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14 Ways to Improve Mental Health During the World’s Biggest Psychological Experiment

Try to stay mindful, fully present in the here-and-now, and enjoy the silence. For this, too, will pass.

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What we were warned about but turned a blind eye to and did not expect in the Western world to this extent, happened: we found ourselves in the midst of a pandemic.

Social distancing, quarantine and hygienic practices are essential behavioural methods in such times to reduce spreading of the new virus and mortality. But these precautionary measures, whether imposed or consciously chosen to protect ourselves and the persons at risk against the coronavirus, could be challenging for us humans as we are social beings. They can be particularly tough to those who are prone to anxiety and depression. 

Still, solitude should not mean loneliness and has also its positive sides. Here is some practical advice on how to cope with the challenges we may face during quarantine or a lockdown and what we can proactively do for our mental health. In the present distress, some of these things we used to take for granted might sink into oblivion. 

  • Follow recommendations for protecting yourself.
  • Stop following every news on the virus. Read only serious, respected media, arrange a limited time for that and stick to it.
  • Stay in touch with your loved ones and friends via telephone and virtual forms of communication. 
  • Avoid making major life decisions as far as possible. This is not the right time for that: too much unpredictability and uncertainty for the long-term future, too many emotions might mislead you and cause problems in the future.
  • Clean up your home place: cleaning up your living space has an effect of cleaning up and sorting out your mind and soul. You could certainly find a wardrobe, a box or a bookshelf you’ve always wanted to sort out or rearrange but never got around to it. Now it’s a good time to do that.
  • Exercise every day. Physical health plays a major role in maintaining good mental health. Exercise releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood and reduce stress and the symptoms of anxiety and depression. You may try yoga (five simple but very effective exercises that activate your whole body – and mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71jaJu0dc98) or put on some rhythmic music and dance (simple movements that are fun and very effective, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p1ubjp_VtA. For the fans of Latin music and dance among us, there is a wonderful way to dance alone, too: try salsa suelta, a solo form of Cuban salsa. It will not only bring in motion your whole body, but boost your energy, mood and zest for life. More on salsa suelta with a great video: http://www.mivida.com.au/portfolio/salsa-suelta/. As my research shows, dance improves health and wellbeing and is an effective stress coping mechanism.
  • Try some further forms of creative arts, they are powerful in stress reduction. There is lots of evidence that making art significantly lowers stress-related hormone cortisol. Art-making is being experienced as relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of self, and freeing from constraints. As Picasso said: “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” Besides dancing, it could be painting, drawing, playing piano or some other instrument. But also pottery, baking and knitting are very creative and relaxing activities that additionally involve tactile sensations, important in countering loneliness. 
  • If you have indoor plants, a balcony or a terrace, you might engage into some kind of gardening and reconcile with nature. Gardening has a positive effect on our mental health, which includes relaxation, positive feelings, staying in the present moment, coping with difficult emotions, and feeling in control. Spending some time in the sun boosts your vitamin D balance which is important for maintaining healthy bones.
  • Keep a diary. Writing down your feelings and thoughts may help sort them out and calm down. You may even want to try poetry writing – you never know what hidden talents you may have.
  • Try relaxation techniques like meditation, diaphragmatic breathing or progressive muscle relaxation: tightening an individual muscle group, holding it for a while and then relaxing it.
  • As our mind and body are deeply interconnected, eat healthy: choose nutrition rich foods, especially those that strengthen your immune system. Food supplements like L-arginine and reishi mushroom would additionally boost your immune system. 
  • Get enough sleep. Good sleep is crucial for countering anxious and depressive mood and overall for good mental and physical health. Try to wake up and go to bed at more or less the same time and get at least 8 hours of sleep. Don’t look at your phone or tablet (which you are hopefully disinfecting regularly) at least an hour before going to bed, don’t read, listen or watch any news. Read a good, relaxing book instead. Make power naps in the afternoons. 
  • All that being said, maintain daily routine. Make a schedule and try to stick to it.
  • But first and foremost – try to live in the moment and enjoy whatever you do, also if it’s just doing nothing. You don’t have to achieve anything nor prove yourself. You are ok as you are. 

We are living in trying times, which to a considerable degree are brought about by ourselves. A number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19 to arise. Nobody knows when we’ll return to “normality” and what kind of “normality” it will be. But all things pass and this pandemic will pass, too, even if in the long term we most probably will often deal with the outbreaks of infectious diseases. Let’s take it as an opportunity to learn out of it and reflect. We took lots of things for granted and learn to appreciate and cherish them now. In our rush for achievement, we forgot to pay attention – to these small but important things, to our environment, to those around us, to ourselves.

Try to stay mindful, fully present in the here-and-now, and enjoy the silence. For this, too, will pass. 

Natalia Braun, MSc Psych

[email protected]

www.y-coaching.org 


Natalia Braun, MSc in Psychology from the University of Derby, UK, member of The British Psychological Society (BPS, MBPsS), Certified Assessor BPS TUOA & TUOP, Certified Professional Coach, Certified Gestalt Coach. Member of the American Psychological Association (APA, International Affiliate), APA’s Society for Qualitative Inquiry in Psychology (SQIP) and International Society of Critical Health Psychology (ISCHP). Natalia spent over two decades in journalism, human resources and change & communications management in international companies before transitioning into professional psychology. She lives in Switzerland and provides applied psychological services in her private practice along with continuing engagement in research, dance and embodiment. 

Health

New Study Suggests Binge Drinking Could Damage Brain And Cause Lasting Anxiety

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(TMU) – A recent study suggests that binge drinking alcohol could seriously damage the brain in ways that increase the risk of cognitive-behavioral issues like anxiety.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Porto, found that just ten days of binge drinking cause immune cells in the brain to destroy connections between neurons, which leads to anxiety and other mental health issues.

It is important to note that these were not human studies, as the test subjects were mice, but these types of experiments typically give significant insight into how different substances affect the brains of humans.

Study co-author João Relvas, told Inverse that, [We] don’t have any reason to believe that the same mechanisms will not be operating in the human brain. Even for a short period of time, excessive drinking is likely to affect the brain, increasing the level of anxiety, a relevant feature in alcohol abuse and addiction.”

“The dangers of alcohol drinking, especially amongst the younger population, have been widely underestimated and excessive alcohol drinking is socially relatively well tolerated. Increasing public awareness and education of the young can, together with other measures, change the way society looks at alcohol intake,” Relvas added.

In the study, the researchers broke the mice off into two groups. One group was given alcohol over a 10 day time period, while the other group was not. Half of the mice were given 1.5 grams per kilogram of ethyl alcohol each day, which is the equivalent of five drinks for an adult human that weighs 165 pounds.

After 10 days, the researchers looked at the mice’s brain tissue and found that the mice who consumed alcohol had significant damage to the area of the brain that controls complex cognition and decision making, which resulted in increased anxiety.

The researchers also determined the process that caused this damage in the brain. They believe that alcohol boosts the production of an inflammatory molecule called TNF.

In further experiments, they used a drug called pomalidomide to block TNF and found that it prevented anxiety and reduced the impact that the alcohol had on the brain.

The symptoms are “ultimately driven by increased secretion of TNF by microglia, as we show that reducing its production either pharmacologically or genetically can prevent synapse loss and anxiety,” Relvas says.

Relvas also said that this drug could potentially be used to treat alcohol addiction.

“This study suggests that regulating the levels of TNF might eventually be useful when treating alcohol addiction,” he said.

However, the team does not recommend that anyone use TNF inhibitors while binge drinking, because further studies need to be done to confirm the safety and efficacy of the drugs for the purpose.

Furthermore, TNF inhibitors would not prevent any of the other damage that alcohol can do to the rest of the body.

“Alcohol abuse is a leading cause of disease with a massive impact on human life and should be treated as so,” Relvas says.

His team’s findings were published earlier this month in the journal Science Signaling.

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Bizarre

Otherwise healthy man suddenly dies from overdose of Black Licorice candy

Elias Marat

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(TMU) – In a tragic and unpredictable turn of events, a 54-year-old man in Massachusetts died after his heart stopped beating from eating too much black licorice candy. The man’s sudden death at a McDonald’s in 2019 had doctors clueless, and became the focus of a study by senior medical researchers.

We all have our guilty pleasures and vices: it could be that we like to butter our toast on both sides, drink a pot of coffee daily, snack on moonshine cherries, or the common problem of compulsive eating as we sit in front of the TV. And no doubt, these vices do carry a health cost – but the cost of this man’s black licorice habit turned out to be far beyond anything imaginable.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the 54-year-old man didn’t have a history of heart problems. His doctors attested that he regularly took his dog out on walks and was fit enough to meet the physical demands of his job as a construction worker.

However, his relative fitness wasn’t enough to contend with his fatal habit of consuming one to two large bags of black licorice every day for three weeks – a problem which, without any warning, had a massively detrimental impact on his health.

According to the report, the habit resulted in a precipitous drop in his potassium levels, causing his sudden heart failure at the McDonald’s. After suffering cardiac arrest and collapsing, the man never regained consciousness and died 24 hours after arriving at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We almost didn’t believe it when we figured it out,” Dr. Jacqueline B. Henson, who treated the man while she worked at the hospital, told New York Times. “We were all shocked and surprised.”

Doctors soon discovered that the man had a generally poor diet and consumed at least a pack of cigarettes a day, according to friends and family. Yet none of those factors could explain his death. As it turned out, his death could be traced to his sudden switch from red to black licorice three weeks prior to his death.

Officials of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have announced that consuming two ounces of black licorice for 12 days can result in an irregular heart rhythm or arrhythmia for people aged 40 and over, as well as high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy, and congestive heart failure.

Medical practitioners are generally taught that black licorice contains glycyrrhizic acid, a common plant extract used to sweeten candies and other foods that can dangerously reduce potassium levels when consumed in high doses.

The ingredient is also common in other foods and drinks that contain licorice root, such as jelly beans, licorice tea, certain types of chewing gum, popular anise liquors like ouzo, raki, arak, and anisette, and a number of Belgian beers. Sweet-flavored chewing tobaccos also commonly contain licorice.

However, overconsuming these products cause our potassium levels to plunge, throwing off the balance of sodium and potassium that’s necessary for a healthy functioning heart. When our potassium levels drop, sodium levels skyrocket – resulting in arrhythmia and boosting our blood pressure.

The Massachusetts case, however, is an extreme one and far from the norm, noted Dr. Henson, who said that the occasional licorice treat shouldn’t be confused with poison.

“It’s fine taken in sort of small amounts, infrequently,” Henson said. “But when taken on a regular basis, it can lead to these issues.”

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Consciousness

Ann Arbor becomes latest city to decriminalize “magic” mushrooms and other natural psychedelics

Elias Marat

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(TMU) – The city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, has effectively decriminalized psilocybin or “magic” mushrooms along with other natural psychedelics in the latest sign that public opinion across the U.S. is continuing to turn against prohibitionist policies.

On Monday, the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously voted in favor of a resolution that would make it the city’s lowest-ranked law enforcement priority to the investigate or arrest anyone planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, using or possessing entheogenic plants or plant compounds.

The resolution applies to all psychedelics derived from plants and fungi, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, ibogaine, mescaline, peyote and other substances with hallucinogenic properties deemed illegal under state and federal law.

The council also requires the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office to halt the prosecution of those involved in the use of entheogenic plants and plant compounds.

Ann Arbor now joins a growing list of cities including Denver, Colorado, and the California cities of Santa Cruz and Oakland that have decriminalized all entheogenic plants. Other cities including Chicago and Austin are considering similar measures. A ballot measure that would legalize the use of psilocybin in therapeutic settings will also be voted on in the state of Oregon this November.

The move to de-prioritize law enforcement around psychedelics was spearheaded by the efforts of local grassroots advocacy group Decriminalize Nature Ann Arbor, or DNA2.

At the beginning of the year, councilmembers were skeptical about any move to decriminalize psychedelics. Since then, they’ve found themselves convinced by evidence of the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of psychedelics, including for mental health treatment and treating addiction, reports MLive.

Councilmember Zachary Ackerman cited the opening of a $17 million psychedelic and consciousness research center by Johns Hopkins Medicine as proof of “the tremendous potential of these future medicines.” The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore is currently conducting clinical trials to find out whether the drug is suitable as a prescription drug for the U.S. market.

Councilmember Jack Eaton described the council’s unanimous backing for the decriminalization resolution as carrying on the city’s legacy of backing the local decriminalization of m******** during the 1970s, when the plant was still illegal under state and federal law.

The resolution doesn’t allow for the commission of crimes or any significant violation of state or federal law, and any use of entheogenic substances that pose a threat to public health and safety could require intervention by law enforcement bodies.

In the resolution, entheogenic plants are defined as the full spectrum of plants and fungi that contain indole amines, tryptamines and phenethylamines “that can benefit psychological and physical wellness, support and enhance religious and spiritual practices, and can reestablish human’s inalienable and direct relationship to nature.”

The resolution also states that psychedelic substances can be used to address substance abuse problems, addiction, recidivism, trauma, post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, grief, cluster headaches and other debilitating conditions.

“The use of entheogenic plants, which can catalyze profound experiences of personal and spiritual growth, have been shown by scientific and clinical studies and traditional practices to be beneficial to the health and well-being of individuals and communities in addressing these conditions,” it states.

Psilocybin mushrooms are currently considered a Schedule 1 narcotic by the Drug Enforcement Agency.

However, psilocybin – the main chemical component of the mushrooms – was designated as a “breakthrough therapy” by the FDA in 2019 due to the positive results of psilocybin in treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and other mental health problems.

Studies have also shown how a microdose of psilocybin—far from the level needed for a full-blown trip—actually increases the creativity and empathy of participants.

Other researchers have also found that psilocybin has provided effective help to patients struggling to quit other addictive substances such as cigarettes.

The newfound recognition of psilocybin therapy as a valid treatment has eroded old stereotypes of psilocybin as some intoxicating and hallucination-inducing party drug that drives its users insane – a reputation that largely grew out of the hippie counterculture of the 1960s when they were widely known as “psychedelic” or “magic” mushrooms.

The resolution further notes that entheogenic plants have been the basis of spiritual practices by human cultures for thousands of years, yet those who seek them for the sake of improving their health and wellbeing must risk arrest and prosecution to obtain them.

“Decriminalization of naturally occurring medicines is necessary for progress,” councilmember Jeff Hayner said in a press release from DNA2 last week, reports Detroit Metro Times. “We can no longer turn a blind eye towards the wisdom of indigenous peoples, and the bounty the earth provides. I have been moved by the testimonies of those who have found profound relief from the use of entheogenic plants.”

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