The Overly-Critical Voice in Your Head

Have you ever noticed that — of all the people in your life — the one putting the most pressure on you is you??

This can be frustrating, but it happens to a lot of people. My guess is that over time you’ve developed really high standards for yourself, and you hold yourself to these standards even when they’re unnecessary or impossible to reach.

Over time the constant striving and pressure can lead to all sorts of issues like

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Chronic pain or muscle tension
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Upset stomach
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Feelings of dread

… all possible signs of stress and burnout.

The worst part is, a lot of time my clients don’t recognize the colossal height of the standards they set, and don’t see their inner critic for what it is: just *one* voice in a sea of many. They think the inner critic, driving them to perfection, IS 100% THEM. But it’s not!

The critical voice is part of you, yes. It exists to protect you from harm, both physical (even when the odds of this are low) and emotional (rejection, disappointment, abandonment, etc). The thing to know about it is that it works too well in most cases. We don’t NEED such a high level of protection.

Some people believe that their critical voice is the main thing that motivates them. And while it can be a motivating force, unfortunately it comes with a price.

Rebalancing the inner critic with other, wiser components of self can be part of the work of individual and/or group therapy. It’s not an overnight process. It starts with noticing when your inner critic has the wheel —

  • what it says,
  • how it sounds to you,
  • the types of things it’s telling you to do or be.

Your ability to see the inner critic for what it is (often unreasonable, panicky, even nasty or desperate) is the first step toward shifting your focus to other voices within.

If you’ve been following along on this page for a little while, I hope you’ll consider getting on the list for my upcoming group, Battling Burnout! More info here>> stephaniedobbin.com/groups

 

When Being “Fine with Whatever” Goes Too Far

“When my kids are happy, I’m happy.”
“I don’t care, I’m fine with whatever.”
“I usually just go with the flow.”
Some of us really struggle to figure out what we want in any given moment. There can be a lot of reasons for this, but the tendency to put others’ needs above our own (aka people-pleasing) is one.

If you’re super attuned to the needs of everyone around you, you’re probably not in the habit of paying attention to what YOU want, prefer, like, or need. Over time, it’s possible to convince yourself that you don’t have many needs or opinions at all. You start to believe that your satisfaction is 100% contingent on other people’s happiness.

This is a dangerous trap. We all have needs. We all have preferences. It’s really helpful to be aware of needs and desires because these help us take care of ourselves and cultivate passion. Ignoring needs and desires for too long can lead to pent-up resentment and anger, or, perhaps worse, feeling deadened or disconnected — unable to access curiosity and drive.

If you feel walled off from what you want and need, it’s possible to cultivate new habits to help you get reconnected:

When you find yourself going along with “whatever,” try asking yourself what you would choose to do if a particular decision were completely up to you.

This might come up when your family is choosing a place to eat or making weekend plans, or in the context of a professional/work decision. You probably face dozens of these “decision points” each day, small and large. Asking yourself what you’d choose if no one else were affected is the first step in developing an awareness of what lies underneath chronic people-pleasing. You don’t even have to speak up about what you want at first — this is an exercise in awareness.

Journal!

Journaling is invaluable in uncovering all sorts of unattended feelings, ideas, wants and needs. One good prompt to start with is, “What would my ideal day look like?” Notice whether you want to be alone or with others, and what you would do if you could do ANYTHING YOU WANT. Pay attention to feelings of guilt that may come up when you start exploring how you like to spend your time without attaching this to what others need from you.

Branch out.

Trying something new and noticing what thoughts and feelings come up is one way of reopening the channel between your heart and your brain. Sometimes we are in such a rut with everything we do and how we relate to people in our lives, it’s hard to detect what we want and need. But in the context of trying a brand-new food, author, movie theater, etc. your reaction may be more noticeable to you. And the more you do this, the more you might see patterns. It’s like a series of mini science experiments.

Figuring out what you want is one thing…asserting yourself can be a whole other challenge. And it’s an essential skill, in part because letting go of people pleasing can be key to reducing stress and burnout. If you could use more inspiration around this, get information about my Battling Burnout group here>> stephaniedobbin.com/groups

Upgrade your morning

Alarm goes off and you greet the morning by hitting snooze (twice). Your kid wakes you up by sneezing in your face, and you realize that in addition to having just probably contracted a cold, you are LATE. You scramble around, stubbing your toe, jumping in and out of the shower in 5 minutes, throwing clothes on, yelling at everyone in your family (including dog) at least once before pouring some coffee in a travel mug, grabbing a random granola bar, and piling everyone in the car so you can do drop-offs and get to work.

Is this you?

Take control back over your mornings! I can’t tell you how often I hear clients talk about about crappy mornings leading to crappy days. The way you start the day is important. The thoughts you start thinking from the moment you open your eyes set the day in motion, and it can be hard to shift the momentum later on.

Try these tips if your morning could use a major overhaul:

🔅 Wake up a little earlier than everyone else.

I know, I know. If you’re not a morning person, this is a big ask, especially if your work day already starts before 8:00am. But I’m telling you, even 10 minutes can make a difference. If you can swing 30-40 minutes, you’ll be able to do 2 or 3 meaningful things right at the start of your day.

⏰ Get up the first time your alarm goes off.

Hitting snooze puts you into a foggy sleep loop that makes it harder to get up when the time finally comes.

🥛Drink a big glass of water!

You’re body gets dehydrated overnight.

😌 Meditate.

There’s no way to do this wrong, although it’s good to get out of bed to do it so you can avoid falling back to sleep. Simply close your eyes, sit comfortably, breathe normally, and see what comes up for you. Let go of the urge to judge your thoughts or make them go away. If you’re new to meditating, you might try a mindfulness app and listen to a guided recording to give you some structure. Start with 5 minutes a day and see how it goes.

📖 Do something relaxing or fun.

Read a book for a few minutes. Listen to a short podcast. Freewrite. Feed your brain uplifting, inspiring, positive ideas and see how that cascades through the rest of your day.

🍒 Eat a whole food.

Banana with peanut butter, some nuts and berries, an egg and some veggies if you’re feeling fancy. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or a lot of food. Skip the packaged stuff. Oh, and HAVE COFFEE. Unless you’re one of those people who “doesn’t need it.”

🤠 Commit.

Stick with your new routine for at least two weeks and see if it reduces some of the anxiety, tension, irritability and stress that come with chaotic mornings.

We will for sure be talking about the good, the bad and the ugly with regard to routines as part of Battling Burnout. For more details >>stephaniedobbin.com/groups 💟

5 reasons why you haven’t joined a therapy group (yet!)

Let me start out by saying that I am a Group Therapy Nerd. (Yes, I actually refer to myself that way in real life.) I’ve been changed forever — I’m talking profound mindset shifts, people! — by my participation in groups, both as a member and a facilitator. I see it as one of my callings in life to pass along the amazingness that comes with group therapy to as many people as possible.
So let’s take a look at what’s standing in your way, shall we?
You don’t really get what group therapy is.
This is a biggie. A lot of people, actually I’d venture to say MOST people, don’t really know what group therapy is or that it even exists. The short answer is that group therapy is a way to learn new skills, learn about yourself, build surprisingly deep and rewarding connections with others, and channel the collective wisdom of a room full of people all trying their hardest to do something different or better. It is powerful stuff. The exact format of a group (the content covered, how structured it is, how much process time there is, how many weeks it lasts, etc.) all depends on the specific group.
💁 You don’t like being around people you don’t know.
Probably the most common thing I hear. And as an introvert, I totally get it! Taking the chance and showing up to a place where there will be people you don’t know is no easy task. But let me tell you, IT IS WORTH EVERY SECOND OF DISCOMFORT. First of all, you will get to know these strangers more quickly than you would in any other environment. Group therapy with a well-trained therapist is a safe way to forge trust and connection. The first session is by far the scariest. The strangery-ness will evaporate before you finish your cup of tea.
💵 You think it’s too expensive.
Group therapy has so much intrinsic value. I’ll be upfront with the numbers: my groups right now are $50 per person, per session. If you’re doing a 6-week series (like my upcoming Battling Burnout group), that’s $300. But what if I told you that at the end of the six weeks, you’d walk away with half a dozen new strategies for managing stress, a clearer idea of how to reduce your specific vulnerability to burnout, and a few brand-new, amazing connections to other people in your same boat? How much would you pay for all that? Only you can answer that question. What we choose to spend our money on says a lot about our priorities, and sometimes it can be uncomfortable to take a close look at that. We’ve allll got money stuff.
You don’t have time.
Well, you may not be available at the specific time that the group meets, in which case this is a perfectly valid excuse. In my experience, though, time is similar to money. It’s all relative. You don’t think you have ANY extra time…but if an urgent health crisis came up, for example, you’d find the time to get an MRI. You’d MAKE the time to go to see a specialist. You’d have no choice. Whether you choose to make time for therapy depends in large part on how important it is to you, how much juggling you’re willing to do, and how creative you’re willing to be. This is something I am absolutely willing to talk through with you if you need to strategize.
🤔 You think that group therapy is only for people who are more ____ than you.
No! There is no formula for who is cut out for group therapy and who isn’t. The truth is, people who do group therapy are a) interested in personal growth, b) brave as hell, and c) willing to take a hard look at what’s getting in their way so they can have a happier life. 💟 We ALL deserve the opportunity to better ourselves, to connect, and to be seen. 💟
If there’s anything else you’d add to this list, shoot me an email at dobbinLMFT@gmail.com and I will do my best to give you a counter-argument. You, too, can be a Group Therapy Nerd!
If you’re convinced that groups are worth checking out, and you’re thinking about joining my upcoming Battling Burnout series…what are you waiting for? For more info>> stephaniedobbin.com/groups

Seeking comfort vs. seeking care

I got to go to this amazing training yesterday in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an approach first developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979. When Kabat-Zinn created MBSR, mindfulness was viewed as fringey, new-agey, and “weird” (at least in the United States). Now it’s everywhere! Mindfulness-based strategies are super effective, and the science really does back them up. Google mindfulness & evidence and you’ll see what I mean.

A quick definition for you:

+ Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without telling a story about it (i.e. without judgment or opinions).

It’s about experiencing what IS, and watching what thoughts or emotions come up with curiosity and compassion. Through mindfulness, we can become aware of how the stories we tell ourselves change our experience, and how our attempts to avoid the present moment often create additional suffering.

So back to the training I was at. One of the things that stood out to me most is the idea that seeking comfort is not the same as seeking care.

* Seeking comfort is an escape *

* Seeking care is rejuvenating *

Does this mean seeking comfort is bad? Not bad, no. Sometimes we need or want to escape a strong emotion or a difficult situation temporarily. But it’s easy to confuse the 12-hour Netflix binge or the whole pizza or the bottle of wine with “self-care,” when really those things are escapes from reality. Patterns of comfort-seeking can even turn into addictions. But when you’ve truly taken care of yourself, you FEEL BETTER AFTERWARD. Your energy returns. You are restored.

There are no black-and-white definitions for care or comfort. It all depends on your relationship to the experience you’re creating. My idea of seeking care might look very different from yours.

I will definitely be integrating MBSR strategies into my upcoming group series, Battling Burnout. If you could use some new ways to de-stress, sign up to find out more here>> stephaniedobbin.com/groups.

5 Signs You’re Burned Out (and what to do about it)

5 SIGNS YOU’RE BURNED OUT

It’s something I hear from most of the health care professionals I work with in my practice, and a lot of my friends & colleagues in agency settings, too: “I’m so burned out.” There’s something about the constant slew of e-mails, frequent changes to the EMR, organizational pressures to do more with less, the lack of full control over outcomes, and endless hours spent caring for people who are sick, hurting, overwhelmed or in physical pain… it’s a lot.

And at the same time, where you work there may be a pervasive culture of stoicism and strength, with independence and hard work valued above self-care.

Do any of these apply to you?

+ You can’t remember why you decided to do this work in the first place.
I’m sure, somewhere, there’s an awesome story about how you decided to go into medicine. Whatever happened to the magic? The curiosity, the passion, the drive? Answer: it has disappeared, buried beneath several hours of unfinished documentation.

+ You are cynical, sarcastic and irritable — a lot.
We all have a bad day here or there. But I’m talking about when you find yourself making snarky comments about patients to yourself or to coworkers, and can no longer tap into empathy and compassion, hardly ever. Or when everyday feels like a bad day.

+ You are unable to recharge on the weekends or when you have time off.
It’s normal for stress to build as the week progresses and ebb when the weekend arrives. Stress is cyclical. You’re in Burnout Land if you can’t seem to escape your funk. You sleep, spend time with your family, read, do stuff you like to do…and when you get back to work, it’s like you never left.

+ You’re thinking about leaving the field.
Hold up a second! You spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, and somewhere in the realm of 6-10 years in school, preparing/studying your butt off/practicing/dreaming/not sleeping… and now that you’re in the trenches, you aren’t sure you can keep it up. The pace is tough. You have a family now, and it’s just SO MUCH to balance. You fantasize about starting a bakery or becoming a bank teller or borrowing more money to go back to school.

+ You’re finding unhealthy escape hatches.
Please. Step away. From the iPhone. (That’s your spouse talking.) Whether it’s scrolling endlessly through Facebook, eating too much vending machine food, or drinking more than you’re OK with, you’re probably numbing out somehow as a way of coping. We do these mindless activities as an attempt to escape uncomfortable feelings or generate better ones.

Now here’s the good news: BURNOUT IS REVERSIBLE.

Start with these mini steps to get to the bottom of what’s most overwhelming or frustrating to you:

+ Do a brain dump: Write down everything that stresses you out about your job. Don’t try to problem-solve, just WRITE! The key here is to keep writing even after you think you have nothing else to say. Write, “I think that’s it…I’m not sure what else…” and see what comes up next. Sometimes we have to push past that initial stopping point to get to the good stuff. (i.e. Behind your irritation with the new checkbox in the EMR may be some feelings of inadequacy or aggravation with how much you’re expected to get done in a day.)

+ Check in with yourself throughout the work day: Notice where you store tension in your body. Notice the thoughts and emotions that arise for you in certain situations. PAY ATTENTION. Mindfulness has become trendy lately, and for good reason: without awareness, there can be no change.

+ Dream: If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be? Maybe you’re telling yourself that making that change is impossible…but what if it’s not?? You might need a fresh perspective on this. Your fear or self-doubt could be holding you back unnecessarily.

And if you need some help dreaming, problem-solving, getting clear on what’s getting in your way and making concrete changes…get on the list for Battling Burnout, a 6-week group series that will help you recenter. You so deserve this. >>stephaniedobbin.com/groups.