The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been spending much of your time watching or re-watching some of your favorite shows from the past like Girlfriends, Living Single, or One on One. But did you know that there’s a very good reason why so many of us are turning to old favorites right now to help soothe ourselves? Joining us again this week to dig into why, is Dr. Alicia Little Hodge. She and I chatted about how nostalgia works to calm anxiety, how anxiety looks different since the pandemic, and she offers her perspective on managing our anxiety around the election season.
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Session 179: The Role of Nostalgia in Managing Anxiety
Dr. Joy: Hey, y’all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 179 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. If you're anything like me, you've probably been spending much of your time watching or rewatching some of your favorite shows from the past, like Girlfriends, Living Single or One on One. But did you know that there's a very good reason why so many of us are turning to our old favorites right now to help soothe ourselves? Joining us again this week to dig into why, is Dr. Alicia Little Hodge who you may remember from Session 38–Slaying Your Anxiety, an all-time favorite.
Dr. Hodge is a licensed psychologist in Maryland and a registered psychology associate in the state of Virginia. She received a master's in counseling psychology from Bowie State University, as well as a master's and doctorate degree in clinical psychology from the University of Hartford. Dr. Hodge has extensive experience in providing cognitive behavioral therapy across various treatment settings with adolescents and adults, and is a certified adoption-competent therapist.
She and I chatted about how nostalgia works to calm anxiety, how anxiety looks different since the pandemic, and she offers her perspective on managing our anxiety around the election season. If something resonates with you during our chat, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us again, Dr. Hodge.
Dr. Hodge: Thank you for having me back. I'm so excited.
Dr. Joy: Always a pleasure. If you missed Dr. Hodge’s first interview with us about slaying your anxiety, Session 38, it is a classic so you definitely want to revisit. But I wanted to have you back today to talk about something that it feels like is unique to what's happening with the pandemic. It feels like there has been a resurgence in people revisiting their old favorites. We know Netflix just got Girlfriends and One on One, and people are just kind of going back to watching some of their favorite TV shows. Can you talk a little bit about how that might be calming and the purpose of that during the pandemic?
Dr. Hodge: I think that because the times are so uncertain, it can be nice to revisit something that gave us fond memories, good feelings, just the warmth of it, like sort of returning to something. If you think about it, we already know what happened so there's no surprises, there's a little bit less suspense, but it's also giving you a space to sort of like focus and/zone out on something that you don't have to essentially think too hard about.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, and I think when we think about just our bandwidth and the amount of mental resources we have, for a lot of us, they're probably minimal, right? So if we want to kind of just feel entertained, we don't necessarily want to have to do a whole bunch of extra thinking.
Dr. Hodge: Exactly. Because when you think about it, a lot of these stories, the cast members feel like friends or family to us, we're familiar with them. Although we may be watching it again with different eyes because of life experience, it feels very comforting to not have to follow in great detail, like a plot development. And you return to something like, “I remember this.” In a way, this is when times felt simpler.
Dr. Joy: Right, yeah. You mentioned that it is kind of escapist and I know it feels like that's an interesting thing to talk about as it relates to anxiety. Because even when you were with us the first time, you talked about some escape is okay but too much is not great, especially when we're talking about anxiety. Can you talk a little bit about where that line is, about escapism versus doing too much to avoid the anxiety?
Dr. Hodge: Definitely. I will admit the line is blurry, meaning we all need… You mentioned bandwidth and I believe that we all have limited bandwidth, especially right now, and it can be very tempting to say I want to disconnect in a way that is entertaining. That's usually through like TV and now that we have the ability to binge, we have the ability to sort of cocoon ourselves because we are at home, you have to pay attention to “Am I losing track of time?” Because I can intentionally binge. There are times when I'm like, I'm going to watch four episodes and make no apologies for it. And I think that can be okay, but it's more so if you look up and you're like, “I started watching this at one and it's six o'clock, and I don't really know how I got here. And I actually haven't even really been watching the show.” That might be a sign that you are escaping under the guise of relaxing and entertainment.
Dr. Joy: And how much of that is okay right now, Dr. Hodge? Because we know so much of this even started with us being anxious about contracting COVID-19 and we're still concerned about that, right? But it just feels like anxiety is at such an all-time high that I honestly don't know all the time where the line is about, like, how much is manageable and how much is not.
Dr. Hodge: That's a good point. And to be honest, I wish I had a hard and fast answer like “this is okay–this is not okay.” I think the reality of it is “are you particularly not attended to certain responsibilities?” might be the answer. So, if you find I've just been escaping, bingeing and I haven't been eating properly, I haven't done any of my responsibilities and/or chores and now I feel potentially worse, then I would take a look at how are you coping? How are you taking care of yourself?
But with anxiety, I think one of the things that I talked about in our last interview was the difficulty with uncertainty and everything is uncertain right now, if you ask me. You don't know what's safe and what's not safe. Of course, I will be clear, we have CDC guidelines. However, it doesn't feel so great to go out and do the things that we used to do or we're restricted. So ultimately, we don't know, like there's no end date to the pandemic, there's no specific answer about what is okay and what's not okay. So, I would say it's a really personal thing to say or to evaluate what am I potentially dropping the ball on? Meaning, I may not make dinner every day like I used to; however, if I'm not making dinner and I'm not eating and I'm not feeling well and I'm not sleeping, those are sort of signs that this may be out of proportion to how I would expect someone to try to be coping at the moment.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. And is there any kind of programming that you would say is probably not programming we want to be engaged in right now? Or we may just want to kind of think twice about?
Dr. Hodge: You know, I have to admit that I used to be a fan of some of those movies like “end of world.” End-of-world movies! And if you still have the capacity for it, go for it, but if you start watching it and you notice your heart is beating significantly or you're just like, oh my gosh, this is just like now. I knew it. These are the signs. I would encourage you to take a step back from some of those apocalyptic movies and maybe stick to another type of thriller.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Which, you know, is so interesting because I think early on in the pandemic, a lot of people were revisiting those kinds of movies and I think it was an attempt to get some answers. Even though we knew it was fictionalized, people still were just craving like, okay, what can I expect? Because we have no framework for how a pandemic really unfolds.
Dr. Hodge: That is true. There is some research on individuals with anxiety who actually enjoy scary movies because it sort of allows them to assert some sort of control, like I am intentionally scaring myself in a small dose. So that, to me, kind of explains wanting to look at some of those things. But if you find that it puts you in a worse off place, you definitely have it under your power to say: You know what? I will not engage in that way.
Dr. Joy: Right. It also feels like a lot of people have turned to horror movies or horror shows. Lovecraft is one of the ones that I see most people talking about. I mean, it feels like it is still some escapist kind of stuff but kind of getting lost in this world that is kind of very familiar to lots of us, but in some ways not familiar.
Dr. Hodge: Yeah, and that's the hard part. I definitely don't fault all of us for wanting to escape. It is tempting and sometimes needed, so I'm definitely not doing the “all or nothing” thing to say, “Hey, don't watch any of these things.” It’s more so being mindful of how does this impact me? And does it perpetuate maybe some of the fears that I have? Or is it bringing me some sense of peace or is it like strictly for the purposes of entertainment? You have to touch base with yourself as much as possible and say, “Where can I assert my control?”
Because reality is I don't think that we have much and the pandemic really gave light to those of us who may have been more controlling than others. It really challenged our sense of like, wow, I thought that I was really in charge in the driver's seat here and this situation has made me feel like, you know… Some of my clients say, like, not only am I in the passenger seat; I feel like I'm in a trunk right now. Like, I don't know where we're going, I don't know what we're doing!
Dr. Joy: Yes! I want to hear more about that, Dr. Hodge because your whole practice is really helping people to manage their concerns around anxiety. How has your work changed since the pandemic?
Dr. Hodge: I will say I have received significantly more calls, as you can imagine, of people noticing “this felt manageable to me before and now it is not.” I won't say that it has entirely changed. I think that I actually do a lot more normalizing. Meaning a lot of my work can be around asking, like, is this rational or irrational? Where's the evidence for this? And challenging those types of thoughts. Whereas now, it's mostly all rational. There's a lot of fear, there's a lot of concerns, and it actually has resulted in me probably disclosing more to say like, “Listen, I'm struggling, too, sis. I don't want you to think that I'm over here just taking a few deep breaths and just living my life. Like, this is really difficult.” And I think it's okay for us to all acknowledge that this is difficult and almost leave it at that.
Not to justify it. I hear a lot of my clients feeling guilty and saying, oh, I know it could be worse. And I'm like, “Yeah, but what would that look like?” That is a minimization of your feelings for you to say, “Oh, it could be worse.” Because the reality of it is it could always be worse, so let's just sit with what we're feeling now and say: I am mourning the fact that I didn't have a birthday party for my kid; I am mourning the fact that I can't travel. Whatever those things might have been. And it could be worse, but this sucks.
Dr. Joy: I'm glad you shared that because it does feel like we've had this conversation on the podcast, too, as it relates to grief. That it feels like, okay, some people have lost loved ones and so, of course that feels significant. But there's also space to grieve all of these other losses that we've experienced this year as well.
Dr. Hodge: Mm hmm. Yeah, definitely. It's really normalizing and saying… I've told all of my clients that your level of anxiety, if it has gone up, do not interpret that as a personal failing. Like what is wrong with me? Why can't I just cope? Remind yourself this is entirely unexpected. There's no one way to go about this and therefore I may actually feel more anxious. I think biologically understanding what a pandemic is and understanding that your life could be threatened in some form, you're going to be on higher alert and that’s just normal.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. What about, Dr. Hodge, for people who already had concerns about germs, and contamination and stuff and now we have this pandemic that is real? That there is a real concern about contracting things. What kinds of suggestions would you have for people or what does that work look like?
Dr. Hodge: I have to admit, I did have some clients circle back to me and be like, “Remember all that stuff you told me about germs? I was right!” And, you know, to some degree, we had a laugh about it just like we're laughing now. And I was like, “You know what? I hear you and you may be very equipped with your stash of Clorox wipes right now.” However, what my guideline has been, are you remaining at least within the CDC guidelines? If the CDC said do X, Y, and Z, I would encourage you to do that. But if you're doing that times 20, that still may be an indication of anxiety fueling your behavior, not what we know to be true.
What I have is sort of talked about just level of comfort and functioning and letting people sort of help me and collaborate with me around what feels comfortable to you. Okay, for example, if the CDC says six feet with masks is okay... If I have clients who are telling me, “I'm not really feeling that,” it hasn't been my place to say, well, you need to do it right away. It’s more so me saying, okay, but what do you feel comfortable with? Let's work with that. I'm not interested in seeing you now isolate yourself for the next five months. Are you interested in eight feet? Can we work with that? So it's more so being flexible and not me taking a hard and fast stance on what is rational versus irrational, but kind of working with people's comfort and challenging them when possible.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, and it does feel like some of that is so much in the air, right? I mean, because it is still a chance. And I know when you were with us the first time, you talked about the in vivo work that you would do. Like maybe you would be walking on the sidewalk with your client and so I'm curious to hear how that has changed or shifted for the virtual environment. Are you still able to do some of that stuff?
Dr. Hodge: I definitely... even of myself, I'll admit, I have suspended sessions in person. A, for comfort. B, for convenience and having family members that I have to take into consideration. And also my office was like, we would have been *[inaudible 0:17:14] on the walls with masks. I just think therapy sessions like that would be awkward. But I have done some virtual, somewhat in vivo. More around getting people out of the house. Not necessarily into public but, in particular, if a client is concerned about just outside air exposure, we may challenge that notion and say, “Well, let's do a walk around the block. I'm not asking you to talk to anyone, I'm not asking you to socialize or touch anything, but let's sort of reestablish what feels safe and what isn't safe.”
Dr. Joy: And you know, Dr. Hodge, that's the thing that I am most concerned about. Is how many of us even recover after the pandemic, right? Like you already mentioned, we don't have any end date, we have no idea really how long this is going to go on and when it will be safe to kind of reengage. And so I'm curious to hear if you've already started thinking about what kinds of things we will need to kind of readjust to, once the pandemic is not in full swing like it is now.
Dr. Hodge: You know, I have somewhat... and I'll admit that I even refrain a little bit from being too future-focused. Because I will start the what ifs, like, oh, my gosh, what about this? And what about that? But I have considered how this impacts the way we socialize–what we consider necessary versus unnecessary. And I see extremes: I see people rushing to return to “normal” and be at large gatherings. But I think it has really, in the beginning, at least, made us sort of reevaluate our activities and the meaningfulness of family time and like being very choosy about the things we're doing. So my hope is that we don't make a dramatic shift of like, “Okay, everything's fine now and we don't wash our hands anymore.” Because that's probably not the way. But I think ultimately, it's going to be a learning curve. I'm not an expert, but moving slow and just asking yourself, “What feels good to me? And how can I get my needs met in a way that appears to be safe?”
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. And we've talked about this too, just in terms of like school openings and kind of reminding yourself that you have agency over what happens for you and your children. So even though the school system may be open, if it's not something that you feel comfortable with and you have the option to, you don't necessarily have to send your kids back to school.
Dr. Hodge: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that kind of falls into boundaries work. Which, although my specialty is anxiety, I'm really interested in helping my clients feel (for lack of a better term) whole all around. That they're operating in agency. So really, you have to kind of evaluate what are my boundaries? Like you said, maybe school might be open but I might be making a move to a different alternative style of education. And not allowing other people to necessarily make you feel bad about that. That is your choice. It's always been your choice and this is a great time to enforce those boundaries and maintain them.
Dr. Joy: It feels like something else that has been coming up in terms of boundary work is around making decisions about attending gatherings for family and friends. Some people decided to cancel weddings, other people have decided to go forward with weddings and birthday parties and stuff like that. So it feels like there's some boundary work that's been tested for people around, like how to say no. Or if you want to go, how do you keep yourself safe? It does feel like these are continuing exercises in boundary-setting that we didn't have to think about a year ago.
Dr. Hodge: Yeah, definitely. And it allows you to see for yourself, like you said, there's always work to be done. I think having been confronted with some of those things, people saying like, “Oh, well, why don't you just do this?” And having to say, like, because I don't want to.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, reminding ourselves that it is always our choice, at least in most cases.
Dr. Hodge: Usually.
Dr. Joy: Yeah. The other thing that we've talked about a lot as it relates to managing throughout the pandemic is the importance of routine and predictability. We know that a lot of that has kind of gotten upended, so what suggestions do you have for people who may be trying to figure out still, like, what does routine look like right now?
Dr. Hodge: Oh, my gosh, I'm so glad you asked that because I did a podcast interview, I believe maybe a month into social distancing, and even some posts. I do believe in routine but I have to admit that this has challenged me to be even more flexible. So I sort of was like, keep a routine, do these things, and that's when I felt like this is going to last 90 days. And now, in my own life, my routine has been upended multiple times for multiple reasons, and I believe the one thing that has kept me is the flexibility. So instead of being so rigid to say, “Here's my routine, this is what I do every single day in this manner,” I have to be open to the fact that if it doesn't happen for one day it’s not shot. Not doing the all-or-nothing, black-or-white thing.
Or maybe realizing that I'm going to institute something to try to keep me on track and structure, but it's only three days a week. I think sometimes we jump from not having a routine to then saying I'm going to do this, seven days a week... And I found that my clients have really struggled with that and sometimes the guilt of not being consistent. And I've talked about, hey, if you would like to wake up at a certain time, even though workwise you would log in later, let's shoot for that time. Let's set an alarm. But if you don't wake up and it’s not consequential to you, (meaning like you're gonna be in trouble at work or fired) then ask yourself what do you need?
If you want to wake up at seven and you need to log in at nine, and you wake up at seven thirty, it's not worth the energy to be like, “Oh my gosh, I should have woke up at seven. I’m messing up, my routine is shot.” You just say, hey, maybe I was a little tired today. I'm glad I'm up now. And then I'm gonna shoot for seven tomorrow. You know, have the grace to be flexible.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, the grace piece is important, right? Because like you said, so much is unpredictable and we think we wake up and have an idea of what the day is gonna look like and then something happens and the day is completely different.
Dr. Hodge: Correct, especially those of us who are at home with other people to consider, be that other adults or even children, we have to understand that. While things “look normal,” we have our back-to-school or back-to-work, this is not how we were doing things before so it's not going to flow the same and may not be the same. And as I said before, I know uncertainty and anxiety can go hand in hand, but I think perspective shift as well is really important to say, “You know what? I have a couple of things that I really need to get done, like I'm gonna prioritize a day and do my best, but if everything else changes, I can go with that. I can ride that wave as well.”
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. I know and you're right, like I also (doing interviews and stuff) very early on talked about the importance of a routine. And it feels like there are some parts of that that we do want to at least make an effort for, because it feels like what I often hear people talk about is this sense of you have no idea what time of day it is. It just feels like hours move into hours and you're like, “Oh, it's midnight. What did I do today?” I think that that's a part of why some of the routine is important. But if not a routine, are there other things that you would suggest for helping people to kind of demarcate what's happening from day to day?
Dr. Hodge: Definitely. I often have been encouraging clients to have something to look forward to at the end of the day, whether that is some ice cream, like dessert, or even like we're mentioning, watching that show that you've been looking forward to at seven. But sort of realizing like this is sort of a start, middle, and ending of my day. The in-betweens may look a little different but sort of like having a cap. If people do have a work-from-home space, I encourage people to try to keep doing their work in that space. So then when they're done working, they can kind of not have that association in the rest of their home, if possible.
And then also, I know a lot of us work really hard but, if it’s possible, choosing an end time to be working or doing homework. And then tell yourself this remaining time is for me and me only. Not to have everything spilling into each other because I think that is the fastest way to wake up and be like, what's today? what am I doing? I found that even for myself, I have clients, I have a schedule, but I do catch myself being like, what's today? Like Wednesday? I don't know! Because it does feel a lot like the same day over and over again.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. I like that. It doesn't really matter as much what happens in the middle if you can have like a clear beginning and a clear end that helps to frame it, at least a little. And you already mentioned setting alarms, right? I would imagine some of that might be helpful, too. Not that the alarm is necessarily indicating that you have to do something, but that it is alerting you to: okay, this is the time where we want to wrap up work or we want to start the workday.
Dr. Hodge: Yes. I also have recently been suggesting... For some of my clients who are teleworking and have a fairly involved schedule or work demands, I've been suggesting, like, make a couple of random alarms to remind yourself to go take a walk around the house or around the block, if you feel comfortable. Go get some water. Just take a step away because you can kind of fall into that tunnel vision and then, like you said, you look up... Especially now with the season changing and the daylight savings depending on where you are, I don't want you to look up and be like, wow, it's dark. I don't even remember; did I eat lunch? I'm not sure. I think that can be really destabilizing.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Something else or a couple of other things that I've noticed people talking about. People are really struggling with sleep. There's like an increase (it feels like) in insomnia. People are up either kind of scrolling on social media or watching the news or doing different things, and they're talking about having trouble actually falling asleep at night. Do you have suggestions for people about how they can do better maybe or do a little bit better at maybe falling asleep at night?
Dr. Hodge: Yeah, for sure. That is definitely a challenge that I can admit that I've also had that challenge, just because it's so easy to stay up and, like you said, scroll or think about things. If you were to have a routine at all, maybe around bedtime would be really a great time to sort of institute and give your body and brain some signals. Like, okay, here are these few things that I do before bed: I turn off the TV for a little while, I try not to be activated by the screen because the screen is a really big interference with sleep. I think we all knew that but we're really seeing it now with maybe we're doing like computer work, phone time, TV time. Our brain is just like, what next? What are we doing next? And I think ultimately, you have to give yourself a little bit of time to start to decompress from the screen, if possible. Put on the... I can't remember what the mode is called on my phone but it decreases the light. I would encourage people to kind of put that setting on so that helps your brain sort of decompress a little bit.
But also just having like a quick routine. It doesn't have to be elaborate like a bubble bath and massaging with oils, all these things. But it can be a quick one, two, three–these are the three things that I do before bed and I kind of rest. This is why I think if you can have a workspace that's not working in your bed, you don't have that association of like, the bed or the bedroom is very potentially stressful or this is the time where I do all the thinking. I would encourage people to try to keep that space reserved for sleeping if possible.
But also give yourself, again... Grace is my favorite word during this time because I’ve had a lot of people telling me about getting really tense around, I'm looking at the clock, and I'm like, “Oh my gosh, I'm still awake. I only have three hours now. Oh my gosh, I'm never gonna go to sleep.” And I tell people those are sleep-interfering thoughts. And although this sounds paradoxical, one of the easiest things that you can do when you are coming up on “I've been up for a couple of hours” is to say, “That's cool. I'm just gonna stay up all night.” And most of my friends are like, what? I don't want to do that. Why would you tell me that? And I'm like, because at that point, thinking and/saying that yourself, your brain actually gets less interested in what time is it and stops sort of saying “I'm never going to get to sleep” and you actually kind of just relax into the idea of “Alright, I'm gonna be up,” and you usually fall asleep.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Are there other paradoxical thoughts that you think could be helpful for people right now, that you've maybe been suggesting more often?
Dr. Hodge: I'm big on humor; that's just my personality style. I think sometimes when my clients come to me and discuss some of the feelings of guilt that they may be having or “it could be worse,” I sort of lean into it and just get extreme. And I'm like, it could be worse: you could have no hands, you could have no arms, you could have no neck! And then we sort of laugh and I'm like, so do you understand how you're being tight-fisted around either it could be worse?
Or I kind of give an example. I think I was discussing around like caretaking, how it can be difficult to care for your family in a way that maybe you were doing before the pandemic. And I kind of got a little bit facetious and I was like: yes, you're a really bad caregiver, like your children don't ever eat, they sleep outside... And then we sort of laugh because I was like, no. You have to recalibrate your concept of what a caretaker is right now. Mom before pandemic probably maybe was like making homemade muffins and doing all these things. Pandemic Mom might not have time for that, and that's okay.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, so really readjusting those baselines.
Dr. Hodge: Mm hmm. And challenging your idea of the value judgment of what a good “blank” is. A good mom does this, a good friend does this, a good daughter does this, and it's sort of like, okay, who made that rule? Was it you? Because if it was you, then you are at liberty to change it.
Dr. Joy: I like that. The other thing that has been giving people lots of anxiety is the upcoming election. I mean, I have the anxiety myself so I think lots of people just feel very anxious, very worked up. Especially, at least I find myself getting more anxious when I see these countdowns. Like, we only have 25 days left and 23 days left, and it feels like, oh my gosh, we're counting down to this thing! What kinds of things might you offer or any suggestions you have for people who are struggling with anxiety as it links to the election?
Dr. Hodge: You know, as an expert, I'm going to say that this one is tough. This is when I reflect on the idea that I often share with my clients like I deal with these things just as much as you do. And ultimately, that is when we talk about the healthy levels of escape or boundaries or limiting your exposure to things. I have found that I have really decreased how much I'm reading about the elections, sometimes (I will admit) at the risk of being uninformed. Because I realized that I would over-incorporate at times. I would go hard. I'd be like, I need to read this article and this one and this one and now I know too much, so to speak.
So, yeah, I don't have a great answer for you. I will admit that that is stressful for myself included. When I see things like countdowns, I will close the window. And the one thing I will say that I told myself is I'm going to do what I can–which is in my control–and exercise my right to vote. And I'm going to try to be hopeful that other people will exercise that right and that is the most that I can do in this moment. Like, that's the most that I can bring myself to deal with.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. I agree. I mean, it definitely feels like I will fall down a rabbit hole reading stuff, right? And paying attention to the news! And you have to remember that the news really plays on the loop so the story that you get, if you watch the news at one o'clock, is the same thing that you're going to get at three o'clock. But you're not necessarily paying attention because like the anchors might change. If you're looking at something like CNN or MSNBC, it feels like it's a slightly different story because it's a different maybe panel of guests or whatever, but it's still the main point. They're discussing the same things so I think that it does help to kind of limit like, “Okay, I'm gonna check in a little bit, but I don't need to have CNN on the whole day.”
Dr. Hodge: Oh, definitely. I watch at a clip, because as you said, the story just recycles itself and I don't need to hear it four times. And then also, the one thing that I tell people, because I do have some people share with me like, “Oh, you know, I keep it turned on because I don't want to miss anything.” In the age of technology and social media and alerts, you will not. Every time there is a breaking news, so to speak, it pops up somewhere some way. Don't sort of buy into this concept of like I won't know what's going on. You will know. If anything big happens, you will know, so let it come to you. You don't have to go look for it.
Dr. Joy: Right, I think even the term breaking news, right? Do you have to know it the moment it happens? There are some things safety wise you may need to know, like a fire alarm or whatever, but the latest story out of the White House or whatever, it probably is not going to be detrimental if you don't know it the moment that it happens.
Dr. Hodge: Exactly. If there’s an emergency, you'll get an emergency alert on your phone.
Dr. Joy: Right! What does overthinking and like the what if game...? You've already alluded to that. What does that look like now in the midst of the pandemic? When you were here before, you talked about playing out the what if game. How does that look different now?
Dr. Hodge: Oh my gosh. I often joke with my clients when we start going down the what if hole... I'd be like you're in 2025 right now; I just want to let you know that. I believe that there are so many what ifs and the harder part, I have to admit, is that some of them sound real possible. So sometimes we're like, oh, what if this? And what if the earth explodes? And I'm like, okay, you know, come on now. However, some of the what ifs I've heard lately, I'm like, yeah. And sometimes I just sit with asking what if that would happen? Let's talk about it because it's exposing you to this feared idea anyway that I want you to sort of play out. Because most often than not (I can't speak for every single what if, of course) but more often than not, you would be able to manage that what if.
I'm not talking about something like very devastating to some extent. For example, if you were maybe in an industry that feels threatened by COVID and you notice that your hours were reduced and you think like, “Oh, my gosh, what if my place of employment closes?” Which is a scary thought and a very realistic one. Instead of sort of looping on what if it closes, what if it closes, what if it closes? I will sit with someone and say, what if it closed? What will we do? And get them to sort of confront the thought and talk through how would I seek out another job?
The fear underneath it is maybe I'll be destitute and I won't have anything. And again, legitimate. If you can't work, how would you earn income? But I want to talk through, like we said before, your agency. What is your ability within this situation and what would you do? And oftentimes, we are able to say, like, that would really be awful and I would update my resume, and I would look for something else and I would do X, Y and Z now. I've helped you problem solve in a way that was useful to you. Not overthink, which is just an ineffective style of problem solving.
Dr. Joy: Mm hmm. Yeah, when you can kind of get down to, “Okay, these are the resources that I have available. This is how I might act.” Then it takes some of the sting really out of all of that overthinking.
Dr. Hodge: Mm hmm, absolutely. Because usually overthinking doesn't land on a solution; it just lands on a lot of information and over-incorporating. And the ideas that your brain is trying to problem solve, it's just a little stuck or confused.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, mostly because you don't have all the information, right? Because we're trying to future-focus and we can't fill in the blanks.
Dr. Hodge: Mm hmm. I agree.
Dr. Joy: What are some of the favorite, or maybe if you have a favorite right now, exercise that you would suggest for somebody who is struggling with overthinking or is just struggling with overwhelming anxiety right now? What kind of technique or strategy have you been sharing that you find clients really enjoy or is super effective?
Dr. Hodge: Oh, that's a good one. Two things come to mind. One, which I believe I mentioned on the first podcast is just a classic. Grounding. Because it is so easy to fly into the future mentally and it's so easy to be overwhelmed or consumed by physical sensations of anxiety. My go to is just: let's take a step back, let's sit down, let's pay attention to our five senses. Take some deep breaths. What are some things in the room that you see, hear, potentially smell or feel? Meaning I feel the sensation of my body in the chair, I feel my shirt. But really working to get yourself into the present moment as much as possible and just sort of being mindful, is exercising a muscle in your brain. What I mean by that is, it's very easy to be carried away by our thoughts and by coming to the present, by sitting still, we are basically training ourselves to say, “No, mind. Come back, thoughts. Come back to the present moment and just be, instead of anticipate or fear.”
And I would say the second thing that I've suggested to people is scheduling worry time. So, we are all worrying (myself included) about lots of different things. And if you find that you are worrying significantly or to a good degree that the worries are spilling into most moments of your day, I would say I would like you to pick a time. Preferably not before bed because that is not a good idea, but maybe let’s say three o'clock in the afternoon. Get a pen and paper and just jot down some of your worries for about 10, 15, 20 minutes max. I don't want you to have like a book when you're done but jot down some of the worries that you have.
And what this does is, A, it gets them out of your head a bit. But also, if you start worrying at seven, you have to tell yourself, “I need to let that pass. I'll write it down tomorrow at three when my scheduled worry time is.” Because what that does is that helps you, similarly to grounding, bring your mind back to the present and say there are some things that I worry about but I don't have to let every single thought take me away. I don't have to let everything that pops into my mind set me off. I'm going to table that and I will worry about it tomorrow. It sounds strange and when people practice it, they tend to enjoy it.
Dr. Joy: Yeah, that definitely is one of my favorite go to’s as well. And you're right: it sounds like something you would be really hesitant to try because your first thought is that's not gonna work. But it is something that after you practice for some time, you recognize you're providing a container for yourself. You're helping yourself to think, okay, this is when I will do that thing and it doesn't have to spill into every area of my life.
Dr. Hodge: Right. Exactly.
Dr. Joy: Thank you for sharing those.
Dr. Hodge: You’re welcome.
Dr. Joy: Any additional resources that you'd like to share? You gave us a ton the first time you were here, but I don't know if there are other books or podcasts or videos that you've come across that you really feel like would be helpful for people who want to maybe dig more into this.
Dr. Hodge: No. Honestly, those have still been my go to’s. I have a document, just a copy-paste, the ones that I've recommended before. I essentially sent them to everyone after the first session, like, copy-paste: here are some things that I recommend.
Dr. Joy: Got it.
Dr. Hodge: Yeah. The other thing that maybe I can think of is I found this graphic recently and I have to look it up, who created it. I want to give them a proper credit. But I talk a lot about thinking styles, meaning getting people to step back and examine: what is my perspective and how am I seeing things, and is this point of view possibly distorted? And I found a recent graphic that gave these thinking styles actual character names, like personifications. I believe it is probably intended for children, but it works for all ages.
For example, when I talked earlier about having that guilt and people saying “oh, I should be doing this or I should be doing that,” in the thinking styles graphic, it’s called Shoulda Sharonda. And it says something like, “Sharonda lives her life in this way and even if no one told her to do it, Sharonda feels like she should be doing it and it makes her feel bad.” I shared it recently with a few people in a group and they were like, oh my gosh, that’s so helpful. When I get that information, I will share it with you specifically because I think it’s really cool. It sticks in your head and you’re like, “I’m being a Shoulda Sharonda. This is not helping!”
Dr. Joy: Yes, and those kinds of little techniques and tricks are really helpful to kind of get yourself out of that negative self-talk. Like you can catch it and then it gives you a little chuckle, like you’re doing right now.
Dr. Hodge: Exactly.
Dr. Joy: Yes, I appreciate that. We’ll definitely find that and make sure to share it with everybody in the show notes. Remind us how to contact you, Dr. Hodge. What is your website as well as any social media handles you want to share?
Dr. Hodge: If you would like to find me, my website is www.SlayYourAnxiety.com which was definitely inspired by the Slay Your Anxiety podcast, so right on trend there. And if you also would like to follow me on social media, I’m on most platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @helpmehodge.
Dr. Joy: Perfect. Thank you so much for visiting with us today. I really appreciate it.
Dr. Hodge: Thank you. As always, always a great time when we’re together.
Dr. Joy: I’m so glad Dr. Hodge was able to join us again today. To learn more about her and her work or to check out the resources she shared, be sure to visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session179. And don’t forget to share this episode with two other sisters in your life who might appreciate the conversation. If there’s a topic you’d like to have covered on the podcast, please submit it to us at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/mailbox.
And if you’re looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. If you want to continue digging into this topic or connect with some other sisters in your area, come on over and join us in the Yellow Couch Collective where we take a deeper dive into the topics from the podcast and just about everything else. You can join us at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/YCC. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all, real soon. Take good care.