The No. 1 Most Important Thing We Can Do To Support Mental Health, From An MD
As a physician and the CEO of holistic health care company Parsley Health, Robin Berzin, M.D., oversees the care of tens of thousands of people across the country. When the pandemic hit, she noticed that a lot of them started to have one thing in common, no matter what issue they came to the clinic for: Everyone, it seemed, was stressed and anxious.
This seemingly universal stress prompted Berzin to pen her latest book, State Change: End Anxiety, Beat Burnout, and Ignite a New Baseline of Energy and Flow. In it, she walks through the core actions that we take daily that dictate our mood, energy levels, and overall mental well-being.
Of course, many of the most severe stressors we face today are out of our control. But, as Berzin notes on a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, "There are so many things we can do to positively shift our mental health on the physical plane."
These include topics we cover on mbg all the time: cleaning up your diet, reframing your relationship with technology, and keeping the body moving. We feel our best when we are doing all of these things. But of course, sometimes life gets in the way, and we aren't able to do all the healthy stuff we know we should.
On days like those, there is one action we can take for mental wellness that Berzin says trumps them all.
Meditation and mental health.
During her podcast episode, Berzin calls meditation "the closest thing to a magic bullet" for mental well-being there is. "I don't think there's anything more important you can do... I have not seen anyone who meditates for at least a few minutes every day not benefit from it."
There's now plenty of research to back her up. Meditation and mindfulness have proven powerful tools for improving mood, enhancing attention, and decreasing markers of stress. Not bad for a practice that's safe, free, and available at any time.
Ideally, Berzin says you'll be able to work up to 20 minutes of meditation a day. However, two minutes is plenty to start—and you don't need to spend them sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed.
"Just like there are a zillion ways to exercise, there are lots of ways to meditate," she says. "You have to find the kind that's right for you... I think meditation gets a bad rap because people think it's this one uniform thing. That's not true."
Ready to explore the big, beautiful, and beneficial world of mindfulness and meditation? Here are a few practices Berzin recommends trying on for size:
- Breathing exercises: This can be as simple as inhaling four counts and exhaling for six counts for two minutes. Read up on the calming reason to make your exhales longer than your inhales here.
- Body scans: We hold so much tension in our body, and it can really take a toll on the mind over time. Get clear on where stress lives within you using a body scan technique.
- Guided meditations: Guided meditations can help beginners and seasoned meditators alike find a new practice. Check out our library here.
- Mantras: Make a habit of speaking kind, encouraging words to yourself daily using this list of powerful mantras.
- Mindful actions: Berzin says that daily practices like cooking can become mindful moments when we use them as a time to focus completely on the present moment, not the past or future.
- Visualizations: Whether you're picturing a ray of light cleansing you of worry or imagining yourself on a breezy beach, there are tons of ways to start a personal visualization practice. Here are four of our favorite techniques.
The bottom line.
There are countless tools that can help take the edge off the stressors of daily life—from calming supplements to guided journals.* Whatever your stress toolbox looks like now, meditating will probably make it even more reliable. After all, as Berzin says, "I think it's the most important thing you can do for mental health in modern life."
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.