Originally posted on Forbes.com
For many, pre-COVID life was pretty stressful. Now, with a global pandemic, uncertainty for the future, and worldwide protests, our stress levels are approaching new levels.
I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Elizabeth Boham—a true visionary behind finding positivity and gratitude during both good times and bad. As a physician specializing in functional medicine and medical director of the UltraWellness Center, Elizabeth is filled with practical tips for proactively preparing for life’s inevitable challenges.
Always Something to Be Grateful For
Today, Elizabeth appears to be a naturally positive person. However, she’ll be the first to admit that getting to this place took real work. A cancer diagnosis over twenty years ago led her to reevaluate her life and shift her perspective to one of gratitude.
At age 30, Elizabeth was in her second year of residency as a physician when she began learning how to do breast exams on patients. “I was practicing on myself…and then all of a sudden I had found this lump,” Elizabeth remembers.
With no family history of breast cancer, she wasn’t immediately worried. But with the encouragement of her husband, Elizabeth decided to get it checked out anyway. She soon discovered it to be an aggressive form of breast cancer. Thankfully, it was caught early, but she still endured multiple rounds of treatment.
It was during her fight against cancer that she started uncovering the benefits of gratitude—and much of that shift can be credited to Oprah.
While in treatment, the Oprah Winfrey Show was a regular watch for Elizabeth. “She did a whole show on gratitude and how it helps with anxiety, stress, depression, and fear,” Elizabeth recalls. One of Oprah’s favorite ways to find more joy was by writing in a gratitude journal every day.
With Elizabeth already trying other methods to keep her health up both mentally and physically, she decided to take Oprah’s advice and practice living with more gratitude.
Turn Negativity Into Joy
Although Oprah’s advice resonated with Elizabeth, actually sitting down to write about things she was thankful for while fighting cancer wasn’t easy. “When I started doing it, I had a hard time. I was 30. I was angry about this diagnosis. I was really angry that I was sick.”
Not only was she young—she had also spent her life prioritizing her health. “I had done everything right to take care of myself,” Elizabeth says. “I was focused on nutrition and exercise. I had no family history. I couldn’t figure out why this had happened to me. So, I wasn’t feeling that grateful.”
However, she was determined to give gratitude a try. Elizabeth committed to daily meditation practice and finally started that gratitude journal. She forced herself to find three things every day that she was grateful for. “At first, I was just making up stuff like ‘the Sun’ and ‘food’,” she laughs.
But soon, she began to notice significant changes in her mentality. “It helped me realize that my mind often went to really negative places. What was natural for my mind was to not feel grateful and to be more worried,” Elizabeth says. “The whole process helped me—as it helps so many people—recognize that my mind wasn’t necessarily helping me. It wasn’t helping in my healing process.”
She also began realizing that fear, negativity, and lack of joy went beyond her feelings about cancer. It has played a prominent role in her day-to-day life even before Elizabeth’s diagnosis. “My mind was always focused on next year and tomorrow,” she remembers.
What could happen? What might happen? Her thoughts rarely were about the present— and those heavy thoughts were getting exhausting!
“Writing down three things that I was grateful for every day really shifted my thought process—and it didn’t happen overnight,” Elizabeth says. “It took months, or maybe even longer. But then I started to come up with things that I was grateful for during the day automatically. Like, I’d be walking outside and think, ‘Oh, those leaves are so amazing.’”
Soon, positivity started to become her default. “Before that whole process, my mind definitely wasn’t seeing the joy, the gratitude, and the beauty of everything,” Elizabeth says. “I still find it amazing how much I’ve shifted into this natural thought process.
“And if it could become a natural thought process for me, it can become a natural thought process for you too.”
Staying Mentally Healthy During Trying Times
Nearly two decades after beating cancer, Elizabeth has made mental and physical health a core part of her life and her career. As a physician specializing in functional medicine, she’s an advocate for self-care and the benefits of holistic living.
During today’s uncertainty, she finds it more important than ever to take care of every part of ourselves. Aside from gratitude journals, Elizabeth has many other techniques and practices she recommends to her patients. Here are a few of her favorites:
When everything feels so overwhelming, it’s easy to put yourself on the back burner. However, doing so can have dire consequences that far outweigh the time it’d take to practice self-care. “It’s so important that you have time to take care of yourself,” says Elizabeth.
Since the weight and ramifications of the COVID pandemic have set-in, these consequences have been more apparent than ever as there’s been a sizable uptick in mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Elizabeth and her colleagues have seen the impact firsthand as more patients are coming in looking for solutions to bring themselves back up.
Don’t think it’s possible to find time for self-care? Quality self-care only has to take a few minutes a day. So, take a few minutes to go through your routine and pencil in a little space for you. Many people find that right after you wake up or just before going to sleep provides a perfect window for giving yourself a well-deserved break.
One of Elizabeth’s go-to daily practices is meditation. She believes it to be essential in recognizing when the mind is spinning into unhealthy places. By taking time to pause, it’s easier to listen carefully to the thoughts going on. Then you can intentionally choose which ones to follow and which ones to leave behind.
“I’ve learned throughout the years that the mind can just go, go, go,” says Elizabeth. “You know, the mind is not always right.”
From guided apps like the Meditation Studio app to Ziva Meditation courses, anyone can find great options to help start or enhance their practice. Or, like Elizabeth sometimes prefers, you can keep it simple. “Many times, I’ll just sit and not do anything guided or planned,” she says. “I’ll breathe in and hold my breath for the count of five. Then I’ll exhale for the count of five and pay attention to my breath.”
In this unpredictable time, meditation and breathwork is an easy and proven way to reduce stress. Simply slowing down can offer us a chance to find the truth between the clutter—and find true joy no matter the challenges we are facing.
Want to discover more about Dr. Elizabeth Boham? Listen to the entire podcast episode here! You’ll also learn more about functional medicine, Elizabeth’s favorite health and wellness tips, how cancer changed her as a physician, and more.
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