The best things I've learned from all my years in therapy

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When I went to therapy the first time, over eight years ago, I was clinically depressed and really, really anxious. Therapy has helped me tremendously, and now I am a reasonably well adjusted 20-something, working on being an adult and trying to figure out what to do with my life. While not everyone wants or needs therapy, everyone hits rough patches every once in a while, so I’d like to share this list of the best things my therapists have said over the years that may be helpful for others, too.

Engage in self-care.

The notion that self-care is important is popping up everywhere, finally, but still isn’t as prevalent as it needs to be. Self-care means doing whatever it is that will make you feel safe, loved, rested, energized, healthy, calm, happy, etc. Some of my favorite self care activities are making terrariums, taking a hot shower, organizing my bookshelf, knitting, painting, and dancing.

Suspend judgment, whenever possible.

We have thousands upon thousands of thoughts that go through our head every day. A surprising number of them are self-deprecating. But if we practice not latching on to those thoughts, if we aren’t constantly beating ourselves up for one thing or another, we will be much happier. I am terrible at suspension of judgement — I judge myself all day long, and I even judge myself for judging. It’s a long, uphill battle to stop the cycle, but I feel it’s a worthy one.

Get out of your head and into your body.

If you’re at all like me, you spend a lot of time in your own head. Thinking and thinking and thinking. Thinking yourself into a panic attack or going down into a deep, depressive hole. My therapists suggest getting out of your head and into your body through exercise or by creating something. I like to accomplish this by going to dance class, because focusing on not tripping over my own feet means I can’t focus on all the things I typically worry about.

It’s okay (and even good!) to change.

Many of us struggle with letting go of our old habits and dependancies. We’re afraid our friends, partners, and family won’t love us or won’t accept us anymore. It’s a reasonable fear — some won’t. By going to therapy (if you want to!), getting healthy, and ridding yourself of destructive habits, we often change drastically and not everyone will understand or accept that. However, we also often change for the better. I’ve had to set firm boundaries or stop talking to people who I’ve realized are hurtful to me. At the same time, though, I’ve found new friends who do accept and love this healthier, happier me. It hurts at the time, but in the end I have better relationships because I don’t feel like I’m lying to them and hiding myself.

Helping yourself get well helps others.

Like self-care, going to therapy is sometimes seen as selfish or self-centered in our culture. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my therapists and the other people I’ve met who are on healing journeys, helping myself IS helping others. When I take care of myself I am a calmer, happier, more positive person who is, in turn, more willing and able to help those around me. Do what you need — self care, yoga, therapy, a vacation — so that you can help others by example, from experience, and from a place of love rather than guilt and resentment.

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