Introduction by Annamarie Fernyak
In the following blog post, Erin talks about the stigma of mental health and common biases toward people who may be suffering from mental illness. Before Erin’s thoughtful essay, I never considered that I might have biases. After reflecting on Erin’s words, I came to realize that some biases were just below the surface.
So, what can we do once you know those subconscious inclinations exist? What do I do?
Be mindful, of course! We each have the beautiful ability to tune the dial of awareness onto our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. By paying careful attention, we gain information and uncover unwanted habits and beliefs. The pause taken to tune into awareness provides the opportunity for you to weigh what is happening at any moment against your values; then an action may be chosen. It allows purposeful actions instead of reactions.
Take time to self-reflect. Listen to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Discover if you have habitual ways of thinking or hidden prejudices, and invite yourself to think, act, and exist in a way that positively serves yourself and the world.
Sending a virtual hug!!!
“I heard you were sick the other day. How are you feeling?”
“You had surgery recently, right? How are you recovering?”
“Oh no, you have the flu?? Stay home and take care of yourself!”
All of the above statements are commonly heard among friends and co-workers on a daily basis. We are often able to discuss health issues and illnesses, checking on one another, and making sure physical health issues are addressed. Imagine if the following was overheard:
“I heard you had a manic episode last week. How are you feeling?”
“You had a psychiatric hospitalization recently, right? How are you doing?”
“Oh no, you had a panic attack? Please stay home and take care of yourself!”
If any of the above statements make you uncomfortable, you are not alone.
Except for those who work in the mental health field, the statements above do not roll off the tongue. We are completely comfortable talking about the health ailments of ourselves and our friends, family, and co-workers; however, the stigma around mental health often leaves us speechless and silent, rendering those with mental health symptoms isolated and ostracized.
So why does this occur?
There are a variety of reasons and theories. In the Middle Ages, those with mental health symptoms were thought to be punished by God or possessed by the devil, so they were often imprisoned, burned, or killed. Perhaps the discomfort around mental health stems from the colonial and industrial periods; at this time, women were commonly viewed as property of the fathers and husbands in their lives, and these men could have them “committed” to a sanitarium at any time, with very little evidence. In the days of Nazi Germany, horrible experiments were conducted on those deemed mentally ill because some believed the mentally ill were a disposable population.
In the 1960s and 1970s, deinstitutionalization resulted in the influx of those diagnosed as severely mentally ill as these individuals re-entered local communities to receive treatment. However, this also led to homelessness, and it doubled the number of people identified as mentally ill in the criminal justice system in the following years. Additionally, the media sensationalize acts of violence and attribute them to mental illness, even if there is no evidence of a connection.
In this historical context, all episodes of mental illness get lumped together. Whether the person is experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety, the individual is often viewed from the same lens, both internally (view of self) and externally (how others view the person). If one grows up hearing about “crazy” people, who commit acts of violence or who live on the street, and then experiences mental health symptoms, it can be alarming and unsettling. Often, people will not admit to themselves or others what symptoms they experience for fear of being hospitalized, losing their job, or not being able to see or care for their children.
What can the average person do then, to reduce this stigma for oneself and significant others?
Mental health issues are isolating, and lack of connection with others exacerbates these issues. Human connection is the balm that heals. Sometimes, just having someone who is willing to sit with you, even in silence, is the most healing thing of all. Be that connection for someone. There are several things we can do :
1. Educate yourself.
The more you know, the less scary and strange something will be. And then, you can help educate others with facts.
2. Recognize what biases you have.
Examine from where these biases stem, whether from how you were brought up or societal influences.
3. Talk about your own mental health struggles.
Each of us has ups and downs in our moods and emotions; that is very normal. Each of us also has times in our lives when we struggle with difficult situations and circumstances. Talking about these struggles openly makes room and space for others to do so as well.
4. Be aware of language.
Instead of saying words like “crazy” or “nuts” or “cuckoo”, or even saying things like “he’s bipolar” or “she’s depressed”, say things like “he has symptoms of bipolar disorder” or “those who have schizophrenic symptoms”. This begins to identify the person as separate and distinct from the condition.
5. Support people who are struggling.
Reach out to someone you know is having difficulty with anxiety, depression, or even a psychotic episode. Let them know you are there.
*May is Mental Health Month and in support of our community, Mind Body Align is offering several FREE resources! Check it out here!
Erin Schaefer, LPCC-S, IMFT-S, is the Executive Vice President/Executive Director at Catalyst Life Services. She received a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacific Lutheran University in 1997 and a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling in 2002 from the University of Akron. Erin has worked in community mental health for over 20 years. She was also director of Ashland Parenting Plus, a small nonprofit agency focused on teen pregnancy prevention, juvenile diversion, and parent education. She served on the board and as president of the Ohio Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and also on the board of directors of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy from 2011-2013; she currently Treasurer-Elect, starting her term in Jan. 2020. She has been a member of AAMFT since 1997 and is a Clinical Fellow.
Erin has been married to Michael for over 20 years. They have two teenage children. Erin is also a certified running coach with Road Runner Clubs of America. She is an avid marathoner and loves running long distances. Erin believes in the power of exercise to help maintain good mental health!
It takes a community to raise our children! While volunteering to teach mindfulness in our local middle school, I noticed it was a struggle to get the children to focus, and there seemed to be discipline challenges. I sensed desperation in both teachers and students, which was shocking and disheartening.
At that time, being in the classroom was not foreign to me, but more often, I was found in the community trying to build stronger bonds around businesses and visitors within our downtown. After this day in the classroom, I realized it’s not enough for me to spur beautification and revitalization. It is not enough for our city leaders to attract innovative companies. A strong and vital community needs a strong educational system. We must provide the tools to create positive learning environments and to allow teachers to teach effectively. This leads to raising future generations of emotionally intelligent, wholehearted people. We must intentionally grow adults who were taught the skills needed to build positive relationships, to focus and be aware, be resilient, and have discernment of values in order to know where to invest energy and time. And so, the MBAwareness program was born. We started with baby steps.
For younger children, a mindfulness lesson may start like this:
Imagine you are a bear hibernating for the winter. When bears hibernate, they take long slow deep breaths in and out through their noses. Take a long breath in through your nose, and let it all the way out. Take another long breath in through your nose. Let it all the way out. Keep breathing like this and feel how relaxed and warm and safe you are in your cozy bear cave. (*get a FREE audio recording of this breathing exercise here!)
Imagine how calm children would be if this were how teachers routinely lead the first minute of class in your school. In a world that’s increasingly fast-paced, where kids are bombarded with media and screens, where they have less and less downtime to just be, these practices can teach kids essential skills. Like, how to calm themselves. How to focus and pay attention. How to manage their behavior and emotions. And how to practice compassion and kindness. They can also help kids cope with and release anxiety and stress.
Mindful Schools looked at 400 elementary school students in four areas of classroom behavior: paying attention, participation, self-control, and respect for others. The kids did a simple mindfulness program three times a week for five weeks. After completion, they found significant gains in all four of those areas. Let’s think about this for a minute. Improvements in self-control and respect for others are a total gift for teachers everywhere. They are also critical skills kids need to learn just to get along in life. Paying attention in class and participation directly leads to academic gains.
That’s what we are doing at Mind Body Align. We are starting with baby steps, but they are powerful baby steps.
Interested in learning more about integrating mindfulness into your classroom?
We’ve got the perfect opportunity for you to learn the basics of mindful education and how to implement into your social and emotional learning objectives. This workshop is offered both in-person and online.
Click here to check- it out now!
Annamarie Fernyak is the founder and CEO of Mind Body Align LLC based in Mansfield, Ohio. She is a certified life coach, mindfulness meditation teacher, and serial entrepreneur. The development of the MBAwareness Education Program was conceived while Annamarie was volunteering to teach mindfulness in a local middle school and found that the teachers and students were struggling to grow calm for their guest teacher, students seemed unable to pay focused attention, and the teachers were growing frustrated.
Annamarie’s focus was to create a program that would transform the lives of the students. She focused on hiring a licensed teacher to create and instruct the mindfulness-based social and emotional learning curriculums to elementary and secondary school students and teachers. Due to the challenges associated with global health concerns, Annamarie’s mindfulness education program is further now evolving into online mindfulness education focusing on teaching tools that reduce stress and support a life where people can feel more at ease. We also teach as a part of corporate wellness programs.
In 2017, Annamarie launched Align Mindfulness which is a FREE app downloadable from your app store that sends prompts a few times a day, bringing attention to what’s happening in your world. Intentionally simple, these reflections help you build a well-rounded “mindfulness” muscle by offering variety in where you place your awareness.
In my quest to write a perfect blog, while procrastinating with a slight fear of failing before I even get started, I will review with you a couple of ways to look at perfectionism. And perhaps through exploring those with you, I can help you and me identify some things we can both do to address that BIGG or little piece in each of us that may tend to be a perfectionist.
The first definition of PERFECTIONIST I looked up is a person who refuses any standard short of perfection. Other definitions linked it to a personality trait or type that strives for flawlessness and setting up high standards, accompanied by being overly critical of themselves and others. There is a connection between perfectionism and a fear of failure, and a need to be accepted.
I believe one can have high standards without some of the other things that go along with being a perfectionist. Once you have the emotional intelligence to recognize that you have some of the traits or qualities of being a perfectionist, you can work on addressing them for your own good, and the good of people around you, if you choose.
Many of you know that as a trainer and coach, I am a huge advocate of Gallup’s strengths-based leadership research. I love the idea that we need to focus on what’s right with people, rather than what is going wrong. This helps me manage perfection. In looking over Gallup’s 34 top leadership strengths’ “basements,” I found one that has “perfectionism,” and that is the strength called MAXIMIZER. Things like “never good enough” and “always reworking” and “picky” are part of the basement that can happen when you overuse it. It’s a strength I have that can make me a good coach. One that focuses on mastery, success, excellence, and working with the best. One that couples with my value that everyone can do their best, and everyone’s best can be different and EVERY kind and brand of excellence can be valued and rewarded. I believe people are perfect, not imperfect, just as they are.
As a coach, how I manage to keep from falling in the basement of “perfectionism” is that I believe in people and think they know how to solve their issues and move forward in their lives. Sometimes it just takes someone believing in them to help them do it. It’s not my job to tell them what they need to do, nor fix them. I honor and applaud their excellence.
Brene Brown, a well-known research professor, social worker, and five-time #1 New York Times best selling author, would suggest that PERFECTIONISM is a function of shame. Her definition is that perfectionism is a self-destructive belief system that fuels this primary thought – that if I look perfect or do everything perfectly, I avoid or minimize the painful feeling of blame, judgment, and shame.
It’s destructive because PERFECTION is an unattainable goal.
It’s getting sucked into proving I could do something versus PAUSING and stepping back and asking if I should do this, or if I want to do this.
I LOVE PAUSING.
Since my mother’s passing, I have worked a lot on emotional courage – to lean into and feel and identify the emotions I am experiencing, not judge them, but to sit with them and understand them, and explore if other choices could better serve me at some point. What’s the emotion that is behind this feeling of perfection? Am I feeling blame, judgment, or shame? What can I choose to do with it? How can I have a conversation with those I work with or someone who has dropped the ball without blaming, but just to talk about what happened so we can fix it and move on?
MOVE ON. LET IT GO.
How can we wade into our discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about our own stories, those real stories, those that we are not making up? Some of the other things that we can do that Brene and I and others may recommend addressing those areas of perfection that don’t serve us include:
*Say NO, not with an excuse, not with an explanation, just say NO. Set boundaries.
*Talk to ourselves like we would with someone we love. You are human. I am human. We all make mistakes.
As a leader, I would recommend that you HAVE to make mistakes and be vulnerable in front of other people, especially those you supervise so that they know that they can make mistakes too.
- Connect with someone who can respond with empathy and talk to them. Brene Brown suggests that shame cannot survive being spoken. Speak.
- Ask for help. Ask for your supervisor to help you prioritize. Quit picking up more work to do because no one else is. Hold people accountable. Give clear and honest feedback to them promptly.
- Catch people doing things right- celebrate victories and little or big WINS. Focus on gratitude. THANK people more.
- Ask for FEEDBACK from others…and don’t get defensive when you get it. Listen to it. Act on it.
And my favorite:
- Be a BADASS and don’t care what people think. Start “settling” a little bit more. Clarifying expectations is important, but you may need to lower expectations and standards …just because you can…and your expectations are not always reasonable or worth it.
According to Brene Brown, Perfection is the furthest thing from badassery.
Cindy Biggs is a leadership development expert working as a certified coach, mentor, and trainer. She started her encore career in 2012, as President of C. Biggs and Associates (www.SEEBIGG.com) after making a commitment to follow her dreams to be an entrepreneur and focus her top leadership strengths. She was CEO of Planned Parenthood of NC Ohio, based in Mansfield, for 20 years and VP of Organizational Development for 5 years after architecting a 5-way merger in NE Ohio with 4 other women to create a large, regional non-profit, Planned Parenthood of NE Ohio in Akron. Her volunteer work focuses on women’s empowerment and leadership development with nonprofits, including Central America Medical Outreach in Santa Rosa de Copan and the League of Women Voters. She lives in Wooster and Howard with her husband Jeff and cat Colt.
I invite you to join me in this moment.
Breathing in and breathing out.
Breathing in and breathing out.
One more breath.
In and out.
And, Hello! Welcome to February!
2020 is the year of whole living at Mind Body Align. It’s an entire year of exploration and non-judgemental examination into each area of our lives. We will focus on different topics through our Coffee Talks, podcasts, blogs, and social community. Our intention is that each month’s focus will offer you the possibility of standing confidently in your best life. Some of us may dive deep and others may hover near the surface, and it’s all ok. If you attended our most recent Coffee Talk I’m guessing that you have already put some thought into the topic of wholeness and what it means to you. If the concept is new, I invite you to read Annamarie’s blog post to begin your journey.
What does a “whole life” look like? Creating a life that is whole and fulfilling does not mean perfection. It is not tied to euphoric happiness. It is an underlying feeling of contentment and acceptance. Mindfulness is an awareness and acceptance of what is.
In going through the exercise of examining the whole of your world, there is no expectation or implied striving for balance. Personally, I have never found my life to be in balance. This used to create a lot of mental suffering, guilt, and self-recrimination. Practicing mindfulness has alleviated these feelings and my hope is that you will find transformation through mindfulness as well.
Take the first step.
January’s 10,000 Step Challenge may have been that first step for you. We had an amazing amount of engagement in the community. It has been fabulous to see people moving, connecting, encouraging each other, and forming new friendships through this challenge. I can’t wait to announce the grand prizes and meet everyone in person at our meetup at Phoenix Brewery on Thursday, February 6th between 5:30 & 7:00. P.S. Keep your eye out for some great content and ideas to keep the momentum from the group going!
Perhaps this year you need to focus energy on professional development. LunchWISE Wednesday kicked off the new year in January with the topic of Imposter Syndrome. It really seemed to resonate; I am still receiving emails and comments. We hear you and our planning team is reaching new heights to bring you inspired, relevant topics. Our February LW is featuring Holly Troupe, owner of The Boot Life. Holly is going to talk to us about diversifying and succeeding in your market. If you have been looking for new ways to expand your business or side hustle you will want to check this event out!
I also invite you to check out the events highlighted below, listen to the Second Sip podcast with life coach, Chris Stoner (it’s EPIC), and then meet up with us at the next Coffee Talk featuring accomplished leadership and executive coach, Cindy Biggs as we begin diving into perfectionism and what it means to be perfectly imperfect.
Have a wonderful month!
Mind Body Align’s Director of Operations is Jennifer Blue. No stranger to small business, Jen is a community leader, an entrepreneur and a published author who has led several successful startups. Responsible for overseeing the creation and implementation of all programs and events offered at the historic Butterfly House, home of Mind Body Align, as well as overseeing all operations for the company. Jennifer has worked alongside entrepreneurs and visionaries in various industries and positions over her 30-year management career. A Mansfield, Ohio native, Jen returned to Ohio after living and working in Louisville, Kentucky, as well as South Florida. She studied political science at Otterbein College and the University of Louisville. Adventure, creativity and new challenges are “musts” in her life; these drives have led Jen to work as a freelance writer, chef, and abstract artist.