What Can You Learn From Your Anxiety?

I always ask my clients what their anxiety looks like.

Sometimes they look at me with a look of “aren’t you supposed to be the expert?” But I can’t be the expert on their anxiety. Only they can be that. And so, we begin the process of looking at what their anxiety looks like emotionally, bodily, and cognitively.

Anxiety looks different for each person. Sure, there is the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and those can be helpful categories to look at, but if we stop there we miss the person, the story, and everything else beneath the anxiety.

One of my professors in graduate school talked about anxiety and depression as being different sides of the same coin. I find this to be very true in my own life and in my clients’ lives. When something is “off” in my life sometimes my symptoms manifest in more anxious behaviors or thoughts (irritability, flighty thoughts, sleep disruption), but other times my symptoms look much more depressive (muted mood, tired, quick to anger). Now, if I just stay on the surface and try to figure out if I’m depressed or anxious, it doesn’t do me much good. And, if I just try and appease my symptoms, that may alleviate some discomfort momentarily, but no real change happens. If I can look beyond the symptoms, behaviors, and tendencies, I will usually find much more. My symptoms become a gateway to understanding what is really going on versus just something to manage. Most of us want our symptoms to go away without realizing they actually have so much to offer us.

Have you heard of the dashboard analogy? Picture the dashboard of a car. The lights that routinely or randomly light up are there to indicate to you that something needs to be addressed. Sometimes it is a signal to find a gas station and fill up with gas. Other times it’s the indicator to change your oil. And then sometimes, the really obscure light pops up that we have never seen before. Do we need to drive straight to a mechanic because our car is about to explode? Is our tire pressure off? Does the engine need to be looked at? When this happens, we have a choice. We can choose to investigate and address the problem (i.e. filling up with gas, getting an oil change, pulling out the manual and determining what’s going on), or we can ignore the light. If we ignore the light, the car will ultimately stop working at some point or great damage will be done. Our anxiety symptoms are like the lights on our dashboard; they are there to give us a glimpse into acknowledging that something needs some care. If we choose to ignore, or mute, the symptoms, the problem doesn’t go away. You may have turned off the light, but the car will still run out of gas or oil or worse.

Therapy can be a place to begin to look at those symptoms with curiosity and grace. In participating in the therapeutic process we can learn how to manage symptoms in the short term, but to find lasting benefits we want to learn from what our bodies and brains are telling us.

Lots of therapeutic modalities are used to address anxiety. And there are lots of tools and skills out there to help with decreasing symptoms of anxiety. A tool I find helpful for myself and some of my clients is the Meta Fi app. It was created by therapists to help individuals learn more about what their body and mind are telling them. I often find it difficult to name (in the moment) what is going on (i.e. How I’m feeling, what I need, etc.). This app is really helpful in asking poignant questions to help us focus in on what’s going on. The app offers a lot more (like making connections with those emotions and bodily sensations, tracking patterns, journal options, etc.), but I find just simply taking the 1-2 mins to pause and enter some info in the app is incredibly helpful.

We can’t really start to address our anxiety until we begin to actually understand more about it. I realize that this doesn’t really sound “fun.” Most of us just want to rid ourselves of the symptoms, but I believe you can find much more freedom and choice if you risk stepping into your anxiety and asking it what it has to offer you.

Peace and grace to you and me as we hold our anxiety with care and curiosity,


The Mental & Emotional Perils of Being An Entrepreneur

Life as an entrepreneur is hard.

Research shows that entrepreneurs have much higher rates of mental health issues than the general population.

49 percent of entrepreneurs report having one or more mental health condition. This is 2.6 times higher than the general population. In fact, compared to the general population, entrepreneurs have 2 times the rate of depression, 3 times the rate of substance use, 6 times the rate of ADHD, and 11 times the rate of Bipolar Disorder. Freeman et. al collected and wrote about their findings in Small Business Economics: An Entrepreneurship Journal.

The debate between causation has been widely debated. (i.e., does being an entrepreneur lead to higher rates of mental health issues OR does having higher levels of mental health issues draw people into entrepreneurship?)

The safest answer is that this is probably a reciprocal relationship, rather than a linear one. So, instead of A causing B, it is more likely that A impacts B, which then impacts A… and on and on. This is often the case with many issues that are studied. The cause isn't clear, but there is a definite connection between the two ideas.

Despite the fact that the relationship between mental health issues and entrepreneurship is clear, few people are talking about it.

Not only do business leaders and entrepreneurs struggle with more mental health issues, but the business community is virtually silent on issues of mental health.

Sure, some business magazines and editorials discuss concepts of depression and anxiety (especially within the startup community) but more frequently these issues stay in the dark. This causes high performance leaders, such as CEOs and founders, to feel shame on top of the depression, anxiety, trauma that they already experience.

This is a big deal.

It's important that we talk about these issues. Shame thrives in the darkness. So, to address these issues I wanted to interview a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who is willing to open up about the struggles of this role. I wanted an honest conversation with these leaders.

To start, I decided to sit down with John Herbold, who is the CEO of Brushfire Interactive, and ask him several questions. I focused on 6 questions that might start an honest conversation and one that might be helpful to other CEOs or high performance leaders.

  1. What are some of the emotional and mental struggles that a CEO faces?

  2. How does the pressure of starting and leading a company impact your family and friends?

  3. Since leaders often feel the pressure to hold it all together, often leading to loneliness, how do you stay authentically connected to your family and friends?

  4. What is one of your biggest mistakes as a CEO?

  5. What is one of your biggest successes as a CEO?

  6. What keeps you going when things get difficult? In other words, what is your “why”?

  7. What advice would you give to other CEOs?

John had some insightful answers to these, and was honest about what he faces.

(You can Click Here to watch the video from YouTube if you like.)

I hope this can be a first step to start having more honest conversations in the business community. I plan to do more of these talks and/or videos in the future.

What is hidden, can never be healed. As Maya Angelou states, “I did what I knew, but when I knew better I did better.” We have to talk about these difficult things if we are ever going to change them and provide support for this community.

-Andy Maurer


Freeman, M.A., Staudenmaier, P.J., Zisser, M.R. et al. Small Bus Econ (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11187-018-0059-8

Photo by Jesus Kiteque on Unsplash

What You Should Know About Therapy (Part 2): 4 More Myths of the Therapeutic Relationship

If finally going to therapy has made it onto your New Year's Resolutions, but you have some questions about the process, we are here to help.  We've compiled some common myths about the whole process of therapy, psychotherapy, and counseling. We began sharing them in our last blog post, focused on the first therapy session. (To read it, CLICK HERE.) 

But there is more ground to cover, so we'll pick back up here with more general myths. We then share with your our perspective at the Phoenix Counseling Collective. We hope this clears up some more misconceptions and helps you feel more comfortable about coming to therapy.

Myth #1 - Therapy is a quick fix.

Our Perspective: 

We want to be clear: Therapy is NOT a quick fix. Hopefully you've gleaned this understanding from the last blog post (if you haven't read it yet, you should really CLICK HERE.) Let's say you are 38 years old. That means it took 38 years to create the patterns and ways of responding to the world that you use. It may take a bit longer than 3 sessions to begin to unpack your tried and true methods of dealing with the world. It takes time to learn and create new ways to experience and react to events and relationships.

You are re-wiring circuits in your body and your brain. It takes practice and time.

You'd give yourself more than 3 lessons to learn to play the violin, right? Well learning how to change your way of living is at least as difficult as learning to play an instrument.

Myth #2 - I will learn a formula to live a better life.

Our Perspective: 

People are more complex than computers. We can't just rewrite the coding to work more efficiently. We are humans, with stories, emotions, hopes, dreams, regrets, losses, joys, and traumas. We are learning to relate to ourselves, others, and the world around us. The purpose of therapy is first, to become connected with ourselves. Then, to live out the integration of ourselves in our environment. It is often a misconception that there is something wrong with us when we behave in ways we don't want to. It can feel as though if we could change the formula, we'd fix the problem. But our maladaptive behaviors and reactions to the world are actually attempts to avoid or smooth over relationships.

The problem isn't the formula. It's that we're trying to use a formula to relate to people. 

Relationships and intimacy can be terrifying. By learning and growing in your ability to relate to self, others, and the world, these maladaptive behaviors and reactions fade away.

Myth #3- Your therapist will be cold and “clinical.”

Our Perspective: 

Therapists have the most curious job in the world. You can tell us stories, sorrows, longings, fears, etc. that you have not told even your closest friends, family, or partner. Even early on in the therapeutic relationship, the therapist is privy to the deep inner workings of beautiful souls. We find it an honor to walk alongside brave men and women who want to live deeper, more authentic experiences of life.

At the Phoenix Counseling Collective we are therapists who deeply care about the well-being of our clients.

That's hardly detached. Some people assume that "professionals" will judge them, or assume that they are broken. Please understand this: you are NOT sitting across from someone who is perfect and has everything figured out. A therapist is human and imperfect, and is not surprised to hear what you have to share. We’ve heard it before, or likely experienced it ourselves. This gives us even more empathy and compassion. 

Myth #4- My therapist is going to get “weird” and try and be my best friend.

Our Perspective: 

While we genuinely care for our clients and see the process as deeply relational (as explained above), the therapeutic relationship is a very specific type of relationship with clear boundaries.  We'll be open about that from the first session forward. Don't expect your therapist to share a lot of their personal life with you. Your therapist is present for you in the way that you need.  If you have questions or need to know something about your therapist - feel free to ask. Be aware that while they might not divulge a ton of personal information, it is for your benefit.

Therapy is a place for you to be you- and the therapist is able to allow you to be you by being your therapist- not your friend. 

We know that going to therapy for the first time can be scary, uncomfortable, or even awkward. We hope that by understanding what the therapeutic relationship is like it will make it a little easier on you.

If you have any more questions or if we haven't covered something here that you are curious about, please feel free to Contact Us.

Take Care,

-The Phoenix Counseling Collective Team Caleb, Elisa, Andy, Kim, and Molly

Photo by Trust "Tru" Katsande on Unsplash

What You Should Know About Therapy: 4 Myths of the Therapeutic Relationship

The following are misconceptions about therapy, psychotherapy, and counseling. We've compiled some common myths (especially about the first session). We then share with you our perspective at the Phoenix Counseling Collective. We hope this clears some things up.

Myth #1- I will solve my problems and this puzzle of life in the first session. 

Our Perspective: 

Do NOT expect to put the entire puzzle together on day one. We often find that the first few sessions are like dumping the puzzle pieces out of the box. Having the pieces all around can often feel overwhelming and sometimes unsettling. The idea is that you are holding a LOT in your puzzle box (struggles, stories, relationships, etc.) and it takes awhile to begin to put the pieces together. It takes time to figure out what areas we want to dive into first. It takes reflection to see how things connect in your brain and your situation. You probably won't leave with answers right away. You likely won't experience dramatic mood shifts right away either. The therapeutic relationship takes time to build. It is in the building of that safe space and relationship that the "work" is being done.

Myth #2- I will feel better after one session.

Our Perspective: 

Do not expect to feel an overwhelming sense of relief after a 50 minute session. While it is common to feel a sense of hopefulness and relief after an initial session, there can also be a sense of heaviness and discouragement. This can happen because you have brought to light the reality of the pain you are carrying. Sometimes it gets harder before it gets easier. (If you've ever been in physical therapy, it is a similar concept).  Don't expect your counselor to jump right in solving your problems. We need to be able to get a clear picture of who you are and how you work before jumping in immediately with exercises or insight.

Myth #3- I have to share everything I can in the first session! 

Our Perspective: 

It takes time to build up trust, openness, and vulnerability. Do not expect to have to share everything within the first session. People usually feel like they have to get it all out in one go. But, we find it helpful when clients give themselves permission to take it slow. You can share what you feel most comfortable with first. Take the second session to continue sharing more as it comes up. Also, don't expect your therapist to know exactly what questions to ask. While you don't need to feel pressure to share everything, still share what's on your heart. Even if your therapist hasn't asked you a specific question you can speak candidly. If they haven't asked you about something that is important to you, for example, your faith, or a recent life transition, feel free to tell them! Let your therapist know that it is important to you that they know this. Therapists, although often intuitive, are not mind readers.

Myth #4- The therapist is the expert and I am the patient. I will receive advice from my therapist. 

Our Perspective: 

You are an expert. You've been living with yourself for decades! (Assuming you're at least twenty.) Western medicine has shaped our culture in such a way that patients share symptoms with a doctor who then:

1) solves the mystery and

2) tells the patient what malady they have.

Instead, we prefer the collaborative approach. Our lens is that in the helping field, there should be a joint effort of two experts. The therapist may be an expert in the field of relationships, for example, but by collaborating with an expert on your life (this is you), we are able to achieve much more than either could on their own. The therapist's job to help you slow down. We help you connect with your own experience. We help you listen to the wisdom and knowledge that you already have inside. The therapist will mirror back to you the things that they see. You get to use that feedback in your process. It is through this joint effort that therapy happens. As a result, you are able to be more present with your internal self. You can then consciously make decisions out of your true nature. Don't expect your therapist to give advice - especially in the first session. Therapists hesitate to give advice especially early on because remember they need a lot of consultation and information from YOU.

If you have specific questions that were not addressed in this post, or if this is the type of therapy that you are looking for, feel free to Contact Us.

Take Care,

The Phoenix Counseling Collective Team

~Caleb, Elisa, Andy, Kim, and Molly~


P.S. If you want a little holiday therapy humor: http://www.psychotherapy.net/uploads/4ee5e05656612.jpg

Oh, and by the way, if you were wondering... we don't use Freud's psychoanalytic style of having patients lay supine on a cold leather couch while he evaluated them. Our couches are generally warm and comfortable. While you're welcome to lay down if you want to, you can just sit and talk face to face. 

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

Going Home for the Holidays: Some Strategies for Sanity

November is the month that many people begin to process how difficult and stressful the Holidays are. Particularly if they will be around family this year. They find that they become irritable, feel anxious inside, or even downright dread being home. There are many reasons why this can be the case.

For some, this is the first Christmas without a loved one. For others, they are afraid of being around an abusive family member. For all families there is a natural family dynamic that is often at play. Marriage and family therapists call this dynamic "homeostasis." I define it this way:

Homeostasis is "the tendency of a group to maintain its well worn patterns and to resist change."

Many people (who seem to be well adjusted adults) go home and find themselves regressing to the roles of their youth.

In one family, it may look like this:

Sitting down at the table, Dad complains about what his kids have not accomplished. Then he jumps to talking about politics. Mom fills everyone's plate to the brim. Then she hints at how her oldest daughter needs to lose weight. The youngest child becomes the helpless baby sister who can't do anything right (even though she's a succesful laywer). The older brother hogs the remote like he's 16 years old again. The middle sister tries to keep the peace in the family by distracting everyone with baby photos.

In your family, it may look different. The truth is this: no matter how far we get away from our families geographically, we find ourselves returning to the roles we played when we were kids.

This truth when lived out can be quite stressful and anxiety provoking. Going back to homeostasis is not fun.

So, how can we survive the Holidays with our family?

There are a few strategies that can help us weather the dynamic of homeostasis.

#1- Accept that homeostasis is inevitable.

By expecting that it will be there, we can go into the Holidays with open eyes and be proactive versus reactive. You can be proactive about it by expecting it, and having a plan for when it happens.

#2- Pause and breathe.

This helps us engage our body through the parasympathetic nervous system. It allows us to make wiser choices. We'll discuss this more in future blog posts. (You can check out a simple, helpful breathing exercise here: https://youtu.be/YRPh_GaiL8s )

#3- Take breaks from your family.

Yes- you have permission to do this! Remember that holidays are also vacations. Here are some ideas for taking a break:

-Go outside and take a leisurely walk by yourself, or even with a family member you enjoy.

-Take a nap here and there.

-Take an hour away in a separate room and read.

-Find someone that you can lean on. Identify a family member who “gets” your experience. You can even agree to call one of your friends for both of you to vent. (Remember, you aren't the only one with a family issue, your friend may need someone to talk about what is happening with their family too!)

#4- Remember that you will leave your family and return to your own home at some point.

Sometimes, it may feel like forever. But, the reality is that this holiday is a limited time, and you'll go back to your own home and your own routines soon. Remember what's waiting for you when you get home. You have friends and your therapist to process whatever happens.

#5- Radically accept that you cannot change everything.

Be mindful and aware of your humanity. Attempting to change a family pattern that was cultivated over decades in one weekend is too much. It is a heavy, impossible lift. While it is important to speak your experience when it seems safe- be sure to remember why you are speaking. If you are speaking truth to sustain your integrity, great! If you are speaking truth to overhaul how your family carries out its homeostasis, not great.

Many clients have found the recitation of the Serenity Prayer to be helpful. (This is often used with the Twelve Step Programs. You can use it with any higher power). This prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr, says,

“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference.”

If it helps- recite it when you wake up before you've engaged with anyone and again when you go to bed at night.

When you are home with your family remember there are things you can change and things you can’t.

In the end, you can’t change your family. Yet, you CAN make choices about how you will change your responses to the homeostasis of your family. The above ideas give you some alternatives to pick from.

If the holidays are stressful for you and you want someone to talk with about it, feel free to Contact Us.



Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash