Mental Health//

How Melinda Gates Recharges Her Mental Batteries in Less Than 5 Minutes

Why she says brief moments of pause “add up like pearls on a string.”

Getty Images
Getty Images

Welcome to Thriving Mind, a resource to help you understand your individual signs of stress, take small steps to recharge, and unlock better mental health.

Melinda Gates spends her days confronting things that are uncomfortable. She and her husband Bill — who describes his wife as “a truly equal partner” in the new three-part documentary Inside Bill’s Brain — head up the philanthropic foundation that bears their name and focuses on tough global issues like malaria, reproductive health, family planning, and education in over 130 countries. “Any time I go to a low-income country and meet people, I know that I have to let my heart break,” Gates said in an interview with The Guardian. “But I also see encouraging things, so I look for potential and then try to figure out: How are we going to scale those things up?”

Of course, looking for solutions to the world’s biggest problems requires that Gates keeps her own mental battery charged. Her self-preservation is essential not only for her own well-being, but also for the populations who stand to benefit from her attention and innovation. 

Before we can fully cope with our stress, we need to develop awareness of what our stressors are in the first place — and actionable steps that support our mental well-being. A new Thrive Global survey of over 2,000 Americans ages 18 to 85 shows just how desperately people want and need that knowledge: 91% of respondents said not knowing or ignoring their personal signs of overstress had a negative impact on their mental well-being, 72% wish they knew more small everyday steps to improve their mental health, and nearly half said when it comes to managing their stress, they don’t know where to start. Because there is power in sharing our stories, Gates is opening up about her own stressors, her signs of overstress, and the small, everyday steps she takes to take care of her mental well-being.

Thrive Global: What causes you stress?

Melinda Gates: Having too much in my day. Too much busyness, too much work, too many emotions that come up — my own, or maybe toward me from somebody else.

TG: What are the signs that you’re starting to become overwhelmed?

MG: Sometimes I get breathless. I start breathing just from my throat up, and I can actually hear myself. Other times, I have this chronic place in my back that as soon as I start to feel it, I know there’s been too much in my day. At that moment, I know I need to stop and do something different.

TG: What little steps do you take to help cope with that stress?

MG: I do some really deep breathing. I actually have a breathing app on my phone. It takes all of about three minutes. Or I’ll reach for Headspace, which is my favorite meditation app, and I’ll do just a three- or five-minute meditation. We don’t always have 20 minutes to meditate, but I learned from a great meditation teacher that if you just sit in small increments throughout the day, those moments will add up like pearls on a string. By the end of the day, you have a string of beautiful pearls. And that’s really helped me. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

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