Finding Positives in Trying Times: The Wellness Connection in Review

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WC graphic 2021 4

MasterWord’s summer tradition of hosting an annual Wellness Connection event continued in 2021, with a remarkable line-up of panelists meeting on July 29, 2021 to discuss the “Perils and Pearls of Living Online.”

The 2021 event was hosted jointly by MasterWord with The Jung Center and The Jung Center’s Mind Body Spirit Institute. Dr. Alejandro Chaoul, the Huffington Foundation Endowed Director and Founder of The Jung Center’s Mind Body Spirit Institute, hosted a discussion with Dr. Eve Ekman, an internationally known contemplative social scientist and creator of the Atlas of Emotions, and Dr. Elissa Epel, a stress scientist and New York times bestselling author of The Telomere Effect, investigating ways to protect telomeres, slow disease and improve health-span.

The panel explored how the changes and stresses we’ve experienced as the pandemic pushed many of us into isolation may have affected our health and subconscious, given that and we were forced to rely on digital communication and remote work. Knowing that many of these changes are here to stay post-COVID, and that they challenge us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, the speakers discussed ways to mitigate the effects of the stressors of the digital world and helped us consider how to be more resilient and flourish as we move into the next era.

Dr. Eckman set the scene by introducing stress and the mind-body awareness we need to understand it. She described how we must work with our emotions to overcome our stress. Stress means over-arousal of our emotions. She discussed the panel’s professional positions at the junction of contemplative practice and contemporary science and the value of first-person introspection and shared tools we can use to describe our emotions, noting that apparently simple ideas like asking someone “How are you feeling?” are powerful. She noted that there is labor in emotion and that we must acknowledge that emoting all day in Zoom calls is exhausting.

Dr. Epel then shared from the good body of research that exist on the topic, especially regarding youth. She used her own experience to model the issues, saying “I used to be Energizer bunny and now I feel drained at the end of the day.” Her discussion of the price we pay for online activity requiring regulation of emotions and micro-interactions was powerful and received with great interest, manifested by the audience response. The research says that sitting still, not moving and paying attention is exhausting; that having the comfort and freedom to turn off our screen and allow ourselves a break should be considered as a survival skill. In turning to the positives, Dr. Epel shared several pearls. Those include our ability to communicate and build relationships with people far and wide, which has grown remarkably, and has for instance been evidenced in social movements.

Dr. Chaoul reminded participants to take care of themselves. So simple yet powerful. He also encouraged us to put a name to the emotions we feel and in closing led a mindfulness exercise designed to use the body as a sense of grounding and the breath as a sense of connection.

The panel concluded by acknowledging that self-compassion has never been easy and that to manage that we may need to address structural issues. From a sense of awe to the power of community, we practiced many ways to mitigate the effects of the perils of living online, and we found pearls online together.

Tips given by the panel to counteract the negative include these:

  • Plan breaks between meetings for self-care
  • Hide “self-view” in Zoom and other platforms
  • Practice gratitude, or even finding awe
  • Turn off your video for breaks during long meetings
  • Limit exposure to news outlets, especially visual exposure
  • Practice intentional breathing
    • STOP
    • Stop for a moment
    • Take a deep breath
    • Observe and be open
    • Proceed with intention
  • Practice playing – unexpected, unstructured play

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