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Mind Your Mental Health in May (…and Every Other Month, For That Matter)

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In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, learn about the benefits of establishing a mindfulness practice and other resources to help you prioritize self-care.

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A Different World

mindfulness

In 13 months’ time, life has changed drastically. Whether focusing on the necessity of protective gear and hand-washing routines, making the decision to be vaccinated and navigating the eligibility and scheduling process, or developing cabin fever due to social isolation, COVID-19 has reshaped how we navigate our lives in every sense. While a lot of time has been spent discussing the proper ways to navigate physical, public spaces, we could use many more conversations and resources to help us navigate our emotional and mental health. 

I invite you to consider some of the reasons why prioritizing your mental health and wellness via mindfulness and self-care is one of the most important things you can do right now. Additionally, I’ll highlight some of the resources available through the AAMC and other organizations that emphasize mental health and wellness in their day-to-day work. 

Becoming Mindful

In a society that is more interconnected than ever, many of us likely experience information overload daily — particularly during this time. This can lead to feeling stressed, anxious, and any other number of emotions without always understanding why. Establishing a mindfulness practice can help you manage these emotions and cope with both traumatic events and everyday stressors. 

Psychology Today describes mindfulness as “a state of active, open attention to the present.” Mindful practices allow us not only to stop and reflect but also to free ourselves from the judgment of our own thoughts through a greater understanding of how our experiences — the full breadth of them — sit with us. Through mindful practices, you can focus on becoming aware of where you are in the present moment — internally — and accepting your accompanying thoughts and perspectives. This approach to mental and emotional health and wellness has become even more critical as we continue to navigate individual and shared traumatic events, as well as the seen and unseen impacts of such events on our individual and collective conscious.

Prioritizing Mindfulness and Wellness During COVID-19

Pre-COVID-19, a Kaiser Family Foundation/Economist survey showed that as many as 1 in 5 Americans shared that they felt lonely or socially isolated. These numbers have grown considerably due to quarantine measures forcing social isolation upon us to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Despite this being necessary for our health and well-being, the impact on our emotional and mental health cannot be understated. 

According to Psychology Today, “Most people, including mental health specialists, have failed to recognize the full significance of the impact of death on life.” Further research has revealed that many of us develop coping skills unknowingly due to a conscious or unconscious fear of death. These coping mechanisms can be unhealthy and decrease our quality of life by making us resistant to love and causing us to diminish the value of forming social bonds while developing a numbness to different life events. Every day over the past 13 months, we have been subjected to reports of hundreds — and even thousands — of people dying on the daily news. Some of us have lost family members, friends, and acquaintances. And on top of everything else, we must cope with the daily fear of how COVID-19 may impact our own mortality. These thoughts can consume us emotionally and mentally, and they can even physically debilitate us. Therefore, engaging with mental health professionals like therapists and counselors can allow us to talk through our rational and irrational fears and develop healthy coping skills to navigate times like these. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Ultimately, COVID-19 and its byproducts represent a mere fraction of the phenomena weighing on us day after day, and it can be incredibly difficult to navigate through these compounding situations without a plan to remain healthy in the process. However, engaging in self-care practices, mindfulness, and the seeking out of professional resources such as therapy or coping strategies vetted by reputable organizations, like Mental Health America’s Tools 2 Thrive Toolkit and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ mental health and wellness website, can make a huge difference. 

Additionally, the AAMC continues to promote and encourage holistic student and practitioner wellness via our Medical Student Well-Being and Well-Being in Academic Medicine websites. After all, as the saying goes, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.” For aspiring physicians who aim to support and assist their future patients in their health and wellness journeys, it is important that you learn to consistently prioritize your own mental health first. 

by AAMC Senior Outreach Specialist Brandon Brown

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