With Summer holidays ahead of us, it’s important for individuals and families to take a moment to remember the challenges they have been through over the last few years and the things that became precious and healing.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott is advising us to take a holiday from digital life, practice mindful awareness and take some much-needed downtime.
Our relationship with the digital realm has changed permanently since the pandemic and almost all of that for the good. With much of our lives online now and as we are carrying that relationship around with us in the form of our phones, it’s crucial we carve out time to step back from it and become more mindful of our here and now experiences.
The techniques of being mindfully present can be learned and a mindful class is a great way to start. You’ll get them free at your local Buddhist centre or indeed you can get them online via apps etc.
Noel said: “Mindful awareness has two fabulous psychological health factors, one is active protection against psychological illness, and the other is active promotion of psychological health. Becoming more mindful and present is a clear strategy that produces what we call adaptive psychological defences which allow us to experience, process and manage reality more effectively, with significant reduction in signs of psychological distress and enhancement in feelings of wellbeing”.
The symptoms of distress that mindful awareness reduces include rumination, worry, anger, fear, and the psychological energy associated with maladaptive defences to those distressing phenomena such as avoidance, suppression, or over-engagement/obsessive thinking. Feelings of wellbeing are also evidenced to be associated with being psychologically and physically healthy due to neurobiological changes that take place when we are actively being mindfully aware.
The other benefit of being in the here and now is that if you do it when you are on a beautiful holiday you might actually notice it! If that beauty involves being in nature, then you can have another free ride on the mental health bus called biophilia. This is our innate ability to feel more connected when we interact with nature and other animal species. This effect when activated similarly helps reduce distress and enhance psychological wellbeing in a very similar way to being mindful. It also has the added benefit of increasing our sense of connectedness to others, to nature, to things bigger than ourselves and our problems and therefore actively mitigates against trauma for example.
This sense of wellbeing and connectedness has an interesting impact on our cities. It is well researched that building a park reduces violent crime in the locality. Why did we keep the parks open during the pandemic? Go smell those roses if I was you, it’s one of the few truly free lunches in psychological health that exist.
Reducing digital distraction
Reducing blue screen activity is always a good idea and the impact on our brains of the over-activation of the variable reward system through having on tap dopamine from our blue screen. Dopamine is a reward hormone that is released into the brains when we look at blue light sources such phones and computer screens.
So, when we pick up the phone groggy in the morning, we are actually stimulating our brains to wake up, this is fine but it’s a one trick pony and allowing too much digital distraction stops us from experiencing the full range of DOSE hormones that produce wellbeing:
How to ‘DOSE’ yourself up on reward hormones
- D – dopamine, gives you a feeling of wellbeing, happiness, and motivation. It can be activated in most pleasurable social situations, such as a good night’s sleep, eating a nice meal, going for a walk or other exercise, listening to music, hanging out with friends, getting sunshine, engaging with nature and even by stroking pets.
- O – oxytocin, promotes strong emotional and relational bonds, gives you a feeling of being loved up – the core of our social animal nature, improves mood and is now looked at as a treatment for social phobia, autism, post-partum depression, anxiety, and depression. You get it from being physically close to those you love!
Men and women produce it slightly differently as men can optimise production of the hormone in different behaviours with both sexes getting a boost from say holding hands and kissing (go kiss more!!), but men can get it from simulated competitive ‘battle’ with other men leading to a big release of loved up feeling when you survive. Ever wondered why guys bond so much on the football terraces? It’s all that hugging! Women tend not to have this fight flight response.
- S – serotonin, is a well-known term because of the common use of SSRI’s selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or Prozac or fluoxetine as it is more generically known in the UK. Serotonin regulates mood and manages depression and anxiety. It improves happiness and wellbeing, and this has a global health improvement impact.
Great ways to get some include sunshine and in general a good amount of bright light (you can use a ‘daylight’ or anti depression lamp), exercise that fatigues you (serotonin is produced in this type of fatigue to help you recover), eating healthy foods with good protein (plant based) and those less intensively farmed (wild food often has higher sources of the amino acids that help serotonin production). So simply put, replicating our hunter gatherer roots when we were outside more, had to walk for miles and ate wild stuff on the hoof.
- E – endorphins, our natural pain killers! Nothing like naturally produced opiates to feel good! Endorphin is literally a combination of endogenous (from the body) and morphine, naturally occurring morphine has the impact of giving us an amazing sense of wellbeing. Again, a sense of wellbeing is evidenced to improve global health outcomes including improved physical health, social health, economic health, and relationship health.
For pain relief also use stress relief as both states are the same in terms of health and wellbeing. Endorphins are a super stress buster. Here’s some of the stuff that produces endorphins: vigorous exercise is the most well-known, but also laughing, dark chocolate because of flavonoids and spicy foods which stimulate pain responses in the mouth. Yoga and meditation also produce endorphins – it all sounds like a lot of fun.
Family time this summer
Don’t underestimate ‘family time’ this Summer. Remember how creative we became, creating games and ways of having fun together as a family unit.
Make more time for family meals and conversation, dust off the board games and spend an afternoon battling it out as a family. We went to these core activities during a time of crisis, and they helped us be resilient in the face of challenge and they remain the core resilience activities.
Loving, healthy active time together is the centre of everything, and time is the most precious resource we can give. Downtime is vital during the holidays, not just to rest but to rest with each other. That’s what is needed, the reassurance of resting safely together.
Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual.
This article is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of physicians. The reader should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to his/her health and particularly with respect to any symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.