Tips From A Psychologist On How To Stay Sane During This Crazy AF Time

If you’ve been reading the news, you might be freaking out right now. For hypochondriacs, the coronavirus pandemic is like our Olympics, if there were a situation in which one would train for the Olympics with the hopes of never having to actually compete. My training is not actual strategies for preparedness, but rather, constantly pushing the boundaries of my brain’s ability to conceive of outcomes to worry about. I’m basically just living in the Charlie Day Pepe Silvia meme, but the points on the string board are new hypotheticals I can stress over. (But the crazed look in the eyes is the same.) And I gotta tell you, all that worrying is not doing anything positive for my health. I’m week two into social distancing and anyone who asks how I’m doing is treated to a page from Dorinda’s playbook: not well, bitch!

But we won’t be out of the woods just yet, and I’m told worrying doesn’t burn calories, so that means it is neither comforting nor useful to sit around all day, anxiety spiraling. So I spoke to Dr. Jenny Taitz, a certified psychologist and author of How To Be Single And Happy (thankfully, the least of my worries right now), about how to reduce anxiety in this incredibly stressful and anxiety-inducing time.

It’s at this time that I feel I must confess something to you all: I don’t like to travel. *Pauses for collective audible gasp* Yes, you read that correctly. I am one of those rare millennials who does not really like to travel. And you know why? No, it has nothing to do with coronavirus; it’s because this bitch loves her routine. And it appears there’s actually a reason why I and others find routine so comforting: because it f*cking is.

“There was a powerful research study that compared antidepressant medication to cognitive therapy to something called behavioral activation, which is basically like having a day planner and scheduling activities that may expose pleasure and mastery,” recalls Dr. Taitz. “Remarkably, the activity scheduling was found to be as helpful as antidepressants and more helpful than cognitive therapy.” Now, neither I nor Dr. Taitz is saying you should throw out your medication or fire your therapist (the opposite, please), but she says, “it just speaks to how incredibly therapeutic it is to have a routine.” And, in this time of, shall we call it, extreme spontaneity, I think we can all agree that a little predictability would be really f*cking nice right about now.

But trying to create a calendar for the next month (or even the next week) can feel overwhelming. (Even before COVID-19 laughed in the face of regularity. I was always intimidated by the idea of nailing down plans—call it commitment issues.) So instead, Dr. Taitz advises, “step one would be to think about what matters deeply to you, the values that you have for the next few months, and then create a schedule that maps onto that.” In other words, are your priorities health, productivity, and friendship? Start thinking about (virtual!!) activities that fit into those categories and create a loose schedule based off those values. Maybe you make a commitment to tune into that yoga livestream every day at 9am, then give yourself 45 minutes to answer emails, and schedule a FaceTime with your friend on what would be your lunch break. Literally open up your day planner (or iCal if you’re too cool) and block all these things out. Dr. Taitz adds, “the more you can plug in and make it so you’re not going to have to start from square one every day,” the more at ease you’ll eventually feel.

While you’re building your schedule, don’t just make time for the sh*t you have to do—that’s literally no fun. “This is a time where people could resume things that they have previously entertained but haven’t had time for,” says Dr. Taitz. The one downside is that you now officially have no excuse to not learn that thing or start that project you’ve been telling everyone you were totally going to do. Maybe, like a lot of Twitter, you’re going to go Paul Hollywood and learn how to bake bread (just make sure it’s not underproofed). For me, it’s the book I’ve spent the last two years talking a big game about wanting to write but not having the time. When it comes to planning activities, Dr. Taitz recommends “scheduling a lot of things that bring you pleasure… or expanding on something that you already do that gives you a sense of accomplishment.” For instance,  do an activity you already like, or improve upon something you want to get better at. Like, if you already do 30 push-ups a day (brag), try to up it to 40. 

She also recommends everyone practice mindfulness, which she explains is “the specific ability to learn to be present in the moment without judgment.” That means making a conscious effort to not let your thoughts spin off into a tornado of anxiety, as easy as that is to do.

“Especially right now during this type of crisis, it’s so tempting to think about like, ‘Oh my god, how long is this gonna go on?’ ‘I’m gonna go crazy’ ‘I can’t take one more day of this.’ It’s so overwhelming,” she admits. Instead, she advises to spend at least three to five minutes a day formally practicing mindfulness, whether that be watching your breath or trying to meditate—“doing something where you have to keep coming back to being present without judgment.” 

And while the impulse is strong to try to bury your head in the sand and ignore the news, we all need to stay informed, for our safety and the safety of those around us. So how do you ride that fine line between keeping up to date with all the current information and going down a rabbit hole where you’re convinced you’re dying? (First of all, avoid WebMD.) Dr. Taitz says, “think about what’s the sweet spot where you’re taking in information that’s prudent and productive but not like drowning in a passive consumption of demoralizing or panic-inducing.” Like, if you know you can’t start your day without a quick news update, do that. But if you know that checking Twitter before bed will lead you down a dark path, probably avoid that. Going back to your routine, as you map out your schedule, you can carve out some time to check the news—just make sure you put a time limit on it and stick to it. “Really think about what kind of data is best for you and what’s the amount that is sensible,” she says. In other words, know yourself.

And in times like these, it’s important as ever to take care of your mental health. The good news is, Dr. Taitz says, “all psychologists should be able to offer some type of compliant video therapy, so if you’ve been wanting to try therapy but you haven’t had time, consider this as a time that you can really target your mental health.” However, with jobs on the line, paying for therapy may not be an option for many, so there is also the crisis text line if you’re anxious about coronavirus, which you can reach by texting HOME to 741741.

On top of therapy, Dr. Taitz says she “can’t speak to the power of social connection enough.” The good thing about us all being marooned in our homes now, as opposed to like, in 1918, is that we have so much technology to keep us all connected to our friends and loved ones so we don’t lose our sh*t. “If you could reach out to people, not just on text, but set up FaceTime dates like you would meeting people in person,” that’s the best because, “you’re not gonna get the same sense of empathy just over text.” 

It’s pretty normal to feel nothing short of hopeless in a time like this, when so much is out of our control. When talking to my therapist last night, she told me to focus on the things I can control, and take those actions. Like, you may not be able to control living with someone who still has to go into work right now, but you can wash your hands more often, disinfect doorknobs and light switches like a maniac, and do your part to social distance. Dr. Taitz agrees, “taking action is a powerful remedy for hopelessness” and adds that we should “focus on replacing unhelpful thoughts with helpful ones.” Even though we’re in a time of absolute craziness right now, making it feel as normal as possible will bring you some comfort. Above all, I feel like we’re all going a very similar range of emotions, so don’t feel like you’re alone in this, and don’t suffer in silence. To quote High School Musical (my literary pinnacle), we’re all in this together.

Images: Joshua Rawson-Harris / Unsplash

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5 Ways To Fight Seasonal Depression This Winter

Every year in early November I feel personally attacked by a little thing called Daylight Saving Time. Though it’s said that it was put in place to reduce the use of electricity by extending daylight hours, the effects can feel anything but sunny for late risers like myself who are lucky to see eight hours of actual sunlight. If you tend to feel more sluggish and sadder during this time of the year, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder or SAD, a type of depression that usually happens in the fall and/or winter and is more likely to affect women over the age of 20, according to Dr. Jenny Taitz, clinical psychologist and author of How To Be Single And Happy. Dr. Taitz and I discussed some strategies to combat SAD and help you to feel your best, even when the weather and amount of light are literally the worst.

1. Find The Light

It’s not just you—there’s a science behind why you feel so sh*tty during the fall and winter months. According to Dr. Taitz, “Shorter days and reduced daylight can impact the brain and lead to feeling more lethargic, sad, and hopeless.” One of the best ways to target the problem is to seek out natural sunlight whenever possible, even with a short walk around the block. Another effective method is to purchase a light box designed specifically to treat people with SAD. The light emitted from the boxes mimics natural sunlight and produces effects in the brain that aid emotional regulation. Dr. Taitz notes that in many cases your doctor may be able to prescribe a light box that’s covered by insurance, but adds that there is a specific protocol to follow when using a light box, so it’s best to consult with your physician rather than treating yourself.

2. Watch Your Diet

If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself craving sweets and carbs every day more so than usual during this time of the year. This is because people with SAD tend to eat more foods that are rich in carbohydrates. As much as it pains me to type this, it’s a good idea to cut down on the carbs and stick to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables in order to combat depression. Studies have also found a link between SAD and low levels of vitamin D, so another useful strategy is taking vitamin D supplements or eating foods that are rich in vitamin D like eggs, salmon, and wild mushrooms.

3. Resist The Urge To Retreat

Because you aren’t feeling your best, you may feel tempted to stay at home and watch Schitt’s Creek until the next iteration of Daylight Saving Time retreat into yourself. To the extent you’re able, fight this urge and stick to a regular routine of seeing friends and family or doing something else you normally love to do. Dr. Taitz works with patients to create an “antidepressant schedule” consisting of things like plans with friends or a workout class that keeps them active and engaged. We are social creatures and being around other people helps to counteract the isolation and loneliness that SAD breeds.

4. Keep It Moving

Because our energy is lower during this time of year, it can be hard to summon the strength to get out of bed, let alone make it to a barre class. However, exercising not only boosts mood and focuses the mind, it also helps to maintain your circadian rhythm, which, when disrupted, is thought to bring about SAD symptoms. Ideally, if you can work out outside, you’ll not only get the benefits of exercise, you’ll also be exposed to natural light. If that’s not possible, then just stick to any routine that gets you moving.

5. Seek Professional Help

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, doing any of the above may feel downright impossible. If that’s the case, it’s time to seek help from a professional who can diagnose you and help you come up with a treatment plan. Dr. Taitz suggests cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches you to notice your thought patterns: “I always encourage people to see emotional setbacks as opportunities rather than stuck points—rally your courage and problem solve,” she says. Many people suffering from SAD find that certain antidepressants can work wonders on symptoms. A doctor can tell you which medicine may be right for you and how long to take it, as antidepressants may take time to kick in and should generally not be stopped cold turkey.

If you’re feeling less than stellar this time of year, know you’re far from alone. SAD is treatable and you don’t have to spend the next few months in a dark hole. What other coping strategies do you use to combat SAD during the winter months? Let me know in the comments.

Images: Joshua Rawson-Harris / Unsplash; Giphy (5)

How The F*ck Do You Find A Therapist?

Seeking out a therapist to help with any number of mental health issues is something every functioning adult should know how to do. But, unfortunately, a lot of us don’t even know where to start when it comes to checking in with a feelings doctor, where to find one, or how and when to make an appointment. And it makes sense. Once you get over the stigma (that shouldn’t exist) of seeing a mental health professional, finding one isn’t exactly easy. And if you’re already feeling intimidated about going to a psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, etc., the daunting process of finding the right one for you could turn you off completely. So that’s why I wanted to break the process of how to find a therapist down.

In the words of the coolest president ever, Barack Obama, “Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health.” Well said, you BAMF. So whether you just want to talk through some stress at work (because Tracy is driving you up a damn wall) or need to revisit the eating disorder your school bully prompted at age 8, or whatever other reason, here’s how to find a therapist in your area.

What Type Of Therapist Do You Need?

Knowing what you’re actually looking for in a therapist is the first step. According to WebMD:

Psychiatrists: “Doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mental or psychiatric illnesses. They have medical training and are licensed to prescribe drugs. They are also trained in psychotherapy, or ‘talk’ therapy, which aims to change a person’s behaviors or thought patterns.”

Psychologists: “Doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) experts in psychology. They study the human mind and human behavior and are also trained in counseling, psychotherapy, and psychological testing—which can help uncover emotional problems you may not realize you have.”

In other words, psychiatrists have medical training and can prescribe medication. Psychologists can’t prescribe you stuff. You might not need to see a psychiatrist, depending on what you’re going for.

Mental Health Counselor: Intimidated by a psychologist or psychiatrist? There are other options out there. Mental health counselors usually hold at least a master’s degree and can help guide you through a sh*tty job or relationship. (Just make sure the person you’re seeing is licensed and ask about their education.) They’re also required by state law to have at least 3,000 hours of post-master’s experience related to counseling, so it isn’t just, say, someone like me with no formal schooling giving you life advice that may or may not be terrible.

Social Worker: Yeah, so, social workers aren’t just the people who come to take people’s kids away when CPS gets called, as Law & Order: SVU help people copemay have led you to believe. They can also with issues in their lives, including—you guessed it—mental health issues.

There are also addiction counselors, religious counselors, family and marriage counselors, and more. Basically, no matter what type of professional you choose, make sure they have state licensing, postgraduate degree(s), clinical experience, and see if they have any published articles. That way you know they’re legit.


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Take Names And Make Lists

Some insurance may cover a few sessions with a therapist, but many won’t. But, either way, your insurance should have a list of accepted providers that you can look through which should help narrow down your search from just Googling “how to find a therapist in my area”. You can find that list of providers by either going online and logging in (if your insurance company has an online portal, which most should, given that it’s 2019), or by calling them and asking for it. You can also call area universities’ psychology and psychiatry departments and ask around. Ask for referrals from friends and family, if you’re comfortable; don’t forget to put feelers out to area hospitals and clinics, who know a ton of these people. The most important thing, though, is not to try and bargain hunt for a therapist via Craigsist or street flyers. (I don’t know if people actually do that, I’m just saying.) Also, even though it seems tempting, don’t just choose the cheapest person. Treat your mental health like you’d treat the health of any other body part. You wouldn’t go to some back-alley, part-time doctor with an online degree for a broken leg, would you? Probs not. So don’t do that with your therapist, either.

Know What To Expect

Once you’ve narrowed down who you want to see and when you want to see them, it’s helpful to know what exactly to expect during that first meeting. Are you going to have a miraculous breakthrough and never need therapy ever again? Probably not—and that’s fine (and also kind of the point of therapy anyway). Therapists of all kinds may employ different tactics depending on your issues. There are three common types of treatment your therapist may use:

CBT: CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is, according to Real Simple,”the most research-backed treatment for anxiety disorders and depression. It’s based partly on the idea that distorted thinking is a main cause of mental distress.” So basically, if you’re heading to see a therapist because you’re feeling down and generally depressed, a therapist using CBT will ask you about certain situations then identify the negative/sh*tty thoughts you have about yourself. If you’re thinking, “I don’t have a boyfriend because I’m fat/have adult acne” your therapist will pinpoint those thoughts and help you flip them into something like “I don’t have a boyfriend because I’M A STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN WHO ISN’T AFRAID TO INHALE PIZZA.” (I paraphrase; I am not a doctor.) If you’re dealing with anxiety, a therapist using CBT usually uses exposure therapy, i.e. making you do or face the thing you hate/are scared of.


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ACT: According to Real Simple, “If your therapist recommends Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) … you’ll likely learn various mindfulness techniques and exercises. ACT patients are taught to notice and accept challenging thoughts and feelings.” So instead of focusing on the anxiety/pain/substance you’re abusing, a therapist treating you with ACT therapy will have you use mental focus and exercises to accept that you think that way and adjust your actions accordingly.

DBT: DBT aka Dialectical Behavior Therapy is “an in-depth treatment that combines CBT with other approaches and addresses suicidal and self-harm behaviors, borderline personality disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse problems,” according to Real Simple. This is obviously for more serious cases, but it works to have you focus on your specific problem—say, an eating disorder—then understand how your personal experiences have shaped/influenced you acting that particular way. Obviously, it’s a lot more in-depth and science-y than that, but this is me, your friendly Betches writer, trying to explain it to you, k?

More than likely, your therapist will use one of the above if you’re dealing with depression and/or anxiety. Of course, they’ll also be a sounding board for anything else going on.

After your visit, be sure to ask yourself how you feel. Are your comfortable with your therapist? Do you feel like they’re really listening? Are they asking lots of questions? Are they giving really good or really sh*tty advice? It’s important to know that finding a therapist is a lot like dating or looking for a job—you might not click with the first one you see. And that’s okay! It’s super important to have good chemistry with your therapist and feel like you can trust them. If you don’t like the first person you visit, don’t write off therapy altogether. Go back to the drawing board and find a different one.

No matter who you choose on your therapy journey, recognize that the most important part of this whole thing is you and how you feel. We’re rooting for you, we’re all rooting for you!

Images: Verne Ho / Unsplash; dietstartstomorrow / Instagram