Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Coa, Dr. Emily Anhalt shares her Self-Care routine and explains the importance of community and relationships in improving mental health.
1. What does Self-Care mean to you?
Self-Care has become a common phrase and can mean a lot of things. Some people use it to describe anything that feels good: a massage, a glass of wine, a bath. These are lovely things! But I believe that true self-care is the ongoing practice of building up our internal resources so we can do what we want to do in the world! Self-care isn’t always fun or comfortable, sometimes it’s hard work that makes us stronger. Self-care can look like eating healthy foods, exercising, getting enough sleep, going to therapy, feeling our feelings, communicating our boundaries, asking for feedback, and spending time with loved ones.
2. Where were you (physically or emotionally) in your life when you realized Self-Care could be helpful for you?
I’ve always thought that relationships were supposed to go like this: “I’ll take care of you if you take care of me.” But in graduate school, while I was learning to be a therapist (and in my own therapy), I realized that we should really be saying: “I’ll take care of me for you, if you’ll take care of you for me.” It’s so important that we each take up the responsibility to work hard on ourselves (while supporting each other, of course). This is so empowering - when we realize that we have agency over our lives and circumstances, we are in a better position to create the life we want.
3. Do you have a particular Self-Care routine? When do you practice it?
Every morning, this self-care routine sets me up to have a healthy day:
🌞 I wake up and don’t look at my phone. It’s important that I set the tone for my day instead of letting my inbox do that for me.
🧘🏻 I meditate for 5 minutes. This is a short enough time that it feels doable.
🍵 I sit and drink a cup of tea while I tend to my emails.
👟 I move my body for 15 minutes. Sometimes this is a run, sometimes I just dance around my backyard.
🥬 I make a simple breakfast (like a smoothie) and enjoy it outside
👚 Then I shower, get dressed, and start my day
Part of my self-care routine is also going to therapy 2x/week, seeing friends whenever I can, and getting plenty of sleep.
4. The Self-Care pillar you are an expert in is mental health. What is the journey you took to get there?
Therapists do not become therapists by accident - many of us have felt like we’ve played the therapist role for most of our lives. In addition to having psychologically-minded family members, I also had a psychology teacher in high school who inspired me. He taught me that when you know a lot about psychology, you know a little about everything. In graduate school, I fell in love with a particular approach to mental health - it’s called psychodynamic psychology. This perspective believes that humans are complex and complicated, and that healing happens through relationships. I’ve spent the past 12 years working as a therapist, and have cofounded a Gym for Mental Health, Coa, to support people in building their mental health proactively.
5. In your company, Coa, you regularly use the terms Emotional fitness and Gym for Mental Health. Could you explain briefly what they mean?
Emotional fitness is an ongoing, proactive approach to improving your mental health. Think about it like physical fitness (which proactively improves your physical health). At Coa, we believe that we should not wait until things are falling apart in our lives to get support. We should think about working on our mental health like we think about going to the gym - it’s not always fun or comfortable, but the payoffs are huge.
6. Mental health is something people are embarrassed to talk about. Is it possible to change that mindset?
The stigma around mental health is starting to shift (especially after this intense year), but it’s certainly still an issue. We’re taught that we should be able to handle all of our emotions on our own - but no one gets through life without support! I believe that stigma is changed through experience. The more people (especially influential people) talk about their mental health journeys publically, the more others will feel comfortable exploring it themselves. I believe that 10 years from now, it will be as common and acceptable to take an emotional fitness class as it is to take a yoga class now.
7. Self-Care is primarily an individual practice, but at Coa, you also give a lot of importance to the community. How can we help others to improve their mental health?
The best way to encourage others to work on their mental health, is to work on your own, and then share your progress! That being said, it’s so important to remember that each of us is part of a greater system and that we’re all in this together. Just as it can feel easier to get started with physical fitness if you have workout buddies, working on our mental and emotional health with community is so important. Find your people and dive in.
8. Have virtual tools accessible anytime, anywhere made it possible for more people to take action on their mental health?
In my opinion, all emotional healing and growth happens through relationships. Having virtual tools can certainly be helpful, but I believe that tools should supplement, not replace, relationships. What I have seen that is very promising, is stigma beginning to drop as more and more people are talking about mental and emotional health.
9. What advice would you give to other people who want to start practicing Self-Care to improve their mental health?
Start with small, sustainable steps.
Find your community.
10. Could you recommend some books that have changed the way you think of Self-Care?
Here are there books I’ve loved:
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: this is one of those books that seems to genuinely change every single person who reads it (myself included). A true testament to the importance of hope, and the power of human resilience.
- Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed: a stunning collection of profoundly beautiful stories. Strayed shares advice with such genuine empathy, & the stories will incite deep empathy in you.
- Nonviolent Communication: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships by Marshall B. Rosenberg and Deepak Chopra: this book outlines a conflict-resolution language that should be taught in every school. Buy a copy for everyone in your family & on your team.