How To Manage Your Mental Health: Conversation with Sarah O’Shea from MentalNYC

Hey Sarah, let’s kick off by sharing a little bit about who you are? 

Hi! My name is Sarah. I am the Co-Founder and CEO of Mental NYC, a mental health-focused wellness practice. I am also a meditation guide and a reiki practitioner.  

I currently live in Williamsburg with my partner and fellow Mental NYC Co-Founder Brendan and my dog Lady. 

What has been your biggest challenge in 2020, and what tools have you used to help heal from it?

I think it has been incredibly challenging to go from a world where we are so used to having physical boundaries such as different places to work and rest and play to essentially having no boundaries at all. It has been a huge journey in getting to know myself and the practices I need to put in place to thrive energetically. 

Therapy is always very big for me in terms of healing. I also make sure I am working in movement and meditation at some point throughout my day. I truly notice such a difference in my mental state when these things are part of my routine. 

You launched MentalNYC in September last year with the objective to… 

Our mission through Mental NYC is to create space for mental health conversation.  My partner and I started Mental NYC during a time when we were on our own mental health journeys. We noticed what an impact movement and meditation had on our mental health and we wanted to create community and conversation around that. 

We currently offer movement, meditation, and conversation focused offerings through our online membership and IRL at pop-up locations throughout NYC. 

For those who are yet to recognize the value of meditation through movement, can you please share some cool facts about the benefits of these practices? 

Meditation allows us to slow down and tune into our bodies and our minds. It creates space for us to think, to process, to just be. This is so important but something we rarely make time to do in the world we live in. As New Yorkers, this is something we were seeing so often. There can be such a resistance to ‘do nothing’ in American culture where it is actually greatly celebrated and prioritized in other cultures.  

From a scientific standpoint, consistent meditation practice has actually been shown to change the structure of your brain. Harvard did a study that found that after eight weeks of regular meditation there was a decrease in volume in the amygdala – the part of your brain responsible for fear, anxiety, and stress. 

What are some of the events you’ve hosted to welcome people into practicing ‘meditation through movement?’

Our signature offering Mental Movement is a high-intensity interval workout that weaves in presence techniques and ends with a centring guided meditation. We wanted to create a practice that was inherently mindful but that was also accessible to those that may not be familiar with meditation or mindfulness practice. It is also scientifically proven to be easier to drop into a meditative state after you have exerted a high amount of energy making it more accessible for first-time meditators.

We’ve hosted events at venues throughout NYC such as The William Vale, North Brooklyn Farms, and Dumbo House that feature our signature workout Mental Movement along with the mental health-focused conversation.

What is your personal journey with mental health and why did you make it your mission to create a community committed to mental health awareness? 

At the time we started Mental NYC I had been seeing a therapist regularly for 3 years and noticed when I brought up my mental health within my own community that it still carried such a stigma. I am someone who has suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. Not the kind you experience from Sunday ‘scaries’, more like the kind where you end up in the ER because you think you’re having a heart attack. Before therapy, I used to avoid emotions more often than not which resulted in my anxiety attacks. Now I allow myself to feel things. 

I am a Latina woman whose community primarily stems from South Florida so therapy tends to be something that is seen as taboo or a last resort. I wanted to shift the conversation to therapy being something you can do as a preventative or proactive measure – to emphasize that having this mental check-in’s should be as normal as working out. Through Mental NYC we’re able to connect the dots and offer stepping stones for people who might just be paying attention to their mental health for the first time. For a lot of people movement and meditation can be a more accessible way to start thinking about their mental health. 

Today, we’re celebrating World Mental Health Day. What does this day represent to you? 

It is so amazing that Mental Health is becoming more mainstream. I feel that we are definitely starting to see younger generations being more open to speaking about their mental health. Conversation and awareness truly create change. 

If you recognize someone who is mentally struggling, what’s the best way to approach the situation?

Checking in with someone can go such a long way when you notice that someone might be mentally struggling. If this is the case, asking ‘How are you?’ can be a loaded question. Some other ways to check in might look like telling them you miss them, sending a photo, sharing a memory, or sending them a song you like. 

If I am someone who is mentally struggling, what are some daily mechanisms I can incorporate into my life to heal my pain? 

While I am not an expert, I believe that everyone’s journey to healing is truly individual. In my own journey movement and meditation truly are my first line of defence. When I am struggling mentally this might look like 10 minutes a day and slowly working my way up. Journaling has also been extremely therapeutic when I am at a low point. 

If you are mentally struggling it could be a good idea to seek therapy so that you and your therapist can come up with a game plan together. That said, we know access to therapy is difficult for many. This is something we are working to shed on a light on. We also recommend, a free therapy matchmaking resource.

At moxie, we’re very passionate about the ‘gut-brain axis’ (biochemical signalling that takes place between the gastrointestinal tract and central nervous system). With your previous experience in having IBS, how has diet and stress impacted your IBS journey? 

IBS is something I struggled with when I was younger and was definitely brought on by stress. As a child I was the overachiever perfectionist type – these tendencies are where a lot of my anxiety comes from even today. It’s something I’ve really had to work on. 

It is not something I check in with nearly enough so I am happy to find accountability through this community and to begin exploring the gut-brain axis. 

Both gut and mental health issues are heavily downplayed by the rest of society. Together as a team, moxie and MentalNYC endeavour to combat this issue through conversation and transparency… In what ways do you hope we can ‘change the conversation?’

My hope is that the conversation will turn towards how we can be proactive about our mental health and well-being. How can it be a conversation even before we start feeling bad? Even happiness is part of mental health – recognizing what makes you feel happy is just as important as recognizing what makes you sad. I hope that we will start to see these conversations more woven into our daily lives. 

Besides our exciting, new partnership what else does ‘mentalNYC’ have in store for 2020/2021?   

We’re launching our virtual Mental Check-In Community Series this month which I am excited to be hosting! We also have a course offering in the works and more chances to move and meditate with us IRL!

What podcasts are you listening to at the moment? 

I am not a huge podcaster but I have recently been listening to Co-Inspired Conversations With Myisha T. I think it’s really important for us to continue checking in with and challenging our own views of power, privilege, and racism. These conversations have been insightful for me and a way to continue checking in. 

Other than that I am probably listening to a meditation lol

What are your three favorite brain healing foods? (eg. Chocolate, matcha, mangoes for me)…

Dark chocolate, avocados, cherries

What’s your favorite quote to get you going in the mornings? 

Seek the wisdom that will untie your knot. Seek the path that demands your whole being. -Rumi

The above content is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice or diagnosis and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. moxie shall not be liable for any claim, loss, or damage arising out of the use of, or reliance upon any content or information in this article.

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