As part of my interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing psychotherapist, entrepreneur.com, and online educator Angela Ficken, LICSW. She is a full-time psychotherapist in private practice. Her office is located in Boston, MA. She specializes in OCD, eating disorders, and anxiety-related concerns.
She started her career at McLean Hospital, which is one of the top-ranking psychiatric hospitals in the country, and affiliated with Harvard University. She was the head social worker on an inpatient unit that focuses on anxiety and depression. During her time at McLean, she trained in exposure therapy and became certified in CBT and DBT. Shortly thereafter, she worked at Harvard University as a primary therapist for undergraduate and graduate students. During her time there, she taught students CBT and DBT skills to help them manage a range of challenging emotions that young adults face daily.
Along with her work at McLean and Harvard, Angela had a small private practice for years before she decided to move full-time in 2013. From there, she focused her attention on working with young adults and entrepreneurs primarily after noticing that both groups struggled with anxiety disorders and stress-related issues due to life transitions and the uncertainty of what was coming next in their lives.
She spent years fine-tuning her practice and building her business into something more than a standard full-time private practice. She began writing for Huffington Post as an expert, which then catapulted her into writing for other major online sources which include Marriage.com where she was a verified expert, YourTango.com, ThriveGlobal.com, and has been quoted in Oprah Magazine, and on MSN.com, Forbes.com, FastCompany.com, Inc.com, Bustle.com, Popsugar.com, Buzzfeed.com, Nylon magazine, Getstigma.com, and Justluxe.com. She has also been a guest on Onward Nation with Stephen Woessner where she talked about OCD and intrusive thoughts, as well as on the radio in Chicago and Reno speaking about stress and anxiety.
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?
Thank you for this fun opportunity!
For years, I had heard from clients that the skills and strategies they had learned in our sessions were tremendously helpful. I also heard from them–that finding a therapist like myself who is proactive in sessions and teaches skills–was a hard find. Clients would tell me it took them months or even years to finally find me.
That’s when I knew I needed to find a way to reach more people. If they were having a hard time finding me, and Boston isn’t that big of a city, then who else might be out there looking for someone like me and the skill sets and training I have? What can I do to provide access to people who want help managing stress and anxiety and who might not be able to get to Boston, or be across the country?
As someone who wanted to answer those questions, I shifted my career from a psychotherapist who only sees people in office, to an entrepreneur who is an online educator.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I don’t know if I have one story that sticks out, but I think my shift from full time private practice to jumping into the entrepreneur world is interesting and one that I did not expect in the beginning. It’s been a unique experience.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
Burnout is a huge issue in my industry. If you want to protect yourself from it, I would encourage you to look at your schedule and ask yourself if there is anything you are doing that isn’t helping you grow your business, or if there are things you could delegate to get some time back in your day.
If you can pinpoint one or two items (there usually is), cut it from your schedule or hire someone to help you. Virtual assistants for example can be a tremendous help. Hiring someone to do your billing, social media content, or helping you respond to emails from potential clients can give you back hours to your week, giving you more time for self-care or other things you prefer doing.
For example, I have someone who helps me with my social media. I was spending 5-6 hours a week on social media involvement. By hiring someone, I now have those hours back to focus on writing, seeing clients, and I can end my day a little earlier and spend time with my daughter or go for an afternoon walk. Time is precious and if you can cut out certain tasks, you save time, add brain space back in, and that can definitely help avoid burnout.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I think leading by example is the best way to create a welcoming and engaging work culture. For example, if you want to prioritize well being in your work environment, think about how you can model that for your employees. Focus on your mission statement and the values that resonate with you and your business.
- How do those values translate into your relationship with your business partners and employees?
- What does a healthy, exciting, and fantastic work culture look like to you?
- What are the ingredients that go into making that happen?
Asking yourself those questions once a quarter will help you stay focused on your mission, creating a culture that represents your values, and creating an environment where people will want to stay with you ,work for you, and feel valued.
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?
The most recent book I’ve read “13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do” by Amy Morin has been a game changer for me as a parent. I am a mother of a three year old daughter and I want to make sure, like all loving parents, that I do right by her. I want to make sure I teach her healthy coping skills, to use her voice, and be a confident, capable individual. This book talks about the stages of childhood and strategies to help create a safe, loving environment while also giving the child space to have their own experiences, make mistakes, and become their own person. Any parents out there, I highly recommend this book.
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?
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means you focus your attention on the present moment while also acknowledging your current emotions. Doing this, can help you learn to manage hard emotions, like fear, without having fear dictate your decisions. You can practice mindfulness for a few minutes or longer. One mindfulness skill is to get your five senses involved. When our senses are activated, it helps us get back into the present moment. Name five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. You can do the exercise exactly like this, or you can break it up and focus on one or two things.
- Practice gratitude. When we focus on what we feel grateful for, it can help improve our mood and shift our thoughts from an all negative standpoint to a more positive and hopeful mindset. What are three things you feel grateful for? Write it down or say it out loud for one week and notice your mood improve.
- Set limits and boundaries with work. Working from home has its benefits, but one major con is it can be hard to shut work off when you are always at arms length of your computer. Wrapping up at 5pm in the office is easier than doing it at home. All of a sudden you are checking work emails at dinner, and responding to issues right before you get ready for bed. I suggest you turn off notifications after 5pm and put your work items away every work day at the same time. Honor your time and set limits. It’s okay to set boundaries and create space for yourself. You will feel less stressed and that means your quality of work, relationships with other people, and overall enjoyment will improve.
- Reframe your negative thoughts and assumptions to a positive and realistic perspective. For example, “This is never going to end” is an anxious statement that is untrue. This will end at some point, and could even be sooner than we think!
- Keep making an effort to stay connected to your people. You might be feeling Zoomed out, and don’t want to FaceTime anyone, but you can do a regular call, text, or go old school and write letters and mail them to your loved ones. Someone recently told me they were making postcards and sending them to their friends. It made her feel better and her friends loved getting the surprise in the mail.
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?
- Know that anxiety manifests in many different ways, and therefore, how your best friend experiences anxiety might be very different from your experience or someone else in your life. You might do one thing to support your friend and something entirely different to support your spouse through anxiety.
- Ask how you can be supportive. It’s absolutely okay to not know what to do, but the anxious person in your life might be able to articulate what they need such as someone quiet to sit with, help by playing a game or just spending time together, or help reframe anxious thoughts. When in doubt, ask.
- Normalize and validate their emotions. It’s okay to feel what you are feeling. Feeling heard can help move through anxious times. It lets your loved one know they aren’t alone.
- Encourage them to talk to a professional if the anxiety is really over taking their life.
- Engage in grounding strategies or coping skills with them. You can be a guide for them and a reminder to practice skills that are helpful. If they have a favorite breathing strategy that helps them calm down, do it with them. You might notice your own mood improve too!
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
Seeing a therapist who specializes in anxiety can be incredibly helpful. They can teach you tools to help you manage your anxiety, and once you learn what helps you, you have that for life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I have several, but the one I say most frequently is “If it makes me anxious, do it anyway.” This mantra and life lesson came about in early 2017 when I had a thought of seeing one of my favorite musicians, Ani Difranco play and checked her tour schedule. She was touring in Europe around and I thought that would be an exciting adventure. I have traveled on my own before, but someone always met me on the other end. This time would be different. I’d be on my own and while that idea felt exciting, I also felt scared. What if I get lost? What if I miss my connecting flights? What if I feel lonely or anxious while I am there? All these “what if” thoughts made me question whether I could do it. That’s when I knew I could not let doubt or anxiety make decisions for me.
I went to Scotland on my own, saw Ani in concert, had fun adventures, great food, and met amazing people. I was anxious and did it anyway. It was at that point my confidence in myself and in my business expanded. I do things all the time that force me outside my comfort zone such as podcast interviews, live radio, documentary films, live streaming, and webinar presentations. I could go on! And I learned that letting anxiety dictate my decisions robs me of opportunities and experiences. So now, whenever I feel anxious or doubt myself I know I have to do it, and so far I’ve been better off for it! This is something I recommend others try too!
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. 🙂
One idea I would love to create or get involved in is helping families in need. How can families in need get access to diapers, medicine, clothes, and food for their children?
As a social worker, I know there are family services in every state to help, but what about families who want to donate clothes, packages of diapers, educational toys to those who could benefit? I’d love to start that movement.
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