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  • Writer's pictureRenee Bethel

How Does Emotional Health Affect Whole Body Wellness?

Updated: Oct 24, 2020

Emotional health is often overlooked, but it is such a HUGE part of whole body wellness. What you are thinking and feeling affects how you feel about yourself and the world around you. What you are thinking and feeling affects your spiritual health. What you are thinking and feeling affects what you do physically and your physical health.

Please join me as I talk with Sarah Easterly, a Licensed Professional Counselor at a Christian counseling center. She shares great information and answers questions many people are afraid to ask. I know you will LEARN valuable information by listening to our conversation.

Q. Let’s begin, Sarah, with you telling us what you do as a Licensed Professional Counselor?

A. The beautiful thing about my job is that I have the privilege of meeting people in times of pain, stress, confusion, fear, overwhelm, and preparation. I get to meet them right where they are and make that place less lonely and less confusing and overwhelming. I help my client get a clear picture of what they are hoping and longing for and work with them on creating a path forward.

Q. As a counselor do you have an area in which you specialize?

A. I specialize in connection. Therapists call it Attachment Theory. This shows up most often for me by working with couples who are having a hard time - and usually have been struggling for a long time to meet one another. It could be parent-child relationships, but most often I work with couples to clarify what is hurting them, what they are longing for. I help them share that with their partner. I help the partner to hear that message and I help the partner with whatever feelings that brings up for them. I get to be a buffer to create enough room in the relationship where they can both take up the space they need in order to feel safe and secure and loved in their relationship. I also often work with individuals on issues of depression and anxiety.

Q. If someone wants to begin working on their emotional health, what would you suggest they do? Is there some type of personal inventory or exercise they could do themselves to start the process?

A. The process will start with awareness – awareness that something isn’t right, that life doesn’t have to feel the way that it does. Inventories could help if you are trying to figure out, “Am I struggling with anxiety? Depression? Grief? Chronic stress?” While it isn’t necessary to label what is going on for you, it can be helpful to just find the language for what you are experiencing. I remember being in grad school for counseling, doing a partnered assignment and my partner pointed out that I met all the diagnostic criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I was floored! You mean not everyone feels this high buzz awareness all the time that something bad is probably around the corner?! It was only at that point of awareness and language that I was then able to do something about it. While no online inventory will be a formal diagnosis, it can be a starting point. Then comes compassion, curiosity, and community. Finding others invested in this work can be a huge resource. Just being able to hear that this is something a friend is working on too, can help encourage you both.

Q. What past experiences or life events could warrant someone seeing a counselor?

A. Phew! So much! Growing up, if you had inconsistent connection with your parents – they were not reliably available to you – this starts a pattern of coping strategies that usually come to a head in some key life stages: marriage, birth of first kid, mid thirties to early forties. If you google the ACES inventory, answering yes to any of those questions would leave a big impression on the way someone is in and experiences the world. Any type of trauma or grief: death of someone close, you or a loved one being in a life threatening situation, loss of a dream or significant relationship, an assault, a large event (like 9/11, the COVID-19 pandemic), a natural disaster (Hurricane Katrina, flooding, etc), traumatic birth experience, abuse, chronic illness of yourself or a loved one, infidelity, infertility. Not only these things, but sometimes experiences don’t “register” to us as traumatic or as causing issues for us. Instead what may bring someone to therapy are panic attacks, trouble sleeping, trouble with food, feelings of hopelessness or being at their breaking point.

Q. How can a person know if counseling is something they should explore for themselves?

A. I would love if everyone felt that counseling is an option - at any stage! It doesn’t have to be a huge crisis or catastrophe. And in fact, those who start counseling before it gets to “breaking point” tend to spend less time in counseling. The longer we stay in “barely making it survival mode” the longer it takes to get out since we are plain exhausted. But, to more specifically answer your question: when things are stuck. Consider counseling if you are stuck in that awful place, if you are having difficulty taking care of yourself well, if you feel like you can’t catch your breath or more often than not you feel numb or like you could just cry if you slowed down. If you feel like you can’t exhale and relax, if you feel chronically alone, if you find yourself thinking it would be easier to just float away, if the idea of life looking the same in a year – in two years – is crushing, if you feel like you’re losing your spouse or you feel alone in your relationship. And so many more things. A good litmus test is if your child (or a child you are close to) started feeling the way you are feeling, at what point would you want to get additional help for them? We tend to be much more kind to children and our loved ones than we are to ourselves. Most people start to look around in their “barely making it” mode and start up therapy after about six months or more of being in those awful stuck places. I’m an advocate for early intervention, but for sure if things aren’t better after 3-6 months, then likely the resources you have available to help won’t start working for you after that point. In other words, if what you were doing to help yourself has not helped by that point, it’s time to consider adding some new resources.

Q. When someone shares that they are seeing a counselor or going to counseling, why do you think the word counseling has a negative connotation associated with it?

A. It’s a really common belief that if you just work hard enough, you can do whatever it is you are trying to do. So for many people who buy into that belief without understanding bonds/attachment, grief, trauma and a wholistic health view, they have coded counseling as an admittance of weakness. “If I were stronger, I could do this on my own, but since I’m weak, I need help.” It is heartbreaking to me that we equate loneliness and isolation with strength. I just don’t see evidence for this in scripture. It was not good that Adam was alone. The word for the Holy Spirit in John 14:26 is helper. The picture of the church is the body with many parts, is a building made up of many bricks. God, Himself, is in perfect relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. Are there jobs that are solitary ones? Yes. But a cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecc 4:12). Connection is essential. That is all counseling is – connection with a skilled and compassionate helper to help move through stuck places. So, we’ve got the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” view of strength coming up against the beauty, courage and strength of someone saying “I could use some help, because the strength it would take me to pull myself up right now . . . I’m working a job, I’m being a spouse, I’m being a parent, a caregiver – others need my strength, so I will need to reach and leverage someone else’s strength for a little while.”

Thankfully, I see culture changing. It is becoming increasingly less stigmatized to go to counseling. And one way that is happening is by people being honest that they are in or have gone to counseling. It isn’t anyone’s business, but it does normalize it for others to see that perfectly regular people utilize this resource with tremendous benefit.

Q. In your opinion, is working on your emotional health or seeing a counselor part of whole body wellness?

A. Absolutely. We hold stress and trauma in the body. Migraines, blood pressure issues, autoimmune dysfunction, rashes, pelvic floor issues, and bowel dysfunction are just a few of the physical issues that can either find their root in trauma, chronic stress, etc., or are being made worse by them. Emotion is a response to some stimulus, emotion moves us. Many times that move is a threat-based or survival move. If we find ourselves worrying or afraid often, this stresses our body – you can research adrenal fatigue to get a better picture of this. So how can we teach our body to not respond this way? It takes a wholistic approach – with counseling being one branch. Interestingly, strong and secure emotional attachment to one’s partner decreases the brain’s threat-response (see the research here). There are a myriad of studies showing how emotional and relational health impacts physiological responses in the body. I think science and brain imaging have come far enough now to show us strong links between our body, mind, relationships and emotions.

Wow! Wasn't that great information?!

Is seeing a counselor something you need to consider as you work on your emotional wellness?

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