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Finding Peace Amidst the Storm

By Dr. Landon Opunui, ND

We have been spending a lot of time with ourselves lately. This can offer us tremendous space for creativity and growth or can be a time of worsening mental health. There are increasing rates of depression among those struggling to navigate the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19. Our current landscape is constantly evolving and there is no definitive end in sight. Our communities are faced with frustration and worry as unemployment rates in Hawaii rise to the highest in the nation.

Molokai tragically has the state’s highest rate of suicide, so it is important for us as a community to proactively address the potential downstream mental health consequences this pandemic will cause. Health care providers are great at quickly responding to people experiencing mental or emotional distress through therapy and medication, but what happens when the underlying reason why someone feels this way is difficult to address? Although socio-economic-cultural stressors are difficult to address clinically, they need to be acknowledged as important drivers of distress.

Depression and anxiety, through the conventional medical lens, are often viewed as clinical diagnoses. However, it is important to normalize these commonly experienced mental states as part of our human nature. Trials and tribulations are inherently difficult to cope with.

Depression can present itself in a number of different ways and can include short periods of fatigue, lack of interest in common hobbies, sadness, frustration, abandonment from everyday sources of joy, and withdrawal from family, friends, neighbors and communities. The last of these symptoms is most concerning because of our ongoing social distancing requirement.

Occasional feelings of depression are perfectly normal. It is OK to just feel down. Numbing these emotions when only short-term, mild-to-moderate symptoms are present will likely yield more long-term consequences than benefits. However, there is undeniably a place for pharmaceutical interventions in chronic and acutely severe cases.

Instead of relying exclusively on medication, it is important to honor how we feel, sit with our feelings and breathe through what is happening in our lives. When we are not able to hug one another and provide physical comfort, real healing can blossom through nonphysical connection.

Loneliness and isolation are very real phenomena for many during a pandemic. Connecting to the internet and our devices are tools that we can use, but are likely not the answer to our fundamental need for peace.

We lose the opportunity for wisdom to shine through when we are disconnected and distracted. Many have difficulty calming their mind because of worry. How can we be still, grounded and present with what is happening around us?

Although there are many roads to inner peace, gratitude is a pathway most people can access. What we focus on is what we will always feel. Writing down three things we are grateful for each day is a simple exercise to shift our focus to something positive and uplifting. These donʻt need to be earth-shattering epiphanies, they can simply be a person, place or thing.


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