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“Show compassion.” with Sarit Fassazadeh

Show compassion. Even if you feel and think that they may be overreacting, understand that the person you are trying to help is suffering. Telling them to calm down is not effective, and can sometimes make them feel worse. Acknowledge their pain by simply saying, “I can see you are suffering from anxiety right now.” […]

Show compassion. Even if you feel and think that they may be overreacting, understand that the person you are trying to help is suffering. Telling them to calm down is not effective, and can sometimes make them feel worse. Acknowledge their pain by simply saying, “I can see you are suffering from anxiety right now.”


As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarit Fassazadeh.

Sarit Fassazadeh is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker based in Los Angeles. Sarit founded her private practice, Healing With Purpose, where she takes an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy approach and specializes in Anxiety, Panic and Trichotillomania in children, teens, and adults.


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?

Asa first-generation Jewish child of an Israeli mother and Persian father, I found myself drawn to diversity. Having always felt different from my peers due to my multicultural upbringing, I always felt the need to give a voice and listen to those who were different. Inspired by this drive, I decided in college to intern at a locked psychiatric facility. I was angered and frustrated by the treatment of the residents and told myself that I was going to do something about it. I chose to pursue an education and career in social work. I promised myself that I would work to give people the opportunity to live a life of value and meaning regardless of their personal challenges. My first job out of graduate school was helping individuals who were homeless with severe and persistent mental illness reintegrate back into society. This was an incredibly rewarding and difficult job, but it taught me many lessons. As a social worker you are exposed and able to experience working with many different populations. Throughout my career I have had the privilege of working in five elementary schools, a skilled nursing home, and even a sleep away camp for children on the Autism Spectrum. Having had so many wonder experiences I decided to take a leap of faith and start my own private practice. Now I have the privilege of building on an individual’s strengths and helping them develop tools to help decrease the influence of unhelpful thought and feelings, and take action toward a rich and meaningful life.

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

Being a social worker you get to experience many interesting things. One that always stands out to me is my journey with Karen (name changed for confidentiality purposes). Karen was a client I was working with at my first job. She was homeless, experiencing severe and persistent mental illness, and struggling with addiction. Initially, she barely showed up to her appointments. She also had no filter when it came to what she wanted to say. She was demanding with a Southern charm. I loved everything about her. One day while working together she shared that she was experiencing some pain in her chest and went to the doctor. They had found a lump and wanted to get it tested. After numerous attempts, she was tested and the results came back: she had cancer. I’ll never forget the day I was sitting with her at a McDonald’s and had to share the news with her. Karen was a tough, strong-willed, and independent woman. She asked what the next steps would be and what her options were. I told her we can set up an appointment with an oncologist and go from there. I began to take this situation very seriously and did everything I could to help, but I soon found myself disappointed and frustrated. Karen barely showed up to any appointments and would go missing for large periods of time. I was scared and worried about her! I thought, “How could she not value her life! Does she want to die!” Eventually, she returned. Extremely ill and ready to do something. At this point the cancer had spread and there wasn’t much we could do for her, so I got her in hospice. I got her a safe and consistent place to stay. A place she didn’t have to struggle and could be taken care of. I was notified by the hospice workers that her time was running out, so I got on the phone with Karen and asked her what she wanted to do. She shared that she wanted to go home to her family. My team and I connected her with her daughter and got her on the next flight we could. Karen got to spend her last days with a daughter she hadn’t seen in over 15 years and her granddaughter. But what was really amazing was before she died, she got to meet the son she gave up for adoption, whom she had never met. Seeing that picture brought me to tears. As much as I wanted to help her by getting treatment, I was really just hurting her. What she really wanted wasn’t to extend her life, but to be with those who meant the most to her. I learned from Karen to listen to people, meet them at their level, and help them do what truly matters to them, even if I don’t agree. I’ll never forget Karen. She truly was one of a kind.

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

My advice to leaders is take initiative to learn more about your staff, identify their strengths, and give them opportunities to utilize them. Recognizing and trusting others allows them to be seen. This feeling can be a motivator for them to do their best, which ultimately benefits the company as a whole. Just because you are a leader doesn’t mean you have to be in the forefront. In my opinion, authentic, transparent, and kind leaders have a larger impact on their teams, and create a more fulfilling and rich environment that promotes success, creatively, and teamwork. As a leader you are the face of the company and others are influenced by your actions. It’s important to make conscious choices in order to show others what it means to be an effective leader. And remember, at the end of the day it’s a team effort, we can’t do anything alone.

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?

This is a tough question to answer because I love reading and many books have had a significant impact on me. I would have to say anything by Rick Hanson. I love his books because he helps make sense of complicated ideas and theories. He uses science, mindfulness and philosophy to help explain emotions, behaviors and thoughts. His books have been eye-opening, validating, and inspiring for me.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

Being mindful is an active process that can take place anytime anywhere. It is a state of awareness, focus, and openness. It is a process of observing, noticing, and having direct experiences with the present world around us. It was developed by Eastern religions and cultures, and has recently found its way to the West. However, being mindful is not limited to yoga, meditation, tai chi, etc and can be achieved by allowing yourself to be present and open to your current experiences. For example you can be mindful while brushing your teeth, making dinner, drinking coffee, etc. It’s a process of slowing things down and really noticing your senses, thoughts, and feelings so that you can be present with your current situation.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

Being mindful provides physical, mental, and emotional benefits, which ultimately allows you to live a more rich and meaningful life. Practicing mindfulness promotes a more relaxed and calm physical state and lowers distress. It helps keep your body in the “digest and rest” state, which allows your body to function at its greatest potential. By being mindful you are shifting the relationship you have with your mind and emotions. By using awareness, opening up, and noticing your thoughts and feelings you start to take the power and impact away. You begin to see these thoughts, feelings, images, and sensation not as a problem that needs to be avoided or gotten rid of. Instead, you begin to see thoughts and feelings simply as symbols, sounds, and sensations that we choose to give meaning to. At the end of the day being mindful allows you to be more responsive vs. reactive.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

Connect with your Breath

No matter how bad a situation gets, no matter how much you are suffering, try your best to start off by taking a few deep breaths. If you are breathing then you know that you are alive. And as long as you are alive there is hope. Taking a few breaths in the midst of a crisis gives you valuable time to feel present, to notice what is happening and how you are responding, and to think about what effective action you can take. Sometimes there is no immediate action to take and that is okay, because being present and making room for your feelings is the most effective action.

Practice Expansion Exercise

As a means to effectively deal with the anxiety during this pandemic practicing the mindfulness techniques of “practicing expansive” can be very effective. It allows you to experience any emotions without trying to avoid or get rid of them. By doing this, it allows your feelings of anxiety to come and go as they please and have less of an impact on you. Let’s look at an example. You start to think “am I going to get Covid-19 and die” and begin to feel anxious.

First, thank your mind for doing its job trying to protect you.

Next, start to observe and scan the sensations in your body. Start from your head and move down to your toes and pick an area of discomfort to observe curiously. This, for me, tends to show up as a tight chest. Observing it curiously, try and notice how it feels, what it looks like, is it warm or cold…etc. Your mind will most likely try to pull you away with different thoughts a lot during this exercise. Gently acknowledge what it’s trying to tell you and return your attention to your breath.

Then, breathe into and around your sensation. Taking long and deep breathes.

After that, try and create space and open up around that feeling and/or sensation.

Finally, allow the sensation to be. As much as you may want to get rid of or avoid it, simply try and let it be. Acknowledge this urge and continue to breathe into the sensation, create space, and observe it.

Practice Grounding

What is grounding?

It’s an exercise that you can practice anywhere to help bring you back to the present.

How do you practice it?

Start by taking a slow deep breath

Notice any thoughts, feelings and sensations you are experiencing. Say out loud, “I am noticing that I am having the thought…feeling….sensation that _______________.” Observe any feelings or sensations with curiosity.

Start to get into your body. Push your feet into the floor, move your arms, stretch. Notice how you are in control of your body and choose what you want to do with it.

Next, notice five things you can see around you

Pick something up, move it around you and notice how it feels in your hand. Is it rough, smooth, textured, heavy, light, warm, cold, etc.

Notice three things you can hear right now.

Smell something (it can be helpful to have a candle nearby or something you enjoy smelling).

Check in with yourself? Do you feel more present? Do you feel more grounded? Do you feel like your anxiety, fear, loneliness has less impact over you?

Create a Resiliency Plan

A resiliency plan is a tool that helps you when you are having a difficult time. It helps you take mindful steps to doing what matters, even if you aren’t feeling up to it. It also guides you on what to do when you may have a difficult time thinking of it. Make sure to write these down and put it somewhere easy to see and access.

First, identify who you want to connect with that uplifts you.

Write their names and the best way to contact them.

It’s important to have more than one in case a particular person can not be reached.

Identify strategies that are meaningful and important to you. These are some I find helpful for me:

Taking a shower

Doing an online yoga class

Reading a book

Writing

Watching something funny

Cooking

Going for a walk

Coloring

Petting an animal

Have and repeat a mantra. These are a few I find useful for myself:

I am allowed to feel anxious

I am human and this a natural response to my current situation

This too shall pass

I’m doing my best and that’s good enough

Feeling the way I do does not mean that I am defective, it means I am a human being who cares

Implement solutions that bring you back to the present. These are ones that are helpful for me:

Practice grounding exercise

Practice deep breathing

Ask for a hug

Ask for help

Pick one thing a day to do mindfully

Pick an activity that is part of your daily routine, such as brushing your teeth, taking a shower, doing the dishes, etc. Totally focus on what you are doing using all five senses. For example, while doing the dishes notice the various sounds the water makes when it hits the sink or a dish. Notice the sensation of the water hitting your skin. Notice the fresh scent of the dish soup. Notice the steam tickling your nose. Notice the weight of the plates in your hands. Completely get immersed in your daily activity. When you notice your mind trying to pull you away with stories, gently acknowledge your mind and say thank you. Then return to the activity at hand.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Show compassion. Even if you feel and think that they may be overreacting, understand that the person you are trying to help is suffering. Telling them to calm down is not effective, and can sometimes make them feel worse. Acknowledge their pain by simply saying, “I can see you are suffering from anxiety right now.”

Ask them how you can help them. Most people will have an answer to give you about what works for them. Listen and act according to their needs. What might work for you may not for them, and that is why it’s important to learn their coping tool. If they struggle with telling you what to do. try the next step.

Develop a plan beforehand that can be used when someone is struggling with anxiety. As mentioned before, turn to an individual’s resilience plan to identity specific solutions and techniques to use when that individual is suffering from anxiety.

Just be with them. You might not have the right word, but by simply being with someone you are helping create a safe space for them to process and move through their anxiety.

Ask if you can guide them through a grounding or expansion exercise. They may be feeling completely lost in their feelings, so helping them come back to the present could be helpful for them. Guide them through the exercise I listed above, or find a mediation that works best for them and have it on hand to help them in their times of need.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

Books Books Books (or audiobooks)

Anything by Russ Harris or Steven Hayes

Anything by Rick Hanson

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning

Apps such as:

Calm

Headspace

Insight Timer

Breathe: Meditation & Sleep

ZenFriend- Mediate Daily

The internet!

So many mindfulness resources are just a google search away.

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

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with any ‘how’.” Vicktor Frankl

Life likes to throw things at you when you least expect it. While I was working at my first job out of graduate school, I was physically assaulted by a client. I was in shock, disoriented, and felt completely destroyed. I developed PTSD and had to stop working because I was experiencing panic attacks, night terrors and liable moods. I was scared and confused. Everything around me seemed to lose meaning and I became depressed. However, one day I was reminded of this quote. It stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking. How did I want to move forward in my life? In fear or with courage? What was really important to me and was I living my life accordingly? So I took steps to implement more of the ‘why’ in my life. More kindness, more justice, more safe spaces for being as we are without judgment. I was able to turn this challenge around and use it to use me to begin a new career with children. To work and help kids develop tools to increase their well-being, even if I wasn’t always feeling my best. I wanted to make sure that these children had the tools to handle any challenges that life threw at them. I didn’t want anyone to suffer the way I did. I am grateful for this hardship because I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.

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. 🙂

I would start the ‘Kindness Movement’. Everyone has a story and is going through their own battles. One way to help someone get through these hardships is to show kindness. Nothing extreme, a simple smile, hello, or even a compliment. It doesn’t take much to make someone else’s day. Think of a time when someone did something kind for you and how that made you feel. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could share that feeling with others? I truly believe that kindness goes a long way.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Feeling free to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or my Website for helpful tips, guides, and blogs on ways to improve your mental health.

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

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