1-Sentence-Summary: Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is a collection of a clinical psychologist’s best practical advice to combat anxiety and depression and improve our mental health in small increments, collected from over a decade of 1-on-1 work with patients.
Read in: 4 minutes
Favorite quote from the author:
Do you ever get anxious out of nowhere? I do. I keep lots of to-do lists to manage various aspects of my life, and most of the time, it’s a helpful thing. Sometimes, however, I think about all these different lists and the countless items on them, and I freeze. “So much to do! When am I going to do all of it?”
According to Dr. Julie Smith, I’m not the only one this happens to, but the onset of anxiety and other negative emotions is never sudden — it just seems this way. Smith was the first professional psychologist to take to TikTok to share what she has learned in her work. In three short years, she’s amassed over four million followers, and in 2022, she published a collection of her best advice.
Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? became an instant bestseller, covering topics like depression, motivation, grief, fear, stress, and meaningful living. The book gently shows us how to regain, improve, and maintain our mental health in baby steps.
Here are 3 practical lessons from this enlightening read:
- Emotions result from unmet needs, and it is those needs we must identify.
- You can break out of low-mood cycles with “good enough” decisions.
- If you feel an acute rush of anxiety, try “square breathing.”
Your mental health matters. Let’s learn how to take good care of it!
Lesson 1: Ask yourself questions to discover the unmet needs triggering your emotions, then address those needs directly.
Emotions don’t just magically appear out of thin air. Like a river, emotions must have a source. According to Dr. Smith, they always result from unmet needs. Therefore, if we want to handle our emotions well, we must identify and address those needs. As a result, the emotions will pass.
For example, if you over-ate at dinner, woke up at night with dry-mouth syndrome, and only got six hours of sleep, it’s no surprise you are grumpy in the morning. But even if it’s not a biologically obvious lack, our feelings always have an origin. In the case of my sudden to-do list anxiety, for example, it might come from me not feeling as if I’ve done enough for the day.
“Feelings aren’t just in your head,” Dr. Smith says. They can come from inside your body, the state of your household, your current circumstances, things that happened in the past, and of course the people you interact with. To draw out your unmet needs, Smith recommends asking yourself several questions, maybe even journaling about them on the regular:
- What are your exact thoughts when a bad mood pops up?
- When do these thoughts usually occur?
- In what setting?
- Do you feel any other physical sensations to go along with your bad mood?
- What have you done in the last few days leading up to feeling bad?
Ask questions, find answers. Discover the unmet needs behind your feelings, and address those needs directly. Even if you decide not to do anything about them in some cases, going to the source of your emotions will help you manage them more gracefully.
Lesson 2: Make “good enough” decisions to break out of a bad mood–spiral.
The problem with bad moods is that they love to stick around. We feel tired after work, so we eat half a bag of chips — only to then kick ourselves for making the wrong decision, which makes us even more likely to reach for yet another emotional band-aid.
The trick to getting out of such a spiral, Dr. Smith says, is to stop expecting perfection of yourself and make a “good enough” decision. “Good enough” decisions allow us to move forward in the right direction without setting unrealistic expectations. Thus, they help us build confidence without overwhelming us.
Returning to my to-do list anxiety, instead of vowing I will complete every item on one of my lists, I can just say, “this project is important right now, so let me check off one item here and go from there.” As for your chips-eating bender, you could try making yourself a cup of tea to calm down. Better yet, according to Smith, make drinking tea after you get home from work a habit!
The point of “good enough” decisions is not to solve our problems in one go. It is to show us change is possible, to make us feel good about moving in the right direction, and to lay the foundation for better habits that will, one day, work for us on autopilot.
Lesson 3: Use “square breathing” to get past sudden bouts of anxiety, then move on step-by-step.
Unlike a groggy morning that can be countered with some coffee, anxiety is often a longer-term problem. We’ll have to deal with it step by step. Dr. Smith gives an example of someone who became uncomfortable with large crowds during the pandemic but then started avoiding public transport, the supermarket, and, eventually, leaving the house altogether. How can that person get back to normal? In small increments, Smith suggests. Try the supermarket first. Then take a train. And so on.
But what if you end up frozen solid in front of the pinto beans shelf on your first day “back to reality?” Smith offers a useful technique for that too: square breathing. Here’s how it works:
- Find something square. Anything with four corners. It could be a window, a cereal box, or your wallet.
- Stare at the bottom left corner, and breathe in.
- Count to four and slowly move your eyes to the top left corner.
- Hold your breath for four seconds as you wander towards the top right corner.
- Breathe out while counting to four as you move to the bottom right corner.
- Breathe in as you return to the bottom left corner, and repeat.
“Courage precedes confidence,” Dr. Smith says. So build it in small steps, and if you ever catch yourself panicking, give “square breathing” a try. The corners of the object will distract you, and a few cycles of deep breathing will come with an instant feeling of calm. The only thing you’ll be left wondering about is: Why has nobody told me this before?
Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before Review
Dr. Smith has walked the walk. She’s been a clinical psychologist for over a decade and has treated hundreds of patients in her practice. Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is a warm, concise, brilliant collection of the most effective, immediately practical tips she routinely gives to her clients. If you wish to understand yourself better and improve your mental health, give this book a chance — and if you’re struggling with something deeper and more serious, please don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Who would I recommend our Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before summary to?
The 23-year-old, overworked student who puts too much pressure on herself, the 38-year-old new mom who is struggling with postpartum issues, and anyone who feels constantly stressed at work.