Dr. Chad Sato
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Normally at this time of year we’d be moving into flu season. But this year it seems as if influenza has been MIA (missing in action). Did COVID-19 bully the common flu into hiding? All kidding aside, although there has been a decrease in physical ailments, like the flu, there has been a rise in mental-health challenges: anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and tendencies, to name a few.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that during the lockdowns for adults 18 or older:
• 40.9% reported mental or behavioral health issues,
• 30.9% had anxiety or depression,
• 26.3% had trauma and stress,
• 13.3% started/increased substance use and
• 10.7% considered suicide in the past 30 days.
I wanted to share three strategies that have helped bring a silver lining to my clients and their families who deal with escalating mental-health challenges:
• The first is to address your mindset: the thoughts that you entertain and focus upon, can affect your emotional and physical state.
• The second is to take care of your body; listen to its signals, to cultivate an awareness of when you are under stress.
• The third is to pay attention to your diet and nutrition; what you put into your body can impact your mental and emotional wellbeing.
You Are What You Think
If you find yourself or a loved one in a constant state of worry or fear about the future, one way to talk yourself down is to find concrete counter-facts to lessen the anxiety. Use past examples of benefits that came from feared experiences; of how your life didn’t end or become more miserable at that time. These past references hold power, being based on your actual, not fabricated, experience.
Medications have been the choice of westerners for years. Though they can be an effective form of targeted treatment, you also have the power to create your reality with positive thinking. While anxiety and fear have an innate purpose to protect you, if they persist, your mind could construct a future reality that might manifest more suffering and pain. Instead of letting these feelings persist, when thinking of a future feared event, try imagining how it will bring you these benefits:
1. You will know who is there for you.
2. The experience will empower you to help others in a similar situation.
3. Others will help to care for you.
4. You will learn to take better care of yourself.
I have found that creating such a benefits list for a future scary event will help you to not negate the benefits and will bring more mental and emotional ease. So while some messages of fear are worthy of your attention to keep you safe, do not let it prevent you from seeing the joy around you.
Being aware of how you react to situations is key; this awareness means that moving forward from this point onward is entirely up to you. Change is unsettling, but embracing change and unexpected situations builds your resilience. You always have a choice when it comes to your reaction; this understanding will bring more ease back into your life when things get chaotic or unpredictable.
Your Body is a Temple
Why is treating your body as a temple so important? Your body holds wisdom; if you are aware and connected, you will see that it is constantly giving you feedback about its condition. Restricted breathing, muscle tightness, increased blood pressure and body/joint aches are all signs that stress and worry are present.
Check in with your body throughout the day; pay attention to any increased muscle tightness or shifts in breathing. Your body is like a best friend telling you when to pause and assess what is happening in your life in order to identify the source of the stress.
Other key practices to maintain your body’s resilience include regular forms of exercise, stretching, adequate amounts of rest and sleep, drinking enough water and body fuel in the form of nutrition.
Make some effort to also get outside and expose yourself to natural sunlight, which helps trigger Vitamin D production. Vitamin D influences cell growth, bone growth and ensures the proper functioning of your nervous system, but most importantly, it also boosts your immune system.
If you have to work and wear a face mask for extended periods of time, make it a point to have breaks to take the mask off in order for you to get more oxygen into your lungs and body. Expel all the excess build-up of carbon dioxide due to wearing a mask. Research shows how increased carbon dioxide leads to increased blood pressure.
Among the ways our lives were impacted last year were many unforeseen benefits. One was slowing down our lives, which gave many people time to reassess their lifestyle and forced a major shift in perspectives. For example, enjoying more home-cooked meals instead of going for that convenient fast-food drive-thru.
Cooking at home is less expensive and requires both attention and intention, which infuses love into your food. For those who crave sugary treats such as cookies, cupcakes, ice cream and candies, learn to recognize that this craving for comfort foods is your body’s response to stress. The costs of eating refined sugars are the energy-depleted crash an hour or so after consumption, increased risk for diabetes and an uncomfortably expanding waistline. Instead, pausing and reflecting on the cause of stress helps make you aware of current challenges and stressors. It also gives you the opportunity to address the stress, which will help to eliminate your comfort-food cravings.
Another way to address sugar and junk-food cravings is to eat saturated fats: red meats, milk, butter, cheese, bacon and ice cream for meat-eaters. For vegans, these are coconut oils, coconuts, cashew, macadamia nuts and avocados. Although most health professionals would object, the simple fact stands that when your body is satiated with fats, you won’t feel the need to snack or eat sweets or junk foods.
Finally, a healthy gut leads to a healthy and balanced mental/emotional state. For the past 10 years, research has shown that cultivating the good microbiomes in your gut leads to more mental clarity, balanced emotions, and better sleep. Good microbiomes are indicated by regular bowel movements, lack of gas or bloating, and no indigestion. So bolster your diet with yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, tempeh, kimchi, natto, miso and kombucha. Along with these dietary staples, make sure you eat vegetables with fiber to assist with regular bowel movements and get regular forms of body exercise and movement.
Last, but not least, drink water. Hydrate and drink a minimum of six cups a day. Your body is composed between 45-75% of water with 65-85% in your vital organs (brain, heart, lungs, liver and kidneys). If you want to be able to think clearly and operate at your optimum, drinking good old H20 is vital. Make it a practice and your body and mental/emotional state will thank you.
In conclusion, due to the constant over-hanging threat of COVID-19, you have the power and mental fortitude to address whether you are doing things to keep you safe. Use the above three strategies to stave off mental illness and thrive instead. Remember it all comes down to choosing these strategies which will keep you mentally and emotionally sound. And if you still need assistance, review the many other strategies in “Mental Wellness – Hawai‘i’s Mental Health Advocates, Part One” (Feb. 19, 2021, The Hawai‘i Herald) and “Mental Wellness – Hawai‘i’s Mental Health Advocates, Part Two” (current issue, Page 1).
Dr. Chad Sato graduated from UCLA in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and earned the Doctor of Chiropractic degree with honors from Life Chiropractic College West in 1998. Sato founded his practice, Aloha Chiropractic (alohachiro.biz), in Mänoa valley, O‘ahu, on Oct. 1, 1999. He is a sought-after educator, speaker, author and mind-body specialist who helps people reach new levels of empowerment when it comes to their health and wellness by staying present with their body signs, making appropriate life choices and utilizing stress instead of managing it.