Self-Help Books Don't Help, and I Started Counseling Yesterday


I've always over-analyzed things. Hell, I basically have a Masters degree in over-analyzing (psychology with an emphasis on research design and analysis.)

As long as I can remember I've had a problem controlling my anxiety. In elementary school I developed OCD tendencies and had certain 'rituals' I would do to relieve anxiety; counting words on one hand, checking that the door in my bedroom was locked over and over, having to touch one arm in the same spot the other arm was touched in to feel 'balanced.' When my Mom and I drove to Ohio to help my Grandmother pack up her house I remember sleeping in the basement with Mom and staying up for hours convinced someone was going to break in and murder us.

I had the most quintessential childhood. I grew up in a fairly happy house, my parents have been together since they were teenagers, and I generally did well in school. Nothing traumatic happened to be the catalyst for a lifelong battle with anxiety. The only pattern I can see is that a member of my immediate family has dealt with anxiety for a good part of their adult life, and a grandparent did as well.

After my first panic attack in middle school my Mom took me to see a counselor. He was a cute little old man who wore suspenders. I loved talking to him. I always left feeling better, lighter. I didn't see him for very long, and I hadn't gone back to counseling again until last night.

Since having a baby and moving to Alaska my anxiety has been in overdrive. It's compounded by the fact that I'm uncomfortable driving in the snow, so I usually stay in the house all day Monday-Friday with the baby. In Alabama I would go out nearly every single day for an hour walk or hike. Here, I feel like a prisoner. With nursing for 45 minutes every 1.5 hours I'm basically glued to the couch, and have felt very helpless. I hate feeling helpless. Especially when I know I'm not. I'm a grown ass woman and I can improve my situation, and approach it with a more positive attitude.

Except I can't.

I've read all the books.


They will help for a short while. A new study came out this week that found self-help books don't reduce stress levels.

Our results show that while consumers of certain types of self-help books secrete higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) when confronted with stressful situations, consumers of another type of self-help books show higher depressive symptomatology compared to non-consumers. Researchers found that consumers of problem-focused self-help books had more depressive symptoms, and that growth oriented self-help books consumers displayed increased stress reactivity, compared to non-consumers.

I know I create all of the anxiety in my life, and I can choose to restructure the way I think about things and respond to situations. It's just really hard to find the type of cognitive energy and strength necessary to do that with every anxious or negative thought (which may come as frequently as every few minutes) when I'm tired, lonely, stressed, and all of the other adjectives that describe life with a new baby.

So, I'm seeking help. I'm optimistic that I'm finally being proactive in getting my life back the way I want it to be. To be a better mom, a better wife, a better Erica. I miss myself.

Have you ever gone to counseling? 

Do you think there is a negative stigma to mental health problems?