How Pokémon Go Can Help with Anxiety, Depression

Pokemon GoI have to admit it. I’m 31. Officially out of the “youthful” age group, according to some of my favorite students. “Mrs. Meg, no one uses Facebook anymore. That’s for old people.” Fair enough.  So I must venture further to confirm that I am not all too shot down with playing the new Pokémon Go. I certainly cannot speak for all my contemporaries, though, nor those in older age brackets. This app, released a mere 7 days ago, has already surpassed total number of downloads and user than the Tinder app and has been projected by a number of people in the know to exceed the number of Twitter users soon. Which means, this app is currently spanning a number of age ranges and demographics and providing a number of positive benefits to the masses.

Apart from the joy of beating your friends in chasing down imaginary figures, this game actually has some mental health implications. Think about it. In order to gain the most points, you have to go the most places, right? One must get off the couch in order to catch (I’m going to keep calling them all “Pokémon”, because we’ve already established I’m not hip enough to know all the names of the characters). Your phone alerts you to the Pokémon in your area, so you have to get up off the couch and go get them if you want the points. They don’t just come to you.

I recently read a post on the old folks’ (remember, that’s Facebook) of a dad who admitted to the benefits of the game in relation to his own daughter. After dinner, it was his daughter’s idea to leash up the pup and go for a walk with the parents in order to catch two Pokémon out in their neighborhood. A young teen actually asked her parents to go on a walk with her! Granted, she still had her phone in hand, but I say, progress. While on the hunt for these two mythical creatures, the aforementioned girl walked 1.5 miles (exercise is linked to decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety), and also stopped and talked to a brother and sister, 10 and 13 years old, respectively (having a common introductory topic can be helpful in decreasing social anxiety) who were chasing a Golding – oh look, I found out an actual name – while the dogs played (and who doesn’t love to watch lovable pups having fun in the park?).

Even if you don’t run into someone also on the hunt for a Pokéspot, having the motivation to get up and get outside (free Vitamin D and Serotonin, along with fresh air and additional steps) can be beneficial to those who have found themselves often couch-side due to negative emotional states. It can be possible for individuals to utilize the game to get on the move for health benefits, to achieve instant gratification, to enjoy playing a game with clearly defined boundaries and goals, and allows those participating to tap into our imagination and creativity.


-MegAnne Duke, LCSW, LCDCi

How to Forgive

Now that we’ve established What Forgiveness is, Really, let’s talk about how one can move toward accomplishing such a cumbersome task. Once we have realized how beneficial the act of letting someone off the hook can be, what’s next? How do we make movement in the direction of truly letting go of the negative emotions related to the perceived injustice? Conversely, in those instances where we, too, have amends to make, it is important for us to make a path toward forgiveness if we are interested in truly resolving our end of the issue. If not, our ill will toward the other will find ways to come out, sometimes in surprising ways. Obviously, each person deals with frustration, anger, betrayal and such in his or her own unique ways. Here are some thoughts on how to get started and see what works for you.

It can be helpful for us to write down exactly what it is that is irking us about the believed offender, getting out specifically how we view the incident(s) and what has led us to these negative emotions. Take the time to really think on what happened, the way it made you felt in the moment, and perhaps, how those feelings have changed over the span of time since the incident. Writing out what happened and the resulting feelings is often found to be a cleansing experience, even cathartic.

Writing it out places a boundary on the experience, the pain, the anger. It shows us that, even if it took us pages upon pages to express the situation, we now see that there is an end in sight. Once this boundary has been established, many often enjoy a physical “giving away” of the hurt. Tie it to a balloon and set it free, burn it, tear it, give it to a trusted friend to dispose of it. This provides a figurative sort of release of the pain, helping us find steps toward forgiveness.

If none of these work for you, give me a holler and we’ll work on a new idea on How to Forgive.

-MegAnne Duke, LCSW, LCDCi

References from The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous, First Printing, 1990

Tell Me More About These “Coping Skills” of which You Speak

Ask any kiddo who’s ever been in inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment, especially the ones still in single digit ages, what they should do when they feel (insert unhealthy emotion here), and you’ll get a pretty ubiquitous response: “Use my coping skills!” Well, my little friends, you’d be fantastically right. But, what are coping skills? The youngest ones remember the words but sometimes struggle to actually articulate a useful skill when asked. It is, frankly, adorable.

Coping skills are certainly helpful for youngsters who struggle keeping their hands to themselves and their words in check when upset, but the need for skills doesn’t go away once one graduates high school. Because, while it was inappropriate to bite the girl next to you at your 3rd grade desk clump because you thought she stole your pencil, it’s even worse to do it to your boss when she tells you you’re late to submit a report.

So, young or old(er), in school or working, or whatever your circumstance is, what are helpful ways to deal with the unhappinesses life is certain to throw your way? I’m so glad you asked. As a social worker, it is my deepest joy to explain oh so frequently what coping skills are and why/when you need to use them.

Distraction Techniques
Sometimes, you’re so overwhelmed by the moment, you just want to forget about it for a while until you can come back to it and process it more healthfully. Good call! These are called, “distraction techniques.”

Examples: chat with a friend, watch a tv show, listen to music, knit or crochet, get in the dirt in your garden and dig, straighten up your home, read a book, get on YouTube, Call of Duty, I’m told is a blast. You get the point.

Positives: Distracting yourself gets you away from the issue for a moment. Bring down that heart rate, slow down the mouse on the wheel that is your brain. It’ll get you through the crisis and give you a moment for a quick breather.

Less than positives: This doesn’t actually solve anything. Ignoring a problem for too long is clearly counterproductive. Distraction allows you to calm yourself to a more rational mindset, but totally ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Seeking Your Higher Self
Believe in a Higher Power? Awesome. Don’t? Also fantastic. “Higher Self” doesn’t have to mean spirituality, though it can if you want it to.

Examples: Volunteer, pray, give back, be nice to the check out clerk, help someone, pay for the Starbucks of the person in line behind you in the drive thru, join a cause you’re passionate about, go to your local animal shelter and cuddle with the dogs.

Positives: Seeking your higher self, in whatever capacity you choose, helps us remember the value in everyone and everything in our lives. Everything has a purpose, so take a moment to find it, not matter big or small.

Less than positives: If you’re only focusing on others, when will you make time to focus on you? A number of my clients love to “fix” everyone else’s problems so they can distract themselves from their own issues. Be mindful of how much time you exert on others!

Emotional Release
Examples: Scream it out! Go for a run! Yell into your pillow! Take a cold shower, find your favorite funny show on Hulu and really laugh it out. Allow yourself to get in a good cry. Pop a balloon (not me, I’m afraid of popping balloons), join an exercise class or a Krav Maga gym, dance and sing out loud to the music overhead in Home Depot!

Positives: Useful in letting out anger and fear. In perfect James Brown style, it helps you to try to release that pressure!

Less than positives: Emotional release doesn’t always work in every situation. Some people may feel kind of foolish singing and dancing to overhead music in a public place, and others may give you strange looks.

Utilizing your senses and your physical body.

Examples: Smell the roses, pay attention to what your food tastes like, check what color the sky is, walk barefoot in the sand or grass, play with PlayDoh, meditate, hit the gym or go for a run/walk, give yoga a try.

Positives: Helps bring you back from that “out of body experience” feeling, where you feel disconnected from yourself or even that you might be dying. Decreases the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Less than positives: Your body dissociates when you are in severe psychological trouble, like in an abusive situation. This is to protect your mind from what’s happening.

Thought Challenge
Are you sure you’re thinking clearly? Have you weighed all the options using your wise mind?

Examples: Use a thought record to write down your negative thoughts. Pay attention to what evidence you have for and against those thoughts. What would you tell your best friend if he or she was telling you the same problems?

Positives: Practicing using thought records and checking your negative thoughts can actually help to change the way you think in the long run. Practice makes progress! Utilizing a wise mind (rational mind + emotional mind) can help with future reactions, causing a decrease in emotional stress!

Less than positives: It can be so difficult to get yourself into a clear mental space right away, especially if it’s what you’ve grown accustomed to. We revert to what we know in crisis! The stronger the negative emotion, the more difficult it can be to appropriately weigh the truths and falsities.

Love Yourself
Do something good for you! Self-care is important!

Examples: Get a massage, get a manicure or a pedicure, indulge in a modest splurge, take a bubble bath or a long, warm shower, go out or make a nice meal.

Positives: You must love yourself in order to give the best love to others, so practice being kind to yourself! You deserve to be taken care of. As I mentioned in Thought Challenge, what would you encourage your friends to do to take care of themselves? So, why wouldn’t you also deserve that same self-attention?!

Less than positives: Some people truly struggle to focus on themselves. It takes practice to allow yourself to spend money and/or time on yourself.

*It is important to note that, just because I might benefit from challenging my thoughts by reasoning out what might really be going on, that might have absolutely no benefit to you. If you find yourself feeling stumped or unphased by one, mosey along, partner, and try the next!

Parenting: Alternatives to “No”

I once watched an episode of Modern Family where Cameron and Mitchell insisted no one, including themselves, tell their kiddo, Lily, “no.” Claire, Lily’s aunt, wants to punish Lily for flicking lights on and off in Claire’s home, leading to an argument about the differences in Claire’s and Cameron’s (and Mitchell’s) parenting techniques. Cam gets his hand stuck down the sink drain and panics, since Lily is still running around flicking on and off light switches and blissfully unaware which switches turn on lights and which turn on sink disposals. Claire stands haughtily watching the scene unfurl, feeling her point -that sometimes kids need to be told, “no!”- had been made when Lily flipped on the switch closest to the sink. Fortunately for Cam’s digits, it was just another light switch and his hand was safe. It’s a good episode, worth a watch.

This is a pretty clear example of a time when “NO!!!” is the absolute right response to a child’s behavior, or at least would have been had the disposal switch actually been in Lily’s path of light switch destruction. Strong boundaries set in place by parents lead to stronger children. Rules allow children the chance to better prepared for the real world, where rules will be aplenty. They teach kids how to act in social situations, provide a sense of structure and stability, encourage cooperation and competence, and, as I always tell my clients and students a parent’s Number 1 job is – they keep kids safe. The idea of never telling your kiddo “no” is not only an example of maladaptive, black and white thinking, it also sets children up to be unmanageable students and, down the road, unmanageable employees.

Now we have that settled, there are exceptions to every rule and certain opportunities where alternative, more relaxed interventions are appropriate. A parent’s desire to use a light and breezy tone when able is certainly encouraged by many who work with youngsters. This can allow children to feel empowered in the situation, or that they have choices in what happens next.

When situations arise where, perhaps, a lighter tone might get the job done, here are some suggestions with which you might replace a version of “No!”:

“Stop hitting”                        –>          “Please keep your hands to yourself”
“Don’t say that”                    –>          “Please choose another word”
“Quit whining & crying”      –>          “Please use your words”
“I can’t hear you”                  –>          “Please speak louder/more clearly”
“I won’t buy you that”          –>          “Instead of that, what if we ____.”
“Don’t get upset”                  –>          “It’s okay to feel that way, but ____.”
“That’s not for you”              –>          “That’s ____’s. Can I offer you____.”
“Stop playing”                        –>          “Maybe we can play later after ____”/”We have to go.”


Cognitive Restructuring – Common Thought Errors that Lead to Depression and Anxiety

Sometimes, we allow ourselves to think in ways that lead us down paths of destruction. Common errors in thought processes can lead to a number of negative symptoms; most notably anxiety and depression!

Disqualifying the Positive – Discounting the good things that have occurred in your life or that you’ve accomplished, saying “that doesn’t count.”

Overgeneralization – Seeing a pattern based on just one event, being overly broad/generalizing about a specific event, one mistake makes you a complete failure. “Everything is always going wrong.” “Nothing good ever happens.”

Mental Filter – Only paying attention to certain types of evidence, picking out the one negative and focusing on it. Noticing your failures while ignoring or overlooking your successes.

Should, Must, Ought – Using critical words like ‘should,’ ‘must,’ or ‘ought,’ when talking to yourself can lead to feelings of guilt and/or failure. These are judgmental and unforgiving expectations that we place upon ourselves. And when we say “she/he should have…,” we set ourselves up for frustration.

Comparisons – Constantly comparing yourself to others, trying to Keep up with the Joneses, placing your value in how you see yourself in relation to others.

Jumping to ConclusionsMind reading, where we think we know what others are thinking without concerning ourselves with what might actually be happening. Fortune telling, quite simply, we try to predict the future. Emotions control your interpretations rather than a wise mind.

All or Nothing Thinking – Also called black and white thinking, you think in absolutes: “If I’m not perfect, I’m a failure” and “I’ll either do it right or not at all.”

Catastrophizing and Minimizing – Magnifying, blowing things out of proportion are known as catastrophizing, or thinking in catastrophic ways. Downplaying or diminishing the importance of something in an inappropriate way is minimizing.

Emotional Reasoning – Allowing your emotions to dictate your interpretations of situations rather than being objective, assuming that because you feel that way, it must be true. “I feel embarrassed, so I must be dumb,” or “I didn’t get invited to his party – he must not like me.”

Personalization – Blaming yourself, taking responsibility for things that aren’t your fault, assuming if someone has a negative emotion, it is a response to something you’ve done. The opposite of this, of course, being that you blame others for something you know was your own doing.

Labeling – Assigning labels to other people or ourselves, evaluating our self-worth and others’ worth in inappropriate ways “I’m a loser,” “She’s such an idiot,” “stupid,” “fat.”

When you recognize these maladaptive thought patterns as they happen, you will be able to decrease unnecessary stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms you’re causing yourself by misinterpreting your situations.

What Forgiveness is, Really.

The idea of forgiveness is a common misconception amongst a number of my students and clients. When I mention the word “forgiveness” in response to a client’s experience of a particularly nasty betrayal, I’m frequently either laughed at or met with irritability. The thing is, forgiveness is not dropping the subject and never broaching it again.

Forgiveness is:
understanding that you’ve been wronged, maliciously or unintentionally, by another and deciding to let go of hanging onto the bitterness, resentment and other emotions linked to the incident (which, by the way, you have every right to feel). It is making the conscious effort to extend grace, beneficence, and compassion to the wrongdoer, even though that person is entitled to absolutely none of it (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000).

Forgiveness is absolutely not:
simply saying the words and moving on. It’s not pardoning the behavior of the perpetrator, particularly if malice was involved. It’s not making an excuse or justifying what happened, it’s not letting go of any and all resentment one might feel about the incident, it’s not seeking revenge or holding onto a debt owed by the one who harmed you, and it certainly is not simply deciding, “I’m over it.”

Get off the hook.
One of my favorite pieces of forgiveness psychoeducation I use that is fantastic for kiddos and adults alike is the metaphor of a giant fishing hook. Hanging onto bitterness is like putting yourself on that fishing hook, the same way you’d put on a shrimp or a worm. After you’ve put yourself on, you add your offender. As you might imagine, being on a pointed, metal hook is incredibly painful. Not to mention, where you go, so does your perpetrator – you know, since you’ve put both of you on that same hook.

The only way out of this nasty situation and get yourself off that hook is to allow the person who wronged you off first. By keeping him or her on the hook, you’re opening yourself up to a lengthy stay in an unhappy place.

It’s time to retrain our brains to understand what forgiveness is, really. Allow yourself to move on from negative people and the pains of the past in order to live a more fulfilling and open life. Recognize the emotions you have related to the injury, stop the thoughts of revenge, put yourself in the other person’s shoes (can be difficult, I know), make the conscious decision to accept the hurtful emotions caused by the betrayal, and let the person off your hook.

MegAnne Duke, LCSW, LCDCi

Become engaged in your life again

Nearly everyone experiences periods of depression, anxiety, frustration, or feeling stuck, and deciding to seek help is the first, most audacious step in a person’s mental health journey. Licensed in Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Florida, I specialize in the mental health and well-being of individuals and their families in the reproductive years. We will collaborate to discuss ways to increase insight and awareness for you to become more engaged in your own life in a safe, non-judgmental, solution-focused environment with a sense of humor.

Something unique about my practice is my use of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, which allows us to focus on your changes to help you make progress toward your goals from day one. Together, we will explore how you are coping with the changes in your life and find tools you can use to better manage life transitions.

Additionally, we will work to build communication with your school/work, friends, and loved ones to create the structure and build the coping skills you need to thrive. I specialize in working with people who are experiencing intense reactions to changes, life transitions, feeling overwhelmed, and the disruption all around us.

-Meg Duke, LCSW Supervisor, LSCSW Supervisor, LCDC

Click here to for my contact information to schedule an initial consultation.


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