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Self-Care & Mental Wellness: Emily Rentas Of Paragon Solstice On The Top Five Selfcare Practices That Improve Mental Wellness

An Interview With Maria Angelova

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 Emily Rentas

Emily Rentas is a leader in coaching and mental health with over 13 years’ experience in assisting individuals and organizations transform during times of abrupt change, transition and uncertainty. Emily is highly skilled in personal transformation and turning around programs and organizations in the areas of healthcare, mental health, digital health and social services. This includes developing and implementing creative solutions that lead to significant improvement in client service delivery and satisfaction, staff wellbeing and retention, compliance and overall sustainability and financial viability for organizations.

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?

I was born and raised in the Bronx, NY to immigrant parents of Dominican and Puerto Rican decent, and have navigated the cultural and economic systems and landscapes first- and second-generation immigrants are facing within the United States. One of my greatest childhood memories was visiting the public library for the first time and being amazed by all the books and resources. The New York City Public Library forever changed my life and perspective of what I could accomplish for my future without money being an issue. I was able to read whatever I wanted and whenever. Books have been a large source of learning, inspiration and creativity for me.

I was fortunate to have learned from great educators and leaders in NYC public schools during my childhood and adolescence. I understood at a young age the importance of education. This was my ticket to a better future which relied on my ability to excel in school and athletics given the lack of economic resources I had. With those scholarships and opportunities, I was able to not only go to college, but I was also able to have amazing experiences and meet amazing people along my way that would not have been made possible if I never attended college. My goal since high school was always to study psychology and I have been passionate in the pursuit of understanding human behavior. I eventually had the opportunity to earn my masters in mental health counseling at The City University of New York at Brooklyn College and have clinically worked with children, adolescents, adults, families, couples and groups since.

I knew early in my career I had a passion to build my own business, so not doing so was non-negotiable for me. In addition to my coaching and consulting work at Paragon Solstice, I also founded Solstice Mental Health Counseling Services in New York where I maintain my private practice and provide mental health training and education to organizations and institutions. I feel extremely fortunate to be part of guiding individuals and organizations through transformation including those from marginalized communities. I look to empower those with information and resources I didn’t have growing up. I learn so much from every one of my clients and feel humbled that they choose me to assist them through some of their most difficult and private moments in their life or organization. To see them grow is a beautiful and rewarding experience.

What is your “WHY” behind what you do? What fuels you?

I have always been passionate about what makes up our psyche and how it shapes our life experiences. With that knowledge I am driven to teach others to help them understand themselves better so they can unlock their innate potential and capabilities. I am relentless in the pursuit of looking for answers and resources or looking for a better way of doing things when nothing else is working. It is a skill I have developed since young given the experiences and conditions I faced growing up. Being resourceful can make or break situations when it feels like no answer is in sight.

One of the things I enjoy most is helping people understand how they learn and receive the world. Individuals and organizations often come to me with misconceptions on what they think they should be doing because of what they assume or see others doing. However, I have often found that most of it, is their misunderstanding of their own untapped potential. I don’t like to take things for face value and have no problem asking the hard questions when no one else will. People often mistake the feeling that hard questions bring up for them as the wrong approach to solve their problems. These are often the questions that lead to breakthroughs and transformation because they were never asked before or where uncomfortable in sitting with them. Uncomfortable feelings help us identify resistance and is an opportunity to learn how to roll with it instead of trying to control avoid it.

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?

One of the mistakes I made in the past is staying around people, places and spaces too long that where not aligned with my needs and values. When I look back at these experiences, I can see all the pink, orange and red flags that were waving in the air but I didn’t listen because I didn’t trust myself and capabilities. It wasn’t until certain situations or crisis arose that finally pushed me beyond my comfort zone to make a change or take a leap.

As professionals we are told early on how important it is to get the experience you need in order to build your resume. Early in my career I found myself overworked primarily driven by bureaucratic time pressures to complete pre-requisites for licensure. I had to do my own personal work and application on the right self-care needed including saying no and become more discerning of what is aligned with my needs and goals. Once that was discovered, I had to practice executing those boundaries and chose things that I truly wanted.

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?

That’s great question. I would say my top three is curiosity, integrity and conscious leadership.

I have a passion to learn about how things work around me and how it affects the greater good. I am always curious and look forward to new things and experiences and especially enjoy asking the ‘why’ of things. As I mentioned, I don’t like to take things for face value and have no problem asking the hard questions. Integrity is not just about what I do, but also about the way I chose to do it. I pride myself in earning individuals and organizations trust by being honest, accessible, open for feedback and implementation of ethical codes in all my interactions and approaches. I cultivate an inclusive ‘we’ approach over ‘me’ in all that I do. I care about helping people grow as individuals and professionals in order to achieve more than I did in my career. Through my life long journey of working on my own self-awareness and continuously practicing mindfulness, it has enabled me to think beyond myself and how I can be of service to others.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now? How do you think that will help people?

Right now, a lot of my work in the past year has been centered around assisting individuals and organizations to become more comfortable when dealing with uncertainty and abrupt change. My approach encompasses not just dealing with the immediate change or situation at hand, but also developing sustainable solutions that will position them to deal with future disruption in a proactive way. The goal is to get to the root cause of any reoccurring crisis. My hope is for individuals and organizations to f eel empowered and develop their own specialized toolbox of skills and resources that help them during any type of change or disruption.

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?

Through my experience as a mental health counselor, I have seen first hand the effects of prolonged poor self-care and inability to implement immediate self-care solutions during crisis. This often results in serious mental health issues that impact a person’s overall sense of wellbeing and ability to engage with the world at large. With that understanding and experience of witnessing this first hand, I am passionate about raising awareness of the importance of self-care to support individuals and communities to become more resilient.

Based on your research or experience, how exactly does self-care impact our mental wellness?

Self-care is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves. When we fail to prioritize our ability to care for ourselves, our life force and relationships are impacted and/or sacrificed. People who don’t do the work to take care of themselves find themselves sacrificing their wellbeing and overall cognitive ability to be fully present in their everyday lives. Self-care allows us to slow down and become more mindfully aware of our bodies and how we respond to the world. It helps us to identify patterns in our emotions including things that trigger poor mental health.

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”?

I always tell clients that self-care is more than just bubble baths or planning the next getaway. Although some of those practices are helpful, they don’t always deal with the underlying causes of what leads to poor self-care. It’s about prioritizing a daily approach to how you take care of your mind and body so that you don’t need to rely on getting away all the time. Here are my top five recommendations:

  1. Be mindful of internal dialogue- People sometimes don’t realize some common cognitive distortions that impact how they view themselves and the world. As a result, people go years and even decades with negative self-talk that breaks down their confidence and self-esteem. If you are constantly moving from one activity to the next without taking moments for introspection and reflection, you will find yourself internalizing others thoughts, expectations and wishes beyond your own. Consider journaling, therapy, coaching, self-help tools, resources and groups that help you cultivate self-awareness that analyzes how you process the external world into your own. The more aware you are of your internal language; you will be more able to shift difficult emotions and situations.
  2. Prioritize sleep- It doesn’t matter how many activities or commitments we need to complete or attend if we don’t have the cognitive ability to be fully present and alert to participate. Sacrificing sleep is a dangerous game that leads to serious cognitive and memory issues down the line whether someone is struggling with mental health or not. Practice mindful sleep hygiene by ‘winding down’ your day at least 2 hours ahead of sleep. Consider more relaxing activities like a warm bath, journalizing, prayer, minimizing screens, reducing loud noises and conversations as a signal to your brain to start relaxing in an effort to eventually sleep. This helps improve fall asleep time and reduces awakenings as you move through more relaxing brain wave state to support a full sleep cycle.
  3. Become comfortable with missing out- Its not possible to please everyone or be everywhere all the time. Many people feel obligated to attend commitments and events out of disappointing others. Some may feel they are missing out on the next conversation or trend in their social group if they don’t attend. What happens throughout time is filled schedules with no personal care time leaving the individual drained, anxious or even depressed. Practicing mindfulness allows us to be discerning on where we spend our energy and becoming more present in interactions that lead to more fulfilling experiences.
  4. Develop mindful nutrition and physical activity- Practicing mindful eating without distractions allows us to be present with what we are eating. This includes being mindful of how it tastes and feels within our body which helps improve digestion and portions. Healthy food choices allow us to have the energy needed to move throughout a demanding day. Allowing your body to engage in movement and physical activity throughout the day allows you to improve your cardiovascular system and release excess energy.
  5. Practice self-compassion- The most important relationship we will have been the relationship with ourselves. Its important to practice self-compassion during times of stress including being gentle with ourselves as we manage change and uncertainty. Practice patience and understanding with yourself when encountering new situations or trying new approaches. Things don’t change or workout overnight therefore having patience and compassion for yourself in the process is important.

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?

Many people feel guilty for putting themselves first even in situations where all that is left is to put themselves first following a serious mental health crisis or disruption. Sometimes they may be surrounded by messages and experiences growing up that push the narrative its ‘selfish’ if they engage in self-care. They are often those who are in charge of taking care or leading others and feel they are letting others down if they do. I always use the example of the oxygen mask on the plane with my clients. We won’t be able to help others with their mask if we can’t breathe ourselves. Engaging in self-care allows us to be better people and be there for others because it allows us to fill our cups and have the right reservoir of energy to give others.

In one sentence, what would you say to someone who doesn’t prioritize their mental well-being?

I understand the idea of prioritizing something you are not use sounds new and scary, but part of the journey of mental well-being is allowing yourself to be open to try new things and discover what works and what doesn’t.

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?

“You should never, never doubt something that no one is sure of.”
― Roald Dahl

This quote is from one of my favorite books growing up, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It has always helped me remember to never doubt anything is real unless I am sure it isn’t.

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 :-)

Don Miguel Ruiz. His book The Four Agreements transformed my life and ability to be a more conscious person and leader

I truly appreciate your time and valuable contribution. One last question. How can our readers best reach or follow you?

Individuals and organizations can learn more about my coaching and consulting services at Paragon Solstice by visiting www.paragonsolstice.com and my mental health services and education at www.solsticemhc.com. People can also connect and follow on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/emilyrentas/

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 angelova@rebellious-intl.com. To schedule a free consultation, click here.

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Maria Angelova, CEO of Rebellious Intl.

Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl.