Prioritizing Mental Health on World Health Day
By Unyte's Founder, Jason Tafler
Back in October 2018, I shared my approach for how prioritizing my mental health has transformed my life.
For those unfamiliar with my story, almost three years ago I was very fortunate to survive a near-death experience partially caused by an addiction to work, 80+ hour weeks and the resulting stress. After almost bleeding to death out of the blue, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease.
Fast forward to today. I am very healthy, full of energy, more peaceful, have founded a business (Unyte) that I’m passionate about, and much to my doctors' surprise, I do not have any signs of this disease! I transformed my health and life largely by changing my mindset and daily routine and by creating new habits tied to mind, body and purpose.
I received great feedback on the approach I shared, so as we try to raise awareness to World Health Day on April 7th, I wanted to take the opportunity to share with you the habits that continue to work for me in hopes that at least one can help you live a more peaceful life.
I am not a doctor, I’m not saying that this approach will work for everyone, and I’m in no way minimizing the serious challenges people with chronic illness face. That said, this approach has worked for me and I'm excited to share whatever I have learned with anyone who is interested. So here goes:
- Have perspective & gratitude: While almost losing my life and personally watching my father suddenly pass away 16 years ago provide really good reminders to keep things in perspective, I don’t think you need to go through such major challenges to feel this way. When I wake up every morning and the stress and anxieties begin to enter my mind, I remind myself that I am thankful to be alive and that part of life is facing challenges, and I recall at least three things that I am grateful for in my life. The research shows, and I agree, that this type of gratitude helps positively shift my mindset and energy to start the day.
- Meditate: Meditating almost every day for the past few years has been a life-changer for me. After living for 40 years with an incredibly busy, anxious mind that seemed to never stop, meditation has allowed me to finally quiet down my mind and gain clarity and focus. I personally like to meditate as soon as I wake up in the morning (5:30am for me!) to ground my nervous system for the day, but any time can work well. I mix up my meditations, often using a combination of a deep body scan, Unyte’s interactive meditation exercises, visualization, and sitting in quiet awareness of any thoughts or emotions that may come up (Vipassana style). I enjoy experimenting with many different types of meditation and breathing methods, and I encourage others to do the same.
- Move: While some days I don’t get to this, I do try as much as possible to get physically moving in some way. I love movements like yoga or qi gong (traditional Chinese mind-body exercise) or jumping on a trampoline, but I also agree with the research that walking in nature is both very calming and gets the blood flowing. Mindful exercise has many proven benefits, and I find it helps further relax the nervous system and reduce my baseline level of stress.
- Be mindful & take a breath: Even though I meditate religiously, I still find that I struggle many days to stay calm in the moment throughout various parts of the day. John Kabat Zinn’s book “Full Catastrophe Living” gives many ideas on how to be mindful and how to stop, take a breath, and come back to the present as much as possible. Since most suffering takes place when we’re ruminating in the past or worrying about the future, this mindful approach helps me spend more time being present and going from a state of being to a state of doing, vs. just running around doing all day. Did you know the average human breathes almost 20,000 times per day? So the next time you’re in line, at a red light, about to eat, or even in the bathroom(!), perhaps you can use one of these breaths to slow your mind and body down and come back to the present.
- Be aware: I truly believe that one of the reasons I became ill was because I wasn’t at all aware of my thoughts, feelings or physical sensations. I just ran through life as quickly as possible, striving for achievement and success, ignoring how I felt and rarely stopping even for a single mindful breath. I held all of my stress, anxiety and anger inside and blocked it out, turning to work and other things instead of facing myself. I also wasn’t great at being aware of or present with others’ emotions, which was very challenging for my wife and son. Although I still have a long way to go, I am grateful that I am infinitely more aware these days, largely as a result of my meditation and mindfulness practices. They have allowed me to regularly be aware of my thoughts and emotions, and I’m able to analyze the limiting beliefs that give rise to them. I’ve personally become aware of and worked through over 85 limiting beliefs about myself and others to date, and I’m sure I have many more to go!
- Accept: At the end of the day, we can either live with resistance or acceptance. I resisted so many things for so long, including my own true passions, my suffering, and others’ emotions. This led me to a materially “successful” life, but I lacked real health and joy. While I still struggle to fully accept everything that comes into my life, such as the daily teachings of my wife and son(!), I do accept most things and understand that, with time, “this too shall pass”, as ancient Buddhist wisdom states. I feel like this acceptance has definitely played a key role in helping me live with more peace and happiness. And when I do make a mistake or judge others, which I do every day, I can accept it, forgive myself (or them), let it go and move on.
- Simplify & follow your purpose: While I still have a very active schedule, with self-care, my family and friends, Unyte and other business and volunteer engagements, I have simplified my life dramatically vs. three years ago. Being aware and mindful has helped me determine who I am, why I’m here and what is truly important to me. This, in turn, makes it much easier to make decisions on where I should or shouldn’t invest my attention and energy on any given day. This simplification also ensures that I have time to regenerate and to focus on what I’m most passionate about. I now understand that my purpose is to use my experience to help as many people as possible learn how to calm their nervous systems, rewire their brains and ultimately connect with their true selves.
In summary, the best lessons I've learned are how important it is to have perspective and to take care of yourself every day. The approach I use energizes me and ensures that I live each day with perspective, gratitude and clarity and that I'm a more productive, present and calm husband, father, leader and human being. I hope you take at least one thing from it that can help you too.
P.S. I always love to hear your feedback and any ideas or approaches that you find work for you so please feel free to comment below.