40: Hypothangry | Dr. Vickie Bhatia

Hypothangry: Imagining a hypothetical confrontation, then playing out the fight you’d hypothetically have with that person inside your own brain. Fantasy fights are often conducted with loved ones or friends, but can occur with total strangers. (See: “hypothetically angry,” the cousin-once-removed of “rehearsing disaster.”) Today, licensed clinical psychologist and Whole30 Certified Coach Dr. Vickie Bhatia comes back to the podcast to unpack why we create hypothetical situations in our head and then get mad about them in real life. We’ll discuss how relationships, trauma, uncertainty, and judgment factor in; where anger really comes from and whether anger is helpful or harmful; the two most common triggers for hypothangry scenarios; and a plan for identifying, interrupting, and moving on gracefully from this behavior.


Hypothangry: Imagining a hypothetical confrontation, then playing out the fight you’d hypothetically have with that person inside your own brain. Fantasy fights are often conducted with loved ones or friends, but can occur with total strangers. (See: “hypothetically angry,” the cousin-once-removed of “rehearsing disaster.”) Today, licensed clinical psychologist and Whole30 Certified Coach Dr. Vickie Bhatia comes back to the podcast to unpack why we create hypothetical situations in our head and then get mad about them in real life. We’ll discuss how relationships, trauma, uncertainty, and judgment factor in; where anger really comes from and whether anger is helpful or harmful; the two most common triggers for hypothangry scenarios; and a plan for identifying, interrupting, and moving on gracefully from this behavior.

Vickie Bhatia


Dr. Vickie Bhatia


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Show Notes

Rehearsing Disaster (a Just Melissa podcast)

Lessons from a Recovering Perfectionist (the first DTT podcast with Dr. Bhatia)


Loving What Is, Byron Katie

Melissa Urban (00:03):

Hi, I’m Melissa Urban. And you’re listening to Do The Thing, a podcast where we explore what’s been missing every time you’ve tried to make a change and make it stick.

Melissa Urban (00:20):

Today I’m bringing back one of my favorite guests, licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Vickie Bhatia, to talk about something I’ve been doing inside my own head for years, making up fights with people and playing them out in great detail. I’ll play out a fight with my child’s father, with my mom, with Brandon, or a total stranger at the grocery store. I will make up a scenario that literally hasn’t happened, and then I will behave inside my brain and in my body as if it has, and just start arguing with them inside my head for minutes at a time. And I will do this until something inside me snaps, and I remember this isn’t real and it hasn’t happened, and there is no real threat and I could just stop.

Melissa Urban (01:12):

Brandon is the one who first observed and named this phenomenon. He calls it getting hypothangry, hypothetically angry. He first noticed it, oh, a couple of years ago, one day in the gym, when I was going on and on about how my child’s father might react when I shared some news with him. He let me talk for two or three minutes, because he’s a good boyfriend and a good listener. And then he interrupted me and said, “So none of this has happened though, right? And you don’t know that this is going to happen. So maybe you could just wait and see what happens before getting all worked up.” Yeah okay, he had a point there. And it was in that moment that I became aware of just how often I do this, and I didn’t know why.

Melissa Urban (02:02):

It’s not like these fights were all fights I’d had before, and I was replaying them. Most of these were actually brand new scenarios that had never happened. And it’s not like in my head, I played these fights out until they resolved amicably and peacefully. No, the longer I had imaginary fights with people, the worst the fight got. And I could feel it in my body. I would get tense. I would get angry. It felt like my breathing became more shallow. My blood pressure went up. Even worse, if I was having this hypothangry moment with Brandon or my sister or my mom, someone actually in my life, I would begin behaving towards them as if this fight was real. And they would have no idea why I would be mad. Of course they don’t, it was all in my head.

Melissa Urban (02:54):

This behavior was a total mystery to me, but I knew there had to be something to it. So I hit up Dr. Vickie Bhatia in the DMs. I said to her, “Hey doc, if I wanted to have a discussion about why people created hypothetical situations in their head and then get mad about them and then start to behave towards those people as if those totally not real situations are happening, might you have some insights into that?” I didn’t even bother to add asking for a friend, because she knew I was not asking for a friend. It turns out Dr. Bhatia does have a whole episode worth of insights into that.

Melissa Urban (03:34):

Today, we’ll talk about getting hypothangry, and we’ll cover relationships, trauma, coping mechanisms, and cognitive distortions. We’ll talk about anger, what it is, why it manifests, how it can help and how it can harm, or at the very least cover up what’s really happening. She’ll explain how judgment and social norms play in, why uncertainty and anxiety are currently at the helm of so many of our behaviors in the middle of this pandemic, and the two most common triggers for this cousin of catastrophizing. And finally, because above all, this is a podcast devoted to the practical application of making change stick, Dr. Bhatia will lay out a plan for identifying, interrupting, and moving on gracefully from this behavior that most certainly is not serving you.

Melissa Urban (04:27):

I joked at one point that this felt like my own personal therapy session, but it wasn’t really a joke. I share pretty openly and vulnerably some of my own not so proud moments and judgments in the name of shining a light on the ugly stuff that we don’t always want to name or see, so that we can accept process and move on in growth. I encourage you to do the same, or at the very least listen with curiosity and not judgment for others and for yourself. Now onto the episode.

Melissa Urban (05:06):

Dr. Vickie Bhatia, welcome back to Do The Thing.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (05:09):

Thank you for having me back.

Melissa Urban (05:10):

I am so excited to talk to you. We’ve been talking about this subject via Instagram DM for probably two months now, and I knew you were the perfect one. But before I get into my own private therapy session, which is maybe what this is going to turn into, the first question I ask all of my guests is what’s your thing?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (05:28):

So my thing broadly is helping people become more aware of their emotions and the various ways that we react and cope with them.

Melissa Urban (05:36):

See, and that is so perfect for what we’re going to talk about today. So I’m going to indulge you with a little story first, to set up why we’re here. I was in the drive-thru line the other day at my coffee place and I wear my mask through the drive-thru. I’m outside, but I can’t be six feet away, and they’re seeing hundreds of customers a day and it makes me feel more comfortable to have my mask on. And I think it might make them feel more comfortable. So I roll through the drive through with my mask on and on my way out, in my car with my mask on, I pass a guy in his car without a mask. He’s in his car, no big deal. But he has an American flag hanging out of the back of his Jeep and we catch eye contact as I drive away. And then I spend the next five minutes in a hypothetical fight with this man.

Melissa Urban (06:19):

I imagine what he’s going to say to me about my mask. I imagine he’s going to call me a sheep and he’s going to bark at me. I imagine the retort that I’m going to say back at him, I am really getting into this hypothetical fight that I’m having with him about masks and it probably spills over into Black Lives Matter. And then before I know it, five minutes has gone by and I’m home getting ready to work. And none of this has happened and Brandon has a name for that. He calls it getting hypothangry, hypothetically angry. And this is what I want to talk to you about. First of all, is this normal? Is this a thing that people do or is it just me?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (06:56):

It is definitely a thing that people do. It comes up in lots of different contexts. And I see it a lot with the couples that I work with.

Melissa Urban (07:04):

What we are talking about is getting angry over situations that have not happened. Sometimes it’s with people in our lives. Sometimes it’s with total strangers. Do you have a real name for it, or can we keep calling it hypothangry.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (07:18):

You can call it that, we would call it, in couples therapy, we would call it anticipatory anger.

Melissa Urban (07:24):

Is that what it is? Is it another form of anxiety or is it some kind of cognitive distortion?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (07:32):

So I think we actually have to take a step back and just think about what anger is more broadly. And so anger is an emotion, and just like all emotions we experience anger for really valid reasons. And I think of emotions just as communication mechanisms or tools for us. And so, just like sadness alerts me to loss, or anxiety alerts me to danger, anger alerts me to injustice. And so when we are anticipating an offense or a slight or some kind of injustice, some harm or pain, it makes a lot of sense that we would then start to prepare for that possibility or that that event. And anger comes up in that sense.

Melissa Urban (08:23):

You say you see it a lot in your couples therapy. Without of course giving away personal information, what are some of the kinds of things that you see?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (08:32):

So in couples, I often see that there is a relational sensitivity that gets activated, and that can be a whole variety of different things. Maybe that’s not feeling good enough, maybe that is not feeling important to our partner. But sometimes it’s easier to mask the emotion that comes along with those thoughts, those emotions can be sadness or disappointment, guilt, shame, and those are really uncomfortable to feel. Sometimes it’s actually easier to fight about it than it is to be vulnerable about it. It’s really hard to go to your partner and say some of these things. To say, “I feel lonely,” or, “I don’t think that I’m good enough for you.” And it’s a lot easier to attack or create a scenario in our head where we have to defend ourselves because that eliminates some of the vulnerability.

Melissa Urban (09:27):

Okay, so that’s really interesting. I had a therapist and I talk for a long time about this idea of rehearsing for disaster or these hypothetical fights, because it made me feel more prepared when the actual or if the actual event were to happen, except that when it did happen, I didn’t feel any more prepared. Is that a fair, almost fallacy that we have in our heads? That these fights are going to really help us prep for when someone does call us a sheep in a grocery store, and then when it happens, none of that hypothetical anger makes a difference.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (10:03):

Yes, yes. I think that rehearsing disaster and this anticipatory anger are really similar in lots of ways. I think one of the differences is that oftentimes with rehearsing disaster, we’re worried about a certain outcome. And so we’re anticipating needing to prepare to manage our own anxiety in the moment. Whereas with the anger piece, oftentimes it’s a discomfort with vulnerability. And so if we think about anger, anger, at least in the moment, it is devoid of vulnerability. It is empowering and it can make us feel strong or capable of doing things. And so it reduces that discomfort momentarily, but it can actually end up creating different conflicts or other situations that are problematic.

Melissa Urban (10:56):

So there’s so much I want to get into. So the idea of vulnerability,

PART 1 OF 4 ENDS [00:11:04]

Melissa Urban (11:03):

… and I can absolutely see in a relationship. I do a lot of this sometimes with my son’s dad, I’ll anticipate a conversation we’re going to have and that I think it might be hard and I’ll imagine the discussion or the discourse we have in our head, but I’m also doing this with total strangers. How do strangers fit into this hypothetically angry situation?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (11:20):

Our brain is always trying to figure out or predict what’s going to happen next, so we pull on data that we have from past experiences but also experiences that we have by proxy. Things that we see, things that we have read or heard. And so if we start to put people into certain categories or label them, for example, if we say that man with the flag belongs to a certain group of person we can start to anticipate how they may be different than us, how they may come up with the criticism or blame towards us and we’re going to start reacting towards that.

Melissa Urban (11:58):

Oh, my God. I’m covering my eyes right now, like the monkey in shame because you’re right, it was incredibly judgmental of me to make an assumption. And also I have had observations just on social media of this incident happening to other people. It’s never happened to me, it hasn’t happened to anyone I know but I’ve heard of it. It’s like I saw on Facebook that it happened to someone and now all of these predisposed notions and judgements and also all of my anxiety around the current situation, our social justice situation, our health situation, the pandemic, it all snowballs into this perfect storm of now I’m fighting with the guy in the Jeep in my head.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (12:38):

Absolutely. And I think it’s really, it’s also important to remember that we all make judgments. And so making a judgment is not inherently problematic, it’s what we do in response to that. If we can catch ourselves doing that, then we have the opportunity to make a more deliberate decision rather than automatically getting caught into a cycle that we don’t feel we have control over.

Melissa Urban (13:03):

Yeah. I did not have control over it because it was like I woke up five minutes later. Only when I said to myself, Melissa, what are you doing? This conversation didn’t happen, he didn’t get… None of this happened. What it makes me think about is this idea of anger, and you’ve talked about anger and how it’s this blanket emotion where there’s so much that can be underneath anger but anger burns so bright and so fast and so hot. And the other piece of it is that anger is very distracting. It allows me to focus on this all consuming fireball of feeling without actually addressing what’s happening underneath.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (13:42):

Yes. Anger does not exist in a vacuum. It is possible to have anger and many other emotions all at once. And so when we try to make sense of what’s going on, it’s a lot easier to focus on things that are external to us than it is to focus internally at times. And part of that is that a lot of us are not really taught how to acknowledge our emotions, how to make sense of them, how to react to them. And there’s a lot of messaging that we get in our families growing up in society about what emotions are acceptable and how we can express them. And so anger is one of the emotions where it can be easier to hold onto because it feels more empowering, it motivates us to towards action whereas some other emotions like sadness or shame shut us down and paralyze us, which is a lot harder to sometimes deal with.

Melissa Urban (14:40):

But does anger really motivate us to take productive action? And this is something I’ve been thinking a lot about with our outrage culture and I’ve done some research into why we’re also outraged right now. Anger and outrage can be a substitution. It can make you feel like you’re taking action without actually doing the hard work of doing something productive in the area. And it makes me wonder, does anger spark good action, productive action, action that actually benefits us?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (15:10):

It can, and that’s the positive side of anger because like we talked about, all emotions, we have them for a reason and they’re valid reasons to have anger, right? If you or someone that you care about is being threatened or is potentially going to be hurt, that anger is really powerful in potentially managing that situation to get to a positive outcome. But you’re right, I think that we also see that that anger can be quick and fleeting and it makes us sometimes feel like we are doing something without actually taking productive action towards something.

Melissa Urban (15:51):

It’s true. And I think sometimes, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the world right now and I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know what to do about the people with difference of opinion around the virus and what’s helpful and what isn’t helpful, with people who have a different opinion about whether you send the kids back to school or not. I don’t know what to do about that. There’s this huge us against them mentality that I see floating around so much right now, and because I don’t know what to do and I have all these big emotions that I don’t know what to do with, do I just get angry at people in my head instead?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (16:28):

Sometimes it might be easier, right? It’s really hard to feel that uncertainty and to feel maybe helpless and to not know what to do. We don’t like feeling powerless, and so anger is sometimes again that mask to the other emotions that at least momentarily feels more comfortable. Now, of course if we act on the anger and create more drama or conflict, then that actually can induce even more negative emotions after the fact, right? We might’ve been feeling anxious or powerless to begin with, and then we lashed out at somebody and now we feel on top of that we feel guilt or shame so we’ve actually compounded the negative emotions that we’re feeling.

Melissa Urban (17:17):

It is like you were at my house two weeks ago because that’s exactly what happened. I’ve been having a lot more of these hypothangry conversations in my head lately. I’m stressed, I’m anxious, there’s a lot going on, and at one opportunity in person I did lash out and I behaved in such an uncharacteristically rude way. I mean, it kept me up for three nights the way I spoke to this other person. I was entirely my fault, I sincerely apologized, didn’t try to make excuses for it. But all of this hypothetical anger in my head spilled over into the real world and I harmed someone and that makes me feel terrible, and then I feel I am stuck in that cycle.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (17:58):

Absolutely. And I think that it is a really difficult cycle to sometimes get out of especially when we are in it. And the interesting thing is that we also… When we experience anger we secrete adrenaline and norepinephrine, which also dampens our pain response. And so sometimes getting angry also momentarily makes that emotional pain a little bit less, and then once we do that it becomes reinforced and it can become our default way of handling emotional pain if we don’t have other strategies in place for how we deal with those things.

Melissa Urban (18:35):

That makes so much sense, it really does. I guess we only do something if we’re getting a benefit from it and you did just explain a lot of the subconscious benefits. But when I really stopped to think about them, they are not actually benefiting me. This behavior is not serving me in the long run for reasons I just outlined. And if it’s not serving me I would really love to find a way to interrupt this process. How can I be aware that this process is beginning?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (19:06):

One of the things that I work on with my couples is starting to identify what relational sensitivities we might have that may get activated, that we then use anger to mask or deal with. Starting to think about what are some of our sensitivities? Are there certain beliefs or certain messages that we have told ourselves or other people have told us that when those get activated, those are really painful and we may turn to anger as a response?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (19:41):

The other piece of this is that if we have experienced interpersonal trauma, all of this is heightened. It’s like we are on high alert for the data or the evidence that’s going to confirm those beliefs. And so we pay more attention to those cues, we sometimes take neutral information and interpret it with a negativity bias. This is where picking up on a tone or an attitude can sometimes come in play and that is made even more difficult when we don’t necessarily know the person or when there are more ambiguous cues. Like something online or on social media, we don’t have the context of how the person is saying it or those kinds of cues that may alert us to whether or not we’re interpreting it in an accurate way.

Melissa Urban (20:35):

That makes a lot of sense because I can think, every single time I’m thinking back to a specific example of me doing this in the last couple of weeks there’s been some kind of trigger. And sometimes it has been picking up on those cues, like you mentioned, and making a snap judgment. Other times it is grounded in this interpersonal trauma or drama if it’s not quite as severe as trauma where with my child’s dad, obviously we’re divorced, there’s a lot of baggage there. And with my mom, there’s a lot of baggage there. And so sometimes it can be situational but sometimes it can be… I can almost guarantee that it’s going to happen because I have this particular relationship with this person and we have this discord in between us.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (21:18):

Yeah, absolutely. And I think again it’s about recognizing… The first piece of all of this is having that awareness, because we can’t start to modify those things if we’re not aware of even what’s going on for us. And for many of us having that emotional awareness in and of itself is a huge step because so many of us don’t, like I said, aren’t taught that, we don’t learn ways of coping with that. And the other piece is that especially with anger, there are differences in who’s allowed to express anger or what the message is that we make around that expression of anger. Women, particularly Black women-

PART 2 OF 4 ENDS [00:22:04]

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (22:03):

… of anger. So women, particularly Black women, this idea around being like the angry Black woman, that stereotype. There are messages that we get about sort of what’s appropriate, and I think that it is important to think about the fact that expressing anger is a privilege. Specifically in certain situations where that may not be received the same way, depending on who is expressing that anger. So if we think about, I always have this image in my head of certain white male politicians in Senate kind of being up there and yelling and screaming and all of that. And it’s sort of viewed as acceptable because we, as a society, have sort of given a certain script to, at least white men, about kind of what’s acceptable in their expression of anger. And that is not necessarily kind of what is allowed for other people.

Melissa Urban (23:01):

When men do it, they’re strong, they’re powerful, they’re passionate. When women do it, we’re hormonal.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (23:07):


Melissa Urban (23:07):

I wonder, do you in your practice see women doing this hypothetically angry thing more than men? And if so, is it a result of, “It’s not as safe for me to express my anger in a healthy, productive way so I turn it internally.”?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (23:23):

Yes. When we think about anger, the interesting thing is that men and women do not experience anger in sort of different amounts. So they kind of experience anger, if we were to like survey and things like that, everyone sort of experiences anger. The difference is that we have given a script to men about how they can express anger through kind of more maybe aggressive tactics or even violence, whereas women, the way that we often express anger is through kind of relational anger. So it’s more of those like catty comments or gossip-

Melissa Urban (23:59):

Silent treatment.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (24:00):

Absolutely. So those sorts of things are kind of the script that we have been given. And when we sort of deviate from that, then a lot of times we are called certain names or things like that. And again, kind of just going back to the angry black woman stereotype for a second, I think it’s really important to remember that all of those stereotypes and all of that is a way of weaponizing their own emotions against them. And that stereotype is used to discredit black women. It is used to silence black women, to tell them that they’re overreacting. It is a way of not giving them sort of equal access to their emotions and their emotional experience as other people get.

Melissa Urban (24:46):

Yeah, it is in many cases. You’re absolutely right. So I’m starting to see now a little bit of a path too. Because I recognize that this behavior is not healthy, it does not feel good, it doesn’t get me to a place where I feel like I’m operating from my highest self, and it can spill over into real areas of my life in a very unproductive and unhealthy way. So I’m starting to see a little bit of a script now for coming out of this. In part it’s awareness, and we talked about that awareness piece. Looking at what your triggers might be, whether they’re situational or personal. The second piece maybe is what am I actually feeling right now? Which sounds simple and is not that simple in practice, especially in the moment.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (25:28):

Yeah. Sounds simple in theory and is very difficult. I think, especially nowadays, we are so inundated with information and distractions that it becomes really easy to just kind of lose touch with ourselves. And one of the things that I work on with clients is really getting into the practice of just checking in with ourselves. Being able to start to develop more awareness about kind of what’s going on in our body. Even if we’re not able to necessarily label that yet, just having the awareness of it and sort of being able to start to connect those dots is really important. So even if all you can do is kind of label what you’re feeling as positive, neutral or negative, that’s a starting point. So it may not be important at the start to be able to label the exact emotion, that is something I can kind of come down the road, but even just being able to sort of say, “I am feeling something. I’m not totally sure what. It’s kind of vague in my body, but there’s something there that I might need to explore a little bit.” Sometimes that’s actually where the richest insights actually come up, when we’re just like on the cusp of awareness.

Melissa Urban (26:38):

I love that. I never thought about that because I think I’ve done so much therapy and I try to be so self aware that in the moment I really try to unpack the whole thing, and that can be very overwhelming and very frustrating. So I like this positive, negative or neutral. The other thing I think I try to ask myself, or acknowledged to myself, is just the very simple, “I’ve been triggered.” Something came up and I can tell that I’ve been triggered because everything physically in my body goes on high alert. My breathing gets more shallow, my muscles tense up. I go from like zero to 60, in a heartbeat. And that’s my like, “Oh, something just came up and triggered the crap out of you.” And even acknowledging that can help me see what’s happening in my body.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (27:21):

Yes. One of the things … So I am a fan of journaling and the research on journaling is really cool and interesting. But I also hear from a lot of people, “I don’t have time to do that,” or, “I’m just not going to sit down and actually do it.” So sometimes, in those moments or when you are start to become aware of it, even just taking like a voice memo and almost like stream of consciousness, “What am I feeling? What am I thinking what’s going on right now?” And then save it and come back to it a couple days later. Don’t try to necessarily unpack it in the moment. And over time, if you do this and you start to see patterns, then that sort of provides the foundation for, “Where do I need to maybe explore or look at this a little bit more.”

Melissa Urban (28:04):

And if you can identify in the moment, something, even if it’s just. “I’m feeling so insecure, I’m feeling so anxious, I’m feeling really worried about going back to school or being in public right now in a grocery store.” Like, what do you do with that? I guess the answer is you just have to accept it and acknowledge it and sit in it. But is there something a little more, I don’t know, concrete you can give me?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (28:29):

It depends on kind of what ends up actually coming up. I think that oftentimes what I see is that anger is sort of masking these emotions like sadness and anxiety, and then being able to sort of unpack those and say, “What do I do with this?” We want to sort of make a distinction of not avoiding our emotions, so not necessarily disengaging and forgetting about them, but we also do need to be aware that sometimes we don’t have the time or the capacity to sort of unpack it all in that moment.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (28:59):

So if I am in a work meeting and my boss says something, I can’t necessarily react or stop and walk away and unpack it all in that moment. So that’s where some of those just in the moment coping strategies of like deep breathing or being able to kind of ground ourselves into the present awareness, can be really helpful in just getting through that so that later we can kind of come back to it in a more nuanced and thoughtful way.

Melissa Urban (29:28):

That I actually sometimes will use a technique where I’ll say find three blue things in the room. It’s so simple, and I don’t need to do anything with them. I just need to find them. This monitor is blue. My bracelet is blue. And it’s just something to bring me back to the present moment and give me just a little bit of buffer around what just came up for me.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (29:47):

Yes. Yeah. So we often talk about there’s a grounding technique called the five, four, three, two, one technique. And that’s kind of what you’re talking about, is maybe even more simplistic and even better because it’s really just focusing on kind of one part of that. But the idea is that you would say what are five things that I can see in my immediate environment? What are four things that I can feel? So that might be like the clothes against my skin or the chair against my back. What are three things that I hear? Two things that I smell and one thing that I taste. And don’t get caught up in what if I can’t smell two different things, just move on to the next one and just use it as a way of kind of cycling through that exercise. But it’s a way of refocusing on the present moment.

Melissa Urban (30:35):

Yeah. I like that. And it buys you a little bit of capacity. It buys you like some space, I think. Another part to this then could be, especially if you’re talking about having this [hypothangry 00:30:46] situation come up in a relationship, is then how can I now take what was in my head in a really unproductive way and express it in a more productive way in my real life? And that I feel like has got to be the hardest part of all.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (31:02):

Yes, absolutely. To be able to do this first, there has to be emotional and physical safety. Sometimes in couples therapy that is a big piece of it, that we have to establish that foundation of safety, because if we’re not feeling safe to express those vulnerable thoughts and emotions, then just pushing yourself into that situation to do it can actually create more pain and harm. It may be even just like starting by testing the waters, maybe not disclosing everything, but even just starting by saying, “In this situation that happened earlier today, I was feeling really hurt because I had the thought that when you said this, it actually meant blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And kind of see how that goes before maybe kind of like opening the diary and saying everything.

Melissa Urban (31:55):

That makes sense. I keep thinking about some of these hypothangry situations I have with like total strangers on the street or strangers on the internet. And when I do find myself getting into this cycle, is the most gentle thing to do with myself to just become aware of it and then try to drop it in the moment.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (32:20):

Yeah. So I think that’s sometimes just walking away from it is really helpful, rather than … I think especially on social media or something like that, and I’ve done this, where it’s really easy to get into a back and forth and just be shooting off responses. And I think that sometimes the more productive thing is to just disengage, because sometimes I think that just the way that we are using screens nowadays can really distract us from actually being able to identify what’s going on for us. We can fall into the trap of all these different sorts of things. So instead of sort of saying…

PART 3 OF 4 ENDS [00:33:04]

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (33:02):

I was triggered and I’m feeling anxious. It becomes a lot easier to try to maybe throw data or articles or something like that as a response.

Melissa Urban (33:10):

Yeah. You double down.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (33:11):

Yeah. Instead of being able to actually deal with what’s going on for you.

Melissa Urban (33:16):

How do I walk away from the inside of my own head? Because I’m now, I’m arguing with people just inside my head. There’s no one else there. Maybe I physically need to change my environment or maybe I need to do some kind of physical movement or motion or something to just get myself out of that mind space. How do you walk away from fights inside your head?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (33:34):

Yeah, so I think that kind of, again, bringing back that awareness to the present moment and disengaging with those unhelpful thoughts can be really powerful and also really difficult. If there’s something that you really can sort of direct your attention towards that is going to be productive, kind of doing that instead.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (33:54):

The other thing is that we know that emotions… in and of themselves, emotions are only, they only live for a couple of seconds, but we reactivate them over and over and over. And so we can… I think of it kind of like waves in an ocean. The actual wave, one wave is very short, but when we have wave after wave after wave, it can feel more intense. And so sometimes what can be really helpful is just doing something else that’s going to induce a different emotion. If we’re feeling really angry… if instead it’s really easy to like listen to angry music and stomp around the house, do all those things that reactivate the anger. Instead if we can maybe listen to something more soothing or be really gentle with ourselves and maybe some movement or do something that is going to be the opposite of that anger, whether that is doing something that’s going to elicit maybe some laughter or some excitement or interest, whatever that might be, that can actually disrupt that reactivation.

Melissa Urban (34:58):

I was thinking after the guy in the Jeep with no mask situation, I’m going to be really nice to the next person I happen to see. I’m going to smile. I’m going to wave. I’m going to chit chat with my mailman through the door, whatever it looks like, because that will remind me that people are good and people are nice and we’re all just human and we’re all just doing the best we can. And that is exactly the technique you’re talking about is just getting a different wave in.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (35:20):


Melissa Urban (35:21):

Yeah. That’s really, really good. This has been so incredibly helpful. I feel like I’m going to get a flood of messages from people who say, ” I thought I was the only one, or I do this all the time, or I can’t believe that this actually has a name,” that I made up myself, but still.

Melissa Urban (35:36):

But the last question I ask all my guests is what’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who has been caught in a loop of hypothangry, and really wants to break out of it?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (35:47):

The first piece is that awareness piece, so whether that is just starting to jot down a couple of notes when you start to notice that, whether that’s making some voice memos to be able to kind of go back after the fact and look for some patterns. Starting to kind of just gather some data can be really helpful in starting to identify what those patterns are.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (36:07):

And then if it’s starting to become really destructive, also thinking about like potential ways of coping with the anger in the moment. What are some of those early flags that maybe you’re starting to get really angry? What are things that you can notice in your body physiologically? Maybe that’s that muscle tension. Maybe that’s starting to feel really flushed or, kind of warm. Whatever that might be, and then starting to check in with yourself so that you develop that awareness at an earlier stage, rather than after the fact, when you have lashed out and it’s 10 minutes later, and now you’re dealing with the sort of consequences of that.

Melissa Urban (36:47):

I like that. And what I’m hearing and what you’re saying is a lot of approaching your self with curiosity at this point. You mentioned that this is about collecting data in the moment, not fixing, and I’m making quotes around it, what’s wrong. And I like that because I can have so much judgment around myself about why I’m doing this, because it’s like not necessary and it feels kind of crazy. And I like the idea of approaching it with curiosity. What’s happening in my body right now? Why am I feeling like this? Did something happen? Is it a relationship with this person? I think that advice is going to be very helpful for me, for sure.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (37:22):

Yeah. And I think that it’s interesting, because when we think about fixing things, I think that that’s a very common thing that people jump right into problem solving and trying to fix it. But if we haven’t identified what the problem is, then what exactly are we solving?

Melissa Urban (37:35):

Yeah. Yes, exactly, exactly. And honestly, to say that something needs fixing means something is broken and it’s not broken. It’s a coping mechanism. That’s not working super well for me. And the faster I acknowledge that… wow, I got goosebumps, because that’s exactly what it is. It’s a coping mechanism that I have now discovered is not working great for me. Let’s find something else. Yeah. Dr. Vicki Bhatia, where can people find you and learn more about your work and your practice and your work as a Whole30 certified coach?

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (38:11):

The best place is on Instagram. I’m just @drvickiebhatia. I also am going to be running a September Whole30 group, that’s going to be in line with the national Whole30. I ran this group last year. It was focused on emotional eating and it went really well and I’m sort of revising and adding some extra things. I’m really excited about that. And signups will be on my website, which is just drvickiebhatia.com. And if there’s any questions, feel free to reach out to me either via email or DM.

Melissa Urban (38:44):

Excellent. We’ll make sure to include all of those in your show notes. I know your last September Whole30 group was so well received. There are so many people who need help around this idea of food freedom, and emotional eating and what a perfect person to lead through that than you. Dr. Vicki Bhatia, thank you so much for joining me, again, on a repeat performance on Do the Thing.

Dr. Vickie Bhatia (39:03):

Thanks for having me.

Melissa Urban (39:08):

Thanks for joining me today on Do the Thing. You can continue the conversation with me @MelissaU on Instagram. If you have a question for Dear Melissa or a topic idea for the show, leave me a voicemail at 321-209-1480. Do the Thing is part of The Onward Project, a family of podcasts brought together by Gretchen Rubin all about how to make your life better. Check out the other Onward Project podcasts, Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Side Hustle School, Happier in Hollywood and Everything Happens. If you liked this episode, please subscribe, leave a five star review and tell your friends to do the thing. See you next week. From The Onward Project.

Thanks for listening!

Continue the conversation with me @melissau on Instagram. If you have a question for Dear Melissa or a topic idea for the show, leave me a voicemail at (321) 209-1480.

Do the Thing is part of The Onward Project, a family of podcasts brought together by Gretchen Rubin—all about how to make your life better. Check out the other Onward Project podcasts– Happier with Gretchen RubinSide Hustle SchoolHappier in Hollywood, and Everything Happens.

If you liked this episode, please subscribe, leave a 5-star review, and tell your friends to Do the Thing.