What we're talking about in this episode
If you’re part of Julie’s social media audience of three million, you’ll already know how brilliant she is at distilling complex mental health issues and creating simple tools you can use if you want to know how to improve your own mental wellbeing. Here Dr Julie and Gemma discuss:
- What is self-compassion?
- The difference between low mood and depression
- why values are more important than self-esteem
- Dr Julie Smith - clinical psychologist & online educator who shares bite-sized mental health, pop psychology and motivational content online.
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Dr Julie Smith shares her toolkit for mental health
Superstar clinical psychologist Dr Julie Smith has amassed a huge audience on TikTok for her brilliant bite-sized videos explaining how to better manage your mental health. She shares her foundations for mental wellbeing – and why self-compassion and self-awareness are key
‘I love learning about human beings’
‘First, I did psychology A level and found it fascinating, so went on to study it at university. From there, I worked as a research assistant in an addiction unit, then went on to train and do my doctorate. Aspiring psychologists often ask me how I got here. The advice I always give is, follow your interests. That’s really all I did.’
‘People don’t expect therapy to be educational’
‘In therapy, you can teach people about how their mind works, how they can influence their feelings or understand their relationships. My clients were finding that once they had that information, they were raring to go. They said, “Why has nobody told me this before? [Now the title of Julie’s book.] This is really useful stuff, and it’s not rocket science.”
‘I started harping on to my husband about how these kinds of tools should be made available to more people. He said: “Go on then.” So we started posting short videos on YouTube, then TikTok, to see if anyone wanted to hear. My social media kicked off during lockdown. Two years later, we have 3 million followers.’
‘There are lots of misconceptions about self-compassion’
‘There’s this idea that if I let go of that critical inner voice, I’ll become lazy or lose my drive for success. It’s not true. You still have that drive, but from a place of contentment, rather than fear and threat. I meet so many people who can express compassion to others but have never done it for themselves. It can be helpful to think of someone else you have unconditional love for, and conjure up the feelings you have when they’re in distress, then apply them to yourself. Kindness makes us feel safer, whether it comes from someone else or inside our own heads – but you have to practise it.’
‘Building self-awareness is key’
‘Any problem is harder to resolve if we aren’t aware why it’s happening or of the cause. If you don’t have someone to talk to, writing down how you feel can be so valuable. You get that bird’s eye view – what’s why I have so many journal prompts in my book. In therapy, we call it a formulation, where you map out what’s going on: what made you feel unable to cope, and what came before that? At first you understand in hindsight, but then you start noticing in the moment as well.’
‘A growth mindset is essential’
‘It’s about holding that belief that you can improve with effort, support and time. A fixed mindset is when you believe all your talents and abilities are innate: you’re either a runner or a maths person, or you aren’t. It can be almost paralysing. But if you shift to believing your talents can be developed through hard work, you’re more resilient when you make mistakes, and see failure as part of that process.
‘Low mood and depression are different’
‘Everybody has low days, when you’re not feeling up to doing the things you need to do, or as energetic as you might be. That’s part of being human – we weren’t built to be super-happy all the time. Low mood is a normal sign of grief, for example; we don’t always have to pathologise it. It’s about what tools we can use to help us get through.
‘Depression is a clinical term that comes with a certain set of criteria. Low mood is part of that but it would be more severe or persistent over time, and accompanied by sleep disturbances, appetite changes, relationship issues and other things. Anyone who has a question mark over whether they have depression can go to a professional to help them work it out.’
‘For me, there are five foundations for good mental health’
‘These are sleep, nutrition, human connection, movement and values. You only need one or two nights’ bad sleep to feel emotionally vulnerable; over an extended period, you have trouble on your hands. The same goes for eating poorly. We’ve all learned from the pandemic that if you don’t have social connections, or feel part of a community, that can really disrupt mental health. And I would always start with exercise as a foundation. The research into how movement helps you both physically and mentally is so powerful.
‘Values are about behaving in ways that matter to you. Life steers us in different directions, sometimes away from what originally mattered to us. We lose that sense of meaning. I do value check-ins on a regular basis. What kind of person do I want to be? What areas are important to me, and am I behaving in line with that? If not, how can I shift back?’
Dr Julie Smith’s new book, Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? (Michael Joseph, £14.99), is out now. Find out more about Dr Julie on Instagram instagram.com/drjulie