Therapy is about a lot more than brilliant one-liners, but they do have a way of sticking out. When you hear the right words in the right order, they can nestle into your brain and somehow, unbelievably, make it to your long-term memory and continue to serve you forever. Below, in a story originally published in April of 2018, 12 people share the small bits of advice from therapy they never forgot. Just in case you need it today.
My housemate has a panic attack every time she’s on the tube—there’s something about the never-ending tunnels and the lack of exits that does it, I think. After a few years of shaking and crying every day, panic had sadly become a regular part of her commute. The multiple therapists she’d seen about it were no help, and she was resigned to thinking it would be her life forever. And then, last week, she had an appointment with a therapist who was different, who told her exactly what she needed to hear: “You’re underestimating your ability to cope.”
My friend’s face when she told me about it later made it clear: This was her breakthrough moment, the moment she finally got some advice that cut through the crap and put her on the path she needed to be on to help herself. For her, it took someone else to say, “You can do this.” My moment came when I received this piece of advice from my therapist for managing my panic attacks: “Find five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can touch, two you can smell and one you can taste [this could be your morning coffee, or food between your teeth].”
It’s simple, I know, but it was a huge for me. Now, every time I feel a panic attack coming on, I am able to stop it in its tracks, simply by taking a second to calmly and methodically get in touch with my surroundings. When I heard the relief in my friend’s voice (and remembered my own), I decided to ask 12 other women to share the advice that gave them clarity, that served as some kind of unforgettable changing of the tides. Turns out, breakthrough advice is something most people feel compelled to share. Some of the examples below are from therapists; others came from wise moms, sisters and friends. If you have some to share, pop it in the comments— you never know, it could be all the therapy one of us needs.
“My therapist told me to treat myself as softly and kindly as I would treat my former child self. It really resonated with me.”
“Thanking your fear and doubt for its concern really helps me. I find realizing that anxiety can come from a good place, like love, really reassuring.”
“I was having a panic attack in a session and my therapist told me to stand up and do some jumping jacks. It made me focus on something else and help regulate my breathing.”
“I think the best thing I got in therapy was the praise and reminder for how well I’m doing, despite all the hardships. Tender encouragement and chocolate — it’s a good mix.”
“That if you’re acting stressed (fast-breathing, foot-tapping, chain-smoking, etc.) your body is sending stressed-out signals to your brain, which means it makes adrenaline and works you up even more. I’m a super tense person so that reminded me to stay mindful and relax my body when I need to.”
“My therapist validated the fuck out of all of my traumatic experiences that had been downplayed my entire life. That was the most healing for me.”
“When you’re panicking about something that could happen, think about how actually likely it is to happen. Like, if your boss wants to have a meeting with you, how likely is it really that you’re going to be fired? If you’re on a plane, there’s almost no chance it’s going to crash.”
“The shark cage metaphor for trauma and PTSD is one of my favorites: People aren’t born with strong boundaries, it’s the people around us that help us to build them when we’re young. If something traumatic happens in our lives, it knocks a bar away from our cage, and it’s okay to ask for help to build it back up.”
“Whenever I see someone who triggers panic and trauma for me, I list all the differences between them and myself.”
“When I feel anxious or fearful I try to thank that thought for trying to protect me from what it thought was danger. I also like to focus on all my senses, and name things as I see them.”
“That you’re not crazy for thinking you can’t concentrate — the stress of depression and anxiety can make it hard for your mind to focus. My therapist taught me some productivity strategies designed for people with attention-deficit-disorder and they were so helpful when I was having a bad day at work.”
“That we cannot control what happens, only the way we react to it. Also that every negative pathway of thinking is a learned behavior that we can only change with time, practice and patience.”
Kelly Pigram is a writer based in London. You can follow her on Twitter @kellypgram
Graphics by Coco Lashar.