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Phone a Friend: Friend or Foe

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Phone a Friend: Friend or Foe

I’m a huge advocate for utilizing your social supports – HUGE. We often feel isolated and alone when undergoing difficult times. Sometimes we stop ourselves from reaching out to our supports. We feel ashamed or embarrassed, or we believe we will worry or overburden them. People we can confide in are some of the best resources we have. We live partnered, in families, and in communities for a reason – it’s literally evolutionarily advantageous!

What I’m really here to talk about is reassurance seeking – a completely different thing. Reassurance seeking is when you feel you have to continuously and repetitively seek the assurance, reassurance, guidance, advice and opinion of others. When we become emotionally elevated, our body goes into fight-flight-freeze and we can’t think clearly. If you pair that with having a lack of confidence in your ability to manage difficult situations, you may learn to constantly turn to others for help. Your body and brain come to know that if you get the reassurance from someone else, you will get the relief you seek.

The problem with reassurance seeking, is you never learn to self-soothe. Think of it as an avoidance behaviour. Your stress elevates, you put someone else in charge, you avoid the difficulty of managing the stress. It makes sense as a short-term strategy – so good for you for figuring it out! The problem: you never learn you CAN soothe yourself and manage your stress. You don’t build evidence that doesn’t support your belief you can’t manage.

Reassurance seeking is a behaviour you can change!

Build awareness of your physical reaction to stress. Perhaps your shoulders hike up, your chest feels tight, you hold your breath, etc. Now manage that fight-flight-freeze response. Try inhaling on a 4 count, holding your breath for a moment and exhaling on a 4 count. Do this until your body feels more relaxed.

Coach your self! Notice what your thoughts are. Perhaps they are telling you things like: “I’ll make a mistake, I’m going to feel this way forever, there’s no way I can handle this!” Now remind yourself of your abilities and ability to manage. Think of your strengths and successes before hand and write them down as a visual reminder when you’re having a difficult moment. Use this list to remind you of your worth and abilities.


Distract yourself! People often believe distraction is avoidance of dealing with their difficulties – false. When you have a tornado in your mind and can’t stop ruminating on ineffective thoughts that is when you want to distract. When you have identified what you can control in a situation and your next concrete steps, then you no longer have to think through every possible “what if” in your head. Use something that is cognitively demanding and/or active – taking a quick walk, do a crossword puzzle, engaging with a creative hobby, etc. Move away from those thoughts!

Whichever adventure you choose will take some effort and work. However, it will be so rewarding to learn to sometimes manage on your own. Adventure seekers – Take the road less traveled!

Until next time!

Dr. Cohenc

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