You probably know that being healthy means eating a balanced diet and working some fitness into your daily routine. But when’s the last time you did a mental health check?

With Oct. 7 – 13 being National Mental Health Awareness Week and Oct. 10 being National Mental Health Day, we thought it was the perfect time to sit down with New York City-based lifestyle influencer (@jera.bean), creator and SmartyPants brand ambassador Jera Foster-Fell to get her tips on maintaining mental wellbeing.

A former SoulCycle instructor turned full-time influencer, Foster-Fell suffered from anxiety during what she now refers to as her former life.

 

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“I had this really big problem, but I was in complete denial,” said Foster-Fell during an interview at her apartment in Brooklyn. “I would get so nervous and so anxious it would result in these physical symptoms that would bubble up.”

She finally broke down and decided to see a therapist. He helped her understand she had social anxiety and how to manage it. The experience changed her life.

“The biggest take away from it, besides just working on my social anxiety, is that anxiety is not something that ever goes away. It’s something that you learn to manage. And I think that’s a much more digestible thing that we can take in because then it takes off the pressure to be perfect. Your anxiety that you’re dealing with will always be there but you can learn how to minimize it,” said Foster-Fell.

While she’s not a certified therapist or counselor, Foster-Fell has a powerful message that she shares with her community of followers on Instagram. She’s an advocate for empowering women and inspiring confidence along the way.

“The response I’ve had so far has been so wonderful. So I’d like to continue growing that and fostering this community where women know that they’re unstoppable and that they can be unapologetically themselves and just attack life with joy and passion and confidence,” said Foster-Fell. 

Along with how she overcame anxiety, Foster-Fell also shared her how-to tips for channeling your inner confidence to finding the perfect workout routine. Here’s what she had to say:

Q.  Tell us about your experience with anxiety. I know this was something that became a really debilitating part of your life. What was that like and how you were able to overcome it?

A. That’s something I like to refer to as my former life because I feel like I’ve been through many lives at this point. So in my former life, I was really unhappy. I was at a really challenging job that caused me to lose hair. I was in the middle of transitioning relationships, and there was just a lot of stuff going on for me personally. And I think that I had this really big problem, but I was in complete denial. I didn’t realize it was a problem.

What happened was, it was this increasing effect of being really nervous and scared and having a lot of anxiety in social situations… In meetings at work or going to social functions with my boyfriend, I would get so nervous and so anxious. It would result in these physical symptoms that would bubble up. I would get really hot and start to sweat and because those physical symptoms manifested, I then started fearing those physical symptoms. I then started to do some crazy things to avoid having to deal with that.

For example, I bought these really strong sweat wipes from Amazon, that I don’t think anyone should use. They‘re really only for your armpits, but I would apply them to my face. You’re supposed to do it the night before. It’s really strong stuff. And it hurt my face skin. It burned, and I would wake up, and my face was red. But it was so strong that it stopped the sweat glands on my face. So, when I would go to whatever the social event was or have a meeting at work, I would get really hot, but I wouldn’t have the sweat. To me this was like, oh cool, I fixed the problem. It was sort of this Band-Aid solution.

There was a lot more that happened within that. I ended up talking to my mom one night and started to describe what I was going through, and she was like, Jera there’s a deeper underlying issue here that you need to address. It was the moment that I acknowledged I had a problem that needed work to fix. Then, I made this big decision to seek out a therapist. I saw someone who specialized in social anxiety, which it turned out I had. I saw him for about a year, and it changed my life.

The biggest take away from it, besides just working on my social anxiety, is that anxiety is not something that ever goes away. It’s something that you learn to manage. And I think that’s a much more digestible thing that we can take in because then it takes off the pressure to be perfect. It’s like your anxiety that you’re dealing with will always be there but you can learn how to minimize it.

Q. That’s great that you were able to come to that point of self awareness. That’s something that I think a lot of people don’t have, and it’s hard for them to talk about their problems. That’s really inspiring to hear your story. What are some tips that you could give other people who may be struggling with something and who maybe don’t know how to talk to someone about it.

A. Well, I think something that you mentioned, self-awareness, is key. So it’s really just starting to become in tune with your mind and your body and your thoughts and yourself. The first step, if you’re going through something, is admitting that you have a problem and admitting that you need help. I think in this day and age there’s been this stigma for a while, that it’s shameful or embarrassing to ask or admit that you need help.

But there’s nothing wrong in saying, hey I need some help. Regardless if it’s mental health or working on your fitness or needing to improve your eating habits or whatever it is. It’s such a powerful move to acknowledge that there’s a difficulty that you’re going through and then take the next step to ask for help.

Q. Now, another thing you’re really well-known for is inspiring confidence, and that’s part of that too, having the confidence to be able to come to that self-realization So, what are some tips you might have for people on to reclaim their confidence and feel empowered in their everyday?

Well confidence is a huge genre and topic for me. I feel really passionate about it just because I think people and especially women, which is primarily my audience, want more confidence. They’re currently lacking confidence, and I think it’s really easy in this day and age to look at your peers or look at your co-workers or scroll through Instagram and think that, oh my goodness, everyone has confidence accept for me and that they were just given it and born with it.

I think maybe one percent of the population is in fact born with confidence. So great for them. They have a special gene, but for the rest of us, it’s something that we have to actively work towards. I think that when we acknowledge that confidence is not given and that it’s something that we have to put effort into, that’s when we can have a little bit of a mental switch and actively choose and work towards confidence each day, rather than thinking it’s just going to come towards us.

When it comes to specific tips (for finding confidence), it’s so customizable by each person because we’re all different in what we need and what we’re seeking. I think a first actionable tip that I would give is for people to define what confidence is because confidence is not something you can touch. It’s not like this physical characteristic. It’s this intangible feeling. So we have this word confidence but what does it actually mean to you. Once you can put a why behind that word and that feeling then you can actively work towards, how am I going to get this. Is confidence the way that I appear? Is confidence the way that I sound? Is confidence the way that I walk into a room or the way I interact with people? What are the different things behind it, and then you can start working towards it.

One thing that I really love to look at is people’s posture. If you look around. If you’re on the subway or walking on the street or even us here right now. We’re all used to being on our phones where we’re hunched over and our back is round, and we end up in this closed off position. If you start to physically take up space and roll your shoulders back and pop up your chest a little bit, you’re shifting your confidence in just a matter of seconds. So I think that is a huge tip that one can take on easily. I can go on with more if you want me to.

Q. What other confidence-building tips do you have for our readers?

A. One other thing that just popped into my head that I think is so important is to try things that scares you and to get out of your comfort zone. And that sounds like a really big undertaking, but I think if you break it down, we realize that we have a lot of fear in our daily lives. So, for example, maybe there’s a workout class that you’ve been wanting to try and you can’t get any of your friends to go with you, and you’re scared of going alone. That isn’t this big colossal thing, but in our minds we’ve made it this big deal.

There’s something really empowering and freeing about breaking through that fear or feeling the fear and doing it anyway… Just kinda going for it, and knowing, like in this specific example of a workout class. You’ll probably have no idea what you’re doing, and you’re going to look stupid and feel a little uncomfortable.

But when you leave the workout class, regardless of how you performed. It’s this empowering feeling of knowing that you pushed past a fear to try something. And I think when you get out of your comfort zone that automatically builds confidence.

Every single person that’s good at something, whether it’s a workout class or public speaking or networking or writing. Everyone had to start somewhere, and most likely when they started they really sucked at it. So we tend to see the final chapter and compare ourselves… But we have to remember that there were so many steps that they took to get good at whatever their skill or their craft is.

Q. What are some things that you do on a daily basis to keep you sanity and to stay balanced and to not let stress or whatever is going on in your life bog you down and take you to a negative space?

A.  So, recently I started doing time blocking or calendar blocking. It’s really great. We all have To Do lists right. We write down all the things we have to do, and I found that anytime I made a to do list, I’d cross a few things off, but then at the end of the day I still had a ton to do. With time blocking, you actually add a chunk to your calendar and say what you’re going to do within that time and get it done… It provides a little sanity and organization to my day, and it’s also allowing for free time.

The next thing that’s super important is fitness and working out. I’ve been very active for the last three years or so. I was a SoulCycle instructor and am no longer doing that. So, it’s a bit of a transition to now figure out fitness as a non-fitness professional. But I’ve been reincorporating that into my routine and figuring out what I want to do with my identity because I still love going to workout classes.

I just find that when I do make my workouts and exercise a priority, I feel so much better. I feel so much better in my headspace. I feel more on point and focused the rest of the day. It’s so crucial to my overall wellbeing and mental health.

Q. When it comes to fitness, what are some things that people can do to help figure out a new routine? Maybe they moved or want to find a new gym or they’re looking to start a something new, but they don’t know what to do.

A. When it comes to finding a new workout routine or starting something new I think there are two super important factors. One is being curious and finding something that you actually enjoy doing. Because I don’t think that working out should be a complete chore and misery. And two, convenience. What’s going to fit into your schedule and what’s in your neighborhood?

For me I’m a huge group fitness advocate just because I get my energy from being in a room with other people and having an instructor motivating me and telling me what to do. So, I know for myself, that I’m much more likely to go to a class and really work hard than go to the gym. But some people are the complete opposite… So it’s finding what you enjoy doing whether it’s yoga or running or a spin class. You have to find what’s going to excite you and get you out of bed at 6 a.m. when your alarm goes off and you’re trying to squeeze your workout in before work.

Q. Why is it important to you to be a role model for confidence for other women and what inspires you to keep sharing this positive message?

A. I think what initially inspires me is when I hear back from my community, it’s my favorite thing whether it’s something really small. I like to post funny things or me just being silly. So, when someone writes me and says, watching your silly dance video or the joke you made, made me laugh today. Or seeing you early at the gym is what made me get out of bed and go to the gym. Those smaller moments really make me feel fulfilled.

Then there are the larger moments, when people write me and tell me, because you talked about this or you provided an example of doing this in your life, it allowed me to reach out and make my first therapy appointment… That’s my motivation. Making a positive impact in peoples’ lives is so fulfilling for me.

Note from the Editor: This interview was edited for style and length. Jera Foster-Fell is a sponsored influencer for SmartyPants Vitamins.

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Posted on October 10, 2018