Therapy, therapy, therapy. There isn’t a human on this planet who wouldn’t benefit from seeing a therapist. The truth is — no one has it all figured out. Even if you think you do — you don’t. If you don’t believe me, go see a therapist and see what comes of it — prove me wrong. We all have traumas from our lives that may we may think we are past, but they still have micro-control of our conscious actions. Don’t let yourself be a slave to your programming, start therapy. It may be uncomfortable, but as they say — no pain, no gain. If it isn’t uncomfortable, it isn’t growth. And if we’re not continually challenging ourselves to grow, why are we here?
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingDr. Shikha Bhan.
Dr. Shikha Bhan is board-certified, hospital-based Family Medicine physician in Chicago, IL. Her mission is to empower her patients to take control of their physical and emotional health. She is a huge believer it the power of positive thinking and mindfulness. In her spare time, Dr. Bhan is the every-girl — she enjoys international travel, tough hikes that lead to spectacular views, and noshing on street food.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thank you so much for having me! I was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma by first-generation Indian immigrant parents. Eventually my grandparents came to live with us from India as well. I was in the marching band in high school, and also the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. I founded the pre-med society in high school, so I knew from an early age that I was interested in the field of medicine! I am a huge college football fan (BOOMER SOONER!), and am travel-obsessed. I recently took an extended honeymoon and traveled for 9 months straight with just a backpack and my husband — we visited 5 continents and 25 countries! It was a lifelong dream of mine, and I’m so glad we did it right before the pandemic hit.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I was inspired from a young age to enter the field of medicine and become a doctor after volunteering at homeless shelters and hospitals in my hometown. In school, I was fascinated with science and the human body. Additionally, I’ve always been drawn to helping those in need, and medicine seemed like the most direct path to doing so.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My parents have always encouraged me to try my absolute best at everything I do. They have always been my biggest cheerleaders and enablers when it comes to anything education-related.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I’m an exceptionally tall female — 6 feet tall, to be exact. Every time I start a new job, the white coat that has been ordered for me is far too short. Embarrassingly short. When this initially happened, I felt uncomfortable because I was often mistaken for a resident. But in time I found that confidence can speak louder than the length of your coat — and I’ve never had an issue since then!
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I recently read “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” which was a good refresher and reminder about including mindfulness and meditation in my daily routine. Living in the USA, we are all often pulled in multiple directions by a variety of obligations, including family, education, career, social activities etc. Without realizing it, we oftentimes let life pass by in the blink of an eye. Staying mindful helps us ground ourselves, live each moment fully, and be our truest selves.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
One of my favorite quotes, as cheesy as it is, is the serenity prayer — “To accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” In medicine, we are faced with making tough decisions quite often. Sometimes, a patient cannot be helped, and it can be quite devastating. This quote often helps me through these times when I know I have done all that I can, and no matter what else I do, the outcome will not be any different. This also translates to personal relationships. At the end of the day, we only have control over ourselves, and though that might sound obvious, the reminder of this basic truth is an incredibly helpful tool in maintaining healthy personal relationships — with oneself and with others.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am currently the medical advisor for a new organization called Renew. Renew recently released a mobile phone app that targets those 55 years and older, and helps people form new friendships with like-minded individuals. It is geared towards fighting the social isolation that many aging members of our communities experience, but do not talk about. I feel very passionately about this project, since I see the consequences of social isolation and loneliness on a daily basis in the hospital. Many people do not know this, but loneliness has been proven to be linked to a number of adverse health outcomes including stroke, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Renew’s mission is to combat these adverse outcomes by reducing the social isolation of the aging population.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Enjoy interacting with a friend at least once a week. This can be something as quick and easy as a telephone conversation, or something more involved like an activity. Research supports that social interaction is one of the key behaviors in maintaining mental health and avoiding depression and anxiety. Research also shows that those who are less lonely are likely to live independently for longer — which is the goal of most aging adults. Alternatively, take time for yourself as well. Block off a few hours per week where it’s just you, and only you. Use that time to recenter yourself, clear your mind, engage in something you enjoy, and treat yourself — because you deserve it.
2. Reignite a passion from the past. Think back to your early years about what you enjoyed most. A lot of times, hobbies fall to the wayside as life becomes more complicated — with a spouse, career, children, etc. It’s never too late to pick up where you may have left off — whether it is a sport like golf or tennis, or reading (join a book club!), or cooking (take a class or start a dinner club with neighbors!). These are all activities that can also involve social interaction — which as I said before is the key behavior that will help avoid loneliness and improve mental wellness.
3. Limit news and social media intake. With everything going on in our country over the past year, it may be unrealistic to completely cut yourself off from all forms of media. However, as the 24-hour new cycle continues, it’s easy to get sucked in. Sometimes turning off the TV won’t necessarily insulate us from a constant barrage of negative news, because it is all over our social media feeds as well. The first step to limiting your intake is to recognize that by design, the goal of the media and the press is to incite an emotional reaction in its consumers, rather than to report facts. Once you recognize this, it’s easier to separate yourself from it. Limit your news and social media intake to 15–30 minutes per day. Program yourself to check social media at the same time each day so it becomes a routine. When you begin to focus on yourself rather than news stories and social media posts,, you’ll find that your mental wellness will begin to improve as well.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
Starting your day with a 5-minute meditation first thing in the morning is the best way to begin getting into meditation. You can set your alarm to read “Meditation Time” which serves as a great reminder first thing in the morning. This way, you don’t have to add it to your schedule of things to do later in the day.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Regular exercise first thing in the morning is always a good way to start — just like meditating first thing in the morning. Once you get it out of the way, you have the rest of the day to do anything and everything with a clear conscience and a sense of accomplishment. It’s a lot like making the bed — the completion of tasks early in the day sets the theme for the rest of the day. The more you accomplish early in the day, the more likely you are to continue the trend.
2. Exercise doesn’t have to be lifting weights in the gym (although that’s a great way to maintain physical health!). It can be as simple as going for a walk in your neighborhood or in the park. It can be riding bicycles with your grandchildren. Exercise can even consist of doing yard work! If something involves physical activity — say yes to it.
3. Find an exercise buddy. Research shows that we are more likely to exercise when we are held accountable by a buddy with similar goals. You may decide to not show up for yourself, but once you’ve made a commitment to a friend, you’re less likely to cancel. If you’re having trouble keeping yourself accountable for exercising — find a friend to join!
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
I think we are all creatures of habit, and in order to break a habit it takes a big push — from yourself. In the US, we have such easy access to instant gratification when it comes to anything — especially food. And, with food delivery services, any craving can be quenched in a matter of seconds with a few clicks on your phone. One way to get around this is to sit down and calculate exactly how much you’re spending on food delivery per month. Try it — I’m sure the number will shock you. Then, think about how much you would save if you cooked your own food. Next, imagine yourself using that money to take a fabulous vacation somewhere in the next few months (after getting vaccinated for covid, of course). If that doesn’t do the trick, I don’t know what will.
I’m a big fan of meal prepping, because it’s an easy way to ensure that I’ll be healthy during my work week. If you’re not a cook, finding a food blog that shares healthy recipes is the best way to do this, and there are plenty out there. Quarantine is the best time to start meal prepping — since we all have so much more time on our hands, there really is no excuse! If you have children, get them involved too. If that’s too much work, subscribing to a meal delivery service can be a healthy option as well.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Therapy, therapy, therapy. There isn’t a human on this planet who wouldn’t benefit from seeing a therapist. The truth is — no one has it all figured out. Even if you think you do — you don’t. If you don’t believe me, go see a therapist and see what comes of it — prove me wrong. We all have traumas from our lives that may we may think we are past, but they still have micro-control of our conscious actions. Don’t let yourself be a slave to your programming, start therapy. It may be uncomfortable, but as they say — no pain, no gain. If it isn’t uncomfortable, it isn’t growth. And if we’re not continually challenging ourselves to grow, why are we here?
2. Take ownership of your own happiness. In a world where our emotions have become so accessible to media outlets, we have all become incredibly vulnerable. The harsh truth is that there’s no one out there who is looking out for you — other than yourself. If you’re not taking care of yourself, know that no one else is going to do it for you. It’s up to you to protect yourself and ensure that you’re not allowing the media to control your emotions. Limit media intake — whether it’s social media or news. Many of us don’t realize the large toll the media takes on our emotions. Challenge yourself to a week with only 10 minutes of media exposure per day, and see if you notice a difference!
3. Trim the fat. I’m not talking about your weight. I’m talking about your personal relationships. Tease out relationships that no longer serve you — and pull back from them. Healthy friendships and relationships leave you feeling good about yourself, and feeling energized. Think about relationships that do the opposite — maybe it’s a friend who drains you of your energy with their negativity, or a friend who makes you feel more negatively about yourself. A friend who always flakes on plans, or a friend who takes advantage of your people-pleasing tendencies and gives nothing in return. Pull back from those relationships, and seek out people who share your values. When it comes to personal relationships — focus on quality, not quantity. Remember the quote — “You can’t change the people around you, but you can change the people around you.” Meaning: you cannot change anyone else, but you can change who you choose to surround yourself with. Again, this goes back to taking ownership of your own happiness, as I mentioned above.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
I think that as long as you’re remaining positive and “smiling on the inside,” it shouldn’t matter what’s on the outside. The power of positivity is real — and the best part is, it takes place on the inside. Focus less on whether people are seeing you smile, and focus more on if you’re feeling “smiley” on the inside.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Begin your day with a 5-minute meditation. Once we start our daily routine, it’s easy to get sucked into it and forget about nourishing our minds. The cool thing about meditation is that it can be done anywhere, and what better time or place than right in bed? After waking up, take 5 minutes to center yourself, clear your mind, and meditate. It can do wonders for your mental health for the rest of the day.
2. Travel alone. Take a trip without distractions, and keep your phone on airplane mode. Use your time alone to pamper yourself, explore a new culture, but most importantly — to question yourself about your basic truths. Explore your life path. Contemplate roads not taken, and where you’re headed from here. Give yourself credit for the things you know you’ve done well, and be open to self-criticism in areas you can improve. Traveling alone can be a incredible tool for personal and spiritual growth.
3. Make an active effort to process your emotions — whether it’s with a therapist, or simply by journaling. Repression of feelings results in festering of old issues, which leads to anxiety and worsened spiritual and emotional health. As humans, we all have the need to process our emotions in order to avoid them sitting in the back of our subconscious, affecting us in ways we are blind to. However uncomfortable it may be, making the effort is doubly worth it in the end.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
I believe that Mother Nature provides us with a beautiful opportunity to be alone. Though we humans are social creatures, we also all have the need to be alone at times. It is essential for recharging, and for growing. Being in nature brings us back to our roots, and our biological foundation, where we can eliminate the distractions of everyday life and focus and explore our emotional and spiritual wellbeing.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, it would be this — for everyone to commit to treating one another with respect. For everyone to be kind. For everyone to recognize that each person they encounter has their own struggles that we are unaware of, and that we can let the small things go if we just keep this in mind.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Off-hand? Let’s say Bill & Melinda Gates, Ariana Huffington, or — long shot — Taylor Swift.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
As I mentioned, I am serving as the medical advisory for Renew, an app designed to enable people 55+ find new, like-minded friends. I contribute to their blog, which can be found on the website — www.renewfriends.com .
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.