Take inventory of mental wellness. What does it mean to you? When are moments in your life you most feel it or wish you felt it? Consider the Wheel of Life and think about how you feel about work, relationships, family, finances, movement, health, self-care, sleep and spirituality. Which areas could use some work and what steps can you take with the caveat that any step gets some pride in yourself and gratitude for your own effort.
As we all know, times are tough right now. In addition to the acute medical crisis caused by the Pandemic, in our post COVID world, we are also experiencing what some have called a “mental health pandemic”.
What can each of us do to get out of this “Pandemic Induced Mental and Emotional Funk”?
One tool that each of us has access to is the simple power of daily gratitude. As a part of our series about the “How Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Robin Hornstein, Ph.D., Certified Life and Health Coach.
A co-founder of Hornstein, Platt and Associates, Robin has been a Licensed Psychologist and counselor for over 30 years. Prior to that she completed a degree in Early Childhood Education and worked with young children. Earning a doctorate from the Counseling Psychology program at Temple University, Dr. Hornstein spent many years serving clients in recovery before entering private practice and widening those she served. Wanting to contribute to the Delaware Valley community in a more significant way, she co-founded Hornstein, Platt and Associates where she has been the Clinical Director, focusing on ensuring the HPA therapists provide the most effective treatment possible and matching clients with therapists who will best meet their needs. There are some big changes coming to HPA in the Fall of 2021 that Robin is quite excited about.
She views her work with clients as collaborative, with the goal being for clients to develop into the fullest self they can become. Enhancing skills and strengths that are already present and breaking old patterns by experimentation is the foundation of the work Dr. Hornstein provides. Having trained in a number of therapies, she uses an eclectic range of tools based on what her client/collaborators think will work. Poetry, art, music, meditation, talk and other styles of treatment may be included in her therapy. While she maintain a general practice, her specialties include Eating Disorders, Fertility Issues, Parenting, LGBTQIA+ Identity and Mental Wellness and Anxiety. Robin is also a certified Life and Health Coach focusing on parenting, creating self-care and being embodied and loving it.
In addition to private practice, Robin enjoys conducting training and supervision, has been quoted in magazines and newspapers, and participates in panels on television, podcasts and radio. Finding ways to increase success in personal, relational, financial and physical arenas, Robin loves helping people conduct a mental health “make-over” that helps find their voice and power.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about you and about what brought you to your specific career path?
My path, especially the work in ED, was laid out for me. My mom was chronically on a diet and upset with her body and my babysitter died of anorexia when she was 16. Those were very formative experiences for me as I was trying to define myself as a feminist in the 70’s. Their struggles were both very emblematic of the times for cisgender women and created a lot of confusion in me about how and why this was happening to women around me. Personal therapy helped me as a human well before I began my career.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
What a question. Some of the juiciest moments are private because they are really the client’s story. I think a moment I will never forget was going to a conference and having another therapist tell me I could not be lesbian nor feminist because I wear lipstick. Her definition was so rigid that my presentation was somehow threatening or disgusting to her. I really had to process that and felt so reminded of middle school with unasked for judgment coming at me, as it often does in those years for so many. As a queer, inclusive therapist, I still wear lipstick! Go figure, we can actually be who we want!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why do you think that resonates with you? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
It has to be Gloria’s quote: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” For those with anxiety and trauma the fear of facing the truth is often a huge obstacle. To face a hard reality about your stand in family, friendships or the public at large, can be scary to look at and when you do, you may find that those you think were helping, were not. While we end up with a lot of feelings when we face these deep truths, anger is a necessary and usual suspect that can help unpack and untie some strings.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story about why that resonated with you?
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende was a powerful read for me when it came out because it addressed class issues and the women were presented as powerful and articulate. The book resonated with my awareness of privilege and class and how I was both part of and separate from certain swaths of people — we didn’t call it intersecting identities as we do now, but it was a lived experience for many.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, one I am particularly excited about is a book I am close to publishing. It examines how diet culture, trauma and systemic oppression create eating disorders for quite a lot of people, including people you don’t think are struggling. The early work in the ED field was based on a very small segment of cisgender, young white women. That there are populations of people including men, BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ people who have all been overlooked in research and treatment since we began understanding ED’s is shameful, but thankfully it is changing.
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?
Yes, I am grateful to my Aunt Muriel. She took a very hard life and turned herself into a successful business woman who brought other women into the work she was doing. She appreciated education and hard work and that influenced me and carried me when I was low. I went through a very hard time many years ago and she was on the phone (we are on two coasts) every day for about a year helping me sort myself out and understanding how to hold my head up and use what I learned during this time in my work. We are collaborating on a book together now, more to come on that another time!
Ok, thank you for all that. Now that we are on the topic of gratitude, let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. We would like to explore together how every one of us can use gratitude to improve our mental wellness.
Let’s start with a basic definition of terms. How do you define the concept of Gratitude? Can you explain what you mean? I love the concept of gratitude. It is the lived feeling we have for anything or anyone that propels us, supports us, loves us and carries us when we are too low or anxious to carry ourselves. I have seen such beauty this past year or so with support being shared among people while we lived through a syndemic, more than a pandemic. Sure, we had Covid, but we had stress and divisiveness over politics which further stressed families and loved ones and racism exploding visually letting us see more clearly what has always been for so many, for so long in our country. We have lived with great fear and yet, people have found love, support and energy to engage in meaningful change and mutual understanding. I am grateful for that.
Why do you think so many people do not feel gratitude? How would you articulate why a simple emotion can be so elusive?
Let’s be honest, we only feel it when we have the bandwidth to experience it. If you are living in an acute traumatic situation or too anxious or depressed or grieving the loss of someone dear to you, it is hard to dig into what you are grateful for. Gratitude is a feeling, but it is more, it can be a practice. Many emotions are elusive because we are only trained to express a few of them. I often think we learn the emotions that are acceptable in our family or culture and we suppress or ignore the rest, but that is like reading only even pages in a book — you are going to miss a lot. If your family shows and enjoys gratitude, you will have more access to it.
This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be constructive to help spell it out. Can you share with us a few ways that increased gratitude can benefit and enhance our life?
Try this: pick up something you like off of your desk or countertop and put it down. Let’s say you picked up an electric bill. Chances are it does not bring you much joy nor are you feeling much gratitude. Unless, you had not been able to pay the bills for a while and now you can and you can experience gratitude that you are no longer sitting in the cold, keeping your electric off or very low, in order to just survive. If we observe the things, the people, the gifts we have, the beauty around us, we are going to increase our serotonin and dopamine levels and decrease our anxious cortisol and adrenaline levels. Just observing can reduce stress and benefit your whole body.
Let’s talk about mental wellness in particular. Can you share with us a few examples of how gratitude can help improve mental wellness?
As I was saying before, we feel better when we take note of what/who we do have and cease only paying attention to what we do not have or those we don’t have in our lives. I think we use mindfulness practices to enlarge our attention to the minutiae of what is actually in our lives instead of what is missing. Maybe someone wishes they had a Significant Person in their lives and worries about it, telling stories of dying alone and without love. Or, they could assess the great friends and family they have and start to take risks with dating and joining groups with likeminded people. Love can show up when we allow for it, or we can also reframe it as a wish, not something that will upend our lives into total misery if we don’t get it. We have cognitive distortions that make things harder for us when we want to take action!
Ok wonderful. Now here is the main question of our discussion. From your experience or research, what are “Five Ways That Each Of Us Can Leverage The Power Of Gratitude To Improve Our Overall Mental Wellness”. Can you please share a story or example for each?
Love this — I am a fan of actionable items.
- Use a prompt in your journal, or keep a gratitude journal. Here is a great one: Notice one sense you appreciate having, notice one thought that keeps you going, notice one person who most challenges you to be your best self, name one thing you own that brings you peace, write about one time you felt most loved.
- Move your body in whatever way you can. While doing so, ask yourself what are you grateful for while doing this. For example, maybe you go take a hike and you see a mama and baby deer. That would make me grateful as they are so graceful and peaceful.
- Use breath to increase a sense of wellness. For example, breathe out like a dragon and then take a slow breath in, hold it for the count of 6 and breathe out for a count of 8. Pause and breath until you naturally want to breathe the dragon and invite that dragon breath out again. When we breathe out first, we naturally want to breathe in and it is a deeper experience.
- Take inventory of mental wellness. What does it mean to you? When are moments in your life you most feel it or wish you felt it? Consider the Wheel of Life and think about how you feel about work, relationships, family, finances, movement, health, self-care, sleep and spirituality. Which areas could use some work and what steps can you take with the caveat that any step gets some pride in yourself and gratitude for your own effort.
- Finally, I have suggested taking some time to respond opposite to your norm. Are you usually a yes person and burn out quickly? No is a whole sentence. Are you Eeyore? Do you usually say no or it cannot be done? Say yes and give it a shot. Is success or trying the bigger pull? Usually wear drab colors, time to thrift shop an orange or purple item and wear it proudly. Do you normally praise your work at the end of the day? I am guessing not. Give it a try. Are you often too tired to go out but then feel lonely when everyone else follows through on a plan? Get off your A** and have a blast. You know you will be glad you did. Yes, even more introverted folks need this once in a while.
Is there a particular practice that can be used during a time when one is feeling really down, really vulnerable, or really sensitive?
The art of self-compassion is really simple, but hard to do at the same time. Try remembering something that brought you joy as a kid. Have a stuffed (or real) animal around, a coloring book, Legos, a book you loved when little and regress a bit into a safe space. You will come back out. Remember if life is like a long walk, you may be down in a valley and then back up near a mountain top. It just takes time and you are allowed to feel your feelings, protect and honor them and use self-compassion to eliminate the judgement. With care, you will notice things pass when you don’t create a fiction that this is it forever.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that you would recommend to our readers to help them to live with gratitude?
I am super loving Pleasure Activism by adrienne marie brown right now as well as Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. Finally, Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life by Angeles Arrien is a great workbook.
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. 🙂
Mandatory Music. I have to say, when people are at concerts (remember them?) we all speak the same language. Music should be freely played everywhere and at different times a day. World music should be shared everywhere as well. I am currently listening to the Afro Celt Sound System, Mahler and Patti Smith quite a bit. Oh, and, of course Pink!
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
For now, to see what I have to say, friend me on LinkedIn and follow me on IG: @robinmindfulcounseling. If you want my gratitude, know that I had no online presence on IG until last April and have hit over 1000 folks, goal is 10,0000 so if you follow me, you will have light and love and gratitude coming your way!
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work! Thanks!