Kati Morton: “Nature reminds us of how small we are, but also how connected we are”

First of all I believe that mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness are all connected. However, for optimum mental wellness the three main tips I have are: Take time to be quiet, Make time for good relationships (in person if possible), and to leave relationships that no longer serve you. I believe that taking time […]

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First of all I believe that mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness are all connected. However, for optimum mental wellness the three main tips I have are: Take time to be quiet, Make time for good relationships (in person if possible), and to leave relationships that no longer serve you. I believe that taking time to not be online, watching a screen, putting energy out or absorbing energy from others is really important. We don’t take enough time for that in modern day.

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 Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kati Morton.

Kati Morton, LMFT holds a Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University and is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She runs a private practice in Santa Monica, CA. Over the past nine years, Kati has leveraged social media to share mental health information worldwide through video. Her specialties include working with individuals experiencing eating disorders and self-harming behaviors, although she addresses all things related to mental health. Kati is well known for her YouTube channel which now has over 1 million subscribers and over 75 million views. Kati’s passion is to increase awareness about mental health. Her online community has expanded to all major internet platforms, allowing her to answer mental health questions from her followers around the world. She hopes by doing this, the global community can push for better services worldwide and remove the stigma associated with getting help.

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?

I grew up in Washington state on a Christmas tree farm with one brother that is four years older than me. It was my dad’s family’s farm and as our grandparents got older they switched from a regular farm to a Christmas tree farm. It helped me and my family earn extra money around Christmas time. We didn’t have cable TV, so when my brother and I were bored our mom would make us clean the house or get outside. I spent a lot of time playing outside and was definitely a tomboy growing up. I played a lot of different sports and was very active in school. Pretty much small town America growing up!

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

Honestly, I don’t think there was one particular person that inspired me. It was more so the subject itself. I remember they opened a Psych 101 course my senior year of high school which I took and found the material so interesting! Even though at that point I didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to become a therapist, I knew that I found people fascinating. As I started working real jobs I found myself getting bored super easily. I had a sales job for a while, hated that, then I was a waitress in a coffee shop, and then I worked at an EAP or employee assistance program. All got boring but the one that didn’t was the one that involved people and getting to know them. To be a part of people’s growth and development, is such a privilege and I am always excited that I get to do this work.

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?

There’s quite a few people that have encouraged me along the way. One of the first was actually my supervisor Patty. When I started my YouTube channel I didn’t have my license yet. I was still gaining my hours towards licensure so I had to get her approval to create a YouTube channel as I was working under her license. Patty could not have been more supportive and excited about it. Kudos to her since YouTube was mainly cat videos and comedy at the time, but she said “this is really cool, I love it, do it!” Also, within YouTube I have had a lot of friends along the way that have supported and understood that mental health information was important. Back when I was getting started, publicly speaking about mental health was still taboo and a lot of people were not open to sharing publicly. However; I think some of the people who really pushed and helped me along the way are people like Melissa “idranktheseawater” Water who wanted to collaborate right away, Hannah “MyHarto” Hart, and Shane Dawson who were open to talking about mental health information and understood the importance from the beginning.

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?

I would say I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way just because I am human. But because I think of the seriousness of the content I create there hasn’t really been a funny mistake. But the interesting one that comes to mind is when I did a video about selective mutism many years ago where I misspoke in it and my audience let me know that it’s not that we don’t want to talk, it’s that we can’t because our anxiety is so high. I felt terrible and took the video down and created a new one, and it was a great learning experience not only for me but also with my audience. My community isn’t really part of cancel culture where you make a mistake and you are forever scarred. It’s more like, “let’s learn together” which I think is really powerful and helps us all grow.

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?

There have been a couple so it’s hard to pick just one. The first book that was life changing to me was “A Million Little Pieces’’ by James Frey. Even though it ended up not being a fully true story, it was super powerful in regard to addiction and overcoming addiction. It helped me better understand something that I have always had a difficult time comprehending even as a therapist. “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” by Stephen Chbosky was another one when I was younger that changed my perspective on relationships, teen years, and figuring out who you are as a person; as well as Elizabeth Gilbert “Eat Pray Love” helped me figure out what I wanted out of life and what was best for me. Finally, Brené Brown’s “Braving the Wilderness” is a great book. She talks alot about having the confidence and vulnerability to stand on your own and speak your truth. People feel afraid to do that and she talks about ramifications of that which we are seeing play out in our world.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

My favorite “Life Lesson Quote” is “you can’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” I have always liked that because it’s an important reminder of boundaries and healthy relationships.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

My most interesting projects are firstly my book “Traumatized” which will be coming out in September. We sold the book idea in October of 2019 and had no idea what was about to take place. I think now more than ever people need information about trauma, what it is, and what it isn’t. Hopefully some of the tools and resources I offer are supportive to people in the world who’ve survived 2020 and are living through 2021. I am excited to get that out to the world and hopefully it is helpful! The second thing that I am working on is trying to find a new way to educate people online. YouTube is such an amazing resource and medium to reach people, but keeping people engaged can be tricky. So I am trying to do a few different things this year where I teach through showing, not just telling. Those will be some different kinds of videos coming out soon!

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 mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

First of all I believe that mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness are all connected. However, for optimum mental wellness the three main tips I have are: Take time to be quiet, Make time for good relationships (in person if possible), and to leave relationships that no longer serve you. I believe that taking time to not be online, watching a screen, putting energy out or absorbing energy from others is really important. We don’t take enough time for that in modern day. For example you can go for a walk without your phone or headphones, journal and write down things that you are grateful for or things you are looking forward to, take a long shower or bath, etc. If you can do even one of those things the quieting and limiting of screen time for even just an hour can be life changing! We are not built for doing what we do online all the time.

Even though the next tip may seemingly contradict the first, it’s all in moderation, and making time for good relationships is so important. I know COVID-19 has made it complicated to foster these relationships in person, but getting eye and physical contact with people who know us is truly healing. We are wired for connection so making time for those relationships is important for our mental wellbeing.

Finally, something I think everyone needs to hear is just because you used to have a relationship with someone doesn’t mean it has to continue. You are allowed to cut out toxic people and that doesn’t make you a bad person. So often we stay in unhealthy relationships because we feel like we have to, but we don’t! Even calling a relationship toxic doesn’t mean that the person is toxic, it means that it’s just a bad recipe. You’re like spaghetti and they are like peanut butter, you just don’t go together and that’s ok. If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that the relationships we have should be ones that are healthy and helpful not draining and overwhelming.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I love yoga! I am a huge fan of yoga mainly because it’s difficult, slow, and it forces me out of my head. I can’t really stress about life while practicing yoga. It also pulls me into my body instead of out of it, so I think that has been helpful in quieting me down and allowing me to recharge. I also use mantras alot. I know it’s not meditation but one of my favorite mantras is “life’s got my back.” My therapist said to me, “have you ever been through a tough situation before?” Knowing the answer is yes, she then asked “Did you die? Did your life explode?” and when I say no she says “life’s got your back, you’re going to be ok.” I always tell myself that when I think things couldn’t get any worse.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

My top three tips for physical wellness are sleep, body movement, and eating balanced meals. People don’t talk about how important sleep is and newer research shows that we need at least 7.5 hours every night. That doesn’t mean I am in bed for that long, it means I am ASLEEP for that long. For me that means I need to give myself 8–8.5 hours to be in bed so that I will get that recommended amount of sleep. Also, since sleep is the time our brain cleans itself, that helps improve our concentration and solidifies new learnings, making it really important for our wellbeing. In regards to my second tip, I know people talk about exercise alot but I am more interested in body movement or “shaking it out.” I think people have enjoyed dance workouts now more than ever because when we feel stressed out our body can go into fight or flight, but if we can do neither to the situation triggering the stress then that energy just circles in our body and needs to be released. Hence why making some time to shake it off of your fingertips and out of your legs can calm down your nervous system. I think that can make us all feel a bit better. Lastly, my third tip probably comes from the Eating Disorder therapist in me, but it is important to make sure that we are eating balanced meals. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have Doritos, Oreos, or salads but we should have the ability to eat anything in moderation when we’re hungry and stop when we are full every three to four hours. That will help us not only sustain our energy and focus but also make us feel better.

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?

I think the main blocker is diet mentality, the belief that you can’t have a certain type of food automatically makes you want that food even more. So thinking I would really like a piece of chocolate but I am going to eat a carrot stick instead is not going to work. When you crave something it is ok to give it to yourself. The more we tell ourselves we can’t have something, the greater urge we will have to binge it and over eat because we will feel like we won’t be able to have it tomorrow. Instead of trying to do mind over matter when it comes to food and our bodies, I would encourage us to let our bodies tell us what we need. You will crave pizza because you need more fat or carbs in your diet and you will crave a crunchy salad because your body needs those nutrients. Instead of trying to fit our bodies into what people think they should look like or be eating what people think we should, I would encourage us to start tapping into what we want and allow ourselves to eat more intuitively.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

I think the first tip is to find a way to express things you feel. This could be through communicating with other people or journaling. But getting it out of our heads and into the world in some way is really healthy and key to processing our emotions and understanding ourselves instead of stuffing it down and exploding later. The second tip is to set healthy boundaries. You do not have to be available to everyone all the time. You need to put your own health and wellness first because you cannot pour from an empty pitcher. My last tip is getting another perspective. A therapist or group therapy is great and I encourage everyone to try it. We often wait too long before we reach out for professional help, and getting an outside perspective from a trained professional can be really helpful. We don’t have to be struggling in order to get that help.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness?

We know that the act of smiling (because it’s naturally done when we are feeling good and happy) triggers our brain and body to release endorphins and serotonin, and even lower our heart rate! Those affects lower our feelings of pain, improve our mood, and calm our nervous system down, so smiling can help us feel better, even if it’s just for a short while. For more long term effects we will need to figure out what is bringing us down (our own thoughts, relationships, work, etc) and work on that as well.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

The first tip I have for spiritual wellness is notice what feels like a breath in and recharges you and try to do that more. Often in life we spend a lot of time giving to others and we do not take enough time to do the things that feel good to us. There is a book by Julia Cameron “The Artist’s Way” which talks about doing more of the things that fulfills us. Next, we need to find some motivator that is larger than ourselves, even if it is just a group of people working towards a greater common goal. For me my greater goal is to empower people by giving them the language to get the help they need. Having this goal larger than myself makes me feel like I can actually make positive change. Lastly, I would say being open to learning new things. We often don’t challenge our way of thinking or even say our thoughts out loud, so how can we become better and grow? Being able to converse with people who think differently and listen with compassion is key and would help us all spiritually.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

Nature reminds us of how small we are, but also how connected we are. There is something about it that pulls us out of our head and reminds us of what’s really important. Pairing that with some physical activity can help alleviate some of the pain and frustration we feel everyday.

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.

Spreading positivity online! With everything happening in the world there is so much hate and built up frustration online, and so often people get wrapped up in drama and hate on others. Therefore, I think that because people spend so much time online, being able to cultivate a space where people are reminded of how much we have in common could be powerful. That is the beautiful thing about YouTube and social media as a whole, it allows us to reach people worldwide, and if we used it to spread positivity, support, and connection that could have the greatest impact.

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 🙂

Honestly I would love to have a conversation with Malala Yousafzai. Not only because her upbringing and background is different from my own and I would love to hear more about that, but also I am curious about what she thinks helped her develop such resilience. So often people get beat down and stay down, but she didn’t and has become an inspiration to so many. Also Michelle Obama because she’s awesome and always has such great things to say!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can find me at my YouTube channel Kati Morton where I post videos every Monday. I also have a podcast called “Ask Kati Anything” on Apple Podcasts and Spotify where I answer a listener’s question every Thursday, and all my social media accounts are @KatiMorton. They can also pick up my first book that came out in 2018 “Are u ok?” wherever books are sold!

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