Women In Wellness: Dr. Ammara Khalid On Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

Women In Wellness: Dr. Ammara Khalid On Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

Listen to your intuition. I truly believe we all have a “wise” self that looks out for us if we tap into our gut feelings. Not everything is guided by “rational” thoughts, and there’s power in really tuning into your intuition.

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 Dr. Ammara Khalid.

Dr. Ammara Khalid is the CEO and founder of RIA (Rediscover Interconnected Awareness) Psychological Services and has been practicing in Chicago for over 15 years. She did her Bachelor’s from NYU in Psychology and Gender and Sexuality, and her Masters and Doctorate from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in Clinical Psychology focusing on Marriage and Family Therapy as well as Diversity and Multicultural Issues. She’s a climate aware therapist who believes in helping individuals, families and couples from all walks of life heal and empower themselves and their communities, especially BIPOC and LGBTQ folx, and she’s currently working on a book to unpack how intergenerational trauma from the 1947 Partition impacts South Asians.

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?

Asa TCK (Third Culture Kid), I flew before walking, speak three languages, and organize my friends by continents. I never heard the term “Third Culture Kid” until I came to the United States for college when I was 18 years old, but I was surprised at how well it described me. I was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and lived there till I was 8 years old. We lived in a joint-family system, which involved living in a big house with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. At times I felt like I had multiple parents to please and to learn from, and in those early years, I learned how to negotiate with different points of views. My father often traveled overseas for a multinational company, and by the time I was 18, I had lived in Rome, Milan, and Riyadh, and visited more than 10 different countries around the world. I learned new languages, customs, cultures, and ideas, and through observing diverse people from a young age, my fascination with human behavior sparked my interest in the field of psychology.

Being the first female in my entire family to leave home for college allowed me to establish my autonomy and earn the respect not easily bestowed upon Pakistani women. Having a voice of my own has been an enormous challenge for me, both within my own culture and as an immigrant in the US, and I continue to use my voice to name and explore aspects about myself that people may find “unacceptable”. However, my passion for travel, history and culture has helped to expand my horizons. I celebrate similarities as much as I celebrate differences as I continue to learn about universal experiences across various cultures, religions, sexual orientation, and other areas of difference. Having been part of the minority and majority at different points in my life, I believe that my cross-cultural fertilization has helped me to connect deeply and bridge differences with my clients, peers, colleagues, and supervisors and trainees.

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?

There’s never a dull moment in my line of work and I love being a psychologist. I started a group private practice 12 years ago, right after completing my post-doc. We grew from 2 people to a team of 16 in 10 years, adding a second office and admin personnel, and I supervised students and other trainees. Last year I made a major decision to shift to solo practice, and while it wasn’t an easy decision, as there were many risks involved, I knew it would be the right step for me. I talk a lot about being in alignment with one’s values with my clients, and so I also have to practice what I preach. Now I see my individuals, families and couples virtually, and have been learning more about what it means to be a climate aware therapist. I also try to carve out time to write my book on how South Asians carry intergenerational trauma from the 1947 Partition. I think my main takeaway is to follow your passion, AND give yourself grace when that passion changes and shifts.

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?

Owning a group practice comes with its pros and cons, and unfortunately you don’t learn anything in graduate school about running a business. I have always been an ambitious person and believe in taking some risks, but I think I could have started out small by sharing an office space instead of building one out on Michigan Avenue. It was a major overhead cost, and then our offices expanded in March of 2019, right before Covid. That was a rough period as we transitioned to telehealth and had a lot of offices sitting empty. Now as a consultant to other group and solo practice owners, I help people figure out what risks are worth taking and how to think strategically for short-term and long-term plans.

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?

I’m systemically trained, which means that I believe we are interconnected and do not heal in isolation. My experiences in diverse settings allow me to see the family as more than an interactional unit; it is a political institution that reflects the culture in which it is immersed. Gender roles and socialization affect each individual in the unit and perpetuate “fixedness” in interpersonal relationships in the system. Over the last 15 years, I honed my skills as a systemic family therapist, an educator, and a supervisor while practicing culturally-sensitive family and couples therapy.

I have had the great fortune of growing up in various different countries and cultures, and to develop clinical specialties in working with multicultural families and couples. Therapy has to assist that client in examining multiple cultural identities as one whole and how that may be affecting them, who they are and where they view themselves in life, and how this plays out in their relationships with others. My work has centered on giving voice to the unheard, sharing power in a therapeutic relationship, and designing family systems and diversity trainings and educational curricula that take into consideration social stressors when interacting with multiple oppressions. Individuals and groups can only successfully negotiate these barriers once social justice laws are enforced to protect them and adhere to their needs. As a clinician, I have to go beyond the empathic relationship with my clients and help them cope with multiple oppression and identities. Perhaps one way in which I can empower such communities is by liberating myself from the limitations of our treatment approaches and expanding on culturally competent methods to decolonize therapy.

Writing this book on South Asian intergenerational trauma is also one way I hope to make an impact as this is a topic no one has written about from a mental health perspective. It was a traumatic event and the largest mass migration in history, and very little has been written about the mental health toll it took on the survivors, refugees, and their families. Each subsequent generation has felt the impact and I hope it will be a resource for the South Asian diaspora all over the world.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?

1 . Don’t start your day by looking at your phone. Use the first few minutes to bring your awareness to your body, and make this a daily practice.

I use a lot of mindfulness and guided imagery in my work with clients because I really see a powerful connection between the mind and body. Being more in touch with our bodies helpS us recognize the signs of distress better, and I have worked with many clients who have found that various aches and pains went away when we worked together in therapy that incorporated grounding techniques..

2 . Look at nature.

We are in such a rush to get to wherever we need to be, we forget to just look at the trees and plants around us. Noticing wildlife and greenery can help boost your mood, and reminds us that we are part of something much bigger than just our little bubbles. I know some clients who have benefitted from wilderness therapy and forest bathing, and even if you don’t live near the mountains, ocean, or forests, find time to explore natural areas in your urban habitats.

3 . Catch your thoughts of comparison.

We need to be more mindful of how much and how often we compare ourselves to others. People may look like they have it all “figured out” but don’t believe everything you see and hear, especially online. Notice when you start comparing yourself to others, and in that moment, replace it with a kind thought towards yourself, like practicing gratitude or feeling proud of something you’ve been able to do.

4 . Build better boundaries.

These are my 3 Bs — whether it’s at work, with your parents, your children, your partner, your friends, you need to have healthy boundaries that aren’t too rigid (and create cut-offs) or too porous (which leads to enmeshment and unhealthy co-dependencies). Sometimes this takes time and practice and if you’ve been doing it one way with someone, recognize that you may swing too far in the opposite direction and make mistakes before you find a healthy balance that works for you.

5 . Find your community.

We really have to do a better job of connecting offline with our people. People are reporting more feelings of isolation even after the pandemic and loneliness can lead to depression and anxiety. We live in these silos where we don’t know who is unhoused in our community or what our neighbors are like — this disconnection hurts us more than we realize, and we need to do a better job of letting people in.

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 create a movement for people to come together and work on environmental justice. We need to be around each other, and working towards a common goal can have tremendous mental health benefits, especially when it involves being in nature and helping our ecosystems thrive. It’s a movement that would take care of one of the most widespread issues people face, which is loneliness, as it would foster a sense of community, and people can also share their fears about climate change. It would also be an outlet for that kind of climate anxiety and climate dread because it would call people into action, instead of feeling hopeless and helpless.

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

  1. The only person who needs to think you’re worthy is yourself. I spent my early adulthood being a people-pleaser and now see how that never served me in any meaningful way.
  2. It’s ok to ask for help. I pride myself on being resourceful and a good “figure-outer” in the face of challenges, and I don’t have to get things done on my own because there is so much to learn from others.
  3. Watch out for burnout. Without prioritizing self-care, we run the risk of feeling completely depleted and overwhelmed.
  4. Slow down. I cannot emphasize this enough; it’s impossible to keep up in this fast-paced world where people wear “urgency” as a badge of honor, but please take it easy on yourself.
  5. Listen to your intuition. I truly believe we all have a “wise” self that looks out for us if we tap into our gut feelings. Not everything is guided by “rational” thoughts, and there’s power in really tuning into your intuition.

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

As a climate-aware therapist, I see the intersection of mental health and environmental changes. I recognize that the climate crisis is not only a global threat to all life, but a deeply personal threat to our mental health and physical well-being as individuals, families, and communities on the planet. I also believe in the aliveness of our planet and our interconnectedness, because this helps us become better community caregivers every day by addressing affective, personal, societal and existential repercussions of the climate crisis.

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

www.riapsychologicalservices.com and on Instagram: @dr.ammarakhalid

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.

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment