Practice exceptional self care: Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy! Check in on all of your basic self-care needs: how are you doing with sleep, drinking water, getting some movement, taking time to breathe? Make sure these are in place first.
It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Risser.
Michelle Risser, LISW-S is a therapist, coach, writer, educator and breast cancer survivor. She is in private practice in Worthington, Ohio, where she focuses on maternal mental health and trauma. Michelle also helps other therapists overcome burnout and love their lives at work and at home through her coaching business and online community.
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?
Thank you for having me! I am an only child and was born in Tampa, Florida. When I was in the 4th grade, my parents and I moved to a farm in Virginia, where we lived in a tobacco packing house on land with wild horses. My mom and I moved to Ohio to start over when my parents divorced and I spent my adolescent years with my mom in Central Ohio. We were a real life version of The Gilmore Girls!
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I studied Archaeology in college and was fascinated by the Hopewell and Adena cultures of Ohio. After graduation, I learned that Archaeology is not like Indiana Jones! The available jobs involved hours spent in the hot sand sifting dirt for highway excavations. It occurred to me that social work would be a great way for me to continue my fascination with human behavior while working with people in the present, rather than the past (and with air conditioning!).
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?
My mom has always encouraged me to follow my dreams. If there was anything I wanted to learn or do, she supported me and helped me make it happen. Still to this day, if I have an idea she says “do it”!
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?
Well, this certainly wasn’t a funny mistake but a very meaningful one. In the field of social work, it is part of our code of ethics to speak out against social injustice when we see it. During the Covid 19 shutdown in the US, tensions were extremely high and difficult issues often came up in sessions. One of my clients expressed her feelings about a controversial social issue, and rather than joining with her, I started explaining and trying to educate her about the issue. At the time, I felt that I had an obligation to speak up, but I realized too late that she really needed me to understand her perspective. Fortunately, this client was brave enough to talk to me about how that felt and we were able to repair the relationship. The lesson: in the sacred space of therapy, I need to set my own opinions aside and be there for my clients.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am extremely excited to be offering a program called The 4-Week Reboot for Therapist Moms, to help other moms who work as therapists and mental health professionals overcome burnout and rediscover their joy. The pandemic and other global/ political stressors have been hard on us all. Moms have been carrying the burden of worrying about their children’s safety and well-being while becoming home-school teachers overnight. Therapists are under enormous strain, as the demand for mental health services increases and we continue to offer telehealth. When you are a mom AND a therapist, it can feel almost impossible to get your own needs met. I also offer individual coaching for mental helping professionals and have a free Facebook group called The Burnout-Proof Therapist Mom.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- I am determined. When I have a goal, I don’t give up until I figure out how to meet it. My private practice was an example. I decided to do it, so I did it, and didn’t let naysayers discourage me.
- I am courageous. When I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in 2020, I said “OK, let’s do this. How do I beat this? How do I continue to be a mom, be a wife, work as a therapist, help others AND kick this cancer to the curb?” I was answering client emails while hooked up to chemo.
- I’m also very open. Most people find me easy to talk to, which has come in handy as a therapist and a coach!
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?
Professionally, I’ve been a mental health provider for 16 years, and it has been an honor to help people find their joy and resilience in the face of unimaginable loss and trauma. The pandemic and my cancer diagnosis provided me a unique opportunity to take a step back, assess my priorities and start to put myself first. Through this process, I’ve rediscovered my joy, my passion for life and my weird sense of humor!
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?
There is a great deal of pressure in the US to do more, work more, produce more. In my opinion, we place less value on rest and personal renewal than other countries do. I was traveling in Europe last August and many businesses were closed for the month while the owners were traveling. You don’t see that in the US. Also, with the recent political climate, it feels as if we are more divided than ever. Stress, tension, anger and conflict are high, on social media and within close relationships.
What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
People often think of happiness as a state of mind, or a permanent condition to strive for. I see happiness as a temporary emotion, something you feel during an exciting occasion, a celebration or a milestone event. Joy and contentment, on the other hand, are ways of moving through the world. You can live with joy even in the midst of sorrow and hardship. You can live a life of joy even when you don’t feel happy.
In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
I notice that many people think they are seeking happiness when they are seeking numbness instead. To truly be happy requires being present in the moment, but many turn to alcohol, scrolling on social media, video games, or binge-watching TV. All of those things can be perfectly fine in moderation, but they won’t bring true happiness.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie De Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)
1) Practice exceptional self care.
Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy! Check in on all of your basic self-care needs: how are you doing with sleep, drinking water, getting some movement, taking time to breathe? Make sure these are in place first.
2) Be a good steward of your time and energy.
Say no to the things that drain you so that you can say YES to the things that energize you! If you struggle with saying no, start with maybe. Answer any request for time or energy with “let me check and I’ll get back to you”, then give yourself time to think it through before committing.
3) Re-connect with your purpose.
When you feel burned out or exhausted, remember your why. Why did you go into this career/ become a parent/ start a business/ commit to your partner? What’s the bigger picture?
4) Find joy.
Look for opportunities to laugh, smile, or be inspired. Try something new. Look for beauty. Go to an art museum. Listen to music that lifts your mood.
5) And finally, stay connected.
Many people have become very isolated with the Covid pandemic and other global and political stressors. It’s so important to have people in your corner. Is there a friend or family member you are thinking about even though you haven’t talked in a while? Reach out and let them know.
5 Things Video: https://youtu.be/IUzTHdvAl7s
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?
Many of us tend to ask “Is there anything I can do?” While this is well-meaning, it can put pressure on the person who is struggling to come up with something. Many people struggle with asking for help, or don’t even know what they need. My suggestion is to do something, anything! Send a card. Drop by with coffee. Send a text and tell them “I’m thinking of you”. If you are genuinely concerned about someone you care about, you could offer to do the footwork and help them find a mental health professional with openings for new clients in their area. They have to be the one to take that step, but you can certainly help by removing some of the barriers.
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 want to inspire a movement for mental health professionals to live without burnout and to make radical self care the norm. Even though we talk about self care constantly in our profession, and teach it to our clients all day, it can be hard to actually do. There is a culture of overwork and low pay. Think of how much we could change the world if mental health providers were energized, empowered, well compensated and living with joy! The ripple effect would be enormous.
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 🙂
Brene’ Brown!! Brene’ taught me so much about being vulnerable, authentic and brave, setting boundaries, standing my ground and finding my voice.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I can be found at www.joyfulhappymom.com. Readers can follow me on Instagram @heytherapistmom and on Facebook at Michelle Risser Coaching. Moms who work as therapists are invited to join my free Facebook Community: The Burnout-Proof Therapist Mom!
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!