Stop the negative self talk. Sometimes I find myself saying things to myself that if a friend said to me I would probably throw them out of my house. I’ve learned to be much nicer to myself. I search for supportive, compassionate and compelling thoughts rather than judgmental, cruel and perfectionistic thoughts.

For my series on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Rhodes-Levin, LMFT. Laura is a licensed therapist who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling and is known for her unique approach in the understanding of anxiety and anxiety disorders. In addition, Laura the founder of The Missing Peace Center, a facility that offers a variety of modalities, including Psycho Therapy, Neurofeeback, Art Therapy, Olfactory Anxiety Reduction, Group Therapy, Movement, and more to help ease the nervous system and restore the brain, body,

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

It’s quite a long back story, but in a nutshell, this is the career of my second half of life. I actually got sober in my late 30s and found myself on a spiritual path. This I would never have imagined. There wasn’t a lot of spirituality in my first career as a talent agent. I began teaching meditation in different sober living facilities and in my interactions with clients, many of them said to me “I wish you were my real therapist”. So I thought to myself “why not?” I went back to school in my 40s to get my Masters degree, and ended up the lead therapist and executive director at a drug treatment facility. Another skill I never would have imagined acquiring. But my specialty has always been anxiety, I actually had a heart attack in my late 30’s, and it turns out my dream was opening a clinic where I can help people cope with anxiety, depression and trauma to achieve an inner peace that drugs and alcohol could just never provide.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

The field of psychology is only decades old, but our psyches have been with us for thousands of years. When one suffers with physical illness it appears to be more tangible. Feelings and emotions can be illusive. Doesn’t the term itself mean healthy mentally? What does that mean? I believe we are just learning that mental illness can present itself in a broad range of symptoms- the subtlest form of depression or anxiety, alcoholism, rage, or mania to name only a few. The exploration of the brain and brain chemistry is relatively new to us. The understanding of neurotransmitters and how the brain operates is an emerging science. Things like depression, anxiety or alcoholism, for example, for many years have been seen as something we “should be able to control ourselves”, therefore we have shame or guilt around symptoms of mental health often leaving us to disguise them and hide them from those who care and/or the society around us.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

In many cases, mental illness is caused by normal functioning gone awry. Take for example anxiety. Anxiety is not what’s wrong with us, it is what is right with us. Anxiety is a vital fight or flight response in our bodies that helps us stay alive. The way anxiety works is compounded. I like to tell my clients “imagine you are a little kid playing in a meadow with your friends, and one of them gets eaten by a lion. That is supposed to stay in your brain so that the next time you see a lion you run. But if you encounter many “lions” each one makes an impact on your flight/fight system. Eventually you hear the bushes rustle and you run. It might have been a bunny rabbit, it might have been the wind”. The truth is we are just animals. Animals with the frontal cortex. The frontal cortex is an egomaniac and it “thinks” it can think it’s way out of everything. It is very difficult to think your way out of feeling. It’s like scratching your head to itch your foot. The thinking part of your brain and the feeling part of your brain are in different areas. I tried to encourage people to “come to their senses” quite literally rather than figuratively. Listen to things that help you feel good, smell things that bring a feeling of calm, look at things that help you feel peace. It’s very hard to be tense in places like Hawaii because your senses take over, and worry seems to magically drift away. In other words were not thinking anymore, we are feeling.

Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?

I can remember suffering from anxiety since I was a small child. My sister would sleep soundly across the room from me, and I was worried about there being a bear in my closet. Who knows why I was born so anxious? I suffered with anxiety attacks my whole life. I even had a heart attack that was unexplained by doctors at the ripe old age of 37. The name of my clinic is called The Missing Peace — Center for anxiety. As I struggled throughout my life, I never found a place that could specifically address

my anxiety. Along the way through trial and error I feel like I finally found a combination of modalities and a recipe for peace that I am incredibly excited to share with others. The truth is I learn every day for my clients as well and try and incorporate their insights into the curriculum. I never thought working with brains and helping people with anxiety was my dream come, but it is.

I am so grateful for my journey and to help others to find empowerment and enjoyment through their adversities. Corny…but true. Typical dream, huh?

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

I think the biggest contribution that we can all make to mental illness is to be understanding and supportive of something that might not make sense to us, or that which we have never experienced. Telling a depressed person to just go out and do something they would enjoy is like telling a brunette to grow her hair blonde. Each one of us has experienced mental illness to some degree or another. Preventative and prophylactic healthcare is essential for all of us. Mental illness is the cause of so many physical symptoms that lead us to physical disease. Stress, migraines, heart attacks, strokes, obesity, addiction…. Individuals, society and government really need to understand how much mental health effects physical health. A great deal of time, money and lives could be saved if we did.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

Self-care. This is a term that is probably overused but sadly underutilized. We have become human doings instead of human beings, therefore how can we have well-being? I notice it in myself. If I’ve taken the day to relax and just be, I find myself having to justify by saying things like “I stayed home and relaxed today, but I got a bunch of work done and I did the laundry…” As if there is some shame in just being. Just be.

Come to your senses. I mentioned this earlier. Soothe yourself with essential oils, music you enjoy, put yourself in a spot that’s visually appealing, hold something in your hands that feels comforting, taste something yummy.

Stop the negative self talk. Sometimes I find myself saying things to myself that if a friend said to me I would probably throw them out of my house. I’ve learned to be much nicer to myself. I search for supportive, compassionate and compelling thoughts rather than judgmental, cruel and perfectionistic thoughts.

Set healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries does not make you a bad guy it makes you a healthy guy. Often times we are so worried about making others uncomfortable that we sacrifice our own happiness please others. There is a big difference between being selfish and self love, but it’s easy to confuse them. It is just as important to do things for yourself as it is to do them for others. If you think of a fountain, it must fill itself up in order to give back. If it only gives and never fills up it is running on empty and will eventually run dry. But if it only fills up and never gives become stagnant and moldy. This is why it is important to both give and take. Healthy boundaries create the setting for healthy relationships.

Find joy in the small stuff. We’ve all heard the phrase stop and smell the roses, but they’re not just talking about roses! Most of life is made up of little things like the minty taste of toothpaste or how beautiful the moon looks when it’s big in the sky. The big events in life, the holidays, the long-awaited vacation can be loaded with expectations and can sometimes disappoint, but they are few and far between. The small stuff is around us all the time, so if we indulge ourselves in the little things we encounter it is much easier to access a whole lot of joy.

Be yourself. Don’t worry so much about everybody liking you. You probably don’t like everybody either. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re pretending to be something you are not, you’re depriving yourself of being in the company of people who will enjoy you for exactly who you are.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

One of my favorite books is The Four Agreements, it’s not so much that it makes a great read, but I can apply those agreements to any dilemma in my life and it all gets better. They are amazing.

I mentioned earlier that I got sober several years ago. The 12 steps are truly transformative. I actually did my thesis on the 12 steps for general well-being. If I could buy the whole world a 12 step program I would! It’s a shame that someone has to hit a drastic bottom to avail themselves to this design for living that works in rough going.

Also anything that makes me laugh. Laughter is one of the best paths to well-being that I can think of!

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!