Establish a good support system and socialize — Whether it’s family, friends, old colleagues, or neighbors. Socialization adds structure, accountability, and an informal support when you need to talk about any mental or physical health issues that may come up.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Abigale Johnson, LCSW. Abigale was born and raised in Illinois. She received a psychology degree from the University of Illinois — Champaign Urbana and then moved to NYC to obtain a Masters of Social Work from New York University. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has been working at Bellevue Hospital Inpatient Psychiatry for almost 6 years. It was at Bellevue that she found her passion in geriatic mental health. Abigale established her private practice in 2016 where she provides psychotherapy to clients throughout Manhattan and Jersey City. Outside of work, you might catch Abigale performing live music or enjoying good food in the company of her family and friends.
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?
Wow — takes me all the way back to psych class in high school (shoutout to the Freeport Pretzels!). I loved learning about people’s stories. In college I studied psychology and pre-med, hoping to become a psychiatrist. After conversations with professors, I realized that I was a better fit for the social work profession. In that, holistically looking at a human and their unique life story. I had amazing experiences in classes and internships at NYU, never looked back, and here we are.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Every day I’m coming across a “first time I’ve seen/heard/done that” moment. Some of the most memorable stories come from patients that have been brought into the hospital by Secret Service. I obviously can’t share any details about these patients, so I’ll just say that not all Secret Service agents have the black suit with an earbud and walkie talkie watch look — most dress like my dad.
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?
Day one at the hospital, walking onto an inpatient psychiatric unit — wearing a pencil skirt, blouse, and heels. I was a fish out of water. Let’s be real — inpatient psych units see a lot of body fluids and are offensive on the senses. It’s no place for heels and pearls. It’s funny to look back on, but I wasn’t the one laughing that day. With that experience, I learned right away how to carry myself as a professional and gain confidence in my skills rather than just looking the part.
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 have to give this one to Chris Wallace — my mom. She’s not in the mental health field, but not too far from it. She recently retired from many years as a teacher and later an elementary principal. She was always there to encourage me to step out of my comfort zone, explore a world outside my own, and sometimes even make mistakes along the way. But I think the most important time my mom helped me get to where I’m at was when I was stuck in a job environment that made me unhappy. I felt obligated to stay and try to make it work, but after months of continuous burnout, my mom was the one who told me to move on. “This job is just a drop in the hat of your life.’’ And she could not have been more right. After leaving I was happier and healthier, allowing me to be a better clinician because of it.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Make sure you really understand the concept of self-care and self-love. We spend all day filling our cup with others’ emotions and we need to pour it out somewhere. One of the best self-care techniques you can do is to maintain boundaries. Leave work on time, maintain a personal life separate of your professional identity, say “no”. I saw a quote recently that I feel hits right on this topic — “Empathy without boundaries is self destructive and you can’t help someone if they don’t want to be helped”.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Listen to your colleagues, employees, staff. Validate. Laugh with them. Be transparent with them. Be yourself with them. I think it’s important to lead by example of hard work and compassion for others, and sometimes even be vulnerable. Many leaders think being a hardened boss that your staff are afraid of is the only way to garner respect, but I found that maintaining some humanity with my colleagues allowed us to connect and gain mutual respect in our workplace. It is within this respect that your staff will want to work harder, rather than begrudgingly get the job done.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In some cases, retirement can reduce health, and in others it can improve health. From your point of view or experience, what are a few of the reasons that retirement can reduce one’s health?
I think it can affect both your mental and physical health. With retirement comes a lack of structure that most people had for many years. This lends itself to develop a lack of motivation, loss of sense of self/purpose, and decreased socialization that impacts relationships and support systems. You become isolated, there’s no reason to leave the home, you don’t see the regular people every day, or you don’t really know what you like to do anymore. So many peoples’ jobs become their whole identity in life and when they retire, it’s a loss to them that’s worth grieving. There is sometimes confusion, thinking “Who am I?” “What do I like to do?” “How should I spend my day?” “My life was boardroom conference calls and running numbers; I don’t know anything else.” It is all these things that can lead people to experience anxiety and/or depression.
I’ve seen people combat these feelings by jumping back in to another job or working part-time to help with the transition. Many choose to fill their time with volunteer work and community events. Others may turn to focusing on family time. It’s important to reflect on yourself to see what techniques work for you.
Can you share with our readers 5 things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
1.) Stay Active — You’re not commuting to work each day. You might not have a reason to leave your home. When you become more sedentary your mental and physical health are affected. You don’t have to go to the gym every day, just find something that works for you. Maybe it’s a walk around the neighborhood. Maybe it’s chair yoga in your living room. Don’t set yourself up for failure by setting unrealistic goals. Staying physically healthy directly correlates to maintaining a mentally healthy self.
2.) Volunteer — This is such a great way to develop your sense of self in this new chapter. Think about what hobbies, social issues, or community programs are important to you and look for (or create!) volunteer opportunities. This can help restructure your days and grow or maintain your confidence.
3.) Establish a good support system and socialize — Whether it’s family, friends, old colleagues, or neighbors. Socialization adds structure, accountability, and an informal support when you need to talk about any mental or physical health issues that may come up.
4.) Seek professional help if needed — For some people, that informal support is just not enough. There is no shame in the therapy game! There are so many amazing clinicians who can support you during your retirement transition and beyond, whether it’s with psychotherapy and/or medications.
5.) RELAX — After all those years of work, reward yourself with true relaxation! Many people feel pressured to go into this new chapter of their life with a plan, but it’s okay to not have one. As you transition into retirement, it can be helpful to take a step back from obligations and allow yourself to feel relaxed — whatever that looks like for you.
In your experience, what are 3 or 4 things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
1. You’ll probably feel lost.
2. There’s a lot of time in 24 hours of the day.
3. You have a purpose in this new chapter — be patient.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The Rainbow Goblins by Ul Del Rico. This was a gift for my 5th birthday from my aunt and uncle. It’s a beautifully illustrated children’s book about goblins catching rainbows across the land and stealing their color. I won’t tell you how it ends so you’ll just have to read it. I think more than the story itself though, a reason this book is so memorable for me is that no one else seemed to know this book at all. It wasn’t “popular” and it wasn’t illustrated like your typical children’s book. It almost felt like a secret book just for me, a fantasyland no one else knew existed.
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. 🙂
A deed a day! Challenge yourself to do one good deed a day. Not only could it make someone else’s day brighter, but it can make you feel happier. People think they have to do these actions of epic proportions to make change in the world. I’ve always been a believer that if you can change just one person’s world, that is enough.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
One of my professors at NYU said “Your clients’ failures are not your failures and their successes are not your successes.” More of a career lesson and it has been a staple of my mission as a social worker maintaining self care.
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 if we tag them 🙂
Alicia Keys. She seems like the most authentic human — compassionate, social justice-oriented, down to earth, and not to mention wildly talented. She’s been a role model of mine since her first album and embodies female empowerment in my mind.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find me on LinkedIn and on my website — www.abigalejohnson.com!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
About the author:
Beau Henderson, editor of Rich Retirement Letter and CEO of RichLife Advisors LLC, is a best-selling author, national tv/radio resource, and retirement coach/advisor, with over 17 years’ experience. Beau is a pioneer in the strategy based new model of holistic retirement planning. He can be followed on Facebook here or on Instagram here