Hello, friends! In this episode podcast, I do a little Q&A with some really awesome questions. For one reason or another, I also felt a little silly so have fun with my rambles and random laughter. In this episode, I answer questions about keeping a healthy relationship with gaming, processing trauma, and coping with social anxiety.
Hey Dr. Duff! I love the podcast. I’ve been listening for a bit now, and I have really appreciated the episodes you’ve done regarding family problems, shame, and anxiety. I’ve heard you talk about games and RPGs a good amount while listening, and i am wondering if you have tips on how to keep games as a healthy part of your life. I love gaming, but I know it keeps me from doing other things that are more important. Thanks!
This is a tough one. I can totally relate to the feeling of being torn between opening yourself up to falling into a game and enjoying yourself but also knowing that you have other responsibilities that you should attend to. At this point in my life, my relationship with gaming has definitely changed. In college and graduate school, I did a lot more of it and in more problematic ways, like playing late into the night and not being good to myself.
Keep track of your gaming and mood
I think it comes down to developing some self-awareness. First off, you are going to want to become more aware of just how long and when you are gaming. For some this could simply be taking a minute to think about it, looking back at the week or month and thinking about how much you’ve been gaming and how it’s affecting you. For others, particularly those who might have a hard time doing the self-regulation thing, it might be more helpful to be keeping some sort of log. It can be a physical paper log, or using an app on your phone…you could even just plug it into your google calendar or whatever you use to keep track of your time – when you’ve had a gaming session, add it in retrospectively to your log. By doing this you can see the actual hours that you spend gaming. There isn’t some global number of hours that is okay to spend on gaming. It’s going to be a bit different for everyone and it will depend on what else you have going on. But the first step is to recognize what your current patterns are.
There are also many different kinds of games and the way you interact with them will be different. For instance, I try to avoid playing League of Legends because I know I’ll get sucked in and waste a lot of time. I will reinstall it once every year or two and go through a few months of it. The thing is matches are over 30 minutes long and it’s always so tempting to just play one more. You also need to be aware of how the games affect your mood. With that league example, I know that I feel like s*** when I waste 3 hours on it and lose every single game. If I win, it’s a bit better, but that’s unpredictable. On the flip side, I’ve been recently playing more single-player games like BioShock, Borderlands, and Divinity: Original Sin. For these, I can pick them up and play them for as long or short a time as I’d like and I can pause them. So work toward developing a little bit of self-awareness over your patterns and tendencies when it comes to gaming.
Organize your priorities and manage your time
From there, you want to take a look at your life as a whole. What sort of priorities and tasks do you have outside of gaming? This is one area where simply finding a good way to organize yourself and keep track of your tasks is very important. Rather than trying to label tasks or to-dos as good or bad, simply try to think of them as chunks of time. You are going to have some solid chunks of time like work or school and then other floating chunks of time that you need to plug into your day. For example, getting ready in the morning, cleaning, researching something online, visiting with friends, working out, gaming, working on projects, etc. These are all chunks of time that you will need to plug into your week in some way that works for you. Gaming is one of those and having a better sense of where all the other chunks fit is going to help you better place the gaming one.
You’re going to need to set some limits for yourself. It actually can be something that you need to practice. I know for some people they don’t really feel like they are going to be satisfied if they have to STOP gaming at some point. So they will stay up all night or they will procrastinate on things. If that’s the case, you might need to get some practice at gaming in 1-hour bursts and leaving it at that. There are also a couple of other ways that you can manage the time aspect of gaming. It all comes down to your personality and the way that your brain works in particular. For myself, I sometimes do well using the Pomodoro Technique where I set a timer and alternate between gaming and working on something. This is something I will often do when writing the timeline for this podcast. However, I also need to have the self-awareness to understand that this type of switching is not going to be good for things that require deep uninterrupted work like writing a new book. You could also have certain days that are your gaming days. Maybe you don’t game at all from Monday to Thursday and then you give yourself permission to game to your hearts content on the weekend if you don’t have other plans. All of this is to say that you just want to bring a little bit more awareness and intentionality to your gaming. The way I see it, that’s the difference between gaming as an adult and as a kid.
Gaming can also be a tremendous motivator at times. The other night, I really wanted to hop on and play Borderlands, but I knew that I absolutely had to get a report done for work the next day. So that motivated me to just get my stuff done really efficiently during the day. I worked on the report on and off throughout the day, after dinner I didn’t procrastinate on cleaning the kitchen, and I basically got everything taken care of so that at 10pm, I could just plug in and game for 2 hours without worrying about anything else.
Check in with yourself
Before you start a gaming session, it is also a good idea to just build the habit of checking in with your to-do list. If you don’t know how to best manage a to-do list, check out episode 151 of the podcast where I go through my top productivity tips. Whether it comes to gaming or life in general, I think so many people would benefit from just simply giving themselves the chance to sit down, look at their to-do lists, look at their calendar, and think for a minute about what their priorities for the day should be and try to consider whether there is anything they are forgetting. Do this before you get distracted by everything else in the world. Rather than rolling over and checking your email and social media, try to check in with yourself before the world interferes and interrupts that flow. Then check back in with your lists and your life periodically throughout the day. When you get home from work, before you start gaming or watching Netflix, just give yourself the chance to check in and actually decide what you are going to do with yourself rather than just being a ping pong ball ricocheting around your day.
The last thing that I will say is to possibly have someone to check in with. A friend, family member, romantic partner, etc. Get someone on your team that can tell you if you are becoming a hermit or avoiding important responsibilities due to gaming.
A question I’d love to hear you address in your podcast– what does it mean to “process” trauma? Like I know how to “process” a payment request form and I know how Kraft “processes” cheese– I even know how to “process” information. But “process” means totally different things in different contexts, and I don’t know how the trauma is changed by being “processed.”
This is a really good question. A great example of how we, healthcare providers, often throw out terms and assume that everyone else has the same understanding of them. Thanks for calling this out.
So first, it’s important to try to define what trauma is. Trauma occurs when something bad happens to you or you witness something bad happening. This could be something violent like being assaulted, being witness to violence, or abuse of some kind. It could also be related to a natural disaster or some sort of accident. For instance, some people are traumatized by car accidents. The event itself is not the trauma. Trauma is when your brain and body have a hard time reacting to the bad thing that happened. You aren’t always traumatized by bad things happening. I have been through several really difficult or scary situations that were rough and impacted me, but did not end up traumatizing me. It’s different for everybody.
When you store your memories from life, you store them in a way that is somewhat detached. You can certainly put yourself back in your own shoes and remember what it felt like to be a kid swimming in the pool during the summer or the butterflies in your stomach when you went to a school dance. But when you recall them, you typically don’t feel like they are actually happening to you again. With traumatic memories, they are stored in such a way that they feel very real and immediate. You get the visceral sense that the bad thing is happening to you again. Taken to the extreme end of the spectrum, this will cause full flashbacks where the line between the present and this traumatic memory gets blurred. You’re back in the memory again.
You will also likely have certain behaviors that are related to the trauma, such as avoidance of things that trigger the memory. Our memories are stored with cues. These are essentially tags that help us file and pull out memories more efficiently. When I smell burning rubber from tires, I immediately flash back to a time that I was hit by a car while riding my bike as a kid. It’s not a traumatic memory per say, but the memory is stored with that sensory cue. You probably also have lots of other pleasant memory cues like the smell of fresh cut grass, the feeling of your favorite type of fabric, or a certain song that brings you back to a given time in your life. With traumatic memories, cues associated with that bad memory will sometimes bring about threatening feelings and strong anxiety. For example, the smell of a certain body spray could trigger someone who has been assaulted because it’s the same smell and that smell is locked away with that memory of the person harming them…and so you avoid it. Avoidance of the memory and of cues associated with the memory is very very common in trauma because it sucks to remember what happened and it feels terrible to get all of the anxiety and physical sensations that come along with bringing up those memories.
The thing about our memories is that they are not perfect. Every time you remember something, you change it. You pull it out of your memory storage, you consider it in some way, and then you shove it back into that filing cabinet slightly different. Maybe you have had the experience of remembering something from childhood differently than your parents. Say an early birthday party. You remembered it a certain way when you were 10 years old, but now as an adult, you see it through different eyes and your understanding of the event changes because of this new context. So now we are at the part where we can talk about what it means to “process” trauma.
Processing trauma is when you take the traumatic memory that is stored in that immediate, threatening way, and turn it into a memory that is more like your other memories. You can still remember what happened, but it’s more distant and it doesn’t feel like its happening to you all over again. This is an important point. You don’t forget the event that traumatized you. You instead change the way that memory impacts you. This can be done in a variety of ways. The best way is through therapy such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy or EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). Both of these approaches place a focus on calling up parts of the memory, or aspects of the memory, and trying to stop the process of avoidance. Basically you’re working first to make sure that you have the coping skills to endure the anxiety and negative sensations that happen when you recall the trauma, and then you systematically approach the memories rather than avoid them. Eventually, by repeatedly doing this, you will change the memory over time and take away its power to harm you.
There are some deeper parts to this as well, such as coming to new understandings about your trauma and changing the narrative of it that you keep in your mind. For example, it might be a very important step for some people to come to a place where they are no longer blaming themselves for their assault or for some accident that happened. By recalling the memory and working with it in this live sort of way, you can store it with new cues, tags, and knowledge. So, through processing trauma, eventually the memory will be changed enough that you no longer get those terrible sensations that come with trauma, you no longer have those really intense flashbacks, and instead, it will be just like any other really unpleasant memory that you have. You don’t want it to be there. It’s bad that it happened to you. But it’s not still happening to you…you’re separated from it now.
Hi Duff! I came across your book for anxiety & it helped me tremendously. After having my 6th baby last March postpartum anxiety hit me hard. I started having panic attacks while driving & high anxiety in social events while feeling trapped. I’ve always been what most people would consider shy but the anxiety knocked me on my ass. Over the last 18 months I’ve come a long way but I still need much improvement. I have six kids that need me & an amazingly supportive husband. I still experience social anxiety to the point it’s hard to go to stores sometimes, restaurants, but especially in one on one settings. I feel like I have tried EVERYTHING but I have been reluctant to start meds. My family had a bad experience on some psych meds & I had a bad experience with trying Zoloft. Do you have any specific tools for social anxiety? Also, are your therapy sessions available to the public? I have had 2 therapists & I don’t feel it’s very effective. I like your just get to the point, cut out the bullshit approach. I pay cash for my therapist now & we just talk over the phone rather in person so I wondered if you offered that service. I have found your podcast & book extremely helpful. Thanks!
Thanks for the question. Let me answer the last thing first – do I do therapy? I am offering a couple of therapy slots right now and you can find out more at duffthepsych.com/services and see all about me and my therapy. I do in person or online therapy – the online therapy has to be with somebody in California because that’s where I am licensed. But one tip for everyone, if you are interested in finding a therapist but maybe have local resources that aren’t that great or there is some reason you can’t go into an office, then online therapy is an option and you would go about searching for a therapist in the same way. On my website, if you head to duffthepsych.com/findatherapist I walk you through the process of finding a therapist, but you can actually sort by people in your broader area who offer online therapy, which opens up your options a bit. But yes, I am offering a couple of therapy slots right now so feel free to reach out or take a look at my services page.
Heading back to the first part of the question, I’m sorry to hear that you are struggling – you are definitely not alone. Postpartum really can throw things for a loop. You might be fine with regard to your ability to cope with anxiety for a long time and then all the sudden, BAM not anymore. Hormones are a trip and the experience of having a child and raising them is just always a unique one.
Don’t write medication off…
The first thing I want to address is the medications. You said that your family has had some bad experiences on meds and you had one bad experience trying Zoloft. To me that’s like saying you’ve tried vegetables once and didn’t like them. There are so many different kinds of medications and even within the same class of medications, say SSRIs, there are going to be many different options. Everyone is different and you have your own unique body chemistry so things will affect you in a unique way compared to other people. That’s why you bring in that information when you go to see a psychiatrist. I highly suggest seeing a psychiatrist rather than allowing your primary care doctor to prescribe. Your psychiatrist will be able to evaluate any concerning side effects you’ve had in the past, your current symptoms, and suggest a course of action. Sometimes it takes a little trial and error, but that’s a normal part of the process. And these things also change over time and may need to be adjusted.
As for how I feel that medications fit into the scenario when trying to treat anxiety? My stance is that medications don’t change anything about your life or your coping skills. What they do is they lower the burden of your symptoms. If you are feeling a 10/10 anxiety level, they can help you feel a 6 or 7. That extra 3-4 points might be what you need to actually be able to benefit from the work that you are putting in through self-help or therapy.
The combination approach
So the combination approach is the one I’m a fan of. Get medication if you feel like you need that help – there is absolutely no shame in it. But also do the work on your part to develop some skills and insight that you need to help yourself function better in day to day life. As for the work itself. It’s a little hard to speak in generalities when it comes to social anxiety because it’s going to come from a lot of different angles depending on your experiences. Never the less, all of these things will come back to core skills. I have a lot of resources for anxiety in general, but some of the most important ones tend to be:
- Recognizing your thinking traps and learning techniques for interrupting the negative flow of your thoughts. (episode 72 – you can also sign up to my email list to receive my ebook “10 common thinking traps”)
- Approaching rather than avoiding anxious situations in a systematic way (episode 98)
- You will also want to develop strong coping strategies such as breathing exercises (episode 60) and mindfulness (search duff mindfulness on youtube).
- You might also want to check out my online course, Kick Anxiety’s Ass, which encapsulates all of this and more!
Of course therapy is a great option to work on any of these. The point is you have plenty options for moving forward. You need to have some grace with yourself and understand that you aren’t a bad person for being knocked down by anxiety. And you also aren’t hopeless to get back to a place where you can live more comfortably. It just takes some work. All of this different stuff that I have thrown at you might seem like a lot. That can be somewhat overwhelming for people. This is another area where therapy can be helpful – prioritizing the most important aspects of your recovery journey.
You mentioned that you are in therapy, so perhaps you don’t have the right therapist. For searching for therapists, check out duffthepsych.com/findatherapist. You can sort by people with an approach that you like better. For instance, if you like CBT, check that out. For more info about different kinds of therapy, listen to episode 105.
This episode of the Hardcore Self Help Podcast is sponsored by MycoMeditations Psilocybin-Assisted Retreats. MycoMeditations provides a legal means of experiencing the transformative and healing properties of the psilocybin mushroom. They provide 7-day retreats in Jamaica that involve guided psilocybin treatments, group processing, massage, accommodations, and authentic Jamaican cuisine. Learn all about MycoMeditations at their website or on episode 171 of the podcast, where I interview their founder.
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