#15: Mindfulness and Meditation with Dr. Dawn Upchurch

Transcript

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  00:03

In today’s podcast, I chat with Professor Dr. Dawn Upchurch from UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, about the health benefits of mindfulness and meditation, and how we can incorporate this into our lives now. We recorded this podcast a while back before the tragedy of the killing of George Floyd and the remarkable swell of the Black Lives Matter movement throughout the country. As our fight for justice and peace continues, we hope to continue supporting you with the knowledge and resources to take care of your health and well-being so that you can continue onwards and upwards. Mindfulness meditation can be a powerful way to stay grounded and take care of your mental and spiritual health. As Dr. Upchurch explains, in this podcast, it’s necessary to take care of oneself to be able to go out and do the work that needs to be done. Hi, Dr. Dawn Upchurch. Now it’s such a great pleasure to interview you today on “Six Feet Apart.” The work that you do around meditation, the research you do around meditation, the practice of meditation, and you’re now in the last, I guess, 10 years or so you got trained and licensed in being an acupuncturist. I mean, that’s a very unusual combination for a academic researcher.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  01:25

Yes, very unusual.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  01:26

In public health, yeah. So I think what I thought we’d start with, and we could sort of delve into some of those other subjects, but the meditation has been a huge, there’s been a huge groundswell over the last decade, but in particular, during this sheltering-in-place. And I’d love to understand why we’re looking towards meditation as a solution to many of our issues today and frankly, in the last decade or more. And what drew you to this field?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  01:58

Well, again, thank you for having me here. And I want to welcome everyone as well. And thanks for the opportunity. And I also want to just acknowledge and send gratitude out to the essential workers, just to really thank them all for the hard work and the sacrifice they’re making. So I think before I talk about meditation in the context of the pandemic, maybe just some definitions, so people are clear about what we mean when we talk about meditation. There’s many types of meditation, there’s a chanting meditation, there’s Zen meditation, even certain types of prayers are meditative, contemplative prayer, and so on. Even certain aspects of yoga have a meditation component. And so meditation is really a formal practice that involves stillness. And it allows the person to train their attention and awareness, and become more mentally clear and calm. And so when we talk about mindfulness meditation, that’s one type of meditation. And I think mindfulness is what has really sort of taken off in the last, certainly in the last decade. We know the rates of people who report meditating have increased dramatically, even in the last five years.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:17

And those are national rates or?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  03:18

Those are national rates, yes, US national rates. Yeah, and I think part of that interest is because of the growing scientific evidence base for meditation, and in particular, for mindfulness, we’ve just seen an exponential increase in scientific research around the health benefits of meditation, both physical and mental, as well as the actual changes in brain structure and functioning. And I think the popular press has really picked up on that and I think that’s why there’s a growing interest.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  03:54

So the growing interest had nothing to do with necessarily was going out in the world of pandemics or tragedies. It was more around the fact that people were starting to see the science that was emerging that supported this as an effective method?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  04:09

Well, I think the interest is started before the current situation. I can only imagine that the interest has gone up even more since the pandemic, yeah.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  04:22

Since the pandemic, yeah. I noticed in your research articles that you found that a lot of people did, though, gravitate when they might have been diagnosed or had a chronic illness, that they look to it as a solution to something that they might find useful.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  04:39

So if we talk specifically about mindfulness meditation, the earliest studies on mindfulness meditation was from a program called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction that was done in the 70s, I think at Harvard by a well-known expert in meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn. And the expressed purpose for these MBSR programs was to help people who had chronic pain. And it was an eight-week program meeting one hour a week, and then the recommendation of meditating a minimum of 20 minutes a day. And what these early studies found is that people’s relationship to their pain fundamentally changed, and changed in such a way that people had better strategies for managing their pain, that their actual level of pain, self reported level of pain went down, and just their overall well-being improved. So those were the early days of mindfulness meditation research. And then there was a little bit of, you know, not a whole lot going on. And then about, like I said, about 10 years ago, a lot of neuroscientists also became interested in looking at meditation, and then a number of other studies, that clinical trials and so on, looking at the utility of of mindfulness meditation for a variety of health outcomes.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:05

Yeah, it’s really struck me with the neurologists how they found, I guess, they’ve been analyzing the brain of the Dalai Lama and other people who meditate a lot.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  06:14

Right, right, right.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:15

More I do that for sure.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  06:16

Oh gosh, more than me too.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:17

And his scans look pretty, like, youthful compared to his chronological age.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  06:23

Exactly.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  06:24

Yeah. And what from what I understand from our neurologic, our neuroscientists friends at UCLA is that even within an hour after you’ve meditated, your brain looks better then. So it’s not like you have to be like the Dalai Lama and spend your life you know.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  06:41

The science is showing that a fairly small dose of meditation can make a difference in brain structure and functioning, that it increases the neural pathways in the brain, and also actually makes the prefrontal cortex, makes it larger, which is something you want, because that’s sort of your executive functioning part of your brain. And at any age, they’ve done studies with seniors, who are the oldest old, and even in starting meditation at an older age can have profound benefits.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  07:13

And so, I guess, there’s two questions that that statement leads me to one is, what is a small dose?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  07:23

Well, let me just say this, I always tell people, something is better than nothing. So even if you only have a few minutes, that’s better than not doing anything at all. Also, sometimes people have a hard time sitting still, and really engaging in a formal meditation practice, but there are other things you can do during the day, like mindfulness awareness, so that even if you can’t in your daily activities, just be here now, be in the present moment, or focus just on a few breaths. That oftentimes in the mindfulness meditation world, we use the breath as an anchor, that can make a difference. But a clinically small dose is about 20 minutes a day, daily, for six to eight weeks. That’s generally when there’s differences seen, although there are some studies that show even 10 minutes for just a week or two can have a difference. So it kind of depends on what kind of outcome you’re interested in. If you’re having a lot of anxiety, people are having a lot of anxiety, for example, during all of this, like I think many of us have experienced or to stress and coping, any amount can make an immediate difference. Just even a few minutes. Like for example, if you have a Fitbit or some other type of device, many of them also have a function where you can do like a relaxation breath for two to five minutes, something like that can really help people in the short term with kind of this, their acute symptoms that they’re experiencing. And if you do it over time, if we’re talking about stress or anxiety, what happens then is we become less reactive to situations and by doing so, it reduces the stress and anxiety.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  09:17

So one of the suggestions is, you know, using a guided meditation, which is what you’re describing. And 20 minutes a day, is it like exercise where you could do to 10 minutes spurts?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  09:28

You can, you can do that. I think if you’re new to meditation, I think it’s important to start out slowly and be very gentle on yourself. No one practices meditation perfectly, not even the Dalai Lama, or all these people who have been meditating for decades. And just start very slowly with a small amount, even two minutes, for if you’ve not had much experience with meditation, two minutes can seem like forever. Also, if you’re new to meditation, use a guided meditation where someone is actually talking you through. That seems to help people stay focused and rather than sort of going on the train of all of our thoughts and emotions kind of taking us off somewhere.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  10:09

That’s been very useful for me, following the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA has really given me some help with the guided meditations. At the end of this podcast, we’ll put a variety of different resources that are free to people that can be utilized, either in-person guided meditations, and also recorded ones.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  10:30

Right. And MARC in the last year, put together an app that is free, and you can download it so that you can have it on your phone and just use it as you need to. And it starts very small, two-minute meditation. So maybe I should take a minute and say what you actually do when you meditate, what do you think?

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  10:53

I’d like to know, I know what I do, but maybe it’s not exactly what everyone else does.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  10:58

I know. Well, there’s, like I said, there’s a lot of different ways to meditate. But if we’re talking about mindfulness, what we tend to do is take a few moments to get grounded in our body, to turn our focus inward, that can be a challenge for some people. So oftentimes, I encourage people to shut their eyes and then getting grounded in your body, taking a few deep breaths to relax, we know that when you exhale, it engages your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the relaxation part of the nervous system. So having a breath that somewhat longer going out and coming in can be very helpful just to get started. And then just get centered in your body. And if that doesn’t make sense to you, just feel your body, if centering doesn’t make sense, just feel your body. And then just go back to your normal breath. You don’t need to do anything in terms of changing your breath, or modifying your breath, just breathe naturally. And what we tend to do then is focus on a certain area where we feel the breath coming in. For people who are new, usually, it’s right under the nose, because you can feel the actual breath coming in and going out. Others focus more around the neck and throat area, chest area, or even down into the abdomen. But for that particular practice, just focus on that one area, and focus on your breathing, just feel the breath coming in, feel the breath going out. But what’s going to happen, and it will happen to everyone, it happens to me all the time, is you may get one breath, and all of a sudden, here come the thoughts. And what we do is just let that thought be and just return very gently to our breath. We try very hard not to be worried about our thinking, we just let that thinking go and come back to the breath. Sometimes I like to think of it when I’m meditating that these thoughts come and go, but they’re kind of background noise for me. So that the focus, the foreground noise, if you will, is the focus on the breath. Because the thoughts are going to be there, the thoughts come and go, the emotions come and go. But we just keep returning to the breath. And what that does is it brings us to present moment awareness. So that’s a little mini meditation course.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  13:13

I love that. I was doing it while you were explaining it to me.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  13:18

Well, I’ve had quite a bit of training at MARC, I did a year-long training in mindfulness facilitation, and I’m a certified mindfulness facilitator. And then I also did a year-long Intensive Personal Practice program through MARC. So I have some training. My meditation has been a little bit fits and starts lately. And that happens to people, we all have moments where we’re doing really well with our practice and other moments where it’s more of a challenge. And so I do find that if I have a regular daily practice, I can cope a lot better in more positive ways.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  13:57

And so what have you built yourself up to in general, like what does your practice entail?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  14:01

So usually what I do, I have a morning practice. Depending on how much time I have in the morning, I try to set aside 15 to 20 minutes. And then during the day, if I have a few moments, I will do like a progressive relaxation meditation, which is, I often do it guided so that I kind of relax during the day. This may sound like a lot but I just do it for a couple minutes. And then at night, as I’m in bed I do another progressive muscle relaxation to help me get to sleep. Not very long, a couple minutes.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  14:36

Nice.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  14:37

Yeah, not every day, I do my best. I mean, that’s the thing we have to just do our best.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  14:42

Right. That’s a really good mantra. You know, all you can expect is your best. You know, your personal best. And I feel that what you just said is like being forgiving of yourself. And I think that’s something that all of us need to be thinking about. You know, when we’re wanting to help our family and ourselves and then others in this sheltering-at-home. And now, you know, our recovery and resurgence, we also have to take care of ourselves, right? Or if you’re not healthy, it’s hard to do anything.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  15:12

Well, that’s exactly right. And, you know, I understand, I completely understand that for some people, it can be really difficult to set aside some time at home, especially those who have children and other family commitments or household commitments. And so what I would suggest, then, is to do those mindful moments, anything, you know, if you’re hugging your child, really engage in hugging that child. If you’re cooking dinner, really focus in on the carrots you’re chopping. Or if you’re working on something, really focus in on that. Those mindful moments can make a big difference, too.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  15:51

That’s interesting. You say that, because I know with the washing of your hands, the two happy birthdays, it takes a long time. So I’ve used that as a moment to sort of just slow down.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  16:02

And that’s a great idea Yeah, that’s an absolutely great idea, being in the moment where you’re just washing your hands.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  16:09

Exactly.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  16:10

Yeah.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  16:11

The other thing I’ve learned to do is, you know, because I know you’ve taught me this and others about gratitude, which is part of, I think, all of the mindfulness meditation work, right?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  16:21

Right. A big part of what we do with mindfulness, too. So part of what mindfulness helps you to do, mindfulness meditation, and it helps sort of quiet the negative thoughts, and kind of the noise that we constantly have. We sometimes talk about our thoughts being like a hamster wheel, helps to kind of calm that. But then this practice of gratitude, or sometimes it’s called loving-kindness, is really a nice way to instill and grow positive emotions and positive thoughts. And I think it’s important, especially now for all of us to take a few moments and think about it. It could be the smallest thing, you could have gratitude that you had a delicious piece of toast with homemade jam on it, or whatever it might be. But just the smallest of things that you had a good night’s sleep, that you were able to go for a walk, those kinds of things can can really over time, make a big difference. And I know a lot of people also start the day with a gratitude list. Or they’ll just write down five things or two things that they’re they’re grateful for. And that sort of sets the stage for your day. So you’re able to sort of start it with a positive outlook. And I think in times like these, we could use some of that. And even if it’s just the smallest things.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  17:40

Yeah, I have found that as a really go-to place to help my day, rather than, before I get up, I’ve often think, oh, I got to do this, and that and this and that. Why don’t I start the day differently? Take a breath and let me think about who I’m grateful for, what I’m grateful for. And so now I’ve incorporated it into my happy birthdays as well.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  18:02

Oh that’s good, that’s great.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  18:06

I started doing it first to myself, singing happy birthday to myself, and then I’ve evolved to add other people into the song.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  18:16

Well, I think that’s great. And I think it, sometimes it can be challenging for us to have gratitude towards ourselves. But I think that’s a really important thing to at least work on, to lighten up on ourselves. And we can all be particularly hard on ourselves. So oftentimes, we say, we’re our own worst enemies, right? And so if you can just loosen up just a little bit and have just a tad of gratitude.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  18:49

What I think is really remarkable about you, Dawn, and I really, you’re a researcher and a practitioner, which I think can enhance both sides of your practice. Your research can be informed by your practice, and your practice can be informed by your research, which I’ve seen with you. And also it, I think, allows you to be a really innovative researcher who’s published innovative articles on this subject that you know how to practice or you’ve learned to practice and teach. And I’d like to sort of pivot and talk about some of your research because you’re grounded in practice and research. And one of your research articles showed that one in five adults in the United States practice some type of meditation in 2017. And I know you define meditation broadly. And that includes also religious practice, correct?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  19:41

Right, certain types of religious practice. So things like contemplative prayer, are measured, are considered types of meditation. Not all types of prayer, but it can be incorporated into a religious or other type of spiritual practice, yeah.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  20:00

What is contemplative prayer?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  20:03

It is a quieting of the mind. It’s basically, it’s essentially a Christian form of meditation. It’s sitting quietly and focusing on a thought, focusing on a breath. But again, being still so that you increase your awareness, you become more mentally clear and calm.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  20:24

And that would include, I would imagine almost every religious practice has a form of that.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  20:29

Yeah. Yeah, I would imagine, yeah. I’m not an expert on that. But I would think so, yeah.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  20:34

Yeah. So in this data set that you’ve used to analyze practices with meditation, do they include participating in some religious faith or not?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  20:45

So they do. And in the past, the way the studies looked at religious participation in the context of things like meditation, or complementary and alternative medicine, a lot of times what the way they measure it were do you engage in prayer for health, or prayer circles for a person’s health. That was considered a form of alternative practice. But recently, the data don’t really look at that. It’s more just the specific type of contemplative prayer that’s included as a form of meditation. It all has to do with how you’re going to, what we call in the scientific, operationalize what meditation is. There’s no one definition for it. And there’s no one practice, really.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  21:03

What’s interesting in your studies, in a number of your articles, have been the differences in different gender and age groups. And I’d love you to comment on what you think stood out to you in your research.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  21:47

Yeah, so just like the people who use other types of, what we call complementary and alternative practices at a population level in the United States, the people who meditate, were more likely to meditate tend to be middle-aged, more affluent, they tend to be white, they also tend to engage in more healthy behaviors, but also report a greater number of health conditions. So you have this kind of yin and yang going on. And one of my earlier studies, because I got very interested in that, how can you be practicing healthier behaviors and have poor health conditions and you’re practicing meditation. And what we found was, or other types of alternative practices, is that there’s two distinct groups of people who engage in these practices, there are people who are doing it primarily as part of a healthy lifestyle and for wellness. That’s where you have the health-behavior association. And then there’s other people who are using it to cope with their health conditions. So using it more as treatment or to help alleviate symptoms. So the interest there is, so we can see that there’s a bias with respect to who’s engaging in what could potentially be very helpful and low-cost self care and self practice. And so we have a pilot study through the Eisner Foundation working with Dr. Teresa Seeman who’s down in geriatrics and this is also with Dr. Mike Prelip, where we started a pilot project bringing mindfulness meditation to a group of seniors who volunteered in some lower-performing grade schools in LAUSD. And we created an eight-week program that incorporated a lot of what MARC does and what they call their MAPS class, Mindfulness Awareness Practices class. But also some additional training to help the volunteers learn how to bring mindfulness into the classroom. So what we were hoping to do is to help, when you work with grade school, this is grade school kids like second- and third-graders. And we know that if kids can get up to their reading level at second and third grade, they’re much less likely to drop out of high school. So and this ongoing program has had profound success and also significantly improved the health of these seniors in terms of a variety of different measures into including reduced functional limitations, weight loss, reduction in inflammation markers and a variety of things. And so we’re just in the process now of analyzing some of our data and assessing the sort of, you know, lessons learned from doing this kind of pilot study. And so, part of my vision, part of what I really would like to do with the next several years with mindfulness is bringing mindfulness to under-resourced communities, and because those communities are the ones least likely to have access. And I believe mindfulness should be free for all. I don’t think you should have to pay thousands of dollars and go to a retreat center to have a day or two or three or a week with mindfulness. I think I think it’s something that we really need to share with everyone. And that it can be part of a healthy lifestyle. And everyone can do it a little bit in a way that’s going to work best for them.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  22:13

So as we shelter-in-place, has that program, has it continued virtually?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  25:18

So we literally just met like two days ago to talk about it. And we’ve got a great trainer, she’s very enthusiastic, she’s had very good luck with zoom calls with doing mindfulness training. And so we’re going to offer weekly workshops for any of these volunteers. And they’re pretty tech-savvy. So they’ve been doing Zoom and so on, or some kind of remote, which is great. They’re very tech-savvy retired women. And so we’re going to offer that for them weekly, once or twice a week for the month of June and July, at least. We should have funding to cover at least that. So I’m very excited about that.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:05

Well, that actually sounds like such a win-win for everybody.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  26:09

Yeah. And they can pop in and pop out. I mean, if they want to just stay for 20 minutes, they can stay for 20 minutes, or come in late or whatever it might be.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  26:18

So in regards to the current situation and sheltering-in-place, how could meditation help all of us in this current situation? What is your opinion?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  26:30

Well, I think one of the ways it can be very helpful little bit of what we talked about earlier, helping people to cope with all of these stressful times and challenges that we’re all going through. And to take a few moments and quiet the mind and be at peace for a moment, I think it can really help with stress and anxiety, in many ways. And the more you can engage in a bit of meditation every day, it can really help you get through the days, because I know we all have challenges. I mean the first two weeks, we were, you know, with the shelter-in-place, and everything, I probably had two or three panic attacks a day, it was very anxiety-producing for me, and I could not sit still and do a quiet meditation at that time. I had to do a guided progressive muscle relaxation exercise to calm down and I know I’m not the only one who has gone through that. And so I think it’s important for people to have these skills, I kind of, when I talk to students, I talk about having a toolkit of self care. And sometimes you want to feed yourself with nourishing food but sometimes you need a cookie, you know. And just like sometimes a run, it really makes a big difference. And sometimes sitting still in meditation can be helpful. So the more, sort of, tools and the more skills you have, the more you’re going to be able to help yourself manage in a positive way, all the things that are happening.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  28:06

I’m hoping to have a little time to do my 10-minute, start my 10-minute meditation every day.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  28:11

I already did mine before that, thank you very much.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  28:11

So to wrap up, what good do you think will come out of this pandemic? And in other words, what do you see has been good for you and your work?

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  28:23

Well, I think as a nation, it’s caused for a time of reflection for how we as a country want to move forward. I think the pandemic has once again laid bare the long-enduring disparities and I hope we see this as an opportunity to improve everyone’s future and everyone’s health. For me personally, it’s been a very important time from my own personal reflection, and really coming to terms with what is important to me and how I want to live my life. It’s been an important time. I’ve spent some time journaling and meditating. And also transitioning to the Third Age. And so figuring out how I want to spend those later years is very important to me.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  29:12

Yeah, I agree totally with your reflections about the laying bare the disparities that are in our country and how we need to be working even harder to minimize those and on so many levels. Basic needs, health and well-being, they’re all important and should be considered part of the core of a society.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  29:33

Yeah. And that, you know, we’re both in public health and we both know that we have a lot of work ahead of us. We all have a lot of work ahead of us, not just those of us in public health. But it’s also made me realize in terms of my own research that I want to do a lot more practice research as opposed to analyzing data sets. I mean, I’m a demographer, I do that for a living, but I think really doing projects and programs that can help improve people’s lives is important. And I think it’s important for all, this is a call to action. If we didn’t think we had one before, we absolutely have it now. And I think it’s a responsibility for all of us to do everything we can. But there’s a little quip that also says, you know, put your own life mask on first, right? So it really is a matter of taking care of oneself, to be able to go out and do the work that needs to be done.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  30:28

That’s right. And I think your point about translating research to practice is critical because we have science behind us to really support the evidence of how having a healthy society will bring wealth. And this pandemic, I think, lays bare that, you know, the threat to people’s health has now really threatened people’s wealth, or even their livelihoods. And so we need to be cognizant of, you know, building resilience during this time of recovery and resurgence in order for us to address these inequities, and also to be better prepared for the future, not just individually, but our community and our planet health, all three together.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  31:11

Yeah, I would agree. I mean, we see that there’s increasing kind of pandemic fatigue, where people want their lives back, which is completely understandable. So I think, as public health people, too, it’s going to be important to deliver new and creative messages for the importance of sheltering-in-place, six feet apart, wearing your masks, as I said before, when we were doing our other webinar, something not happening, a non-event is a success in public health. But it’s really hard for us to get our heads around what that really means. And so I think coming up with new and creative messaging is going to be critical, especially as we go into the summer and more importantly, into the fall where it’s anticipated, there will be another surge of infection.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  32:05

Well what you just recited, three of the five core ingredients to protecting ourselves from during this pandemic. Sheltering-in-place will be, now, partially relaxed. So it’s six feet apart, or social distancing, right, masks, right, washing your hands frequently, at least five times a day. And every time you go in and out of a public domain, you need to be doing that. And self monitoring, if you’re not feeling well, even a runny nose, you need to be restricting your exposures to others. And then culture.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  32:41

That’s right.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  32:42

Culture that supports people that do all five. And it’s like a recipe, if you don’t have baking soda, nothing will rise. If you don’t have the salt, the flavor won’t pop out. So you need all five to be successful. And Atul Gawande wrote about that, in the New Yorker a couple of weeks ago, and shared how the natural experiment of Mass General, where 75,000 people work, very, very few got sick, even though they were exposed to many people with COVID-19. So the five principles followed together work, but if you leave one out, it will not work.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  33:20

That’s right.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:21

And the culture, I think, is a key one.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  33:23

I think it is. I think we have to generate a new culture. I mean, and so how do we do that? With creative messaging, I think it will be important where people see that it’s also for their own good, and as well as the good of others.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  33:39

Well you’re appealing to their altruism, in a lot of ways. One of our social well-being experts shared that appealing to altruism can be through storytelling. And so we’re actually working on highlighting ordinary people doing extraordinary things during the pandemic, but also even before the pandemic. The Eudaimonia Award, kind of, or recognition of people who live a life of meaning and purpose, can also inspire others. It’s sort of like what my dad used to say, read the obituaries, Wendy, in the New York Times, and that will give you some ideas about how to live a life that might get you where that person got. Stories are really strong.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  34:18

Yeah, the other thing people, I think, can be helpful for us to really fully embrace is that altruism also makes you feel better. When you share and give to others, you feel better. You just do, because it’s part of who we are as humans, right? So that there is a selfish benefit too in many ways is that it really does help those who are giving, to feel like they’re making a difference.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  34:49

It’s so true. It’s, you know, well, it’s the feedback loop, right? You have to get that positive reinforcement to keep going at something in general over time, anyway. Well, Dawn, you’re just a treasure for our community at UCLA, but also LA community and national, our US community. I mean, you’ve contributed so much in so many different ways. And I look forward to working with you on moving our agenda forward in terms of really not letting this pandemic go to waste, but really bringing ourselves and our community to another level of health and well-being.

Dr. Dawn Upchurch  35:26

Right. Well, thank you so much for those kind words. I’m feeling very humble right now. So thank you, thank you. It was just a pleasure to be here. I hope this was helpful.

Dr.  Wendy Slusser  35:37

Very much so. Thank you.  Thank you for tuning in to “Six Feet Apart,” a special series of the Live Well Podcast. Today’s episode was brought to you by UCLA’s Semel Healthy Campus Initiative Center. To stay up to date with the rest of the episodes in this special series, and to get more information on maintaining your mental, social, and physical well-being during COVID-19, please visit our website at healthy.ucla.edu/livewellpodcasts. Thank you and stay remote.

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