Study offers a mental well-being ‘tool kit’ anyone can use

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RESEARCHERS at the University of Wisconsin–Madison provide a tool kit for people struggling with pandemic stress.
It is clear the coronavirus pandemic is taking a significant emotional toll even on those without a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll from July 2020 found that 53% of respondents reported pandemic-related stress negatively affecting their health.
The majority of those polled felt the worst was yet to come. Five months from that last sampling, the future remains uncertain even as the first coronavirus vaccines start to emerge.
Stay informed with live updates on the current Covid-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.
“Traditionally, the focus in psychology research has been on treatment of mental illness,” says Christy Wilson-Mendenhall of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW–Madison) and a co-author of a new paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Struggling to cope with the pandemic, however, is not a matter of mental illness.
“We are hoping to broaden the conversation to advocate cultivating well-being at any stage, even when you are relatively healthy,” says Wilson-Mendenhall. “These skills help make us more resilient in moments like we are experiencing now.”
The study presents a four-part, self-taught program for mental well-being that can benefit anyone struggling with stress.
“It is really the ‘how’ of well-being,” Wilson-Mendenhall explains.
Wilson-Mendenhall and her colleagues — lead author Dr. Cortland Dahl and Dr. Richard Davidson, both of UW–Madison — have constructed a framework atop four pillars, or practices. They are well-regarded mental health skills that anyone can learn:
awareness — a conscious focusing on one’s surrounding environment and senses
connection — appreciation of others in one’s life, as well as compassion and kindness
insight — an interest in self-knowledge and curiosity
purpose — developing a clear sense of one’s values and motivations
Dr. Dahl says:
“There are qualities of a healthy mind that many people do not know are even trainable. We do not think of them as skills. Many of us have thought we are hardwired to be like this or that, but the reality is these qualities are much more trainable and malleable than we think.