Ironic Solutions You’ve Been Avoiding

In our “crazy busy” culture that keeps moving faster and faster each day, most of us want to:

o Get more done
o Be more productive
o Get rid of stress and anxiety
o Generally “toughen up” (to do more of all of the above)

We get in an endless loop of more To-Do’s and multi-tasking. It all seems to result in more stress, less sleep and less sense of accomplishment.

Is there anything that can be done to reduce all that stress and get off the hamster wheel?

Do the Opposite

It’s quite ironic that your solution is actually the opposite of what you think it should be. The ironic solutions are sometimes quite obvious. Other times we chalk up the ironic solutions as ridiculous and avoid trying them.

Problem: Want more productivity and want to accomplish more?
Ironic Solution: Learn how to develop a slow gear

Instead of constantly focusing on speeding up, doing more, and checking things off the list…slow down. Disengage from technology and to-do lists and future-oriented thinking for a little while each day.

You will become more present and focused when you return to the work at hand. Your mind needs time to process all the inputs (i.e. stress) of the day. With a quieter mind and a state of mindfulness, you will naturally become more productive. Ironically, it happens more easily when we slow down than when we frantically try harder to be more productive.

Problem: Want to get more done in a day? 
Ironic Solution: Sleep more

Not getting enough sleep can cause:

• irritability
• lack of mental clarity
• reduced executive functioning in the brain leading to:
        o poor decision-making
        o poor prioritization
        o poor analytical ability
• forgetfulness or memory loss
• brain fog
• reduced time management skill
• reduced productivity
• reduced focus
• depression (worsens all of the above symptoms)
• anxiety (worsens all of the above symptoms)

It’s easy to see how staying up later to get more done simply does not work in the long run. Ironically, doing that repeatedly will lead to getting much less done in a day (along with increased frustration).

Problem: Want to stop procrastinating on something? 
Ironic Solution: Stop avoiding it and go face it

This sounds so obvious that it can sound irritating. Here are examples of some very common situations that cause anxiety and are often avoided:

Di Philippi, MA, LPC, Holistic Anxiety Therapist, Milwaukee• driving, especially on the freeway or during rush hour
• public speaking
• social events where you might be judged or be put on the spot
• new situations (creating fear of the unknown)
• crowded situations where you might feel “trapped”

The more we find something uncomfortable, the more we avoid it. Yet avoidance is the worst strategy. The situation will continue to have power over you the more you avoid it.

The ironic solution in psychology terms is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) or Exposure therapy. ERP is a part of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). It provides a very safe and systematic way to face those things that feel like demons. With avoidance, the demons always live on.

Problem: Want to be stronger and tougher in times of stress?
Ironic Solution: Learn and practice self-compassion

Do the opposite of what your inner critic says. Stop being so hard on yourself and demanding that you just “buck up” and “get over” the difficult and stressful parts of life.

An article in the Washington Post titled “Be Kinder to Yourself” explores this concept of self-compassion. It talks about a 2017 study that found that people who have higher levels of self-compassion tend to handle stress better. Other research confirms this.

So, ironically, being kinder and gentler to yourself actually does make you stronger in the face of stress. Self-compassion makes it easier to move through stress. Practice quieting your inner drill sergeant.

10 More Great Ways to Love Yourself

Every February I write about how to love yourself. Being your own Valentine is the best gift you can give yourself.

Loving yourself is the gift that keeps on giving: when you love yourself more you can share more of that love with others in your life.

Here are some concrete ways to get started…

Gifts that Say I Love You to Yourself

1. 5 minutes of doing nothing. Many people actually find this one difficult. Sit down in silence with no devices or distractions. Close your eyes and give yourself permission to BE with no doing.

2. Say goodbye to the Joneses. Stop comparing yourself to others. Don’t dwell on others who put on their Facebook faces. Everyone is unique and there is no good that comes from comparing. You are valuable just the way you are!

3. Thank yourself. Real gratitude is seeing the gifts that are inside of you. Before bed each night, thank yourself for one really wonderful thing about yourself.

4. Get comfortable saying No. Know yourself and know your boundaries. Listen to your inner wisdom and give yourself permission to say no sometimes. If you learn to stop automatically saying yes to things that others want or expect from you, you will have more time to say yes to what YOU want. Don’t say yes when your inner wisdom says no.

5. Speak to yourself with kindness. Give yourself the respect you would give to a friend. Stop the internal critical dialogue, name calling and criticism. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Just like everyone else, you’re doing the best you can in any given the situation.

6. Stop stuffing your feelings. Your feelings matter! Emotions are part of being a human being. You have a right to all of your feelings, even the ones that other people may not like, and even the ones that can feel uncomfortable like anger and sadness. Honoring all of your feelings is part of honoring and loving yourself. Allow yourself to have ALL your feelings and express them in a healthy, respectful way.

7. Time alone. Both introverts and extroverts benefit from a little solitude, with no one to attend to but your incredible self. Do whatever you want with your time – it’s all yours!

8. Don’t Do. Not “doing” can be an important gift to yourself. Don’t do that one extra thing before bedtime, don’t stay up late on Facebook, don’t have that third glass of wine, don’t rush out of the house at the last minute frantic about being late, don’t spend 3 hours of your time to try to save a few dollars. Find something on your to-do list that you really don’t need to do.

9. Allow yourself to receive. Value yourself enough to say yes to offers of help, say yes to support, say yes to a friend who wants to buy you lunch. Receive gifts graciously. You deserve it!

10. Let imperfect be good enough. You are probably your own worst critic. We are all imperfect. We all make mistakes. We all have regrets. Give yourself a break and allow yourself to be like the rest of us human beings: perfectly imperfect.

Need more ideas?

Here’s 10 More Gifts that Say I Love You to Yourself 

And even More Ways to Love Yourself

Tulsi Tea

Holy basil, known as Tulsi, is an herbal plant known for its therapeutic power. Historically used as medicine due to its widespread therapeutic power, holy basil leaves are commonly regarded as anti-stress agents.

The leaves are made into tea known as Tulsi Tea which is used as a natural remedy for stress and anxiety. My favorite brand is Organic India, and I like the Turmeric Ginger Tulsi Tea.

Why You Can’t Stop Being So Crazy Busy

It’s no secret that being crazy busy week after week, month after month is one of the main contributors to anxiety.

Being too busy, and seeing no end in sight, is one of the biggest problems my clients need help with.

Most people try to solve this problem the wrong way. They try to become more organized, more efficient, more productive, better at time management, and better at multi-tasking.  They also cut back on sleep in order to get more done.

Any of this sound familiar?

And if they do figure out how to get the same number of things done in less time, then they fill up that extra time with more to do’s. Result: more stress and anxiety.

If doing too much is the problem, how can doing more be the answer? 

If you want to get to the root of this problem, I suggest you ask yourself some very important questions:

• What stops you from saying “no” to more things?

• Conversely, what keeps you saying “yes” to things?

• What stops you from drawing some boundaries?

• What stops you from making some downtime for yourself?

• How much choice do you have in being crazy busy? (Keep asking that one.)

• Have you tried sleeping more instead of less?

• If you had extra downtime, would you know what to do with it?

• Are you able to sit quietly and relax, if you wanted to?

• Does crazy busy get in the way of you really being present to the ones you love?


Perhaps the most important question to answer:

Is it possible you get benefits or a payoff from continuing to be so crazy busy?

Consider these common reasons why people perpetually stay busy (there are many other reasons as well)…

1. Discomfort with quiet time.
Some people feel so uneasy and just sitting idle with themselves – any distraction feels better than that anxiety and uneasiness.

In fact, scientific studies have shown that people would rather give themselves mild electrical shocks then spend 6 to 15 minutes alone with their thoughts.

2. Avoidance.
Crazy busyness helps you subconsciously avoid things you really don’t want to face. I’m talking about things like conflict, criticism, unhappiness, relationships and emotional intimacy, vulnerability, and fear of not being good enough. Avoiding all of that can definitely feel like a payoff.

3. Sense of importance.
Being busy gives you bragging rights. It has become a competition and a misplaced sign of success to be busier than the next guy.

Your Gravestone

What would you want inscribed on your gravestone? How about this:

She sure got a lot done!

Probably not. But crazy busy causes you to live your life in a way that puts the highest value on getting it all done.

What would you really like your gravestone to say? How would you like your loved ones to feel about the time you shared with them on this Earth?

That leads to the most important question… What’s one thing you can do today to help ensure that result?

Say Ahhh

This technique is adapted from author Jonathan Goldman. He says that simple, self-created vocal sounds such as elongated vowels like “ah”, “oh” or even an “mmm” humming sound can have profound and positive effects on your physical, mental and emotional states.

For example, Goldman says these sounds can:

1. Calm your nervous system, lower blood pressure and heart rate, and can reduce levels of stress-related hormones such as cortisol.
2. Increase melatonin, a hormone which helps us sleep at night.
3. Release endorphins—those self-created “feel good” brain chemicals.

Feeling stress or anxiety? Take a nice deep breath and sound forth with an “ah” a few times….or just hum for a minute or two. No one will hear you but you’ll feel a lot more relaxed almost instantly.

Holiday Stress – Nothing Changes Until You Do

Here we go again – another busy holiday season.

If you are one of those are bracing yourself for a holiday season that leads to stress and anxiety, this article is just for you.

The stress of the holiday season is predictable…

• Stressful family relationships
• Too many holiday parties and other commitments
• Pressures for baking, cooking, decorating and hosting events
• Pressures for gift-giving, shopping
• Crowded stores and malls with long lines
• Added financial strain that can come with gift-giving

The commitments and pressures of the holidays don’t ever seem to change. In fact, you generally have little ability to change those external factors.

So, despite those anxiety-provoking stressors, do you want this holiday season to be different, maybe even more peaceful and enjoyable?

You can have that! But not by relying on those external factors to change. Rely on yourself.

Changing internal factors can change your experience of this holiday season.

But what can you change?

Lots of things….

How you think about the holiday pressures

o Do you think you have to do it all?
o Do you think everything needs to be perfect?

• How you respond to the holiday stressors

o How do you respond to those difficult family members?
o How do you respond to other people’s holiday expectations?

• The choices you make

o What will you say yes to?
o What will you say no to?
o What are your reasons for the choices you make?

• Permissions you give yourself

o Do you give yourself permission to decline an invitation?
o To change a holiday tradition so that it is easier on you?
o To do something nice for yourself?

Rethink traditions

Traditions are not a problem unless they’re a problem. If they cause unhappiness or anxiety, that’s a problem.

During the holidays we do lots of things on autopilot for the sake of tradition. Times change and that’s OK. Maybe it’s time for a new tradition, perhaps an even better one.

Some traditions you may love and want to keep. Others you may not love… so go ahead and either decline, or modify.

Transform obligations

Be powerful and make choices that work for you. Once you make a choice to do something because you want to do it (not “have to”), it ceases to be an obligation. Now it’s a choice.

Obligations are those things that you think you have to do. Stop shoulding on yourself

Transform obligations by thinking about them differently. Or at least think about them consciously and make conscious choices, rather than continue on autopilot.

Holiday stress…nothing changes until you do.

Remember Your Choice

Thanks to Louise Hay for this quote and affirmation to reduce stress:

“This month I replace the word should with the word could. Could lets me know that I have a choice, which means freedom. I’m now aware that everything I do in life is done by choice – and I make sure that positive thinking and an optimistic attitude guide all my decisions. Once again, life is filling me with wisdom and I am so grateful.”

How to be Grateful (btw: it reduces anxiety too)

I just bought this new picture for my office:

Then I thought about how very hard this can be.

Scientific studies consistently prove the positive effects of gratitude for body, mind, spirit and emotions. It is proven that gratitude reduces stress and anxiety. Yet, it’s not always easy.

We all know we “should” be grateful. But telling yourself that you really “should” be grateful is “shoulding on yourself,” which actually creates less gratitude and more negative feelings.


How do we shift from knowing we should be grateful to actually being more grateful?

First, we need to understand why it doesn’t always come naturally:

a) Because we’re human beings. The human brain has a negativity bias thanks to our caveman brains and our fight-or-flight response. This comes from the part of the brain that is prone to anxiety and is trained to see negative things first (in case a sabretooth tiger is approaching).

b) Because sometimes life is hard and painful. Let’s just admit that. We all have truly difficult things to deal with at various points in our lives.

When life is going beautifully and all is well, gratitude may flow naturally. The challenge is how to choose to be grateful in the middle of everything that life presents.

It’s NOT all or nothing

At times life can be very difficult. This is true. AND at the very same time we can find something, however small, to be grateful for. This is also true.

Life is not black and white. It is very gray. Developing the ability to see both the good and bad at the same time is a skill that helps you live in the gray-ness of life.

In the gray, both the challenges and the gratitude can be true at the same time.

Here’s where choosing comes in… Searching for that small thing to be grateful for is a conscious choice. I’m not saying it is easy, but you can choose to do it.

Choose to search for a silver lining. Choose to look at both sides of a coin. Choose to allow yourself to feel better by finding one positive thing, even if you seem to be swimming in a sea of problems.

Why make the choice?

It’s a gift to yourself. Gratitude is a way you can take control of how you feel, no matter the circumstances around you. It makes you feel better and reduces stress and anxiety.

Choosing to be grateful makes you more powerful and in charge of your life experience.

Research shows gratitude increases happiness, reduces depression, creates positive changes your brain activity (per MRi imaging), improves relationships, increases motivation, and reduces anxiety. These are great gifts to yourself.

Choose and keep choosing

Don’t expect gratitude to come automatically at all times. Just keep choosing it.

Seek ways to practice gratitude to reduce stress and anxiety.

Just choose. Choose because you want to feel better. Choose because you deserve it. Moment by moment…keep choosing.

Instant Life Story

One of my clients shared this strategy to reduce anxiety in unfamiliar situations…

When you are in an anxiety provoking situation, take a look at the individuals around you and play the game of Instant Life Story. Pick one person at a time and make up a life story for that person.

For example… on an airplane with many strangers… you see a mean looking man with a scowl on his face boarding. To shift from a fearful/anxious reaction to him, make up his instant life story…

Perhaps he’s scowling because he’s just been dumped by his girlfriend and now he has to take this vacation alone.

Perhaps he’s angry because he’s been bumped 4 times from other flights and exhausted because he hasn’t slept in 36 hours.

Perhaps he’s in a witness protection program and was told not to look anyone in the eye.

Perhaps he just lost a loved one.

See how making up a possible alternate life story can change your reaction to him and the situation? Give it a try!

Can You Stop Anxiety Permanently?

Here’s a great question I got from a new subscriber to my newsletter:

“…if we are able to get me to the point where my anxiety is gone…how often does the anxiety come back?”

This is a fantastic question because so many people have been told you’ll have anxiety for your whole life… and you’ll have to take medication for your whole life.

That’s not what I tell my clients. Here’s what I see in my practice: People are often times able to eliminate anxiety and sometimes it never comes back.

If you’ve been told that medication is required for your anxiety, or that you’ll need it your whole life, you may like this article on my blog: Drug-Free: Is it possible for you?

I have plenty of clients who got rid of their anxiety and it is gone forever. If not gone forever, it is very possible to reduce it to such a level that you are confident and able to manage small waves of anxiety that may come up. How is all of this possible?

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) rewires your brain to respond differently to situations that previously caused anxiety, thus preventing future anxiety. You learn how to think differently, and this trains your brain how to think differently in the future.

From a neuroscience perspective, CBT changes the neural pathways (the pathways of repetitive thoughts). Repetitive anxiety thinking creates an “automatic pathway,” meaning that when you encounter situations which created anxiety in the past, your brain learns to automatically go down that anxiety pathway in the future. Your brain takes you into an anxiety reaction “automatically.”

You must learn how to break that pattern and train your brain how to create a different “automatic pathway” of non-anxiety thinking. In this way, CBT helps you regain control over your reactions and reduce or eliminate anxiety.

2. Holistic “In-the-moment” Tools

I teach holistic tools and techniques so you know what to do as soon as you start to feel anxiety coming on. Having tools in your back pocket helps you gain control of the anxiety instead of the anxiety having control over you.

There are many tools that can be used right in the moment of anxiety to immediately reduce anxiety symptoms. Some of these are so powerful that they can actually stop anxiety, and even panic attacks, in their tracks.

One size does not fit all in this regard. Since we are all unique individuals with unique life experiences, it is usually a unique combination of tools and strategies that works for each person. Building the right tool kit empowers you when anxiety creeps in.

3. Reduce the Baseline

You probably need to learn strategies for reducing your day-to-day stress and anxiety levels. I call this reducing your baseline. When your baseline level of stress and anxiety is too high, then you become easily overwhelmed. One “little” thing can put you over the edge and trigger anxiety.

Of course this all depends on you and your situation. My approach works! But it requires active participation. By that I mean…

• Being willing to learn new ways of thinking
• paying greater attention to your thoughts
• regular practice of the new tools and techniques
• willingness to possibly make some lifestyle changes to decrease your baseline level of stress and anxiety

People who get the best results are those who are most committed to the process, willing to learn new things, and willing to make changes.