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Mental Health

Coronavirus mental health: this brilliant advice from a 93-year-old psychologist is a must-read for anyone struggling right now

Stylist got the opportunity to chat with Dr Edith Eger, Holocaust survivor, world-renowned psychologist and author of the new book The Gift: 12 Lessons To Save Your Life about how to remain emotionally resilient during the pandemic. Here’s what she had to say.

As the weather outside gets colder and the number of coronavirus cases rises, it’s hard not to feel a little downbeat about what life’s got in store for us over the next couple of months.

Staying optimistic throughout the pandemic has always been tricky. But as new restrictions are introduced across the country, many of us are finding the prospect of having to live with the pandemic for the foreseeable future even more difficult than usual.

So, what can we do to take care of ourselves during this difficult time? The answer, according to Holocaust survivor and world-renowned psychologist Dr Edith Eger, lies within us.

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“We’re going through a very difficult time,” she tells Stylist over a Zoom call from her home in California. “We were not prepared for this, and that’s why it’s so difficult. What people need to do is become a really good parent to themselves and take charge of their thoughts – the way you think shapes the way you feel, so if you’re able to change the way you think, you can change your life. I guarantee you.”

Dr Eger knows a thing or two about the power of mindset. It was that which she credits as the tool which helped her survive and heal following the eight months she spent in Auschwitz, where she was imprisoned at the age of 16.

In her first book, The Choice, she details her journey from prisoner to survivor – how, despite the horrific events which she endured as a teenager, she was able to free herself from the mental ‘prison’ she had retreated into and escape from the thoughts and beliefs which were stopping her from healing.   

Now, at the age of 93, Dr Eger has published her second book, The Gift. Reflecting on her work as a world-renowned psychologist, her new book is a hands-on guide to changing the thoughts and beliefs which have the potential to limit the way we think and feel. 

At a time when the world is going through a period of such collective suffering, it seems that Dr Eger’s book could not have come at a better time.

“The current situation is something that gives us an opportunity to develop in a bizarre sense, because the more you suffer, the stronger you become,” she explains. “I ask people not to treat this time as a crisis, but as a transition in which they can develop their inner-dialogue.”

Dr Edith Eger
Now 93, Dr Edith Eger is a world-renowned psychologist whose first book, The Choice, is an international bestseller.

For Eger, that inner dialogue is crucial when it comes to taking care of our mental health during the pandemic. At a time when we have so little control over what’s going on, being able to recognise how we’re feeling and change our mindset is more important than ever.

By being aware of how we feel – angry, for example – we can then begin to unpick how that emotion is making us behave – for example, snapping at our partner or getting stressed out at work. In turn, we can analyse whether or not that behaviour is helping us or making matters worse, and proceed accordingly.

In a nutshell, then, building a relationship with yourself is all about knowing how your mind works – from your thoughts and beliefs to your emotions and behaviours – and understanding the messages you’re sending yourself.

“It’s all about being well connected with what’s going on within you and paying attention to what you’re paying attention to,” Dr Eger explains. 

“Whatever you’re doing, ask yourself: ‘Is this good for me? Is this going to empower me? Or is this going to deplete me?’ It’s about constantly taking care of your inner dialogue because that changes your whole-body chemistry.”

Although The Gift is all about taking control over the mental ‘prisons’ that leave us at the will of our emotions, Dr Eger doesn’t advise putting pressure on ourselves to feel a certain way – especially during the current situation. Instead, she suggests, we should give ourselves permission to sit with our emotions before we try to come up with a solution to deal with them.

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“I think the magic word is permission – give yourself permission to feel the feelings and invite them in,” she says. “If you’re angry, that’s OK. It’s OK to legitimise any feeling – there’s no such thing as a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ feeling, so when you have a feeling, invite it in, sit down and give yourself permission to feel it.

“What you do have to ask yourself is, ‘How long will I hold onto that feeling?’, because you can get addicted to being angry,” she adds.

“When that happens, you begin to adopt a victim’s mentality – you want something to change outside of you instead of looking at what you can control. Instead, take time to ask yourself, ‘What am I doing now? And how’s it working for me?’ every day. That way, you become happy with assessing how you’re feeling, from your head to your toes.”

The Gift: 12 Lessons To Save Your Life is out now.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health, you can find support and resources on mental health charity Mind’s website or see the NHS’ list of mental health helplines and organisations here.

For confidential support you can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org.

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