Dr. Megan McElheran is a Clinical Psychologist and the CEO of Wayfound Mental Health Group and a member of the National Music Centre’s Music and Wellness Advisory Committee. For Bell Let’s Talk Day, we asked her to give our readers some tips for improving mental health and share how music can offer catharsis during uncertain times.
This past year has challenged Canadians on many levels. Social distancing guidelines, though necessary to stem the spread of the virus, have challenged our intrinsic need to connect with those we love and those around us. The pandemic and necessary health response measures have also caused economic hardship and uncertainty. The need for helpful and compassionate conversations about mental health is as important as ever.
It is true, in times such as these when we continue to face adversity upon adversity, that our ability to hope and to believe positive change can occur can be compromised. It is a reminder to us all that hope is actually our strongest commodity in the face of uncertainty. With hope, we can motivate ourselves. With hope, we can use our actions to influence the change we want to see. An important reminder to us all as we continue to contend with the challenges of our world is to work to change our worries and our fears into hope. Instead of worrying what could happen, or what difficulty is coming next, perhaps it helps us all to channel our energies into hope for what we can influence. In times like these, approaching our difficulties with a lens of hope can help us continue to endure and thrive even when that seems impossible.
With this in mind, here are five tips you can practice to support good mental health:
- Slow down and tune inOne of the best things we can do for ourselves at regular intervals throughout the day is slow down and pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. Turning our attention inward can help us to learn in the moment how things are affecting us, and can help us to gain a deeper understanding of our emotions and how they connect to reactions in our body.
- Get presentIt is well known that when we experience periods of depression, we are often regretting things that have happened in the past. When we feel anxiety, we are often living in the future and worrying about things that could happen that haven’t happened yet. What we miss in the process is the present, and if we can strengthen our ability to focus on the present moment, sometimes we find that nothing is happening in the present moment that we need to fear or regret.
- Learn how to curate your thoughtsOur minds are often on the go and the more stress we experience, the more common it is for our thoughts to race and to become increasingly catastrophic. If you notice that you’re starting to feel stressed or anxious, ask yourself if you have any tangible evidence to support what your mind is telling you. Oftentimes we can trick ourselves into thinking that something is wrong, when instead it’s that our mind has been racing. If we can learn to notice when this happens, and seek out the facts instead of the emotions, we may find that things aren’t as bad as they seem.
- Express yourself (especially through music!)This can mean many different things, but one of my favourite means of expression is through music. Sometimes it can be hard to articulate exactly what we are feeling or needing to communicate, and we can find that release through a song or instrumental piece. Music can help us cathartically work through difficult emotions. It can lift our spirits with a hopeful message. We can find connection to important moments in our past simply by listening to the soundtrack from the past.
- Identify your valuesWe all have a code we live by that is different from person to person, but that helps each of us figure out what our path through this life should be. Try to identify the 2-3 most important values in your life and seek every day to make decisions consistent with these values. Doing this can be helpful for times when we have strayed from our values and we are struggling. Being able to reconnect with those things that are most important in our lives helps us to feel as though life has meaning and purpose.
Dr. Megan McElheran is a Clinical Psychologist and the CEO of Wayfound Mental Health Group, practicing in Calgary, AB. She completed graduate training at the Stanford University Clinical Psychology Consortium, during which she obtained specialized training in the treatment of PTSD through the National Center for PTSD in Menlo Park, CA. She has previously spoken on the subject of “Mental Health in the time of COVID: How to Find Meaning in the Midst of Adversity,” and has a developing interest in the use of psychedelic medicine to treat psychological injuries.