An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Ditch the emails in the evening. I tend to check my email way too often. I used to think everything was important and needed to be addressed right away. This was obviously not true and added to my stress levels. I’d then go to bed wired, thinking about all the things I needed to get done. A practice that helps me is turning off email notifications from my phone so I can rest and recharge.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Micheline Khan.
Micheline Khan is a mental health advocate, scientist, and CEO and founder of Althea Therapy, an app to connect with culturally responsive mental health and wellness professionals in Canada, to reduce racial mental health disparities and normalize therapy for communities of colour. Micheline has spent over a decade in the scientific field, focusing on climate change and the environment. After witnessing the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of colour, Micheline moved into the technology space to design a digital solution to address a growing challenge in access to mental health support for Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I always thought I’d grow up to be a scientist — which did happen — but I never expected to run a mental health tech business. As a child, I loved the outdoors and always found a deep connection between nature and well-being. I learned to prioritize my mental health through time spent in nature from a young age. After graduating from university, I went on to become an ecologist, studying climate change and biodiversity loss. Witnessing the racial disparities and gender gaps that exist within academia and science, I became an advocate for women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. I wrote blogs, spoke on panels, and joined community groups to enact change. When the pandemic hit, I saw a huge gap in access to mental health support for Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities, so I moved into the health-tech space to understand the tools and software that could help address these gaps. Since launching Althea Therapy, I’ve seen firsthand the massive shift this platform has had in the overall health and wellbeing of so many people across the country.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
After launching the Althea Therapy app, there was a brief moment when I doubted myself. I wondered if I should have gone through with putting this business out into the world with my name attached to it. Would anyone even use it or find it helpful? The next day I received an email from an app user who had agreed to share a quote with me about her experience using the platform. She told me how the app allowed her to find a therapist who could understand and illuminate the nuances of her intersectional and hybrid identity.
Her words gave me the encouragement I needed to push forward. Stories like hers are why I continue to build and grow this platform so that Althea Therapy can continue to be a resource for Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities and all our intersectionality’s.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I kept Althea Therapy a secret when I first started building the platform. I kept it quiet and only shared it with a handful of people while I was conducting beta testing. I felt that it wasn’t yet ready for the world to see. I thought the best approach was to quietly build the platform and wait until it was absolutely perfect before sharing it. Later on, I realized that this might have been a mistake. It seems that people want to feel like they’re a part of the journey and process of creating and growing a community resource, like Althea Therapy. They want to follow along and feel connected to your story and mission. What I learned was to share early and often and have a plan in place to consistently keep the community updated on my journey.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Many people contributed in different ways to my entrepreneurship journey as I pursued building this platform. I had many discussions with my family on the impact of the pandemic on racialized communities, which provided the motivation I needed to try to address this in a meaningful way. I’m tremendously grateful to have been able to have these conversations with those closest to me, and to recognize how wide and deep these inequities are because this is what motivated me to create meaningful change.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
I’m still struggling with this, but what I’ve learned is to give your mind and body what it needs. Small changes can go a long way, like turning off email notifications on your phone when you’re stressed or taking short breaks during the workday to recharge. As a starting point to reduce burnout, look at your schedule and determine what you can drop, defer and delegate to someone else. You don’t need to handle everything on your own. I also think you should speak to a therapist to allow yourself to step back and explore your thoughts, feelings, and patterns of behaviour so you can better manage daily stressors.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I recently read a Forbes article that reported that over 50% of the US workforce is unhappy and nearly 70% of employees are disengaged in their work. As leaders, it’s our responsibility to stimulate and inspire the best in our team because studies show that employee satisfaction leads to increased profits and more productive workplaces. So how do we achieve that? Hire with intention, have a strong wellness culture, give everyone the permission to voice their opinions and ideas, and give them opportunities to grow.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Develop a morning routine sans technology. Let the dramas of social media wait at least 20 minutes before you start scrolling. Having a morning routine in place that sets your intention for the day and starts off with gratitude and deep breathing helps to ensure that your mindset is in the right place to have a positive and productive day. I’d also recommend getting a real alarm clock and keep your phone far away from you while you sleep.
- Exercise to reduce stress. Since the start of the pandemic, more and more people are glued to their screens and have less opportunities to engage with others and exercise. Instead of staying home to watch Netflix, go for a quick run around the block. Not ready for running? Then, walk and call a friend. Get your body moving!
- Breathwork for anxiety. Last year, a friend of mine introduced me to breathwork. I had been hearing the term often at the time, but it’s actually an old practice that has its roots in yoga. It’s a form of controlled breathing used to reduce stress and boost your immune system.
- Give therapy a try. Therapy really is for everyone. The biggest advice I can give is to embrace asking for help and be open and honest about your struggles. Sweeping your emotions under the rug doesn’t serve you and isn’t a sign of strength. Those repressed emotions will come back to haunt you later. I learned early on in my therapy journey that trauma gets stored in the body and can trigger physical symptoms. Therapy can help relieve those symptoms, adjust how you react to stress or triggering events, and help you learn more about yourself and others.
- Ditch the emails in the evening. I tend to check my email way too often. I used to think everything was important and needed to be addressed right away. This was obviously not true and added to my stress levels. I’d then go to bed wired, thinking about all the things I needed to get done. A practice that helps me is turning off email notifications from my phone so I can rest and recharge.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
Many of us, myself included, tend to see ourselves as our job title. When we meet new people, we identify ourselves by what we do in our careers first. People can get so wrapped up in this identity that when it’s time for retirement, they don’t know who they are anymore. Retirement is simply another chapter in our lives. Decide what story you want that chapter to tell. What relationships do you want to nurture? What activities bring you the most joy? Give your time and energy to that.
How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
Studies show that 70% of people with mental illnesses notice their symptoms before the age of 18. Developing healthy emotional and social development during childhood can help lay the foundation for mental health and wellness throughout our lifetime. The pandemic has also exacerbated stressors like social isolation, anxiety, and depression. Young people can mitigate this by limiting screen time, spending time in nature, having a daily routine in place, and getting enough sleep. We also need to remember that the youth mental health crisis started well before the pandemic, so the solution has to be more than going back to normal.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jones is one of my favourite new books about how to not let fear stop you from living your life authentically by making good trouble.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
At least one in five Canadians have a mental health condition, yet the cost of treatment and support services remains high for so many. Canada is characterized by its ethnic and racial diversity; however access disparities disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous and racialized communities. On top of the cultural stigma, therapy feels like a luxury for the rich especially since it’s an ongoing process, just like eating healthy and exercising aren’t one-off activities. If I could start a movement, it would be to make mental health care free. We need to transform access to quality mental health care for everyone.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Everything is figureoutable” by Marie Forleo is one of my go-to affirmations when I’m having trouble solving a problem or experiencing a setback. It’s become a mindset and mantra for me; a consistent reminder that I can always find a better path forward.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can learn more about us at www.altheatherapy.com. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for mental health resources, incredible therapists and wellness professionals, and events. To join the community, follow us on Instagram and Twitter @AltheaTherapy.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Micheline Khan of Althea Therapy: 5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.