If you want to live calmer and happier as I know most of my community does, then this episode of the Calmer You podcast with author of the Mind Medic, Dr. Sarah Vohra, is for you.
Dr Vohra is a Consultant Psychiatrist, Bestselling Author, Public Speaker and Women’s Health UK Magazine Columnist. She is on a mission to educate everyone on how to improve their mental health as well as supporting the mental wellbeing of those around them.
On this episode we chat about:
- Dealing with comparison
- A powerful technique to deal with worries
- Using the senses to calm anxiety
- How to say ‘no’ more
Chloe Brotheridge: Hello and welcome to the Calmer You podcast. This is your host, Chloe Brotheridge. I’m a coach and hypnotherapist and I’m the author of The Anxiety Solution and Brave New Girl. And this podcast is all about helping you to become your calmest happiest and most confident self.
Welcome to today’s episode, I am joined by Dr. Sarah Vohra, consultant psychiatrist. She is the perfect person to speak to about all things mental health and mental well-being. She’s got a new book out called The Mind Medic. She’s also called @themindmedic on Instagram. You might have heard of The Five Senses Guidelines for a calmer, happier life. I think it’s a brilliant book for anyone that wants to be calmer and happier.
We get into topics such as saying no. I love the example that Sarah shares to help us to think about saying something in a different way. We also talked about dealing with comparison, particularly around lockdown. Most of us have been on our devices and social media more than ever. It’s more of a problem than ever, unfortunately. But Sarah has so much good advice on this one.
We talked about a really powerful technique to deal with worries. And we talked about how to use your senses to calm anxiety.
If you would like some free resources to help you to be more confident ditch the imposter syndrome, quiet the inner critic, you can head over to my website, Calmer-you.com/confidence and download my free affirmations for confidence.
If you’ve been telling yourself negative things about yourself, it’s time to turn that around and start to say some positive encouraging things to yourself instead. Get the freebie now for support.
Let’s get into the interview with Dr. Sarah Vorha.
Chloe Brotheridge: I am so excited about your new book, which is out on the 16th of July. We’ll talk about that in a moment. Could you tell us a bit about what you do and what your day to day job involves and the sort of people that you help.
Sarah: My name is Sarah Vorha. I am a consultant psychiatrist. So day to day, I see patients who struggle with a whole host of mental health difficulties. From things like depression, anxiety, OCD, eating disorders, grief, so a whole host of conditions. On the side, I’ve kind of carved out this alternative career online. A few years ago, I was finding I was getting really frustrated with the amount of misinformation online, especially something as sensitive as mental health.
Resources from an expert
It’s so important that the right information is out there, and that it’s delivered by expert sources. I started @themindmedic three or four years ago, and decided it was just going to be my way of debunking mental health myths, giving people practical tips and tools that they can incorporate into their everyday.
On the one hand, the day job, I’m seeing people every day and helping, assess and treat. Treatment can be anything from psychological therapies to family therapies, to, in severe cases, medication.
I’ve carved out this other career around kind of public education, thinking about ways that people can feel empowered to make those small changes at home.
Chloe Brotheridge: Sounds amazing. I’m really curious, you mentioned about the myths that you wanted to debunk. Can you share a couple of the myths that you have seen?
Debunking the myths
Sarah: I suppose one of the common myths around is that a psychiatrist just gets you into a room lays you on a couch and then it’s very good to prescribe medication. That’s not the case at all, because there’s lots of different avenues that we go down before we even consider medication. That was one of the myths that I was really keen to debunk was around how quick psychiatrists are to prescribe medication.
Degrees of anxiety
The other thing was around if you feel down, if you feel anxious, then you must be depressed or you must have an anxiety disorder. Every day, we may experience moments when we feel sad, or we feel worried or anxious. And I suppose it’s the degree to which that impacts your every day life. By the time someone comes to see me in clinic, it may be affecting areas such as schooling, it might be affecting their job, it might be affecting their friendships and relationships.
I really want to make clear the difference between feeling low and down. And then what would constitute a depressive or an anxiety disorder, which might need the support of a psychiatrist. People should go and get diagnosed, I suppose properly by a doctor to see whether it is just as kind of normal everyday worry or clinical anxiety or clinical depression.
When to seek advise from a doctor
I suppose what I would be interested in knowing, as a doctor, is how much those difficulties are impacting your everyday. So if you are feeling down or if you are feeling worried, is it getting in the way of how you function. Does it impact getting up, getting dressed, showered, and getting in the way of family life and work. Then I would say keep an eye on it. The moment it does change things, then I would probably seek advice from a doctor.
An exercise to try
One of the exercises that I do is something called a day in the life of. I always use the example of my five-year-old to demonstrate this because people think what does a five year old got to worry about. It just demonstrates beautifully that you can pick up really subtle signs that things aren’t right for you or for someone else. So for instance, she bounced into my bedroom at nearly six o’clock in the morning. She’s generally really, really content. She wants to get changed there and then she wants to go downstairs have breakfast watch her favourite cartoon.
Now, I’ve given you a snapshot of what her morning routines normally like but if I was noticing that she wasn’t bouncing into my bedroom until eight o’clock in the morning, that she seemed down or low or a little bit worried. Maybe it was a real struggle to get dressed, maybe she was off her food and didn’t really fancy watching her favourite TV programme.
There’s something there that indicates that something’s going on for her whether it’s with her physical or mental health. I ask people to think about their baseline. What is the norm for them from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep
Noticing any changes in routine?
If you’re noticing that you’re someone that used to be really motivated a lot with get up and go in the morning, but you’re finding, it’s a real struggle. Or maybe you’re someone who never used to make mistakes at work and you’re finding you’re constantly being pulled up on mistakes that you’re making, and or maybe your boss has expressed concern for you. Maybe you’re someone that used to be able to fall asleep relatively easy but finding that you’re, you’re struggling a little bit more. So already, you’ve generated a list of things that may indicate that something’s not quite right and maybe worth seeking further support for.
Chloe Brotheridge: That’s really fascinating, I think, looking for those clues in terms of your life on the outside how it’s affecting your life day to day. Do you think it’s true that people can almost not realise that it’s happening?
Sarah: It certainly can be something that creeps up on them. It might be that they do notice some subtle signs, but they’re quick to dismiss them because they get wrapped up in the fast pace of life. Maybe some of what they’re feeling gets lost in that. I find it really interesting over the last 10 weeks that a lot of the time people have been forced to take stock of how they’re feeling.
You know, this is the first time in a long while where people aren’t facing sort of the rat race of everyday life. They’re forced to kind of sit with how they’re feeling for the first time. That can be frightening and overwhelming. It may be that a family member notices that you’re not quite right.
Put a spotlight on any changes
It’s really important to shine a spotlight on what’s changed, what’s different, what are you struggling with. Also to be mindful of what’s going on around you as well. It may be that someone else shares that they’re a bit worried about you or that they’ve noticed something’s changed, and that may force you to take action. As lockdown is easing, it is hard to compare your life, your normal life with locked-down life because it is so different.
Postives of lockdown
Chloe Brotheridge: Absolutely. We often are reflecting a lot on the negatives, but a lot of people will gain quite a lot of positives from being in lockdown. Actually, it may have forced them to re-evaluate what’s important to them. What relationships are important to them or is commuting to work worth the payoff. It may be that actually for the first time they’ve been able to incorporate some regular exercise and movement into that day because normally it’s a toss-up between the commute or, you know, having a really good workout to set them up for the day.
I think often we are hearing these more positive stories coming out of lockdown. It’s allowed people to consider what’s important to them and to those around them.
The Mind Medic
Chloe Brotheridge: Yeah, absolutely, I think, yeah, let’s try and focus on to the positive things that are coming out of it. And I loved your book, by the way and your five senses guide to leading a calmer, happier life. It’s not only a really beautiful book, beautiful colours and illustrations. But it’s extremely relatable. I love some of the case studies that you share that are so relatable and interesting, and the practical nature of it, where you’re really taking people through, you know, different areas of their lives and giving them strategies to help them. Can you tell us a bit about your book.
Sarah: Thank you so much for that feedback. First of all, I think for me it was really important to pull people in with personal stories because I could sit there and share lots of practical tips and tools that I think would be helpful. But actually, unless you can relate to some of the difficulties that are being described, it’s really hard for you necessarily to implement them. So I think actually having the book of the case studies is really important. It demonstrates actually how useful these strategies can be and the payoff in the long run.
Why do I feel this way?
The five senses really came about because I was getting a lot of people coming into clinic that were saying, I’m feeling down, I’m feeling anxious, but I can’t quite place my finger on why I’m feeling the way I do. I thought of a strategy that would mean that they would be able to pinpoint life stressors that could have a role to play in why they’re feeling the way they do.
Five senses guide
I would ask them, is there anything that you’ve seen, heard, felt smelled or tasted that could explain why you’re feeling the way you do? They were able to very easily list a couple of things that were going on for them. For instance, the sense of sight chapter covers areas such as social media, screen use, the people that you see, body image. All the things that we come into contact with every day of our lives that we probably take for granted or have become normalised. The sense of hearing covers listening to our selves, the sense of feeling is feeling imperfect or feeling under confident. Your sense of smell covers areas such as self-care.
The sense of taste looks at areas such as our relationship with food, and also things like caffeine. And finally, taste in the hypothetical sense. So thinking about revenge, sweet revenge. And why anger often does get a bit of a bad rap, but anger is actually a means of communicating an underlying emotion.
The book really delves deep into all those areas. I mean, that’s just a snapshot of some of the areas that I cover. I also include ‘Ask Yourself’ sections. Really look at what might not be working for you. The five senses challenge is about linking the two once you recognise that something is a difficult for you. It ncourages you to incorporate a small change into your life every day.
The way we measure the progress is through my well-being thermometer. I have a well-being thermometer dotted around the book, and I give the readers the opportunity to measure their well-being temperature.
I hope it’s going to be a book that’s going to be really practical, lots of tips and tools. And it’s not a cookie-cutter plan. It’s not the case that I’m presenting one plan for every individual. It really empowers the reader to generate a plan that’s bespoke and individual to them.
Chloe Brotheridge: Amazing. Yeah, I definitely recommend this to our listeners. Check that out. It’s out on the 16th of July. I think it’d be perfect for the Calmer You listeners. You mentioned screen time. I have found that it’s one of those things a bit like, maybe a bit like alcohol and smoking where if you suggest to someone they maybe are using their screen too much. It’s kind of like you’re taking their coffee away from them.
And I notice it in myself being like, I don’t even want to admit that that’s a problem. So we’re in denial somehow. At the moment, we probably are using our screens more than ever. You mentioned comparison there. Do you have any sort of advice for people who maybe are starting to recognise that their screen time is kind of getting out of control or for people who are getting themselves into that social comparison that you mentioned?
Before you look at your screen
Sarah: I always have a rule first thing in the morning I do not look at my phone until I’m fully showered dressed, had my breakfast done what I need to do. You can imagine what might have come via email and messages overnight. You then decide to scroll through your social media. And you’re immediately met with someone’s sweaty post workout selfie, or someone’s divined smoothie bowl or the fact that someone’s actually already on their way to the office or fired up their computer and sent 100 emails and you’re sat there in your pyjamas you know, instantly that comparison is set up the moment you wake up. So what I always ask people to do is actually get yourself sorted ready on a morning before you even reach for that phone. So allow that hour literally just to be for yourself.
Screen use: nonnegotiable
I also would have asked people what is it that you’re using your screen use for. In the chapter on screen use, I look at screen use in three different ways. So there’s screen use that is a nonnegotiable. The things that you absolutely have to do. It might be that you have to send a work email, or that you have to send a text to a friend, because you’re going to be meeting up later. Those are the things that you can’t negotiate, you do need to use your screens to use that.
Screen use: like to do
Then there’s the things called like to do. For me, I love nothing more than sitting down on an evening and watching a box set. Or I love firing up an audiobook or a podcast on my way to work. Those are the things that I really enjoy, and I get real pleasure from.
Screen use: not entirely necessary
Finally, there’s the not entirely necessary. Often we’ll just reach for our phone out of boredom or insecurity. Before you’ve know it, you’ve wasted 20-30 minutes of just mindless scrolling mindless consumption.
Think about your screen use
Think about your screen use in those three categories. Every time you reach for your phone ask yourself, is this something that’s a nonnegotiable? Is this something I like to do? Or am I going down the route of something that’s not entirely necessary that may well not serve me.
It creates this discipline around screen use. A lot of people might think they don’t have a problem with screen use. You might find you’re pulled into social comparisons, you feel more anxious, maybe you’re struggling with sleep because you’re not turning off your screens until last thing or night and then you’re trying to hit your head to the pillow and trying to force yourself to sleep.
Remember the well-beingthermometer
So again, within the book, I talk about the well-being thermometer and getting people used to think about their screen use and how problematic it is and then encouraging those small, practical solutions to see whether or not that makes a difference to how they’re feeling. It’s such a vulnerable time in the morning when we first wake up. I don’t want to be putting anything negative or stressful into my mind for the first few minutes, particularly because I’ve had times where I’ve, you know, read my emails and suddenly been full of adrenaline at 6am. Feeling like I had to get on with things. Then that I can’t meditate.
When you’re checking your emails, first of all in the morning, it creates a sense of urgency, but you have to act on it straightaway before you’ve done everything else to kind of make you feel half normal. It’s absolutely for that reason that you don’t want to offset the meditation that’s really important to you or having a really nice luxurious shower.
Chloe Brotheridge: Such an important thing to remember. I love those questions to prompt yourself to question whether it is a nonnegotiable. Yesterday I became aware that my computer was loading slightly slowly and I literally couldn’t wait like the two seconds my computer to load so I picked up my phone. I made a promise to myself if my computer’s being slow that I’m just gonna sit with it. Slowing down.
Another topic that I really wanted to ask you about, and that you include in your book is the topic of saying no. This is something that is very close to my heart and also something that I struggle with from time to time. What is your take on saying no what as what sort of ideas and advice do you have around that?
Sarah: I have really struggled with this because I think saying no conjures up the idea that I’m being selfish and unhelpful. And that can be a really difficult thing to sit with. But actually, when we say yes to something, when we really mean no, we can end up taking on more than perhaps we can handle. We may risk burnout, we may actually end up resenting the person that’s got us to say yes, in the first place.
Practice for saying no
The way I look at saying no, so I kind of give this analogy within the book, which is around going on holiday. Imagine for a second that I’ve agreed that we’re going to go on holiday, and we’ve picked the destination, we decided we’re gonna go to nice sunny beach. And so we go back, we pack everything that we need, got our tickets, ready, go to the airport, checked our bags in and then we’re on our way to the gate. And then someone stops us in tracks and says, Sarah, you don’t want to be going here, you want to be going to this destination instead? So what would you say in that situation?
An alternative scenario is I want to go on holiday, I’m not really sure. Let’s just pack for every eventuality, and we’ll meet each other at the airport. Then look at the departures board, and we’ll decide what takes our fancy. We get to the departure board, and we’re just pondering over the options that are there. And the same person comes up to us and says, Oh, you want to check this place out? What would we say in that scenario? Well, I guess we might be more likely to say yes, I don’t make a decision. We don’t know what we want.
What’s important to you?
What is the difference in those two scenarios. With the first scenario we were very clear about what our intentions were that what we wanted We were prepared for this sunny holiday and therefore we packed accordingly. That someone presented an opportunity to us that went against everything that was important to us, made it easier for us to say no. However, when someone catches us off guard when perhaps we’re not really clear about what our intentions are or what we want, we’ve kind of come half prepared. Actually, it’s much easier to be swayed into saying yes. So the exercise within the book on saying no really forces you to evaluate what’s important to you personally.
What’s important to you in terms of your social life, what’s important to you in thinking about things like work and educational opportunities. It makes you consider actually, if someone presents an opportunity that goes against everything that’s important to you? What’s the pressure in saying yes to that individual? And so I think what’s really important for people to bear in mind is actually saying no is really more about self-preservation. Especially when saying yes is not going to serve you in the long run as well.
Chloe Brotheridge: Yeah, I hate that feeling of having agreed to do something and then the day rolls around where that thing has come along. And I’m just feeling like, ah, why did I say yes, I got so many other things that I need to do or some things that I’d rather do. And these days, I’m trying just to have almost have no as being my policy answer to most things to do with work. If it’s a really good opportunity, I’ll say yes to it. I’ll consider it but I have to, for my own well-being have a sort of blanket no to most things. And then yeah, occasionally saying yes, but it’s such a tricky one. I think, especially for women, where, where we’re raised to be good girls.
I relate to what you said about feeling like it’s selfish. Also what’s going through my mind is, oh, she’s going to think I’m too big for my boots. Who does she think she is?
You have a choice
Sarah: The other thing to bear in mind is by someone asking you whether you want to be involved in something, whether you want to come to an event, they are effectively giving you a choice. So it shouldn’t come to a surprise that actually part of that choice might be someone saying, No, you know, it’s not like they’re saying You must come to this event, and you’re turning around saying no, actually, they’re giving you a choice in the matter. And I think that’s the thing that’s really important to bear in mind.
Often people will say yes to situations because it will serve them in the long run. For instance, I would say yes to working extra shifts, because I knew that I had a wedding to save up for. As much as I would love to have said no, I know that saying yes is going to serve me in the long run. It means that the thing that’s important to me is having a lovely wedding. So in that situation, I had to say yes. When maybe I did want to say no. Consider when saying yes may actually influence something that’s important to you a bit further down the line.
Chloe Brotheridge: It comes back to recognising what’s important and really thinking about what you want in the first instance. That can guide your decisions on what you’re saying yes to and why you’re saying it?
Worry dump method
Can you share about the worry dump method? I know that people listening, worrying, is it likely to be a big issue? Same thoughts day after day. Can you share a bit about that method for us?
Sarah: Worring is such a common emotion even more so at the moment. And, again, what I was finding is that worry doesn’t necessarily serve us. It can be all-consuming of our time and energy. It doesn’t have to eat into their day, or consume any more of their time and energy.
An example, I’m worried that my zoom might play up or the code hasn’t sent me a link. I can turn that worry into problem that I can solve by emailing you and saying, oh, what’s the link for our charts? How do I need to be prepared? Do you have a list of questions that you can send to me? So immediately rather than allow that worry to consume anything, I’m not sure what code is going to ask me? Am I going to be any good?
I have this set time in the evening called a worry curfew. In the evening, list any worries that would not serve me immediately that I can’t readily turn into a problem. Every time a worry crops up I ask myself if this a worry that I can turn to a problem that I can solve? If it is great, just solve the problem there. And then if it’s not, just label it this might not be a worry. Jot the list down in a phone or journal.
By the end of the day, look at the list of worries that might not have even happened. Immediately you feel empowered, the fact that you didn’t allow that worry to run away with you.
This allows you to identify what serves you and what doesn’t. It can be a really empowering feeling.
Chloe Brotheridge: I really like that idea. That sounds quite cathartic in itself. It helps knowing that we can do something about some of those worries. That’s very empowering. As you say, we don’t have to just ruminate over and over again. I think that’s a really powerful tool.
I was really curious to know how you take care of your own mental well-being. Are there certain practices and things that you incorporate into your own life. For me, exercise is number one. Any form of movement in the day. Lockdown has helped me be better about that. Usually I would be commuting to a clinic and then I’d be quite sedentary most of the day because I’d be sat on my desk and then I’d be seeing patients.
During my lunch hour, I’d be one of those people that would have lunch at my desk, you know, there was not much movement. But actually over the last 10 weeks, I’ve been really disciplined about getting outside and just moving. I’ve been looking forward to family walks, and my husband and my daughter really relishing those opportunities. It’s so important.
Exercise is also good for the mental health benefits. Particularly if I do it first thing in the morning, it just sets me up for the day. It gives me more energy. My mood improves my focus, and I think definitely helps my sleep later on as well.
Exercise definitely and time with my daughter as well. I do enjoy those kind of things like baking and not feeling so rushed as well. And so that’s really important to me.
Chloe Brotheridge: Yeah, I love how lockdown has shown us how important the simple things in life are. They don’t have to cost anything. It’s just spending time with each other or being outside in nature. I think it’s helping us to connect all those things. So it’s only a good thing. Absolutely.
Is there anything that you’re struggling with at the moment? And how are you handling it.
Sarah: Pre lockdown, I worked full time and oftened called on my mother in law for support. She lives down the road to help out with child care. And because she’s in the vulnerable group, we’ve not been able to utilise that. I’m getting used to not being afraid to delegate to my husband. It sounds ridiculous, but he works really long hours. And he’s very busy. But often what we’re finding is the pattern of me doing the drop-offs and pickups.
I’d fallen into the habit of letting his mom to do it instead. Asking him to muck in and help out a bit more, has been really empowering. It’s been great for him because actually he really enjoys doing the drop offs and pickups.
By his own admission, he’s got a bit lazy thinking, Oh, well, my mom really likes to do it. And actually that’s Grandma granddaughter time, which is lovely.
And so for me, I think not being afraid to delegate. So you need to kind of pull your weight and do this as well. He’s not doing what one and two, but how is that situation going to improve unless we communicate about it?
In the book I focus on how we deal with pressure. Many of us feeling the need to do everything ourselves. We think we’ll do it better. Actually letting go of some of that to help us in the long run. And so that’s something that I’ve definitely benefited from.
Chloe Brotheridge: I know that my my partner has gotten better at tidying and cleaning. It was not something he was that familiar with before, but I think he is learning. We’re learning things about our partners and ourselves.
Thank you so much for everything that you shared today. It’s been so, so helpful. Where can people find out more about you buy your book, anything else you’re up to at the moment.
Where to find Sarah
I’m mostly on Instagram, my handles @mindmedic. I post lots of tips and tools on most days, and any events I’m doing. And you can buy my book. It’s available on pre order at Amazon, WH Smith, Waterstones and all good book shops as well. Amazing. Yeah. So thank you so much for speaking to me today. Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me.
Where you can find me
You’ve been listening to the Calmer You podcast. With me, Chloe Brotheridge. Don’t forget you can download loads of freebies for anxiety and confidence at my website calmer-you.com.
You can also find out about my app and my one on one sessions. Please do subscribe to this podcast in the apple podcast app. If you have enjoyed it or found it helpful, please leave me a review. It makes a massive difference to helping the podcast get discovered by other people. And come on over and find me on Instagram. And please share it with anyone who might need to hear this today. So I’m sending you lots of love and hope you have a brilliant week ahead.