By Dr. Kent Bradley, Chief Health and Nutrition Officer, Herbalife Nutrition
There’s no denying the fact that mental health problems present a very real and growing threat to our society. The latest National Health and Morbidity Survey reported that more than half a million Malaysians were found to be depressed. 3 in 10 adults aged 16 and above in this country suffer from some form of mental health issue.
Yet, mental health is a difficult topic to discuss and for many to understand. Perhaps an analogy would be helpful. If I told you that you had to take a 3000 km journey in your car, nonstop with no fuel breaks, what would you say? Impossible is my guess. So why is it a surprise that we humans are not meant to work and think nonstop? Unfortunately, fuel is too obvious of an answer. When we run out of fuel, much like a car, we simply stop. A more subtle analogy to mental health is the oil in the car. As we drive, we eventually begin to breakdown the oil, and over time that oil becomes less effective. If we don’t heed the car’s warnings, our engine is forced to run with low or no oil and will literally burn out – it will overheat and stop working.
Similar to low oil in a car, mental exhaustion can cause you to burnout. This is a result of placing demands beyond what our bodies were meant to sustain.
What are ways to keep our minds properly lubricated, and to replenish ourselves so we prevent burnout?
First – our minds are constantly being fed data. That data must be processed as we look for meaning and patterns. We draw conclusions and beliefs by the constant scanning of data. Those conclusions and beliefs are the basis of how we respond to life.
This pandemic has been a tsunami of new information. We want to synthesize and draw conclusions because that is how our brains are wired. When we get new data that amends or even contradicts earlier data, it creates conflict. Resolving that mental conflict so that we can make good decisions is important. We do this by creating distance between the data. Time is often a great distance creator. We need to slow down the pace in order to get our needed space to think, to put things into perspective.
How do we slow down the pace?
- Stop consuming information nonstop.
- Recognize that information is not timeless. Information is bound by what is known at the time. We are wired to make meaning, and from that meaning draw conclusions. But that may not be possible and conclusions we may make are not timeless.
- Calm your mind through intentional practices. Meditation is something often discussed but seldom practiced by many.
- Think about something else – give your mind something else to think about other than the pandemic. It would be preferable to think about something that is energizing and uplifting.
Practicing these steps can help you be more intentional on how you consume, analyze and act on data. Unfortunately, sometimes we are uncertain of the actions we must take and that can cause anxiety.
The 6 “Rs” That Can Help You Deal With Anxiety
Uncertainty is caused by not having the ability to predict what will be happening. And although we deal with uncertainty every minute of our lives, as we really don’t know what will happen the very next minute, we are comforted by the repeated patterns in our lives. We call these patterns routines. You wake up every day for work at the same time. You exercise at a certain time. You eat dinner at the same time. We find comfort in our routines because we have certainty in what and when something will happen. Dealing with uncertainty can be stressful, even anxiety provoking. Over a prolonged period, it may result in mental exhaustion or even burnout. This pandemic has taken away a lot of our routines. Many of us are not able to go to the workplace, we are not able to go out to the places we used to go, see the people we used to see. However, there are some things that are still predictable, and we can also create a routine that will help us manage uncertainty.
I have been a big proponent of not just routines but rest – physical rest as well as mental rest from the overconsumption of media and the thirst for having to have an answer. But I am also a proponent of recreation – going out and getting active as well as doing something that brings you joy. And of course, to calm the mind we have the opportunity to practice relaxation techniques that help us tremendously as well as give us the ability to reframe – provide a different perspective on events, data and perhaps discover new beliefs that might be more helpful and energizing. We also can’t forget that relationships are critical as we need one another to help put things in perspective and the encouragement that comes with knowing we are not experiencing life alone. And finally, the important aspect of reframing. This is what I will address through how we change our Mindset below.
Adjusting Your Mindset
Another way we can look at how to deal with stress and anxiety is to take a more long-term approach by developing practices that provide us resilience when faced with life’s challenges.
Resilience is this ability to move through adversity in a way that is healthy and effective. It assumes that adversity will occur but provides a buffer to reduce its impact. Everything that we spoke about concerning ways to reduce stress is applicable but there are Five specific ways of thinking that are extremely powerful. If we were to practice these attitudinal mindsets, we can buffer ourselves from mental exhaustion and burnout.
- A mindset of gratitude – So easy to say, so hard to do. Gratitude is a mindset that searches for and recognizes the things that we can be grateful for. The practice of gratitude energizes us and helps us in times of adversity.
- A mindset of confidence – This is more than “the little engine that could.” It is also a mindset that is based on a belief that we are capable of taking the action needed to accomplish what is needed in the face of adversity. Confidence inspires hope.
- A mindset of meaning and purpose – This is the mindset that my life has meaning and value and purpose. It is also a mindset that my actions have purpose and thus I must take action to continue on despite setbacks and difficulty.
- A mindset of connectedness – This is the mindset that I do not have to do this alone and in fact should not have to. That we are not alone and there are many who are on this journey, and together, we can overcome.
- A mindset of positivity – This is not a glass is half full orientation although that can be helpful. It is a mindset that is nourished by the benefit of positive emotions that often come from gratitude, purpose, and connectedness. It is both a result, as well as a mindset, as we recognize that we need to have a life enriched with positive thoughts to help buffer us in times of adversity.
And Finally, Fueling our Bodies
As mentioned in the car analogy above, our bodies, like the car, need fuel. But we need fuel that helps our overall health. We must consume important sources of nutrients to fuel our cells to do what they were designed to do. This involves a host of nutrients found in a healthy diet, that unfortunately we often fail to consume. The diets of many people around the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) deliver less than recommended amounts of magnesium and vitamins A, C, D, and E. We should think about nutrient needs and meeting nutrient gaps to fuel our bodies.