I had the pleasure of interviewing Melanie Kotcher a HIIT Pilates Instructor and Wellness Coach for busy women and men looking for quick, effective, and sustainable solutions to get fit, release stress, gain confidence, and of course, have fun. Melanie holds a Pilates Mat Certificate from Equinox’s Pilates Teacher Training Institute and an Advanced Diploma in Coaching from the New York University School of Professional Studies. Combining the principles from high-intensity interval training and Pilates, Melanie’s approach is practical, time-efficient, highly-effective, and most importantly, personal.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! What is your backstory?
Prior to pursuing a career in wellness, I worked for 10+ years in marketing, social media, sales, and production at top entertainment industry corporations, from the William Morris Agency (now known as William Morris Endeavor Entertainment), to Hungry Man Productions, to Weight Watchers International, and most recently, Studio71, one of the leading multi-channel networks.
I have always had a passion for wellness, and my experience working at Weight Watchers was the first time I realized that I wanted to start my own business so I can help both women and men get stronger, feel more confident, and develop healthier lifestyle habits. Around the time that I was in the beginning stages of starting my own business, I was prepping for my wedding, and I absolutely loved the fitness, nutrition, and beauty regimen leading up to the big day. I knew that I wanted to help brides prepare physically and mentally for their wedding days as well, and since then, I have worked with several brides-to-be and many have stayed with me past their weddings so they can maintain their healthy lifestyles. I have expanded my clientele and now work with anyone looking for efficient and sustainable solutions to look and feel their personal best.
With the holiday season almost over, many people have been visiting and connecting with relatives. While family is important, some of them can be incredibly challenging. How would you define the difference between a difficult dynamic and one that’s unhealthy?
I think that the most important thing in any relationship is communication. Of course, the holidays can bring up many different emotions when connecting with family, but it’s important to remember to be kind, open and honest, and the hope is that you receive the same consideration in return. It’s also important to remember intent vs. impact. Knowing which battles to choose can be a great skill to hone because it helps you determine what is worth standing up for and what you can easily allow to roll off your back. It’s important to find the balance between being overly-sensitive and having fear of standing up for yourself to avoid confrontation. I always say honesty goes a long way when executed in a kind, thoughtful manner. The more individuals in the family dynamic who understand this principle, the healthier the family dynamic becomes (even when difficult situations arise).
Families have a large part to play in our overall mental health. While some members may be champions for wellness, others may trip triggers. What advice would you give about engaging both types of relatives?
Of course, not everyone thinks alike, and that’s what makes families so vibrant and full of different personalities. But then again, that does come with its challenges because some people may respond to an uncomfortable situation by making passive aggressive (or aggressive) comments to purposely set off a trigger in someone else. Sometimes the best thing to do is to simply remove yourself from an uncomfortable situation rather than to engage. It’s usually much healthier to walk over to a relative who shares in your passion for wellness as opposed to standing in a potentially dramatic spiral.
We often hear about “toxic relationships.” Do you believe there is a difference between a toxic family and an unhealthy one? If so, how would you advise someone to handle a toxic family member?
I personally think that the difference between “toxic” and “unhealthy” lies in knowledge and intent. An unhealthy relationship is when there is perhaps a lack of respect or a codependency, but a toxic relationship is when one or both members of the relationship is fully aware what he/she is doing to the other person but continues to partake in the same behavior without any intent to change.
Can you share about a time where you helped someone overcome a challenging family member?
One of my clients was dealing with a difficult relationship with a family member leading up to her wedding day. My client viewed this family member as overbearing and controlling, and we discussed ways that she could speak up for herself to allow her voice to be heard (in a kind, thoughtful, and respectful manner). Since her talk with this person, their relationship has grown stronger, and there is now a level of respect on both sides.
Managing mental health in high stress situations is challenging and although gatherings are only a few times a year, they can make a major impact on overall wellness. What 5 strategies do you suggest using to maintain mental health when faced with an unhealthy family dynamic?
- Get physical – take some time for yourself to go for a jog, a power walk, or take a fitness class to get the endorphins released before family arrives.
- Meditate – perhaps it’s before physical activity, but just take a few minutes to slowly breathe (and perhaps practice grounding, where you focus all your attention to your feet on the floor).
- Drink water – it’s easy to get dehydrated from holiday drinking, so make sure to drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated, energized, and focused.
- Practice self-care – this can be as simple as remembering to take deep breaths or removing yourself from unhealthy, dramatic situations (even if you think you are upsetting someone by leaving a conversation). Know your limits and practice self-advocacy.
- Be grateful and laugh – find times to be thankful for those around you and try to focus on the positive. Also, make it a point to find things to make you laugh (maybe that means spending a little extra time playing with the kids in the family who are more carefree so you can take a break from discussing real-life situations with the adults).
What advice would you give to family members who are allies of someone struggling with mental illness at these gatherings? How can they support strong mental health without causing friction with other members of the family?
I think the best thing to do in this situation is to try to impart knowledge and sensitivity around the topic, if it comes up. Knowledge is power, and if allies speak about the topic in a positive, hopeful way, then perhaps that energy will rub off on others around them.
What is your favorite mental health quote? Why do you find it so impactful?
If you could inspire a movement or a change in mental wellness, what would it be? How can people support you in this mission?
“An open ear is the only believable sign of an open heart” – David Augsburger
I find this quote so impactful because it’s so simple yet says so much. We learn the most from listening to others.
I feel like there is already a movement around this, but I would love to be able to inspire more momentum when it comes to acceptance and empathy around other people’s needs and sensitivities. I feel like it’s easy to get so caught up in our own personal struggles that we forget why something might be impactful for someone else. It’s important that we all expand our minds and not forget that every single one of us has his or her own personal story and reasons why he/she may respond to something a certain way. Someone’s feelings are not to be questioned by someone else – they are to be acknowledged (at the very least). I think more support around this mission will come from education around the topic, along with more people being brave and willing to share their stories openly and honestly.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
Thank you this was so inspiring!