by Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro: Reading these important mental health lessons will *almost* be like getting a free therapy session…
One of the overwhelming benefits of seeing a mental health professional is being able to glean a new perspective on stressful situations and issues that are affecting your life.
Whether you’re in therapy to learn how to better cope with a mental health disorder or to just have a safe space to vent, a therapist can provide you with invaluable guidance and insight.
“In fully accepting that I needed to speak to a therapist, I feel able to own up to my past mistakes, apply the coping skills learned to deal with my PTSD and anxiety, and reassure myself that I’m doing my best each and every single day,” Anna Samanamu, 26, a paraprofessional and social media coordinator at Our Lady of the Valley Parish, told HuffPost.
Between the pandemic and political upheaval, 2020 has brought on an endless onslaught of emotions. At the end of this long and grueling year, most of us could use a few words of therapeutic wisdom.
HuffPost spoke with several people about the best advice they learned from their therapists in 2020, and how these discussions changed their outlooks:
Thoughts are not facts.
Raianne Ochoa, 24, a psychiatric social worker, said her therapist taught her to question her negative thought patterns.
“Our brains can go a million miles a minute, and we never get the chance or even think to stop and double check our thoughts,” she said. “We can reclaim our power when we give ourselves that chance. Thoughts are not facts.”
Be gentle with yourself.
“My therapist reminded me that we’re all facing collective trauma this year, so I feel like I’ve had more grace and empathy in my personal life and in business dealings with others, too,” said Kati Charin, a 31-year-old human resources coordinator at a health care nonprofit. “More than anything, realizing that I was ‘emotionally exhausted’ allowed me to be gentler with myself.”
You don’t need to carry all the burdens.
Daniela Portillo, 25, an associate marriage and family therapist, said her counselor reminded her that “you’re not responsible for other people’s emotions. You don’t need to carry all that with you.”
Portillo said that advice inspired her to “find the courage to speak my truth and let go of what isn’t mine.”
We cannot control other people’s thoughts.
“This year, my therapist has taught me I cannot control what others think. Therefore, I should not stress myself too much,” Samanamu said. “If I sense that in a moment where I want to vent my frustrations, I should write in a journal three things I am grateful for.”
Sit with grief and allow yourself to feel it.
After experiencing a loss in her family, Anahi Ortiz Prieto, 35, a self-worth coach, struggled to let herself grieve without feeling the need to “bypass” the sadness. In a session, her therapist encouraged her to “sit with the pain and discomfort and face it, because you are heartbroken and we can’t meditate our way out of that.”
Ortiz Prieto said it was the permission she had been seeking “to stop trying to be fine, and instead start being real.”
“Stop trying to be fine, and instead start being real.”
Take care of yourself first.
Maria Martinez, a 27-year-old student, said she struggled to focus on her needs and self-care after becoming a mother. While she was processing this, her therapist told her, “You’re the battery to the car. If you’re not taken care of, the car won’t work.”
This insight made Martinez realize that she had to take care of herself first in order to fully give back to her family.
“I’m thankful for her words,” she said.
Nurture and love yourself in the ways you weren’t as a child.
“The best advice my therapist gave me in 2020 was to love and nurture myself the way I wasn’t nurtured as a child,” said Rosario Carmona, a 28-year-old graduate student. “I am a good, kind and empathetic woman, which are traits many wish they could have. Instead of disliking my emotional side, I should learn to embrace and love her.”
There’s never a perfect moment to have hard conversations.
Initiating thoughtful discussions throughout 2020 about important topics has felt like an impossible task at times — even with family members and friends.
Brandon Perez, 21, a DoorDash delivery driver, said his therapist taught him that “there won’t always be a perfect moment to have a hard conversation, and you won’t always be prepared for everything. You do not need to stress yourself over waiting for perfection.”
“You do not need to stress yourself over waiting for perfection.”
Passion + competence = self-confidence.
After realizing that she lacked self-confidence in different areas of her life, Cindy V., 30, an accounting manager, said her therapist told her, “Passion plus competence equals self-confidence.”
She explained that this simple advice helped her approach everything from work to exercising with a less critical mindset.
“I’m realizing why I get frustrated at myself. But now I know that I just need to build my skills up in areas I want to gain the confidence in,” said V., who withheld her last name for privacy reasons.
It’s healthy to set boundaries with others as you learn to find your voice.
“The best advice I was given is it’s OK to set boundaries as I’m learning to find my voice,” said Mandy Dortschy, a 29-year-old product manager. “I always thought being introverted meant I’ll never be able to speak up for myself. I am still working on opening up, speaking up and asking for help.”
Be helpful with your words.
When Luz Elena, a stay-at-home mom, spoke to her therapist about visiting her in-laws and confronting them, he gave her guidance for how to handle potentially heated conversations: He simply told her to “be helpful with your words” and try not to speak from a place of anger or frustration.
“I thought his advice was brilliant,” Elena, 42, said. “I immediately calmed down and really thought about that and put it into practice — not just with my in-laws, but with others, too.”
Even if you’re not the smartest person in the room, your voice still matters.
During a therapy session, Carol Guízar, a registered dietitian nutritionist, worked through her anxieties around publicly speaking on a podcast.
“My therapist said to me, ‘Even if you’re not the smartest person in the room, your voice still matters.’ That statement was so validating and powerful,” Guízar, 26, said. “It’s something I always go back to in moments of doubt.”
“Even if you’re not the smartest person in the room, your voice still matters.”
You know your body and mind better than anyone.
“My therapist gave me the advice to really listen to myself and to connect with my body, because I am my best and most intuitive healer,” therapist Hannah Rodriguez, 29, said. “My body holds great wisdom for me if I take time to listen and get to know her better. I am the expert of me.”
Celebrate when you’ve had a breakthrough in therapy.
Having a breakthrough in or outside of therapy is an empowering moment. A 28-year-old event producer, who chose to remain anonymous to speak freely about her mental health, said her therapist helped her understand the importance of celebrating growth and progress.
“Acclimate and get to know the new you,” said the event producer, who asked to remain anonymous for privacy reasons. “This establishes self-trust, and thus a warm love towards yourself.”
Give yourself the empathy you freely give to others.
“The best advice I received from my therapist was to turn the empathy I give freely to others inward,” said Kaitlin Nelson, a 32-year-old registered nurse. “It felt like a grand novel idea when she said it, even though most may consider it ‘common sense.’”
Though traditional therapy may not be accessible to everyone, resources such as mental health Instagram accounts, therapy apps and sliding-scale online therapy platforms have made connecting with mental health professionals much simpler. Seeking out a therapist to provide you with professional guidance and support may give you more perspective into what you are experiencing. Though therapy requires constant effort in and outside of sessions, these powerful teachable moments can empower you to keep going and growing.