Listen: Most often anxiety doesn’t make sense. It can come out of no-where and catastrophize in your mind. Often the role of a therapist is to listen and help make sense of the struggle. Yes, therapy is a wonderful tool and I would recommend it to everyone, AND it is important for us to be mindful of those around us who might be struggling and engage their anxiety by listening. Listening is just that, hearing the words that are coming out of their mouths, asking questions to help understand where they are coming from, exploring their emotions, and just being with them (virtually of course).
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Mark Mayfield. Dr. Mark Mayfield is a brilliant licensed professional counselor (LPC), a Board Certified Counselor, and Founder and CEO of Mayfield Counseling Centers. Dr. Mayfield knows firsthand the pain and devastation of mental health disorders, and has committed his life’s work to raising awareness and improving the state of mental health care today. Dr. Mayfield has more than 14 years of professional counseling experience in clinical, judicial, and faith-based counseling settings across a wide range of patient demographics. Dr Mayfield has professional experience in treating and addressing anxiety, depression and PTSD, substance abuse, domestic violence, self-injury and suicide. Dr. Mayfield provides therapies for families and parenting groups, and has designed powerful programs to help individuals cope with past mental and emotional struggles. Dr. Mayfield is launching a book, titled “”HELP! My Teen is Self-Injuring: A Crisis Manual for Parents” which addresses his own suicide survival story, self injury and how to help your child who might be going through this. I would be honored to share with you an early preview and/or set up a time to speak with Dr. Mayfield about what this book addresses and how it differs from others on the market. Dr. Mayfield is available for media interviews to discuss topics including, but not limited to, substance abuse, especially within the adolescent community, family therapy and equine related therapy, especially related to veterans with partial or full PTSD. Dr. Mayfield has been featured in prominent media outlets including Woman’s Day, Hello Giggles, NBC, Reader’s Digest, Byrdie and more!
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?
Here is an excerpt straight from my new book that tells my story:
“I share commonality with many people when I say that the years I spent in middle school were not kind to me. I was different, an odd kid by society’s social measuring stick. I saw and experienced the world through my own lens. As an overly sensitive child, I struggled with day-to-day life and ended up as the castoff, always left to sit in the corner, failing over and over at my desperate attempts to fit in. As one of twelve students in my class at a small Christian school in northern Colorado, fitting in was something I just couldn’t ever achieve.
Just two years earlier we had moved from California where I had close friends and family who knew me and accepted me completely. After the move to Colorado, I became distinctly aware of my differences. I dressed like an odd white version of Steve Urkel from the 1990s sitcom Family Matters. The combination of my pants up around my chest, my braces, my glasses, my clumsiness, my sensitivity, and my awkwardness garnered me a lot of attention. Unwanted attention. Yes, I wanted to be seen, but not in the way that singled me out and humiliated me on a daily basis.
The bullying (or abuse, as it should be named) began during the last semester of my fifth-grade year and escalated during the last semester of my sixth-grade year. Three new boys had joined our school, and I became their personal target for ridicule and cruelty. The bullying started out as teasing, name-calling, and intentional embarrassment. After they saw the impact of their actions and my physical and emotional response, the bullying turned physical. I was shoved hard into lockers, pushed into trash cans, and on occasion they would turn me upside down and give me a swirly in the toilet.
Some of what I experienced could almost seem comical. We watch countless TV shows or movies where “boys will be boys,” where the cool, tough kids target the scrawny, nerdy kid. It’s seen as the classic rite of passage for childhood. The experience makes you tough, stronger, and able to handle the difficulties life will throw at you. Or does it?
From my experience, the torture did not make me tough or strong. Nor did it provide wisdom to handle life’s difficulties. My fear of being invisible was validated and shame overwhelmed my heart. As classroom paraphernalia was thrown at me and I was knocked to the ground and shoved under a desk, the teacher was oblivious. I was subjected to the entire class’s ridicule and used for a good laugh.
I began to curl up in my soul, and I believed the lies spoken over me. The slander and smears became my reality and truth. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the humiliation of being pantsed. One of the boys pulled down my pants in front of the entire class, underwear and all. Luckily, my shirt was long enough to cover me up, but the damage was done.
Being an adolescent, I was still developing the cognitive skills I needed to process my pain and humiliation. I did not know how to communicate with my parents about my abuse so, instead, I turned inward. Attending school, alone, produced so much anxiety and stress that I can remember the sensation of feeling as if my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Then, the migraine headaches set in.
My migraines started promptly after Christmas break of my sixth-grade year. The headaches developed quickly and grew to the point that I could not function or attend classes. My parents, in their concern, took me to the doctor’s office and I was given a prescription for migraine medication. Unfortunately, my pain was untouchable. We saw specialists who checked my blood for toxins, performed spinal tap tests to check my spinal fluid for disease, and scanned my brain via an MRI and EEG. All the tests provided little to no information on the cause of my headaches.
One night the pain grew to the point that I decided to handle it myself. I was overwhelmed with the weariness of being poked and prodded and taking medication that didn’t work. I was tired of the relentless anxiety that was my daily companion. I made a plan to end my pain.
I waited until everyone went to bed to raid the medicine cabinet and swallow every acetaminophen pill in the bottle. Did I actively want to die or did I just want the pain to end? I’m not 100 percent sure of that answer. Either way, as a twelve-and-a-half-year-old boy, I attempted to end my life. After completing my plan, I went back to bed expecting that I would not wake up the next morning. However, the shock of stabbing stomach pains hit ten to fifteen minutes later. My dad found me rolling on the floor in agony and my parents rushed me to the emergency room where I was forced to drink a horrible concoction that numbed my mouth and throat. Eventually, that liquid caused me to vomit everything in my stomach.
That night was when we all realized that my battle was more than just headaches. The migraines were a physical representation of my internal distress. That next week, I began to see a wonderful counselor who understood my trauma and its physical, spiritual, and emotional affects. He helped me see my value and we began to work through the complexities of my story. I started to find healing. I was finally seen and validated as the person I was, not the identity I had formed inside my experience.
Not until years later did I begin to understand my purpose in all my pain. The summer between my ninth- and tenth-grade years, I had the opportunity to go on a life-changing mission trip to a reservation in Wyoming. During our week there, I was put in charge of working with third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students in Vacation Bible School. It was in those moments that I heard God whisper in my ear that my purpose was to care for others.
Fast-forward six years and I had become a youth and family pastor in the mountains of Colorado. I found joy daily in caring for middle school and high school students in my youth group. I was given the privilege of helping students understand their purpose in life. My experience built empathy and compassion in me that may not have developed had I not walked through my own version of hell. I could recognize the lies and I could understand the circum- stances in my students’ personal stories. But even though my experience helped me relate to these kids, I was not trained to handle what was to come.
As I worked in my office, studying for a typical Wednesday night in youth group, the phone rang. A teenager who had visited our youth group had chosen to take her life. I was completely shocked. What should I do with this information? What should I say? How do I help this small community make sense of this tragedy? I was at a loss and it deeply bothered me. I continued to lead my youth group to the best of my ability but still felt that I lacked what I needed to properly care for these kids.
Another year passed. I married my best friend and two months later we were surprised to find we were going to be parents! I felt that I was being given all I dreamed of in my life. However, still working as a youth pastor, I carried a heaviness in my heart and could not shake what had happened a year earlier. So, after many hours in prayer, my wife, Sarah, and I felt it was time for me to follow God’s calling to go back to school to become a counselor. I wanted to make a difference; I wanted a chance to make the world a little better.
The counselor who had helped me navigate my story made an impression on my young heart. I knew that counseling would help me help others rediscover their identity and purpose. Two years later, I earned a Master of Arts in counseling from Denver Seminary and then went on to earn a PhD in counselor education and supervision from Walden University.
During the completion of my PhD, our family of four (with the addition of our second child) decided to move to Colorado Springs and in 2015, Mayfield Counseling Centers opened. We grew to fourteen counselors in under two years. Each of our counselors brings unique life experience and counseling expertise to Mayfield Counseling.
This book has been written from inside the trenches of the battle for mental wellness. El Paso County, Colorado, has been hit with dozens of teen suicides over the past four years. Currently, Mayfield Counseling Centers is responding to the epidemic of teen and adult suicides by opening a counseling center in northern Colorado Springs. Our north center focuses on partnering with local schools and churches.
The inspiration for this book stems from the deep desire I have to see teenagers thrive. I write this book to share hope and information that can possibly be a lifeline to those dealing with self-harm and suicidal thoughts (Mayfield, 2020 p. 1–5).”
Mayfield, M. (2020). Help! My teen is self-injuring: A crisis manual for parents. Focus on the Family.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Early in my career, I worked with gang-members who were court ordered to do group therapy (yes, it was an interesting job). One day I was running a group with members from a certain gang (won’t share the name due to confidentiality), and I noticed one of the group members was extremely quiet, almost like he was pouting. I confronted his attitude in front of the group (a technique utilized to create group think and allow other members of the group to step in) and proceeded to piss him off. He got up out of his chair, stood 2 inches from my face, and proceeded to cuss me out. After about 5 minutes of him yelling at me, he stopped. I looked at him and asked, “are you done?” he said “yes” and then I asked him if he felt better. He looked at me for a minute and then said, “I guess I do.” And then with a confused look on his face he asked, “you aren’t going to hit me or yell back at me?” I said, “no, this is your space to feel how you want, it’s not my space to respond.” After the exchange, this client became one of the most active group members and eventually got out of his gang and began helping others. I’m always amazed at the power of counseling and group therapy!
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
The best advice I can give is lead from behind. Show your team that you are going to lead by example, get in the trenches with them, ask questions, be curious, don’t judge, and don’t take things personally. The best team is a team that knows their leader has their back and knows who they are.
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?
I’ve always enjoyed the writings of Peter Drucker, especially his book “Managing Oneself: Keys to Success.” I truly believe that good leadership starts with a leader who is passionate, teachable, humble, and confident. We cannot lead from our weakness.
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?
Mindfulness is a state of being grounded. It is recognizing our present situation (emotions, thoughts, stressors, etc.) and being willing to confront them in a practical manner. Far too often we get caught up in our feelings or in our worries or anxieties, mindfulness is a process whereby we intentionally ground ourselves through the practice of prayer or meditation. This discipline (something done over time, with intentionality) allow us to connect the cortical limbic system (motivation, emotions, learning and memory) to the pre-frontal cortex (decision making, planning, etc.) through the anterior cingulate. Andrew Newberg explored this idea in his book “How God Changes your Brain.” He noted that monks who practiced daily meditation actually had stronger “thicker” anterior cingulate, connecting the emotional and thinking parts of the brain. His conclusion was the more mindful we become, the healthier we will be as we have a better balance between the emotional and the cognitive.
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?
As I previously alluded, becoming mindful is a discipline. By leaning into the discipline of mindfulness we have the ability to be more emotionally intelligent and more mentally aware. We are able to understand what is going on inside of us emotionally, how that is affecting our mental health, and then we are able to make the necessary adjustments. Furthermore, the more we understand our thoughts and emotions and are able to control them, we are able to reduce the inflammation in our body, which strengthens our immune system!
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.
- Turn off the news and social media: Yes! It is good to stay connected, but there can be a point when we become over connected. I remember after 9–11 I would have the news on all the time. Like many of us I wanted to stay informed, but there came a point when I started to lose sleep, have nightmares, and deal with increased anxiety. Secondary and tertiary trauma is a real thing. During the early stages of COVID-19 I saw myself develop some of the same patterns and again watched my anxiety spike. The best thing I did was allow myself the opportunity to turn off the TV and put my phone away. Don’t put your head in the sand, but limit how often you are getting updates. I now check the news at the end of the day, and do my best to follow people on social media that are positive!
- Exercise: Movement is life. There is a temptation to sit on the couch and watch TV, which is not all bad if it is done in moderation, but being completely sedentary is not okay. Our bodies need to move. If you have the opportunity to walk around outside while still practicing social distancing and wearing a mask, then do it! The sun has healing powers with vitamin D and exercising outside is the best way to release stress. I am getting back in to running and might even begin to train for a ½ marathon!
- Drink plenty of water: Water is also life! Our bodies need adequate hydration to function. Often when we are immobile, we don’t think we need as much water. If we get dehydrated, it can affect both our mental and emotional health as well. Yes, you might be going pee more often, but hey, at least you’ll be moving too.
- Read: Imagination is a good thing! It allows us to be creative and engages the whole brain. Pick up a new book, a self-help book, a novel, or an old book from your childhood and set aside time to read. I recently started reading the “Chronicles of Narnia” by CS Lewis. These were my favorite books growing up and it is fun to reengage them through adult eyes.
- Maintain a Routine: This is such a big deal. The best way to thrive during COVID-19 is to develop a daily routine. I am founder and CEO of Mayfield Counseling Centers. We have a staff of 32 and see tens of thousands of clients a year. We recently moved everything online through a teletherapy/telehealth platform. There is the temptation to put on a button down shirt, comb my hair and keep my sweat pants on (the video only shows from the waist up). To be honest that’s what I did for several days, but when I started to forget what day it was and how many hours I was working, I realized a schedule would be highly beneficial. Now, I have a schedule where I have a start time and an end time of my day, and I take a lunch break, a walk, and a mindful minute.
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?
- Listen: Most often anxiety doesn’t make sense. It can come out of no-where and catastrophize in your mind. Often the role of a therapist is to listen and help make sense of the struggle. Yes, therapy is a wonderful tool and I would recommend it to everyone, AND it is important for us to be mindful of those around us who might be struggling and engage their anxiety by listening. Listening is just that, hearing the words that are coming out of their mouths, asking questions to help understand where they are coming from, exploring their emotions, and just being with them (virtually of course). Listening is not offering advice, or trying to fix or rationalize. The best way to engage someone in their anxiety is to say “thank you for entrusting me with this, how can I support you?
- Encourage: Words of encouragement go a long way. Especially when we aren’t able to see our friends face-to-face. Send a text, video, a letter, send a care package of some of their favorite things, and speak life over them.
- Get Creative: Find ways to connect. My wife had her birthday two weeks ago and we couldn’t celebrate with friends or family. One of our dear friends, however, surprised her and dropped off a bag of cupcakes and a present at our front door and then sat in her car on our driveway for 45 minutes and talked. It was creative and very encouraging.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Download the CALM app or STOP BREATHE AND THINK app and begin to practice mindfulness as a part of your daily life. Read “Switch on Your Brain” by Dr. Caroline Leaf and practice her 21-Day Brain Detox. Read “How God Changes Your Brain” by Dr. Andrew Newberg and gain an understanding of what mindfulness and meditation is
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” — Winston Churchill.
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. :-)
Mental health needs to be everyone’s concern. I would love it if we started something where we could film candid stories about our own struggles and post them on social media or a central website. I, in collaboration with several others, started a movement called “Who Can Relate” that does this very thing and goes into schools helping students confront mental health and suicide!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Podcast: Candid Conversations with Dr. Mayfield
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