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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Feeling Stuck with Anxiety or Depression? Try this Today!

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 3rd 2009

unlocking mindWhen we're feeling down, depressed, or stressed, the last person we ever think about taking care of is ourselves. All kinds of thoughts come up in opposition such as:

"I don't deserve to take care of myself."

"I have too much work to do; if I take time out for myself I'll fall behind."

"I am balancing working, being a parent, taking care of my parents, and having a relationship, where would I ever find time for myself?"

These thoughts are all very general and seem to imply a very rigid rule that there is no room for change here. We're stuck. We want to change, but our thoughts are telling us that there is simply no way it can happen. These thoughts are all too common and the problem is, if we don't shift the way we relate to the moment when these thoughts arise, not only do we begin or add to an existing spiral that's leading to stress, anxiety, or depression, but we miss out on an opportunity to change a very old, unhelpful, habit of thinking.

What if in that moment we were able to shift our attitude from this dogmatic "things must be this way" to the same way we shift attention during a mindful raisin eating exercise. In this practice we adopted attitudes of curiosity, as if we were coming to this experience for the very first time. We also practiced non-judgment, just noticing what was there without attaching the thoughts of good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair. We're simply aware of what is arising in the moment and letting it be. This way we break from the auto-pilot of rumination and worry, become present, and are more able to make a mental shift.

In other words, is there a way we can get curious about the ways our minds operate and keep us stuck? In becoming more present, what can we then do to begin taking care of ourselves, which at the end of the day is so critical in order to function well.

Two things to begin engaging:

  • Make a list of things that are pleasurable for you. These could be doing a good deed for someone, smiling at people, taking a bath, going on a walk, playing with the kids, having sex, whatever, just make a list.


  • What are you good at or what gives you a sense of accomplishment? This could be writing emails, doing your taxes, getting the groceries, washing the car, getting that oil change that has been put off for too long.

Incorporating pleasurable activities and things that give you a sense of accomplishment are critical for mental health. However, the only way we can engage in them is by knowing what the obstacles are. Those obstacles are often our very thoughts that have just been habitually circulating in our minds for too long. Get to know these thoughts, understand that these automatic negative thoughts are not facts, and that an effective way to actually "take care of business" in your life, starts with taking care of yourself.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interactions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Habitual Response - M. Gilbert - Oct 20th 2010

Dr. Goldstein,

Isn't it sometimes helpful to allow for "habitual responses?" Indeed, should we attempt to identify each prevailing thought (thinking about our thoughts) one formulatetes would most certainly be a slow and painstakingly difficult and ineffecient chore. To use your example of walking down the street, should someone pass me without saying hi, of course my thoughts may attempt to seek out meaning; however, these same quick judgments (thought processes) might be supportive should that same individual appear to be threatening in some fashion. To ignore such a consideration may be viewed as being reckless. Should I choose to ignore my automatic thought(s), or take additional time to reflect on the validity of such thoughts may indeed promote hesitation and subsequent harm. Being mindful is a useful tool to ferret out maladaptive thoughts, but I posit they, too, can be useful in some fashion. 

I certainly hope my points haven't been muddled as I, too, process my thinking. 

I respectfully await your feedback.

Many thanks,

M. Gilbert

What is Mindfulness? - Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. - Jun 5th 2009

Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to something in the present moment, without our usual filters of judgment. What I mean by that is when you're looking at a raisin, let go of the immediate judgment that it is "good" or "bad" and tune into your sensations one by one. See what a different experience you have. 

We often confuse our judgments with facts and this leads to a conditioned fight or flight response. Understanding that if someone walks by you and doesn't say hi, the minds habitual response that "they don't like me" is not a fact. It is a mental event in the mind that hasn't been investigated. So with mindfulness, we return to the reality of the present moment, that being our breath or how we're feeling in the body. Tracks 4, 5, & 6 on the CD are guided practices to give you the scaffolding to do this. Practice each for a week before moving onto the next. Also, Listen again to tracks 1-3 as they provide a foundation for doing this work. 

Mindfullness - juan - Jun 3rd 2009

Hello :)

 I recently purchased the CD about how to reduce anxiety.  I'm still don't grasp the concept of mindfullness.  Is this like a meditation exercise or something.  When you say "non-judgemental" what do you really mean.  I think my flight or fight system is out of calibration because it gets activated with an external stimuli that I consider silly.  Perhaps it was because I spent a long period of time being under a lot of tension and threat.  How could mindfullness help me regulate this fight or flight machanism back to normal? 

Thanks for this article - - Jun 3rd 2009

Love the articles on this site, more so then the community. The community can be very slow at time in responding. Articles have been much more helpful.

"Feeling stuck w/anxiety or depression" was especially helpful for me. Spoke to where I am and don't want to be. Gave some very helpful advise. Going to start working on my list now. It was nice to not only be reminded to take care of myself and my needs but also that that is alright to do. 

Thanks for this article. It gives me hope that I don't have to stay stuck in anxiety and depression.

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