February 22, 2011

All-Star Panel: LDS Therapist

Today is the final panel answer to our question of the month from one of our readers. Thanks to everyone on our All-Star Panel for their thoughtful answers! (You can read the other answers from this month here and here.) Remember you can send in your questions at any time to hsimkins@gw.edu!

QUESTION from a reader:When life is at its most difficult, you feel like you've used all of your options to make it better, and your energy towards life is low, how do you get going again? How do you re-convince yourself that life is interesting and beautiful?

ANSWER from Tiffanie Williams, a very talented LDS Therapist in the Alexandria, Virginia area:

I am not sure if I can add anything of value to the wise and thoughtful answers from the other panel members. I think that re-reading their answers when discouraged would benefit all of us.

Let me start by saying that I am so sorry for what you are going through and imagine that you are feeling very discouraged and overwhelmed. This life is not always easy. Sometimes 'enduring to the end' is the hardest thing that we have to do, especially while in the midst of a great trial. Sometimes life isn't great and beautiful. Often it is painful and challenging. Many times it is pleasant and thrilling. Hold onto those times and enjoy every moment of it. Sometimes life is about thriving and sometimes it is merely surviving but often we live life in the middle. The challenge is to find ways to cope in the challenging times. Here are a few suggestions (in no particular order):

* List 10 coping strategies that you can use when you are feeling overwhelmed, sad, anxious, depressed, angry, etc. Examples include reading, praying, journaling, exercising, deep breathing, drawing, cleaning, listening to music, getting a blessing, visualizing, calling a friend or family member...

* Create a Pleasant Events List of all the things that you enjoy doing or that make you happy. Do them.

* Recall pleasant memories, funny experiences, accomplishments, etc and review them. Tell them to others. You will find that your mood is elevated in the course of recalling past happiness. Look through a photo album of happier times.

* Keep a gratitude journal, compliment/validation journal, funny journal, or a journal that records the hand of the Lord in your life.

* Ask for help. Talk to a friend, family member, ecclesiastical leader, community resource, etc. Get a therapist.

* Get a physical from your doctor. Have them check for diabetes, thyroid issues, hormonal imbalances, allergies, etc that can have an impact on mood.

* Consider medication or other alternative vitamins/minerals/herbs that can help with mood, sleeping, motivation, anxiety, etc. If you are experiencing a chemical imbalance then medication is essential. Check out your family medical history and see if there is a genetic predisposition for anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc.

* Simplify your life and get rid of the non-essentials.

* When extremely overwhelmed or discouraged, take life 15 minutes at a time.

* Consider your expectations. Oftentimes, we have unrealistic expectations without realizing it. One interesting explanation for depression/anger/anxiety is that they are a by-product of reality not meeting expectations. Write down your expectations for yourself and others and also what you think that they expect of you. Consider whether the expectations are realistic. If reality does not meet our expectations, we may need to modify them.

* Exercise, get 7-9 hours of sleep, and eat healthy food. The better we take care of our physical bodies, the better we will feel emotionally and mentally.

* Pay attention to your thoughts. Whatever we feed-- grows. If we feed our negative thoughts, they grow. Likewise for our positive ones. Remember that our thoughts lead to our emotions which lead to our behaviors/actions.

* Give service.

* Seek to find the 'interesting and beautiful' around you. Look for a sunset, beauty of a fresh snowfall, smile of a child, shared laughter with a friend, enjoyment of your favorite ice cream, new book to read, etc. that is beautiful and interesting. >

* Read the talks about 'Timing' by Elder Oaks and 'Patience' by Elder Maxwell. These have helped me a lot during my life.

* Try to find the meaning/ purpose in suffering as it helps with perspective. Trials can give us a greater depth of character, compassion and understanding if we allow them to.

* Nobody can do all this on their own. Get a good support system. See a psychiatrist or medical doctor and therapist. You are not weak for needing help. It actually takes a lot of courage to ask for help.

There really is no perfect answer to this question as different things will work for different people. Perhaps you have tried all these things and it still doesn't help. When trials feel unbearable to me at times, I go to one of my favorite, often repeated lines in the scriptures: 'And it came to pass...'. This is a reminder to me that my trial, heartache, discouragement will come to pass. This is one of the true constants in life. However miserable I am, I know that it will pass. We see this principle in the scriptures, through witnessing others lives, and through the living of our own.

Ultimately, the greatest tool comes in the healing power of the Atonement and the love of our Heavenly Father and Savior. Because the Savior experienced all things, He knows how to succor his people (Alma 7:11-12). I know that true peace, comfort and hope come from the gospel. I hope that you find the peace that you seek.

Picture is from here.


  1. My mom is a therapist for LDS family services in Missouri. If you ever want to ask her something, I'm pretty sure she'd love it.

  2. Thanks, Karina! Good to know of LDS counseling resources out there! It seems really important that people share worldviews with their counselor. With some kinds of counseling it's not terribly important, but if guidance is needed in making moral decisions it can get tricky. There seems to be potential for a major discrepancy in standards I think it can create distance (or result in less than constructive advice) that isn't conducive to healing.