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Book Summary: Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? – Everyday Tools for Life’s Ups & Downs

Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? (2022) is an empathetic and practical guide to improving and maintaining mental well-being. It offers bite-sized, actionable advice and coping strategies for anxiety, depression, unexpected setbacks, a lack of self-confidence, and more.

Book Summary: Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? - Everyday Tools for Life’s Ups & Downs

Content Summary

Genres
Introduction: A therapist’s toolkit for life’s most trying challenges.
Lay the groundwork for robust mental well-being by becoming aware of how your feelings are generated.
Turn bad moods into better moods by focusing on “good enough” decisions.
Learning how to manage anxiety will open up your life.
Ask for help when you need it, and learn to give it in return.
Summary
About the author
Table of Contents
Overview
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Video and Podcast

Genres

Psychology, Personal Development, Self Help, Mental Health, Science, Philosophy, Education, Happiness, Self-Esteem, Wellbeing

Introduction: A therapist’s toolkit for life’s most trying challenges.

Nobody’s happy all the time. Fluctuating moods are a universal part of the human experience.

But sometimes, when a low mood is lasting or recurs very often, we tend to think it’s because of hardwiring in our brains, and that we don’t have any influence over our painful emotions.

Dr. Julie Smith, clinical psychologist and social media star, is here to show us that we do have influence over our emotions. Her book Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? details strategies for managing our mental health in our daily lives. She shows us that we have more control over our mental health than most of us are taught to believe.

In this summary, we’ll outline some of the most important and accessible strategies you can implement today that will help you build resilience and grow better at managing your moods over time. As you discover that your mental well-being is more within reach than it can seem, you just may find yourself asking, Why has nobody told me this before?

In this summary, you’ll learn

  • how to keep anxiety from turning into panic;
  • the key to building confidence; and
  • why you should never feel like a burden when you’re down.

Lay the groundwork for robust mental well-being by becoming aware of how your feelings are generated.

When Dr. Julie worked with patients caught in an ongoing low mood, she noticed some common thought patterns. To her patients, it often felt like their low moods came out of nowhere, or that their brains were simply faulty. It seemed like other people were born with the ability to be happy, but for them, it was out of reach. These beliefs prevented them from taking their mental health into their own hands. But let’s take a closer look at how a bad mood might arise.

Say you’ve been working late, worried about a fast-approaching deadline. You finally make it to bed, but you’re too tired to remember your usual glass of water before sleep. You spend the night tossing and turning, worried about your deadline. You drift into a light, restless sleep – only to be jolted awake by your horribly loud alarm.

You wake up irritated, exhausted, and with stress hormones shooting through your body. In short, you’re in a bad mood.

It’s easy to see why, isn’t it? Your bad mood didn’t come out of nowhere – you’re stressed, sleep-deprived, and dehydrated!

Of course, not all low moods arise due to a night of dehydrated tossing and turning. But what’s important to understand about emotions is that they’re constructed by a variety of factors, many of which we can influence. If you’re in a bad mood, it’s actually more likely that you’re experiencing an unmet need and not a malfunction in your brain!

So the first step to relieving an ongoing low mood is to reflect upon what those unmet needs might be. Dr. Julie helps her patients build this awareness over time by asking questions that help uncover what’s going on in their bodies and in their minds. Once she and her patient have started to break down the thoughts, behaviors, and environmental stressors that contribute to a low mood, the patient can start to address those unmet needs.

Some of these questions are: What exactly are you thinking when your low mood surfaces? When do these thoughts start to surface? What other physical sensations did you experience? What did you do in the week leading up to the low mood?

These are questions that you can ask yourself, too! Emotional hindsight is a skill that can be built outside of the therapy context. Dr. Julie recommends keeping a journal that focuses on both positive and negative experiences, and detailing the thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and circumstances leading up to those experiences. Gradually, this will help you notice patterns over time and the concrete factors that contributed to a certain mood.

Let’s say this practice of turning a bit more awareness onto your feelings helps you recognize an easily fixable source of low mood. You might notice that you regularly think, “I’m such a loser!” right after scrolling through social media. This recognition gives you an actionable clue of how to get away from that feeling, simply by deleting certain apps or unfollowing people who generate bad feelings of comparison.

Now, building this awareness of how feelings are generated won’t bring clarity or solutions to all painful emotions. Some problems are more complex and may require professional help, and that’s OK. But if that’s the case, increased awareness of your feelings and their origins will still help you and your therapist in the joint work of improving your low mood.

Remember that feelings aren’t just in your head; they’re in your body, your living conditions, your past and your present, and the influences you surround yourself with. The more practiced you are at breaking down the factors interacting to create your emotions, the more easily you can see the changes that are within your power to make.

Turn bad moods into better moods by focusing on “good enough” decisions.

One reason we can get stuck in an ongoing low mood is that painful moods can keep us from making good decisions. We’re feeling down, so we crave instant relief – which leads us to decisions that aren’t always helpful in the long run. It’s the urge to choose junk food over a more nourishing meal or to call in sick because you’re stressed, only to push the workload onto your future self. If we heed that urge to take the easier decision, we then often berate ourselves for making the wrong choice. That keeps us stuck in a cycle of low mood.

Why do we do this, when in most cases we know what the right decision is? Well, part of the reason is that the right decisions are oftentimes easier said than done. It’s simply harder to get up and go to work than it is to hide under the covers, especially when we’re in a low mood.

The other problem is a tendency toward perfectionism, and it isn’t at all helpful for healing. Perfectionism causes us to fixate on the perfect decision, and then beat ourselves up for not having done it already. In tackling a longstanding low mood, perfectionism stands in the way of real change.

A way to work against both of these problems is to focus on making “good enough” decisions. The key here is to aim for small, continual progress – and not for grand gestures or huge overhauls of your life.

For example, it’s well-known that physical exercise can make a huge difference in your mental health – but it can be so hard to commit to a vigorous exercise routine when you’re not in the habit of doing it. Dr. Julie’s advice? Don’t worry about going from no exercise to an hour of cardio per day! The hour of cardio per day might look like the “right” decision, but the “good enough” decision is to incorporate some light exercise into your day that you actually enjoy. Don’t go to the gym for a joyless slog on the treadmill if it fills you with dread; instead, start with activities you can see yourself repeating, like brisk walks around the neighborhood with your favorite podcast.

If you’re stuck in a low mood and the long list of things you should do is overwhelming, pick just one small action that you know is good for you, and promise yourself to do it every day– like that brisk walk around the neighborhood. You might not see a stark uptick in your mood immediately, but you’re doing something more important. You’re actually laying the foundation for new pathways in your brain that make exercise second nature. You’re reminding yourself that you can still develop good habits. And once you sustain good habits, they in turn will sustain your mental health.

So what if you successfully build up a good, healthy habit, but then your commitment slackens over time and you fall out of it? Try not to criticize yourself. It happens. Be compassionate and encouraging toward yourself, as you would to a friend going through a rough time. You can try again tomorrow! It’ll be easier the next time around because you’ve done it before.

Learning how to manage anxiety will open up your life.

Choosing healthy behavior step by step is also the most effective way to deal with anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety, you know it’s no fun – at best, it’s uncomfortable, and at worst, it can completely take over your life. Because anxiety is something we all experience, it’s no surprise that one of Dr. Julie’s most commonly asked questions is how to make it go away.

Managing anxiety is about facing fears. The most tempting way to deal with fear is to run away from it by avoiding the situations that make it flare up. But here’s the thing about fear: The more we avoid it, the more we feed it in the long run. And what’s worse is that if we let fear dictate our choices, our lives become smaller and smaller.

Let’s say that, during the pandemic, you started to become anxious in crowded places. So you started to avoid busy areas. Then you found yourself feeling uncomfortable in public transport and in supermarkets too, so you decided to avoid those as well. After some time, you became unwilling to spend time around people you didn’t know well. Eventually, your anxiety has created a situation where you’re barely able to leave the house. So how do you get your life back?

The key is to go easy on yourself, and not to reintroduce every anxiety-inducing situation at once. That will likely overwhelm your brain and cause you to give up. Pick one that feels the most manageable and start there. Step back into a supermarket, sit with the fear, step out, and give yourself time to recover. Do it again the next day and watch your confidence grow gradually over time.

Once you can go to the supermarket without the strong urge to flee, reintroduce the next element in your life, like public transportation. As long as you don’t flood yourself with anxiety, you’ll be able to take your life back, layer by layer.

This same approach of incrementally facing fears works for building your confidence, even if you aren’t especially anxious but want to become more daring. Your confidence will grow over time if you find the courage to face the things that make you feel squeamish, as long as you do it gradually and with repetition, with ample recovery time, and you don’t put yourself in situations that will cause you to panic.

Remember that courage precedes confidence. You have to face your fears in order to overcome them. Fear is part of any new situation you find yourself in, any creative risk you take, and all learning experiences. So if you want to live a life with creativity, risk, and growth, facing fear is essential.

OK, that’s all well and good in theory – but what if you try and stretch your confidence, but find yourself in a situation where your anxiety is spiking and it feels like it’ll overwhelm you? What if you thought you were ready for the supermarket, but find yourself hyperventilating in the produce aisle?

First, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Many of Dr. Julie’s patients are experiencing these kinds of flare-ups when they first step into her office, so one of the first skills she often teaches new patients is a technique called square breathing. It’s an easy-to-learn practice from Dr. Julie’s toolkit that can help you in any situation where anxiety might turn into panic. The best part? You can do it anywhere, and nobody will even know you’re doing it! Here’s how it works:

First, find something square – a window, a picture frame, anything with four corners.

Next, gaze upon the bottom left corner of the square, and count to four as you breathe in, moving your eyes up to the top left corner.

Hold your breath for four seconds, moving your eyes to the top right corner.

Exhale for four seconds as you move your eyes to the bottom right corner.

Hold your breath again for four seconds as you move your eyes back to the bottom left corner.

That’s it. Breathing deeply will calm your anxiety, and following the square will ensure you do it long enough for the benefits to kick in. Give it a try the next time you feel panic starting to build.

Ask for help when you need it, and learn to give it in return.

It can be hard to ask for help. Cultural taboos, expensive therapists, and a lack of availability are all barriers to seeking professional mental help services. But it can sometimes be especially hard to ask for help from the people that we know.

That’s because, sadly, depression often makes us push people away when we need them most. It’s very common to believe that showing people around you that you’re struggling is burdensome. You then withdraw from people, believing that your depressed self will only bring other people down.

But here’s something powerful to remember the next time you feel that way: the positive effects of social support go both ways. Studies indicate that when someone provides somebody else with even low-level social support, it changes their brain chemistry in such a way that they themselves experience positive emotions, like courage and hope. It can even help them with the harmful effects of trauma and chronic stress. Yes, that’s right – you’re doing yourself and your loved ones a good thing when you let them help you when you need it.

Knowing this, don’t be afraid to call your loved ones when you’re down. Human connection is one of the most powerful tools we have for maintaining our mental relationship, and social isolation only makes depression worse.

It might be hard at first. You might not feel like you have much to say or anything at all. That’s OK. Share whatever thoughts you can manage, or just be with people, watching them or taking a quiet walk together. The research tells us that simply being with others who care is still helpful, even when we don’t feel like being around others.

At some point in your life, you’ll probably find yourself in the opposite situation – caring for someone else who’s having a hard time. Supporting someone you love who’s struggling can be stressful, and it can also make you feel inadequate. But remember, caring for others in times of stress is one way to heal ourselves, too. So here are a few pointers from Dr. Julie that can help you feel more confident in the supporting role.

First, don’t forget about the power of simply being with someone who’s depressed. Checking in and showing you care can go a long way. If you don’t know what to say or how to help them, ask how you can be supportive. Often a person you’re supporting knows what they need. What they don’t always know is that there’s someone in their life who’s willing to help them. And if your loved one has a particular diagnosis, be sure to read up on it to get more concrete advice on the specific challenges they’re facing.

Next, help them with practical matters. Someone in emotional pain might feel completely overwhelmed by something as simple as washing the dishes or cooking dinner. Quietly helping your friend with small tasks like this can provide them with significant relief.

Listen to your loved one with compassion and openness, and try not to give advice unless they ask for it. It’s likely they’ll feel more respected and heard if you instead reflect what they’ve said back to them. And don’t be afraid to change the subject sometimes! Caring for someone doesn’t mean you have to focus on their struggles the whole time. Distraction and new inputs can also be helpful to them.

Human connection is one of the most powerful defenses we have against low moods. Studies show that quality relationships protect our physical and emotional well-being throughout our lives. When it comes to making us happy, relationships are far more important than money, fame, social class, genes, and all the markers of status we’re taught to strive for.

And if you don’t have anyone in your personal life that you can call at the moment? Don’t worry; it’s never too late to make meaningful connections! Therapists can help you learn or regain that ability. If you work on yourself, your relationships improve, and if you work on your relationships, your mental health improves.

Summary

In this summary, we explored how we can improve our overall mental well-being by looking for the unmet needs that cause emotional pain, by focusing on “good enough” decisions that gradually get us to where we’d like to be, by facing our fears to build our confidence and keep anxiety at bay, and by nurturing our relationships and caring for each other when we’re feeling down.

Please note that although this summar provided strategies for how we can help ourselves improve our mental health, sometimes professional help is still necessary. If you are worried about your mental health, seek the professional support of a therapist. If professional services aren’t available to you, find resources to learn all that you can about recovery and be sure to rely on the support of trusted loved ones.

About the author

Dr. Julie Smith has over ten years’ experience as a clinical psychologist and was the first professional to use TikTok to give insights on therapy. After running her own private practice, Julie launched her TikTok channel with the mission of making top-quality mental health education accessible to all. During the COVID-19 pandemic, her audience grew astronomically to 3 million followers as users related to the bite-size self-help videos she was sharing and put her advice into practice. Those videos have clocked up around half a billion views across platforms. Julie has appeared in two BBC films. She has also appeared on CBBC, Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, and CNN International and is the BBC Radio 1 Life Hacks psychologist. She has been featured by Women’s Health, Buzzfeed, The Telegraph, The Times, The Sunday Mail, Glamour, CNN and more. She was also named by TikTok in the top 100 creators. She lives in Hampshire, England, with her husband and three children.

Julie Smith | Website
Julie Smith | Facebook @DrJulieSmith
Julie Smith | Instagram @drjulie
Julie Smith | TikTok @drjuliesmith
Julie Smith | Linktree
Julie Smith | LinkedIn
Julie Smith | Email

Julie Smith

Table of Contents

Introduction

1: On Dark Places
1: Understanding low mood
2: Mood pitfalls to watch out for
3: Things that help
4: How to turn bad days into better days
5: How to get the basics right

2: On Motivation
6: Understanding motivation
7: How to nurture that motivation feeling
8: How do you make yourself do something when you don’t feel like it?
9: Big life changes. Where do I start?

3: On Emotional Pain
10: Make it all go away!
11: What to do with emotions
12: How to harness the power of your words
13: How to support someone

4: On Grief
14: Understanding grief
15: The stages of grief
16: The tasks of mourning
17: The pillars of strength

5: On Self-doubt
18: Dealing with criticism and disapproval
19: The key to building confidence
20: You are not your mistakes
21: Being enough

6: On Fear
22: Make anxiety disappear!
23: Things we do that make anxiety worse
24: How to calm anxiety right now
25: What to do with anxious thoughts
26: Fear of the inevitable

7: On Stress
27: Is stress different from anxiety?
28: Why reducing stress is not the only answer
29: When good stress goes bad
30: Making stress work for you
31: Coping when it counts

8: On a Meaningful Life
32: The problem with ‘I just want to be happy’
33: Working out what matters
34: How to create a life with meaning
35: Relationships
36: When to seek help

References
Resources
Acknowledgements
Index
Spare tools
Copyright
About the Publisher

Overview

Drawing on years of experience as a clinical psychologist, online sensation Dr Julie Smith provides the skills you need to navigate common life challenges and take charge of your emotional and mental health in her debut book.

Filled with secrets from a therapist’s toolkit, Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before teaches you how to fortify and maintain your mental health, even in the most trying of times. Dr Julie Smith’s expert advice and powerful coping techniques will help you stay resilient, whether you want to manage anxiety, deal with criticism, cope with depression, build self-confidence, find motivation, or learn to forgive yourself. Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before tackles everyday issues and offers practical solutions in bite-sized, easy-to-digest entries which make it easy to quickly find specific information and guidance.

Your mental well-being is just as important as your physical well-being. Packed with proven strategies, Dr. Julie’s empathetic guide offers a deeper understanding of how your mind works and gives you the insights and help you need to nurture your mental health every day. Wise and practical, Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before might just change your life.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

“Smart, insightful, and warm. Dr. Julie is both the expert and wise friend we all need.” – Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone and co-host of the “Dear Therapists” podcast

“Now more than ever, people are struggling with their mental health and Dr. Julie Smith delivers in a big way in “Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before.” Her practical tips and tools are for anyone struggling with anxiety, self-doubt, or depression. Readers will step away from this book feeling more resilient and able to take control of their own lives. If you want to feel like you have a therapist sitting across from you, empowering you with how to be your best self, this book is for you!” – Nicole LePera, New York Times bestselling author of How to Do the Work

“Drawing on years of experience as a clinical psychologist in her debut book, Dr. Julie Smith provides readers with the skills they need to fortify and maintain their mental health.” – Fortune

“Warm and welcoming. Smith focuses on weighty topics that we all contend with, such as stress, grief, fear and self-doubt, and provides suggestions for how to work through these feelings . . . Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is seasoned with compassionate insights.” – BookPage

Video and Podcast

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