Why I Need A Wellness Mentor (And Why You Might Too)

An Integrative Model of Psychotherapy

Spending focused time with each individual is part of the magic, the difference, the value of psychotherapy. The person-centered approach of psychotherapy is what drew me to clinical psychology, and is also what draws a lot people to seek psychotherapy in times of need or more generally for self-development and growth. However, I have learned that the ideal person-centered approach is not necessarily best obtained through only individual therapy.

For one, group psychotherapy and other kinds of group programs have an important place in connecting people with others, but also in connecting people with dormant or feared parts of themselves. Secondly, the reality is that a good therapist can’t and won’t just tell you what to do to solve your problems – you actually have to think, feel, and practice too! What does this mean? This means that an individual needs support throughout their individual psychotherapy beyond a therapy session.

I joined the Modern Minds team because Modern Minds actualized a highly integrative and supportive model that takes person-centered to the next level. As an organization, Modern Minds is committed to thinking big, being bold, and making a positive difference in the lives of our clients and the community at large. Our task force, with preeminent leaders in the field of psychology and cognitive science – Anne Marie Albano (live link), Steven Hayes (live link), and Kevin Gray (live link) – has developed a model that maintains the essence of psychotherapy while building in support for skill building and wellness.

Like traditional psychotherapy, each client meets regularly with their primary therapist. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, each client also works on an as-needed and individualized basis with a wellness mentor via phone, computer, or in person. The wellness mentor works collaboratively with the client and the therapist to target specific goals related to skill building and/or growth in various areas of wellness, including physical health, social and connectedness, and daily functioning. Clients have the opportunity to engage in wellness groups, including nutrition and mindfulness, as well as other wellness resources (online and in person) to actualize some of these goals from the outset. Wellness mentors and therapists are a part of these services and create a community around these offerings.

At Modern Minds, we prioritize the unique circumstances and needs of every client, and as opposed to just trying our best with what we had always done, we decided to change what we were doing.

Promoting Balance in Mind, Body, and Spirit as You Return to College

The key to a healthy life is balance. When you think of balance, what comes to mind? Often balance is misperceived as a static condition. Balance, however, is an ongoing dynamic process whereby you stay simultaneously aware of multiple areas of your life, adjust to daily demands, and align your responses and values. Balance is an individual process, and only you know when areas of your life feel balanced.

College is the first time in life for many young adults to choose what you do, where you do it, and with whom you do things, with little or no input from parents or others. Sure, you have specific requirements to meet for a degree, but you also choose when or whether to attend class, how to use your free time, and how you care for yourself.

Disruption and ambiguity can make anyone feel somewhat unbalanced. With the uncertainty and change that has resulted from COVID, there’s much that will be different in attending school this fall. Each college is struggling with how and when to bring back students, whether there will be sports and if yes, will the stadiums and arenas be open to spectators, will there be mostly on-line classes or how to offer in-person learning safely. Much is still in flux and unknown, with new changes announced daily. This loss of structure, routine, and purposeful activity can trigger feelings of anxiety, worry, sadness, and fear. Not knowing what is in store for the coming school year can range from unsettling to downright daunting. One of the most helpful ways to get back on track and to re-establish direction and balance in your life is to reflect upon who and what is most important and meaningful to you.

First, ask yourself who and what matters most to you? Why? Who among your family, friends, roommates, classmates, professors, coaches, or others embraces you at your best and encourages you to make healthy lifestyle choices that support you in mind, body, and spirit? Please write it down.

Next, take a deep breath. Visualize yourself returning to college as your absolute best self in mind, body, and spirit. Note what you are thinking, doing, and feeling when you are your best self. Think of the words that describe you when you feel your best. Are you energetic, active, connected, cheerful, outgoing, and productive? Are you peaceful, reflective, curious, calm, engaged, and lighthearted?

Think about behaviors and activities that help you feel your best. Ask yourself if you are sleeping enough and waking up feeling refreshed? Are you making healthy food choices, including eating more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and less processed foods? Are you drinking enough water throughout the day? Does your day include moments of meditation, mindfulness, or a pause to take a few deep breaths? Are you including movement in your day, such as going for a run, trying a virtual yoga class, or even stretching? Are you kind to yourself and others? You might notice how you have gotten harsher with yourself as you embark on a big life change or try to settle back into a new routine that differs significantly from last semester. Are you maintaining connections to people, places, and things that bring you joy and affirm your sense of purpose? These questions help bring your awareness to what you are doing each day and consider what brings you joy and balance, and what brings imbalance and stress. Whatever your answers, try not to judge yourself, but rather to view it as an opportunity for increased self-awareness and compassion.

Time spent identifying who and what matters most to you (your values) will help you engage in activities aligned with your sense of purpose, regardless of your external circumstances. When you notice yourself becoming stressed and making choices that don’t support your values, you can find your way back to your best self by setting actionable steps to balance areas where you feel stuck or dissatisfied. A clear vision of and commitment to what matters most to you as a college student, individual, friend, and any other role you may assume, will be your guiding light.

By Tina Kaminski, MA, MSW, LISW-CP

Parenting during the Pandemic

This is tough for all of us. We are navigating uncharted territory.

For parents, the challenge multiplies because we are responsible for the well-being of ourselves and of our children. Those of us with older parents feel responsible for the well-being of yet another.

If you’ve read my book, “The Worry Workbook for Kids” you know that a situation like this, where there is uncertainty and no clear plan in place, is prime breeding ground for worry for kids. All of us are susceptible to getting stuck in a worry cycle, not just children or those who struggle with anxiety. It’s just how our brains work!

How do you cope and how can you help your child cope?

What you can do:
1. Limit News and Social Media to no more than twice per day for you and your family. You won’t miss anything AND you’ll be more present and relaxed throughout the day. When there is uncertainty, our brains which are designed to protect us, are primed to seek information that can keep you safe. So, there’s always a really strong pull to access news. The irony is that we actually feel more anxious the more information seeking we do. The more we check the news, the message we send to our brain is that we are in danger. Before long, we are stuck in a worry cycle where we are not really seeking information anymore, we are seeking reassurance – anything that might provide some relief – either through escape or through reassuring news, so this includes social media. Help yourself and your family truly relieve anxiety by reducing the number of times you check your phone.

2. Chart out the Week. You’ve heard this hundreds of times by now: keep a daily schedule. Stability and structure are important for well-being and reassuring to children. Maintain your child’s typical waking times, meals, and bedtimes and most importantly make sure their day includes doing some type of work – both academic and chores. Reducing demand creates apathy and boredom and it makes it harder to pick up again when it’s time for regular demands like normal school days and homework. But be sure to plan lots of “play” time including “free” or unstructured time – it’s the thing they need most to drive creativity and positive emotion. It also helps them feel less distracted during their “work” time because it eliminates the feeling of being deprived.

3. Demonstrate calm and confidence (even when you don’t feel calm or confident inside!). Speak in a calm and confident voice. Validate their feelings (“It’s understandable that you feel scared/bored/angry”). It is OK to reassure your child. Children are still developing their understanding of the world and don’t have the range of life experiences that we do, so they are not ready to consolidate information that doesn’t fit with what they understand just yet. So, it is OK to reassure them that “We’re going to be OK,” even if you are not 100% sure yourself. We shouldn’t lie to them, but we also shouldn’t give them information they may not yet know how to wrap their minds around. Find out what they know and go from there. Stick to answering questions and ask them what questions they have. Give answers that are clear and short and don’t add too many details that they may not understand.

4. Exercise. I wouldn’t call it “exercise time” on the schedule, but do plan enough time each day for at minimum a cumulative hour of exercise. Take a daily walk with your child or as a family. If you have access to a yard, play outside. Throw a ball around or play Frisbee. Dance to a favorite song. Play tag. Start a hoola-hoop or jump rope contest. Many exercise studios are now streaming virtual exercise classes (e.g., Exhale, Cosmic Kids Yoga, Yoga with Adriene). Figure out an exercise that you and your child like and do it together. Exercise is a natural, fun, and effective way to reduce anxiety and improve overall mental and physical well-being.

5. Accept Imperfection. Accept imperfection and be flexible in knowing that you might not be able to stick to your plans perfectly right now. There is no way with half the time, half the resources, half the options, half the support, that you are going to succeed in accomplishing 100% of your goals right now. If you think, “it’s a perfect time to finish the basement clean-up” you’ll end up feeling frustrated and anxious whenever something interrupts your plan. Instead, set your expectations to be more realistic and focus your priorities on your big picture values. Instead of setting productivity as your priority, set your priority of using this as an opportunity to connect with your kids. You’re off the hook for everything else! Remind yourself that you accomplished the most important thing – showed your kids how loved they are.

6. Try to keep a 5:1 positive to negative attention ratio. Kids express worry in ways that are not always clear. They don’t have the words or the practice identifying emotions that we do. They may be more impatient, crankier, or more obstinate, than usual. Be patient and stick with the plan to accept imperfection. They are reacting to the stress in the environment and the change in the normal routine and don’t know how to soothe themselves. Positive attention is reassuring and calming and makes everyone feel good. Shoot for giving 5 statements of positive feedback for every 1 piece of negative feedback you give each day. The kind of behavior that you are looking for is also more likely to come when your child is getting more positive attention than negative.

7. Encourage them to take action. To get “unstuck” from a worry cycle, the fastest and most effective strategy is to focus on an action. We think of it as focusing on what you can control. Rather than trying to calculate, prevent, or change things outside of your control, plan on what you can do today to help yourself, your family, and your community. Encourage your child to do the same. Have them make plans and take action. They can write thank you letters to medical professionals or those working hard to keep us safe. They can plan a trivia game for the family for a game night activity. They can plan the menu for lunch or dinner for the next day.

By, Dr. Muniya Khanna

Psychological Flexibility in Your Wellness Routine

At our best, we may settle into a wellness routine that feels comfortable, rejuvenating and balanced. However, as the seasons change, school routines resume, or COVID19 regulations create new barriers, the rhythm of our routine naturally fluctuates.

Changes in the external world can have a significant impact on our ability to sustain a wellness routine. If we become rigidly attached to our regimen, even the smallest interruptions can be jarring and uncomfortable. We can easily find ourselves out of balance, frustrated and yearning for what was.

The founder of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dr. Steven Hayes, describes the importance of psychological flexibility for adapting to our changing experience. Psychological flexibility is the ability to live fully connected with the present moment and flexibly engage in behaviors that are effective in bringing us closer to our values. Building psychological flexibility means strengthening our ability to choose the way we relate to our experience.

Psychological flexibility became essential for me this Spring when COVID-19 restrictions started. I’d been so excited to live my values of building community and nurturing my physical body by joining a Charleston gym and running club. COVID19 had other plans, however. My exercise routine came to a screeching halt and I struggled to see ways to move towards my values.

Psychological flexibility in this instance allowed me to recognize the disappointment of missing out on community, and instead lean into early morning solo runs that connected me with nature and stillness. I pivoted to explore online workout communities instead and developed a new appreciation for yoga. From the perspective of psychological flexibility, a shift in our routine that could feel like a set-back or a lack of balance becomes an opportunity to intentionally choose to engage in effective behaviors that build on our values.

Wellness looks different and fits into different time and space for everyone. Whether you are navigating parenting, working from home, lay-offs, tight budgets or other unexpected changes, psychological flexibility can be the tool that allows you to integrate wellness into any situation or circumstance.

Consider these questions to use psychological flexibility to adapt your wellness routine to the changing flow of your life.

1. Notice (without judgment) areas where you might feel stuck in your routine.
When we feel stuck or unable to meet a certain goal, it is easy to avoid wellness instead of adapting our routine. Imagine you were a curious research scientist studying your routine, what would you notice that is working well for you? What areas feel more stuck or stagnant to you?

2. What are the primary values embedded in your wellness routine?
Does your routine create connection, improve health, release stress, or add spiritual value to your daily life? Take a moment to consider what values motivate your wellness routine so that you can intentionally foster these values when your routine changes.

3. What areas of wellness have you always wanted to try?
Change can be an opportunity to lean into a new form of wellness. Use a shift in routine to approach a new practice or activity with curiosity and openness.

4. Practice Compassion
Wellness is a daily practice and simply showing up with intention to cultivate any part of your wellness, however small, is something to be celebrated. Continuing to move towards your values during unpredictable times may mean taking smaller steps, and recognizing that adapting is part of the human experience.

Taking a moment to reflect on these questions is a practice in noticing and being present with your experience. With psychological flexibility, you can begin to increasingly make choices in the present moment that bring you closer to your values and enhance your wellness routine.

By: Kylie Cameron-Burr MSW, LISW-CP