Andrew Weil on Staying Mentally Healthy in the Modern World

Andrew Weil
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We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can learn to control our interpretation of what happens to us and in so doing learn to be more optimistic and feel better about ourselves. This insight is central to positive psychology. Read up on it here. Select a few interventions that have helped people become more optimistic and happier, and give them a try.

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By making people aware of their cognitive habits and teaching them to substitute alternative ways of thinking and interpreting perceptions, cognitive behavioral therapy can relieve depression and restore emotional wellness. CBT helps you spot distorted thinking when it arises and get in the habit of “reframing” the situation, using methods such as Socratic questioning, role playing, visualization (see below), and behavioral experiments.

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A way to distract the mind from thought, Mantram (or mantra) is the practice of silently repeating (in the “mind’s ear”) certain syllables or phrases. While associated with religious practice, mantram may also serve as a purely secular method of diverting attention from troublesome thoughts in order to reduce anxiety, anger, and stress. Select an appropriate word or phrase and try repeating it, as a tool to interrupt negative thinking.

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Visual images that we pay frequent attention to can determine the set point of our emotions just as habitual patterns of thought can – and possibly more so. Try two experiments in visualization: first, practice shifting attention from negative thoughts to mental images that evoke positive feelings; second, select an image of an actual place where you experienced contentment, comfort, and serenity, and focus on it whenever you feel sad, anxious, stressed, or in the grip of negative thinking.

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Avoid or neutralize (as with noise-cancelling headphones) disturbing sounds, choose to listen to those that have positive effects on your moods (including sounds of nature), and try also to cultivate silence.

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Sleep in complete darkness and try to be out in bright light during the day.

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Mindfulness training is an excellent way to develop your powers of attention and concentration. Try to bring more of your awareness to the present moment.

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Exercise greater conscious control over what you let into your mind, especially from the media. Try taking breaks from the news.

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Information overload is inimical to focused attention. Set limits on the amount of time you spend on the Internet, with e-mail, on the phone.

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We humans are social animals. Reach out to others. Make social interaction a priority. It is a powerful safeguard of emotional well-being.