LUCY BURDETTE: I've known and admired fellow psychologist Andrea Bonior since she was a Yale undergraduate peer counselor. It's been so gratifying to see her career blossom. She has a new book out, Detox Your Thoughts, that was launched in the midst of pandemic lockdown. That's terrible timing, but her subject matter definitely is good timing for us. Welcome Andrea!
ANDREA BONIOR: So many of us are so, so stressed. The past few months of life during the COVID-19 pandemic have seen disruptions we would have never imagined. Even if we have been spared the loss of a loved one, a lot of us are struggling with health fears, loneliness, economic worries, and just the surreal frustration of wondering if even the smallest, most mundane of activities are too dangerous—or if they’re even possible.
Now, we find ourselves in the midst of a new kind of disruption. This disruption, though, feels really different. The heartbreaking death of George Floyd at the hands of the police feels like a new kind of pain, a different kind of enemy. But it also brings a new energy. I have so much hope that the voices that are emerging now will be heard in ways we've never seen before. Unlike just trying to get past a global virus, I feel like the unrest right now has the power to collectively open our eyes to systemic injustices that have lasted far too long. It feels very much like a time to ask hard questions and truly listen to even more difficult answers. It’s a time to commit to using our discomfort for change. When I was first falling in love with psychology as an undergrad, I got to work on the development of the Implicit Association Task, the earliest formal study of implicit bias. It was a distressing but enlightening experience for me that really shook me out of my comfort zone, and I am still learning. And two decades later, I can’t tell you how inspired I am to hear even people I might never have guessed finally starting to think and talk about these issues—and to listen.
Having a book launch during all this, of course, is strange in its own right. “Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk For Good and Discover The Life You’ve Always Wanted” was released on May 5th—with bookstores not open for browsing, shipments delayed, libraries closed, and gatherings prohibited (there goes the book tour—or at least the events that involved real pants!) But it also was a unique opportunity to get people talking about mental health. Now, that opportunity continues, with a twist—to think about the times when we shouldn’t avoid discomfort. When we shouldn’t aim for calm. When our very distress actually teaches us something, and motivates us toward positive action. It’s a strange message from an author promising to help you find your calm, for sure. But it’s all part of the same lessons of the book: learning which thoughts to let become part of us, which thoughts to let pass, and how to begin doing that in order to live the lives that we want to.
That’s the heart of detoxing your thoughts: training yourself to observe your thoughts differently than you ever have before, gently and nonjudgmentally. Because it’s not negative thoughts alone that cause depression and anxiety. It’s when negative thoughts become sticky that we see depression and anxiety. It’s a fundamentally different way of looking at your thoughts than the typical self-help fare (which is usually more “Look on the bright side! Think positive! Build yourself up!”). But these newer techniques can finally help the worriers and the ruminators, the pessimists and the overthinkers disempower those voices enough to let go of them. Most exciting, it’s got quite a lot of research to back it all up, and I was also able to share real stories of how to use the techniques.
So, Detox Your Thoughts tackles all of it—the way we trap ourselves in our own heads, the reasons we get “mindfulness” wrong, the times we let our bodies work against us, and the lies we tell ourselves that harm our psyches on a daily basis. I was incredibly grateful that Lori Gottlieb, NY Times best-selling author of “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” called it a must-read that brought therapy to life on the page, and it got a high endorsement from the founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dr. Steven C. Hayes.
If you’ve been feeling weighed down in some of the darkness of the past few months, I hope you’ll give it a look. And I hope we can all lean on each other.
My question for the community: what negative thoughts do you find hardest to get rid of?
Lucy here: And if you have specific questions about techniques that could help during these chaotic days, I'm sure Andrea will address them!
Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist on the faculty of Georgetown University, where she was recently awarded the national Excellence in Teaching Award (adjunct category), given by the teaching division of the American Psychological Association. For fifteen years, she was the voice behind “Baggage Check,” the mental health advice column and live chat for The Washington Post, and she’s a mental health contributor to various media outlets. A frequent speaker about emotional well-being and relationships, she lives outside of Washington DC with her husband, three children, and constantly jumping Black Lab(ish) dog, Buster.