This PTSD Awareness Month, Stop Joking That You’re “Triggered”

It’s PTSD Awareness Month, which means it’s the perfect time for me to school some fools on a condition that, unfortunately, I have. You may have noticed a lot of people on the internet making jokes about being “triggered” over small annoyances or insignificant issues. What you may or may not realize it that this is a psychological term that describes a symptom of PTSD. 

I am losing respect for people left and right when they use this term sarcastically, so it’s time for me to stop staring at them blankly and start telling them the truth. When you say you’re “triggered” when you mean you’re offended, you sound ignorant at best, and at worst, you sound like a malicious asshat. 

What is PTSD? 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs after a traumatic event. PTSD is most commonly associated with war veterans and sexual assault survivors, but there are many different experiences that can prompt PTSD. Events such as natural disasters, car accidents, the unexpected death of a loved one, or even just hearing about a traumatic incident experienced by someone you care about can cause PTSD symptoms. 

Some common symptoms of PTSD include: 

  • Nightmares
  • Low mood
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Paranoia/distrust of others 
  • Social isolation
  • Irritability 
  • Severe anxiety 
  • Avoiding places, people, and events that remind you of the traumatic incident 
  • Flashbacks — feeling like you are experiencing the traumatic incident all over again
  • Hypervigilance — being easily startled, feeling “on edge” 
  • Dissociation — feeling separated from your body, unable to be present in your surroundings

Note that you can also have PTSD symptoms that cannot be attributed to one specific event. This is referred to as Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). People are diagnosed with C-PTSD when they are exposed to trauma repeatedly over the course of months or even years. 

Combat survivors, victims of abuse, people recovering from years of childhood neglect… yeah, these are great targets for your humor and disdain (insert sarcastic tone here).

What is a Trigger?

A trigger is a sight, sound, smell, or thought that is a reminder of trauma and prompts PTSD symptoms to present. Specific triggers vary from person to person. Some are predictable, the way the Kavanaugh hearings were so triggering for sexual assault survivors for obvious reasons. They can also be something entirely unexpected. 

For example, the night I was assaulted, I passed by a swim school sign on my way to my attacker’s apartment. For the first few months afterward, I avoided that intersection like the plague. If I did accidentally pass that sign, I would be instantly thrown back to that night. Two years and countless hours of treatment later, I am usually unaffected when I happen to pass by that sign. However, every once and a while when I am already feeling anxious, a trigger like that might put me over the edge. Such is the joy of living with this super hilarious mental illness (some more sarcasm for you).

What It Feels Like to Be Triggered

Being triggered is a physiological response. You don’t choose to be triggered. It’s not being deeply offended by some minor slight. It’s your body’s arousal system going into hyper drive. 

Let’s say you’re going about your day totally normally. You might be in the grocery store, or out with friends, or even just hanging out at home, when it hits you out of nowhere. You heard a song that was playing while you were being assaulted, or one of your friends comes up behind you and startles you, or there is a car accident on TV. 

The exact symptoms that show up might vary. Some might experience a flashback and they feel like they are taken back in time to the traumatic event. Others might be suddenly consumed with a desire to run, to hide, or even to die to get away from the feelings they are experiencing. Physical symptoms like racing heart, shallow breathing, and chest pain are also common. 

I personally find dissociation to be the worst. I feel completely removed from a situation even if I’m physically there. I can be surrounded by close friends and I can’t feel their love at all. I am completely alone. It’s the most frustrating and isolating feeling, like you’re sitting behind glass watching the world go by. 

Unfortunately, I am more likely to be triggered in big groups of people, so parties are hit or miss for me. I have to be in the right mental state or I will get the floating-above-my-head feeling and have to roll out early. This is further isolating and has prevented me from having deeper relationships with a lot of people I’d love to get to know more. Fortunately, my close friends are completely understanding when I need to bail on social gatherings. I just wish I didn’t have to miss out as much as I do. 

Why Do People Say They Are “Triggered” as a Joke?

The most gracious version of myself believes that people make this joke because they don’t know better. They probably heard their friends or someone on the internet say it, and figured it would be an amusing turn-of-phrase to pick up without really knowing the source of the term. 

Of course, there is also a political aspect to it. There are people who are under the impression that “triggered” is a term created by “social justice warriors” who “can’t take a joke.” These are the people who are under the impression that people who are “triggered” like playing the victim and are just searching for offense wherever they go. This is how they are able to dismiss people who experience oppression from sexism, racism, ableism, transphobia, and other insidious prejudices as “overreacting.” 

These are not the people I am trying to reach by writing this article. My assumption is that if you’ve made it this far, you’re either already on board or you are genuinely curious and open to change. To you I will say, you do not want to be associated with these people. You care about others. You don’t want to cause unnecessary harm. There are way more hilarious jokes to make. Find them and leave this one for the intentionally hateful. 

Why Do I Care?

You might still wonder why it even matters if people co-opt this term. I’m sure there are other people with PTSD who really DGAF if anyone says “triggered.” There are certainly other things that I find more important in the world of PTSD advocacy, like making sure that people have access to treatments that work for them. 

Most of the time, when I hear this term used as a joke, I can roll my eyes and move on with my day. But on some level, it always hurts me to hear someone be so casual and ignorant about something that has profoundly impacted my life, relationships, and wellbeing. Though I am not triggered nearly as frequently as I used to be (from every day when I was first diagnosed versus maybe once every few months now), I still have to build my daily life and future around the reality of this condition. When someone says they’re “triggered” over something absolutely idiotic, I just think to myself, “If you knew what it was really like, you wouldn’t find it funny at all.”

Beyond that, language matters. The words we hear subconsciously create beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. You don’t know who is listening and what type of shame they may feel when you use the word “triggered” in such a contemptuous way, shame that may prevent them from getting the help they need. 

The stigma of having a mental illness is heavy enough. There is no reason for you to contribute with a highly unoriginal and distinctly unfunny joke. If you do nothing else this June, resolve to leave the word “triggered” behind, except when you are helping someone with PTSD. Choose compassion over lazy humor, my friends. 

Resources

If you are interested in learning more about PTSD, or if you or someone you love is experiencing PTSD, here are some resources that may help. 

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman

National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

NAMI PTSD Help Guide

Mindfulness for Trauma Recovery

Neuroplasticity: The Key to Breaking Free From Old Patterns

Do you ever feel like you’re on a hamster wheel, making the same bad decisions over and over again? Maybe you repeat toxic relationship dynamics with different partners. Maybe you think mean things about yourself. Maybe you are constantly late to everything, causing you stress. You know these thoughts and behaviors aren’t helping you, but they feel ingrained. You can’t help it. 

Humans are creatures of habit, and for the most part, we should be grateful for this fact. Habits are an adaptive neurological strategy to ensure that we do things without having to put in much effort and energy into motivating us. While this is helpful in some ways, not all patterns of behavior are ones we wish to keep repeating. Yet we feel resigned to them. So how do you break free of old patterns?

Simple, my friend: science. 

Using Neuroplasticity to Your Advantage

We’ve all heard that people don’t change. This is true to some degree: we are wired to be the way that we are. Our actions, emotions, and feelings create neural connections in the brain. Whenever we repeat them, the synapses are activated, and this strengthens them the more frequently we reinforce them. 

This means that while you may be wired to think and act in a certain way, you don’t have to keep strengthening the same patterns. By behaving and thinking differently frequently, you form new connections. This adaptable quality of our brains is called neuroplasticity.

I personally love the idea of neuroplasticity. I like to yell, “NEUROPLASTICITY!” at myself whenever I am feeling resigned to a negative habit. It’s not only fun to say, it helps me remember that I am not stuck behaving in a certain way. My brain can change, therefore, I can change. 

If you constantly think to yourself, “I am unworthy of love,” that thought is wired into your brain. On the other hand, if you challenge that thought and think to yourself, “I am worthy of love,” it creates a new connection. Every time you reinforce that connection, it strengthens, until it replaces the previous negative thought. Ta da! You have formed a positive belief about yourself! Congrats!

Be Patient

That being said, this is not something that will happen overnight. You may have heard the statistic that it takes 60 days to form a habit, but the reality is, it can take a lot longer than that. Like, over twice as long. 

That’s the main reason why people struggle to change so much: it takes time and consistency. You need to activate that synapse a LOT to form an enduring connection. Have patience with yourself. You didn’t fall into this pattern overnight, which is why you can’t climb out of it overnight. Give your brain time to rewire itself, and it will. 

Understand Your “Why”

To maintain the commitment necessary to overcome an unhelpful pattern, you need to have the right motivation. The right reason for changing will help get you through the initial discomfort of trying something new.  

Let’s say you really want to find an exclusive romantic partner, but you keep dating people who are emotionally unavailable. It started with your first partner and it’s been downhill ever since. You always seem to find yourself in “situationships” with people who can’t commit. They may even straight up tell you that they’re emotionally unavailable, and on some level, this may even intensify your attraction to them. Your brain is used to going after unavailable people, so this is part of your natural wiring. 

Breaking away from this pattern requires focusing your energy on emotionally available people, and this might be a turn-off for you initially. Someone expressing interest in your inner world, wanting to spend time with you, and being responsive to your needs might leave you feeling uneasy. Finding someone you connect with doesn’t happen overnight, and changing habits doesn’t happen overnight. This can lead to a perfect storm where you go running back to whatever hipster who “needs to spend more time focused on their art” you were chasing after before. 

This is when it’s essential to understand why you want to break this pattern. Saying “to find love” is not enough. This leaves you plenty of room to fill in the blanks about what that means, and waiting two days for a text back is not it. Be as specific as possible about what you are trying to accomplish and what that looks like for your daily life. In this example, write out all the qualities you want in a partner and what you want that partnership to look like. Read it every day and add more as you learn from your experience. This can help you to stay motivated to pursue people who fulfill these qualifies, and stay away from those who don’t. 

It’s worthwhile to note that this issue is probably due to a whole series of beliefs about yourself and what you deserve, and therefore, it may not be as simple as this. It may be beneficial for you to try cognitive behavioral therapy, which guides you through the process of challenging negative thought patterns with the help of a licensed therapist. 

Progress, Not Perfection

Perfectionism is the quickest way to kill all your efforts. Let’s say you’re trying to stop hitting snooze three times in the morning. You jump up with your alarm every day for four days, then the morning of the fifth day, you’re hitting snooze again. For many people, this is where their efforts are sabotaged. They’ve failed. Neuroplasticity be damned. That neural connection is lost forever. Better stay in bed and never leave. 

You don’t have to be perfect. In fact, you won’t be. You will fail. You will hit snooze again. But that doesn’t mean that all is lost. Instead of trying to get it perfect every time, see where you have room to improve just slightly. For example, try only hitting snooze twice for two weeks. Then, see if you can only hit it once for another two weeks. Then give not hitting it at all a try. It may be a less linear process than you’d like — that’s okay. Even if you sometimes stimulate the “hit snooze button three times” neural connection, you can still strengthen the “wake up with your alarm” connection every time you choose to. 

Get Support 

Breaking out of an old pattern is a lot of work. The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone. Talk to someone about what you’re trying to accomplish. Get the support of your friends and family. Post on social media for accountability. Again, cognitive behavioral therapy is always an option. Regardless of who you reach out to, do it. No one has to walk this path alone. 

Mental Illness Getting in the Way of Your Resolutions? You’re Not Alone

As someone who is straight up obsessed with self-reflection and growth, I unabashedly love New Year’s. This is a time when everyone is getting a little introspective about what they want out of life, as well as what they have accomplished so far. I love seeing people taking advantage of self-improvement being in the air.

That being said, setting New Year’s resolutions is easier than accomplishing them. Personally, I have started many a year with lofty ambitions, only for December to come with no little-to-no progress made. I have often found myself waging a battle against mental illness to be the best version of myself. Turns out, I’m not alone in this experience.

Anxiety and Depression as Obstacles to New Year’s Resolutions

A recent survey of 500 people by Body Nutrition revealed that mental health may be a significant reason why many people cannot consistently implement the changes they want to make in the new year. Of the respondents, 29 percent said anxiety and depression were the biggest obstacles to making their fitness or wellness resolutions regular habits.

Body Nutrition New Year's Resolutions

These mental health conditions were nearly the most common reason why people struggle to make progress toward their wellness goals. Anyone who has experienced mental illness can relate to this. You might resolve to make more meals at home, but summoning the energy to get out of bed to cook feels impossible. Soon, you’re stuck in a cycle of rumination, beating yourself for not being able to follow through, filling you with shame. This is a common experience for people with depression and/or anxiety, and it may make the new year a time of stress for you rather than optimism. The good news is, there are plenty of resources to help people with anxiety and depression to set goals and achieve them.

Tips for Making New Year’s Resolutions When You Have Anxiety and Depression

I was much more successful with my resolutions this year. While I didn’t accomplish all of them, I’m proud of my progress and what I managed to check off my list. Here are some of the tools that helped me.

Practice Self-Compassion

This is my number-one tip for literally every aspect of life, but particularly goal-setting. Living with anxiety and depression often means having a running monologue in your head of everything you’re doing wrong. With a constant critic whispering in your ear, it’s no wonder you struggle to summon the confidence needed to take risks and make necessary changes. Cutting yourself some slack allows you to approach your resolution with curiosity rather than fear of failure. Let’s say you have resolved to start running, but you end up skipping the second day. You might think something like, “I can’t do this. I can never stick with anything. I’ll never be able to change.” This line of thinking makes it that much more difficult to get back to running. Alternatively, a more compassionate response may be, “I feel the need to rest today, but that’s okay. I will run tomorrow instead.”

Self-compassion is not like flipping a switch. It takes time to adopt a new mindset, so when you have negative thoughts about yourself pop up, don’t be discouraged. Something that has helped me is to think of myself as a child I am taking care of. I would never speak to my adorable baby self the way I tend to now, so it helps me to approach my thoughts with more compassion and less judgment.

Be Realistic

One of the most frustrating parts of depression is feeling like you are capable of so much more than your condition allows. While being depressed doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish great things, it’s important to accommodate your symptoms instead of denying their real impact on your life. For example, let’s say you want to write a novel this year. That’s a great goal, but make sure to give yourself some freedom in this timeline to cope with any depressive symptoms that might pop up. Dedicating two hours every day to writing might not be realistic when some days, just waking up is a major undertaking. Instead, if you give yourself a flexible schedule with realistic expectations, you’re better able to cope when your mental illness decides to pop up and interrupt your plans.

Think Of Your Overall Wellness

Many wellness resolutions are appearance-based. The problem with these resolutions, such as losing weight, is that they focus on what you look like on the outside instead of how you feel inside. More often than not, you end up at war with your body, launching a grenade into your self-worth. Instead of putting your efforts behind aesthetics, I would encourage you to look at your wellness from a holistic perspective, with special attention to your mental health. How could you give yourself more space to heal old emotional wounds and learn new ways to manage your symptoms? How could you go through 2019 with more self-love? What are some things you could do for your health that have nothing to do with what you look like to the outside world? Reflect on these questions while writing your resolutions.

I hope that these tips help you with these common obstacles to sticking with your resolutions. Regardless of what you accomplished last year, I hope that you will give yourself credit for getting through 2018 and facing all the challenges that were thrown your way. Here’s to a great 2019!

XOXO,
Ginzo

Portrait of a Depressed Woman

I wade through the topography of my depression, empty wrappers and clothes and dishes thrown about with little care. It feels almost too appropriate that this is the state of my bedroom because it is such a direct reflection of my mind. My room being in a state of complete disarray usually points to one thing: I’m depressed.

Depression seems to creep in at moments that feel unexpected at the time, but in hindsight, make total sense. After all, there was that two-week period where I was eating like crap, or when I got too drunk too often and threw my brain chemistry off, or when I skipped a few workouts. There is the threat of nuclear war and white supremacists marching in the streets and the ever-looming feeling of impending doom to consider. Plus, I am 27 and single and okay with it, but is it okay that I am okay with it? And am I really okay with it, or am I just telling myself that I am okay with it so I don’t have to deal with my true feelings? Time passes and life gets more complicated and sad as I get older, and I am only in my twenties; I have yet to experience so much heartbreak and loss and trauma. I only have so much time on this planet and will never be able to read all the books I want to read or hear all the music that I want to hear or go all the places I want to go or experience everything I want to experience. I have so many regrets that I just have to live with because time travel isn’t a thing yet (get on it, science). And I said this horribly awkward thing and I cannot stop obsessing about it. I am not perfect, and this is feeling more and more unforgivable as my desperation to hide all my faults heightens.

I can usually trace my depression back to one or more of these factors soon after my symptoms begin. After all, I have more than a decade of experience with depression; these themes have come up enough times by now that I can look back and reflect with more knowledge than ever before. As I grow older, my depression comes back again and again, and in a way, it feels like an old friend now. While it gets easier to determine the source and prevent major episodes, depression is inevitable sometimes, and these periods have never gotten easier to weather.

Often, it feels like I am battling my own mind. For a while, I’ll feel just fine. I will be happy with my life, making healthy choices, and feeling great. I might hear murmurs from my anxiety (another old friend who is in a codependent relationship with my depression), but when I’m doing well, I can shut anxious thoughts down pretty fast. The problem is that life is unpredictable. I have a degree of control over my symptoms; they tend to get worse if I am not taking good care of my physical health, for example. But other times, rejection or loss or fear come crashing into my life, and there is little I can do to stop depression from consuming me.

When I am depressed, it feels like a shameful secret I need to hide. It feels like no one will understand, even though 350 million people can relate, including several close friends. I get so scared that if I do reach out and open up, they will say the wrong thing or I will disappoint them. I feel so sensitive and fear disappointing people so much, I pretend that everything is fine. I spend more of my time inside my own brain, where the depression gets louder and more real. The horrible irony is that reaching out always helps; it makes the burden a little lighter because my friends and family actually want to share the load. The thoughts quiet because they are met with love, empathy, and validation. Suddenly, I can see how someone who loves me sees me, and I think, hey, maybe I am not so bad. But the depressed mind doesn’t want to get better so it shit-talks this option and fills the empty parts of me with shame to encourage my isolation.

I hate my depressed self. She’s bitter and boring. She is oversensitive and easily offended. She’s angry and irritable and has a short fuse. And she will not stop telling me to kill myself. Before I knew that I was experiencing it myself, I thought suicidal ideation looked like a scene from an angsty teen drama featuring a character who struggles with mental illness for one episode cutting themselves with a straight razor because their dad is an alcoholic and their boyfriend cheated on them. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that just because my experience wasn’t like an episode of Degrassi, doesn’t mean it was normal or healthy.

In my experience, suicidal thoughts are more like my brain just decides to pipe up when I am trying to solve a problem with this helpful suggestion: why don’t you just kill yourself? OKAY THANKS, GREAT IDEA, BRAIN. NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT PLAN. It’s not often that these thoughts carry any real weight for me anymore because I have spent plenty of time thinking about how much I love my life and don’t want to die, but they get quite intrusive and annoying. Can’t you think of a better solution, brain? But no, my depressed self has very few ideas other than suicide and sleep. It feels like I have lived a thousand lives in one day, and I crawl into bed at 4:30 PM.

Right now, I’m the healthiest I have ever been in my life, but I live with a lifelong condition that means that sometimes, I am just not myself. I am learning how to care for this person who takes over my body occasionally. It’s attributed to several different people, but there is a quote that says, “People need love the most when they deserve it the least.” I may hate my depressed self, but I need to learn to love her. She is imperfect and irrational and mean, but she needs my love.

I climb through my room, stuffing the remnants of my dissipating depression into a trash bag. I do six loads of laundry, hanging my multitude of dresses in my closet with care. I make my bed, enjoying how neat it looks when I am not lying in its rumpled covers. I vacuum, wipe the dust away, and organize my shelves as the cat anxiously looks on. When I am done, I observe my accomplishment and deeply exhale. It looks and feels like control, and I can see the other side.

Mindfulness Matters: Tips for Living in the Present

“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” Sylvia Boorstein

Sometimes, my brain feels like it’s not my own. I try to control the thoughts that come racing in when I wake up, but they bounce around with little regard for where I want them to go. Not now, I’ll tell them, but it falls on deaf ears. When this happens, I try not to let my thoughts carry me away with them. I may meditate, or I may just take a moment to take in where I am, noticing how it feels to be supported by the earth, and what sounds, smells, and colors I can see. Does it always work? No; sometimes, the thoughts still win. But the more I practice this skill, the better I become at being present in the moment. Mindfulness is a powerful psychological tool that can help you accept, study, and let go of the worries, fears, struggles, and persistent thoughts that cloud your mind, allowing you to feel lighter and more alive.

The best way to become more mindful is to practice meditation. However, even simply living more mindfully has its benefits. On my journey to become a more mindful person, I have found keeping certain things in mind has helped me make progress towards my goal.

Practice, Practice, Practice

One meditation session does not make you mindful. Mindfulness is like any type of exercise; with practice, you will improve. If you don’t practice, don’t be surprised when the worries that consumed you before come pouring back, filling your mind like static. You can practice mindfulness through daily meditation, or simply by going through your day in an aware manner. Try fully focusing on the task at hand, whether you are doing the dishes, walking home, writing a paper, or doing nothing at all. The practice of focusing on the present allows you to better ground yourself during those moments of crisis when you need it, as well as more fully experience the joys of life.

Accept Yourself

No one sits through a meditation session with a completely clear mind. Whatever creeps into your consciousness, whether you are thinking about what you will be eating later or contemplating your loneliness in the world, is normal and natural. A big part of meditation is accepting yourself without judgment. Don’t beat yourself up when you find yourself drifting away from the present moment; simply observe that these thoughts are coming to you, and let them go. For me, I will sometimes visualize my mind as a blank white canvas. Thoughts come in like splashes of watercolor, trying to draw my attention back to them, but I simply acknowledge them then slowly brush them away. Fighting with your thoughts only gives them more power; allow yourself to acknowledge that you have drifted away, then return to your breath and this moment in time.

Make it a Priority

Like any goal, you are only going to become more mindful if you prioritize it. You might finish this article, feel motivated to meditate for five minutes, then promptly forget your newfound commitment to living presently. You don’t have to be perfect, but practicing mindfulness on a daily basis is the only way to become more mindful. Whether you start your day with a fifteen-minute meditation or you simply take the time to check in with yourself and the present moment several times throughout the day, the more time you put towards this goal, the simpler it will be to access that presence of mind at any moment.

Make Room for Intention

These days, it easier to overschedule than ever. There are so many different things that demand your attention, your days may be filled to the brim with appointments, errands, chores, work obligations, and social engagements. You can keep busy for your entire life and never take a moment of self-reflection, and many people do, to the detriment of their mental and physical health. Avoid this by making sure to schedule more time than you really need in between your obligations to give yourself the ability to go about your life with more intention.

Listen Actively

Raise your hand if you have ever had this experience: you are having a conversation with someone and you find yourself so wrapped up in how you are about to respond, you have no idea what they just said. Mindfulness benefits not only your own health, but your relationships with others. When you bring mindfulness into your interactions with people, you can expect them to feel much more positively about you. When you are truly present with another person, you listen to exactly what they are saying instead of just waiting to speak. Focus on being with this person at this very moment, and experience more profound mindfulness.

Savor Every Moment

“We have only now, only this single eternal moment opening and unfolding before us, day and night.” Jack Kornfield

The only thing we are guaranteed is this present moment, so savor it while you have it. Instead of allowing your mind to be preoccupied by your mistakes from the past or worries of the future, take a moment to feel the joy of what is happening right now. Breathe in the scents that surround you, feel the warmth of your clothes against your skin, and appreciate the feeling of having someone who loves you looking at your face like you are something to be seen. When you feel joy, close your eyes and feel everything this moment has brought you.

I hope these mindfulness tips help you live more presently in your everyday life. It can be difficult to stay in the moment, but you don’t have to wait to start being mindful; in fact, the best time is right now.

How to Find a Therapist

Finding a therapist sucks. Whether you have a mental illness, suspect that you do, or are just having a difficult time and need someone to talk to, a therapist is a powerful tool for healing and problem-solving. Yet when you’re going through hell, taking the time to find a therapist can be exhausting. However, the right therapist can completely change your life, so it is worth it to put effort into the search, even when it seems completely daunting. To make it a little easier for you, I have broken down the process to give you a jumping off point.

Understand the Labels

First of all, there are a couple of different types of therapists that you can see, so it is a good idea to know what they are to see which one is best for you.

Psychiatrist

Psychiatrists are doctors who specialize in mental health. They are licensed to prescribe medication and also provide psychotherapy. Psychiatrists are a great option if you are struggling with severe mental health symptoms that may benefit from medication. Psychiatrist’s sessions do tend to be more expensive, so if you don’t think medication is right for you and are really just looking for therapy, a psychiatrist may not be necessary.

Psychologist

Psychologists have doctoral degrees in psychology and are licensed to provide psychotherapy and psychological testing. While they can’t prescribe medication, they can diagnose you with mental health conditions, and refer you to a psychiatrist if need be. They generally offer cognitive behavior therapy, which helps address your mental health goals by helping you change thought and/or behavioral patterns that are harmful.

Social Worker

You can find a social worker either in a healthcare or social services setting, or some provide private counseling in their own office. They are trained to provide empathetic counseling to help people improve their mental health by addressing interpersonal problems, like family or relationship issues. Social workers are great mediators who may be able to help you if you want couples or family counseling, but they can also counsel one-on-one.

Licensed Counselor

A licensed counselor has at least a master’s degree in counseling and a license from the state in which they practice to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and emotional problems. They can provide help for a whole range of issues, and a session is often more affordable than one with a psychiatrist or psychologist because they don’t require as much higher education to practice.

Keep in mind that having more education, a higher certification, or more years of experience does not necessarily mean that one therapist is better than the other. A newly licensed therapist who has a good grasp on your problem and who jives well with you could help you much more than a psychiatrist with 25 years of experience who you can’t seem to connect with. Keep an open mind to different types of therapists in your search.

Explore Your Options

One way to start looking for therapists is through your health insurance. Many companies will have a provider list on their website that allows you to search for specialists who are covered by your policy. You can also ask your doctor for a referral, or see if your friends or family know of anyone. Another great resource is Psychology Today, where therapists can put up profiles so you can see what they specialize in, get a general idea of their counseling style, and if they take your insurance. The American Psychological Association (APA) also has a similar type of search function on their site as well.

Think About What is Important to You

Once you have a few options, consider what you need in a therapist. There are the more obvious things, such as being nonjudgmental and empathetic, but also think about little logistical things that will influence how much you get out of therapy. For example, consider the location of any potential therapist; is that somewhere you are going to be able to get to on a regular basis? That one counselor who is an hour away may seem like a great personality fit, but if there is a different therapist who is located within five miles of your home who could help you too, you will be more likely to make the trek each week. Additionally, consider what they specialize in and whether their background seems like they would be able to help with your specific needs. You should also think about whether or not you would feel more comfortable opening up to a therapist of a certain gender. Keep an open mind because you may be surprised who can help you, but be honest with yourself about what you really want out of therapy and who can provide it.

Ask Questions

The next step will be to call up your remaining options and see if they are taking new clients. If they are, see if they provide a free consultation session (this is pretty common). Don’t be afraid to schedule these sessions with several therapists to help you figure out which is the best fit. Whether you get in front of them for these questions or they happen over the phone, here are a couple of things you may want to ask:

  • Do you take my insurance? Even if you found this therapist through your health insurance, that information could be outdated, so it is always a good idea to double-check with the therapist.
  • Do you do regular appointments or is scheduling more flexible?
  • What do you specialize in? Even if you saw their list of specialities online, hearing them tell you gives you a better idea of what they truly have a strong background in.
  • What is your approach to therapy?
  • What happens if I have to miss or am late to a session?
  • What do we do during a session? Do I have to do things between sessions like homework?
  • Do you do phone sessions?
  • Do you think you can help me with my problem?

Give it a Try

You might leave your first therapy session feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed. Starting a new relationship with a therapist can be daunting, and the experience of talking about your deepest feelings for an hour can be really disorienting if you’re not used to it. Don’t let this dissuade you from going back. The benefits of therapy happen over time as you grow your relationship and unpack more of your issues. It may only take few sessions, or you may form a long-term relationship with this therapist, but if you give therapy your best try, you may find that you find relief from whatever is troubling you, or at least, some perspective on it.

I hope these tips help you find a therapist who can truly help you. Godspeed in your search!

XOXO,
Ginzo

I Think I’m Depressed. What Do I Do About It?

Hi Ginzo,

I think I’m maybe depressed. I like my life a lot: I have a great job, a great relationship, a great family, but I feel empty about it all recently. Sometimes I just don’t feel as lucky as I really am. I just feel sort of numb to it all. Sometimes I feel happy or just okay but most of the time I don’t feel anything or I feel vaguely sad. Nothing in particular happened to make me feel this way but for the last few weeks I just don’t really feel like myself, sort of like I am a shell most of the time. Writing this down makes me feel more and more like it is depression. So I guess what I am really asking is what do I do about it?

Probably Depressed

Dear Probably Depressed,

I am so sorry you are feeling this way. I hate that empty feeling. It’s almost worse than the sadness or the anger because it just feels like nothing can move you either way. That numbness can feel so paralyzing.

I am not a doctor and even if I was, I couldn’t diagnose you from a letter, but I will say that as a person with depression, I can relate to the symptoms you’re describing. It doesn’t matter if everything in my life is going wonderfully; if I don’t have enough serotonin and dopamine in my brain, a depressive episode is inevitable. This is one way I like to look at it that helps me; from a more clinical perspective. Maybe it is from my psychology degree, but breaking down my mental illness into a more removed, scientific explanation makes me feel better. It’s not that I am this horrible person who doesn’t deserve to feel happiness; it’s that my brain chemistry is a little wonky and I need to do what I can to rebalance it.

Depression has a way of telling you that you are stupid or wrong or weird for feeling the way that you do. You are not. And it’s okay if you can’t believe that right now, or if you don’t have it in you to do a single thing about it today, that’s okay. But if you feel capable of making some changes, here are some strategies I use when I am depressed.

Identify It

When you start to feel those feelings of numbness and sadness, it can help just to identify it. Knowing what you are feeling is the first step in changing it. Even if you can’t change it, identifying your emotions alone can be a good practice in emotional regulation. Every time you realize “I feel sad” or “I feel depressed” or “I feel numb,” you are gaining a greater understanding of your emotions, giving you the tools you need to better control them.

Talk to Someone

Honestly, this is the one I have the hardest time with. I am not one to be quick to reach out when I am depressed; it feels like an insurmountable task, and there is always that scary feeling of “What if they don’t respond the way I want them to?” While it’s true that even the most well-intentioned might not say what you wanted or needed to hear, it’s less about what they say and more about the act of saying it out loud. Talking about it makes it not a secret anymore. Both secrets and depression are big loads to carry by yourself. Give yourself a break from carrying such heaviness alone by leaning on someone for a moment, whether it’s a friend, family member, therapist, religious leader, or someone else you trust.

Do Something for Ten Minutes

This is a strategy I use even when I am not depressed, but am feeling unmotivated or lethargic and need to get something done. I commit to doing that something for ten minutes. I set a timer and if after ten minutes, I want to continue doing it, I can, but if I don’t want to, I can stop and do whatever I want. When you’re feeling numb, it can be hard to motivate yourself to do a damn thing, but letting your responsibilities pile up can be an anxiety nightmare that just makes things worse. If there is an obligation that is hanging over your head, whether it is writing a paper or cleaning your room, set a timer and give it ten minutes of your time. Even if you quit after ten minutes, at least you are ten minutes closer to finishing the task than you were before.

Write it Down

Awesome news: the fact that you feel like writing this letter made you think you might be depressed means that you would be a kickass journaler. If this is not something you already do, buy yourself a cool notebook to write in and try writing down your thoughts before you go to sleep at night or first thing when you wake up in the morning or really whenever, as long as you keep up with it. Journaling not only lets us process our feelings, as an added bonus, it gives us a log of all of our feels that we can then go back over to look for patterns. This can be a great way to figure out times when you are particularly vulnerable to feeling that numb or sad feeling.

Find Your Form of Meditation

Meditation is a really powerful tool for dealing with depression because it brings you back to the present moment. Instead of focusing on the intrusive negative thoughts or numbness you feel, you are aware of your breath or the way your skin feels or a certain sound. Some people find it impossible to sit still for just meditating (myself included) so they have to find other ways to recreate this same effect. Yoga has been really helpful for me because of its mind/body connection. By focusing on what I am doing with my body, I must stay present. Pretty much anything that calms you that you focus on entirely in the moment can help with this, though. For example, I like to deep clean my kitchen as another form of meditation. It makes me feel productive and in control while allowing me to kind of switch off my brain. You could also knit, color, draw, run, bike, cook a delicious meal, or any other activity that encourages mindfulness.

Seek Treatment

There are a lot of reasons why people avoid seeking professional help, and as someone who has avoided it in the past, I can understand it. That being said, going to therapy has been incredibly helpful in treating my depression, and I really believe it is something that everyone should experience at least once. Other people find medication way more helpful in managing their mental health. Regardless of your preferred treatment method, consider seeking professional help for the way you are feeling. A helpful tool for finding therapists is Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist search. Your health insurance should also have a database available online of therapists and psychiatrists that are covered by your plan.

I hope that you find a way to ease the numbness and sadness, or at least manage it in a way that it doesn’t intrude on your joy. Know that you are not alone, and even when it doesn’t feel like it, there is hope. Sending you solidarity and good vibes.

XOXO,
Ginzo