“Allow yourself to feel.” With Beau Henderson & Arthur Anderson

When we don’t connect with others, the human experience can be a very isolating one. A lot of research has touched on the negative effects of both physical and emotional isolation in various contexts. Without self-awareness, it is very hard to identify what aspects of our lives we are needing to connect with more. Even […]

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When we don’t connect with others, the human experience can be a very isolating one. A lot of research has touched on the negative effects of both physical and emotional isolation in various contexts. Without self-awareness, it is very hard to identify what aspects of our lives we are needing to connect with more. Even individuals who are seemingly different can connect and feel the benefits of connecting. Validation, understanding, acceptance, and personal empowerment are all fostered by increased connection.

Arthur Anderson is Wellness Manager at Mountainside treatment center and is a Licensed Master Social Worker with a master’s degree in clinical social work from Columbia University. Arthur holds a dual role within the Wellness and Outpatient departments, where he bridges the gap between teaching skills and implementing them to help clients attain holistic healing. Through his understanding of clinical modalities and his integrative approach to addiction treatment, Arthur shows people struggling with substance use disorders how to increase their self-awareness, develop positive thought patterns, and focus on the present.

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 path into this career was winding. I had recently discharged from the marines and I enrolled in university. I started out as an engineering major but struggled with certain aspects of calculus. Though I found this course of study interesting and engaging, my continued struggle with it led me to nutrition and dietetics, which aligned with my passion for physical fitness. After a semester of that, I found myself unsatiated in other areas where I was passionate. I searched for a broad field where I had more freedom to explore, and I landed on business management. In my third year of business management, I realized that it lacked heart. “Heart” seemed to be a common thread in a lot of what made me feel fulfilled as a human, so I decided that I wanted to help other people. I finished business school and applied to Columbia in hopes that they would accept me into their Master of Social Work program. They did.

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

The most interesting thing that has happened to me since starting my social work career has been how my many different interests — in fitness, nutrition, psychology, and social work — have converged in my current role. As manager of Mountainside treatment center’s Wellness program, I can use both my clinical skillset and my experiential skillset — which I never thought would have been possible. For example, I can channel my passion for physical fitness into my adventure-based counseling sessions, which show our clients struggling with addiction how to work together and support each other. By finishing a high ropes challenge course or hiking to the top of a mountain, they have the opportunity to face and overcome challenges that frighten them, and I’m so glad to be a part of that journey. More recently, I also had the chance to create a trail map of Canaan Mountain in Connecticut. This made for a safer client experience when people feel like taking a mental break and immersing themselves in nature.

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

We have these very large doors when leaving our main building that I consistently attempted, and sometimes still attempt, to push open when they say “Pull.” I’ve since learned to be more present in my everyday life — and pay closer attention to signage. I can’t be so focused on getting from point A to point B that I miss the little things in between.

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 boss, Seon Kim, was instrumental in fostering my ability to blend my clinical mind with my passion for yoga, meditation, and spirituality. When I first started, Seon asked me to “dive in” and “figure it out” when I was still very much wet behind the ears. He saw that I could handle it despite the fact that I was not yet able to see it.

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

As an addiction treatment professional, the most important thing that I was told was “You can’t want it more than they do.” Obviously sometimes there is a disparity in effort or commitment, and it is a part of our jobs in the helping profession to model positive behaviors for our clients, but when that disparity becomes too great or too frequent, it can lead to burnout.

Having a good self-care routine is also essential. Being able to recharge and replenish both the physical and spiritual energy put into the work we do can mean the difference in being able to bring your best self to clients on a daily basis. Though simple, I think the easiest ways to start this are: getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and eating the foods that help your body perform at its best.

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

Leaders should have a balanced focus on the people that work for the organization and the tasks that need to be accomplished to allow the organization to function. If the employees are not fulfilled with the work they do, the tasks that need to get done are moot considerations.

Empowering employees to advocate for themselves is also of great importance. A lot of the time, supervisors never explicitly ask their employees about their wants and needs. This happens so often that the mere act of asking, “What can we do better to help you have the best experience?” can have a lasting impact on an employee’s engagement and connectedness to the work they do.

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 a 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.) Knowing what adds value to your life and what detracts value from your life. One of the tools that marriage and family therapists use is something called an Input-Output Analysis. This involves mapping factors in one’s life that take away and those that enhance their quality of living. When these inputs and outputs are not balanced, we lose the capacity for stability, predisposing us to things like anxiety and depression. When we identify things that fuel us, we can invite more of those things into our lives as a grounding and protective force. Conversely, identifying things that deplete our being can help us to proactively address dysfunction before it manifests itself.

2. ) Tuning into what you are actually feeling.
The body has only a few sensations that are perceived then translated into a feeling. Sometimes the stimuli that elicit a certain feeling can be misaligned. When this happens, we falsely attribute an emotion that may not be accurate, which, repeated over time, can lead to the creation of overarching narratives such as, “I am not worthy of love.” Tuning into these bodily sensations and the feelings that come with them can help us recognize when we are being duped by our brain’s urge to create meaning.

3.) Allowing yourself to feel.

This is another concept that is closely connected to the one above: when we do identify what we are feeling, it’s extremely common to downplay the impact or importance of these feelings. The bottom line is that we cannot change how we feel, so even if we recognize that our feelings may be a little misguided, it would be a disservice to ourselves not to acknowledge them as valid. So many times, we try to change the way we feel instead of accepting that we are built that way. To ignore that truth is a passive invitation for maladaptive coping strategies.

4. ) Forming healthy habits.
Creating a routine around the activities and tasks that bring value to our lives is key. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a hiking, yoga, or meditation. Integrating these habits on a consistent basis increases resilience to adverse situations, aside from the myriad of benefits provided by these types of activities. With a practiced set of habits that add value to our lives, we can show up in the world feeling resilient and ready to handle setbacks as they arise.

5.) Connecting with others.

When we don’t connect with others, the human experience can be a very isolating one. A lot of research has touched on the negative effects of both physical and emotional isolation in various contexts. Without self-awareness, it is very hard to identify what aspects of our lives we are needing to connect with more. Even individuals who are seemingly different can connect and feel the benefits of connecting. Validation, understanding, acceptance, and personal empowerment are all fostered by increased connection.

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.

Following passion. A lot of times we make excuses as to why the things we are interested in or passionate about would not work out or are not worth doing. I believe that these thoughts are typically born out of fear. Fear of failing, fear of missing work, or fear of misstepping on our career paths — in retirement, many of these fears are no longer applicable. Add in the influx of available time, and retirement creates a perfect opportunity to do something that you have always wanted to do.

Lifelong learning. There have been countless papers written about the long-term effects of lifelong learning on brain chemistry and the ability to stave off degenerative brain disease. Continuing to learn even after there is not a pointed “reason” to do so can further engage us in the things we choose to spend our time doing. Furthermore, it opens our eyes and offers new perspectives that can help shift the way we look at ourselves and others.

Allowing yourself to acknowledge the change. In any situation where there is a large transition, there can be a sense of loss, grief, or uneasiness. Acknowledging this and accepting it as a normal part of change can normalize the feelings associated with such a shift.

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?

Where mental health is concerned, pre-teens and teens face additional challenges, but they also have limitless possibilities ahead of them. On one hand, they are vulnerable to their changing hormones and yet to fully develop the pre-frontal cortex. On the other, they still have the opportunity to forge strong and positive neural pathways in the brain that can help guide them through the growing pains that will surely follow.

As far as actionable steps that a teen and pre-teen can take to optimize their mental health, there are a few things that immediately come to mind. First, they should establish positive coping and grounding techniques to effectively deal with adverse situations as they arise. Secondly, they should develop self-care habits to help reduce stress and mitigate the negative effects of cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. Ample sleep, water intake, and nutrition are also extremely helpful in regulating mood.

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

I was moved by Victor Frankl’s memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, which emphasizes the need to overcome discomfort to find fulfillment. The book reminded me of an experience I had with a client once.

While working within a dual-role, I had the opportunity to belay a Mountainside client on The Leap of Faith (one of the high ropes challenge course elements that we have on-site) that involved them jumping off a high platform where they would feel as though they were falling uncontrollably. The client had some trepidation in taking both the literal and metaphorical leap. He ultimately did and exclaimed how transformative of an experience it was. Fast forward two weeks when he was leaving our Residential program and preparing to enter outpatient treatment. After an appointment that took place during the transition process, the person that had completed his intake introduced me as the clinician he would be working with. The client said, “You already saved my life once so I already know I can trust you.” That interaction affirmed the power of pushing beyond comfort zones and experiential therapy’s ability to create lasting rapport with clients.

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. 🙂

The movement that I would create would be one of curiosity. It’s an important quality that everyone should cultivate because it helps people consider new possibilities rather than focus on one perception of the world. Curiosity is something that I feel is stifled every time we don’t have our expectations met, or meet someone that we find insufferable. I believe that we all ultimately want the same thing out of life, and curiosity is what will show us how similar we all are regardless of our apparent differences.

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

This quote comes from a book that was sent to me by my mother while I was deployed. It was insightful and helped me digest an environment that was new and unfamiliar.

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence and will be able to bear almost any “how”.” This quote is also from Man’s Search for Meaning, byVictor Frankl.

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

By following Mountainside’s Facebook page and keeping an eye out for anything involving the Wellness department!

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

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