Dr. Sarah Sarkis Banner

My guest today is clinical psychologist Dr. Sarah Sarkis. Sarah is also a certified executive and performance coach by practice and the Senior Director of Psychology and Performance at EXOS. She blends her strong psychodynamic and insight-oriented training with more traditional behavior and mind/body techniques to help her patients leverage insight, change, and growth. We discuss strategies for navigating mental health practices and ideas for parents to support their children’s challenges. Sarah is insightful and compassionate, and I always appreciate learning from her. Enjoy.

Listen to the episode here:

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Key Topics:

  • The Middle of the Bell Curve [00:03:36]
  • The Thin Line Between Grit and Mental Illness [00:08:24]
  • The “Stupid Things” [00:16:52]
  • By Force or By Choice? [00:21:58]
  • Tools for Adolescents [00:31:53]
  • The Power of Movement: Inviting Adolescents to Move [00:36:07]
  • Finding Support [00:47:33]
  • Feeding Identities to Our Kids [00:54:57]
  • New Wonders in Psychology [00:58:29]
  • Democratizing Information and Recommendations [01:14:31]
  • Debunking Myths [01:18:33]
  • The 911 for Mental Health [01:27:30]

Dr. Sarah Sarkis: Senior Director of Psychology at EXOS on Today’s Mental Health Modules & Best Parenting Practices

My guest is Dr. Sarah Sarkis. I feel like Sarah has become a friend of mine through the podcast. We talked about it before and the hope was we want to empower people with what tools can you create in a toolkit for you for supporting your mental well-being and your mental health. The conversation did slide over to parenting, navigating our children, and how we support them, especially if maybe they’re going through a hard time.

I was always curious about why there is an acceleration of everyone thinking they’re anxious or depressed? The great thing is we’ve moved into a time where culturally we’re more open to talking about our real feelings but then in this overcorrection, it’s that we think we’re never supposed to have a bad day or automatically everyone’s self-diagnosing. They’re going, “I have anxiety or I’m triggered or trauma.”

As a parent, it’s tricky when we want to empower our kids and say, “What are you feeling?” Also, how do we equip them for life because life is hard and it’s brutal and nature is unfair but it’s not personal? A lot of us feel handcuffed in this middle zone. The conversation does talk about things that we can do as adults but also what we can do as parents and the importance of modeling those behaviors.

Before expecting our kids to go outside or get to bed early, are we doing the same thing? Also, what to look for if it seems a little more serious and how do we find the tools to help them because it can be confusing. I can speak from personal experience, when you have a kid going through something and you haven’t navigated that before, it can be scary.

I love talking to her because she has an upbeat approach to things. It’s very practical, very simple, very actionable and it is that reminder that there are a lot of things available to us before medication and if that’s needed, that’s a different situation. We never arrive. This is a constant practice. It’s like what she says, “We can’t wait until we feel like doing these things to do them. We have to figure out the things that are good for us, support us, and do those.” As usual, I learned a lot. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Dr. Sarkis, welcome to the show. Thank you. I want to have you on as regularly as possible. This topic is important. I thought that this podcast was going to be so directed toward this notion of health. When I say health, my mind was like, “Physical health impacts your mental and emotional health.” What has continued to show up over and over is trying to give people tools or toolkits to manage themselves and the practices from that perspective. Maybe you could share your background and all your officialness before we dive into a positive approach and a positive look at the world that we’re in right now, people’s mental health, what they can do, and what you’re seeing.

Thanks. I’m excited to be back. I always love connecting with you. I am a licensed psychologist and a certified executive coach. I’m also the Senior Director of Psychology and Performance at EXOS. I have a blog and do all the things. I’ve worked for more than twenty years. I’ve had a private therapy practice that runs concurrently with my coaching and my other things. I’ve worked with individuals, couples, and groups throughout my training. I also work with adults 18 and older.

Usually, miss sweet spots are post-college all the way through career transition and retirement. That’s where I’ve spent most of my time with the people I’ve worked with. The pandemic was something that tipped an already tipping condition and system, the mental health system, over the proverbial edge. To be clear, it’s a challenging thing to address the needs of individuals when it comes to our psychological wellness. When I was thinking about this, I love these kinds of opportunities because it forces me to think about how I would make this as clear as possible for the reader who’s reading and thinking, “I don’t know where to begin.”

One of the things I would want to say up front is that when we talk about mental health and when it’s gone, it’s mental illness, when the health part of it slips away, and we begin to express distress, it lies on a continuum and it’s a bell curve. There are those people who breezed through life and are like, “What?” At the far end, there are severely mentally ill people. Those are the tails.

I’m going to define severely also but for the vast majority of us in the middle of a bell curve, that’s where we fall. We fall in this no man’s land where we’re well enough to look well. We’re often well enough to even over function and be high achieving, but that inside of ourselves, it costs a tremendous amount and it costs a lot to our partnerships and our families if we have children.

When I think about this, I would think of the way you and I grew up, and even more so our parents. There wasn’t a ton of wiggle room. When my youngest child was 14, I feel like younger people are also all self-diagnosing and there’s a lot of verbiages attached to it. It’s like, “I’m triggered.” “These things cause me…” They have a whole vernacular around this that we didn’t grow up with.

I want to talk about how to start. Especially for parents, I want to try to figure out or peel away some of the layers of, what is this acceleration of everyone thinking they’re having a meltdown at all times? Also, is there something to it besides the pandemic, telephones, and constant barrage of information being thrown at people and bad news, that we’re not hardwired for this?

On the flip side, my primal brain goes, “If we were crossing the plains, if you were going to drag down the group, you are out.” How does this fit into our biological progress when, all of a sudden, miraculously everyone is feeling anxious and depressed? It’s finding the language between the worlds because a lot of parents are raising kids that are different from them. How do we give each other the skillset to go, “Here’s a language to try to understand,” but also how do we talk to our kids without making it overly harsh? When is it time to say get over it?

I see what you mean. At what point does it become the introduction to, “This is how grit is made. Nobody gets gritty without some injuries.” You’re saying, “How do we say that and encourage that there is a certain amount?” I have a son and as a parent, I empathize with that line. I can’t say that my education gives me any leg up in parenting. Quite frankly, it doesn’t seem to translate that way. It also doesn’t in spousing. I’m a regular person trying to figure it out, too but there is a fine line.

[bctt tweet=”Don’t wait to want to start. Just start.”]

I put something on social media that referenced this line. One of the worst things or the least helpful things you can do for somebody who’s anxious is to placate the fears. It doesn’t make them less anxious. It can result, not overnight but down the road, if you help them continue to avoid the fears, it can lead to phobias because they’re getting reinforced that the discomfort of fear is something you should avoid.

We have to come at things creatively in terms of how to support our children to be able to handle some degree of it with love, support, and encouragement. In my generation, there was shame and humiliation behind it. It was basically like, “What’s wrong with you? Suck it up. Figure it out.” It’s the same intersection that if we approach it from a place of trying to, there is some degree of normalizing discomfort.

It’s normalizing, “I know what you mean. I feel overwhelmed sometimes too.” “Here’s what I do.” It’s not even a, “Here’s what I do.” I would first start with, “I feel that way too. Tell me about what that experience is like for you.” You’re going to naturally find inroads but I do agree there is a fine line and things are tough right now, especially for adolescents.

When you look at the emerging data, it’s no surprise that teens and early 20 somethings, and then if you add anything else in there like life crises, death, economic concerns, instability inside the home, but baseline that age, people have struggled during the pandemic. They have been hit hard and it’s not a surprise because the hallmark feature of that stage of development 13 to your mid-20s and certainly through college is this intense need for a social pack.

Every ounce of your biology is drawing you to leave your family of origin. It’s getting you ready to leave and so the isolation of the pandemic has hit particularly hard on this group of kids. Remember, whatever you came into the pandemic with, those are the ingredients you had to tango with during the pandemic, which then lasted years.

They’re trying to do the monkey pox thing. I don’t even know if anyone’s going to bite that hook but let’s say that on some level we’re going back to “normal.” Maybe we can spend a little bit of time navigating, “I hear you. Life is stressful.” People going through transitions, adolescence, young adulthood, all these things are stressful. Also, we have to get our children ready for the world. Within it, it’s masked to be like, “We don’t say this.” “We don’t do that.” “They’re a bully.” No matter what, life is hard, competitive, and brutal. I would always use nature, which for me is a little bit more honest and unbiased. It has a litmus of, “Life is unfair and it’s brutal sometimes and it’s not personal.”

Let’s say your kid is going through these natural transitions. We’re not seeing real markers of concern. Let’s say normal amounts of concern. We can talk about it differently if you go, “My kid is turned up a little bit more. There’s something going on.” Let’s use parents. I feel for teachers because nobody can say anything. Nobody can say, “Knock it off,” even. In a way, this is a form of this placation so everyone’s like, “I can do what I want.” The minute you tell somebody, “Here’s a boundary,” they freak out or they’re triggered.

The boundaries get them triggered.

Which is the same thing as saying, “Nobody likes to hear no but okay.” What about bosses? Now we have a whole world of people who need people to show up and do a job but then they’re trying to angle on how to ask and demand the things that are hard. Maybe we could use that as a baseline to talk about relatively healthy people that are growing up at this time with all these influences. What is the way to give them the tool to deal with it and to give us the tool to deal with it but also, sometimes to lay down a line and go, “This is the boundary.”

There are two things right off the bat. One is the most potent form of learning that we absorb is through modeling. If you’re a parent and you want your child to grow up to have some grit and some capacity to bend and sway, some emotional flexibility, maybe a modicum of a pause between stimulus and response, the best thing you can do is model it.

That’s all I’m striving for as a full-grown adult. It turns out that’s all you need. It’s the most potent form of training that goes on which is that you behave that way. You strive and work yourself as an agent of change inside of your relationships and you try to model what you eventually want them to. Heavy emphasis on eventually. We’re playing like a two-decade game.

This is the long game. These relationships and development are a long game deal. I can tell you some stupid things I did in my late 20s and early 30s. You forget as you get older about looking back and going, “What decisions were you making?” Even if you were paying all your own bills, and working a grownup job, you still emotionally did some strange things. Most of us do. It’s a long development.

I want to say one thing about the stupid things where you’re like, “I can look back and say I did stupid things,” The stupid things are developmentally baked into part of being an adolescent and in your early 20s. Many of us go through a phase of righteousness and we know better than everybody else. A lot of us have quite an appetite for risk whether it’s shown up professionally, interpersonally, or financially the way we live our life at that age. You can see people don’t move home to their family of origin. Typically, they’re off the deep roots so they can fly.

I will say that these stupid things that we all did turn out to be these amazing teachers. Had you not done those stupid things, think about the problem solving, the lessons, the moment where you were like, “I’ve done it now,” and you have to like get yourself through something. We don’t want to end up inadvertently holding our children to some magical standard that we in fact, never even achieved other than currently. We look at it now but we’re grown women.

Dr. Sarah Sarkis photo 1

Dr. Sarah Sarkis – The best route is always to start with the pediatrician. Start with somebody the child has already had a relationship with and you’ve talked to the child.

It’s interesting how that is such a tendency. Our memory is like, “I can remember,” but when you go, “How old was I when I did that,” and you’re like, “That was in full-blown adulthood.” As a parent, we’re always saying, “Be the model and make the invitation.” I don’t know if I ever told you that story about my friend, Byron Katie.

I cornered Katie one day, I was like, “I’ve got one for you.” I said, “Let’s say one of the girls leaves their socks in this thing by the doorway every time and then before it, it’s like a week’s worth of socks.” Somehow, it’s the one that gets left with the shoe and it’s there. I’m like, “Do you mind taking your socks up to where laundry gets done for you?” It’s not even like they’re doing laundry. They do. They grow up. They do it.

I’m laughing because this is like a conversation I had inside my house.

I’m making this up because it’s so 101 but these are the little silly things that sometimes as a parent, you’re like, “How am I not smart enough to navigate this? What is my problem?” I’m not looking at the kid. I’m like, “The kid’s so smart. She’s not bothered by it.” I say to Katie, “The socks.” Here’s the thing, she looks at me and pauses. I used dirty clothes in this scenario. She goes, “You pick the dirty clothes up then you get the enjoyment of the clean floor. That joy that you feel will go throughout your house and eventually, they will pick up the socks or they won’t.”

I was raised by neglect so I did it because no one else was going to come from behind and take care of it. That’s one way. The other way is, you’re going to get in trouble, you’re going to have penalties, you’re going to have punishments if you don’t do it. There is something inside of me that believes, weirdly, that sticks and carrots are a part of our human nature. When she said that, I have been practicing that more or the things that I want to resist or make my point or for somebody to do, I’ve stopped doing that.

I’m not talking about a 3-year-old crossing the road and you can experiment with this drug. I’m talking about safe basic things. The interesting thing is, as I did notice when I learned to wait on a comment, a command, or another repetitive request that the action, the behavior usually showed up in the kid. It’s interesting because you think the opposite and you think you’re spoiling them but to your point, if you are modeling the behavior, you’re picking your crop up, and you’re not nagging them.

I then started to think, “They’re not doing it in defiance of me requesting it.” That’s that natural tearing away part. It isn’t them teaching me a lesson or punishing me. It’s some natural thing of, “You do that so I have to do this.” It’s been fascinating and you think you’re blowing it at every turn but I was wondering how you felt about the notion of being clear about what you’re hoping would occur and then giving them more room to make the choice.

With certain children, that’s probably great. The philosophy of you getting to have the clean floor and that that clean floor has an energy that you then bring into your interactions throughout your home as a metaphor is profound. It’s hard for a lot of us because we bump up against a bunch of our stuff. We bump up against things like control stuff, cleanliness stuff, order, and all this stuff because it is the little things.

When you were saying, “This is an everyday example,” but it is the everydayness of parenting. The fact that it never stops is the stuff that weighs us down. It’s not usually the bigger things. It’s everyday stuff. These solutions are profound. With children, where you can sidestep nagging, in general, you will get a better result.

The other thing that you tucked into your comments there that I want people to think about is this. We’re talking about when you’re orbiting around an adolescent who’s developing typically so there’s moodiness, there’s talking back, there’s natural rebellion and there are all these features. You tucked in this awareness that when you see it remind yourself, “They’re doing exactly what they’re designed to do right now.”

For me, it’s not like it makes it less annoying that it’s happening that we’re back at this intersection for the twentieth time in four minutes but it makes it not personal. Nature is happening. It’s happening all the time and, in many ways, the absence of seeing some pulling back and some boundary-pushing in adolescence is more noteworthy.

Statistically speaking, when you think about the vast majority of adolescents biologically, they are starting hormonally. As part of that biology, they are starting to be driven toward new drives, sexual drives, and social drives, and they have an explosion of learning that goes on. When you don’t see that pushing back, you’d be like, “That’s interesting.” To me, that would be more something where I’d be like, “That’s interesting.”

I’ll say it for myself because I can speak more plainly. There are parts of it where it’s like any relationship. It’s dealing even within yourself. There are things about it where I have learned to go, “This is unpleasant and this too is a part of it.” Instead of reacting every single time, “It’s unpleasant.” “What’s wrong with me?” “What’s wrong with our family?” “What’s wrong with her?” “What’s wrong with our relationship?” It’s being like, “This is that part that is unpleasant and it too is as natural as the hugs, the kisses, the dinners, or whatever,” instead of we make such a deal about the parts that are probably equally as normal, so to speak.

[bctt tweet=”The truth is children do have to start to experience life outside the cocoon and that’s given that they have a cocoon.”]

Because there’s this shift, your kids turn to 9 or 10-ish and you have to make a big shift in your strategy on how you parent them. They’re close to you, they want to be around you, you know where they are every moment and control every moment. What age is that? Another interesting thing as a parent is learning how to appropriately go, “I have to do this differently now. They’re in a different place in life.”

You can see how many stops on that train our own attachment stuff comes up as parents. We don’t come into parenthood with, “Return her to factory settings,” and now she’s got none of her own glitches. We show up with all our own baggage and here we are. It’s beautiful to think about the mutual maturity that’s also happening during parenting. It’s a whole developmental phase for us. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it because every child is a new dynamic unto themselves. They show up with their own temperament and then they interact with the environment, changing the whole environment.

It is quite a remarkable dance that occurs. You’re right in that developmental age that you’re keying in on. Super astute. Right around the age of 10, you hit this phase that in developmental psychology, we talked about it as the Latency Age. It’s like pre-puberty but what you start to see is 9 to 10, and of course, this falls in a bell curve of late bloomers, super-early bloomers, and the rest of everybody that developed somewhat typically. Nine or ten-ish, certainly by 11 you’re in latency and you have this little border town. You are neither a kid anymore.

You do not need that same level of physical attachment, which can also show up as control, knowing their schedule, they’re home with you more, and all the things. You are not a full-blown teenager and it’s this three-year space. It’s 9, 10, 11, 12-ish in there, and then puberty starts. Puberty takes all the things they started desiring during latency and puts butane on it. That’s where you start to see. They physically change. Girls get menses, boys get Adam’s apple, and they start to broaden and deepen their voices. A whole biologic process is underway and we can’t stop it. Kids do need some degree of freedom.

That autonomy is so scary to give them. I’ve even verbalized that to my daughters. They’re sensitive so they’ll pick up something. I’m a person who will think about something but I won’t say it because I know that I’m trying to understand how I’m feeling before I say it or react but the problem is they’re still feeling that something’s up.

I’ve had this conversation where I’m like, “The thing is, you’re this age. It’s natural that you have a life that I don’t know that much about. I know a lot of your friends. I don’t know all of your friends. I know where you are. I don’t know where you are every second. This is totally appropriate and apparent. It’s scary and difficult. What you’re feeling is me going through my own battle inside about not wanting to create things for you to push against.”

For me, my rebellion came from restriction. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t boundaries and people don’t have curfews but it’s all pretty reasonable because it’s like, “I don’t want to be the reason that you push out and do something way more radical than you ever would if we were having these fair and reasonable exchanges about what you’re doing, and when you’re coming home and such.”

Weirdly, to your point, if you start early talking about what they’re feeling and what you’re feeling when they move into adolescence and being teenagers, that door, that opportunity to communicate, and occasionally apologize, I apologize all the time like, “I didn’t realize it came across that way. I will do better,” you can keep the door going back and forth, that flow. It doesn’t mean they want to hang out with you every second and they’re like, “Come in my room and let’s visit,” but it does mean that when something’s going on and you’re in the car, the car is the magic talking place.

It’s truth serum.

Every chance you can as a parent that you can drive with your kid, do it. I’ve told you this. I grip the steering wheel when they start oversharing. Inside, I’m like, “Why would your friend do that?” “Why would you do that?” I grip the steering wheel and keep my mouth shut because I don’t want them to stop telling me whatever it is. Let’s move a little bit.

You have a younger child that can express their feelings and then now you have an adolescent. They’re more private and they’re more secretive but they say, “I’m stressed out and I’m anxious.” What conversation? What tools do we give them starting at that age up until about 16 that can help them navigate without all of a sudden, we’re going to the therapist? Not that there’s anything wrong with that but let’s say prior to that.

There’s a lot. First of all, there’s this whole paradox inside of adolescents because they have this natural inclination to stay up late, and then sleep all day. There are mood fluctuations that come with changes in sleep so they start expressing, “I’m anxious.” There are things you can do if you notice your kid’s sleeping is out of whack. You can do things to help them. It doesn’t have to be going to bed at 9:00 when all their friends are up until 11:00 but you can help regulate that and you will see changes in mood fairly quickly. You will notice that just by helping them within reason begin to understand, “What’s getting in the way of sleep? What’s getting in the way of going to bed at midnight instead of 2:00?”

Engaging them in conversation around this is one. I like to start with sleep because it’s practical. You don’t even have to know anything about psychology or human development. First of all, think about how you can help your kid get a little bit better routine sleep as an adolescent and it will go a long way. This is going to somewhat sound like a broken record because to me, it’s back to the fundamentals.

Encourage them to start to pay attention to how their body feels when they move once a day. Adolescence is often a time that correlates when kids either become exercisers or they don’t. They’re either an athlete or they aren’t. If you aren’t, it becomes a period of time in your life where the physical practice of play, which is the form of exercise that small children use, it’s all through playing, fades away and we do much more hanging out. It’s more of an adult socializing.

Dr. Sarah Sarkis photo 2

Dr. Sarah Sarkis – As a parent, your child is watching you. These things gestate. It’s in their 20s and when they’re out on their own that you start to see these kinds of things that you did for your own sanity.

It’s movement. Do they have a movement practice? Are they getting outside, and getting sunlight and fresh air for twenty minutes? These don’t have to be hugely complicated. We can get into it if it’s anxiety. Have they ever done any mindfulness? It’s a few minutes of noticing that if you turn your phone off, you limit your social media. You lay down, you listen to some music and you take a couple of breaths. It’s realizing that you have an influence over how this vessel feels.

Adolescence can often feel as though things are happening to us. Rules are happening to us. Change is happening to us. Hormones are happening to us. There are teachers and parents telling us what to do. It can be a tremendously empowering experience to realize, “I can change that. I can influence the outcome of how I feel.”

Do you have a suggestion? I have versions of this with my youngest. This is a kid who will be out all weekend with her friends and then Sunday, she’ll come home and she’s like, “I’m going to take a shower and then I’m going to take a nap, and then I’m going to do my schoolwork.” She will take care of herself. She will burn it a little hard. Could you say prompts or words that a parent could approach? I don’t know that a son would push against you less but I feel they do push less in these kinds of ways. If you go, “Let’s go and go for a bike ride.” They’d be like, “Yeah, okay.” How would you approach your child in a prompting Invitational way versus one more thing you’re hinting at that they should do?

This is funny because I have a son and he would never want to go for a bike ride with me so when you’re saying that, I’m like, “I wish.”

It’s my fantasy.

Because you’re the mom of ladies. Postcards from the other side. It’s the same story. That’s a great question. I don’t have a magic question like the pied piper, and all of a sudden, they come crawling out and it depends on every type of kid. There have been times with my son when I demand it. I’m like, “No. This is family time. This is how we’re spending it. We’re going to do twenty minutes.” He’s upset and hems and haws and doesn’t want to do it and I don’t blame him. I didn’t want to either.

Within a few minutes of being out there, I watched his entire being change from resistant and the way teens are. They’re resistant. They’re like little disruptors. All of a sudden, he’s engaged, talking, and his heads up. I make a point of saying, “Do you feel how different you feel in your body right now?” He’ll always say, “Yes,” because it’s true. It’s obvious. I say, “That’s the power of movement.” I’ll note the time. I’ll say, “We’ve been outside for six minutes. It doesn’t take that long.”

Sometimes you may not be able to coerce them out pleasantly but you may have the moment after when the endorphins and fresh air kick in. Either way is a win. At the beginning of the hour, you brought up how we both hear, see and hold, everybody’s feelings count and we’re all snowflakes and also hustle up. We’ve got to also perform, function, cope, and learn to stand on wobbly knees. That’s what we have to learn to do. There’s a fine line. Some of it comes from sometimes it’s not an option.

My son said something interesting to me. This exact scenario happened. I said, “Do you want to go for a bike ride?” Of which the answer was in a declarative no. There was no cajoling him. I got all indignant and essentially forced him and he came and we had a pleasant time but he said to me on the bike ride, “I want to ask you a favor.” I said, “Sure.” He said, “Please don’t invite me as a question if it’s a statement and it’s a demand. Just tell me that we are going on a bike ride.” It was such a fair observation. I was like, “You’re right.” Even that interaction was beautiful for us.

Here’s what he got at that moment. He had a power struggle where he did not get his way. He now had to tango, “Am I going to be a jerk the whole ride or am I going to submit?” This is a mother who’s got her throat on his scruff and she’s saying submit. This is biology. I’m like, “You’re going on that bike ride.” Now he’s got a choice. He can decide, “How am I going to respond? How much sway do I have here,” and then nature has its way with him.

He becomes more malleable as we’re talking then he has the experience of asking me a favor. I’m open and receptive to it because I’ve also been walked now like a husky. I was the one who wanted to get out and then I saw and heard him and acknowledged that he knew better there. I was like, “That’s such a good observation. I didn’t notice that,” so he got a victory there. He got to feel, “Oh. Hmm”

The only reason I share that is what I would want people to think about. Even when we think the interaction is going south, it’s a relationship. This bike story is decidedly going south. I was forcing him into this. At any moment, we can turn it into something that connects us with our kids. It’s not all the time but when it happens, it’s amazing and kids are available for it. That interaction for him taught him submission. It taught him responding versus reacting. It taught me to listen to what he has to say and it also reinforced to him that you can do something you didn’t want to do and still engage and enjoy yourself in the end.

When you’re trying your best to consider them and parenting and not make it like, “This is my house and my rules,” but you’re trying to learn and grow as they are as well, then when it is time to put your foot down, I almost feel like they received that more because it’s weird.

It was like street cred.

A little bit. If you’re always putting your foot down, it’s like what I tell my daughters, “I’m trying hard not to conduct myself in a way to make you good at being sneaky or a liar or deceptive. I’m trying to play fair ball and think about you and consider you so that you can be who you are and we can try to reasonably navigate this.”

[bctt tweet=”You’re never going to get it all done. It is about just a game of inches.”]

Let’s turn it up a notch. Let’s assume. For anyone reading, if you are experiencing these feelings, you’re at work or our home lives have rhythms, we all have it. I have it. Laird and I joke sometimes. Ours is short. Our bad rhythm is usually in the morning or half the day. We’re not weeks and weeks of bad rhythm people but you can tell, “I’m on their nerves.” Even the way they’re breathing is not happening. You learn, “I’m going to break this and I’ll go exercise or do my own thing and it’s fine. It’s not a big deal.”

Let’s assume. If someone’s reading, you’re at work, you’re down and it’s not happening, what’s wrong with taking a walk maybe not with your telephone? People go in and they go from one hole but then they jump into the next hole. What I would say if we were building our toolbox would be a mindful practice. Is it walking? Is it breathing? Whatever accommodates you, what you like and where you are.

I think about it as a self-regulatory practice. It’s something that’s getting you into some sort of parasympathetic and it can involve movement like walking. I see movement as its own little thing but definitely a mindfulness practice. It’s something that gets you centered. It will enhance the experience if you do it without tech but I know people’s reactions. It’s like, “Click, click, click, and we’re done,” and the irony is that we’re on tech, and many people might be listening to the podcast while walking.

Their faces are not on the phone. For me, if you want to listen to music, or you do want to use that for learning, I will bike up to my hill but I use that as an opportunity for learning. Maybe that’s the only time I have during the day. For some of them, I like to do fiction. I like nonfiction because they’re reminders, they’re cues to me about a better way to be. Sometimes you will hear the thing you need at the moment. It happens.

We’re amending. You don’t have to have no tech but don’t tuck your face in it.

Don’t be on social media and all that. Let’s go back to our teenagers and let’s say something’s something bigger is going on. I have gone through this myself with one of my daughters. I’ve talked to you a little bit about this. When you don’t have the tools to find real help, it’s one of the scariest things there is because there’s a little bit of a racket around getting help sometimes. I have experienced that. At times, the people who were there to help the child also weirdly can make or break between the parent and the child. They become a surrogate that also further isolates the child from the parents.

This is hard, and it feels deceptive. As a parent, you feel like you’re not parenting any longer but because you’re vulnerable and your kid is in a distressed position, you don’t know how to stand and say, “Regardless, I’m the parent, meaning I’m here. I’m the one. I’m the adult for this child. You’re the help,” whoever’s there to help.

“You’re the support team.”

How would we encourage someone who maybe they’ve never gone through something where their kid isn’t in a little bit more of a serious emotional position to start the process of trying to help them help themselves? What tools and how do we get that help?

Pre-going to therapy, correct?

Yeah. If they’re noticing it and we’ve had those conversations of, “How are you feeling?” Are the kids super isolated in that heavy-duty way? Is it, “I do need to find support but how do I find the right support?”

It’s hard. There are a couple of practical things I want to say. First of all, the best route is always to start with the pediatrician. Start with somebody the child has already had a relationship with and you’ve talked to the child. A lot of times you talk to the child and the child might say, “I would love to go talk to somebody.” That’s first. Start with friends that you trust. The best referral is from somebody whose own child has experienced a rewarding and empowering relationship with a therapist.

As I said, at the beginning of the hour, you can see why I work with the parents. It’s a complicated space there. It’s this delicate balance and I can see how you described how that can happen for parents and how scary that must feel because there is this delicate balance as an adolescent therapist. If you work with adolescents, you want them and the children to have their own space where it’s theirs. You also want to create an allyship with the parents. Seamless integration with the parents around what you’re working on and how you’re hoping that will translate to the behavior inside the home or the well-being of the child. That’s a delicate balance.

First, start with people you know and trust. If you’re in a community, you have a great pediatrician, and you like your pediatrician, ask if they have referrals. I always ask, “Who would you send your children to?” That’s the question that I asked. You can ask if you’re a member of a church or a community that has faith around it. You may find somebody through there so that’s the first step.

Second, I would go to the school. They’re probably asked routinely and regularly for referrals and I would imagine that many schools at least know some network of people. The scarier thing for parents right now is that mental health is underserved. Even when parents are using these lanes to navigate, they’re often not able to find people right now and that gets into the harder scenario of, “What do you do then?” There is not an easy solution to this one.

Dr. Sarah Sarkis photo 3

Dr. Sarah Sarkis – Being a mother and endeavoring in a long-term partnership are two of the biggest experiments, I had to totally look at myself and be like, “You have to fix you. You’ve got to solve you.”

That one is a summit unto itself, of which I would not be the expert but let’s say now you get a therapist. First of all, this is an intimate process and you’re letting somebody into your life, both as a parent and for your child, intellect the intimacy of your life. First of all, you’re interviewing that doctor more than they are interviewing you and have a lot of questions for them. Think about how many questions you ask a waiter or a waitress about a menu item. If you’re not asking your doctors more than that, you’re probably not asking them enough questions. Many of us didn’t grow up seeing our parents question doctors. Doctors told us what to do.

You talk about single parents, like a single mom where you’re at it alone. Sometimes these authoritative figures come from different cultures so they don’t question authority as much and it’s giving people the permission to say no and question everybody. Nobody’s in charge.

They’re not the experts on your child. They’re experts in human psychology and the vast majority. Sometimes there are obvious markers. They meet with your child for a couple of minutes and they’re already throwing out diagnoses and stuff. Those are things that would significantly turn me off as a parent. Listen to your instinct. Be there with alert ears.

The other thing I suggest to people or anybody who calls me, I say all the time, “I encourage you to meet with other people as well. Go and meet 1 or 2 others. I’m happy to give the names of people who do thoughtful work.” Pick so that your child is getting to see the process of empowerment. You’re saying to your child, “This is all unconscious. The way we get well is to get in here and ask questions, get curious and participate. I’m going to show you that by doing it as an advocate in front of you.” This is during a first call or intake.

It also normalizes things a little because sometimes going through a hard time at any time in life is normal. Your file cabinet as an adult got full and you don’t know how to handle it. You go through a divorce. You’re dealing with transitions. You’re a little kid going through something and something happened. You’re going through adolescence. It’s confusing. People are mean to you at school or whatever. It’s so positive to normalize going, “This sucks right now and I don’t know what to do so I’m going to get some advice and help.”

You said something that I want to highlight because I experienced this. For people who are reading this, do not allow people to diagnose you or your children instantly because of their labels like they’re schizophrenic unless they’re highly trained. I’m saying, “You’re codependent.” “You’re this. You’re that.” A lot of times you’ll get in these situations and people are quick.

Young people and adolescents will be like, “I’m X, Y, and Z. That’s what they said,” and they get to try to burn that off for the rest of their life. It was a moment. It could have been a face. I want to support parents, whether it’s for them personally or especially for their children because kids will wear that label. It’s like when you tell a kid, “You’re not a good reader.” You’ll talk to them when they’re 40 and they’re like, “I don’t read so good.” It’s like, “Really?”

You’re like, “By the way, you were told that when you were four.” It’s true. Here’s the thing. Remember that the primary drive during adolescence is belonging and part of that is identity. It’s why kids in little cliques start to dress alike and look alike and want the same hair. This is about identity so we have to be cautious about inadvertently feeding identities to our kids like, “You’re anxious,” versus, “You feel overwhelmed because…”

We’ll have a summit on this sometime, too. I’m pretty squirrely about diagnoses in general and people should be more mindful not in a paranoid way but in a self-aware way of what we’re saying about ourselves when we say these things. I think of it for complicated reasons because sometimes both are overdone and exaggerated.

Also, when everybody has depression, it is hard for people who have depression. It makes them feel, “I have something different to them.” “I’m incapacitated and that person, had their boyfriend break up with them or their partner break up with them and is sad but it’s being called this.” It gets into this murky world but I don’t want to get lost on the most important thing that you said, which is there’s a real advocacy role.

When your child needs more significant help, you determine that. You’re like, “Let’s get them more significant support here.” From that moment forward, you’re getting to model to them how we operate in a crisis, how we view a crisis, how we advocate for ourselves inside a system that’s bigger than us, and how we do not settle when something doesn’t feel like a good fit. Raise your child getting to see by going through this with a parent and you only need one caregiver who sees, loves and supports you. The more the better but you only need one present to steady the insides for somebody.

When people are going through this, especially when it’s their children, they think that they’re the only people to whom this is happening. If I talk to most of my friends, at some point or another, people longer or shorter go through a lot of serious situations with their children. You can feel isolated, you can feel like, “What did I do wrong? How did I not notice that?” There are all kinds of things around that and I want to encourage people that the thing you’re talking about, the exciting part of this, there is so much opportunity within this difficulty to be there for your kid and to show them how to navigate those things you were you were discussing.

We live in a little bit of hay day right now. There are a lot of exciting things happening inside of psychology, around trauma work and somatic work. We understand so much more about the complexity of what happens to the nervous system. Also, we’re having a whole moment with breathwork, mindfulness, and meditation. It’s all these what I would consider fundamental self-regulatory practices that have largely gone ignored by the field of psychiatry and psychology outside of what we call New Age Thinkers, which is so ridiculous and staggering when you think about it. I bet we could shave 50% of our experience of anxiety if we learned how to use breath. That includes teenagers.

[bctt tweet=”One of the worst things or least helpful things you can do for somebody who’s anxious is to placate their fears.”]

I was going to say, “Let’s talk about some of those modalities.” I had someone who was on, Dr. Russell Kennedy, who I adore. He’s a neuroscientist and he dealt with anxiety himself. He had a schizophrenic father who unfortunately committed suicide. He had attempted earlier in Dr. Kennedy’s life. He made it clear about how you can be anxious but that doesn’t mean you have anxiety. You can feel sad but that doesn’t mean you have depression. It’s important for people to have that differentiating part in their life. He said, “Anxiety is not a feeling, it’s a thought.”

That leads me to want to ask you if we could talk about these exciting new ways of managing this. Some of that would be then figuring out the way to feel to notice this mindfulness, where you’re feeling it when you’re feeling it, and that would allow you to either self-soothe or find a way to minimize that feeling in your body versus grinding it over and over in your mind.

When we last spoke, when you came, you were nice enough to chat with us elsewhere and you recommended Dr. Russ. I spoke to him and read his book so this is a great time because his book covers much of this. There are books like Anxiety Rx, look it up, it’s by Dr. Kennedy and he’s in this emerging field where people are looking at how our body holds onto the energy of anxiety, depression, or trauma.

He works in somatic trauma work. It’s not my area of expertise, but I have referred anybody in the process of knowing if they have significant trauma patterns that show up in the central nervous system, which most of the time they will by the time you get to adulthood. This is where they’re deposited. We call it panic but it’s self-regulating.

In psychology, we have brought everything from the neck up. It’s not how it works. In practicality, we are a whole system. Much of what we experienced, it’s incredibly dysregulated and it’s incredibly profound in our life, occurs neck down. It’s all in the body. It’s all inside of us. This book, in particular, I recommend to people. Look at this book but also books by Gabor Maté and The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk would be great references for people.

There’s a whole emerging field and these are the kinds of questions I would also encourage you to be asking the clinician. How do you see anxiety? How is it that you work with anxiety? How would you frame that to my daughter or my son to fill in the blanks and ask them ten times the questions that they ask you? There’s enough time for them to get to know your kid. You have to get to know whether or not you’re going to let this engagement happen. We are in a hay day so somatic therapies are a huge thing. This is not for children but this is for adults where you’re in the camp where you’re like, “I’m struggling. I came into this period of history with trauma and now it’s amplified.”

There’s a lot of exciting stuff. You have to do it professionally, you’ve got to go to physicians, and you have to figure out if you’re a candidate, but we’re looking at the use of ketamine for PTSD with veterans and also in the private sector. People are using it with moderate to good results but let’s be clear, the last time we had an innovation inside the field of mental health was the dawn of regular antidepressant use. I won’t be canceled for saying that has been a colossal failure other than for the severely mentally ill and that’s a category. It’s when activities of daily living are profoundly influenced and whatnot so it’s a special category.

There does seem to be some real benefit to there but for everybody living in the middle of the bell curve, you can get moderate benefit from antidepressants but for a lot of people, it doesn’t work. If it works for you, that is fantastic but for many people, it hasn’t. It’s an exciting time for us to be living and looking at this. There are also wearable devices now. The private sector is getting involved so there are all kinds of devices that are emerging where they democratized biofeedback, which you used to have to go to a physician, go to sessions, etc.

There are now devices that are wearables that you can start to train yourself to self-regulate and to change the state of your internal experience and then all the modalities that we mentioned, mindfulness, meditation, and breathwork. People don’t appreciate it. There’s an instinct in us to be like, “I want something real that will help.” I’m like, “It is real.” They’re like, “You know what I mean.”

If people took three months and they committed 10 minutes a day, 5 minutes in the morning, and 5 minutes at night, more days than not to practicing different styles of breathwork like pranayama, the Wim Hof Method, or box breathing, it’s endless the amount of breathing you can do. Upregulation downregulation. It is the gateway to your central nervous system. What I’m always wanting people to hear is that there’s a huge swath of landscape called the middle of the bell curve before you’d need to spend a penny on therapy.

There are things you can do. These are what they are. In our lifetime, there isn’t likely to be a magic pill that remedies the human condition. There’s a baked-in part that is about the struggle as far as I can tell. If that changes, I’ll come here and say it like, “I’ve changed my mind.” For now, there is a component that’s about struggle and it’s about changing our relationship with the struggle. How can we find a little bit of space in it and then some support and lifestyle changes that can radically reduce what we feel?

Here’s the great thing, if you do this, as a parent, your child is watching you. They’re not going to do it tomorrow, probably but these things gestate. It’s in their 20s and when they’re out on their own that you start to see these kinds of things that you did for your own sanity if you’re anything like me that come home to roost as positive deposits in your children and what they see as a choice for how they’re going to navigate their own ups and downs.

You said something that’s so important which everyone always talks about. Perspective, perception, and all of these lifestyle things, whether it’s walking, exercising or trying to eat well. These all give you feet away from the edge of the cliff. This isn’t about, “Can I tell you how much I bench press?” It’s like, “Great.” If that motivates you, perfect but people don’t realize that all of those things are things to give you more room, runway, and distance because the expectation is that we should thrive and be happy every moment, be making constant money, be fit and be belly laughing everywhere we go.

I never understood how we got caught up in that so now we’re walking around with this expectation that is unachievable. We’re always feeling less than. Now let’s add responsibility, traffic, finances, and now the telephone, which has tipped us all over onto our side, and our runways have gotten short. Within it, it’s this weird duality of controlling what you can control. Be responsible, be accountable, but also show yourself some grace, because there’s a lot to do. There’s a lot to get done. It can be hard and you’re never going to get it all done.

It is about a game of inches. If you can get an inch back here, and an inch back there, a little bit, you weave it together into this. That’s why we call it a toolkit but it’s all the fundamentals. We could do a whole thing on sleep and look at your relationship with tech and what that broad relationship does to us. I’m a full-grown adult and I have to work every day to control it. Imagine if you had this loaded gun called the phone in your hand and you’re 15.

Dr. Sarah Sarkis photo 4

Dr. Sarah Sarkis – Move your body, drink some water, fix your sleep, and connect, first with yourself and then with others. Breathe and get some sunlight.

Why is there acceleration? It’s great that it’s all out in the open now people can talk about how they’re feeling and if they’re going to talk about their emotional health, their mental health, and all of this but almost everything that feels what’s happening in our world, feels like an overcorrection of sorts. Now everybody feels like they’re bathing in, “I have anxiety.” Besides cultural awareness, now that we’re sitting around and we’re on our phones more, we aren’t outside, we aren’t moving around, there are tons of statistics showing how less we move around. The fact that young people are having less sex says a lot to me. What do you think is this that we’re all getting wrapped in and squeezing us?

It’s any one thing. You’re touching on it. It’s like a braid. It’s lots of things. It’s the same way we get distance by inches. It’s death by inches. For me, it feels like slowly over time, we had all this encroachment on us. I do try to regulate tech while knowing that my child needs tech because he doesn’t need it but he’s on it at school, and certainly has a relationship with it that allows him to connect with friends. That’s important for him.

There is going to increasingly be a need to have pockets of our life that are analog. If we don’t guard that like the devil’s chasing us that tech will take over it. It’s not going to regulate itself. We have to regulate it. It’s designed and operated to be dysregulating. It’s designed to work on the same reinforcement pathways and patterns that addiction does so it’s doing its job, which is to make the rats press the lever until their feet or the lever fall off.

For my own mental health, I can only speak. I don’t have an answer to that big question. I wish I did but especially over the last couple of years, I’ve had to relentlessly work. I barely watch the news and barely get on social media. I get outside, get my feet on the ground, feet, not shoes, see sunlight, move, and meditate. I’ve had to use all of the various things that I’ve collected over twenty years, including therapy. I want people to hear this as a message of there is so much we can do.

A minute ago, I was democratizing biofeedback but also podcasts or democratizing medical licenses. There are lists of podcasts where people are giving out free information that you would have had to have gone to world experts more than twenty years ago. You would have had to have paid $6,000 to be in an all-day training or seminar with one of these experts. It’s sitting on these podcasts. Get curious. It’s a whole contact sport.

Off the top of your head, do you have any podcasts or a person, or a guest that you’re obsessed with or need to be heard? This is information that helps us whether at that moment we’re feeling stressed out or not. It’s important. If someone comes to you and goes, “I heard this thing and it reminds me about how this could be available.”

My go-to is if it’s anything biological, you want to learn the best techniques, tools, and practical stuff for anxiety, breath control, and sleep is Andrew Huberman of Huberman Lab. He’s democratizing an Ivy League education.

Did you know that Huberman’s mission is public education?

He should feel proud of himself because he’s accomplishing that. I cannot stress this enough. These are PhD-level material but spoken in a way that becomes incredibly practical and applicable and it is everything. It’s the whole body. If it’s happening inside your body, he’s covered a topic and he puts them out weekly. I heard somewhere he spends 6 to 8 hours on each episode and it shows. Dr. Kennedy’s Anxiety Rx, and the other books that we mentioned. I can also put together a little thing for the show because I can go through my phone where I get to see all the podcasts that I love. Yours is one that I send people to regularly.

This goes back to breathing and you said it earlier. We also have to participate and we have to give value to things. The problem is sometimes we only value the things that are hard to get and we don’t value some of the things that are right at our fingertips if we go ahead and get involved. I think about that. Once I started having kids, I put gym equipment in my house. I used to drive 30 minutes to work out and all this. Sometimes I would realize, “It’s just downstairs,” and I would use it less instead of treating it like a sacred space that was available to me.

I’ve seen that, especially with breathing. Breathing is free and you can do it anywhere. It is a biological and physiological changing tool that people have at their disposal. Would it be better if I said, “Make an appointment with me. It takes you twenty minutes to get here. I’m going to put a white coat on. I’m going to charge you then we’re going to sit down and I’m going to run you through breathing exercises,” you might covet it more. To your point, there’s so much that is available to us but because it’s readily available, we’re like, “It may not work.”

Maybe it’s a remnant from this last generation but it’s this belief that the fix should be outside. Most of the time, it’s not. It’s an inside job. We have to figure this out but we do have this myth. We have this myth that we can fix it once and for all. It’s like, “No. Every day is new.” We have all these myths that we tell ourselves about wellness. When you get under the hood, it’s like, “Do you mean this is a bloody knuckled eighteen-round street fight?” I’m like, “Pretty much.” People are like, “Why didn’t you tell me that years ago? You could have saved me a bunch of money.” I’m like, “Good point.”

You have to go through those eighteen rounds. If you’re a parent, you get this added benefit that they’re watching you and they’re not saying to themselves, “I’m watching them for this.” It’s all happening unconsciously but you’re modeling to them the way that you want them to problem-solve their own hiccups in life. It’s right around that age of 8 or 9 where you said kids change. I call that latency age. The truth is children do have to start to experience life outside the cocoon and that’s given that they have a cocoon.

When you layer in, it does reiterate why this has to be a full-body approach to it and start with the fundamentals. Move your body, drink some water, fix your sleep, and connect, first with yourself and then with others. Breathe and get some sunlight. Do those six things regularly and by regularly, I would say more days than not for six months. If the needle doesn’t move even a little bit, call a friend or a physician. First of all, get some blood work. Secondly, talk about the next steps but most of the time people sort it out.

[bctt tweet=”There is going to increasingly be a need to have pockets of our life that are analog. It’s not going to regulate itself. We have to regulate it.”]

We’ve seen it with new moms or parents. Maybe they even have 6-month-olds. For a lot of women, half of it is sleep going to be sleep deprivation and if you’re nursing then maybe you’re lacking some type of supplement that if you took, your hair, skin, and also your mood is better. I want to support those people because that’s where you already get flipped upside down. You have a new child and things are going all over the place. You said something important, which is getting your blood work done. A lot of people taking that look under the hood is such a valuable tool.

Can I make how simple that sometimes ends up being? I’ve had people who have come in and they’ve had tons of anxiety. They’re explaining all this stuff and I’m like, “Wow.” You’re listening and then I’m like, “When was the last time you had a physical?” They’ll be like, “Five years ago.” I’ll be like, “Get some blood work done.” Their vitamin D will be a seven where it’s supposed to be in that 30 to 50 range. Sure enough, they get some vitamin D, and a couple of weeks of support they get and they feel better. Sometimes you find out, “Wow.”

Be cautious about how quickly you’re willing to assume that something you’re experiencing is necessarily psychiatric because that’s the way it feels. In fact, we’re in the dawn of some interesting research on co-infections and Lyme disease. I’ve had a number of clients who have had other co-infections. This goes down a side tangent, but it has a point.

When they got blood work, they started to get under the hood, advocate, ask questions and get in there, lo and behold, it looked like one thing and it was because they co-mingle but when you worked on this other thing, the thing that looked psychiatric took care of itself. I want people to approach themselves from a place of compassion. How would you treat yourself if you were the wounded child? Also, from a place of curiosity. What is this telling me about myself? Where are the inches that I can claw back that might help support me?

It’s also important to recognize because we talked about it being an eighteen-rounder. Most people and I can attest to this myself, we’re not set up to want to do any of this. Inherently, I would rather eat chips and sit around and not get anything done and be snarky, instead of thoughtful with my words. I don’t want to. I know that it’s the only way it’s probably going to work but I don’t want people to feel like they don’t have the energy or they don’t feel like it or why do other people look like it’s more fluid or easier? It probably isn’t. I have a couple of people I meet and you go, “What would it be like to be born that well-adjusted?”

They’re few and far between. They lie on their tails. We’re talking about the middle of the bell curve. There are always outliers where they’ve breezed through and people for whom they’ve never gotten a break and those are the tails. For most of us, you can’t wait to want to do it. You have to do it. I’ll sometimes say that to my kid, by the way. He’ll be like, “I don’t want to.” I’m like, “I get it.” By 8:00 AM there are two dozen things I’ve done that I haven’t wanted to do including getting out of bed at 5:00. It loops back from the beginning of, “How do we tow this line?” This is how we do it.

We say things to our kids like, “I didn’t want to do that either.” When they do it, I try to follow up and say, “I’m proud of you.” There’s no cure for seventh grade and there’s no cure for middle school and you’re doing awesome because you’re doing it. You hope that it lands softly but that’s a huge piece of it. Don’t wait to want to start. Just start.

That is universal. Whether it’s our health, our relationships, or all of it, it’s a strategy in place, and get it done but don’t be so quick to say, “I’m having a mental health issue.” Notice how you’re feeling and then say, “What are the steps?” You mentioned a lot of things in the toolbox. Sarah, in wrapping this up, there’s so much to it, whether it’s an invitation or a thought, is there something that we didn’t cover that you feel is important or more timely right now?

Before we were going to do this conversation, you made it a point of wanting to direct towards what’s the great news about all of this. My hope was to identify some of these things and go, “Isn’t it great that all of these things are to help us?” Is there anything that we didn’t touch upon or even a thought that you feel is important?

We met our mission in terms of driving home. We see here how hard it is because it is. There’s so much available to us and at the same time, we know that it’s hard to sometimes find the recipe that works. I feel like we met that mission. I did come across this piece of research that I made a point of wanting to say that is interesting that I would not have known had I not got my ducks in a row for this conversation. Nationally, this is for people who are reading and thinking, “I have fallen in the tail. I’m in trouble.”

There’s going to be a number starting nationally starting in July of 2022. I had no idea about this. It’s called the 988 Implementation so it’s like 911 but instead, it’s recognizing that there are mental health calls coming in to 911 so it’s funneling it to mental health experts. Each state right has to opt-in. In Massachusetts, it’s on July 16th, if you’re reading from Massachusetts.

This is helpful for people because let’s say you’re one of those people for whom you’ve called the doctor, everybody’s busy, nobody takes your insurance, and you can’t pay out of pocket. You’re alone with the sense or you’re alone with your child and you feel stuck. I do want people to know that there are services and programs that are being put into place. It’s taking the calls that are mental health from 911 and funneling them to specialists.

I don’t know how it will shuffle out for every state but again if we take the same premise of advocacy, you can call your legislators. Is your state one of the states that are going to enact this? It’s local. We could give the suicide hotline but this is in your local telecom area so there is stuff that’s going on and happening for people on all ends of the continuum. Mostly what I want people to have a sense of is that you can reach out to people. There are services out there and they’re hard to find but people like you are calling up people like me and asking that great last question, “Is there anything else?” If one person listens and thinks, “That’s a good number to know,” then it’s served its purpose.

Dr. Sarah Sarkis photo 5

Dr. Sarah Sarkis – Think about how you can help your kid just get a little bit better, more routine sleep as an adolescent. It will go a long way.

I have a sponsor of the podcast and it’s a paid service called BetterHelp.

I was going to mention them. My sister uses them and she has had a great partnership and relationship with her own stuff and they do a whole suite of services. That’s helpful. The main crux is that there is more out there than we’re even capable of taking in. I bet if somebody went through the show notes, we’ve probably come up with 25 different things throughout this. Keep looking and searching.

I could go to each person’s house and be with them when they get out of bed at 6:30. I would like someone to be at my bed when I get out at 6:30 and be like, “We got this. We can do this.” Sometimes, it’s hour by hour. What am I going to do now in this hour that’s going to support me and the life that I’m trying to live and the feelings I’m trying to have? Maybe don’t take the whole sixteen hours on at once, and go, “I’m bumpy today. How can I chunk it?”

That’s a great model that makes me think of another thing that I wanted people to think about. Day by day, oftentimes, AA has this philosophy and there are other free support groups especially if it’s substance abuse but AA also has this sister arm called Al-Anon. When I was in my 20s, I spent a bunch of hours in Al-Anon. It’s free and I learned about codependency. I learned so much about family systems through sitting there and it was supportive and free.

There are resources out there that if you think of them unconventionally, and I’m not saying, if you’re not struggling with a substance abuse problem, probably don’t go to AA. If you come from a family that had complex trauma, or you had a parent that had alcoholism, you’re now 35, your relationships are falling apart, and you can’t afford therapy, there’s an Al-Anon meeting in every church. There’s an Al-Anon meeting in every major city across America almost every single night and it’s free.

If you sit there long enough, you will come up against yourself. You’ll find yourself there. I’m glad that came up because these were the kinds of things I was trying to think of. What are the ways that people can access the system, which is full of a wide spectrum of opportunities for people to start to claw their way forward? That’s another one that I’m glad we snuck in there.

I know people feel isolated especially now coming out of this pandemic, but it’s reminding everyone that we are all genuinely connected. I know that it has been especially challenging and certain things do feel turned up but there are so many tools out there to help us manage. There are times I even think in life where I want to kick ass and I want to set huge lofty goals and sometimes there are times to say, “I’m going to manage this time.” It’s weird. I don’t need to be a superhero right now and do nine startups and whatever. I also want to remind people that there are times that it’s like, “Let’s manage.” There are times like, “How do we accomplish, strive, and do all these other things?” They can exist in everyone’s life at different times.

Energy management is a huge part of learning this game of self-regulation. It’s learning how to both refuel from recovery processes and how to spend and burn our fuel. That’s a lifelong process and adolescents are naturally a burn it until it’s burned out critters. You are totally and completely right. I get a little bit squeamish sometimes with the whole rah-rah performance in the world. What happened to just being? What’s with all the doing? Can’t we be and exist? I’m a doer.

I’m a doer, too but sometimes life is like, “Let’s bread and be grateful for the day.”

I’m grateful for this conversation. I can tell you that much.

Me too. Sarah, thank you for your time, your point of view, your honesty, and the resources. Can you remind people in all of the places that they can find you and talk about your show? Direct us.

I’ll be at DrSarahSarkis.com and you’ll find all the links there. The show, she’s talking about which we got to interview you, as well. Gabby came on a podcast that came out summer of 2022. You’ll find it on the website. On my website, you’ll find what’s called a Burnout Recovery Toolkit that much of what Gabby and I connected about is there as a free resource. It’s on my website there. All the things we talked about are there for anybody who stumbles as a way to start to think about this sense of well-being. More than following the podcast, go get yourself the toolkit. More days than not, spend a couple of minutes on each one.

I appreciate that. Before we go on, I had this thought of how I’d love to be a fly on the wall when Sarah flips her crap at her family or whatever like the end of the day kind of thing. I was writing a paper with my daughter, which means I was probably doing more of the work than her at that point. She had a fart toy, thinking it was funny and she’s like, “I don’t know what’s wrong with my stomach.” It’s 9:30 at night and I’m melting.

I have no sense of humor and I’m like, “This is not funny. We’re writing a paper right now. Do this when we’re being social. You’re not social with me. We do this when we’re doing homework.” I was observing myself simultaneously going, “How’s that working out?” She’s got the fart thing and my reaction only made it funnier but I was thinking about that. I was like, “Look at Sarah. She has all these tools. I’d love to see her.”

I have all the tools and I nearly suffer from the same human condition that everybody else does. It’s humbling. Being a mother and endeavoring in a long-term partnership are two of the biggest experiments, the most humbling experiments, and the most rewarding, but the most humbling. I had to totally look at myself and be like, “You have to fix you. You’ve got to solve you,” and they’re busy doing them. I’m grateful.

We weren’t supposed to live this long. There’s always that.

We’re outliving our warranties.

That’s right, Sarah. Thank you.

Thank you. You’re the best.

Thanks so much for being here. If you’d like, rate, subscribe and leave us a review. All of my music was graciously done by Frank Zummo and Tom Thacker. If you want to see some of the behind-the-scenes action, follow me at @GabbyReece. Remember, don’t miss new episodes every Monday.

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About Dr. Sarah Sarkis

Dr. Sarah Sarkis Headshot

Dr. Sarah Sarkis is a psychologist by training, a certified executive and performance coach by practice, and the Senior Director of Psychology and Performance at EXOS. She also moonlight as a writer and speaker. As a clinical psychologist, Dr. Sarah Sarkis learned and studied about psychological pathology: what happens when shit goes wrong. And a lot can go wrong. In the decades she trained as a psychologist, she never had a class on happiness, contentment, or the science of wellness. She learned how to understand suffering, how to diagnose it, and how to sit with it. These are valuable skills, and she is grateful to have this foundation. The truth is, she tired of the emphasis on suffering and on pathology. She felt restless and confined by those constraints. So, she went rogue.