthy of love and admiration? Eating disorders are one of the greatest psychological challenges a person can face, but embedded in their dark crevices is a potent opportunity: by showing us who we aren’t, they invite us to discover who we really are.
Complex Trauma Treatment
Trauma is termed “complex” when we’ve been exposed to it repeatedly over a significant period of time. All forms of child abuse and neglect fall under this category. But adults endure complex trauma, too, be it in dysfunctional relationships, harsh work environments, or poverty situations. Trauma typically results from our being helpless to physically or verbally defend ourselves, essentially going into “freeze” or survival mode. It thereby greatly impacts our ability to psychically defend ourselves from resulting flashbacks. Such flashbacks often occur on the emotional plane and manifest in the form of panic attacks or hypervigilance (always expecting the worst). Our ability to trust others — and especially ourselves — is compromised. Cortisol (a stress hormone) floods our bloodstream, and our nerves feel fried. We behave in ways we disdain because we aren’t really ourselves; we’re trapped in the past and can sense, sometimes only unconsciously, that we don’t belong there.
And that’s true. You belong in the present moment, right here and right now. In this moment, your best is plenty and you can observe sensations without succumbing to them. Together we can work to discover what your triggers are and why. We can determine what activities help you feel more grounded, and what positive thoughts you can cultivate in a way that feels authentic. Over time you will see that just as the brain can change the mind, the mind can change the brain.
Perhaps you’re not experiencing any extensive psychological hardship at the moment and would simply like to see what’s what. Here’s your opportunity to examine with compassionate curiosity the ever-dynamic and perplexing creature that is you. It’s your chance to ask the wise but simple question, “What’s that?” over and over again. You can get to know your ego so well that you can shed it, at least a little bit. Then you are free to live as the light and love that’s constantly awakening through you.