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“Here Are 5 Ways To Develop Serenity During Anxious Times” With Dr. William Seeds & Jenny Maenpaa

I would love to see a world where we don’t just destigmatize mental health by making it acceptable to seek out, but we actually celebrate it and are proud of our association with a therapist. In the same way that people are proud to be members of SoulCycle and wear their merchandise to show how […]

I would love to see a world where we don’t just destigmatize mental health by making it acceptable to seek out, but we actually celebrate it and are proud of our association with a therapist. In the same way that people are proud to be members of SoulCycle and wear their merchandise to show how seriously they take their physical health; I would love to see people proudly display the name of their mental health provider!


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 Jenny Maenpaa LCSW, EdM, is a licensed clinical therapist and author of Forward in Heels.


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?

Ibegan my social work career in juvenile justice, victims’ advocacy and community mental health, which highlighted how many social issues disproportionately affect women. As a result, when I founded my own private practice, Forward in Heels, in 2018, I knew I would primarily serve women and female-identifying persons in helping them learn to excel at what they do and stand tall so they could light up the world.

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?

In my graduate school, there were two different tracks for social work: Clinical, which focused on the typical work we think of therapists doing (one-on-one with clients, couples or families), and Macro, which focused on social service organizations, particularly leadership, resource allocation, and financial management. I didn’t realize how much this was reinforcing for me the idea that you could only focus on one or the other, being “soft” as a clinician or “hard” as a leader. During that time, I read Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, and it changed my entire worldview. I was able to integrate the ideas of being strong and vulnerable at the same time, whereas prior to reading her book I had seen them as opposites because I was equating vulnerability with weakness. I became much more emotionally intelligent in my own life, which made me much more adept at guiding my clients, many of whom consider themselves Type A perfectionists, which had often served them well in becoming professionally successful but left them feeling unfulfilled in those same high-powered jobs, as well as in their personal relationships.

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.

When we get anxious, our breathing quickens so that it can pump oxygen to our muscles in case we have to fight or flee. When this happens, our ability to use our executive functioning skills diminish, which are the ones that helps us use logic and reasoning to determine how to respond to situations. All of our energy goes towards survival techniques, namely the ability to fight back or run away as fast as we can from an enemy. Our primitive brains don’t always realize we live in an evolved time where those are not the most productive responses to fear. Two of my favorite techniques for reducing the impact of anxiety are Four-Square Breathing and 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. These both can be done at any time and without anyone else noticing

Four-Square Breathing is a technique that slows your breathing and your heartbeat to help you calm down. It can be done on the subway, in your office or anywhere you already are. Plant both feet squarely on the floor to ground you, sit (or stand) up straight, push your shoulders back so that you are getting more oxygen into your lungs and diaphragm, and find a square shape in your line of sight. This can be a computer monitor, a TV, a microwave, a light panel, or even a smartphone. Breathe in through your nose for four counts as your eyes follow one line, hold that breath in your belly for four counts as your eyes follow the next line, breathe out through your nose for four counts as your eyes follow the third line, and hold that breath out for four counts as your eyes follow the fourth line to complete the square. Continue breathing and counting together methodically until you feel your breath slow on its own, your body relax, and your heartbeat return to normal. By combining the deep breathing into the diaphragm with repetitive counting, we enter into a semi-meditative trance, which tells our brain that there is no immediate dangerous threat right now that we have to react to.

The second technique, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, uses the same principles of grounding and bringing our consciousness back to the present moment as opposed to focusing on a pervasive sense of dread that we can’t control. With this technique, we focus on 5 things we can see, 4 things we can hear, 3 things we can touch, 2 things we can smell, and 1 thing we can taste. By focusing on our 5 senses, we ask our brains to focus on the here and now, which quiets the “What if?” questions our brain asks when it wants to try to manage a growing sense of panic.

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. 🙂

I would love to see a world where we don’t just destigmatize mental health by making it acceptable to seek out, but we actually celebrate it and are proud of our association with a therapist. In the same way that people are proud to be members of SoulCycle and wear their merchandise to show how seriously they take their physical health; I would love to see people proudly display the name of their mental health provider!

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

You can follow me on Instagram. My practice is at @ForwardinHeels.

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

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