Anxiety and nervousness. Sadness and depression. Professional stress or burnout. Knowing these symptoms, which affect many people, is fundamental. Prevention strategies are offered, for an effective care of the psychic and spiritual health

Prevention strategies: health care and spiritual life

There are many strategies to prevent mental disorders from stress, anxiety and depression, which make it difficult or impossible to grow spiritually and to meet work, family, social and religious commitments.

Each healthy individual has developed his or her own mental hygiene strategies. For this reason, we are not going to present specific strategies but general ideas, which should be kept in mind when looking for one's own strategies to protect mental health and to suggest strategies to people with incipient or consolidated mental health problems.

a) The first idea that should be encouraged until it sinks deep into the person, that is, into his or her head and heart, is the paramount importance of defending inner peace and joy. In this positive affective state, reason has more facility to judge about right and wrong, and the will has more strength to decide and to urge good action.

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Moreover, in this state it is easier to pay attention to the outside world and other people, and thus be able to contemplate the beauty, goodness and truth (authenticity) of the things around us to enjoy them and contribute to their care and preservation. On the other hand, having peace and habitual joy allows us to practice charity in the best way, which is to give and to teach others to have peace and joy.

b) Negative emotions and feelings are related to current (perceived or thought), past (remembered) and future (imagined) experiences that cause suffering. For this reason, another very useful strategy to avoid negative affections is to develop a good self-control of the memory, imagination, thought and perception, in order to cut quickly with memories, fantasies, thoughts, perceptions that make you suffer.

Letting them enter the consciousness and keeping them there is a way to be an accomplice in the negative affections they generate. But, as it is difficult to keep the mind blank, it is better to keep it occupied with positive things that prevent or displace the negative ones.

c) On the other hand, people who are more capable of suffering, or psychologically strong, are those who suffer the least and have the least negative emotions when they do suffer. For this reason, people trained to suffer in a good mood, "putting a good face on bad weather", can maintain peace and joy in situations that produce suffering. Hence the importance of asceticism and love of the cross.

d) In spite of this, many times you cannot avoid suffering. On those occasions, endowing that suffering with meaning, with a noble purpose, can make it more bearable. This advice is in keeping with the adage: “if there is a «why», it does not matter the «how»”.

e) Since most sufferings, with the negative affections connected to them, has its origin in events occurring in the outer world, by the occurrence of unwanted things or the failure to produce the desired ones (frustrations), encouraging in oneself and in others an affective detachment from external results and events, and placing the interest in maintaining inner peace and joy, whatever happens, helps much to suffer less and to be in good spirits always.

f) Every person to be happy and not mentally ill needs to love and be loved. But when you love you suffer, because love is a coin with two faces. Love makes one feel very good, but it implies suffering for the suffering of the loved person or for being a love that is not reciprocated, or for not being able to have at one's disposal what one loves, etc.

To be able to love much and be very happy, one must accept the suffering that comes with it, for its rejection can extinguish or repel love. And the need for unsatisfied love causes a permanent discomfort that wears down the psychological resistance to suffering until it produces depression or avoidance behaviours that usually cause addictions, which deepen the feeling of vital dissatisfaction.

g) A good part of the love that every person needs must come from oneself ("to love one's neighbour as oneself"), and that love cannot be supplied by others. But to love oneself one must renounce being ideal or perfect as a condition for loving oneself and learn to see the positive things in oneself, which are seen by those who love us, because it is difficult to love the negative or the worthless.

This love of oneself, supported by self-esteem, must be based on the value one has, not only on the valuable things one does; nor on the results of what one does, but on work and the struggle to do things well. It is very difficult to be happy living with oneself 24 hours a day, every day of one's life, in conflict with oneself, rejecting oneself, hating oneself, being ashamed, bored, blaming oneself, etc.

h) Many people live under stress from constant and excessive activism. They only feel useful and valuable when they are doing things. For them it is a great satisfaction to finish things, and for that reason they keep a long list of things to do, and never say "no" to anything that is asked or commissioned.

On the other hand, they feel overwhelmed by the things they have to do, as they feel they are missing out, and they live with a feeling of being in a permanent hurry to do more things and to get rid of the things they have to do, which continue to grow due to their inability to say “enough!” or to refuse to accept more assignments from others when they see their ability to solve tasks, and they end up becoming victims of their success and responsibility.

In addition, they live in permanent fear of letting down those who entrust them with things, and of losing their esteem and appreciation if they refuse or leave their tasks unfulfilled. They generate a feeling of being trapped by their obligations, of not being free, which causes deep frustration and a strong tendency to get angry, which prevents them from being happy and ends up generating the "burnout" syndrome.

These people must learn to say "no" and "enough!". To do so, they must avoid answering on the spot to what is asked of them. They must ask for time, hours or a day, before answering, to be able to think whether they can and should say "yes" or "no". 

In this way they will answer according to reason, which is the one that judges wisely, and not with the affection that seeks to feel good or not to feel bad, as happens with answers on the go. Refusal always makes one feel bad in the short term, although it then brings relief by not being overburdened with more obligations.

i) Another thing that these people with a tendency to activism must learn is to do everything slowly, because calm generates feelings of peace and well-being, while hurrying generates anxiety. They must convince themselves that it is more important to do things right (and this requires calm) than to do many things. It is better to give priority to quality than to quantity.

They must also learn to concentrate on what is being done, without being distracted by the possible outcome of the work, by the time left to finish it, by thoughts about how the next occupation is going to be done, by the things that are pending, by the fear that important people will demand that we fulfil certain tasks or reproach us for not having done them as they wish, etc.

j) Another negative consequence of the excessive desire to be esteemed and loved by others is to be the best, to be preferred. This leads to continually comparing oneself with the most valuable people and competing with them to be better than them. This attitude leads to being constantly alert and striving to do things better than they can according to their talents.

Consequently, they live with a permanent psychic tension that ends up exhausting them (burnout) and producing a state of permanent frustration.

They must therefore stop comparing themselves and competing with others. "Every walker has his or her own path" and each person is unique and unrepeatable, for each has his or her natural talents. They must always keep in mind that the main objective is to be happy, to give happiness and to teach others how to be happy, which has to do with valuing and loving oneself for being good, not for being better than others.

k) Finally, since many of the mental sufferings and problems are related to an inner imbalance between the head (reason and will) and the heart (affectivity), we must learn and teach how affectivity works, so that reason and will can control and direct it, and thus achieve a good hierarchical balance (commanded by reason) between the two sources of knowledge and motivation.

To know how one's affectivity works, one must often talk about the emotions and feelings one has, so one listens to oneself about the affection one feels, its cause and its consequences. Then reason will analyse whether there is adequacy and proportion between affection, cause and consequence, and will order the will to control the affectivity to achieve that adequacy and proportionality. 

If one does not talk about one's affections, it is not necessary to think about them, and by not thinking about them, one does not know how one's affectivity works, and if one does not know how it works, one cannot manage it properly.

It is better to talk more about positive affections (love, admiration, security, joy, etc.) than negative ones, because people who listen to us and love us will feel good when they see that we feel good, and they will listen to us with pleasure, and when we are heard, we will talk again about how we feel. On the other hand, this type of dialogue is more enriching and humane than talking about sport, politics, work, etc.

This positive affective state is lost when the person lets himself be provoked by negative emotions and feelings: fear, anger, sadness, envy, jealousy, insecurity, mistrust, guilt, shame, hatred, resentment, etc. These negative affections make the subject who feels them suffer and often lead to negative behaviours, which make others suffer and cause new negative feelings in the actor himself (guilt feeling).

Fernando Sarráis