Local therapist releases first book to help readers implement change in their lives

By Alexandra Golden

Licensed independent social worker and cognitive behavior therapist Joanna Hardis never thought she would write a book. 

That changed when she experienced being ghosted on her 51st birthday during a trip to Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson, Ariz., by someone she had been dating for a few months, she tells Jstyle. Hardis’ book, “Just Do Nothing: A Paradoxical Guide to Getting Out of Your Way” came from interactions between her personal and professional life. It was released Aug. 24.

“I am an anxiety disorder specialist with a special concentration in obsessive-compulsive disorder, and I had been really interested in this concept of distress tolerance and helping people shift their relationship with stress and discomfort,” Hardis says in her Cleveland Heights office “… Then, I had that personal experience of three months after dating someone, getting ghosted which was … just horrible. So then, I was met with so much distress and discomfort of my own that it was just this perfect marriage of personal and professional, and it came to me that this is what I could write about.”

In Chapter 1 of the book, Hardis writes that when she got ghosted, she had been divorced for over 10 years and had been dating for several years when the incident happened. Things “seemed different” with this connection and she had hope, she describes.

Three days before her birthday trip, she began to think she was being ghosted and up until her departure, she was left with the same familiar pain as when her marriage fell apart. Her date did not meet her in Arizona.

“… Tightness in my chest, my stomach clenching, the lump in my throat and trouble getting a deep enough breath,” she writes of how the experience affected her physically. 

She realized that to get through this, she did not need to research ghosting or call her therapist. But, she needed to go through the process of allowing – allowing things to happen and feeling the emotions associated with them, and not pushing them away, she writes.

As such, her book focuses on distress tolerance, or the perception that you can handle negative internal states, and then behavior follows, says the Cleveland Heights resident. The act of “doing nothing” means instead of distracting yourself from negative feelings, you let them be and learn to sit with the discomfort better. 

“If you are someone that is just naturally luckily blessed and you are distressed tolerant in the face of something uncomfortable, you’ll say ‘Yeah, I can handle this – this could suck, but I can handle it so I’m not going to avoid it. I don’t need to overthink it. I don’t need to worry about it. I’ll just take it as it comes,’” says Hardis, who became bat mitzvah at The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood.

But, most people tend to be distress intolerant around certain areas and often have a story they tell themselves that they can’t handle something, or they can’t handle feeling a certain way, she says.

“Then, it’s like contingency – if I’m going to do this, then I need to do that,” she says. “So, they will do something in order to get rid of the feeling.”

As a therapist, consumer of social media and a person with “a ton of pet peeves,” Hardis says “influencer culture” often provides toxic positivity messaging, ineffective life coaching and people on social media trying to hit others’ pain points to sell them stuff that is “not backed by science.” She says bad advice can give people a perception they cannot change. 

“I wanted the book to be helping people, especially in the first part – the science of why change is hard, what’s involved and what our process is going to be and how come I’m suggesting what I’m suggesting,” she says.

The book is set up in two parts. The the first nine chapters cover understanding the process, the paradoxical nature of change, and how to interact and respond differently, using exercises. The second part is for when you start implementing some change in your life, she says. 

“The first part of the book is helping people to understand, giving people a realistic sense about why it’s so hard to change,” she says. 

At the end of chapters in the first part, there are “mental fitness skills” with exercises that go along with each specific chapter.

“We know to help people get from A to B, we do have to change behavior, but we also have to change how we interact with the stuff in our head,” she says. “… The only way to do that requires lots and lots of behavior change, and a lot of practice.”

An example of one the exercises is to recall a situation that made you upset. Then, for five minutes write down all the facts of the situation, and all the assumptions made, helping to learn the difference between facts and interpretation. Another is to set a timer for five minutes and just be, choosing a position and committing to it. Don’t engage with any discomfort or stress and choose where to put your attention, she writes.  

At the end of every chapter, there is a section to write down your “wins.” 

“People want to be able to see progress,” she says. “… It’s to get people to start training themselves to notice when they’re responding differently.” 

Hardis says she hopes the book normalizes what those reading it might be going through, and then provides a name for it and gives context.

“Change isn’t easy,” Hardis says. “Change isn’t quick.” 

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