Category: Anxiety

emotional agility-mindfulness

Emotional Agility

I recently came across a Ted Talk video, presented by Psychologist Susan David.

I really resonated with it. She says, “You don’t get to have a meaningful career, or raise a family, or leave the world a better place, without stress or discomfort.”

Too often we feel shame for experiencing “negative” emotions and try to force ourselves into false positivity. However, most of these “negative” emotions are within the range of normal human experience.

I say we stop labeling emotions as good or bad and learn to accept what we are feeling, knowing that it will pass with time.

All that is worthwhile does not come to us if we are not willing to experience some disappointment, failure, discomfort or fear along the way. Stress is an inevitable part of life.

I shared the video with my own soapbox spiel on social media and got an overwhelming response, which told me that other people strongly agree. Apparently, I am not alone in feeling like we have been conditioned to struggle against any emotions that are seen as negative. I’ve personally come to believe that “undesirable” emotions are not inherently bad or wrong — they just get us hooked.

In David’s book, Emotional Agility, she outlines the feelings that so often get us hooked. She lists things like self-doubt, shame, sadness, fear and anger and notes that these feelings can often steer us in the wrong direction.

She states that emotionally agile people aren’t immune to stresses and setbacks, instead they adapt. In essence, they unhook. They align their actions with their values and make small but powerful changes that lead to a lifetime of growth.

She goes on to say, “Emotional agility is not about ignoring difficult emotions and thoughts; it’s about holding them loosely, facing them courageously and compassionately, and then moving past them to bring the best of yourself forward.”

I can really get behind her ideas because these are also some of the key components underlying my mindfulness-based approach to therapy.

It’s also the underpinnings of Buddhism (the original masters of mindfulness). So, in short, these concepts are not new. However, they are not very well understood or utilized in our current society.

There is a cultural conditioning that tells us we should seek out pleasure and avoid displeasure, no matter the cost. We are on a perpetual wheel, seeking happiness and joy as a constant state.

emotional agility-mindfulness

The reality is, all emotions are just passing states. We struggle when we try to cling or hold on to any one emotional experience. As a society, we value certain emotional experiences over others.

The good news is this doesn’t have to be the case. We have the power to choose. We can choose to suffer and fight against what is, or we can adapt and align our actions according to our own values.

I think that Susan David’s work on Emotional Agility is highly relevant to us as a society now. It is based in science and is comprised of over 20 years of her research and experience. It also speaks to those of us who are driven in ways that Buddhist monks simply were not.

She looks at how Emotional Agility contributes to success, rather than takes away from it. She says that, “no matter how intelligent or creative people are, or what type of personality they have, it is how they navigate their inner world – their thoughts, feelings, and self-talk – that ultimately determines how successful they will become.”

In conclusion, I am in full support of dropping false positivity and instead celebrating ALL of the feelings that accompany every meaningful success or life experience. I am releasing the need to struggle against my feelings, and I am embracing acceptance at the highest level.

Are you with me?

If so, please reach out for a free 15-minute phone consultation. We can discuss if this counseling is right for you.

Stress and the Nervous System

Here is a great article on stress and the nervous system.

In this article, yoga and breathing are listed as some of the most beneficial ways to relieve stress and impact mood through working with the nervous system.

In my Psychology of Yoga for Anxiety and Depression workshop on Nov. 4th, you will learn specific strategies for reducing stress and alleviating anxiety and depression using yoga and breathwork.

We will go into depth about how to help restore emotional balance by understanding the nervous system.

This is cutting edge work, with an emphasis on the neuroscience of yoga. Register now by emailing me at Space is limited.

Workshop Info:

Time and date: Saturday, November 4th, 9:30am – 12:30pm
Location: The Wellness Center of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA
Investment: $50

Join psychology and yoga specialist Jenna Griffith in exploring the different types of stress, anxiety and depression and why treatment is not a one-size-fits-all. Weaving the ancient wisdom of yoga with current evidence-based treatments, this workshop offers an introductory glimpse into how to tailor your own practice or assist others using yoga. Ideal for professionals or anyone struggling with these issues. Beginners welcome!

You will gain:

~A deeper understanding of the neuroscience behind stress, anxiety, and depression

~A deeper understanding of how yoga and breathwork impact the mind/body

~Safe and effective methods to support mental health with yoga

Pre-Registration is required. To register, contact Jenna Griffith at

Health Kick or Eating Disorder?

An article in the UK-based Independent outlined 6 warning signs that your health kick might be an eating disorder.

The six signs are:

  1. Do you feel preoccupied with food thoughts?
  2. Do you have rigid rules around food?
  3. Do your rules affect your mood?
  4. Do people close to you notice your extremity?
  5. Do you categorize foods as good and bad?
  6. Does food dictate what you do socially?

When I first saw this article, it really hit home because I have experienced all of these warning signs. What is scary about this kind of eating disorder is that it’s easy to fool yourself (and others) into thinking that you’re doing something healthy.

When I was in my early 20’s, I went on a slew of health kicks. It began innocently enough as I was trying to resolve some diagnosed health issues. I believed that I could greatly improve my health through my diet. (I still 100% believe that diet and nutrition are critical parts of health — mental, physical and emotional).

I tried raw, vegan, and “clean” eating. While I felt better at first, I began to rapidly feel worse. I lost a lot of weight. I made an emergency visit to the doctor because I thought something was terribly wrong with me. In hindsight, I was having a panic attack, but didn’t know it at the time. My health habits were causing a high amount of anxiety.

They took my weight at the doctor’s office and I weighed 105 pounds (I am 5’6” so that is definitely too low to be healthy). I had just come off a 5-day juice cleanse. I my mind, it was something to be proud of. I was taking control of my health. When I told the doctor, she was critical and suggested I put on more weight by lifting my restricted way of eating and adding in more variety of foods. I wrote it off under the guise that Western doctors don’t know what real health is. I thought they were all just brainwashed to believe in the merit of the standard american diet, while I knew better than that. I left the doctor’s office feeling frustrated and misunderstood.

As the months went on, I noticed that I had stopped with a lot of my regular social activities because I felt people didn’t understand (or support) my way of eating. I didn’t want to have the pressure of being around “bad” foods, so I just opted out of social events or dinners with friends all together. I was lonely. People began to express concern, but again I ignored it because I thought they just didn’t understand.

This loneliness eventually led me to binge on the “bad” foods in private. I would obsess over obtaining the object of my craving. Once in hand, I would start eating it and couldn’t stop. I had all sorts of justifications and rationalizations for this, including, “if I finish it all tonight, then I won’t have any tomorrow (or ever again).” This kicked off a whole cycle of guilt and shame. Many of you reading this may know this cycle well.

However, once I was able to recognize that the stress, shame and guilt began to outweigh the benefits of my health kick, I knew it needed to change. It didn’t happen overnight, but I am fortunate that I had the tools, resources, and support to shift my habits. I slowly began to ease back into an more balanced approach to eating again. However, it wasn’t until years later that I realized that my “health kick” was really a form of an eating disorder.

My advice: check out this list and see if anything strikes a cord. If you recognize some of these warning signs, be really honest with yourself about where you’re at with it.

If you notice someone you care about displaying some of these, then it may not be easy to approach that person about it. Likely, they will defend their choices in the name of health. However, keeping an eye out and letting them know you are there is a great starting point.

Disclaimer: I would never want to discourage people from eating more cleanly and avoiding processed foods (for the most part). I think it’s always a good idea to add in more organic, fresh fruits and vegetables as well as high quality meat (if you eat meat). I would also never want to encourage friends or family to judge someone’s healthy lifestyle as “disordered” without having a clear understanding of what an eating disorder looks like. Sometimes it’s hard for people to develop healthy habits because of a lack of support. I would not want to contribute to this lack of support for a healthy lifestyle by writing this article.

Here’s the invitation:

Step into a healthy relationship with food.

  • A relationship where you don’t obsess or stress over food.
  • A relationship where you don’t need to label foods good and bad.
  • A relationship where you are able to ask your body what it needs and nourish it appropriately.

Meet the Perfectionist — Is This You?

I find that many of my clients (often unknowingly!) suffer from Perfectionism.

Confession: it’s easy for me to spot in others because it is something that struggled with for most of my childhood and into my late twenties. I have done a lot of work to unravel the tightly wound persona of the perfectionist (and it’s still a work in progress).

So what is perfectionism, and why does it matter?

  • Perfectionism can result in a rigid mindset, where the expectations do not fit with the situation.
  • Perfectionists can only like themselves when they do something well.
  • Perfectionists are so self-critical and hard-driving that they push themselves beyond what is reasonable.
  • The perfectionist’s greatest fear is being exposed as incompetent.

These traits are problematic because they create significant stress and pressure in the perfectionist’s life and can cause  a cascade of physical, mental and emotional problems.

If you are a person who struggles with anxiety, addiction, or trauma then this sneaky persona may be at play.

The perfectionist is all wrapped up with attachment to certainty and control. In theory, if you can control your environment and circumstances, then you will be safe. (This is what the perfectionist believes, at least). And it makes biological sense! If you have experienced trauma (major or minor), then your primal brain has learned to try and control things as much as possible so that you don’t have to experience that trauma again. It is a survival mechanism, designed to keep you safe.

Once you begin to recognize and identify the patterns of perfectionism, then you can consciously choose to act in more empowering and productive ways.

The problem with a perfectionist mentality is that it stomps out happiness, joy, and spontaneity. The perfectionist has adopted a rigid way of thinking that is driven by the pressure to be perfect and do things perfectly.

As a perfectionist, you believe that you have to earn your worth and value as a person. Your identity is equal to what you have accomplished or achieved. When your self-esteem and identity are attached to these external factors, then anxiety and depression can result. Your self-esteem will rise and fall along with whatever you attach it to.

A common example I see with many of my female clients is with weight. Self-esteem is attached to the number on the scale, thus creating an emotional roller coaster ride from hell.

This creates an addictive cycle, driven by the pressure to “get it right.” This pressure can be so great that it takes over your life. You make it more important than your relationships or enjoyment of life. You put being productive at work or achieving your goal weight above your significant other, your friends, and taking care of yourself. This creates isolation and further anxiety and depression for the perfectionist.

As a perfectionist, you may also have to use food, substances, shopping, or work to numb yourself from your real feelings. This is how you effectively crush your ability to experience life fully. You attempt to carefully control what you feel and how much you feel it.

This is a lot of work — it’s exhausting!

You can see now that perfectionist thinking is a slippery slope. It was designed to keep you safe, yet it has unhelpful consequences that can take over your life.

Luckily, with practice and intention, you can let go of the perfectionist way of thinking. You can undo the unsupportive mental habits you’ve developed and create new (healthy!) ones.

I am a self-proclaimed Recovering Perfectionist, and I can help you on your path to recovery. I know what it’s like because I’ve been there.

I can help you see your blind spots because they were once my own. We often think that we need to push ourselves in order to be successful, but that’s simply not true! Once you open up and let go of what’s out of your control, you allow your creativity and passion to flourish. It’s a beautiful thing!

Are you a perfectionist? Take the free quiz here!


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The Four (Surprising!) Anxiety-Provoking Personas and How to Recognize Them

Psychologist Edmund Bourne identifies the four most common negative self-talk “personas” related to anxiety. Do you recognize any of these four anxiety-provoking personas in yourself? Or maybe you’ve acted out ALL of them, at some point in your life.

The Four Anxiety-Provoking Personas are:

  1. The Worrier
  2. The Critic
  3. The Victim
  4. The Perfectionist

The worrier: You may relate to this one all too easily. The worrier is preoccupied with what could happen or go wrong. Worry is a largely unproductive thought pattern, yet we (as humans) are addicted to it. In many Buddhist and Eastern traditions, worry is seen as one of the roots of suffering. I would have to agree.

The critic: Ah yes, the critic. I have had some hard talks with my inner critic over the years. If you have a strong critic, you know that it likes to steal the show (and your happiness along with it). Nothing is ever good enough for the critic. Sometimes the critic and the perfectionist walk hand-in-hand (read about the perfectionist below).

The victim: The victim is pretty self-explanatory. If you don’t personally identify with the victim persona, I’m guessing that you can quickly think of someone who does. The victim is a part I found myself playing a lot in my younger years. It takes a lot of work to shift from the victim into the empowered adult.

The perfectionist: Oh yes, my favorite! The perfectionist is a sneaky one. Often times, people with a perfectionistic mindset are unaware that this persona is in action. They may easily recognize the other personas within themselves, but the perfectionist remains hidden. This is because perfectionists see doing things ‘just right’ or ‘exceeding expectations’ as the norm that everyone should strive for. The perfectionist believes your sense of self-worth must be earned and reinforced. Doesn’t everyone feel that way? (Thinks the perfectionist).

It’s easy to see how these personas contribute to anxiety. When you often have catastrophic or critical thoughts, it’s not easy to be emotionally balanced. These pervasive personas may be continually robbing you of joy, happiness, and peace of mind.

The good news is: with awareness, you can identify, name and change these pesky parts of the psyche. You can move forward with your life, and experience freedom from anxiety.


Three Things You Need to Know about Anxiety and Self-Talk

Anxiety is closely related to negative self-talk. The thoughts we have can trigger a response in our body and in our emotional state. If we have negative thoughts, then we will likely experience accompanied unwanted feelings and physical sensations.

For example: if we think of something stressful we have coming up (perhaps a final exam), then we are likely to have a physiological (body) reaction, such as increased heart rate, sweaty palms, etc, as well as a negative emotional response. The negative emotional response could be fear, anger, or anxiousness, to name a few.

The tricky part is: usually we are not aware of the thought that precipitated the physical and emotional response. When we start to use our awareness to link them all together, we realize that our thoughts really do create our reality.

Here are some things you need to know about negative self-talk:

1. You don’t have to believe your thoughts. Thoughts are just thoughts. The only power they have is the power you give them.Unfortunately, most of the time we are not filtering our thoughts with this level of intention. Instead, we are simply accepting them as truth (with a capital T). We believe all the mean, nasty, cruel, and unhelpful things that we say to ourselves.With practice, you can learn to develop awareness of your thoughts. Then, you get to choose which ones to believe and which ones to let go. I recommend only holding onto thoughts that serve you.

2. Negative self-talk causes avoidance, and avoidance causes suffering. If you talk yourself out of doing things because of fear or worry, you only reinforce your anxiety. You also put off being proactive about things that would actually help to alleviate the anxiety. Here’s an example; let me paint a picture for you. Let’s say you have some social anxiety. There is a networking event that would provide you with a great opportunity to meet new colleagues and gain recognition for the new book you just wrote. However, you experience negative self-talk that tells you nobody will like you or people will judge your work. This may lead you to avoid the event. You then start having more anxiety about the avoidance. You know you should go, but you can’t bring yourself to do it. Your colleagues ask why you’re not attending, and you go to great lengths to explain or justify your reasons for not going (none of them are true).

Now you have just exerted a tremendous amount of energy, avoiding something that probably isn’t all that scary in reality. Now it has become a big thing in your mind, and the anxiety around it has gotten much worse. All of this is because you believed your negative self-talk and allowed it to create avoidance, instead of taking action toward what you really want.

3. Negative self-talk is a learned behavior that can be changed. You can re-wire your brain to operate differently. Here’s how it works: what you think about the most creates deep grooves in your brain’s feedback loops. If you often revert to negative self-talk, that is the feedback loop that will be the strongest (or have the most well-worn pathway).

Re-training your brain to focus on the positive or helpful thoughts will carve out a new, healthier pathway in the brain’s circuitry. Once you practice utilizing this new feedback loop more and more, the easier it will become. Thinking positive or affirming thoughts will become your new norm.

It is possible to overcome negative self-talk and develop supportive mental habits.

The take home: By first bringing awareness to the thoughts, then taking action toward what you want, you can begin to change your reality. Because negative self-talk is usually deeply ingrained, I recommend working with a professional who can help guide you through these steps of the process. You don’t have to do it all on your own.

Click here to watch an in-depth video on how to re-wire the brain.

How to Relieve Anxiety in 3 Minutes or Less

There is an exercise that I often like to use with my clients and yoga students. It’s called “Five Things.” The purpose of the exercise is to bring your awareness fully into the now.

This is very useful during times of stress, anxiety, and even panic. If you ever get to a point where you are overwhelmed and things feel like they are swirling around you, then this practice can be especially helpful.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Plant your feet firmly on the ground. Notice how solidly they are connected to the floor.
  2. Now, notice 5 things that you notice. The idea is to engage as many of your senses as you can.
  3. If possible, notice one thing you can see, one thing you can hear, one thing you can smell, one thing you can touch, and perhaps a taste in your mouth.

For example, “I notice a white lamp, I notice the sound of people talking. I notice the smell of food cooking. I notice the texture of the shirt I am wearing. I notice a sweet taste in my mouth.”

You get the point…

This is an exercise designed to ANCHOR you in the present moment, even if everything around you seems to be chaotic or out of control.

This can help greatly to calm anxiety and panic, because (generally) when you are fully present, there is no immediate threat in that moment. It also helps you momentarily let go of all the to-do’s that exist in the future.

When you become aware of your immediate surroundings, you tune into what is real in the moment. Most of what we worry about only exists in the future or the past.

Planting the feet is ALWAYS good practice, no matter what the situation. If you are skipping the rest of the exercise and only doing step #1, you are still going to find some benefit.

However, if you are able to do the “5 Things” exercise in it’s entirety, then you are well on your way to finding relief.

Give the exercise a try and comment below on your experience!


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emotional agility-mindfulness

Emotional Agility

I recently came across a Ted Talk video, presented by Psychologist Susan David. I really resonated with it. She says, “You …