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Interview: Nikeeta Shah's professional advice on mental health

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

Hi, Nikeeta! As you are aware, more than anyone, anxiety has been on the rise as the pandemic continually worsens in the country. Are there steps one can follow when they are getting anxious?

Anxiety is chiefly triggered due to a sense of losing control. There's a lot of uncertainty regarding the future, our lives, and that of our loved ones in the current times. All of it is bound to make us feel more helpless and anxious. Making a list of things under our control and things that do not help us will help feel better. It also reminds us that there are still many things we can work upon and that we are not entirely helpless in front of the situation.

Practicing relaxation in yoga, mindfulness, deep breathing, or progressive-muscle relaxation helps calm our nervous system. Our body cannot be anxious and calm at the same time. Keeping this in mind, spending 20-30 minutes on relaxation can certainly help with anxiety management.

When we have thoughts racing in our heads, they tend to escalate quickly--more so in the negative direction. Talking about our concerns with our friends and looking at things from a different, more realistic, or evidence-based perspective can also help manage catastrophic thoughts.

"Our body cannot be anxious and calm at the same time."

What do you recommend people do first when they wake up? Is there an ideal morning routine to better one's mental health?

Evidence suggests that waking up with an attitude of gratitude, spending a few minutes being really thankful for what you still have in your life boosts morale and changes the way one looks at their life.

Meditation or any form of relaxation in the morning also helps us slow down and not get flustered thinking about the daily chores. Spending 1-2 hours on yourself before the work begins and planning the day ahead help rejuvenate the mind and make one feel more mindful throughout the day.

This pandemic has brought in severe changes to everybody's lifestyles. How can one better adapt to change without thinking about what we lost?

So there's been a complete shift in our lifestyles. Many people are feeling extremely frustrated, empty, and purposeless. There is a considerable amount of resistance toward accepting the new normal.

Having a routine and doing at least one thing in a day that makes one feel more connected to themselves is highly recommended! Keeping in touch with loved ones virtually, being creative, and having an outlook of gratitude and optimism are a few things that will help us cope and adapt to this forever-altered world.

There will be periods of sadness and despair, worries about how the future might be, and feelings of hopelessness. But reminding ourselves that we're all in it together and can always use existing resources to benefit ourselves and society will give us a sense of purpose in our lives.

"Keeping in touch with loved ones virtually, being creative, and having an outlook of gratitude and optimism are a few things that will help us cope and adapt to this forever-altered world."

Self-love is one of the hardest things to do. How do you help your clients get there?

Self-love is undoubtedly one of the hardest things to practice. I have struggled with it, and on some days, I continue to struggle to accept and love myself. One of the most critical aspects of self-love is accepting oneself.

Most people have an idea as to how their lives should be. They chase a version of themselves, sometimes blurring the lines between improving oneself and sabotaging oneself. I make my clients reflect upon a few questions: What does their ideal self look like? Is it congruent to their values, or is it a version that has been adapted by comparing self to others? Is their self-talk really helping them reach towards their ideal self or pushing them away in the pursuit of it?

It's important to have ambitions for yourself, and it is good to work tirelessly toward them. The most significant harm comes in the pursuit of becoming what we idealize. Then we stop accepting and validating ourselves for who we are today. We constantly have this inner voice that criticizes us, rebukes us, and is sometimes too hard on us. It makes us feel guilty for taking that day off or for being vulnerable sometimes. It's important to realize that self-criticism is helpful only to an extent. If not monitored, it might become a habit and will continue making us question ourselves.

"The most significant harm comes in the pursuit of becoming what we idealize.

I believe self-love comes in small forms like saying no when you want to, maintaining healthy boundaries, taking rest from time to time, self-appreciation, forgiving oneself, validating oneself, expressing and ventilating, seeking help when needed, or nurturing one's body through nutrition and exercise, to name a few. It's a process—a journey. If we can take out a few minutes every day to work on ourselves in any form, it will indeed feel rewarding and empowering.

What is the difference between feeling low and being clinically depressed?

We all feel low from time to time. Crying is a healthy way to release suppressed emotions. Depression, on the other hand, is an extreme degree of sadness wherein a person experiences high-intensity symptoms.

There's a change in biochemical levels, which causes a change in appetite and sleep patterns in a person. The individual might feel extraordinarily fatigued and might struggle to even get out of bed. They might lose hope, have crying spells or emotional numbing, and will look at their future with sheer hopelessness. They will start questioning their worth and existence.

A depressed individual struggles to do things he was earlier interested in or enjoyed doing. This phenomenon is called Anhedonia. People with depression often feel they are spiraling down a void and tend to isolate themselves socially. They might also feel disproportionately guilty. Some people with depression consider suicide as the only option to end their pain or feel they'll be less of a burden to others if they're no more. Diagnosing and treating depression are done by a clinician, and based on its severity, a psychiatric intervention might be needed. Talking to friends certainly is not a substitute for therapy; however, having good social support facilitates treatment for the client.

"People with depression often feel they are spiraling down a void and tend to isolate themselves socially. They might also feel disproportionately guilty."

Anything else you'd like to add?

Of course! In tough times such as these, we are often bound to feel tired without even doing much. We might not be depressed, yet, we might not be mentally healthy, as well.

It is important to remember that small changes in our routines, self-talk, and habits will make significant impacts, if practiced daily. Prevention might seem dull and less rewarding, but it's always better than cure in the long run.

Reaching out for help when needed is a sign of strength. Not everyone dares to look at themselves in the mirror, recognize the mess one is in or have become and decide to do something about it. If you feel like you need to talk to someone about anything troubling you or even to know yourself better, I encourage you to do that. If not, small steps towards self-care won't do any harm. Give it a try!

Nikeeta is a clinical psychologist. After completing her Masters in Clinical Psychology, she gained experience in helping clients overcome issues, such as identity crisis, anxiety, phobias, depression, relationship problems, and familial discord. She has also been trained to extend services to people experiencing grief, trauma, increased anxiety, and loneliness due to the pandemic.

As a therapist, she believes that every person has problems and the potential to overcome those issues. She looks at the client beyond their diagnosis and provides an empathic, safe space for them to explore, accept, and bring necessary changes in themselves.

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