15 Minutes Of Sadness: Behind The Therapy Trick In ‘Shrinking’

“Pick a piece of music. Something sad as hell. Just feel your feelings,” seasoned therapist Paul (Harrison Ford) tells his colleague Jimmy (Jason Segel) in episode 3 of Shrinking, the Apple TV+ dramedy about therapy. This is Paul’s proposed therapeutic trick to get through the day. “Takes about 15 minutes,” he says.

Fittingly titled “Fifteen Minutes”, the episode features two distinctive moments in which the technique takes place. Jimmy and his daughter Alice (Lukita Maxwell) individually try Paul’s advice, both while listening to “I Know the End” by Phoebe Bridgers(Opens in a new tab). In their respective scenes, the characters openly weep during the designated time period and not a minute more. Afterwards, it’s implied that they each move forward with their days.

Turns out, Paul’s go-to exercise is one that therapists and mental health professionals recognize and recommend to some clients as a viable coping mechanism. The strategy, as portrayed in Shrinking, basically entails setting aside 15 minutes of the day to truly immerse oneself in sadness — or anxiety, grief, or worry as needed. It means actively sitting with intense feelings that may otherwise come and go throughout the day and without warning.

Tweet may have been deleted (opens in a new tab) (Opens in a new tab) Founder of TelepsychHealth(Opens in a new tab) Dr. Bruce Bassi says that one of the main benefits of the technique is a reduction in suppressing and denying these emotions.

“Oftentimes, people may suppress or deny their emotions because they don’t feel like they have the time or space to deal with them,” he tells Mashable. “This can lead to the accumulation of unaddressed emotional energy, which can eventually manifest in covert symptoms such as irritability.”

Instead of pushing those feelings away, embracing them for an assigned chunk of time can “allow individuals to let go of negative emotions,” Dr. Bassi explains. In turn, “This can help you [understand] the origin of these symptoms.”

Dr. Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic(Opens in a new tab), says she suggests “worry time” in therapy, akin to the 15 minutes method.

“It makes worrying immediately feel more manageable and provides evidence that we do actually have control over our worries — even if it doesn’t always feel that way,” she tells Mashable. Touroni recommends patients to note worries down throughout the day, reminding themselves that they can come back to these thoughts during the worry time they have set aside.

Tweet may have been deleted (opens in a new tab) (Opens in a new tab) Scheduled worry time(Opens in a new tab) — like the scheduled “15 minutes” — is sometimes recommended in cognitive behavioral therapy(Opens in a new tab), a type of talking therapy that is used to treat a variety of mental health experiences, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS)(Opens in a new tab) website explains the practicality of setting aside worry time for “a short period, say 10 or 15 minutes”.

“Making this a regular thing can help put your mind at ease and stop your thoughts racing when you’re trying to sleep,” reads the site.

“By designating a specific time to worry, we can postpone our worries, focus on the present moment and reduce the time spent worrying throughout the day.” Several therapists I spoke to said a designated timeframe for this exercise can be beneficial, both for creating a routine and increasing productivity in other areas of life. Marissa Alert, licensed clinical psychologist and founder of MDA Wellness(Opens in a new tab), tells Mashable that she often recommends her patients dabble in this method, especially for those who want to feel more productive and improve concentration.

“By designating a specific time to worry, we can postpone our worries, focus on the present moment and reduce the time spent worrying throughout the day,” Alert says.

Tweet may have been deleted (opens in a new tab) (Opens in a new tab) Bassi says similarly, explaining he has seen individuals “gain clarity and perspective on their emotions and situations”, which in turn can lead to better decision making. “In terms of focus, having a set timeframe to tend to emotional needs can be beneficial because it allows individuals to prioritize their emotional health, without feeling like it is taking up too much time or interfering with other responsibilities,” he says.

The idea of a time limit on processing these kind of feelings is a funny one. Some may feel it’s a natural but futile desire — surely, we all want to cap the amount of time we dedicate to bad feelings, but compartmentalizing them is a challenge, especially for those who are processing trauma. Some can find it a waste of time entirely. Some may find it “counterintuitive”, says Touroni.

“But it’s effective for lessening the hold your worrying has over your everyday life,” she explains.

A caveat, of course, is that this may not work for everyone. A caveat, of course, is that this may not work for everyone. “Like many approaches in mental health and medicine, sometimes trial and error with different treatments is necessary to see what works,” Path Forward therapist Frank Thewes(Opens in a new tab) tells Mashable. “That is to say that if [a person] experiments with the technique and responds to it, it is viable for them.”

So the 15 minutes method may not be for everyone, but it’s an approach to consider, according to some mental health professionals. As paradoxical as it may seem, dedicating 15 minutes to your grief or anxiety could have the potential to harness those emotions. The method almost seems like a practice instead of a quick fix: practicing to feel something painful but for the purpose of feeling this way less — or more productively.

Culture Reporter

Meera is a Culture Reporter at Mashable, joining the UK team in 2021. She writes about digital culture, mental health, big tech, entertainment, and more. Her work has also been published in The New York Times, Vice, Vogue India, and others.

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