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A therapist explains how solving other people’s problems can become an unhealthy form of stress relief

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Pretty much everyone’s heard that famous Mr. Rogers quote: “Look for the helpers.” But when you’re a therapist, you quickly learn that the helpers are not always what they appear to be.

In our relationships, as I tell my therapy clients, there are two kinds of helping: anxious helping and thoughtful helping. Anxious helping is more about our own inability to tolerate stress than it is about serving or leading others. This is because being over-responsible for others, sometimes called over-functioning, is one of the quickest ways to calm yourself down.

Over-functioning can look like:

The relationship pattern that’s causing you stress

Photo: Canva

I’ve been thinking about how our position in relationships can affect our ability to think clearly.

A triangle is a three-person relationship system. At any given moment in a triangle, two people are on the inside, and one person is on the outside. When things are tense between two people, you want to be in the outside position, away from the drama. But when things are calm and content between two people, it’s hard to be on the outside looking in.

You might be in the outside position of a triangle if:

It’s also a clarifying prompt when you just want to self-reflect

Woman looking out the window with reflection of outdoors.
Woman looking out the window with reflection of outdoors.
Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

I started going to therapy because I wanted to figure out who I was after leaving the company I spent a decade of my life building. Then I began feeling like I was failing as a parent. Then my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Then Covid-19 hit.

Through it all, therapy was a huge source of strength and stability. My friends now see me as a therapy veteran, maybe because I’m always talking about the things I’ve learned from my therapist. One day, a friend came to me with a question: She was about to start going to…

A therapist’s advice for getting back to a calmer default state

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After a January defined by a constant barrage of major news events, from insurrection to inauguration — which came after a year of chaos, or wait, four years of chaos — this past month has felt, well… quiet. Uncomfortably quiet. Like we’ve spent so long on edge that we’ve forgotten how to be any other way. My therapy clients seem to be finding that all the anxiety they’ve stored up all the past four years is still with them, stubbornly hanging on like the worst type of relic.

So what do you with all that anxiety when your brain and…

Don’t think of it as a phase or a reaction to difficulty. Think of it as an act of kindness

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There’s a meme that I encounter every now and then that reads: People go to therapy to deal with the people in their lives that won’t go to therapy.

It reminds me of a conversation I often have with various friends. We’ll be dissecting some relationship conflict or family crisis, and inevitably reach the same exasperated conclusion: Why doesn’t everyone just understand they should go to therapy! Life would be so much easier! And look at the evidence!

Of course, it’s true that therapy isn’t as financially accessible as it should be, and that many of the challenges we face…

A lesson on throwing out the rule book and saving yourself

Photo: Leren Lu/Getty Images

When I was at one of my lowest points in life, I couldn’t get out of bed on some days. I had no energy or motivation and was barely getting by.

Even therapy seemed like too much effort. I had been going every week, and on one particular day, I didn’t have much to “bring” to the session. My therapist asked how my week was going, and I really had nothing to say.

“What are you struggling with?” he asked.

I gestured around me and said, “I dunno, man. Life.”

Not satisfied with my answer, he said, “No, what exactly

A therapist’s advice for regaining your focus after an emotional roller coaster

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Last week was an emotional roller coaster for everyone. And as we rode the highs and lows of the election results, many of us abandoned our usual habits: We left the TV on all day. We reached for the leftover Halloween candy for dinner. We racked up double-digit hours on our screen usage reports. Now, in the aftermath, we’re struggling to morph back into responsible humans.

I’ve told my therapy clients before that it’s normal to experience some dip in mood and functioning after a period of high emotion. …

A therapist’s advice for fighting anxiety in the midst of chaos

Photo: Witthaya Prasongsin/Getty Images

People vary in their ability to adapt in times of stress and uncertainty — from not knowing if we’ll see our families this holiday to not knowing if election results will be definitive.

Some might shut down, isolating and disengaging from the world’s problems. Others tend to lash out or become controlling, trying to force the world around them and the people in it to behave a certain way. But look at almost any group, and you’ll find a few people who seem to be able to hold onto their thinking when others are letting their anxiety run the show…

By ‘manifesting’ your dreams, are you completely ignoring privilege?

Photo: Jaime Lopes/Unsplash

Before I left my corporate career to study psychotherapy, I was a self-help devotee. I devoured every book, took every course, and attended every conference I could find on how to “manifest my dreams.” And each time, I walked away with a new rush of optimism, confident that I was now closer than ever to attaining the life I wanted.

Eventually, though, it became harder for me to ignore my own discomfort with a corner of this world, one that was becoming more and more prevalent: the conflation of self-improvement with a toxic brand of spirituality.

We seem to be…

Treat your spouse with the same level of politeness you would afford, like, any other human being

A couple sits on opposite sides of a coffee table, working on their laptops together at home.
A couple sits on opposite sides of a coffee table, working on their laptops together at home.
Photo: Yagi Studio/DigitalVision/Getty Images

My husband and I are both writers who have worked at opposite ends of our kitchen table for the past 10 years — just imagine that for a minute. Because we’ve been together virtually around the clock, we’re at least somewhat equipped to deal with our new reality of Lockdown Living.

For instance: Recently, as we were tapping away at our computers, Tom unleashed what I call a “screeze” — a nerve-jangling combination of a scream and a sneeze.

A few years ago, I would have yelled at him. I have always been the hothead in our relationship. Our fights…


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