Start and end each day gadget-free. Before the hustle and bustle of the new day sets in, spend the first hour of the day on yourself. You could use this hour to learn a new skill, read a book, meditate, journal, or plan out your tasks for the day. This allows you to set a clear direction for the day, instead of reacting to whatever holds your attention first. At the end of each day, begin winding down for the night by turning off all electronic devices one hour before sleep. This helps to disengage from the day’s events, and also leads to better quality sleep.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sophia Goh, Principal Psychotherapist and founder of Sofia Wellness Clinic. Sophia holds a Master of Arts in Counselling and Guidance and is passionate about helping individuals lead successful, fulfilling, and well-meaning lives. As a counsellor and psychotherapist, she works closely with teenagers and young adults to help them overcome life challenges and flourish as individuals. Her areas of expertise are in Depression, Anxiety and Stress Management, Anger Management, Life Transitions, Career Counselling, Relationship and Self-esteem Issues. She also works with teenagers and parents on Child and Adolescent Issues, Peer Pressure, Bullying, Academic Stress and Difficult Parent-Child Relationships.
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?
I am so excited to here too!
I have always known that I wanted to be in the helping profession since young, though it was not a smooth journey to get there. Being a counsellor is hardly a glamorous profession. Along the way, I received a lot of well-meaning advice against pursuing it as the general sentiment was that it had little career prospects and was something that I could always explore through voluntary work or after retirement.
Hence, I initially chose to stay on the ‘safe’ path and went on to study Business for my undergraduate studies and was set to pursue a career in the Finance industry. It was only through a series of unexpected life experiences and a leap of faith that really led me to where I am today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
It is difficult to share a specific story without breaking confidentiality, but one of my fondest memories would be that of working with my very first client. Thankfully, we had a good working relationship that ended well, but I have always wondered whether the client would have approached me had the client known that I had no prior experience. Well, I guess there’s always a first. My confidence grew with every session that I had since.
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?
I was meeting a friend’s partner for the first time on a social occasion and found myself comfortably asking questions about her family and her hopes and dreams for the future. It took a while for me to realize that it must have been quite intimidating for her to be answering questions about the intimate details of her life to a stranger whom she was just meeting for the first time!
Perhaps this is the occupational hazard of being a psychotherapist, but I find myself slipping into the listener’s role quite often. When meeting someone socially, I have to constantly remind myself that I am not in a session with a client, and that not everybody I meet is keen on telling me about their family history and life struggles. I also make it a point to open up and share about my own difficulties with my friends.
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?
There are so many people that I am grateful for!
I am eternally grateful towards my family and friends for their unwavering support, though there are a few key individuals who played a big role in terms of my career. The first is the counsellor whom I saw in my final year of undergraduate studies, who strongly encouraged me to pursue my passion instead of sticking with the ‘safe’ path. I am also grateful to my husband, who believed in me wholeheartedly and supported me through the journey of making a career switch. He was also the one who made the appointment for me to seek counselling when I was really struggling during the difficult times of my life. I am also grateful to all the clinical supervisors whom I have had along the way. They were the ones who believed in me, encouraged me, and helped me to sharpen my skills as a counsellor.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Burnout is a real issue, especially among the helping profession. As counsellors and therapists, we are often dealing with people’s pain, and that can be very difficult. Therefore, I feel that it is even more important for us to practice what we preach. This means prioritizing self-care and being very self-aware to know when we need to take a break from our work so that we can be at our best for our clients.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Always put people first!
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 completely agree with your take on mental health! I believe that our mental health is an important aspect of functioning that anyone can strive to improve on, and that we can take steps to optimize our mental health no matter where we are.
Here are five steps that we can take to optimize our mental health:
1. Find ways to release stress every day. Stress is an emotional and physiological response in reaction to a perceived threat. Because it involves an automatic physiological response, resolving what caused us to be stressed in the first place (e.g. meeting tight deadlines, resolving a conflict) does not mitigate the effects of stress. Therefore, it is important to find ways to release stress to prevent the effects of chronic stress in the long run. Some good ways to release stress are through exercise and fostering positive social interactions.
2. Maintain a mindfulness practice. Cultivating mindfulness in our everyday lives has tremendous benefits. It helps to be more present in the moment and creates a healthy relationship between ourselves and our thoughts and feelings. Research showing how meditation can actually change our brain activity is simply amazing.
3. Practice acts of kindness. Research has found that people who consistently practice acts of kindness experience a significant boost in their happiness levels. These acts may be as simple as giving up a seat on the train, making charity donations, or buying a gift for someone else. Doing good for others requires us to recognize their needs, shifting our attention from ourselves to others. These interactions are also usually positive experiences, which generates plenty of positive emotions.
4. Practice gratitude. Gratitude shifts our focus from what we lack in our lives to what is already present. It helps us to notice and find joy in the small things in our lives, instead of holding out for the big things that happen to make us happy. A common way to develop the practice of gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal, in which you write down three to five things that you are grateful for each day. This could also be done with a friend, partner or family member, in which you share things that you are grateful for, or made you feel happy that day.
5. Start and end each day gadget-free. Before the hustle and bustle of the new day sets in, spend the first hour of the day on yourself. You could use this hour to learn a new skill, read a book, meditate, journal, or plan out your tasks for the day. This allows you to set a clear direction for the day, instead of reacting to whatever holds your attention first. At the end of each day, begin winding down for the night by turning off all electronic devices one hour before sleep. This helps to disengage from the day’s events, and also leads to better quality sleep.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
Retirement can be a difficult life transition because work is such an integral part of our lives and forms a large part of our identity and purpose. I think that it is important for us to maintain a sense of purpose after retirement, whether it is through engaging in a meaningful hobby, giving back to the community, or spending time with loved ones. Keep an open mind, explore different activities to create a retirement lifestyle that fulfils you best.
How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
I think it is important for teens and pre-teens to establish a healthy relationship with technology and social media, given that it is changing the way that they are forming social relationships and establishing a sense of self.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
One of the most recent books that I have read is The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt. The book explored the socio-economic developments behind the alarming rise of mental health issues among youths and gave a compelling case for what we can do about it. Reading this was really eye-opening as it made me realize that the issue could be so much bigger than the individual stories that I am hearing on my couch.
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 love to grow the Let Grow movement in Singapore, building communities that embrace the inner resiliency of children by allowing them to embrace unstructured play, go on adventures and other non-academic explorations. It is my hope that my daughter experiences the freedom and joys of childhood for as long as possible, while growing up to be resilient and independent.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Victor Frankl
Victor Frankl’s story is extremely remarkable. He went through tremendous suffering as a prisoner during the Holocaust and managed to grow through his experience. His story is a reminder that although we may not be responsible over what happens to us, we have a choice over how we respond to our adversity and suffering.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
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