How to Use a Self-Help Journal to Improve Your Moods


Have you heard about keeping a ‘self help journal,’ but wondered how writing about your daily life could actually help with your anxiety and depression? Journalling can be far more than logging events. I want to shed some light on some new ways you can use journaling to ease anxiety and depression (as well as many other benefits).

1. Record Your Feelings and Moods.

Instead of just recording what happened to you in a day, focus on recording what you are feeling and thinking. This can serve a very practical purpose… you can track your moods. It can also slow down the thought process which is necessary to take what is happening in your mind to place it on paper. It leads to a greater level of contemplation about your experience. You can start to notice what is cueing your anxiety and depression that you hadn’t recognised before. And when you are feeling overwhelmed by low moods you can look back in your journal and remind yourself that you are not always this ‘way’ which adds a context of time to your experience and allows you to recognize things can and will change.

Are you someone that struggles to know or access your emotions? Keep trying... A surprising thing may start to happen... you may start writing things you didn’t even realise about yourself. The use of writing allows you to access different parts of your brain that don’t get activated simply sitting and ruminating on thoughts.

*Largest Benefit: Self awareness*

2. List Three Things You Are Grateful For Daily.

The idea of gratitude is something talked about frequently, but this is because it really works.

Write down three things you are grateful for each day, even if they are small things that only make sense to you. Making it an intentional act to write things that you are grateful for already sets your mind in pursuit of finding things throughout your day (just to make the journaling process easier!) and you will shift your perspective in the process. To magnify the power of this, try to actually feel grateful as you write them. If you can’t access any feeling, you might be writing down what you think you should be grateful for over what actually makes you feel good. This can redirect you to something more internal rather than what society tells you.

*Largest Benefit: Better moods and change of focus.*

journal 2.jpg

3. List Your Accomplishments.

Pride in our accomplishments and attributes can be a difficult thing to express outwardly or inwardly. The inner critic is so loud and persistent for some of us and pride tends to get mixed up with hubris or arrogance, so we avoid expressing pride in ourselves to others. This idea is actually influenced by cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), allowing you to track what you actually do with your time, rather than rely on generalizations such as “I don’t do anything” or “I fail at everything” which  can lead to depression. Many of us tend to entirely overlook our own accomplishments, or compare ourselves to others so much we don’t recognise the effort we make in life. If you have a challenging day where you feel nothing got done, look for small things you take for granted. When this is discussed in session, what I often hear is “I shouldn’t be proud of things that I just should be doing.” Something similar occurs when I ask parents if they praised their child for doing something they asked them to do… “I don’t think I should have to thank them for doing something they should be doing already.” This mindset denies the natural reinforcement we gain from positivity and appreciation (internal and external). Recording what we achieve inspires us to keep achieving.

*Largest Benefits: set and achieve more goals and raised self-esteem.

4. Work On Balanced Thinking.

A cognitive therapy tool you can try in your journal is called a ‘thought record.’ You challenge your thought by finding its opposite, and the facts that you actually have to support both sides. This helps bring you back to a sense of neutrality with your thoughts which is the ideal place to remain. It can feel a bit tiresome at first, but it soon can become habit forming as you start to realise how much power you actually have to change your perspective and moods. Over time, the process becomes natural and you start catching and challenging negative thoughts in your mind.

*Largest Benefit: Thought neutrality and thought clarification*

5. Do a Brain Dump.

For this journaling technique, it can help to not use your actual journal but some loose sheets (or tear some pages out). Make a promise to yourself that you will rip up the pages afterwards... this creates a safe space for your unconscious mind to really unload. Write out anything and everything you feel, even if it feels childish, crazy, or mean. The page doesn’t judge and nobody is going to see it, because it all gets ripped up. Write fast, messy, outside the lines and you don’t need to read it after.

*Largest Benefit: Break through stuck emotions and increased calm*

If you, or someone you know, would like help with anxiety or depression, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

Depression and Isolation


“Misery loves company.” We hear it often...people who are suffering seek the company of others who are also suffering. But what happens after those people get together?  Does their level of misery change? If you take a moment to compare times when you felt miserable (“sad”, “unhappy”, or “depressed”) versus when you’ve felt happy, what’s been different? If you’re like most people, you may notice a difference in the kind of company you have in each case.

Many people feel happiest and at peace when they’re in good company. The kind of company that treats you with acceptance, respect, dignity, kindness, and compassion. We feel connected, included, valued, and a part of something. On the other hand, those who feel the least happy (or most miserable) are likely existing in a very different in which they feel isolated, alienated, lonely, judged, misunderstood, unappreciated, disrespected, and mistreated or abused.

For many of the people I see in therapy, circumstances like these are common for those living in unhappiness and discontent. So this begs the question...does misery really love company? After all the conversations I’ve had with people struggling with various degrees of misery, I lean toward the opposite: misery actually hates company.

Misery Thrives in Isolation

A lot of people I talk to who say they struggle with depression note that when things are at their worst, they are persistently isolated and feeling very much alone. Although this can be seen as a “chicken and egg” problem, it’s fair to say in a lot of contexts that the intense sense of dissatisfaction that often comes with depression may be a response to isolation, alienation, or social exclusion.

In fact, there’s a recent theory of addiction being prescribed that suggests the reason many people turn to substances like drugs and alcohol is because they feel disenfranchised.  They’re struggling to feel that satisfying sense of connection that is often present when we’re feeling happy, and they use substances to cope. On top of that, when we look at how many people recover from substance abuse and addiction, we see how important supportive groups and communities are in that process. Twelve step programs like AA and NA can offer an accepting, positive social experience that stand in stark contrast to the sense of alienation and isolation that often accompanies substance use.

Social connectedness (or lack of it) is a good predictor of where we fall on the happiness/misery scale. The more we feel we belong, the more content we’re likely to feel. The more we feel alienated or excluded, the more likely we are to feel miserable and at odds with the world around us.

Why We Withdraw

When people have had negative social experiences, it makes sense for them to pull away from others. At first, isolation may seem like a preferable alternative to the hurt that could potentially come from getting close with others and have it end. Emotional pain never occurs in a vacuum...  it’s always a response to something, and very often related to our interpersonal relationships. When we isolate ourselves from others, we diminish the likelihood of being hurt more than we already have. Our mind will tell us fear-provoking stories in order to protect us from harm. In therapy, people have described how they’ve withdrawn for a whole range of reasons:

  • They’ve been hurt too many times by others in the past;

  • They’re fearful of being judged or misunderstood;

  • They’re concerned for other people’s wellbeing, not wanting them to feel burdened by their suffering;

  • They anticipate rejection from others, and choose not to chance it;

Social withdrawal usually serves us in avoiding negative responses from others... like beating others to the punch. Pulling away from those who might do harm or exploit our vulnerability before they get the chance to do so. In this way, isolating serves to maintain our dignity and preserve what sense of emotional safety we have, without it being further damaged.

The Downside of Isolation

People who withdraw from their social relations often describe feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, if they go out on a limb and take a chance at reestablishing connections and social supports, they risk further rejection, judgment, or abuse. On the other hand, if they remain withdrawn, they’re left to deal with the sense of loss and sadness that comes with exclusion and longing for connectedness. Many people carry on functional lives despite their withdrawal, but can’t shake the feeling of longing for something more. We have no control over how other people treat us, which is part of the reason why many people withdraw. Seeking out a therapist in these times is brilliant because therapists are far more likely to meet you with compassion, acceptance, and understanding (and if not, you don’t have to look far to find one who is). The relationship people strike up with a therapist can be pivotal in helping shift away from isolation toward exploring the possibility of finding safe, meaningful connections with others.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with feeling isolated and want help in working through the process described above, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

Mental Health Recovery Is Never a Straight Line


When things go wrong with our physical health, we feel fairly certain that we know what to do and how to do it (rest, ice, medication, surgery, etc.), and fairly often this process is straight forward. Unfortunately, mental health isn’t so straightforward, and even more frustrating, recovery is hardly ever linear either and we don’t experience feeling better in a nice, neat, straight line. What are some of the reasons for this inexact progress?

Life Events Can be Unpredictable.

Life is mostly inconsistent and so many different factors add to the chaotic nature of our daily lives. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, there’s only so much that we can control. Our mental health can take a hit from the things that occur internally for us (thoughts, feelings, physical sensations), but also the things that happen externally in our outer experience. Often, our outer experience brings up certain negative thoughts and emotions, while our thoughts and emotions lead to a change in perspective about what events are happening in our lives.

Recovery Can Be Frustrating.

When we are struggling with mental health issues, lows can feel extraordinarily painful and crushing. We work so hard to move toward the life we want to live, towards good health and piece of mind, and those setbacks can really impact our hope and confidence negatively. We might find ourselves in a cycle of thought such as ‘I’ve tried so hard and things are still going backwards so everything is hopeless and I’ll never get better so there’s no point in trying any more’. It can be very easy to get into this cycle and very hard to get out of it again. Hitting a rough patch of events doesn’t mean that everything is hopeless and it certainly doesn’t mean that all of our hard work is for nothing, but we can be fooled into believing it when this is a persistent thought.

Mental Health Is Continually Changing.

We’re predisposed to measuring how depressed or anxious we are, and how this compares to some date in the past or how it compares to where we would like to be. This comparison and measuring is a very natural behavior, but if it isn’t done constructively, as in keeping a log or journal, it can lead to longing for rapid change when change is generally step-wise when it comes to mental health.

Not Understanding Our Stressors.

It often seems like there’s no logical reason for our mental health deteriorating, but there’s likely something, however small that has affected how we feel or triggered a reflexive thought (habits, boundaries being broken, lack of support, etc). Therapy can help with identifying what our triggers are and learn how to make sense of them, then how to handle them differently. The more knowledgeable we are about our stressors, the more prepared we are to make decisions which benefit us and are workable into the life we want to live.

Discounting Or Ignoring Our Progress and Changes.

We tend to get caught on a rollercoaster of ups and downs as we go through days and weeks and become hopeful and dejected based on the state of our mental health. We often lose sight of the fact that, despite the ups and downs, over the course of time, we are continuing to improve. Think of it in the way that looking at the stock market for a day, there are continuous ups and downs, but when you pull back and see the market over a longer period of time, the general direction is growth.

graph 1.jpeg
graph 2.jpeg

Blaming Ourselves For Regression.

Sometimes we use our mental health as a way to beat ourselves up, which only leads to more difficulty in staying the course with skills and new behaviors. We didn’t choose to have depression in the same way that we don’t choose to have a stomach flu. When we punish ourselves for how we feel, it makes us feel worse and starts yet another cycle and a likely spiral downward in mood.

Difficulty Accepting Emotion and Discomfort.

Not being okay can be hard to cope with, and so desperately want to be okay, but it is okay to have discomfort and still do the things in life that are important to us. We often avoid discomfort through easy and quick distractions or escape activities, which leads us to never truly know how resilient we are and how well we can actually live with discomfort until it naturally leaves us. We don’t believe that it is possible to live a full and vital life in the presence of sadness and anxiety, so we wait to begin living until they go away. The problem is that they don’t go away because emotions of all kinds are a part of the human experience. Focusing on them and attempting to resist them leads to them staying around and turning into depression and chronic anxiety.

If you would like assistance in your journey through mental health recovery, consider contacting me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

Depression: Why We Struggle to Trust Moments Of Happiness


When we have depression, especially when we’ve had depression for a long time, it can be hard to trust any improvements in our mood.  Over a period of long term depression, happiness can essentially become unfamiliar to us, which leads to it feeling scary and unpredictable. We might not know how to cope with it, which is ironic because we long for it so much. I’ve put together some of the reasons that happiness can be hard to trust and some ideas for managing these feelings.

1) There is Comfort in the Familiar

As awful as depression can be, it can be comforting in some ways, because it’s familiar. Depression is a known and can feel almost predictable at times. As odd as it sounds, beginning to feel a sense happiness or lessening of the heaviness of depression can be unsettling, unfamiliar and overwhelming. It’s absolutely okay to feel scared and want to retreat back into depression… change is scary.

2) It Can Feel Like a Balancing Act

Feeling happiness can feel like balancing on a tightrope. When we have depression, we might become hypersensitive to any change in our mood, just waiting for things to go wrong again. This can lead to a self fulfilling prophecy occurring (when our own expectations lead to changes in behavior, bringing about the expectation). Recovery isn’t a linear process and we will have good and bad days. We might find that our bad days can feel a little more tricky than those of people without depression and fear can set in quickly when we experience an all too familiar state of mind.

It’s important to remember that it is okay if we’ve been getting better for a while and suddenly our recovery halts, or we begin to feel worse again. Keeping a sound foundation of self-care strategies and applying skills through both ups and downs is key to finding stability. Tracking moods can be helpful and there are many free phone apps that make this easier to do. It can be effective in allowing us to recognize when our mood is actually improving and may help in being able to trust the improved mood.

3) We Might Not Know Who We Are Without the Depression

Depression can creep into every part of our lives and it can begin to feel like it is almost part of our identity. Emerging from depression and beginning to feel happiness again can be confusing as we almost have to rediscover ourselves again.

4) We Want to Do Everything All at Once

We are tempted into doing lots of things the minute we begin to feel better because of the increase in energy or hopefulness. We doubt it will stay, so we may try to make the most of the improved mood while we have it. If we run head first into everything too quickly, it could become overwhelming and we could run out of steam very quickly, cueing a change in mood based on the belief that depression is ‘back’ when physical lethargy may be what we are experiencing. It can be healthier to spread the activities out and plan in some important down time.

5) It Can Be Hard to Plan

Once we feel a little better and can begin look towards the future again with hope, we are often unable to trust our mood enough plan things in the future. We might want to move forward with our career or relationships, but we don’t know whether our mood will dip again. Out of fear, we may choose to ‘wait and see’ leaving us consistently in a holding pattern, which can lead to depressed mood returning. It can be helpful to take some time to consider the things we’d like to achieve and the steps involved in getting us there, bringing in the support of those in our support system to plan contingencies if depressed mood returns.

6) The Support We Have Might Change

When we are depressed for a long period of time, we may get support from a variety of people. We might worry that once we begin to recover and feel happiness again, we could lose some our support. It can sometimes feel as though others see our mood improve before we do, and remove the support too quickly. At other times, we might be okay, but worry that if we begin to feel worse again the support we need might not be there any more.

7) We Might Not Feel We Deserve Happiness

Depression can rob us of our self-worth. It tells us that we don’t deserve to good things including happiness. Depression is lying to us...we absolutely deserve to feel the whole range of emotions. It’s our experiences in life and the ways we interpret them that lead to the belief that we are different from everyone else, but it can be important to remember we are simply fallible human beings deserving of all that life has to offer to us.

If you are struggling with depression (or you know someone that is and can benefit from the help of a professional), feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

Depression: Why Do We Push Those We Love Away?


When we struggle with depression, we often find ourselves withdrawing from our loved ones and sometimes pushing people away. We don’t always know why, and it’s not always a conscious thing either. But it can be confusing, painful and unsettling to us. It can be confusing for those around us, too, because if we don’t know why we’re pushing them away, they won’t know why either. The following are some potential reasons that those that have depression try to isolate and push others away:

1. We Don’t Think People Want Us Around

Depression leaves us feeling worthless and useless. People will tell us that they want to be around us repeatedly, but we won’t necessarily believe it because it doesn’t match the story in our head that we tell ourselves. We can’t understand why anyone would want to spend time with us because we believe that we have nothing to offer or that we will bring them ‘down’. When people do invite us to things, we tell ourselves that they are ‘just being nice’, asking us out of a sense of obligation or charity. And we definitely don’t  feel worthy of their time.

2. We Struggle With Concentration

It takes a lot of concentration to follow conversations. Anxiety can increase quickly when we worry about looking silly or rude, or losing track of what’s going on. The fear that we won’t be able to keep up can make us freeze or shut down. Faced with that fear, it’s easier to push people away than worry about having to do things that we don’t feel able to do. We don’t want to be anyone’s disappointment.

3. We Have No Energy

Lacking in energy is a major byproduct of depression and it can be tough when we’re alone, let alone when we are around others. We’re expected to talk. We’re expected to smile. We’re expected to join in and participate. We push people away because we don’t have the energy to be around them. Life can seem as if it is a never ending effort to determine what is worth spending energy on, and being around people can be unpredictable and causes us to retreat to safety.

4. We Get Easily Irritated

Depression can lead to a low tolerance level for things (the illness alone is overwhelming), and we might get easily irritated and annoyed. We might lash out at those around us, especially if they do unexpected things, or change things without warning. Sometimes the fact that we get irritated and lash out, can feel as though we’re pushing people away which feeds into the guilt we already tend to carry.

5. We Feel Like a Burden

Depression can fool us into feeling like we are a burden to those around us. Having no energy, struggling for motivation, and having low self-confidence can lead us to feel as if others take on a lot when they are in relationships with us. We don’t see ourselves as bringing any value to our relationship(feelings of worthlessness). We don’t want to share our misery with them for fear that it will worsen their mood. We see ourselves as a drain on those around us and we push people away because we don’t want to burden them.

6. We Don’t Want To Upset or Hurt Others

Sometimes, when our loved ones hear how awful we’re feeling, it can upset them, because they care about us. It can be hard for them to see us hurting or in pain. If we begin to feel suicidal, and share that with a loved one, we see the pain and worry in their eyes. We see them wondering what they’re not doing enough of to help. Our loved ones might struggle to understand why we feel the way we do. It might hurt them, and we don’t want that, because we love them. So we push them away. What they don’t see can’t impact them.

7. We’re Fearful of Getting Hurt

We’re scared that people will get sick of us and leave. If we push people away, they can’t leave us, because we’ve already left them. It’s within our control. Sometimes we’d rather be isolated than constantly worrying about when people will get fed up with us and leave.

8. Sometimes, It’s Just Easier

Sometimes we push people away because it’s easier than having to pretend we’re okay. It’s easier than having to confront how far we’ve fallen from the person we once were (shame). When we’re by ourselves, we can often fool ourselves that we’re ‘okay,’ but being around others can be an abrupt reminder of the fact that we’re far from it.

If you’re struggling with depression (or you know someone you love that is) and this list resonates with you and your internal struggle, feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

Co-Rumination and Its Impact on Relationships

co rumination.jpg

Who do you turn to when you’re going through a challenging or difficult time? What do those conversations sound like? It can’t be overstated how important it is for us to feel socially connected and supported by the people around us, but not all forms of support are created equal. Also, the line between helping and hindering can be blurred, especially when conversations lean towards venting.

As comforting as it may be to have someone to turn to when you want to vent or debrief, it can be a slippery slope towards co-rumination. It’s possible you’ve never come across the idea of co-rumination, but chances are you’re familiar with rumination. When going through a difficult time, it’s common to repeatedly mull over events that took place (not to mention the ones that haven't even happened yet) and the things that were said (or not said). Sometimes this process can be helpful, because it can be a way of thinking things through, weighing our options, and figuring out new, creative solutions. On the other hand, it can also make us feel stuck and be less prepared to actually do anything constructive about the situation or the emotions we are experiencing. The deeper we are in a cycle of rumination, the harder it can be to recognize it’s happening and dig our way out.

This process can be even more difficult to spot when it happens in our closest relationships. Co-rumination involves repeatedly discussing and rehashing our problems and difficult feelings with someone else without coming up with a solution or resolution. The issue is, talking with a friend, partner, or family member about our problems can feel really good. It can make us feel supported, bring us closer together, and even trick us into believing we are doing something productive about our situation. Unfortunately, in the long run it can hold us back from moving forward and actually lead to worsening symptoms of anxiety and depression.

So, how can you spot co-rumination?

1. Know the signs

It’s important to recognize the difference between sharing and ruminating. Expressing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences is an important way to build closeness and trust in your relationships. But if you find yourself talking about the same experiences over and over again, particularly those that involve difficult emotions like anger, sadness, or envy, it can help to ask yourself the following questions to see if you’re caught in a cycle of co-rumination:

  • Is this a new problem?

  • Have I spoken about this before?

  • Am I predicting things that haven’t happened yet?

  • Do I have any new information that I haven’t shared or discussed?

2. Learn your patterns

With time, it will help to become aware of your patterns of communicating in times of high emotion. Certain topics are likely to bring on more venting or rumination and specific people may be easier to open up to.

  • Are there certain topics you tend to ruminate about (work, romantic relationships, family problems, finances, health concerns)?

  • Are you more likely to co-ruminate in certain settings (in person or on the phone, after or during work, while drinking alcohol)?

  • Are there certain people you tend to co-ruminate with?

How can you move from co-rumination to healthy processing?

1. Catch yourself co-ruminating and be compassionate

Becoming more aware of our behaviors and patterns can often be enough to help us move from co-rumination to finding solutions. The more you focus on recognizing co-rumination as it happens, the easier it’ll be to shift towards a more problem-solving approach. Why be compassionate with yourself? Judgement and self-criticism will likely lead to more emotional reactivity and lessened clarity of thought, which only makes finding a solution more difficult.

2. Weigh the short and long-term consequences

It’s important to validate for yourself the instinctual urge to relieve unwanted emotions, thoughts and sensations through venting, but, after the short term relief, co-rumination isn’t actually helpful for relieving the problem itself. In the long term, co-rumination has the potential to drive people away, especially when a relationship is unbalanced and conversations tend to be overly focused on one person’s difficulties or life.

3. Switch to active problem-solving

Ask yourself if there is a committed action step that can improve the situation right now, even in a small way. Actually taking action is more helpful than venting, not to mention that it is empowering rather than the victim mentality of venting. There will be times when there will be very little you can do to change your current situation or circumstances and this could be best handled by devoting energy toward those things in your life that you can control.

4. Strengthen your other coping strategies

The mind doesn’t like a vacuum, in absence of something to do, it will go back to what it knows. Trying to lessen your tendency to co-ruminate without having a replacement strategy will likely leave you feeling overwhelmed and likely feeling alone. It’s  important to find new ways to cope with whatever problem you are facing.

If you’re still struggling with how to determine alternatives to venting and this is leaving you overwhelmed, feel free to contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

The Dangers of Comparison and How to Deal With It


It starts when we are young and become more aware of ourselves and begin to notice how we are similar and different from others. It’s normal to compare and see how you may line up to others in various aspects of one’s self and life. It’s so deeply entrenched in our genetic makeup, because it was necessary to ‘fit in’ during Neanderthal times… otherwise, we would be exiled from the cave and susceptible to the real dangers of the world at the time, leading to death. Unfortunately, comparison can be a trigger for negative thinking and foster a never-ending stream of negative self-beliefs.  Even in learning environments we are often ranked and compared to others taking an exam, by GPA, or how well we complete tasks. It could cause a person to feel like they will never be good enough or measure up. As adults, such things are simply replaced by "grown-up" equivalents like money, material possessions and so on. Ironically, the most popular kids on the block are likely to be the ones who have the biggest need to compare themselves as adults, because they came to depend on the good opinion of others and on the ego-boost of being "first" or "the best", from a very young age.

The Dangers of Comparison:

  • Comparing Yourself is a Roller-Coaster Ride: Comparing yourself leads to your self worth being flung around by the opinion, words and actions of others. Even when you do feel better than others by comparison, the strength you gain is a temporary ego-boost. Once the ego-boost begins to fade (and it will), your insecurities resurface, triggering your need for outside reassurance and the ride starts again.

  • The Debilitating Need for Approval: If you compare yourself to others, you are likely to find that you also look to others for their approval. Needing the approval of others makes you second guess yourself and your decisions. It drains you of any sense of self and leaves you never quite sure of who you are and what you really want.

  • Comparing Yourself Fuels Your Insecurities: The nagging feeling of not being good enough, of needing the approval of others, of inadequacy, of envy, are all the result of comparing yourself to others. You can never quite feel good enough if your "good" is defined by the achievements of others. You can never quite approve of yourself if that approval depends on the opinion, words or actions of others. You can never quite be genuinely happy for the success of others when by comparison that success is greater than your own thereby making them better than you. You can never quite admire others' strengths when those strengths are the yardstick for your weaknesses.

Since comparing yourself to others is such a pointless and self-sabotaging exercise, the obvious question then is how do you stop it? The first step is to actually acknowledge that you actually do compare yourself. It may seem obvious, but you cannot change something if you do not acknowledge its existence.

Tips For Dealing with Comparison

  • Awareness: Most often we do these social comparisons without realizing we’re doing it. It’s a natural act and as a result it’s something that is done without consciousness. So the solution is to become conscious...bring the thoughts to the forefront of your consciousness by being on the lookout for them. If you focus on these thoughts for a few days, it gets much easier with practice, and soon it’ll be hard not to notice.

  • Stop yourself: Once you realize you’re doing these comparisons, give yourself a pause. Don’t berate yourself or feel bad...just acknowledge the thought, and gently change focus.

  • Focus on your strengths: Instead of looking at your weaknesses, ask yourself what your strengths are. Celebrate them and be proud of them. You don’t need to brag in order to have pride, so feel good about them and work on using them to your best advantage.

  • Be okay with imperfection: No one is perfect. We are all flawed human beings. Intellectually, we all know that, but emotionally we seem to feel bad when we don’t reach perfection. You can keep trying to improve, but don’t think you’ll ever be the “perfect person”. If you look at it in a different way, that imperfection is what makes you who you are, you can relieve yourself from a great deal of stress.

  • Learn to love being ‘enough’: If you always want what others have, you will never have enough. You will always want more. It’s an endless cycle, and it won’t lead to happiness. Learn to realize that what you have is already enough. If you have shelter over your head, food on the table, clothes on your back, and people who love you, you are fortunate. You have enough.

Comparisons can go hand and hand with depression and anxiety. If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of comparison and using it to fuel negative thoughts and feelings, I would encourage you to work with a professional on returning to a focus on your true self and your strengths.

If you are in the Lancaster, PA area, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

“The Haunting of Hill House” Part 1: The Stages of Grief

While I watched “The Haunting of Hill House” on Netflix recently, I found myself being more drawn to the symbolism more than the scary moments, recognizing that the ghosts, while scary, are just representations of the “ghosts” we carry with us through our lives and don’t ever want to face, but we know they are there… they follow us and haunt us... almost always brought on by trauma… I’ve convinced my wife to watch the show (I wanted to see it again!) and felt inspired to share some connections I’ve made to my role as a therapist and how they relate to all of us.

Obligatory Spoiler Alert. If you haven’t watched the show, go watch it now! I’ll wait!

Part One: The Crain Kids and the Stages of Grief

There may be a moment in the show when you come to the realization that each of the Crain siblings represent the stages of grief, and in this case, the grieving of their mother’s apparent suicide and the loss of an ability to lead a ‘normal’ life after the experiences at the house. Even more interesting is that they represent the stages from oldest (Steve) to youngest (Nell). If you are wondering what the stages of grief actually are, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross originally wrote about them in 1969 and her stages remain the ‘go to’ when trying to place grief in a framework. She named the stages as follows and she believed that they occured in this order, although current belief is that they cycle and the order is unique to each person:

  1. Denial: Somehow you must be mistaken, and cling to a false reality that is more acceptable to you.

  2. Anger: When the grieving person recognizes that denial can’t continue, they become frustrated and direct it toward others in their world. Often, there is a component of blame and victim mentality. "Why me? It's not fair!" or  "How can this happen to me?" are fairly common questions.

  3. Bargaining: The grieving person will attempt to essentially negotiate with the traumatic event. They might attempt to bargain with a higher power or attempt to adapt their life in order to put off facing the trauma.

  4. Depression: The grieving person may face their own mortality or come to believe that they have no reason to go on because of the loss in their life.

  5. Acceptance: The grieving person comes to acknowledge the trauma event as reality and there is some type of relief or catharsis.

Steven Crain as “Denial”: Steve goes through his life denying what he saw and experienced as a child at Hill House. He discredits any memories of ghosts in the house when brought up by his siblings, and he believes that they are all mentally ill, just like their mother which led to her suicide. Somehow, what he knows to be true has to have another explanation than the reality.

Steve’s denial is best represented when Steve’s father told Steve to close his eyes as they are escaping the house. Steve metaphorically, kept his eyes shut all the way through his life. Throughout the show, Steve is in the position to have to face the truth (Nell’s death, the clock repairer ghost appearing to him) until a point late in the show when his denial is broken and can’t be sustained any longer.

Shirley Crain as “Anger”: Shirley is a walking ball of anger. Angry with her father for leaving the home without her mother, at Steve for exposing the family to ridicule by writing the story of Hill House, and angry at Nell for repeating what happened to their mother. Shirley has spent a good deal of her life resenting the fact that she had to be the ‘mom’ of the family, because her mother left them and Steve wouldn’t accept responsibility (victim). Her life is out of control and she unsuccessfully tries to control it...the fear of being out of control comes out in anger.

Theodora Crain as “Bargaining”: Theo wears her gloves to keep herself from feeling (she has  adapted her life in order to avoid facing her trauma) if the gloves are a way to control her empathic skills (or telepathic, in this case). The gloves shield her from deep interpersonal relationships which she also does by limiting her relationships to one night stands. She lives her life in an attempt to avoid connection (the significance of being the middle child (loner, excluded) is at play here too), but later in the series, when she touches Nell’s dead body and feels nothing, she comes to a realization that connection (to something, to anything) is all that she wants. Her confessional speech to Shirley about feeling empty and wanting to connect with her life again after they run off the road is raw and powerful (giving me more chills than the ghosts!).

Luke Crain as “Depression”: When Luke discovers that his twin sister, Nell, is dead, he believes that he can’t go on living without her. Luke and Nell arguably experienced the worst of the horror in Hill House (compounded by their innate twin connection) and Luke uses heroin as a way of numbing his suffering (this numbing is very prevalent in people that feel flooded with emotional pain). He also has the obsessive tendency to count to seven (the number of family members) to build a protective wall around him to keep the trauma away. Even when he attempts to pull out of the depression through gaining sobriety for 90 days, the “floating man” follows him wherever he goes, reminding him of the pain he wants to avoid.

Nellie Crain as “Acceptance”: Nell is haunted by the “bent-neck lady” throughout her life, leading to high levels of depression and anxiety. Later, she comes to the realization that what she has been witnessing (the physical aftermath of a suicide by hanging) has been her all along in the future. After Nell ‘gives herself’ to the house in an attempt to reunite with her dead mother, she is able to reach a point of forgiveness of her siblings for what they have done in their lives to discount, minimize, blame, or exclude her. There is relief in her forgiveness...she’s no longer suffering with anger or depression. She tells her siblings at the end of the show, “Forgiveness is warm. Like a tear on a cheek,” noting that she loved them completely and she knows they loved her, despite their actions that have hurt her in the past.

While grief is a current that runs through “The Haunting of Hill House,” it is a significant factor in each of our lives from time to time. It can be something that exacerbates a mental illness or brings underlying mental illness into our awareness. If you are grieving the loss of something or someone in your life, please seek professional help to guide you through the grieving process.

For help with your grieving process in the Lancaster, PA area, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and schedule an appointment today.

Depression Does Not Discriminate

depression does not disciminate.jpg

The ugly truth about depression is that it doesn’t give a damn who you are. It does not discriminate. It is an equal opportunity illness that can afflict us all at any time. Depression doesn’t care if you were the top in your class and graduated with honors, or if you were the most popular kid in school  and were constantly surrounded by friends. Depression doesn’t care if are a young child with loving, caring parents, or if you are the star athlete on your team. Depression doesn’t care if you just married the person of your dreams and have your whole life ahead of you, or if you gave birth to the healthiest, happiest, most beautiful child ever. Depression does not care if you landed your dream job, built the most successful company, or are a Hollywood celebrity like Dwayne Johnson. It doesn’t care if you make millions. You cannot buy it off.

Sometimes the thought is “if I only had ______, then I will be happy.” This faulty thought leads to always searching for the next item, the next dollar, the next promotion to seek happiness. But what happens when those things come to you and you still are not happy? You seek out more (something external to resolve something internal). It’s a never ending cycle that leaves us exhausted and empty.

Shedding some light on some of the famous people we see and imagine that they ‘Have it all” and envy their lives, can reveal another reminder that depression, and mental illness in general, do not discriminate:


“I found that, with depression, one of the most important things you could realize is that you’re not alone.”

In a 2018 interview, actor Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson says he’s battled depression multiple times in his life. The first came at 15 after his mother attempted suicide in front of him. His most severe episode happened after injuries forced him to give up his dream of playing professional football. Johnson encourages people with depression to ask for help, even if being vulnerable feels hard.


“We’re talking suicidal thoughts here, we’re not talking ‘I’m a little bit miserable.’ “

The author told Oprah Winfrey in 2010: “It's so difficult to describe depression to someone who's never been there, because it's not sadness, but it's that cold absence of feeling - that really hollowed-out feeling.”

Rowling added that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helped her move forward. Rowling says she has never been ashamed of depression or of deciding to seek help.


“We live in a world where to admit anything negative about yourself is seen as a weakness, when it’s actually a strength. It’s not a weak move to say, ‘I need help.’”

Hamm has been open about his struggles with depression and says it was particularly rough after his father died when he was in college. In an interview with InStyle magazine, Hamm spoke about the benefits of therapy.


“I said to myself so many times, ‘Why didn’t I [get help] 10 years ago?’”

Phelps had an episode of depression “after every Olympics” beginning in 2004. After the 2012 Olympics, he says he spent days in his room with little food or sleep, thinking about ending his life. After that episode, he decided to get treatment. As Phelps talked with a mental health professional, he felt much better than before.

By questioning how it is even possible that people we believe should have nothing to be sad about, but do actually suffer from depression, we are actually sending the message that, if you have what we deem to be enough, then we don’t want to hear about how unhappy you really are, because you aren’t ‘supposed to be depressed.’ How often have you thought “what do they have to be sad about?” Doing so belittles over 10 million adults… the people going to work or school every day, raising their kids and taking them to Taekwondo, violin recitals, and sports practices, or showing up at school meetings…  all while suffering from depression every day.

If you or a loved one is experiencing depression, you are not alone. Depression can affect people from all walks of life. A therapist can help you improve your mood and regain your sense of self. There is no shame in getting help.

For Depression counseling in Lancaster, PA, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / and take the opportunity to make change a lot more comfortable!!

  1. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: My secret battle with depression. (2018, April 1). Express. Retrieved from

  2. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson shares inspiring message for people with depression. (2015, November 17). Today. Retrieved from

  3. J.K. Rowling contemplated suicide. (2008, March 23). Telegraph. Retrieved from

  4. Oprah Winfrey Show: “The Brilliant Mind Behind Harry Potter.”

  5. InStyle: "Jon Hamm on Life After Mad Men and Why Being Single 'Sucks.' ”

  6. Michael Phelps: ‘I am extremely thankful that I did not take my life.’ (2018, January 20). CNN. Retrieved from

To Like, Share, or Comment on this, simply click the blog title.