The economic and social progress of a country is usually measured by estimating the productivity, growth, and longevity of the population. More and more governments and organizations are focusing on studying the well-being of citizens and their general satisfaction, which has been affected by the pandemic. In this post, we present a study in Argentina and provide recommendations to promote wellness, from a neuroscience point of view.
A study shows the impact of the pandemic on mental health
A study carried out by the INECO Foundation and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) investigated the impact of the pandemic on mental health in Argentina and found that more than a third of the participants presented symptoms of depression or anxiety during the first week of quarantine. Daily stress along with feelings of loneliness and repetitive negative thoughts were the factors that respondents mentioned most frequently. The groups most affected were young people and people with lower incomes.
72 days after the start of isolation, a second survey was carried out, where a slight increase in anxiety symptoms was observed, and a notable increase in depression symptoms such as listlessness, fatigue, sadness, insomnia, and appetite disorders. In addition, the respondents reported suffering from mental fatigue, difficulties thinking and concentrating, financial worries, and intolerance to uncertainty as factors of weight in the emotional impact.
The importance of having evidence in mental health
Investigating the effects of the pandemic on mental health is essential to designing policies to mitigate its consequences. With this approach, the INECO Foundation organized the First International Virtual Symposium on Neuroscience and Well-being. International researchers and specialists in cognitive sciences, education, sociology, economics, and music therapy, etc. met there. to share the latest mental health research and provide practical tools to cope with the impact of COVID-19. Here, we share some visions of Dr. Facundo Manes, Neuroscientist, and founder of INECO.
How are happiness and well-being defined?
Dr. Manes points out the difficulty of defining happiness or well-being “since they are complex constructs. Many times it is convenient to decompose it, not to minimize or reduce it, but to understand it more clearly ”. Happiness is not given only by immediate pleasure, the hedonic life, the satisfaction that a meal, a meeting with friends can provide us. It is also given by the satisfaction that long-term achievements give us, fruits that arise from the effort of work and planning: the so-called eudaimonic happiness.
One of the research focuses of neuroscience is the determination of the reward circuits in the brain – keys to pleasure and desire -, mechanisms that involve different brain regions and that are communicated through chemical messengers. These circuits are activated when we carry out a pleasant activity or fulfill a goal.
The brain is constantly transforming, and each one can positively influence these changes: the decisions we make daily influence health, projects, and happiness. While there are studies that show that genetics can determine a proportion of our well-being, this influence is not more than 30%, which means that we can modify it, since happiness is built.
Ten key aspects to achieve well-being:
* Accept negative emotions and recognize the complexity of life. Be connected with what happens to us.
* Work on the way we think and express our feelings, reducing negative thoughts. Change the way we feel, changing the way we think.
* Set and achieve realistic goals.
* Savor ordinary positive events.
* Have healthy habits. The physical activity reinforces creative thinking, it is a good anxiolytic and natural antidepressant. Eating a healthy diet and, if possible, getting seven to eight hours of sleep is also important.
* Regulate the demands of the environment to our real possibilities. Say it is unhealthy.
* Manage expectations.
* Promote spirituality and a sense of purpose.
* Meditate, enjoy the present. A brain attentive to the present is a happier and more productive brain.
* Be grateful for what you have instead of asking for what is missing.
Happiness is a continuum
Dr. Manes affirms that we should not think of well-being as something that we have or do not have, but that it is a continuum, and that internal modifications can be made to build happiness if we focus on positive emotions, on carrying out activities in which we lose the notion of time and space, such as cooking, dancing, singing and other activities that lead us to the state of “flow”, a psychological state where even the notion of oneself is diluted. In turn, consolidating intimate and affectionate human relationships is fundamental, since we are social beings. Although in a pandemic we must comply with a physical distancing, we must try to maintain the connection with our loved ones.
It is possible that going through this pandemic will make us more altruistic, more grateful, and more empathetic. But for this to happen, in an extremely difficult and unique context, it becomes imperative to share scientific knowledge to build resilience and address well-being.