COVID was tough. It unravelled many lives, and waylaid futures. The aftermath and angst led some mindful souls to look inwards, while others struggled. In effect, the past three years saw more people reach out to mental health professionals than ever before. Ditching stigma, well-being was a topmost priority. As 2023 revs its engines into full throttle, to give the new year a booming start, hopes are pinned on it turning things around – personally, professionally, and mentally.
A survey stated that face-to-face consultations for mental health witnessed a 44 per cent rise, and shockingly, 57 per cent were in the 25-34 year age bracket with males comprising 61 per cent.
It was also the most Googled searches – physical and mental recovery —coping with anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I, for one, did some soul-searching of my own, and there were a few mental health experts that were beacons in the anguish-filled times when relationships were strained, and lives were upended.
Dr Laurie Santos, American cognitive scientist and Professor of Psychology at Yale University was monumental, with her course The Science of Happiness, and the Happiness Lab Podcast that helped decode thoughts, actions, and happiness. The other psychologists – Gabriele Oettingen, Professor of Psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg, Dr Marc Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, each of them brought their wealth of experience to address the cauldron of feelings and how to address them mindfully. And they are all acronyms that can be remembered and used at the ready.
Here’s a mental health acronym guide to 2023, steps developed or explored by these psychologists, which can help one manoeuvre through the quagmire of anxiety, abject despair, stress or anger.
A principle developed by Gabriele Oettingen
Wants are pretty universal. Everyone has them. Yet not all are fulfilled. Enter German psychologist Gabriele Oettingen. She coined an empirically researched principle from her own thoughts about hope and resilience. The professor has spent years researching to arrive at WOOP. Today, WOOP has thousands of visits per month on the website (woopmylife.org), even more WOOP app downloads, and a book on its story. “It is not that I set out to create a device like WOOP, it was just luck to discover this powerful principle. It is a small step towards giving back to society,” says Gabriele in a previous interaction. Her 25 years of research explored brain circuits and non-conscious processes. “The obstacles we think most impede us from fulfilling our wishes can help us realise them. WOOP instructs us to dream our future dreams (first) but (then) to imagine what obstacles in our psyche prevent us from achieving them,” she explained.
What makes this an exercise of merit, she elaborates, “From experiments, the team found that putting the future outcome against the obstacle tweaks non-conscious brain circuits to get started on wish realisation.”
WOOP it right
The self-management tool has four steps
Find a Wish, identify and visualise the best Outcome, find and imagine the central Obstacle in yourself and formulate a Plan.
Recommending that one can start by taking 15 to 20 minutes alone, you should think deeply, about an important WISH that is feasible but challenging.
Identify and vividly imagine the best OUTCOME. Then ask yourself, “how would I feel fulfilling that wish?” Search for the central OBSTACLE in you that is impeding this – ask yourself what is in the way forward? After finding the central inner obstacle, vividly imagine what you wish for occurring.
Then, dwell on the specific action you can take to surmount the obstacle and form a PLAN in the form of: “If… obstacle, then I will… action to overcome obstacle!” Imprint this Plan in your mind.
RULER, to address anxiety
As developed Dr Marc Brackett, and others
Did you know that the one thing we don’t do enough of is be open about showing emotions. Dr Marc Brackett, in his bestselling book Permission to Feel explains this in grave detail. With 20 years of research and expertise, he offers a tool to help manage one’s emotions and those of others.
“I want everyone to become an emotion scientist,” he says, adding, “We need to be curious explorers of our own and others’ emotions so they can help us achieve our goals and improve our lives.”
The RULER, as a tool, is being used to manage feelings in the workplace, at home at school or college or in relationships. “Recognise and understand your own feelings, label them, express them and regulate them,” Brackett advises on the vagaries of emotions one feels. For any emotion you are feeling, recognising emotions it in oneself and others, and then understanding the causes and consequences can aid how you deal with it. In RULER, Brackett addresses five emotional skills that can explain why you are feeling a certain way, and then pave a way to work on them. RULER has been adopted by thousands of schools across the globe. Brackett calls RULER a “granular” approach to feeling.
Manage emotions through RULER
Prof Brackett has (as lead developer) developed it as an approach to social and emotion learning to help manage emotions in five simple steps:
Recognising – Understanding – Labelling – Expressing – Regulating emotions
For eg: If “feeling overwhelmed.” Recognising the feeling is the first
step. Ask yourself why are you are feeling overwhelmed? Understand the reasons… is it pressure, expectations, etc. Label these and analyse your behaviour when feeling such emotions, slowly learn to express them in a healthier manner. Once you begin this process, you will also slowly learn to regulate it.
Three WWWs and RAIN
As recommended by Dr Laurie Santos
The biggest anathema today is endless browsing. Dr Laurie Santos quotes a favourite strategy from journalist Catherine Price’s book How to Break Up with Your Phone. “Price suggests that whenever you interact with technology, you should ask yourself the (three) WWWs – What for (are you checking your phone), why now (checking your phone), and what else (can you do instead)?
Dr Santos also asks people grappling with negative emotions to try RAIN. “RAIN, is a meditation practice that has been popularised by the meditation teacher Tara Brach,” Santos says.
RAIN – RECOGNISE – ALLOW – INVESTIGATE – NURTURE
Dr Santos explained in an earlier interview, “It is a way to get through negative emotions. Let’s say during Covid 19, you are feeling frustrated or sad or overwhelmed, you could use RAIN.”
RECOGNISE – Recognise the emotion? Describe it, figure it out, name it, categorise it.
ALLOW – Say, “I am going to let this emotion be just as it is.”
INVESTIGATE – Investigate how the emotion feels in your body – chest tightness, furrowed brow, or food or substance craving?
NURTURE – Nurture yourself. Do something kind to yourself given that you are feeling that emotion.
Podcasts on mental health
The Happiness Lab by Dr Laurie Santos
A Slight Change of Plans by Maya Shankar
Unlocking Us by Brene Brown
Ten Per cent Happier by Dan Harris
A bit of Optimism by Simon Sinek
Understanding our Emotions by Dr Marc Brackett
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