I’ve been teaching decluttering for nearly 15 years now, and as I’ve worked with literally hundreds of thousands of people–and gone through a lot of growth and introspection–I’ve learned a powerful lesson:
The “stuff” we are trying to organize, whether it’s physical, digital, or mental, isn’t typically the problem…it’s a symptom of the problem.
Today I want to tackle a little piece of this by telling you a story of my own struggles, the week of somewhat-painful therapy I went through in early December, and what has happened as a result.
This is a really personal post, and while it isn’t easy to write all this down and share it with the world, if you’re suffering right now, I want to help you know there’s hope.
I shared some heart-to-heart podcasts and opened up about some of my worries late last year–one of those podcasts was called 7 “Rules” I Need to Replace (linked at the end of this post).
In a nutshell, I was feeling worried about some things, stuck in a couple of key areas, emotionally spread thin, and physically weak–particularly when it came to balancing self-care, family needs, community service, and the details here at LearnDoBecome.
I thought the problem was “other people” or “the challenges in front of me”–just like someone who looks at their messy room might assume the problem is “the people who give them things” or the clutter itself.
And because I can’t (but expected myself to) please everyone and immediately solve every challenge, my body went into a pretty intense stress response.
I won’t share all the details here, but I had lots of rashes, fatigue, middle-of-the-night worries, and near-constant tension in my body. It was like I was on guard for most of each day–uptight and worried that if I slowed down, I would let everybody down. My schedule was packed, I had to stop exercising in order to conserve my energy, and I was moving at a pace that was totally unsustainable.
My health struggles went from mid-September until about 3 weeks ago, and because I literally spent months trying to figure it out, I’m hopeful that what I share today can help you get results faster.
I also want to be clear that everything in my life wasn’t terrible. There were lots of really happy moments, a fun family vacation, exciting conferences, meaningful projects, and plenty of beautiful days. It’s just that, behind the scenes, my body was dragging, and, while I was in the middle of it, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
I share this because you may think your life is “fine” right now–or even “great.” But if you are secretly living in “fight or flight” and feeling like any second you’re going to tip over the edge, I want to encourage you to take those feelings seriously and really get to the root of what’s going on.
I am genuinely calm, relaxed, and happy right now, and getting to this point wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I kept thinking, “Oh, I’m sure this will get better soon. It’s just a busy phase of life.” But it was really hurting me. Your situation may be way worse than mine, so I’m not assuming I know everything, but I really hope I can at least point you in a good direction.
The Week of Somewhat-Painful Therapy
A few years ago, I met with a TEAM-CBT therapist (stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy–the TEAM method, created by Dr. David Burns) to do some “emotional decluttering.” I talked about it in my podcast here.
I mainly wanted to talk through some mindset issues that were weighing me down at the time, and the session was incredibly helpful. In fact, I didn’t even feel like I needed a follow-up because the therapy was so successful.
However, during this recent challenge when I couldn’t get my rashes to go away and couldn’t calm my nervous system, the best thing I could think of was to meet with my coach/therapist again. I had one appointment on a Monday in early December, and then I had one more on Friday of that same week, and between the two appointments, I probably spent 10 hours doing my homework. I’m going to outline it for you as simply and as clearly as I can here.
TEAM-CBT, founded by Dr. David Burns, stands for Testing, Empathy, Agenda-Setting, and Methods as a four-part process of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
For the Testing part, I did a mood log before my therapy session (you can find them online or in the book When Panic Attacks). Basically, you pick a specific moment in time when you are suffering, and then you identify which feelings you’re having (from a list), how much you feel them (0-100%), and what thoughts you’re having that cause you to feel those feelings.
I basically let my therapist know that I was hiring him to help me stop having rashes, and I explained that I was feeling mostly anxious and frustrated.
During the Empathy part, he did a LOT of listening. I didn’t realize how may thoughts I had inside that didn’t have “a place to go.” This is one of the main reasons I appreciate therapists. Sometimes we just need to talk . 🙂 And he didn’t try to “fix me” right away. Instead, he validated my feelings and emphasized the good in me that was causing them.
Then we started a fresh mood log, and he asked me to really think about one moment when the anxiety was the worst. We went through the feelings and thoughts I’d had at the time, and then we did the BEST part, which is called The Positive Reframe.
Essentially, we look at each thought and ask, “What does this thought show that is awesome about me?”
I know…it feels weird at first because when you’re feeling anxious, angry, lonely, etc., you don’t feel awesome.
But we came up with 20-30 different pieces of evidence that showed how my negative thoughts and feelings showed that I care about people, I want to show up for others, I want to protect people from being manipulated, I’m willing to serve and sacrifice my own well-being to be helpful, etc.
When we looked at all those good things my pain represented, he asked the “magic button question”, which essentially says, “If we could push a magic button and make all your pain go away, would you do it?”
Naturally, I wanted to say YES, but given all the good represented by that pain, I didn’t want to push it. Instead, he asked about the “Magic Dial.” What if we could dial down the pain–so there’s enough left to honor my values, but not so much that my body suffers. I, of course, agreed to that, so we set goals (that’s the “Agenda Setting”) to decrease my negative feelings into the sustainable range.
At that point, our time was up, so he gave me homework to finish that pattern with all of my emotions and then start identifying the distortions (also from a list) and then start creating the positive thoughts that could replace the negative ones. He also gave me a quiz on my self-defeating beliefs.
When I left the call on Monday, I assumed the homework would take me an hour, and we planned to meet again on Friday.
What happened over the next few days, however, was some of the hardest emotional work I’ve ever done.
Needing some quiet, uninterrupted time to think, and not being able to sleep well because of all the emotions, I started working in the basement in the middle of the night—between 2 and 4am.
I took my laptop downstairs and did my homework the first night, but once I “solved” the feelings around the initial event that had upset me, I realized THAT wasn’t really the problem.
So I started another mood log with a new event/situation I’d been in that felt even more painful, and I wrote down the emotions, the thoughts, the positive reframe, the distortions, and the new thoughts, and I cried hard during the whole process.
Once I finished that one, I realized there was an even deeper issue, so I started another mood log, cried the whole way through it, and then found one more even deeper level.
I think the reason for my tears was because I felt so much shame—like I should have known how to handle these things and I was “a bad person” for feeling upset or not articulating my emotions and perspectives for so long.
But they were also tears of relief—because as I did the positive reframes—and then as I identified the distortions—it helped me to see that whenever I blame myself or blame someone else or have “all-or-nothing” thinking, I feel REAL pain, but it’s distorted pain.
I didn’t know how freeing that would be. It is that process that helps me to see that whenever I’m struggling, that shows something really good about me and my values—but the pain that goes along with it doesn’t need to be permanent. There’s another way to look at it that still says, “Yes, that was not a good thing,” but it also says, “You don’t have to carry this pain in order to prove that this wasn’t a good thing.”
The other tool that was WAY more powerful than I expected was the self-defeating beliefs quiz.
It features 23 “SDBs”, with four questions under each one.
Here’s an example: of one where I got a “perfect score” (not in a great way…):
MAGICAL THINKING – How much do you relate to the following? (0-4)
- My worry protects me and those I love.
- If I’m not anxious, something bad could happen.
- It is important I worry so things work out okay.
- My worry, anxiety, and/or concern prevents bad things from happening
As I’m reading these now, I don’t believe those at all (part of my homework was to do a mood log for each of my self-defeating beliefs—including the positive reframe, the distortions, and the new way to think about each one), but at the time, I got a 4 on every single part.
The quiz was seriously an eye-opener. I realized how much I struggle with things like people-pleasing, emotional perfectionism, and anger phobia. But until I took the quiz, I couldn’t see that there was another option. I kept thinking, “Are there really people who don’t believe these things?” It was like a light turned on.
Eric was an amazing support through this whole thing. Although I attended the online sessions and did the homework on my own, Eric was my champion through the whole thing. Each morning, he’d listen as I summarized my middle-of-the-night homework sessions, and as I opened up and told him about the thoughts and feelings I’d been discovering, he listened and encouraged me. It made such a difference.
When I showed up for my Friday therapy session, I felt like a different person. I had ALL my mood logs to show as my completed homework, but this time, I didn’t need to talk and cry. I wanted to dive in and ask for help on some of the specific thoughts I couldn’t counteract on my own.
But this time, I knew they represented good things, and I knew they were distorted, so my questions went something like, “What would I do with this one so it doesn’t cause me to feel so sad?”
We also went through a variety of tools that taught me things like “how to look forward to arguments.” That one was a game-changer for me because one of my core self-defeating beliefs has been that it is unbearable to have anyone mad at me. Imagine what that belief does to a person…
Instead, I learned how to articulate my feelings in a way that leaves the other person feeling better, as well. Something like, “You know, this is hard for me to say because I care about you so much, and I can see how hard you’re working at this, but I’m starting to feel a bit angry. And because I want to be close to you, I think it’s important for me to share my feelings. I genuinely want to understand your perspective more fully. Can we discuss this further? Could you let me know if there’s something I’m not seeing yet?”
I don’t know if that exact language would work for you, but just having words to articulate what I feel has been so helpful. I’ve used this twice, and it’s like magic!
I’ll close for now, but to summarize the lessons I learned:
- The struggles in our lives represent the good in us.
- There’s nothing wrong with us…we’ve simply created beliefs that we think will keep us safe.
- If we’re willing to open our hearts and “do the work,” we can find relief.
***Also, I asked my therapist/coach to be our first GUEST SPEAKER inside ARISE in March, and he is coming! If you would like to join us, please come into the membership! I seriously can’t wait.
[PODCAST 168]: 7 “Rules” I Need to Replace
[PODCAST 55]: Ready to Declutter Your Emotions?
Feeling Good Institute (Find a Therapist!)
Books: (The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)
Jen S says
Thank you, thank you, thank you April for sharing this. I complete relate to how you were feeling, I have been emotionally overwhelmed with all the things for the last few months and feeling like I had to do everything. “Worry is my superpower” totally resonated. I worry about everyone and in turn do not spend enough time actually doing the things and feel stuck. Thank you for being so open with your struggles and feelings, it helps to know that what I am feeling is not just me.
Meagan Mitchell says
I loved this April! Thank you for being open and honest and genuine! You are blessing the life of so many people through this ministry.
Mary Janelle says
I have a question… what does “disruption” mean in this context? I feel like I’m missing a big piece of understanding without being familiar with this word as you’re using it here. That said, thank you so much for consistently sharing. Also, I’m SO grateful that you offer written summaries, as I’m definitely a visual learner!
April Perry says
Hi Mary! I’m happy to help, but I’m not sure what, exactly, you’re referring to. Can you give me the paragraph/sentence? Thanks!
Mary Janelle says
Sorry! I meant “distortion”! My bad. What are the distortions?
Hi Mary, here is a blog post from David Burns that describes the cognitive distortions: https://feelinggood.com/2014/01/06/secrets-of-self-esteem-2-negative-and-positive-distortions/. Plus if you search on the Google Chrome browser: Cognitive Distortions Feeling Good, you will also see many other options for learning more, including his pdfs, website, books, and many psychology professionals who share this foundation building blocks for cognitive behavioral therapy, who give him credit for his work in this area over many years.
Lastly, here is a comprehensive pdf with information about the cognitive distortions, and ways to address them: CHECKLIST OF COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS https://arfamiliesfirst.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Cognitive-Distortions.pdf
Mary Janelle says
Tracy — thank you so much! These replies are so helpful.
Michelle Aimone says
Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I’m so moved by your honesty and vulnerability. God speaks to us in many ways, and I believe I needed this message today. I probably got more out of your podcast than in my several months of psychotherapy for the same issues. I will be checking out those resources right away! <3
Kersti Rose says
April, your ability to be your authentic open self is so inspiring. I believe my true nature is to be a conduit of love, and I so have much to learn. You and Eric are full on portals of love, of acceptance and support of us all in our human-ness. Such a gift!
My GP sent me to a “Worry class” to simmer down a bit after a midnight visit to ER resulted in a diagnosis of “just stress”. My sisters and I say we learned worrying from our mom, an expert. The worry classes did help, but when the going gets tough, I still work to save the world by worrying. I get it! And I will be at the March talk. Thank you for all that you do.
April Perry says
I just adore you, Kersti! XOXO
Judith Rausch says
Such an amazing opportunity you provide for us, April. I joined the big dollar category several years ago and am just getting to drilling down into my schedule to complete the steps, content which I desperately need. Your inspiration is invaluable. A huge comfort that your well-designed, Divinely inspired program is going to always be here for me, thru tears of gratefulness…..
Thank you April for having the courage and willingness to share so deeply with us all! You will help so many of us now, and into the future, with your insights and concrete example of how the Burns cognitive work can be applied. I started listening to the David Burns podcast after some of your prior podcasts relating to him, and it’s interesting that he does sometimes record actual “TEAM” sessions with a client and therapist to give us an idea of how his approach can be used in therapy. (Before I understood the TEAM approach, I did not know it was an acronymn for the principles of his therapy, rather than using a team of therapists!) Thank you again for all you do and share, and being a channel for light and love. Self-care/self-regulation is so important for us all, and we appreciate the many avenues you share with us! Many blessings to you, your family, your team, and all the “steppers”–and I like your phrase, the “becomers”– out there! We are all family!
April Perry says
Thank you for your kind words! And yes—I love when Dr. Burns does the live therapy! I think I have listened to all of them… ❤️ It’s so helpful to listen to their transformations! And thanks for posting the links for everyone! It means so much when the community comes together to support one another. xoxoxo
Thank you April. ❤️ This has helped me realize that there is hope to get past these feelings and I likely need therapy to do that. I resonated so much with everything you said. You’re not alone and your openness makes a difference for those of us that truly need you.
Kathy Chesney says
Thank you for your openness. I’m sure you never anticipated where this was all going when you guys started but I am so blessed by the way you always allow the Lord to lead you and Eric and your family. You are always a blessing to so many. ❤️❤️ Thank you! Kathy
April Perry says
You are very sweet, Kathy. Thank you for your kind words. You are absolutely right…I couldn’t have anticipated all of this at the beginning, but I am grateful to have an incredible community to learn and grow alongside. So grateful for you!
Kathy Chesney says
Btw, I’m so glad you are feeling better!!💕🌷☀️🌻
Hi April! I was very blessed by your most recent podcast! I remember that I first heard of Dr. Burns from you, way back when you first mentioned him. Learning about the Cognitive Distortions has been a game-changer. Thank you for sharing so freely about your journey; I feel like we are kindred spirits, especially when it comes to having fears and “caring so much.” I am a member of STEP Mastery (it’s been a slow process) and have benefitted so much from all your offerings. God bless you, friend!
Thank you for being so real and open. That was incredibly brave and so helpful to me. I’ve been struggling so long with many of those same issues and what is funny is my good friend recommended the same therapy and I’ve had a workbook sitting in one of my piles for months. And these negative thought patterns just seem to sneak in there when I’m not looking. I’m going to def look into the mood logs and definitely give myself grace and space to work through this. I’ve never known what is behind my self-sabotage of health and well being to serve and please others so badly. And I avoid anger and yelling (at me) at all cost! Thank you, thank you, and peace be with you.
That was an amazing podcast …. so open, courageous, un-shirking in facing the difficult parts, vulnerable, filled with love of life and living as you approach all the shadows which you want to cast light upon and enlighten ….. and helping and encouraging us also as you journey yourself.
I just thank you with all my heart. I will likely listen again soon. So much resonated. And so much I need to ponder and then hopefully apply to my own places in need of illumination and changes….. with the love you teach us about using to overcome the fear and overwhelm of facing these things.
I am curious on just a practical note. When you write and do this work, as well as I assume journaling the process, what tools have you used and preferred? I am starting to do much of this, and as I see the length of my stream of consciousness journaling, as well as the work in trying to focus on the questions, I am wondering how to effectively tag and find thoughts again. How to possibly organize….. (haha!). Do you write right within the forms? And dates. Obviously the dates you write things, but what about the dates for going back to particular times, etc? Anyway, I thought I’d ask! because you excel at this type of thing!
Again, thank you for your biggest “excel” = being you, loving life, loving God, loving us out here in the world !!!
April Perry says
Marilyn, you are so sweet. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I’m sending lots of love as you go through this process for yourself! Your question is a great one. With these kinds of journal entries, they are so private that I don’t plan to pass them onto my children or leave them in a place where others will read them. For that purpose, I keep the files local. For example, I keep a paper folder in one of my cubbies JUST for mood logs. If I am working from my computer, I have a file in my documents on my hard drive just for Mood Logs, and I use my Macbook’s “Pages” app for that. I label each one as “Mood Log 1,” “Mood Log 2” etc., and for this particular experience, I think I had 5. Dr. Burns refers to this as the “Daily Mood Log” because when people are going through therapy, he recommends they do this as daily homework. Now that I am feeling good, I just do a mood log when I feel a little off or when I encounter a new situation that is hard for me to think through. Sometimes I do these on random pieces of paper, and then I throw them away when I’m done, as long as I feel better and I’ve figured out the issue. Or I keep them in that cubby/folder I referenced earlier. It’s actually a sweet experience to read through past mood logs because I can see my growth. And maybe my children might want to read through some of mine someday so they can see I was a normal person with normal fears/concerns. It’s just that I don’t want to edit myself while I do these and worry that I will be misunderstood if they read my negative thoughts without context. Hope that helps! Sending love!
Keri Jeter Lewis says
I wanted to thank you so much for your bravery and vulnerability – what a gift you’ve given to us, April. You always give so much of yourself but this felt so big. (Talking about my mental health, which I do try to do often, feels so scary and I’m so grateful to you for this.) I’ve read and recommended Feeling Good but haven’t heard of the When Panic Attacks one yet. Will definitely check this out. Thank you. xo, Keri
April Perry says
Thank you for your kind words! So glad this was helpful for you! Wishing you the best with your reading/processing. xoxo