Mental health


Mental health

I have to admit: things seem to be getting crazy from more angles than we expected: after 2 years of pandemic and the anxieties it brought with it – social distancing for physical health reasons, face mask, fear of getting sick, and eventually experiencing the disease that causes neuro-psychological effects which we will not cover here, we are now facing with a war in a neighboring country, an event that presses us due to its neighboring uncertainty and its explicit images with “a strong emotional impact” almost daily. And when we manage to detach and get back to work, we realize that not even our work is valued as it used to be due to the inflation spike. And if on top of everything, you add global instability, nuclear threats, and global warming, then you have the “perfect combination” for a steady decline in mental health and physical health later on. If you feel that all the above affect you, you’d better know we are not alone (including myself). In a recent survey, more than 80% of Americans said they were severely affected by these uncertainties that were initially felt like major stress.


Now let's talk about how we can keep our calm and balance in a world that seems out of control.


How can you actually tell you have a problem?
The American Psychological Association confirms that the negative trend of mental and physical health grows deeper due to the current global changes mentioned above: less physical activity than before the pandemic and less than you would want (which means a constant lack of motivation ), weight gain, drinking alcohol to cope with stress.


What else tells you you're not okay?


• Frequent and disturbing mood swings


• Lack of energy to do ordinary things


• A constant state of pressure without a real reason


• Low self-esteem


• Sleep disorders, constant drowsiness


• Eating disorders: extreme lack of appetite or unhealthy pattern, binge eating in the evening



If the above sound familiar to you, then keep reading.

I will describe next some methods you can follow to connect with yourself and get back to a state of balance in the current circumstances, keeping your calm and physical and mental health. The advice is related to the protective factors reported in the study conducted by the “Panel for the Future of Science and Technology” within the European Parliament.




1. Be honest


Generally, when we reach a state where a mental disorder such as anxiety is triggered we resort to barbaric techniques. We are scared, perhaps, of the strong emotions and we suppress them, carry on and choose to completely ignore them. Why? Because it hurts. And what do we do to make it painless? We go far, far away where we believe we do not feel. We drink alcohol, we lose ourselves in unproductive activities to forget. The first step to put an end to these human reflexes is to be honest with ourselves: we sit quietly, preferably in the evening, before bed, or in the morning, at sunrise, and find the courage to look into our soul and to recognize what we feel and how we feel. Nothing more, just be honest.


2. Speak up

This means, being honest (point number 1) with someone close to you.


As primates, social relations are our main resource that nurtures our soul and mind, the source of belonging and validation. However, we often misuse them which leads to tiredness. If you build social relationships like I did until recently, to constantly share minor achievements with, to mistakenly validate yourself, and just not be alone, it will become exhausting.

Try to be honest instead, even at the risk of being vulnerable, with someone close to you. The study mentioned above states that strong social relationships and the presence of an empathetic and trustworthy person to talk with and share the difficulties you are going through are important protective factors against mental disorders caused by stressful situations.



3. Purpose and passion


As a comparison, imagine your life is a guitar string. Your life goal is a tension, the path you follow to go from point A to point B — something you don't have but want to have, something you are not but want to be, an obstacle that you overcome, an element that you perfect, a direction, a tension that keeps the string stretched and functional. Get rid of that goal, erase this meaning and the tension will go away and the string will no longer play. This is your purpose, your meaning in every moment. The balance of your mental life lays exactly in this constant tension. A goal may be simple and may seem trivial, but it is something important to you: to always make your bed, run 30 minutes every morning, read 10 pages a day, finish repairing the closet, etc. It's something that puts you in that productive tension. You can find purpose even in those passions you left idling in the corner of your home: learning to play the guitar, “coding”, painting, etc.



4. Keep a diary/a To-do list

Even if they may seem different things, keeping personal lists of productivity and writing in a diary are similar activities with tremendous benefits for your productivity, health, and mental tranquillity. It's up to you if you want to keep a journal independent from your personal lists — the so-called To-do lists — or if you want to mix them both.

Besides checking your daily routine, by doing this daily exercise (writing in the diary) you become an external observer of everything you do, like in the game called Sims where you control your character and make them do what is good for them instead of what they instinctively want.

When I tick the simple things, I give my brain the satisfaction of achievement — even if it's small, it's an achievement — and I basically train it with this exercise by explaining to him: “Look, if you help me tick everything I have on my list, I'll give you the satisfaction of ticking these lists with a short release of dopamine!” It's like throwing a stick to your dog: he runs after it, brings it back to you, and can't wait for you to throw it again.



According to Mayo Clinic's definition, “mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you are and how you feel right now without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided images and other techniques to relax the body and mind and reduce stress.”


The simplest form of mindfulness is being present in the moment. It requires a sustained effort of medium intensity and it can be practiced anywhere. When you go outside, you can focus on the colour of the sky, on how the leaves move into a tree, and how the air invades your lungs. Give up the thoughts that make you worry and project an uncertain future. Try and you will be amazed how difficult it is not to think about what you are going to do today, what you need to buy from the store, and what tasks you have to perform. You don't have to do it for long —try for 3 minutes literally not to think about anything else than the present, the pressure you feel when you sit on the chair or on the couch, the temperature of the air touching your skin, the chirping of birds outside, the noise made by the engine of your car, to the sound of your keyboard.


And last but not least, if you have the privilege to be able to see a psychologist, don't forget to use it. We often do not take into account the benefits of a properly conducted therapy until we manage to sit on that couch and we leave after an hour of therapy more at peace and with new perspectives.



Take care of yourself and make the right choices!

Dr. Mihail Pautov, Specialist, Surgeon