#PashFam Interview: Self-Care and Mental Health with Dr. Stephanie Wong
Passion Planner offers an entire library of free PDF downloads to help you organize and improve your life. In honor of our recent Self-Care Reflection PDF launch, we sit down with licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Stephanie Wong, who worked with us to create reflection questions to boost your mental health.
See below for her answers to your questions on self-care, therapy, and building a routine.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into your career initially?
A: I became interested in Psychology when I noticed that in my immediate Asian American community, not many individuals were seeking help, despite stress, sadness, and academic pressure. It was not because individuals were lacking financial resources, but they did not want to "lose face" for seeking professional help.
When I was in high school, the student body and administration were shocked to learn that a student took his life.
I realized that depression cuts across demographics (ethnicity, race, social class, education), and professional services should not just be readily available, but de-stigmatized.
Following high school, I declared myself as a Psychology Major. I was luckier than some students because that initial declaration actually led me to my passion: helping others.
During graduate school, I discovered my intended specialization, or rather it found me. I had worked in multiple settings, and I eventually ended up taking a training position at a co-occurring disorders clinic; I worked with individuals struggling with substance abuse and other mental health concerns. There was a specialty treatment track for individuals who identified as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, or Transgender. This position solidified my interest in working with individuals struggling with sobriety, mood concerns, and diversity-related concerns. This position was a turning point in my career, and I sought positions to gain expertise in these treatment areas.
I am very grateful to work at a veterans hospital, and have developed an additional specialty in Vocational Rehabilitation, assisting individuals in finding and maintaining employment. The majority of my clients struggle with chronic substance use and unemployment, mental health issues, and relationship concerns. I also have a part-time private practice working with diverse individuals in the Bay Area.
Q: What should people consider when choosing a therapist?
- Identify your needs. For example, are you feeling sad, anxious, and/or stressed? Are you having relationship issues? Identify a therapist that has experience or specializes in treating your initial concerns. Explore the provider's credentials and experience.
- Explore the therapist's orientation when working with clients. For example, does the therapist work from a Psycho-dynamic perspective (exploring how past events influence the present) or a Cognitive-Behavioral orientation (exploring ways that thoughts impact behaviors). There are also therapists that integrate various approaches.
- Do you have preferences in who you work with? Perhaps, you feel more comfortable opening up to females than males, or you would like someone who works with ethnic minorities.
- Don't be afraid to explore your options until you find a good fit.
Q: What affordable self-care practices and activities do you recommend?
- Connecting with friends and family (now more important than ever to maintain these connections virtually)
- Explore new hobbies (e.g., reading, taking an online class, painting)
- Take bubble baths or hot showers to relax
- Start and maintain a meditation/mindfulness practice
- One of my favorites, karaoke! During the shelter-in-place, my family and I have Karaoke Time daily.
- Identify 10 - 15 minutes of "Worry Time," which will provide you an outlet to think about anxiety-provoking situations. If a worry comes up throughout the day, you could tell yourself that you will address it during Worry Time. It seems counterintuitive, but it gives you the space to worry, and not worry about worrying!
- Keep a gratitude journal, reflecting on 1 - 3 things you are grateful for that day
- You could also incorporate this with family and friends, saying aloud what you are grateful for before dinner or bed
- Positive affirmations to motivate self or reading positive quotes
- Bottom line is engage in activities that create meaning in your life
Q: How do you create boundaries, especially when living with others?
A: During these unprecedented times, it is particularly challenging to implement and maintain boundaries with coworkers, family, and friends at this time, especially if you live with them. Some techniques that may be helpful:
- If you have a home office, place a sign on the door with Do Not Disturb or In a Meeting; remove it when free to talk/socialize
- Utilize headphones to be respectful of each other if you are not watching or listening to something together
- Create structure around your day and communicate this with your housemates/family/friends
- Limit screen time
- If you are working from home, implement a start and end time to work. Since you would have this prior to shelter-in-place, it is equally if not more important to ensure you delineate the boundaries between work and home. Therefore, don't answer your co-worker's emails at 12:00 AM because it will blur the boundary between work and home
- Identify areas that you could have your own space, whether it be a corner or a separate room
- For caregivers of children, identify who will implement the lesson plans provided by their schools
Q: What tips can you offer to get out of a rut and build a routine?
- Identify your values and identify your goals based on your values
- Break the goals into smaller goals. Perhaps you see the value in waking up earlier in the morning so that you can increase your productivity. However, you struggle to wake up half-an-hour earlier. Start with 5 minutes and then increase to 10 minutes, etc.
- Identify barriers to implementing the routine and address the barriers. For example, are you going to sleep late at night and it's making it difficult for you to wake up early? Do you keep snoozing your alarm?
- Be accountable to self and/or others. Record your values, goals, and progress towards goals in your Passion Planner and if comfortable, share the information with a loved one who could check-in with you and motivate you.
- Celebrate progress and practice self-compassion when things do not go as planned.
Q: What do you wish more people knew about self-care and mental health?
A: Mental health is just as important to physical health, and are related. It is normal for individuals to experience worry, sadness, elation and variations in mood. However, when problems impact functioning in major areas in your life, you may want to talk to a professional.
In our society, asking for help tends to be stigmatized, but as human beings, we are wired to seek out connection when we are undergoing stress.
Working with a professional and getting support can help you live a more productive and meaningful life! Working with a professional provides a non-judgmental space to discuss your concerns and learn strategies to cope with stressors, and improve communication, social, and interpersonal skills.
Resilience, mood stability, self-care, and connecting with others are foundational for overall well-being.
Apply these tips with our new Self-Care Reflection PDF! How do you take care of yourself, #PashFam? Tell us in the comments below.