Bijay Minhas (Interview)

Licensed therapist and life coach on how to practice mindfulness and self-compassion during uncertain, stressful times. 

What does emotional wellness mean to you?
To me, emotional wellness is recognizing our emotions and understanding their purpose. Being “emotionally well” is not about only feeling positive or “good” emotions. It’s about developing ways to check in on what you’re feeling and understanding your negative emotions too.

Too often, we pay attention to our physical wellness and overlook the fact that our emotions impact our bodies. Our emotions are often a gauge of how we manage life’s stresses and challenges. How I feel determines how I show up in my life.

How can we take better care of ourselves emotionally?
One of the most valuable ways to manage our mental health is to practice self-compassion and self-care. The idea of “self-care” has been thrown around a lot, but we don’t talk enough about the internal and cultural barriers we face in actually practicing it. 

A huge part of self-care, for me, is addressing how we talk to ourselves, not just how we “treat” ourselves. When we mistreat ourselves with judgement and criticism, or we ignore our needs to fulfil other’s expectations, we often feel some sense of loss. Over time we may lose touch with ourselves, and our lives and our mental health can suffer. 

How do you specifically advise brown and Black people to cope and process what feels like a roller-coaster of emotions–especially while being alone in quarantine?
Practice mindfulness. By being only in this present moment we allow ourselves to create a sense of security, control, and certainty. Racial trauma and racial anxiety show up in our bodies, but often we are so used to feeling it that we don’t recognize it. Mindfulness makes us present in our bodies, it helps you to slow down and see the impact and ease feeling so overwhelmed by our emotions.  

Recognizing you have a choice each day in how you show up is important, especially when so much feels out of our control at the moment.      

Bijay Minhas

How would you advise one to find a balance in the “new normal,” in regards to the pandemic?
Often when we are struggling with difficult emotions, staying busy can become a coping strategy. However we may find we cannot operate at the same levels of productivity as before and that is OK. Paying attention to our emotions helps us balance our need for productivity with the need for self-care which is especially critical during a pandemic.

We are creatures of habit and our brains take us to the path of least resistance at times of crisis. So our “new normal” is defined by the habits we allow unconsciously and those we create consciously. My advice is to be accountable for the way you choose to show up in your life and the lives of others during this pandemic. Recognizing you have a choice each day in how you show up is important, especially when so much feels out of our control at the moment.      

How have you seen emotional hurt (such as heartbreak) manifest across other forms of wellness?
I work from a holistic approach. If someone is in emotional turmoil or has numbed their emotions, I ask inquisitive questions about their physical and spiritual health and history. Trauma lives in our bodies and left unresolved can make us sick. Research has shown that emotional pain is felt in the same part of our brain as physical pain and can show up in physical symptoms. I see this a lot in working with women of color who have culturally learnt to express their emotional pain through physical symptoms, often unconsciously, because they don’t have language to express it verbally. 

As some are learning and unlearning generational beliefs and behaviors, what is key to keep in mind?
It is important to ask what has been the purpose of these beliefs or behaviors. Often there is an unconscious positive intention that needs to be understood before it can be replaced or continued. For example, I may have learnt from my parents to respect all elders, but I may teach my children that respect has to be earnt. The positive intention moves from respecting age to respecting wisdom.

Making peace with the reasons why we want to unlearn something or why something no longer serves us is also important, because it allows us to avoid the guilt and shame of wanting to do things differently. 

What do you see the long-term effects of the pandemic being, mental health wise? How can we combat it?
People are and will face greater stress, anxiety, and depression, although it’s important to remember each of these manifest very differently depending on the person.

Isolation, fear, and uncertainty will trigger fight-flight-freeze responses in us that are hard to manage. An important way to combat this is to recognize that it is an automatic and primitive response and its intention is to keep us safe and alive. Using mindfulness techniques can be very effective in calming our nervous systems.

I also hope service providers can combat this by providing far more culturally relevant and accessible resources to those who need it most. 

What are some signs that someone is struggling with anxiety, and how do you advise them to cope? 
There are different types of anxiety disorders and again, individual symptoms vary. Often anxiety and stress are confused. But generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed when at least three of the following symptoms exist most days over six months: muscle tension, insomnia, fatigue, restlessness, irritability, headaches, sweating, and negative thoughts and worries that are hard to control. We can manage anxiety with mindfulness, yoga, meditation, exercise, and therapy approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy.

Many women I’ve spoken to have not been feeling like themselves lately. What do you recommend those who do feel this way to do or keep in mind when moving forward and trying to reignite a flame or not lose themselves? 
We’re all experiencing a lot of loss at the moment in our sense of normality, but also the things that we built our identity around. Processing this loss is a prerequisite to finding new meaning in ourselves. Bringing conscious awareness to ourselves and what we’re feeling specifically helps us better understand which of our needs are not being met. It sounds simple, but often we don’t know how to ask for what we need. Move forward by investing in building a loving, caring, and compassionate relationship with yourself. Find ways you can create moments.

What do you recommend to remain vulnerable during such uncertain times?
Vulnerability is often seen as a weakness or something to be avoided even in times of certainty so it is extremely challenging to ask people to go towards it at a time like this. We have to start by exploring our relationship with vulnerability as it allows us to face our fears, seeing them as an inevitable part of life. Vulnerability is there to make us stronger and build our resilience–something we all need right now. Staying vulnerable allows us to connect with others, not just ourselves, and creates space for true empathy, again, something we all need right now. 

How do you advise someone to practice self-compassion?
How would you show compassion to a friend in need? If you are compassionate with others, find ways to turn that compassion inwards. Most people are surprised when they recognise the difference in how they talk to and about themselves compared to how they speak to their friends. Actively saying kind and reassuring things to yourself is a great way to start.

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