5 Things a Psychologist Keeps in her Mental Health Toolkit
Tools to help take care of your mental health
Photo courtesy of @hellomikee/Twenty20
By Natalie Shukur
writer for The Natural
As the public conversation around mental health opens up, it’s a great time to consider your own brain and its complex chemistry and emotions. Only the rare person among us is completely immune to bouts of stress, anxiety or depression, as well as burnout, overwhelm, insomnia, PTSD, and OCD — all conditions that are thankfully becoming less stigmatized. Whether you experience fleeting flare-ups or chronic issues, there are many things you can do for yourself, or with the help of a licensed mental health practitioner, to feel more empowered and less alone.
“My practice is about relieving symptoms and suffering by getting at the root of the problem, versus symptom-relief alone,” says Dr. Leilani Crane, a psychologist licensed in New York and Philadelphia, who specializes in psychodynamic and psychoanalytic psychology informed by feminist and multicultural values. “People develop symptoms for very good reasons, but when [those symptoms] begin to hurt rather than help someone, it’s time for change. The change can take a long time, but patience is key.”
Professional women, specifically, make up the core of Crane’s clientele. “All working women, especially in a highly competitive city like New York, face significant challenges in balancing care for work, home, family, friends, and self. Part of psychotherapy is identifying the challenges, learning how to manage them more effectively, and learning how to put one’s self first. As I tell my patients, you serve others best by focusing on yourself. That’s a difficult ‘sell’ for many women who have been taught that putting themselves first is selfish.”
Here, Crane shares five tools to take care of your mental health.
Photo courtesy of @ashim/Twenty20
“Sleep is essential for physical and mental health, yet most people do not get enough of it. Practicing good sleep hygiene (switching off electronic devices a few hours before bed, only using your bedroom for sleep and sex, for example) and getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night is incredibly important for overall wellbeing.”
“Make and keep those annual (or biannual) appointments for your physical and OBGYN checkups! The last thing you want to worry about is your physical body breaking down on you. Body care also includes exercise — necessary for stress relief and physical health. Proper nutrition is also crucial. We all need to fuel our bodies with healthy foods, but without being rigid in our habits.”
Photo courtesy of @daphneemarie/Twenty20
“Who are your supports? Family members? Friends? A partner? The best support crew includes folks from each category if available, but no points off if you are not partnered or can’t locate any supportive family members. Good friends are necessary to self-care. Who is that person you can call on 24/7 and know that they will be there for you? Who is the person who will listen to you bitch and/or cry, no questions asked, no advice given? Who is that person who will get you up and out there, doing something fun, even if that’s just sitting with a cup of tea in a café? Who is that person who will share your successes without envy? Share your disasters with love? We all need a support crew to succeed in life.”
“Formerly known as being aware in the moment — ‘be here now’ — and various configurations of mediation practices, mindfulness has become the brand name for ways of being present. Whatever it takes — meditation, yoga, apps that remind you to notice the present moment — pick one and use it reliably. I encourage my patients to practice meditation daily, even if for only a few minutes, just to establish the habit of allowing the mind to quiet. Meditation has additive and synergistic effects, which often go unnoticed until a practitioner experiences something formerly very upsetting or activating that does not affect them the same way it used to.”
“Therapy is not just for ‘crazy people’. One of the stigmas/myths around psychotherapy is that it’s just for really, really mentally ill people. Not so! I place it in the same self-care category as pedicures and hair appointments — it’s just something I do for me. Given the work that I do, I will never not be in therapy. It keeps me honest in my work, reduces stress, and helps me problem-solve in a way that chatting with friends or circling my own thoughts can never achieve. Psychotherapy is there for you when a real crisis hits, but it’s also there for you when you’re pretty content but figuring out next steps. Your therapist is part of your support crew and can also refer you to specialists — executive coaches, career counselors, medical and holistic providers — when you need or request them.”
Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.