A common, hidden cause of depression and anxiety and burn out that 75% of us are doing: living left-shifted.

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When we’re feeling miserable, it’s natural to go looking for a series of signs and symptoms.

We want to explain things and get strategies to hoist us out of our pain.

Most articles out there are going to explain symptoms of a toxic relationship, or the impact of your genetics and family history on your proneness to depression, or burn out, or stress.

And that’s all very important context.

But today, I want to write about a not-much-talked about source of some of our misery. 

Our brains… and more specifically, the way that our left hemisphere processes information.

Now, before your eyes glaze over and you go off to read something more interesting, give me 30 more seconds to make my point.  :)

The two halves of our brain are both involved with all the important stuff—thoughts and feelings, language, sensing and experiencing pain, etc.

(It’s overly simplified to say that the right is responsible for emotion and the left for thinking, even though we often do.)



The way each hemisphere processes information is quite different.  And both perspectives are really important and useful for living a happy life.

Here’s an important snag: research shows that most of us are living lives in which our left-hemisphere is dominant.

And what does the left hemisphere do?

Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash

Its primary language is logic, understanding the ‘why’ of things.

It attends to details, seeks to pin down cause and effect with precise language. 

It’s very interested with taking things apart to understand them.

It is also interested in efficiency, productivity, and achievement.

What’s the problem with living life from a left-dominant place? 

Well, it leaves very little room for all of the wonderful things that the right hemisphere offers


taking in the whole picture,

bodily and somatic awareness,

openness to possibility and creativity and ambiguity, and

awareness of and pleasure in relationships.

Living our lives left-shifted means losing the forest for the trees.

It means having all the trappings of success and being able to enjoy none of it.

People who are living left-shifted can often appear to have happy lives on the outside– but inside there’s a sense of hollowness, depletion, and burn out.  Many people who are seeking therapy for burn out are living left-shifted.

What a left-dominant life looks like:

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If we relate to our life and our people as a series of tasks that need tackling, we have dropped out of a state of connection and safety in our nervous systems.

This chronic state of readiness to act and persistent evaluation of what needs doing keeps us in a state of near-continuous disconnection from ourselves and others.

I think of the scene from Fantasia (the old school version) where Mickey Mouse has cast a spell on the broom to make it carry water for him.

Eventually the brooms, too mindlessly devoted to their task, flood the room from pouring too much water into the cistern.  They are single-mindedly focused on the task at hand, to the point of destruction.

The left hemisphere, unchecked, can be a little like that.

This sets up cascade of physical and emotional symptoms.  We aren’t meant to live in a chronic state of readiness and evaluation and analysis.  We aren’t designed that way.

Yet we live in a world that often demands this of us and engages us in this way.  Trauma can also cause us to shift left to avoid pain.  We find ourselves looking for therapy for stress management, not realizing that one of our biggest allies, our brains, has been hijacked by one half that thinks it has the solution for everything!

Keeping busy is an age-old strategy for dealing with overwhelm.  Overreliance on that strategy can cause painful problems in the long run, though.

The dilemma is that when we live mostly from the left hemisphere, we are not generally aware that we’ve fallen out of connection with others.

Bonnie Badenoch writes compellingly about this in her book, Heart of Trauma, when she describes the point at which she becomes so immersed in her work that a friendly phone call from her daughter is seen as an intrusion into her day rather than a welcome opportunity to connect.

Getting to know your left hemisphere

Photo by Shane Aldendorff on Unsplash

Left-mode process values…

+rationality over intuition

+outcome over process

+details over big picture

+rapid assessment over slow deliberation

+accomplishment and productivity over depth-oriented awareness and presence

+correctness and certainty over nuance, subtlety and openness to ambiguity

Dozens of practices have evolved to invite us back into a more integrated and connected state of mind—meditation,


body-based ways of being present (eg, yoga, breathwork),

soft/slow gaze,

the warm embrace of community and connection…

versus a body held in a constant state of bracing and tension.

If you think you’re living mostly in the left, don’t feel ashamed.  You’re in good company.  Bonnie Badenoch estimates 75% of us are living this way (see her book, Heart of Trauma, to learn more).

And, left mode process is a very wise ally and necessary part of life.  We need the talents of left hemisphere wisdom– the capacity to be detail-oriented, discerning, focused, and logical.  We just need them to be in harmonious communication and service to all of the capacities that our right hemisphere holds.

Further complicating the picture: most of us live in a culture that primes us to live left-shifted.

Overreliance on left-shifted living is an actual consequence to dominant American cultural values of capitalism, meritocracy, independence, along with chronic exposure to trauma in life and the news, and a dwindling in connected community living that once protected us from facing the worst of life’s hardships alone.

You may also have grown up in a family that operated this way as well—so this way of bracing and being and remaining alert may be in your very bones, eternally present and largely unconscious.

Healing from left-shifted living

The good news? It is possibly to gradually and gently be with and change these engrained patterns.

A slow stance of gentle curiosity and awareness is a good starting point. 

Any kind of mindful or meditative practice will help clear some space to relate to yourself as a human being rather than a human doing.

And suddenly all those trendy practices and buzzwords have a context:  self compassion, mindfulness meditation, yoga, meaningful connection with other and being warmly held in relationship.

And even there, you can see left-shifted dominance—yoga that’s focused on outcome (weight loss, flexibility, competition) instead of contemplative, introspective presence.

Retrieving oneself from a constant push for outcome and perfection is an ongoing practice.

The left doesn’t like to share.  Its way is the only way, it thinks.

But without influence of the right, we can spend decades of our lives in the weeds, in relentless pursuit of happiness, not knowing that our methods defy the outcome.

A harmonious, contented life is one that embodies balance between the two—and knowing this is not a place where we one day arrive, but rather a place we return to over and over in practice, undertaken with love, patience, and trust in the fact that we are here for more reasons than to merely be productive.


Are you living left-shifted and looking for therapy for burnout in Austin?  I’m a therapist in Austin specializing in therapy for stress and burn out that’s related to the problem of living left-shifted.  Touch base today to see about scheduling a free consultation.

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