Today’s interview subject is Whitney Hawkins, LMFT who provides insight into coping with life’s stressors.

Jennifer: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your practice.

Whitney: My name is Whitney Hawkins and I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the owner of The Collaborative Counseling Center in Miami, FL. The Collaborative Counseling Center provides modern therapy to make life more manageable. I am an action-oriented therapist who provides real life resolutions and concrete strategies for people impacted by addiction, substance abuse,and other chronic illness. I offer in-office counseling for individuals, couples and families and individual sessions online using a secure, HIPAA, compliant software.

Jennifer: What are some of the symptoms that patients who are struggling with anxiety and feelings of overwhelm might present?

Whitney: If you are experiencing any combination of: can’t focus at work or at home, having trouble sleeping or sleeping excessively, experiencing racing thoughts/have trouble shutting your mind off, eating patterns or habits have changed, find yourself becoming angry in unusual circumstances, your relationships are suffering, you are not finding pleasure in daily activities, people close to you point out that you seem “stressed” or “overwhelmed,” you are using substances more frequently, or feeling anxious or depressed…you may be overwhelmed or struggling with anxiety.

Jennifer: Describe some concrete strategies that you might use to help a person struggling with feeling overwhelmed by a bunch of life stressors.

 Whitney: – Meditation: There are so many great apps online and on your phone now that make meditation easy and accessible. It has been proven to help with anxiety and stress.

Deep breathing: As anxiety increases, you may experience rapid heart rate, labored breathing, butterflies in your stomach, tightness in the chest or sweating. These physical reactions can be quite overwhelming and increase the sensation of anxiety. Breathing in deep through your nose and out your mouth will help slow down your heart rate and provide you with that much needed oxygen. It is helpful to count your breaths; 1 as you breathe in and 2 as you breathe out. This can provide as a distraction from the anxiety provoking stimuli.

Exercise: Exercise has a multitude of benefits both physically and mentally. When feeling anxious, it provides you with a distraction and endorphins. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends you include at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, or a combination of the two

Coloring: Coloring books have been on the rise recently as an excellent way to manage anxiety. Individuals can shift their focus to a task at hand which lessens anxious feelings. Research has shown that anxiety drops significantly when individuals are coloring mandalas. Coloring promotes a meditative and focused state that combats anxiety.

Going to therapy: Anxiety can be extremely overwhelming when you do not know how it is happening, why your are feeling itand when it will happen. Working with a therapist allows you to discover the answers to these questions, while also learning new tools to manage anxiety.

Schedule in self care: Self-are strategies (taking a walk, taking a bath, journaling, spending time with family, etc.) seem so easy, but actually doing them is the hard part. Schedule an hour of self care in your day/week and it’ll make it more likely to happen. When work or a stressful life event takes over, it can be even more difficult to fit these activities in, but this is when you really need it most.

Jennifer: What theoretical orientations inform your practice?

 Whitney: I pride myself in mirroring the client’s preferred therapy style, so it may feel like you’re talking to a friend who is clinically trained. Theoretically, I use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help clients draw connections between their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. I view all my clients through a family and systemic lens and understand that no issues arise in a vacuum. All clients have been impacted by their past experiences and their relationships; we use that information to develop new coping skills for current stressors.

Jennifer: How do you personally cope when you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed? 

Whitney: Building my practice has required me to learn how to really manage life and a business. I make sure to implement self-care in my life and limit my technology time. For me, this means scheduling exercise throughout the week, spending time with my fiancé, and reading for pleasure.

At night, I leave my cellphone on the other side of the room and really try to check out. When you are your own boss, there is always something you could be doing. You are the accountant, the marketer, and the clinician. I find that if I remove my phone and computer from the bedroom, I really relax and have better sleep patterns. I also go to therapy personally and that really helps me make sure my mental health stays in check.

Jennifer: What are some helpful things that you would say to a client who feels completely overwhelmed and like they have too much on their plate? 

 Whitney: First, I would normalize their feelings. It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed or stressed at times in our lives. Healthy levels of stress and anxiety can actually be a positive, motivating factor for some individuals. Stress becomes problematic when it continues over a long period of time. I would work with the individual and gather information about their stress levels, what they believe is causing it and what they have tried to lower stress in the past.

We will then look at what has been working and what hasn’t, in order to develop new coping skills for current and future stress. During this (time), clients will process their feelings around current life events and learn to better manage their stress.