Who is Sharmeen Khan?
With an MS/MPhil in Clinical and Counselling Psychology, Sharmeen also is a Theta healing Instructor and Practitioner, Access Bars Practitioner and
Corporate Wellness Trainer. She has taught, trained and developed curriculum in both public and private sectors and has also been working as a disaster
relief specialist since 2005. She has conducted two TEDx talks and has been invited to speak at various institutions for her expertise.
Instep: What is the most common experience amongst your clients in your years as a therapist and why do you believe this is common?
Sharmeen Khan: In recent years, some of the most common issues are depression, anxiety, trauma responses -predominantly to abuse – and problems connecting to self, low self-esteem, confidence, or self-doubt. The last one is generally brought on from googling symptoms, and self-diagnoses of neurodivergence or adult ADHD.
The reason I feel this is more common is because the world has gone through a major progression over the last 30 years, the fastest pace of evolution our planet has seen in its recorded history. For us as Pakistanis, we have witnessed a lot of changes. Our parents or grandparents are the survivors of partition, which was traumatic and impacted their home lives. Those who moved to these parts, or those who welcomed their neighbors all had their own adjustments which weren’t always dealt with positively, resulting in the beauty of the Urdu language being weaponized, focusing more on subtle bitterness and passive aggression, leading to passive or secondary trauma or abuse.
Children brought up in the ‘90s, especially in Karachi had access to a lot more than before, girls being more educated, MTV culture and political unrest resulting in a lack of social security due to the external environment, a gap in identity due to access to global cultures but few idols that look like us or speak our language.
The advent of the internet put the world in a global readjustment, where we are rewriting our identities. This also results in a lack of consistency which children need while being brought up
The boy child got less attention to the girl child. While girls have recently been brought up with the capability to earn for themselves, have full time jobs, make gol rotis and be a parent, parents did not give the same attention to boy children which is and will result in an imbalance in genders in another decade or so.
As more people shift from rural to urban centers for better work and life opportunities, nuclear families are on the rise. As a culture, we come from the mindset of it takes a village to raise a child, lack of family support and inability to avail that support through psychologists, occupational therapists, day care centers etc. also impacts lives
Our culture is beautiful and spends a great amount of time teaching us morality and sociability. We focus a lot on relationships with others because before the internet, having a relationship with ourselves was a given. Introspection a norm taken for granted and not spoken of as such. Now in times alone, we scroll social media instead of establishing a relationship with ourselves. This lack of relationship with ourselves is the crux of feeling an imbalance in life and why (I believe) mental health issues are on the rise in that last decade.
I also feel more people are reaching out for mental health interventions because there is more awareness about its benefits, and the pandemic made people sit with themselves which they weren’t used to-leading to a forced commencement of our journey inwards, to bring more of ourselves int our life story.
Instep: What is a practice you think everyone should inculcate into their daily lives to boost mental wellness?
SK: I feel giving ourselves time is something we have put on the back burner. Family, friends, work all take precedence over our relationship with ourselves which is taken for granted. In 24 hours:
Take at least 30 minutes to work out, real cardio where you connect to your body and feel how much it is capable of and take pride in your progress.
Take at last 30 minutes to write. Thoughts are fleeting and we may forget what we thought about 30 seconds ago. Writing allows us to address our thoughts and go past problems and focus on solutions. Often our mind becomes fixated on certain problems because it feels we aren’t giving it attention. Writing helps us feel heard by ourselves and progress beyond the problem.
Mindfulness – being present in the present – is essential. If you’re eating, be present. Turn off screens and focus on your food and the people around you. If you are working, close all social media tabs and allow the flow to take over. If you are with friends, be present in that moment. If you are with yourself, be aware of your thoughts, breathing and body. Being more mindful allows for more enriching experiences and inculcates the creation of more memories. If I ask you what you ate for dinner last night, you may not remember instantly and when you do, you may find you remember what was on TV better than what the person sitting next to you said. But if I ask about your travels three months ago, the memories may be sharper and more emotionally attached. Leading a more mindful life allows us to have more life satisfaction everyday
Practice gratitude. The language we are exposed to on social media, television and even in our own homes and social circles at times tends to be laced with lack and bitterness. It becomes easier to focus on what we don’t have; no electricity, or water, or inflation. That “muscle” in our thoughts is stronger due to practice. Practicing gratitude allows us to focus on what we do have. A good friend or partner to laugh with, a beautiful sunset, a good cup of tea. And it allows our focus to shift, changing the way we narrate our life story to ourselves. It is important to remember that we are the protagonist in our life story, and we get to choose what direction our story goes in and what we do next. Even in times where we feel we have no control; we still have control on how we feel. Practicing gratitude allows us to build a healthier awareness and relationship with all emotions.
Make a list of all your achievements in your life so far. You are amazing. It is time for you to see that. Self-validation is important. Often, we keep waiting for external validation and that impacts our relationship with ourselves leading to doubt.
Be gentle and kind with yourself. Life is a long journey and often we don’t realize how by expecting perfection from ourselves, we are being unforgiving to ourselves. It is okay to not always win. It is okay to not make every deadline. It is okay to sleep in. it is okay to do nothing for a day if that is what you want. Be forgiving. Be kind. Be a gracious loser. Be open to constructive criticism. Be curious. Be happy for the wins of others too. It doesn’t mean they are better than you or you are better, it allows us to celebrate everyone’s differences. Each and every one is unique. Celebrate your uniqueness without trying to be someone else.
Instep: What trends are on the rise in terms of mental health – both positive and negative?
SK: The good thing about life these days is that there is more mental health awareness globally. If we speak about Pakistan alone, mental health and related topics were part of the top 3 searched on Google in 2020 (Google report 2020). There is more self-awareness, not just in terms of mental health but holistic wellbeing; where people are realizing the need to work out due to our more sedentary lifestyle, eat organic and healthy and generally just take better care of themselves. People are also realizing how healthy diet, exercise, socialization, and wellbeing are all linked, and that level of awareness is beautiful and says a lot about our growth as a species.
Being self-aware, however is a journey and having experts to guide our journey, be they physical trainers, general physicians, nutritionists, healers, or psychologists helps achieve optimal results in a shorter period of time.
When we are unsure of how to listen to ourselves or our needs, a part of our consciousness is screaming to be heard. Ignoring that inner voice leads to conflict within the self which can manifest in existential crises, depression and other mental illness, discontent, and even physical dis-ease (this is where the word disease comes from: anything uncomfortable physically emotionally mentally spiritually can lead to dis-ease, leading to illness).
The good thing about that is the amount of information we have available on our fingertips allows us to be more aware of ourselves as well as the journey of others which can inspire us to be more aware of our growth and journey as well.
One of the downsides, however, to having so much information available is self-diagnosis. We have all heard of doctors discouraging patients to not google their symptoms. It can be a bit more dangerous in mental health since behavioral symptoms are fluid and conditional. So, lack of attention, for example can be neurological, a symptom of ADHD, depression, anxiety, trauma, dissociation, burnout, lack of focus or not wanting to give a particular thing attention. This is where experts come in to help identify and resolve such symptoms.