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How to live like the experts: Finding a balance between daily stress and mental health with Dr. Steven Selchen

Written by Monica Matys

Ever wonder if your doctor or specialist follows their own advice? Sunnybrook experts get candid with the approaches they take in their personal lives.

Dr. Selchen is a Staff Psychiatrist and Director of Education at Sunnybrook’s Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre.

Stress affects everyone. Where does yours stem from?

I don’t think my stressors are significantly different from a lot of folks. In no particular order, there’s work. As a psychiatrist, there are a lot of people who rely on me, especially throughout this pandemic, so being present and available can be challenging. I have other roles; I’m a husband and father, and I want to support my family through the challenges they are facing. So stress comes from having enough time in the day to attend to those people and things that are meaningful to me, along with the other things that get in the way.

Would you describe yourself as a calm person?

I don’t know if I’m calm by temperament, but I’m calm but cultivation. I am an “earned” calm. My professional focus is on people’s mental health and wellbeing. One of the selfish benefits of this job is that I can help myself as much as others, and I wouldn’t be authentic in my work if I didn’t do that.

So what does that look like for you?

Especially during the pandemic, I’ve been mindful to keep track of my relationships, so making time for people and checking in on them. I carve out time every day for meditation practice. I do yoga. I’ve also been doing martial arts for years and have a black belt in karate. It’s been great for physical, mental and spiritual health. I also have a Netflix practice.

Tell me more about your Netflix practice!

I’m human, I watch television. My kids are big into the Marvel cinematic universe so we all love that. During the pandemic, it was hard not going to movie theatres, so we translated that into family movie nights.

Part of your role is teaching mindfulness. It seems like such a big abstract idea.

For many people, mindfulness has become synonymous with calming the mind and emptying it of thoughts. To be honest, that’s not how I would define it. Mindfulness is really about the relationship we have with what we encounter and our life experiences. The people, the sights and sounds and events around us and within us; the physical sensations that move through our bodies, the thoughts that move through our minds and the emotions we are experiencing. So it’s really a question of how do I relate to those things? Am I relating in a way that’s adding more stress, or am I relating in a way that lets me work with the challenges? A lot of what I do is helping people unlearn what they thought mindfulness was all about.

How hard is it to practice what you preach?

There is a real difference between embodying and modelling. Modelling is about putting on a behaviour that I want you to have, but it’s deliberate and not necessarily authentic. It’s about playing a part. Embodying is really living a behaviour; the more we can do that, the more authentic it is, the more meaningful it becomes for us and the more impactful it is for others. When it comes to taking my own advice, embodying good habits and behaviours is what I try to apply into my own life.

About the author

Monica Matys

Monica Matys is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

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