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The Art of Resilience with Dr. Zelana Montminy

Positive psychology is the science of what makes life worth living. Experts study the art of happiness—how to get there and stay there, if only for a moment. Dr. Zelana Montminy is one such expert. As a clinical psychologist and best-selling author, this mental health professional borrows from a hybrid of influences like cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness to help others achieve resilience and reach their full potential. We sit down and talk the mind-body connection, psychology for kids, and how to find the right therapist for you.
Rip & Tan: What do you do and what are you passionate about?
Zelana Montminy: I’m passionate about changing the conversation about mental health by having a fresh, relatable and accessible approach rooted in science. I help people bust through cultural myths—such as needing to be happy or achieve balance—to ultimately thrive without all the pressure. I refer to myself as a mental fitness coach, even though I’m a clinical psychologist by training, because emotional well-being is a lifestyle that we must practice and cultivate. Just like we dedicate time to stay active for our physical health, so must we dedicate time to regulate our mental health. I’m the author of 21 Days to Resilience and working on my second book now.
Rip & Tan: How are you connecting with your audience to make health and wellness easily accessible for everyone?
Zelana Montminy: I’m grateful to have access to a broad audience through my media presence in television and digital video content. I connect with my audience by conducting seminars, facilitating retreats, delivering keynote addresses, presenting at conferences, and working with schools. Social media is another way I try to stay in touch, although I’m careful about limiting my time on devices.

"Authenticity is scarce these days, but if each of us choose to be more open and honest about our human experience, it creates a domino effect with the people around us."

Rip & Tan: You occupy a pretty niche market of the wellness world with your research in mental health and your work in nutrition early on in your career. Did you have an a-ha moment when you found your niche between these passions?
Zelana Montminy: I was always fascinated by how food influences how we feel and I knew that there must be a connection—I could sense it in myself and see it making an impact on people in my life. My doctoral work focused on how food affects our mental health and mood. Of course, it makes sense that good nutritional choices benefit our body and mind, which is what my research ultimately found. However, my a-ha moment was when I realized that making healthful choices also triggered a positive feedback loop in our brain that increased our self-worth. When we choose healthy options, we are ultimately telling ourselves that we’re worth it, that we’re worth the extra effort, money, time, etc.  When we do this repeatedly, we reinforce our confidence and dignity that goes well beyond the nutritional component of what we’re eating. So from a mental health perspective, that’s a huge shift that creates a positive ripple effect in all realms of our life.
Rip & Tan: Has the stigma of mental illness subsided over the years? What would it take for mental health to become even more of a normalized aspect of overall wellness?
Zelana Montminy: There’s still a stigma that comes with mental illness but I do think that because of recent media coverage, people are starting to talk more about it. Nevertheless, I think we have a long way to go to truly normalize mental health issues. Authenticity is scarce these days, but if each of us choose to be more open and honest about our human experience, it creates a domino effect with the people around us. 
Rip & Tan: How do you apply clinical psychology and resilience when working with children? What is the one thing parents should know about their child’s mental health?
Zelana Montminy: Mental health is a living, breathing, ever-changing state. It’s not something we have or don’t have. It’s ongoing, and requires tools children need to learn in order to thrive.  The only way they learn them is by figuring things our for themselves, so resist the knee-jerk reaction to give answers or make things easy for them. We can help guide them by normalizing their experiences, listening, and giving them space to be uncomfortable. They grow stronger and more competent by making mistakes.
Rip & Tan: Although we’re all different, is there one technique you can share to improve overall happiness or mood?
Zelana Montminy: Stop making happiness your goal—you’ll start to notice the moments that you missed because you were trying so hard to be happy! Our obsession with happiness makes us focus too much on our shortcomings. When we anchor our goals in a fleeting feeling, we set ourselves up for failure. Instead, to achieve lasting contentment, focus on what you’re doing within each given moment and cultivate skills that increase resilience (which I outline in my book). 
Rip & Tan: What should you look for in a therapist and how do you know when you’ve found the right one? 
Zelana Montminy: A good therapist will make you feel safe—but it won’t necessarily feel comfortable or easy, especially at first. The right person will challenge you and illuminate blind spots you otherwise wouldn’t necessarily see without being judgmental in any way. I always suggest trying a few out, almost like dating, before you settle in long term. 
Photos by Melissa Gidney