Amid the heavy impact of the cost of living crisis, the global recession on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing war in Ukraine and other conflicts in some parts of the world, and political imbalances, it is getting harder and harder to maintain our mental health. As historical events pile up and waves of uncertainty hit one after another, the future looks a little bleak. But there are some things we can do to stay sane and better prepared for crises in challenging times. Let’s discuss some ways to maintain and protect mental health.
The first and most important way to protect our mental health is to establish healthy relationships. When we have healthy relationships, our brain produces hormones that help us regulate ourselves. The most important one is oxytocin. What does this hormone oxytocin do? The hormone oxytocin has numerous benefits. First, it gives a sense of security. Global endangerment is spreading due to economic and political inconsistencies and growing racism. People are increasingly worried about the future. As we produce the hormone oxytocin, our brain gets the feeling of being safe. The healthier relationships we have, the more our brain produces a sense of security. When we have a sense of security, we become more productive and perceive possible negative life events in a pragmatic way. People with a lot of oxytocin have a good relationship with sleep. Healthy sleep patterns allow our brain to clear bad emotions. Oxytocin facilitates an easy transition to sleep as it makes the person feel safe.
When we experience many negative emotions, the amygdala, which we call “the emotional brain,” takes control and disables the part that produces solutions. When this happens, we become unable to take steps to get out of the current situation. Oxytocin helps to reduce the effect of trauma we experience. For example, it makes it easier for us to process negative emotions such as loneliness, exclusion and helplessness. If a person has a few people with whom he has a deep connection, the rate of being affected by the bad events that happened to him decreases.
Another effect of oxytocin is that it strengthens us physically. Because it strengthens our immune system as well, physical wounds heal more easily. Studies have found that lonely people get sick more quickly, both physically and mentally.
In order to establish healthy relationships, we need to improve our communication skills. Communication does not mean just talking. It has subtleties. People with healthy mental states do not interrupt, can focus on topics, do not hurt themselves, and do not invade or attack the other party while communicating. If we want to strengthen our mental structure, we need to strengthen our communication skills.
Another way to protect our mental health is to be solution-oriented. It is necessary to analyze the events that happen to us, their causes and their effects. However, after analyzing, it is good for us to find solutions and take action. Too much analysis prevents us from being in touch with the emotional side of the event and prevents us from taking responsibility. After producing a solution, if we take initial actions, we will develop spiritually. Our ability to take responsibility improves and we feel freer.
Sometimes we give and sometimes we take in relationships. People who have the ability to both receive and give are mentally healthy. Someone who only knows how to take and could not grow up has retained the mentality of a child. Because the child is in need of an adult due to his position in life, he takes whatever comes from them. Parents give, children take. That is the order of life. Having a relationship as two adults strengthens our mental health.
In addition, children who were not given a voice as children, oppressed by their parents and whose boundaries were not respected turn into adults who cannot say no. These adults don’t know the difference between rejecting an idea and rejecting a person. They perceive the word no as the same as leaving.
For a healthy mental structure, one needs to develop the ability to say no to people. This is reciprocal. Similarly, we need to give people the right to say no. People who cannot protect their boundaries and therefore ignore someone else’s boundaries are those who repeat the cycles they experienced as children as adults. It will be useful to find and differentiate the connection.
One of our main concerns is to be abandoned or to be alone. Since the beginning of humanity, we owe our survival to acting as a group. We needed this to survive in the wild. Our primitive brain perceives death as the same as abandonment. Warning bells ring for us when we are out of the community. Therefore, when our fear of abandonment is triggered, our emotional brain, the amygdala, turns off our rational brain and we cannot make healthy decisions. But we no longer need to live in groups to stay alive. Now, we can also meet our needs individually as well. If we are alone, we do not die. This information needs to be updated.
In addition to that, we know that the child needs the care of his parents in order to survive. In this period, if the care of the parents is conditional care, if the child receives care when he is a “good” child, and if the care is withdrawn when he behaves beyond the expectations of the parents, he turns into an adult whose sense of abandonment is triggered very quickly. As an adult, he may maintain toxic relationships to avoid abandonment. We need to have the ability to leave people from time to time, to give people the right to leave us as well. This is what will develop us spiritually.
Everything happens so fast in this era. Hence we have lots of emotional exchanges, good or bad, every single minute. Staring at the horizon helps our brain to process all the emotions that we have. Our brain’s ability to work on emotions increases in two situations. One is while it does nothing (literally no cellphone, no reading book, nothing) the other one is while asleep. Practicing staring at the horizon for half an hour every day will help you regulate negative emotions and increase positive emotions and problem-solving skills. That is another way to keep our mental health on track.
Exercise for brain
Lastly, I would like to highlight the importance of exercise for our mental health. Exercise has many benefits, not only for your physical health but also your mental health. In our brain, exercise stimulates chemicals that improve our mood and the parts of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Several studies have been conducted on mice and humans that indicate that cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells and improves overall brain performance. Not only that but also it prevents cognitive decline and memory loss by strengthening the hippocampus which is the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
Exercise also has benefits for depression and anxiety. How? The hormone Endorphin is referred to as the feeling-good hormone. It increases a lot when we do physical activity. Even if we do just moderate exercise throughout the week, still we produce enough of it to reduce depression and anxiety and to give us feelings of happiness and euphoria.
If you still feel it is too much to take, it is better to consult with a mental health professional.