A long-time nature enthusiast and friend of our company, Krista Larson, LCSW has been helping people feel better emotionally through her Licensed Clinical Social Work practice. Her multi-dimensional approach to stress relief and counseling is practical for the difficult times we are living through.
With this interview we are also marking our observance of National Stress Awareness Day (04/16/2022).
Our goal with this interview is to help educate — and also normalize — mental health issues.
– Lisa (LLM)
LLM: Hi Krista! Let’s dig right in. Tell our readers a bit about yourself.
K: I live in New York City and I've been here for 20 years. I'm from Minnesota, originally. My favorite hobby is taking care of my large collection of indoor plants. I love the outdoors. I am a vegetarian and eat as much vegan as I can. My favorite food is popcorn. My favorite color is brown, and I am a vintage sitcom lover (Golden Girls, anyone?). I prioritize self-care and spending time with my family and husband.
LLM: Popcorn. That's so funny ... your dentist must love you.
All right. So let’s talk mental health. You are a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and have your own practice. We'd love to hear about your chosen focuses within your practice and why you chose them?
K: My specialty when it comes to working with clients is working with people who are struggling with relationship issues. I work with a lot of men (not planned; just happened this way) in regards to issues that may come up for them. I work with the LGBTQ-plus population. I also work with a lot of people who are experiencing trauma, and people who have body issues.
LLM: I’ve noticed the knowledge of what social workers do is limited. Can you help explain?
K: Yes that is common, but I can shed some light. LCSWs offer much of the same support to a client as psychologists can. Social workers can choose to go into different areas of focus. They can work in law practices supporting lawyers with information; they can work in medicine; and they heavily work in social services. You can find social workers working at Google or other corporate settings, addressing conflict management, teamwork and interpersonal dynamics, or employee mental health. Social workers are are even employed by schools and can be helpful in addressing behavior issues for children and offering support. Their holistic knowledge is versatile and functional within our society’s framework, as well as in business.
LLM: If someone was interested in finding a licensed clinical social worker to help them work through some problems, are there places you would recommend they look?
K: If a person you know is looking for a social worker to help them, the first thing I would recommend is that they ask other people in their life for recommendations they may have. If they don’t know of any recommendations, then I would suggest they ask their doctors for recommendations. Or a really good website that people can use for references is Psychology Today. It has many mental health care provider profiles (including therapists, psychiatrists, and psychologists). You can review their areas of expertise, location and contact information all in this one spot. It's used throughout the country. So, no matter where you are, you can log into this resource. I also suggest that anyone looking for a therapist meet with a few different therapists before making a decision on whom to work with. A phone consultation and actually meeting with them is probably the best way to get a sense of whether or not it's going to be the best fit. I mean the most important thing is that you are able to find who you feel comfortable talking with and seeing you can trust them. Making sure you can open up to them and tell them about what is going on in your life.
LLM: Wondering if there was anything in particular that made you realize that this was going to be what you would do in life.
K: I just have always been interested in the way that people are. I also just really like helping people, too. I think mental health issues have always had a stigma attached to them, which I think is really unfortunate because if anybody really thinks about it, they've had a time in their life where they've struggled with anxiety or depression or some life stress that's really caused a lot of issues for them. I don't think our society normalizes mental health issues. I've seen so many people make progress and change their lives and feel so much better. It's always been my goal just to help people have better lives.
LLM: As I think about our society, I wish more people had this desire to help others. What a better world we would we be in right now. Speaking of right now, everything's really stressful for our country. For the entire world we’re on the tail end of the pandemic, and looking at another upsurge of COVID. And we've barely had a moment to breathe and now we're grappling with the reality of war, death, and destruction in Ukraine. Many of us are also worried about money, now that prices are higher. I know for me personally, and probably for everyone reading this today, it's really easy to feel helpless or burned out. What advice would you offer to help people manage their stress?
K: I think that it's very important right now to try to maintain as much structure as possible. When I say structure, I mean getting enough sleep, getting exercise, socializing, being with people who you're close with, and really eating well-balanced meals. That can go a long way to supporting mental health. I often hear so much about how people have a hard time putting away their cell phones. They're looking at the news all the time. I think really setting limits with that and giving yourself just a half hour or an hour a day to look at the news ... and then that's it. Just to get the information that you need. Then put it down for the rest of the day. I would also suggest putting your phone in a spot in your home where you can't even access it. The same goes with the news ... turn the news off, turn the TV off. Your focus should be to get self-care. It is the most important thing right now. Things have been so difficult.
LLM: So the question is, is there something you would recommend people do in order to decipher what their emotions are? That could be beneficial to coping on a daily basis. For example, sometimes personally, I wake up and I feel anxiety and I'm not sure why I feel anxiety ... and sometimes it's hard to work through that. Do you have tips on how to figure out what's causing this and finding what’s at the root of the anxiety? And also what you can do to take care of yourself?
K: If you have access to somebody to talk with, it can be so helpful. One of the biggest benefits of having a social worker is somebody who can ask you questions that you haven't thought about yourself. Someone who can be curious and help you reflect on your current situation. Help you focus on what some of the triggers are for that anxiety you're having. And from there they can help you figure out how you can make changes in your life on a day-to-day basis. Understanding what helps you feel less anxious ... perhaps making even a small life adjustment like going for a jog in the morning, or going on a walk, or being in nature. These different things that can be really grounding and helpful. Just helping you figure out anything that helps you create some relaxation, and finding moments for a small mental break.
LLM: Do you have tips for people dealing with family or friends who are depressed and what are the warning signs? And what's the difference with someone who's just down versus depressed?
K: Suicide rates amongst younger people have really increased since COVID began two years ago. Even before COVID, from 2007 to 2018, the national suicide rate among people 10 to 24 years old increased 57.4%. The more recent trend is also troubling, as reported by the Today Show.
If you are noticing that somebody Is not functioning how they used to function ... that is the time to take notice. For instance … if they're not being social … if they're isolating … or if they're by themselves a lot more. Another example is if you notice they're missing a lot of work or aren’t going to school. Or if you notice that they're crying a lot, or their conversations are very focused on negative things like oh, life sucks, or threatening self-harm. These are things to take notice of.
The bottom line is this: Don’t wait. Persuade anyone displaying these behaviors to get help immediately, especially if they threaten self-harm. There's a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that anyone can call into for advice or help. Everyone on the hotline is professionally trained to support people in distress. The number is 800-273-8255, and the website is https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/. They even have a chat line, so speaking with them can be facilitated in any way that works for a person experiencing distress. It is a truly life-saving organization and they do amazing work.
LLM: We don’t talk enough about getting critical emotional help that much, and your National Suicide Prevention Lifeline information is invaluable. Thank you Krista. My Starling co-founder Nathalie and I have been talking about something else a lot lately and I hope you might be able to help shed some light for us and our readers.
We've never had more tools to help us find happiness, but yet so many people would classify themselves as unhappy. Why do you think this is? And how can people retool their thoughts and their definition of what being happy means to them?
K: When you think about the loss that people have experienced — ranging from losing someone to COVID, to losing things like relationships and face-to-face communication, to even having a job that might have changed because of limitations with the business — it’s easy to see how people have been more isolated and alone lately. Seeing so much sadness and displacement with the war in Ukraine is another big trigger for people today. Ultimately, our world has changed so much and we all need to kind of find our own acceptance in how things have changed. And really finding a way to be cognizant of how things may not ever be the way that they were. Our biggest recipe for success is finding new ways of living with change. I think the most important thing is to not keep on going back and reflecting on what it used to be.
LLM: What are your thoughts on social media and how it relates to our happiness?
K: Social media is very beneficial to us in some ways ... it encourages engagement with friends and family and can help people feel included in a social circle. It also gives people a real connection to current events. But in my opinion, that’s really where the positives stop. Many people start to feel like social media takes over everything ... it's all-consuming. A time to pull away is when a person can’t stop getting on social media, and they begin skipping human contact in favor of social media. Kids can especially fall prey to this. So a parent of a child, or the user of social media, needs to assess if they need to set boundaries with it. And for children in particular, creating other opportunities for mental stimulation is very important. There's so many other things that kids can be a part of. Sports, meeting up with a friend, or just being outside riding their bike, or taking a walk. There are so many ways that kids are more vulnerable when social media is their only portal to social engagement (bullying for instance). Parents need to weigh these issues when signing up to give their kids a phone. I would also say setting clear guidelines of phone usage (when, how often, and what it should be used for) so a kid understands these boundaries implicitly.
LLM: I wonder how you manage the job of helping others all day. It seems like it would be draining. Do you have a morning routine that helps you prep for your extra long days and keeps you mentally and physically healthy?
K: Yeah. The things that keep me balanced are simple and very focused on health and mental release. I take walks four days of the week in the morning by the river, which is very grounding to me. Connecting with nature has become somewhat of a trend in the past few years with isolating due to COVID. It is called Forest Bathing and anyone can benefit from it. It consists of immersing yourself in nature. That's it! A walk in the woods can be both sensory and physical: Hearing the birds sing, seeing all the plants and flowers, taking in the clean air and earthy smells. Immersing yourself in the entire experience and forgetting everything else can bring some big benefits. It helps me melt away any stress that I might be having. I find nature very grounding and energizing.
I also love aromatherapy and have a huge candle addiction! Carefully chosen scented candles (I buy essential oil scented candles only ... no synthetic fragrances, no toxins) can really help with anxiety. Everybody has their own scent that helps ground them. Mine is anything that smells like a forest (fir, cypress, woodsy scents). Finding your own smell is really important. Some ideas: Lavender can really be soothing and is helpful for sleep and is proven to help lower anxiety. I also love eucalyptus. I like buying a fresh bunch of eucalyptus and putting it in my bathroom. Once the steam begins to collect on it the smell just blooms in the room, and it is really mind clearing (and also great for breathing).
Oh, and my pets. I am a pet mom to two cats. They really make me feel so comforted and calm. I have such joy for my fur babies!
LLM: I love all of your answers here because I think they're all things that people can try, and they're super accessible for lifting mental health.
K: The other thing I would add here is I really allow myself to get lost in cooking. The act of food prep/cooking and then having just a nice meal really helps me wash away any sort of issues in life, right? It is mundane but it really helps to take part in some of these everyday activities and being mindful of the task at hand. It can alleviate your focus on stress and worries, if even for a few moments.