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On this episode of the Healthy, Wealthy and Smart Podcast, Jenna Kantor guests hosts and interviews Gabbi Whisler on anxiety. Dr. Gabbi Whisler is no stranger to anxiety and depression. After years of struggling to find her path, she landed on physical therapy and has been combining the two worlds together, the use of physical therapy to help treat and coach patients with anxiety. No system ever works alone and when the physical, the mental, emotional and spiritual can be all addressed, then that is when true healing can be found.
In this episode, we discuss:
-When anxiety manifests in the career cycle of a physical therapist
-3 practical steps towards mastery over your anxiety
-Why communication is important to break down the stigma surrounding mental health
-The future role for physical therapists in mental health treatment
-And so much more!
A big thank you to Net Health for sponsoring this episode! Learn more about the Redoc Patient Portal here.
For more information on Gabbi:
Dr. Gabbi Whisler is no stranger to anxiety and depression. After years of struggling to find her path, she landed on physical therapy and has been combining the two worlds together, the use of physical therapy to help treat and coach patients with anxiety. No system ever works alone and when the physical, the mental, emotional and spiritual can be all addressed, then that is when true healing can be found.
“I’ve shared intimately my experiences with anxiety, panic attacks, alphabetizing, fixations, and suffering. Meds failed me. Doctors failed me. Anxiety controlled my life. I was drained, exhausted and defeated. I knew something had to change and I had to do it myself. I created freedom. You can too.”
For more information on Jenna:
Jenna Kantor (co-founder) is a bubbly and energetic girl who was born and raised in Petaluma, California. Growing up, she trained and performed ballet throughout the United States. After earning a BA in Dance and Drama at the University of California, Irvine, she worked professionally in musical theatre for 15+ years with tours, regional theatres, & overseas (www.jennakantor.com) until she found herself ready to move onto a new chapter in her life – a career in Physical Therapy. Jenna is currently in her 3rd year at Columbia University’s Physical Therapy Program. She is also a co-founder of the podcast, “Physiotherapy Performance Perspectives,” has an evidence-based monthly youtube series titled “Injury Prevention for Dancers,” is a NY SSIG Co-Founder, NYPTA Student Conclave 2017 Development Team, works with the NYPTA Greater New York Legislative Task Force and is the NYPTA Public Policy Committee Student Liaison. Jenna aspires to be a physical therapist for amateur and professional performers to help ensure long, healthy careers. To learn more, please check out her website: www.jennafkantor.wixsite.com/jkpt
Read the full transcript below:
Hello. Hello. Hello. This is Jenna Kantor with the podcast, healthy, wealthy, and smart. I’m here with Gabbi Whisler, like give a little whistle and I’m so excited to be jumping on and talking about anxiety and if you can tell from my energy, Oh gosh, I never deal with that. What physical therapist deals with anxiety. So first of all, Gabbi, thank you so much for popping on. What got you interested in really focusing on anxiety for physical therapists? Why this passion? Why not just treating patients and focusing on the patients and their anxiety?
Yeah, so it’s kind of an ironic story because I was out in California working as a travel PT. I was maybe four or five months out from graduation from PT school and I was miserable. I was like, I cannot do this the rest of my life kill me.
I just can’t. It was awful. And Andrew Tran, owner of physio memes is my now roommate, but he was actually across the country, I think in North Carolina maybe. And he was one of my colleagues that do travel PT to somewhere and I called him and I was like, Andrew, I can’t do this. It’s miserable. And I don’t know what else to do. I just racked up $180,000 in debt. Like I’m supposed to love this. It’s supposed to be great. I’m helping people but I hate it. What do I do? And he was like, well, what do you want to do? What are you good at? What would you love? And I was like, I honestly have no idea. So I had to go to the drawing board and really do some digging. And I was like, what would I love? And the very first thing that popped in my head is I dealt with anxiety all my life.
Gabbi Whisler (01:38):
I’m in a much better place. I can’t think of anything better than helping other people to get to that destination as well. And I was like, I can do that as a PT though, right? And I called Andrew and I was like, am I even allowed to do this? Like is this a thing? And he was like, well it is if you make it. And something just clicked. And I was like, well that’s kind of cool and ever since I still don’t always know what I’m doing but I’m making the path to be able to do it. So it’s a lot of fun. But I still, like I said, I don’t know what I’m doing most days and I still deal with anxiety myself as well. So it’s kind of this ironic but fun twist because that allows me to connect with my clients now on a deeper level than as a PT.
Gabbi Whisler (02:19):
I’ve never dealt with a shoulder replacement or a knee replacement or anything like that to really connect with my patients in the outpatient ortho setting or I’ve never really had like a major fall to connect with my geriatric patient, but to connect with a 28 year old woman sitting in front of me who’s had major anxiety, doesn’t want to take meds and it’s like, what are my other options? And to show her how to use exercise and kind of monitor what she’s eating and drinking and just a mindfulness approach to feel better is incredible. And we can do that. As PTs, we learned about breathing, we learned about reflexes, we learn about exercise and movement and it’s a lot of fun.
So I love that. And, why do you think there’s the whole thing with anxiety and PT? I think this goes hand in hand with burnout.
Gabbi Whisler (03:07):
Yeah, it does. So from a clinician perspective or from a patient perspective, because it’s on both ends actually, which is really focusing on clinician focusing on the physical therapy. Yeah, a lot of it is burnout. A lot of it is expectations that I don’t think we’re prepared for in PT school. Well I think going into PT school, we have this grand idea that, you know, we’re a doctor of physical therapy, we have all this autonomy and we have the ability to almost do what we want. And it’s really quite the opposite out there for most of them. Until we realized that we are able to kind of break out of that mold. But in the traditional setting, we’re very limited in what we can do and we’re dictated and governed by doctors and other clinicians and our patients and insurance, and we think we’re going to have all this freedom to make this what we want.
Gabbi Whisler (03:58):
Certainly cannot always do that. And I think that leads to a lot of anxiety that that gap in expectations, expectations from other people and expectations within ourselves in there are aligned. And that’s what causes burnout as well. So it goes hand in hand.
Yeah, I totally get that for forgive the sounds, the grumbling sounds, I just want to give a complete, you know, story here that’s construction in the building, not me being gassy. Okay. I just want that to be clear as we are all just massive ladies here for anxiety, for anxiety. You were saying, it’s interesting where you’re saying, I don’t know anything about this, but then you clearly have a drive to know more in order to help other people. What is it within you that’s getting you to help out other people when you are dealing with it yourself?
Gabbi Whisler (05:00):
Yeah. Yeah. So I know what it’s like to be at like that rock bottom and not have any outlet. Cause when I was going through all of this, you know, dealing with anxiety, depression, OCD, I knew in my heart I did not want to take medications. I knew in my heart talk therapy wasn’t for me. I had given it a try and I was like, this is just, it’s awkward for me. And I never felt like I left there feeling better. So I was like, I’m not going to continue wasting my money. And it was one of those things, I sat down with my primary care doctor and I was like, okay, what’s next? And he had no direction for me. And I just remember what that felt like. And now as a PT, I know. So I said, I know, I said I don’t know what I’m doing. And that’s true. I don’t necessarily know the direction my career is going. Yeah. PT, I know what I’m doing.
Gabbi Whisler (05:38):
I know how to prescribe all of these exercises. But at the same time I don’t, and I think that’s how we all feel in our careers. So really it’s not anything I’m normal but knowing that I have tools that other people are searching for, knowing that someone out there needs what I have to offer but I’m just too afraid to put it out there sometimes is what gives me that little motivation or that little push to go ahead and do it anyway. You probably deal with that too cause your niche is so specific and so focused and so high performance. I’m sure you encounter that as well too.
Yeah, I get that. I get that. I hadn’t really dealt with anxiety until after the conference. Smart success physical therapy like just this past year. And it was when I came back home and I have a best practice where I work with dancers and all of them were better, which of course it’s great, but as business goes freaking out, Oh my God, I was just like, this is the worst thing in the world and we’re, for some people that would be something to brag about. For me that was something to significantly freak out about.
Awful, awful, awful, awful. I do not recommend anxiety and stress at all. Not even a little, Oh my God, this sucks so bad. So that’s my experience with anxiety and it’s gone. I’ve gotten better with it over time and I think that has to do with really acknowledging taking action for myself. So for you, with people, what are your like big overall tips that you just, when somebody reaches out to you and they’re like, Oh my God, I’m about to like, collapse my anxiety so bad right now. What are things that you give them to kind of help them out at that point? Yes. So like top five things or three or 20 I don’t know what your number, I’m just saying numbers.
Gabbi Whisler (07:54):
Very first thing I tell them is give yourself grace and permission. Cause so often we can find ourselves to the notion that anxiety is this horrible thing and cause anxiety and depression are just emotions truly like their emotions and we so often label them as good or bad emotions in general and we always strive to feel happy and we strive to run away from anxiety and depression. The very first thing I told girls or guys or whoever I’m working with is let it be your anxious, like accept it and just sit with it for a minute and allow your body to feel that because your body needs it. It’s very uncomfortable. It’s very uncomfortable. It’s like not butterflies, but it’s like, Oh it’s very uncomfortable. It’s hard. Her own skin. That’s the best word that I can think of. Like you literally want to run out of your own body.
Gabbi Whisler (08:43):
Yeah, yeah. Lots of you can have a moment. So that’s what I was like, give yourself the grace to be human. The fact that you’re experiencing this and then use it as an indicator. So like, so often we’re controlled by our emotions and they tell us how to live our life. You know, when we were anxious we want to sit in bed but instead use as an indicator. What’s this trying to tell you? Like what’s going on in life? You feel this way? And beyond that, what can you do about it? So like you said, action, what action can you take to move on from this? Cause so often we let it paralyze us, but that’s really when we need to take some sort of action, whether it’s to talk to someone or maybe getting a medication or going to talk therapy or going for a run or lifting weights or like what needs to happen to make you feel better.
Gabbi Whisler (09:31):
And it’s different for every person. So those are my top three starting points. I guess. Three is my number, but really it’s giving yourself that grace, using as an indicator and then taking action.
Yeah. Yeah, that definitely makes sense. When you’re saying give grace, what are ways that you can, because it’s not just like, okay, I’m giving myself grace. What are things where you could actively be, you know, literally taking actions, you know, like cleaning the dishwasher, you know, what are things that you could do to help you start learning what it is to give yourself grace? Do you know what I mean?
Yeah. So I’ll just share examples of what I do in my own day cause I think that might be easier. But when I get anxious, I literally will sit with myself and say, Hey Gabbi, it’s really okay that you feel this way.
Gabbi Whisler (10:18):
And I just kind of let my body off sit with it for a minute, you know, I recognize, okay, my chest is tight, my fingers are tingling, my eyes, my vision sometimes changes just a little bit. And I’m like, this is normal. It’s nothing to panic over. This is my body’s response. Okay. It’s okay in the moment. Like it doesn’t take it away, but it’s like, okay, I know I’m not dying in the moment because often we do, right? Like, we’re like, Oh my gosh.
Gabbi Whisler (10:55):
So I’ll sit with it and then from there, a lot of times what I’ll do is I like to have one person in mind for, you know, if I’m feeling angry, it might be my sister that I call if I’m feeling hurt, it’s my mom that I call who’s really good at helping me through whatever I’m feeling in the moment. And I always have that on the back burner and that’s the first thing that I’ll do is get it out because the more we hold it in ourselves, the worst off we get. And sometimes it’s not even talking to the most sometimes like I’ll literally sit in my room in front of a mirror and talk to myself.
It’s cool you can out like get it out. Like you did get it out in the universe. You know, before we started recording today, you were sharing something with me about wanting to just get out in the, because once you do that, you’re more likely to follow through and take action and feel better about it. It’s true. It’s true. Like I’m doing this, I’m doing this. It’s true. But I never thought about it in a way where you would use it as a tool with when you’re like feeling it because it’s like a zit that’s dying to pop.
Yeah. So for you, where do you find in the physical therapists life with people reaching out you a common time when people, are you actually, okay, I’m going to actually separate this out. Common point in someone’s career, whether it be student, new, grad or professional, where are you finding a real, like this is where it’s happening a lot specifically in the physical therapy career.
The answer’s kind of funny, but all of the above. So for students I’ll kind of go through each one cause I think we all do, it’s just a matter of like, so each stage will have points throughout it that are very specific when that anxiety is like greatest. But for students it’s typically right before the NPTE or right before an exam, like a lab practical that students are reaching out to like, Oh my gosh, I’m so anxious.
Gabbi Whisler (13:18):
I don’t know how to handle this. I’ve never really experienced anxiety until now. Usually that’s when they’re noticing it is in grad school. And they’re like, what can I do? And then, you know, I’ll try to talk with them through that. As far as anxieties go, a lot of new grads experience it. Cause again, it’s expectations. They’re in school for so long and they have people guiding them and now all of a sudden they’re kind of fed to the wolves and they’re expected to do things that they weren’t, they weren’t yet in their minds, comfortable with. And also seasoned clinicians, a lot of times they’re like, it’s either burnout, it’s not finding satisfaction in their career. It’s wanting something more like, not feeling, they’re not necessarily burned out, but they’re also, they feel like they’re doing the same thing day in and day out and they’re not contributing to the world in a greater way, I guess.
Gabbi Whisler (14:08):
Or they’re not seeing, yeah, just frustrating for them, but also sad from an outside perspective. Cause they’re still making a huge impact, but they’re just, it’s routine for them now, so they’re not seeing, so it’s not as fulfilling. They feel like they’re very separate from what they’re doing.
Yup. Exactly. Exactly. Wow. That’s powerful. Right. Because they’re still, they’re changing people’s lives. Like every 20 minutes are changing someone’s lives, but they’re just doing it so often they don’t see it. Where does shame come into all this?
Ooh, that’s a good question. I think it’s very specific person to, but probably again, that mismatch in expectations so they don’t feel like they’re providing the care that they should be for their patients and then in front of their patient, you know, they have to continue and be professional and carry on throughout their day, but inside their brain, they’re like, am I really the best person to be helping this person? You know, we tend to tell our story ourselves, stories like that. So that’s true. That’s insanely true.
Yeah. Wow. Yeah. If there was going to be, I would say one big vision you have for physical therapists regarding anxiety, what would be your big like one day Do you know what I mean?
So this is kind of a far stretch, but I’ll bring it back full circle model clinician because right now as PTs we can’t treat anxiety or we can’t treat mental health. It’s just not like fully within our scope of practice. So myself and another PT are actively working to try to get PT into, there’s a world Federation for mental health and there’s other countries that are participating in and it’s specific to physical therapy. So we’re hoping to get PTs in that role because I think right as PTs were very uncomfortable with the idea of mental health because it doesn’t get talked about in PT school. We don’t really talk about it with our patients. It’s one of those things we try to skate around as much as possible and there’s some clinicians out there who are great at it and I think we’re as a whole, we’re getting better.
Gabbi Whisler (16:36):
But the more we can certainly the more we can start talking about it to our patients, the more we feel comfortable within ourselves talking about it to other people and opening up as well. Cause if we can’t get other people to open up, how are we ever going to open up ourselves? So it goes both ways. If we can’t open up, then we can’t get other people to open up. So I think once we’re able to, as PTs kind of get into this role just a little bit more, and it’s not that every PT has to treat mental health specifically, but we find ways of bringing it into, because we know if someone’s struggling with their mental health, their physical health suffers. And so if we’re not addressing that, it’s so true. And if we’re not addressing that first with our patients, then we’re probably not getting them the results that we need.
Gabbi Whisler (17:22):
But if we can’t do that, if we don’t know how, and that goes back to our own lives as well. So it all kind of comes full circle. So my big goal is to get PTs to be able to go to conferences at CSM, for example, and have a course, have a talk on the side of mental health. Cause right now there’s very little out there for us. So truly but surely like nothing. And it’s because we’re so uncomfortable with it. So that’s my dream is to be able to get us in that scope of practice and also show clinicians how to handle in our patients. And I’m hoping through that they see how they can handle it within themselves as well. And kind of tackle it from that approach.
Yeah, yeah, that makes sense to me. Oh my gosh, this is perfect. Thank you so much for coming on. I would love to ask for you to just have your mic drop moment and this could be for anyone who may be dealing with anxiety right now and I would love for you to just acknowledge that person and just give him some big picture advice if they’re really feeling stuck.
Gabbi Whisler (18:46):
Yeah. So, Oh my gosh, I have so much in my head right now. Start with the word you. So if you are feeling super anxious and having a hard time handling this, especially throughout the workday, my biggest piece of advice for, I guess this is the direction I would go, so specific to clinicians who are feeling anxious throughout the day. And I actually have a couple girls who I work with right now, her PTs and their new grads and they’re feeling this way too. They feel like they have to compartmentalize this and they can’t talk about it at work. Talk to someone like whether it’s your boss or a coworker, someone there needs to know that you’re dealing with this because if you continue to try to do this on your own, it’s only going to snowball and then your boss is going to come to you one day and be like, what in the hell is going on right now?
Gabbi Whisler (19:35):
You know what, what? Cause your performances is often the way you speak to patients. So the earlier you can nip it in the bud and let them know, Hey, I’m dealing with this right now. I don’t want to go into details. Or you can say whatever the heck you want to, but they need to know about it. And the more comfortable you get talking to your boss, the more comfortable your boss gets talking to their employees about it as well. So you might be opening up the door for another clinician right next to you because more than likely everyone in your building is dealing with some form of anxiety.
That’s true. It’s not talking about it. That’s very true. That’s very, very true for clinicians. I love that. Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for coming on. How can people find you, find you and contact you. Thank you.
First, thank you for having me on. But yeah, @mindhealthDPT, that’s my Instagram and Facebook handles, so they’re free.
Got it. Wonderful. Thank you so much for coming on. This was an absolute joy. I think that this is going to be extremely helpful for people who are dealing with anxiety. So you guys don’t be afraid to reach out to her. She’s here to help you. In fact, you’re one of many.
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