Get Well

What to Do If You Find Yourself Spiraling, According to a Therapist

by Nathalie Peña

My idea of a therapy session involves a quick self-evaluation of my many mood swings and sometimes spiraling anxiety. The collective confusion all of our communities are facing right now is testing my own (un-certified) therapy skills even more. For any of you who prefer confronting and facing your own issues — all by yourself — this may be the tipping point of what you can handle. Or maybe you have more of a grasp of your feelings now more than ever and have trained your mind to focus on the positive amidst the chaos. Either way, getting some expert advice on how to confront spiraling thoughts can come in handy now more than ever. 

As a psychotherapist, Ebony Medas, LMHC, primarily holds spaces for those navigating their thoughts and emotions to help them better understand and address what they’re experiencing. She even shares her expertise at Heal Haus (I encourage you to check this inclusive wellness space out!). Since Medas has a first-hand account of what many may be facing during this pandemic, it’s important to note what she has noticed in her clients.

“Increased levels of anxiety and depression are at the top, especially for those who have been ill and/or lost employment.” Medas mentions that the level of uncertainty that is being experienced on a daily basis is causing turmoil in many people’s lives. Now that so much weight is being placed on productivity, even increased levels of negative self-talk is apparent in her clients. This has now become another area of focus for Medas. 

So why do we become a rollercoaster of emotions when encountering difficult situations, such as the one we are going through right now? Medas says when we lose a sense of control and don’t know what the future has in store, it can leave anyone feeling confused and helpless. “During highly stressful times it is also natural to experience psychological and emotional responses. Not addressing these thoughts, feelings, and emotions, may possibly lead to them becoming more unmanageable.” 

Depending on the content we choose to engage in (both good and bad), it can either positively or negatively impact our experiences. Two completely different people can be consuming the same news — for one of them it can be a way to stay updated on new mandates and protocol. But for someone who is dealing with symptoms of anxiety, it can amplify their mental, emotional, and physical hardships. 

If you were already experiencing anxiety before quarantine became all too real, or you are now experiencing it for the first time ever, Medas suggests focusing on things that may better support you during this time. This can look like: 

● Limiting news intake 

● Staying connected to those that make you feel heard/supported 

● Engaging in activities that make you feel grounded (i.e. journaling, meditation, exercise) 

● Acknowledging your feelings vs. suppressing them 

To dive even deeper, I asked Medas what questions she has found helpful to ask her clients during this time and why they are helpful. It can also be beneficial to those of you reading to ask yourselves when your mind is taking over. 

1. Which areas of your life do you feel in control of? Shifting your focus to the areas you can still manage may promote feelings of hope and productivity.

2. What do you think you’re really experiencing? This helps to get to the root cause of what’s happening, and also develops a deeper understanding of how you respond to certain things. A great follow-up exploration is: Are you reacting or responding to what’s happening right now?

3. In what ways can you re-shift your focus? Many of us know that it’s easy to sit in our feelings for extended periods of time. Actively choosing to engage with your thoughts in other ways can be so empowering. When I’m working with clients experiencing anxiety and depression, talking through things that bring them joy has been a great technique in helping them recognize that those more balanced moments still exist.

4. Who and what can help you feel supported? Having a small core group of individuals (friends, family, a therapist) to connect with is beneficial during our “tough” moments. Also, access to tools and strategies that bring us back to the here-and-now such as journaling and tapping techniques.

5. What is contributing to the way(s) you are feeling? Once identified, eliminating/limiting your triggers can go a long way! 

Remember that we are all juggling the unknown together. Tapping into yourself and whatever resources you have available can be the difference between a constant mental breakdown and feeling mentally empowered. 

 Ebony Medas is a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) who has been practicing psychotherapy since 2009. She is also a certified Master Instructor in Integrated Energy Therapy® (IET®) and Level II Reiki Practitioner. Medas has worked with culturally diverse individuals ages 6 and above, couples, families, and the dual-diagnosed population. She also provides group therapy, crisis intervention, and career counseling services.

Feature Image via Daniela Spector

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