Mental Wellness: Insights on Reopening, Resetting, Reimaging Takeaways

The Global Wellness Collaborations bring industry leaders together in meaningful dialogue to share ideas and best practices for navigating the COVID-19 crisis around a specific industry segment.

Topic:Mental Wellness: Insights on Reopening, Resetting, Reimaging
Date of Discussion: July 14, 2020
Countries/Regions Represented: Afghanistan, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belarus, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cayman Islands, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Korea, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, UAE, UK, US, Viet Nam, Virgin Islands, Zimbabwe.

    • Mental wellness refers to our psychological and emotional health. This term also encompasses the general sense of wellbeing in the physical, social, occupational, spiritual, financial and environmental aspects of our lives.
    • Mental wellness is an active lifelong process that involves making conscious and intentional choices that enable us to optimize our functional capacities and navigate acute and chronic stressors. Mental wellness is very important during the pandemic and allows us to develop and strengthen resiliency as well as work productively and sustainably.
    • When I think about mental wellness, I associate it with neuroplasticity, which is simply our brain’s ability to change.
    • Here’s a graph on neuroscience plasticity. Let me walk us through this…Age is the most important factor in neural plasticity. We can see age at the bottom right. There are two components to neuroplasticity, one being our brain’s intrinsic ability to change in response to experiences. In our early age from zero to five, it’s really high. It declines exponentially during those first five years. Once we hit puberty, it starts to decline steadily.
    • The other component is the amount of effort it takes to change. Minimal effort is required to learn something or to acquire a new skill when young. We learn passively, and once we hit puberty, the amount of effort required starts to climb steadily. In our late 20s, these two curves crossover, and the amount of effort exceeds the brain’s ability to change. Over time with each passing day, week, month, year, it gets harder to change. It becomes harder to break a bad habit and harder to acquire a new skill.
    • What if we’re actually able to decrease the amount of effort to change AND increase our brain’s ability to change, so effectively, that we can shrink this delta and we can make our brains younger? Yes, this is an exciting possibility. So then the next question is, how do we do this? That’s when I bring up these mental wellness habits. Since I’m a psychiatrist, I can also prescribe medications that can decrease the amount of effort for the brain to change and also increase its ability.
    • There are a lot of wearable technologies that allow us to hack the brain and measure/track our activities to help motivate change.
    • Resetting the World with Wellness: Mental Resilience in a Time of Stress and Trauma is one of eight white papers in the Global Wellness Institute’s series. I read it last night; it’s very good. Three of our presenters this morning were authors of the paper.
    • Prior to COVID-19, we knew we were reaching a pandemic of mental wellness and mental health here in America. The burnout rates in the workforce were so astronomical that there were predictions that the workforce would be paralyzed if employers didn’t start helping employees alleviate burnout. The pandemic is aggravating an already high amount of people affected by mental health challenges. Our challenge and opportunity are to learn, educate and implement mental wellness practices.
    • Things like being in nature, meditation, dancing can really help manage and prevent mental illnesses. Mental wellness is the best practice that helps build resilience and maintain sanity.
    • What can companies, employers and businesses do to integrate mental wellness and resilience into their brands?
    • People show up as full, complicated beings with their own set of challenges and stories that may have a lot to do with work and may have nothing to do with work.
    • Working from home has created challenges for employers to communicate and see what’s really going on with their employees.
    • How can you reassure your team? Does that mean there won’t be layoffs? Does that mean there won’t be pressure to show up at the office? How are you supporting your team?
    • I thought it was very interesting that Thrive Cosmetics, a direct to consumer beauty brand with about 70 employees, offers a one to one. So, for every product purchase, they donate one to a woman in need. They have a staff therapist who I believe sits within their HR department. She’s kind of the chief “holder of space.” A lot of us in wellness have heard that term “holding” for people to have their feelings and be their whole selves. A space where people can have a safe place to say what’s going on. (One might not feel comfortable with their immediate supervisor.) We’ll see if a chief therapist officer begins to be a position within companies.
    • What are some of the technology that those of us in the wellness space should know about?
    • There are meditation devices like Muse, a headband that you wear on your head, and it senses your brainwaves and displays them in the form of sounds. So, you’re listening to yourself meditate. With the sounds of a rain forest, the rain gets louder as your brain activity is faster, but if you slow it down, you start to hear birds chirping. It’s very rewarding to hear these birds chirping. This facilitates you to develop more of a calm mind. It’s a way of hacking the brain.
    • Another example of technology to hack the brain is a device called Halo Sport, which uses transcranial current stimulation. It literally stimulates your brain with electricity, so you’re zapping your brain, which allows us to harness neuroplasticity to develop motor skills or athleticism. Athletes and musicians use this to train. Let’s say you have time on your hands sheltering in place, and you want to go pick up the guitar. Wearing this device for 20 minutes allows you to get into this hyperplastic state where you can learn quicker. Practicing an instrument for an hour can essentially be practicing it for like 20+ hours, and you don’t need a medical person to assist you with this.
    • In the consumer market, there’s actually an underground movement of do-it-yourselfers who know how to zap different parts of the brain. It’s all on the Internet. You can just Google it and place the electrodes anywhere you want.
    • Muse also provides music or soundscapes that slow down the heart rate and can calm us.
    • Peloton can motivate us to exercise through “community” or “competition.”
    • The road map to mental wellness topics includes aerobic exercise; environmental enrichment; engaging activities such as worshiping, dancing, playing music; aroma therapy; traveling; meditation; nutrition; relaxation; deep breathing; and healthy sleep. These are the things advocated by the wellness world, and science shows that it really does help with mental wellness.
    • We look at mental health as a continuum. On the one end is happiness, let’s call it a 10. As you move down the continuum, you get into the five, six and seven, where you’re slightly depressed, you’re anxious, your mood is affected. Then as you move down the continuum, the ones, twos and threes, you get into the clinically diagnosed illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychosis. A one or zero is suicide.
    • People move up and down this continuum based on their genetics and their epigenetics, nature/nurture, their predisposition. And then there are life events…you can be a nine or a 10, and something happens to a loved one, and all of a sudden, you’re down to four or five.
    • Depending on where you are in this continuum, you need different forms of intervention and different approaches to keep you up at the upper end of the continuum.
    • We can change the way the world treats mental health by funding and promoting evidence-based research on how healthy lifestyle choices such as exercise, nutrition, and mind-body practices benefit mental health. We believe that if you have these tools in your toolbox like Peloton for instance, or a proper diet, or a deep breathing practice that you employ on a regular basis (not when you’re already a four, five or six), you can keep yourself at the higher end of the spectrum.
    • As we move down, you need medication, psychoanalysis, etc. But for the majority of people, you can have a great effect with healthy lifestyle choices. That’s why the pandemic is affecting so many of us. It’s taken away so much of the healthy lifestyle choices that we normally have.
    • Regarding Wim Hof’s method of breathing and how it affects resilience based on the vagus nerve, we’re trying to do research that is science-based as opposed to anecdotal. In the response to the vagus nerve, it shows your belief and resilience.
    • I think that one of the things that we really have tried to emphasize through the mental wellness initiative and in our white paper is that, as far as we know, there is unlimited potential for the human brain. We know the vagus nerve is a major part of the gut/brain access. We previously thought there was only the blood-brain barrier. Now we know they’re connected through this access.
    • The pathogens in our gut can go to our brain. The gut is central; the brain is central.
    • Asia has specialized in giving us the context of the concept of enlightenment. What does that mean? Neuroscience is leading us to understand what that means. It means a fully integrated brain.
    • I think we should never forget that our brain consciousness is shown by evidence to be able to grow throughout the adult lifespan and continue to be more and more and more capable of functioning at higher, wiser, kinder, more compassionate, more insightful levels of contribution and understanding.
    • There’s a line from classical Vedic literature that says, the wise maintain equanimity, even in the face of adversity. I think the concept of equanimity, even in the face of adversity really is central to understanding pathways to mental wellness. And by virtue of being in that place, equanimity, the brain is more coherent, is rewiring how it’s firing, and can become more of what it’s designed to be.
    • It’s not too late even if you’re more than 50 years old. I just think that’s a point that needs to be made. So, no one goes away thinking, well, I’ve reached 60. My brain’s not adaptable anymore or neuroplastic.
    • The brain does remain plastic throughout our age across the lifespan. We can understand this continuum in terms of science as well. It’s the amount of stress that we’re dealing with that has a direct effect on how plastic our brain can be.
    • Our performance, even our brain performance or physical performance, is dependent on the level of stress. This inverted u curve, what it’s showing us is that there’s an optimal point of functioning. And there’s also minimal functioning on both ends. When we’re relaxed, our performance is low. But as we become more stressed, we become more engaged/challenged, and this pushes us to our optimal functioning.
    • As we continue to increase the levels of stress, we enter fatigue, and we become exhausted (we start getting anxious/angry).
    • That is where our prefrontal cortex (PRC) is, right? I know I’m throwing this in now, but the prefrontal cortex is the higher-level region of our brain, which governs the executive functions or higher-level functions, such as attention regulation, impulse control, emotional regulation and decision making. So, it’s important that we have this part of our brain activated to thrive. When we’re stressed, the part of the brain called the amygdala takes over. And when it takes over, it does take our PFC offline. So, when we’re experiencing emotions of fear, chronic stress, anger, our PFC is offline.
    • We regress to the lower back parts of our brain, where we function more on autopilot mode or automatic types of behaviors. This is where our habits are.
    • How do we go forward as people, wellness leaders in the wellness industry? How do we prioritize mental wellness? What to do moving forward to reset the conversation about mental wellness?
    • When we’re ready to launch, our focus will be working grassroots in communities to train people to be able to deliver regulated relaxation support sessions. We will actually have people in the workplace, in bars, and people in the clinics and in communities who can provide first-tier evidence-based intervention. Our focus is to make it available so that we actually have more lay health workers delivering services because a lot of the mental health services globally are grossly short-staffed. They’re really struggling. I’ve got many health professional friends, and they’re struggling. They’ve often got four or five times the number of patients they should have. So, it’s not just about looking after those that need it.
    • We are dealing with our staff and including them in our practices. For example, if we have forest bathing, we go before with our staff. We had a walking week. We invited some of our workers to go with them. And at the end of the week, our community, our workers, could meet the guests. It’s a great moment for them to meet and share the same reality of COVID and prevention, but they are also experiencing some good practices that our guests experience. So that’s what we’re doing for our employees.
    • We fundamentally believe that in order to change and shift behaviors, we need to work with leaders on developing wellbeing strategy that’s layered up. We need to give permission to people to come to work and say, I’m not feeling okay. We need to empower people to have compassionate conversations with their colleagues and support them in getting the help that they need. We’ve seen an unbelievable impact already. It’s a lot of commitment from a company.
    • The workforce is now by and large remote. Any thoughts on how you handle that if you’re not all in the same place? Are you advising any companies about that?
    • There was an Austrian born leader who realized how hard everyone was working at their wellness supplement company from home. I don’t remember the size of the team. I believe it’s under 100. But because everyone’s at their home office all the time, he was really concerned that people were burning out quickly with just work, work, work. So he instituted with his team an acronym called POEMS. I thought this was really great. Prioritize, overcommunicate, experiment, because this is a new way of working for everyone. So, try something. If it doesn’t work, it’s okay to make mistakes. Measure how things are panning out. (Prioritize/Overcommunicate/Experiment/Measure/implement with Speed)
    • A new book by James Nester called Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art is on the best-seller list. It’s fascinating. He comes at breath from the perspective of an investigative journalist, and he shares a variety of experiences, including his own working with Stanford and their neuroscience lab.
    • I come from it from a different perspective in the sense that the body keeps the score. We’re all living in what I would call a racialized body. And so, it’s about us really starting to understand what that means. Our minds want to race to fix it. But we all have this intergenerational memory of what it means to be a body.


    • CHAT:
    • What are the wellness habits that enhance change?
    • This graph seems to promote a gross generalization that does not apply to those who, despite their age, have high levels of neuroplasticity—and don’t need drugs to maintain their adaptability.
    • Dr. Laurence, do you have examples of the tech products that are actually hacking to motivate wellness habits?
    • What role does “Transformation and Changing World View” play in mental wellness?
    • We are in a continuous transformation since the beginning of time… we just need to think about getting the best out of it… and flow.
    • It’s ok not to feel ok; and it’s absolutely ok to ask for help.
    • I think a big part of wellness at work is sharing self, including when you aren’t doing well—showing your teams that you are human.
    • What are the dynamics and relationships between nature and technology with regard to mental wellness?
    • These tech hacks actually can all be done naturally.
    • Wanted to share some good news with everyone! Vaccine Trial.
    • Choose Muse.
    • I’m trying to shift my colleagues from focusing exclusively on pathology in my role as a clinical social worker in a primary care practice for adults on Medicare to strengthening wellness in my patients—and staff, which mirrors our interwoven physical, mental, emotional, spiritual systems.
    • Employers need to create a supportive environment to increase help-seeking and help-giving behavior and empower people with the skills to signpost supporting services. That’s what my company does, and we have seen a threefold increase in the utilization of support through our program.
    • We use a technology called binaural vibracoustic to reach brain Entrainment in some of our spa tables or loungers, simple to use—no therapist needed… helps with PTSD, sleep disorders, stress, etc… depending on the program selected.
    • There are definitely many technologies out there that could be for the end consumer or are more invasive and require MD assistance.
    • Does the health service over-prescribe pills and under-prescribe exercise?
    • John Brick Foundation.
    • A powerful product helping on different mental issues using sound and vibration is from one of our partners. You can read more about it here.
    • Remembering your dreams is a very helpful way to rewire your brain and psyche.
    • I think coronavirus has taught the responsibility for our health and wellness starts with each individual. It’s a paradigm change for many, rather than relying directly on doctors, etc.
    • Regarding improving communication skills around mental wellbeing/health, would anyone have any direction or resources for team trainings, tools/techniques/programs on empathy?
    • Prioritize/Overcommunicate/Experiment/Measure/implement with Speed.
    • I studied for an MA in Yoga Psychology in India, where we studied what is mentioned in James Nestor’s book. Swara yoga. Head of the school used it with someone in the US who had OCD, which means the flow of breath is blocked to one side of the brain.

One thought on “Mental Wellness: Insights on Reopening, Resetting, Reimaging”

  1. Indeed, mental health should be looked at as a continuum. While at one end there are mental superpowers like the ability to stay focused or the ability to access insights and our excellent mental wellbeing (as the state where we have inner peace), then on the other end of the scale we find mental illnesses. We have illustrated it with several graphs on our homepage:

    As our brains are neuroplastic we can and should train them. Today only a very small percentage of employers focus on training the minds of their staff. Most ignore the topic and the minority focus on the reactive approach (such as mental health first aid or treatment support). This is not a sustainable path. The focus needs to shift to proactivity and prevention.

    The fact is that without intrapersonal education and practical intrapersonal skills there are no sustainable paths to mental well-being or mental fitness. While meditation, listening to music, or taking long walks in nature help, practical intrapersonal skills are the only sustainable pathway to mental wellness that every workplace and every employee can easily use. Such a path exists now for several years, but it is still far from being popular.

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