‘Monitor What You Are Taking In’

‘Monitor What You Are Taking In’

By Sarah Whitman/ Tampa Bay Faith

Kelli Wild, owner of Attuned. Parent & Child Therapy in Tampa, has helped hundreds of families navigate tough situations. Wild, a mother of four and wife of Grace Family Church executive pastor Dean Wild, often works with trauma victims. She offers children adjusting to mental health diagnoses and their families support.

Still, Wild never imagined counseling clients through a pandemic.

As a Christian, Wild’s therapy methods are grounded in the divinely- designed connection between mind, body and spirit. The last few months, she has seen people hurt and heal in unexpected ways. I asked her to share her thoughts regarding this unprecedented time.

These last few months have been difficult for everyone. What are some of the effects you have seen in regard to mental health? 

When the pandemic started, it was described as a ‘situational crisis’ and
counselors were being told signs to look for and how to help. Yet, it’s been one situation on top of another, and this has gone on much longer than I think any of us anticipated. So now, five months in, we are seeing the effects of high levels of stress for a prolonged period of time.

I have seen some deep resolve, resilience and true grit – all alongside heartbreak and struggle. The parents and families I work with have children with unique needs. As these moms and dads have embarked on trying to school their children – while working or being concerned about income, health, the well being of extended family members and friends, addressing racial injustice/anti-racism, and the political climate – all on top of isolation – it’s been quite a storm. People have tried to find their balance in it all, only to be knocked off balance again. In this, I have observed an increase in relational tensions, parenting challenges, marital conflict, depression, anxiety and grief.

Yes, people are struggling. Yet being home has also allowed some to reconnect in positive ways, as well as to realize some issues that have likely been there all along but perhaps were masked with busyness. Many families have told me that this forced slowing down is allowing them to address some struggles they’ve been avoiding.

Though very difficult, for some this has also been a season of reflection. They have been pondering questions like: What is most important? What do I need to work on changing within myself, my family? Am I truly valuing the relationships I have in my life? What am I grateful for and am I focusing on that or other things? What will I do differently to care for myself, my family, my community? What does love look like right now? God, what are you saying in all of this?

It is often after we leave the valleys of life that we are able to look back and see that the Good Shepherd was with us all along, working deep and meaningful things into our hearts and souls. He knows this valley – there is no aspect of it that he is surprised by – and can be trusted that even when we can’t yet see it, He is working on our behalf.

For those already struggling with conditions such as depression and anxiety, difficult emotions have been heightened? What advice do you offer to prevent conditions from worsening?

To those experiencing heightened levels of anxiety and depression, I just want you to know you are not alone. If I could offer you any advice, it would be to reach out in some way to share your journey with another person. You may need to be creative in this, but seek out connection. When we are depressed or experiencing anxiety, we often want to withdraw, yet the very thing we need is another human to truly see us and to truly hear us.

Some other daily considerations: Get outside and get moving if you can, let your feet touch the grass and sit in the sun, practice mindful self care (pray, read your bible, meditate on the word, listen to worship music), and limit the amount of news you are taking in. Also, reach out for professional help if you need it. Many services are available online right now. From the comfort of your home, you can speak to a doctor or a counselor.

As a Christian, how do you perceive the relationship between faith and mental health?

God created every aspect of who we are and He says we are fearfully and
wonderfully made. Every instruction given in his word can be trusted to help us with all aspects of our lives, including our mental health. Things like prayer, thinking about what is good/His goodness and discovering purpose for our life are all part of our faith journey. Yet, they are also all things that help our mental well being.

Jesus boiled faith down to this, ‘Love God with everything in you, love yourself, and love your neighbor.’ As we focus our faith journey on learning to love well in these three categories, the natural byproduct is that our mental health will be positively impacted.

What scriptures do you recommend reading to calm the mind?

I have always loved turning to the Psalms to help calm the mind. David, who primarily authored the Psalms, went through many difficulties including depression. He honestly speaks of his struggles and pain, yet somehow manages to hang on to an understanding of God’s goodness and sovereignty. He grieves, yet finds joy in the Lord. He sings songs, yet expresses sadness about his current circumstances. The Psalms model for us how to authentically live in the tension between the reality of our pain and the hope that is found in Christ alone.

For those who don’t usually struggle with mental health, how can world events alter emotional and mental well being? What can people do to maintain a healthy outlook?

Our brains are wired to quickly interpret our circumstances and determine if safety is an issue. If we perceive we are in danger our bodies respond in a protective mode in order to survive. We will find ourselves experiencing a fight, freeze or flee response. Many challenging world events are deeply impacting every day life right now, often leaving people feeling an ongoing sense of danger. This has resulted in many experiencing a heightened sense of being on alert that is showing up in different forms – anxiety, a shorter than normal fuse and depression.

Check in with yourself about how you’re really doing. If you watch the news or scroll on social media for 10 minutes, does your heart rate
rise? Do you feel more anxious? Monitor what you are taking in, pray, and talk to a trusted friend or professional. For many, the old saying of ‘take one day at a time’ is truly a practice to institute right now. Do your best to be present in the present. Pray to know the difference between what you can and can not control, and then do your best to focus on what is within your control and continue to lay the rest at the foot of the cross.

I know this is easier said than done, as many are going through exceptionally high levels of stress right now, yet that is why it is most important to take it one day at a time and do what you can. Above all,
please don’t face things alone. God made us to be in relationship with Him and with others. You are not the only one feeling what you are feeling right now!

Reach out for help if you need it. You can always call 211 if you want to find out about helpful resources in our community.

Parents sometimes wonder what to and not to share with their kids about world events. What is your advice?

Talk to your children about what is going on in your family and in our world in a way that is mindful of their development. Think of it this way – when your child was young, you paid attention to everything she ate and you probably cut her food up in small bites. As she got older, you kept an eye on her overall diet, yet you allowed her more variety. Developmentally, she could handle bigger bites.

Be careful to monitor your child’s ‘diet’ of current events. Provide honest
information in developmentally appropriate ‘bites.’ Help your child understand the information that is being provided by discussing it with them. These are challenging times, yet there are many opportunities for meaningful discussions about values that are important to your family, as well as how to turn to God and trust him during difficulty. It is not wise to leave the news on and allow your child to ingest too much in an unsupervised fashion. As adults we need to be careful about how much we are taking in right now – how much more so for our children!

How can parents protect their children’s mental and emotional health during this time?

Our children are looking to us for cues as to whether or not things are okay. They are like thermometers, picking up on the changes of temperature within our homes. Whether we directly verbalize it or not, children can sense our tension, fear, frustration or anxiety. We are their safe place and we set the tone for how they will interpret what is happening. One way we can help our children is to be mindful to care for ourselves during this time.

If you’re feeling worried, anxious or afraid, find a safe person to talk to, pray, get outside and take a walk – do what you can to navigate your own heart and mind. Take care of you so that you can then help your child. As you are modeling caring for your mental and emotional needs, you are teaching your child how to do so.

Additionally, do your best to talk to your children and offer that safe place for them to express how they are feeling and what they are thinking. That’s always a high value. Try to create a sense of routine and have some fun as you can. Parents are experiencing high levels of stress right now.

Most people are doing the best they can, and that’s all you can do. Now is a time to have lots of grace for yourself and for your child. Meet the basic needs first, try to have some fun and connect as you can (keep
those lines of communication open), some level of routine helps (do what you can) and offer lots of kindness towards yourself.

How has your faith kept you strong and helped you help others during this time?  

I have hung on to my faith tightly throughout these last 5 months, as I’ve
navigated my own set of challenges while also walking alongside my clients as they’ve faced theirs. In the wrestle of life, I have found myself having to answer two big questions. Is God good? And, is He sovereign? We may have to wrestle with two questions many times in our lives. I know I have.

For me, turning to the scripture has reminded me that yes, He is good. And, yes, He is still working for our good today. I choose to trust that He is over all things. He promises that He can weave even the most messy, deeply painful parts of our story into His overall plan in a way that is good. I have decided I have no alternative but to choose to trust that, and I choose it over and over.

I am a person who has been saved by His grace. And God has called me to be a people helper not because I have all the answers, but because He has healed me and set me free. So, I know He can do that for anyone.

For more information or to contact Kelli Wild, visit www.attunedparentchild.com or call (813) 777-5961.

Kelli’s credentials/training include:
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (Florida License No: SW 14498)
TBRI Practitioner (Trust Based Relational Intervention)
Adoption Competent Trainer for the State of Florida
Graduate of Savannah Parenting Institute
BA from Flagler College – Philosophy/Religion, minor in Psychology (1992)
Masters in Social Work (clinical emphasis) – University of South Florida (2001)