Mental wellness encompasses a vast array of topics; however, there are three core concepts that come to mind. First, don’t be afraid to seek therapy if you are struggling. Even today, there is a stigma associated with seeking help. Look for two primary qualities in a therapist: a person you can build a solid therapeutic relationship with and someone you feel is helping you grow as those are two indicators of counseling success. If you are considering medication, don’t be afraid to talk to a doctor. You can always say “no” if you feel it is not right for you in the end.
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 Stephanie Strouth, LPC.
Stephanie Strouth is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Virginia. She owns a counseling agency, Anchoring Hope Counseling, and works with another wonderful therapist at that practice. Stephanie has been working in the mental health field since 2016 and is currently working toward growing her practice to reach more people in need. Stephanie has had advanced training in working with anxiety disorders and is a Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional. She is also trained in EMDR for trauma, Cognitive Processing Therapy for trauma, Seeking Safety for co-occurring substance abuse and PTSD, and Prepare/Enrich for couples, along with several other treatment modalities. She comes from a person-centered perspective and works with clients to establish individualized goals.
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 grew up in rural Virginia, where you drink out of mason jars and catch lightning bugs in the summer. Although I have lived within a 20-mile radius my entire life, my family took every opportunity to travel. This has given me chances to experience various cultures within the U.S. and internationally. I had a huge support network growing up with those classic grandmothers who were deeply encouraging, complete with a sympathetic “bless your heart” when I was feeling down. My summers were catching tad poles while my winters were skiing the Alps. I was given so many memories that I am incredibly thankful to look back on.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
Life’s circumstances led me into the counseling field. We all have those stories, both beautiful and disastrous, that have shaped us into who we are today. In childhood, I only had supervised contact with my biological father as he is schizophrenic; that circumstance sparked an interest that would not be further ignited until the third year of my bachelor’s in accounting. I learned that an adult I was close to at the time had abused children. The interest in mental health that had been a burning coal became a wildfire in my soul, a true calling to work with survivors of abuse. Since that time, I pursued a master’s in professional counseling and began working with abuse survivors, which has expanded further than I ever imagined! So many people are hurting, and my desire is to be a safe, nonjudgmental place for them to share those stories and find healing.
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 give full credit to my son for hanging in there while I spent so many years in school throughout his childhood as he was born when I was 17-years-old. I missed spending quality time with him throughout the years due to college, but he has turned into an amazing young man nonetheless. I also have my husband to thank for his positive influence on our son and his endless patience with my career aspirations. I am blessed to say that we are both in fields we are passionate about.
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?
I walked into a room with a very serious investigator sitting at a table about six feet away from me. There were a few other people in the room as they were discussing details of a child abuse case they were about to complete an interview on. As I stood, I squirted some hand sanitizer toward my hand, but it must have been clogged because it shot sideways, coating the investigator’s uniform in Germ-X. I learned to always cover every angle of the dispenser. Fortunately, his response was, “Well, that’s not the worst liquid I’ve had sprayed on me.”
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?
I resonated on a personal level to Melody Beattie’s “Codependent No More” as I am a recovering codependent. As a people pleaser, it was profound for me to read that it’s okay to be selfish at times. On a professional level, I am really enjoying “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk for trauma-related issues. The book is filled with such insightful content that I’ve basically painted it yellow with my highlighter!
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
I suppose I try to follow more of an idea than a quote: finding peace within the chaos. I believe that idea speaks to how we often travel through life imagining happiness is a destination to be reached only when our problems are resolved. Peace and happiness can be found in the beauty of everyday life. This idea really hit home when I made a list of situations I was anxious about. I realized once those were resolved, they could easily be replaced by new issues. At that moment, I let go of the anxiety and began choosing peace. I’m not saying it was easy, but it has been worth it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I completed a training to be a Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Professional, which promoted exposure therapy and other evidence-based treatment strategies. There was such great information in that training that I wanted to develop a series on how anxiety works in the brain and why these therapy options are recommended. I created a five-part series on this subject available at www.gumroad.com/ahchope . You can enter the code 20off to get 20% off the cost of the training. You can purchase only the parts you’re interested in or buy all five, which gives you one video for free. I’m incredibly excited about it because it can help people who may not be ready for therapy, but still want the information from the comfort of their home.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In our work, we talk alot about 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.
Mental wellness encompasses a vast array of topics; however, there are three core concepts that come to mind. First, don’t be afraid to seek therapy if you are struggling. Even today, there is a stigma associated with seeking help. Look for two primary qualities in a therapist: a person you can build a solid therapeutic relationship with and someone you feel is helping you grow as those are two indicators of counseling success. If you are considering medication, don’t be afraid to talk to a doctor. You can always say “no” if you feel it is not right for you in the end. Everything is worth a conversation! Second, try shifting your thinking. Sometimes issues can be resolved by assessing your thinking and being open to more adaptive beliefs. A simple cognitive behavioral technique involves completing a sheet where you write about an event, your thought about the event, and the feelings you had as a result of the thought. After that, you decide how you would prefer to think in similar situations later on. Keep track of those and over time, you will find that by suggesting new ideas to yourself, you can get better at shifting those thoughts. Third, recognize when these feelings go deeper. If your emotions feel completely outside of your control at times, you are likely functioning with a different part of your brain involving your amygdala, which is responsible for fight/flight/freeze responses. The amygdala doesn’t speak English; it speaks body language. This is where simple ideas can make a huge difference! Ideas for reducing amygdala activation include diaphragmatic breathing exercises (belly breathing), yoga, meditation, mindfulness, aerobic exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating. There is a major connection between body and mind!
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 am a huge fan of practicing mindfulness. Have you ever seen a gorgeous picture of autumn leaves or a crystal blue lagoon and wished you could live in that picture? The truth is that even if we were in that setting, we would likely be distracted by something else in the past, present, or future. Mindfulness gives us the opportunity to truly be present and appreciate those moments of beauty. You’ll notice that once you practice regularly and intentionally, you will find yourself admiring the stars on a clear night, feeling in your soul the laughter of a baby, or seeing your loved ones on a deeper level. There is a picture I love that describes the concept.
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.
All aspects of wellness are interconnected, but it’s impossible to focus on all areas at once! There are times when physical wellness can seriously impact other areas of functioning. First, please get regular checkups with your primary care physician. As a counselor, it is important to rule out physical causes of mental health issues as low vitamins or testosterone can affect so many areas of functioning, along with numerous other diagnoses. Talk therapy cannot resolve legitimate physical issues. Second, address emotional issues as they arise as they can manifest in very physical ways. For example, people who have panic attacks often go to the emergency room because they think they’re having a heart attack. That may be the first time they realize they have an anxiety issue. Simply know that your emotional health can impact your physical health just as your physical health can impact emotions. Third, anything you do to optimize your physical wellness, do it out of love for your body, not because you hate how you look or feel. Body image issues are a real struggle for so many people. Shift your mindset to something positive like “I deserve to live a long life, so I’m going to take control of my diabetes” or “I’ve used my weight to protect myself, but I’m ready to face my past and adjust my future” or “I don’t trust doctors in general, but maybe I can find one that I like.”
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? I imagine the main blockage is apathy. Lack of motivation can impact us in so many ways, not just in our eating habits, but across the board! The first step is getting out of denial. How do we do that? By accepting that there is a problem. Identify any current symptoms and long-term issues that could arise from continuing down the current path. I find that there are a few strategies that can help with motivation including accountability partners, pro/con lists, reminding yourself of the motivation you do have, educating yourself on the “why” behind the changes you want to make, and setting timers/reminders/to do lists.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Three habits to improve emotional wellness include emotion regulation, emotion communication, and healthy boundaries. Emotion regulation must come before emotion communication because if we are dysregulated emotionally, we will likely communicate ineffectively with others; this is a result of our logic brain being offline and our emotion brain being online. Dr. Daniel Siegel refers to this process as “flipping your lid”. If something upsetting happens, take some time to yourself to process your emotions through journaling, talking to a trusted friend or counselor, deep breathing exercises, using an app like Emotionary, etc. Your process will be unique to you- take the time to find what works. Once you regulate your emotions, it is important to avoid sweeping it under the rug and instead communicate how an event made you feel when indicated and when it is safe to do so. I like to use an assertive communication template based on four sections: I feel… Because… I want/need… and I will… For example, “I feel unimportant because you appear to prioritize your friends over me. I would like at least one date night per week with you, and I will be happy to alternate whose responsibility it is to set the date agenda.” Phrasing a situation like the example is much more likely to get a positive response than, “you never pay attention to me! What’s your damage?” The first way builds bridges. The second option builds walls. This is where the third habit comes in: healthy boundaries. In relationships, you will need to set boundaries with others. You will also need to set boundaries for yourself through life. These are lines in the sand and something that may need evaluation. Do you find yourself compromising too often? Are you too firm? Is this due to some internal fear? Don’t be afraid to explore your motivations. You may reveal something that can completely shift the direction of your life, for the better!
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
Studies show a connection between smiling and the release of “feel good” chemicals in your brain. There is a ton of power behind that concept. The idea that we can literally cause bursts of dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin to infiltrate our brains is awesome! There are numerous medications that work with these chemicals and neurotransmitters. If someone is leery of that option, why not try an experiment? Set a timer for yourself each evening and smile for a solid 1–2 minutes. Notice if your mood shifts, and try using a scale of 0–10 on positive feelings before and after. I had a wise supervisor say, “if you want to change something, measure it.”
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each. One good idea for spiritual wellness would be to search for what speaks to you on a deeply personal level.
Do your own research into what you believe because you are much more likely to be committed to those ideas if you have done due diligence in looking into the idea. A second habit would be to develop a routine. Go through the process of deciding what level you want to involved spiritually and create a routine around those expectations, but also don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard. A third habit for optimal spiritual wellness is assessing your level of peace in your spirituality. If something feels off, explore what could be the source. Is it a lack of conviction about your belief system? Are you overly focused on feeling guilty thinking you aren’t good enough? Is something going on within your organization you are uncomfortable with? Take time to dig in and root out whatever that block is to your peace.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
I believe nature can play varying roles in an individual’s spirituality. Some people may connect more to being in nature than others. While I find that nature increases my connectedness to spiritual beliefs, I accept that my husband feels extremely uncomfortable in those situations. If someone feels connected through nature but has fears within actual nature, a guided imagery exercise could be useful in cultivating spiritual wellness without exposure to those fears.
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?
The world needs love. There is so much intolerance and so many offended people that it is driving a wedge among everyone, blinding each other to ideas that could bring us together. The world could be more beautiful if people came together and built each other up in love rather than tearing each other down in hatred. Just think of the things we could do if we all focused on our strengths instead of our weaknesses! #lovebig
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 recently posted that I hope to be as fabulous as Betty White one day. She is a pioneer who broke so many rules. I love her attitude, her rebelliousness, and her desire to do what is right regardless of what the norms are. I would consider it an honor to be in her presence.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow our blog at https://ahchope.wordpress.com or they can check out Anchoring Hope’s Facebook live videos at www.facebook.com/ahchope . Readers can also check out a five-part anxiety series at www.gumroad.com/ahchope. We can provide teletherapy across the state of Virginia, but the training can be accessed from anywhere!
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.