Ten Percent Happier
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Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris
Episode Show NotesEpisode Show Notes


Saleem: Welcome back, y’all! It’s Saleem here. This is More Than A Feeling. It’s Day four of the five-day Dread Project Challenge. It’s been fascinating to hear all the different ways dread shows up for you, sometimes keeping you so anxious about the future, that you can’t be in the moment. 

Carrie Drost: Hi, my name is Carrie and I'm from New York.

Kevin: My name is Kevin Hunt.

Carrie Drost: The Sunday Scaries. Most Sundays, I am very sad and mad and I don't realize it until my husband points it out. It robs me of my joy before I realize it.

Emma: When I think of things I actually dread, they're never as bad as they, like -  Sunday nights. Monday morning work is never as bad as Sunday often feels.

Kevin: I feel the best thing is to just like say it out loud to somebody or find a way to say it out loud just so you can test. Like, am I bugging? Is this, is, am I overthinking this?

[theme music]

Saleem: This week, we've been trying out all kinds of new tools to see if we can all feel a little better, even when we're anticipating the worst. 

Adrienne: Hi this is Adrienne in Vancouver    

Margie: Margie from Corvallis, Oregon.

Diana:  Diana from Durham, North Carolina

Saleem: Meanwhile, you’ve been keeping in touch, as you try these things out. It sounds like you’ve been getting a lot out of writing to dread, and from drawing it. 

Adrienne: My dread letter was really interesting, and one of the things that it helped me realize is that my dread is trying to keep me from doing really dumb things. 

Margie: I began to draw this guy with a scary face and big arms that were able to circle around my lungs and squeeze the air out. Then I realized that he reminded me a lot of the robot from Lost in Space who ran around swinging his arms. His favorite expression was “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Quintine: Hi, my name is Quintine. I'm from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. I feel now a lot more compassion towards it. I see it more like, “you are just really trying to help me out. Um, which is really sweet.” So thank you. 

Saleem: Please keep sharing how it’s going for you! 

[theme music swells and ends]

Saleem: If we’re not careful, worrying about the future can take up so much of our time. We start to feel like the only task we’re accomplishing in a day is dreading. To find out how to keep dread from taking over our days, we’re gonna talk to someone who’s well-acquainted with dread’s partner in crime, anxiety. 

Ali Mattu: Anxiety is my life. I, I love it. I've had it. I continue to have it. I treat it. And I just, um, I love talking about this stuff cause it's just, it's been my life.

Saleem: Dr. Ali Mattu is a clinical psychologist who focuses on anxiety disorders. You may remember us chatting with him in our first episode of The Dread Project. It’s Ali’s job to help other people figure out how to manage the things they dread, but he’s not immune to feeling dread himself.


Saleem: What are some times that you've felt dread about something upcoming? What's, what's something that makes you feel it?

Ali Mattu: Um, so many things. [laughing]

Saleem: Hmm.

Ali Mattu: If we had a lot of time, we could talk about being a kid, growing up, social anxiety, and me. My primary fear growing up was that no one would like me, which then I got into middle school and it was, “no girl is ever gonna want to touch me,” was the thing that I was afraid of. And so this real intense fear of rejection.

And then going back more recently. Man, did I have… 2020 was just a year full of dread and what is gonna happen? My parents live halfway around the world. Am I gonna be able to see them? Are they gonna be okay? Are we gonna be okay? Like, what, you know, what's gonna happen to my family? To my daughter? And concerns about the world that now my daughter and, and my newborn son – what, what is this world that they're gonna be inheriting?

Saleem: When I asked Ali what tools he uses to cope with dread, he told me about a new-ish approach he started trying out of necessity. 

Ali Mattu: The type of strategies I used before, the pandemic that helped me to stay relatively stable, didn't quite work in 2020. Alot of what really helped me before was spending time with other people. Cause my mind is so focused on talking to the other person. I mean, I could talk to you all day long. And you'd probably be like, “Ali, I, I've got like other work to do. Like, please, go away. We have. It's been a nice five hours…”


Saleem: We might have some personality similarities that make me, make me feel not stressed about that.

Ali Mattu: Well then in that case we'll grab some chai. We'll just like, you know, like, just, just talk, right? And what's so great about that for me is I get lost in these conversations. And I don't think too much about that stuff I've been dreading. And for that period of time, it gives me massive relief.

Now, what happened in 2020 is it was harder to have in person conversations. And yeah, I could, I could FaceTime and Zoom with other people. But the difference is we were all dreading the same thing. So in those early days it was a lot of problem solving, how are you dealing with this? How are you dealing with that? Getting advice from people. But then we just kind of got stuck into this long lull of despair and then talking to other people about the same stuff didn't help.

So the thing I have learned to do myself is something I always talk to other people about. I always talk to patients about, but I never did myself cause never needed to, is writing. So when my mind is really racing on a lot of these things I'm, I'm dreading, I do some worry time. What worry time is, it's about ten minutes where I sit down. I grab some paper and a pencil, and I just write the stuff I'm worried about. I just put it all there and I, I give myself total permission to write all this stuff down. Ten minutes is over, kind of close it up and if those thoughts come again, I tell myself, I can make note of this during my worry time the next day, and…

Saleem: Do you literally schedule? Like is it on your calendar? How do you, how do, how does this work?

Ali Mattu: It was at certain points in the more difficult parts of the pandemic. Totally. It wasn't like in my calendar, but it became a part of my routine. And it was usually something I did in the evening cause that's when my worries would kind of rush to the front part of my brain. And I would just kind of dump all of that as much as I could.The beauty about this is when those thoughts come up again, you can just say, “All right, I'll deal with this during my worry time.” And it, it helps you to feel like a little bit more in control over this stuff.

Saleem: At first, the idea of setting aside “worry time” might sound counterintuitive. Aren’t we all here because we’re spending too much time focused on this stuff already? But when we give dread a designated time to do its thing, we’re actually also giving ourselves more agency. Because if we schedule it, dread won’t have free reign to mess up our whole day. So how do you actually get started with this?

Ali Mattu: Well, first thing you gotta do is you gotta buy a bunch of candles. And then fire up some Enya. Um…

Saleem: Perfect.

Ali Mattu: [laughing] No…

Saleem: This is the second Enya reference in this podcast. She, she comes up quite a bit.

Ali Mattu: [laughing] Oh, man. Um. The first thing you wanna think about is what is a time and place where I can open up Pandora's box a little bit? Where I can open this up and be able to deal with the consequences? I would not do this right before you have an important meeting. I would not do this before you're, you're gonna go to sleep. I would do this some time where you've got a little bit of flexibility that you can sort of deal with the elevated anxiety that's gonna naturally come about from it. And let's say the dread you have is, it's about work, it's about this meeting you're gonna have with your boss.


Saleem: So now here you are, in this worry time that you’ve set aside, and in this example you’re going to dedicate that time to work-related dread. The idea is to let your mind do what it’s been trying to do all day: actually let it run wild with catastrophic scenarios.  

Ali Mattu:This is where you can start writing and if you don't like writing, piece of paper and pen, you can use your phone, that's fine too. Or if you don't like that, you can do a voice memo as well. Write down the thoughts that are popping up in your head, all around the circumstance. 

And let's say as I'm dreading this meeting with my boss, what do you fear might happen? What are you worried might happen? I'm worried that it's gonna go badly. They're gonna talk about all the stuff that I haven't been doing well. And it's gonna be really uncomfortable. Okay. Let's say that happens. That's true. What might happen then? Okay. Well, I'm worried that I'm gonna get more work as a result of it. Or maybe they're gonna ask to have even more meetings with me and I'm gonna dread that. 

Okay, Well let's say that that's true and that's what happens. What then? Well now I'm worried that like, they're going to discover that I'm, I'm actually a really bad employee and they might fire me. Okay. So we've come to like, probably what's the core fear behind this, which is getting fired. And maybe you wanna explore that more. Where do you think this fear came from? How would it impact you if this happened? How would it impact all the people around you? And you can kind of explore all of that. If not, maybe you wanna just kind of leave it at that and revisit it tomorrow.  


Saleem: Okay, so Ali’s giving us a great challenge for the day. We’re gonna designate some worry time. We’ll grab a spot on the schedule. Not too early in the day, not too late, and not right before something specific that we’re dreading. Maybe a few minutes after lunch or while you’re out for a walk. 

If we want to start small, we can give it just ten minutes. Try setting a timer. Then we’re going to go deep into that thing we’re dreading. Writing it out, or maybe recording a voice memo.  And we’re really going to follow our dread all the way to its wildest outcome. Let it kinda run its course.

I’d guess that, like me, you’re really confident you can get started worrying. That's the easy part. But you might be unsure of how you’re gonna stop worrying. How do you end a worry session? Ali has some really specific suggestions.

Saleem: Sometimes when I start worrying about something, I get a little worried about turning it off at the end. Does that make sense?

Ali Mattu: Yeah, totally. I, Well, what I like about the example you gave about a walk is there is a beginning and an end to that. And there's a natural transition to that. The tricky thing with a walk is it would be really nice if it's not just you thinking about your worries, but actually like doing something about it. So like narrating it into your phone, something like that, which allows you to revisit those next time. 

It’s really great to have a transition point. So something that does signify an end to this, so you're not stuck in that loop of worrying over and over again and you're not churning away. So I like setting a timer on my phone. I like, uh, when I lived in New York, I would sometimes do this during my subway ride. And once I got out of the subway, I would be distracted by the things around me or I would play music as I'm walking home to get my head into a different space. So as much as you can do, build some transitions, whether that's an alarm, whether it's music, whether it's doing it during a commute, that kind of stuff.

And the other beauty of this is at your next worry time, you look back at what you wrote down and sometimes you're like, “That's what I was worried about? Oh man, that was… well, guess I didn't have to be worried about that thing.”

[theme music]

Saleem: You can find today’s “schedule your dread” challenge at dreadproject.com. That same website, dreadproject.com, also makes it really easy for you to send us a voice memo telling us how this challenge went for you. So you can let us know – did giving your dread time to run wild also make you feel a bit more in control of it? And if your dread is feeling really difficult or intense, check out the show notes or dreadproject.com for some additional resources that could help.  

Thank you for being on this journey with us. Join us tomorrow for one final episode and challenge. We’ll look at how trying some eco-therapy can help us find emotional resilience when we’re feeling dread about the climate crisis. 

Patty Adams: Nothing is going to eliminate these overwhelming feelings because they are a response to what's really happening. But we can make choices to engage with them in what we would call titrated or manageable ways, right? Which is not never. And it's not always, right? It's somewhere in the middle. It's that dance. 

This is More Than A Feeling. See y’all then.

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