Two Florida psychiatrists offer insight on
managing your emotional health.

Editor’s note: Dr. Carlin Barnes, MD, and Dr. Marketa Wills, MD, MBA – two Harvard University-trained psychiatrists – are co-founders of Healthy Mind MDs, an organization whose sole mission is to optimize the mental and emotional well-being of all Americans. Based in Florida, they recently released “Understanding Mental Illness: A Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health Disorders for Family and Friends.” They wrote this article for the Florida Courier.

Dr. Carlin Barnes

Dr. Carlin Barnes, left, and Dr. Marketa Wills are the authors of “Understanding Mental Illness: A Comprehensive Guide to Mental Health Disorders for Family and Friends.”

BY DR. CARLIN BARNES AND DR. MARKETA WILLS

SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

mental illness

This has been a challenging year for all Americans. The coronavirus pandemic alone changed almost every facet of life for hundreds of millions of Americans. The financial crisis, election stress and social justice unrest served to further complicate an already intense year.

It is not surprising that stress and anxiety are now front and center for many of us as we grabble with the realities of life in 2020.

Now more than ever, Americans must take a proactive approach to managing their mental and emotional health. As a society we have long downplayed the importance of tending to our emotional health in large part due to stigma surrounding ailments of the mind.

But now, as so many more of us are reaching our emotional “tipping points” given all of the change and uncertainty we are currently facing, we must ensure that we have a common everyday vernacular and approach for actively optimizing our own emotional health – and teaching our children how to do the same for the betterment of future generations to come.

So where do we start?

Here’s our four-pronged approached to taking charge of your mental and emotional health during periods of stress.

  1. Take time out to self-assess your own emotional health.

On a weekly basis, make sure to check in with yourself and ask yourself how you are feeling. Have you had problems sleeping? Have you been gaining weight? Has your

mood been persistently low or “blah?’’ Have you found yourself worrying a lot about everything and nothing in particular?

Have you been short tempered with others or more sensitive than usual? Have you been able to focus or concentrate on school or work? Have you had thoughts of giving up or feeling like life is no longer living?

It’s important to monitor your own sense of well-being over time and if things aren’t quite right, make sure to DO something about it.

2. Create and stick to a deliberate self-care routine.

Vigorous three to five times weekly exercise, heathy eating, proper hydration and restful sleep are cornerstones of any healthy self-care plan. But there’s actually more that you can do.

By practicing meditation and/or deep breathing exercises five to 10 minutes a day, you can take your self-care game to the next level.

Gratitude lists, new hobbies, relaxing activities, listening to music, dedicated time to organize/declutter your space – these can all be sprinkled in to further enhance your self-care regime.

3. Design purposeful meaningful social interactions.

We are social beings and need to create shared experiences with others. Work duties and family responsibilities are built-in social obligations for most. But there are certainly other ways of engaging with others that contribute to our overall sense of well-being, connectedness and meaning.

Talking through issues and feelings with close family members and friends in a relaxed social setting is one of the best ways to process how you’re feeling and get in touch with your emotions.

Volunteering, tutoring and giving back are all good ways to further fuel your emotional reserve. We have to be especially creative in this virtual world about ways that we stay connected with others.

Virtual dance parties, virtual civic and social club meetings (e.g., Boy Scouts, fraternities/sororities, Rotary Club, etc.) and virtual house of worship gatherings are other ways to stay connected and plugged in with others in meaningful ways as we continue to practice physical distancing recommendations.

4. Engage professional help sooner rather than later.

For most of us, putting numbers 1, 2 and 3 in place is enough to even things out with regards to our emotional health. But if 1, 2 and 3 are solidly in place and you’re still noticing that you’re off kilter, have a low threshold for reaching out for professional help.

Both talk therapy – either in person or via telemedicine – and/or psychotropic medications are easy, straightforward ways of managing anxiety and depression. These are medical conditions that may require medical solutions, just like any other physical condition such has hypertension, diabetes or asthma.

Professional help can get you back on track sooner if you’re noticing that the intensity of your emotional reaction is off the charts or the duration of your emotional distress is longer than two to three weeks.

By being intentional and deliberate about our emotional health, we actively build up our capacity for resilience.

With a resilience reserve fully in place, we don’t just “bounce back” from stressful situations but rather we “bounce forward” into the next life frontier, spearheading positive change, and there by offering meaningful contributions to our lives, our immediate circle, and society at large.

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