Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ask Kelli: Worries, Worries, Worries

Dear Kelli,

I wrote to you in July about my desire to go to grad school for an MA in Counseling at a university here in DC.

So I got accepted within a few days in August; it all happened just so fast and smooth.  I really see this as a sign from the divine. While the school is very minimalistic and even looks primitive on the outside, the program is very good, in my opinion. After fulfilling 700 hours of my internship, I will be ready to get my license.  It is a very rigorous program and very demanding, especially my first course, Research in Education, and I am scared:  How am I am going to write all these papers and do the research, since English is not my first language, and the professor for this course basically told us if she sees 1 - 3 grammar mistakes, she automatically grades the paper as "zero," as grad school students are expected to write on the level of the grad student.

So here I am writing to you for some support and input. I guess I need counseling myself before I actually do this program!

Many thanks for your advice!

What Next?

Dear What Next?,

First of all, a huge congratulations!  I'm happy for your decision and I'm excited for your academic year.  I know you'll do wonderful.

Of course you feel overwhelmed: You are looking at your whole entire program, not your first class, or even your first paper!  Remember: Take it day by day.  Just like it's one project a time, one test at a time, and one paper at a time.  Try and stay present as best you can through this year.  Anxiety stems from worrying too much about the future.  So if you find yourself worrying about how you are going to get it all done, first remind yourself that you are "futurizing" and that you need to concentrate on today more than anything else. Somehow, someway, everything almost always gets done in time.

Some grounding exercises I like are:

1) Physically grounding my feet to the floor.  I even take off my shoes and socks.  There is something about literally being reminded to "stay where my feet are" that keeps me present.
2) Meditating.
3) Deep breathing.  Inhaling from a count to 10, then exhaling from a count to 10.
4) Exercising in any form
5) Making a list of my worries, then what I can do about them.  For example: Worry: I won't be able to complete all my papers. What I can do: Plan ahead, start my research early, work with a friend, meet with the professor and ask the professor for help, etc. 

These lists make me feel more in control.

I hear what you are saying about English not being your first language.  But I can always guarantee you will not be the only one in the program!  Remember, you were accepted by the university into the program because they had faith and confidence you could complete the program.  Have that same faith and you'll do just fine.

All the best,


Dear Kelli,

I have a dear friend who lives cross country.  He was kind enough to come to my wedding three months ago.  But I actually never received a gift from him.  The thing is: It's very unlike him.  He's normally super generous.  I'm nervous the gift got lost.  But what if it didn't and he never actually gave me a gift?  I don't want to make him uncomfortable.  Advice?

Do I Dare Go There?

Dear Do I Dare?,

I'd wait another few months.  Some people believe they have a year to give a couple a wedding gift.  So maybe he's still sending you something.  Try and be patient before you say anything.

Then I do think it's okay to say something.  If this is your dear friend, you should have an open and honest relationship.  You could say something like, "Mike, I'm so honored you made it to the wedding.  But a few of our gifts got lost and I wanted to make sure yours wasn't one of them.  I don't want to make you feel uncomfortable in any way.  If you didn't get us anything, I completely understand and don't feel you need to justify.  I just wanted to make sure nothing got lost.

Good luck,


Dear Kelli,

My almost 16 year-old daughter tells me that she worries about a particular issue/aspect and is not comfortable talking to me about it.  She says that she is the one who put this negative thought into her head, and that the worry is very irrational and stupid. Deep down in her heart she knows that what she is worried about will not happen, but she has these negative thought/s that she creates, regardless the signals of her instinct.

She says since we create the situations in our lives based on our thoughts -- the power of the mind and positive/negative thinking -- she is now worried that even if she switches from negative thoughts into positive, the events will still end up negative, because she thought about it a lot, or she goes back and forth, switching her thoughts from positive to negative .  Then, she says that she now has a habit to worry. When she stops worrying it feels abnormal, but she does not know how to stop.  When I tell her may be we can see a therapist so she can talk to someone about it, she says that she is uncomfortable talking to a stranger.  No matter what I tell her, how I tell her, she agrees with everything I say but can not change the thought pattern. She also tells me: "When I am happy, I immediately find a negative thought to make myself worry.  It is as if I want to hurt myself by thinking negative thoughts."  She also tells me that she knows how to stop but she just does not allow herself to stop. She describes it as a little "ball" inside of her that needs to come out, something that she developed.

Is there are anything I can do to help her?

Positive Mom

Dear Positive Mom,

I applaud you for wanting to be proactive and help your daughter.  The fact that she is opening up to you is a great sign and even if she doesn't tell you exactly what she's worried about, she's still coming to you for help.  You're doing good work.

You were spot-on with having her see a therapist.  Not seeing her myself, it's hard to know for sure, but your daughter could have an anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.  All these are usually beyond a parent's scope and are best treated with a therapist's help.  I highly encourage you to try and have her see a therapist who specializes in anxiety or a cognitive behavioral therapist. 

I know you tried once to see a therapist and she wasn't so keen on the idea.  So perhaps you could try something like this: "Sue, I believe a trained therapist can help you with your negative thoughts.  I know you are uncomfortable talking to a stranger, but I'm thinking the negative thoughts you are having are probably MORE uncomfortable.  And yes, the first time might be difficult talking to a stranger, but it will get easier each time you meet with her/him.  I want you to feel better and I know this could be a solution.  How about we just try it for a few sessions and you let me know what you think?"  You could also empower your daughter by having her included in the decision of choosing a therapist.  For example, choosing a male or female therapist, deciding what she thought with an initial phone conversation with him/her, asking your daughter to write down her questions, etc.  And I would offer to come with her to the first few sessions, if that would help her to feel more comfortable.

Finally, in addition, you might want to suggest to your daughter some of the grounding exercises I suggested to the first reader.

All the best,


Kelli Miller, MSW is a therapist, author, and radio personality. Miller was a featured expert for SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 198, the co-host for the TV show Love and Money: The Advice Show, and the advice columnist for Playboy U. She is the author of Professor Kelli’s Guide to Finding a Husband which can be found here, as well as her personal memoir, Joy in Solitude, found here.  Ask Kelli is published on All Life is Local and the Cleveland Park Listserv on Wednesdays.


  1. To "What Next",

    As a teacher, I can tell you that most are sympathetic to the struggles of a non-native English speaker. I agree with Kelli that meeting with your professor early on to discuss your fears is probably the best way of alleviating them. The teacher might allow you to meet with him or her before the paper is due to review the grammar and syntax in your rough draft. If not, I suggest hiring a tutor who can help you. It's amazing how helpful it is to work one-on-one with someone.

    Congratulations and the best of luck to you!

  2. Hi Kelli,
    I notice that at times you recommend people see a therapist for on going issues. I don't know if you feel comfortable suggesting how people can find one, but you might want to say something like has a direct way to find a therapist or other ideas you might have. I find that people often get stumped about the first step in finding someone that meets their needs, location, price etc. This might be helpful.

    Deena Kotlewski, LCPC