A growing mental health crisis is the “second wave” of health problems that experts anticipate due to stress prolonged period generated by the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a follow-up study conducted by KFF (a US non-profit organization based in San Francisco, California) in July, 53% of American adults reported that their mental health was adversely affected by the pandemic’s anxiety and stress. In March, this situation affected one in three.
As a result, organizations and communities are looking practical tools to strengthen mental health. In an article published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison presented a new framework for emotional well-being which focuses on specific skills that can be learned.
The framework is based on scientific evidence which suggests that well-being can be cultivated through practice in everyday life.
“It is really Wellness “cum”“says Christy Wilson – Mendenhall, a scientist at Center for Healthy Minds at UW-Madison and co-author of the article.
“Traditionally, research in psychology has focused on treating mental illness. We hope to expand the discussion to promote the cultivation of well-being at any stage, even when they are relatively healthy. These skills help us to be more resilient in times like the ones we are experiencing now, “he added.
The framework focuses on four pillars studied in the laboratory and shown to improve with training:
1. awareness or attention to the environment and internal signals, such as bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings;
2. connection or appreciation, kindness and compassion;
3. insight, which refers to stimulating curiosity and self-knowledge;
4. and purpose, understanding their values and motivations.
For example, consciousness and, in particular, metaconsciousness (be aware that you are aware), seems to decrease stress, increase positive emotions and can be strengthened through mind-forming practices such as meditation.
Awareness helps reduce some of the harmful effects of distraction, which has been shown to affect cognitive function and increase the body’s responses to stress, which in turn are related to inflammation and aging.
Meditation has positive effects on health. Photos Shutterstock.
You have a purpose
The purpose in life is a significant personal goal that people can apply in everyday life. Having a purpose is also associated with positive physical and biological health outcomes.
“There are qualities of a healthy mind that many people don’t even know about can be trainedSays Cortland Dahl, a researcher at the KFF Center and lead author of the paper.
“We don’t think of them as skills. Many of us think that we are strongly connected to be this way or that way, but the reality is that these qualities are very more trainable and more malleable than we think. It is a very strong vision of the human mind: we can learn to be in the driver’s seat from our own minds, “he said.
Resilience, the key
The new framework provides evidence that people can withstand the ups and downs of life with endurance and that the brain and body it can change and adapt. Instead of replacing other views on well-being, researchers say the framework complements other models, focusing specifically on scientific evidence for the dimensions of well-being that can be trained and learned for people to thrive.
Researchers say one of their goals is to make science as accessible as possible and encourages their colleagues to incorporates this knowledge in therapies, meditation programs and other mental health treatments.
“This work parallels what we are learning about human biology. We are just beginning to understand this and our biology is malleable“says Dahl, who is also the contemplative director of Innovations for healthy minds, the foreign non-profit organization affiliated with Center for Healthy Minds, which translates science into tools for cultivating and measuring well-being. “We are not born in a fixed way. Our brain, nervous system and biology can be shaped. It is a very hopeful vision: there are many ways we can it influences our minds and bodies to improve us“.
Wilson-Mendenhall and Dahl note that there is significant work to be done to understand how the framework could be applied. in all cultures and study it in different groups of people. Given that the ideas in the framework have a deep history in contemplative contexts that precede the ability of Western science to study them, it is fair to assume importance, but how they are packaged and presented in mental health interventions in the future may vary between cultures. and contexts and requires additional attention.
We can influence our minds and bodies to improve, say researchers. Photos Shutterstock.
Like a sport
Meditation and other health interventions are “similar to sports,” compares the study’s co-author and director of the Center for Healthy Minds, Richard Davidson. “It describes a wide range of activities,” he says. “Different types of meditation do different things for your brain, just like different sports trigger different changes in your body. You can train your mind on the various pillars that go beyond attention or even gratitude practices. “
For example, the pillar of perception, Davidson explains, “is simply about feeling curious about his own thoughts and preconceived notions. Your brain is not configured. You can question your own assumptions and biases, and this has a an extraordinary potential to heal the division we see in today’s society. “
Future research will explore how the framework can help people develop resilience and how it could be used to treat mental health disorders such as depression.