We wanted to wrap up our month long deep dive into the world of relationships with the most important and lasting of them all; the one we have with ourselves.
We’ve discussed ways to improve communication with partners, parents and friends, but ultimately the way you talk to yourself is the foundation for how you relate to others.
My grandfather, Jirka, a quiet Czech immigrant of few words, always said the same thing when asked if he was having fun at a party, “Why, yes. I always enjoy my own company.” This idea of finding enjoyment in being with yourself always inspired me, it’s probably the greatest lesson he ever taught me. In a time when we place so much of our own self-worth on getting feedback from social media, it’s important to remember that improving your relationship with yourself is what actually matters. We asked our dear friend and gifted psychotherapist, Jessica Walker, for how some advice on how to tend to our inner relationship.
Everyone is all about "self care", but what does that actually mean in an emotional sense? Beyond the essential oils and meditation apps, what does emotional self care look like to you as a professional?
What a great question! While oils and meditation apps are lovely, I think of emotional self-care as a way to really honor, or “be with” your feelings. Need a good cry? Yes! Hang out with that experience for as long as you need. Feeling muddled? Journaling, taking a long bath, or even just a walk around the block can really provide clarity and help unburden your emotional being. I think the key factor of emotional versus other forms of self-care is that it holds space for you to sit with feelings, even if it feels sad or uncomfortable in the short term, in such a way that your feelings can be seen, felt and tended to by the most important person you’re in relationship with: YOU!
You work a lot with somatic therapy, can you talk about the most useful practices you’ve discovered to help your patients connect with their bodies and minds?
Yes! I could go on and on about this, because it’s such a cool development in the field – somatic experiencing and body psychotherapy incorporate not just the mind and the emotional “body” but the physical body as well. Everything is connected.
Somatic therapies seek to synch and balance mental, emotional and physical experiences so that we’re having an actual embodied experience. This way our mind knows what’s going on with our body, which knows what’s happening emotionally and this paves the way for some amazing connectivity and fluidity between all of these systems to really support a person in all ways.
The physical body can end up holding a lot of pain and doing the work on behalf of the emotional body, and sometimes bodies need extra support beyond validation or verbal processing. Some of our physical systems that work so hard to keep us safe, like our nervous system (which regulates flight, fight and freeze) or our adrenal system (which gives us chemical “boosts”) need a little support and acknowledgment too. In a somatic therapy session not only do we notice and acknowledge those parts of us, but offers extra support too. For instance, we would start of with some sensation tracking, and depending on what the client becomes aware of, we might use movement or I might provide heated pillows to place on areas that need the care, and I also do touch work for people who desire it, particularly after a grueling physical trauma, like a traumatic birth or a car accident, sometimes even a fall.
In terms of exercises at home, some ways to connect body and mind include – wiggling your toes in the grass, mindfulness exercises like noticing where your body feels supported (is the ground supporting your feet? Is a chair supporting your hips and mid-back?) and then feel into the pleasure of being supported. Having the option to hang out in your body in a way that feels resourcing is truly a super power.
If you could give three rules/mantras/words to live by to help people become more aware of their mental wellbeing, what would they be?
Check in with yourself often and notice your thoughts, actions, feelings and sensations – what cues are they giving you? You don’t need to be perfect in order to be worthy of love, so don’t shy away from heightened awareness and the clarity it brings. Jung said it best with “Your vision will become clear when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” Go on a bold adventure in your own body and your own heart!
Anxiety seems like an epidemic. What advice do you have for patients struggling to cope with anxious thinking?
Anxiety is SO uncomfortable but it actually indicates a couple of positive things:
1) It’s connected to intelligence.
2) It’s key in helping us survive, since it lets us know when and how to anticipate danger.
3) It can be an important indicator that something is amiss in our lives that we may be avoiding. Thanks anxiety! If only it stopped there though, right? Unfortunately, one of the side effects of our very modern and tech-savvy world is that it exacerbates our inherent anxiety. Problem anywhere in the world? We know about it! Possible threat around every corner? Yes, we can read about them in a non-stop onslaught from the 24-hour news cycle. We can also measure our successes and perceived shortcomings against every Instagram fitness influencer in the cyber-world. It’s tough out there!
I recommend frequent tech breaks to recharge and I check in with each of my clients on what quells their anxiety. If it’s hiking or a trip to the beach to stare at the waves, go forth! Or if reading feel-good articles or books inspires you, or reminds you that there are good humans roaming freely about the world, make sure to set aside time for that. As Mr. Rogers said, look for the helpers, and I think that extends to not only in our environment, but to looking within ourselves for what feels helpful to each of us.
Another tip: Do something with your hands. Whether it’s a craft, baking something, or building a Lego set, there’s something incredibly soothing about working meticulously with your hands that allows you to calm an anxious mind and channel any uncomfortable charges out of your body.
You’re one of the chillest, most calming gals I know! Even when things can be stressful, you never crack under pressure (in the over 10 years I’ve known you!) What things/practices/thoughts keep you cool as a cucumber?
Why thank you! I’ve certainly had my moments, but overall I find that self-compassion works wonders for me (and helps me teach it to my clients as well!) and I have a close network of dear friends that I can (and do) share everything with. When I’m in a funk I try to practice dropping into gratitude, or I’ll do something nice for someone – volunteering time or donating some cash, or even something as small as letting someone know I’m thinking about them and sending love. There’s a reason why altruism is considered to be a defense mechanism… It makes us feel better about ourselves and the world!
Jessica, this is wonderful advice. Can you please turn this into an audiobook/ongoing podcast of inspirational Walker-isms? You’re giving us gems here! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with our readers. For anyone living in the LA area, I can personally attest to the fact that Jessica’s brilliant insights are even more impactful in person.
Check out her website to learn more about her practice, and the varied approaches she uses with her clients.
About our expert:
Jessica Walker is a psychotherapist who received her MSW from the School of Social Work at University of Southern California. She’s also trained in Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute (SEP) and Postpartum Support International (Maternal Mental Health Certification). Visit her website www.jwtherapy.com or contact info@jwtherapy to learn more about her practice based in the Mid-City area of Los Angeles.