Clinging to Happiness Leads to More Anxiety

Expert anxiety counseling in Woodland Hills

Christina Barber-Addis, Psy.D.

I recently visited the island of Kauai for a vacation. It was my first trip to Hawaii and the first vacation I had taken in a few years. I remember throughout those five months after booking the trip, I would think about the trip constantly, dreaming about the fun and relaxation that I would experience. When things would get stressful or overwhelming, I would remind myself that more happiness was on the way, in the form of an awesome vacation. And especially as the vacation neared, I found myself becoming more and more impatient with my current workload and daily tasks, dreaming for my vacation to take me away from it. 

Then I went on my vacation and had a wonderful time. But I noticed, underneath the joy, there was this underlying anxiety and agitation that my vacation experience didn’t compare to my expectation of how I thought it would be. In fact, the first few days of the vacation, I actually felt more anxious than prior to arriving. This puzzled me, but in looking back, I think it was because of my unrealistic expectation of the vacation transporting me away from my problems. My expectation was that my time in Kauai would be life-altering and take all my cares away. Of course, this wasn’t the case. All of my troubles and challenges that I had prior to my vacation, travelled on that plane along with me. 

After returning home, the disappointment continued because life threw its many wrenches at me almost as soon as the plane landed. Work was slow, leading to financial woes and the stress of our bathroom remodel reared it’s ugly head. I remember thinking, “Great, I guess all the good from the vacation is cancelled out since I can’t savor the moment. I’m thrown back into the real world again.” But, is this how it should be? Should we expect the joy from a vacation to last beyond our returning home? Are we then clinging to happiness well past its expiration date?

My biggest realization in all of this was that I wasn’t being present in my experience. The expectations and constant comparisons between “real life” and my time on vacation pulled me away from being fully immersed and present in my experience, before, during and after the vacation. What might my experience have been like if I were to allow it all in, the challenges and the joys, equally? What if I had little expectation, but rather, curiosity about my vacation and allow the joy and fun to rise and pass without judgment? All I know is that clinging to happiness only added to my anxiety. 

So how do we do this? How do we not cling to happiness? It is natural to be excited about an upcoming exciting event or vacation. But perhaps when we notice ourselves pulling away from our present experience, even when it is unpleasant, we can notice this and come back to the task at hand. Although not as exciting as the dreamy expectation of the future excitement, we are potentially preventing the anxiety that will come from the expectation that we will be saved from our present challenges. In turn, we can notice when we are being pulled away from joy by the thought of its inevitable end and just feel it, giving ourselves the gift of being present in our lives, right now, in this moment. 

Dr. Christina Barber-Addis is the founder of New Awakenings Therapy and is a mindfulness-based, licensed psychologist in private practice in Woodland Hills, California. She specializes in treating adults with anxiety by incorporating mindfulness meditation into her therapy practice.

How to Get Unstuck

Expert Anxiety Counseling in Encino

I feel stuck. Things feel slow, unmoving and stale. I want change but it seems that the change I want is just out of my reach. There is a sense of others finding this change or even acquiring the exact thing I want but I can’t seem to make it happen

I have heard many clients express these statements and of course, I have also said them myself. It can cause us anxiety and sometimes depression, to feel stuck, unable to move forward. Often, we are waiting for the right answer or to know a specific path before we make a move. However, it may not be so easy to figure this out or to feel certain about which way to go. 

I just realized that one of the symbols that I have been attracted to for a long time is of stones, stacked one on top of the other, gradually getting smaller as you near the top. I even have an image of them on my business cards. It is funny how we are attracted to certain things and realize that there is a much deeper significance behind the attraction. In the Zen Buddhism tradition, these stacked stones are called cairns. One definition reads, 

Cairns symbolize direction, safety and home for travelers moving along life’s path. 

There is even a zen proverb that reads, 

Move and the way will open

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, one of the things I remind my clients, time and again is when we feel stuck, we should just make some kind of movement, no matter how small. This will often lead to another small movement and then another. So we will often go from feeling stuck to feeling as though we are moving forward. Even if this path isn’t the exact one we want, it will likely help us to find it, just through these small movements.

So when we feel stuck, the task is to think of one way, even if it seems insignificant, to make movement. This movement may even seem unrelated to the bigger change that we desire in our lives. Moving in some way, any way, will likely lead us to the right path. We can even keep images or an actual cairn, somewhere where we can see it as a reminder to keep moving. What small move can you make today?

Dr. Christina Barber-Addis is the founder of New Awakenings Therapy and is a mindfulness-based, licensed psychologist in private practice in Woodland Hills, California. She specializes in treating adults with anxiety by incorporating mindfulness meditation into her therapy practice. 

How to Stop Your Anxious Thoughts

Anxious thoughts

By the time people reach out to see me for therapy, they have been plagued by anxiety that is so severe, it feels as if it is running their lives. They report sometimes having obsessive thoughts that seem to never stop or nagging worrisome thoughts that elevate their heart rate and keep them in an almost constant state of fear. This can sometimes not only cause emotional distress but also physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, dizziness, nausea, digestive issues, and the list goes on and on.

What if I told you that almost 100% of the time, it is our thoughts that are the culprit? Most of our anxiety, even at it’s most severe, begins with one anxious thoughts that builds and builds until it feels as if our mind is filled with them. So then the answer must be that we just need to figure out what that first thought is and get rid of it! Right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, there is no way to get rid of these anxious thoughts completely. I know, that would have been the best, simplest solution possible but it is just not the case. We really don’t have complete control over what thoughts are coming into our mind. I’m sure you have tried to tell yourself, “okay, mind, just have positive thoughts now” or “stop thinking negative thoughts”. How did this work out for you? Not very well, right? It’s just not that simple. A meditation teacher once told me, “our minds create thoughts like our mouths create saliva.” Thoughts are streaming into our minds like a continuously moving conveyer belt, dropping sometimes random thoughts, images, stories and memories into our consciousness. And, as you have probably noticed, they are being dropped into our minds at an alarmingly fast rate. So it is virtually impossible to stop thoughts from dropping. 

Although this isn’t great news, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing we can do to feel better. Our control lives in what we do with the thoughts once they arrive.

So what can we do with these anxious thoughts?

1.  Don’t Believe Everything Your Mind Tells You

We can start with an awareness that we don’t have to believe everything that comes up in our minds, that we don’t have to take it all to heart or allow it to change our moods. As humans, we have the tendency to believe all of the thoughts that come into our heads. But I have to tell you, not all of your thoughts are real or accurate. Sometimes, they are flat-out lies. It’s true, your mind sometimes lies to you! Even our own memories can become distorted or seem to be more negative when we are already in a bad mood. Often, our minds will randomly drop images or thoughts that are incredibly scary or disturbing and again, aren’t really based in reality. But I know from experience, these thoughts and images can stick with me and set off a spiral of anxiety or even depression.

There may be times where it seems impossible not to believe our thoughts. But perhaps if we can remember this just 10% of the time, we can notice an improvement in our anxiety or low-mood levels.

2.  You Are Not Your Thoughts

By putting some distance between ourselves and our thoughts, we begin to realize that we are not what we think. What I mean by this is that we can begin to identify with our thoughts. A good example are unkind thoughts that we all have about ourselves, such as “I am stupid” or “I am ugly”. We can believe these thoughts so much so that it becomes a part of who we are. But actually, these are just thoughts. Just because they come up in our minds, doesn’t make them true, as I explain above.

3.  Come Back to the Moment

Anxious thoughts are always directed toward the future and often begin with “what if…” or are full of possible scenarios, usually of a catastrophic nature. Most of us are not able to predict the future, and yet we try to do it all the time. We have amazing, vivid imaginations, which can be helpful in many creative ways. However, this hurts us when we begin worrying about the endless and sometimes horrific scenarios that may come to be. And in actuality, I have found that 99% of the time, the things that I’m sure will happen, never do. 

When we begin to try our hand at predicting the future, it is possible to disrupt the thought loop by coming back to the moment. Again, we are in the future when these anxious thoughts come up, so it is possible to shift our minds back to the task at hand, which may be our work, time with our loved ones, etc. When caught in these anxious thoughts, our minds often pull us away from our present moment experience which is all that truly exists. The past is gone and the future hasn’t happened yet, thus, the present moment is precious and filled with possibility.

Dr. Christina Barber-Addis is the founder of New Awakenings Therapy and is a mindfulness-based, licensed psychologist in private practice in Encino, California. She specializes in treating adults with anxiety by incorporating mindfulness meditation into her therapy practice. 

4 Steps to Finding the Perfect Therapist


I’ve had many clients come to see me, expressing their frustration over this process, and how they had many failed attempts before finding me. They discussed using their insurance directory for guidance, only to be left with a list of names that they knew nothing about, leaving them to cold call one therapist after the other, not knowing what to say on the therapist’s voicemail or directly to the therapist. People can feel as though they are flying blind and not sure how to proceed.

So, here is a step-by-step guide that will hopefully make this process a bit easier!


If you have a list of names either from your insurance company or from your primary care physician, or other professional, I highly recommend doing a Google search. Although it can be painstaking, it can help you to weed out therapists that don’t seem to be a good fit. Personally, if a therapist does not have a professional website, I view that as a red flag because a high number of people are searching the internet for their health and mental health needs. It does give you some sense of the person you will be sitting with and telling your life story to and hopefully building a relationship with. If you feel turned off by one’s website or by the fact that they don’t have one, you can scratch that person off of your list. Often therapists will explain their approach and their specialties on their website and this may confirm what you are looking for or prove that they may not be a good fit. Often, they also have a photo of themselves which also gives you an idea of what it would be like to sit with them. 

If you don’t have a list of names, you can do a search for therapists in your area. Perhaps if you are suffering with anxiety, you could search, “Anxiety therapy in Los Angeles”, or “Encino therapists”.


Usually once you start googling, if the therapist is on Psychology Today (a very popular therapist directory), their profile will also pop up in your search results. This is very convenient as you can gather a good deal of information from their Psychology Today profile. Most therapists will list their specialties, types of therapy they provide (individual, couples, group) and types of people they provide services for (adults, kids, older adults). Therapists will also have a blurb about themselves and how they feel that they are unique or how their services are helpful to potential clients.


I highly recommend that you call several therapists, as some may not be taking new clients or after speaking with them on the phone, you may not want to schedule an appointment. Most therapists have a free phone consultation so take advantage of this time! Many clients ask, “What should I say when I call a therapist for the first time”? Before calling, take some time to jot down some notes about what you would like to know about the therapist. It would be helpful to know what their approach is when working with clients. For example, are they more active in their style, asking a lot of questions and providing feedback or do they sit back and let the client talk more. This is important for you to consider because you may prefer one over the other. Some people would like their therapist to give more feedback and perhaps actively set goals with them. While others find it helpful when they are allowed to talk freely and come up with solutions on their own with little guidance from the therapist. 

You may also want to know if they work with your particular issue. For example, if you are looking for help with a past trauma or PTSD symptoms, you can ask whether they specialize in this, or have experience working with these issues. You might also want someone who is sensitive to LGBT issues. Not all therapists are sensitive or experiences in this are and since this can be a particularly scary subject to discuss, it is important to feel a sense of comfort with a therapist before beginning.

Another important question is whether the therapist takes your insurance or what their fees are. I would recommend getting to know the therapist’s style before asking about fees as you may find that after a therapist answers your questions, you may feel a strong connection with them and want to work with them. This may help you to consider whether their fee is something you can budget for since it has a high value to you. If you ask about fees first, you may decide you can’t work with them prematurely. Obviously you have to consider your financial situation and what works best in your life.


Talking on the phone with a therapist is an important first step to getting a sense of how you may work with them. However, you will not truly know how you will feel with a therapist until you meet with them in person. Thus, it is important to try on a few for size. You want to see what it is like in their office. Do you feel comfortable? Is the environment a good fit? Is the office in a convenient location? Do you feel a sense of privacy and confidentiality?

Take this time to get a sense of the therapist and whether it feels as though over time, there is a good chance that you will be able to talk about difficult issues and emotions. Keep in mind that therapy is a process and it takes time to drop our guards and begin to trust our therapist, just as in any type of relationship. This is a therapeutic relationship and if a sense of trust or bonding is not created, you will likely not meet the therapy goals that you set for yourself. However, if a strong therapeutic bond is created, there is opportunity for tremendous growth and healing. 

Dr. Christina Barber-Addis is the founder of New Awakenings Therapy and is a mindfulness-based, licensed psychologist in private practice in Encino, California. She specializes in treating adults with anxiety by incorporating mindfulness meditation into her therapy practice.