Learn to Identify Your Emotions: This might sound so basic, but most people don’t actually know how to express how they’re feeling. The most common question I get in my counseling office when I ask someone how they feel is, “I don’t know. . .” Because identifying your emotions isn’t something you are born knowing how to do, it’s something you have to learn how to do.
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Debra Fileta.
Debra Fileta, MA, LPC is a licensed professional counselor, host of the Love + Relationships podcast and the author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life (2018), Choosing Marriage: Why It Has to Start with We>Me (2018), Love in Every Season: Understanding the Four Stages of Every Healthy Relationship (2020), and Are You Really OK?: Getting Real about Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters (2021). A passionate speaker, Fileta challenges people to have a psychologically and spiritually healthy approach to relationships. She and her husband, John, have been happily married for more than a decade and have four beautiful children.
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?
My name is Debra Fileta, and I’m a licensed professional counselor and author. What started as my first book, has evolved into a national platform and popular website (TrueLoveDates.com) reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships.
My approach to relationships is to help people understand that our relationships can only be as healthy as we are as individuals. There are so many layers to health, including mental, emotional, physical and even spiritual health. Through my books, podcast, and resources, I want to bring the lessons and insights I give to my clients on a daily basis and offer them to anyone who is willing and ready to get healthy from the inside out.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I’ve always loved helping people heal. In fact, I always assumed I’d go into medicine. But as I was pursuing my education, I realized I was even more passionate about the healing of the mind, heart, and spirit. It’s incredible to watch people recognize their limitations, deal with their past emotional baggage, break free from addictions, and become the very best version of themselves.
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?
In my newest book, Are You Really OK?, I open up a lot about some of the hardships I’ve been through with my personal journey of depression and anxiety. Even mental health counselors aren’t immune to mental health struggles. No one is. During that dark time in my life, my former mentor — a brilliant psychologist and friend — came alongside me when I needed it the most. Not only did he pour into me during my educational days, but he also supported me and counseled me through some of the hardest times I’ve ever walked through. I don’t just tell people to go to therapy, I’ve actually experienced it myself and it’s life-changing. I’m so grateful for people like him who have walked with me through hard times, and I consider it an honor to be able to walk others through their own hard times.
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?
One story I share in Are You Really OK? Is a story about my first week working on a psychiatric ward as a brand new counselor. I was working with a teenager who was having a psychotic episode, meaning he was disconnecting from reality. Well, something I did that day (the simple act of twirling my pearl earring with my fingers) instantly reminded him of his abusive mother — who also wore pearl earrings. He looked at me in a cold stare, and yelled, “I HATE YOU!!” and started to come after me. He was ready to attack! In that moment, he was transferring all of his hurt and pain onto me. We had to call security, and it was a really intense moment — and as a new counselor, I was terrified! Looking back, though, I understand the concept of transference, and how easily it is for all of us to transfer our emotions onto people who don’t deserve it — just because our brain remembers something painful from the past. We all have triggers, and being aware of them is a really important part in the process of healing.
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?
One book that really changed my perspective of counseling is a book called The Gift of Therapy, by Irvin Yalom. It’s a beautiful reminder that through the process of therapy, we are simply two people journeying together toward healing. It has helped me see the counseling relationship in a new way, and I strive to bring that same level of compassion and care to every client I meet, every book I write, and every person I interact with.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
A quote I share with my clients that has become a mantra for me is: “You engage with people on your level of health.”
So, whenever I find myself in a heated, tense, toxic or even dysfunctional interaction, I stop and ask myself, “What’s my role here? How does this interaction reflect my personal level of health?”
When I can take responsibility, I can begin to make changes. . . and it’s empowering!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m most excited about my latest book that comes out May 2021 called Are You Really OK?: Getting Real About Who You Are, How You’re Doing, and Why It Matters. In the world of Instagram and social media, it’s easy for us to act like we’re doing okay when we really aren’t. It’s so easy to pretend we’re fine and to get so good at presenting that image that we convince ourselves we’re okay, when we’re not.
I’m ready to help us take down the facade. This book walks the reader through the four key components they need to take inventory of to see how healthy they actually are — how they’re REALLY doing: emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically.
The most amazing thing is that this book was birthed out of my own struggles and hard times. To know that I can use those hard things that I’ve overcome to help others who are struggling is a complete redemption story. I couldn’t be more excited about it.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss 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 wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
- Learn to Identify Your Emotions: This might sound so basic, but most people don’t actually know how to express how they’re feeling. The most common question I get in my counseling office when I ask someone how they feel is, “I don’t know. . .” Because identifying your emotions isn’t something you are born knowing how to do, it’s something you have to learn how to do.
- Do Regular Check-Ups: We go to the doctor on a semi-regular basis for physicals, check-ups, and exams — but how often do we stop and check in on how we’re doing emotionally, mentally, spiritually? This has to become a routine part of our life if we want to be healthy people, rather than just assuming we’re okay until something breaks down. This is why I’m offering 5 minute check-ups at the end of every chapter, because I want to challenge us to get good at checking in on ourselves.
- Identify Your Negative Thinking: We have these mental filters by which we see life. In counseling we call them cognitive distortions, but basically they are our default patterns of thinking. Believe it or not, how you think comes down to patterns that you’ve learned along the way. So there’s no such thing as someone who is naturally optimistic or naturally pessimistic — we train our brain along the way based on the things we’ve experienced and what has been modeled to us. But when we can begin to change those thoughts, to replace the negative with positive, we begin to change our life. Thought change leads to life change, and that’s the root of what therapists call Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
- Learn to Say “No”: Another thing I noted working with people is that the healthiest ones are good at saying “no” and setting boundaries around their life. Too many people are saying “yes” to everything — their schedules are swamped, their life is busy, and ultimately they aren’t happy. Being a healthy person means we learn to say “yes” to the essentials — the things that add to our life — and “no” to everything else. Saying “yes” out of obligation or guilt only leads us to burn out, depression, and stress.
- Practice Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a practice that’s growing in popularity. It’s one that has been so beneficial for me. Essentially, mindfulness is the discipline of learning to stay present — not allowing your mind to focus on the past or get wrapped up in the future, but savoring the moment you’re in. It sounds easy, but it takes so much practice to get it right. It’s learning to be in tune with how you’re feeling physically and emotionally, and allowing your senses to soak up what’s happening in the present. It’s a sure way to decrease stress and even counter the effects of panic, anxiety, and past trauma.
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?
There is so much evidence pointing to the mind-body connection, how what we eat impacts how we feel. We live in such a fast-paced society, that it’s so easy to grab the next unhealthy thing to scarf down as we try and get through the day. But being intentional about what we eat means remembering that this small act has a big impact. What we eat can actually influence how we feel, and when we think of it that way — the change in perspective can actually motivate us to make better choices.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
There’s something beautiful about feeling “appropriately small.” What I mean by that is the realization that we’re a part of something bigger, more meaningful than just ourselves. I think that’s the root of healthy spirituality and why 2020 was a year of spiritual transformation and awareness for so many people — we were forced to spend more time outdoors than ever before. There’s something about connecting with nature and taking in it’s magnificence that causes us to feel appropriately small and helps us see the “small stuff” as “small stuff” rather than overwhelming us with the demands of life. Give yourself a chance to feel that smallness every once in a while and to realize that you are part of a much larger story. Your life matters and has meaning because you are a piece to that bigger puzzle. Every small piece makes the big picture come together.
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.
That we would all begin to look inward first and foremost. That we could take some time, even a season, to really focus on our personal growth and health. So many of us want to change the world, but if we could start by changing ourselves — becoming the best version of ourselves — can you imagine how that would impact the world?
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 🙂
This has little to do with mental and emotional health (outside of the fact that sometimes you just need to watch a little TV and veg out) but I’d have to go back to my childhood Full House days and say Candace Cameron Bure! All the nostalgia from Friday nights, watching TV with the family. . . it would just be such a fun treat to have lunch with her and connect!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.