How to Find a Therapist That Works

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

How do you know you and your therapist is a good fit for one another? This question, I feel, is the one thing that stops therapy in its tracks before it even starts.

In this post, I want to go over how to find a therapist, how you will know you have met the right therapist for you, and what to do if the therapist you’re seeing isn’t right for you.

How do I find a therapist?

Great question! There are a lot of ways to find a therapist that is right for you. If you have insurance, I highly recommend calling your insurance company and asking for a list of therapists or therapist offices that are “in-network.” These would be the list of providers that your insurance covers.

person typing on laptop
Photo by EVG Kowalievska on Pexels.com

If you can’t get that list, or you don’t have insurance, there are many different platforms to find therapists in your area and that fit what you need help with. These platforms give a description of the therapist, what issues they specialize in, any treatment modalities they use, and how to schedule an appointment with them. Along with this, a therapist platform will also tell you where the therapist is located, if they take any kinds of insurance, or even if they have availabilities. Here are some of the therapist platforms I have used (and have profiles on):

  • Psychology Today: this platform provides a search base that helps you find a therapist based on your location. You can then filter through the results to read the bios of therapists and if you would be a good fit.
  • Mental Health Match: similar to Psychology Today, Mental Health Match helps you not just find a therapist local to you, but helps you match with a therapist based on your goals for therapy. Their matching system explores your interests, learning styles, and treatment methods that interest you.
  • Therapy Den: What I love about Therapy Den is their standard of self-affirmation of clients. They promote therapists that are respectful of dignity, equal rights, and celebrate sexual and gender diversity.
  • Open Path Collective: If your insurance doesn’t cover therapy, or you struggle to meet the financial obligation to go to therapy, Open Path Collective is for you. They list therapists in their directory that only offer therapy sessions for $30-60 a session. They do have you complete a financial form to affirm you make under $100,000 a year, but this helps you unlock therapy at a price that doesn’t make you stress out.

Want to learn about my therapy style?

How do you know you’ve found the right therapist?

When you start working with a therapist, it might feel a bit awkward at first. That is because you have just met your therapist and are just getting to know one another. This is common and normal. You will know they are a good match with you when:

crop ethnic client discussing problems with anonymous psychologist
Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com
  • You feel validated and heard in your sessions
  • There is mutual respect between the two of you
  • You are able to be your genuine self and have honest communication with your therapist
  • Your therapist takes your experiences and helps create coping skills that fit with your needs

As you feel these things, it allows you to explore topics and areas of your life that have contributed to your mental health. This helps build your confidence in being vulnerable with your therapist. You know therapy is starting to work for you when you start to notice the following:

  • Being brave enough to tell your therapist “No” or that they are off base (e.g. – “That isn’t really working)
  • Increasing your comfort levels with being vulnerable and honest about your experiences
  • Accomplishing the goals that you want to accomplish

These things translate over into your personal and professional life. Meaning, you will feel comfortable asserting boundaries with your boss, you can share what you’re feeling with your partner, and have the motivation to accomplish that project you shoved in your closet months ago.

What if I don’t feel connected with my therapist?

Sometimes, it takes a few meetings to know if you and your therapist is a good match. What happens if you are not a good match? Switch to a different therapist!

unrecognizable desperate black man with attentive girlfriend at home
Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

As therapists, we understand if you don’t feel connected to us, it will be hard to develop a relationship that supports your growth and your goals. Sometimes, personalities don’t mesh. That’s okay. If that is the case, therapists are able to give you referrals to other therapists that could be that match for you.

What happens if I like my therapist, but they don’t have appointment times I need?

It can be tough to meet every single person’s time needs. Talking with your therapist about your time commitments can help you two problem-solve a solution that meets both of your time needs without overstepping boundaries.

Now, if you are struggling to find a therapist or therapist office that is able to meet your time needs, you have a few different therapy options:

  • Pace.Groups – This group therapy-style support group pairs you up in a group of six people and a trained group facilitator for weekly group meetings. They have various times during the day that they meet, which means you could find something that could fit your schedule.
  • Online Therapy options- in today’s world, there are a lot of options out there for teletherapy. In case you’ve missed it, teletherapy is getting your therapy needs met through video or phone modalities. Over the last 5 years, there have been great developments in teletherapy. Heck, even my own practice, The Joyful Mind, is all telehealth. Here is a list of online therapy options that offer unique scheduling hours:
    • Cerebral: Cerebral offers therapy, dietary, and psychiatric options to help you see a therapist, manage your eating habits, and get medications if you need it.
    • TalkSpace: Available in all 50 states, TalkSpace hires licensed professionals and helps you pair with a therapist that is right for you. With TalkSpace, you can choose to use your insurance to pay, or pay out of pocket.
    • Calmmery: this is a newer option but offers more than just video therapy. They also have a feature that allows you to text with a therapist as well as receive daily mental health help.

Hopefully this post outlined some really helpful resources to help you find the therapist that will work best to help you meet your goals.

To recap this post:

– There are many ways to find a therapist

– There are key things you will notice if you and your therapist are a good fit

– It is okay to leave therapy to see a different therapist if you don’t mesh well

– Therapy is here to help you

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Cultivating Mental Health

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

This was a guest blog post I wrote for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. I am excited to share this blog post with you as our world’s agricultural families are facing a mental health crisis amongst new stressors and demands. Even if you do not work in the world of agriculture, this post is super important to help people better understand the role mental health plays in our lives. Please read and enjoy!

Spring is a wonderful time of year. Between the mud, field work, equipment breaking down, babies being born in places they shouldn’t be, Spring brings so much joy (can you detect my sarcasm?) to the farming community.

desired path with snow beside trees and grasses
Photo by Benjamin Lehman on Pexels.com

With all of that going on, I can imagine how busy you must be. To keep up with the demands the life of agriculture, I bet you are putting in long hours, putting sleep off (even if you want nothing more than a comfy bed), and forming an even stronger relationship with your coffee.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I know it might be the last thing on your mind, but what if we let it come to the front, just for a minute?

What is mental health?

Mental health is a broad term that encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2022). Found in every single person, mental health helps predict:

  • how we handle stress
  • how we make choices and decisions
  • relate to other people in our lives

People, at any age, can struggle with their mental health. No different than struggles with physical health, mental health struggles can be small (like avoiding certain tasks) to huge (for example, being so nervous you get nauseous).

Why is Mental Health Important to Agriculture?

If you are involved in agriculture in any way (professionally or as a hobbyist), you understand what is all involved. There are parts that you love, parts you are okay with, and parts you don’t particularly care for. These things all impact our mental health.

Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com

Let’s take a look for a moment on our animals. What happens when they aren’t feeling well? Do they preform like they normally would? Mostly likely not. When you don’t feel good, are you preforming at your best? I would take a guess you might be a bit more cranky when things break down, short with people around you, and you could potentially be forgetting some (very) important information that could make your life a bit easier.

By taking time to take care of yourself, you are able to be more present with your farm, your family, and with your community.

Did you know there are therapists that specialize in rural health/agriculture?

How can you get/stay mentally healthy?

Take a moment to slow down. Think about the things you love about farming. For me, it is watching what I plant grow, seeing the progress my young horses make, and watching my children learn the skills that will help them keep the traditions of farming alive. When we think about why we love what we do, we are doing something called internal validation. Internal validation is the art of reminding ourselves that we are more than the stress or chaos we are currently living in. Internal validation does a couple things for you:

  1. improves your brain’s functions (especially the part that is responsible for memory)
  2. increases the release of the neurotransmitter, oxytocin, which helps you feel more connected to your role in agriculture and to your family
  3. promotes the release of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which helps you feel the emotions of happiness and joy (even helps with getting you to have a more restful night)
  4. enhances your ability to be productive on the farm and remember the bigger picture, not just the stressors currently happening

Set up realistic goals

Another way to get (and stay) mentally healthy is to set up some realistic goals. If you live by a to-do list, you know the satisfaction that comes from checking things off. By creating that step-by-step goal, you are releasing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for helping you feel accomplished, and relaxed. Taking five minutes a day is all you need

white paper with note
Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

One last way to help get your mental health on track is to talk to a mental health professional. It seems scary, but mental health services have changed drastically in the last couple of years (thanks to Covid). You know have the ability to see a therapist in the comfort of your own home thanks to telehealth. Mental health therapists are trained to help people in a lot of different ways:

  • Find ways to manage and cope with daily life stressors
  • Decrease feelings of dread and despair
  • Explore ways of communicating with the people around you
  • Re-gain confidence and self-esteem in yourself
  • Ease worry and anxiety
  • Re-discover the things that bring joy into your life
  • Cope with life changes that aren’t so great (and some that are)
  • Identifying why your brain does what it does if your mental health isn’t so hot
  • and so much more!

Taking time each day to focus on your mental health gives you a greater quality of life yield than muscling through the discomfort and ignoring the doubt. You see how caring for your crops and animals benefits your farm, and you aren’t any different.

To recap this post:

– Nurturing your mental health is taking care of your health

– There are different ways to take care of your mental health

– Everyone has mental health

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So Why Don’t People Go to Therapy?

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

Let’s be real. Mental health therapy has been stigmatized for a very long time. There are so many myths, lies, and secrecy shrouding this awesome resource. I think it is time to break those beliefs down.

You guys have asked for it, so I’m giving it to you. This post is all about why people don’t go to therapy.

Myth #1: you have to be “crazy” or “weak” to go to therapy.

This isn’t accurate at all.

Think about a problem you have faced in the past. Did you struggle through it, or did you find a way to solve it?

Therapy is a powerful resource that helps you:

Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thejoyfulmind.org
  • process life stressors you are facing
  • create a healthy work/life balance
  • improve self-esteem
  • increase your ability to effectively communicate
  • tackle roadblocks in your path that keeps you from living the life you want

Going to therapy doesn’t mean you’re “screwed up.” In reality, it means you are a resourceful person ready to problem-solve.

Myth #2: therapists are just friends you pay to listen to you.

This simply isn’t true.

If you consider your therapist to be one of your closest friends, you most likely have something called a dual relationship. What’s that? A dual relationship is where two people engage in two different types of relationships at the same time. This unethical relationship can form between therapists and clients as clients share some pretty vulnerable information with their therapists.

Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thejoyfulmind.org

Therapists spend years of education and training to ensure that:

  • they are unbiased
  • they are not judgmental
  • they can recognize the need and enforce boundaries to help you stay on track with your progress to your therapy goals
  • to support you in a healthy way

It is easy to consider your therapist your friend as you spend a lot of time with them, talking about your struggles. Remember, therapists are here to help you conquer your mental health struggles. We are caring individuals that want to see you succeed and will help you get the tools you need to succeed.

Myth #3: therapy is just a place to vent and rant

Mental health counseling is so much more than that! Yes, there is a certain degree of sharing frustrations and concerns, but therapy offers you a way to create a resolution.

Therapy is a place to:

  • learn about yourself
  • gain helpful ways to navigate conflict
  • increase your self-confidence
  • decrease feeling alone
  • improve how you cope with stress
  • and much, much more

Myth #4: Therapy doesn’t work!

credit to Carissa Weber at http://www.thatdarnamygdala.com

When you want to feel better, like, now, it really can seem like mental health therapy isn’t working.

Let me let you in on a secret….

Therapy works in more than one way.

1. your healing is not going to look like your friend’s healing process. Your brain is unique to you, which is why your therapist may suggest different things than your friend is doing.
2. A therapist may be able to help you find relief in some fast-acting coping skills. To help them work even faster, you have to practice them outside of the therapy session to have the progress you want (and need)
3. mental health counseling is tough work! It requires a commitment to change that seems so darn messy and complicated. Therapy is one of those things you get what you put into it.

I get that therapy can feel anything but warm and fuzzy. That doesn’t mean it isn’t working. It means you are healing!

Myth #5: There has to be something wrong with you to go to therapy

Absolutely not!

Therapy is not just a great way help you get healthy and understand your mental health, but also stay healthy. For many, therapy gives you a place to:

  • process things happening in your life (including changes and stressful situations)
  • receive a new perspective on a current situation or thought
  • learning to communicate your needs with friends or at work
  • check-in on any potential concerns before they become problematic
  • practice self-care and self-love
  • identify where you need to set boundaries in your life to stay healthy

You don’t need to have a diagnosis in order to be in therapy (although insurance companies often require therapists diagnose you with something in order to use the benefit. Another reason why I currently do not accept insurance). All you need in order to go to therapy is the desire to improve your life.

Need help finding a therapist to work with? Look no further!

Remember, therapy is tailored and individualized to what your needs are. Some days, that means taking time to vent about recent frustrations. Other days, it is about actively learning (and practicing) new and healthy coping skills. Some days are all about processing those tough feelings. These are all needs you have and are part of the therapy journey.

Myth #6: Therapy just offers distractions and doesn’t solve the problems

Therapists train for years to use science-based skills that help you:

  • decrease your mental health symptoms
  • manage stress levels better
  • rewire your brain to be less stressed
Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com

It’s true. Although some therapists do not explain the science behind why they are telling you to do certain skills, there is evidence behind each skill we teach.

Who would have thought all of these myths could be debunked? Thank you so much for reading today’s post and understanding more about not just how therapy can help you, but about the different ways therapy works. Know of a therapy myth you want debunked? Comment below!

To recap this post:

– Thanks to stigma, there are a lot of myths about therapy

– You get out what you put in when it comes to therapy

– Therapists are highly trained professionals ready to provide help in a judgement-free environment

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How Does Therapy Work Anyways?

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com

The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For therapists, like myself, May is a chance for us to shine. The opportunity to bring mental health to the front and center. Honestly, this is the kind of stuff that I love to do.

For this week’s post, I wanted to outline one skill that will help your mental health: seeing a therapist. By the time you are done reading this one, I hope you have an understanding about the importance of this amazing resource.

What Is Therapy Anyways?

Maybe I’m biased, but I think therapy can be for everybody and anybody. Therapy is not only an investment in yourself, but it’s an act of self-compassion and self-care that can have profound & far-reaching effects.

Therapy offers a space to confront and process through our challenges and difficult emotions, and it can give us the tools to better manage our feelings of distress. Therapy can also help us improve our ability to cope with life’s curveballs, build insight into ourselves, and create meaningful, lasting changes that help us feel connected to our most authentic selves.

That being said, therapy can be a longer-term investment, and it works best when you, the client, are invested in the process. That’s why it’s so important to find the therapist & type of therapy that works best for you.

What Can I Expect from Therapy?

Your first appointment with a therapist will include a review of your history, your primary concerns, and what brings you to therapy at this time. You’ll talk about your goals in life for your mental health (which will be reviewed regularly throughout treatment). Your therapist will review some important documents to help keep your therapy running smoothly:

  1. Informed consent (which includes your rights to confidentiality, what you can expect from therapy, and some good and uncomfortable things that come from participating in therapy)
  2. Insurance or payment verification
  3. A telehealth consent form if you are meeting with your therapist by phone or video
Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com

After that initial session is done (which takes a lot of energy out of people), you will start ongoing therapy. Ongoing therapy sessions will be a unique experience tailored to your needs and the goals you and your therapist identified together during your first session. Your sessions will likely include a blend of different kinds of therapy styles (like what I talked about with CBT and DBT posts).

The length of time you’re in therapy with me will depend on a variety of things, including:

  • The severity of your symptoms
  • Whether you’re looking to solve a single issue or work on deeper issues
  • How much time you’re able to dedicate to working on skills between sessions
  • Your financial needs

As therapy continues, you and your therapist will talk about your progress in therapy periodically and adjust your therapy plans according to your needs. If there is a specific style of treatment you’d like to engage in, let your therapist know. If they don’t offer the type of therapy you’re looking for, they can work with you to find someone who does.

How Do You Know if You and Your Therapist Are a Good Fit?

When you start working with a therapist, it might feel a bit awkward at first. You will know they are a good match with you when:

  • You feel validated and heard in your sessions
  • There is mutual respect between the two of you
  • You are able to be your genuine self and have honest communication with your therapist
  • Your therapist takes your experiences and helps create coping skills that fit with your needs

As you feel these things, it allows you to do some pretty cool things:

Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com
  • be brave enough to tell your therapist “No” or that they are off base (e.g. – “That isn’t really working)
  • Increase your comfort levels with being vulnerable and honest about your experiences
  • Accomplishing the goals you want to accomplish

Sometimes, it takes a few meetings to know if you and your therapist is a good match. What happens if you are not a good match? Switch to a different therapist!

As therapists, we understand if you don’t feel connected to us, it will be hard to develop a relationship that supports your growth and your goals. Sometimes, personalities don’t mesh. That’s okay. If that is the case, therapists are able to give you referrals to other therapists that could be that match for you.

Do I have to be “Crazy” to go to Therapy?

Absolutely not!

Therapy is not just a great way help you get healthy and understand your mental health, but also stay healthy. For many, therapy gives you a place to:

  • Process stressful situations
  • Receive a new perspective on a current situation or thought
  • Learning to communicate your needs with friends or at work
  • Check-in on any potential concerns before they become problematic
  • Practice self-care and self-love
  • Identify where you need to set boundaries in your life to stay healthy
Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com

You don’t need to have a diagnosis in order to be in therapy (although insurance companies often require therapists diagnose you with something in order to use the benefit). All you need in order to go to therapy is the desire to improve your life.

Remember, therapy is tailored and individualized to what your needs are. Some days, that means taking time to vent about recent frustrations. Other days, it is about actively learning (and practicing) new and healthy coping skills. Some days are all about processing those tough feelings. Some days it will be all of the above. It’s just best to keep in mind that therapy is about what you need most during your sessions.

How long do I need to be in therapy?

That is an answer I’m sure everyone wants to know. When it comes to therapy, your services and treatment are based on your needs. For some people, therapy can last one or two sessions. For others, it might be a month or so of sessions, maybe more. As therapists, we use some of the following information to help gauge how long therapy may last:

  • Severity of symptoms
  • If there are multiple concerns present
  • How much support you have with implementing changes outside of the therapy sessions
  • What insurance will cover (this is where private pay comes in handy)
  • How ready you are to create a change in your life

Remember, therapy is a partnership. The therapist will move at your pace and help you set goals that are realistic for you and meet your needs.

Carissa Weber, That Darn Amygdala

What are Some of the Benefits of Seeing a Therapist?

This is one of my favorite things to talk about!

Some of the bigger benefits from seeing a therapist include:

  • Having healthier and stronger relationships with the people in your life
  • Feeling confident and empowered in your life
  • Gaining new insights
  • Developing new ways to react to situations
  • Learning new and healthy ways to communicate your needs to the world around you

Those aren’t the only benefits from therapy. Therapy also offers you:

  • A safe place to heal from past hurts and trauma
  • A supportive place to practice new coping skills
  • A confidential place to process the frustrations of life
  • A judgement-free place to learn (and re-learn) about who you are

If you think the list is done, I haven’t even come close! Other benefits from therapy include:

  • Relief from anxiety symptoms
  • Decrease in physical health symptoms (therapy has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve sleep, decrease the amounts of headaches and body aches)
  • Improve motivation when depression zaps it
  • Increase your ability to focus on tasks
  • Help you return to enjoying and thriving in life, not just merely surviving in it

So, in my excited and hyper fixated ADHD energy, I threw a lot at you. I thank you for reading and learning more about therapy and what you can expect from it.

To recap this post:

– Therapy is a wonderful tool you can use to help make life more manageable

-Therapists are specially trained to help you achieve your goals

– It is okay to find a therapist that fits with you!

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Plants and Mental Health: Why They Pair Together

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

This post originally published on June 9th, 2021 here at That Darn Amygdala. Since it has been a favorite post here, it has been updated with the most up-to-date research. Enjoy!

I absolutely love plants! They are all over my house, my office, my yard, and even in my car (true story: there is a baby tear’s plant in the cup holder currently). For me, gardening and my plants have always done something good for the soul. I decided maybe it was time to look into why plants have that kind of impact.

This post is all about the science of how plants improve our mental health. Let me tell you, there are tons of ways that live plants (and caring for them) improve our mental health. I don’t think I have been this excited for a post since I posted The Brain and Mental Health: The Breakdown (Literally and Figuratively) (okay, and every other post I put out here).

Plants in Your Diet

It is no secret plants do a body good. Science has shown us for years how certain plant-based foods release certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, (neurotransmitters might I add), and proteins that keep us moving, strong, and alert. By eating our leafy greens, munching on our rainbow carrots, and dining on beets, we alter our chemical make-up and improve our chances of survival. When you think of it, that cob salad you eat totally is plant therapy.

Want to learn more about foods that are good for your mental health? Check out my post

The “Feel Good” Neurotransmitters and How to Release Them

Plants as Medicine

Photo by Du01b0u01a1ng Nhu00e2n on Pexels.com

Science has also shown us how medicinal plants can be. Struggle with arthritis? Stinging nettle may be up your alley. Want plants to help cope with menstrual cramps? Red Raspberry leaves are where it’s at! Struggling with a headache? Chew on some willow bark for its pain-relieving value. These plants have been the groundwork for developing much needed medications, such as NSAIDs and opioids.

***If you are not familiar with these plants, don’t go and eat just anything! Research is key to help you identify the difference between good plants and toxic plants that could kill you***

Plants and Your Mental Health

When it comes to non-edible plants, they have an impact on our mental health as well. Science and studies have really started to look at the impact of greenery on that darn amygdala.

Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com

It isn’t a secret that plants release oxygen. But did you know that if you spend more time stuck indoors, without plants, you can become oxygen deprived? True story! Without the needed oxygen, our blood circulation slows down. Can you take a guess as to what that poor circulation could do? You got it! Without the nutrients traveling our bodies, we have a natural uptick in our stress response. This means we tend to be irritable, on the anxious side, and gives that darn amygdala all the time in the world to assume the world is going to come to an end.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases with no extra cost to you. Purchases from the links in my blog help me keep That Darn Amygdala going. Take a look at my Book Club to find out more. Thank you for supporting my small business!

Plants are a Good Distraction

House plants, such as the African Begonia, help our mental health by improving our memory and attention span. How do those plants do that? As we are working hard on tasks that require our attention, plants offer our brain the mini-break it craves. Believe it or not, our brains are not meant to stare at screens, participate in meetings, and write five million proposals in one day.

By having subtle distractions in our work environment (oh, lets say an arrowroot or a spider plant for example), our darn amygdala has something physical to distract it from the stressful scenarios it is coming up with. By the time the prefrontal cortex knows what it is going on, that darn amygdala has calmed down enough and is ready to get back on track. Since it calms down that darn amygdala, this means the hypothalamus and hippocampus have the opportunity to college other memories outside of stressful ones. One study even showed that having plants in your work space can decrease stress at work by 20%(University of Michigan, 2008)!

Plants and Positivity

Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com

The palm tree in your office looks beautiful and offers a distraction, but it doesn’t stop there. Another cool way that potted palm helps you in your day-to-day life is by increasing your levels of positivity. As we look at our beloved anthurium and tend to its needs, we release oxytocin into our brain. Now if we are caring for a plant and it starts to bloom (orchids and Christmas Cactus are great for this), we get an additional boost of dopamine and serotonin to reward our brain for putting TLC into something and accomplishing the goal of seeing these beauties bloom again and again.

Want to learn more about the importance of live greenery in our lives? Check out Katie Cooper’s book on the right!

Now, in the case of plants, you can never have enough of a good thing. The more house plants you surround yourself with, the greater their effect on your mental health. Keep being that crazy plant person! Hoard those snake plants baby! Buy yourself that beautiful aglaonema! Be the keeper of all things succulent! Of course, if you have so many plants that they wrap you up like a cocoon and start to digest you while you sleep, you may have gone too far (Just ask the cast of The Little Shoppe of Horrors).

Plants and Oxytocin

Speaking of hoarding, the gifting of a house plant can not only help you, but help the person you are gifting it to. As we gift gifts to others, it releases oxytocin and helps us feel not-so alone. In turn, the receiver of the plant also receives the gift of an oxytocin dump and the release of dopamine. That gift keeps on giving as our hippocampus remembers where that darling lucky bamboo came from. This allows the receiver to get a shot of oxytocin and dopamine each time they simply look at it.

Dirt’s Impact on Mental Health

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Plants also have the ability to tend to our mental health through the dirt they are in. That’s right. Playing with plants outside has a major impact on our mental health. According to an older study done by Bristol University and The University College of London discovered that some of the bacteria in dirt can trigger a release of serotonin in the same way that anti-depressants (in particular, SSRI medications) release it into the brain (Paddock, 2007). One of the bacteria discovered, named mycobacterium vaccae, has been shown to boost the serotonin levels in the brain specifically in the parts that matter (the hippocampus and hypothalamus). This particular bacteria travels through our skin into our bloodstream. Not only does this impact that serotonin, but this improves our natural immune system and decreases our chances of getting sick. If this doesn’t make you want to go out and get dirt under your nails?

Go-To House Plants

Now there are some house plants that release more oxygen and feel-good vibes than others. This is based on the amount of oxygen they release into the air, and the ease of their care.

Ranking number one is the snake plant. Tall, colorful, and loves any sort of light, snake plants produce the most oxygen (and are hard to kill).

Credit to Susan Wilkinson at https://unsplash.com/s/photos/spider-plant

Next on the list is the infamous spider plant. The come in multiple colors and do great in any sunlight. These plants look amazing in a windowsill, hanging in a macramé plant hanger, or sitting in a collection of other plants on a shelf. They are also very forgiving if you forget to water it. Plus, they are easy to start new plants off of (meaning more plants to make your brain happy!).

One of my favorites is a philodendron. These big, leafy green plants tend to drape over their planters, which is beautiful. They also love low-light conditions (or the unnatural light conditions in an office). Philodendrons are also super easy to grow and are super forgiving if you forget to water them for a couple of weeks.

Photo by Julia Zolotova on Pexels.com

Arrowroot vines are another simple, yet powerful, plant to grow. Shaped like an arrowhead, these plants shoot out vines that you can have grow up a wall or hang down. These guys also like those low light conditions and are super easy to cut and create new plants from. yet another plant that is super easy to start growing if you are a newbie.

Dieffenbachia is a great plant if you are looking to add a tropical feel, without the tropical care. These guys are amazing at releasing oxygen into the air and enjoy any kind of light. They do need a bit more regular watering, but it a great way to release your oxytocin in caring for it.

These are just some of the pants (not an inclusive list) of easy growing, easy going plants to start off your collection. These also have shown they help the most with releasing oxygen (and other feel good neurotransmitters) to maximize the benefits to your mental health, all while starting simple.

** If you have pets that live with you, make sure that you do your research before buying and keeping plants. Some of the plants that I just listed are toxic to pets (cats especially) and care should be taken that they are not ingested. **

Want to learn more about plants that you can keep alive? Check out your local nursery!

Coping skill alert!

Did you know taking care of your plants goes along the line of a great CBT skill we have talked about? Plant management in your home follows the steps of behavioral activation and SMART goals! This means by having plants, you can attend to their needs, which improves your motivation to attend to your own. Don’t believe me? Reread my post Depression and All That Jazz to learn more about behavioral activation and see what I mean.

Plants and gardening are some of my favorite (and fun) ways to help give my mental health a boost. When it comes to my clients, I often talk about the benefits of keeping up your favorite house plant or creating an outdoor garden space. I want to thank you for coming along and learning about why gardening is one of my favorite ways to be active, release those feel good neurotransmitters, and practice some good ol’ fashion behavioral activation.

To recap this post:

– House Plants are beneficial to our physical and mental health

– Playing in the dirt is as good for your body as it is fun

– Caring for your plants help you maintain a routine, behavioral activation, and SMART goals

References

Image Sources

The Science of Laughter

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

Stress has a way of zapping a lot in our lives. It can change our appetite, sleep cycles, mood, and even our sense of humor.

If you are amongst the millions that report changes in your humor when you are stressed, you may already know the importance of laughter. This post is all about the science behind why we need laughter in our lives.

What is Laughter?

credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com

According to the dictionary, laughter is “the action or sound of laughing.” That is great and all, but what is laughing? I’m happy you asked! Laughing is a social and cultural behavior used to help us build connections with the people around us (Stierwalt, 2020). Have you ever noticed that you laugh more at something with more people are around? Yup, that is our brain’s way of trying to connect with people and release some much-needed oxytocin.

Laughter is not just a social connection, but it is also helping people determine a level of friendship they have with other people. Prime example: dad jokes. If you are laughing at a bad dad joke, chances are you are going to be rated as a closer friend to the person saying it than someone who roles their eyes and walks away.

How does Laughter Work in Our Brain?

Laughter is a response provided from your favorite brain system: the limbic system. As you recall, our limbic system houses the part of the brain we love: the prefrontal cortex. I bet you thought I was going to say that darn amygdala, huh? Don’t worry, that cheeky part of our brain is involved as well.

credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com

Laughter is a cool thing as it involves the whole brain. It starts in the prefrontal cortex. Our problem-solving area of the brain is taking in the information around you to determine if laughter is the appropriate response. At the same time, your darn amygdala and hippocampus are searching the file cabinets to identify if you have experienced this in the past.

While these parts of your brain are activated, the linguistic parts of your brain come alive. This part of your brain is responsible for the words and sounds that come out of your mouth. Why is it activated? Honestly, it is preparing for a response (you know, like laughter or blurting out the punchline of a joke).

Speaking of problem solving; Two goldfish are in a tank. One fish turns to the other and says, “Do you know how to drive this thing?”

Laughter and Neurotransmitters

Laughter plays a huge role in the release of the feel-good neurotransmitters. Since laughter does multiple jobs, it releases different neurotransmitters:

  1. Serotonin: Laughter suppresses the flow of the stress hormone, cortisol, in your blood stream so you can feel happy, even for just a moment.
  2. Dopamine: Hearing people laugh at your joke helps you feel accomplished. Likewise, laughter at situations that call for it also help you feel like you accomplished something.
  3. Oxytocin: Laughter is known to help you feel socially and culturally connected to the people around you. The release of oxytocin helps your brain recognize when you are feeling safe and accepted by the people around you.
  4. Endorphins: Better known as the pain-relieving neurotransmitter, endorphins get released when you laugh to help “numb out” any emotional and/or physical pain you are experiencing.
selective focus photography of woman holding green leaf
Photo by Edu Carvalho on Pexels.com

How Does Laughter Support Our Mental Health?

Laughter supports our mental health in a lot of different ways. Like we talked about above, laughter can:

  • reduce the levels of cortisol in our body, allowing the feel-good neurotransmitters to have room
  • shut down the Triple F Response to help you feel more relaxed
  • improve your short-term memory and ability to learn new tasks (thank you dopamine reward system!)
  • increase the size of your hippocampus

Laughter doesn’t just impact your mental health; it can improve your physical health as well. According to Mayo Clinic, the use of laughter has been shown to:

credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com
  • Decrease physical and chronic pain
  • Improve your immune system and immune system response
  • Relax tense muscles for up to 45 minutes after you are done laughing (Robinson et al, 2021)
  • Increases blood flow and oxygenation (which we know helps lower our stress levels)
  • Aid in losing weight
  • Help you live longer

How to Improve your Sense of Humor

Sometimes, jokes fly over the top of our heads. If you have been struggling with chronic, long-term stress, maybe your sense of humor has been impacted. Never fear! There are ways to help you gain that sense of humor back!

credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com
  1. Take time to watch funny videos – exposing yourself to things that are funny engages your hippocampus to remember these things, making you more likely to share these videos with people
  2. Tell funny stories about yourself – yes, this is a vulnerable topic, but hear me out. When you discuss a funny experience with people you are opening yourself up to the oxytocin that comes along with laughing with your peers.
  3. Find a joke buddy – we all know that one person that is awesome at telling jokes. By finding someone you can tell jokes, funny stories, or share memes with can improve your sense of humor (plus, it is fun)
  4. Develop comic vision – comic vision is where we find funny things in our environment (example: a dead-end sign next to a cemetery). Noticing these little things can help you not just relax, but engage your sense of humor
  5. Take time to learn jokes – Remember when we were kids and there were joke books in the school book sale? I bet you remember some of those jokes yet (I will never forget the joke, what do you call cheese that isn’t yours?). By learning new jokes, you are engaging multiple parts of your brain, on top of engaging in humor, and ultimately, laughter

We all could use a hand from time to time. In fact, the other day I was walking along the beach and heard someone calling for help. Looking over I saw a swimmer being circled by a shark. All I could do was laugh; I knew that shark wasn’t going to help.

Who knew laughter was so powerful!! I want to thank you for reading about why laughter should be part of your daily routine. Just like lunges, humor is a big step to brain health and feel-good neurotransmitter release!

To recap this post:

– Laughter lights up our whole brain

– Laughter is known to help improve mental and physical health

– Laughter helps you feel connected to people around you

– You can improve your level of humor in order to laugh more

Resources

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Realistic Affirmations: The Hardest Emotional Regulation Tool

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

This post originally published on August 18th, 2021 here at That Darn Amygdala. It has been updated with the most up-to-date research. Enjoy!

In the midst of this month being Stress Awareness Month, I want to talk about something important: how you talk to yourself. How you talk to yourself (yes, it is okay to talk to yourself) can significantly shift how you think about a situation.

In this post, we are going to tackle one of the hardest things in the world: self-talk. We are going to go over what self-talk is, why it is important, and how you can change how you talk to yourself (and not appear crazy).

What is Positive Self-Talk?

Sometimes called positive affirmations, positive self-talk is the art of building ourselves up by saying messages that help us gain motivation. Positive self-talk (or as I like to call them, realistic affirmations), can be tricky as they are the other side of the coin of what we are really good at: negative self-talk. Both are learned behaviors based on past messages (hmmm…sounds like some core beliefs to me), both are things that require practice to master.

Missed out on what Emotional Regulation is? Learn more here

Positive self-talk gets such a bad rap. In reality, it is another great skill that helps with emotional regulation. Now before you go “I’m not getting all mushy-mushy here,” let me explain. When we engage in positive self-talk versus our normal self-loathing, self-defeating, negative self-talk, we are actually engaging our prefrontal cortex into identifying facts about who we are, not the emotions that lead us down the road of negative self talk.

History of Self-Talk

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Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

In 1988 (I know, I’m going way back here), Claude Steele took it upon himself to study if there is any truth behind saying positive affirmations. With his study, Steele set out to look at what happened to people if their self-esteem and image was attacked. What he found was awesome. Almost all the people in participation attempted to align what they were hearing with what they were thinking. Remember when we talked about the core beliefs in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Part Deux? Those bad boys show up everywhere! Steele found out that people who used positive affirmations regularly not only had a higher self worth, but had less negative core beliefs.

Self-Talk and the brain

This is all great, but how does positive self-talk work in the brain? Think about it, self-talk is the ultimate communication in how we feel about ourselves. That darn amygdala is blurting stuff out without filtering it, checking the facts with the prefrontal cortex, or even reflecting on what the hippocampus is telling it. By identifying the core beliefs and learning how to challenge the cognitive distortions (thank you Cognitive Behavioral Therapy!), we can learn to change our self-talk.

Coping Skills Alert!

As you continue to practice thought challenges and identifying your core beliefs (remember, practice makes progress!) we can do something to help us reap the benefits of positive self-talk. The 5:1 ratio, better known as the magic ratio, has been found to be a huge benefit to challenging negative self-talk. Why? Well, it has been found scientifically that for every negative thing you say about yourself, you must share 5 positive things to reverse the damage that one negative thing does to your brain. Don’t believe me? Check out what John Gottman has to say about it (he is the first one to share how this ratio can help bring any relationship closer together).

photo of woman sitting by the table while writing
Photo by Anthony Shkraba on Pexels.com

Before you go “but there aren’t that many positive things to say about me!” I want you to know that I hear you. It is so hard when we have perfected the art of negative self-talk that we can’t even find where to start on finding a nice thing to say, let alone accept what we are saying. As mentioned above already, practice makes progress! By taking time and practicing this 5:1 magic ratio at least once a day, you will start to notice the more realistic things about yourself. You will also see that by doing this, you are challenging cognitive distortions, rewriting your core beliefs, all while allowing the feel-good neurotransmitters release (primarily, oxytocin). Once you get the hang of doing it once a day, start doing it when you notice you’re thinking negative about yourself. That is the real-time challenge right there.

Are you a visual learner? Then the Realistic Affirmation Card Deck is for you!

Making realistic self-talk a habit

How do you start with positive self-talk? For starters (and in the case of my own brain) I have started calling positive affirmations (same as that pesky positive self-talk) realistic affirmations. Why? Well, if I say they are realistic, my darn amygdala is more likely to believe them and not put of the fight of “you want me to be positive? With all this shit going on? Are you kidding me?”

The next step I tell my clients is to write down the realistic affirmations! As we write them down, our hypothalamus has an easier time turning them into a memory. When they become a memory, our hippocampus is able to assign an emotion to them. Lastly, we have them written down so as we struggle with coming up with them, we can refer to the ones on the paper to help job our memory.

Dare I say it? Journaling is a great way to help with realistic affirmations. It provides the direct stimulus from our hands to our eyes that is so good at cementing our memories in place. Journaling can be somewhat daunting however and often leaves newcomers feeling frustrated at the challenge of learning a new skill. Never fear though, we are here to help. First, I recommend reading the post, Mental Health Journaling: Why It Works. This post will give you some of the how and why. Next, check out the card deck, Realistic Affirmations, for guided help with your realistic affirmations and take them to the next level!

credit to Carissa Weber at http://www.thatdarnamygdala.com

Before we call this post good, I need to do a little spiel on toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is where we focus only on the good emotions while rejecting all the ones we don’t want to feel. That is not emotional regulation. That is emotional avoidance. Toxic positivity leads people down the path of shame, embarrassment, avoiding the real problems, and creates a whole new level of self-esteem issues. You have to keep in mind what we say (or don’t say) to ourselves shapes those core beliefs we have about emotions. It takes time to shape, and re-shape those core beliefs and rewire our brain. Please do not think that by ignoring those hard and painful feelings it will make things better. Remember, emotional regulation is about experiencing and acknowledging our emotions. It is about giving those emotions the attention they need. It is about communicating to yourself what your needs are.

I want to thank you for taking time to learn more about what positive self-talk (or realistic affirmations, whichever you prefer) and how you can use it to rewire your brain. Each time you practice these skills, you are helping that darn amygdala understand it isn’t always in danger. Keep up the hard work! It does pay off.

To recap this post:

– Realistic affirmations help us have a higher self-esteem

– Writing down our realistic affirmations help our hippocampus store them as memories

– Say 5 realistic affirmations for every negative one helps reverse the damage done to the brain by that one negative affirmation

– Realistic affirmations are facts, not emotions

Bonus Material

Get the Worksheet Bundle!

With your purchase of the Worksheet bundle , you get fun (and helpful) handouts. These handouts are designed for your personal use and to help you remember the facts of each post. This week’s handout goes over examples of realistic affirmations. Enjoy!

get the one-time payment option

The one-time payment option allows you to get all the handouts in one neat file, or with each post.

References

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April: The Everything Month

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

With Spring here, there seems to be a resurgence in new things. New grass, new allergies, and new things to be stressed about.

This post is going to go over all the new and crazy things that are happening in the month of April. Trust me, there is a lot going on!

Stress Awareness Month

April 1st was the official start to Stress Awareness Month. Ever since 1992, April has been celebrated as a time to identify the causes of stress (and ways to cope with it). With how crazy the last two years have been, I think Stress Awareness Month is more important now than ever before.

Stress and the Brain

Stress has a unique pathway in our brain. In case you didn’t know it, we experience stress because our darn amygdala, hypothalamus, and the pineal gland choose to gang up on us and allow the stress hormone, cortisol, to run chaotically through our brain. That Darn Amygdala signals the hypothalamus that the Triple F response is needed. The hypothalamus then tells the pineal gland to release cortisol.

As that is happening, the adrenal glands get the message and engage the Triple F response. As this is all going on (and your darn amygdala is drunk on power), your prefrontal cortex tries really hard to tell the rest of the brain that the trigger to the stress is supposed to be short-lived. Will that Darn Amygdala let that happen? Nope!

Stress got you stressing out? Let a therapist help you!

Stress’s Impact on the Brain

If you are dealing with long-term stress (anything over 6 months), you will start to notice changes to your brain. One big change you may notice is the ability to remember or recall certain memories. That is because the hippocampus (a.k.a. – the memory center) starts to shrink.

That isn’t the only thing that shrinks. So does your:

  • prefrontal cortex (which impacts your ability to make decisions and problem-solve)
  • insula (which processes sensory information and spatial awareness)
  • number of neurons (these brain cells can decrease with the amount of stress you experience)
  • Immune system (since your body is focusing on the stress,

There are so many reasons to control the amount of stress in your life (including reversing the damage it creates in your brain and other parts of your body). This month, we are going to tackle ways to conquer that stress and manage it’s butt into submission!

Counselor Awareness Month

April just isn’t for stress awareness and management! April is when we also celebrate Counselor Awareness Month!

Credit to Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com

The American Counseling Association (or ACA for short) designates April as a month to advocate for counselors and counseling services. There are approximately 663,000 counselors in the United States working in many different places:

  • Therapy offices
  • Mental health clinics
  • Schools
  • County systems
  • Medical offices

I might be biased but bringing awareness to the role of counselors and how they serve the communities allows us to decrease the stigma of mental health. There are many ways you can show support for your local counselors:

  1. Use the hashtag, #burnbrightnotout, in your social media posts
  2. Wear the color teal on April 8th
  3. Engage in the theme “Train your brain with counseling” by participating in counseling services
  4. Go to any local open-houses counselors and their offices may be having this month in your town/city

Autism Acceptance Month

You read that right. April is also home to Autism Acceptance Month. You might be asking “I thought it was autism awareness month?” Well, you’re correct. April is also considered autism awareness month. I use Autism Acceptance Month for multiple reasons:

  1. The term, “acceptance” embraces the inclusion of the many differences that come with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
  2. “Awareness is knowing that somebody has autism, acceptance is when you include (a person with autism) in your activities. Help (them) to develop in that community and get that sense of connection to other people.” (Thank you, Christopher Banks, president and CEO of The Autism Society of America

One in every 44 people in the United States have been diagnosed with ASD. That is over 2% of Americans! When we learn about the unique ways the autistic brain works, we are helping autistic people (check that out at How to talk about autism | Ambitious about Autism) thrive in this world!

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Now, this is one topic I wish didn’t have just one awareness month. Sexual Assault Awareness Month was first advocated for in the 1990s as a way to bring attention to assault, harassment, and sexual violence. It wasn’t first observed though until 2001.

The numbers behind sexual assault are enough to turn heads and make you feel ill:

  • 1 in 5 women will experience some sort of sexual violence in their lifetime
  • 1 in 14 men report being the victim of sexual violence in their lifetime
  • 46% of people who report sexual assault or violence report knowing the perpetrator as an acquaintance. The other half of survivors? They report the perpetrator was an intimate partner
  • Every 68 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted
  • Only 45% of the perpetrators of sexual violence go to prison

Are you, or someone you care about, looking for help to heal from sexual assault?

On April 13th, we recognize RAINN day, which is a day to bring attention to the chaos and destruction sexual assault has on humanity. On this day, you can show your support by:

  • Using the hashtag, #WontStayQuiet and #RAINNDay on your social media (Don’t forget to tag @RAINN in those posts)
  • Attend a RAINN event to help learn new ways to support survivors of sexual assault and violence
  • Volunteer with the National Sexual Assault Hotline

This month is going to be busy! Thank you for taking time to learn more about how important the month of April is to all of us in the mental health care world. Please take time to learn more about the vital topics to help end the stigma and increase support.

To recap this post:

– April is home to several awareness months

– Stress Awareness month helps identify causes and coping skills for stress management

– Counselor Awareness month gives you the chance to thank the counselors that make a difference

– Autism Acceptance Month is the new way to address autism awareness month

– Sexual Assault Awareness month brings awareness to a stigmatized pandemic that needs to stop

References

Image Sources

Happy Birthday That Darn Amygdala!

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

As of today, That Darn Amygdala has been up and running for one full year! How crazy is that? I started blogging in 2021 with an idea, but no clue how to translate that idea. After some research (and some winging it), That Darn Amygdala was born.

The Idea behind That Darn Amygdala

2020 was an insane year for everyone, therapists included. As therapists, we noticed a surge of people wanting mental health services (which is awesome by the way). By 2021, many mental health professionals were overwhelmed by the amount of people wanting mental health services that waitlists were born. Let me tell you, that didn’t (and still isn’t) going over well.

in 2021, I was starting to experience burnout. Not just from seeing so many clients, but from telling people I had no room to see them. As a therapist, that just broke my heart. Even worse, there wasn’t a single therapist I could refer people to as their wait lists were just as long (if not longer) than mine. In that moment, I realized there needed to be a resource to help.

That Darn Amygdala’s logo

Enter That Darn Amygdala.

The need for an accurate and science-based mental health resource was in high demand. People wanting help with their mental health was in high demand. Heck, therapists were (and still are) in high demand. That Darn Amygdala became a combination of those three.

That Darn Amygdala Stats

I remember that first 30 days writing, I was just excited to have 100 readers a month. Since posting the very first blog post, That Darn Amygdala has massed over 75,000 visitors! The most read post would be Realistic Affirmations: The Hardest Emotional Regulation Tool with over 300 individual readers. Honestly, this was one of my favorite posts to write as it helped inspire my Realistic Affirmation Cards and my Mental Health Shirts.

Want to shop to support your mental health?

Out of all the resources I’ve created to be of help to people on their mental health journey, the Book Club has the most visitors. How many you ask? Try over 1000 visitors! What I love about the book Club is that these are books I have read myself and love recommending to my clients in my own practice.

The other resource that people have used have been the worksheets. Utilized by over 500 of you, this resource holds a near and dear place in my heart. I’ve created over 100 handouts, worksheets, and journal entries to help people (and fellow clinicians) have access to a tool that helps explain the science behind mental health and helps people practice the skills I talk about in the posts.

Missed out on the Worksheets?

That Darn Amygdala Odd Facts

I love discussing odd facts and insights. Since starting That Darn Amygdala, I have published 59 posts, including this one. With those 59 posts, I have cited over 115 different resources, included psychology journals, medical studies, books, fellow mental health bloggers, and prominent mental health websites. If that is impressive, in the last year, That Darn Amygdala published over 133,000 words! We’re at novel level baby!

The number one coping skill I talk about are SMART goals. This is a skill I teach all the time because it helps people:

This is my most used image!
  • Set up realistic goals
  • Improve their anxiety and depression levels
  • Increase motivation

Even though this is the most talked-about skill, I’ve devoted the most posts to DBT, 14 posts to be exact. The least talked about skill (although I think I need to write more about it) would be the Plants and Mental Health post. I love gardening and have 32 different kinds of plants in my office (9 different ones in my home office), which all help me keep my mental health sharp.

What’s Next for That Darn Amygdala?

This year is going to be awesome for That Darn Amygdala! I plan on continuing to write science-based posts to help people with their mental health. I also plan on taking time each month to revamp some of my older posts to ensure it reflects the most up-to-date information out there.

Something new you may even notice now is that there is going to be a theme for each month. February was all about anxiety; March was all about depression. Using these themes will not only help keep information organized, but myself as well.

Some of you have noticed in the past that I’ve tried ways to increase my reach through the use of courses, journaling packages, and independent coaching/consultation. Although I love doing this, it seemed to be something that didn’t speak to you, the readers. I do not plan to continue to offer these things in the future, but will still do FREE masterclasses in the Facebook Group, inspirational mental health information on instagram, realistic affirmation on TikTok, coping skill ideas on Pinterest, and for the residents of Wisconsin, therapy services at The Joyful Mind, LLC.

What Do You Want to See from That Darn Amygdala?

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You know I am all about making mental health accessible. I want to hear from you all what you guys would like to see from That Darn Amygdala. Is it another course? More worksheets? Perhaps its own podcast? A certain mental health topic you want to read about? Let me know! The only way to grow is to know what is needed.

Mostly, Thank You!

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Without you, the readers, That Darn Amygdala would be nothing more than a dream. Your reading, patronage, and dedication to your own mental health makes That Darn Amygdala possible. It is through you and your support I am here, writing, and using science to change the stigma of mental health. You guys’ rock! Here is to another amazing year of That Darn Amygdala!

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Cognitive Distortions: The worst always happens. Or does it?

By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC

When we talk about anxiety, cognitive distortions almost always come up. Why is that? Well, for starters, they are easy to identify when our thoughts are racing and intrusive. But did you know cognitive distortions happen with depression, too? It’s true!

In this post, were going to explore how the filters of cognitive distortion that that darn amygdala uses impact your depression levels. Personally, I think identifying the cognitive distortions is a big and important part in treating depression. Why? Because they are part of what triggers depressive thoughts in our brain.

What are Cognitive Distortions?

Cognitive distortions operate a lot like a pair of sunglasses. When cognitive distortions are operating, they filter what information we are collecting from the world around us. Unfortunately, what we see tends to be the negative thing that gives that darn amygdala a louder voice. Everyone uses cognitive distortions in their life. This is something, when used in moderation, helps us prepare for future stress and keeps us safe. Below, you will find the most common cognitive distortions that darn amygdala uses to keep us stressed and anxious:

  • Catastrophizing​
    • Seeing the worst thing possible​
    • “I got a C on my exam, the world is over!”
  • Minimizing​
    • Experiences aren’t important​
    • “It was just a little fender bender, not a big deal”
  • Overgeneralizing​
    • A single event will always happen​
    • “I stubbed my toe on the table, I’m such a clutz!”
  • Magical Thinking​
    • Acts influence unrelated situations​
    • “Why am I getting dumped on by the boss?  I’m a good worker!”​
  • Personalization​
    • Being responsible for things outside of your control​
    •  “If I made dinner more maybe my wife wouldn’t be so cranky”
  • Mind Reading​
    • Interpreting what people are thinking​
    • “Why is everyone looking at me?  Am I really that ugly?”
  • Fortune Telling​
    • Predicting the future without all the facts​
    •  “They are going to call me in on my day off, I know it!”
  • Emotional Reasoning​
    • Assuming emotions reflect what is happening​
    • “Today is shitty because I feel shitty”
  • Disqualifying the positive​
    • Only focusing on the negative​
    •  “Everyone liked my new shoes except for Amy G. Dala (see what I did there?).  My shoes must be bad if she doesn’t like them.”
  • “Should” statements​
    • Believing things should be a certain way​
    •  “I should get this done, I should get that done.”
  • All-or-Nothing​
    • Thinking in absolutes
    • “I always have to be my best.”  “I am never good enough.”​

Struggling with depression? You are note alone!

How many of these look and sound familiar? I bet more than a few. Sometimes we use these cognitive distortions without even recognizing it (even several at one time). It is important to identify which cognitive distortions we are using before we are able to challenge them. Once we know what we are facing, we can use some of the challenges below.

Challenging Cognitive Distortions

Challenging cognitive distortions helps depression and the brain in several ways. First, it allows the prefrontal cortex to get in on the conversation that darn amygdala is trying to control. Second, it allows for the release of those calming neurotransmitters, GABA and serotonin, to be released physically calming us down. Third, it releases glutamate into the hippocampus to help recall memories to further help release the neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA.

The time it takes from the moment we recognize the cognitive distortion in use, to feeling relief can be up to 15 minutes. But in those 15 minutes, we are strengthening the connection between the prefrontal cortex and that darn amygdala to help prevent future hostage situations where that darn amygdala is running the show. Isn’t science fun?

Coping Skills Alert!

In order to challenge a cognitive distortion, we must first identify the thought that is giving fuel to the cognitive distortion. Once that thought is identified, we have to identify and explore all the facts surrounding that thought. Facts that support the thought or are against the thought. Once that step is complete, explore if any of these are true objective facts that anyone could prove or if they are feelings and emotions you are experiencing.

Here comes the tricky step: we have to ask ourselves if there are other ways to interpret that thought. For example, if we are focused on stress eating that pound of chocolate. Are we truly hungry, or our we eating for a different reason (like that we’re stressed, or even eating it so we don’t have to share with the kids).

Now for all of you who catastrophize situations (like me), we need to ask ourselves that nagging question: is this a realistic thought or a worst-case scenario kind of thought?

Cognitive Distortions and Mindfulness

Photo by Kelvin Valerio on Pexels.com

Another effective coping skill for tackling cognitive distortions is the use of mindfulness. As outlined in one of my previous posts, Stress and the Brain: Happy Stress Awareness Month, it can provide a release of serotonin that calms the body down. For those with shutdown anxiety, it can help improve their frustration tolerance.

One of my favorite mindfulness exercises is deep breathing. This is something that you can do when you are out in public or in the privacy of your own home. Even though I have outlined it already, let me take some time to outline deep breathing exercises one more time:

  • Sit in a comfortable position
  • Slowly inhale through your nose and into your diaphragm (to make it simple, breath so that your belly expands) for 6 seconds
  • Hold that process in your belly for two seconds
  • Slowly exhale out of your mouth for eight seconds, or until you feel like you have no breath left
  • Repeat this pattern of breathing for 3 to 5 minutes (or however long it takes for you to feel calm).
  • If you want evidence the deep breathing is working, take your heart rate before you start the deep breathing. After each minute of practicing the breathing, take your heart rate again. Your heart rate will go down!

I want to thank you for reading this post. Cognitive distortions play a huge role in our mental health. Being able to recognize them, and challenge them, can help make our mental health recovery so much better.

To recap this post:

– Cognitive Distortions are filters our darn amygdala use to justify its reactions

– Everyone uses cognitive distortions

– Identifying and challenging the cognitive distortions can improve your mental health

– Mindfulness can help when cognitive distortions are hard to ignore

Bonus Material!

With your purchase of the worksheet bundle, you get fun (and helpful) handouts. These handouts are designed for your personal use and to help you remember the facts of each post. This week’s handouts (that’s right, handouts!) go over cognitive distortions, and mindful breathing. Enjoy!

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