Raising Awareness About Mental Health with NAMI: Part 4, Healing Through Self-Compassion
To round out a successful Mental Health Awareness month with our partner NAMI, we’re honored to be joined by Dr. Stacy Cohen, double-board certified psychiatrist and founder of The Moment, a behavioral health community based in Los Angeles. In her intro video, she’ll walk us through some ways we can set realistic goals for ourselves when it comes to our productivity, and how to keep self-compassion top of mind during this time of COVID.
We’re so pleased to have Dr. Stacy Cohen join us for our last May Text Takeover in honor of Mental Health Month. Dr. Cohen is CEO and founder of The Moment, a one-stop outpatient mental health and addiction treatment group based in Los Angeles.
Listen as she shares the simple techniques she uses to stay focused and mindful each day, along with ways we can remember to be compassionate with ourselves and embrace the gifts this quarantine has given us.
More about The Moment
Dr. Cohen started The Moment after feeling frustrated with how fragmented mental health care can be for people in recovery, especially in an outpatient setting. (Think sterile offices without much light or joyful surroundings.) The Moment is trying to change all that, from the way group mental health practices look and feel, to the type of care provided by its doctors and practitioners.
The doctors who work together with Dr. Cohen all believe the best treatment comes from a collaborative approach. By approaching mental health issues from biological, psychological, social, and spiritual perspectives, they’re aiming to create the truly integrative approach necessary to build lasting recovery from complex mental health conditions.
Learning how to embrace self-care
Dr. Cohen is a big proponent of self-care, but it took her some time to fully embrace its importance in her life. Before she became a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, she was a surgeon, and had worked nonstop to achieve one of the most prestigious positions in medicine.
But grueling hours and a steady detachment from friends, family, and her own wellbeing led her to realize she had spent years and years racing to a finish line that was far from where she actually wanted to be.
Her physical, mental, and emotional health were all suffering, and she felt she was losing herself, with an eye on becoming something rather than living fully as someone. She decided to leave surgery behind, and figure out another way of making a difference.
Through her practice, Dr. Cohen teaches self-compassion - giving people permission to feel, to take a break, to stop our workaholic tendencies, and to breathe.
Taking time for ourselves in the era of COVID
Though this pandemic has brought with it unbearable tragedy, it’s also given us a chance to reflect on what really matters; it’s an opportunity to get back to basics, slow down, and take time for ourselves and for our loved ones.
As human beings, when tragedy strikes, we often tend to get pulled to extreme poles. Through this lockdown period, many of us have gone into overdrive, feeling the need to maximize this ‘time off’ with endless home (or self) improvement projects.
Others have felt overwhelmed by everything going on, and have almost frozen, ignoring even basic health and emotional needs. Neither of these approaches is sustainable.
As Dr. Cohen points out, the healthiest place to be is somewhere in the middle of these poles, in the grey zone. When it comes to productivity, she’s got a few tips and tricks she uses to get through the day without feeling pressured to do too much, or disheartened if she does less than planned.
Use the “3 Things Trick”
We love this example Dr. Cohen shares, because it’s a simple and effective way to be productive while still being compassionate with yourself. She calls it the three things trick, and here’s how it works:
- When you get up in the morning, take your long list of projects, chores, or family tasks. Then, pick just three things you want to accomplish that day. (For overachievers, this isn’t easy, but trust us, it really works!)
- Write them all on a post-it or piece of paper, and then stick this somewhere you can easily see it throughout the day.
- Remember, they don’t have to be ‘big things’ - keep it simple, as easy as doing the laundry, calling back your sister or friend, or going for a 30-minute walk.
As Stacy points out: “When you pick three, you feel like you’ve been effective enough. If you pick one, maybe not so much, and if you pick five, you can end up being overwhelmed and maybe doing nothing.”
The three things trick is also a great opportunity to commit to doing a few things for yourself. Try folding in something ‘special’ into your list if you can, like giving yourself a DIY facial, or ordering a new book online so you can look forward to its arrival. We all need to remember to prioritize our own self-care.
Try the Pomodoro Technique
Another one of Dr. Cohen’s go-to productivity tricks is using something called the Pomodoro Technique, which is a time-management method that can help you focus on getting tasks done in short bursts.
It’s perfect for those more mundane tasks that bring out our inner procrastinator, like paying the bills, starting your taxes, or finishing that tedious work task you’ve been putting off for weeks and suddenly, the deadline is looming!
It’s also pretty simple, and Dr. Cohen uses it with her patients, and with herself! All you need is a timer (the technique is named after the type of timer its inventor used, which was a small tomato-shaped kitchen timer), but these days of course, a digital version will do.
You can try using the six steps from the original method, or just improvise and try your own version of 25-minute working periods. Whatever works best for you!
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the ‘pomodoro timer’ for 25-minutes
- Work on the task.
- Stop working when the timer rings, and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
- After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
Getting back to basics
Ultimately, this is a time for us all to get back to basics when it comes to the recovery and health of our minds and bodies. Here are some of Dr. Cohen’s other tips to keep us moving and motivated:
Get outside! “We all have different thresholds for what feels comfortable right now, so figure out what that is for yourself, and stick to it.” You don’t have to feel pressured to go to a large group hangout in the park if you’re not feeling safe. But try not to avoid the outdoors altogether. There’s never been a better time to seek out a park bench built for one.
Get some exercise. “Exercise is often an undervalued form of medicine. Research has shown that exercise works at least as well as popular prescription drug Zoloft in treating clinical depression, and keeping the depression from returning. In the study participants did some form of aerobic exercise for 30 minutes 3 times a week, so it is something anyone can try You can even make it one of your three things.”
Practice self-compassion. “Be kind to yourself, there’s no formula. Live in the grey, live in the middle.”
More about NAMI
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
They advocate for access to services, treatment, support and research, and are steadfast in their commitment to raising awareness and building a community of hope for all of those in need.
We’re so proud to be a partner and ally of this caring and dedicated organization.
• Embracing self-care takes time, but recognizing that your well-being matters and impacts all aspects of your life is an important first step.
• We don’t have to be super productive all the time, ever, and especially not during this highly stressful time of COVID. Use some simple techniques to balance ‘getting things done’ with ‘preserving your mental health’.
• Time-management tricks, like the pomodoro method, can help you accomplish your goals and feel better about your productivity levels. But remember, there’s no perfect formula. Do what feels right for you.
Did you know?
Surgery was practiced as early as 1600 BC! There’s evidence that the Egyptians were the first to practice what could be considered a primitive form of surgery.