Updated: Nov 12, 2020
A pandemic. Political polarization. Economic uncertainty. Social unrest. What else can 2020 throw our way?
Anxiety has become an almost expected and accepted side effect of the world we live in. Yet, far too often, it is something we keep secret and struggle with alone. Dr. Mary Beth Woehrle, founder and CEO of IGNITE.TRANSFORM, and Melanie Short, owner and therapist at JRNY Counseling, are determined to fix that.
IWL sat down with these experts to discuss the importance of caring for our mental health and removing the stigma that holds so many women back.
Seeking help for mental health has long carried a stigma. How can we all “Be the Change” and start the conversation to help remove that stigma?
Change Your Thinking - The #1 reason people say they don’t reach out for help is because of the stigma. They are worried about what other people will think. This is something we’ve made up in our heads! We’ve made it up that everyone will think badly of us if we show an imperfection or that we want assistance with something. The opposite is true.
Say It Out Loud – It’s okay to share. This takes away the power the issue holds over us and is usually met with empathy. You’d be surprised how many people can relate to you. Anxiety Disorders are the #1 mental health issue reported. We can do something about that by talking and normalizing the fact that we are all imperfect. In fact, most people respect when someone can be vulnerable. This allows us to connect—something all humans seek.
Check In – Reach out to the people in your life. Reflect to them what you see. Be a safe, empathetic, non-judgmental person when they share something personal with you.
Normalize the Conversation – Our physical health does not carry shame when we are asked about it or when we seek treatment. Our mental health should be the same, both when we are going through a flare up or when we are concerned about someone else who is struggling.
What is the difference between feeling anxious and having anxiety? How do you know when it is time to get help?
Normal anxiety or feeling anxious is something we all experience. It can be about everyday stressors like paying bills, a job change, or a breakup. Some anxiety can be positive and protective. It can motivate us with excitement and adrenaline for a performance, a first date, or a new job. If your apprehension level and the accompanying physical response are in proportion to the things that make you anxious, you’re probably just dealing with normal anxiety. Ask yourself:
Do I have some control over these racing thoughts?
Can I at least partially calm my worries?
Yes answers to these questions indicate typical anxious feelings. When your worries feel outsized compared to the actual “threat” or gnaw at you no matter how much you try to tame them, your level of anxiety may be clinically significant.
Anxious feelings and thoughts cross over into Anxiety Disorder territory when they become disruptive to daily life. Ask yourself:
Are my worries growing in intensity and duration?
Am I losing sleep because I can’t turn these thoughts off?
Is my mind or body feeling more restless than usual?
Are an increased level of irritability, perfectionism, negative self-talk, and people pleasing disturbing my life?
Am I fighting irrational fears and catastrophic thinking?
Is my anxiety/stress/worry affecting multiple areas of my life (e.g. marriage, relationships with children, social life)
Anxiety Disorder also manifests in physical symptoms such as: a racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, twitching or tremors, headache, upset stomach, changes in appetite, and fatigue.
Just as with your physical health, early diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues can decrease treatment time and collateral issues.
If you’ve ever thought, “Maybe I should talk to someone about it,” know that you are worth it. Follow your instinct.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama said the pandemic, racial injustice, and what is happening in Washington have us suffering from a low-grade depression. What are some coping strategies we can use during these tough times to support our mental health?
Lean on Your Faith – listen to a podcast, read scripture, listen to worship music, pray
Exercise – take a walk, go for a run, ride your bike, box
Try Yoga – it’s not about being a pretzel, but about calming your mind and opening your heart
Practice Grounding Techniques – try the 4-7-8 breathing technique, load your senses (two things you see, smell, hear, and touch), appreciate your surroundings
Meditate – practice focused concentration and bringing yourself back to the present moment over and over again
Go Outside – walk in the sunshine and focus on the beauty of the nature around you
Use Your Community – talk to friends, give back to those less fortunate
What can we all do to make sure people understand that their mental health is just as important as their physical health?
The way we talk about our mental and physical health, and the way we seek treatment, is vital for our ability to live healthy and whole.
Think about this example:
When an athlete is injured in high school, she goes on to live her life. Later, when she’s out with her family at a sporting event, she decides to wear a knee brace to support and protect her injury. A friend asks what happened and she replies, “Oh, it’s an old injury from high school. Sometimes it flares up and I have to be careful or do some rehab when it really starts bothering me.”
The friend doesn’t reply with, “Well, you must not be strong enough. You’re just weak.” When someone breaks a bone, we don’t say, “Walk it off, wimp!” We want people to get treatment and feel better.
Challenges in mental health are the same as challenges with our physical health. When we have a childhood trauma or abuse, it can create a weakened or stress point in our mental health that can manifest itself when we are adults and things pile up. Just as with a physical injury, you need support and treatment. It’s not about “walking it off.” There are many reasons our mental health may need a check-up or treatment plan. Let somebody know.
Research shows the pandemic’s effects are particularly hard on women. From balancing demanding jobs to taking care of children and managing schooling—the pressure continues to mount. Why is it so important for women to find time to focus on self-care?
"You cannot pour from an empty pitcher" is a phrase we use to promote the need for self-care. Women juggle many hats at work and home. Those in the sandwich generation are taking care of parents as well as children. These demands take a toll on our mind and bodies if we do not take time to care for ourselves. When we practice self-care, the more we have to offer ourselves, our families, and our work. We can only fully participate in our purpose when we have a mind and body that is healthy and strong.
Mary Beth, you went from Optometrist to mental health advocate and nonprofit founder. What led you on this path and what lessons does your story hold for others who want to “Be the Change”?
I’ll share a bit of my story and my why because for me, to “Be the Change” means my life has purpose and is a testimony to a loving God who continues to redeem my story for his Glory.
My mom was 16 when she had me. She was broken and I was adopted.
I was raised in a wonderful and broken family. My mom was an abusive alcoholic. Much of my childhood I wore a mask pretending to be tough, together, and unaffected by my home life. My family was perfect on the outside and broken on the inside.
When I was a senior at Indiana University, my brother was killed in an alcohol-related car accident. Now everyone was broken.
I graduated from Optometry school and was accepted to start residency in pediatrics and binocular vision at age 26. I should have been on top of the world, but I was falling apart. While in counseling, I realized I was an alcoholic. I entered AA and today am 30 years sober. I was broken but recovering and getting emotionally transformed.
In my late 40s, I was professionally successful and married with young kids. I also was 100 pounds overweight and needed to shed that weight to be who I really was. So, I did everything it took to lose 100 pounds. I was broken but getting physically stronger.
All along I had a sense of faith but was spiritually broken and a bit distant from God. I began to seek His path for my life. And let me tell you, for this self-willed, headstrong, independent woman, that is no easy choice. I began a path to spiritual wellness.
God has used each of these broken pieces of my story to create within me a passion and heart, along with knowledge and experience, to help women by founding IGNITE.TRANSFORM. The program’s mission is to ignite hope and transform the lives of women. The nonprofit provides mental health counseling, physical wellness, and the love of God to improve lives.