Today on the show, I’m joined by Dr. Sherri Yoder, a former clinical psychologist and the founder and executive director of Thriving Thoughts Global. Dr. Sheri talks about her personal story of anxiety and how it led her to her work now in her non-profit organization.
- Dr. Yoder’s story of struggling with anxiety
- Strategies she used to work through her own anxiety
- How she got involved in mental health prevention and education
- More about her non-profit organization, Thriving Thoughts Global
Carrie: Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD episode 79. Today on the show, we have a little bit of a unique episode. I mean, we’ve done these kinds before, but it’s kind of a combination of personal story and professional, um, inform. So I have Dr. Sherri Yoder, who is a former clinical psychologist and the founder and executive director of Thriving Thoughts Global, which is about mental healthcare prevention.
So I’m really interested in that conversation that we’re gonna have Dr. Sherri.
You wanted to start out by talking about kind of your own personal story of anxiety.
Dr. Sherri: Thank you so much for having me Carrie and giving me the opportunity to share a little bit. I think it’s so important for us to not just normalize anxiety, but normalize how we respond to it.
Thanks for giving me the chance to do that. Years ago when I was practicing as a clinical psychologist. So it’s been almost maybe 10 years now. I had my first, what I would call major episode with anxiety. That was pretty chronic. It was both acute and chronic at the same time. It lasted a long time. It had to do with a lot of things.
It had, my thoughts had to do with some spiritual fears, but also some professional fears. Somewhat related to being an imposter and that sort of thing. But being found out just irrational fear of being found out, what am I gonna be found out about? I keep up with my CE’s. I do the things I do therapy. Like I’m good.
I’m good at my business, you know, all of that, but there were certainly irrational fears that started to develop. And so what happened during that time is it got so bad that the only time that I wasn’t having a spiraling thoughts that would kind of physically take me out at the knees was when I was in therapy when I was doing therapy with other people because I was like, I was zoned in, I was focused on them and it was like a freedom to a degree because I didn’t have to be inside my head.
I could be outside of my head. And so that was really the only relief that I got during that time. And I’d say that that ran about four to five months to the point where I knew it was unsustainable, I knew I had to do something. I had to respond to it differently, or I was gonna have to check myself in somewhere because it was getting that bad.
I say that to say that I was never formally diagnosed. I was a clinical psychologist. I was the one that diagnosed other people. And certainly, I could have met the criteria for a number of different anxiety-related disorders. But what happened during that time is what served as the catalyst for the work that I do now. And it was a deep, intimate understanding of what it’s like to deal with potentially debilitating anxiety. And so what happened is I became a stronger clinician in that regard, but I became a more compassionate human as well. So I’m thankful for that experience. And since then that set me on the path to realize that everything that I go through, no matter how scary or so badly I wanna avoid it or painful, it is. There is a way to use that. Not just to help other people, but to grow me.
Carrie: That’s good. I’m glad you brought up imposter syndrome because I think that’s a thing that a lot of people who are in professional careers have and it’s something that people think well, okay. I’m really educated.
I’m functional. I mean, I go to work every day. Like, not just that, but like I’m my achiever. And they don’t necessarily always recognize that anxiety within themselves or that thought process that is really fueled by anxiety of I’m never quite good enough. I’ve always gotta kind of do better. There’s always more that I could be doing for myself.
Dr. Sherri: Yeah. And as a clinician, I think, you know, this, Carrie. yYu have a serious responsibility on your hands, right?
Dr. Sherri: You’re dealing with the personal lives of people. And there is a level of, there’s an onus that comes with that to honor that, to be reverent of that. And I think that led to one of the things that I since learned about anxiety for myself and for other people that I’ve now, since I left the field, I do some individual work called thought coaching. So I help people with their thoughts. But what I’ve learned is that there’s two things that happen with anxiety. One is that I had to know when I was most vulnerable.
Carrie: Oh, That’s good. Right.
Dr. Sherri: I had to be aware of that. When I was most vulnerable was when I was alone. And that was particularly problematic for me because I was single and didn’t have any children work was like, “Yay. I’m not alone.” And then when I got out of work, that’s all I was, was alone. And so there’s a tendency there to not want to be alone, but I had to be alone in my vulnerability in order to address it because if I avoided that. I was never gonna get to a place where I could address it. And to be clear, I didn’t do that work alone. I employed the help of some friends and things, but to know where your vulnerability is because if you’re gonna respond to it differently, you have to prepare. Yeah, right. And so my vulnerability was in the alone spaces.
So that’s the first thing that I needed to be aware of that helped me through that. And then the second thing was to understand that all anxiety, I don’t care how irrational it is. I don’t care how out of the blue, the thoughts are. They always stem from some nugget of truth. So going back to this, like, oh, you’re gonna be found out. You’re a fake, you’re a fraud. Like what? No, I’m actually a licensed clinical psychologist. Right. I have my doctorate. There’s nothing for me to be found out about. It related back to me to the negative truth of that onus of that responsibility that you have in that role.
And so I think about parents, mothers that I’ve worked with and they have responsibilities for their children. And very much of some of their thought worlds and the anxiety-related thoughts that they have are related to fears of something happening to their children. Right? Well, that is where that little nugget of truth. I have this responsibility here. So, whether that’s in a job or whatever it is, whatever kind of has your attention, has your focus, that’s also your vulnerability and the source of that kind of nugget of truth for the thoughts to spiral into total opposite of truth thoughts,
Carrie: right? So it’s like teasing out. What is the actual negative truth, which for you was, I do have some responsibility to care for people. However, the fear piece was you’re gonna really screw somebody up. You’re really gonna mess this up, being able to separate those out and tease that out was helpful for you. It sounds like.
Dr. Sherri: Oh my goodness. Yeah, because then I was able to. When I gave myself permission to say, okay, this makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense that it’s gone, like so far to the left of where it was, right. So far from the needle of truth. But it makes sense now that is a source of my worry. And so then I could stop berating myself. “What’s wrong with you? You’re just crazy.” No, no, no, no, no. My mind just took this idea and kind of blew it way out of proportion almost without my permission. And so to be able to kind of step outside and see that is really what my saving grace was, because then what I did, I’ll share with you really quickly, what I did, which I didn’t know then would become my life’s work of learning to take the thoughts that we have in our minds and evaluate them for veracity. Are they real? Or are they lies? That’s what I say, are they truth or are they lies? And if they’re lies, okay, then they’re not serving me. Well, how do I replace that with truth? So what I did during that time, a friend of mine had asked me. He said, “Sherri, I want you to write down for me. I’m a woman of faith. I want you to write down all of God’s promises. And so I did, and I didn’t believe half of them at the time because I mean, there was stuff going on in my mind and so I wrote them all down. And so then what I did is I pulled out the language that I used with myself in those moments of anxiety, of heightened anxiety, the phrases that I said, you’re a fraud you’re gonna be found out. You don’t know what you’re doing, whatever the thoughts were.
I wrote all of those down on one side of the paper. And then on the opposite side of the paper, I wrote down the truths of what I knew to be true. Even if I didn’t. Yeah. Then what I did is every moment when I was having these anxiety thoughts instead of letting it spiral out of control, I immediately opened that book and I scanned down to the one that, the thought that came into my head and I looked to the right of it and I said aloud the corresponding truth and why was that important.
I didn’t know at the time that that was important that I did that, but it was important because I understood and came to realize this about anxiety. And depression or anything like that, something that was so liberating for me to know and something that just enlarged my compassion for people was when you’re in that space and people say “it’s all in your head or whatever. ” Yeah, you’re right. It is. And I can’t get out of there.
Carrie: I’m stuck. I’m trapped. Yeah.
Dr. Sherri: Right. And so what I learned was having a physical, external reminder was what I needed because when I was in that space, I couldn’t think of anything else. I needed something written down outside of my head that I could ground me to a degree because if left to my own thoughts, it was just gonna spiral out of control. Having that external reminder was key to fighting that battle of anxiety and that composition notebook fell apart Carrie. I mean, I opened that thing. I must have opened it every, when I was alone, like every minute because it was nonstop.
Open it, read it, open it, read it and then shut it down. Okay. I’m okay. Nope.
Carrie: You would ike carry it around with you?
Dr. Sherri: Everywhere. And I’ve carried that habit. With me to this day for different, like, I have sticky notes. I have everywhere. I have them in my car. I have them in my wallet, in my kitchen, in my desk, wherever of just different things to remind myself of.
I choose to speak kindly to myself. Different things to remind myself of. And I move them around because our brain habituates to the same thing in the same place. Anyway, besides that it took work, there were times when I thought, “oh my gosh, this isn’t working. It’s not stopping,” but I remained faithful to that work to doing something different.
And what I learned is since then, this is 10 years ago. My tension, my tendency towards anxiety that hasn’t gone away. But what’s changed has been my response to it. And I taught myself, I taught my brain a new habit. It’s possible. It takes a heck of a lot of work. And a lot of perseverance, but to me it’s so worth it. And now it’s a lifelong practice that I know not to believe the first thought that comes into my mind to evaluate it and then decide what to do with it. So that’s kind of led to my work now.
Carrie: That’s great. We had another guest on that talked about having kind of like a “911 note” on her phone. She’s a health coach now, but she was trying to lose weight. And so she had various things on her 911 note. Yes. You know, note that she would just pull up and there were scripture verses and positive affirmations and so forth. And so every time she kind of wanted to slip back into all patterned, she got that out and went through it and I think.
I appreciate what you’re saying about it being work because unfortunately, obviously, like we live in a society of instant gratification and to really do something like essentially what you’re talking about is thought replacement. It does. It takes effort and it takes repetition. You know, anytime we’re trying to learn something new like our brain is literally creating new pathways.
Yes. And that’s not gonna happen just overnight or, oh, well, I tried to do that like one or two times, and I just wasn’t feeling it and I don’t think it’s gonna work for me. That kind of lingo is like, I want people to hear, like, it is hard to work through your anxiety, but you can do it. You can, you can work through some of these things and learn new behaviors and new patterns and new coping skills with life to have like a better outcome.
Did you end up going to therapy for yourself? I’m just curious.
Dr. Sherri: I did not. Well, that depends on how you look at it informally sure because I have a lot of colleagues. I did process this with the number of people. And I did not keep it to myself. I think that’s the other thing that’s so important is, and unfortunate in the realm of mental health, I get it. We have HIPAA laws, we have privacy laws. But I think an unfortunate side effect of that is the propagation that I’m not supposed to have these problems. We kind of hide it in these four walls behind closed doors. I can only talk about this with my therapist, or I’m not even gonna go to therapy because if I go to therapy, then I admit there’s something wrong with me. I think it’s about shedding light on the normalization of our human, emotional experiences and understanding that we all have them to varying degrees, to varying intensities, varying propensities and varying seasons. I don’t claim Carrie to be out of the anxiety woods. Right.
I think that’s the other kind of faulty belief is like, I’m over it, but that’s the trick about anxiety and or depression is it comes back when you least expect it, but there are new ways that you can respond to it. And so I, for me, It’s not believing that I’m never gonna be impacted by it again, instead, it’s believing that I’m gonna be able to not only just cope with it, but to use it to be stronger.
I actually have this little sticky note here. I have to read it to you. It says, “A bird sitting in a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking because his trust is not on the branch but in his own wings,
Carrie: I can get up and fly if this branch starts to crack it’s okay.
Dr. Sherri: That’s right. That’s right.
Carrie: How did you make this shift from, you know, mental health treatment to getting involved in mental health prevention and starting a non- profit.
Dr. Sherri: A very, very intense story short, which I think was birthed in this season of anxiety that I just described to you. But I started having trouble sleeping at night, quite literally. And I thought, man, I think that people need to know that if they’re having these feelings, there’s nothing wrong with them because I think that’s the other thing that gives.
The feeling more power than it should have is that I’m not supposed to feel this way. Right. And so I said, how can I take this message to people that aren’t gonna go see a shrink? Cause listen, in my line of work, I can tell you how many times I heard people literally say, you don’t go to see a shrink unless you wanna be crazy or right.
That’s what you do. I used to have people walking into my office like this, like hiding their face, cuz they were ashamed of. And so I thought, how can I start a conversation about these common human experiences and emotional experiences and thought experiences that we have to bring a new sense of enlightenment of helping people understand that they have this mental and emotional health t take care of and how they can do that. And so I stopped taking insurance. I said, I’m gonna stop diagnosing, I’m gonna stop treating and I’m gonna start educating people. So I just started speaking for free. Then I kind of made my way through some organizational consulting stuff, cuz those are curated, captive audiences to a degree and speaking at various civic organizations, networking groups, that kind of thing.
And then I did that for about four years and then I ealized mid-pandemic first year of the pandemic in 2020, how do I make this movement? Something bigger than me and how do I make it reach further than what I alone can do? And so then the idea was start a non-profit. I started the nonprofit thriving thoughts, global.
The whole idea is to educate people through conversation and principle and thought strategies and things like that. But to educate women in particular, because I believe they’re the ones who are the influencers that talk to their families, talk to their best friends, talk to their kids, right. So if we can teach women how to do this, then they’re the ones that are gonna have that ripple effect.
How to understand and not be so blown away by the thoughts and feelings that we have, but to use them to their benefit, to use them to their advantage. And so that’s what we’re doing there, and we’re doing that through several different means. We’re creating webinars that we’re offering monthly, we’re creating a new podcast that has like 10 to 15-minute stories of women who have gone through maybe a challenging experience and how they used one of our, what we call thriving thoughts, pillars, to learn how to grow through that, to learn, to respond differently through that, so that it strengthened them mentally and emotionally and relationally as well.
And then starting conversations about just some of the things that in our Western culture. I think our foundational influences in depression and anxiety that started at a very, very young age that have to do with comparison and measuring up and that sort of stuff. So just helping offering and alternative conversation about mental health and teaching people that there’s a way to protect their mental health, to build it and to prevent things like deep experiences of anxiety and depression.
Carrie: I think that’s what you’re talking about is interesting. This concept that everyone has at some point or another, like some type of mental health struggle. And really, if you walk into a counselor’s office, they could slap any kind of diagnosis on you because I mean, if you just read the DSM, you’re like, “oh, I, yeah. I’ve had that symptom” and you’re reading some other symptom. I mean, don’t ever read it because next thing you know, you know, you’re gonna be like, well, I have this
Dr. Sherri: land it’s ike, don’t go to WebMD if you have a headache.
Carrie: That’s interesting. And I think you are right that, I mean, I’m definitely a big proponent of therapy and I’ve had a lot of therapy myself. That’s been super helpful, but I do also recognize there are some people that they’re just not gonna do it. They’re never gonna do that kind of work. And maybe they can be reached a different way. So a lot of education. And what is your podcast gonna be called?
Dr. Sherri: It’s called the Fortified Woman podcast. It’s helping people to understand that it’s possible to look at situations differently. And when you change the way you look at them through your thoughts, your outcome is different. Am I the woman who always expects the worst of a situation? Because if that’s the case, I’m probably gonna experience. There’s all sorts of psychological evidence for this confirmation bias and priming of our cognitions and what we expect and that sort of thing. And so it’s about having these. Let me clarify. Treatment has value and prevention has value and both can coexist and they should. Right now, unfortunately, the predominant narrative around mental health. If you look at, you know, May is mental health awareness month, right? It’s really not mental health awareness month, at least in the way people talk about it. It’s really mental illness awareness month.
Let’s talk about those people who have those challenges. No, no, no, no, no, no. We are all those people. We all have these opportunities to go down a crisis hole. And so let’s start having those conversations. Let’s talk about not how to cope with life, but how to grow through life. And it really is an idea of thriving over surviving.
Carrie: I mean, at some point or another, we’re all gonna hit a difficult challenge in life and you don’t necessarily know what that’s gonna be or when that’s gonna happen. But I think like what you’re saying is you can allow those things to crush and break you, or you can say, okay, how can I work through this and become stronger and become better as a result of that?
Yes. Do you feel like your faith has really impacted you in regards to that. Just, I don’t know, thinking about things in the Bible related to perseverance and going through trials. And did you really look at that stuff when you were going through the heavy anxiety?
Dr. Sherri: I think for me, it was more about God’s design for us. There’s all these promises in the Bible like your promised peace, you’re promised an abundant life. And if we’re promised that, then what are we missing out on if we’re not experiencing that. And a lot of. Really boils down to the way we think. I mean, scripture has a lot of examples with think this, not that right. Think about things above versus things below. And, and when you do that, you can kind of extrapolate and say, oh, this thing below has a purpose.
It can have an eternal purpose or a relational purpose, a discipleship purpose. So, yes, my personal journey has been deeply informed by that, but also deeply informed by my clinical training and expertise and experiences with people that have been so formative that have just allowed me to catch a glimpse of the truth is that we were made in God’s image, every person.
And if we’re made in God’s image, when we have these feelings, there’s nothing wrong with. If you look at the life of Jesus, Jesus had all of these feelings. Well with one exception and that’s anxiety, that’s probably a different spiritual conversation, but there are things we can do. Take every thought captive, right? Evaluate every thought. Is it true? Is it a lie? What am I believing right now? What rabbit hole am I going down right now? And is there another trail for me to follow? So, yeah, my faith has definitely informed my personal growth, but also my professional growth and help giving me insight into what people are facing up here, what women in particular are dealing with in their thought world. It’s been a very deeply humbling and gratifying experience. And I would say that for the thriving thoughts, global movement, it’s certainly faith informed because I’m the founder of it. Mm-hmm but it’s not faith-based. Our desire is to propagate hope with regard to the way that you are naturally designed to be able to take thoughts captive without necessarily speaking Jesus over you.
Carrie: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self who was dealing with anxiety?
Dr. Sherri: This is probably not the most popular answer, but I really wouldn’t tell her anything. I would say, keep doing what you’re doing. You’re discovering the right path for you. I would just be on the sidelines kind of cheering like “good job. You’ve got this.” You can do this. You can figure this out. I think that comes from the space nobody can tell us exactly what to do. We can give ideas, we can give information, you can offer something, but really, it depends on it’s up to that person to pick it up. And so when they pick it up, then they kind of go, “oh, now I’ve got some interest,” but that really has to be a thing of the self.
I don’t know that anything I know for me, I’m a very stubborn person have been since I was a kid. Reframe that as tenacious, but if you tell me something, I’m not gonna learn by it. I have to do it.
Carrie: I think that’s interesting that if we don’t go through these struggles, it doesn’t get us to where we need to be. You know, that’s just part of the life process. And so maybe that encourages somebody today that like, you’re probably on the path of where you need to be and you just don’t necessarily know it right now. You’re probably like, what am I doing here? And why am I dealing with all this anxiety here? Why am I dealing with this? O C D instead of saying like, okay, well somehow this is all gonna weave together and I’ll look back. Yeah. It makes sense why I had that struggle and something good and something beautiful. Grew out of it in the end.
Dr. Sherri: Yeah. And I would say you don’t even have to wait for the end. One of the things it’s really, it’s about the process. We live in such a culture. You were referring to instant gratification, but we live in such a culture. That’s always looking for the success story. And I think the success story is not on the other side. The success is in the doing it’s in the right here right now like what am I doing right here right now? That’s the win? That’s the success? Am I doing something to learn in this moment? Am I doing something beneficial for myself? Am I doing something to grow right now? Or am I doing something to regress? because this is it. This is all we have is right here right now.
Carrie: And sometimes getting out of bed is a success. Yeah,
Dr. Sherri: Yeah absolutely. It’s what am I doing? Right. And I will say this, that particularly in Western culture, we have this underlying belief that suffering is not supposed to exist.
Carrie: It’s a very unhealthy belief for us to have. But
Dr. Sherri: But it is a cultural narrative. I read once there was a woman from Georgia, an academic from Georgia. I can’t think of her name at the moment, but she said we have an epidemic of people who are unhappy about being unhappy. We’re not supposed to be happy all the time. we can just start to talk about that, have that conversation, then we’re not gonna be so blown away when we’re happy.
Carrie: Thank you for sharing your personal story and as well as your insights, we’ll put the link to your nonprofit in the show notes.
Dr. Sherri: Thank you so much. It was a good conversation today.
Dr. Sherri: Thanks Carrie.
Carrie: I think there were several great takeaways that came out of this show with Dr. Sherry so I hope that you picked up a nugget that will help you kind of on your journey of progress. If you haven’t checked out our website, yet we have a website hope for anxiety and O C d.com that I just wanna encourage you to look at. We’re trying to do some updates to that and make it more searchable. So more people will be able to find out about our show. On the front page, you can sign up for our email newsletter and get a free audio file of color breathing, which is something that I’ve used with clients and they’ve really enjoyed it. They kind of can help you relax and calm down when you’re utilizing something like deep breathing. Sometimes it helps to have a mental focus. So this gives you that mental focus .
Thank you so much for listening.
Hope for anxiety and OCD is a production of By the Well Counseling.
Our show is hosted by me, Carrie Bock, a licensed professional counselor in Tennessee. Opinions given by our guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the use of myself or By The Well Counseling. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum. Until next time may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.