Don’t take on too much at once. Instead, try breaking down daily tasks into more manageable steps. This increases feelings of accomplishment and prevents you from becoming overwhelmed. For example, instead of cleaning your entire house on Sunday, do a different room (or even half a room) every day.
As a part of our series about Mental Health Champions helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Jaime Zuckerman.
Dr. Jaime Zuckerman is a Pennsylvania-based licensed clinical psychologist in private practice. She specializes in the treatment of adults with mood disorders, anxiety, relationship stress and psychological symptoms associated with medical illness. She is a frequent speaker on various mental health topics, media contributor to online publications, TV, radio and podcasts, and host her own weekly podcast, It’s Me, Dr. Z with JB.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I was born and raised as an only child in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. After high school, I attended The Ohio State University as a psychology major. Following graduation, I returned to Philadelphia and worked as an advertising executive for a couple of years before making the decision to get a doctorate in clinical psychology.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
I am a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. I have been in practice for 15 years and focus on the treatment of adults with mood and anxiety disorders. I also specialize in narcissistic relationships and help those experiencing narcissistic abuse.
I work with adults of all ages over eighteen. While I do see both men and women, most of my patients tend to be female. I approach treatment from an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy model (ACT). ACT focuses on changing behaviors to be more aligned with one’s values, and teaches you to sit with, rather than struggle against, uncomfortable thoughts and emotions.
As a psychologist, I believe it is my responsibility to educate others about mental wellness; something I am very passionate about. Breaking down mental health stigma, helping people feel they are not alone, and reminding them there is help available are the driving forces behind my educational efforts. I use social media as a primary vehicle to disseminate accurate, evidenced-based general mental health information. I also do a considerable amount of work and education on narcissism in relationships and narcissistic abuse. In the past, this topic was rarely discussed. While it has garnered more attention in recent years, there is a lot of misinformation about what narcissism is and how it manifests in relationships.
I host a weekly podcast, It’s Me, Dr. Z with JB, which discusses how to navigate everyday life stress, narcissism in relationships, and basic tips and strategies for managing anxiety and mood disorders. Additionally, I have an anxiety management workbook coming out this April 2022.
Additionally, I offer virtual workshops, live segments across social media platforms, and consult to various organizations on mental wellness topics. I am also on the professional board of the Epilepsy Foundation of Eastern Pennsylvania (EFEPA) and am a frequent presenter on Epilepsy and mental health.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by how people “work,” what makes them who they are, and how our upbringings impact our life choices. I remember taking a psychology class in high school and thinking this is what I want to do. I was absolutely fascinated with the brain and how it worked. But what was most intriguing to me was the role it played in personality development.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
In the years following graduate school I had worked for various hospitals as a clinical psychologist. I knew I wanted to go into private practice but was hesitant to take that leap. Would I make it? Would I have any patients? How do I even go about setting up my own practice? (Something graduate school does not teach you).
I think for me, my “aha moment” wasn’t necessarily a moment, but was more gradual. I remember being on maternity leave after having my first child, feeling completely overwhelmed with the idea of being a new mom and going back to work. It became extremely important to me that I had flexibility to set my own hours and have control over my caseload. The combination of wanting to enjoy being a new mom, yet also making sure I took care of myself and protected my time, was my final trigger.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
While not necessarily a “story,” the most interesting thing that has happened to me since opening my practice would be the role social media has played in my work. Two summers ago, I vividly recall making an Instagram account for my psychology practice. I had no expectations. I just wanted to help educate people about mental health; maybe my posts could help someone during a tough time in their lives.
Two years later, my Instagram page has transformed into a mental health resource for 50k people, provided me opportunities to connect and collaborate with other experts in the field and establish myself as a mental health influencer. This has allowed me to educate thousands of people in engaging and creative ways. It is a privilege and an honor to do this work and is something I do not take lightly.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Yes, absolutely. I would say my biggest, and most consistent, influence is my cousin. She is a big part of why I decided to become a clinical psychologist.
My cousin is a prominent neuropsychologist and I have always been fascinated by her work. I have looked up to her professionally for most of my life and she undoubtedly gave me the inspiration and courage to open my own practice. Watching her start her own neuropsychology practice and seeing it grow over the years was a big part of my motivation.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
While the stigma of mental health has improved significantly over the years, it remains a topic that many are unwilling to openly discuss. Some fear that talking about their mental illness will be met with judgment and a lack of sympathy. They fear they’ll be viewed as “different” or “crazy.”
Sometimes people with mental health disorders are thought to be “dangerous” or scary. This faulty perception exists for many reasons including how mental illness is portrayed on tv, an overall lack of mental health awareness, and an abundance of misinformation available online. Stigma can be a barrier to getting treatment. This can lead to a worsening of symptoms and significantly interfere with relationships, work, and even physical health.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
Individuals: Chances are you know someone who struggles with their mental health. It is extremely important you educate yourself. Educate yourself on symptoms, familiarize yourself with resources in your area and only seek information from reputable sources and licensed mental health providers. Check in on people who seem anxious, sad, or just not like themselves lately. Even if they choose not to tell you, just knowing that someone cares enough to ask can go a long way. Sometimes it’s difficult for people to communicate what they need, that’s why simply offering to listen or just sit with them can be so helpful.
Society: Continue to normalize mental health as being no different than our physical health. The two are inherently intertwined and should not be viewed or treated as separate entities. Encourage conversation. Share your stories, let others know they are not alone. Openly sharing our own personal struggles helps eliminate the shame and guilt felt by many with mental illness. Places of employment should prioritize mental wellness for all employees, including educational opportunities and mental wellness days.
Government: I feel strongly that mental health education, including things like mindfulness training, should be mandated for school-aged children. It should be implemented into school curriculums at every grade level including at the university level. This could dramatically reduce stigma and normalize mental health as health. Access to treatment should be easy and affordable. Like seeing your primary care doctor for an annual check-up, mental health also needs to be treated as preventative medicine
What are your 5 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1. Attention to sleep hygiene. It is known that poor sleep significantly impacts our mental health, so it’s important we adopt good sleep habits:
- No eating two hours before bed
- Get into bed the same time every evening and get up the same time every morning
- No bluescreen (phone/tv/tablet) an hour before bed
- Do not nap or relax in your bed. Bed is for nighttime sleep only. Instead, nap or relax on a couch or chair.
2. Do something you enjoy once per day (or as frequently as you can per week). This provides us with structure to our days and gives us a feeling of mastery. Also, doing things we enjoy helps to decrease the stress hormones in our bodies.
3. Make sure you prioritize what is important to you and do it more often, even if it’s something small. Something I try to do every morning for myself is to take ten minutes alone to have a cup of coffee and organize my thoughts for the day.
4. Don’t take on too much at once. Instead, try breaking down daily tasks into more manageable steps. This increases feelings of accomplishment and prevents you from becoming overwhelmed. For example, instead of cleaning your entire house on Sunday, do a different room (or even half a room) every day.
5. Connect with others. Social support is so critical to mental well-being. Meeting for coffee, video chatting with a friend over the weekend, going to a workout class, a book club. Anything that promotes connection.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
- Quick Calm by Dr. Jennifer Wolkin
- My favorite psychology workbook would most definitely be Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life by Dr. Steven Hayes.
- Meditation Minis
- The Hilarious World of Depression
- The Shrink Chicks
- The Trauma Therapist Podcast
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Making a positive impact on our world gives people hope; hope that change is possible.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Mental Health Champions: How Dr Jaime Zuckerman Is Helping To Promote Mental Wellness was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.