By Shaly Vassigh, Licensed Esthetician and Holistic Health Counselor
As a holistic esthetician, working in a wellness center, I would be remiss not to focus on the emotional and spiritual health of our clients in addition to the physical components of wellness. While I am not a mental health counselor, I have noticed that, throughout the pandemic, many individuals have significantly reduced their social interactions (even when socially-distanced options exist). Even as it is becoming safer to socialize, many people seem to be staying away from one another for a variety of reasons ranging from social anxiety (often resulting from fear of virus spread) to depression (largely due to isolation itself, though a variety of factors are contributing to the rising rates of depression over the last few years).
It is important to remember how much we need social interaction as human beings! It’s essential to have a buddy to check in with at least once a week. Depression and anxiety can happen gradually over time, and a trusted friend may be one to notice something in either your mood or behavior that you may have missed. Your friend may be that encourager, reminding you to take care of yourself and eat well, or better yet, may be a great walking or hiking buddy – inspiring you to exercise and get your sunshine and Vitamin D.
Staying focused on the positive – with a daily gratitude and goal-setting practice, no matter how small – can help you stay mentally strong during stressful times.
Begin to notice those thoughts that come up for you on a frequent basis. Write these specific thoughts in your journal. How many times a day would you estimate you have these thoughts? Research shows that for the majority of us, our habitual thoughts are rooted in negativity and culminate – like a tape in our minds – repeating that same criticism, victimhood, and/or fear-based story – whatever it is! You’ll likely know it well as you pay greater attention to how often it’s coming up for you.
The great news is that you don’t have to listen to or believe your negative thoughts. You can choose different thoughts and eventually change your thinking, if you keep challenging those negative thoughts while creating positive ones to replace them. Louise Hay, often referred to as the Mother of Positive Affirmations, states that our greatest fear is that we are unworthy, unlovable. We often beat ourselves up, talking to ourselves in ways we would never speak to a good friend. Rarely do we pause long enough to become an observer, to witness the madness – or meanness – that may be going on within. When we allow ourselves some space to witness, the process of unhooking ourselves from the spiral is set in motion … our higher self takes the helm and we can begin the practice of reflection and mindful choice.
Another exercise is to begin a journal titled, 1000 Ways that I am Perfect. This sounds like a huge feat, but honestly, there are thousands of functions in our bodies and lives that work perfectly every single day. A brief study of biology, including how the body repairs itself, will leave you in awe of how perfect your body truly is. Write down 5 things a day that you notice about yourself or your life that worked, just perfectly. For example, I drove perfectly to work today! I breathed perfectly today (you are still alive, right?)! My leg healed a cut perfectly today! I felt a scratchy throat and my body overcame it perfectly today! Eventually, you will have 1000 ways that you are perfect! So, when you have a few recurring negative thoughts, balance them out by reflecting on those things that are working, and you will feel much more confident and optimistic. Bravo!
Social Health-It’s More than Just Texting a Friend
As I mentioned, because we have needed to keep a physical distance from others during the pandemic, many people have developed almost a fear or aversion to connecting with others. It is able to be masked (no pun intended) because we may feel that we are texting friends, so we are being social, or that we are having Zoom meetings with colleagues, so we are being social. But these types of interactions remove much of the human part of the interaction that we thrive on. Being able to pick up on a person’s non-verbal cues about how they are feeling and respond to them is more difficult with these platforms. There simply aren’t enough emojis to express all of the human emotions, especially during a pandemic!. Fortunately, we gained a ‘“care” emoji during the past year. One important one that should be invented would be a “holding space” emoji. But in reality, that emotion is better presented in person. Holding space is BEING with a person, listening to their story or feelings, without judgement and with a positive regard. It is hard to feel that someone is holding space for you on a screen or text, but on the phone or in person, it is completely different.
Our attempt at social interactions during the pandemic may have looked something like this–you are feeling lonely or you miss a friend, so you think “I should call Mary.” But then you remember people don’t call any more and you don’t want to bother them so you decide to send a text. But in the text, you can’t think of what to say to ask how they are doing and get the real answer, and if they asked you, it would be hard to convey the complexity of your life and feelings in a text, and you don’t want to be a drag, so you end up just not texting. The same goes for actually getting together–you think about someone that you wanted to get together with, but then you try to plan where you can meet safely in a socially distanced way and Do you need a reservation? Who is going to watch your kids? That is just one more person in your house that you need to be concerned with exposure. And should the kids wear a mask in their home with a babysitter? So many things to figure out. So it just seems easier to avoid the get together, avoid the attempt at a phone call, and avoid the text. And longer it goes that you haven’t been in touch, the harder it can be to get in touch again.
Another possible scenario is to send a text that opens dialogue. Hey, how are you doing? Do you want to grab a coffee sometime and catch up? I’ve been putting off getting together with all that is happening, but I miss seeing you! Real conversations feed our souls. I have been fortunate to have been working during the pandemic as an esthetician, and hearing everyone’s stories and struggles has been a healing experience for me to relate to other people’s emotions during all of this. Being there for others has helped me feel better. If we say “We are all in this together” we need to make that mean something. We are strong together.
Even now that many have received the vaccine and COVID cases are decreasing, it is important to overcome this cycle and start to socialize again in a way that is safe for your circumstances.
Your Emotional Health
The past year has been filled with a lot of emotions. We may float from fear to gratitude, from boredom to creativity, from frustration to finding new ways of coping. Sometimes watching too much news can make us feel overwhelmed by all the negativity. The important thing is to find ways to express your emotions safely and not keep them inside. In our wellness center, Dr. G has seen a link between holding (negative) emotions inside and health issues with his patients. Finding a safe way to communicate your feelings is key. When that is not possible, journaling is another useful tool. Some other safe ways to express your emotions include physical activity such as running, jumping on a trampoline, hitting a punching bag, playing a sport, or doing yoga. You can also convert negative emotions using creativity through gardening or doing art. Watching a sad movie and crying or watching a favorite comedy and laughing are great ways to release and feel emotions.
Having a pet to care for is also a great way to cope emotionally. We rescued a sweet little Shih Tzu during the pandemic, and she has been a lifesaver for our boys as well as Dr. G and I, by forcing us to take walks and get outside. Speaking of the outdoors, nature has a very soothing effect for us. Just a few minutes outside listening to birds singing their songs, watching a beautiful sunset, and taking in the sights of trees or cactus with age-old wisdom–all going about their lives and duties regardless of the pandemic–that is therapeutic!
Lastly, when you are feeling upset, angry, or sad about something in your life, helping others can be very impactful at elevating your own emotions. Volunteering at a food bank, donating to an important cause, or helping a friend or neighbor can help turn around negative emotions. There is a lot of research on how helping others can improve your own level of well-being. There are brain chemicals released when we help others that bring us peace and happiness (for some fun neuroscience, check out 3 Specific Ways That Helping Others Benefits Your Brain | Psychology Today). Our wellness center did a food drive last year for Chiro Cares day. My kids were at home at the time and were not getting any social interaction other than our family and online classes. It was apparent that their mood and motivation was very low. I insisted that they come with me to drop off all the food at the shelter. I explained to them on the way that even though this is all hard for us, we are fortunate that we have food and a home, because many people do not. They reluctantly came along. When we got there, I asked around about the center and mentioned that I brought the kids along to gain exposure on ways of helping. Fortunately, the Executive Director picked up on what I was looking for and gave us a tour of the building–where they keep the hygiene bags for the homeless that are lightweight enough for them to carry around, where the food is stacked on the shelves like a store, where clothing is ironed and put out on the racks to help to people in need feel the dignity of wearing clean and ironed clothes. We asked about children volunteering after the pandemic, and she gave us the details. When we left, the kids were pumped up and said they definitely wanted to volunteer as soon as it was safe to. I noticed for quite awhile that they had more of a sense of purpose and that they seemed to overcome their struggles a little easier.
One would think that seeing other people struggling would make us feel more sad, but when we have the opportunity to help and do so, it actually makes us feel so much more than we did before!
Your Physical Health
As mentioned several times, getting outdoors for some exercise is a great way to help your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health! Many Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, which is obtained from sunshine. Vitamin D plays a large factor in our immune system. Of course, with warmer summer weather in Phoenix, this means going out earlier in the mornings or towards sunset when it is cooler. Research shows that outdoor exercise can be as effective as antidepressants for mild depression and anxiety. Any type of exercise is extremely benefits for overall health and for specific medical conditions.
Your Spiritual Health
When I studied psychology with a top mood researcher for my undergrad degree, there was a finding that stood out in my mind–people with increased sense of spirituality had significantly better physical and mental health outcomes. (Spiritual wellbeing and health | Michigan Today (umich.edu)
This may include religion, but can mean having any sense of purpose or belief in the meaning of life. In either case, taking time to focus on our spiritual health which allows us to look at the bigger picture of life, can be very helpful during challenging times.
On a spiritual level, daily meditation or prayer is, of course, ideally the best. If you struggle to meditate, there are several apps, such as Calm and Headspace, that have helpful guided meditations and calm music to make it easier for you. Again, on a spiritual level, there is power in group prayer or meditation. I was connected with a group of friends that did a 40 day spiritual journey in a text chain. We focused on different spiritual quotes each day and reflected on them together. This significantly helped me to deepen my spiritual growth and motivated me to continue. It also changed my perspective from viewing the everyday stress from the pandemic to seeing life from a different perspective and shifted my focus to viewing all the wonderful, funny, and interesting things in life. When we lighten our tight grasp on life, we work towards a more equanimous mind, allowing for more peace.
It has been one of the most challenging years of our lifetime. With any challenge, we have a choice to use the situation to make ourselves stronger. We can use this time to reassess our priorities and pave a healthier, more mindful path for our future that brings balance to all aspects of our lives.