Finding Emotional Balance

By Lisa Dawson

We’ve all been there. Down days, lack of motivation, feeling overwhelmed, and worrying too much. For some people, dealing with sporadic mental health issues is something they can handle themselves, and symptoms of depression and anxiety pass on their own. But for others, mental health and emotional well-being can be more of a challenge. Disruptive thoughts and feelings can linger day after day and may begin to affect daily life. When days of not feeling emotionally strong or having anxious thoughts turn into weeks and even months, it could be time to seek help. 

Mental health struggles can affect anyone, from any age to any socioeconomic background. The statistics speak for themselves. The National Institutes of Health report one in five young adults have had symptoms of depression or anxiety, and The World Health Organization reports that loneliness and social isolation are key risk factors for mental health conditions later in life. And while life’s many challenges can cause mental health issues, for many people, genetics play a large part. Biological factors, like having a close relative with mental illness or a mental disorder, can be factors in how likely it is that someone will develop a mental health condition. 
 With the new year beginning, as we dive into better physical health, how we feel emotionally should be at the top of the wellness checklist, too. So many of us start off the new year with lofty ambitions of losing weight or developing a consistent workout routine, but mental health tends to take a back seat with our new resolutions. Perhaps it’s because we can’t always see the results like when we step on a scale and see the numbers go down. Though we may not have emotional muscles that we can see harden, emotional resilience can help us feel stronger. People who have strong mental health are typically able to cope with stress, overcome adversity, and rebound more quickly from setbacks. While those attributes can’t be seen, they can definitely be felt. 
For Shelia Elliott, a former Frisco ISD teacher and EMS Director, mental health has been a journey that started decades ago as she began motherhood. Her path to finding emotional resilience started when her son was diagnosed with heart issues and required five open-heart surgeries. “He was a twin, and we had a toddler at the time, so it was truly a struggle,” says Elliott. She says she had postpartum depression and would have days where she just felt ‘off.’ “While I never saw a counselor for the struggles we went through, I can speak to the positive aspect of taking charge of my mental health throughout those years. For me, it was a mindset,” explains Elliott. She says taking time for self-care, sometimes simply taking a bath, or going for a walk helped her focus on the positive and be thankful for the little things. Although she says her journey to emotional well-being wasn’t always easy, the positive steps she made when her son was young changed her life forever. Her son Colby is now 20 years old and still lives with the risk of sudden cardiac arrest. “He is the reason I switched careers, became a paramedic, and why I do what I do every day.”
 While Elliott realized on her own she needed to focus on herself, others can find the path to emotional wellness less clear. The question of how you know when it’s time to make your emotional needs a priority comes down to how daily habits, in addition to the length of time you feel out of sorts. 
Cindy J. Payne, M.S., LPC, NCC is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Frisco and understands the challenges mental health disorders can have on people’s lives. “I think it’s time to seek help for our mental health when our sleeping and eating habits change, we experience prolonged periods of anxiety and/or depression, or we feel disconnected from ourselves and others,” says Payne. “Oftentimes, we need help deepening and widening our perspective. We like simple answers and either/or thinking because it makes us feel safer. However, fixed beliefs can keep us stuck. Having someone challenge our blind spots can help us strengthen our ability to reflect and regain a state of equilibrium.” 
 There are many reasons why mental health conditions are on the rise today. It’s estimated that 72% of Americans use some form of social media, and research has shown that there are some downsides to overusing social media. While it’s easy to think that may only apply to younger people, adults are susceptible, too. Higher use of social media, regardless of age, can lead to depressive symptoms. Additionally, the fast-paced lifestyle of most Americans can have its drawbacks, as well. Feeling overwhelmed and disconnected from others, struggling to keep up with family, work, and school, and managing activities can be challenging for anyone. Much of the family responsibility can fall on moms, who often struggle to manage raising children, working, and maintaining a home. 
Payne says her journey into motherhood has helped her empathize with the struggles many moms face today as well as the challenges kids and teens face. “My own mothering experience has offered me the opportunity to connect with kids while also empathizing with and offering support to parents as they navigate ways to help their kids,” she says. She mentions the high amount of pressure associated with social media, school, and relationships. “I work with ages 13 and up, and one of the most common things I hear from kids is that they just want to be seen and heard, not necessarily for their problems to be solved. This can be hard for parents because it requires us to hold the space for them to have big feelings and make mistakes while separating their feelings and choices from ourselves.”
When it comes to feeling more balanced and less anxious throughout the day, Payne says she sees a lot of benefits from mindfulness and meditation practices and also setting an intention or goal for the day. She also mentions moving the body, as there is a lot of well-documented research on the benefits of exercise on mental health. She says visualizing how your day will unfold and quieting the mind are positive ways to start the day. “I am a big believer in the idea of playing the tape forward. While this is a technique that is most often used in recovery spaces to help with cravings and urges, it allows the person to visualize how the day will unfold based upon the initial choices made at the beginning of the day when our brains are most creative and attuned,” she explains. “If we’re able to think through events and develop a plan to deal with what is expected to happen, we can then refine our plan when we start to function on autopilot.”
 When it comes to choosing therapy and counseling, there’s no one-size-fits-all decision. While seeking help is undoubtedly right for certain people, for others, there are different ways of coping with emotional challenges. When we exercise, “feel-good” chemicals, or endorphins, are released in the brain, which helps keep a more positive mindset and keeps depression and anxiety at bay. “There are so many ways we can contribute to our emotional and mental health outside of therapy. Finding activities that you enjoy doing both in solitude and with others such as taking up a new hobby or nurturing an already existing one, can boost your mood,” says Payne. 
She also mentions getting out in nature, dancing to your favorite playlist, going to a yoga class, or creating art, which are all ways to release serotonin and dopamine, the “feel-good” chemicals. “I always invite clients to consider their existing relationship with social media. Paying attention to how we feel after scrolling is important. Eliminate content that leaves you feeling bad or more critical of yourself. Finally, look at setting some personal and professional goals for yourself. When we are moving towards these goals, we are reminded of our greater sense of purpose in the world.”
Body movement is a modality that Payne herself has experienced as helpful when seeking improved emotional health. As a certified yoga instructor, Payne says she took her first yoga class in 2003 to help manage her stress and anxiety, and today she has a private practice. “I have been practicing yoga here in Frisco at Ignyte Yoga Studio for the past six years,” she says. “The owner, Christie Cheney, is a fellow LPC and really understands the connection between the mind and the body. In the summer of 2023, I came to Christie with the idea of hosting a series of workshops combining a mental health topic and a yoga flow class. She was immediately receptive and supportive, and graciously offered the studio space to me. I have hosted two workshops to date, with one or two more planned for spring/summer 2024. My vision is to continue creating content that combines mental health education with a yoga practice and bring it to the community.”

Lisa Dawson is a professional writer and mom of three. She is grateful to have called Frisco home since 2013.

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