Self-Awareness: Knowledge may be power, but self-awareness is key. Simply knowing what creates joy and happiness is not enough to actually create joy and happiness in your life. You must become a student in your own life, a fly on the wall of your day-to-day experiences, witness how you are experiencing this world through pure observation and not judgment.
It sometimes feels like it is so hard to avoid feeling down or depressed these days. Between the sad news coming from world headlines, the impact of the ongoing raging pandemic, and the constant negative messages popping up on social and traditional media, it sometimes feels like the entire world is pulling you down. What do you do to feel happiness and joy during these troubled and turbulent times? In this interview series called “Finding Happiness and Joy During Turbulent Times” we are talking to experts, authors, and mental health professionals who share lessons from their research or experience about “How To Find Happiness and Joy During Troubled & Turbulent Times”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dena Tibsherany.
Dena Tibsherany is a mother and Licensed Masters Level Social Worker with a decade of experience working in the public mental health field as a therapist and director with children and their families. Amidst the pandemic, she has pivoted her career creating and hosting the Empower 2 Heal podcast and providing empowerment based mental wellness coaching for mothers through her business One World Empowered. Dena specializes in mental health and wellness, trauma healing, postpartum mental wellness, parenting children with mental health needs, embodiment-based healing, and reiki.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
It is an honor to join you in this interview series, thank you for having me!
I was born and raised in Phoenix Arizona and grew up with my parents and older sister. I have been an introvert for as long as I can remember and a helper by nature. This combination of personality traits led me down the path of working with children. At the age of 12, I started my own business running a babysitter’s club with my friends, I later began working in daycares throughout high school, and became a counselor at the same summer camp I attended throughout my youth. When I went off to college, I knew I wanted to work with children and started exploring what capacity that would be in. At the end of my freshman year, I stumbled across the field of social work and earned my Bachelor’s degree in Social Work in 2010 and then my Master’s in Clinical Social Work at Arizona State University in 2011.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I would say my biggest inspiration in working with children first started with the wife of the director of the summer camp that I attended. Her name was Amanda, and over the years she became a summer mother to me. Amanda had a way of seeing each child at camp through a lens that witnessed their vulnerabilities and strengths and brought the two together to help them shine. She always knew exactly what you needed, simply by witnessing you, and she would step in and provide that while also building confidence and empowering you. She was the first person to connect me to a role at camp that filled my soul, supporting a young girl from the Make A Wish Foundation whose wish was to learn to ride a horse. From that day forward, I knew that I would work with kids and their families to support them in experiencing joy in the toughest of life’s situations.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I feel so grateful to have loving and supportive friends who cheer me on and boost me up when I feel discouraged. My strongest supporter is my husband. We met our very first weekend of college when we were 18 and have been together since. He has supported, encouraged, and been my rock throughout my studies and my journey in the field of social work. Doing this work can wear you down, you must learn to see the bright side and the lessons learned in every situation in order to continue to witness strengths to build upon with your clients. Without him, I’m not sure I would have weathered the storm well. I remember starting my work in a domestic violence shelter with women and children. I witnessed the unthinkable and supported these beautiful souls on their healing journey while experiencing secondary trauma from the work I did. My husband’s comfort and support were unshakable as I built up the skills I needed to be resilient in this work. He believed in me when I did not, he comforted me and helped me learn to regulate my emotions and treat my needs in order to continue to do so for others. Unconditional love goes so far in this world and often times is the greatest support system we could ever need.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
Boy oh boy, in the field of social work you often develop a warped sense of humor to survive! The learning moments are never-ending and the humility you must have to endure them is underrated. When I reflect on my journey working in the public system, the largest mistake that I feel I made, and that is perpetuated system-wide to this day, is a flaw in the design of our system. You see, by nature, professionals are seen as experts, and families are seen as clients. We provide and they receive…when, in reality, healing requires empowered action. Building the mental health model off the medical model forces mental health into a mindset of being healed by someone else. In the medical model, if you are hurting, you go to the doctor and the healing happens in a series of office visits with medical professionals and with medications. In essence, if you show up to all your appointments and you take the medications they prescribe you get better. Well, in the mental health field, when you go to a doctor or an expert and you show up to your appointments…that doesn’t mean you are going to get better. You quickly realize that the work lies in between appointments and in the habits of your days, your relationships, your environment, and in how you care for your physical body. The power lies with the individual receiving services, not the provider. This is a big reason why I left the public field. I needed to stand up and stand for empowered healing which requires empowered mindsets and empowered action by those who are seeking the healing.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
As I set out in the world, creating my own business and standing for what I believe in, I’ve decided to focus my attention on empowered healing and motherhood.
Earlier in 2021, I started a podcast called, “Empower 2 Heal”, which features different stories and journeys of healing, all of which showcase the empowered action required outside of the walls of a doctor’s office or a pill bottle. These are stories of hope, resilience, faith, and determination of everyday people who have overcome or are on the road to healing through extraordinary life circumstances. In episode two of this podcast, I shared my journey through postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD and received an overwhelming amount of feedback. I realized at that point, that I was not alone in my experiences and they were not rare, they were just taboo and thus under shared. This inspired me to take action in creating a community for mothers to support one another and learn ways to navigate through these struggles. I have since created an Empowered Mama’s support group on Facebook, accompanied by zoom meetings for free live support groups, and coaching opportunities for mamas in different seasons of life. I offer programs for tired moms who need a reset, programs for mothers of children with mental health needs, and programs for mothers in their postpartum season.
All in all, I have learned that if we start with mothers, we can create healing for generations to come. Thus, I target the hardest motherhood seasons and biggest difficulties to support mothers during those times through education, practices, and support systems so we can heal on a cellular genetic level and create lasting change.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
What a powerful question! I would say that my top three character traits include ambition, resilience, and passion. I remember being promoted to a manager position and asked to create a stabilization team for children transitioning out of acute inpatient hospitalizations and out of home placements back into the community. These children had complex mental health and behavioral health struggles that lead them to receive the highest level of interventions our state offers. When I was offered this position, I believe I was about 23 years old at the time, I was responsible for building the program from the ground up. I remember being called in by our Chief Clinical Officer and Director and told that I was the person for the job. They shared about my “toughness” and how I don’t shy away from hard things and discussed that this program will become what we make it. They believed in my abilities to dream big, create out-of-the-box interventions that had not been thought of before, build a team to carry out said interventions and treat the highest risk populations while overcoming barriers that we encountered. This opportunity solidified a foundation within me that supports me to this day. I know I can dream big, create what others have not, bust through barriers in my way, and uphold the standard of care that others deserve. People make miraculous outcomes in their lives against all odds, simply because they believe they can and they take aligned empowered action.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of finding joy?
After a decade of working with Arizona’s most vulnerable and high-risk populations, you begin to learn a thing or two about quality of life….and quality of life cannot be obtained without joy. I had the honor and privilege of supporting young people and their families in finding joy in their lives when they felt none…and the outcomes spoke for themselves. It is human nature to experience hardships…without the lows in life, we would take for granted the highs.
Additionally, I had difficulty experiencing joy when I was going through my postpartum season. Anxiety took the front seat of my life, quickly followed by exhaustion. Once I learned techniques to quiet my anxiety and I learned ways to support myself in getting quality sleep with a baby, I felt the spaces open within me that allowed joy in. Through my work and my personal experiences, I now know that joy is not felt simply by an experience becoming available to receive it…but it is felt by allowing ourselves to organize and tend to our own emotional and physical needs so we can make space for the joy that already exists around us. We do not need external circumstances to consistently stimulate joy for us, joy consistently surrounds us, and we become aware of this and experience it when we create the space and capacity within ourselves to do so.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about finding joy. Even before the pandemic hit, the United States was ranked at #19 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low, despite all of the privileges and opportunities that we have in the US?
This question holds such a beautiful depiction of the fallacy that joy is derived from external stimuli and sources. America may be rich in opportunities and privilege, but we are often poor in emotional intelligence, also known as your EQ. As a culture, America prioritizes achievements and intelligence, which often overshadows our necessity to develop our Emotional Intelligence. There has been a beautiful slow awakening around the power of EQ in our culture as the practice of Yoga, Meditation, and Mindfulness have become more mainstream. When we can understand, regulate, and move through our emotions we increase our resilience, our communication, and advocacy skills, and become more empowered to navigate life’s stressors. This, in turn, allows us to have the space within ourselves to move through the stressor, that we would otherwise ruminate over, in order to learn what we need to learn, release the emotions that don’t serve us, and move on with the things that bring us joy. Real joy is derived from being present in the given moments of our lives, connections with healthy nurturing and reciprocal relationships, moving from the receiver of a situation to the helper, and often through a belief and reassurance in a higher power that creates security in believing that everything will work out how it should…so we don’t have to constantly worry or try to control everything.
What are the main myths or misconceptions you’d like to dispel about finding joy and happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
I have personally experienced moments in my life where I had everything I could ever need…yet didn’t experience joy. I had the husband, the baby, the house, the car, the job…I had what I thought I was striving for my whole life…yet I didn’t feel joyous.
Now, when it comes to joy, you hear the cliché stories and watch the movies that teach the lessons that joy, self-love, and all the rainbows and unicorns of the world are experienced when you prioritize the right things. I was used to seeing the burnt-out dad on TV learn to come back to himself and his family…but I never quite equated it to myself and always thought that turning back to your family or loved ones was the lesson of the movie. Well, let me save you the headache, that’s not the lesson. Like many people, I am someone who often must learn through experiences. You can tell me something, but I won’t fully grasp the learning that is to be had until I fumble through it myself. When I entered motherhood, I realized the truth of this experience first-hand. My job had been my identity for so long and all of the sudden I was mom, milk maker, soother, the only one who could quiet the storm and the one who was up all day and night trying to figure it out. Well, motherhood felt painful, and work felt familiar, so I buried myself in my work…and slowly but surely I became numb. My anxiety in motherhood was high, and quite frankly motherhood didn’t feel like I thought it should. To top it off, my work was high stress so I kind of just plowed through my days doing hard things one right after the other disconnected from myself. It took me years to figure out what I needed and to begin to take empowered action in implementing it into my daily life, which strengthened my EQ to create space for joy. That is when I realized that joy is not from my achievements, it’s not from my job, it’s not even from motherhood. Joy is in all those things but can only be experienced when we create the space within ourselves to experience it.
In a related, but slightly different question, what are the main mistakes you have seen people make when they try to find happiness? Can you please share some stories or examples?
When we are presented with experiences that could be joyous but we don’t feel joy…we can become triggered and turn to shame, blame, and guilt. Which is the exact opposite of what we want. It is so easy to be hard on ourselves and others around us. It happens all of the time…resentment, irritability, and blame towards other cars during rush hour traffic when we’re in a hurry, becoming irritated with our loved ones for no good reason, feeling guilt for our irritability because we didn’t enjoy something or appreciate something in the moment. When we do this, when we jump to shame, blame, and guilt, we are setting the tone for our thoughts to be negative…which is a really hard place to derive joy from. It is not easy to go from shame to joy, though it is not impossible. The good news is that, as humans, our fantastic brains have the ability to rewire. We can reshape our perceptions, change our thought processes, change our actions, and reclaim our joy.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 things you need to live with more Joie De Vivre, more joy and happiness in life, particularly during turbulent times?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)
- Self-Awareness: Knowledge may be power, but self-awareness is key. Simply knowing what creates joy and happiness is not enough to actually create joy and happiness in your life. You must become a student in your own life, a fly on the wall of your day-to-day experiences, witness how you are experiencing this world through pure observation and not judgment. Notice your experiences within your body as you go through your days. Identify the connection between what you physically feel, your emotions, and what you experience. Develop a language to communicate how you are physically feeling and how that is connected to what you are emotionally feeling. This practice supports becoming attuned with yourself.
- Meaning Making: Take what you have learned through your non-judgmental observations and begin to make sense of them. Notice what triggers you, what soothes you, what feels good and what doesn’t…and begin to make sense of that. Creating a narrative to understand what we feel, can create a deeper understanding and connection to ourselves. We begin to analyze our emotions and feelings and learn what they are communicating. After all, emotions and feelings are both experiences that we have that serve a purpose. They are designed to communicate to us so we may survive and evolve as a species.
- Self-Regulation: Learn ways to regulate your emotions. Our bodies and brains are not designed to hold onto big emotions for long periods of time. Neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor teaches that it takes under 90 seconds for a thought or circumstance to trigger an emotion and physical reaction in your brain by releasing hormones that flood your brain and then wash out. So, in essence, our brains release the hormones needed that align with the thought, emotion, and action and then clears the hormones out within 90 seconds. Yet, we often retrigger these emotions with our thoughts or experiences which causes us to experience them for longer than 90-second intervals. So logic and science show that we can trigger our physical reactions through thoughts and experiences, which means we can change what we are triggering through thoughts and experiences to get a different outcome. By engaging in thought work and activities that connect our mind and body, we have the power to choose to engage in our days differently.
- Become Embodied: Connecting our mind to our body frees us to experience life how we want to. Simple practices, that we can do anywhere, can allow us to shift how we are communicating to our body and mind so we can shift which hormones our bodies are releasing. Joy and happiness are created by the secretion of pleasure hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. These are some of the hormones that may be triggered in our mind that release in about 90-second intervals. We can target these hormones and other hormones that promote relaxation (relaxin and progesterone) through our thoughts and our actions. One of my favorite techniques to relax my body and shift out of a heightened state is to engage in diaphragmatic breathing; breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth, keeping your stomach soft and relaxed while focusing (and refocusing as many times as needed) your mind on your breath and a mantra. This technique connects your body and your mind, stimulates your Vagus Nerve which communicates to your brain that you are safe, and allows your body to shift out of the stress response state into a rest and digest state. When your body is calm and relaxed, you have an increased capability to open your mind and body up to thoughts and experiences that promote the feeling of joy and happiness. A few other techniques you can try include humming, splashing cold water on your entire face, and shaking and dancing to release pent-up energy.
- Take Aligned Action: Take empowered aligned action in your day-to-day life. These practices are not band-aids when you get hurt, they are daily practices that shift and reshape your brain. If you use these practices reactively, your results will be less reliable. It can be helpful to remember that your brain is a muscle and needs to be “worked out” to become stronger in the ways you want it to. You go to the gym to work out as a means to increase your strength so you can use that strength in your day-to-day life…Why not do the same with your mind? Exercise your brain daily through both your thought work and your mind-body work when you are in a pleasant state so you can access these tools more easily when you become triggered or escalated.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to effectively help support someone they care about who is feeling down or depressed?
If someone you care about appears to be down or depressed, the most impactful thing you can do is to sit/be with them. Be a non-judgmental and unconditional support system for them.
I often equate this experience to that of Winnie the Pooh. Eeyore may be down and depressed but his friends continue to love and include him. They invite him to things, they think of what he may like to do, they surround him with love and kindness, they accept him.
Creating this type of atmosphere by engaging in healthy dialog with your loved one about what they enjoy doing and when they do those things, may begin to inform you of what they are experiencing and how/if they are working through it. You can use what you learn and know about them to invite them to opportunities or to create experiences with them that support them in moving through their emotions. Additionally, there is tremendous power in normalizing experiences. Take moments to relate to the person you care about, be vulnerable first and share experiences that you feel may resonate…allow this to create safety in your connection and help erase some of the taboo nature that comes along with feeling down or depressed.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would use the power of inspiration through various forms of media (docuseries, social media, hashtag movements, TikTok trends, etc.) to empower the world to witness how ordinary moments can create healing. People all over the world from all cultures and circumstances have found ways to experience joy in their life. They have learned how to capture the power of everyday experiences to heal and move through their stressors and traumas to allow themselves to experience the present moment, the small and big joys in the world, to truly LIVE. These stories, of ordinary everyday people, need to be witnessed, celebrated, and shared so that others who may relate in one way or another can feel that spark of inspiration inside themselves to bravely step into their own empowered healing journey.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
At the risk of sounding cliché, I would love to share a conversation with Oprah. The agency I worked at for nearly a decade also employed a woman who knew Oprah personally. I had the honor of learning this woman’s story, which was also featured on TV, and learned how Oprah’s unconditional love became the foundation this woman needed as she navigated her healing and her transition through young adulthood into adulthood. I learned how Oprah not only provided opportunities through funding and connecting her to resources, but she personally accompanied this woman on her journey. Sitting through moments where this woman wanted to run away, where she couldn’t sit still in her own body, where she felt at her lowest…sitting with, not judging but truly existing with and becoming what this woman needed. Oprah didn’t allow her busy life to stop her from being a human with this woman, instead, she stood in her power and did what we would want every human to do. It would be a complete honor to sit with Oprah, to experience her wisdom, to share space and energy with her, and to actively learn from the emotional intelligence work she has done in order to exist and experience and LIVE her life as she does.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Join us in our free mother’s support group! Register here: www.oneworldempowered.com/freegems
You can find me at www.oneworldempowered.com
Through my podcast Empower 2 Heal (https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/empower-2-heal/id1548762217)
On social media:
IG: @empower2heal (www.instagram.com.empower2heal)
FB: Empowered Mama’s Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/931763254066380/)
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!