10 questions, 10 minutes of deep reflection on what really matters
We’re fortunate to interview Nurit Yirmiya, PhD, a Clinical and Developmental Psychologist, Professor Emerita, from the Department of Psychology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem for our #BeWell campaign! Our hot topic is wellness (of course) in all of its aspects - social, physical, mental & emotional, occupational and last, but not least - spiritual.
Prof. Nurit, would you please introduce yourself?
I am 61 years young, married with 4 children and 3 grandchildren who bring me much joy as well as all additional flavours of life. I am a professor of psychology and practice developmental and clinical psychology. Recently, me and my wonderful colleagues, Dr. Ricardo Tarrasch and Prof. Audrey Addi-Raccah, received a big grant from the Ministry of Education to promote mindfulness, compassion and SEL (Social Emotional Learning) in Middle Schools.
Holistic wellness is becoming a more and more sensationalised term. Why?
Indeed, there is a rise in the use of the term holistic wellness, yet I am not sure that “sensationalized” describes it. My experience is that people are becoming more and more aware of the transactional relation between body and mind and of physical and emotional/mental well-being. Positive Psychology is becoming more acceptable as we learn more and more about the importance of finding meaning in life and how to cope better with everyday stress by monitoring and regulating our sleep, nutrition, movement and mind.
It seems that more and more employers are paying attention to the well-being of their workers by introducing various health centred policies. Is holistic wellness a trendy "woo-woo" term or does it really matter? How and why?
It really matters! Employees who report higher levels of physical and/or mental well-being are more satisfied with their job, are more productive, are less ill and miss fewer days at work. So it is a real win-win situation for the employers and for the employees.
Do you think there are some misunderstandings around the term "wellbeing"?
Perhaps, some people may not distinguish between physical and mental well-being. Physical well-being can be assessed objectively more easily than subjective well-being which is much more dependent on self-knowledge, self-reflection and self-report. Physical and mental well-being do not necessarily need to be identical. There are many people who experience well-being in one realm but not the other. Some people equate well-being and happiness. I like the PERMA model suggested by Martin Seligman for well-being which includes Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishments. To that I would add the physical part of well-being.
Do you think modern people tend to neglect some aspects of wellbeing?
I would leave that to each one of the readers to check with her/himself in regards to their physical and mental well-being. Clearly some people report experiencing excess stress, not enough sleep, unhealthy nutrition, not enough movement and being low on PERMA. Luckily, there are many prevention and intervention programs addressing these and similar issues and there is always time to initiate new habits. The past is in the past yet we can change the present and the future.
You've been consulting people from all kinds of background for the last 30+ years. What are the mani obstacles on the way of experiencing more wellness?
Self-love, self-trust and belief that some change is always possible.
And how can we deal with these challenges?
I find that many people wish for a change to happen like a miracle without effort or with minimal effort. We can not place our hands on the Piano and play Beethoven 5th Symphony. It takes practice. When we were born, no one asked us if we wanted to learn English, Spanish, French or any other language as our mother-tongue. We learnt what was available to us in our immediate environment. Clearly, we are who we are based on our genetic disposition and our environmental background, yet we can always strive to change. It is not easy to learn a foreign language but it is possible. Similarly, it is not easy to learn and assimilate new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving, yet WE CAN!
What are the top five wellbeing strategies you would recommend to our readers, which they can start applying today in order to increase their wellness?
Sleep, eat and move smart. Recognize your values and aims and develop toward actualizing them. Work with your MIND to release unnecessary and maladaptive feelings, thoughts and behaviors. Do not be shy to seek help.
How do you cultivate your own wellbeing?
Many years ago, a friend who was suffering from cancer shared with me that if she would have known that she will not live to retirement, she would have made sure that each day, week, month and year included a little “retirement”. I adopted this and do my best to indeed have “retirement” time on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis knowing that life is not forever. I meditate on most days, I spend quality time with family and friends. I try to sleep, eat and move smart. Typically I get enough sleep, practice Nia, pilates and yoga, walk and up to 5 floors take the stairs rather than the elevator. I make sure that I walk 10,000 steps on most days and try to be compassionate to others and myself.
PAs a professor of psychology, a long-term meditator and a mindfulness meditation teacher, do you stumble upon wellbeing difficulties?
With self-love and self-compassion! I am human and there is always room for growth and development. Personally, I am not a smart eater by nature and mindful eating is a real challenge for me. I monitor what I eat, do my best to not eat excessively and know that this is an area which I need to be very careful about. In the past, when I was younger, when overeating, I would not move as the two were in my mind interconnected: what was the aim to move if I already ate too much? In the last 20 years I have been able to disconnect this wrong association in my mind, continue to enjoy movement and practice self-compassion regarding my eating. With time, I can share that the duration of time from one overeating episode to the next is longer and longer and the overeating is of a lower magnitude and that is the aim.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I truly believe that each one of us is every-day the best version of ourselves that we can be. If you could stop yourself from reacting so angrily toward your partner, child, co-worker, etc. and speak your mind calmly would you not do it? If you could be less self-judgmental, wouldn’t you? If you could sleep, eat and move more smartly, wouldn’t you? So, we did our best today, and with self-love, care, compassion and sometimes also some guidance and help from others, we can strive and work toward a better version of ourselves tomorrow!
Thank you very much, prof. Nurit for participating in our #BeWellMidlands campaign!
About Nurit Yirmiya, Ph.D
Prof. Nurit served as the chairperson of the Lafer Center for Gender and Women's Studies, as the dean of students and as the chair of the ethic committee at the Hebrew University. In addition, she was the Chief Scientist and Chairperson of the Council for the Advancement of Women in Science and Technology in the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Israeli government and co-chaired the GIF (The German Israeli Foundation for Research and Development). Her main research interest is in the field of Pervasive Developmental Disorders with more than 100 papers published. She also served as the associate editor of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and participated in many national and international committees. A dynamic mother of 4 and a grandmother of 3, prof. Nurit also holds the black belt, Dan 2 in Nia and teaches Nia (a sensory-based movement practice that draws from martial arts, dance arts and healing arts). Last, but not least, Nurit is a dedicated mindfulness meditation practitioner and a certified instructor with deep interest in Buddhism, who offers various training to therapists and school staff, as well as to the greater audience, such as Mindful and Compassionate Parenting.