With COVID so many things shifted and really changed for people all over the world. There has been a lot of exploration and discoveries, some good and some disturbing. While quarantining at home, psychotherapist Vanessa Schon was inspired to create a space in the community where people can share knowledge and resources on how to strengthen their mental health and well-being during these times of crisis.

Creating such a beautiful space takes a lot of effort and energy so Vanessa reached out to her colleague, psychotherapist Christine Smith to discuss this idea in more detail. Christine met Vanessa’s idea with excitement and an eagerness to start planning. These two psychotherapists started planning to make this dream a reality. One of the major desires with this conference was to highlight some of the knowledgeable clinicians in the community. There has been a lot of uncertainty and trauma that the world has faced over the last several months that exacerbate many mental health issues, the community needed skills and support that can help heal from all this trauma. The good news is that Puerto Vallarta is full of amazing clinicians it was only a matter of bring them all together to reach the community and their needs.

Vanessa and Christine wanted to name the conference accordingly to help the community to have a clear understanding of what the conference mission was, that is why they went with Rethink Mental Health. Surprisingly, mental health still has a stigma attached to it, that can deter individuals reaching out for support. The truth is everyone has mental health just like everyone has physical health and they are linked. Just think, when you are in physical pain do you notice that your thoughts are not very positive. For example maybe right after you stub your toe on your favorite table you might be thinking or saying “this stupid table is always in the way” or “I am such an idiot, I am always running into things”. Or vice versa maybe you have been feeling depressed lately and starting to notice that you developed digestive problems, chest pains, and sore muscles. You mind and body experience is linked and typically they both need be addressed before you get the relief you are looking for. The hope with the conference is that people can see mental health in a new way.

The mission of the conference is simple, increasing awareness for improved mental wellbeing through education, support, and advocacy. The two psychotherapists wanted to create an engaging conference full of great information. While the speakers are still being confirmed they can promise you it will be engaging and informative. The conference will be held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico August 15 and 16th from 9am to 5pm each day. You will be able to find more information as things develop on the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Rethink-Mental-Health-107790254274137/). They hope you can join in this transformative experience.

This March 9th, 2020 was the official day without woman here in Mexico, it was the day after international women’s day where numerous marches took place to kick off the protest. March 9th, a day without women was a protest in Mexico to bring attention to the high cases of femicides, violence targeted against women. In Mexico femicides have increased 10% from 2018 to 2019, making it the highest it has ever been according to data from the Mexican government. Many of these cases are very publicized with the gory details of their femicides all of the news such as Fátima, a 7-year-old girl who was abducted in front of her school and found later assaulted and murdered in a plastic bag or Escamilla, a 25-year-old wife was gutted by her husband. These are only 2 of many violent stories in the life of the average Mexican woman.

Growing up my parents taught me to stand up against any injustices I witness in life, it became something so important to me that I built a career out of being an advocate. Being a visitor in another country standing up for injustice has become a lot more difficult and dangerous. Every country or culture has its own rules on how you can stand up for change, not everyone has the same rights as we do in the United States. This has been a difficult task for me to navigate how to stand up for what I believe in while also respecting other cultures. In Mexico, the law states “Foreigners, cannot, in any way be involved in political affairs of the country.” This includes protests and demonstrations of any sort. March 9th, Day Without Women was a different type of demonstration where everyone could see all the things that women contribute to society, what the true value of women is in our society. The thought behind it was all women on March 9th didn’t contribute anything to society, they didn’t leave their house, didn’t go to work, did not consume anything including social media or Uber eats, they were not merchants to anyone for anything. It was estimated that in this one day without women cost the Mexican economy about 1.37 billion pesos.

This one day was a learning experience to many, myself included. My first learning experience came before the day even started, deciding on what am I supposed to do on this day if I can’t contribute anything to society. Am I supposed to join other females to discuss our collective power or should I sit quietly to reflect on my role as a woman? After consulting with many of my friends I decided a little bit of both is how I should spend this day. One of my biggest struggles in the day was letting go of this pressure that I felt to be productive. My husband was very supportive of my participation in the protest and was ready to help in any way between his work calls. After I got up and moving for the day, I went to make coffee and I immediately grabbed my husband’s cup to make him a cup of coffee. It wasn’t until I asked him if he wanted any coffee that I realized I was serving him. There was a constant urge to be helpful and do things for others all day long. This is a part of my core beliefs that I was already aware of, but it was brought to my attention of how perhaps my gender was something that played into that as well. There was no one that was putting this pressure on me, but I could feel the pressure to do something when I was taking time to reflect or when my husband was doing chores around the house. As if I didn’t have any business relaxing on a Monday while there was so much that needed to get done around the house. Reflecting, I realized that usually, my mom is the one who does most of the house chores, and my grandmother would make sure everyone was taken care of. I learned this pressure through generations of the powerful woman around me taking the lead in helping others. My husband has no problem relaxing and doing nothing as well as many other men in my life. Does this indicate a much larger issue of gender roles that I have come to accept without being conscious of it?

This urge to be able to be productive made me realize how much I do for others in my life. This type of selflessness that I continue to partake in every day that I had a hard time letting go of with this protest. When it comes to taking care of myself, I tend to place myself below others. This was extremely surprising to me. In the field of counseling, you are taught the importance of putting yourself first, and I have been through many different pieces of training, seminars, workshops, etc that really drills this point and provides tools in order to make sure you are engaging in self-care. While I enjoy helping others and receive a lot from that, I also need to take some time to do for myself. The truth is that right now I am able to be very selfish because it is just me and my husband, but one day there will be more people that I will take responsibility for such as children, pets, and aging parents. This was a reminder to take full advantage of putting myself first right now in my life, many good women fought for me to have this opportunity.

Throughout the entire experience, I found myself reaching out to my fellow women all over the world to get their perspective on what they were doing with this day, how they are dealing with certain things as they came up and how we could support each other in this protest. I became more aware of how this protest really did pull women together even if we were physically together, we pulled from each other’s strengths, share in ideas, support one another. This protest took on a new meaning for myself, while I stand alone in my house really, I stand together with many females all over Mexico. While some females did not have the option to protest due to financial reasons, but their presence was still felt. The cheese saying “one for all, and all for one” rang true to my ears. For this moment we were no longer Americans, Mexicans, British, Canadians, we were all women who were tired of violence being used as an acceptable part of life.

No matter where you are in the world if you see something that is horrible there are many ways or things that you can do to help. While there are laws in place that I am not allowed to get involved with political affairs in Mexico there is nothing that says I am not allowed to speak to women about their story, empower women to ask for what they want, and donate money to organizations I feel could help. Those are ways that I have found to be able to help here in Mexico, but they aren’t the only ways. I asked many individuals who knew about the cause for assistance in finding ways in which I can help and feel a part of this fight I feel so strongly about. Violence against women is something that affects the world, not just Mexico, and we cannot be a bystander in this fight.

It can be easy to find yourself isolated while traveling or living abroad, well really in many times in your life. We aren’t really taught how to make friends. We typically learn throughout our lives on how to make friends and evaluate their worth of maintaining, but as adults, it feels so much more difficult. You typically build friendships with people who share a typical routine with such as coworkers or classmates. This is made even more difficult when you work remote and can go days without physically interacting with another human. We can forget at times to seek out these connections, but quickly remember when we do not have them. There are many ways you can build a community while abroad below are a few helpful tips.

Volunteering- this is such a helpful tip on many levels. Research shows that not only does volunteering promote social connectedness but has also been linked to physical improvements as well. It makes sense there is a socially connected piece, you identify a cause that you align with that helps you feel that you are making progress towards something you’re passionate about. That alone can make you feel good, but then you become linked to a group of people who have something in common with you AND live in the general vicinity.

There is an extra bonus as well, when I was in Thailand, I volunteered at a local children’s home where they taught me all about their cultural norms, language, politics, and holidays. In Thailand, they have a holiday called Loy Krathong where you make a small float and place it in the water as an offer to the water spirits. The children’s shelter I was working at invited me to join in making my own float for the ocean while they explained all the tradition that went along with the holiday. It made me feel like I was a part of this new culture, I knew more about it and got to learn more traditions to incorporate into my own practices.

Community activities– Each culture and community have their own activities for the people in the community. Why not seek out activities you enjoy or are very excited to try? There are many ways in which you can do this, you can check out the local English paper or magazine, search the internet for events, look for posters or announcements in local coffee shops, ect. There is a website called Meetups that is a platform to connect people by allowing people to post invites to different events such as language exchanges, movies, native cuisine, or hiking. If you can’t find a group that you’re interested in, you can create your own. This is a perfect time to explore the new city you ate living in while making new friends. Joining a new group can feel intimidating but try to remind yourself you have nothing to lose.

Connecting with neighbors– Coming from Texas this is a big one in our culture. Throughout my life, I have always known all my neighbors, even when I was an adult living on my own. When you move to a new place it is custom to go over to all your neighbor’s homes to introduce yourself and perhaps bring a little gift. The gift part is not as important as extending the olive branch, but I typically bring cookies or a candle (both are cheap and versatile). You might not be best friends with all your neighbors, but at least this helps make you feel more a part of the community. You can greet them as you come home, ask for local tips, and potentially have a little more security. I can’t tell you how many times I have had a neighbor call me while I was traveling to let me know they saw something suspicious around my home. It is nice to know that you are not alone in that community.    

Sunday dinners- According to a research study out of Oxford shows that sharing a meal together not only increases social connectedness but also increases an individual’s satisfaction with their lives. While it might seem overwhelming to cook a 5 coarse meal for 30 strangers, there are many ways in which you can do this. If you don’t feel like cooking, you can start at a local restaurant or hold a potluck where everyone brings a dish to contribute. It is not the food that helps build a sense of community as much as it is connections. There is no pressure to host a large group either if the girl you sit next to at the office seems nice to invite her along to join. The volunteer coordinator is funny to ask him along as well. You don’t need to only have you Sunday dinners with family, you can fill the table with people that you like or find interesting. Share a meal and great conversation on a regular basis can help bring that community closer, just look at the research.

Simple smile while walking down the street- When living in big cities especially ones that we just moved to, we can become accustomed to looking down or not acknowledging people as we walk down the street or halls. Try looking up and smiling at people as you pass them. A smile is the most recognized body language in the world. Plus, a smile will release endorphins in your body like you are happy, even if you’re not necessarily happy at that moment. Looking into someone’s eyes and smiling makes you much more approachable, you don’t even need to say hello to them, but chances are you and that person are much more likely to engage with each other in this state as apposed to ignoring each other or not making contact. Perhaps while you are smiling over at someone you might just find yourself in a conversation with your new friend.

FB group pages/ social media- If you are having trouble meeting people in person or perhaps feeling a bit shy and want to practice connecting with strangers, the internet is a good place to start. When I first move to a new city, I always find a local’s page on FB and post on my interests, a little about me, and ask if anyone is interested in grabbing a coffee. This has never failed me in the last 5 countries I have lived in, people from all walks of life all reach out to me and help me get acclimated to my new community (some places were faster than others). There are also group pages with common interests with people from all over the world in them. These groups can range from social anxiety to women who love to travel. In my experience, these groups are very inspirational and can help when you are struggling with really anything. There is a Facebook group I belong to that is free for all on advice and empowerment. I just checked the last three post and it consisted of advice on moving to a new city, safety notice for international travelers, and assistance on how to photoshop a picture. It is a pleather of great information.
As mentioned above this is also a great place to practice small talk if you get anxious around new people. Try to give yourself a goal of commenting on two to three comments a day on complete stranger’s posts in a group you enjoy. As you feel more comfortable with that you can move to direct messages to incite conversations and then to in-person conversations. Little by little you will start feeling much more confident to start small talk with new people.

There are six helpful hints on how to cultivate your community. We know that a sense of community is important to our mental health. If you think about how you handle crisis situations, I am sure reaching out to a friend or loved one is on that list. Do your best to cultivate healthy and meaningful relationships in your life for your overall wellbeing. You deserve it!

Moving to another country for long periods of time with a partner really accelerates a relationship. Which makes sense right, you both are removed from all your supports of home with a lot of emphasis on each other. So, when the only available hotel in town is explaining they have given your room away and you need to leave in the next hour (a real situation from my life) you are able to pull together as opposed to pull away from each other. Here are 7 tips for keeping a relationship healthy during the challenges that travel can bring.

  1. Talk it out- stay connected- honest, open communication is always a good way to stay connected.
    The more you connect with each other the closer you will be. When you start pulling away from communicating your thoughts and feeling you will feel the difference. If you feel the urge to hold back information with your partner, ask yourself why you feel that way. Is it something from your past reminding you not to get hurt or do the dynamics of your relationship discourage talking about certain topics? Either way there is something you can do to improve the situation.
  2. Take breaks when needed- When you are talking about something and you begin to feel angry or notice the conversation is not helpful, take a break. Go somewhere you can have a few moments alone to relax and reflect on what it is bothering you. Explore different ways how you would prefer to handle it in the future. For example, if you return home from the market to find dishes in the sink,
    you start yelling at your partner about how lazy they are. After stepping away you realize that you were starting to feel frustrated at the market when you could not find everything you were looking for and after walking a mile back to the house you were exhausted which really led you to be upset, not the dishes as you had previously thought.
  3. Make dates- you allocated time in your day for all types of things why not to spend quality time with each other? Set aside some time for date night. That means no matter what you guys have going on you know that time is just for you all to get some quality time in. This is a great time to make a list of the things you both want to see and do in the city you are currently living in then start planning your dates around these activities. It gives you things to look forward to and the time to spend with your partner.
  4. Don’t lose yourself- it is very easy to lose yourself in a relationship while in your home country and even easier to do it while traveling. Make sure you are still exploring the things you enjoy. Desire is
    created from wanting something. It is easy to lose the desire of wanting someone when you spend all your time with this person. Keeping your hobbies and own identity helps you feel more secure and fulfilled in who you are, but it also helps keep the desire alive in your relationship.
  5. Encourage each other’s goals-a big part of being in a healthy relationship is supporting each other’s goals. If your partner is working overtime to get that promotion they have been asking from their boss for months, then support them by making them dinner while they work. Don’t add to the stress by making your partner decide between you and their work. This is where having schedule dates comes in handy. You have planned to spend quality time with your partner throughout the week so you both know what time is available and when. A helpful tool; my partner and I use a Google shared calendar in order to help keep things organized. He can see my availability if he wants to plan a surprise date or if he is thinking about trying the taco stand on the corner that I have mentioned numerous times I am not interested in eating at.
  6. Identify each other’s strengths and utilize them- We all have strengths and weaknesses, this is another area that introspection is going to be important for knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are. Identify what areas you’re good at and enjoy working in. Identify areas you struggle in or find yourself putting at the bottom of your to-do list any time it comes across your desk. There are a lot of tasks when it comes to traveling. You need to be organized on where your headed, how you’re getting there, where you will get your money, if there are any deals, etc. This can all happen very quickly as well, one of the many perks of being transit. If you are great with the organization then perhaps your duties would include packing, planning the route you all will take, and obtaining official documents you need in your travels (believe me there will be many!). If your partner is great with finances perhaps their duties would include identifying how you will withdraw cash in the country your traveling in without fees, researching reasonable prices for places to rent in the area you are moving to or saving extra cash to make that weekend getaway to the islands possible. It helps to pull from each other’s strengths when you know them. Just because something is your strength or perhaps in your area doesn’t mean that the responsibility rest solely on you, this is a team effort.
  7. Know when to apologies- some people see an apology is admitting you were wrong, but it isn’t always the case. An apology is acknowledging your partner’s feelings, validating that what the feel is real and understandable. Everyone wants to be heard especially in relationships. It might not make sense to you why your partner is upset but listening to them can help you better understand.
    Disagreements are inevitable in any relationship but finding a healthy way to talk through the disagreements is possible. Abstain from calling each other names, it is impossible to take those things back. Ask yourself what would I like to see come from this disagreement? Then work from there. If you want to see a change being implemented in your relationship discuss with your partner on how you would like to see it done and suggest different ways of getting there. Remember you and your partner are constantly changing so if you agree on handling certain situations one way, but find it is no longer working for you then don’t be afraid to talk to your partner again about a different approach. It is common to change your mind or grow to enjoy something else.

Traveling is exciting and it can be even more special with your partner. Just like most things in life it is helpful to prepare yourself and be mindful in the process. Hopefully, these 7 tips can help not only strengthen your relationship but also better your traveling experience. After all, you both deserve to be living happy, healthy lives.