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Author Louise B. Miller: 5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness

As an Integrative Mental Health Specialist, I strongly believe in integrative treatments. Exercise, proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and meditation are not only good for you physically but mentally as well. Getting outside in nature, going for a walk, running, or hiking can do wonders for you mentally and physically. My book, Psychological First Aid, recommends many different integrative treatment options.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Louise Miller.

Dr. Miller is the author of Psychological First Aid — a new book (Amazon) focusing on removing the stigma & and reframing the way we think About Mental Illness. She has a Ph.D. in Mind-Body Medicine with a Specialization in Integrative Mental Health as well as psychology degrees from Harvard and Pepperdine. She is a professor and author and an acknowledged expert in the field of self-help and Mental Health.

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 was enrolled at Harvard as a journalism major, took a law and psychology class, which began my passion for psychology. I then took an introduction to psychology class and knew that I was hooked on psychology. I talked to my academic advisor, and she told me to change my major to psychology and write about it.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I think the most interesting story that has happened to me is that I’ve grown so much. Psychology has opened up a lens from which to view myself and other people I never knew existed before. I’ve learned that one’s formative years are crucial yet not defining. A lot of what has happened in one’s childhood may explain one’s adult behavior, but not excuse it. We use psychology every day but may not realize it. Telling someone “Good job” or “Thank you” is a form of positive reinforcement that encourages the individual to continue doing what they are doing.

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?

The mental health field is a very serious and sobering one. People are often struggling with deep, dark emotions associated with trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, or suicidal ideation. It’s so important to be supportive and empathic to everyone. You never know what someone is going through or what they have been through.

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?

My mother always encouraged and supported me in whatever I wanted to do. She was a very positive person and influence in my life. She believed in living life to the fullest and that anything was possible if you set your mind to it. I think she would have been proud of my new book.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Take your emotional temperature throughout the day to be aware and mindful of how you are feeling. Practice self-care regularly and unplug from what’s going on in the world. Recharge yourself just as you do your electrical devices. You can’t keep making emotional withdrawals if you don’t make some emotional deposits as well.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

In my new book, Psychological First Aid, I promote mental health and the mind-body connection. Having employees is a huge responsibility, so offer mental health days just as you offer sick days. Stress the importance of mental health just as you do physical health. Invite mental health professionals to come in and talk to your employees about the importance of exercise, nutrition, and sleep not only on one’s physical health but mental health as well — overall health.

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.

I think the five most important steps to improve or optimize our mental wellness are:

  1. Be mindful of your emotional temperature the same way you would of your physical temperature. Take your emotional temperature throughout the day. How do you feel? Are you stressed, anxious, sad? If so, why? Take a step back. Catch it before it gets out of control, just as you would a cold or the flu. What’s causing it?
  2. Be sure to practice self-care. You can not keep withdrawing money from a bank if you don’t make some deposits. You fill up your car with gas. You can’t run it on empty. Don’t run yourself on empty either. Keep yourself charged up just as you do your phone. Don’t let your battery go until there is nothing left.
  3. Remove that invisible line that society has placed between our physical health and our mental health. Our health is our health! There is a mind-body connection. Stress and anxiety not only affect you mentally but physically as well. Stress can damage your immune system as well as your heart and other parts of your body. You must take care of your mental health the same way you do your physical health.
  4. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek help if your symptoms are severe. If you were in pain or had diabetes, you would seek treatment. Diabetes results from a chemical imbalance; severe depression results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. You would go to a doctor if you had diabetes. Go to a doctor if you have depression as well. Both are chemical imbalances, don’t be ashamed.
  5. As an Integrative Mental Health Specialist, I strongly believe in integrative treatments. Exercise, proper nutrition, adequate sleep, and meditation are not only good for you physically but mentally as well. Getting outside in nature, going for a walk, running, or hiking can do wonders for you mentally and physically. My book, Psychological First Aid, recommends many different integrative treatment options.

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.

Absolutely! Retirement can be very lonely for some people. They are used to getting up and going to work, being around people, and interacting socially. It’s essential to continue to stay active and have a social network. Join a club so that you can be around other like-minded people. Think about a hobby or sport that you always wanted to do but never had time for before and do it. Stay active! Don’t isolate! Keep your mind and brain sharp by reading, doing crossword puzzles, word searches, scrabble, or picture puzzles. Exercise will help you keep fit both physically and mentally.

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?

Being a teen or pre-teen can be very challenging. Pay attention to how you are feeling. Be mindful! As I mentioned earlier, it’s imperative to be taking your emotional temperature throughout the day. You don’t wait until you have a very high fever before taking some action, don’t wait until your emotions are out of control before you take action. There are several ways that you can calm yourself down. Slow, deep breathing is one of them; my book lists many more ways to reduce anxiety. It’s essential to remember that you can’t control other people’s behavior; you can only control your reaction to it.

Another thing to remember is that the longer you hold on to something, the heavier it gets. Think about putting your arm straight out to the side and holding onto a water bottle. The water bottle will still be the same weight, but it will feel much heavier after a day, a week, a month of you holding onto it with your arm out. Let things go, don’t hold on to them.

My book, Psychological First Aid, contains a lot of helpful information for teens, pre-teens, and adults alike. It applies the same first aid principles that we do for a physical injury to our mental health. There are a multitude of suggestions and ideas to optimize one’s mental wellness.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

I think the book that made the most significant impact on me was the one I had to read for my first psychology class at Harvard, and that was Mindhunter by John Douglas. It is about serial killers. The professor I had was amazing! It was such a great class that it changed the trajectory of my life.

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. 🙂

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If I could start a movement, it would be to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and reframe the way we think about it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

I think my favorite life lesson quote is “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.” from Jon Kabat-Zinn. We all will suffer some trauma or grief/waves in our lives. No one gets through life without some waves happening to them. Some people’s waves are more robust than others; some people have many waves, some people have very few. But if we learn how to surf and handle the waves, then when they come, we will be prepared and handle them that much better. Psychological First Aid teaches people how to surf.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

Author Louise B Miller: 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.