Mental Health

Observations by a Mental Health Professional in the Community

So much of the life coach and psychotherapist experience is about confidentiality and what we observe gets held in our hearts and kept there for safety. But some experiences I'm sure you have all had. It's just that some of us (who have dedicated our lives to the human condition) see and hear things on an additional level and get impacted in sometimes unusual ways. You can probably relate!

In this month's saga of "Being a mental health professional out in the community"....

I've experienced two moments to share. One at the hair salon and one at the doctor's office. Simple every day moments. Places most of us experience.

To the hair dresser and her client near me who was getting her hair cut...

I could hug you both! The client - who appeared to be in her early 20's - shared a brave moment expressing anxiety that limits her ability to enjoy life and make certain decisions. Even decisions like getting her hair cut.

The hair dresser - who appeared in her late 20's - responded with, "Well sure. I know how that goes."

And they proceeded to share conversation about anxiety, mental health, self care, life choices and every day moments.

So here I am...holding back all the emotions of pride that I feel for two young women I know nothing about.

Many of us in the field dedicate our life to normalizing the human condition and finding ways to develop community for everyone...with a simple vision to make topics ok to discuss and share and learn from. So here today, I witnessed it roll off their tongues no different than if they were talking about any topic.

To those of you that do it every day, this moment is "no big deal". To those of us that know that (depending on when you were born or where you were born or other factors) those conversations would have never taken place and surely not in public and surely not without heavy weight.

There was no weight. There was just conversation between two self aware people who could hold space for many different realities and perspectives.

Those simple moments of witnessing mental health - that I know from my work not to take for granted - are gold.

Second scene:

On another note, I experienced a conversation with a medical professional who was conducting a routine medical intake before my physical exam (yes clinicians...walk the walk of self care).

She did her job by asking the questions the computer told her to ask but a great moment was missed. One of those questions was "I'm sorry I have to ask. I have to ask everyone. Do you have depression." 

That was the only mental health question or symptom question on the subject asked by the form on the computer.

Here's my issue with this and the information I shared:

While I greatly appreciate that routine medical procedures are now a place to address certain whole-person well-being issues, this was not the way to go about doing it in my opinion. 

First of all, there should be more training provided to normalize all mental health questions. There is no shame in asking these questions unless you feel the shame when you ask it. If you are comfortable asking about bowel movements then, as part of routine health, you can ask...

1. Are you eating more or less than usual?

2. Are you sleeping more or less than usual?

3. Do you find yourself crying more or being more irritable than usual?

Etc, etc.

Most of us don't know what depression or any mental health disorder is...much less what symptoms to look out for. Ask about the symptoms in lay person/regular person/non-professional terms that we can all answer. And while you're at it, check for other safety issues like domestic violence. Hand out resources to read on our own time even if we are not comfortable discussing with you right then and there.

The more aware we become of the golden opportunities, the more we can grab them and make the most of them for everyone's sake.

Humans are complex. And most of us try really hard every day. I walk through life observing and learning. And adjusting my practice to realities of real life interactions like these.

Gratitude to everyone that tries.

Post-Election Trends in My Therapy Office

It has been an interesting 2 weeks. That's probably true for most of us. And seeing some of it play out in the therapy room has been fascinating.

Not one single session since #Election2016 has not touched on the impact of this election on people's thoughts, feelings and actions - regardless of political views.

I have to say, the extent surprised me. While I was expecting an impact, I did not expect the relevance of this topic weighing so heavily on people's minds and impacting their lives.... including their relationships.

Some of the interesting trends I saw were:

  1. There was a personal hit to many people's sense of identity
  2. Many people for the first time in their lives starting thinking globally
  3. People were searching for other people who shared their experience and created impromptu support groups
  4. Couples' communication issues came more to light depending on which couples could listen to each other, hold space for each other and support each other
  5. Past trauma was triggered in the present
  6. Intensity of emotion, as a result of the triggers and personal implications, was high including sadness, anger etc
  7. Several people were moving through the grief stages
  8. Everyone was going through their own time line and utilizing their own coping skills to adjust to the changing times

Please note that I am not a relationship therapist. Also, these trends were my experiences and do not represent trends in psychotherapy or life coaching.

Now that 2 weeks have passed I can see that people are moving back to the other issues they want addressed. However, the political changes and the triggers (of hope or hopelessness - of courage or fear) still seep into every conversation I am having. The impact of this election has touched many - some more aware of the impact than others. 

We can all learn a lot about ourselves from what upset us and what made us happy and how we responded to it all. We can all challenge ourselves to continue a journey of self awareness, self regulation, and proactive, relevant action steps rather than ruminating. Celebrate, grieve and integrate. Use your ever awakening knowledge of self. Then move to behaviors that are in line with your values rather than emotions.

Be brave.

What You Learn Applies To Real Life

I just came back into my office after helping a driver who got into a car accident to slow his breathing. Focused on helping him feel connected and secure. Back in my office, I sit here amazed at how so much of what I practice really works in the day to day. 

Ever wonder if you were going to use that algebra you learned in real life? Well you'll never wonder that about the mental health techniques you learn.

Those techniques will come in handy in your life at the most random and unexpected of times. It might be years past your therapeutic experience where you learned some tricks of self awareness, self soothing and self care but in a time of need you find yourself pulling those tools from the tool box. Dusting them off and feeling "Hey, wow. I can still do this."

You might have a loved one or a friend of a friend who is going through something. You'll remember what pain, confusion, overwhelm feel like. You'll harness the empathy, non-judgement, active listening skills that you learned to give yourself - now giving it to others.

There will be a car accident in front of your office and you will find yourself gently guiding a person in crisis into slow deep breathes.

It might be purposeful "Let me try this" or automatic "Hey, look at me. I think this is working."

Learning "tricks" for mental health and practicing them often enough so that they become part of your automatic response is a worthwhile investment in your future self and in your loved ones and in random strangers. It will not go to waste. It will only grow. And the ripple effects will show others that they can try too.

You can do more than wish things away or wish them better but actually take concrete steps toward making things better. It's worth it. We're worth it. Invest in you so we can all benefit.

He Has Road Rage But I'm The One Feeling Triggered

Commuting with a loved one who has road rage? 

Understanding the other's point of view is important to gain some perspective and to realize that there is no actual threat - just the other's person's issues coming to surface.

But acknowledging that you are being triggered is your cue to go into labeling the experience ("this is really stressful for me"), showing yourself some compassion (with self talk and caring touch like touching the side of your own face gently), and going into calming-the-body techniques.

Stress breathing technique: inhale for a count of four, hold for count of four, exhale for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and repeat the cycle as many times as necessary to bring your pulse rate and blood pressure back to normal levels.

Deep, slow breathes. Focusing on the exhale to release the stress. Hmm-ing quietly to yourself. Distract yourself by doing the multiplication tables in your head. When you get out of the car you literally shake it off. Stop by the bathroom for a mini-timeout and acknowledge what you just went through and let it out by shaking your body.

Consider the option of using earphones in the car and listened to peaceful music whenever he enters a rage for more than a minute. Closing your eyes and "getting out of the car" in your mind might make it easier for you. Might be something worth discussing with him as a strategy when you are both calm.

If your partner is ever open to it, he might want to meet with someone to talk about the stress he is experiencing in his life. It's possible that some of it is being expressed on the road and could use a healthier outlet.

[Written by Anat Samid in response to a question about dealing with road raging romantic partner.]