Ruby Wax: \’Mindfulness has proven scientific effects, there\’s empirical evidence it works\’
Ruby Wax‘s career trajectory as comedian-turned-mental health activist is an impressive one.
Although plenty of us have seen celebrities get lost in the world of wellbeing and health fads, Wax has spent the past six years proving her worth as a mental health advocate.
Aside from getting an MSc in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy from Oxford University, she now has three bestselling books about mental health under her belt – and knows what she is talking about.
‘They weren’t teaching witchcraft at Oxford’
Wax, who is a staunch supporter of “inside treatment, then outside treatment,” said that there’s a way of finding out “what is science and snake oil,” when it comes to mental health advice.
Her most favoured mental health technique, mindfulness, has proven scientific effects.
“They weren’t teaching witchcraft at Oxford,” she jokes to i.
“But there’s empirical evidence when it comes to what works and what doesn’t. Mindfulness is like going to the gym. You wouldn’t do it if you didn’t feel the difference.”
The practice, which may have been used by Buddhist monks for thousands of years, has only come into the consciousness of the general public in the past few years – and has proven benefits to dealing with anxiety and depression.
“The practice has the most empirical evidence of dealing with things like anxiety and general health, stress, depression, and buffers our immune system,” she says.
“It’s a way of quickly lowering your cortisol – even after a few sessions of mindfulness, they can see the effect of that. So it is a way of self-regulating. Of course that has impacts too. Once you lower the cortisol, it has effects on your genes, it has effects on your immune system. So it’s some kind of pinball effect, and it has a better effect on your health, mentally and physically.”
Although some might be put off by the religious connotations, Wax says it’s all about exercise.
“It isn’t a white lie or a religious experience. All it is, is a muscle in your brain, and if you do exercise it, it’s easier to focus and pay attention easier. You can get the redness down in your head,” she tells i.
“Yes, you can be more compassionate, because if you’re so out of your own way and not absorbed, and not so caught in your cocoon of self-absorption, it’s easier to listen to other people.”
‘Sometimes it’s just good PR’
In her latest endeavour, No Brainer, Wax meets with leading mental health experts to debunk common misconceptions about mental health.
Traversing monkey breeding colonies to find out whether mental health issues are nature vs nurture, or being subjected to increasing amounts of pain to find out how chronic pain works, Wax is on a path to find out much more about how our minds work – but she isn’t out to convince people.
“There’s enough self-help books. Versions of ‘how to be happy’ could line the equator two times over,” she tells i.
“I can’t convince people. If you think the world is flat, then you just go right on ahead. Some things succeed because of science, some things succeed because it’s good PR,” she adds.
“Before, people just died of old age, and now people are burning out because they think they should look prettier, or they should be richer. The things that are killing us are not life and death. But the media knows how to make us scared,” she says.
Managing stress in the modern world
Although she believes that people have to have some motivation to deal with their mental health (“Figure it out! Go and volunteer!” is her punchy response to dealing with loneliness) she believes we are tasked with more triggering information than we ever have been before.
“Stress about stress is a new concept,” she told i.
“The media likes to get us scared about a volcano 80,000 miles away, and then about the fact that you have to be a stick insect to get a husband. We’re living in a climate of fear, and it’s sort of not our fault,” she explains.
“There’s bigger network of influencers and part of it is we can’t recognise it any more. Now I don’t know why I have FOMO, but I’ve read a lot of magazines about people who do have it, and other things they have but I don’t have. Otherwise, how would I know? Why would I be jealous of a party that’s going on if I didn’t know it was happening?” she says.
What Mental Health Day means this year
But for this year’s Mental Health Day, Wax says conversations aren’t just happening around the mental health epidemic – tangible steps are being taken that will have real-life impact.
“So many things are happening this year,” she says.
“Worldwide governments are now trying to really push it up a step regarding the parity between physical and mental health. People are really taking it seriously now. I think it might change. I’ve seen things changing. People come up to me and go ‘I’ve got yours book, do you mind writing ‘Bipolar Rocks’ in it?
“I’m not saying it feels any better, but we can start eliminating the shame.
“It’s one in four us who are affected and we’re not kidding. You’re not alone. There will be a time when you’ll be able to see a doctor as fast as you can see someone about a heart attack – and it might be in your lifetime. Things are changing. There’s enough people shouting about it,” she adds.
But for those who are struggling, she says that it’s worth taking a belt and braces approach – and knowing that you are not alone.
“Mental illness is lonely. You can’t even get in touch with your own mind, so you can’t connect to anybody else’s. Before we get to loneliness, I say let’s get some money pumped into getting the right medication. We need to go inside, then outside.”
Ruby Wax’s audiobook, No-Brainer, is available to download from today (one credit for Audible members, £13.99 for non-members or free with Audible’s 30-day trial).
This content was originally published here.