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Mental Wellness: Discussion with Omar Dawood [Video]

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Listen to Omar Dawood and Padma Warrior talk about mental wellness and how we can train our minds to cope with anxiety. Omar stresses the importance of slowing down occasionally so we can gather momentum when we need to. Here are the key points from the conversation:
  • Build mental wellness into your daily routine.
  • It's sometimes better to slow down for a few minutes so that we can go faster. 
  • Mental wellness is definitely related to physical wellness. 
  • Don't try to run a marathon in a single day, you have to train your body in order to be able to do a marathon. 
  • Look at mental wellness and mental fitness as something that we need to make time for every single day, so it becomes a daily habit for us. 
Watch the video or read the complete transcript of the discussion below...
Padma Warrior  
Hi, everyone, it's my pleasure to welcome Omar Dawood for a brief discussion today on mental wellness, and why we should make it a life priority. First, for a quick introduction, Omar Dawood is a clinician and stage IV cancer survivor with over 25 years of senior management, medical research and clinical experience, innovating medical devices and digital health products as a senior executive. Omar is BetterUp’s President of BetterUp Care. He leads the BetterUp Care sales, marketing, clinical, and product teams to bring hyper-personalized mental fitness and science-backed preventive solutions, including 1:1 and group coaching, to employers globally.Omar most recently served the Chief Medical Officer and Head of Sales for Calm. Omar is passionate about helping people around the globe lead healthier, happier lives by building resilience through better sleep and improved mindfulness. Over the past 2 decades, Omar has held senior executive and senior advisory positions with many different healthcare companies? So without further ado, Omar, how's your day going today? 
Omar Dawood  
Great. Thank you for having me. It's going great. Some of the biggest challenges we all have right now is that we still have some level or semblance of normalcy, even though our lives right now are far from normal. But having some type of boundaries and routines and a certain end to part of our day and maintenance of personal life is truly important.

How to cope with stress and anxiety

 Padma Warrior  
Thank you. So as a clinician and cancer survivor, I'm sure you've experienced stress firsthand. Can you share a little bit about how you manage to keep your stress under control?
Omar Dawood  
Great question. I can say that my coping mechanisms have definitely evolved over time. Like everyone else, I've encountered have many periods of stress and anxiety. I can't predict the future. But I can predict (and be pretty sure) that around the corner, we are all going to experience stress and anxiety, at some level, in our personal and professional lives. It may not be pandemic-level, but we'll experience it.  When I think about certain periods in my life that have been more stressful than others, there are a number of common ingredients that have presented themselves, and therefore, my coping mechanisms have evolved to deal with them.
  1. The situation typically is quite uncertain. That oftentimes leads to some level of high levels and anxiety. 
  2. The situation feels uncontrolled. I don't have any, any ability to really control what's going on.  
  3. I am unsure of the outcome. 
When you combine those ingredients in everyday life at a somewhat moderate level, you can have increased blood pressure and heart rate, and all these things that come together. I'm 47, so I’ve had shots at getting it right and getting it wrong, of course, and sometimes it would manifest in different ways. Sometimes in conflict, sometimes in being frustrated. When you're stressed and anxious, it comes out a lot of different ways. And that's sometimes how you channel it. What I learned to appreciate over the last decade and a half is the value of strengthening your mind, building resilience and mental fitness, and creating a capacity to be able to take step back, to be able to think about a situation unpack a situation. So you can say to yourself: What is familiar here? What can I latch on to? What’s going to give me a semblance of normal? If you feel out of control, ask yourself: What can I control the situation? And if you’re unsure of the outcome of the whole situation, there should be parts that you can be sure of. Right now, I can be sure that I get up every day, I can be sure that I can eat well, that I can actually maintain relationships with friends and family even though they're virtual. And that actually helps you (and helped me personally) come down to a level where I can manage my stress and anxiety and frankly, also stay ahead of it. That's where resilience for me has been incredibly helpful and at the center of that is sleeping better and developing mindfulness that really is my foundation for me.
Padma Warrior  
That's great. You talked a couple of times about mental fitness. I love that phrase. I use that a lot. And so talk a little bit more mental wellness. How is mental wellness connected to our physical wellness and physical well-being? Is there a connection between the two? 
Omar Dawood  
I think there clearly is always a connection between the mind and body. I know we've talked about them in isolation, but the reality is, one doesn't progress without the other. They really have to stay in lockstep. It’s kind of funny, we don't think of our minds the same way as our bodies. I use an analogy that paints a good picture of this. What if we were to ask everyone listening: “go run a marathon tomorrow”? It would be quite irresponsible for us to ask. Why? Well, if we did ask that question, “Go out and run 26.2 miles,” most people would try and not be successful, or if they do finish, they would be in a lot of pain. Because their bodies aren’t ready to handle that stress. Some people won't even attempt it. You would actually have someone train for 12-18 weeks for the marathon because your muscles have to be used to the stress of it. The mind is like a muscle as well. This concept of mental fitness. And therefore, training your mind is the same thing. Yet you will experience marathon levels of stress and anxiety from personal and professional lives, and you're supposed to be ready to deal with it. But we're just not. So that's where for me, it's not a one-time Band-Aid when you are feeling stressed and anxious. It's every day, making it part of your daily routine, so that you're actually getting yourself in the mindset, building resilience, setting the foundation. Make sure that you've slept well so you can approach your days with good decision making, that you're preparing yourself and building that level of fitness in your mind. Just like you train your body, train your body to be able to deal with stress and anxiety.

Mental wellness training

Padma Warrior  
That's great. I love what you said about a daily routine. And that's hard to do, isn't it? And so we're all super busy. How would we make the time for mental wellness? 
 Omar Dawood  
What works for me is going to be maybe a little bit different than what works for you, so there isn't a one size fits all solution. There's nothing wrong with leaning on something to help you. Part of the reason I gravitated to Calm and to working at Calm (where we're helping hundreds of millions of people around the world) is it is an experience that people can easily download, use, and immerse themselves in that essentially, is a crutch. It’s a crutch that helps you develop resilience and it helps you every day by dripping in small bits of content, sometimes only 10 minutes long. But the key is doing a little bit every day. Again, back to the marathon analogy. You don't have to run a marathon every day to train for a marathon. Run a little bit incrementally, and that's where there are a number of good mental wellness tools, and Calm is one of them. You can actually learn how to build resilience and you can do that at your pace. You can do that throughout the day when you want to. I'm a big fan of automotive racing. When you think about automotive racing, what comes to mind is speed. I use this as an analogy because we are race cars, and we're also concerned with going fast. But one of the most important parts of a race car are the brakes. To go fast, you have to be able to slow down and go slow. You have to be able to accelerate and handle cornering. That's very much like us. But it's hard to have that discipline and by leaning on, you know a digital experience or non-digital experience that can help you do that. You can learn how to pause in your day, even for just a few minutes, to go slower so that the rest of your day you’ll be more productive and you'll actually go faster in life.
 Padma Warrior  
That's brilliant. I've now started to build into my routine and my calendar. For me it's reading, reading helps me relax. And it's sort of like another way to apply your mind into a different take it into a different space. And so do you read? Does that help you relax? 
Omar Dawood  
I do. I read and, from an efficiency point of view, sometimes I'll listen to audiobooks as I'm running. Because I'm a huge fan of giving time to my mind and body. And it allows me to spend time with my puppy, go for a run, be able to enjoy the outdoors taking some fresh air at the same time, listen to some very inspirational wonderful work.  Recently, I've listened to Sheryl Sandberg’s "Lean In," which I think is fantastic. I love science fiction. So I was listening again to Isaac Asimov's "Fantastic Voyage," which I personally kind of get lost in. Every one of us has our own escape, right? And it's important to explore it, and then to be able to make time for it. 

Tips for mental wellness

Padma Warrior  
Well, thank you for that. Science fiction is my favorite genre. I'm reading NK Jemisin and The City We Became. If you haven't read her stuff or listened to her books, you should.  So I think just to summarize, I heard you say:
  • Build mental wellness into your routine.
  • It's sometimes better to slow down for a few minutes so that we can go faster. 
  • Mental wellness is definitely related to physical wellness. 
  • Don't try to run a marathon in a single day, you have to train your body in order to be able to do a marathon. 
  • Look at mental wellness and mental fitness as something that we need to make time for every single day, so it becomes a daily habit for us. 
Before we end, any last minute tips for our audience, anything else you would like to share?
Omar Dawood  
 This is one of the most challenging times that we're all having. As much as you can, remember that everyone around you is experiencing as well. One of the most powerful things we can do right now is to turn to the person next to us (even if they're virtually next to us) and ask them how they're doing in their day. That is a way to extend support and it humanizes what we're all going through now. It is part of the process of being able to help ourselves get through these tough periods, but also help those around us as well.
Padma Warrior  
Great, great advice. Thank you so much, Omar. 

About the Speaker
Avatar - Omar DawoodOmar Dawood
Omar Dawood is a clinician and stage IV cancer survivor with over 25 years of senior management, medical research and clinical experience, innovating medical devices and digital health products as a senior executive. Omar is BetterUp’s President of BetterUp Care™. He leads the BetterUp Care™ sales, marketing, clinical, and product teams to bring hyper-personalized mental fitness and science-backed preventive solutions, including 1:1 and group coaching, to employers globally. Omar most recently, he served the Chief Medical Officer and Head of Sales for Calm. Omar is passionate about helping people around the globe lead healthier, happier lives by building resilience through better sleep and improved mindfulness. Over the past 2 decades, Omar has held senior executive and senior advisory positions with a spectrum of healthcare companies, including Ginger, Accuray, Kona Medical, AliveCor and Samsung, leading transformative change and disruptive innovation across a number of healthcare segments.

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