Keeping Yourself Healthy: Mind, Part 1

We continue our discussion of keeping healthy, with today’s focus being the mind. What does it take to keep your mind healthy? What do you have available to you?

  1. Instincts: These are hard wired in us and can be rapidly guiding in times of survival.  They are also sometimes difficult to understand and can be misleading.  For example, the instinct to fight, flee, faint or freeze may be helpful when a tiger is present or to step away from someone coughing in your space. These actions may not be the best first response to other stressors. What are your predictable instinctual reactions?  If those are not helpful to you today, try square breathing or mindfulness. Square breathing is breathing in for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four counts, holding for four counts and then repeating. Mindfulness is focusing on the present to affect your mental state, with acceptance of your feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.
  2. Feelings:  These are natural and important to understand.  They can guide you.  For example, if you feel anxious, that feeling can help you prepare to keep yourself safe.  If you are feeling angry it can help you protect yourself.  If you are feeling love, it can help you connect. Too much or too little of any feeling can become an imbalance.  Take time each day to identify your feelings. Ask yourself if this is a helpful feeling from the present or if it’s an unhelpful feeling about the past or from another person.  You can learn how to manage feelings to your benefit.  You can “name them to tame them,” where you effectively manage your feelings by learning how to label them. For example, David Kessler shared this week about COVID-19 that we are all having the feeling of grief.  Once you know that part of the jitters in your body and anxiety in your mind is “grief,” there is often a calming sensation in your body and with your emotions (“tame it”). This happens as we transfer the experiences from deeper structures of our brain (areas where instinct and emotions reside) to the cerebral cortex (the part of our brain where thoughts reside).  We will talk more about how to manage some of these challenging feelings like fear, anger and grief in future posts.

Look for Keeping Yourself Healthy: Mind, Part 2 in our next post.