Jessica Sweeney of SunGlow Counseling: “Invest time in you”

Invest time in you: You are deserving of at least the same time and energy you put into others and the responsibilities that you carry. Try giving yourself back at least a fraction, a quarter or a third of that time, and you will see what wonders it can do for your mental health. As a […]

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Invest time in you: You are deserving of at least the same time and energy you put into others and the responsibilities that you carry. Try giving yourself back at least a fraction, a quarter or a third of that time, and you will see what wonders it can do for your mental health.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Sweeney.

Jessica Sweeney is a Master’s-level, licensed mental health counselor (MA, LMHC, NCC) who specializes in trauma informed therapy. Sweeney works with adolescents, families, and individuals as well as those who identify as LGBTQIA and gender non-conforming. She owns her own private practice, Sunglow Counseling ( located in Stuart, FL and is in the process of completing her certification in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).

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?

Absolutely, and thank you for taking the time to speak with me. While attending University of Florida, I worked at a career counseling center as an undergrad and all my supervisors were counselors. During this time, my family suffered a sudden and tragic loss and I sought out my own therapy, receiving much-needed support from the team at work. Very simply, the therapist I worked with changed my life and I made the decision that I too wanted to help others in that same capacity.

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

Early in my career, it was a goal of mine to specialize in trauma informed care and after learning more about EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), I felt this was the right path for me both personally and professionally. I can say, hands down, that continuing to move forward with my training in this area has been one of the most incredible experiences in my career thus far. I recall one client that I was working with, and in the middle of a session, they were able to break ground on a goal that they had been struggling to achieve. It was a moment and an experience that I will never forget, and I remember walking away feeling so empowered and inspired by what the client was able to achieve that day. As therapists, we sometimes see the fruit of our client’s labor but often it comes out in less tangible, visible ways. Nevertheless, in general, when clients improve or meet their goals, it is usually time to discontinue therapy and allow them to move on. However, in this moment with this client, I felt the real, tangible impact of just how powerful EMDR can be and I was flooded with gratitude that I was able to be a participant in their healing.

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

For those who know me, they know that I have an incredibly expressive face. It has been both an asset and a challenge for me to learn how to work with that, both in and out of sessions with my clients. I was in session one day and I remember seeing a pesky little bug in the corner of my office. It took every ounce of effort that I had to avoid focusing on the bug, but to no avail. After some time, the client caught me and finally asked, “Are you even listening to me?” I replied with a simple, but honest, “Not as much as I’d like. There is a bug drawing my attention away. Can you help me get it out of the room?” With the client’s help, we were able to re-locate the bug outside, and promptly resumed session. I can look back on it now and laugh, but it remains a powerful lesson learned about myself — that despite what I may try to convey to others, my true feelings will ultimately show through, and it’s ok to be a little human now and then, even in front of clients.

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 first supervisor, Amy Grabowski was, and still is, one of the most influential mentors that I had the opportunity to work with. She carried herself with such knowing compassion and I remember thinking to myself, “I want to be just like her when I grow up.” She also inspired me to further my career by starting my own practice, showing me that it was possible. I remember a supervision session I did with her years ago when she began working with me on guided meditations. I remember feeling so safe and encouraged by her openness to teach me, much like I would want to make my own clients feel when I was working with them. It was a high-impact moment for me, and I think of her often when I am working with clients on grounding or meditation.

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

Find a strong supervisor or group of colleagues to use for ongoing supervision and stay accountable to yourself to remain engaged in that process. This is especially important for anyone in private practice, which can be extremely isolating and difficult when it comes to gaining additional insight and support as a company of one. Our ability to do our work relies heavily on our ability to take care of ourselves too. Many of us forget that and hold ourselves to impossible standards. It is also important to remember that it is not just ok, but essential, to ask for help when we need it. This is something most of us find difficult to do, but is critically important to avoid undue stress, fatigue, and exhaustion.

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

The most important thing anyone in a leadership position can do to foster a positive work culture, is to maintain an open dialogue with your employees and listen to their ideas and concerns. After all, they are the front-line and are in the best position to identify issues and provide meaningful solutions that serve the greater good. Meanwhile, it is also important to develop a workplace environment that encourages staff to support one another and build each other up rather than tear one another down. But these practices are only effective if they start at the top. Leaders must practice the same policies they ask of their employees. This is probably the single-most effective way to keep your team motivated and achieve success. Team work REALLY makes the dream work!

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 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.

Great question here. In much the same way we employ good habits that enhance our physical health, we must also take care of our mental health, which requires just as much of our time, energy, and attention as well. Five steps anyone can take to optimize their mental wellness would be to learn the power of the breath, learning to say no, developing a support system, investing time in yourself, and remembering that all feelings are temporary.

Power of the breath: When we are caught up in a feeling, it is very easy to get lost in the moment and completely detach from what our body is doing. Something as simple as closing your eyes and just noticing or feeling your breath can be very healing.

Learning to say no: This can be so empowering! When we learn how to say no to things, we make room to say yes to that much more. The important part to this step is learning how to say no, but also reflecting on what we would say yes to if we had more time, energy, etc. As someone who likes to please others or make others happy, I got into a pattern of saying yes to everything and everyone, stretching myself so thin that I saw everything I said yes to as nothing but another arduous chore. Learning how to say no left more room for me to make deliberate decisions about where I wanted to dedicate my time, which allowed me the opportunity to enjoy the experience that much more!

Develop a support system: We all seek out people or places that help us feel safe and comfortable being ourselves. It is about quality over quantity here, and a willingness to maybe be a little vulnerable so they can be there for you. It can start small, and the support can build from there.

Invest time in you: You are deserving of at least the same time and energy you put into others and the responsibilities that you carry. Try giving yourself back at least a fraction, a quarter or a third of that time, and you will see what wonders it can do for your mental health.

Feelings are temporary: Feelings come and go like waves on the ocean. Sometimes they are big and over-powering, other times they may be small and manageable. They can be rough or smooth. Either way, like the ocean, our feelings are always changing and evolving. Learning to remind ourselves that our feelings will change by simply telling ourselves, “this feeling is temporary, I won’t feel this way forever,” can be a game changer. Just because you may be experiencing feelings that are uncomfortable, does not mean it is your ‘forever’.

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.

For someone preparing to enter retirement, I recommend taking the time to reflect and rediscover yourself. Transitioning out of a lifetime centered around work and starting a chapter that is focused on something else entirely can be both extremely exciting and enormously jarring at the same time. We prepare and work towards our retirement for years, and yet, once the moment comes, it is as if we do not know what to do with ourselves. In this case, bring it back to the basics, rediscover the things you love and go from there. For example, this could be a valuable time to start something new, like finally taking up yoga and joining that class you have been wanting to participate in. Or give in to your spirit of wanderlust and make an actual plan to travel with a set list of where you want to go and when. This is the time is for you to enjoy the fruits of your labor and doing that “thing” that you’ve always been yearning to do, but perhaps never felt you had enough time or opportunity to be able to do it. This could be a “bite-sized” avenue to help cultivate more time for you and the things you enjoy. But it is important to begin mentally planning for retirement before it actually happens whether that means starting to scale back on your career, adjusting your schedule to make more time for hobbies, or identifying new projects, goals or plans for yourself. We have seen so many success stories among those who embrace retirement and make the transition one step at a time by focusing on those things that bring you true happiness. The pieces will come together and in time, you will adjust to this new and exciting stage of your life.

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?

Absolutely. Young people often find themselves feeling disregarded as if their opinions do not count or their views or beliefs are not justified. It can be extremely frustrating, particularly for a younger person who may find themselves in an environment where they are not encouraged to share their point of view or perspective. They also have not yet developed their communications skills fully to be able to articulate what they mean. First and foremost, they need to understand that their feelings are valid and that it is ok to have them. The key is to find a friend or family member you feel comfortable talking to and letting them be there for you. The ‘right person’ is not only someone who they will be able to relate to, but also the person who takes the time to show true understanding and compassion. Think about what you value in others — is it feeling understood, is it their humor, or perhaps how reliable they are and how that shows through in their actions. Whatever is meaningful and stands out to you, think of what you need from that other person to help you feel that they are worthy of your trust. People always teach us how to treat them, it is simply a matter of whether we listen and are aware of the signals they put forth and if we follow our own intuition (or not). Once you have found someone who you feel comfortable with, perhaps begin by sharing something that is mild to moderately vulnerable and see how they respond. If you feel a sense of genuineness, care, honesty, and compassion, then you know you have found the right person.

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

Brene Brown’s “The Gift of Imperfections” is a book that I would recommend to anyone. Brown is a leading researcher of shame and vulnerability and its impacts. In her book, she guides the reader along the journey to what she describes as ‘whole heart’ living based on a set of guide posts designed to help us find and realize our true strength of character by finding courage in accepting our imperfections. This book struck a personal chord with me on how guilt and shame translate differently across genders. Brown’s insights not only gave me more awareness of my own feelings, but also helped me identify and practice compassion towards others, especially with some of the men in my life that I’m close to, family members and partners. When I see how they may be feeling or experiencing shame, I have a better understanding to be able to practice empathy. She is such an amazing storyteller and as I read the book, I felt as though she was speaking directly to me, telling my story. The way she spoke on vulnerability and shame came from such an understanding and accepting place.

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. 🙂

My movement would be It’s ok to not be ok. So many of us feel a sense of defeat or failure when we are not happy or content. It can also feel extremely uncomfortable and unsettling. But we need to understand that it is normal for our mental health to fluctuate and change over time, and for us to experience different feelings — some comfortable, some uncomfortable. We are meant to change and adapt as we age and grow, and we need to experience different feelings in our lives to be able to do that. Growing means experiencing some discomfort, and discomfort means growing!

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

That is an easy one — “Be here now.” I am all about being present and in the moment. I remember attending a conference, and during a breakout session, the group was focused on counselor self-care and wellness. During that experience, this affirmation stood out and really resonated with me in the moment. I have carried it with me ever since and have incorporated little reminders of it in my office so that I am able to reflect on it daily, especially more recently. With the COVID pandemic, my family and I have become more creative about how we stay connected and involved in one another’s lives, specifically following the birth of my sweet baby girl in April of this year. We’ve taken to video chatting more regularly than we ever probably would have otherwise, and with life changing so quickly for all of us from one moment to the next, it serves as a reminder of how important it is to “be here now” for myself as well as for the ones I love. As much devastation as COVID has caused worldwide, I see clearly just how deliberate it has made me, as well as my loved ones, in how we make the effort to “be here now” for each other, and for that I am enormously grateful.

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

Readers can find me on Facebook @sunglowcounseling, with a blog and Instagram page coming soon so stay tuned!

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

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