High pressure? What high pressure? Wake up. Make breakfast. Feed the dog. Get the kids to school. An employee calls in sick while you’re in the shower. Check in with aging parents. Order that birthday gift from Amazon. Vendors are blowing your deadlines. Support your friend that didn’t get that job. Plan dinner. Oh, don’t forget to blissfully meditate and get to the gym. Also look amazing and put it on Instagram. Feel at peace, right?
Is it any wonder women entrepreneurs are overwhelmed by the high pressure stakes of trying to do it all?
Just like a great CPA, business attorney and wealth advisor, I tell my clients they need a great therapist on their advisory teams. A sacred space to vent and pick up new coping skills like mindfulness techniques is crucial to survive, succeed, and thrive in all aspects of your life – including your business.
I recently talked with licensed psychotherapist Christine Dassow. Not only is she an amazing woman, and one of my best friends from high school, she is a talented therapist who provides us with exercises we can use anywhere to bring life back in to perspective.
In this episode: how to cope with high pressure and anxiety
In this episode, Christine and I discuss:
- How to silence your inner critic (find out why mine is called Danny DeVito!)
- How to use 5-4-3-2-1 to be mindful and present
- 4 things to do when you feel like the wheels are falling off
- How to find the right therapist for you
- Manifesting your desires by managing your thoughts
“You create the energy of what you want, you put the thoughts out there of what you want, and try to challenge the ones that aren’t very healthy or logical, those that get you in a negative loop. When you can start drawing from that positive energy and focusing on those thoughts to yourself, then that’s what you’re going to get back.“
This is an episode that will stick with you – be sure to listen.
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Christine Dassow Description:
Today, I spoke with a licensed psychotherapist Christine Dassow who also happens to be my high school best friend—you’ve been warned, we have a good time. I was interested in talking with someone who has an insight and expertise into how to deal with a really high-pressure career, a high-pressure lifestyle, and some of the social anxiety that comes along with having to put yourself out there.
Today it seems like technology just moves at a crazy space, and putting yourself out there in social media or on television can feel like so much pressure, just crazy pressure. Some of my clients have had some struggles with issues around having the right messaging, the right headshot if they look commercial enough, body image issues, all of those things that come up, then, of course, the struggles around balancing family and work life. We walk through a couple of exercises that you can do anytime, anywhere to help that inner critic back into check and to get yourself centered in the here and now.
We also talk about how to find a great therapist. That’s as important as having a great CPA, a great business attorney. You have to have a great therapist on your team as well. This is an important conversation and I was really glad to have it and I hope you enjoy it.
JM: Hi Christine, welcome.
CD: Hi, thanks for having me.
JM: Thank you very much for making the time. I’m very in excited to talk with you. A little background on Christine, she’s my high school best friend, so full disclaimer, it might get a little weird, we have a lot of fun. We’ve known each other for a very long time. Tell us a little bit about what you do.
CD: I am a licensed mental health counselor at a local university. I see individuals for counseling, I do group therapy, I run workshops, I do consultation, online therapy outreach on campus, a lot of different responsibilities.
JM: That’s awesome. So really, anything related to the things that we’re going to talk about today. I’m excited to talk with you because one of the many reasons—last fall when I initially had the idea for Catalyst, it was during a major meltdown and luckily (or maybe unluckily) I don’t know, depending on how you look at it—the timing was right around a girl’s weekend where you and I got together, and it wound up being real watershed moment that moved me forward in terms of having the opportunity to do some soul searching about what I wanted to be doing for work, what I didn’t want to be doing, and the kinds of people I wanted to work with and help—let me tell you, having a best friend that’s a psychotherapist is like the greatest thing in the world.
We had really, really great conversations that weekend about some of the things that were happening. Let’s start there. You walked me through some really interesting exercises. Our audience—the women that Catalyst works with—are women who are in high-pressure situations. They are entrepreneurs, they’ve got a lot of people to take care of, they have employees to take care of, they have families to take care of, and then you couple that with the fact that they are trying to market themselves, they’re putting themselves out there on social media. We have to deal with our feelings about self-image and self-esteem, what are some of those common issues when you are working with women, Christine? How do you handle some of those pressures that this is a pretty unique time this day and age where it’s a very public arena, you don’t control what happens when you put it out there on social media, the judgment, and the comments? What are some of the issues that you’re seeing and how do you help your clients deal with that?
CD: First off, the social media is a large concern with the population that I see because that’s where they live. They are constantly on their phones, walking around campus, very oblivious, and not mindful at all to what’s happening, always listening to music, looking on social media, and it causes a lot of distress for people. Sometimes the exact presenting issue is, “I didn’t get enough likes on Facebook, this person did so and so on Instagram, Snapchatted this, and then I took a picture and I forward it to the person and now we’re in an argument.” It could go on and on. The social media itself is like a monster with a lot of people because it kind of makes or breaks their self-esteem when they didn’t really have that much of a self-esteem problem previously.
A lot of, specifically older women entrepreneurs, probably didn’t really grow up with social media. I think that it’s two separate generations going through two separate things where maybe like the older generation knows how to live without it a little bit although we all get pulled into it. Basically, you can have really low self-esteem, it can cause a lot of social anxiety, it could make your social anxiety worse if you have that already because you don’t really have to talk to a lot of people, you could just do everything online.
And people feel big and bad when they’re online, saying whatever they want to say. But then when they come to your face, it’s a different story.
JM: Oh, yes, all trolls. What do you suggest when you see those kinds issues with your clients? I go back to the comment that you made about social pressures and social anxiety. Because anytime—especially if you are of a younger generation (that is just a part of the culture and that is a big part of relationships at that age), or being a woman who’s an entrepreneur who’s relying on this as a vehicle to get yourself out there to make a name for yourself, to brand yourself, and have people know who you are and what you’re about—it’s a lot of pressure. What do you suggest for the people that you are talking to, with people who are listening that are going through that, or just, “Gosh, it just feels like the anxiety of it all becomes too much?”
CD: There’s also multiple things I would say to that. One part of it is having clarity of how you want to come across and knowing yourself. Then the other part is really trying to work with the stress, the anxiety, and if you go to coping skills that you can do. Some are very fast, you can do them wherever you are, those are the ones that I’ll definitely talk more about. But with the first part, with the clarity and knowing yourself, a lot comes from a lot of beliefs we make about ourselves from a young age. When you have it thrown in that now it’s social media, all the perceptions of how you look and what you’re saying all the time, those can really get set into. If you’re really young and you think, “Oh, I’m really overweight, I’m fat,” whatever, that is going keep getting reinforced if all you’re looking at is what people put out on social media which is like perfect images and Photoshopped images.
JM: Especially if that’s something that you’re very focused on. I know that weight issues and body image—fortunately—has a greater awareness in social media now and I think that we do have a greater variety of role models and people who are different shapes, sizes, colors, different looks, but there’s also a lot of that stuff that’s out there, people who are presenting themselves as role models for not eating and having really unhealthy lifestyles and an effort to reach that kind of so called ideal body type. Especially if that’s something that’s a struggle for you, anything you want is out there on social media. If that’s the thing you’re struggling with and the thing you’re focusing on, it is this negative perpetuating cycle. When you talk about providing people with some of those coping skills, could you give us a couple of tips for when we catch ourselves aware of that type of behavior, feeding into the negativity or reinforcing that negative self-talk?
CD: Yeah. I think that one really great thing that actually was very helpful to you in particular and a lot of people that I’ve worked with is thinking about what your inner critic would look like. If you could just put an image to that person, thing, object, whatever it is, kind of making it tangible, and if you’ll go with me, I’ll walk you through it again. I don’t know if you’re open to that. Is that okay with you?
JM: Yes, let’s do it. I have one disclaimer that I have to make first, I really truly love Danny DeVito, so we’ll talk about him in just a minute. Danny, if you ever happen to come across this podcast and all the thousands of podcast on iTunes, I apologize, I adore you. Go ahead.
CD: Now, whenever I do this, I do think of Danny DeVito.
JM: He’s just perfect.
CD: Oh. Okay, because this was your “Catalyst” moment.
JM: Yes, it was.
CD: Yeah. It’s easier just to do it than to explain it. I appreciate your willingness.
CD: Okay. Just think for a moment about what your inner critic looks like. Your inner critic would be that little voice inside you that’s saying, “You can’t do this, you’re dumb, you’re ugly, you’re no good, you’re a failure,” whatever that inner critic is saying you, that’s your inner critic that is leading to a lot of distressing feelings. If you were to imagine that thing or person, what would it look like?
JM: For me, kind of the inner self-critic, a topic that comes up a lot around here in our office and with our clients is impostor syndrome. Always feeling like somehow, you are not worthy of the good things that are happening or believing in yourself that you’re truly able to deliver what you are promising despite lots of proof to the contrary. That is kind of my inner critic issue. The reason that we talked about Danny DeVito is because I chose him only because as I was thinking about the inner critic persona, I wanted it to be someone that physically, I would look at that person and not feel intimidated by them, it was choosing somebody who would not be intimidating to me as I personify that inner critic.
CD: That’s a very individual choice. For you, that’s what you need, for someone else it’s fine if it’s somebody huge, something huge. Some people say, “Oh, it’s a lawyer that is just ruthless,” whatever you make up in your mind. For you, it’s Danny DeVito.
JM: Yes, poor Danny.
CD: Okay, you’re picturing Danny DeVito. Just in case people don’t know who he is, describe what Danny DeVito looks like.
JM: He is somebody who—this is so mean, I love him—is a little bit on the shorter side, he’s a little bit older, he wears glasses, he is somebody, in a physical space, I wouldn’t find intimidating.
CD: Okay, he’s going to be shorter than you. And how far is he away from you?
JM: He’s sitting at the other end of my conference table.
CD: How long is this conference table? Like six chairs, something like that?
CD: Okay. He’s a good distance away. Does he ever try to come closer or really get in your face to try to tell you negative things?
JM: Yes, yup. He does, he tries to move down the seats getting closer and closer.
CD: Okay, as he’s getting closer, I know this is weird, but is there any certain smell that comes about? Any senses of smell?
JM: No. No smell. Is that something that comes so commonly in the work?
CD: Yes, you want to go through all of your senses.
JM: Ahh, okay.
CD: Yeah. We did vision, now we’re doing smell. I would do texture too like we’re just describing some kind of weird form or something.
CD: But you could tell us what he’s wearing if you’d like.
JM: He smells like cigarette smoke and sweat.
CD: Oh. He does have a smell.
JM: Yes. If I’m going to walk through the senses, let’s do this. He’s wearing like an old-fashioned-something a man would wear like business attire, short sleeve, button-down shirt, but it’s kind of tattered and wrinkled, it’s not very nice. But he’s trying to be in charge, he’s wearing that style of clothing.
CD: He sounds like he’s in rough shape. Tattered clothing, cigarette smoke smelling, he’s walking towards you, he’s short. Other senses, taste, we’re not tasting anything, I don’t think. But what about noises? What kinds of sounds are you hearing?
JM: He’s a heavy breather and he’s kind of like a little raspy.
CD: Okay. Kind of like he just had a cigarette, like kind of rasp. We got the image now. He’s coming towards you, what do you want to say or do to him?
JM: I want to tell him that he’s not in charge of me and that I want him to leave. He’s trying to just be in charge, he’s trying to take over, and I’m not going to let him.
CD: Okay, you’re not going to let him. Imagine in your mind’s eye that you’re doing that, just take a second and do that. What is he doing?
JM: He’s wagging his finger and he’s trying to tell me that I’m not good enough, that this is not going to work out the way that I’m planning it to, and that he’s the one that is in charge.
CD: Okay. Do you need to do anything more verbal? Anything physical, you can make up anything. You can have an alien come down and grab him, it doesn’t matter.
JM: I knew this was going to get weird. When we originally did the exercise last fall when we were having a conversation, it was a matter of pushing him out the door. I really like that visual, because for me, there’s something about having a safe space. I was pushing him out the door, closing the door, and then barricading furniture in front of the door in my mind. It was in my mind’s eye, from personifying that inner critic, it was pushing it out to a place that it could not get back in.
CD: There you go. That is what you’re going to imagine every time you have these questions that come up of, “Am I good enough?” Comparing myself to someone else, like they’re doing better, whatever. You’re going to imagine your inner critic, Danny DeVito, described exactly how you did, pushing it out the door physically, barricading the door, he can’t get to you anymore. Now you’re in a safe place you can breathe again, the air is different in here now. Describe what you’re feeling now.
JM: Ooh, I love that. Yeah. All the sensory changes that have occurred. The air, I’m obsessed with bath and body works well plugin, it smells like lavender, it smells fresh and clean again, and it’s calm. I have regained my sense of control, confidence, and really feeling untouchable. Really that’s the feeling that came after doing that exercise. Having that kind of guided visual to walk through, finding that sense of control, again, that was what I felt afterward. I still go back to that exercise.
CD: Great. Good, you feel a lot more confident, you feel a lot more able to be successful—
JM: In control.
CD: In control, good, yeah. This is something very short. The first time, I take a little bit like five minutes maybe, but other than that, you can keep doing this over and over and it’s going to really help you to manage that anxiety.
JM: I love it. Do you have any other tips, a couple other things that you can share in terms of if we are having just a super stressful day, it’s feeling very chaotic, and we need to reintroduce some kind of calm and peaceful—I have started to meditate which has been really helpful for years, I fought it, I tried, and I brought into that, “Oh, I’m just not a person who can meditate.” Then I started using guided meditations and listening to music. I think sometimes, just having something to focus on but to otherwise clear your mind is helpful—what other tips do you have that you can share when we’re having that day where maybe we’ve got a client who’s angry, we’ve got 15 things that needed to be accomplished but have the time to do three of them, we need to get home, make dinner, those days where it all just starts to feel like it’s too much?
CD: Exactly what you’re talking about actually is something that is another very quick thing to do to use mindfulness. Meditation is different, mindfulness is the idea of being very in the present moment, so you’re not thinking about what just happened and focus on all of that kind of sadness or anxiety or whatever you’re feeling, you’re not focused on the future, we don’t even have five minutes from now to focus on. We have right now. We have right now, this moment. Even when I just said we don’t have the future, that moment’s gone. We have right now. You can do something called, ‘5-4-3-2-1,’ you’re going to use your senses again, and you’re going to pick five things you see and describe them to yourself—or aloud if you’re alone—describe them in as much details you can. Four things you hear, it’s very interesting what you don’t hear when you’re in a room because there are so many sounds going on that we are not even paying attention to because we block out all kinds of things because we’re thinking so much. Three things then that you can feel. How do your clothes feel on you? Pay attention to how your foot feels on the ground right now, now you feel it, are you hot or cold? Feel. Then two things maybe if you’re eating, you could pay attention to that, and then one thing maybe that you smell. Eating and smelling is different. It differs from what you’re doing. But 5-4-3-2-1 and you can mix up the senses however you want.
JM: I love that. It’s so simple and again it’s something that you can do anywhere when things are getting crazy and you just have to get mindful on the present moment.
CD: Yeah, it helps center you.
JM: Yeah, I love that. It would be a great thing for really managing anxiety and it’s just something that’s simple and quick. I’m a big fan of having a variety—on the blog, as of the time of this recording, we just recently published my latest blog post, it is the big list of self-care for professional women. One of the things that we talk about is having lots of tools in your toolbox and some of them, some days it is expensive, it’s lavish. You take an entire day and you go to a spa day. Not every day can you say screw it and walk out the door of your office and go do that. Sometimes, it’s taking two minutes in the car to get mindful and to just take a deep breath and get back like you said to the “right now” in between meetings. But having lots of different ways that you can take care of yourself and get yourself centered.
I think the 5-4-3-2-1 is great. I love it, it’s a great idea. Interestingly, I really specifically look to work with women who have had to deal with a lot of adversity and challenge because I think that those are the people who are really great problem solvers, they tend to be resilient and to be the best leaders. I wanted to talk with you a little bit about some of the things that you have had to deal with in terms of just what are the things that have shaped you and made you want to go into your career, what are some of those adversities that you had to go through?
CD: As far as wanting to go into my career, I’m probably one of the rare people that really wanted to do this my whole life. Literally, I remember in 6th grade saying, “I’m going to be a therapist.” It was really due to a lot of bullying occurring 6th, 7th grade, and during that time, my mom was friends with someone that was studying psychology in college. I really looked up to her just like in general, I thought she was amazing. Then she started to tell me about some of the things she was learning and I just thought it was really fascinating. It made me feel like, “Wow, I’m going to do this. I don’t want other people to feel this way. I’m going to try to help people to feel better about themselves and not feel like how I was feeling then.” That’s really where it started, and I just never stopped. You know me like if I’m going to do something, 100% I’m going to do it and I just never stop until I get it.
JM: No one can stop you. Not even Danny DeVito.
CD: Yes. Push them outside the door. Then when I’m at mission and it’s really just the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. As far as adversity, any challenges that have had happened, there’s been a lot of challenges in my life early on, like early 20s, and now it’s a while ago but that really changed things for me even though I was already a therapist. Actually, I was in grad school.
My dad dying was the biggest thing in my life. That changed my whole life and it made me start to have to see things in a different way. It makes you—for lack of better words—grow up very quickly, it’s just the family very much changed from that. Anyone who has gone through a loss knows that’s what happens. It definitely led me on a different path and it also gave me the basis of the theories I use when I’m doing counseling, just really focusing on thoughts, and how your thoughts really matter for how you feel in what you do which is cognitive behavioral therapy in essence. I use other theories as well but that one is a big one for me.
JM: It’s really interesting that you have experienced that from both sides—not to say that loss is interesting because it sucks and it’s horrible—but I think in terms of the value that you are bringing to your clients, being able to have gone through that adversity, and have experienced that loss, you being able to bring that to the table, to truly be compassionate and really understand what it’s like, so many times I think when somebody has gone through something very traumatic, it’s really hard.
I have tried to remember when somebody has gone through great loss or have had tragedy or hardship, it’s hard to say I understand, and I stop myself. Because I understand the emotion from the outside. I can understand the emotion but it’s really hard to understand truly what somebody has gone through. It is interesting and cool from that perspective that you’re able to bring that level of understanding and compassion when somebody has experienced that kind of loss.
When somebody is seeing that kind of change or trauma—in terms of these little things that happen where we have these stressful days but then there are these huge life-changing (what we call catalysts in my definition) it’s when you choose to take something like that and use it to move you forward like you have to be in it, experience it, process, and heal from it. But then you can also take that and learn from it and teach from it—what is the advice that you give to somebody when it starts to feel like the wheels are just falling off of life? This is not just having a rough day or a rough phase but something that is like a truly life-altering situation.
CD: It depends on the situation. But I would be very big on psychoeducating people so that’s giving them information about possibly like if you’re going through a grief, for example, I’m going to talk about stages of grief that you may go through and I’m going to talk about ways of grief. You’re going to have bad days, you’re going to have worse days and others, and it’s like a wave in the ocean, but it’s going to come back down and it’s going to be okay. That’s how just life is in general but especially with grief, you could be triggered by anything like a song, a smell, whatever. I’m going to really educate and then just be really with the person.
As far as advice, which was not in the therapy room because we don’t give advice but it was otherwise, it would just be, again, to educate yourself but also to really look into the support that you have, the people around you that you can depend on, and just like what really helps you to be relieved. For me, I love music, I love playing the Ukulele, I love playing the drums. I use a lot of that in my therapy. For somebody else it could be journaling, writing, art, just talking, hitting a pillow and screaming, it could be anything. Educating yourself, using your support, figuring out how you can release to work through stuff.
The fourth thing I would say, what’s been really powerful for me is like I said, drawing attention to your thoughts. You create the energy that you want, it’s very much like put out what you want, put the thoughts out there that you want, and try to challenge the ones that aren’t very healthy or logical, or get you in a very negative loop. When you can start drawing that positive energy and thoughts to yourself, then that’s what you’re going to get back. This is kind of a really wild example. Starting a grad school, I said, “I want to move to Orlando.” Then life happens, we didn’t move to Orlando. I moved to another city and then I just kept thinking, “I want to move there, I want to move there, I want to move there,” until 13 years, but I did move there.
JM: But you did it.
CD: I did it. That’s like, to circumstances that took that long, and I wasn’t working towards moving here or anything, it’s just I kept thinking, I kept putting that out there, “One day I hope I live there.”
JM: I think that’s a really important point there. It is figuring out how to stay focused on your desire and being very intentional about your thought. On that note, it’s funny, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine, Barbara Huson—who is formerly Barbara Stanny—she’s an amazing author, she’s a renown speaker and women’s wealth coach, she will be on a future episode of this podcast series. But the conversation that we had was how that it goes back to that inner critic and that negative self-talk and how easy it is to give in. For me, it’s a lot about health, weight, and body image stuff, and how at some point you just have to be aware of how you’re talking to yourself and what you’re telling yourself. No matter what, what’s it going to hurt to tell yourself positive things? It can only be a good thing.
Staying focused, putting your energy toward the things that you want, and talking to yourself, your inner dialog, how you’re going to accomplish those things versus that you’ll never get those things, why you’ll never have those things, all of the obstacles and challenges that are in the way, and it’s continuing to just push forward with the positive dialog about the things that you want because whatever you focus on is what is going to come to you. I don’t pretend to understand the mechanisms behind that—maybe you have some light to shed on that—but the things that you focus on are the things that you create. I think that that’s a really good point.
The other thing I wanted to ask you before we finish up, therapy has been monumental for me. For me, personally, it’s always surprising still when I talk to somebody, I think of it as sort of maybe an old-fashioned point of view to think that therapy, there’s like this stigma attached to it. I think it’s still pretty common unfortunately that people feel that way and that I know people who have had—I had to go through several therapists before I found a really, really good one was my reality. I think it’s just knowing that you have to find that person that you click with, my advice to people who are looking for therapy when I talk to them is keep looking, keep looking it’s just like finding a good friendly doctor like you don’t stop when you go to the first person and that’s who you settle with whether you like them, don’t like them, or indifferent toward them like you keep looking until you find someone you click with. What is your advice would you say, how would you go about finding a great therapist or somebody who could meet your needs? Are there particular questions that you would suggest asking or experience that you look forward? Do you feel like it’s more just kind of that gut feeling based on it being a good fit when you meet with somebody?
CD: Yeah. I went through that too. Even me as a therapist, going to a therapist was just awful. I knew that if I didn’t know what therapy was, I would have never gone back. But I knew to keep looking, thank God. When you find the right one, it is so great. I definitely hear what you’re saying. You could just ask something if it is someone in a private practice and you’re talking directly to them as different than if you’re calling an agency. There’s a variety of therapists there and you could kind of say basic, like, “Oh, I want a female,” or “I want someone that uses cognitive behavioral therapy,” something like that. You could ask for that stuff. But it really is just going to be the connection when you’re in the room with them.
Most people are nervous the first time they go and a good therapist will understand that maybe even acknowledge that. But it really needs to be a lot of rapport building from the counselor. If they’re asking you certain things about things off topic that are appropriate, of course, then go with that, they’re trying to build rapport and just kind of [think 00:30:32] the connection is. But I think anybody gets a feeling from someone when they meet with someone that they like them, they don’t like them, or they’re kind of in the middle if they need to be pushed one way or the other. After the first session is complete, you’ll have a good idea, and if you don’t like your therapist, you definitely can advocate for yourself and change therapist because you’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t trust who you’re with.
JM: Great advice. So good. Thank you so much for your time, this has been a great conversation. I think for me, personally, and for anybody who’s listening, some of those coping skills and exercises are going to be very helpful. I appreciate you sharing more about what you do and finding a great therapist and dealing with the Danny DeVito inner critic.
CD: Thank you for having me, I had a lot of fun talking to you.