Last week I had the pleasure of joining a panel discussion on the topic of mental health in communities of color. For those who weren’t able to attend, this conversation is too important not to share. The event itself is the first in a series of community discussions aligned with a new documentary series called Growing Up in America - an ongoing project of local creative, Nate Araya. On a personal level, it was an honor to share the stage with such an array of beautiful black brilliance. Representation not only matters for our clients but for us as clinicians to know that we are not alone in the work that we do. Enjoy!
Working in private practice can be isolating if you're not intentional about creating your work tribe. I always tell my clients that we're not meant to go it alone and the same applies to our professional spaces. That's why my networking efforts are centered around building a group of badass colleagues that I feel genuinely connected to. Figured I'd celebrate the spirit of collaboration by making a gift guide with some of my most beloved therapists in mind. It's a great way to treat yourself too, I might add.
one: an awesome coffee table book // two: new crystals for a little office woo-woo // three: essential oil blends (thieves + stress away are my favorite) // four: business card holder // five: an office plant // six: a dope print (sharing feelings + melody hansen prints) // seven: essential oil diffuser // eight: nourishing rosewater mist for a quick refresh in between clients // nine: a new decorative pillow (indigo cacti pillow)
There's an assumption that the holidays are a joyful time for all of us, which is certainly not the case, especially when grief is involved. The holiday season holds the potential to really spotlight loneliness. A season often associated with meaningful time with loved ones and celebrations can open the door to a lens of scarcity... more bluntly, a focus on everything "I don't have." Holidays can be especially difficult after the loss of a loved one or the end of a relationship. It may bring up old memories and a longing for a connection that is no longer possible. That being said, all is not lost. Here are some concrete ways to fight the holiday blues:
1) Increase your human interaction. This can be as in depth as planning a dinner party with friends or as simple as avoiding the self-check line and opting for an actual person. Some research shows that social exclusion activates the same parts of our brain as physical pain. We are hard-wired for connection and physical touch can be incredibly effective in helping meet that need. Maybe don't rush that next hug, focus on eye contact during conversations, and if you don't have access to loved ones, get a massage. Studies show that massage increases serotonin up to 30% as well as dopamine levels and is shown to decrease stress hormones. NOTE: Texting or emailing is not a suitable substitute for human interaction. Sharing space with another body is crucial to combating isolation.
2) Volunteer. It feels good to help others. More specifically, we often gain perspective by getting some distance from our own struggles and supporting another in theirs. This is also another great way to seek out meaningful human interaction. Why is that important? Refer to #1.
3) Foster Gratitude. Author and researcher Brenè Brown describes how the process of actively practicing gratitude can cultivate more joy in daily life. Simple ways to incorporate this are starting a gratitude journal or even setting an alarm on your phone periodically throughout the day to pause and reflect on the question "what am I grateful for?" And guess what the good news is? You don't even have to be able to answer the question, the act of searching for the answer alone fosters emotional intelligence. Gratitude also offers the positive effect of boosting serotonin and dopamine levels which help register social interactions as more enjoyable.
4) Practice Self-Compassion. Have you ever considered why it’s so easy for us to be kind, compassionate and loving to others, but not ourselves? Dr. Kristin Neff provides an excellent intro into the benefits of loving yourself, flaws and all, and how the daily practice of self-compassion actually allows you to better care for others as well. She also distinguishes between self-compassion and self-indulgence. Self-compassion invites us to be kind to ourselves while also holding ourselves accountable. The three concepts of self-compassion are:
1) Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgement: The ability to be kind towards ourselves when we're suffering or fail rather than ignore our pain or put ourselves down.
2) Common Humanity vs. Isolation: The understanding that suffering is part and parcel with humanness. A helpful reminder that you are not alone in your pain.
3) Mindfulness vs. Overidentification: Holding a nonjudgmental awareness of our suffering allows us to actively choose how to navigate it rather than we swept away by it.
And if you're needing additional support, why wait until the new year to start (or continue) your counseling journey? Pro tip: most counselors have more availability in December due to client travels and obligations. It's actually an ideal time to make that call and schedule an appointment.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brenè Brown
The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alex Korb
In celebration of her new book, The State of Affairs, I figured I would share an oldie but a goodie from one of my absolute favorite relationship experts. When we talk about infidelity, chances are you have a strong, even visceral, response. Esther Perel challenges us to rethink these gut reactions and redefine what we think we know about infidelity and, by extension, about the fundamentals of relationship. In this TedTalk, Esther Perel explores the changing climate of infidelity in the age of social media and our instant ability to connect with others without even leaving our home. Put plainly, “It’s never been easier to cheat, and it’s never been more difficult to keep a secret.”
Giving the transformation of modern marriage historical context, she discusses the traumatic impact that today’s infidelity can have on a marriage due to the foundation of modern marriage being built on love & compatibility more than ever before. With that comes the unattainable expectation we put on our partners to be our lover, best friend, soul mate, intellectual inspiration and solver of all problems. Imagine trying to achieve all of those things at once while still maintaining your individuality? Not possible right? Thus, today’s infidelity doesn’t just threaten the relationship, it threatens our entire sense of self.
Does that mean the damage and traumatic backlash of infidelity is insurmountable? Certainly not. In fact, her research debunks several age old myths and addresses questions like “Why do loving and committed partners cheat?” Perel suggests that affairs are often more about desire than sex, and concludes that marriages can heal from infidelity and can actually be more fulfilling, passionate and healthy than ever before. In this video, she also shares some concrete steps couples can take after an affair is exposed. Perel’s work reminds us that our relationships are as multifaceted and fluid as we are as she challenges us to take an earnest look at love, desire, commitment and the expectations we use to define ourselves and our partners.
For more information on Esther Perel, visit her website.
What do you do when you begin to notice changes in a loved one's behavior or demeanor? It's easy to simply justify the change with excuses like stress, but sometimes there's another element at work. Sometimes it isn't just a phase or a funk.
As a culture, we hold a negative stigma around mental health. It's taboo to mention things like depression, or therapy. But here's the thing, mental health and wellbeing cannot occur in isolation. And folks, we are a society who isolates when things are tough, especially when those "things" are related to mental health. So how do you approach a loved one to begin the conversation around seeking support?
Share your concern by addressing behavior // I don't know about you, but if someone comes at me saying "You're depressed. Intervention!" I won't give them the time of day. Also, labeling a person as their symptoms can imply judgement. Rather than using phrases like "he's schizophrenic" or "she's depressed" you should externalize the symptoms, thus acknowledging the person behind them. Ex: She struggles with depression. Also, it's never cool to diagnosis your loved ones, so consider starting the conversation with something like:
In the last few months I've noticed some changes in your behavior. You seem less interested in things you've always enjoyed and you've told me that you're not sleeping much. I'm concerned and wondering if you're ok, because you're important to me. If there's anything you want to talk about, I will just listen to you. Whatever is going on, I won't judge you because I love you and I want you to know that you're not alone in this.
Be ready to listen without judgement // Often people won't talk about depression or thoughts of suicide or self-harm for fear that it will be "too much" for someone else to hear. Listen and empathize with their experience. Comments like "it can't be that bad" or "cheer up" can be extremely dismissive to someone who is struggling with depressive symptoms. Imagine what their struggle must feel like and meet them in that place. A comment as simple as "wow that sounds really difficult, thank you for trusting me with this." shows that you can handle their struggle and allows you to become an ally.
Don't be afraid to discuss suicide // There is a common misconception that talking about suicide makes someone more likely to attempt suicide. Generally speaking, this is not the case. If someone is suicidal, discussing it in a safe space can be extremely helpful for building a network of support, creating a safety plan, and if needed, seeking hospitalization. If you know that a loved one has thoughts of suicide or self harm, the simple question of "can you keep yourself safe?" is a great way to assess the situation without judgment or shaming. There are several risk factors to determining the severity of suicidality, but the red flags that you shouldn't ignore are:
- If they have a specific plan of how to end their life
- If they have access to the means to carry out that plan
- If they have had a previous suicide attempt
- If they have a family member who has died by suicide
Here are some important resources that can be good to pass along if needed:
24/7 Crisis Hotline - 512-472-HELP(4357)
APD Mental Health Crisis Intervention Team - 512-854-3450
National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line - text HELLO to 741741
It's important to know that a single conversation won't solve everything, but it can open the door for seeking support and keep someone from becoming isolated.
The working definition of microaggressions is that they are the "brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial, gender, sexual-orientation, and religious slights and insults to the target person or group."
So let's break this down:
Brief & Commonplace: This is not the overt cross-burning racism that's easy to spot. In fact, that's why microaggressions at times, can be more harmful, because the victim is often left with the internal debate of how to respond. If you are attuned to hear them, you probably couldn't make it through a single day without witnessing at least one microaggression (if not delivering one yourself).
Intentional or Unintentional: Again, another tricky aspect of receiving the brunt of a microaggression is that they often come from well-intentioned individuals who have no idea that what they are doing or saying is offensive. This can often lead to a response of defensiveness or denial ("I'm not racist. I have black friends.") which is sadly just another form of a microagression. A great example of an unintentional microaggression is "You don't talk Black" or "I don't even see you as Mexican." I suppose on the surface they are phrased as compliments, but the underlying message is that you are the exception to a stereotype at best, or at worst, that you do not embody the race or culture with which you identify and thus are to be praised for that.
Verbal, Behavioral or Environmental: Microaggressions can be even more difficult to point out when they aren't verbal. For example, a person clutching their bag as they walk past a black man. Environmental microaggressions point to more of a subtle systemic racism such as upper management or a board of directors having no people of color. College campuses or dated team mascots are other examples of environmental microaggressions that send a message that one race, gender, religion or sexual orientation is more welcome than another.
There are even different themes around microaggressions. Here are just a few. Do any sound familiar?
Colorblindness: "When I look at you I don't see color." or "American is a melting pot."
Alien in One's Own Land: "Where are you from?" or "You speak great English."
Criminality: A store owner follows a person of color around while they shop or a man clicks his car door lock as he pulls up to a stop sign where a black man is waiting to cross.
Sexual Objectification: A male stranger puts his hands on a woman's hips to walk by her.
So why am I spending this much time on what could be viewed by some as insignificant social interactions? Because they are happening all the time, and simply put, it gets old people. This video captures what I'm saying pretty perfectly (and contains a few well placed curse words). Microaggressions have been described as "death by a thousand cuts" because they wear you down after time. In fact, research has shown that navigating these covert forms of oppression takes from an individual's capacity for adaptive functioning and problem solving and can also contribute to low self-esteem (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2000).
So next time a well-intentioned comment doesn't quite get the reaction you'd hoped for, perhaps consider the underlying messages that may have been received. Holding an awareness for microaggressions also allows you to become an ally for those who experience them on a daily basis.
In this brief interview, Caprice Hollins of Cultures Connecting speaks about how families can engage in the conversations about race to help their children become aware of and navigate modern racism. Believe or not, children begin to internalize stereotypes as early as three years old, so having a healthy dialogue at home allows children to work through some of the messages they receive through media or their society at large.
The conversation will most likely look different based on the racial composition of a family, but regardless of race, it is an important topic for all families. Parents don’t have to have all of the answers, in fact, asking questions is a great way to teach compassion and empathy for another’s experience. Question-based conversations about race help kids put themselves in another person's shoes and imagine the perspective of those different from them. Parents can also lead by example when engaging differences. In fact, Hollins suggests that parents name negative behaviors rather than reverting to name-calling, which can lead children to make generalizations or name-call themselves. For example, acknowledging that someone told a lie (naming the behavior) versus calling them a 'liar.' Naming the behavior allows us to still see the person behind that behavior, rather than categorizing them without further consideration of their story and experience.
Hollins concludes that a “color-blind” approach is no longer relevant, as our differences are not to be ignored, but celebrated. Children will notice differences on their own, so it can cause confusion when those differences are not acknowledged by the adults whom they trust.
How often is race talked about in your home? What sort of messages do you think your children are receiving about who they are?
If you took a DNA test today, you might be surprised at the results. This video shows just a sampling of individuals who were shocked to find that their cultural heritage spanned across countries and even continents, and in this case, knowledge is power. In a time where immigration is a hot-button issue, it's important to remember that the majority of our nation's citizens hail from immigrants - some arrived in chains, some were escaping persecution of one kind or another, and others came to be here by their sense of exploration of the unknown. Seems a shame to consider some immigrants more legitimate or valuable to the fabric of our nation than others doesn't it?
Our brains are built to categorize the world around us, and often we view others through a lens of difference, when in fact, we have more in common than we could ever imagine. Which begs the question, would we be so quick to stereotype and separate ourselves if we knew how much we actually had in common with one another?
Welcome! If you've made it all the way to this blog page, chances are you've had a chance to explore my website. While you'll find all of the helpful info you need to begin working with me there, here is where I'll share tips, tools and general musings about life. This blog will offer a deeper peek into my personality and you'll find several posts and resources about my particular passions: cultural identity, mindfulness, belonging and self-compassion. I'm so glad you're here.