By Dr. Ebun Ebunlomo
Associate Professor, Public Health, American Military University
Life happens. One thing we can be certain of is that life will occasionally throw us a curve ball that could shake the very foundation upon which we have built our lives. Unless our foundation is secure, we might feel as if we are in the midst of an earthquake.
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According to the World Health Organization, health is a “complete state of physical, mental and social well-being, not the mere absence of disease or infirmity.” While not diminishing the importance of physical health, we ought to consider our mental health as well when we reflect on what it takes to weather life’s storms.
Here are some GROW tips to staying cool, calm and collected in those stormy moments:
Gratitude: Positive psychology research shows that gratitude helps us to better handle adversity. A study by the Harvard University Medical School shows a correlation between expressing gratitude and improved health. In essence, giving thanks can create a change of perspective to reflect on what is going well in one’s life; expressing thanks can give you an attitude face-lift. A Category 4 emotional hurricane can be downgraded to a weak tropical storm if we consider the bigger context and the mundane “good” that we are still experiencing in the moment.
Reflect: There is strong evidence of the effectiveness of meditation, prayer or some form of reflective practice that quiets our emotions and helps us to re-evaluate and stay grounded, especially during an emotional storm. Engaging in yoga or other forms of exercise that involve deep breathing and channeling positive energy can energize us to face difficult situations more effectively. Interestingly, there is a growing body of research on the value of music therapy and arts-based interventions to improve mental health.
Open up: Storms of life are often coupled with crucial conversations that are long overdue. Crucial conversations are high-stakes discussions that generally involve differing opinions. These discussions can be stressful. But they also can helpful in the long-run if approached with caution and a shared goal of open dialogue and a desire to resolve the storm. Introverts might find it helpful to first write out their thoughts and feelings in a journal before verbalizing them. The saying, “A problem shared is half-solved” rings true because we feel a sense of release by opening up about the storm.
Wait: Our society demands quick fixes. Sometimes, it helps to wait out the storm simply by slowing down. We are used to being on the move all the time, which can drain us emotionally, socially and physically. Our calendars are filled with activities and we are constantly catching up with to-do lists or dealing with several alerts and/or notifications on our smart devices. Waiting a while and settling down in the moment can be difficult, but that can also help us to see lessons from the storm and prepare us to better tackle it.
In the midst of the current hurricane season, I encourage you to reflect on those emotional storms that could escalate into hurricanes if not addressed effectively. Consider the GROW tips to prevent such an escalation, to improve your mental health and to enhance your relationships with loved ones and colleagues.
Finally, remember that storms in life often lead to growth. As I write this, I reflect on our experience with Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, two years ago. Greater Houston Partnership economist Patrick Jankowsk told the Houston Chronicle last September that, although regional economic indicators “took a little dip after the storm,” they have otherwise resumed growth. "There's no long-term damage to Houston's economy from Harvey," Jankowski said. "We have moved past that."
Also, Hurricane Harvey spurred growth on individual and societal levels. There were several stories of neighbors and strangers stepping in to help rebuild houses, communities and as a city we have marched on with themes such as “Together, We Heal” or “Houston strong.” Storms force us to re-evaluate and identify what is most important to us. So, embrace the next life storm and the growing pains that may accompany it. You will certainly be better and stronger for future storms.
About the Author
Dr. Ebun Ebunlomo, MPH, MCHES, is a trained scholar in health promotion and health education, with over 10 years of experience developing, implementing and evaluating public health programs in clinical, community and work-site settings. She previously was an evaluation fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She received her Ph.D. in Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences, with minors in Epidemiology and Leadership/Management from the University of Texas School of Public Health.