Women In Wellness: Avni Panchal Of The Indian Counselor On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

Women In Wellness: Avni Panchal Of The Indian Counselor On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

Have a morning routine — This one has helped me tremendously! It’s so easy to look at your phone and check emails and start your day before you’ve even gotten out of bed. I’ve made a commitment that I’ll listen to something inspirational or do a quick 5-minute meditation and write in my gratitude journal before I check my emails. I hope that people figure out what works based on their schedule that can be part of their morning routine.

Today, more than ever, wellness is at the forefront of societal discussions. From mental health to physical well-being, women are making significant strides in bringing about change, introducing innovative solutions, and setting new standards. Despite facing unique challenges, they break barriers, inspire communities, and are reshaping the very definition of health and wellness. In this series called women in wellness we are talking to women doctors, nurses, nutritionists, therapists, fitness trainers, researchers, health experts, coaches, and other wellness professionals to share their stories and insights. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Avni Panchal.

Avni Panchal is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has a private practice where she sees individuals and couples. She is also an Empowerment and Relationship coach and has a YouTube Channel as The Indian Counselor where she offers tips on mental health. Ms. Panchal has been in the mental field for over a decade and her mission is to destigmatize mental health and help individuals practice self-love and recognize their inner strength.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Yes absolutely! My name is Avni Panchal, and I have been working in the mental health field for over a decade. I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and I also have a YouTube channel where I call myself The Indian Counselor and talk about different mental health topics.

At the age of eighteen, I was more certain on the college I wanted to attend rather than my career path. In my South Asian culture, the assumption was that I’d picked either Medical or Science track, but I wasn’t sure that either of those options would work for me. I decided to major in Psychology instead because I had taken a psychology class in high school that was interesting. My parents were supportive, but they weren’t quite sure as to where this major would lead me.

I remember taking my first Psychology 101 course my first quarter and realizing that I really enjoyed it. From there, I realized quickly that I’ll have to pursue further education since bachelor’s in psychology would’ve limited my career options. When I don’t know something, I will ask around and do research on that topic. So, I interviewed quite a few people who had different graduate degrees that I was interested in and realized that Social Work gave me more options for different jobs and that started my path as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

I share this story because I know so many people are looking for their ‘calling’ and may not know their calling when they’re deciding on their major. I got lucky picking a major by chance that worked well for me. Over the years, it’s been clear to me why I was drawn to the mental health field as I tend to be the mediator in my family and I’m the person that gets called if someone is going through something challenging. It makes perfect sense to me today why I picked this as my career path and this is my calling but as an eighteen-year-old, I was taking one step after another and that’s what got me here today. So, if you are worried about your 5- or 10-year plan, just take the first step and things will figure itself out.

I’m incredibly grateful for the work I get to do, and I find joy in supporting and empowering individuals to live authentic lives. Each decision in my career has led me to different opportunities that honestly, I didn’t even know existed when I started my career over 15 years ago.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

Phew there are so many stories! Where do I even begin ☺

Over the years, I’ve worked with so many individuals from different walks of life. Every time, the thing that surprised me the most was the fact that people were willing to share their stories. I feel honored that people have trusted me with their stories and the openness that I’ve experienced from each of them has been humbling. It’s been sad to see the amount of pain and trauma people have experienced but I’ve been just as amazed at their resiliency and desire to be and do better. That has honestly kept me going in this field! I’ve seen children and adults have major turnaround in their lives despite the incredible challenges they may have experienced.

I started my career at 23 so I was green as green can be! I had my own imposter that questioned my skills and experience, and it shows up even today (although not as loudly as when I started). In the beginning of my career, I would wondered if I’m saying the ‘right’ thing or supporting my clients in the ‘right’ way. I remember asking my supervisor, ‘what if I say the wrong thing?’ They responded, ‘you probably will at some point.’ They made me realize that it’s not so much about being perfect but how you approach the fact that you didn’t do your best. Do you apologize and show your humanness, or do you pretend to ignore it? The silence will be more deafening but your ability to show your humanness will connect you in a way that will allow the people to show their own humanness. It will allow them to live in their authenticity and appreciate yours. Time again and time again, it’s been true.

When I switched to therapist role, I remember feeling apprehensive in the beginning because the image I had for a therapist was someone who talks about feelings, is stoic and someone who traditionally is white. Well, I’m not white. I don’t love talking about emotions (I know!) and I’m not stoic. I realized if I was going to transition, it’ll help to show up the way I’ve been in my social work career, and it’s paid off. One my first client in my private practice, when we were ending therapy, said ‘thank you for being human.’ It was the confirmation I needed to keep showing up as myself.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about a mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve definitely made my share of my mistakes over the years, and it’s helped me grow each time. I remember when I started my career, I was so eager to help my clients that I would often take on even their share of ‘work.’ I realized quickly that this will only enable my clients and won’t create change for them that’s self-sustaining. I remember I’d get frustrated when my clients weren’t making changes even after all our efforts and I’m grateful to learn this lesson early on because it allowed me to move from help to empowering people.

It’s subtle but there’s a huge difference in helping someone vs. empowering them. Helping gives you an instant hit of dopamine and it feels good. However, it may not actually help your client in the long run. Empowering someone isn’t instant but they have confidence and a belief that they are capable. Now that is long term change. This lesson has served me to support my clients in ways that is long lasting. I often tell my clients, ‘I’m here for you and I’m going to support you every step of the way, but I will not work harder than you.’ It took some courage for me to say that, but it builds a level of respect and understanding that you believe in their capacity to change and grow.

Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

My hope is that people will be empowered to recognize their inner strength and practice self-love. Whether they see me on an individual basis for coaching or therapy, watch my YouTube content, attend a group session facilitated by me or take a training or a class by me, my hope is that people walk away with realizing that they have the power to prioritize their health and wellness. I know it sounds cliché but honestly, we got one body and it’s critical that we take care of it.

I know, as a woman of color, it took me a long time to realize that I can’t do much for anyone if I don’t take care of myself. We often feel selfish or guilty for prioritizing our health and wellness because that may mean that we’re not prioritizing people in our lives. It feels counterintuitive when you’re stressed to go for a walk or exercise because we may feel strapped for time. However, the irony is the more I prioritize me, the more energy I have which means I’ll be able to do more. So, if you’re someone that feels like you MUST be productive, understand that it’s your focus on your health and wellness that’ll support your ambitions and your goals rather than putting your health and wellness aside and ignoring it. I’ve seen many clients over the years, especially during the pandemic, that felt burnout because the ‘hustle’ and ‘grind’ culture of constantly going caught up to their health and well-being.

Slowing down may feel like we’re not ‘capable’ but it’s the slowing down that helps us move fast later because our foundation is solid. It allows us to get focused and when we start respecting and prioritizing ourselves, with regards to our health and wellness, we’re allowing others to also model that as a priority for them. This is where culture in organizations, families and friends can change which is my long-term goal.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

1 . Have a morning routine — This one has helped me tremendously! It’s so easy to look at your phone and check emails and start your day before you’ve even gotten out of bed. I’ve made a commitment that I’ll listen to something inspirational or do a quick 5-minute meditation and write in my gratitude journal before I check my emails. I hope that people figure out what works based on their schedule that can be part of their morning routine.

2 . When you’re going through something challenging, ask yourself, ‘This has happened. Now what do I want to do about it?’ — Many times, we may feel powerless to what happened in our lives and feel like we didn’t have a say or choice. This powerlessness can lead to us feeling like we don’t have any choice in how we move forward with it either but that’s not true. We don’t have control over what comes our way, but we do have some control over how we react or respond to it and what we want to do about it. Asking this question does a few things for us. It helps us acknowledge what’s happened which can be difficult depending on the severity of the situation. It also helps us realize that we have a choice despite what’s happened. You may not always know the answer right away, but it can be that for now, you’re going to listen to music or go for a walk or talk to a friend. One step after another you’ll be able to move forward.

3 . Start a gratitude journal — I started my gratitude journal in 2017 when I was struggling through something challenging. I wasn’t completely sold on the concept of gratitude back then when I felt like nothing was going well in my life. I remember I didn’t connect with the word ‘gratitude’ so I decided, regardless of how I feel each day, I’ll make a commitment to write down 3 things that made me smile from the day before. Every morning, begrudgingly, I would write down 3 small things that made me smile. It could’ve been the fact that my friend and I went for a walk, or I was able to get a parking spot quickly and not have to wait long or that my client said something funny. They weren’t grand things but simple, small, everyday things. I would write what happened in a short sentence and write ‘thank you’ or share how it made me feel. The simple act of writing it down allowed me to relive that moment again and feel the joy. To my surprise, despite my careless attitude towards this practice, I started noticing a change in me. I started realizing whenever something good happened that made me smile, I was thinking how I’d put it in my journal the next day. This practice allowed me to have perspective that some things were still going well even though other things felt like they were falling apart. If you happen to skip a day, like I have, combine the days you missed, write 3–5 things, and then start again. The goal is consistency not perfection.

4 . Drink more water — I know this may sound simple but it’s so easy when we’re busy to not drink enough water. Our bodies are around 60% water and we need it to replenish and refresh. Have your water bottle nearby and regularly hydrate yourself. My day may be back to back sessions so I’ve made sure to have two water bottles next to me in case I don’t have time to refill until my break. When we stop to drink water, it helps us take a quick break and a moment to pause which is always helpful.

5 . When in doubt, take a breath — This rule has helped me literally survive many unexpected turns in my life. In those moments, our breathing is shallow, and it’ll exaggerate our stress response and getting us to be in fight, flight or freeze mode. In those moments, when I’ve felt like the walls are closing in, I pause and put my hand on my belly and my heart and breathe through my diaphragm. If you feel strange to put your hand on your belly and heart, then simply breathe intentionally from your belly. This intentional moment to pause will allow your brain to realize that you’re ok and then we can start thinking about how we want to move forward. I used to have a post it note that said ‘Breathe’ by my laptop to remind me.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would love for people to have more compassion for themselves and for others. We don’t teach self-compassion as much as we need. Compassion allows us to see our humanity and allows us to let go of this notion that we must be perfect. It helps us be less critical and judgement of ourselves and others. If we all practiced self-compassion, where were kinder and understanding towards ourselves, then more people would be kinder and loving towards one another. It would also allow us to push against some of the limiting thoughts that become our beliefs and keep us stuck in our circumstances that don’t help us grow.

Imagine if each of us made that as part of our practice, we could make generational change that will have long lasting impact.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Burnout is real so have a self-care routine. I didn’t even know the concept of burnout when I started but my first year, I remember getting sick for a few days from exhaustion due to busy work schedule. I had never experienced getting sick from work so this was new for me. I remember getting better once I got some rest without any medications. This was eye opening, and I learned the valuable of lesson of prioritizing myself having a self-care routine.
  2. It’s ok to say no. So many people in the helping profession struggle with saying no because somewhere we feel like we must help. I’m grateful to learn this lesson early in my career. When I started, I was eager to help. At my job, we had to take one evening shift a week for our work apart from our day schedule. I was single and young so to be helpful to my colleagues, I’d offer to take their evening shifts as well. I was exhausted quickly from working long hours and realized that if I didn’t say no, I’d leave my profession which I didn’t want to do. At first, it was uncomfortable to say no because I was worried that my colleagues would be upset. To my surprise, no one was upset, and my colleagues respected my no.
  3. Get to know yourself. If you are starting your career in mental health, it is vital that you get to know yourself. There’s so much emphasis on the client being ‘the most important person in the room’ but you as the professional are just as important because your humanity is in the room as well. If you’re having a bad day and you haven’t taken care of yourself, that’ll show up in the room. In my social work class and trainings that I teach, I tell my students to get to know themselves without judgement and criticism. Start understanding what excites you, what makes you cry, what makes you happy, why did you feel more open to helping one person over another. This will allow you to get clear on how you show up and what you need to do if something might challenge you. It’s helped me to get to know myself and made me realize when I needed to utilize my supervisor or my colleagues’ support. It’s not a checkpoint but an ongoing journey so keep exploring.
  4. You’re doing the best you can. I’ve had so many moments throughout my career where I’ve wondered did I do enough? The reality is that when you look back at a past situation, you have more information today then you did then and of course you could’ve done more now that you’re looking back. It’s important to remember that you’re doing the best you can with what you know in that moment. You will grow and learn because that is the nature of life but practice some self-compassion that you are trying your level best to show up in a manner that is supporting you and others. If you feel that you need to make changes then make those changes but blaming and shaming yourself won’t bring growth.
  5. Bet on yourself and take risks. I remember when I made the decision to start my private practice and be an entrepreneur, I was terrified. I was used to my stable salary and benefits and leaving that was scary. As an entrepreneur, I’ve realized you’re forced to bet on yourself in a direct way and sometimes being employed may not require that from you. You may bet on yourself to get promoted but when you’re running a business, it’s important that you believe in yourself. It’s important that you confront your fears and look at your imposter head on. When we start recognizing that we can bet on us, it helps us take more risks. It helps us be more open and it builds our confidence and resilience. I know as a woman of color, this concept felt like I was being ‘boastful’ or ‘overconfident’ but if I don’t bet on myself then how can I expect others to bet on me? So, if you’ve been thinking about other avenues to support people but it feels scary and you keep coming back to that idea, pay attention. It might be the exact thing you need to do because it’ll help you in ways that you didn’t even imagine.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

I’m biased because of my profession but it’s mental health for me. That’s not say that I don’t see others as important, but I know with what I have to offer to the world, I’d say mental health is dearest to me. I truly believe if people can get to know themselves and understand how and why they make certain decisions, it’ll help people get clear on how to move forward with more intentionality. When I’ve done any organizational consulting work or ran leadership trainings, we talk about being able to be self-aware so you can self-regulate and self-manage. Getting to know myself helps me take care of myself and that has a direct impact on how I show up for others. That will have a domino effect on the environment, sustainability, and the policies that we, as a society, support.

What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?

Please follow me on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@theindiancounselor

Or reach out on my website if you’re interested in working with me: https://www.theindiancounselor.com

Thank you for these fantastic insights! We wish you continued success and good health.

About the Interviewer: Wanda Malhotra is a wellness entrepreneur, lifestyle journalist, and the CEO of Crunchy Mama Box, a mission-driven platform promoting conscious living. CMB empowers individuals with educational resources and vetted products to help them make informed choices. Passionate about social causes like environmental preservation and animal welfare, Wanda writes about clean beauty, wellness, nutrition, social impact and sustainability, simplifying wellness with curated resources. Join Wanda and the Crunchy Mama Box community in embracing a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle at CrunchyMamaBox.com.

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