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How to Protect Our Psyche

Explore Life Science

Life is not a long, calm river. Instead, alongside happy moments, it also holds in store for us a number of challenges. These five tips will boost our mental and emotional strength to help us cope with everyday life.

1. Gregarious and Healthy

Laughing together and sharing positive experiences and simply spending time together: most people enjoy the company of others and need regular social occasions. A team of researchers from the Central Institute of Mental Health (CIMH) in Mannheim and the Karls-ruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) describes in the journal “JAMA Psychiatry” how important everyday social contacts are for psychological health. Using repeated short questionnaires, the researchers captured the psychological well-being as well as the social contacts of the study participants over a period of seven days. The results were clear: people felt better in the company of others than alone. An additional group further had their brain volumes measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This study showed that people who benefit more from social contacts also exhibit increased social competencies, as well as structural changes in a part of the forebrain which is associated with resilience and the risk of psychological illness. According to the researchers, these results underline the importance of interpersonal exchange for our mental well-being.

2. Checking Out

Even a one-week break from Facebook, Twitter and the like will measurably improve well-being – these are the findings of a recent study conducted at the University of Bath. For the purpose of their study, published in the journal “Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking”, the researchers divided 154 participants between 18 and 72 years of age, who spent an average of eight hours per week on social media, into two groups: one group put the smartphone away for a week whereas the control group continued social media use as before. Prior to this, the researchers had determined the psychological states of the participants with respect to anxiety, depression and well-being. The result: after one week, those who had refrained from using social media felt significantly better in all three areas of mental health than those who had continued to use social media. “Scrolling social media is so ubiquitous that many of us do it almost without thinking from the moment we wake up to when we close our eyes at night”, said principal investigator Jeff Lambert. Once use becomes associated with stress, it’s time to slow down. “Many of our participants reported positive effects from being off social media with improved mood and less anxiety overall. This suggests that even just a small break can have an impact“, says Lambert.

3. Man’s Best Friend

Pets alleviate depression, anxiety and stress. Studies conducted at Miami University and Saint Louis University have shown that pet owners benefit from their pets in many ways. They have higher self-esteem, are physically fitter and less lonely; they are more conscientious and extroverted, as well as less anxious. Moreover, people feel needed and loved if they have to look after an animal – be it ever so small. A research group led by Hae-Jin Ko in Daegu, Korea, tasked older people for a period of eight weeks with the care of five – yes, really! – crickets. At the end of this time period, participants were suffering less from depression than the control group which had not looked after animals. A similar effect has been demonstrated for time spent in nature. Dog owners thus benefit doubly from their regular walk in the park.

4. Talk is Golden

When it comes to mental health, conversations can do a lot of good. In Switzerland, the campaign “How are you?” is encouraging people to talk about and address their feelings. “Those who can name their feelings can take specific action against the stressors and, if needed, benefit from support. Positive emotions, too, will be experienced more consciously and may serve as a resource for mental health care”, the campaign states. Talking about problems is becoming ever more important as psychological stresses have the potential to develop into disease in the long term. Waiting for the right moment, finding an appropriate location, listening, showing compassion and enduring silence – all these are aspects of a compassionate conversation. Especially children exhibit a considerable need for conversation, emphasizes the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio, USA. Pediatric Psychologist Ariana Hoet advises parents to seek conversation with their children on a regular basis. Families who make it a habit to talk to each other every day have an easier time supporting their children through mental health crises. “We know that conversation is one of the simplest, most effective ways to make an impact, break through stigma and give kids a voice when it comes to their mental health”, says Hoet.

5. Move!

Exercise benefits mental health – for their review study, researchers at the University of Belgrade compiled close to 27,000 scientific studies in 2021. Of these, they studied 20 in detail. “Each study confirmed that physical activity affects the mental health of people of different health status, gender and age. Dealing with any type of physical activity leads to a reduction in the symptoms of psychological illnesses such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and a sedentary lifestyle“, emphasize the authors led by Aleksandar Stojmenović from the University of Niš in Serbia. Among other benefits, regular exercise also lowers stress, increases cognitive function and allows us to sleep better – and this is true for everyone. “Also healthy people should regularly use physical activity to maintain mental well-being”, add the researchers. The WHO recommends a weekly regimen of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (fast walking) or 75 to 150 minutes of high-intensity exercise (running or fast cycling). Plus, strength training twice a week. Let’s go!

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