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As a psychotherapist I have always been interested in emotional, physical and mental wellness. The miraculous human system has always fascinated me, especially since I have been deepening my knowledge and clinical practice into body and brain-oriented psychotherapies like EMDR Therapy, Somatic Experiencing Therapy and Mindfulness oriented approaches. Mind and body work together to provide our wellness in life, we cannot separate one from the other. We need to take good care of our body to improve our brain and nervous system function.
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Şirin Atçeken.
Şirin Atçeken is an EMDR Europe Accredited Consultant and Supervisor and specialist at Wecure. She is an EMDR Turkey association board member and an accredited Somatic Experiencing Therapist, as well as the Co-Founder of Salt Psikoloji Enstitüsü.
After graduating from Notre Dame de Sion French Highschool- İstanbul, she got her bachelor’s degree (BA) in ‘Psychology’ from Middle East Technical University (METU) — Ankara. After being qualified for the Fulbright Scholarship, she went to the United States of America (USA) for her higher education. She received her master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Drexel University Health Sciences Department- Philadelphia. During her graduate degree studies and after graduation, Atçeken worked for the Philadelphia Health Care Management System’s (PHMC) Family Therapy Treatment Program and Thomas Jefferson Hospital’s Family Health Center for 3 years.
After returning to Istanbul, she worked with DBE Institute for Behavioral Studies (Davranış Bilimleri Enstitüsü) with Emre Konuk and Fide Consulting teams with Ümran Korkmazlar for many years.
In 2012, she founded BATE Institute for Individual and Family Therapies (İstanbul) with Tuba Akyüz. Atçeken moved to Antalya in 2016, co-founded Salt Psychology Institute with Özge Berçin.
She also takes part in academic research projects, presents in national and international conferences and works in the field for EMDR- HAP (Humanitarian Assistance Program) when an emergency disaster happens, and early trauma intervention is needed.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Istanbul, Turkey and I was the first child in my family. I have a brother who is 4 years younger than I, he is currently living in San Francisco and working there as an industrial designer. My father is an architect, MA and is still working, and my mother is a retired banker. I had a lovely and wholesome childhood, in a loving, caring and supportive family atmosphere — where the only downfall was that my parents worked a lot, meaning I had to learn to be self- sufficient, strong and independent from a very early age.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Leading up to working at WeCure, my career path was a little indirect. I would be lying if I were to tell you that I have always wanted to be a psychotherapist. Throughout my childhood and adolescent years, I always wanted to be a painter. Drawing was more than a hobby for me and I wanted to pursue a career in arts. In addition to that, I used to love role playing being a teacher when I was a child, and I used to teach my dolls. Sadly, during some difficult exam years at high school, I became detached from my creative side, which put me on an academic path.
I thought about pursuing an art career later in life, but another path that tapped into the healer in me came along, and I have never regretted choosing it.
I started studying Psychology in college, and I enjoyed it very much. It quickly became my passion, and triggered a lot of curiosity, contentment and satisfaction for me as a student. I didn’t want to be a ‘psychotherapist’ to begin with, but the course taught me more about myself and what I wanted to achieve. And I gained a lot of varied experience. For the first year my interest was more in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and in the summer, I went for an internship in the Human Resources department of a very prestigious bank in Turkey. For the second year, I wanted to explore Advertising, which was of great interest to me, especially after the consumer behaviour classes I took whilst in college. I participated in internships in Istanbul’s two very successful advertising agencies. However, sadly it wasn’t for me. In my third year, I took more clinical courses, and worked as an assistant for my marriage and family therapy class professor. During my senior year, I applied and got the Fulbright Scholarship for Marriage and Family Therapy at Drexel University, Philadelphia, USA. Before I travelled to the USA, I decided to take a gap year, and I worked to gain more experience. I got the chance to work as an assistant to Mr. Emre Konuk, who is a pioneer in the psychology field in Turkey.
When considering a career path, I strongly suggest that people get to know the path they want to walk first. Even though theoretical information is beneficial, experiencing it in person is the best way to learn. I learned through exploring the field in depth, as well as talking to, and meeting people in that profession, asking in depth questions, and gaining first-hand experience. It’s as important to learn what isn’t right for you, as much as what is. At the end of the day, I tapped into the artist side of me through speaking and writing opportunities, realising my childhood dream indirectly but sufficiently.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I am incredibly fortunate to have not one, but several people supporting, encouraging and inspiring me on a regular basis. These people have shaped who I am, both personally and professionally.
My mother has always supported and trusted me, giving me lots of space to explore who I am, which meant I learned a lot about myself.
In the highly collectivistic Turkish society ‘what others think and tell’ is very important. There is a lot of verbal but mostly nonverbal pressure on many of us, especially as women. So, as a woman, the space my mother provided helped me to flourish.
My father also did his best to support my education and encouraged me to pursue my master’s degree in the United States. His encouragement gave me the courage to travel and study there, otherwise I don’t think I would have done it. (I remember crying the entire journey to the states as I missed everyone so much and was so nervous.)
As an AFS Intercultural Program scholar himself (in 1964, Illinois, Chicago), he knew how transforming it is for a young mind to be self-sufficient, in order to become accomplished and survive so far away from your family’s protective wings.
Away from family, my supervisor at Drexel University, Cathi Tillman was my first role model as a therapist. She became my mentor, my mother, and my wise woman. I learnt a lot from her both professionally and also from her beautiful, caring, compassionate, wise, and very sharp presence. Emre Konuk, Vivi Soryano and Ayten Zara, my supervisors and role models in my career path also mean a lot to me.
And lastly, my grandmother (90 years old) and her sister (93) have very much shaped my future and older self and given me goals of who I want to be. They have always been diligent, full of life energy, highly social, never quit learning, very compassionate, loving and spiritual. I feel very lucky to have such wonderful role models from the elderly generation.
Once, I visited my grandmother, and it turned out that we were both reading the same book, “It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle” by Mark Wolynn. We started a very long, pleasant conversation and she told me the very details of our family history which gave me a chance to learn family traumas and work on them later in my individual therapy process.
Another touching story for me — one day, 3 years ago, my grandmother’s sister called me crying. I worried at the moment but then she told me that she was being hosted by a very good friend and she was so impressed by the Bosphorus scenery of the house that she couldn’t hold her tears of gratitude in any longer (Istanbul, Bosphorus is truly a gorgeous view by the way) . That phone call taught me a lot about gratitude and of the passion for life. This moment will always stay with me.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
This question is very apt, as it was literally one mistake that shaped my entire career course. In Turkey, when I was a senior high school student, we had to take 2 exams and before receiving the results, we listed our university and department choices and then, according to our scores we would be placed with matching departments. I was very indecisive, but I wanted to study Political Sciences because it was very popular those days, and Psychology was not so popular, but I still added it on my list. I took the exam, and it went very well, and I was excited to study Political Sciences. The results came in, and due to making “one mistake” within the exam, it meant I was placed in the Middle East Technical University (which is one of Turkey’s Ivy League universities) Psychology Department instead of Political Sciences.
I have always been so thankful to that ‘one mistake’ because I would probably have hated studying Political Sciences, and definitely wouldn’t have followed it as a career path. And psychology has become my passion. What I strongly believe is that no matter how hard we work for something, sometimes the universe intervenes and puts you on the right path, even if you don’t see it right away. If something didn’t happen as I wanted to despite my efforts during times of my life, I would always wait patiently for the good to come out of it. That was the biggest lesson I have learned from that ‘one mistake’.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There have been several books that have had an impact on my life, at different stages, but the first ones that resonated with me were ‘Escape From Freedom’, ‘the Art of Loving’, and ‘The Art of Being’ by the American psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm.
I’m also heavily influenced by ‘The School for Gods’ by the Italian writer Stefano D’Anna, and ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by the Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl.
The common point that they all have, is that they all forced me to think outside the box, and change my perspective. What we are taught and imposed all our lives by our families, society and authority, as well as by ourselves influences our thoughts, feelings, life style, our choices in life and how we define ourselves and we need to be aware of our inner world. That journey of searching for my true self has become my ‘Individual Revolution’ and as D’Anna states, “There is a cause-effect relationship between inner life and external world, between Timelessness and Time. All what we feel, all our passions, thoughts and fantasies, our hopes, ambitions, secrets, memories and imaginations, fears and uncertainties and all our sensations, attractions, desires, loves and aversions belong to the impalpable, but very real world of Being. The level of our Being can make us wealthy or poor, can make us happy or miserable. Our being creates our life”.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite quote is “Less is more — Ludwig Mies van der Rohe”. Even though it is first quoted by the famous architect for architecture, it resonates a lot in my life.
In parallel with that, I am a minimalist, and I try to simplify as much as my life as possible. Even though it has caused a lot of stress in our lives, the pandemic has allowed me to pursue a simpler life. I am decluttering my house, my documents, my computer, giving away my old and never worn clothes, sorting through kitchen utensils, accessories, and more importantly valuing my time a lot more. I am trying to set boundaries for my work life, and in my relationships, prioritizing time I spend with my family and friends. Minimizing is incredibly difficult, and can be an uncomfortable process, but it’s important. Getting rid of unwanted labels, and things that weigh me down — sometimes unknowingly is a fantastic release, and much needed in these times.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
EMDR National Associations (Europe, United States, Asia etc.) all over the world have Humanitarian Assistance Programs (HAP). The humanitarian help has been there for people in need since 1995 when Francine Shapiro, the mother of EMDR Therapy, realized her dreams about setting up a humanitarian help program after a massive bombing of a public house in Oklahoma, USA where 168 people were killed and 800 injured. EMDR Therapists from different countries volunteer and help each other when there’s a natural or sometimes manmade disaster; terror attacks like 9/11, Tsunami disaster in South Asia, the Bangladesh Earthquake, plane crashes, Catharina Storm etc .
This is also how Turkey became acquainted with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. Dozens of therapists from all around the world flocked to Turkey in 1999, to help earthquake survivors and trained mental health workers about EMDR Therapy. I am also one of the therapists, trainers and supervisors of EMDR Turkey HAP. When the pandemic hit us in March, we got organized very quickly. We started offering online therapy, and early trauma interventions. A wonderful application system was set up and in just 15 days, with 500 volunteer EMDR mental health workers providing online therapy for thousands of people who were debilitated from the beginnings of the pandemic.
Then the explosion in Lebanon happened, and then the Earthquake in İzmir. Our research and many others show the importance of early interventions in improving people’s mental health and preventing further emotional and psychological damage. We are continuing to provide online help and support to people all around the world.
Online therapies are certainly not new, but the pandemic has changed the way people can access support and opened up a global pool of mental health professionals. I have been providing online therapy since 2015, since moving from Istanbul to Antalya, and it meant I could continue working with my patients. I have clients and supervises from all over the world.
I am very proud to be part of it and this is very exciting for me to be able to reach, and help so many people, in these ironically withdrawn and isolated times. When trauma workers are in the field, there are not many resources available. So, we learn to adapt to whatever the situation requires, and I strongly believe that this also transfers into everyday life.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
As a psychotherapist I have always been interested in emotional, physical and mental wellness. The miraculous human system has always fascinated me, especially since I have been deepening my knowledge and clinical practice into body and brain-oriented psychotherapies like EMDR Therapy, Somatic Experiencing Therapy and Mindfulness oriented approaches. Mind and body work together to provide our wellness in life, we cannot separate one from the other. We need to take good care of our body to improve our brain and nervous system function. We need to take care of the inside, even more so than the outside, and it’s so important that we get in touch with our emotions, face our fears, notice our autopilot cognitive biases and distortions so that we have a better motivation, and understanding to take care of our bodies.
Based on research and my personal and clinical experience, the following 3 habits are of utmost importance and have a broader impact on our mental wellbeing:
1. Mindfulness; mindfulness means being aware of the moment — and understanding what is happening around us and within our world. Acknowledging our thoughts and choices and observing them without judging. Most of us live fast paced and hectic lives, with countless distractions, and our minds wander all of the time. Research shows that our minds wander on average 46.9 % of the time, and most of the time we are on autopilot. This isn’t bad, but we do have to align ourselves in order to learn to switch off and appreciate what is around us.
Mindfulness is to the brain and mind what exercise is to the body. It is a state of mind which can be cultivated with mindfulness practices and meditations.
I recommend practicing mindfulness meditation everyday (in the morning to start the new day and in the evening to get some rest and prepare for sleep). Meditate for approximately 5–20 minutes. As you master the practice, pay attention to your actions, your environment and the moment, using your 5 senses. Alongside meditation, eat mindfully, take a shower mindfully, walk in the woods, stare at the ocean and spend time in nature. Note your experiences when practicing mindfulness, and when your mind wanders — always coming back to your center the moment as soon as you realize. You can always use your breathing to come back to the moment as soon as you realize that your mind wanders. You will soon notice that you’re here and now experience improves and you are more compassionate towards yourself.
Mindfulness practices strengthen our mind, and improves focus, memory, productivity, creativity. It helps the stress systems of our body calm down, regulate our nervous system so we can think more clearly, and it also boosts our immune system. At the end of the day we’ll have a better social life and stronger, more enjoyable relationships.
2. Always keep learning! Use it or lose it, we have a very plastic brain that has a capacity to form new neural connections as we use it — or lose them if we don’t. There is no age for new learning. Research shows that learning new things can slow ageing of the cognitive brain functions which has many benefits like staying active in life, being more self-sufficient and having a better mood in return. Furthermore, learning new things cultivates curiosity, and allows us to tap into our younger self, bringing new life energy, satisfaction and helps us formulate stronger relationships. I recommend getting a new hobby, learning a new language, and deepening your knowledge of a particular topic you already enjoy. Share your knowledge with your peers, exchanging information and encouraging discussions with people who are also interested in those topics. Usually children are the best learners and the most curious ones, unfortunately we lose that curiosity as we age. We replace it with limitations, restrictions, and labels. Never lose touch with your inner child!
3. Have daily routines and a balanced, regular life. Of course, being too obsessive and scheduling, and planning everything is not desirable because that would kill all spontaneity. Spontaneity is what breathes new life for me. However interestingly, we need a framework for freedom and creativity. Recently, I have been reading a book by Mason Currey on the “Daily Routines” of the big creators and how they make time and find inspiration to get to work. Those artists, writers, composers, movie directors, painters and scientists from the 16th-20th century have one thing in common — they all have very strict daily routines.
These routines usually consist of working at the same time of the day, in the same space, and eating and drinking mostly similar things, walking or exercising daily, and setting clear goals for their creative processes. Henry Miller, the famous novelist, states that even though 2–3 working hours a day would be enough for him, in order to have a creative rhythm, one needs to follow a consistent hourly schedule. In order to continue the true intuitive moments, one needs to be very self-disciplined and have a well-disciplined life. For instance, the author William Faulkner would try to write at least 3.000 words a day and sometimes would write even more but not less as his goal.
Some of them had other jobs but they would consistently spend time on their writing, painting and inventing. Most of their big ideas came when they were in their most creative states. Many memorable books and art pieces have been created out of consistency and routine — three sentences or one page a day makes a wonderful novel at the end of the year.
Quality of life breathes quantity of life.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
I have been practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) and mindfulness. I have also been practicing yoga regularly even though I had to give it a break recently because of a spinal operation I got last year. I will go back to yoga as soon as my doctor says it is okay to do so.
I believe a psychotherapist needs to have a calm nervous system and needs to find ways to return to their center, even in times of panic or crisis. It’s a practice what you preach syndrome. The therapist needs to hold the space for their client, and our nervous systems need to resonate with each other at all times. It is important to create a holding capacity. Also, we often accompany our clients into very emotional, dark tunnels, and we need to be in a position to support, hold and be there for them whilst maintaining an anchor of safety and neutrality.
In order to achieve this, we need to take good care of ourselves, both mentally and physically. We cannot provide what we don’t have.
When I am supporting my clients, and helping them to learn new, and better ways to regulate their behaviours, I need to be able to practice it myself. Our responses in a session can be dictated by our bodies, more than what we say, so we need to be calm and collected at all times to make the client feel comfortable and stable. I sometimes believe that how we look after ourselves is more important than the diplomas we have on our walls. We need to be able to walk the walk, as much as talk the talk.
To sum up, my meditation practices help me develop a closer relationship with my body and instincts, as well as my reactions. I have learned to be more compassionate, not to judge, and to be serene. I also feel more connected with the universe and accept it as it is.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Eating healthy foods and exercising.
Taking good care of our body is essential in achieving good, strong physical fitness and wellbeing. We are what we eat, and in order to keep a good balance of our internal body system, eating good food is important. Furthermore, moving our body helps us balance our blood sugar levels, related hormone systems, it improves our cardiac and respiratory system, and produces a better functioning organ system. When our body, internal organs, muscles and gland systems work properly, we are more optimistic, productive and have better mental health. We also have more energy, which makes us more active. It all comes full circle.
Think of your body as a high-quality car with an optimum natural engine, so the gasoline we use to help it function as it should is very important. If we use a low-quality gasoline, it may stay on the road, but it won’t run at the pace you need it to. Adding the right fuel, means you get the best results. And if you leave your car in the garage, stagnant, it will eventually oxidize. So, it needs to run frequently for better functioning.
2. Healthy sleep patterns. Sleep plays a very important role in our health and physical wellness. Sleep allows our body to heal, rest and refresh from all of the damage done during the day, and helps reset the heart, blood vessels, muscles and gland systems. Sleep deficiencies are linked with kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, decreased stress tolerance, concentration, memory functions, learning disabilities, and depression. Also, during sleep, our brain heals and repairs itself too and improves our ability to learn. Our brain also heals from the impact of our traumatic experiences during sleep, our memories are processed, we learn from the experience and the memory functionally becomes part of our neural memory network system. That means our brain also heals itself like our body does and sleep is very important.
So, try to stick to a sleep routine; go to bed no later than 11pm and wake up around 8am latest. Of course, there are biorhythm differences in individuals, some are early birds, where others are night owls, so work to your body clock as naturally as possible.
Sleep routines don’t just depend on what time you go to bed however. You need to relax before bedtime. Meditation, yoga and stretching are key in relaxing your body and mind. Also, avoid screens and blue lights, and stimulating materials such as work or scary movies that will work your mind up. And cut caffeine out 5–6 hours and avoid eating 2–3 hours before your bedtime.
3. Challenging your body system for resilience. Our brain manages our body and all of its functions. It gets information from our body and the environment all the time and then evaluates them for its benefit and protection. When we exercise, our internal organs, sensory organs, muscles, and skeletal system send neural information to the brain. Whatever we practice, our body adapts to it and our brain develops accordingly — similar to machine learning and algorithms. Part of it is ‘motor learning’, which only happens by practice and involves involuntary and unconscious parts of the brain too. As we practice more, the whole system improves.
Motor learning is a great example of how our mind and body are linked. There is a wonderful molecule in the brain that manages those developments; ‘Brain derived Neurotrophic Factor’ (BDNF). The BDNF is the brain’s adaptation molecule that manages the development, functions and protection from harmful and damaging illness effects, increasing resilience and metabolism of brain cells. It also increases the communication speed and quality of brain cell synapses responsible for change and adaptation. So, as we exercise we learn, concentrate, perceive the environment better, become more productive, become more resilient and get rid of our anxiety and depression. The relationship between mind and body strengthens. To sum it up, it is a very good idea to challenge our body little by little without abusing it, in order to activate the BDNF. Consult your doctor if you suffer from a health problem but don’t be afraid to push yourself further each time. The combination of all kinds of exercise throughout our lives is beneficial, from High Intensity Interval Training like running, kickboxing to brisk walking, stretching exercises, muscle strength training, team sports, dancing, rock climbing and swimming.
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Everyone knows it’s important to eat healthily, but healthy means something different for everyone. And everybody is different, and we respond to different foods in different ways.
But it is incredibly important to eat well, in order to nourish our bodies and minds. And I say ‘well’ over ‘healthy’, as our bodies don’t always want or need plates of fruit and vegetables, instead craving for something a little more indulgent.
I believe in everything in moderation, and I certainly don’t recommend diets unless it is medically necessary. We have the term ‘soul food’ for a reason, as food feeds our soul, and it gives us a life energy that we can’t find anywhere else. It’s also the same reason we need to keep hydrated throughout the day, noting the proven effects that water has on our physical and mental health.
Though vegetables, fruit and much needed vitamins are vital in any healthy diet, sometimes we just need a piece of cake, or ice cream or a takeaway, and this is ok — as long as it’s in moderation and we are eating for positive and wholesome reasons. Food is very much connected to our mental health, and when we ‘eat our feelings’, this can make us feel worse, and in extreme cases, can lead to food addictions. When we eat to be happy, or are simply feeling like having a treat, this will instantly boost our mood and make us feel good. But it’s important to not feel guilty in these cases, as you are simply given your body what it needs at that moment.
There are several reasons why people don’t stick to healthy eating. The main one is time. We just don’t make time for it. Unlike a takeaway or a quick sandwich or packet of crisps, making healthy food can take time. Our lives get so busy that many people even skip meals, which is just as bad for us and can lead to mood swings, lack of focus and fatigue. Timing is a reason that diets or eating plans don’t often work — because we don’t find the time to stick to them. We do them sporadically, and then don’t see results so become exasperated with them, and give up. It’s incredibly important that we make time for healthy eating on a regular basis.
Another reason is accessibility. Many people are unable to afford high quality or organic products, and will choose cheaper, more processed alternatives, which aren’t good for us, but we think they are. Even food delivery food subscription services are inaccessible for many. Supermarkets are doing more to tackle this, but with so many people relying on food-banks, with this set to increase due to covid, it is going to be harder for many people to access good quality foods, leading to further health and mental health disorders in the future as their bodies, mind and soul are undernourished.
We also live in an instant society, and want everything now. This means, people will choose to opt for take aways, microwave meals or easy snacks, instead of full homemade meals or healthy snacks in order to fit in with their busy lives. We are prioritizing our schedules, work, and lifestyles over eating healthily and this will have huge negative effects on our mental and physical health.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Be aware of your emotions instead of ignoring and avoiding them. People who are emotionally healthy and strong are, at the best of times in control of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors and can react to any situation in the best possible way. That sense of control comes with awareness first, followed by courage and practice.
Emotions convey important information from our internal monologues and they all have a function. For instance, fear protects us from getting hurt and teaches us to survive, where shame and guilt help us to learn from our mistakes, and inadequacy encourages personal growth.
Naturally, we will avoid unpleasant feelings, and unconsciously develop cognitive, behavioral and bodily defence mechanisms against feelings, which can stop us processing them. It can be through rationalizations we tell ourselves (I would be more successful if I had a better childhood), or in actions such as overeating (I’m so angry, let me calm myself down with a huge chocolate), or addictions (I feel so unworthy, let me drink or get high and forget about it…for now…). It can also manifest in our professional life, working ourselves to the bone and burning ourselves out. (I need to work till late at night, so that I will not feel depressed and lonely and keep myself in control). Sometimes, we even use relationships to avoid certain feelings (I should never be lonely, because I don’t know who I am and I’m afraid that if I get to know myself better, I will be excluded from the society). There are even instances where chronic pain acts as our body’s defence against feeling emotions we don’t want to face or we don’t know how to deal with — (I run away from my sadness but my head aches all the time to keep that emotion away). Let’s not forget that those processes are all unconscious and sometimes even during in depth therapy comes out in the long run.
Emotions are like waves, there is always a beginning, a middle and an ending. The neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolt Taylor states that emotions last 90 seconds, in which there is an emotional chemical reaction in the body. What keeps them there longer are our thoughts and the meanings we attach to them, giving them life. And the amount of time a feeling settles in the body, depends on the attention we give it, and how we cope with it. A negative feeling will tend to linger over positive feelings due to the meaning we attach to them.
I really like the statement made by my Mindfulness teacher Kathy Ward;
R-ecognize the emotion,
A-llow it to be,
I-nvestigate where on the body,
N-atural awareness (don’t analyze or judge).
This is the best way to make peace with our emotions and improve our emotional resilience and tolerance. If you are still having difficulty, I urge you to get help from a mental health professional and explore with them the background of those resistant emotions, traumas and belief systems.
2. Express your emotions. The second path to emotional wellbeing, is letting people in. This can be overwhelming sometimes, but expressing emotions improves our ability to connect with ourselves, and with others. This helps us to build better, stronger, and more satisfactory relationships. It also increases resilience, and improves our problem solving abilities. There is a lot of truth in — a problem shared, is a problem halved. Sharing our emotions also offloads anxieties and stress, and helps fight depression and many other psychological disorders.
If you find it difficult to communicate your feelings, it’s important to notice how you are feeling at particular points — and own it. Once you can accept how and why you are feeling certain emotions, you can then build confidence around sharing with others, and communicate them effectively. It’s a slow process, and isn’t an easy one. Start with your closest friends or family, and start conversations with them -asking for feedback on how to improve your communication skills, and this will eventually make you feel more comfortable sharing with other people. This will improve your confidence and you’ll start sharing and asking for what you need, both in a personal and professional manner.
Journaling is an effective way to help express your feelings, and acknowledge them and how they are manifested. Writing letters is also a good way of expressing to others, and there isn’t an obligation to send them until you feel comfortable to do so.
3. Find purpose and meaning in life. The book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by the respectable psychiatrist Viktor Frankl has been a huge influence on my life. I became fascinated when I first read it many years ago. In his book, Frankl describes his years in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, and being separated from his family. According to his observations of himself and others, he came to understand that the only way he could survive and maintain his sanity was to hold on to a sense of meaning and purpose. He worked on his theory on the importance of meaning mostly secretly during and after his Holocaust experience. He quotes the famous philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who states, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how’.
Interestingly, he also warns us that the meaning and purpose in life is not something that we should pursue. He states that it will happen naturally, and reveal itself to us.
For this to happen, it’s important to know who you are, and give yourself the space to explore what feels good, and to experiment, practice and push yourself out of your comfort zone, but understand your boundaries.
Does performing arts make you feel good, or healing people, or teaching, building, inventing or exercise? Our passions will come to us, and we need to follow our instinct and inner voice, and then the meaning and purpose will pursue us.
In brief, finding meaning and purpose in life creates a solid ground for emotional and mental wellbeing. It produces satisfaction, develops self-confidence, improves productivity, and provides bliss, and life energy.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
Smiling is a great way to improve our mood and this is scientifically proven! Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, which are natural pain killers. Dopamine and serotonin are also released, which act as antidepressants.
These neurotransmitters are very important for our emotional wellness, and the natural chemicals help our body to relax, and reduce physical pain.
Smiling also reduces blood pressure and stress by decreasing cortisol levels, increases endurance and boosts our immune system. Furthermore, smiling is contagious thanks to our mirror neurones which are specialized nerve cells that help people respond to and mimic each other’s behaviors and thus increase empathy. Studies also show that people that smile a lot are more likeable, and desirable, and tend to be more productive at work and make more money. So, start your day with a big smile for more positive outcomes.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Meditation and yoga are the best ways of connecting with ourselves and thus with the universe. We have a huge connection. We are part of the universe, and being aware of the role we play within it helps us connect with it on a deeper level and surrender. Meditation allows us to do this, and creates a good sense of safety, strength and resilience. Those practices also form a better connection with our bodies and minds, which in turn improves our emotional and mental wellbeing.
2. Praying and affirmations are good ways of allowing us to focus our energy. You don’t need to be religious to pray, as praying also helps us tap into our spirituality and instinct. Our energy flows to wherever we focus our attention, and praying and practicing affirmations helps us connect with something bigger than ourselves, helping us to appreciate our inner and outer selves, and prevents us from taking things for granted. It roots us to our core and makes us humble, and disconnects us from the material. Start and end your day with good intentions, through praying, journaling or talking through our affirmations in the mirror.
3. Practice gratitude in your life. This is a very important habit, and helps us to notice, focus on, and appreciate what we have, rather than what we don’t. When we focus on gratitude and love, we are unable to focus on anxiety, jealousy, resentment and hatred. Being grateful cultivates love and self-compassion. Every day try to find three things to be grateful for and share these with others too. Sharing our gratitude with others improves our relationships and enlightens the space, energy space within them.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
Of course, I strongly believe that nature and spirituality is connected and has roots that go deeper than many of us realize. Nature hugely impacts us, as humans, and greatly influences how we cultivate spiritual, as well as emotional and physical wellness. Society has sadly severed these roots, and our connection to them, but it does not mean that we cannot fuse them back together.
Ancient wisdom believes that human beings have five layers of experience: the environment, the physical body, the mind, the intuition, and our self. Being in nature is a total mindful experience, and we form a connection with all of our layers. We become very present, which cultivates our gratitude for the universe and all that it encompasses.
In nature there is no good or bad, things happen, as they should, in natural order…there are sunny days, stormy days…there is life, there is death…and constant change. Sadly, due to the constraints that as humans we have created for ourselves, through society and the material, we have forgotten this, instead led by rules, structure and wants that have squashed our instinctive behaviours and feelings, and natural alignments.
Nature brings us back to us, and reminds us to be humble and embrace the good and bad and not to label anything — nature teaches acceptance. There are all kinds of species, colors, flowers, trees, soil in nature, just like humans. Sometimes what we find disgusting or annoying in nature — like ugly flies or slugs — are actually very important for the homeostasis of the ecosystem. We all live together, adapt to each other and have all the protection our natural body system provides us, just like in nature. Nature just exists, it is as it is, it is precious, it is balanced. That is very inspiring for me.
The closer we live to nature, the more aligned we are with it, and the universe. And we become more balanced. When we move away from nature, we lose touch with it, and most importantly, to our true and authentic self.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would make mental health therapies accessible to all, and the pandemic has provided a platform to allow this to happen. Online therapies have the power to connect people and therapists around the world, but it is still incredibly restrained. It is either too expensive, or too difficult to access, with long waiting lists or not the right support available.
We need to remove ourselves from the mindset that one therapy fits all, as it simply isn’t the case. There are various different types of therapies available, and we need to create more education and resources to help people understand what they need, and what will work for them. I work, helping people understand their trauma or mental health disorders and help them gain the correct support.
Also, in recent years there is research on Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy showing the impact of intensive therapy processes like 8–15 sessions a week instead of weekly therapies. Bongaerts, van Minnen & de Jong, 2017 examined the safety and effectiveness of intensive EMDR Therapy in a group of seven patients suffering from complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and multiple comorbidities resulting from childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, and/or work and combat-related trauma. The results propound that an intensive program using EMDR Therapy is a potentially safe and effective treatment alternative for complex PTSD. We need to start looking at more consistent solutions for long term results. One of the EMDR therapy choices we provide a WeCure is a week long, and helps patients get to the bottom of their trauma, how it affects them and find resolution towards an emotionally, behaviorally and psychologically healthier life.
I believe that mental health practitioners need to work with meditators, medical workers, yoga teachers, nutritionists and life coaches to help create more robust, sustainable and all- encompassing services and support.
We are entering a global mental health pandemic caused by covid, and healthcare providers need to start thinking more long term in the form of support and accessibility. It’s time to think outside the box.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I think it would be a great pleasure to have breakfast with the American professor of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic, and the Center of Mindfulness in medicine, Jon Kabat-Zinn. I once had the honor of listening to his speech at an international conference, and was very impressed. I have read his books, and watched his videos online.
Apart from his spiritual practices, he integrates a lot of his professional practice with research. I really appreciate his work, his presence and the way he integrates mindfulness into the mental health field. I would like to hear his life story, lessons he got from his experience, from him and would love to take part in one of his projects.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The readers can follow my work on social media by following #saltpsikoloji and www.saltpsikoloji.com/en/. They can also see more of my work, and find out more about my EMDR therapies at https://wecure.co.uk/.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity and to be a part of your community.