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“5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, with Dr. Cristy Lopez and Beau Henderson

Having a psychologically healthy workplace makes business sense as most employees quit jobs because they don’t like their boss which often coincides with a toxic work culture. It just makes good business practice to have a healthy work culture to increase productivity and retain employees, especially the best workers. As a part of my series about […]

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Having a psychologically healthy workplace makes business sense as most employees quit jobs because they don’t like their boss which often coincides with a toxic work culture. It just makes good business practice to have a healthy work culture to increase productivity and retain employees, especially the best workers.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Cristy Lopez. Dr. Cristy Lopez is a psychologist, coach, and founder of the My Anxiety Fix program which has helped thousands of people just like you permanently reduce anxiety and stress in 10 minutes or less without years of therapy or medication. She has appeared on the Dr. Phil show, Downsized, and The List. In addition, Dr. Lopez is a cited and guest expert for media such as Forbes as well as numerous podcasts such as the Growth to Freedom show.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I always found human behavior fascinating. Even as a child I made the connection between how my friends acted in school and how their families operated at home. My elementary school science fair projects were psychology related. And, over time I became the “go to” person for peers who needed advice. While in high school, I took a community college course in psychology and worked in the office of a local psychologist.

I then spent the next several years getting the education and training I needed to become a psychologist. I earned my bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley. Next, my Masters and PhD degrees in clinical psychology from the University of Missouri at Columbia. Then on to the University of Illinois at Chicago for my clinical internship and Arizona State University for a Postdoc Fellowship. After completing a clinical residency at a local psychology clinic, I opened my own private practice where I provide therapy and coaching in person or online.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

What I find most interesting is how people react when they find out I am a psychologist. When I meet someone for the first time, such as at a social event, upon learning I am a psychologist they will reflect upon the information they have shared with me up to that point and then ask, “Are you analyzing me?!?” I typically respond, “Of course!”, a long pause, then I add, “As does everyone else when they meet someone for the first time, I just happen to have a degree in it.” At this point they either ask me if they are crazy or on a spectrum or display behaviors of various mental disorders. My favorite, though, is when I am asked if I can read their mind! I then have to explain to them that I am a psychologist not a psychic.

Given the high level of concern I usually get from meeting people for the first time, you can imagine how much more interesting it gets when I tell a possible romantic partner what I do for a living, especially since I do a lot of marriage therapy!

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

One weekend while in graduate school, I was at a local middle school interviewing students for a research project. A fellow graduate student interrupted my session to tell me that he was leaving early. Being in the middle of an interview I smiled and waved him away, cutting him off mid-sentence. I didn’t realize until after I finished my interview and closed the locked door to the school behind me that he also was trying to tell me that he was leaving the box full of the interview data for that day for me to take back to the lab!

Unable to get back into the school, I drove down to the local grocery store to find a pay phone to call him. Yes, this was so long ago we did not have cell phones and there were actually things called pay phones. He told me to head back to the school and he would come and take care of it.

He showed up soon thereafter wearing a trench coat and carrying a wire hanger.

Several minutes after disappearing behind the school, he reappeared and matter-of-factly stated he believed that the police would be on their way. Minutes later a number of officers, responding to a tripped alarm, arrived. After explaining who we were and what we were doing, the police tracked down the principal of the school, who was less than thrilled to have to leave courtside from a college basketball game to come to the school to verify our story and let us back into the building to get the data.

Once we were back in the lab with the data in hand, we heard our advisor coming down the hall. I steeled myself to be admonished and who knows what else, I was only a graduate student after all. Thankfully, our advisor just looked at us and remarked “anything for the data!”

So, ultimately the lesson was as my advisor remarked: Anything for the data!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My father is very intelligent and competitive. Growing up I used to try and stump him by asking him if he knew some kind of fact or history of something that I had learned. He not only was pretty much always able to give me the correct answer, but would expand on what I had learned. So, I think my natural love of learning was intensified because I was determined to know something that he didn’t.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

I believe that most people are drawn to what they are naturally good at or have a passion for. I also believe in balance. Oftentimes being naturally good at something and having passion for it can help one to thrive and avoid burnout. However, sometimes being really good at something and having deep passion for it can actually drive one to push harder to the point that basic self-care needs such as sleep, good nutrition, exercise, relaxation, as well as fun and play time are ignored. In this way, being naturally good at something and having passion for it could actually contribute to burnout. My advice would be for mental health professionals to take the advice we give others about the importance of implementing self-care consistently.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Having a psychologically healthy workplace makes business sense as most employees quit jobs because they don’t like their boss which often coincides with a toxic work culture. It just makes good business practice to have a healthy work culture to increase productivity and retain employees, especially the best workers.

Effective leaders are supportive, encouraging, empowering, and inspirational. They create an environment where employees are able to be creative and innovative, and where they have a sense of autonomy and agency. Great leaders create a culture of respect and appreciation, where employees are coached rather than punished. And, not only model and encourage the practice self-care, but provide resources and time to do so.

The American Psychological Association feels so strongly about the importance of a psychologically healthy workplace that they give an annual award for it. The year I led this committee for the state of Arizona, our state winner went on to win the national award.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

1. Self-Care: Sleep, Diet, Meditation, Exercise

Self-care practices such as getting enough restorative sleep, feeding your body a nutritious diet, meditation, and exercise are what I call Basic Foundational Practices that greatly contribute to mental health. These self-care practices all have related chemical processes that positively influence mental health. Meditation, for example, helps reduce anxiety while exercise helps improve mood.

2. Positive Self-talk

The way that we talk to ourselves greatly impacts how we feel about ourselves and how we react to the world around us. Because our brains have a negativity bias, we react more strongly to negative events and tend to ruminate, replaying upsetting thoughts or events over and over, factors that can lead one to more likely experience depression and anxiety.

Positive self-talk which is supportive and affirming, on the other hand, can help increase self-confidence and improve mood. Unfortunately, practicing positive self-talk requires a concentrated effort. Unlike negative thoughts that are quickly stored into long term memory, positive thoughts need to be actively thought about for at least 12 seconds in order for them to be transferred to long term memory. However, the benefits of positive self-talk on mental health makes the extra effort to focus on positivity well worth the effort.

3. Healthy Relationships

Humans are social animals by nature. Bonding with others releases the hormone oxytocin which has a calming effect and counters the effect of the stress hormone cortisol. Having healthy relationships also provides the opportunity to get support and resources from others when needed. Conversely, being lonely is associated with depression, weakened immunity, and more difficulty dealing with stress. In fact, recent research on loneliness found that lonely people are 50% more likely to die prematurely than those with healthy social relationships.

4. Physical Environment

Your surroundings can greatly influence your mood. Poor lighting, excessive noise, and clutter can each contribute to depression and anxiety. The colors of the walls of your home and office can help to calm (e.g., blues/greens) or energize (e.g., red/orange).

5. Spirituality/Nature

Spiritualty has been linked to greater happiness and well-being. A belief that you are connected to something greater than yourself serves as a protective factor against depression and substance use. Similarly, being in nature is associated with greater mental health. Being exposed to the ocean or water landscapes is associated with less stress and a sense of calm. Known as “Forest Bathing” in Japan, being immersed in a forest with its natural sights, sounds, and smells is calming and comforting.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

A common concern regarding the mental health of older adults is cognitive decline, characterized by deterioration in memory, thinking, behavior, and the ability to perform everyday activities. Most people are surprised to learn that cognitive decline is not inevitable nor a normal part of aging.

Older adults who consistently engage in mentally stimulating activities such as reading, writing, playing board/card games, and doing cross word puzzles were half as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those with the lowest levels of participation in such activities. Similar associations between mentally stimulating activities and a lower risk of Alzheimer’s also has been found.

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

A recent large contributor to anxiety is the increase in screen time exposure, including social media. Research has found that just one hour of screen time a day is enough for children to more likely be anxious and depressed. This is especially concerning because children’s brains still have a lot of development to do.

Limiting screen time, therefore, is especially important for optimizing the mental health of children and teens.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

During high school I saw the 6-part PBS series: Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth. I found it fascinating how multiple cultures separated by time and geography developed strikingly similar mythology around things such as A Creation Story and The Hero’s Journey. It really demonstrated the universality of human experience across time and culture.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Therapy is for the strong!

There is a common belief that the strong-minded do not need therapy. That it is only the weak-minded who need therapy.

Take it from someone who has seen the positive transformation of thousands of people. It is actually the exact opposite.

Only the strong-minded can admit that they are having difficulties or challenges, ask for help, face their issues, and do something about it. Therapy is like having a specialist or coach help you solve your biggest problems while holding you accountable for doing so. It is hard work and requires strength to persevere until you truly transform for the better.

It is the weak-minded who deny, ignore, avoid, and pretend as well as fail to accept that they are responsible for their own transformation, or lack thereof. By choosing to not face their issues and do the work they are destined to stay in the same place or even become worse.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my favorite life lessons is “don’t take things personally.” Everyone has heard this but I have never met anyone who knew why this life lesson would be true. The psychological reason to not take things personally is because people are typically egocentric, they are self-centered and lack an understanding of the feelings or perspectives of others. The way someone engages with you or reacts to you has more to do with who they are as a person than anything you may have done to influence the situation.

I cannot express enough how much a true understanding of the life lesson of “Don’t take things personally,” has made negative interactions I have had with others less painful or anxiety provoking. Instead of wondering what I may have done wrong when someone is brusque or mean, I learned long ago that it is likely because that is who that person truly is and they behave in the same manner with everyone. Therefore, no need to take it personally!

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

If you are a professional in a high stress position, I invite you to visit my website at www.CristyLopezPhD.com. You can follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CristyLopezPhD, on Instagram at @Dr_CristyLopez and connect with me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/drcristylopez. Send me a note! I’d love to learn more about your goals for living your best life.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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About the author:

Beau Henderson, editor of Rich Retirement Letter and CEO of RichLife Advisors LLC, is a best-selling author, national tv/radio resource, and retirement coach/advisor, with over 17 years’ experience. Beau is a pioneer in the strategy based new model of holistic retirement planning. He can be followed on Facebook here or on Instagram here

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