Well + wise: The struggle IS real


April 30, 2021

Let’s normalize talking about mental health.

by Juliet Lam Kuehnle

Juliet Kuehnle is a licensed clinical mental health counselor supervisor and the owner of Sun Counseling and Wellness. Kuehnle conducts weekly Instagram Live interviews with interesting people in the community who share their experiences, struggles, life lessons and tips for balanced living. In this column, she shares insights from these conversations and advice from other local mental-health professionals.

Over this past year of the pandemic and quarantine, we’ve gotten more comfortable with keeping it real about life being weird and difficult in so many ways. There has been more openness around what challenges have arisen, how we’ve had to constantly pivot, how we feel disconnected from others and from our typical activities, and how our kids are struggling. A lot of conversation starters have moved from “How are you?” to “How are you holding up?” because we recognize we are in this uncharted territory together. Whether or not you’ve had the language for it, you have probably felt that having to try to endure constant disruption isn’t something humans can just easily tolerate. In fact, for many of us, it’s been traumatizing and exhausting, and we’ve experienced a whirlwind of many emotions all at once, We have had to work to hold multiple experiences at the same time: grief and hope, fear and optimism, frustration and gratitude.

This shift in honesty and dialogue is a therapist’s dream come true! We are hoping that this is more than just a “moment” and that it can continue to be okay to talk and share about our mental health — which is comprised of our emotional, social and psychological well-being — just as we do about so many other aspects of our lives. My mission is to normalize “psychobabble,” erase the stigma by highlighting the openness of people in our community, and to share tips for promoting your own mental wellness from my expertise and that of other local providers.

A few weeks ago, I spoke with Alyssa Wilen of Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen. Below are excerpts from our interview, lightly edited.

What does mental health mean to you?

Cooking tends to be very focused on other people’s experience and what I [can] do to make other people happy. Food [is] a natural, creative way to do that, so I’ve worked over the years to gain self-confidence and find ways to become comfortable in my own headspace and in my day to day. And if I am, that makes me a lot more even-keeled and ready to take on whatever could throw me off.  

For you to be open about the balance of knowing your struggles with a healthy dose of self-compassion is refreshing. What else have you noticed specifically in the pandemic that you need for your mental health?

Even though our connection with others has been lessened, I realized I was getting over-stimulated on social media. And [that boundary] has drawn me closer to reading, listening to podcasts and other things I felt I didn’t have time for. I’ve learned more about what I want to focus on.

Alyssa Wilen

This has been a bonus of the pandemic. It’s stripped things down to the basics in a lot of ways – figuring out what we really need, what fuels us and what doesn’t, acknowledging boundaries we can set and deciding to not subscribe to something that doesn’t serve us. What are your insights specific to the food and beverage industry? 

Some people know of a stigma around cooking and restaurants, in particular. People drawn to this industry tend to be more introverted or can easily have their egos bruised. They can find it difficult to manage all of the stressors — the long hours, the hard work, the competition, the isolation even when surrounded by so many people. Then, unhealthy habits that are so easy can become a crutch. There’s been a shift, and more people are comfortable checking in with each other, and more people are saying it’s okay to take time off, it’s okay to take care of yourselves.

What is your go-to self-care activity?

Prepandemic, it was working out and yoga. That helped me breathe better. Now, it’s when I can remove distractions and be totally present with my children.

The full interview of Kuehnle’s “Who You Callin’ Crazy?!” featuring Chef Alyssa can be found on Instagram @suncounselingandwellness.  SP


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