“5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, with Heather Rider and Beau Henderson

Beau Henderson
Nov 27, 2019 · 10 min read

Perfectionism can be defined as one’s focus on doing everything “right” in order to appear perfect to oneself or others. It’s an unattainable goal, as there is no “perfect,” but those with perfectionism strive for the ultimate in everything they do.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Rider, an anxiety specialist who personally overcame high-functioning anxiety while working in a demanding tech job. She has worked with hundreds of clients, helping them to dramatically reduce their anxiety using non-traditional, holistic approaches. She has been featured in local Austin media (where she currently lives) including Culturemap Austin, Studio 512 and the Dudley and Bob KLBJ FM morning radio show.


Thank you so much for doing this with us, Heather! 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?

A number of years ago, I was working in the Austin tech scene and was insanely stressed out. I didn’t realize it, but at the time I was struggling with perfectionism and high-functioning anxiety.

All day long, from the moment I woke up to the time I went to bed, I would run through a mental list of to-do’s because I didn’t want to forget anything. Aside from work, I’m divorced with two kids and have always been the primary caregiver for them. I was trying to juggle work life and home life.

I was trying to do everything and trying to do it all perfectly. I was overwhelmed and mentally exhausted, and I used to feel a tightness or constriction in my chest quite often, just thinking about everything I had to do.

Eventually, I developed a severe autoimmune reaction. My nervous system was shot and my body just gave out.

I decided to take a holistic approach to healing my body which included a radical diet change and lots of supplements. Along the way, a friend recommended a session with an energy healer. I had never heard of energy healing, but I’m open minded, so I decided to give it a try.

The experience was mind-blowing (think an almost psychedelic experience) and made me feel great. So, I had a few more sessions and decided to become a Reiki Master (Reiki is an energy healing modality).

My body did heal quite quickly after those initial sessions, but what was completely unexpected was that I wound up having extensive emotional healing through energy work.

Old traumas and core emotional wounds unraveled and healed and over time, the perfectionism and anxiety melted away. I literally became a different person.

I eventually decided to leave my career in high tech to do the work I do now. I now work with other driven, high achieving folks suffering from anxiety. Many of them have tried other approaches to managing their anxiety that haven’t worked. I work with them using energy healing plus incorporate coaching as well.

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

I had a very young client come to me because of severe anxiety. She is in very good physical health; she is fit and in her mid-20’s. She had recently gone to the hospital because she was having chest pain that was so severe she wondered if she was having a heart attack.

She didn’t have a health issue. Her anxiety was so severe that it was making her chest hurt bad enough to send her to the hospital.

This occurrence was a real wake-up call for her. Through our work together, she was able to notice and name her anxiety triggers (before our work together she had no idea what her triggers were). She was also able to start to name and process her emotions, instead of just pushing them aside or shoving them down and ignoring them.

I’ve seen her shift her anxiety into a place of calm and joyousness in a short amount of time. She has her whole life ahead of her!

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?

When I was getting a divorce, my best friend Karin urged me to go to a weekend self-help seminar. It was a seminar she had attended and got a lot of value from. She had tried to get me to go for years, but the timing was never right for me.

My marriage dissolving was obviously a fairly traumatic event and I decided to finally go to this seminar and I’m so glad I did.

When I went, I was able to really examine who I had been in my marriage and the part I played in our breakup. The weekend was very challenging, but so much came out of it. It was the first time I’d been able to be vulnerable in any sort of way. Plus it was an incredibly unique experience.

If I hadn’t done that weekend seminar, I don’t know if I would have been able to go to see the energy healer years later when someone suggested it to me.

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.

I personally overcame high-functioning anxiety, and as part of that, I also had to overcome perfectionism.

Perfectionism can be defined as one’s focus on doing everything “right” in order to appear perfect to oneself or others. It’s an unattainable goal, as there is no “perfect,” but those with perfectionism strive for the ultimate in everything they do.

Growing up, my mom used to tell me “Heather, do it right or don’t do it at all.” I’m sure you’ve heard that expression before.

So, I really took that to heart, and I tried to do everything right, all the time. That led me to have high-functioning anxiety because I set unrealistic goals for myself. I literally tried to do everything right, as I perceived it, to the best of my ability.

I was severely afraid of failure and wanted validation from others that my work was good enough.

In working with my high achieving, driven clients, I help them work through perfectionism. One thing I always recommend is that they lower their standards. Yep, lower them.

Their standards are beyond the bounds of normalcy, but they don’t realize it. So, if they lower their standards, they are then operating on a “normal” level compared to everyone else who isn’t struggling with perfectionism.

One of my clients realized how much she struggled with perfectionism at work. When she took a new job, she purposely went to work dressed business casual or not wearing makeup. At her previous job, she had always dressed in business attire, completely “made up.” She decided to lower her expectations of herself, and set precedence with her colleagues so that they wouldn’t expect her to be completely made up every day.

Another thing I tell my clients is to focus on their mental health and well-being. People with perfectionism tend to push themselves way too hard. They don’t give themselves mental or physical breaks.

They will keep working long past quittin’ time. So, I encourage them to get enough sleep, to try to meditate (although I let them know meditation isn’t easy) and to make sure to do things that they enjoy doing, just for fun.

In that same vein, I tell my perfectionistic clients that it’s not necessary to be doing something all the time. They will often feel guilty if they aren’t working on something, and have a very hard time not being busy.

They feel like they are wasting their time if they aren’t producing.

Another one of my clients was a very skilled gymnast growing up, with the potential to be an Olympian. She was training her entire childhood, as that what it takes to get to that level in the sport.

She wound up having a severe injury that derailed her ability to continue to be a gymnast. So, she funneled all her energy into academics and got her PhD and became a tenured professor at a very early age.

Because she grew up honing her skills into being the best of the best, practicing gymnastics all the time, it was very hard for her to relax later in life. She had constant fear, stress and anxiety.

So, she worked all the time and didn’t allow herself to just be. She realized how detrimental this was to her health and well-being and began to seek out ways to heal her perfectionistic tendencies.

Another piece of practical advice I give to my clients is do purposely not doing something they would normally do to break the propensity of perfectionism. This might be as simple as not proof reading an email before sending it. Another example would be to leave a dish in the sink instead of putting it in the dishwasher.

These acts are little and seem simple, but they are powerful because they are rewiring the brain. And, they are proving to my clients that the world doesn’t fall apart if the email gets sent without first editing it. Everything is still fine if the glass stays in the sink until the next day.

Finally, I also tell my clients that they need to say no to requests and some opportunities.

They naturally want to say yes because of their ambition, but saying yes comes with a price.

Because they are used to expending so much time and energy in all that they do, adding yet another obligation to the mix isn’t a good idea.

As mentioned, they are likely to continue to push themselves too hard, for too long and are prone to physical and mental exhaustion. And as also mentioned, their tendency to feel like empty time is wasted time drives them to think they have enough time for yet another obligation.

Setting more boundaries around their time and obligations lets them off the hook for having to do even more high caliber work. That “extra” time they have by having said no to an opportunity is their opportunity to spend time taking care of their health and well-being.

Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

Teens and tweens face so much pressure these days because of social media. They are bombarded with other’s pictures and posts that only show a small slice of the poster’s life. Life isn’t an Instagram-filtered, beautiful picture.

But teens and tweens see others looking “perfect” so they set the bar too high for themselves. They are constantly comparing themselves to other people they see on social media.

Teens and tweens should realize that what they are seeing on social media is often the other person’s “highlight reel” and isn’t representative of that person’s everyday life.

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. :-)

My movement would be called the “You Are Good Enough.” Since I’m talking to you today about perfectionism, I really want your audience to know that they are good enough. They don’t need to compare themselves to others.

They don’t need to do everything “right” all the time. What they do need to do is have enough discernment to know what opportunities are right for them, and to follow their passions. And while they are following their passions, have integrity in their work. If you have integrity, than you are doing your best and that is all that is needed.

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

Brene Brown said “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth.”

My struggle with high-functioning anxiety was like a hamster wheel I was caught in. It drove me to push myself constantly. Yes, I was high accomplished, but the mental effort I expended was not proportional at all to the outcome.

I am still very driven and accomplished, but the way I feel inside is completely different now. Overcoming high-functioning anxiety has allowed me to be a much better version of myself, where I am still a go-getter, but inside I feel calm. I now know when to say no, when to take breaks, and when to take care of myself.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/hrider/

https://www.facebook.com/TheEnergySynergist/

https://www.instagram.com/the.energy.synergist/

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

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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

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Beau Henderson

Written by

Author | Radio Host | Syndicated Columnist | Retirement Planning Expert

Authority Magazine

Leadership Lessons from Authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Mag is devoted primarily to sharing interesting feature interviews of people who are authorities in their industry. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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