How Do We Combat the Uncertainty That Surrounds Us

Interview

The events of recent times have placed our society under a great deal of stress and psychological strain. The constant, virtually unstoppable development of technology has increased the pace of our lives, which means increased demands and pressures not only at work but also day-to-day. Added to this is the pandemic that has disrupted our normal lives, followed by then the war in neighboring Ukraine, with its economic consequences that affect us all. In the midst of this difficult period, we interviewed Dr Erika Kopacz, psychiatrist at Dr. Rose Private Hospital.

What these negative events have in common is the loss of a basic sense of security because we are facing life situations that are unfamiliar to our current society and because the lack of adequate information increases the sense of uncertainty. Events are unpredictable, unexpected, and difficult to control. As individuals, we have no control or influence over the course and outcome of events.

In a protracted crisis situation, our ability to cope is tested, and our psychological equilibrium can be shaken by the crisis. A similar crisis situation can be created by the loss of a family member, friend or colleague, by divorce, or even a shocking or even aggressive event.

In very simple terms, if a person has psychological symptoms within a month of these events, it is acute stress disorder, but if it occurs later or lasts longer, it is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF MENTAL ILLNESS? ARE THERE VULNERABLE GROUPS?

A post-traumatic condition does not necessarily develop, its emergence depends on personality traits, and it can also depend on the person’s resilience, the situation, and the type of trauma. Women and people in the helping and public service professions (police, paramedics, firefighters, healthcare workers) are more at risk of developing PTSD.

The heightened emotional reactions and symptoms caused by a crisis can be so severe that they can interfere with everyday functioning involving work and interpersonal relations, during and even after the event.

WHAT ARE THE TYPICAL SYMPTOMS? WHEN SHOULD YOU SEEK HELP?

Symptoms most often start with increased anxiety, excessive worry, and concern, which can be triggered by basically anything. They may also occur when we feel that everything is going well in our lives, but they are more likely to occur in unfamiliar, new, unpredictable, and uncertain situations. The current global situation fulfills all these criteria, so it is understandable that people experience worries and anxiety, which is a natural part of healthy mental functioning in this situation. It is perfectly normal to feel tense, frustrated, angry, or to struggle with recurring negative thoughts in situations of uncertainty. 

All of this becomes a problem when it disrupts daily life and leads to exhaustion, sleep disturbance, panic attacks, and mood swings. We may not be able to feel sufficiently involved in family and social gatherings, we may feel less joyful, emotionally dull, hopeless, and lacking in prospects. We may begin to lack motivation, finding it difficult to take the first steps towards our previous goals. Behavior may also change: the affected individual may become more irritable, bad-tempered, restless, or aggressive. Intellectual functioning may also be impaired, for example, attention and concentration disorders, difficulty in decision-making, and memory problems may develop. PTSD is often associated with alcoholism, drug abuse, and personal problems. In such cases, it is advisable to seek professional help.

WHAT GENERAL STRESS MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES SHOULD WE INCORPORATE INTO OUR DAILY LIVES? 

Once we recognize the initial mild symptoms, it's worth considering what we can do for ourselves, what can help to alleviate our anxiety and how we can distract ourselves from our negative thoughts. This may include:

  • A daily routine is essential for establishing and maintaining good mental health. Eating a healthy diet and being physically active are part of this. Exercise and relaxation help to reduce stress hormones, thereby reducing anxiety, leading to a better quality of sleep. 
  • Most transient sleep disorders can be eliminated by following a few simple sleep hygiene rules: routine bedtime routines, creating a suitable sleep environment, and a screen-free period prior to bedtime.
  • Up-to-date information is very important, but for a limited period. Browsing the news on the Internet is particularly anxiety-inducing. It is worthwhile to be informed in a planned way, at a predetermined time, and only from reliable news sources.
  • Take time for yourself. Even a few quiet minutes can be refreshing but listening to music or taking a bath can help too.
  • In addition to the daily routine mentioned earlier, it's worth creating an action plan for the near future, starting with setting priorities: don't set world-changing goals, but try to find achievable, feasible goals for which you can reward yourself with some small treat. 
  • Finding a hobby or pastime. We should try to keep our minds occupied, for example by reading, sewing, or even coloring mandalas. The possibilities are endless.
  • Keeping in touch with loved ones and friends is important. The feeling that we are not alone with our problems is an important step in rebuilding our sense of security. 
  • For many of us, being close to nature has a calming effect, whether it's a good walk in the woods or tending our gardens and plants.
  • Volunteering, offering help, and spreading joy to others is often an excellent way to help ourselves.

In the movie of our lives, we ourselves are the auteurs. We choose from the events around us what to record and where to point the camera. Receptiveness to the positive influences around us can be learned with help. Awareness of positive or pleasurable events is of paramount importance because they actively contribute to emotional stabilization. Learn to state and record positive events (even in the form of a gratitude journal).

WHEN IS IT NECESSARY TO SEE A PSYCHIATRIST? WHAT DOES A PSYCHIATRIST HELP WITH? HOW IS THE EXAMINATION CONDUCTED?

If we feel that the methods listed above have not worked, or our coping skills are exhausted and the symptoms are overwhelming or more extensive, we should seek professional help.

A professional can help clients by using psychotherapeutic methods or medication, or most frequently a combination of both. A safe, patient, accepting, and caring therapeutic relationship helps recovery.

The therapist can help to distinguish between real and perceived vulnerability, which is an important step towards reassurance. In a heightened emotional state (whether positive or negative), people tend to evaluate situations to extremes. The therapist will guide you in recognizing altered ways of thinking, which can help you to grasp reality and reduce anxiety and stress. Learning and practicing mindful presence with the help of a therapist has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression by letting go of expectations and accepting reality, allowing the person to focus on the present moment. 

There are times when medication is needed for a temporary period. Medication is always adjusted to account for underlying medical conditions and possible drug interactions. The client is always properly informed about the medication’s order of administration, its regulations, and expected therapeutic effects. In these cases, the medication is used as a temporary support through the ups and downs. 

In summary, the therapist helps to create a new, more stable balance.

For more information and to request an appointment, please click here.

 

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