Surveys show us Spaniards as a country of satisfied people: the sun, the family, the beer on a terrace… And even so, one in four people has or will have a mental health problem in Spain. 6.7% of the population in Spain is affected by anxiety, the same figure as people with depression. In both, the number of women is more than double that of men, 9.2 compared to 4%.
“Anxiety and depression are natural states in humans,” writes the Swedish psychiatrist Anders Hansen. in his new book The Depressed Brain ((Ed. Cópula). “It is social pressure that urges us to continually seek happiness.” His book, he explains, starts from a question that he asks himself. “Why do we find ourselves so bad when we live so well?” The short answer is that we have forgotten that we are biological beings and we have forgotten what makes us feel good. To find a way to end this anxiety, Hansen looks at emotional life from the perspective of the brain, to better understand ourselves and discover what makes us happy.
The brain has a function: to surviveRELATED
The Swedish psychiatrist reminds us that the brain, beyond everything that has been written about it, is an organ like any other, and as such it has a clear function: to survive. And this survival machine deceives us, alters memories, paints catastrophic scenarios or makes us think that we are different from how we are. It is part of a complex system, the body, which it directs and feeds information.
The brain deceives us, idealizes memories, makes us believe in a different way than we are. TELVA
In this way, the book analyzes in a very attractive way the functions of the different parts of the brain, such as the amygdala, which activates danger signals through the information that reaches it through the senses and can, for example, prevent you from being hit by a bus. if you’re distracted, releasing stress hormones. Or the insula, which receives information from the body and from the outside and merges them, generating feelings.
When the brain perceives a threat, it generates anxiety, the feeling that something is wrong, which activates the stress system. Hansen also discusses some of the external causes of depression. But beyond looking for the causes or treatment of mental problems, the Swedish psychiatrist directs his work towards some responses to non-extreme anxiety and depression that he has found valid in his patients and that he summarizes in two: avoid loneliness – and help others to avoid it, and practice physical exercise.
We begin with what “historically has been the ruin of the human being: loneliness.”
Loneliness affects a third of the population
“Imagine a medical ailment that affects more than a third of the population and that for one person in twelve is just as dangerous as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. That ailment exists. It’s called loneliness.”
Avoiding loneliness and helping other people avoid it lessens emotional suffering. TELVA
Friends and relatives extend life and keep us in good health. This is something that we can verify daily with our elders and with ourselves. It is their absence that causes the risk of us getting sick. Loneliness is the difference between how many social contacts we have and how many we would like to have. Hansen emphasizes the connection between loneliness and depression and in his work as a psychiatrist he also discovered how clearly loneliness also affects the body since it increases mortality and cites several studies on its incidence in cancer, cardiovascular diseases, etc. .
The brain interprets loneliness as a risk and produces a chronic state of stress and alarm. Not to mention that people who live alone tend to eat unhealthily, smoke, drink excessively, without being encouraged to break these harmful habits.
In addition to avoiding loneliness as much as possible, another key point to help our brain is physical exercise.
Physical exercise as an antidepressant
Hansen says that since 2010 in his practice he detected that patients who came for depression and did physical exercise did not return after a few sessions. He began to study the medical literature on the subject and saw that, indeed, studies show that physical exercise decreases the risk of falling into depression or, turning it around “the risk of depression seems to be less for those who have a good condition.” physical”. The study was carried out in Gran with 150,000 participants, also filtering data on age, tobacco, educational background and income. Regular physical exercise reduces the levels of stress, cortisol, the alarm released by the brain, increases the levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine and, in the long run, has an anti-inflammatory effect, strengthening organs and tissues. The author of The True Happiness Pill, his previous book, concludes that “many individuals have underestimated the role the body plays in their well-being.”
The happiness trap
And then what makes us happy? It depends on our definition of happiness. If you feel it as a constant feeling of pleasure and satisfaction, that is, a long-term experience, Anders Hansen’s advice is “Get over it!” The less we worry about being happy, the more likely we are to be. Our brain is not going to help us, he explains, because it tends to contrast our experiences with our expectations, shielding ourselves in a positive emotional state is not realistic.
“The most realistic definition of happiness I have heard is that it consists of a combination of positive experiences and a deeper understanding of your own being. An awareness of what you are good at and how you can use these characteristics to help yourself and others and become something that goes beyond our own person”. Therefore, happiness arises when we understand what is important in life and act accordingly, we become part of something that is significant both for us and for others. “Happiness is a byproduct that happens because you forget to think about it to focus on something that makes sense.”