Sanam Devidasani is a psychologist from Mumbai. She works from a relational approach with young adults in her private practice. Besides work, you’d find her either reading a book, watching a fun show, singing, or just doing nothing and wondering where all her time went.
Q) Your journey would have been a roller coaster ride, too. Could you tell us something about your ups and downs and how you overcame all the challenges?
Sanam Devidasani – Thanks for not assuming that my life is sorted because I am a psychologist. Nobody is immune to mental health struggles. The short answer to this is I sought help. I go for therapy which is a huge contributor to my overall wellness. Inner work is so important to do for everyone – not just those who have severe illnesses. Besides that, I try to take care of the basics, like my diet, sleep, exercise, etc., to stay active and generally energetic. I also try to be kind to myself and others and give a lot of importance to my personal connections with others.
Q) How did you decide to choose psychology? Were you always inclined toward this subject?
Sanam Devidasani – I have always been very self-aware. That might be a result of certain difficulties I went through as a child. Trying to figure those out to survive interested me in the subject when I was young. I started reading a lot about human behavior when I was about 13, when I discovered Psychology as a subject and, subsequently, my career path.
Q) Do you think the stereotypes surrounding mental health affect the patient’s acceptance that they need any help? If yes, how can we work against these stereotypes?
Sanam Devidasani – There’s a lot of shame attached to seeking help for your mental health because people mistakenly believe that having a mental health issue means you have somehow failed at life. People constantly compare themselves to others and think that they ‘should’ be able to deal with their issues themselves, and if they can’t, it’s an indication of personal weakness. The funny thing is that nobody thinks about this when seeking help for their physical health. “Oh, I fractured my arm, but I should deal with it myself, else people will think I’m weak.” – said no one.
First, as individuals, please educate yourself about mental health and the stigma attached. Read books, listen to podcasts, speak to professionals or those seeking therapy – whatever your mode. Next, don’t be afraid to discuss your mental health and the stigma with friends and family. Talking about it normalizes the concept further, and you might get the social support you require. Isolating yourself will, in turn, worsen your health. Lastly, get treatment if you need it. Experiencing therapy yourself might help you see that having a safe space to express yourself makes a world of difference to your mental health.
Q) In your opinion, what disturbs mental peace, and how should one deal with the triggers of stress?
Sanam Devidasani – No single cause can affect one’s mental health. It’s multi-factorial. Biological factors like genetics, hormonal levels, etc., are associated with mental illnesses. Environmental factors – e.g., if someone has grown up in a war zone or a natural calamity strikes are likely to affect their mental health greatly. Social factors: a broken home, an abusive household, neglectful caregivers, racism, discrimination. The drug, and alcohol abuse, violence, trauma, long-term physical health conditions, etc. Sudden stressful events like the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, unemployment, and a pandemic can also affect one’s mental health.
How to deal with stress is a very complex question. I think there is nothing we don’t already know or is available on the internet about stress relieving techniques. So I’d like to say that what you feel as a result of stress can tell you a lot about yourself. Lean into and get curious about that instead of simply finding ways to distract yourself.
Q) What are the major things you have learned & experienced while being a psychologist?
Sanam Devidasani – Too many things. It’s funny that people think therapy is for the weak, but it’s not. I’ll tell you the top 3 – first is that therapy is hard! It takes courage and immense strength to seek help and face everything you think is wrong about you and around you. Sometimes even because of you.
Secondly, the healing power of a safe and secure therapeutic relationship is majorly underestimated. There is something so beautiful about showing up as your authentic self and being seen and accepted for it by your therapist.
And lastly, in therapy, things often get worse before they get better.
Q) Mental health issues surely manifest in a person’s physical health. Could you give us some tips that you follow to avoid the same?
Sanam Devidasani – Every emotion you feel has a physical component. E.g., when you are anxious, your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes faster, and your hands get clammy. When you are angry, your face feels warmer. When you experience stress, your body is prepared to respond with all its power – your regular functions like digestion take a backseat during this time. When this stress is not released – there is a build-up within your body, which can lead to physical health issues.
My advice is – don’t try to find ways to avoid it. Instead, learn to scan your body and identify where you are feeling the stress – look at it with nonjudgmental curiosity. Once you have done that – you’re in a better position to address your feelings with compassion.
Q) Traumatic experiences have deep scary mental impressions; how can someone move ahead of that?
Sanam Devidasani – Seek help. Find a trauma-informed therapist and book an appointment.
Q) Talking about relationships, do you think there are problems in these times that make people forget the value of sacrifice and compromise in a relationship?
Sanam Devidasani – I don’t think sacrifice is needed to make a relationship work. It is a personal choice. But compromise – yes. When two people come together, there will always be differences and conflicts. Open communication of needs and expectations and a willingness to compromise and work on them together are imperative to building a safe relationship.
Because of easy access to millions of people on dating apps, etc., there are many options with just a single swipe. So people believe they can find someone perfect for them, and that’s it. No more work is required. If they are less than perfect – the apps are still there. The concept of ‘building a relationship that works for both people’ is lost. A relationship requires constant work and nurturing, which seems to be a ‘red flag’ for many people today.
Q) What advice do you give working people and students on nurturing their mental health?
Sanam Devidasani – Get your basics right – sleep, diet, water intake, and exercise. They play a crucial role in regulating your emotions and navigating stress. Remember that your grades/job don’t define who you are. So it is okay to set boundaries that might help you get through challenging times like exams or even at work.
Make sure you balance your life with an adequate amount of play and social connection. Don’t get sucked into the limited definition of productivity. Rest, fun and connection are productive as well! Build a solid support system with peers and loved ones. Spend time with people who nurture you rather than drain your energy.
Be kind to yourself! When things get too challenging, seek help from professionals.
Q) Being a mental health professional, you may also go through your lists of insecurities or something that disturbs your mental peace. How do you deal with the same, and who is your pillar of support in the same?
Sanam Devidasani – Of course. Human first, therapist second. I have different ways of coping, like- working out to release some difficult emotions from my body, seeking comfort from loved ones, and sometimes yummy food! My weekly therapy session is such a blessing. I go to therapy as well.
I engage in activities that nurture me – like reading, singing, and watching an interesting show or a movie. Totally give in to the commercialized definition of ‘self-care’ as well by doing some skincare which relaxes me, albeit it’s not the solution to all my problems like the advertisements promise it is (Don’t fall for it)
I don’t have one pillar of support. I have several, as I mentioned above; not all are people, including myself. I choose what will work for me depending on the situation and what my mind and body need at the moment.
Sanam Devidasani is an experienced psychologist who helps people prioritize their mental health with her knowledge and expertise. She strongly believes that talking about your mental health and the associated problems will help normalize the same. Sanam Devidasani knows how well therapy can contribute to ones well being and urges people to seek help as sharing your problems with a trusted and knowledgeable source can only benefit your overall development and empower you.