“There are so many grass roots groups. They might not provide psychotherapy, but they do have support,” said Susan Wilkinson, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Mental Health Educator and Entrepreneur.
What do you need for your wellbeing right now? In our pandemic study of over 2,500 parents, mostly Moms (96%) mental health support, remains a top request. Yes, some made useful lifestyle changes. But most still have too much to do and too little sleep. Pandemic life is draining, and many find the stress or sadness unmanageable. But if you don’t already have a therapist, what are your options? The mental health crisis isn’t new. Yet many practitioners won’t even put you on waiting lists now, they’re so long.
Although anxiety and depression have been on the rise for years, women are at greater risk. But not everyone wants or has access to traditional therapy. Susan, after years in hospital settings and now private practice, shares alternatives that can help tame stress. And support your mental health.
Find the Modality That Works for You
Personal transformation, of any kind, needs to fit with your goals. Susan said, “I try to strategize with people to tease out things; what are your needs? If your priority is connectedness, then let’s get you connected so that we can mitigate the impact of loneliness. Is your priority working on stress management skills? Because there are technical skills that you can add to your toolbox on how to do life. So, let’s get you into that.”
She encourages people to layer on support. For some, community combines camaraderie, with accountability. “It depends on what modalities work for you. Many groups are virtual and that may not work for everyone,” she added.
Which Might be a Spiritual One
Susan said, “I love that the churches have really stepped in to fill the gap. Because a lot of us, especially in our culture, are more likely to reach out to a pastor or faith-based leader.” Mistrust, in the healthcare system lingers in many communities of color. Particularly for those of us from immigrant backgrounds.
Susan explained, “Many people trust the church, as opposed to mental healthcare practitioners. Because for some, that lessens the stigma that many contend with.”
Purpose Driven Communities Can be Restorative
Susan said, “A patient of mine decided to join a Bible study group and he’s not even a religious person. He hadn’t been to church in the last 10 years. But joining this virtual Bible study group has really added value in terms of his connection to the community. And he looks forward to it. Not because he always believes in what’s being discussed, but he looks forward to hearing about other people’s lives. It brings a certain sense of connectedness to his life.”
Religious lessons tend to center on the big human challenges, like fear, guilt or temptation. Which can put the daily struggles into perspective.
Practices Like Meditation Can be Spiritual or Not
So, choose your own adventure. Many find solace and joy by connecting with their spirituality. Susan explained, “I’m a huge believer in complementary alternative methods. There are people who think about the spiritual path when you mention yoga. However, yoga doesn’t have to be a spiritual practice.”
She added that it can be exercise, “And a way of grounding yourself and calming your body down. You can still benefit from yoga or meditative practices in whichever way you want to.”
There are a Wide Range of Meditative Techniques
Susan said, “You don’t have to sit in a certain position to be able to meditate. You can sit in the car somewhere and just take 5 minutes; it doesn’t have to be that 30 – 45 minutes. Overall, 5 minutes of intentional body scanning may be more helpful than 30-45 minutes of what I call restless meditation.” Right? Some worry they don’t have the jedi-level-focus for meditation. But It’s been recommended for everyone from anxious kids to Navy Seals.
Susan explained, “Make it easy on yourself to find what works for you.” It can be effective whether it’s live, digital, with others or on your own. You can learn specific breathing sequences and techniques. Or how to be mindful of your surroundings, body or thoughts.
Some Also Experiment with Fasting
Susan found many of her patients were exploring fasting. “It can be for spiritual or physical reasons. When you hear fasting, you may think it’s for a religious practice like observing Ramadan or a medical fast. More evidence is suggesting the benefits of intermittent fasting; being used by many for weight loss.” And several research studies cite its positive impact on metabolism and longevity.
But it doesn’t have to be for any of those reasons. Susan said, “One patient told me, ‘I use it as a way of disconnecting from whatever is going on. And it focuses me during those 12 hours. It reminds me to be to be intentional with everything that I’m doing’ and I learned something new from her.”
For Religious or Health Reasons
“She took something and made it her own. I always tell people that whatever you choose to practice, make sure that it does not turn into a chore. So, you are not getting stressed by doing it. Because then, it takes away from the meaning of what you were going for,” Susan said. Amen! Fasting isn’t for everyone. So, if you consider it, check with your healthcare practitioner to determine if it’s safe for you.
There’s No Right Way, Just Your Way
Susan reiterated, “I’m a huge fan of complementary alternative ways of healing yourself. They can be in in conjunction with the Western way of doing things or not.” She emphasized that different approaches needn’t conflict with each other.
“I work with two clients right now who are seeing therapists and Shamans at the same time. I realized that my work with them is easier because of the alternative and complementary healers they’re seeing on the side. My job is to validate and provide them space to explore other healing methods. It’s certainly not my place to criticize, question or ridicule their choice, especially if safety is not an issue.”
Healthcare is Becoming Personalized
Susan said, “Listen, if it works, we have to go with it. I tell patients, I’m here to support you, this is your journey. Of course, in some of those cases we must discuss health and safety. But overall, I’m not the type of provider who says, ‘oh if you do a, b or c, we’re done here. I will support people no matter what. As long as it adds meaning, value and is safe.”
Personalized healthcare is growing. Whether it’s curated vitamins, therapies or medications. And many paths can lead to mental wellbeing. You can begin at home or in a practitioner’s office.
So, feel inspired and empowered to experiment. And if you’ve tried mental health treatments that didn’t work out in the past, continue to explore new options. And find what best supports you.
Interested in more time for your wellbeing? Take a TimeCheck.
Share your pandemic experiences! How are the latest changes affecting your life? It’s quick and the results from this study are used to advocate better support for parents.
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Many thanks to the talented Susan Wilkinson!
Susan Wilkinson, MSN, RN, PMHNP-BC. Susan Wilkinson is a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner as well as a serial entrepreneur. She completed a Master of Nursing from Boston College and is a board certified Psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner. She has expertise and a passion for substance use disorders (SUD) awareness, treatment, and community sensitization. Beyond being a trained professional, Susan also has had personal experience taking care of loved ones struggling with mental illness and substances use. She has worked for some of the major Medical Centers in the Boston area- engaged in clinical work, research, leadership, and teaching responsibilities. Among those institutions in the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System (Jamaica Plain Campus) where she was an attending clinician. She also worked at Boston Medical Center where she was the behavioral health consultant in the Family medicine clinic as well as working in the outpatient clinic.
In May/2018, Susan founded Ally Integrated Healthcare, PC. a private practice in Boston. The practice has since grown to five clinicians (soon to be 7) with an additional office in Harvard, MA. She also collaborates with and consults for various psychotherapy groups in the metro Boston area. Additionally, Susan is a clinical preceptor for Boston College and Regis College- to date, she mentored and graduated 5 psychiatric nurse practitioner students. In her clinical work, Susan assesses, diagnoses and treatment plans for individuals and families struggling with a wide range of mental health conditions as well as substance use disorders. She has completed numerous trainings related to substance use and mental health treatment, most recently certification in the Invitation to Change (ITC) model.
As a passionate global health advocate particularly global psychiatry and substance use disorders; she is the founder and president of Your Ally Foundation, Inc; a 501c (3) non-profit registered in Massachusetts. Her global health work includes volunteering as a substance use treatment clinician in Uganda and Zambia where is licensed to practice.Tags: complementary alternative mental health, Meditation for Moms, mental health for moms, mental health for parents, spiritual communities