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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. 

Environment

Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say

Elias Marat

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With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.

According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.

The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.

The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.

While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.

Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.

“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.

“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.

Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced

However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.

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Health

Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact

Elijah Cohen

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Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.

And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.

Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.

Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.

Death Toll, by Percent of Population

In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.

Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.

The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.

Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.

History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning

While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.

In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.

What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?

Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics

Republished from ZH with permission.

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California Bill Backed by PTSD War Veterans Groups Would Legalize Psychedelics Statewide

Elias Marat

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California could soon decriminalize psychedelics statewide if one legislator’s new bill is passed, marking another step by the Golden State to do away with laws seen by critics as antiquated vestiges of the failed U.S. war on drugs.

On Thursday, Senator Scott Wiener of San Francisco introduced Bill 519, which would comprehensively decriminalize the use of and possession of psychedelics, following the lead of such places as Oakland, Santa Cruz, the District of Columbia, and Oregon, which have all decriminalized the drugs to varying degrees.

Under the proposed law, a range of psychedelic drugs including psilocybin – the hallucinogen in “magic” mushrooms – psilocyn, 3,4-MDMA (also known as molly or ecstasy), LSD, ketamine, DMT, ibogaine, and mescaline would all be decriminalized. Like a previous law passed in 2018 that expunged cannabis-related convictions from the records of Californians, Bill 519 would also wipe clean prior convictions for the use or possession of drugs.

While the comprehensive decriminalization measure would open the door to any sort of use of the drugs, not limited to medical, it would also be tied to measures that endorse the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of psychedelics which have gained increased recognition from health experts and researchers in recent years.

Given the severity of our mental health crisis, we shouldn’t be criminalizing people for using drugs that have shown significant promise in treating mental health conditions,” Wiener said in a statement. “People should be able to seek alternative treatment for diseases like anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and we need to make science-based treatments available to those in need.”

The bill has also been heavily supported by two groups, the Heroic Hearts Project and VETS (Vets Exploring Treatment Solutions), both nonprofit organizations that assist veterans in addressing mental health challenges stemming from trauma, such as PTSD.

The strategy tout the medical benefits of the drugs is one that has been used with success in past efforts by drug policy reform advocates.

“That’s how it worked with cannabis,” Oregonian drug policy reform advocate Anthony Johnson told the Guardian. Johnson helped lead efforts in his state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of basically all illicit drugs through Measure 110, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November.

“It’s definitely a way to help people that need it first and foremost, but also then to educate the public about these substances of how the drug war has been a failed policy and how there is a better approach,” Johnson added.

In the case of Oregon’s Measure 109, which cleared the way for the all-out legalization of psilocybin mushrooms, petitioners highlighted the need to end the prohibition of the substance as a means toward treating mental health challenges through alternative methods.

“Healthcare professionals, veterans, mothers, people struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction and end of life distress, community organizations, and so many others answered to call for a new option to help so many who are suffering,” a coalition of Oregon advocates said in a statement last November following voters’ overwhelming approval of the legal psilocybin therapy bill.

As has been the case in other states, however, the largest obstacle to decriminalization has been law enforcement, who cite concerns over public safety, and the private prison industry which enjoys generous profits from state contracts to incarcerate drug users. However, state Senator Wiener hopes that the testimony of veterans will help convince opponents of the need to shed their preconceptions and biases toward users of psychedelic drugs.

“There’s a stereotype of who’s using psychedelics, but it’s much broader than that and when you have veterans coming into the Capitol talking about how psychedelics help them with PTSD and help them get their lives back, that’s incredibly powerful for legislators,” Wiener explained.

Among those veterans is 38-year-old veteran Juliana Mercer, who spent 16 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including 10 years of active duty service over the course of one tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

As a four-year member of the wounded warriors unit, Mercer saw unspeakable horrors that left an indelible impression on her psyche – ultimately resulting in long-term trauma that she was largely unable to address.

“I lost quite a few friends and just saw a lot of a lot of damage and destruction along the way,” Mercer said. “I put all of that stuff away and kind of forgot about it for a while, and once I slowed down it was all just sitting there and I didn’t know what to do with it.”

While her first experience with psychedelics was recreational, she eventually gained a sense of connectedness that had been absent for years. She eventually reached out to the Heroic Hearts Project a year and a half ago to undergo ayahuasca therapy, which she said had completely exceeded expectations in allowing her to release “years of grief.”

“I kept hearing that when you do some of these plant medicines, you’ll be able to do 10 years worth of work in one session,” Mercer explained. “Just one of my sessions really brought out all of that pain and the grief that I didn’t even know was in there and allowed me to just completely release it and expel it, things that I had no idea were there.”

For licensed clinical social worker Lauren Taus, therapies involving plants such as ayahuasca and psilocybin are simply strong tools rather than cure-alls for mental health challenges. However, with the ongoing pandemic compounding a mental health crisis that has long been felt across the United States, Taus is adamant that such potent tools must be decriminalized.

“The causes of trauma are multiplying way faster than the solutions,” Taus said. “Current treatment is generally not very effective.”

“Psychedelic medicine has been engaged with globally for eons,” she added. “This stuff works and we deserve to have access to solutions that will be sustainable.”

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