One of my patients came in this week in full workout gear, having biked from his home to my office. He smiled and relayed a message he got from a friend who is a psychiatrist: Instead of taking an SSRI-antidepressant, he recommended working out three times a week.
The effects, said the specialist, would be the same in cases of mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
The message concurs with a recent New York Times article about how to motivate people to exercise. Most of us know first hand that the threats of weight gain and heart disease don’t do much to get us moving.
But as soon as mental health and happiness is addressed, people seem to pay attention.
That’s what lots of media articles have been debating lately. Yesterday’s New York Times editorial “Men, Who Needs Them?” (written by a man) is only the last in a series of discussions that celebrates the achievements and strength of womankind.
Women have risen above men when it comes to education, longevity and connectivity. We’ve got ourselves careers, raise children by ourselves, and tend to have a satisfying social life. Career women have never been happier. As fellow blogger Bella DePaulo points out, most women who prioritize career over family have no regrets doing so.
According to an article in the New Atlantic, women ought to get ready to build their lives without a husband. Demographic trends point towards a decreasing percentage of men, who also tend to be less educated, less successful and less committed than earlier generations.
Despite all the online manuals about “10 ways improve your night’s rest,” and so on, sleep is an under-researched topic. Writer David K. Randall is now trying to close the gap with his new book “Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.”
In one chapter he focuses solely on the strange history of the bed, and how it influences relationships.
Sleep is a highly underestimated factor in a person’s day-to-day well being. When we aren’t rested, our capacity to contain frustration goes out the window. We get irritated, testy and blow every minor incident out of proportion.
It’s a bit like the infamous low blood sugar phenomena that most women will immediately recognize. When basic needs like sleep or nourishment aren’t met, the stress levels go up dramatically.
(On a side note: most temper tantrums in children go back to low blood sugar. I guess we as adults aren’t all that much more advanced…)
The use of the internet is pervasive in our culture. So much that the American Psychiatric Association is recommending further research on the condition called “Internet Use Disorder” in the upcoming diagnostic manual DSM V.
The disorder primarily refers to Internet gaming, however, it does include the criteria of “withdrawal symptoms when internet is taken away.” Sound familiar?
Addiction is not the only mental health condition that the internet can trigger. The other one is depression.
A recent article in the Scientific American suggests that people who rapidly move around on dozens of websites, engaging in fleeting contact, are most likely to get depressed:
“Peer-to-peer file sharing, heavy emailing and chatting online, and a tendency to quickly switch between multiple websites and other online resources all predict a greater propensity to experience symptoms of depression. Quickly switching between websites may reflect anhedonia (a decreased ability to experience emotions), as people desperately seek for emotional stimulation. Similarly, excessive emailing and chatting may signify a relative lack of strong face-to-face relationships, as people strive to maintain contact either with faraway friends or new people met online.”
It is the depth of emotion that is seen as critical for normal affect. The enormous amount of distraction that’s offered online seduces us into paying less and less attention towards a single topic — or people, for that matter.
Let me be clear – I’m not advocating for the uninhibited expression of fury and abuse here. Far from it.
But anger is a normal reaction to frustration and unfairness. And it has to be looked at honestly.
Especially in spiritual communities, anger easily becomes a bone of contention. We are supposed to love each other as we love ourselves (which may not be all that much to begin with, really), be kind and mindful and polite and so on.
The chronic repression of anger in childhood leads to compliant children; boys and girls who don’t know what they want because they were only there to attend to the parents’ needs — for example their need to have a “good boy” or a “sweet girl.”
When there is no room for anger whatsoever, it goes underground and expresses itself later in the form of uncontrollable outbursts or depression.
Probably because of the obvious psychological complexity of its main character.
Batman, AKA Bruce Wayne, lives through the trauma of watching his parents murdered in front of his eyes as a young boy. In order to find some kind of retribution, he becomes a superhero who tries to save his city, Gotham, from crime.
And not just that – he also picks a disguise that is reminiscent of what was once his greatest fear: the fear of bats.
As a kid he found himself trapped in a well, surrounded by fluttering bloodsuckers who seem to want to attack him. But as a young man, he wasn’t going to continue giving in to that fear. He wanted to overcome it.
The quest for who we truly are is as old as humanity. The search for consciousness, meaning and self-analysis dates back to Ancient Egypt where philosophy, spirituality and dream interpretation was thriving.
Mankind was always plagued by self-doubt and the search for a purpose. Who are we really? What is our core? How can we find out what we are about as individuals?
Some of us never fully developed an identity beyond what our parents wanted us to be. As children, we were fully at the mercy of our caregivers, and if they saw our only role in becoming what they needed us to be, our sense of self remains vague and unformed.
One tool how to learn about the self is the analysis of projection. The great psychoanalyst Carl Jung used to say: “All the contents of our unconscious are constantly being projected into our surroundings.”
What does projection mean? It means that we see something in another person that is really in us.
Perfectionism is a culturally accepted and even desired ideal. We want our children to be perfectly adjusted. We wish our bodies were perfectly shaped. We want to find the ideal soul mate. We expect our athletes in the Olympics to perform perfectly. We want our minds to be absolutely still – at least when we so chose.
There is very little room for failure in our goal-driven society.
And while there is nothing wrong with trying to give the best we can, wanting to be perfect is an endeavor bound to fail.
In fact, it lies at the heart of much of the anxiety and depression we encounter every day.
Vincent Van Gogh was a tortured man. He was angry, paranoid and threw fits. He couldn’t hold a job. He was a loner and had no friends. He was alienated from his family, and ended up in the insane asylum. In a psychotic rage, he cut off half his ear.
It is now believed that he suffered from epilepsy, which brought on many of his emotional difficulties.
His relationship with his father was a nightmare. At one point he tried to emulate him and become a minister, like he was. That failed. His father died of a stroke, and the family blamed Vincent for it. Their constant arguing killed him, said his mother.
Vincent never got over it. He felt guilty until the day he died. He was only 37 years old.
“60 Minutes” just ran a portrait of Van Gogh in which they dispute the long standing theory that he committed suicide. Instead, they say he was killed by a couple of kids in the French village where he lived; kids who relentlessly teased and haunted him.
They fumbled around with a gun and shot the artist, who then made it look like he turned the weapon against himself. He wanted to die.