7 Ways to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Manage Stress

Are you drowning in your to-do list? Do you feel like you’re always behind, no matter how hard you work? Are you constantly wishing your had more time in the day?

You don’t have to muscle your way through stress. In fact, gritting your teeth and bearing it is a really great way to burn yourself out. If you want to maintain a steady flow of energy, focus, and creativity despite external pressures, you have to learn to manage stress.

In this article, we’ll cover seven ways to stop being overwhelmed and manage stress right now. Of course, you can mix and match your favorites, but I suggest starting with just one or two of these strategies, then coming back to this article once you’ve mastered them and trying another one. It would be counterproductive (and frankly, a bit too ironic) to become overwhelmed by a list of ideas on how to stop feeling overwhelmed.


Stress Management vs. Time Management

Before we get into it, I want to clarify that it’s not enough to just manage your time well. Stress management and time management are two sides of the same coin, but they are different.

Time management is about prioritizing tasks, optimizing your day, and working efficiently so that you can own your to-do list. Stress management is about managing your emotions, maintaining your energy, and preventing burnout, so that you can keep your to-do list from owning you.

Look, no matter how well you time-manage or how hard your work, there will always be something left on your to-do list.

It’s not enough to just figure out how to maximize your time, because the truth is, there’s no way to squeeze everything into one day. There will always be more things you wish you could’ve done, no matter how much you hustle.

If you want to get the most out of time management — as in, if you want to keep a steady flow of energy and focus and prevent burnout — it’s important to learn to manage not just your time, but also your emotions. Plus, the better you can manage your mental health now, the more you can enjoy what’s in front of you, rather than having to wait for a day where the to-do list will hit zero (a day, as we know, that will never come).

We manage stress by (1) accepting that there will always be something left to do on our list, and (2) learning to be okay with it. This means figuring out how to be present in the moment despite external pressures. Below, I’ll share the ways I’ve found to be most effective in stopping feelings of overwhelm and managing stress.

Ready to stop feeling so overwhelmed? Read on.

(Side note: If stress, overwhelm, or anxiety are a chronic issue, it might be worth trying therapy to get to the root of the problem, in addition to these tips.)


How to stop feeling overwhelmed and manage stress right now

Here are 7 things you can do to manage stress and stop feeling overwhelmed right now. A reminder: You don’t have to do all of these at once. Pick one or two items from this list to focus on in the future. Come back to this article once you’ve mastered those and try one or two more.

1. Stop the scroll

When we’re overwhelmed, we often reach for our phones as soon as we have a break.

We open email, check Facebook, scroll on Twitter, peek at Instagram, catch up on Reddit, kill some time on TikTok, then start again from the beginning. Our phones — and in particular social media — flood our brains with dopamine. Those hits of dopamine feel especially good when everything else feels like it’s out of control.

It might feel like scrolling on your phone is taking a break because it’s a distraction, but you’re not truly letting your mind rest. Instead of allowing yourself to take a mental break and truly relax, you continue to be in a reactive state of mind, relying on external influences to set the pace of your mind. Scrolling isn’t going to put you more at ease when you have to come back to your work.  

What you need to feel grounded and manage overwhelm isn’t more stimulus – it’s less. Next time you find yourself reaching for your phone between meetings, spend a few minutes doing nothing. Feel what it’s like for your mind to not have anything to do for a few moments. It’s a little awkward at first, it forces you to get a little perspective and slow down.

What can you do instead of reaching for your phone when you want to relax?

2. Take a 10 minute break to slow down

In order to regain control of your mind and emotions, you have to intentionally set your own pace, rather than just reacting to everything that’s happening around you. Proactively create a more relaxed state of mind by slowing down.

Take a 10 minute break in your day. This can be after a long stint of work in the afternoon when you find yourself reaching for your phone, or between meetings. Schedule it if you need to.

“But Tali, where am I going to get 10 extra minutes? I already have too much to do as is without a 10 minute break!”

Look, I get it – I know what if feels like to be drowning at work. Taking a break feels selfish and irresponsible. But if you want to think clearly and have more control over your emotional state, you need to prioritize your well-being and make time to get grounded.   

Step away from your computer, your work, your phone, your obligations. Create a little distance between yourself and all the stimulus that’s adding to stress.

Slow down your breathing. Take fuller breaths to bring down your heart rate. Pay attention to how it feels to slow down and regain control of your breathing and pace. Bring that sense of calm and peace with you as you go about your day.

Some ideas on how to slow down:

  • Take a short walk around your block.
  • Go sit in another part of your building and just look out of the window.
  • Walk as slowly as you can around your floor. 
  • Do some light stretching in another room.
  • Do a free guided meditation.
  • Follow along with a 10-minute office stretching or yoga video.

3. Make a brain dump of all your worries

Ah yes, my personal favorite way to lower stress – the good ol’ brain dump.

When we feel overwhelmed, it’s often because there are too many things floating around in our mind, and we feel like we can’t get a firm grasp on them.

Instead of trying to manage all your thoughts and tasks in your head, get them all out on paper, where you can see them. Make a list of everything you’re worried about, all the things you need to do, everything you’re trying to keep track of mentally.

Just the act of writing down the things that are stressing you out makes them more approachable. By labeling our worries, we take them from being abstract and turn them into more concrete things that we can manage.

When you make a list of your worries and tasks, you keep those things from just swirling around in your mind and stressing you out. Once you finish writing your list, you realize that it’s more manageable than you thought; the tasks, projects, and worries that felt so overwhelming actually fit on an 8.5×11” sheet of paper.

An added bonus: When you see your tasks and worries on paper, you can compare them and decide which ones are important (and which can go on the back burner).

4. Figure out your top 1-3 priorities for the day

Psst. This strategy pairs really nicely with a brain dump.

When you’re overwhelmed, you feel like you have to tackle everything all at once. It becomes difficult to think clearly because every task is vying for your attention. Everything feels urgent.

But in reality, some things are more important than others. Sure, in an ideal world, everything would be considered equally important. But we don’t live in an ideal world. We are constrained by time, and so we have to prioritize our activities relative to each other.

If it feels like you’re drowning in your to-do list or spreading yourself too thin, figure out the 1, 2, or 3 most important things you need to work on today. Focus on chipping away at those items.

Take everything else off your plate if you can – order takeout instead of cooking dinner, ask for an extended deadline on admin work, let people know you’ll get back to their request once you complete this pressing item.

If you can’t drop other responsibilities, ask for help. Depending on the situation, this can be from your manager, team, partner, family, or friends.

You don’t have to be a superhero and do everything yourself. It’s OK to deprioritize some things and ask for help. When you know the most important things to focus on, you can be more confident in delegating and pushing out the rest.

5. Keep a “done” list

This is an idea I’ve adopted from Brendon Burchard, who studies and shares habits of high performers.

If you feel like you’re always playing catchup with your to-do list but never quite making a dent, start tracking the things you get done throughout the week with a “done” list. Every time you complete a task (no matter if it’s big or small, planned or unexpected), write it down in this list.

This might feel redundant if you’re already keeping a to-do list. After all, isn’t this the same as crossing off a completed task, or checking off a box from your existing list?

Yes and no. A to-do list is a great way to keep track of what you have to do, but it visually keeps your focus on everything that’s still remaining. When you look at a to-do list, you’re not looking at all the things you’ve crossed off, you’re looking at what’s still left over (and subsequently feeling like you’re no closer than when you started).

A “done” list is different because reminds you of everything you have completed, rather than focusing on what’s remaining. It’s a reminder of how far you’ve come, even when you still have a ways to go.

I started keeping a list like this a few months ago, in addition to crossing things off of my to-do list. It takes an extra minute or two each day, but it ends up serving as a really good reminder that I am making progress every day, even if sometimes it feels like my list of tasks is never ending. Being able to see what I’ve already done helps me keep overwhelm at bay, which in turn keeps me confident and motivated to tackle the next item.

6. Adjust your expectations

If you find yourself constantly working but never quite making a dent in your daily to-do list, you may have unrealistic expectations about what you can accomplish in a single day.

We aren’t robots – no matter how much we time manage and optimize our workflows, there will always be a limit on how much we can accomplish in a day. We are limited in how much time we have, and in how much energy we can expend. And unlike robots, we need time to rest. Yes, we need time to sleep and eat, but we also need to socialize, process the events of the day, and recharge by taking our mind off things.

When you put too much on your plate, you not only feel overwhelmed because you can’t accomplish everything, but you also burn yourself out by not giving your mind time to rest and recharge. You come back the next day feeling tired and demoralized, with even less focu and energy.

If you’re trying to do 5 things in the evening after work, reduce it down to 1 or 2 things instead. Chip away at your list consistently throughout the week, rather than trying to cram as much as possible into a day.

This might feel like you’re slowing down or getting less done, but in reality, you’re keeping yourself from burning out. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re better off keeping consistent at a slower pace than sprinting through a bunch of tasks but then losing time when you end up overwhelmed or burned out.

Take the pressure off of yourself to accomplish everything right away. Adjust your expectations so that you have an easier time meeting them consistently, and so you aren’t setting yourself up for failure.

7. When all else fails, do one (small) thing

Sometimes we end up with so much on our plates that we feel paralyzed and avoid our responsibilities altogether. We get sucked into our phones and seek out comforts like TV to distract ourselves.

When your responsibilities feel like too much to handle all at once, do just one small thing. Find the smallest, simplest task on your list and just do that today. That’s it. Don’t try to do a bunch at once. Once you do that small task, you can rest, eat, socialize, watch TV, play video games, or continue whatever you were doing in peace.

When there’s so much to do that you don’t even know where to start, it helps to start with something small. Give yourself a small win to feel confident about. Once you take that first step, even if it feels small, it’s easier to start gaining momentum the next day. 

You don’t have to do everything at once. In fact, you shouldn’t try to do everything at once, because it’ll just lead to feeling too overwhelmed to do anything at all. Learn to be ok with doing a little at a time. Start with one small thing to show yourself you can do it.


Take the pressure off of yourself

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide how much pressure to put on yourself. You might not always be able to control how much there is to do, but you can control how you approach it, and how kind you are to yourself in the process.

Managing stress is better for your productivity in the long run because it keeps you energized and prevents burnout. More importantly, it allows you to enjoy your time and find more peace in your day-to-day life. When you learn to stop being overwhelmed and manage stress, you lessen the power external forces have to affect your outlook and well-being. You take ownership of your mental state and become unshakeable.

I want to hear from you. Which one or two strategies are you going to focus on first to stop feeling overwhelmed? Are you going to start with a brain dump, or with a 10-minute walk around your block?

Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Now, take that strategy out into the world and start taking back control over your mind.

You’ve got this.

How to be More Decisive – 5 Ways to Prevent Analysis Paralysis

Have you ever found yourself putting too much time or energy into a decision?

If you struggle with being decisive, you’ve likely experienced how crippling analysis paralysis can be. You might’ve looked at others and wondered why it’s so easy for them to make decisions while you seem to get stuck on each one.

Our lives are filled with countless decisions. People have more choice than ever before on how to make a living, who to marry, and how to spend their time. The internet gives us access to every product and service we could ever imagine. We should be grateful for this abundance of choice, but more often than not, it leaves us paralyzed. We get overwhelmed by all the possible options out there, spend too much time making decisions, and constantly second-guess ourselves.

If you’re like me, you’ve spent too much time stuck in analysis paralysis and want to be more decisive. In this article, we’ll cover why you often struggle with decisions and five ways you can start being more decisive in life today.

Decisiveness was something I’ve struggled with in the past. Every choice would be such an ordeal, and always leave me exhausted. I decided to tackle this area of my life because I wanted decision-making to to take up less of my time and energy. Along the way, I picked up a few mindset shifts that helped me make decisions faster, more confidently, and with a lot less stress. 

What I learned in the process is that being more decisive isn’t about making better decisions. Being decisive is about figuring out what’s actually important, letting go of perfectionism, and choosing not to get consumed by possibilities. It’s about limiting the time and energy we give to making decisions, and not giving them the power to dictate our happiness.

Ready to nip indecisiveness in the bud? Let’s get after it.


Why you feel so indecisive

Perfectionism

The reason you find yourself overthinking decisions is that you believe on some level that there’s a perfect choice to be made.

Let’s say you’re looking to buy a pair of hiking boots. Before the internet, you were stuck with whatever options were available at your local store. You could spend the afternoon trying on every single pair of shoes in your sporting goods store, but eventually you’d run out of shoes to try on. At that point, you’d be forced to make a choice.

But now, there’s an entire world of possibilities online. Sure, you could just buy the first pair you try on at REI that feels comfortable, but you don’t want to settle without exploring all your options because you need to know you’ve picked the perfect shoe. Because so many possible options exist, we think one of them must be the best. We won’t rest until we’ve compared every option and assured ourselves that we’re not missing out on an even better one.

In The Padradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that the modern world’s abundance of options actually has a negative psychological impact on people. He summarizes the trap of perfectionism well: “Perfection is the only weapon against regret… and endless, exhaustive, paralyzing consideration of the alternatives is the only way to achieve perfection.”

The amount of options available to us in the modern world is astounding. But for many of us, the cost of all these options is an endless, misguided pursuit of the perfect one.

Believing all decisions matter equally

Throughout most of human existence, we’ve only had to make so many decisions in our lifetime, let alone every day. We now have significantly more freedom to decide how to live our lives, but we also have exponentially more decisions to make – frankly, more than our human brains can keep up with.

With so many decisions constantly thrown at us, we lose the ability to distinguish between those that are truly important and those that aren’t. We become overwhelmed when we start to believe all of the choices we make matter equally. We end up giving too many decisions the power to affect our happiness and sense of satisfaction.

When we can’t differentiate between the choices that matter to us a little and those that matter a lot, we end up giving a lot of decisions more time and attention than they warrant.

Maximizers vs. Satisficers

In his book, Schwartz identifies two different types of decision makers: maximizers and satisficers.

Maximizers are out to get the absolute best of anything, be it an electric toothbrush, a job, or a partner. They search and compare until they’ve exhausted all possibilities. They won’t settle for something that’s “good enough” if they know there are potentially even better options out there. They have a harder time choosing, spend more time and energy on decisions, but are also more likely to regret their decisions… Sound familiar?

On the other hand, satisficers are out to find something that is good enough. Once they find an option that’s good enough, they select it, and then move on without worrying that there may be an even better option out there. They’re clearer about the criteria that are important to them, as opposed to maximizers, who seek to maximize on all the criteria. Satisficers realize they don’t need to evaluate every possible option to be happy with their choice. They find something that checks their boxes, select it, and then move the fuck on.

Indecisiveness often comes from trying to find the absolute best possible option in every scenario. It stems from the belief that we’ll only be happy if we make the perfect choice. Our happiness becomes dependent on our choices.

With that much pressure on our decisions, of course we’re going to feel paralyzed. So how do we take back control and overcome indecisiveness? Read on, my friend.


How to be more decisive: 5 strategies

1. Figure out what’s important to you

in If you’re going to become more decisive, you need to figure out what’s actually important to you. This applies to both to your overall values and in specific decisions.

Figure out what types of decisions you value

What do you value? What do you enjoy spending your time on? What decisions are energizing or exciting to you?

Conversely, what areas of your life are you spending too much time and energy on? What kinds of decisions leave you feeling exhausted? Identify the areas in your life that aren’t as important to you. Reduce the amount of time you spend making decisions in those areas.

When I set out to become more decisive, I realized that decisions around food zap my energy and leave me frustrated. I’ve always struggled with picking a place to eat. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie, but I start acting like one every time I have to choose a restaurant to go to. I exhaust myself comparing restaurants, scouring the internet for photos, menus, and reviews. Suddenly, finding a place to eat becomes vital to my ability to enjoy the evening.

Unlike a foodie, I don’t enjoy studying up on every dining establishment in the area. It’s exhausting to me, and doesn’t actually contribute to my dining experience. Sure, I want to eat good food in a nice atmosphere, but the world isn’t going to end if there’s a restaurant down the street with slightly better food or a slightly cooler atmosphere.

There’s no reason this should be such a stressful, time-consuming decision for me because dining out is not that high on my list of values. Knowing this, I need to limit the amount of time and energy I invest in food-related decisions, especially compared to my foodie friends.

If you’re a foodie, then exploring new cuisines is something you value. You probably truly enjoy researching different restaurants and foods because they pique your curiosity. Decisions about where and what to eat are exciting and full of opportunity.

If you’re not a foodie, then those same decisions will be much more tiring for you. It’s not that you’re boring or have bad taste in food, you simply don’t value cuisine enough to be excited by all the available options. If that’s the case, you need to be conscious of how much time and energy you spend on decisions around food because those decisions aren’t something that bring you great value.

Figure out what types of decisions are exciting to you, and which ones are draining. Limit your time on the latter (more on this later).

Figure out the criteria you value most for specific decisions

With so many different options out there, it’s tempting to want a little bit of everything. But when we entertain all our options with no filter of what’s actually important to us, it becomes difficult to stick with one choice because everything else is equally enticing.

Next time you feel overwhelmed by a decision, take a step back. Ask yourself what the three most important criteria are for you, and what’s “nice to have but not essential.”

First, narrow down your options to those that fit all three of your top requirements. Once you have a list of choices that fit your top criteria, then you can consider other nice-to-have elements. Just don’t spend too much time nitpicking at nonessential features once you find something that’s “good enough” (i.e. satisfies the most important criteria). 

For example, if you’re trying to pick a college, your top three requirements might be an excellent business program, affordability, and a large student population. Your longer list of nice-to-have’s might include good weather and an intramural ultimate frisbee team.

If one of your schools covers all three of your requirements AND has a few of your “nice to haves,” great! Add it to your short list. But don’t consider a school just because it’s on the beach (nice to have) if it doesn’t have a large student population (requirement).   

“And if everyone is super, no one is.” This line from The Incredibles blew my thirteen-year-old mind. Figure out what actually matters to you.

2. Learn to trust your gut

Start listening more to your intuition.

If you keep gravitating towards one option but worry about missing out on the others, go with the first one. Doing more analysis and comparison might might convince your brain to make a different choice, but you won’t be able to convince your gut through logic.

The thing is, you’re going to miss out on some options no matter what decision you make. So you might as well go with the one that’s calling to you.

If you’re really having a hard time, flip a coin. Whatever emotion you’re feeling after the coin is flipped will give you insight as to what you prefer more.

Heads, you order the crab cakes. Tails, you order the burger.

  • If it’s heads and you feel relief, there’s your answer! Order those crab cakes.
  • If it’s tails and your heart sinks a little, you were probably wanting those crab cakes more than the burger.
  • If you feel indifferent either way it flips, you probably have no preference between the two, so just pick whatever the coin flipped. No point in splitting hairs.
Don’t flip coin isn’t to relinquish all your decision-making responsibilities (cough HARVEY), but to uncover your preferences.

3. Time-box your decisions

There comes a point in the decision-making process at which any extra research, comparison, or deliberation has diminishing returns. That’s when problem solving slips into ruminating.

There’s a project management concept called Parkinson’s Law that states that “work expands to fill the time allotted.” If you give someone one day to complete a task, they will complete the task in one day. If you give that same person three days, they will take all three days to complete the task, even though we just saw that they could’ve completed the task on the first day and taken a long two-day nap for the remaining time.

Why? The amount of time it takes to complete the bulk of the work stays the same. But the more extra time you give someone to complete a task, the more they are likely to waste time either procrastinating or perfecting the already completed task.

Think about the last time you got stuck overthinking. Did you have a deadline to make the decision? Did you have a time-cap on how long you can consider your options before having to make a final choice?

Without a time constraint, a maximizer or perfectionist continues the decision-making process until they burn themselves out. This not only sucks up all your time and energy (which you could’ve been using on something you value more), but it actually makes you less satisfied with the choice you make in the end. Because you’ve invested so much extra effort into making the choice, you’re going to be hyper-sensitive to any potential downfalls of it in the future. After all that time overthinking, you end up second-guessing yourself anyway because you’re too emotionally invested in the outcome. That’s a poor use of time, if you ask me.

Don’t waste your time and energy ruminating. Time-box your decisions. Give yourself a deadline or an allotted amount of time. You have more important things to do with your time than overthink.

Let’s say it’s date night, and you want to find a new spot to eat. Instead of stressing yourself out by spending the afternoon comparing a million different restaurants, give yourself 30 minutes to browse. Set a timer. When that timer goes off, pick up the phone and call the restaurant that piqued your interest the most. Go with your gut! Flip that coin! It doesn’t matter what you pick! Take action before you have a chance to start overthinking.

Give yourself an allotted amount of time to research. When the time’s up, make your choice.

4. Realize your choices won’t bring you happiness

Look, you can go wasting all of your time trying to make the most perfect decisions in the world. But that’s not going to bring you happiness.

You don’t find happiness or inner peace because you’ve made the perfect decision about what phone to buy, or what college to go to, or what bolognese recipe to try. You don’t suddenly start feeling successful just because you think you’ve chosen the perfect partner, the perfect career, or the perfect investment strategy. No matter how excited we are initially about a choice we make, we eventually get used to it and learn that it too comes with its own downsides.

If every choice you make comes with the pressure of having to be better than all the possible alternatives out there, you’re going to spend your life looking over your shoulder to see if anyone’s made a better choice than you. That’s no way to live.

Satisfaction comes not from knowing we have the absolute best of something – that’s a recipe for always chasing the next best thing – but from committing to the decisions we make and choosing to make the most of them for the sake of our own sanity. 

The truth is, no single decision will make or break your happiness. Sure, some decisions have a bigger impact on your life than others (deciding what career to pursue has more significant consequences than deciding what ski goggles to buy). But ultimately, you cannot depend on external factors alone to bring you peace.

5. Don’t second-guess yourself

Being decisive isn’t just about making decisions, it’s also about owning them.

If you constantly second-guess the choices you’ve made, you put too much pressure on your future decision-making. Every time you think about “what ifs” or compare your decisions to someone else’s, you’re reaffirming that a less-than-perfect decision causes regret and dissatisfaction. This in turn raises the stakes of decisions you have to make in the future. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Your attitude after making a decision is just as important as your attitude leading up to it. If you want to be more decisive, you have to teach yourself to be okay no matter what choice you make.

Stop the cycle by sticking to your guns. Once you’ve made a choice, don’t second-guess yourself. Don’t compare your choice to someone else’s. If you catch yourself getting caught up in “what ifs,” remember that your choices don’t make you happy – it’s your choice to feel satisfied with your life as it is and not worry about all the other possibilities that truly brings you peace.


Make a choice to take back control

We live in a time where there are more choices than we could ever imagine. This should be a liberating idea, but the truth is, sometimes all the possibilities paralyze, rather than free us. We spend more time ruminating and overthinking. The pressure we often put on ourselves when it comes to decision-making leads to overwhelm, anxiety, and depression.

If there’s one thing I want you to walk away with from this article, it’s this: take some weight off yourself. Being decisive isn’t about making perfect choices. It’s about freeing yourself from the burden of endless decision-making so you can spend more time on what matters to you.

You can’t control how many options and decision are thrown at you in life, unless you go join an Amish community. But you can control how much attention you give to them.

Now I want to hear from you, what resonated with you the most in this article? Which of these strategies can you start doing today to become more decisive?

Let me know in the comments below.

5 Reasons Why Therapy Didn’t Work for You (and how to fix them)

Have you been disappointed with therapy in the past? Maybe you tried it once, but it didn’t feel like it was right for you. Or you went to a few therapy sessions but stopped scheduling follow-ups because you weren’t feeling any better.

But life gets hard again. The idea of seeing a therapist keeps popping up in your mind. You experience anxiety, stress, or depression (or maybe you just feel stuck), but you’re wary of going through going through the same disappointment again. So you grit your teeth and keep chugging along, hoping your issues will sort themselves out on their own.

If you feel like therapy didn’t help in the past, you’re not alone. Since I was a teenager, I’ve tried therapy five separate times. Some of those sessions were helpful, but for the most part, it was nothing to write home about. It took me several attempts over the course of a decade before I finally figured out how to make therapy work for me.

This article covers five reasons why therapy may not have worked for you in the past, and how to approach it instead to see better results. I’m sharing these common mistakes (and how to overcome them) because I want to encourage you to try therapy again if you’ve been thinking about it. My hope is that these tips will help you get more out of therapy, sooner.

Let’s dive in.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or therapist. I’m just someone who went through a bit of trial and error before seeing significant results with therapy. The information on this site does not substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a medical professional if seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment.

Table of Contents


My trial-and-error experience with therapy

My first few times in a therapist’s office was as a teenager, when my parents were getting divorced.

After college, I wanted some support after leaving a long-term relationship, so I took advantage of my company’s Employee Assistance Program to get five free sessions with a new therapist. I liked this second therapist, but she eventually stopped being in my insurance network.

I still had some issues I wanted to work through, so I found a third therapist. I met with her every few months for a total of ten times, but I never felt like she “got” me. Something about her made me feel this weird need to impress her and prove I was a “good” client. So I looked for a new therapist.

The fourth therapist I tried was, frankly, the most awkward human being I’ve ever had an interaction with. She was clearly new in the industry and had this awful eyeliner that made me feel like I was talking to a preteen. Now look, I’m about the farthest thing from a makeup snob you can get, but this was just the icing on the cake of the awkward impression she made on me. She was not someone I felt comfortable sharing my deepest fears and anxieties with. Needless to say, I didn’t return after our first session.

Finally, on my fifth attempt, I found a therapist I liked. She was a virtual therapist, so all of our meetings were over video call. But even though we’d never been in a room together, I felt a lot more comfortable with her. She felt like someone I could trust and talk with naturally. With this therapist, I felt like I was actually learning how to better deal with my problems outside of our sessions, not just dealing with my issues on a case-by-case basis.

It took me a few different tries to figure out how to make therapy work for me – to both find a therapist I liked and fix the mistakes I’d been making in how I approached it. If you’re considering trying therapy again, I want you to get to that point faster than I did. Read on and explore the possible reasons why it didn’t work, then give it another shot. You got this.

Here are five possible reasons why therapy didn’t work for you in the past, and why you should try it again.

Therapy leaving you feeling frustrated? Read on, my friend.

Why therapy didn’t work in the past (and how to approach it instead)

1. Your therapist wasn’t the right fit for you

If you felt like therapy wasn’t helpful in the past, odds are, you probably didn’t really like your therapist.

I’m not saying you disliked them, but maybe you didn’t feel much of a connection, either. It’s not enough to simply not dislike someone when you’re doing this kind of work. Your therapist shouldn’t feel like your best friend, but they do have to feel like someone you’d naturally have a conversation with.

One of the misconceptions people have about therapy is that all therapists are the same. Once you’ve met one, you’ve met them all. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I don’t have to tell you that you won’t always get along with everyone you meet. We naturally have more chemistry with some people than others. Some people rub us the wrong way; conversation with them feels awkward or forced, or maybe we just don’t vibe with them for whatever reason.

This is the same with therapists. Yes, all therapists must go through training and get certification. But that doesn’t mean they all walk and talk the same.

Even in a professional setting, we get a sense of a therapist’s personality. One therapist might be quiet and reserved, the other loud and boisterous. Their posture might be formal, or relaxed. They might smile a lot, or be difficult to read. Therapists are still people, at the end of the day. You’re going to gravitate towards some more than others.

We decide whether to like and trust our therapist not because of their diploma, credentials, or professional experience, but because of the impression they make on us as individuals. And if we dislike this person (or something just feels off), all the professional credentials in the world won’t convince us to trust them with our deepest thoughts and feelings.

How to approach therapy instead: Shop around!

Instead of going with the first therapist you meet, shop around for someone you naturally gravitate towards.

Think of finding a therapist as dating – you wouldn’t just blindly marry the first available person you find. Trust your first impression. If a therapist doesn’t click with you, don’t force the relationship, try someone else instead.

Like dating, therapy might be a little awkward at first; it’s not always natural to talk about our feelings! But past that initial discomfort, you should feel a sense of trust and connection with this person on an individual level. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself talking about surface level issues and not trusting what they have to offer, no matter how qualified they are.

It’s going to be really hard to make any headway if you don’t naturally get along with your therapist.

2. You didn’t give your therapist feedback

If you didn’t agree with something your therapist said in the past, did you tell them? If their approach wasn’t working for you, or if they steered you towards a subject that wasn’t relevant, did you let them know? Or did you just nod along with everything they said, regardless of whether you it was helpful?

If you didn’t give feedback to your therapist, it would’ve been difficult to get much out of your sessions. For therapy to work, you need to be honest – not just about your emotions, but also about what’s working about therapy and what isn’t.

It took me a while to realize I had to proactively give my therapist feedback. For a while, if my therapist said something that didn’t really land with me, I’d brush it off. If we started a session talking about relationships but I was dying to talk about work, I’d just roll with it. If they offered analysis or a suggestion that didn’t feel right, I’d force myself to take it as truth or swallow my objections. I’d nod along to everything the therapist said, regardless of whether it was helpful, because I didn’t want to embarrass or disrespect them.

Here’s some tough love I had to give myself that I’ll pass onto you: If you feel like you have to agree with everything your therapist says, you’re not working on your issues or getting your needs met, you’re just people pleasing.

My therapy sessions became significantly more helpful once I started telling my therapist when something wasn’t working. Not only did I gain confidence by vocalizing my concerns, but I also started trusting my therapist more because she was eager to hear my feedback and adjust her approach accordingly.

How to approach therapy instead: Give feedback

Therapists are trained professionals. They customize their approach based on the needs of each client. But they’re not always perfect, and they can’t read your mind if something doesn’t feel right. They have no way of knowing if there’s something you disagree with, or if you want to discuss a different topic than what they’ve suggested, if you’re just nodding along.

If something isn’t working for you, give your therapist that feedback! A good therapist will be open to feedback and flexible in trying a few different approaches. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings or making things uncomfortable by telling them something isn’t working. And certainly don’t bottle it in and then give up on therapy altogether.

Don’t be afraid to let your therapist know what is and isn’t working.

3. You didn’t trust your therapist

I alluded to this previously, but a big reason why therapy didn’t work for you in the past could be that you didn’t trust your therapist.

If you thought your therapist was judging you, you probably held back emotions that might’ve made them think poorly of you.

If you thought your therapist didn’t actually care about your success (or that they’re just in it for the money), you probably didn’t let yourself open up about deeper issues.

If you thought your therapist was trying to lead you to certain conclusions, you probably filtered the thoughts you shared.

How to approach therapy instead: Trust your therapist!

Now, don’t force yourself to open up to anyone and everyone. You should be hesitant to trust people when it comes to sharing your deepest thoughts and emotions. That gut instinct to protect yourself from people you don’t trust is valid. If you didn’t trust your therapist because you didn’t like them, or they rubbed you the wrong way, or they weren’t receptive to your feedback, by all means, find another therapist.

But once you find a therapist you get along with naturally and are comfortable feedback to, you need to trust that they have your best interests in mind. That means getting out of your own way and not making up stories about why you shouldn’t work on your issues.

If you want to get lasting results from therapy, you need to be able to trust that your therapist isn’t judging you, that they’re invested in your well-being, and that they don’t think they’re better than you. Otherwise you won’t be able to be fully honest or truly make lasting changes in the quality of your life.

4. You weren’t comfortable being uncomfortable

Real talk: Your therapist isn’t going to figure out your problems and fix them for you. You gotta do the work.

Society often touts therapy as a one-stop-shop solution to life’s problems. TV and movies often portray therapists as mentalists and mind-readers.

Our main character walks into the office. The therapist takes a good hard look at them and seems to instantly understand what’s going on. Within minutes, the therapist is revealing things about our character’s past that haunt them, exposing their deepest fears, and telling them their hopes and dreams.

We absorb that messaging and start to think therapy really works that way. Feeling depressed? Go see a therapist! They’ll figure out what’s wrong with you, make you feel better, and you’ll be on your way home feeling good as new.

Obviously that’s a an exaggeration, but the underlying belief is there: therapy is where you go to have your problems fixed, and your therapist is the keeper of the answers to life’s questions. So of course if your issues are still there when you leave, it’s going to feel like therapy didn’t work.

You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.
Except the water is introspection. And you’re the horse.

How to approach therapy instead: Own the work

Unlike going to the doctor, where your provider does most of the work to diagnose and treat an issue, the majority of the work done in therapy has to be done by you, the patient

Your therapist facilitates and guides your introspection. Their role isn’t to figure out what’s wrong with you or fix your problems. They might ask questions to explore different perspectives, share patterns they observe, or offer suggestions.

But ultimately, it’s up to you to do the hard parts. You have to be honest about your thoughts and feelings. You have to challenge yourself and your old ways of thinking. You have to be open to change and invested in a better future.

Most of us would rather bury our issues and get on with our day rather than face them. Being vulnerable, admitting our flaws, and facing our demons is hard work.

To get results from therapy, you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Challenge yourself to want more. Push yourself to keep looking under the hood. Decide to be an active participant in your therapy sessions, and be proud every time you choose honesty over comfort.

5. You expected too much too soon

If you tried therapy before, you may have been disappointment by the lack of “progress” after one or two sessions.

This might sound familiar… After months of toying with the idea, you decide to bite the bullet. You find a therapist and schedule a consultation. You finally get to that first therapy session, only to walk out feeling like you barely touched the tip of the iceberg. You come back a second time, but still haven’t made any headway on your problems. You don’t see any results after a few sessions, so you decide therapy isn’t for you.

How to approach therapy instead: Adjust your expectations

Look, you need to go to therapy at least a handful of times for it to start working. It takes time to get comfortable with your therapist and for them to get to know you. It might take a few sessions just to uncover the heart of the matter, let alone come up with solutions.

More importantly, it takes time to change behaviors and thought patters. Even once you have total clarity about why you feel a certain way and what to do about it, it takes a lot of repetition to train yourself to start behaving or thinking differently.  

It’s similar to physical therapy: You wouldn’t walk into your PT’s office with a knee injury one day and expect to leave with it completely healed the next, right? Depending on how severe the injury is, you’ll probably need to come in regularly for a few months (and do daily exercises on your own time) before you start seeing progress.

It’s the same with therapy. You’re not going to walk out of your first therapy session feeling like a brand-new person. It’ll take a few sessions to get in a good rhythm with your therapist and get to the core of the issue before you can start incorporating changes and seeing significant differences in your life.


Don’t give up.

If you’re considering trying therapy again after having a negative experience with it, take a moment and just be proud of yourself. You already understand that your well-being is worth the effort of trying again. Don’t give up just because you haven’t found your stride yet.

The truth is, you will benefit more from therapy now than in the past simply because you’ve grown since you last tried.

Think about it, aren’t you a different person than when you first tried therapy? Haven’t you learned some things about yourself? Chances are, you can articulate your thoughts better now. You’re probably more aware of your feelings. You should try therapy again for no other reason than you’ve changed and learned as a result of the experiences you’ve had since the first time.

Go find a therapist you click with naturally. Give them feedback on what’s working and what isn’t. Trust that they’re there for you. Take charge of doing the work. Be patient with the process, and celebrate the small wins along the way.

At the end of the day, therapy is about you. You deserve to live more fully, to grow, and to have more peace in your life. Don’t give up on yourself.

Now I want to hear from you:

Which of these reasons resonated the most with you?

Or maybe you have a reason I didn’t cover.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below.

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