Grayson was the ‘worry wart’ in his family, spending too much of his days worrying about what people thought of him. He was too anxious to refuse any request for his time and worked excessively to ensure his projects were in perfect shape to avoid possible criticism from his coworkers and boss. Most of the time, he was alone, too fearful of imposing on anyone with an invitation to get together. Afraid of disappointing others or being rejected in some way, his life was “all work and no play.” Grayson felt exhausted and yet also on edge. His mind was perpetually worried. “What will I do to embarrass myself or insult others? I’m never confident or calm”. All this worry kept him on edge, hiding in his work cubicle or apartment. Eventually, he lost interest in his hobbies or anything that might bring him pleasure. He over ate, was quite sedentary, gained weight each year, and felt incredibly stuck. He was anxious and depressed and had a difficult time thinking things could ever get better for him.
Marcie, on the other hand, appeared to have a perfect life and family. Married with two children, Marcie worked from home part-time, enjoyed her neighbors and the closeness of her community, and hosted barbeques at home almost every weekend. Her house was ‘the place’ to hang out and socialize. But, while Marcie was comfortable in her little enclave, she was unable to travel for work, go to other people’s homes, or to drive anywhere outside of a small “safety zone” without feeling overwhelming panic attacks and anxiety. Marcie’s husband drove over all bridges, chauffeured her to meetings in the city, did most of the shopping, and ran most family errands. She was stuck with a part-time, low-level computer job due to her anxieties. As her girls were maturing and wanting to engage in more activities with a broader group of friends away from home, Marcie began experiencing more and more panic attacks and worried about how she could manage without losing everything and being left further behind.
In my years of working with individuals who struggle with anxiety and depression, we’ve made significant advances in therapies that helped Grayson, Marcie, and many others to gain control over their symptoms and experience relief. We’ve seen remarkable success in our clinical trials that tested both cognitive behavioral psychotherapies and medication treatments. We use these scientifically sound and effective methods to teach individuals to calm their anxious minds, engage with difficult and challenging tasks, improve their mood, and enhance their ability to connect with others.
However, even with all this progress, I am continuously nagged by a lack of integrative wellness in our field.
Grayson came in for weekly therapy and learned the skills for recognizing his anxious thoughts and disputing them with effective coping strategies. But, between sessions, he had difficulty with follow through on his self-care plan. Grayson struggled to engage in healthy activities such as exercise to improve his mood or meditation to quiet his mind. He also had trouble finding like-minded people to meet and develop meaningful friendships.
Marcie was able to understand how her fear of panic sensations shrunk her world and made substantial gains in breaking free from the fear of those physical sensations. Despite this progress, it was difficult for her to engage in the broader network of activities outside her neighborhood. This pattern held her back from going to work-related forums and meetings and exploring the world beyond her backyard.
In these cases, and many others, I wished there were better options for connecting my clients to wellness-promoting activities and services that could extend our treatments’ benefits. I wanted to exceed symptom reduction and bring people greater fulfillment in their lives for the long term. However, there’s always been an invisible but quite tangible barrier between the therapy session and the real world. This barrier needed addressing so people could begin to integrate the insights and skills gained in therapy and create sustained change and lifelong health.
With the generous support of a Charleston-based foundation and a partnership with MUSC Health, the idea of Modern Minds came to life. Utilizing the best evidence-based therapies, we’ve developed a center that breaks down the barriers between well-established cognitive behavioral therapy and integrative wellness. We’ve combined activities of mindfulness, healthy living, social engagement, and physical well-being into our practice to support therapeutic outcomes. We’re using technology to communicate, motivate, and provide resources and support between appointments. We are also providing additional support for each of our clients by connecting them with a personal Wellness Mentor to guide them through the initial four months of their therapy at Modern Minds, a critical time for capitalizing on motivation. Our Wellness Mentors serve as resources and facilitators to assist our clients in owning and incorporating personally meaningful strategies and activities to sustain life-long health and wellness.
I learned from Grayson, Marcie, and all my clients that while each individual is unique in many ways, we are all human and deserving of compassion, respect, and every opportunity to move forward and live life to its fullest. At Modern Minds, our mission is to provide an individualized lifestyle approach to mental health that assists clients in making meaningful changes via personalized skills and technologies that promote lasting recovery and continued personal growth.
By: Dr. Anne Marie Albano