Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

This question & answer column is for people living with chronic health challenges and their family caregivers, who want to learn to increase the odds of improving their health by learning to live with mastery & wellbeing.

I invite you to post your questions in the comments box below. When I get a certain number of related questions, I pick one that covers them all and I answer that one.

I post to this blog three times per week. Monday posts are relevant published articles. Wednesday posts are interviews—mostly video. Friday posts consist of questions about living better with chronic health challenges, and my answers to them.

Here is this week’s question:

THIS WEEK’S QUESTION:  The type of acceptance of all thoughts and feelings you describe sounds like it would lead one to become depressed. When there are life situations that we are powerless to change, wouldn’t acceptance of them lead to depression?

ANSWER:  This is actually a big question and I will answer part of it here and I will answer it in a different way next week.  It may seem logical to try to get rid of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings when we are powerless to change the external situation. And, in fact, distracting ourselves from them can often be very useful. The problem is that the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings only go away temporarily. 

Paradoxically, the most evidence-based way to get rid of thoughts and feelings that we don’t want is to accept them and to allow ourselves to courageously and fully experience them. 

Several years ago, just before going on stage to present my work, including a demonstration before an audience of peers, I experienced crippling performance anxiety.  I started using all my self-hypnosis and cognitive restructuring skills to rid myself of the extreme anxiety that was building at a frightening speed and it wasn’t working! 

The harder I worked at getting rid of my anxiety, the more it intensified! The more it intensified, the more I began to berate myself! How could I possibly demonstrate my work when it wasn’t even effective with myself? I began telling myself that I was a fraud and had no business doing a demonstration!

Suddenly, with what seemed like just seconds remaining before being introduced, I went into total despair and felt completely helpless!   I realized that I was powerless to help myself and totally gave up trying.

Suddenly, as soon as I gave up trying to get rid of the feelings of terror, I allowed myself to fully experience everything I was feeling! As soon as I did that, the most unbelievably amazing thing happened; my anxiety instantly diminished and I suddenly knew I could survive and do what I came to do! The demonstration was a big success despite still feeling somewhat anxious!

I still get performance anxiety but it is no longer a problem. It was only a problem when I tried to avoid my thoughts and feelings. That one experience taught me that anxiety is crippling only when we resist it. When we fully embrace it, it may not go away but it can’t paralyze us.

Because of that experience, I began to take my work in a different direction and began to replace cognitive therapy and hypnosis with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

This website is offered as a free public service, supplying information that has been found helpful to certain people living with chronic health challenges. No treatment is offered on this website. The advice is general, and may or may not apply to your individual situation, and is not a substitute for psychotherapy or medical treatment.

What questions do you have about how to live better with chronic health challenges that are related to the relationship between states of mind and health? 

Just scroll down and type your question in the comment box. I will post a reply to your comment, but your question may not appear in this column.