Latinx In Power
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Latinx In Power

Allow Yourself to Experience Your Emotions

Based on an episode with Angel Aviles 🇻🇪🇵🇷

We talked with Angel Aviles (sher/her) who boldly decided to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. A Bronx native, moved from New York City to Hollywood and landed roles in projects with up-and-coming directors like Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and many others. Following her acting career, Angel became an entrepreneur. Today, she’s a transformational life coach, a motivational speaker, and an advocate for social justice.

In this episode we discussed mental health. In 2009, Angel suffered from depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, which was when she began her own journey of mental, physical, and spiritual wellness.

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What does it mean to be a Latina for you?

I saw this question, and the first thing I thought was, it means to be out of my head, and to really be more about what it feels like. I want to talk about what it feels like, which is a warmth. I feel it in my chest, I feel it in my belly, I feel it in my spine. There’s a sense of strength and warmth, and comfort, nostalgia. Really, one word I can think of, is a Spanish word, and it’s ser, which is to be, and I simply am what I am. When I think of the word, automatically visions and sounds of growing up and colors and tones and smells come to mind. And all of it is Latino, Latina, and Latinx to me.

I really think it’s important for us to honor our own experience. This is part of mental wellness to me. Honoring our own experience means that we do a lot less comparison and more being in touch with our own selves as we occupy our internal space and also as we navigate our external world.

How did everything start?

I would like to start way back when I grew up in the Bronx. I was born in New York City. I was born to a very theatrical, dramatic, Latino, lower middle-class family. I describe in my book that we grew up in the hood, but I didn’t really know we grew up in the hood, simply because my mom was super creative, and she really taught me that the brain is everything. As long as your brain is operating, you are unlimited. We may be short on cash, but we’re never short on ideas or short on creativity.

Also in my book, I talk about something very traumatic that occurred to me, and that was molestation when I was very young. I kept that in me and quiet for my entire adolescence and into my adulthood. I really didn’t address it until I had my own daughter, and I started to experience a sense of paranoia about her and what could possibly happen to her. That’s when I first started getting help for really processing the things that I had been going through.

During this entire time, I had been pursuing my acting career. I came to LA in the 90s and was able to land successful roles. I guess the most famous role, of course, was in Mi Vida Loca, which was in 1992. It continues to be a cult classic, I continue to receive just so much love for my character who is Sad Girl, aptly named, which is so crazy, life imitating art. I had enjoyed success as an actor, went back to school, studied multimedia production, went to work in several corporate jobs that I did not love, but provided a certain sense of security as I grew my family, things were going well.

Then, my mom passed away. This was another dramatic point in my life. I had lost my brother previously, and this was devastating. But losing my mom further on at this particular period of my life, just revealed so many of the little weaknesses in my life, she covered so much. I had what most might effectively call a breakdown. It was just a breakdown of everything I was spiritually, physically, emotionally. I spent a good deal of time for about a year in 2008, crying in my closet, and really wondering what I was doing on the planet.

In 2009, I started to recognize that my kids were watching me through this process, and I didn’t want to be that for them. Also, I recognized something inside of me, I wanted something more, I wanted to survive, I knew that I needed to get out of this. I just started consuming everything I could. I started hiring coaches and gurus and doctors and all kinds of professionals, and curanderas. I pursued my mental wellness and my physical wellness with a fire and a passion, like nothing I had ever done before. I started documenting my journey. I started blogging about it. I started talking about it. I started sharing what I was going through and all of the ways that I was evolving, and people started responding to it.

There were very few brown people there. There were no Latinx people really, at least at that level, talking about these things, like in social media. Out of that experience grew a very organic coaching business, a coaching practice, where I primarily work with women just like me, women who were transitioning in life, women who were servants, and men too. I actually don’t coach a lot of men, but I coach unicorn men. I coach the unicorns. I just started sharing what I was learning. It’s been a 10-year ride. I’ve had this practice since 2011. I’ve really enjoyed the journey. Ultimately, I’ve been able to create a practice that reaches out to a population that hasn’t previously talked about these things openly. It’s my pleasure to see people thrive and learn how to be well.

Why do you think our community doesn’t prioritize our mental health?

One of the things that we deal with as a community is stigma. Previously, we haven’t had a lot of representation in the mental health industry. There’s a lot of cultural relevance that’s been missing, and we haven’t felt comfortable. So, we haven’t been able to maybe go out there and be treated for these things. Obviously, as a country, we’re not doing great in terms of mental health. We have a long way to go in terms of mental health for everyone. COVID-19 really revealed how much more work we all have to do. Particularly in the Latinx community, I’m seeing many more therapists and doctors come out and talk about their experiences. Obviously, diversity, equity, and inclusion matter, especially in mental health. In the end, I think that we will see some real progress in this area, but I think it’s been cultural, it’s been economic, because it’s also been super expensive to hire a great therapist. As more opportunities and options become available, I think we’ll actually be able to stop the stigma and get the help that we need on a broader level.

What exactly is a mental health day?

There’s actually a global mental health day, which takes place on October 10th. It’s World Mental Health Day. It’s most important to understand that a person doesn’t need to have a mental illness to take a mental health day. A mental health day means simply you are taking time off from the stresses in your life. I always encourage people not to take a mental health day and then run a bunch of errands, just to get things off their plate. Mental health really, it matters to be present, it matters to rest, it matters to actually add pleasure, and really, really take that time to decompress and destress.

I also want to mention that it’s really important for employees in particular, I’m going to say two things. Employees recognize their handbook and look for their benefits, because employers should be legitimizing and offering mental health days. You shouldn’t have to explain in detail to anyone why you’re taking a mental health day, or why you’re taking the day off. If you’re working for a corporation like that, either try to change the culture or change the job. For entrepreneurs, I think that we can also tend to get caught up and be the worst bosses we could ever work for. We end up working, instead of working a 40-hour week, we’ll work an 80-hour week, and we will miss that opportunity to take a mental health day as well. But essentially, it’s really taking stock of where you are in your mental, physical, and emotional health and determining that you are worth the rest.

Thinking about how to connect, what makes you decompress, and stress less. This is really, really paramount in taking care of yourself and your wellness. This idea of working, like living in a meritocracy. The harder you work, the more rewards you’ll get. You’ll rest when you’re dead. I’ve heard that before, and I think it’s literally killing us. There’s nothing wrong with working. We should work with pleasure, we should work because we need to live, and that’s true. But what the quality-of-life exchanges really, really matters. Relationships matter. Your relationship with yourself, your relationship with the people that you’re surrounded by, relationship with the planet, your relationship with money, all of this. There needs to be a perspective and an overall balance to how, again, navigate your entire experience here.

How do you know when you need a mental health day?

The one thing I want to say is that we’re constantly evolving. It’s learning your body, your mind, your spirit, and listening and recognizing when you’re going through changes that are natural, when you’re going through changes that are due to stress. Recognizing, “Okay, how am I navigating this space?” “Is what’s happening to me chemical?” “What’s happening to me in my mind?” All of those things are legitimate. I don’t like when people say, “Well, that’s all in your mind.” Well, my mind is in my brain, which is the functional center of my universe. Everything happens in the brain. So, yes, we are our thoughts. We are our actions. We are these complete beings.

I call it a Conscious Consumption. In conscious consumption, you’re paying attention to all the things that you’re consuming. It could be the media. It could be data that you’re taking in terms of conversation in your relationships. It could be the things that you’re saying to yourself, especially the ones that you’re saying out loud. It could be your food, it could be your water, your air. These are all things, sometimes when we’re stressed, we don’t even fully breathe. That’s why one of the first chapters in my book is about breathing, because one of the things I recognized that was one of the number one contributors to my stress, is that I wasn’t giving myself full permission [deep exhale/inhale] to breathe. This is why when you become accelerated, your breath is shallow, you get higher in your octaves, you start to generate this level of stress, and you can see it. As I begin to physically show you what it looks like to be stressed, you feel that, you can feel that the breath stops here.

Even taking a moment to just quiet down and breathe deeply and meditate. Meditating doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to live on a mountain. It means just giving yourself time to be quiet to recognize the signs that your body, mind, and spirit are saying, are showing. There’s so many forms of meditation that you can take. I mention a few in the book, but even beyond that. If you can think of an activity, there’s a way to meditate within that activity. Swimming, walking, hiking, everything can be done with a consciousness, which puts you in a meditative state, obviously. It’s just this constant connection to the quiet that lives within you.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to incorporate more mindfulness exercises to their lives?

I think start simply and be graceful. I started with breath because that is the one thing that we cannot live without. We cannot live without the breath. Connecting to the breath is the first thing, is the simplest thing that you can do with. You can be sitting in your chair listening to this podcast, and you can start today. You can simply take a breath in through the nose and let it go all the way in, fill your lungs completely and let it fill your belly, because actually filling your belly allows your lungs to expand to completion. Now that you’re breathing, you might get dizzy. So, I don’t want you to just do this anywhere. When you start to breathe deeply after not breathing deeply for maybe your whole life, you might take in more oxygen than you’re actually used to. But I encourage you to continue to work on the breath and allow it to become a part of your overall system conditioning, because part of the function, we need oxygen for every single activity in our lives for our metabolism, for our respiration, every system in our body relies on oxygen.

That would be my first thing because if I tell you not to focus on the breath, it becomes impossible not to. You don’t have to eliminate all the thoughts or we don’t have to be that complex. You can, you can introduce mantras and you can introduce chanting, and you can introduce silence and bells, bowls. It can be a beautiful extended wellness experience. But if you’re new, simply taking in the breath and letting it go into your belly and then releasing it through the mouth, that one thing allows you to relax your nervous system and it can bring in a world of wellness and benefits.

How can we better help others? I imagine there’s a lot of people who are listening to us that might be wondering how we can better help. We’re living in a pandemic, there’s a lot going on. I’m curious to hear your thoughts about it.

The number one way that you can help someone else is to be well yourself. Be an example of wellness. In doing that, you become a demonstration of what it looks like to shamelessly live in the space that you’re in, which may not be happy all the time. Maybe allow yourself to cry, allow yourself to be angry, allow yourself to experience your emotions, allow yourself to monitor how you’re taking in information and processing that information. Make the observation about yourself whether what you’re feeling may not be normal, and maybe I should go see a therapist or a doctor. I’m a coach, I’m not a therapist, or a doctor, and I do an assessment with my clients because I don’t want to work with a client who I can’t actually help. Very often, I recommend a therapist, because there’s certain traumas that should be worked on. So, being able to recognize that in yourself is paramount to being able to help anyone else, because it’s harder for you to say, “Hey, I think you should probably think about therapy, or maybe you should think about therapy,” if you’ve never done it yourself, or if you have some kind of judgment or stigma about it. Even if you’ve never been to therapy, as long as you’ve observed that there are therapies that are beneficial, and you believe in the practice, then it’s easier for you to pass on that information to help others.

The other thing I want to say is that, I’m going to give you two numbers, and these are extremely important, is suicide is real. If you’ve known anyone or have lost anyone, it’s devastating. It leaves the impact of guilt on so many people thinking, “Oh, my gosh. What could I have done?” Don’t keep it a secret.

The National Suicide Prevention line is 1–800–273–8255.

Write that down in a book. If you ever hear someone talking about suicide or if you’re suicidal yourself, please do not hesitate to get that help.

The Crisis Text line is HOME to 741–741.

A crisis is anything, again, where you’re feeling you don’t want to be here, or if you’re considering ending your life. Before you go a step further, please make that call. If you’ve heard anybody on your social media channels, or anywhere else do that.

Third is of course empathy. Have some empathy. A little bit of empathy goes a long way. Empathy is just leaning in, and letting people be, not necessarily trying to fix what it is because we’re not professionals in every area. Not even all therapists are professionals, not even all doctors are professionals in every area that’s needed. So, helping someone by sometimes validating their feelings, because feelings are real, whether they can be justified, or we cannot judge someone else’s feelings. So, just a little empathy goes a long way. We’re all doing the best that we can to cope with everything that we’ve been given.

As you begin that process, you recognize that it’s not necessarily about fixing things. When you detach from having to fix something, you also detach from the outcome. You detach from, “Well, I gave you that advice already, and you should have done this,” which is not helpful to someone’s mental health. If you find that you feel stressed by someone else’s stress, this is a perfect time to say, “Hey, I know this therapist. I know this coach. I know this doctor.” There are so many people that are out there, the more familiar you can be with the resources that are available, the more helpful you could be.

Do you want to talk more about your book as well?

The book was 10 years in the making. From the perspective of a person who is creative, I would like to encourage anyone out there if you feel the itch to do something. Same thing for any of you who have been journaling or writing and really feel that you want to create a book. I wrote a book, I self-published it. It’s been phenomenal, and I’m so grateful that I did it. It took me 10 years. I had a lot of things to get over but I’m grateful that I finished it and that it’s begun to help so many people to address, begin their journey to really loving themselves. I would encourage you authors out there, you aspiring creatives, you podcasters, you actors, give yourself permission to create. Being creative is a very important part of the overall wellness process. I believe that creativity is something that’s magical. In various philosophies, we are created in the version, in the vision of the creator, and so the creator creates. And so, we also have this urge to create, so why not fuel that?

If you’re looking for permission, we are both giving you permission to do whatever you want.

Yes, write that book, do that show, do your YouTube channel. There’s been no greater time than now to do what you came here to do and not wait for somebody else to tell you it’s okay or not okay. There is nobody that’s going to do it for you. Just give yourself the permission to do it.

I also wanted to say that in addition to being creative, one of the things that I really found hard to write about in my book was forgiveness. Forgiveness is a huge part of wellness. It was a huge part of my deliverance into the pursuit of being well. There’s trauma, and if there’s trauma that’s linked to that, your ability to forgive, handle it. Don’t let it go another day without you getting the help that you deserve, period. You deserve it. Don’t let anyone shame you or make you feel bad about getting the help that you deserve.

Third and final thing that I’ll say that has really contributed to overall wellness, and maybe I’m answering a question that you had asked, but you said were there any books or movies that I would recommend? When I thought about that question, I said, “I don’t want to recommend that these have worked for me per se. I want to recommend the feeling that worked for me.” The feeling that worked for me most was laughter. Find things that make you laugh. Obviously, there’s something physiological that happens when you laugh. When you laugh, you release chemicals and these are happy chemicals. Let yourself laugh and experience pleasure. Laughter is one form of pleasure. I encourage all forms but I would say my favorite movies are the ones that make me laugh, and I definitely encourage that.

I also want to share that I do have AF Junto which is a weekly gathering of like minds. It’s a group coaching and joining together of like minds. I open that up every month to members that can come in and just be encouraged to grow. It’s based on the framework that I’ve taken dozens of clients through and it’s a super nourishing place to come and be well.

I hope you enjoyed the podcast. We will have more interviews with amazing Latinx leaders the first Tuesday of every month. Check out our website Latinx In Power to hear more. Don’t forget to share comments and feedback, always with kindness. See you soon.

National Suicide Prevention line

The Crisis Text line

Text HOME to 741–741

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Thaisa Fernandes

Problem solver and perfectionist in recovery willing to stretch myself and risk making mistakes to achieve innovative solutions and validate my learnings