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Achieving Strong Mental Health and Happiness

Featured Speaker

Maleah Cummings, PsyD

Maleah Cummings, PsyD

About this Podcast

About This Podcast

We live in a world where it's far too easy to be hard on ourselves and our family.

Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Maleah Cummings, a provider at Aspirus Ironwood, joins the show to explain how to foster healthy emotional and mental health for you and your whole family.



Melanie Cole (Host):  We live in a world where it's so easy to be hard on ourselves and especially women with all that negative self-talk we give ourselves on a pretty much daily basis. My guest today is a clinical psychologist at Aspirus, Dr. Maleah Cummings. Welcome to the show, Dr. Cummings. Tell us about how we are so hard on ourselves, Dr. Cummings. We negative self-talk ourselves to bits and it's hard to get that emotional, healthy, good mental health. How do we do it and how do we stop with the negative stuff all the time?

Dr. Maleah Cummings (Guest):  Hello, Melanie and thank you very much. First and foremost, I would say that negative self-talk is something that almost anybody experiences. I would go even further than saying just women and really look at the general population and I think that this happens for many reasons. Some of those things might be our ideas of perfectionism and having to be the best wife, the best husband, the best daughter, the best son, the best parent. Some of those ideas and expectations are just simply too much for all humans and so I think that when we look at self-talk, especially negative self-talk, part of my role is to really help people understand that relationship between what they're thinking, what they're feeling and how they behave and really to try to take a look at whether or not some of that self-talk is even rational or grounded in any sort of fact.

Melanie: So, is it? Because that's a question I ask myself all the time and we would never put up with someone saying the things to us that we say to ourselves. “Oh, look at these bags under my eyes. Look how fat I look. Oh, God, when did this happen?” We say these horrible things to ourselves. How do we stop doing that?

Dr. Cummings:  Well, I think the first thing is all about awareness. I always talk about the fact that we need to get to be basically the fly on the wall inside of our brains. It's really about becoming a good detective and really paying attention to some of those thoughts because some of them are so automatic they happen almost to an extent in which we are not even aware that it's happening until later on when we feel like crap. So, it really becomes a matter of going into your own head and really paying attention to what exactly is it that I’m thinking and where did this come from?

Melanie:  So, how do we find that out, right? Some people will come and talk to someone such as yourself and some people will look inside and say what is it am I doing? We want to foster this healthy emotional situation and in our families, too. We don't want our kids, especially us women, Dr. Cummings, to hear us berating our own selves because they pick up on that.

Dr. Cummings:  Oh, absolutely. And, that can create self-esteem issues, even in children. So, I think primarily what you're asking is something I take a look at and I do within the therapeutic context, which is the use of something called “cognitive behavioral therapy”. What that is, is really helping people to, again, become aware of what is going on their own head and to become aware of potential thinking errors. I use that term pretty loosely in the fact that we all exhibit some of this. I think one of the ways that I tend to look at humans is that we're all a little messed up. It's just a matter of degrees so we have to figure that out. At that point when you look at CBT--that's that cognitive behavioral therapy-- the whole purpose is to generate this awareness and go in to take a look at where you might find some of those errors. Some of those things, like, I feel like an idiot; therefore, I am one. So,  we might go and we might say, “Well, let's look for the evidence,” and teach people to reframe things and replace it with something that actually makes a little bit more sense and that’s more healthy and more effective for them in the long run, especially in regards to coping.

Melanie:   That's great advice. So, tell us, how do we reframe those things? Give us some of your best tips, Dr. Cummings, to what people can do right now from this to change the way they feel about themselves today so that maybe tomorrow when they wake up they feel just a little bit better about themselves.

Dr. Cummings:  Well, I think first and foremost, perfectionism has to go out the window.  I don't think that it's healthy in any way, shape, or form to believe that we have to be perfect and that everything has to be perfect and that we are not humans with flaws because we are humans and we have flaws. I think that a big piece of this is cultural but at the same time, something that you can do today even is to do a little bit of an inventory of your strengths and your weaknesses. If you find that you're struggling with coming up with 10 strengths, then ask people and really take a look at this and go ahead and ask colleagues or ask friends or family to literally help yourself find those strengths because that says something. If you can't find strengths in yourself, yet you have a whole list of weaknesses, by and large, the tendency to engage in negative self-talk is pretty high. So, if we're looking at this, helping somebody sit down and do a good inventory and then to really focus in on those strengths and being able to identify that things aren't going to be perfect; that sometimes, good enough is okay; and really giving yourself a little bit of a pep talk along those lines to acknowledge, again, that things don't have to be perfect. You did the best you could or if things didn't go well and you made a mistake, that's okay because I guess I really tend to look at mistakes as an opportunity for learning lessons in life.

Melanie:  That is great, great advice. It really is. Now, where do exercise, nutrition, fall into this realm of giving ourselves that good emotional stability and mental health?

Dr. Cummings:  Oh, my goodness, I think that it plays a huge role. By and large, the way that I practice is really from kind of a holistic standpoint. I tend to focus a lot on the entire person and so engaging in cardiovascular activity, getting outside, getting fresh air, getting some sun while we still have it is important. You know, engaging in activities with other people, really socializing and doing things that are meaningful and purposeful, I think, are very important in terms of really creating a good self-worth and managing some of our emotional regulation. If I think about other things to really help people along these lines, it is really about taking good care of yourself from the most basic standpoint. So, getting good sleep, getting some exercise, engaging with individuals – family, friends, or co-workers – to have some sort of relationship in which you find a reciprocity or an ability to care and engage in some sort of loving kind of relationship because that's necessary, too.

Melanie:  I agree completely and that goes along that gratitude line and that nurturing and when you, for example, do some kind of charity work, you always feel better about yourself when you help others. Give us just a few more in the last few minutes.

Dr. Cummings:  Well, I think gratitude's a really important thing. You know, there's a lot to say in the world of positive psychology in terms of the fact that, generally, human beings tend to be drawn to the negative. So, for every negative experience that you have, those people in positive psychology will tell you that you need 5 positive experiences to kind of negate that. One way of really doing some good work there is to keep a gratitude diary and really take a look at the things that you can be thankful for, and those don't have to be big things. It can be something like “I woke up this morning”, “My car was working”. You know, things along those lines that we often forget to actually be thankful for and gratitude is a really wonderful anecdote for depression and anxiety and a lot of those difficult emotions.

Melanie:  And with children, how do we foster that emotional and mental health? Does the family dynamic play a role in fostering that for children? If they hear their parents fight if their mother is somebody who is always on a diet or any of those kinds of things, do those affect our children pretty severely and how can we, in just in the last minute or two, turn that around a little bit?

Dr. Cummings:  Well, I tend to think about parents, whether it be a single parent household or having the traditional two parent household, parents are good co-regulators for children. What that means is that children will look to them to try to figure out:  how do I handle anger? How do I handle sadness? How do I handle shame? Depression--all of those sorts of things. So, from the parent's perspective, I can't impress upon them enough to really teach them not only is it okay to be able to label and understand what's going on in terms of their feelings but that ultimately there's nothing wrong with those. It's just a matter of what you do with them. So, for parents, it's really helpful to be able to model really good coping strategies, really good emotional regulation, good self-esteem because that will, in turn, help your children grow to be healthy and emotionally regulated adults.

Melanie: Tell people your best advice and why they should come to see you if they're having trouble with their mental and emotional stability and these great tips and more great tips that you give at Aspirus Grand View.

Dr. Cummings:  Well, I think first and foremost that therapy does not have to be something that is shameful. I think, unfortunately, there's a lot of stigma out there with regards to mental health issues and that's not really what I'm about at all. More than anything, my intent is to really focus on recovery and help people get to a point in which they are the best version of themselves. So, it does not have to be something they come in for 5 years at a time, it might just be for a few months. But, it's giving them the skills that they need to go out there and to be that best person.

Melanie:  It's great information and what a lovely lady you are. Thank you so much, Dr. Cummings. You're listening to Aspirus Health Talk. For more information you can go to Aspirus.org. That's Aspirus.org. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.