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Total Health: Dr Maxine Antoinette Bradshaw On How We Can Optimize Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing

It is difficult to experience the beauty of nature and remain unchanged. Nature has a calming effect on one’s emotion. Moreover, don’t just take a nature experience for granted. Feel grateful that you are alive.

Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Maxine Antoinette Bradshaw Dr. Maxine A. Bradshaw.

Dr. Maxine A. Bradshaw is a Certified Trauma Professional and EQI Coach. She is the Associate Dean of the Psychology and Counseling Department at Pillar College in the Master of Arts in Counseling and the Traditional Undergraduate Programs. She is also an Author and Motivational Speaker. Dr. Bradshaw is the recipient of the 2020–2021 Global Forum of Education and Learning (GFEL) Top 100 Leaders in Education Award in the category of Mental Health and Wellness.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica surrounded by gang wars and gun violence in a place now known as “no man’s land.” But in our home, there was peace and hope that we would survive our environment. At the age of 10 years, my father was diagnosed with Schizophrenia which became progressively worse so that he became a street person, and this continued into my adolescent years. I was ridiculed and bullied because of his mental illness and was led to believe that I, too, would inherit that mental illness since it “ran in the bloodline” from my fraternal grandfather. I became functionally depressed, especially since the gang violence intensified, causing a disruption in the educational systems in the community. I was part of the cohort that had to be bused into the community. Eventually, the school closed its doors.

Upon resumption in a church building, the first speech delivered by the lead teacher of the school, challenged us to look beyond our environment. He stated that there were four ways to escape poverty: through marriage, inheritance, illegal means, or education. He further elaborated that the rich tended to marry the rich, that the likelihood of inheriting wealth was slim to non-existent in our context, and that illegal means will lead to incarceration. I was encouraged when he challenged us to choose the path of education as that placed the ownership on the individual and not on the goodwill of others.

My education journey led me to pursue a degree in Business as the first option. I realized I was counseling others but needed the skills to become impactful. Thus, I embarked on the path of Psychology and Counseling to empower others who are impacted by mental illness, similar to what I experienced.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

My parents encouraged us to believe in our potential and that we were capable of excelling in our environment. Additionally, growing up with the stigma of Mental Health surrounding the patient and family made me realize that I needed to make a difference. However, it was not until I met Raphael and Cherry Mason, my pastors who invited me to live with them in my teens when I was struggling during darkest years, that I realized my life had purpose. They saw my untapped potential and encouraged me, teaching me that my experiences were preparation for life and a greater purpose.

My career path was borne out of the desire to become fully equipped so that I may educate, inspire, and equip others to cope during challenges and trauma, and to excel and live their best lives.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

While I can attest that my family is my strongest support, the influence of my husband stands out. He is always there to support me. He has made the sacrifices with me and has given of his resources and time, often putting his own plans on the backburner in his unwavering support of my endeavors. He is my traveling companion and my motivator during challenges. His love, prayers, and support solidify the fact that I am not alone. Whenever I get weary, or need a jumpstart, he is my go-to person. For example, there was a time when I had a very challenging encounter at work. My husband who had an engagement out of town on that day, drove nonstop to my location, parked my vehicle in the overnight facility, and drove me home. He took the longer, scenic route home because he knows the calming effect of the scenic view, and throughout the ride home, he played all my favorite inspirational songs. I still remember the words of my husband, “Honey, better days are coming”

He’s just a wonderful human being. I am so blessed that he is on my side and at my side.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I interviewed at Pillar College for an adjunct faculty position. During the interview, I shared my vision for the ideal program. I was asked if I wanted to return for an interview to become the head of the program where I would be instrumental in implementing the vision that I shared. A tentative date and time were set with the understanding that the interview would be confirmed before the actual date. I forgot to follow up, and not hearing from the College, I did not attend the interview on the date that was originally discussed. After the time that the interview should have occurred, I checked my voice messages and discovered that I missed three calls from the Dean of the College informing me that the Interview panel was assembled and was awaiting my arrival for the interview.

I initially went into a panic mode, then refocused and made the call to reschedule. Thankfully, my apologies were accepted, and I subsequently interviewed for the position of Department Chair and was hired.

My takeaway from that experience is to always follow-up and follow through. I could have missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime had I not been given a second chance.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The Bible was the single most transformative book that impacted my life, especially after reading about the life of Jesus. I was inspired to realize that he experienced most of the challenges I endured. For example, there were times that he experienced hunger; he felt the pain of losing a loved one; he was misunderstood by family members; his friends abandoned him during his time of need, and he accepted the challenges in his life while encouraging others along the way. His story is one of hope and endurance.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“If there is no light at the end of the tunnel, you become that light that will help you and help others.”

Everyone encounters struggles and challenges where he/she feels inadequate or overwhelmed. In such circumstances, we may wear ourselves out trying to receive assistance or validation from others. However, when we can see our potential to ride through the storms of life by utilizing our inner strength, we will become our own solutions, and in turn, become the “light” or source of empowerment for others. I have received immense satisfaction as I have lived by that mantra of becoming that light that will empower and motivate others to look within for the strength and talents that will propel them to reach their full potential and become a change agent and global leader.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

My colleagues and I recently published the book Tapping into Your Superpower. The book provides a daily dose of inspiration, delivered with simplicity and solemnity, to impact the reader’s personal and public life. The diverse topics address issues of trauma, mental illness, emotional scars, addiction, justice, virtue, and family among others. This book encourages readers to understand their worth and tap into the power within.

The spin-off of this book is called Tapping into My Superpower: When Kids Pray. It is currently in press and scheduled to be released by the end of the year. This children’s version addresses challenges children face in life such as fear, loneliness, death, and ill health. The objective of writing this book is to legitimize children’s emotions and experiences and provide encouragement as they grapple with some of the complexities of life.

I also partner with the mayor’s office of Violence and Prevention as they engage with youths from all walks of life to provide support and resources to those who have been victims of crime, abuse, and other life challenges. This initiative is being conducted in New Jersey’s Newark School System to equip our youth to enjoy positive emotional, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual well-being.

I also conduct monthly virtual and in-person therapeutic workshops to strengthen the therapists in exploring and applying practical techniques, and to train participants to cope with their mental health challenges.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives: Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

The first habit I have developed is in my attitude. Three attitudes that have worked for me are hope, belief in oneself, and never stop trying or never quit. The sense of Hope that change will occur is one of the cornerstones to mental wellness. In exercising hope, we paralyze the feelings of despair and hopelessness that breed mental distress. For example, you must believe that your situation is never permanent, and that things will get better. This sense of hope will activate action and generate positive energy around your circumstances. The next two attitudes overlap because when you believe in yourself, you will never quit but keep on persevering even when the odds are against you.

The second habit: develop your learning style and use it to learn and grow. Own your education and pursue knowledge. Read a book regularly and reflect on the new knowledge and how you will apply such knowledge to better yourself. Keep asking yourself the question, am I better off this week than I was last week? And how can I improve on the growth I attained last week or last month?

Lastly, the third habit is to forgive yourself and others. Acknowledge that no one is perfect, and we all make mistakes. So forgive others and do not allow bitterness to overwhelm you. Then forgive yourself when you fall short, and start over as often as is necessary. Sometimes in my reflections, I encounter something in my past that points out a particular failure or shortcoming. Since I cannot go back to correct this, I make the decision to forgive myself and move forward. If you can forgive others, you can forgive yourself too.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I start my day off in meditation. This can take the form of sitting still and breathing in deeply while exhaling through the mouth. I would also moderate this meditation with inspirational music that uplifts the spirit. I will end this regimen in prayer. This equips me to face the beauty and challenges that may emerge throughout the day.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

It is important to understand the interconnections of the body, the spirit, and the mind — and that all three must be nurtured. If you are just starting on a physical health journey, start slowly. Make it a regular practice to stretch. I find that when I stretch, it allows me to climb stairs easier and causes me to transition into my exercise routine.

Do not forget the importance of exercise. Start small and increase the routine and repetitions. During the onset of COVID-19, I cancelled my gym membership. I allowed myself to get out of shape and thought that having the equipment at home would inspire a regular workout. It did not. When I realized that I was easily winded and out of breath while doing simple household chores, I decided to own my body’s health and start over. Utilizing small increments of physical activity, my cardiovascular health improved, and I felt better about myself.

I love nature. My walks are my personal time to give myself some pep-talk as well as admire the beauty of nature while simultaneously building up muscles and increasing the capacity of my lungs. If I am unable to go to a specific location or visit the park, I take a walk around my neighborhood, moderating the pace or keeping a regular rhythmic pace.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

We all have memory cells that remind us of the delights of sweet sugary treats. It is difficult to replace these memories with intellectual arguments about healthy eating. However, behaviors that are repeated often become habitual, so I make it a regular occurrence to eat a balanced meal. Remember that you eat with your eyes too, so I add color and mix my vegetables with fruits. That way, in one bite, I am enjoying the mystery of a mouthful of tantalizing tastes.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Self- care is important and should not be an afterthought. Develop a self-care contract that you will stick to and one that involves components of self-love and pampering. Begin with, “I promise myself that I will…” and complete the sentence with something that is practical and can easily be accomplished.

Remember that saying “No” is your choice. Do not always believe that you are the solution to everyone’s problems. Say “No” when necessary and do not allow yourself to feel bad about saying it.

Begin journaling your thoughts and do so daily. Your journal may become the basis for a book idea. But most importantly, it shows how you have evolved over time.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

I tend to smile often. Not only is it infectious, but it is difficult to frown and smile at the same time. Therefore, it also causes you to relax. Research has shown that smiling elevates one’s mood. It releases endorphins and serotonin.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Gratitude is an important component of spiritual wellness. It allows us to be thankful and minimizes negative thoughts. Gratitude is a trait you can indulge in no matter your status in life.

Additionally, I want to emphasize the benefit of praying regularly. This habit keeps you humble, peaceful and instills hope.

Moreover, it is important not to focus on the negative, but to see the best in each situation and have faith that things will get better.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

It is difficult to experience the beauty of nature and remain unchanged. Nature has a calming effect on one’s emotion. Moreover, don’t just take a nature experience for granted. Feel grateful that you are alive.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We see so much pain and indifference in the world. If I could inspire a movement, it would be the “LOVE” movement. Everyone has the need to be loved. I wish we would love others the same way we wish others to love us. This expression of love would impact our attitudes and actions towards others. This may sound like an old cliché, but just imagine a world governed by the principle of love: there would be a reduction in selfishness, hate, crime, and the emotional price many are paying for negative relatedness with others. This ideal can begin with a commitment to love those in your environment, and then extend to loving those with whom you interact. See love as a commitment to the right belief and attitude towards self and others that can be demonstrated with words and deeds.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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