A Toolkit for Mental Well-Being
It’s crucial for us to closely look after our mental well-being. After all, it affects each and every aspect of our lives. Yes, having a pandemic tossed upon an existing epidemic was a blow. A serious blow. But we contended with one when it came around. So we’ll surely be able to contend with both. Especially now that we’ve got this handy-dandy toolkit to help us out!
The toolkit was assembled by a crack team of ace researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds. And while it was essentially put together in response to the explosion of stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the toolkit works just as well on the wrath brought about by the opioid epidemic. In fact, there’s enough tools in this kit to help counteract both public health disasters. There’s even enough to help mitigate the added unease unleashed by the rash of social unrest.
Assembling the Toolkit for Mental Well-Being
The Center for Healthy Minds was already dedicated to restoring Americans’ well-being. But the pandemic’s unprecedented impact infused their work with real urgency. In fact, the Center was especially alarmed by the results of a July 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll where 53% of respondents reported pandemic-related stress negatively affecting their health. Even more alarmingly, the majority of those polled felt the worst was yet to come.
The Center decided they needed to address the issue. More importantly, they endeavored to get ahead of the problem before it was beyond anyone’s control. There was a catch though.
“Traditionally, the focus in psychology research has been on treatment of mental illness,” says the Center’s Christy Wilson-Mendenhall in a new paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We are hoping to broaden the conversation to advocate cultivating well-being at any stage, even when you are relatively healthy.”
So they came up with a four-part, self-taught program for mental well-being that can benefit anyone struggling with stress. A toolkit, filled with applicable and essential skills. The kind of skills that will “help make us more resilient in moments like we are experiencing now.”
“It is really the ‘how’ of well-being,” Wilson-Mendenhall explains.
The 4 Pillars of Mental Well-Being
In enter the 4 Pillars of Mental Well-Being. Wilson-Mendenhall and her colleagues — lead author Dr. Cortland Dahl and Dr. Richard Davidson, both of UW–Madison — constructed a framework atop four pillars. The pillars, or practices, are well-regarded mental health skills that anyone can learn.
“There are qualities of a healthy mind that many people do not know are even trainable,” Dr. Dahl says. “We do not think of them as skills. Many of us have thought we are hardwired to be like this or that, but the reality is these qualities are much more trainable and malleable than we think.”
“It is a very empowering view of the human mind,” he continues. “We can learn to be in the driver’s seat of our own mind.”
Take awareness. It’s also called mindfulness. And it’s been found to reduce stress and promote positive feelings. Awareness can also significantly help prevent unwanted and detrimental information from getting in the way of clear thinking. Another source of harmful stress.
There are a range of mental practices one can employ to bring about awareness. Perhaps the best and easiest of those practices is meditation.
Purpose, aka having motivating short- and long-term goals, has also been linked to mental and physical well-being. So has insight and communication. Dr. Davidson thinks insight can be especially helpful in today’s highly-divisive environment.
“Insight is just about getting curious about your own preconceived thoughts and opinions,” said Dr. Davidson. “You can question your own assumptions and biases. This has tremendous potential to heal the division and ‘othering’ that we see in today’s society.”
The Center for Healthy Minds
“What if the world were a kinder, wiser, more compassionate place?” asks the Center for Healthy Minds.
What if, indeed.
One suspects the question comes directly from Dr. Davidson himself. After all, he founded the Center. Plus he’s been on the University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty since 1984.
More importantly perhaps, the good doctor has conducted groundbreaking work studying emotion and the brain. In fact, it’s how he’s best known. That and being a loyal pal and confidante of the Dalai Lama. We jest, of course, Just a little. If only to keep us from becoming too intimidated by Dr. Davidson’s pedigree. See, he also serves on the the World Economic Forum’s Global Council on Mental Health and was named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.” Okay, so that was back in ’06. Still…
But it’s right now we’re concerned with and right now the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry seems all about the Center. Its mission? To cultivate well-being and relieve suffering through a scientific understanding of the mind.
To that end the Center is making its framework freely available to as many people as possible. Consequently all research is published under a Creative Commons License. The Center is also well-aware that the four pillars predate modern science and will subsequently be mindful not to trigger any cultural biases.
Mostly though, the Center for Healthy Minds is focussed on doing just as its named and staffed. That is, employing science to enhance the mental health of everyone.
“We are not born a certain fixed way,” says Dr. Dahl. “Our brains and nervous systems and biology can be shaped. That is such a hopeful view to have — there are many ways we can influence our minds, brains, and bodies for the better.”
Healing Properties praises The Center for Healthy Minds. And we applaud its work, as well as its mission. We know full well how crucial mental health is to our collective and personal well-being. We also know how precarious that health has become. It’s compoundingly precarious for those also suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Especially considering the near complete loss of social supportive networks. It’s imperative that we stay happy and healthy. And we’re incredibly heartened to see The Center so diligently helping us achieve that essential health and happiness. We’re also grateful. Down to the very marrow of our being.
How about you? How is your health and well-being? Has the pandemic made things extra precarious? Has that then driven you to drink or drug? If so, don’t sweat it. You’re not the first. And you won’t be the last. You can flip the script though. In fact, you can do it with a single phone call. And be right back on the happy track. Really. It’s a whole helluva lot easier. A lot more fun too. Bet on it.
(Healing Properties would also like to thank Medical News Today for providing the informative article that spurred this report.)