Eden Garcia-Balis of Airport Marina Counseling Service: 5 Ways To Develop Serenity and Offer Support During Anxious Times
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
First, create a morning ritual. — This is typically the calmest time of day for most people, and while not everyone is a “morning person,” getting up before life forces you to move into high gear can pay some huge dividends. Most people make the mistake of staying in bed as long as possible. This results in rushing around and relying on luck to get out of the house on time. If one event takes you off course, you’ll be late.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eden Garcia-Balis.
Eden Garcia-Balis is a licensed family therapist and CEO at Airport Marina Counseling Service (AMCS). Eden has been in the mental health field for over 19 years with experience in leadership and management of service programs, business operations and fundraising. Eden was the Executive Director of the Pasadena Mental Health Center. Eden has a passion for working with the underprivileged and underserved and believes all people regardless of their socioeconomic status deserve quality mental health services they can afford. Eden is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and brings a strong clinical background to her position at AMCS.
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?
Sure, I received a BA in psychology with a minor in criminal justice, and my first job was as a case manager for youth on probation. I quickly developed a passion for working with youth and their families. As I worked more with these families, it became evident that most of them were disadvantaged and of low socio-economic status, and I wanted to do more than provide linkage to resources for these families. So, I went back to school to earn my Master’s in Counseling and then my license as a Marriage and Family Therapist. Throughout my time as a therapist, I have worked in low-income communities, providing direct services to families and youth — many of whom would otherwise have not received the mental health services they need. I believe strongly that everyone should have access to services like these and that the stigma associated with therapy needs to be removed. Now that I am in management, I believe it should always be a core value of our clinic to provide quality mental health services to the underserved and underprivileged.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Well, sometimes things are just meant to be. Eight years ago, I decided I needed a change in my professional life, but I wanted to make sure that the next step in my career evolution was a good fit. So, naturally, I created a list of the elements I wanted in my “dream job.” For example, it had to be a position where I was surrounded by supportive and committed professionals. It had to be a position where I felt I was really making a difference in the community I served. And it had to be engaged with supporters who believed in the mission of mental health as passionately as I did. So, when I came across the job posting for the Chief Executive Officer for Airport Marina Counseling Service (AMCS), I was thrilled. The clinic’s mission aligned with my core values and beliefs almost entirely. Their sole purpose is to serve the community and to help the neediest of families. Their job description literally read like the description of my dream job! I’ve been with (AMCS) for nearly eight years and have never been happier!
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Being a Marriage and Family Therapist is very rewarding, but it is also very difficult. Working in this field can be very taxing on the soul. We often listen to very sad stories and tragic events and we may even experience secondary trauma. My advice to colleagues in the industry to avoid burnout is to take the time to refuel, and it needs to be a priority. Refueling may vary from person to person. Some may like to meditate and exercise while others take vacations. It’s important to know what works for you and to do it! That “you time” is critical when your job involves giving of yourself every single day. Burnout is certainly a risk, but if you remember that you can only help others when you, yourself are in a good place, it will help you focus on taking care of yourself so you can be there for your clients.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
First and foremost, I think creating a great work culture starts by not taking your employees for granted. At AMCS, we know that our employees need to be seen and appreciated, so we do our best to engage them in the decisions we make as a clinic. We encourage them to provide feedback and to let us know when things aren’t going the way they would like. It’s funny, sometimes the simple act of listening can make a huge difference in the culture of an organization. Everyone’s opinion and feedback matters and needs to be taken into consideration. Once those great channels of communication are established and it is clear that every employee is valued, you often see that it is easy to get everyone to row in the same direction and address the challenges faced by your organization as a true team.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I love to read! “My Beloved” by Sonia Sotomayor was very impactful on my life and it resonated with me like few other books because of the similarities in our lives. To start, we are both women of color. Sonya writes a great deal about how she was always surrounded by family and how their influence impacted her life, her decisions and her attitudes. I have always spent a great deal of time with family, as well, and I see the many ways in which this rich family environment has shaped my own values. In addition, her journey to her position of power reminded me of my professional journey — sometimes being the only minority in a meeting, sometimes being discriminated against and sometimes questioning if I am right for the job. Sonia Sotomayor is a true inspiration. I admire that she continues to do speaking engagements with youth, sharing her story and giving them hope for a better future.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? (Please share a story or example for each.)
This is actually a difficult question because each person has different strategies for developing that serenity, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. That said, I believe there are some universal strategies that can be helpful in developing that inner peace.
First, create a morning ritual.
This is typically the calmest time of day for most people, and while not everyone is a “morning person,” getting up before life forces you to move into high gear can pay some huge dividends. Most people make the mistake of staying in bed as long as possible. This results in rushing around and relying on luck to get out of the house on time. If one event takes you off course, you’ll be late.
Get up early enough that you’re not rushed in the morning. Exercise a little bit. Meditate. Read the paper with your coffee. Take a walk around the block. Mornings tend to be quiet and peaceful, and if you get up early, you can enjoy them.
Next, be intentional about how you look at the stress in your life. We all have stress in our lives. There’s no way to avoid that. But the people who are most successful in dealing with that stress are able to identify the stressors in their lives. Take some time to think about the ways in which stress impacts your life. Is it your kids? Your commute? Are you worried about financial issues?
Then, examine the ways in which you deal with that stress. Do you overeat? Do you distract yourself from those stressors with something that is unhealthy? Do you just sit and worry?
Now, try to develop healthier responses to that stress. Take time for yourself to meditate or take a walk around the block. Maybe, a cup of tea in a quiet place is what you need, or maybe, it’s calling a friend on the phone. What works for me may not work for you, but take the time to discover what DOES work for you and make time in your day to focus on that.
Another critically important thing to remember is that it’s not personal. Many of us are quick to take things personally. For example, if your employee doesn’t follow your instructions, do you assume they’re being defiant? If your partner isn’t affectionate for a day, do you assume they don’t care about you? The truth is that most of the time it’s not about you. Everyone has their own issues to deal with. The odds are excellent that you’re not the cause of someone else’s mood or behavior, so be conscious of that and don’t allow someone else’s bad day ruin yours.
Finally, an exercise that always works for me is to feel gratitude. Everyone has things in their life that are worthy of gratitude. What are you grateful for? When things seem the most challenging, it’s a perfect time to list off the things for which you are the most grateful. Is it your family? Your home? Your dog? Just recognizing the positive things in your life and being grateful for even the little things can change your outlook on life. Truly, this is one of the best habits anyone can create.
From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
This is another tough question because the cause of each person’s anxiety is unique, but supporting those in our lives who are experiencing anxiety is often about the little things and more often than not about what not to do.
First of all, be sure to remember that anxiety is normal. We all go through it in one way or another, so be sure to let those around you know that they are not alone. Often, just knowing that there are other people feeling the same what they do is enough to relieve much of the anxiety your friends or family may be feeling.
Be sure to validate their feelings. It’s OK to experience stress. It’s OK to worry about the world around us, our family, our finances. Those are all natural feelings that everyone experiences. Of course, the worst thing you can do is tell someone experiencing anxiety that they shouldn’t feel that way.
For example, particularly among men, there is an attitude that they should “man up” or “get over it.” With suicide being the №1 killer of men under 40, this is probably one of the most toxic things you can say to a guy. Instead, be supportive, show compassion and provide encouragement. Let them know that you know times are hard and validate their stress, but let them know that they are tough enough to overcome this and that you’re willing to help in any way you can.
At the end of the day, the best thing you can ever do for someone experiencing anxiety is to let them know that you are there for them. Be a source of comfort in their lives. Text and call to check up on them and remind them that they are not alone. Go out of your way to help them figure out ways to deal with their stress and even join them if it’s appropriate. After all, yoga, a cup of tea or a jog along the beach are all better with two.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
Being perhaps a bit biased, I would certainly advocate that people connect with a therapist if they are feeling particularly anxious. I am proud that AMCS is filled with experienced, quality therapists who have the training and skills necessary to provide the best course of action for anyone who comes to us. And I would emphasize that there is no stigma in seeking help. We all go through difficult periods in our lives, and talking to someone who is specifically trained to help is an effective way to get through those times.
That said, I would suggest learning more about what anxiety really is and how to deal with it. There are many thought-provoking books out there that provide perspectives and strategies for dealing with stress. Books can help you have a better understanding about how you deal with anxiety and how you can create your own personal roadmap to a calmer and more meaningful life.
And finally, the best resource of all is yourself. Take the time to learn what triggers your stress, what helps you relieve stress and what helps you avoid stress altogether. Again, this will be unique for everyone, but not everyone takes the time to consciously examine their lives and look at anxiety and stress objectively. Once you do some of this self-examination, you may discover that you are better off avoiding the nightly news or that your attitude changes completely if you can get in that 10-minute morning walk. Many of us hold the answers to our anxiety within ourselves, the key is to take the time to unlock them.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is “where there is change, there is opportunity.” When the pandemic hit, the organization I work for, Airport Marina Counseling Service (AMCS), was suddenly faced with a situation where our clients and our therapists were no longer comfortable coming into the clinic for face-to-face sessions because of COVID. For some clinics, that meant locking the doors and waiting until the pandemic eased. For us, it meant doing everything we could to make sure our clients were still able to access the critical mental health services they needed. Even though it was not part of our strategic plan, and we were flying blind on day one, we transitioned quickly to providing telehealth services to our clients. This allowed everyone to remain safely at home, but to still interact online. Now, as we are slowly emerging into a post-pandemic world, we have discovered that telehealth is a critical part of the services we can offer. It is not always convenient or affordable for our clients to visit the clinic in person to meet with their therapist. So, while no one expected or wanted the changes that came along with the pandemic, it is precisely those changes that created a new opportunity for the clinic to broaden its reach and treat more people than ever — especially those who are in desperate need of services without leaving the convenience and comfort of their own home.
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. 🙂
I’d have to think more about this question. What I can tell you is that I’m part of the movement to destigmatize mental health. For years, mental health was something you didn’t talk about. Those that sought mental health services were thought to be severely mentally ill, and people would not seek services for fear of being perceived as “crazy” or “unstable.” Although more people are talking about the importance of mental health, there is still much work to be done to break this stigma. I would encourage everyone to talk openly about mental health and to educate themselves and others about what mental health really is. It is unfortunate that we do not treat mental health the way we treat physical health. If someone hurts their back, people rush to help. They shop for them and drop off dinner. But when someone is dealing with stress or depression, our first instinct is often to leave them alone. We need to recognize that mental health is every bit as important as our physical health and start devoting the same amount of attention to that. Normalizing mental health encourages people to get the help they need and reduces shame associated with getting treatment.
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
The best way to follow me is to sign up for AMCS’s e-newsletter at the bottom of our home page –https://www.amcshelps.com/ — and to visit our site regularly to find out what group therapy sessions we offer. The clinic has worked hard to offer groups that address everything from the holiday blues and parenting skills to transitioning into adulthood and LGBTQ support depending on the needs of our community. So, stop by and check out what we are offering. Remember, talking about mental health is important and AMCS is here to help.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Eden Garcia-Balis of Airport Marina Counseling Service: 5 Ways To Develop Serenity and Offer… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.