Dr. Nicole Beurkens is a holistic child psychologist, best-selling author, mom of four, and the newest addition to our Scientific Advisory Board. We sat down with Dr. Nicole to get to know more about her background, her work, and what inspires her most. You can also catch Dr. Nicole in our webinar on November 3, 2022.
Q: Where did you grow up and how did your upbringing impact you?
A: I grew up in a small town in upstate New York, and am the oldest of 4 children. We are all pretty close in age, and spent our childhood doing lots of things together. My parents were very involved with us, and we spent time doing activities outdoors, making crafts, playing games, and doing all the other things we did in the 70’s and 80’s before handheld devices came along! My family lived overseas in the Middle East for several years when I was young, and I think this helped me understand that we are all more alike than different, and develop an acceptance of people from different cultures, religious orientations, lifestyles, etc. From a young age I was eager to help other people – my peers and adults. I did quite a bit of babysitting as I got into my middle school years, and enjoyed being with kids. It was just a natural evolution as I got into my college years to look at career options involving children and families.
Q: What made you want to become a psychologist, specifically a child psychologist?
A: I always knew that I wanted to work with children, and started my career as a teacher. I spent several years teaching in various types of special education classes at the elementary and secondary levels. The students I was working with had a variety of neurodevelopmental, emotional, and behavioral challenges, and I became passionate about helping them and their families outside of the school setting because there were so few resources for families. That’s what led me to getting my PhD in clinical psychology (specializing in kids). I wanted to be able to support families through the evaluation/diagnostic process and then onto treatment. When working with kids to understand and improve symptoms, it’s so important to be working with parents (and other adults in their lives) as well. The focus of my work is on getting to the root issues creating symptoms for people, and using a holistic treatment approach (nutrition, movement, sleep, stress management, parenting strategies, cognitive behavior therapies, etc.) to improve how patients feel and function in their daily lives.
Q: How does your work impact your parenting?
A: Working with children and parents helps me be more aware of my own communication, behavior, and parenting style with my children. I need to walk the talk! Delving into the research on things like nutrition, lifestyle factors, parenting approaches, etc. in order to help my patients and their families has definitely benefited my own parenting approach and strategies with my personal children.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you think that parents are facing today?
A: High stress levels in an increasingly fast-paced and overwhelming world is the biggest root level challenges parents face. Almost everything that parents struggle with somehow comes back to that primary issue. Whether it’s doing so many things that they don’t have quality time to rest and enjoy their kids, or it’s managing screen time, or making time to cook at home or go for a walk – people are so stressed from everything they do and are exposed to each day that it makes parenting more challenging. The fast-paced and high complexity environment of our modern world takes a toll on kids, too. It impacts the entire family and makes things more difficult for everyone.
Q: What is your favorite way to destress?
A: My favorite way to destress is to take a long walk outside (bonus if it’s a sunny day). There is something so regulating about walking, and it helps get my mind and body in a calmer state. Of course I wear my Apollo™ while walking, and lots of other times throughout the day, to support regulation and relaxation.
Q: What is your nighttime routine?
A: My nighttime routine is sacred to me, and something I’ve learned over time I need to manage well in order to get the quality sleep I require each night. I start winding down about 90 minutes before bed with my Apollo in Relax and Unwind mode. I focus on non-stimulating activities like reading, chatting with my kids/watching a show with them, taking a hot shower, etc. Right before bed I do my skincare routine (which is relaxing to me), and then do some deep breathing and meditation when I get in bed. That sets me up to fall asleep easily and get the number of hours I need (I’m an 8 hour sleep girl by the way!).
Q: How did your sleep change after becoming a parent?
A: When my kids were babies, sleep went out the window with caring for newborns/infants, nursing them in the night, etc. However, I got them in a sleep routine early on and all 4 of them were sleeping through the night by 4 months old. There are a lot of conflicting personal opinions about what is best with babies and sleep, but for me it was important to get them on a sleep schedule so I could sleep and function well – and my kids have all been excellent sleepers throughout their childhoods and now into adulthood. Since having kids I’ve needed to be more intentional about getting to bed on time, as it’s easy to try to cram a bunch of stuff in after they go to bed. But good sleep routines for all of us have been key.
Q: What is a book, movie/television show, or podcast that you recommend?
A: I definitely recommend the book How to Do the Work by Dr. Nicole LePera. It’s a powerful book about how to better understand ourselves, our emotions and behaviors, and be better humans (and parents). So much of how we parent is rooted in our own needs and issues (many from our own childhood experiences), so understanding and addressing those things not only helps us – it helps our kids. I highly recommend this for any adult – especially if you’re a parent.
Q: What are you most excited about right now?
A: I’m excited about the increased awareness people are having around mental health and the lifestyle factors that improve (or worsen) how we feel and function. The stigma around things like anxiety, depression, trauma, learning differences, etc. is declining, and we’re engaging in more open and honest conversations about these things, which ultimately helps everyone feel more supported around these issues. And the growing awareness that things like diet, exercise, sleep, stress management, etc. make a difference is huge – because these are the foundations of good mental health. I’m excited about new research-based technology like Apollo to help people understand their internal states and support them in feeling more of how they want to feel throughout the day (and night).