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The Best Mental Health Tips from 2020

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Congratulations to all the Best Of Winners this year in Austin Fit Magazine! We are honored to be a member of this incredible community of health and fitness enthusiasts here in Austin. Continuing this month’s theme, we gathered some ‘best tips’ from our team for getting through the end of this challenging year.

2020 has been a volatile year from a mental health standpoint. Whether you’ve been working from home for eight months, struggled to homeschool your kids, felt isolated, or have just been stressed from what’s been happening socially and politically, it’s important to keep yourself as healthy and as resilient as possible. Here are some of our best tips to enter the new year with greater strength and purpose.

“One of the best tips for dealing with all that 2020 has brought us is to give ourselves some space to not be doing well. When we can give ourselves permission to not have it together, to not feel at our best, to not know how to handle things, we honor how we actually feel and that what we are going through is hard. It has been an overwhelming, lonely, anxiety-ridden, and existentially-challenging time. Acknowledging that gives us a chance to process our feelings and let them move through our bodies rather than getting stuck, causing greater challenge, and allows us to get support from others,” Leah Cummins, who heads the Presence Wellness group therapy program, says.

Dr. Tracy Carver, a winner of Austin’s Top Mental Health Professional in recent years, teaches a calming and relaxing meditation class once a week called Yoga Nidra. 

“Imagine taking a break from all the stress, hitting the pause button on all of your to-do’s, and carving out dedicated time to relax and unwind — sounds nice, right? It’s possible! I recommend Yoga Nidra style meditation to all of my clients. It’s an easy-to-follow, guided meditation practice. This beginner-friendly form of meditation helps people find an inner resource of ease and well-being that can then be accessed anytime,” she says. 

Fortunately, Tracy is hosting her Yoga Nidra class on Zoom during the pandemic, giving many people a way to calm their anxiety and mind each week safely and in the company of others.

“One of the difficult things for people this year has been trying to understand the experience of others different from themselves. From social justice issues, to politics, to the pandemic, people have struggled this year to handle the polarization in our society. To feel greater peace of mind and connect better with others, I recommend everyone practice increasing their psychological flexibility — the quality of mind that helps us understand others, allows for productive dialogue, and creates a sense of trust between people who see things differently. Opening your mind does not disable your energy to create change; it’s not an acceptance that generates apathy. In fact, with greater love and acceptance, you’ll have less anxiety and stress and more energy to help yourself and others,” Presence Wellness founder John Howard says. Howard also recommends therapy, group therapy and his spiritual classes as a way to deepen psychological flexibility and focus your self-purpose.

“I would offer the idea of stepping back to take the long view. In the words of social activist Oscar Romero who fought against government injustice and oppression in El Salvador, ‘We plant seeds that one day will grow, we water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way. We are prophets of a future not our own,’” Dr. Tim Caffrey, one of our primary care doctors, shares. Caffrey also reminds us that stress and sleeplessness are our enemies in caring for ourselves and others, and to make optimizing your physical health a priority.

“2020 has been an emotional year, and those emotions are like a beach ball in water. The more we try and push them down, the more exhausted we feel and eventually we get so tired that the beach ball pops up and hit us right in the face! Give yourself permission to feel. At first, you may feel increased discomfort because you’re not blocking out the pain, but eventually, the beach ball will move along in the water, catch an occasional wave, and settle where it needs to. If we allow our emotions to be felt mentally and physically, those emotions start to have less intrusive power over us,” Julie Falchuk, LCSW, who leads an addiction group and offers therapeutic yoga, shares. Falchuk also recommends breathing practice, part of her combination of therapy and yoga, to help relieve anxiety and feel more anchored in the world.

2020 has been difficult for many but has also offered opportunities to reflect on our priorities and to set a new path forward. We encourage you to remain dedicated to finding and living your best self, to dig deep and discover what gives you a sense of meaning in life, and to get whatever support you need to strengthen yourself mentally, physically, spiritually, and in your relationships. We are wishing you a safe and healthy end to this year, and look forward to continuing to support you and the community in 2021! Best wishes and happy holidays!

John Howard and Peter Craig are therapists at PRESENCE, an integrative, multidisciplinary center that supports your mental, physical and relationship health so you can heal, grow, and thrive in life through science-based psychotherapy and medicine.

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