Addressing our mental health as we move past the pandemic

Health

A neuroscientist explains how we can use meditation and mindfulness to improve mental health

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As we make our way out of the pandemic, doctors are warning that we’ll need to address mental health concerns that have come to the surface.

We talked to a neuroscientist about how to move past the pandemic, how to take steps towards better mental health in the future and how we can find simple ways we can all improve our state of mind.

Overall, mental health comes down to a few key things to focus on. Those keys include deep sleep, committing to meditation and mindfulness, as well as getting plenty of fresh air. But if it’s really that simple then — why aren’t we all doing it?

Dr. Patrick Porter is a neuroscientist and he’s been studying the brain for decades in efforts to find ways to improve mental health. In many cases, he says, it doesn’t require medication — but dedication to practices that repair our minds and bodies.

If you don’t sleep well, Dr. Porter says it will be obvious the next morning.

“You can tell that by if your emotions are short, if you’re blowing up at people — that means that your capacity to handle situations has been diminished,” Dr. Porter explained. “Mindfulness or meditation will give you that capacity back.”

But, how does one meditate?

“It is difficult — but there are ways to simplify it. One is to control your breathing, all negative emotional states, including all anxiety, fear, dementia, all of those have to do with breathing,” he said. “When you’re stressed, your nervous system gets locked up and people will find they don’t breathe, they don’t make good decisions. So we need to liberate that nervous system — and meditation or mindfulness is one of the ways to do it.”

Give yourself time to sit down, be still and take deep breaths for about 5-10 minutes. That’s all the time it takes to start your day off more balanced. You could even try a guided mediation with one of the numerous apps out there.

As far as getting outdoors goes, Dr. Porter said the fresh air will ground you and get you moving, all while rebooting both the mind and body — especially after a year of lockdowns.

“That’s why it’s so important to do these practices because I think of it as an inoculation. We need to inoculate ourselves against the ravages of stress because they’re going to happen,” he said. “We’re not going to avoid stress. Even when this is over, people are going to have stress.”

It’s all about making a conscious effort to prioritize these three simple things and doing them daily.

There’s even a few simple meditation techniques you can do on your couch or chair:

  • One breathing technique is simply focusing on breathing in and out of your nose — counting the breaths up to 10 and then starting over at 1, all while noting the thoughts that circulate in your mind, but always coming back to the breath.
  • Another technique is breathing in, holding for four seconds and then exhaling slowly. Repeat as necessary.
  • The third technique can be used with the other two, but this time make sure to roll your eyes while they’re closed as you inhale and exhale.

Dr. Porter calls meditation a form of fitness for your brain.

You can meditate any time of the day multiple times a day — but Dr. Porter said the best time is in the morning before you start your day.

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