Physical Health tied to Mental Wellness: 5 Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Day-to-Day Life

I recently experienced what so many of my clients come into session concerned about…physical aches and pains.

I woke up one morning with an aching pain in my jaw. It was like having a migraine in my mouth all day long. I tried to think back over the last few days…what had I been doing differently that could have caused this? After some self reflection and figuring out what the pain exactly was, I realized stress was the culprit. I had gotten to a place of extreme stress from working two jobs, being a mom, and managing all the calendars my household had to keep track of. I had begun clenching my teeth while I slept, which caused me to wake up in pain.

The solution to this pain? Physical therapy, mouth guards at night, and pain medication. Um…I don’t know about you, but none of that sounded like a solution or appealing in any way. They sounded more like management, than a cure.

So many of my clients come into session expressing symptoms of depression or anxiety or general stress, then will make a passing comment about chronic back pain, or chest tightness, or other physical ailments that they have been getting evaluated at a physician. They never tie the experience of physical health to their mental health however.

Disclaimer: I am not a physician, and you should always seek out medical professionals to have any physical health symptoms evaluated. This is in no way a replacement for medical assistance/ advice.

Minority women especially, are more likely to experience mental health concerns as physical symptoms in the body. These aches and pains are almost always directly related to your level of stress. In my personal experience, consciously working on reducing my stress enabled me to reduce my jaw pain to zero.

Now this does not mean medical intervention isn’t helpful, but it can work hand in hand with mental health interventions. Utilizing various coping strategies to reduce stress can assist in a speedy recovery.

Here are my top 5 coping strategies for managing stress:

  • 1. Mindfulness Breathing

  • Mindfulness breathing is a tool that can be utilized at any moment in your day and requires nothing more than the ability to breathe. Pausing in a moment of stress to take a deep inhale and slow exhale allows for your body to experience a sense of calm. It slows down your heart rate and reduces the idea that your body needs to go into “fight or flight” mode. If you want some assistance in practicing this technique try searching for “Guided Mindfulness Breathing” on YouTube, or download the “Calm” app on your mobile device.
  • 2. Journaling

    Journaling can be a great way to get thoughts out of your head and practice letting go of stress. Writing about your emotions whether it be grief, anger, joy, or a plethora of other emotions allows you to release these thoughts and reflect on how they are affecting you. An important aspect of journaling however is practicing to write about gratitude. Expressing gratitude for various aspects of your life provides balance to the challenges and emotions that occur on a daily basis. Nobody wants a book of sorrow, so incorporate both the good and bad.

    3. Skincare Routine

    This may seem frivalous, but hear me out. A regular skincare routine not only benefits your skin, but it gives you time to yourself. Depending on the type of skincare routine you implement (it could be as simple as rubbing some lotion on or as complex as a multi-step regimen) you can give yourself 2-30 minutes of “me time”. Being intentional about this time each day guarantees that you take a break and attend to your own needs even if only for a few minutes.

    4. Low-Impact Exercises

    Depending on your physical symptoms and with approval from your physician, try low- impact exercises such as walking or yoga. Walking is such an underrated exercise regimen. Taking time on your lunch break or before/after work to take a walk outside allows for more time in the sun, increased blood flow, and an overall mood boost. This physical activity kills two birds with one stone as it benefits your physical and mental health at the same time.

    5. Sleep Hygiene

    Last, but certainly not least, ensure you are getting enough sleep. How you feel when you wake up determines how well you’ll manage your stress throughout your day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Take a look at your daily schedule. Where is time wasted? And what could be moved around to create room for a decent bedtime? Also, take a look into what you are sleeping on. Maybe that futon from college isn’t cutting it anymore, or your mattress could use a new topper for support. Nobody has ever applauded themselves for having a late night and waking up groggy in the morning. Elevate this basic need to ensure a brighter day ahead.

    All these coping strategies can be used on a day-to-day basis to reduce the stress that is likely contributing to those physical ailments. Incorporating and practicing these stress-reducing skills will allow you to live a happier and healthier life. And if these things aren’t enough, try attending therapy!

    Why I have a Waiting List: What To Do in the Meantime

    I know. You came here to schedule an appointment, but you saw I had a waiting list. You got yourself pumped up for starting therapy and were disappointed. I sincerely apologize. I created a waiting list so I know who to reach out to when an appointment opens up. I do not encourage rushing people through their therapeutic process, so as I help my current clients, I will try to leave you with some ideas on how to utilize your time and start the therapy process before your first appointment!

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    Start Journaling

    One way to document your emotions, events in your life, or just ideas and to-do lists is by keeping a daily or weekly journal. The first question I ask all my clients is, “what brings you into therapy?” If you keep a record of how you have been feeling, you will have collected all the data necessary to answer this question. The therapeutic process would have started before you even walk in the door, and you’ll feel prepared for the work that happens in the therapy room.

    Do some Self Care

    If you are willing to dedicate an hour a week to therapy that means you have an hour in your schedule already to do some self care. Take that time now to schedule something just for you. Self care can look like taking a walk around the park, lake, or by the beach. It could be spending some time doing something creative like painting, coloring, or knitting. It could mean practicing mindfulness or meditation in a peaceful setting you create just for yourself (candles, mood lights, and white noise machines welcome!). Self care could also look like setting up a coffee date with some of your favorite people every week. Whatever you choose to do with your time make it all about self love!

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    Talk to your Support Network

    Maybe you can’t grab coffee every week, but maybe you can incorporate some other form of communication. Write a letter to an old friend or to someone you never got to say how you really feel too. Call up a sibling and laugh about old shenanigans or vent about your crazy parents. Join a book club or support group that helps you learn how to open up about your thoughts. Or just carve out time for you and your partner to connect every week. Who ever you give that time to, make sure it is spent with those that will add to your life instead of take away from it.

    Try Something New

    You thought therapy would be a new adventure for you to take. Why not try something else new and different from your normal routine? Being uncomfortable is a skill you will definitely utilize in therapy, so might as well practice now. Whether that is a new restaurant in town or a new hobby, get outside of your comfort zone and try something that the new you could really dive into!

    Reach out to one of the Referrals Provided

    If waiting isn’t something you are open to, please utilize one of the referrals emailed to you after adding your name to the waiting list. You could also call the following numbers to get resources more quickly!

    Mental Health Resources: 2-1-1

    Access & Crisis Line (San Diego): 1-888-724-7240

    Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741

    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

     

    I hope to see you soon along your path to wellness!

    Young Therapists: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Accepting that First Job

    Diverting from my usual audience, I want to speak to my fellow blooming therapists out there.

    Deciding to become a therapist means deciding to be selfless more hours out of the day than not. This is a daunting task and takes a special kind of person to take it on. So kudos to you for choosing to walk down that career path!

    However passionate you are about this path, I would like to send the reminder that being a therapist is a lot more than just being an empathetic person to those that choose to sit in front of you…it’s a full blown job. A job that is both physically and mentally draining. Preparing yourself for what you are about to take on and preparing yourself for where this career path will take you in the future is important!

    Making an informed decision about how being a therapist will affect your overall life will help you grow into your career with ease. That is why I want to pose to you 5 questions to ask yourself before accepting that first job…

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    What are you doing for self-care?

    As much as we preach “self-care is important!”, are you taking care of yourself? Can you think of one thing you do on a regular basis that is purely for yourself? If you can’t think of something, you better assign yourself some self-care ASAP. We tell our clients all the time that self-care is important, but we often forget that as “helpers” we are often the ones that need some self-care the most. Knowing your hobbies, happy place, or support systems can be life saving when working in this field. Also, think about how you will incorporate this self care when you begin your career. Establishing these self care activities into your routine NOW, will make it much easier when things start to get even more hectic.

    What are your priorities?

    Are you single, and hoping to still have time for finding love? Or do you have a  family where being present for all the big moments is important? Or do you really love taking trips and participating in events and get togethers with friends? No matter what your priorities are, make sure to take these into account BEFORE signing on to a new job or side project. Knowing what comes first on your priority list enables you to choose what will be a good fit for you. Also, take into account that these priorities may shift. Working two jobs and 60 hour weeks may seem fine when you are pre-licensed, but once you become licensed you may want to reduce some of these hours to fit in other more important activities.

    What do you want your schedule to look like?

    There is no typical therapist schedule, so don’t try to match what you see someone else doing. In grad school you may have been handed a class schedule that you had to work around, but it may have seemed easy to just fill in the space before or after classes each week. After graduation however, you have to figure out your entire 24 hours each day to really maximize your time. If you are considering agency work vs. private practice, choose wisely. You may expect a typical 9-5pm, but crisis happens at all times of the day, so therapy jobs often mean working nights and weekends. Something they don’t tell you in grad school.

    Look at your schedule and decide what line of work fits into your lifestyle. Outpatient programs offer the most typical schedule, as they are mostly office-based (M-F, 9am-5pm). School-based jobs often give more flexibility due to school year schedules (expect working anywhere between 7am and 3pm, M-F, with all the typical school breaks). A community-based job will often involve more evening hours (think hours between 9am and 7pm, M-Sat., with minimal holidays). Though some add the flexibility of working a 4×10 (4 days a week, 10 hours a day). Private practice work can seem to be the most flexible, but at times it can be the most restricting, as you are catering to when your clients will most likely be available (think M-Th.+Sat., 4pm-9pm or 9am-12pm). With most clients working a typical 9-5, you’re often offering the off hours. Each job you apply for will come with a different set of requirements, so do not be afraid to ask what a normal work day/week looks like for their therapists.

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    How do you set boundaries?

    You may have been taught about legal & ethical boundaries, but personal boundaries can be just as important to establish in your career. Being a pre-licensed therapist, you often forget just how much you have to offer, which can be detrimental to your sanity. Pre-licensed therapists are often taken advantage of in the work place due to our natural desire to help. Be firm with your boundaries when it comes to working extra hours, taking home work, carrying your client’s baggage, and all the other ways in which you may be asked to go above & beyond your job description. Decide what will be hurtful to your well-being and what will be helpful to your goals. If it feels like too much, it most likely is WAY too much!

    What are your career goals?

    This is a major question, and arguably the most important. Some people go into the mental health field because they love the one-on-one contact with people, and doing anything other than direct therapy doesn’t interest them. Some people want to be the director of an entire non-profit because they want to see agencies run differently. Some people really want the ability to work for themselves, part-time, and have more time for their family. While others really love the educating aspect of therapy, and see themselves eventually teaching. And still others may have completely different goals tied into their mental health related degree. Figuring this goal out now however, allows you to line up and prioritize what is most important to you.

    Think about where you see yourself in 10 years…what are you doing? Where do you live? How hard are you working? These questions will allow you to seek out a position that will help you reach your end goal. Finding a position that gives you room for growth and professional trainings can be game changing when you finally become licensed. Additional items on a resume or just additional knowledge in your head, can make all the difference in that professional transition. Start by making a vision board or writing a letter to your future self, then hold yourself accountable to accomplish the dreams you have.

    It will all be worth it in the end.

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    Suite303 Podcast: Episode 6: Mental Health & The Stigma of Therapy feat. Lee from SimpLee Therapy

    I had the pleasure recently to collaborate with not just someone I look up to, but one of the people that inspire me daily, Mr. Albert Phang, also known as my big brother. His podcast, Live from Suite303, is THE place for entertainment, culture, and generally uplifting the community known as The Inland Empire. I was privileged enough to get to sit down on the show and discuss how mental health has become such a big conversation in every community, but also how the stigma around therapy is being shattered by new generations in the black community.

    Take a listen at Suite303 on SoundCloud or

    Watch the podcast on YouTube at

    Live from Suite 303 – Episode 6

    Are You Having a “Quarter Life Crisis”?

    Your mid-twenties. You expected to be done with school, working in a great career, be engaged (maybe even married), and possibly buying your first home. In reality, you are probably in grad school or contemplating going back because you barely get paid a living wage at your job and your parents keep asking when you are going to find a spouse and move out. What a f**king surprise…

    This is not how you imagined adulthood. Good news is, you aren’t the only one feeling this way. Bad news is, there are A LOT of twenty-something year olds feeling this way.

    So what do you do about your situation? Go to therapy. Why? Let me tell you the top 5 reasons to attend therapy in your twenties…

     

    1. To Find Supportfriends

      Your support system changes a lot in your twenties. This is the time when your friend group goes through a major overhaul (because let’s be honest, you’re lucky if 2 of your friends from high school are actually still your friends). Your parents slowly start seeing you less like a child and more like a fellow adult. And you actually have to have professional relationships at work (instead of goofing off during your shift at American Eagle). Knowing who to go to when you are having an off day becomes more difficult to decipher. Therapy can help you work through the relationships in your life to discover which are challenging you to be better and which are holding you down. While figuring out who in your life is supportive of your growth, you establish a relationship with your therapist, who’s sole job is to support you on your journey to your goal.

       

    2. To Reduce Your Anxieties

      Twenty year olds are full of anxiety for all sorts of reasons. Anxiety about finishing school. Anxiety about paying for school. Anxiety about finding a job. Anxiety about finding a mate. Anxiety about how to cook dinner or do your own laundry. Literally everything is new and harder than you thought it would be. A good therapist will be able to meet these anxieties with tools you can use to cope with and reduce these anxious feelings. Reducing the anxiety around these issues is the first step to being able to make sound decisions about how you want to approach each circumstance.

    3. To Build Your Self Confidencegirl guitar

      Millennials have taken a lot of blows to their self esteem. Whether it is an article saying “how lazy this generation is” or parents reminding you how much they had accomplished at your age or just social media filling your timeline with perfect looking people and their perfect looking lives (Note: none of those people are actually perfect). Being twenty-something in today’s age sometimes makes you feel like sh*t. Going to a therapist should make you feel the opposite of that. Therapy hands you an open, non-judgmental person to guide you to the realization about all you have to offer. Therapy has helped many people come to realizations about what self worth looks like and how they can find the confidence to go after their personal goals. Which brings me to reason 4 to attend therapy in your twenties…

    4. To Challenge Society’s Norms

      A lot of the issues that present themselves in this time of your life have to do with the influence of society. Society says what you should be doing, how you should be doing it, and gives no explanation for why. Therapy can be a place where you can deconstruct these societal norms, and re-establish for yourself what “normal” is. Questions are the core of therapy, and questioning what society tells you is right can be an incredible jumping off point for major progress in therapy.

    5. To Discover Your Unique Pathmap

       

      Last, but not least, your twenties are all about discovering what works for you. Once you find the support, reduce the anxiety, build the confidence, and challenge society, you are ready to make decisions about how you want to live your life and how you are going to accomplish your goals. Figuring these things out with a therapist in tow helps keep you on track and holds you accountable to using the skills you’ve learned along the way.

    Therapy has everything to do with growth and this is the time of your life that you arguably doing the most growth. Not only are you growing intellectually, but also socially and spiritually. Making time for therapy means making time to slow down in this hectic world and reflect on who you are and who you want to be. How could you benefit from therapy?

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