5 Ways To Develop Serenity During Anxious Times with Dr. William Seeds & Jessica Eiseman

During times of uncertainty and anxiety finding serenity can be difficult. Especially with the current state of the world. When I think of the word serenity, I envision peace within self. When there is constant change and chaos, how do I come back to me. Ask yourself, where do you feel most at peace? Who […]

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During times of uncertainty and anxiety finding serenity can be difficult. Especially with the current state of the world. When I think of the word serenity, I envision peace within self. When there is constant change and chaos, how do I come back to me. Ask yourself, where do you feel most at peace? Who are you with? What are you doing in that space?

As a part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Eiseman, MS, LPC-S, NCC

Jessica is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor in Houston, TX and a National Board-Certified Counselor with over 10 years’ experience in the mental health field. Jessica currently owns a group private practice, Ajana Therapy & Clinical Services where she specializes in working with people who are trying to navigate the ups and downs of life, helping them unpack their shame, insecurities, and imposter syndrome. She has significant experience working with depression, anxiety, and trauma and loves working with moms in various stages of their maternal mental health.

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?

The private practice I own was born out of my own discomfort and uncertainty. In fact, the name of my practice Ajana Therapy the word ajana in Bengali actually means uncertain, unknown, undiscovered. So I would say I am a pro at uncertainty as I have lived through quite a lot of it. I majored in psychology as an undergraduate, and worked for a nonprofit for a while. I then found my way into neuroscience research where I worked with veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder for a couple of years while I was in graduate school for counseling. From there most of my work was with low-income, no-income populations. I loved the work that I did for many years in that setting. I then became pregnant and had my daughter, now two and a half. When I went back to work after my maternity leave I was not the same. I struggled with depression during my pregnancy, which continued as postpartum depression. I realized I didn’t have the same mental load as I did previously and needed to make a change. I took a job working mostly from home for an insurance company, thinking it would give me more balance, but that was not the case. I really disliked working there and it was extremely stressful. I became so uncomfortable and lost I didn’t know what to do next. This uncertainty and extreme discomfort pushed me into doing something I never thought I would do, which is open my own private practice.

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

I have so many of them, but cannot share due to privacy reasons. However, my first job after graduate school when I had to get my hours supervised before being a fully licensed clinician, I worked at a partial hospitalization program. They put me with the most aggressive and psychotic individuals for four hours of group therapy a day. Nothing in school teaches you how to prepare for that. Six months after I started working there, the hospital was shut down by the FBI for Medicare/Medicaid fraud. Not the best introduction into my career in mental health! PSA: Never get your first counseling job from Craigslist.

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

Find whatever it is that keeps you grounded. For me that has been my daughter, being able to be in the moment completely with her is the best self-care. Self-care isn’t selfish and if you don’t do it, you will burn out. I think in our field, with the kind of work that we do, with the state of mental health care that it’s a matter of when we will become burned out. Having a good support system and being intentional in your self-care can help you to start noticing when you are headed in that direction so you can manage it before it gets to complete burnout.

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

Read Brene Brown’s book “Dare to Lead.” While I think I am a good leader, I had difficulty being the boss. I am just starting to get more comfortable in this role. This means being able to have hard conversations and being vulnerable myself, while still taking the lead. I think building a relationship with the people you work with is extremely important. And while we don’t all hang out, we find time to create meaningful interactions. Also, supplying unlimited coffee and snacks is always helpful.

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?

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. This is a book I often recommend my clients to read, especially when they are in a place of feeling hopeless. Viktor Frankl writes about his time spent in concentration camps. His main takeaway from his book is that we all can, and have to, find meaning in everything, even if all we know in our life is suffering. One of my favorite quotes from his book states, “Everything can be taken from a man, but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” During my time as a therapist a common human theme I see again and again, especially in people who struggle with depression, feel like their lives lack meaning or purpose. There have been times I too have felt this way. This book helps to remind me that if someone can find meaning in suffering in concentration camps never knowing if they will live and enduring horrendous circumstances, then I too can find meaning and purpose in my places of suffering.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

During times of uncertainty and anxiety finding serenity can be difficult. Especially with the current state of the world. When I think of the word serenity, I envision peace within self. When there is constant change and chaos, how do I come back to me. Ask yourself, where do you feel most at peace? Who are you with? What are you doing in that space?

  1. Focus on what you can control: Oftentimes anxiety stems from feeling out of control. As humans we love to be in control, or at least think we are in control. What we really can control in our lives is ourselves: our behavior, our thoughts, and our interactions with others. Be kind to the cashier when you are checking out, let someone in front of you when in traffic, catch someone else doing a good deed. Turn off the news or take a social media break. While it is easy to get caught at all of the abominations currently in this world, we don’t have to add to it.
  2. Take a pause: Practice Mindfulness in your every day. As professor and Zen guru, Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way- on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness is a way to come back to the here and now, whereas anxiety is very future-oriented. People hear mindfulness and automatically think they can’t do it. While mindfulness is intentional there is no right or wrong way to do it. We can even incorporate mindfulness in our everyday tasks, such as doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, or when we are eating; which can help us to stay more grounded in the moment.
  3. Give to others: Whether it is time or resources. Research has shown that volunteering can actually aid in improving our mood. Support a cause you are passionate about or donate to the campaign of the candidate you feel can make the most change. This also helps you feel in control, as you are taking action within a larger system, which could potentially make a greater impact.
  4. Find time to play: At some point as adults we decide that we cannot play anymore. We decide we have to be serious because we have so many responsibilities. It takes significant vulnerability to allow yourself to play, especially if you don’t have kids. Crank up the music while you are cleaning and dance, break out the crayons or colored pencils and color an adult coloring book or a mandala (which has been shown to reduce anxiety due to its meditative qualities), do a laughing yoga class (they also do have that!). Whatever it is let yourself get lost in play and have fun!
  5. Take a deep breath: My clients look at me funny sometimes when I tell them to breathe! Breathing is very helpful in calming our system. When we are experiencing a lot of anxiety or trauma our breath tends to be more shallow. We may hold our breath a lot more and not even realize it. Coming back to our breath is extremely grounding for us and even lowers our heart rate. The cool thing is that our breath is always with us, so if we remember to check in on our breath, it can be very helpful.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask them what they need. Oftentimes we push our own feelings, when simply saying, “It feels like you are really anxious right now, what can I do to support you?”
  2. Understand that when someone struggles with anxiety, it is not something that they can just turn off. Telling them to “just stop thinking about it” or “it’s all in your head” is not helpful and minimizes the way they are feeling. You don’t have to understand their experience to be there with them when they need you and to offer a listening ear.
  3. However, it is also okay to challenge a bit if what you’re hearing is irrational, but in a loving, kind way. You could say something like, “I wonder if there is another way we can think about this?”
  4. Suggest a way to get some energy out. Offer to go on a bike ride with them, or a walk in the park, or play a game of basketball. The movement helps to get the anxious energy out.
  5. Remind them to breathe. Not in a condescending way, but look at them and ask them to take a deep breath. Do it with them. A simple breathing reminder is 2–2–2. Breathe in for 2 counts, hold your breath for 2 counts and breathe out for the last two counts. Do that with them several times until they start to feel better.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

  • There are a lot of really amazing apps right now that offer helpful breathing exercises. A lot of them offer free trials or even free mindfulness, meditation, and breathing exercises. Especially now with COVID19 happening.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find a therapist who uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) within their therapy practice, because it is exceptionally useful for anxiety. Anxious thoughts need to be challenged, but in an appropriate way. We cannot just replace the anxious one with a positive one or opposite one and expect it to go away.
  • If the symptoms of a person’s anxiety is interfering so much that it’s impacting their daily functioning, don’t be afraid to see a psychiatrist or PCP for medication. This can be very helpful in quieting the mind, helping you sleep and increasing concentration. Medicine isn’t for everyone, if I thought it was the solution to everything, I wouldn’t be a therapist. However, there can be a need for it. Medication should not change who you are, it should just reduce your symptoms so that the tools and coping skills you are learning in therapy can have a fighting chance.

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

I have to go back to Brene Brown again. She says, “The courage to be vulnerable is not about winning or losing, it’s about the courage to show up when you can’t predict or control the outcome.” I think this has been true my whole life. I joke with those closest to me that if I am nothing else, I am incessant and resourceful. Part of my success throughout my life is the fact that I just continue to show up no matter how hard life hits me in the face. This has been so relevant in starting my business and becoming an entrepreneur. Each day is different and especially in the counseling field there is so much variability in what clients will come into counseling for, if they will come in consistently, and how long they need and are willing to continue.

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. 🙂

Oh I have lots of ideas…Finding a way for people to understand that managing your mental health is a necessity, not a luxury. Learning the best way to teach empathy…I firmly believe that learning and teaching empathy is the key to healing the world.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ajanatherapy/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ajanatherapy/

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

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