Self-Care & Mental Wellness: Alisa Kamis-Brinda of Serenity Solutions On The Top Five Selfcare Practices That Improve Mental Wellness
An Interview With Maria Angelova
Engaging in meaningful activities. What do you love to do? What’s getting in the way of you doing it? Maybe changes in your life from COVID, changes in your family, or a move to a new city have gotten you off-track. Or maybe you feel too tired or stressed to engage in your favorite hobby. Doing things that we enjoy and that feel meaningful to us help to boost our mood and make life feel good, even when things are not perfect. Get out there and have some fun!
Let’s face it. It seems that everyone is under a great deal of stress these days. This takes a toll on our mental wellness. What are some of the best self-care practices that we can use to help improve our mental wellness and mental well-being? In this interview series, we are talking to medical doctors, mental health professionals, health and wellness professionals, and experts about self-care or mental health who can share insights from their experience about How Each Of Us Can Use Self Care To Improve Our Mental Wellness. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alisa Kamis-Brinda.
Alisa Kamis-Brinda, LCSW, LCADC is the owner of Serenity Solutions, LLC, a psychotherapy practice in Philadelphia, PA. She has over 20 years of experience providing individual and group therapy to adults struggling with anxiety, anger management, perinatal anxiety, and addictions. Her success is seen in the transformation her clients make from being overwhelmed and stressed out to being in the present moment, having healthy relationships, and enjoying life again.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us. It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about you and your personal background. Can you please share your personal story? What has brought you to this point in your life?
Mental health is close to my heart. I was exposed to my own and my loved ones’ mental health issues from an early age. I have struggled with varying degrees of anxiety throughout my life and have also struggled with depression at times. So, what did I do? I become a therapist. My gratitude for the support I received from the therapists I’ve worked with combined with my love of helping others and hearing people’s stories led me to a career that I enjoy waking up to every day.
What is your “WHY” behind what you do? What fuels you?
I knew by 10th grade that I wanted to be a therapist. The family I grew up in was afflicted with serious mental health issues. My relatives shared the stories of family members struggling with depression and dying by suicide. This led to my passion for helping others learn how to cope with life’s stressors and adversity and how to cope with unwanted symptoms, to live a life that feels meaningful. I don’t want others to struggle with mental health issues and it feels fabulous when I am witness to the progress that my clients make toward their goals.
Sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a mistake or failure which you now appreciate has taught you a valuable lesson?
After working many years as a therapist, I took a job as a supervisor for an outpatient therapy department. I wanted to help other therapists learn and grow. Unfortunately, just because I was a great therapist didn’t mean I had the skills to be a great supervisor. There was a lot I needed to learn. I realized that many people get promoted to supervisor because they are good at their job but that doesn’t mean that they have the skills to supervise others or run a department. I didn’t have the support I needed to succeed in this role and I tried to figure it out myself, which didn’t work very well. This experience taught me how important it is to invest time and money to get the help you need to learn and grow. I have since done this with my therapy practice and it has been invaluable.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Organizational skills: Being organized has been such an important key to my success. It allows the opportunity for systems to be developed and helps the business run seamlessly, allowing more time for the important, actual work to be done with our clients. As my practice has grown, I have incorporated various programs that automate the administrative work that needs to get done, freeing up so much time to focus on the therapy work.
- My compassionate, empathic approach: Being able to take a step back to understand where the people you are working with are coming from and what is getting in the way of them being successful allows for a collaborative approach to learning and business growth. This is important in my work with my clients and my employees. When employees feel like they can be open and honest about their struggles, instead of feeling criticized, we can work together to help them overcome their barriers to success.
- Humility: When we are open to hearing from others about our mistakes without defensiveness, an opportunity for learning and growth develops. I make sure to share my areas for growth with my employees. This allows them to see me as human and helps them feel comfortable communicating things that they think I can improve upon to be a better boss and business owner. It also helps them feel more comfortable asking for help with any struggles they are having.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now? How do you think that will help people?
I recently took on a graduate intern at my practice. This student is in the last year of their Master’s program, on their way to becoming a therapist. Working with people who are new to the field is exciting and such an amazing learning experience. While I am challenged to teach the skills I have learned from my many years as a therapist, I also get the opportunity to learn from this student. Students often have different perspectives that can be so helpful. It also feels great knowing that I’ve played a role in training someone who will eventually go on to help a lot more people.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, about the interface between self-care and mental health. From where you stand personally or professionally, why are you so passionate about mental well-being?
Mental well-being is the overarching goal of my work. I focus on mental well-being with my clients, my employees, and myself. The healthier we are mentally, the better lives with can live. It doesn’t matter if we are dealing with multiple stressful situations in our lives, if we have physical or mental health problems, or both. Self-care can’t make the stressors go away, but it can help make it easier to cope.
Based on your research or experience, how exactly does self-care impact our mental wellness?
There is a mind-body connection. When we aren’t taking care of ourselves, our physical health is impacted, which then can affect our mental health and vice versa. Research shows that people struggling with mental health issues are at greater risk for certain physical health problems. And if our physical health is poor, our mental health will suffer. It doesn’t feel good emotionally when we don’t feel good physically.
Here is our primary question. Can you please share your “Top Five Selfcare Practices That Each Of Us Can Use To Improve Our Mental Wellness”?
- Getting enough sleep. Adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep affects how we feel physically and emotionally and when we are sleep-deprived, most tasks feel more difficult. Additionally, fatigue can affect our ability to cope with stressors and manage our emotions. This puts us at risk of snapping at our partner or reacting to a coworker, which then puts our relationship or job at risk. Now, we are not only tired but also stressed, which in turn can lead to problems sleeping, creating a vicious cycle.
How do we make sure we get enough sleep?
-go to bed and wake up at the same time each day (including weekends).
-avoid caffeine after lunchtime.
-turn off electronics at least 1 hour before bedtime.
-make sure the room is quiet and dark enough and that the bed is comfortable.
-make sure the temperature in the room is not too hot and not too cold.
-use the bed only for sleep and sex to help your body associate your bed with sleep.
2. Eating well. This is similar to the importance of getting enough sleep. If we are eating poorly, our physical and mental health will suffer. When we are “hangry”, it is often due to low blood sugar from waiting too long to eat. Low blood sugar affects our mood, making eating regularly an important self-care tool. It is also helpful to consider the ingredients in the foods that we eat. For example, caffeine and sugar impact how we feel by first hyping us up and then letting us crash. The hype can mimic what a panic attack feels like, leading to feeling more anxious when we consume too much caffeine and sugar. Monitoring alcohol use is also important for good self-care. Alcohol can lead to depression, anxiety, and irritability. Not only can it affect how we feel when we are drinking but it can also affect our mood later. Many people experience increased anxiety or depression the day after drinking (not related to thinking or worrying about how they behaved when they were drinking).
3. Exercise or move your body daily. Research shows that exercise has a positive impact on our mental health, decreasing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. If you feel like you don’t have time for exercise or don’t like to exercise, there are still ways to make this work. Think outside the box. For example, park further away from work or get off one stop early and walk the distance. Turn on music and dance in your home. Sweep or mop your floors with a little more vigor. Any activity that raises your heart rate is helpful.
4. Practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a fabulous self-care tool with many benefits. In addition to helping you enjoy each moment because you are more present, it helps to decrease stress and anxiety levels and helps you catch yourself before you react negatively or when you are caught up in negative thoughts and feelings. While some people choose to have a mindfulness practice where they practice mindfulness meditation for 10 or more minutes each day, it can also be as simple as paying attention to your breath or your 5 senses for a few minutes. There are so many great apps and YouTube videos to help get you started.
5. Engaging in meaningful activities. What do you love to do? What’s getting in the way of you doing it? Maybe changes in your life from COVID, changes in your family, or a move to a new city have gotten you off-track. Or maybe you feel too tired or stressed to engage in your favorite hobby. Doing things that we enjoy and that feel meaningful to us help to boost our mood and make life feel good, even when things are not perfect. Get out there and have some fun!
Can you please share a few of the main roadblocks that prevent people from making better self-care choices? What would you suggest can be done to overcome those roadblocks?
The main roadblock that shows up when improved self-care is considered is feeling like you don’t have enough time or energy to engage in good self-care. We are so overwhelmed with work and family obligations that we struggle with self-care, feeling like it’s just another task on our plate. And unfortunately, our society encourages this with messages about working harder for career success and putting the care of our families above our own needs. We are given the message that we can do it all. However, we’re never told how to do it all.
I start by informing people that the things that are important to them will suffer if they don’t take care of themselves. For example, is the work that you do when you are well-rested and well-fed better or worse than the work you do when you are sleep-deprived and hungry? How are your relationships with your loved ones when you are feeling good versus when you are struggling with a lot of stressors in your life? It is hard to complete tasks well and engage with others in healthy ways if we aren’t taking care of ourselves first. It’s the “putting your oxygen mask on first on the airplane” metaphor.
It is also important to know that self-care doesn’t need to take a lot of time and that you can take baby steps toward making changes. If you don’t have time to go to the gym to exercise, start by taking a short walk around the block or giving someone else the closest spot in the parking lot. If you struggle to find time to take a lunch break at work, keep healthy snacks at work to keep your blood sugar from dropping. If you feel like you don’t have time to practice a 10-minute guided mindfulness exercise, you can practice mindfulness while doing another activity by just paying attention to what you can notice with your 5 senses when doing that activity.
In one sentence, what would you say to someone who doesn’t prioritize their mental well-being?
You are worth it!
Thank you for all that great insight! Let’s start wrapping up. Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does this quote resonate with you so much?
The Serenity Prayer. God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage the change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
This quote is all about mental well-being. For so many people, our mental well-being is impacted by our acceptance or lack thereof of what we have control over and what we do not. When we struggle to accept that which we don’t have control over, we are constantly fighting to change it, like hitting our heads against brick walls. When we have some acceptance, we are freer to figure out how to live our lives in meaningful ways and advocate for change in healthy ways. (Keep in mind that acceptance does not apply to instances of abuse, including domestic violence and bullying, and any type of discrimination, including racism, homophobia, and antisemitism.)
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? They might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
I would love to sit down for a meal with Michelle Obama. She is such an amazing role model for self-care and mental well-being. From her days in Chicago as a working mother when she realized that she needed help to eat healthy to knowing that you have to prioritize what is important to not overwhelm yourself to her role as a mentor and mentee, I truly admire her and how she lives her life.
I truly appreciate your time and valuable contribution. One last question. How can our readers best reach or follow you?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.
About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule a free consultation, click here.