Preparing for the Finish Line

The COVID-19 mental health marathon could be the toughest of our lives

We’re not going to sugarcoat it: This pandemic has been disastrous.

We’ve lost loved ones to COVID-19. We know people who are battling the disease and enduring its effects. We fear for our own health and safety every time we step outside our doors and into another. We argue about wearing masks. We struggle with the decision to send our kids back to school and lose sleep about household bankruptcy. We fight with our spouses, family members, friends, kids and loved ones over big and little grievances because We. Are. Over. It.

But it is not over.

So, what can we do? We can … Breathe. Journal. Acknowledge grief. We can be grateful. Embrace nature. Sleep. Laugh.

This 17th edition of èBella èXtra addresses the human condition in just eight articles.

We can’t fix the mental health marathon we’re all running, but we offer perspectives to inspire and empower you to regain a stronger sense of self and society in these awkward and troubling times.

We believe we are equipped to run this race through to the finish line.

We hope you know you are not alone.

We trust you will care for yourselves in body, mind and spirit.

We wish you well.


in this issue


Reclaiming Your Happiness

Six practices to override the brain’s tendency to resist change

Americans are unhappier than they have been in a long time. According to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, some 23% of Americans polled in late May said they feel less than happy — the highest percentage reported since 1972. That’s an almost 50-year low. As the public grapples with the fear, grief and other emotions that characterize our response to COVID-19, it feels like we’re heading into another “Great Depression” — literally.

So, is it possible to be happy in a pandemic? Karen McGregor, author of “The Tao of Influence: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Leaders and Entrepreneurs,” says it is. Even in a world where misery has gone viral, we can train our minds to be happy, but it’s going to take work.


No. 2 - Move your body to “reset” your mind

McGregor says the reason we get fixated on a thought is that we don’t have the discipline to move away from it, so moving your body makes this practice easier. As soon as you have the thought, reposition your body, get up, go and look at something completely different, and allow your thoughts to move on to another topic. Your mind will follow your body if you let it.


No. 3 - Breathe

As you move, take full, deep breaths and notice what is around you. Focus on something relatively neutral, like a favorite chair or plant. Continue to fill your body with breath, reminding yourself to be present to your breath, feeling it come in and out of your body. Imagine breathing in all the goodness of life and breathing out the process of letting go of thoughts and the stress that comes with those thoughts.


No. 4 - Take 10 minutes a day to connect with your inner child

Your inner child often holds onto the original wound that led you to live in your chaotic and stress-filled mind, with thoughts that are trying their best to protect you and keep you safe from unhelpful beliefs created in your formative years (usually around 5 to 7 years old).


Talk to your inner child, instructs McGregor. Get to know what it is that the child is asking for or needs. Perhaps it’s for you to be gentle on yourself, or love and appreciate yourself more. Perhaps you are not standing up for what you really want in life, so the child is feeling angry or betrayed. Perhaps you are living in a lie and want to come back to the truth of who you are, and your child is deeply hurt by your lack of action toward what you know to be your truth.

“Whatever it is, assure the child that you — the adult — will take care of what is needed to come back to and honor self,” says McGregor. “And then do some small or large action toward fulfilling that promise, as soon as possible.”

No. 5 - Eat living, plant-based foods

“The energy contained in living foods supports a joyful, calm being, while dead foods and/or excessive animal products and highly processed foods often contribute to feelings of sadness and irritation,” says McGregor. “When you grocery shop, try buying 80% fruits and vegetables. When you eat out, try choosing meals that are veggie-forward.”

No. 6 - Set yourself a 10-day challenge that solidifies your new calm and joyful state of being

It could look like this: No complaining for 10 days, and no blaming anyone or anything for 10 days. Replace the complaining and blaming with gratitude. Or try a healthy risk challenge: For 10 days, step outside your comfort zone, lean into your intuition, and take risks that move your life and business in a positive direction. Journal each of the 10 days, reflecting on insights and lessons learned.

“When you become serious about getting to a state of calm and joy, you will take every opportunity to do these six practices,” concludes McGregor. “Ignore your mind if it wants to keep you safe in your old ways that are based in fear. Simply acknowledge the thoughts that resist the above practices, knowing that the more you release and let go, the closer you are to true freedom from the traps that keep you in stress and unhappiness.”


Karen McGregor is the author of the much-anticipated book, “The Tao of Influence: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Leaders and Entrepreneurs.” She has shared her message on stage with Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, John Gray and David Wolfe. Learn more at www.karenmcgregor.com.

Deliberate Intention

Three crucial steps to making good decisions in challenging times

by Brant Menswar

The emotional tornadoes caused by Covid-19 have made it incredibly challenging for all of us.

Should we send our kids back to school?

How are we going to stay afloat financially?

Is it safe to visit a doctor’s office?

These are some of the difficult questions we ask ourselves daily. Is there even a “good” decision to be made during these times? What is a “good” decision, and how do you know when you’ve made one?

If you are like thousands of people whom I’ve asked that question over the last year, your answer will be based on some sort of outcome:

“The results are there!”

“People are happy with the decision.”

“No one got hurt!”

Using an outcome to justify whether a decision is good or bad is something behavioral scientists call “outcome bias.” This is a dangerous and uninformed practice for one simple reason: You can’t control outcomes.

Unless your name is Gandalf or Glinda, you don’t have that kind of power. All you can control is the deliberate intention that goes into your decision-making. Once the decision is made, it’s out of your hands.


Three Steps to Good Decisions

To make a good decision, you must do three things:

  1. Account for your core values (your non-negotiables).

  2. Consider all the facts.

  3. Honor your feelings in the moment.


The uncomfortable truth is that most of us have no idea what our non-negotiables are. These are deeply held personal core values that simply will not be influenced or changed by outside forces. We must first define our non-negotiables.

The second step requires you to consider all the facts you can get your hands on. Sometimes the “truth in the room” doesn’t give you a full picture of what’s possible. Expand your search of trusted information.


The last step is about honoring what you are feeling in the moment. If you don’t acknowledge your feelings, they can have the strength of Hercules, the bad judgment of a crack addict and the stability of North Korea. Allowing your emotions to lead the decision-making process can be dangerous!

There has never been a more important time to define what matters most. Take some time to discover your non-negotiables. You must act with deliberate intention if good decisions are to be made.


Brant Menswar is the CEO/founder of Rock Star Impact, a boutique agency that addresses values-based leadership. His newest book, Black Sheep, to be released Sept. 29, is available through major booksellers.


Helping People Stay the Course

Peer recovery coaches empathize through experience

by Julia Browning

If recovering from substance use disorder is imagined as a road, people like Deb Lewis can be envisioned as the person holding the map, directing people to stay on course.

A peer recovery coach supports someone who is recovering from mental and/or substance use disorders, such as alcohol and drug addiction. They provide talk therapy, teach coping skills and share healing modalities. But the main thing they offer is their own experience, because peer recovery coaches are also in recovery, along with their clients.

The position is relatively new to the mental health community, following research that demonstrated the benefit to people in recovery who learn from someone who has already been there.

“The first time I heard the definition of peer recovery coach, I knew that was who I am,” says Deb Lewis about applying for the position at David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health.

Lewis made her dream job a reality.

“People who are dealing with substance use disorder issues really relate to (peer recovery coaches),” she says. “We’re able to connect to them in a different way.”

Lewis and her co-workers remind their clients of who they could be if they stay on the road to recovery. She sees this as another way to help end the negative stigma toward addiction — people in recovery have a lot to offer the mental health community and the world at large.

IMG_7157-Deb Lewis.jpg

Deb Lewis

“Hopefully, the world will start to realize that we’re a new part of society,” Lewis says. “It’s not a shameful thing. It’s something that happens to people. And people recover. And they can be a powerful part of the solution.”

“Her positive attitude is an inspiration to us all,” says Lewis’ supervisor, Maggie Baldwin, clinical director of Crossroads recovery programs. “I feel like I learn something from Deb every day.”

A First in August

Baker Museum reopens for community first responders and Friends of Artis—Naples

007-IW06 - Roberto Montenegro, Nina sent

100 Iconic Works from the Permanent Collection

Roberto Montenegro (Mexican, 1885-1968)

Niña sentada (Seated Girl), 1958 - Oil on canvas - 30 x 26 inches - Artis—Naples, The Baker Museum. 2002.2.039. Gift of Harry Pollak.

Artis—Naples recently reopened The Baker Museum for guided tours to community first responders and its Friends of Artis—Naples.

Kathleen van Bergen, CEO and president of Artis—Naples, said that opening the museum in August — the first time in its history that it has been open during that month — is a way of thanking first responders and Artis—Naples donors for their support, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, noting the “healing power of art.”

Artis─Naples docents and Director of Curatorial Affairs Rangsook Yoon will give tours of two current exhibitions from The Baker Museum holdings: “100 Iconic Works from the Permanent Collection” and “Subject Matters.”

Those who are not yet Friends of Artis—Naples can join online to become eligible for tour registration.

First responders and Friends of Artis—Naples need to reserve tour tickets in advance (with a limit of two), and will be required to sign a liability and COVID-19 exposure form. Guests will also be required to observe social distancing, wear face masks and have their temperatures checked upon entry.

First responders and Friends of Artis—Naples can register online at www.artisnaples.org or by calling 239-597-1900.


What’s Your Royal Name?

  1. Lord or Lady

  2. Your pet’s name

  3. The last thing you ate

  4. Add “of”

  5. The last place you shopped


Example: a woman’s pet is Baxter. The last thing she ate was tofu. And the last place she shopped was online at Wayfair. She would be Lady Baxter Tofu of Wayfair.

Share the fun at the dinner table, on social media or your next Zoom call.

Laughter, after all, is the best medicine!


Making it through the Marathon

Naples mental health counselor offers coping skills as pandemic persists

by Julia Browning

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are experiencing mental health issues, many for the first time. And as the pandemic nears the seventh-month mark, it’s clear this challenge isn’t a road race. It’s a marathon. That’s why it’s important to develop the skills necessary to get to the finish line.

Since the pandemic began, Mental Health America reported a 250,000-person increase in those who screened positive for anxiety and depression. As the pandemic wears on, that number is expected to rise.

We asked Kathy Feinstein, a licensed mental health counselor practicing in Naples, to help us all get through this marathon mentally intact. Here are some practices she suggests.

Coping Skills for Anxiety and Depression Caused by the Pandemic

The first thing to do is stay connected. We need to exercise social distancing to stay safe, but do not confuse that with social isolation. Stay connected with others any way you can. Call family and friends. Offer to help other people. Ask for help when you need it.

Set boundaries around what you talk about. With family and friends, there’s so much talk about the virus and the political climate and everything going on with racial unrest. That, a lot of times, creates anxiety. So, it can be helpful to set boundaries about what you want to talk about.

Set boundaries around how much news you’re taking in about the virus. You can get an overload of information, which can take over your thinking. What you think determines how you feel (and) how you feel determines what you do.

Maintain your routine. Especially if you’re working from home, it’s easy to not get out of your sweatpants. However, it’s important to stick with your routine. Get up, move your body, take a shower, make your bed — do the things you would typically do.

Get outside. There is something really healing about being in nature. Move your body, go for a walk or just be outside.

Prioritize sleep. Sleep is really underrated. When you’re not sleeping well, everything is worse.

Practice mindfulness. Anxiety, in particular, is all about things in the future. It’s the “what ifs.” We find ourselves thinking, “What if I get the virus? What if someone I know gets the virus? What if I never get to leave my house?” These things can create a lot of anxiety.


When you find yourself in that future, reel yourself back to the present. Practice mindfulness through meditation or being in the moment with one of your five senses.

Stay connected to your spiritual community. If you’re typically in touch with a spiritual community or you’re a faithful person, you can derive a lot of comfort from that.

Practice gratitude. Resilience is really all about being flexible and adapting to adversity. People who practice gratitude are very resilient. Having a gratitude practice is also a great intervention for depression. So, implement a gratitude practice into your routine.

If You are Newly Struggling with Mental Health

Be gentle with yourself and know that you’re not alone. Particularly if an emotion is something that’s new, we have the tendency to judge ourselves for feeling that particular way. Instead, just be gentle with yourself.

Use this Time to Reach your Greatest Potential

Think about the opportunities that exist when you’re at home. This is a great time to learn a new skill. Ten years from now, how do you want to look back on this time?

Thinking about that helps you set goals and have a purpose to pursue. It could be as simple as increasing your fitness level or having a project at home with the family. Define a purpose and set some goals for this time to keep you intentional in what you’re doing.

Kathy Feinstein is a licensed mental health counselor and certified sport performance consultant. Since 1998, her unique practice has empowered adolescents, adults, couples, families and teams to achieve greater satisfaction in sport, health and life.

Getting through Grief

NCH-sponsored webinar series helps people navigate grief in light of COVID-19


More than 170,000 people in the U.S. have lost their lives to COVID-19. Whether you have experienced personal loss, witnessed related deaths as a health care worker, or are feeling grief from a lost job, personal dream — or even the loss of life as you knew and expected it to be — grief counseling is extremely helpful.

That’s why NCH Healthcare System’s Department of Spiritual Care is sponsoring a free webinar series to help people cope with grief and loss.


The series, offered by Loving Spirit, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people navigate loss, was launched in June and includes six one-hour sessions that are accessible on all devices.

“There are many challenges our staff members experience as a result of the visitor restrictions that are in place to protect our community and our patients,” says Director of Spiritual Care Rev. Jennie Thomas. “These challenges are not just felt by our staff, but by the patients and their families, as well. My hope is that this workshop will be a source of healing for our employees and our community.”

Grief is most often associated with death, but people all over the world are grieving the loss of the lives they thought they would be living, include seeing friends, traveling and spending time with family.

“Social distancing is important to helping reduce the number of people infected and affected by COVID-19,” Thomas says. “Our chaplains have spoken with many people who are struggling with the grief of being isolated.”

To learn more and register, visit www.LovingSpiritWebinar.com.


Managing Stress with Multiple Sclerosis

MS Center of SWFL revs up mental health resources in response to COVID-19

by Julia Browning


With compromised immune systems, people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) are understandably fearful of contracting COVID-19.

The increased stress and anxiety brought on by the pandemic can exacerbate MS symptoms, says Kay Jasso, executive director of MS Center of Southwest Florida. Because of that, and in addition to moving exercise classes online, Jasso has added monthly facilitated support groups and revved up existing mental health services with the help of a grant from the Community Foundation of Collier County.

Today, the MS Center offers its members one-on-one meetings with a licensed mental health counselor.

“New people are coming into counseling who are having trouble managing this isolation and the fear of becoming ill,” Jasso says. “Our counselors are providing coping skills for the clients and giving them exercises they can practice that can help them manage their stress levels.”

When COVID-19 first hit the area, Jasso and her team worked quickly to get exercise classes online, knowing what a vital resource it was for clients who attend the classes religiously.

Now, the classes have an even higher attendance rate. Being streamed over Zoom makes them more accessible.

The classes provide more than just a workout. MS patients are at high risk for mobility and balance issues, with many having to use canes or walkers as the disease progresses. Exercises specifically formulated for their condition help prevent or even reverse symptoms.

But Jasso found that during the Zoom classes, the women — who have become friends through shared experiences and past meetings at the center —longed to catch up with one another and talk about their experiences. While the instructor urged them to focus on the task at hand, an idea was born in Jasso’s mind, and the support groups via Zoom were created.

“This is their opportunity to talk about a range of issues — not just MS, but the fear people are experiencing and social distancing during COVID,” Jasso says. 

To help clients meet their basic needs like food and health care, the center has also added a case management aspect for its new and existing clients.

“We’re here for a lot of different reasons — not just exercise, but to help people manage their everyday lives,” Jasso says.

“It’s important for national organizations like the MS Society to focus on research and finding a cure. But it’s also important to help people manage their everyday struggles. We are here for those individuals in Southwest Florida.”

To learn more visit www.MSCenterSwfl.org.

“Science has proven that our thoughts manifest our reality. Most of us understand this on some level, yet the mind inherently resists changing the thoughts that make us fearful and depressed,” says McGregor, whose TEDx Talk on the subject has been viewed by over a million people.

She says the mind’s nature is to keep us safe at all costs. This is why it’s hard to tear ourselves away from media coverage of rising infection rates, spiraling economic markers and other “bad news” stories — not to mention social media conversations that offer up scary interpretations of what’s happening and predictions on how terrible the future is going to be.

Here’s the problem: Not only will all of our negative obsessing not change the world; it drains all joy from the moment. Only when we can deal with the mind’s resistance to change will we be able to experience more happiness. 

Here are six tips to help you find happiness — even in a pandemic.

No. 1 - Don’t resist or analyze your fear-based thoughts

“Don’t aim for only positive thoughts, or become frustrated because your thoughts are negative,” says McGregor. “Do not make any of it mean anything about you or anyone else. Simply let the thoughts go. Resistance only creates more of what you don’t want.”