Name what’s arising. This seems overly simplified, but studies show that when we can name what is arising, it calms our amygdala (our emotional alarm) and slows our reactivity. When I was going through my divorce, it was the hardest thing I’d ever experienced, and what got me through it was naming how I felt. I literally would say aloud, “this is what sadness feels like; this is anxiety; this is what fear feels like…” And it was amazing — when I named it, I just allowed it to exist. I didn’t have to fight it or push it away, and when I allowed it, it passed quicker.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things, Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Joree Rose, a licensed marriage and family therapist located in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition to also being a mindfulness and meditation teacher, Joree is host of the podcast ‘Journey Forward with Joree Rose,’ has authored 2 mindfulness books, Squirmy Learns to be Mindful and Mindful, It’s Elementary, and has been featured in media such as Oprah.com, The Washington Post, NBCNews, and many more! Through her clinical work, online courses and the retreats she leads around the world, Joree has helped thousands of people to live happier and more fulfilling lives through living with greater awareness and compassion, allowing them to decrease their stress, anxiety and shed unhealthy habits, patterns, and mindsets.
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?
Iknew from the time that I was a teenager that I wanted to be a marriage and family therapist; relationships have always fascinated me, such as why some work and why others don’t. Overall, I’m curious about people and their emotions, mental health, communication patterns, mindset, and how past traumas affect them in the present. I believe we all have the potential for true happiness and joy, and that how one accepts themselves and their past and their story, will impact their ability to be happy and healthy. I have always wanted to be a guide in helping others cultivate the tools and maintain the practices that will help them achieve that health and joy.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
It took me over 18 years from the time I started graduate school until the time I became a licensed therapist, so my career was a long path in the making. When I started my Master’s Program, I was only 20 years old, had been dating my high school sweetheart since I was 13, and though I had some early childhood challenges (parent’s divorce and my dad committed suicide) I was fairly happy living in my little protective bubble. After completing my degree in Counseling Psychology, I started on the track towards the 3000 hours I needed to complete before being qualified to take my licensing exams. I got halfway through the hours and decided I was miserable. I felt I had no life experience, that I didn’t receive a great education and felt completely unqualified to be anybody’s therapist. Despite my expensive private school degree and dedicating over 1500 hours of interning, I quit; I had never quit anything in my life, but it just didn’t feel right. I had just gotten married, was 24 years old, and decided I just wanted to stay home and have kids, which I did. I had my first daughter at 25, my second daughter at 28, and for a few years was content, despite feeling self-judgment for quitting. But a few years later, after chasing “what was next…” I realized not only did I at 30 years old have no idea who I was but that I was largely unfulfilled in the very life I crafted. I decided to go to therapy to find myself. And it was sitting on that couch that very first session in which I realized that I was ready to go back to my licensure process, but since it was over 6 years that I started the hours, I had lost them all and had to start from scratch. But this time I was ready, and the Universe kept pointing me in the right direction to help me uncover not only who I was, but how I wanted to show up professionally. I discovered mindfulness practice and started going on retreats, delving into mindfulness and meditation and by slowing down, getting out of my head and my “shoulds” started to find myself. Professionally I was on the right path — I got certified in teaching mindfulness in schools, founded a mindfulness program at the school I was interning at, created courses I lead in my community, did speaking engagements all over the country, wrote my first book, all while completing my hours. Personally, I was also on the right path, though it led to my divorce when I was 36 years old. I finally felt ready to be a therapist because I had gained the life experience that I needed to be able to show up authentically for my clients. It was not a straight path, but it was one that was heart-centered, full of courage and letting go of fear, and gave me what I needed to know do the job I do so well.
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?
I’m not sure I had many humorous moments in my career — it was just a long road, completing over 4500 hours of interning, when the state only requires 3000 and getting stuck in the midst of the state switching over their exam procedures, so instead of a 4-hour and 2-hour exam most people take, I ended up with two 4-hour exams! I learned that we all have our own journey we are supposed to go through to get us where we are, and that mindset is key in how to relate to that journey. I easily could have been frustrated and annoyed for all the extra work I had to do, but in the end, it gave me what I most needed, which was experience, confidence and real-life exposure to the very things that the majority of my clients face. Without my crooked path, I don’t think I’d be as authentic as I am in my work, because I can relate to so much of what my clients are navigating their way through.
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?
I would say one of the most influential people was a mentor when I had when I was 14 years old. He was the most benevolent adult I’d ever met, and the way in which he worked with kids was inspirational. He used to say that “there’s no such thing as a problem child, only a child with a problem” and this helped me to achieve my success because it was the reminder to always hold the space of compassion for whomever you are working with. It’s so easy to get drawn into judgment and assumptions, and I’ve never forgotten his words and his outlook.
In addition to his energetic help that he gave me, I would say, my favorite spiritual teacher, Dan Millman (author of the book The Way of the Peaceful Warrior) was my most influential on how I got to where I am. I’ve been on retreats with him 3 times, and the life-changing awareness I learned stays with me every day, and that I truly can push past any barrier in my way.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
The mental health field requires very healthy boundaries as well as personal awareness around how to not fall into compassion fatigue. It is a lot to hold space for people’s stories, emotions, traumas and pain all day long, and without good self-care and knowledge of how to maintain your own mental health, it can lead to many challenges. To help aid this, I would advise to choose clients carefully, choose an area of mental health that won’t deplete you, don’t take on too many clients at once, know when to say no to either more clients or personal obligations, and be sure to find time in your day to slow down and breathe.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I think practicing gratitude is the basis for creating a fantastic work culture. If the people you work with don’t feel appreciated or valued, then they likely aren’t going to show up and give you the best of what they can offer. It’s so easy to look for the good, focus on the good, dwell on the good, and yet it’s not a natural habit to do so, but it can be the key to someone thriving in their career or merely surviving it.
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.
- Let go of what is too heavy to carry. I love teaching by sharing visuals, and this one is my favorite. Pick up a cup, or a water bottle, or something that is nearby and hold it in the air. If I were to ask you how much it weighs, you might answer, one pound, maybe a pound and a half. If I then were to ask you, “Is it heavy?” you’d probably reply, “No, not really.” What if I told you that you had to hold that cup for 1 full minute? What about if you held it for 5 minutes? What if I said you had to hold that cup for an entire hour or even a whole day?? Would it be heavy? And at that point, you’d probably reply, “Yes! It’s heavy!” But would the actual weight of it change? No…so, the moral of the story is, the longer you hold onto something, the heavier it is to carry. And yet in life, we tend to hold a lot of heaviness — anger, resentments, old past wounds or hurts, judgments, criticisms, and more — and then ask ourselves, “Why is this all so hard??” So my advice is to put down the cup. By putting it down, you’re not denying, resisting or ignoring it; you’re simply shifting your relationship to it. By putting it down you are creating space, and in that space, you can choose how you want to relate to it.
- Take a minute and just breathe. Taking a minute to breathe will calm the brain and calm the body, allowing you to respond rather than react to whatever is arising at the moment. It seems so overly simplified, and it is, and it’s also one of the best tools for maintaining emotional wellness. As our emotional brain gets triggered, it shuts down our executive functioning, where our logic, reason, rationality, decision making, clear thinking, language, communication, learning and retaining information all reside. Breathing will activate the rest and digest part of the brain, which is the opposite of when our brain goes into flight/fight/freeze from a real or perceived threat (yes — our brain can get triggered, activating a physiological response in our body, by mere thought!). When I used to teach mindfulness in schools, I once asked every grade, “If we have been breathing since the moment we are born and will breathe until the moment we die, why should we practice this?” One brilliant 9-year-old said, “I imagine we practice our breathing for the same reason we practice a fire drill; we practice a fire drill so we know what to do in case of an emergency, and I imagine we practice our breathing so we know how to use it when we need it.” YES! She nailed it — that’s why we practice.
- Name what’s arising. Like breathing, this seems overly simplified, but studies show that when we can name what is arising, it calms our amygdala (our emotional alarm) and slows our reactivity. When I was going through my divorce, it was the hardest thing I’d ever experienced, and what got me through it was naming how I felt. I literally would say aloud, “this is what sadness feels like; this is anxiety; this is what fear feels like…” And it was amazing — when I named it, I just allowed it to exist. I didn’t have to fight it or push it away, and when I allowed it, it passed quicker.
- Allow and accept all emotions — there no negative emotions, just natural emotions. When I first started dating my boyfriend, he was over my house one day, and as he was leaving, he apologized for being in a bummed mood. My response to him was, “You don’t need to apologize for your mood. My job is to accept allow of you.” His jaw almost hit the floor as no one had ever accepted him fully before. That was a turning point in him realizing he was falling in love with me. By allowing and accepting his emotions also gave him permission to allow and accept them in himself. It’s so easy to judge someone else (or ourselves) for feeling how they (or we) feel and yet that judgment only makes the challenging emotions grow. Allowing and accepting all emotions as natural to the human experience increases compassion and self-compassion, making them easier to deal with. Having this ability to have equanimity lets you see with an evenness of mind, not needing to label something as good or bad; it just is.
- Stay present. According to neuroscientists, our minds wander about 50% of the time, and when we wander into the past, we ruminate, and when we wander into the future, we get anxiety. Staying in the present is our best chance of peace and happiness. I like to think of the mind as a hyper puppy — it’s going to run all over the place. We don’t get mad at the puppy — we simply train the puppy. And we can do the same thing with our mind’s attention. As soon as we notice that it’s wandered to the past or to the future, the practice is to say to yourself, “Oh look, there it goes — let me bring it back.” And we can use the breath as a leash on that hyper puppy, bringing your mind’s attention into the here and now.
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.
Attachment is one of the quickest paths to suffering, and one of the challenges of entering the retirement stage of life is letting go of the way things used to be and accepting how they are, whether it’s health, career, relationships or abilities. When one can accept what is, and decrease their attachment to the past, the healthier they’ll be. In studies in which mindfulness was introduced to patients with chronic pain or illness, what was found was that when one was able to not try to go back to how it was “before the diagnosis” their prognosis improved! So, for someone in retirement, I would recommend that they do their best to accept the stage of life that they are in, and do their best not to ruminate on the past because the rumination will make whatever it is they are facing more challenging.
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?
Self-compassion is one of the best ways to optimize wellness, and yet one of the hardest things to practice. I would tell teens to understand that all their emotions are normal, that nothing is wrong with them for feeling or thinking what they do, and that they are not alone in their experiences. It’s so easy to feel isolated and like no one understands you, especially as a teen, and I would love for teens to be able to practice the 3 components that Kristin Neff defines as making up a self-compassion practice: common humanity (meaning while you’re unique, your problems are not; you are not alone); mindfulness (allow and accept what is arising, without judgment or resistance, or trying to change it); and kindness (awareness of the voice inside your mind and shift the inner critic to the way you would talk to your very best friend).
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The book that has had the most significant is my life is The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman. It was my entrée into my spiritual awakening and set me on a trajectory that affected my personal and professional path. When I was struggling in not knowing who I was, and what I wanted to do with my life and my marriage, an old college friend reached out to me out of nowhere and asked how I was doing. I answered authentically and said that I was struggling. His response to me was “hang in there, peaceful warrior.” I didn’t know what he was referencing, and when I asked, all he said was, “read the book,” and that was really the last I’ve heard from him since! So I read the book, which ultimately led me to go on retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn, which catapulted my mindfulness career, and ultimately by a series of synchronistic events, ended up on retreat with Dan Millman, in which I had my single-most-life-defining moment: I broke aboard. In doing warrior training, we did a martial arts exercise that I didn’t think I could accomplish and the first time I tried, I failed. But when I realized that my focus was on my obstacle, and not my goal, my self-doubt took over; when I shifted my energy and focus to my goal, the obstacle was no longer what held me back or stopped me. It literally changed my life in that moment. Nothing has been the same since. I can literally do anything I put my mind to.
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. 🙂
If I could start a movement, it would be to guide people in living their life with greater awareness, attention, and intention. With these three things, people would get off autopilot, get into the driver seats of their own life, get out of reactivity, judgments, and assumptions. This movement would raise people’s consciousness which would increase their acceptance and compassion of the people around them. I believe with this level of awareness and intentionality, the world would be a better place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I’ve had a favorite quote for years — since I was a teenager — by the artist Sally Huss. It says, “Dream big, plan well. work hard, smile always, and good things will happen.
I love this because this reflects my mindset and outlook on life. I’ve always shot for the moon in hopes I’d land amongst the stars. And I’ve always believed that you don’t get what you wish for, you get what you work for, and having a positive attitude is likely to be the best way to achieve all your goals.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I post daily on Instagram: @joreerose and Facebook: @joreerose33
I also host a podcast, Journey Forward with Joree Rose, that has episodes that come out every Monday.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!