Updates, August 1 and Swiss Ties

by Dr. S.D. Shanti (Editorial Note: It is late afternoon on August 1st in the time zone where I am writing, though the time stamp says August 2nd).

Dear Readers,

I hope that you, your family and friends are doing as well as one can under these present circumstances. The pandemic has arrived full-force in Arizona where I am presently based. My state made international news recently when it became one of the world’s leading COVID-19 hot spots, and the pandemic has affected many people in physical and financial ways.

My team and I have been working intensively behind the scenes responding to various public heath needs related to the pandemic. In the next few weeks, you will hear more about forthcoming projects, including a course for the public titled What is Public Health and Why Does it Matter?

This course will be available at no cost and will be published by an audio publisher in the United States. Also in the pipeline for the upcoming months are two books on mental health promotion: Your Mental Health Tool-Kit and How to Stay Sane in an Insane World.

As a result of the time demands associated with the above and other projects, I have had to temporarily reduce the frequency of blog posts.

August 1st in Switzerland

Today, August 1st, is the Swiss National Day, which marks the beginning of the country in 1291. Thus it feels timely, along with updates, to share with you the Swiss origins of Prescriptions for Hope and its current ties to Switzerland.

When people ask me where I am from, I reply that I am from three countries: India, the United States and Switzerland. I moved to Switzerland in my mid-thirties. Over time, I became a Swiss citizen and the country has become my home.

Swiss Origins and Current Ties

It was in Basel, Switzerland, in the Fall of 1997 that I learned about newly released data on mental health in The Global Burden of Disease, a report issued by the World Health Organization and the Harvard School of Public Health. The report stated that by the year 2020 depression would be one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.

That moment in 1997 was the start of a public health journey that initially began with the goal of advancing depression prevention worldwide, and soon expanded to include violence prevention as well. In the ensuing years, it was also in Basel, where the groundwork for my innovations was laid. There I discovered the power of combining psychology, public health and writing, and how this could help people.

My earliest steps were carried out with support from the Gebert-Rüf Foundation in Basel, and the University of Fribourg. Then, following incubation and development at Stanford University and other places in the United States, it is anchored again in Switzerland as we prepare for global scaling of the prevention work.

Prescriptions for Hope operates under the auspices of the Arco Foundation in Winterthur. The Arco Foundation, founded and led by Mr. Heinz Waech, is a “roof foundation,” or Dachstiftung as it is called in German. This structure offers smaller foundations, such as ours, the ability to operate with lower overhead costs in comparison to a conventional foundation, and still gives us full access to professional oversight and financial management.

Innovation in Public Health

When most people think of Switzerland, they typically envision mountains, cheese and chocolate. Banks, Swiss Army knives, yodelling and alphorns also come to mind.

However, for many of us working in public service, Switzerland is synonymous with humanitarian assistance, international cooperation and neutrality. It is also a country with one of the highest per capita rates of innovations. The country that gave the world the International Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions has also given us VELCRO®, the World Wide Web and the hang drum, among other things.

Violence and Depression: Parts of a Social Syndrome

Through my early stage research when searching for cost-effective ways of preventing depression and violence on a large scale, I arrived at a cluster of five elements that are inter-connected: poverty, illiteracy, violence, depression, and inequality.

Together they form a social syndrome, whereby one or more of these elements co-occur. As a result, these elements drag people into a vicious circle of despair and hopelessness.

The global data on violence and depression spurred me to develop new approaches to stopping this downward spiral, and replacing it instead, with a virtuous circle by creating healthier conditions in which people can grow and flourish.

The core of my innovations are contained in a document called A Blueprint for Hope. This document offers practical, cost-effective and research-based ways to create a world free of suicide and inter-personal violence (which affects one in every three women and one in every four children globally).

Growth in a Unique Environment

When I was nineteen years old, while living in the United States, somehow I just knew that my life’s work would involve serving people in poverty. By twenty-two, that knowledge had translated itself into a goal: that one day I would work in public health in Switzerland.

I envisioned a scenario that is not uncommon among people from other countries who end up as senior specialists in Geneva. After my time at Stanford, that goal did come true, in connection with the dental public health side of my life.

In Geneva, I had the opportunity to lead the public side of a multi-country public-private partnership and collaborate with colleagues at the World Health Organization. I even had the chance to speak at the UN during a World Health Assembly, in the setting seen on television news shows, where delegates from around the world sit with their country names in front of them.

But the calling I first heard in Basel in 1997, to advance depression and then violence prevention, never left me. I continued refining and improving the Blueprint for Hope and in the process also created Prescriptions for Hope. Like a slow-cooked dish with various spices that requires time to be ready, my body of work in violence prevention and depression prevention is now fully ready for implementation around the world.

The need for violence and depression prevention has always been great, but it has increased in magnitude due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, as a behavioral scientist and public health practitioner, I am grateful for the opportunities Switzerland has given me to develop innovations in public health. I am also grateful for the opportunity to grow my work there, in a unique environment that supports global collaboration, consensus building, and humanitarian assistance.

Happy Birthday Switzerland! And Thank You!

P.S. In case you are interested, below is an excerpt from a Swiss magazine published in 2005, where I was featured among a group they called “Swiss Who Innovate.” It’s in French and deals with one of my innovations. Due to time constraints I am unable to do the English translation now, but will do so as soon as possible if you are interested.

Rx 22 The Antidote to Helplessness: Action with Intention

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020 Adapted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing: tools and strategies for balance.

When faced with a difficult situation, such as the one we are in at this time, think and act—don’t react. Action backed up by intention, as opposed to a knee-jerk reflex, is what social scientists call “agency.” Action with intention is your way out of helplessness. 

Keep in mind that you have the ability to act as an agent for yourself and take many courses of action. 

There are three kinds of agency: 

  1. Personal agency, where you take intentional action to help yourself. 
  2. Proxy agency, where another person acts on your behalf. An example of this would be an attorney who represents your interests in a workplace issue. 
  3. Collective agency, where you work with others toward a common goal. For instance, you and your neighbors gather signatures to get a city ordinance passed. 

The more you respond with thoughtful actions, rather than just reacting to events around you, the better you will feel about yourself and the world. 

For maximum effect, try a “Dual Dose of Antidotes.” Take intentional action and back it up with belief in your ability to manage challenges that come your way. The combination of the two antidotes makes you unstoppable.

Rx 21 The How of Lasting Change: Take the Mister Rogers Pledge

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020, Photo by  Mariana Carvalho  on  Scopio

Rx 20 discussed what are some of the things that must be done to correct structural inequalities. Yet, how can we come together to create change when people are polarized? This video offers a way for how people can come together and create lasting change: Take the Mister Rogers Pledge.

Although I created this video in 2018 on the 90th birthday of Mr. Fred Rogers, the message is still relevant today. Mr. Rogers was an American television personality who achieved iconic status. He was the producer and host of the much-loved, long-running children’s television show Mister Rogers Neighborhood, which was widely viewed by children of all backgrounds in the United States.

Note: This video has been reviewed by Mr. Joe Negri, who played played Handy Man Negri on the show and by Professor Albert Bandura at Stanford, who is also featured in the video in connection with his landmark work on how children learn aggression and violence through observation of others. Mr. Rogers was motivated to create a show for children because of the educational potential of television, and because he was unhappy about the extent of violence on television already present in the 1950’s.

Rx 20 Improve the Social Determinants of Health to Help Create Lasting Change

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020, Photo by  Mariana Carvalho  on  Scopio

People are protesting and rioting. Companies are issuing statements about diversity and inclusion. Individuals and businesses are making donations to non-profit organizations that support African-American people. And social media is trending with people stating they are allies.

But what more can be can be done if we are to create lasting change? What more must be done to correct structural inequalities?

Some of the answers to this question include ensuring access to health care and good schools for everyone. It is also important to eliminate food deserts and make grocery stores accessible to all. These solutions can be grouped under a broad category known as social determinants of health. They are essential for ensuring good health for individuals, communities and nations.

Social Determinants of Health, Image from HealthyPeople.gov

This short video below, originally intended for persons in the health care professions, describes social determinants of health. However, the message is relevant to anyone who wants to address inequalities in society. Addressing the social determinants of health will improve health outcomes and quality of life for everyone. It is also one sure way to help reduce structural inequalities.

Improving living conditions is one of the keys to creating lasting change and overcoming inequality.

Guest Post: Why Does Pigment Dominate Pride in Our Shared Humanity?

By Dr. Philip Zimbardo, © 2020 Professor Emeritus, Stanford University and Past President of the American Psychological Association

Editorial Note: Professor Zimbardo is one of the most important psychologists of our time. He is an early stage supporter of my work in violence prevention and mental health promotion. We met in 2006 when I was a Reuters Digital Vision Fellow at Stanford University. He immediately understood the scope of my work and is one of my most steadfast supporters. Please share his essay widely, as it offers important insights regarding matters of discrimination.

Why does it matter what the color of our skin is?

Why does it matter what the color of our eyes are?

Why does it matter what the color of our hair is?

These are each external characteristics that vary widely among people from different nations.

Should any of them matter more than our intelligence, our morality, our compassion, or our wonder and delight at our common human nature?

This question obviously contrasts the core of our Inner Being with physical elements of our external being, that are used too often, and wrongly, as social constructions of our self-worth.

Our list could readily be expanded to include what differences does our height or weight matter, or size of our nose really matter?

All of these facial and bodily characteristics mattered very much to the Nazi Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, in his vision of Germany as the perfect Aryan nation, filled with blue-eyed blondes with petite noses! Those external features were characteristic of Nazis as the superior race who had the right to dominate and destroy everyone in every nation that was inferior to those in his Third Reich. Nazi propaganda visualized these mythical perfect Hitler youth as contrasted with dark skin, big nosed Jews—as the enemy—to be destroyed.

————

April 4, 1968: Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. is murdered by a white gunman in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots of protest rock America. Chicago’s Mayor Daly orders police to “shoot to kill.”

April 5, 1968:  Mrs. Jane Elliott, a 3rd grade elementary school teacher in the farming town of Riceville, Iowa, population of about 850, all white, all Christian, is preparing her class exercise on Brotherhood. She plans to focus on the plight of Native Americans. But changes her mind and her lesson as she reflects on the significance of Rev. King’s murder. She wonders how she could teach her beloved 28 students to experience personally the power of arbitrary discrimination. Mrs. Elliott choose “eye color” as her demonic device.

She informs the class that she has just learned that brown-eyed people are inferior to blue-eyed people and gives a number of examples to validate that distinction.  Then she adds action consequences, such as brown-eyed children have to wear collars, to be put on by their classmates with blue eyes, so they will be more distinguishable. They are forced to sit at desks in the back of the class, and they must also not go to lunch until the blue-eyed, superior children have finished.

Amazingly, these children who had grown up knowing each other very well from earlier classes and family contacts, immediately began to be hostile toward their now “inferior” buddies and playmates. They abused them with derogatory accusations and in physical confrontations. “It was the worst day in my life”, a crying Brown Eye girl proclaimed.

But it got better for her the next day when Mrs. Elliott explained that she had made a mistake; that it was blue eyes who were inferior and brown eyes who were superior.

Did the suffering of the brown eyes on the previous day create a tolerance for their blue-eyed buddies? NOT AT ALL!

Arbitrary discrimination reared its ugliness as they immediately gave what they had gotten—angry abuse at classmates who now were clearly inferior and deserved to be punished for having the wrong eye color.

Mrs. Elliott’s brilliant demonstration of the ease and rapidity of arbitrary discrimination inflicting all in its sphere of influence –

like our current Covid-19 Pandemic is inflicting millions globally with its deadly new virus—

is even more significant now in 2020 than it was nearly 40 years ago.

Please view the powerful documentary of this class exercise in prejudice, A Class Divided, on PBS.Org, a Frontline drama.

All links are included in the post below.

An updated postscript.

Immediately after I became aware of her powerful social psychological experiment, I invited Jane to share her brilliant insights with my Stanford University students and faculty.

Jane Elliott has gone on in her new career as “Discrimination Awareness Warden” with adults from various backgrounds and careers. She demonstrates the ease and rapidity with which discrimination dominates common sense based on any random arbitrary physical characteristic, such as if you can curl your tongue or not. Those who can are the Superior Class, those who can’t obviously belong to the Inferior Class.

To see more about this now 87 year- old dynamo in action view her via these following links.

Here Jane Elliott is talking with Jimmy Fallon recently

(note her sweatshirt proclaiming:

“GOD CREATED ONE RACE, THE HUMAN RACE”)

All links are included in the post below.

And check out a recent Blue Eyes / Brown Eyes experiment Jane did in Britain.

All links are included in the post below.

And here is a powerful documentary about her life’s mission.

All links are included in the post below.

Thanks for your caring concern now and forever more in our uncertain future.

Ciao,

Dr.Z.

Rx 19 Intentional Relaxation

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020 Adapted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing: tools and strategies for balance.

Although it might sound frivolous to intentionally relax, it is in fact a physical and emotional necessity. This has always been the case, but is even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When you are in high gear, you must relax and refresh to be at your best. However, the rational side of your mind might want to talk you out of relaxation because it feels indulgent, especially in the face of a mountain of responsibilities.

One of the most important things that you can do to help yourself at this time is to take time to unwind regularly. Your body will thank you and your performance will be sharper. Regular rest and relaxation are not luxuries but necessities for your mind and body.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

To help you relax, try tensing your muscles for a few seconds and then releasing them. You can do this in a systematic way by tensing your feet first and letting go, then tensing your legs and letting go, and working all the way up to your arms, your shoulders, and the muscles of your face. This is “progressive muscle relaxation.” 

If you have the time to do the full routine, that’s great. However, in your time-starved life, sometimes taking a moment for a deep breath is about all you can manage. When crunched for time, try a micro-relaxation and focus only on one or two parts of your body. 

Here’s a suggestion for a micro-relaxation. You can adapt it to meet your needs, whether you are at work or at home.

Straighten your arms; gently make your hands into a fist and hold them tightly, but not so tightly that you hurt. Hold the tension for a few seconds and notice the feeling. Then take a deep breath and slowly breathe out as you uncurl your fingers and let them rest on your lap.

Now, feel the contrast between tension and relaxation and appreciate the difference. Your hands might feel warm, heavy, or floppy like a Raggedy Ann doll. If you are at your desk, you can also try this with your feet. 

If you are pressed for time, choose only your hands or feet and do this exercise for thirty seconds. It’s just enough time to nudge your mind out of the cycle of escalating tension, even when you are juggling your way through a hectic day.

Rx 18 Move More, Sit Less: this video explains how and why

By Dr. S.D. Shanti, ©2020

Millions of people are suddenly dependent on computers for work-related video calls. Then, they transition into video calls with family and friends. Finally they relax with movies streamed via the Internet. All of this adds up to increased amounts of sitting.

Therefore, Risk Factor Mama, Epidemiologist and Expert in All Manner of Deadly Threats to Life, decided to speak out on this topic.

Please reuse and repurpose this video to dance at your desk.

Mindfulness Webinar Open to the Public, May 20, 2020

Mindfulness is an ancient practice that is helpful in stress reduction and coping with difficult circumstances. It is also backed up by research in the psychology of health and wellbeing and will improve your quality of life, even if you are unable to change a lot of things at this time.

If you would like to participate in an interactive learning experience that is practical and immediately applicable to your daily life, please consider registering for my forthcoming webinar on May 20th at 7 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. You can register here: Access Your Inner Calm – Mindfulness Made Accessible to All.

In this webinar you will experience my unique way of teaching mindfulness, such that you can immediately apply it in your life and benefit from it.

If you have never attempted mindfulness practice, or if your previous attempts at mindfulness have been unsuccessful, I encourage you to give this a try.

My teaching method enables people to immediately apply the learnings even if they lead busy lives and don’t have much time to dedicate to a traditional mindfulness practice.

Since 1996, I have taught mindfulness in universities, hospitals, professional settings, religious organizations, adult education and businesses in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Hong Kong and Thailand.

My focus is on practical steps you can take to integrate mindfulness into your daily life, such that it supports clarity when making decisions under stress. In this webinar you will learn how to maintain calm and a feeling of peace, even in difficult situations.

The proceeds from this workshop will support this website and blog. As the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected our financial situation, I would be grateful if you might consider supporting our work, and sharing this information with others who may also find the webinar useful.

Rx 17 Notice the Small Things in Your Life That are Sources of Joy and Meaning

By Dr. S.D. Shanti ©2020, Adapted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing: tools and strategies for balance.

Difficult situations can overshadow what is going well in your life, and the COVID-19 pandemic is like a giant shadow over all of our lives. There are many difficulties and challenges we are forced to accept. So many things are beyond our control and simple activities like visiting a friend or relative have become impossible.

As you work thorough the challenges, it is important to recognize and cultivate the good that is present in your life.

What are some of the good things, right in front of you, that you might be overlooking? 

You may have to stretch your mind to notice the positive elements in your life. Try noticing the good, however small it might seem in the moment. Such things can be a source of joy and offer an uplift.

You don’t have to jump up and down clapping your hands. Noticing what is good in your life can be as simple as appreciating subtle things, such as the color of the sky, or listening to comedy or your favourite music on YouTube.

Mindfulness, practiced in its simplest form, for instance only sixty-seconds of focused attention, can nevertheless enable you to become aware of things that you may otherwise miss. If you like, you can just watch your belly rise and fall as you breathe and appreciate the intricacy of the human body.

What small things give you joy? Is it the smile of your child or grandchild? Might it be a joke that a friend shared with you in the course of a phone call? I’d love to hear about the simple joys in your life and invite you to share them below.

For Your Information: On May 20th at 7 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, I will be doing a webinar through Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix, Arizona. It is is open to the public and all proceeds will support the bookstore and our work during this difficult time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our financial situation negatively. Thus I would be grateful if you might consider supporting our work and sharing this information with others who may also find the webinar useful.

Rx 16 Five Tools for Handling Painful and Runaway Emotions

By Dr. S.D. Shanti Copyright ©2020

Excerpted from my book The Time-Starved Woman’s Guide to Emotional Wellbeing.

Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that this information is solely for educational purposes. It is not a substitute for help from a licensed mental health professional or other medical professional.

Your ability to clarify your thoughts can help you untangle yourself from negative emotions. When you act with intention to reduce the number of negative thoughts you have, you are taking deliberate steps toward the healthy side of The Spectrum of Wellbeing.

1. Stop Sign—Putting the Brakes on Runaway Emotions

If you feel your negative emotions careening out of control, visualize a stop sign. Stop the swarm of thoughts in your mind. Then step back, and take a deep breath. Disengage from the situation and return to it when you calm down. It’s that simple—but it works.

2. Hit Your Reset Button—Clearing Your Mind and Committing to Your Priority

When your mind is filled with too many negative thoughts, worries, or self-sabotaging remarks, stop thinking. Silence the chatter. Clear your mind and let it go blank. Then start over fresh and define what is most important in the moment, commit to it, and pursue your priority.

To get rid of negative words and thoughts, try picturing the reset button on a computer and envision yourself pushing it. Then let your thoughts fall away and restart with what is most important. 

Words and thoughts are important. But in excess, they can literally be “too much” and block your flow and feed into distress. Having an onslaught of excessive thoughts is like having too many computer files—text, images, music, and presentations—open at the same time; when they run in parallel, they slow down your computer and frustrate you.

When you hit your Reset Button, clear your mind and open only the most important file! Then, with a focused mind, identify your goal, commit to what needs to get done, and do it.

You can vary the Reset Button metaphor to suit your preference. To get you started, here are a couple of variations on the theme:

  • Picture a chalkboard in a classroom, so full of words and diagrams that the amount of information makes you feel tense. Erase the board. Then write only what is most important.  Commit to that and go forward.
  • Alternatively, you might find the image of a toilet handle helpful. It is graphic but effective. When you feel overwhelmed by negative thoughts and emotions, do a “flush and focus”—flush the handle, let the excess of words and thoughts flow away, then focus on what’s important.

3. Teflon Mind—Letting Upsets Slide Away

This tool, created by Marsha Linehan, a professor and researcher at the University of Washington, has you picturing your upsetting thoughts on a non-stick pan and then letting them slide off, the way eggs or pancakes do. Use this image any time someone upsets you. Tell yourself immediately to do a Teflon Mind so the distress doesn’t stay with you like stuck-on batter. Instead, take deep breaths and let your upsets slide away, and go on with your day.

4. Time Out—Getting Some Space to Gather Your Thoughts

When you find yourself in a tense situation, take a Time Out to get some space and gather your thoughts. This tool allows you to put the brakes on your runaway emotions and keeps you from making potentially damaging or embarrassing remarks.

An ancient Sanskrit proverb says that the spoken word is like an arrow. Once released, you can’t take it back. No matter how you release it, whether in person, by voicemail, or by e-mail, what is said is said, and what is sent is sent—there is no retrieving it.

The next time you feel yourself spiraling into a heated argument, take a Time Out before you say something you’ll regret. Do something to help you disengage from the upsetting situation so you’re more in control of yourself and not flooded with anger or other negative emotions.

Tell the other person you need some space before you can continue the discussion. Go into another room and take deep breaths. Get a drink of water. Go surf the Internet for a few minutes. The point is to do something neutral—anything—to shift your focus and reduce your tension. Then come back to the discussion when you are more grounded.

Caution! Don’t use a Time Out to avoid an issue. Let the other person know that you plan to return to the topic when you are calmer. Time Outs save you lots of heartache and regret.

5. Calming Visualizations—Accessing Peace in Stressful Situations

Let your imagination support you in feeling calm. By visualizing calm scenes, you can access peace in stressful situations.

Close your eyes and picture an image or a place that gives you a peaceful feeling. Breathe gently and slowly as you let yourself become fully absorbed in your imagination.

Exhale and let your body relax. Conjure up this pleasant image whenever you are feeling stressed or you are about to enter a situation that is outside your comfort zone.