I would love to have EMOTION be a subject taught in school. As in Reading, Writing, History, EMOTION. From pre school on. I really feel like if we did this, there would be more of an awareness of how to cope better and more effectively, how to reach out and give support, and an emotional language to help us communicate and understand how we are feeling. This is so huge in helping us to feel connected and less lonely. It also allows for emotions like sadness to pass. If we have tools to talk about them, we can get that support and no longer feel alone in those feelings/that experience.
As a part of my interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic’ I had the pleasure to interview Ashley Ellis. Ashley has her MA in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pepperdine University and BA in Cognitive Psychology from UC Irvine. Upon completing her master’s program, Ashley began work in private practice with adolescents struggling academically due to struggles with time management, learning disabilities, or other educational related issues. Ashley then also started as a therapist at a treatment center working with both adolescents and adults with eating disorders and body image related issues as well as sometimes depressed or anxious mood. She currently works with clients online via telehealth therapy services and has private practices in the West Hollywood area as well as one in Pasadena. Ashley is an avid traveler and enjoys supporting clients that travel for fun or for work and still would like to make their mental health a priority. She offers telehealth services over a secure/HIPAA compliant platform so that expats, jetsetters, digital nomads, and people in remote locations can get the support they need. In addition to being a therapist, Ashley also is a curve model. She works with clients in a variety of mediums; some of these include magazine advertising, runway, website content for clothing retailers, as well as television. In getting to work in this field, a lot of Ashley’s efforts have involved linking her two professions by promoting body positive awareness as well as psycho education on the media and body image.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
It started at a very early age. I was the kid that always asked “Why?” I wanted to know why people behaved the way they did and what their motivation was for doing the things that they do.
In high school, I suffered a shoulder injury from playing water polo and had to go to physical therapy for it. My physical therapist said something to me about the importance of a mindset when people are trying to recover. He said if they don’t want to get better, they won’t. This concept fascinated me. Add that to my dislike for microbiology and love for Psychology 101 in my first year of undergrad, and it all just made sense.
…Now I also know how to ask “Why” in some many new- and less annoying (I hope) ways.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I first started as a therapist I was volunteering at an eating disorder facility in Santa Monica. I later became a therapist and then program director at residential treatment center in Orange County. As a result of those experiences, I have become a specialist in body image and eating disorders. Around that same time I had also started modeling as a curve model. I eventually decided to integrate the two by giving a presentation on body image and the media to other clinicians and treatment providers. In it I talk about body image and unrealistic beauty expectations. I use before and after photos as well as step by step shots in the hair and makeup process to show people just how much goes into making the finalized product. There’s something about getting to stand there in front of those pictures and have people actually see me that I feel like is helpful in turning the concept of that into more of a reality as well. I really enjoy getting connect my two very different areas of work in this way for something I feel can be helpful to others.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
When I first started working with clients I was working on my hours towards licensure at a middle school. We sometimes had to film our sessions (with client and parental permission) so that we could watch them with our supervisors and review. The first time I had to do that, we were reviewing that video and every time there was a pause or gap where silence started to happen, you could see me start to immediately start to fidget ans need to fill the silence with something. You could tell the client picked up on it too. As I have continued working, the silence ends up being some of the best part in a session. Being able to hold the space for a client to process their thoughts before saying what is on their mind. Allowing that has help increase my connection with them as well as their sense of feeling understood because I’m not trying to rush past the moment.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I have partnered with a telehealth practice, One Therapy Center which is based in California, to see clients who are constantly traveling, on the go, or unable to receive services in the area in which they live. I have a lot of clients that have expressed a desire to make their mental health a priority even when they are traveling, so this has been mainly in response to that. They can log into the platform from their phone or laptop wherever they are and get the support they would like. I also specialize in body image and eating disorders, so this can be something that is harder to find a specialist for in in some of the smaller towns and cities in California.
I am also getting ready to partner with an amazing yoga instructor to start a mindfulness body and yoga program in which we discuss the importance of being connected and present in our bodies and then uses yoga to support this connection and awareness. We will be holding the program at a few yoga studios around Los Angeles starting in December and then offering them to treatment centers around the area.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
Loneliness is a very common (although not talked about enough in society) issue that comes up in sessions. I work frequently with clients that travel for work and/or pleasure often or all the time and this puts them at a very high risk for loneliness. It can be difficult to feel that connection when you are constantly on the go or in new and unfamiliar places where you don’t speak the language or understand the culture, or can’t even grab a bite with someone you know!
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
- Increased depression and anxiety- Having a social network is very helpful in regulating mood. The people in our lives can be an important part of our emotional support system in several ways. Sharing what we are feeling and going through with someone else can help those emotions to lessen, make us feel heard and support, and challenge thoughts of shame that might come up with what we are experiencing. Having network of people to rely on is also helpful in getting out of the house and participating in life and the activities we enjoy.
- Increased stress- Having a social support system is a very important factor in helping people to manage and handle stress. When we know we have people we can count on for help or even just to vent to, this can greatly help in feeling a sense of capability in being able to manage stress.
- Decreased sense of meaning and purpose- This can have a huge effect on our moods and can be a precursor to depression and suicidal thoughts. Relating to each other and being able to connect on life and it’s struggles can help to give life a sense of meaning and decrease shame. Sharing goals and visions helps create purpose and reasons to live, grow, and improve ourselves.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
Loneliness has a direct impact on the people around us and this then has a butterfly effect on our communities, cities, and even our society as a whole. As we become lonely, we withdraw from those closest to us and decrease that connection. It has an impact on our friends and loved ones and they too can start to experience these symptoms. The patterns with how we interact with our social network and communities also starts to change. We become more of an observer and less of a participant, further removing us from the world around us and that sense of community and togetherness. It becomes harder to have those vulnerable conversations that create connection and we become distrustful and lacking of that sense of social responsibility. This can have huge impacts on how we treat other people, and how we function as a society. That collective camaraderie is important in making a safe, caring environment for all of us to live.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Multi tasking- It can have some benefits to an extent. But what are we losing? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself sitting in front of the television having just put on something to watch, taken out my laptop to answer some emails, and had my phone to text back some friends. Inevitably I forget to pay attention to the movie and have no idea what happened- nor do I care because I didn’t become emotionally invested enough to actually care about the characters or the plot. I have also forgotten to send an attachment in one of the emails and never responded to my friend about plans for the weekend. This behavior leaves us disjointed and interferes with the quality of our connections- even with just becoming emotionally involved in a story on television. If we applied this to spending time with ourselves, why couldn’t we have relaxed on the couch and daydreamed or thought about how we are feeling? Could we have just watched a movie and allowed yourself to enjoy it? If you apply this to socializing, what are we doing when we are out with friends. When I go out to dinner now I leave my phone in my purse. It makes me acutely aware of how often that is not the case at dinner. I see so many friends and couples at the dinner table facing each other, but iooking down at their phones instead of interacting with each other.
- Productivity- I feel like this in an underlying factor in multi-tasking too. Many clients report to me that they can’t just watch that movie on the couch or take that bubble bath. At the end of those activities they feel they have nothing to show for it. The emotional benefit or the increased connection to ourselves seem to be put on a back burner in order to make way for writing the paper, posting the photo, and sending ten emails. But the problem is that it never gets moved to the front burner. Doing something for the sake of enjoyment isn’t feeling like it is productive, so it is then placed in the “not worthy of our time” category. But those are things we enjoy that make us feel good. After a while it can be easy to forget what those things are that brought us that enjoyment. I have clients that struggle with telling me what they like to do because they don’t actually do it. Sitting around with friends for an entire afternoon “just” talking is often another struggle. There is not something being done so it is often hard to give ourselves permission to do this.
- Dialed in> Connection- We might be more dialed in than ever before, but we aren’t more connected. We watch people doing all these things on the internet and through social media. We see more stories and hear more news than ever before. We post photos and tweet comments and respond to stories. But we don’t connect. Vulnerability is HARD and putting the things that we do online for display and to get reactions may make us feel like we are connecting but we aren’t. That’s not vulnerable. It’s a distraction that makes us feel safe from actual vulnerability. It’s a lot harder to sit and talk with someone about what we are worried about or scared of than it is to post phots of the new couch we got or respond in anger to a tweet that we saw. It doesn’t talk about what’s actually going on or the things that are harder to talk about. After a while we get used to it and don’t notice what we aren’t talking about. Or enjoy feling safer not having to talk about those uncomfortable things. But at what cost? We aren’t actullay being seen or seeing others when we do this.
Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.
1. Disconnect more
In 2018 I made a New Year’s resolution to camp once a month. And I did it. There were several things that I discovered. I actually found that I started to crave it. Especially when there were times that I camped at the beginning of one month and the end of the next so they were far apart from each other. I could feel myself start to feel less connected to myself and my partner and friends. When I camped I shut off my cell phone and enjoyed being mindful and present exactly where I was with the people I was with. It helped me to feel closer to myself and to them.
I’m not saying you need to camp to do this. But maybe put the phone and other devices away at dinner. Or leave them by the door when you come home. Set a boundary with yourself to not check your email once you get to your house after work. Practice being where you are and with yourself or the people you are with.
2. Do Less
Ever hear of the 80–20 rule? Lets apply it to how we spend our time. If you are constantly running around trying to do everything, it can be very hard to be fully present wherever you are. You are constantly thinking about the next thing and how you’re going to fit it all in. What are the things and who are the people in your life that matter most? Those are your PRIORITY (and probably make up 20% of the people you know and the things you do). Also within this 20% and hopefully a top priority- is YOU. Does what you are running around to do serve those priority things or those priority people? A lot of times we are running ourselves ragged for extra things and people (the other 80%). What if we spent at least 80% of our time focusing on that small group of Priority people and things that really are the most important to us. What would that do? How would we spend time with and connect to ourselves? That relationship and understanding is of who we are, what we want, and how we feel is so important. We would also have more time to connect to the people and the things that we love and have the energy to be more present with them while we are.
3. Practice Being Congruent
When you feel “bad” it can be tempting to want to hide it from people. Maybe you don’t want to bother anyone or feel like a burden. Maybe everyone looks like they have it all together so you want to appear that way too. When you feel one way and then put on a mask to pretend you feel something else, there are a few things that happen. The gap between how you actually feel and what you are pretending to be causes more anxiety and sadness ad it causes these feelings to increase. The feelings don’t get aired out because they are, in a sense, bottled up and hidden inside you. It increases loneliness and disconnection from yourself and from the people you care about because you aren’t allowing yourself to feel it and they aren’t aware of whats happening. When you are able to share, those feelings are let out and they do not have to build up and intensify. You can get support and feel less alone and more understood.
4. Socialize more, social media less
How do you feel after going down a rabbit hole of tweets? Social media has its benefits, but it can also greatly affect mood. There is so much comparing and FOMO that happens as a result. We see these beautifully cultivated feeds that make lives look so amazing and then compare this often heavily edited and filtered highlight reel to our coffee stained t-shirt blooper reel. How’s that going to work out? Try spending more time in person with friends and engaging in conversation and activities.
5. Get outside
Not only is Vitamin D important and necessary, it’s also not good to be inside all the time. Leaving your house/office/couch can increase the probability of meeting new people and socializing. It has the added benefit of also getting you away from that TV or computer screen for a bit. Maybe its just to go for a walk to the coffee shop that you’ve been meaning to make your Sunday morning ritual. At least you’ll get to know the employees. I also fully believe in leaving a space when it starts to feel less than nurturing. Go for a walk, take a hike, get some froyo- and then come back. Oftentimes those feeling and that negative energy have cleared and you can start fresh.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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. 🙂
Soapbox warning: I would love to have EMOTION be a subject taught in school. As in Reading, Writing, History, EMOTION. From pre school on. I really feel like if we did this, there would be more of an awareness of how to cope better and more effectively, how to reach out and give support, and an emotional language to help us communicate and understand how we are feeling. This is so huge in helping us to feel connected and less lonely. It also allows for emotions like sadness to pass. If we have tools to talk about them, we can get that support and no longer feel alone in those feelings/that experience.
We are 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 with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Brené Brown. She is amazing and I would love to get to meet her and talk to her about her work. I have enjoyed so much of the research she has done and how she has put it together in a much more approachable way. I’m not a fan of doing research but she is very gifted at making it relatable as well as making it all make sense.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!