Your Anxiety Toolkit - Anxiety & OCD Strategies for Everyday

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Now displaying: September, 2023
Sep 29, 2023

Perfectionism anxiety almost destroyed my life. If you are someone who suffers from perfectionism, you know exactly what it’s like to be stuck in the perfectionistic trap. It’s hell, quite frankly. We’re here today to talk about how to overcome perfectionism and how to create a life where you can still succeed. You can still do the things you want just without being constantly anxious and depressed and never feeling like you’re enough. 

Hello, my name is Kimberley Quinlan. I’m a marriage and family therapist. I’m an anxiety specialist, and I personally have walked the walk of perfectionism and have had to overcome it as it was starting to severely impact my life. I am so excited to be here with you today to talk all about perfectionism and perfectionism anxiety. 

Now I am 15 years recovered from an eating disorder. I was personally completely overwhelmed with perfectionism anxiety, and I was in a perfectionism trap. So, let’s talk about it.

First, let me give you a little bit of a personal update or a background. When I went off to college, I was really naive. I was wise and smart, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had lived at home with my family on a rural farm, on a ranch, if you live in America, for my entire life. And then I went off to what was considered the big city for college, and I felt like I had to be perfect. 

I had this belief as soon as I left my family that if I could be perfect, I would be safe. I would be emotionally safe. I would be physically safe, and as long as I could keep everything perfect, nothing bad would happen. 

I also believe that if I could be perfect, people would not abandon me, disprove of me, or judge me. And so, I went out of my way to make sure everything was as perfect as I could make it, even though I understood that I wasn’t perfect. I was on a mission to try and get to the top of that hill and stay at the top of that hill. It was a protective measure, a safety behavior I engaged in to manage the anxiety and overwhelm I felt going off to college. 

I also believe that if I could stay perfect, it would protect me from really uncomfortable emotions like shame and guilt, and it would help me feel like I’m in control. I would try to give myself a false sense of control in a world where I felt very out of control.


Now, a big part of this was me understanding what we call the ‘perfectionism trap.’ The perfectionism trap is, yes, when you start perfecting yourself and perfecting your life, you start to get praised from people around you. You start to get rewarded for your perfectionistic behaviors. My grades started to improve because I was being perfectionistic. My bosses gave me extra shifts because I was so good at my job. 

But the problem with that is, as I was getting better and trying to perfect everything in my life and please all of the people, I started to feel overwhelmed with all that I had taken on. In addition to that, once I had gotten to this ‘perfect place,’ which again, I totally understood that I wasn’t perfect, but as I started to climb that mountain and get to the peak and start to have the relief of anxiety that I made it, I’m at the top, I’m doing really well, then I started to have the influx of anxiety. “What if I can’t maintain this? What happens if I make a mistake and fall off this perfectionism mountain that I have climbed?” And then I was constantly anxious and constantly feeling hopeless about the fact that I can’t maintain staying at this high level for as long as I was. 

This is the perfectionistic trap. The more you try to become perfect, the more pressure, stress, and anxiety you feel. The more hopeless you feel about being able to maintain that, the more depressed you feel that you’re stuck in this cycle, and all of a sudden, nothing is worth it. Often, people completely fall down. They can’t go on in this way. They burn out, they get sick, which happened to me, or they become so paralyzed with anxiety that they have to avoid things and start telling little white lies just to get through the day because they’ve built up this idea of being perfect on the people around them.

If you’re experiencing this, you’re not alone. Please do not feel bad about this. This is a common experience, particularly if you’re someone who’s set up for anxiety. 


Let’s go through some additional perfectionism anxiety symptoms or signs. The first one is, people with perfectionism have a severe fear of failure. They’re overwhelmed by the idea that they might mess up, they might make a mistake, and when they do make a mistake, they see it as a failure. Not a blip on the road, not a challenge that they will learn from, but it’s that they are a failure, that their mistake and their failure mean that that person is. In fact, their identity is a failure, and that can be incredibly emotionally painful.

Another perfectionism anxiety symptom is shame and vulnerability. There is so much shame around making mistakes or being seen as vulnerable, weak, not perfect, or not keeping up with the Joneses. And that can be so emotionally painful that that’s what propels them into continuing perfectionistic behaviors, pushing themselves harder than they can maintain, putting them or raising their hands in situations that they really honestly shouldn’t be saying yes to. They don’t even have the capacity for what they’ve already signed up for. You may know the quote that says, “If you want something done, find the busiest person.” That’s commonly the perfectionist because they’re the ones who can get jobs done and they’re willing to put their own mental and physical wellness aside to get the job done.

Another sign of perfectionism often shows up at work. When you have perfectionism anxiety, work can become very frustrating or depressing, and this is often, again, because of the expectations you’ve put on yourself. You associate work with being an incredibly stressful environment because, as you walk into work, you’re bringing in these expectations. You’re bringing this goal of being perfect and not making mistakes. And that can create an incredible amount of anxiety and distress. 

It also creates, as I said, a lot of depression, hopelessness, or helplessness because often people with perfectionism are suffering in silence. They don’t feel like they can share with other people how much they’re suffering or how they’re succeeding. They make it look maybe even so easy, but underneath they’re really struggling, and they don’t want people to find out. They feel like that would be letting other people in on the lie that you’re actually not the person that you’re perceived to be.

Another really important sign is this ongoing fear or belief that I’ll never be good enough. This deep-down belief that you don’t have the worth of just being who you are, that you have to show up being more and more and more in order to be respected, to be loved, to be accepted by people. And that can be incredibly stressful.


A big overlap is between perfectionism and procrastination. Again, as I said, when you raise the bar so high, often the only thing that people can do is to avoid the thing because they’re overwhelmed at the prospect of making a mistake. They’re overwhelmed by the expectations they’ve put for themselves. They go into a freeze mode where they can’t even move forward. It’s too overwhelming. Their nervous system is shutting down. They’re having an increased heart rate, tightness in their chest, nausea, stomach issues, muscle aches, headaches, and migraines. And so, because of that, they just procrastinate and keep pushing, pushing, pushing the deadline away.

Often, when I see someone, they have been told they’re not perfectionistic because they’ve procrastinated and avoided so long. A professional or a doctor has said no, that you can’t be perfectionistic because you’re not getting anything done. But often, those who are avoiding are more perfectionistic than the people who they know are succeeding. It’s the heavy layer of expectation that causes them to stall and avoid moving forward in any way. 

Now, when you suffer from perfectionist anxiety, relationships can also become really strained. Really common imperfectionism is people pleasing, or the fear that you have let people down. You spend a lot of time worrying about what they think of you. In addition to that, it’s not just worrying about what they think of you. Often, people with perfectionism become highly judgmental of their loved ones, their friends, their children, or their partner. They may also become easily annoyed when other people can’t maintain that perfectionism.

Often in relationships, if there’s a person with perfectionism and their partner is struggling, the person with perfectionism gets quite frustrated because, in their mind, they’re like, “Just be perfect. Get it fixed. Fix it. I’m doing all the perfectionistic behaviors; why can’t you?” And that can cause an incredible amount of strain on the relationship.

They also might experience a degree of anger, frustration, and irritability. And that’s not because they’re horrible people; it’s because they’ve raised the bar and the expectations so high to be perfect that even if their loved ones are struggling by association, they feel like that’s jeopardizing their perfectionism. And this is a really common thing that comes into couples counseling. Once they get there, the relationship has been so strained without identifying that perfectionism could be a massive driver behind their relationship issues. 


Now there is something to note here. There is no such thing as a perfectionism anxiety disorder. A lot of people are searching for those terms to see if this is, in fact, a disorder. But there are common disorders such as eating disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, and OCD that do co-occur with perfectionism. 


Now, there are specific types of OCD, one of them being perfectionism OCD. That is a specific subtype of OCD where the underlying force towards the compulsion is perfectionism, and it’s often coming from a place of anxiety and uncertainty. Usually, people with perfectionism OCD, they’re not doing their compulsions or safety behaviors from a place of wanting to; they usually feel like they can’t stop doing them. They feel like they’re stuck in a loop of doing these behaviors even though they don’t want to. This is very common alongside other subtypes, like just right OCD, symmetry OCD, and moral and religious OCD as well. 


Now, often people do ask. Let’s weigh it out. Perfectionism versus perfectionism OCD, how do we know the difference? Well, a thing to remember here is that often perfectionism is what we call ‘ego-syntonic,’ meaning it’s in line with their values. They want to be perfect. It’s a driving force to be perfect. It actually reduces their discomfort by moving in that direction. 

For those with perfectionism OCD, it’s actually ego-dystonic, which means they don’t want this obsession. It’s intrusive. It’s repetitive. They really don’t believe in the point of perfectionism, but they feel compelled to engage in this behavior, and they feel like they can’t stop engaging in this behavior. 

Now I want to really slow down here because that’s not always true for everybody. I’ve often seen where clients will have a combination of the two, or maybe on a spectrum, they might be closer to the perfectionism OCD end, but they do still have some ego syntonic perfectionism that’s showing up. So, I want to make sure that if you are having these perfectionism symptoms, go to a mental health professional so you can work out specifically what’s true for you.

So that’s an important point to make here. Please don’t misdiagnose yourself here. This perfectionism can also show up in PTSD. It can show up in depression. It can show up in other disorders as well. I want us to use this as information, but please do not use this as a way to diagnose yourself.


Now if you do have perfectionism OCD, there is a specific OCD treatment that is helpful for that. For those of you with perfectionism, I’m actually going to go through that right here in a second. But first, let’s just address that OCD treatment usually will involve a type of cognitive behavioral therapy called ERP (exposure and response prevention). 

Now, in this case, we actually expose you to being imperfect on purpose. We have you practice reducing your safety behaviors and compulsions around perfectionism so that you can practice riding the wave of discomfort, uncertainty, or anxiety, and learn that by riding that wave, you can actually tolerate that discomfort and move on without engaging in behaviors that make your life more stressful. It often involves saying no. It often involves slowing down. It often involves, again, being imperfect on purpose. 


But now let’s move over to how you can stop being a perfectionist and how you can overcome perfectionism if that is in fact what you’re dealing with. 

I again want to share with you, I get how painful this is. I worked through this for close to a decade, and I still see it come up. I still see it show up in my life where I have to catch it. It shows up in a way that’s sneaky and it feels, in my experience, as it’s a powerful feeling when you’re engaging in perfectionism, but I also notice that when I’m starting to feel really burnt out and really overwhelmed and my anxiety and depression are going up, it’s usually because I’ve allowed that sneaky perfectionism to get into my life more than I would’ve wanted to.


So when we’re talking about overcoming perfectionism, here are a few things that were really helpful for me. 

  1. Identify how perfectionism keeps you trapped
    Number one is, identify the ways that perfectionism is keeping me trapped. For me, when I had an eating disorder and a lot of perfectionism, I actually had to do a deep study on how it was impacting my life because, as my therapist was trying to get me to change these behaviors, I was showing up with a lot of restriction and a lot of resistance. I did not want to stop. I said to her, “I’m not ready to get rid of these behaviors. They keep me safe. They keep me feeling like I’m in control. I don’t want to feel out of control. I don’t want to feel imperfect. I don’t want to feel shame. I don’t want to feel vulnerable. I don’t want to take these behaviors away.” But as I looked at how they were impacting my life, I then started to realize how they’re actually keeping me trapped and holding me back. 
  2. Explore how society encourages perfectionism
    The second piece was, I had to then do a deep exploration and look at how society had encouraged me to maintain my perfectionism. I had people all around me cheering me on. “Good job. Keep going.” “You’re so thin. Look at you thrive.” “You’re so successful. I can’t believe how you do it.” “I’m so impressed. You inspire me.” I was constantly fed reinforcement. That kept me trapped in perfectionism and made me want to stay in perfectionism, but kept me anxious, kept me feeling like I was a complete fraud, kept me feeling like I was an imposter who, if anyone would ever find out that I’m actually this imperfect, terrible, hopeless human being with no worth, I couldn’t bear the idea of that, And so, I really had to look at how society had fed me into this system as a woman, but also as a human being and as a young person, how this had kept me stuck, and how it was going to keep keeping me stuck if I didn’t start to change some things. 
  3. Determine how YOU want to live your life
    Now, the next thing I had to do is really look and determine how I wanted to live my life, and that was really influenced by my personal values. What was important to me? Is my uncle’s opinion of me or my coworker’s opinion of me more important than my own opinion of me? I used to first say yes, but with practice and really looking at it, I started to realize I’m going to die with everyone thinking I was perfect and I’m going to die miserable. I wouldn’t have done the things I wanted to do. I was living a life based on what other people thought of me and living a life basically hiding from all of my feelings, which brings me to the next big, big, big point of my recovery. 
  4. Learn to feel your feelings
    If I could say one thing was the most important in my recovery, it would be this: I had to learn how to feel my feelings, and I had to be willing to ride out some really uncomfortable feelings that I had about myself. I had to write out shame and still do. I had to write out feelings of being worthless, and still do. They still show up, and when they do, I instinctually go to run away from them, and then I have to slow myself down and say, “Kimberley, just stay. Be here with it. Running from this emotion, patching it up, or making it look pretty is only going to keep you trapped and create a life where you’re more and more and more anxious.” 
  5. Develop a self-compassion practice
    I also had to develop a very strong self-compassion practice, but that actually came last for me. I’m really doing my best with my patients and with you here today to have that be a beginning part of your recovery. But for me, I refused it. I hated the idea, and I didn’t want to do it. I felt it was weak, and I actually thought it would override my perfectionism and make me into some kind of weak loser who can’t control their life, and all these words, like, I’ll be a failure, I won’t be successful, it’ll make me lazy. I had a whole belief about what self-compassion would do to me. But with time, I did start to see the benefit of it. And again, it’s something I still have to work on. 
  6. Understand that this is a life-long process of recovery
    I had to also recognize that this was a lifelong practice. I do remember, and I will share a story with you, that early in my perfectionism treatment, I actually stopped treatment. I told them, “I’m fine. I’m doing great. I don’t need you anymore,” and off I went. A part of that was me, because I think I was really afraid to do the next level of work, but I think another part of me truly thought that that was all it took. But then, as I struggled with different stresses in my life, or as it continued to show up in my relationships and at my work, I realized this is a lifelong practice. This is something I’m going to need to practice for some time. 


Now, before I finish up with you, I want to share with you some beliefs that I had to adopt to help me overcome perfectionism, and I had to remember these every step of the way. Now, I was really lucky I had a therapist who would reinforce this with me every single week, but maybe you don’t. And so, I wanted to just be here to share them with you, just in case they’re helpful with you managing your own perfectionism. So, here they are. 


The first belief I had to adopt is, it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s human to make mistakes. I also had to reframe what a mistake meant. As I said before, a mistake didn’t make me a failure anymore. Instead, a mistake was data to help me learn and challenge this problem I was having. And now I’ve done my best. I’ve even done episodes on Your Anxiety Toolkit, talking about how I went out and purposely made mistakes a hundred times in less than a year because I still realized I had to challenge this idea that getting a no, getting rejected, or making a mistake is a problem.


Another thing I had to adopt is, it’s okay if people do not understand me or like me, and this one still breaks my heart. I’m not going to lie, it’s still really, really hard for me. But it is important to recognize that most of the time, you can be imperfect, and people will still make space for you. It is okay to not be perfect.

In fact, I have learned the more perfect I tried to be, the more disconnected I was with people. The more perfect I tried to be, the more I sabotaged relationships. I made other people feel judged and uncomfortable. I made it feel unsafe for them to be imperfect, therefore impacting our ability to be vulnerable and in deep connection with each other.


So by being imperfect, I actually learned that the real relationships started to show up, that I could be vulnerable, and then they would be vulnerable. And I would feel seen, and they would feel seen. And then I would feel worthy and they would feel worthy. And it healed itself in that respect through the relationships, through showing up imperfectly in relationships and letting them see that I’m actually struggling. I’m actually really having a hard time. 

I remember talking to my therapist and saying, “Nobody would know.” Nobody would know that I’m having such a hard time. But when I actually started sharing, other people started sharing, and I realized that I didn’t have to be perfect because nobody was getting through this life without going through their own struggles and challenges.


Another really important thing I had to adopt is that my worth is not related to my output. And this is one I still have to remind myself that I do not deserve self-care and kindness just because I kicked butt at work today. That I’m allowed to have compassion, self-care, and pleasure, whether I was successful, made money, or achieved the things on my to-do list. That I’m always deserving of self-care and pleasure. That that is something innate inside of me and that I can use at any time if my body needs it.


And then the last thing I had to adopt was truly listen to your body. Stop pushing through discomfort in a way where you know that you’re pushing your body too hard or too fast. I would say yes to everything, even if my body was exhausted. I had to learn to listen to my body and listen to when my body was gently nudging me, saying, “Stop. I’m tired. I need to rest.” That is still something I’m working on and something that I’ll always have to be working on as I age and as my limitations change as well.

So that’s the things I want you to adopt to help you overcome depression. Now, you may have some other things that you need to adopt as well, and that’s okay. I want you to make this as personalized as possible. But I do hope that this, number one, validated you and your perfectionism anxiety. I hope that it informed you of ways that it shows up for people. And third, I hope it gives you some inspiration that you too can overcome perfectionism anxiety and depression, and hopefully go on to live a very fulfilling life. 

Have a wonderful day, everybody, and always remember it is a beautiful day to do hard things.

Sep 22, 2023

What if I never get better? This is a common and distressing fear that many people worry about. It can feel very depressing, it can be incredibly anxiety-provoking, and most of all, it can make you feel so alone. Today, I’m going to address the fear, “What if I never get better?” and share tools and strategies to stay hopeful and focused on your recovery.

If you have the fear, “What if I never get better?” I want you to settle in. This is exactly where you need to be. I want to break this episode down into two specific sections. So, when we are talking about “What if I never get better?” we’re going to talk about first the things I don’t have control over, and then the things we do have control over. That will determine the different strategies and tools we’re going to use.

Before we do that, though, let’s talk about first validating how hard it is to recover. Recovery is an incredibly scary process. It can feel defeating; it can feel, as I said, so incredibly lonely. When we’re thinking about recovery, we often compare it to other people’s recovery, and that’s probably what makes us think the most. Like, will I ever recover? Will I get to be like those people who have? Or if you see people who aren’t recovering, you might fear, “What if I don’t recover either?” even if you’re making amazing steps forward.

It can be an exhausting process that requires a lot of care, compassion, and thoughtful consideration. Most of all, recovery requires a great deal of hard work. Most people, by the time they come to me, are exhausted. They’ve given up. They don’t really feel like there’s any way forward. And I’m here to share with you that there absolutely is, and we’re going to talk about some strategies here today.

Now, that being said, while all of those things are true—that it is hard and distressing and can be defeating—I wholeheartedly believe that recovery is possible for everyone. But what’s important is that we define recovery depending on the person. I do not believe that there is a strict definition of recovery, mainly because everybody is different, everybody’s values are different, and everybody’s capacity is different. So we want to be realistic and compassionate, and we want to make sure our expectations are safe and caring as we move towards recovery.

Let’s talk about what that might look like. Again, it’s going to be different for every person. 

What if I never get better


If we’re talking about recovery for OCD, let’s say we’re going to be talking about what’s realistic. Again, what’s compassionate? So, if someone comes to me and says, “I want my goal of recovery to be never to have anxiety and never have intrusive thoughts ever again,” I’m going to say to them, “That sounds really painful and out of your control. Let’s actually work at controlling your reaction to them instead of trying to tell your brain not to have thoughts and not to have feelings, because we all know how that works. You’re going to have more of them, right?” But again, the degree in which you recover is entirely up to you.


Recovery for anxiety or generalized anxiety is going to be the same. I am probably going to use me as an example. I have generalized anxiety disorder—it doesn’t stop me from living my life as fully as I can. It’s still there, but I’m there to gently, compassionately respond to it and think about how I can respond to this effectively. I think I’m genetically set up to have anxiety, so my goal of recovery being like never having anxiety again is probably not kind; it’s probably not compassionate or realistic.


Recovery for depression—again, it’s going to look different for different people. Some people are going to have a complete reduction of depressive symptoms. Other people are going to have a waxing and waning, and I consider that to still be a part of recovery. It might be that your definition of recovery is, “As long as I’m functioning, I can take care of my kids, and I can go to work and do my hobbies.” If that’s your definition of recovery, great. Other people might say, “My definition of recovery is to make sure I get my teeth cleaned, go to the doctor once a year, and have an exercise schedule,” and whatever’s right to them.

Really, again, I want to be clear that you get to decide what recovery looks like for you. I’ve had people in the past say, “I’ve considered my recovery to be great. I’m not ready to take those next extra hard steps. I’m happy with where I am, and I’m actually going to work at really accepting where I’m at and living my life as fully as I can, whether these emotions or these feelings are here or not,” and I love that.


Recovery for hair pulling and skin picking—another disorder that we treat at our center in Calabasas, California—might be some reduction of those behaviors. For others, it might be complete elimination, but you get to decide.


I know that for me, the recovery of a chronic illness was not the absence of the chronic illness. It was getting in control of the things I knew I could control and then working at compassion, acceptance, care, support, and resources for what I could not control.

So I really want to emphasize here first that we want to be respectful. I want to be respectful of your definition of recovery before we talk about this fear specifically related to “what if I don’t recover.” Some people have the fear that they won’t recover, and that might be valid because they’ve put their expectations so high that the expectation in and of itself causes some anxiety.


So let’s talk about it first. We’re going to first talk about what I don’t have control over, and this is what we’re talking about here in regards to how I manage this fear. 

Now, the first thing to do when we’re talking about what we don’t have control over is, we don’t have control over the fact that we have this fear. Of course, this fear is coming up for you because you want to recover, you want to live your best life, and you deserve that. You deserve to have a life where you go on to succeed in whatever definition that means to you. But we can’t control the fact that your brain offers you the thought, “What if I don’t recover?” We don’t have control over that, so let’s try not to stop or suppress those thoughts. We know that with research, the more you try and suppress a thought, the more often you’re going to have it.

The other thing we don’t have control over, and I actually mentioned this before, is, we have to acknowledge our genetics and acknowledge that genetics does have a play in this. I’m never going to probably be someone who is anxiety-free. My brain comes up with some ridiculous things. My brain loves to catastrophize. My brain loves to find problems where there aren’t problems. That is my brain. As much as I can work at eliminating how I react to that, I’m probably not going to stop that entirely. So I’m going to accept that I don’t have control over my genetics, and that’s okay.

A quick note here too is, if you do have anxiety and it is a part of your genetic—DNA, your family team tends to have it—also catch your anger around that. You’re allowed to be angry; you’re allowed to be dissatisfied or have grief about that. But we also want to catch that as well. Again, we do have to just acknowledge that no one has control over their genetic makeup.

The third thing to remember here is that recovery is a series of valleys and peaks. That we do not have control over. Some people have extreme fear that they will never recover because they believe or were led to believe that recovery should be this very straightforward recovery process where you go from A to B, there’s no peaks and valleys, and it’s all straightforward from there. We do have to accept that it is normal. Recovery will always have peaks and valleys. It will always have highs and lows. And that actually doesn’t mean you are relapsing or anything bad is happening.

I actually say to my clients a lot of the time, and I often will demonstrate to them as I’ll say, “You’re in the messy middle. You’ve started recovery, so you’ve made that huge step. You’ve gone through that chapter where you’re learning and you’re ready for it, and you’ve educated yourself and you’re prepared. And now you’re starting to make some strides. You’re seeing where you’re doing well. We’re also seeing where there’s challenges. You’re in the messy middle, and this is where valleys and peaks, ups and downs are going to happen. Our job isn’t to beat you up when you’re in a valley or a low; our job is to stop and just inquire, nonjudgmentally, what’s going on? What can we learn from this? What could help me with this if I were to navigate this in the future?” 

This has been a huge piece of my work managing a chronic illness because I could wake up tomorrow and not be able to get out of bed, but today I feel like I’m full of energy and all good. It’s completely out of my control sometimes. On the days where I don’t feel like I can get out of bed, my job is to recognize that this is normal. This doesn’t mean it’s going to be forever. Can I be gentle with myself around this hard day and not catastrophize what that means?

So, there are the three things we can’t control. 


Now we’re going to move over to the things we can control. There are actually seven of these things, and we’re going to go through them, and they will inform the tools and strategies you are going to use when you’re handling the fear, “What if I don’t ever recover?”


Number one, something that we do have control over, is: how do I respond to this thought? Now, you must remember, the fear, “What if I don’t recover?” or “What if I never get better?” is actually just a thought. It’s not a fact. It’s not the truth. It’s a thought your brain is offering to you, and we want to thank it for that thought because your brain’s trying to help you along. It’s saying, “Just so you know, Kimberley, there is a small possibility that you won’t recover. What can we do about that?” But if you have that thought and you take it as a fact, like you won’t recover, or recovery is not in your future, and you respond to it that way, you’re going to probably respond in a way that increases anxiety, increases depression, increases hopelessness, and isn’t kind or effective.

So we want to first acknowledge, okay, in this present moment, maybe it’s Tuesday at 9:30 in the morning and I’m having the thought “what if I don’t recover,” knowing that on Tuesday at 9:40, I might be having different thoughts, which is again evidence that thoughts are not facts. They’re fleeting. They’re things that show up in our minds. We can decide whether to respond to them or not.

Now, what we want to do when we do have this thought is respond to it in a kind, compassionate way. For those of you who know me and have followed me for some time, I’m always talking about this idea of a kind coach. The kind coach would say, “Okay, I acknowledge that’s a thought. Okay. What do we need to do? Kimberley, you’ve got this. Keep going. Keep trying. You know you’ve done this valley and this peak before. What did you do in the past that was helpful? What did you do in the past that wasn’t helpful? Great, let’s do more of that.” The kind coach cheers you on. It’s there to encourage you. It’s there to remind you of your strengths. 


It’s not there to bring your challenges and use them against you, which brings us right to tip number two, which is, you have 100% control over how kind you are to yourself throughout the process.Actually, let me renege that maybe not a hundred percent because I know a lot of you are new to the practice of self-compassion, and sometimes we do it without even knowing. So let’s also be realistic about that as well. Forgive me. We can really work at changing how kind we are to ourselves when we have that thought.

Let’s say you’ve been through the wringer. It’s a very Australian frame or quote, but you’ve been through the wringer, which means you’ve been through a really tough time, and you’re thinking, “I only have evidence that things go bad or things get worse.” A kind coach, your compassionate voice, or your compassionate self—that compassionate part of you would be there to offer gentle, wise guidance on what you need to do for the long term to move you forward. Again, that compassionate voice will validate how hard it’s been. It will not invalidate you. It will say, “I understand it has been hard. I understand that this is really, really challenging.” It will also offer you kind, effective, wise ideas for what you could do in that moment.

Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is just acknowledge the thought and keep going. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to say, “No, brain,” or “No, anxiety,” or “No, I’m not buying into this today. Thank you very much for offering it to me, but you do not get to determine where I’m headed. I get to determine where I am headed.”

So, compassionate reactions aren’t just gentle. Sometimes they’re quite assertive and they’ll say, “No.” Sometimes they might even swear, like, “Bug off, anxiety. I’m not dealing with you today. You’re not going to tell me what to do. You can come along for the day’s ride. I know I can’t get rid of you. I know it’s out of my control to try and get rid of you, but you will not determine what I’m going to do today. You’ll not get to tell me that my life will be bad, or my life will be terrible or unsuccessful, or I won’t have recovery.” You get to stand up to fear in that way and let that then inform the actions you take from there.


The tip or tool number three is, also take a look at how much time you’re dedicating to recovery. I’ve had patients who’ve come to me really struggling with this fear that “what if I never recover?” We actually find that they’re not engaging enough in the recovery skills and tools throughout the day.

It’s sort of like going to the gym. If I went to the gym for an hour, once a week, yes, I would have some improvements, but to really maintain those improvements, I do need to be doing my homework, my stretches, my walks, and my weight training in a way that’s effective and not overdone throughout the week.

So a lot of you, if you’re struggling with this, be gentle around this question, because we don’t want to overdo it either. But we may want to check in and say, “Let’s be strategic here.” I know that in our online course—we have an online course called Time Management for Optimum Mental Health. It’s a course to help people schedule and manage their time so that they can prioritize mental health and other things they have to get done. There are other priorities, chores, and things they have to do. We often talk about, let’s put mental health first. Have you scheduled it in your day to do your homework if you’re doing ERP? Have you done that? Have you scheduled a time or an alarm to go off to remind you to sit and journal, do some self-compassion practice, or meditate?

For me, a big one from my mental health is an alarm to say, “It’s time to leave the house. You need to get outside.” I work from home. I’m often indoors with my patients. “It’s time for you to go outside.” That is important for your long-term mental health or your medical health. And so, it’s important that we are very strategic and effective about scheduling. I call it calendaring. We calendar recovery-focused behaviors. That is something you do have control over.

Again, you do not have control over the fact that the fear is here. You don’t have control over whether it will return tomorrow, but you do have control over your recovery and the steps you take, acknowledging that there will still be peaks and valleys. It will not be perfect. One thing I want to stress to you—and I shouldn’t laugh because it’s actually not funny; it’s actually very serious—is that so many people start recovery and get perfectionistic about it, which is often why they’re having the fear “what if I never recover,” because they’ve told themselves there is this one way that they are going to recover and that it again shouldn’t have peaks and valleys and it should be this way, and I shouldn’t be hijacked by any other things. But the truth is, life happens along the way. You might be cruising along with recovery for your specific struggle, and then all of a sudden, a life stressor happens, like COVID.

Here in LA, my husband works in the film industry. There’s a huge strike happening. It’s a huge stressor for a lot of families. It’s been going on for months. A lot of families. I have all kinds of stresses—financial, relationship, and scheduling struggles. Life does happen, and so we have to be gentle with ourselves on the times when our recovery isn’t going to the speed we would’ve liked because of the life hiccups that happen along the way that slow our progress. When that happens, we can gently encourage ourselves that we are doing the best we can. We’re going to be okay with the fact that it’s a little slower. We’re going to let ourselves have our emotions about the fact that it’s slower than we would’ve liked, and we’re going to gently just keep taking one step at a time in the direction you want to go in.


Now the fourth thing you want to remember here, and something that is in your control when it comes to the fear “What if I don’t recover?” or “What if I never get better?” is how willing am I to ride waves of discomfort? This question is key, you guys, and will determine a huge degree of how speedy your recovery is. Maybe it’s not even speedy. For some people, it’s speedy, but for others, it’s how deep the recovery process goes.

I know for me that I often will try to get things to move along nice and fast and on schedule and so forth, but I’ve really missed the true meaning, which is, have I actually learned how to be with myself when I’m uncomfortable? Have I actually slowed down and really had a degree of willingness to be with whatever discomfort it may be—tightness in my chest, racing thoughts, not in my throat, an upset stomach? Am I actually willing to allow that to be there AND still moving in the direction towards my long-term wellness?

Often, when discomfort comes up, we’re like, “I don’t want to feel this. I don’t want to have this experience.” And that’s often when we engage in behaviors that keep us stuck and keep us out of recovery, keep the disorder going. We know that when we engage in behaviors like compulsions, avoidances, and mental rumination, that often just keeps us stuck and keeps us cycling on the same anxiety and the same disorder.

The big question: How willing am I to ride this wave of discomfort? You may want to even put it on a scale of 1 to 10. You might say, “Out of 10, how willing am I to ride this wave? 10 being the most, 1 being not at all.” I always say to my patients, and I’ve said it here before, we want to be up around the 7s, 8s, 9s, and 10s. Even 7 is fine. It’s all fine, but we’re looking for 8s, 9s, and 10s here of how willing you are to really, truly just allow discomfort to be there and observe it as it’s there and not engage in it again, as if it were a fact.


Number five is, how accepting am I of the ups and downs? Now, we’ve talked about this, the peaks and the valleys. When you’re going through peaks and valleys, how accepting are you of that? Or when they happen, are you like, “No, this shouldn’t happen. I don’t like it. I don’t want it. It’s not fair”? I want to validate you. That response is normal and human, but we want to be careful not to stay there too long because when we’re there, we’re actually not moving forward. We’re then often so much more likely to beat ourselves up, put ourselves down, and compare ourselves to other people.

What we want to do is just gently accept. I understand. I validate that this is hard and that we may have taken a step back, and I do accept that. I take responsibility for that in the most compassionate way, and I’m still going to stand up and keep moving forward. It’s like that song. I may be aging myself here, but they say, “I get knocked down, but I get up again.” He talks about how nothing’s going to get him down. This is what recovery is. You get knocked down; you get up again. Maybe it should be your theme song—you get knocked down, you get up again; you get knocked down, you get up again. And that is so brave.

I celebrate any of my clients or any of my students when they say, “I got knocked down, but I got back up again.” That is so powerful. So courageous. So resilient. I just have all the words to say. I celebrate anybody who is willing to get knocked down and still get up again. So I hope that you can practice that for yourself. 


Number six is, how patient am I with this process? A lot of these are similar, I know, but patience is actually something I talk with clients about all the time. Often, particularly when they have the fear, “What if I never get better?” it’s often because they’re struggling to really connect with patience. They’re doing the actions. They’re engaging in their homework. They’re moving forward. The only thing that’s getting in the way is they’re losing patience with the process. 

This takes time, guys. Changing your brain takes time. It is a long-term process. Just like any muscle that you’re building, whether it be bicep curls, quadriceps, or your brain, it does take time. We do have to practice the mindfulness of being patient, steady, and slow, letting it be a process. I know, I hate it too. No one wants to be patient. It would be so much easier if it just happened fast, and you’re probably seeing other people where their successes happen faster than yours. But again, go back to: how willing am I to be uncomfortable? How accepting am I of my ups and downs? How can I be accepting of my own genetic makeup and the way that my brain responds? How patient can I be with myself in this process?


And then that brings us to tip number seven, which is, are you asking for help? Please, guys, as you navigate recovery and as you navigate the fear that you won’t recover, please do not hesitate to ask for help. Ask for support. Ask for resources. We have over 350 episodes here at Your Anxiety Toolkit. They’re there to support you, to cheer you on, and to celebrate your wins. There are therapists there who are there to help you and guide you. We have a practice in Calabasas, California, where we help people move towards their values as well. There are clinicians in your area. If you don’t live in California, we have a whole range of vaults of online courses, if you’re needing more resources or reminders. 

A lot of the people who take out online courses at actually have been through treatment, but taking a course helps remind them of the core concepts. “Ah, yes. I needed to remember that. I forgot about that.” It’s okay. The courses are there. You can watch them as many times as you want. They’re on demand. Again, you’ve got unlimited access. They’re there to encourage and support you and push you towards the same concepts of moving towards your definition of recovery. 

They’re the seven tips I want you to think about. We are here to encourage and support you as best as we can and give you those strategies and tools. But the big question again is, are you putting them into practice? Please don’t listen to this podcast and go on your way. The only right way that this podcast will truly help is if you put the skills, the tips, and the tools into practice.

I always say it’s a beautiful day to do hard things, and I really believe that. So I hope today has been helpful. We have really gone over what is in your control and what is not in your control. Please focus on the things that are in your control, and I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful day. I’ll see you next week.

Sep 8, 2023

[00:00:00] If social media causes anxiety, you will find this incredibly validated. Today, we are covering the nine reasons why social media causes anxiety and depression, and we will get specific about how you can overcome social media anxiety and depression. In a way that feels right to you, so let's go.

If you hear yourself saying, social media gives me anxiety, you are not alone. In fact, many people say it gives them such overwhelm and panic they just want to shut it down completely. That is a common experience, and I want to provide a balanced approach here today. So, let's first look at some social media stats.

When social media causes anxiety and depression

Research shows that people use an average of 6.6 social media networks monthly. When I heard that, I thought that couldn't be true, but I counted the ones that I use, and it is. I thought that was [00:01:00] very interesting. That sounds like an incredibly massive amount of social media networks.

But the average time spent on social media daily is two hours and 24 minutes, not weekly, daily. While 67% say they have a drop in self-esteem as they compare their lives to others they see on social media, 73% of people report. They also find solace and support in these platforms during tough times.

We all experienced that during COVID-19, and I know that as someone who lives in America but is Australian, social media has allowed me to be friends with people from high school & college; I get to be connected with my parents' friends. I have found it to be an incredibly beautiful process, but today, we're looking specifically at how social media impacts our mental health, particularly how it causes anxiety and depression. 

Now [00:02:00], we have some social media depression stats here as well. We do have research to show a link between social media use and depression. More than three hours on social media daily does increase your risk of mental health problems. 

This study was done specifically for teens, but I think as adults, we could all agree that's probably true as well. There are also some social media addiction statistics that we want to know. We know that 39% of social media users report being addicted to social media, meaning they want to get off but can't. Or, they experience adverse experiences and consequences when they're not using it in moments of distress and needing to regulate.

We may also look at some social media anxiety disorder statistics. Studies showed that around 32% of teenagers say social media increases their anxiety and hasn't had a [00:03:00] negative impact on people of their age. 

However, I found it interesting that only 9% believed it was the case for themselves, but they believed that for others.

Interesting statistic. 67% of adolescents report feeling worse about their own lives after using social media, and most teenagers say that social media has had neither a positive nor a negative effect on themselves. So, we are getting some mixed statistics here. The real point for you is to decide for yourself.

Is it helping me, or is it hindering my mental health? And if it is, let's discuss some skills we can use. So here we go. 


We have nine reasons social media causes anxiety. Now, to be clear, this needs to be scientifically backed. I did a review from people on Instagram. It's funny how it's a social media platform. Still, I did interview them and did a poll and also have a question box where they get to put [00:04:00] their specific reasons why some social media has impacted them negatively.

And here are the results. 


So, the number one reason social media causes anxiety is comparison. Social media comparison seems to be the biggest reason for increasing anxiety and depression, and I think it's important that we identify how social media comparison impacts us. Now, what I've found as a clinician and a marriage and family therapist in helping people with anxiety is how often social media reinforces untrue beliefs they have about themselves. Or, we could say negative beliefs that they had already. 


I'm not good enough. 

I'm not doing enough. 

I'm not happy enough. 

I'm not making enough money. 

I don't have enough followers. 

I'm not succeeding enough. 

And that constant, having it in your face of what they're doing and seeing their highlight reels makes us feel like we're not doing enough [00:05:00] and maybe bringing up the insecurities that we aren't enough. 

So, it's really important that we first use social media as an opportunity to take a look at those beliefs and those thoughts. What thoughts does social media bring up for you? Are the thoughts true? Are they helpful? Do they determine facts, or are they just feelings and thoughts you've had on a whim because of your anxiety? 

When we look at those thoughts, we can then determine whether we want to respond as if those thoughts are true. It's also important to recognize that people only post what I call their “A-roll.”

They don't post their B roll. They don't post their C roll. They only post the highlights. They post the things they're most excited about. They post the things they want you to think about. No one wants you to see their dirty socks, laundry, meltdowns [00:06:00], and relationship struggles. 

People are talking about that on social media, but even those people, we can't assume they're not showing us, you know, only the good stuff. It could be that they're also showing, you know, only the good stuff. 


Now, we can move on from there and look at the number two reason that social media causes anxiety and depression, and that is the fear of being judged by others.

The truth is that social media can cause social anxiety, which is the fear of being judged, humiliated, and shamed publicly. I'm going to really encourage you guys to use social media as an opportunity to practice letting people have their opinions of you. One thing I have learned.

Being on social media a lot and being a public figure in many, you know, this small area that I'm a public figure in is I've had to learn how to let people have [00:07:00] their opinions about me. I've had to give them permission not to like me. I've had to practice allowing the right in writing the wave of discomfort that I'm not for everyone.

The truth is, when we are on social media, we have to face the fear that our opinions may upset people.  People may say things about or critique us, which may impact how we feel about ourselves. I've been through a lot of therapy here, so I can speak about this a lot. I'm okay with people not agreeing with me, not liking me, or understanding me.

I've gotten really good at allowing them to have their feelings and thoughts about me. I'm going to have my feelings and my thoughts about them too. Does that mean I don't care about what they think? Absolutely not. I deeply care what they think, but I have learned not to let it imprint how I show up on social media [00:08:00] and how I feel and think about myself.


The number three reason that social media causes anxiety is trolls. Getting bullied is a huge piece of social media; we see it daily. I have been trolled. People have insisted on taking me down for years, and I have, through what I just talked about, learned to give them permission to really not like me.

I've even considered their opinion and really thought about, “Do they have a point?” How can I look at this from a place of compassion? Is it true? Is what they're saying? Factual In many cases, no. Right. Um, the truth is, hurt people hurt people. So, the people online who are saying horrible things usually come from a great deal of hurt, harm, and pain.

That doesn't mean I'm saying it's okay that they're doing this behavior. [00:09:00] We must also recognize from a place of compassion that most trolls out there are doing it, not because they're happy, fulfilled people, but because they're on a mission to take people down with them. And that really helps me to be compassionate and not take on their opinion, um, and allow it just to be a part of social media and not take it personally right now. 


The fourth reason social media can cause anxiety is the fear of being canceled. You may see that these points are growing on each other. Cancel culture is a thing, folks, and I get it. It is scary out there. Many of you say that being on social media, even commenting on your friend's posts, creates the fear that you might say something that will offend them and cause you to get canceled

[00:10:00] Maybe you feat that on a whim, you say something or you make a joke that causes you to get canceled. This is a widespread one as well. A lot of folks who weighed in were saying that this is a true fear for them.

As someone who has come head to head with this, what was really helpful for me was actually to write down a cancel campaign of my own, which is like, what is the worst thing someone could say about me, you know? What would it, what would they say? Sometimes people will say negative things, which doesn't hurt my feelings, and sometimes I'm afraid they'll say certain things that would really hurt my feelings.

I use that as an opportunity to look at those and ask, why are those things so important to me? Is it my values? Is there something about that where I was taught to be ashamed of those qualities as a child? Am I afraid of how people will stand up for me? Or am I afraid of how I will handle this sort of public shaming that goes on. 

[00:11:00] It was a super helpful experiment that I did with a therapist to really help me get to the bottom of what the fear is, um, and go from there. Of course, I won't say anything mean on social media. I'm not concerned about that, but I am worried at how people will go out and attack me, because it has been something that I've dealt with in the past, and it sounds like it's something that's bothering you guys as well.

  1. FOMO

Now, we move on to number five. The fifth reason that social media causes anxiety is FOMO. The fear of missing out is a real thing. If you fear missing out, social media can make this so much worse because you will often see other people going off to college, and you see somebody else starting a job in their hometown.

You might be thinking that maybe I should have done that. Maybe that the fear of you're missing out on that opportunity. Perhaps you chose to go [00:12:00] to the movies, and then you see a social media post about other people who decided to go to a party, or maybe you went to the movies not knowing there was a party, and then you had deep hurt feelings about not being invited.

These are true real emotions, and I want you to slow down for all of these points, but especially this one and give yourself a ton of compassion. And understand that social media does have everybody's a-rolls, and it will mean tou will have emotions. Normal human emotions like jealousy, envy, anger, and resentment.

That is a normal human emotion. When we're on social media, we judge ourselves for the emotions we feel about what we see on social media. I shouldn't be judging them. I shouldn't be jealous. I shouldn't be angry. I wanna give you permission to acknowledge and feel all of those feelings [00:13:00] 'cause they're normal human experiences.


The sixth reason that social media causes anxiety and depression is that social media highlights negativity.  Many of you said that you have tried your best to turn off the news. I don't sign onto the news apps, but other people post about things that frighten me when I go on social media.

Shootings, global warming, politics, religion, and they were saying that this really creates a lot of anxiety and stress on their nervous system as they just want to have some fun on social media and have a few laughs and watch a few baby dogs and kittens. Have a little fight over a piece of string or something.

I get it. I've had that same experience, too. It's the end of the day you're thinking, “ah, I just want to check out and do a little deep breath and then zone out on social media, " yet you're faced and [00:14:00] bombarded with negativity. If that's the case, and this goes for all of the points we're making, do an intention check as you log on to social media.

Check in. Do I have the capacity to see things I don't want to see when you see them? Have I got the discipline to turn it off if it's unhealthy for me? It is really, really important piece that we have to remember here. Similar to that. 


The seventh reason social media causes anxiety is seeing things that trigger my anxiety.

A lot of you said that you go on social media, and lo and behold, your exact fear shows up in somebody's feed, right? Maybe you're afraid of spiders and they've posted a photo of a funny spider, or maybe you're afraid of throwing up or getting sick. Someone's posting about getting cancer and having to be admitted into the hospital.

I know [00:15:00] personally, when I was sharing about, you know, all of the medical issues I was having in 2019 and 2020, a lot of people were so kind and so loving, and some people actually reached out and said, I am so incredibly triggered. What's happening to you right now is literally my worst fear coming true.

And so I get it. Again, we have to do an intention check when we go on social media and be prepared to see what we don't want. Right? One thing to know here, too, and this is a skill I want you to take on or more, it's actually a strategy, is you can train the algorithm to do what you want it to.

So, as you've probably already experienced, if you wanna see more videos of dogs, Google or search for dogs and it will start to show you more, particularly if you watch the video from start to end. You can also click on specific content. When you see something you don't want to see, you can click a button and say, see less of this, [00:16:00] or block this topic, or block this hashtag.

And that can be a way to help you keep your social media clean. Right. Another thing to remember here and going back to seeing other people's a role, is you can actually mute your friends. They won't even know if what they're doing is too triggering and it's causing you so much depression, right? Because we do know that social media can cause depression.

It's okay to take a break from them, particularly if they're in your face a lot with all their successes and wins. You can mute them. You don't have to unfollow them or block them. You can mute them, so you're still remaining friends. They still know that you're important to them and they're important to you, but you don't have to be seeing their content.

You can take a break and set healthy boundaries with social media so that you're not continually being bombarded by what they're posting. That goes with things that trigger you as well, anxiety-wise. Now, the eighth thing that causes [00:17:00] social media, um, to cause anxiety is perfectionism. Now I've put two things in one here, which are perfectionism and exceptionalism. 

Perfectionism is the hope to be perfect and not make mistakes. The truth is, on social media and off social media, you will make mistakes. You're not going to be perfect, and you have to bathe yourself in a ton of self-compassion when engaging on social media and giving yourself permission again to be imperfect is to let it be a little rough. You don't have to be perfect and make it curated. And all the things some people posted about how they even had anxiety about what graphics they use, um, how they're making their posts, whether they line up perfectly, whether the music is exactly the right thing.

Again, just be real. No one wants to be friends [00:18:00] with perfect people. Believe me, I have found much more success on social media being a normal human being who is imperfect and is just regular old Kimberly. And yes, there are perfectly polished accounts, but you have to ask yourself, is that helpful for my social media?

Maybe what they're doing is good for their mental health. Is it good for me?


Right now, the last one, the last point on why social media causes anxiety is overstimulation. This is a big one, and I finished with this one for a reason is social media posts are made to keep you on the platform. That's how they make money.

The posts that get sent to you and are suggested to you are so short, fast, and funny because they're promoting the exact videos and campaigns that will keep you engaged. But the problem with that is if you're [00:19:00] engaging and consuming content that is fast-paced, short, the content is very quick and it changes 1, 2, 3, 4, really, really fast and example would be TikTok, it actually will leave your nervous system quite overstimulated.

This is a problem, folks. The overstimulation. How social media content is delivered to us increases people's anxiety and stress levels. It increases the chance that they engage in safety behaviors such as compulsions because you put the phone down and you're literally vibrating from overstimulation.

I'm going to encourage you again to do a check-in. Is this good for me? Does this makes sense.?Are the benefits outweighing the negative? And a lot of the time the answer is no. How do we fix this? 

A lot of it that I have found is around setting strong [00:20:00] boundaries with social media. I created a course called Time Management for Optima Mental Health, and a reason for that wasn't because of social media; it was because many people with anxiety and depression tend to engage in behaviors that make their anxiety and depression worse.

What we do in this course is work at scheduling the healthy behaviors first and then building your day around that. If social media is a problem for you, we're going to set some limits and intentionally put some parameters and boundaries in to help you manage your mental health. 

Other resources include that most phones have a shut off time or an alarm that will alert you to when you've gone over or you have spent too much time. 

Some phones also will give you a usage report. [00:21:00] I know my iPhone sends me a usage report every Sunday. Kimberly, your social media uses up by such and such a percentage. Or it's down, or you know, you're within your limits if you set limits for yourself.

I know my daughter set a social media limit for herself because after a certain amount of time, she was getting overstimulated, and she was starting to feel lethargic and crappy. And then she wanted not to eat, exercise, sing, or do the things she loved to do. And that was an effective move on her part very, very wise.

Another thing to remember is many phones. Well, all phones will have an app. There are many apps you can access that will shut your phone off so that you actually cannot access that social media app or pro platform once you've used a certain amount of time. And if you are someone who struggles with boundaries and really disciplined in that area.

Go ahead and get [00:22:00] those apps. Invest in them because they will be better than therapy that you get. Maybe, probably not, but it will contribute and complement your therapy in that you've invested in this tool to help shut down. These apps if they're not helping you. Now, once again, I'm not saying all social media is bad.

Again, social media has lifted me out of depression in many cases. When I was having a lousy day showing me funny things, you know, me passing back, . Funny, you know, reels between my husband and I is a way for us to connect when he's at work, when he's away, or when he's upstairs and I'm downstairs.

It's not all that. It's about being intentional and checking in on what's helping you. What's not, it's going to be different for every person. So truly listen to yourself and go from there. Now, as I always say, it is a beautiful day to do hard things, and what that means [00:23:00] is setting limits is hard. It's not fun.

It actually takes a lot of willpower. So do employ your support systems, ask for help, get a therapist if you need one, who can help you implement some of these tools. As always, I hope this has been helpful, and I look forward to talking with you next week.

Sep 1, 2023

Am I doing ERP correctly? This is a common roadblock I see every week in my private practice. I think it is a common struggle for people with anxiety and OCD. Today, we will talk about the three common OCD traps people fall into and how you can actually outsmart your OCD and overcome it.

Now, when we're talking about Expsoure & response prevention ERP, we must go over the basics of ERP therapy, so let's talk about what that means before we talk about the specific traps that we can fall into. 

ERP is exposure and response prevention. It's a specific type of cognitive behavioral therapy and is the gold standard treatment for OCD to date. 

And it's a detailed process, right? It's something that we [00:01:00] have to go through slowly. It's a detailed process where we first identify OCD obsessions and OCD intrusive thoughts. So, you'll identify precisely the repetitive, intrusive, and distressing things for you. Once we have a good inventory of your OCD obsessions, we then identify what specific OCD compulsions you are doing now. A compulsion is a behavior that you do to reduce or remove your anxiety, uncertainty, or doubt, or any kind of discomfort that you may be experiencing.

And once we do that, then we can move towards exposing you to your fears. Exposure therapy for OCD involves exposing yourself to those specific obsessions. And then engaging in [00:02:00] response prevention, which is the reduction of using those compulsive safety behaviors. Now, common OCD response prevention will involve reducing physical behaviors, reducing avoidant behaviors, or reducing thought suppression. It's reducing reassurance, seeking, reducing mental compulsions, and in reducing any kind of self-punishment that you're engaging in to beat yourself up for the obsessions that you're having. Then we get you engaged back into doing the things you love to do; getting you back to engaging in your daily life, your daily functioning, the things that you find pleasurable, and your hobbies as soon as possible. 

That's the whole goal of ERP. Right? 

The important thing to remember here is that ERP therapy for OCD is greatly improved by adding in [00:03:00] other treatment modalities, such as acceptance and commitment therapy or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, DBT, and medication. 

I should have mentioned medication first because most of the science shows that that's one of the most helpful to really augment ERP therapy for OCD. If you want to go deeper into that, I strongly encourage you to check out Exposure and Response Prevention School. I'll show you how to do all of those steps in ERP school, our online course for OCD.

ERP School Online Course for OCD

You must know how to do those steps and that you're doing them in a way that's careful and planned so that we're not overwhelming you and throwing you in a direction that you're not quite prepared for; you don't have the tools for yet. And so today, I wanted to discuss three questions that come directly from people who've taken ERP school [00:04:00], and they're really trying to troubleshoot these three common OCD traps that OCD gets them stuck into.

So, let's get to the good stuff now. 


What if I don't engage with an obsession? Am I thought suppressing? One of our listeners said, “I know what you resist persists. We talk about that in ERP school, but I also know that obsessive thinking and worrying can become compulsive. Is it possible I could be caught in both situations, and how common is this?” 

So I want to really be clear here in what we're saying when we say to practice ERP. So when you have an obsession or the onset of an intrusive thought or intrusive feeling, sensation, urge, it could also be an image.

When you have that,[00:05:00] you're old way of dealing may have been to try and push that thought away with some urgency and aggression.  We call that thought suppression and that's an avoidant compulsion, so yes. This student of mine is correct. That becomes compulsive, right? But we also know if we go into the obsession, try and figure the obsession out, give it too much of our attention.

We're also engaging too much with it in terms of using mental compulsions. That too is a compulsion. So we want to see that these two things can happen. But when we have the thought, and we observe that it's there the obsession, we've noticed it's there. Right? We talked about this in previous episodes of your Anxiety Toolkit podcast.

When you identify it's there and then you say, I am gonna let it be there and still move on. To what you love to do, [00:06:00] what you value that is not resisting it, that is engaging back into what you find important and effective, and valuable for your life. It's not avoidance, it's not thought suppression. Now, if you do that in a way where you're like, oh, I don't want that thought.

I want to engage in what I'm doing. Now you're crossing into that reaction being with . Urgency and resistance, and anytime we're doing anything in a sense of urgency and resistance, well, yes, it may be becoming a compulsion, right? And what we're talking about here, the way to manage this trap, right, is to find middle ground, and it often involves slowing.

Down being a little more thoughtful in how you respond, and that's often using mindfulness. We talk a lot about mindfulness here in your, your anxiety toolkit [00:07:00] in observing, okay, this is happening. I. I'm going to respond in a way without urgency, and I'm going to come back to what I'm practicing. That isn't thought suppression.

It's also not avoidance. It's also not doing a mental compulsion or ruminating. It's what we call occupation. You're engaging back into what you need to be doing. Right, which brings me right to trap number two, which is did I expose myself to the thought enough? 


The fear, “Did I expose myself enough to my fear?” and, “if I dont engage with an obsession, am I thought suppressing? These are two very close obsessions. But, there's a nuance difference that I want to ensure we address here.

So the student says, right now when anxiety sets in, I divert my attention to something else to focus on my values. Beautiful. Right? Then usually anxiety will wear off pretty quickly and I choose to move on. The problem is what happens next? So, so far this is beautiful. [00:08:00] Just like what we said they go on to say, my mind immediately points out the fact that I didn't quote, unquote, savor the anxiety or look it in the eye, right?

And that they're doing that to prove they're not scared of it. Or that they can they can tolerate it, right? And so they go on to say, “OCD accuses that my diversion wasn't in fact occupation or being functional and effective, that it was avoidance and, and that I'm avoiding to deal the anxiety feeling that I have. And they then go on to say, this makes me more scared of the intrusive thoughts in the long run.”

So, if we were to break this down, this person had a thought, they responded really effectively. But then, this is the trap. OCD will usually tell you there's a way you're doing this wrong or there's a way that there's an additional thing you haven't addressed yet.

It usually [00:09:00] is like you who I have more to say, have you thought about this? Like it's saying, you know, there's other things you should be worried about. And in this case, they have dealt with it really beautifully. But then OCDs come in and said, no, you didn't look at it long enough. You didn't face it enough.

If you don't face it enough, well then you're gonna keep having this anxious feeling in the long run. And really in that situation, all we need to do, I. Is practice exactly the same tools we use with the first obsession, which is to go maybe, maybe not, but I'm not tending to you. I'm not trying to make this perfect.

I'm going to move forward with what I am going to do and allow the uncertainty that I may or may not have anxiety about this in the future, or I may or may not have looked my fear in the face enough, right? Remember here that O C D. Is always going to try and bring you back into doing [00:10:00] a compulsion to try and get that uncertainty.

And your job is to catch the many ways OCD consistently pulls you out of using effective behaviors and tries to get you to use compulsions. If you can find those trends, you can identify them as, okay, we know what to do when they come.

When it tells me I'm not doing it enough, or I'm not looking at my fear enough, or I'm avoiding it, or whatever, you can go, I'm not tending to that. I'm moving back to my values. Right. Which beautifully now brings us onto the final trap, trap number three, which is, how do I know I'm doing ERP correctly?


People often ask, “How do I know if I am doing ERP correctly?” This is a very common one. In fact, I have consulted with dozens of different OCD therapists, including the ones in my private practice. For those of you [00:11:00] who don't know, I have a private practice in Calabasas. We have eight incredible licensed OCD therapists. We are constantly consulting on this kind of question or these traps in particular, and it's often around, how do I know I'm doing this right?

And it makes sense, right? If you're doing ERP therapy, you want to get better, you're here to get the job done, and you want your life back. You're not putting in all this time and paying all this money and investing your valuable resources, um, to just . Have a good time and waste it, right? You're here to get better.

And so it makes sense that you're going to have some anxiety about how well you're doing it, and you're obviously wanting to do it well, like you're someone who is thorough and is invested, so it makes sense that you're going to have this fear. But this is the thing to remember. This is another trap of OCD to try and get you to go back to rumination, right?

To try and figure something out. [00:12:00] Here is the facts. No one does ERP correctly. You are going to do ERP, and you are going to fall and you're going to try again, and you're going to fail again, and you're going to try again, and you may fail again. That is a normal progression of ERP. I tell my patients all the time, you're not backsliding.

Nothing is particularly wrong right now. This is just the normal progression that we get better over time. Just like when we're learning to walk. You stand up, you fall down. It's not like you say, I'm not able to walk, I'll never be able to do it. You get back up, you walk three steps, you fall down, then you get back up, you walk five steps, you fall down.

That's normal, right? We are not going to say to a young baby like, oh, you're not walking correctly. You know, this is bad. You're never gonna be able to walk because you're not walking correctly. No, we're going to say to them, keep going, keep trying. Just keep trying. And with time, those muscles will strengthen.

And you'll be able to stand up and do this work a little longer each time, but do not fall into the trap [00:13:00] of O C D telling you it has to be done perfectly and you have to do mindfulness correctly, and you have to do response prevention correctly, and you can't do any thought suppression or you'll never get better.

That is another trap, and your job is to say, good one, OCD. Thank you for your input, but I'm still over here with the focus of not trying to engage in rumination and trying to get certainty, but to, to move towards my values, to allow fear to be there imperfectly, right imperfectly, knowing that it won't be perfect every time.

You may engage in some compulsions. I'm going to keep saying that that is not particularly a problem. Right. Especially if as you're doing it, you're using your tools and you're doing the best you can, try to just focus on doing one minute at a time and doing it as you can. And we're not here to do it perfectly.

Right? And at the end of the day, if you're someone who struggles [00:14:00] with this thought, like, am I doing it correctly or am I doing it perfectly? You can just say, “Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not. I'm also not getting caught in that trap.” 

So I hope that that has been helpful to really get to know these traps.

And for you, it mightn't be specifically these three common traps. It may be something a little different. That's okay. Your job is to catch these trends, the things that keep pulling you back into rumination, pulling you back into avoidance, pulling you back into reassurance-seeking, and identify them. Come up with another plan.

Again, if you need more help with this, you can use E R P school. It's an online course. It's on demand. You can listen to it and watch it as many times as you want in your PJs. It's there for you to troubleshoot these issues. We have a whole bunch of modules talking about how to troubleshoot these issues, but I wanted to do this publicly because I knew

A lot [00:15:00] of you who don't have access to care are probably struggling with the same thing. So that's it for me today. Thank you so much for being here. I love talking with you about the nitty gritty of how this can, you know the real hard stuff and I hope it's been helpful for you. Please do remember, and I say this at the end of every podcast episode, you know I'm gonna say it.

It is a beautiful day to do hard things. 

Do not let society tell you that you're weak or that you're not supposed to. And it should be easy because that's not real life. I know it's hard to accept that, but we can shift this narrative to a narrative where we can do hard things. We can see ourselves as strong.

We can see ourselves as courageous, and we will do the hard thing because in the long run, we build resilience and freedom that way. Have a wonderful day, everybody, and I can't wait to see you next week.​[00:16:00]