how to stay healthy in the pandemic

 

How to be happy during the pandemic

By Lea

 

How can we stay mentally healthy during the pandemic? Better yet, how can we stay healthy with terrible pandemic management?

The healthiest thing I’ve done is stop watching the news, because it’s just bad news and viral boredom.

If there’s a good thing to be found in the pandemic, it’s that it’s exposing the insanity of our human society.

As technology advances, humanity regresses.

It seems that rather than stopping the pandemic, they want to keep it around, with vaccine shortages and spoiled vaccines. Here in Portugal, there are restrictions that don’t make sense and don’t seem to work, but they keep them in place anyways.

Why? Well… the measures don’t stop the virus, but they do kill small businesses. They don’t stop the virus, but end up causing more diseases. 

This is because health is not only physical, it is also economic, social, emotional, relational, spiritual, creative, and psychological. It is the balance of all these aspects of a human being.

This apparent disorganized handling of the pandemic makes me think of what Muadmar Gaddafi said in his 2009 speech at the UN:

Capitalist companies produce viruses so that they can generate and sell vaccinations. That is very shameful and poor ethics. Vaccinations and medicine should not be sold.”

Does anyone really win here? Yes, billionaires have added trillions of dollars to their pockets, however finding a “winner” now is like finding a winner in wars. Everyone is harmed, just some more than others.

We can find different theories to explain what is behind the virus, because although it has long ceased to seem like it, humans are rational beings. We simply cannot go against our nature, we need to give explanations, whether they are correct or not.

Below are some tips – based on what I’ve personally learned in my life – for how to be happy during the pandemic.

First, I want to emphasize that we cannot speak of our mind as something separate; it is linked to a physical, emotional, and social body. Therefore, if we want to speak of mental health, we must speak of health in all these areas.

We could say that our emotions have gone through an earthquake. Yes, the floor has moved, and now we have to relocate internally and externally.

A sense of humor

how to stay happy during a pandemic

Despite this upheaval, if we want to preserve our mental health, a sense of humor is an antidote to losing it. How can we maintain a sense of humor? By not letting ourselves be bombarded by the news, for one.

Create

By the way,  how is it possible that the same three or four news items pass through the 24 hour news cycle on repeat?

The world has eight billion people, and we are by nature creative. Are we losing our nature? If so, what are we, or what are we becoming?

Break some rules

Another antidote is to join the circus breaking some – just some – of the rules to survive. Because if you’re wondering if mental health is possible in over a year of confinement, the answer is no, of course it’s not! Humans are social beings. Contact with others is a necessity even for the least sociable among us. If we lose it, our balance falters.

 

Exercise

Another tip for emotional health, valid at any time, is physical exercise, and this is much better outdoors. I say this from experience, and it’s scientifically proven.

Eat more fruits and vegetables

Another good piece of advice – which no one has asked me but I’m sure you’ll gladly accept if you try it out – is a good diet. By this I mean less flour and sugar and more fruits and vegetables. Where else can you get vitamins and minerals? It’s the fuel for this vehicle called the body.
If you put the best fuel in your car, please remember to do it with your physical body; your emotional and mental body will also thank you.

Start practicing meditation

how to be happy in a pandemicIt’s a good time to practice meditation. We have time, since most of us don’t have to commute to work right now. You don’t need that much time, anyways. At first five minutes a day will be more than enough, and as you advance in the practice, you’ll be able to add minutes. (By this I mean: take advantage of starting to do it now, since many of us don’t know what to do with so much time at home. But don’t stop doing it when the pandemic ends.)

This is something that helps our psychic health, because it’s an important activity for our internal or spiritual world, which we have long forgotten, at least in the West.

Learn something new

Is there anything that you’ve thought about for a long time but never found out how to do? The internet can help you in that search, especially in the pandemic, since we spend so much time at home.

Think positively

Another tip to fight the pandemic and get away with it is to be attentive to our thoughts.

Careful! Depression begins with a sustained use of inappropriate or negative thoughts. Those thoughts are like opening a window in the daytime and seeing only darkness. So, also take care of the thoughts that feed your being. Thoughts can allow or give rise to certain sensations and feelings, this is another reason to choose them consciously.

Get into nature, and nurture your imagination

What happens when we stay indoors without giving ourselves the opportunity to be in open spaces, such as the mountains, the countryside, or the beach?

This absence of distant horizons leads us -if we are not aware- to the absence of distant goals. We stop dreaming, and dreaming is what gives us life or at least, the desire to live and continue.

So what we cannot do physically, let’s at least close our eyes and make it real in our imagination, because everything we do has to pass through our mind beforehand. Even what we say “arises”; it arose because you were open for that to arise.

 

 

 

The dangers of isolation in the UK

 

The dangers of self-isolation during Covid 19

 

By Cane Kelly

 

“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous – to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.”

                 Thomas Mann

 

I have been a hermit for a long time. Writing is a lonely occupation. I spend most of my time hallucinating characters to take readers away from their daily lives or writing about sociological topics. Mostly, the only interaction I have with another person is my editor when they help me polish my work or create more believable stories. 

Before coronavirus locked us in our homes, I was perfectly comfortable with the quiet solitude of my days. It was during lockdown that my contented solitude began to degrade, and forced isolation planted a seed of loneliness inside me. It’s now grown into full-blown depression and hopelessness since quarantine began in the UK in March 2020.

The isolation causes mental fog, irritation, and a yearning for natural spaces. I live in the middle of England where the houses are interlocked like Lego pieces. The two stretches of grass in my neighborhood are dressed in litter, with a tiny, polluted stream separating them. At least once a day, I wish I had a beach or a forest to retreat to and transmute the feelings of isolation into a more enjoyable experience of solitude.

 

 

Writers and loners are often familiar with the tensions between solitude and loneliness. The chasm that lies between them is equal to the one that separates health and illness.

Solitude recharges the spirit, while loneliness leads to cognitive decline and can take years off your life. The pandemic has brought both to light, but most of us have been dealing with the darker side of isolation – the one that leads to a twisting of the human mind and absurdity.

The truth is everyone needs human contact. We’re social creatures and spending time with other people is like any other biological need – like water to quench our thirst, air to fuel our breath, and warmth to protect us from the cold.

 

Consequences of isolation                   

 

There is an overwhelming amount of research based on human isolation and it shows that humans need one another – even the loners. According to the CDC, a lack of community raises the risk of neurogenerative diseases, heart disease, and early death. Before Alzheimer’s comes a knockin’ though, loneliness causes delayed recall and decreased verbal fluency. When we don’t talk to people, we forget how. 

Even before the pandemic, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) estimated that a third of adults over the age of 45 feel lonely frequently, while a quarter of adults over the age of 65 rarely experience social situations. Between lockdown and our addiction to screens, this is increasingly becoming the experience of the younger generation as well.

Loneliness is the feeling of being alone, regardless of the amount of social contact. People in unhappy relationships frequently report feeling lonely. It’s not just about having another body around you; it’s about having someone to say what you need to say to, and feeling understood.

 

The first UK quarantine

 

During the first quarantine, I was eager to practice baking and spend time practicing Italian. I planted scraps of vegetables and learned how to make homemade candles from leftover candles, and beat my husband at Monopoly for once.

Quarantine ravaged spring. The first quarantine here didn’t let up until August. My husband, myself, and our dog visit Pembrokeshire, Wales every autumn after the kids go back to school. We love the beaches, cliff top walks, and castles, which we typically had to ourselves.

                                                                                                                                                           

Pandemic vacation?

 

We’ve been visiting Pembrokeshire every fall for the last six years. Last year was the busiest season we’d ever experienced.  

We definitely were not alone in wanting to escape to the sea. We were hoping nature would be restorative. However the usual, quiet landscape we had longed for was crushed by all the other tourists.

The area is one of the most beautiful places in Great Britain. Nature lovers from all over flooded to these Welsh beaches, hilltop walks, and castles. 

Usually our spirits leave renewed and ready for the dark winter ahead. Instead I felt an immense grief fall over me as we left Pembrokeshire because it feels like home, rivaling the forests and mountains of rural Kentucky. 

The long return to the West Midlands felt like a jail sentence; I was reminded of how criminals were sent to Coventry during the Renaissance. I felt trapped as soon as we crossed into England. 

Looking back, we were lucky to have visited Pembrokeshire at all. Cases of Covid-19 again surged rapidly and Wales shut the borders the day after we left.

At first, the neighbors on our streets clapped their heads off and set off fireworks every Thursday to thank the frontline workers of the National Health Service. That hasn’t happened for months. The government has proposed an insulting 1% pay rise for NHS workers, many of whom are traumatized by the long hours and  overwhelming experience of treating Covid. Thursday nights are as quiet as any other.

 

The second UK quarantine

 

There has been little reprieve. One year of isolation later, it’s difficult to manage my emotions. I try to be productive by focusing on writing, creating art, or meditating. I tried to keep connected to my friends via internet calls on a regular basis, but depression can interrupt that support. I know I’m not the only one; some of us have just given up on reaching out.

I’m clinically depressed (again), a mere six months after completing three years of weekly Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). 

I was officially declared to be mentally healthy, and my Complex Post Traumatic Disorder (C-PTSD) was under control. I had filled a proverbial toolbox to help me defend against  threats to my mental health. I fought off depression until September when we returned to Coventry. My depression then pushed me further and further down the well of apathy as the pandemic killed tens of thousands of people all over the world.

 

 

Voluntary isolation

 

The Buddhist monk Tenzin Palmo spent 12 years in isolation in a cave and was content. What happens to the rest of us, who don’t have intense training in Buddhism or spirituality? In 1972, French explorer Michel Siffire isolated himself in a Texan cave for 205 days. His cognitive abilities declined so much that he could barely communicate toward the end. After five-months alone in the cave he reported in his notes that he tried to make friends with a mouse who didn’t want anything to do with him. 

His experience has been shared by others exposed to extreme isolation, such as Antarctic researchers and space crews, who have reported mental, cognitive, and sensory issues including confusion, personality changes, and depression and anxiety. Astronauts who have been through prolonged isolation emphasize the importance of routine, laughter, self-care, exercise, and contact with family.

 

The cruelty of solitary confinement

 

The worst examples of isolation are in the industrial prison complex in the United States. There are more than 80,000 inmates in solitary confinement, and this figure excludes jails and immigration detention centers. People are often left in isolation for months at a time, but we seldom hear their stories.                               

Isolation is cruel and affects the most vulnerable members of society. Seniors are another example. Like coronavirus, for them isolation is a public health risk. There are lots of studies that show chronic isolation is related to cognitive malfunction. In 2013, the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) reported that cognitive abilities declined with recurring periods of extended isolation. The ELSA study showed that humans with fewer social interactions experienced significant cognitive decline in verbal skills, memory, and recollection after just four years.

 

Blundering Boris

 

The UK government didn’t do a great job at responding quickly to the pandemic. 

PM Boris Johnson  lifted the quarantine too early for the sake of the economy and now, we’re back where we started.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock estimates it will be a long time before lifting national quarantine. However, the UK and European governments have at least tried to protect their people, while my loved ones in the US are living in a hellscape.

The British people are known for their fortitude and “stiff upper lips.” They fought through two world wars, and many feel entitled to their freedom, but what happens when that freedom is ripped away from us for our own good? Even the most hardcore hermit finds these quarantines pills hard to swallow.

The UK is an excellent example of another massive government error within the pandemic. Matthew Hancock warned, “You must stay home,” on March 16, 2020, but Boris Johnson didn’t officially begin the national lockdown until March 26.  Ten wasted days could have prevented some of the 124,000 deaths.

Families couldn’t have funerals. Families grieved inside their homes and the pandemic showed us truly how horrific isolation can be. It is now March 2021 and strict quarantine is still in effect in the UK, and experts estimate that the quarantine will continue in a tiered system for nearly two more months.

Luckily, the National Health Service in the UK has continued to work tirelessly to help those who have fallen ill to the pandemic. Commercials featuring Matt Hancock pleaded with communities to “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, and Save Lives.” However these orders don’t mean much when they’re not met by mandatory closures or work from home orders: people must still go to work.

Quarantine began in Wuhan, China on January 23, 2020. The UK’s lockdown didn’t begin until March 26, 2020. The UK was months behind China. Thousands of lives could have been prevented if the Johnson administration had taken swift and strict measures. Meanwhile, Trump’s demented rants on Twitter rallied radicalized conservatives to prepare for another civil war if he wasn’t reelected. The Black Lives Matter movement reemerged like never before, with protests that lasted months and occasional riots, bringing international attention to the racism that still plagues “The Land of the Free”.

 

A year on

 

In the United Kingdom, it’s late March 2021 and we’re still under strict lockdown in a tiered system. Most communities are only allowed out to get groceries, medicine, help an elder, or enjoy one hour of exercise close to home. Weddings, birthdays, holidays were spent in a hush across the UK and most of Europe. The isolation of the pandemic has created a new world. The consequences of greed and lack of protection of wild areas are starting to kill us off and frankly, I feel like we deserve it.

The disrespect for nature and obsession with consumerism have injured our planet and the Earth is sharing her pain with us as we are forced into isolation. Ask yourself, have you experienced anxiety, depression, or hopelessness during the pandemic? Whatever your response, you must recognize our world is never going to be the same. 

I rarely leave my home. I have groceries delivered and we don’t bring our shoes inside. There is an assortment of face masks at my house. My husband has bought a variety of PPE, hand sanitizer, and we observe the rules obediently due to his asthma and my chronic illnesses.

I barely recognize the world we live in. Naturally, I’m a writer and writers are loners most of the time, but even I am starting to feel the cage getting smaller and smaller. There aren’t any green spaces or forests close to where I live, just concrete, parking spaces, and shopping centers.

I grew up in Kentucky. I remember the hum of the cicadas and the flashes of fireflies at the start of summer. Hawks hunted in our neighborhood looking for garden frogs hiding in the brush. The wild and natural world was so close in Kentucky. It’d take 15 minutes to reach Raven’s Run which is a substantial nature sanctuary that overlooks the murky Kentucky river.

 

Healthy isolation?

 

American’s find it hard to imagine obeying the rules set by the British government. During the first quarantine I wanted to learn how to remain mentally healthy during the period of isolation.  I don’t watch the news and avoid social media that focuses on the pandemic to protect my mental health.

I followed the suggestions of a former submarine captain, Ryan Ramsey. Ramsey was the captain of the nuclear submarine HMS Turbulent between 2008 and 2011, at one point he spent 286 days under water in a 276-foot tube with 119 other people.

Ramsey suggested to faithfully keep a routine, make sure spaces are kept clean, look after yourself and make sure you incorporate downtime from doom scrolling. Isolation in a small space like apartments and houses is going to create conflict and cause irritation, it is inevitable, and it is best to have a plan for when it pops up. 

The most important thing is to communicate and work through these annoyances as calmly and quickly. Ramsey also suggested creating a team of support that you speak to on a regular basis to fight the negative effects of isolation.

 

“Freedom” vs. isolation

 

My friends in the United States still go out to eat, work out at gyms, visit bars and other establishments where death is certainly close by.

The murder of George Floyd brought to light the massive racial inequality in the American system. The whole world watched, yet little has changed in terms of systemic racism.

I love the ideals of the United States, but that’s all they are. All men are certainly not equal, women and people of color are often poverty stricken and working multiple jobs to pay their rent. Isolation isn’t just related to the pandemic; it’s also connected to the lack of compassion for vulnerable populations who are exploited by politicians and corporations in the pursuit of greed and materialism. I love so many people in the States, but the culture is crippled with a variety of injustices and corruption. My isolation from the USA might be permanent.

The UK passed legislation that forces people to isolate. We can go to the grocery store, pick up medicine from a pharmacy, care for a vulnerable family member, and exercise for an hour in our neighborhoods. It’s also illegal to enter a store without a mask covering your nose and chin.

Legislation allows the quarantine to run up to two years. The fact that we cover our faces because we have poisoned the air should be enough to wake us up. Instead, conspiracy theories spread like lice on social media.

The only saving grace is the internet. Thank the stars for social media and video calls. They might not cure the side effects of isolation, but it is all the comfort we have during this life-changing pandemic.

 

hero entrepreneur myth

 

The myth of the heroic entrepreneur

Transformation is something we can undergo, as in a good character arc. Transformation is also the art of creating something new.

Marx held that this instinct, the urge to create – which he called species-being – was the fundamental trait of human nature, what separates us from other animals.

In Ancient Greece they created art; temples, poetry, epics, philosophy, rituals, and mythology.

Under capitalism, we’re meant to create businesses. That’s to say, the vast majority of creation (or, work) is done within a monetized system, for profit. There is a “cult of the entrepreneur”. “Anyone can start a business,” they say, and this is what makes our society “free”.

What a limited sense of freedom!

And a false one at that.

How can we start a business if we’re already in debt from college or our mortgage? Even if we had the savings, why should we risk it when 50% of businesses fail within five years? And how are we supposed to compete with Wal-Mart or Amazon?

Despite its apparent absurdity, the entrepreneurial myth is one that sticks. 

Jung says that there are fundamental archetypes that take shape in every society. If so, then entrepreneurs have awarded themselves the role of the hero archetype. They are heroic by virtue of “creating new technologies” (with government funds), employing people, “solving problems”, or simply being wealthy and successful. Politicians are also considered heroic and in a sense deified, even when they’re vilified. Why? They’re supposed to serve the public.

Of course, entrepreneurs are the heroes of their own myths, as projected in the media they own. As long as a large enough percentage of the population believes that Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Bill Gates are heroic figures, successful because of some genius or superior talent that somehow earns them the right to their obscene riches, and capable of solving humanity’s problems, I suppose it’s easy for them to maintain this illusion as well.

Look for it on TV shows. I’ve seen it in just about every show I’ve watched recently: Fleabag, Grace and Frankie, The Santa Clarita Diet, Bojack Horseman. The main characters in these series all start their own businesses – or at least try – often in some sort of heroic, transformational moment. This is how one is supposed to make their mark on the world, achieve independence and empowerment.

Wealthy businessmen may be intelligent, or hard-working, but what usually makes them successful is not that they’re brilliant or good at creating things, but that they were born into money – and that they’re good at and willing to exploit others. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be successful. If you don’t exploit, you won’t be “competitive”, and you won’t make a profit.

This doesn’t necessarily make all small business owners bad. However it’s ironic that part of the romanticism of starting a business is in not having a boss or having to work for someone else. It’s taken for granted that we hate working for a boss, so we instead seek to become the boss. 

More institutionalized hierarchies, which already extend throughout our society, won’t solve our problems. This entrepreneurial fantasy obscures  exploitation behind the illusion that you can be an oppressor instead of one of the oppressed, and that this will somehow liberate you.

The myth of the heroic entrepreneur also feeds the glorification of productivity. Successful people are hard-working, we’re told. So many of us have internalized the notion that being busy for its own sake is good. That it determines our worth, even if we’re not doing something we enjoy.

But when we look back at our lives and measure our success, will we be upset that we never became the oppressor? Will we regret that we didn’t work hard enough for the boss?

No, what we seek in the heroic entrepreneur myth is power and control. Yet for most of us it’s not one of controlling others or the world, it’s of controlling our own lives. Entrepreneurial fantasy obscures how much we’ve been disempowered by capitalism, how much it controls our desires, our opinions, our self-esteem, and our very ability to survive.

With the American dream clearly fading, capitalist cheerleaders are trying desperately to keep this myth of heroic self-actualization through business ownership on life support. Portraying billionaires as geniuses and saviors, the media fawns over them and indulges their infantile fantasies of colonizing Mars or owning moon mines, while the world burns around them.

What a thoroughly deluded society.

So the dream of capitalism is finally starting to crumble. Most people, especially youths, no longer see a future for themselves. They’ve been traumatized by their own nascent experience in a sick society that doesn’t value them because they have no money.

When most of us are asked what we would do if we were rich, we usually say something like travel, art, or helping others – not cynically scheme for more wealth and power. We want a comfortable existence and the free time to pursue happiness within a community; that’s all most of us really want.

Most of us will never be rich or famous. That’s okay. That’s not what being human is about. It’s not about being better than others, that’s just another way of isolating ourselves. If we’re to go by Marx, being human is about creation. According to some religious beliefs, it’s virtue. Both are fine; much better than domination, or wealth for the sake of it. But for now, let’s go with Marx’s idea.

Marx said that creation was the hallmark of humankind, whether it be cave paintings, tools, language, food, music, art, buildings, trains, systems, or myths. He said that we’re alienated from our labor, and therefore our human nature, because we have no control over what or how we create, because the means of production are owned by the ruling class.

As if being alienated from our physical labor wasn’t enough, capitalism and its mass media has destroyed culture by commodifying that, too. So we no longer produce culture; we only consume it.

Public space has been privatized, and these screens they’ve given us in exchange for human interaction, for getting to know each other and create together, become isolating and barren.

Our economic precarity keeps us working too many hours in unfulfilling jobs, while those who don’t have jobs are made to feel worthless.

The bosses aren’t truly in control of what they’re producing, either. They may control the company, but the company is controlled by “the market”. Dictated by the market, even bosses are alienated from their natural propensity to create. They play God, but they’re really just more cogs in the machine. Of course, this is heresy to them, because in their eyes they’re Olympians, not Ozymandias. But if the billionaires are gods, why are they so insecure? Why do they always need more?

My point is that even the bosses are alienated. Even the rich are only human. On the other hand, if you’re poor, you can still create. You can create art and myths, organizations and institutions.

But create horizontal institutions, not hierarchical institutions. True creation belongs in the public realm. Solutions must be for the benefit of all. Food, water, shelter, and energy must be accessible to all.

If you create with your neighbor, you have even more possibilities for creating something meaningful. Even your language, your speech, is a form of creation. Squatting a building is a creative act. Planting a tree is a creative act. 

Create a different world, don’t waste your energy on this one; it’s dying.

 

 

mdma as a cure for ptsd

 

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy & PTSD: Revising our pasts

 

By Katalina Lourdes

 

MDMA, or ecstasy, is what you take before you go clubbing, right? Or, during your therapy session – which it looks like we may all need after Covid. And by then MDMA-assisted psychotherapy may actually be available.

MDMA isn’t a classic psychedelic like LSD. It doesn’t exactly alter your reality (though it might be able to change your past). The drug, which makes you feel happier, confident, and more empathetic, was synthesized in 1912, but wasn’t used until the 1970s, when it enjoyed a brief therapeutic career. In the 1980s it was sold on the street as a party drug, and was swiftly criminalized in 1985.

On the street, ecstasy is seldom pure MDMA; it’s usually cut with other drugs like amphetamine. It’s true that it’s not as harmless as classic psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin, and overdose or heavy, long-term use can have serious consequences. Its use at raves have earned it a negative reputation in the press, but pure MDMA – when used sparingly – is relatively safe, and less addictive than most illicit drugs.

Anyways, now that psychedelics are becoming more acceptable, the media is changing its mind and shedding light on MDMA’s seemingly magical powers to alleviate – if not cure – PTSD. And these days, there’s more trauma than ever.

The more we talk about PTSD, the more it shows up. One could even say we live in a traumatized society. Around 10% of people in the US are estimated to have PTSD at some point in their lives, and about 3.5% of the population in any given year. But those are the official estimates.

PTSD as a diagnosis was created to describe the symptoms of Vietnam War veterans. However we’re now learning that not only war, but everything from bullying, to living in poverty, to racism, to having Covid can cause PTSD. It’s also common in first responders like paramedics, who have to witness traumatic events on a daily basis. Whether or not we catch the “disease” depends less on the objective event as it does on the person, how they experience it, and the support they receive immediately afterwards.

Oppressed groups such as racial minorities and people in poverty are more likely to experience long-term stress and traumatic events. And those who don’t know they have PTSD are at greater risk of being retraumatized. This can lead to its new, stronger variant, C-PTSD (trauma is also mutating).

The only currently approved treatments for PTSD are SSRIs and psychotherapy, in particular exposure therapy. In exposure therapy, the patient recalls the traumatic event(s) in safe contexts over time. This is supposed to promote “fear extinction”, or an unlearning of the fear response. It turns out patients don’t tend to like remembering their traumas over and over again, and it has high dropout rates. Neither antidepressants nor exposure therapy are very effective in treating PTSD, with only around half of patients responding.

MAPS, an organization founded in 1986 to promote the research of psychedelics, has been at the forefront of MDMA research. MAPS decided early on to focus on MDMA because it’s the drug that best lends itself to therapy, and it had the potential to treat PTSD, which has no strong treatment alternatives. They’ve been trying to conduct research with veterans since 1990, with no luck because of the stigma, despite the huge need; over one million veterans are on disability for PTSD.

“The real motivation, why I’ve kept going for so long, is that humanity as a whole is, I would say, massively mentally ill,” said MAPS founder Rick Doblin in an interview.

 

Towards an understanding of PTSD

More people with anxiety, depression, and even addictions are realizing that these problems are often rooted in trauma. This was the approach of early psychoanalysts, that psychological problems sprang from childhood trauma (though people like Freud created weird theories around it, like “this person is anal retentive because they experienced a trauma during the very scientific phase of potty training”).

Behavioral psychology and medical explanations have dominated since the mid-20th century, because it’s more profitable to treat human beings like lab rats than traumatized subjects. Acknowledging the sources of trauma would also mean addressing the deep inequities in our society. However the popularity of people like the doctor Gabor Maté, who says that all addiction is rooted in trauma, has helped bring trauma theory back.

And now that we now know a lot more about the brain, there’s some biological understanding of how PTSD works (and MDMA, too).

PTSD changes our brain structure. As we revisit the memory or it’s cued in our environment by a “trigger”, our bodies secrete stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to respond to the threat, and our bodies reactivate the fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response. Our hippocampus measures and regulates cortisol, but too much wears it down, and so it shrinks. Meanwhile, cortisol continues to signal the fear center of the brain, the amygdala, which grows as we maintain a state of hypervigilance. The pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for thinking and can rationally tell your amygdala to calm down, also shrinks as the amygdala grows. So people with PTSD have a smaller pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus, which translates to deficits in thinking, learning, and memory, and a larger amygdala, making them more sensitive to fear. 

Of course this hypervigilant state was meant to respond to real threats in our environment, but PTSD is usually maladaptive, playing traumatic memories or their reminders and fear responses on loop.

It’s worth noting that memories aren’t only visual. As a study of traumatic experience notes:

“Episodic memory can present itself in parts… [it] might appear as an inner vision, a sound, or just a hint – a brief sensation in the belly or a strong pain in the chest.”

 

MDMA-assisted therapy offers hope

“We know from brain scans of PTSD patients that PTSD changes people’s brains, and MDMA can change it back in almost the exact same way,” said Doblin. 

“So, where PTSD increases activity in the amygdala (the fear processing part of the brain), MDMA decreases activity in the amygdala. PTSD decreases activity in the prefrontal cortex (where we think logically), MDMA increases activity in the prefrontal cortex. PTSD makes people feel isolated, alone, mistrustful, but MDMA builds trust and connection.”

MDMA increases the availability of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, while releasing hormones including oxytocin, cortisol, prolactin, and vasopressin.

This neurobiological cocktail puts subjects in an ideal therapeutic state. It provokes a sense of peace and safety, makes them more introspective and open, and more trusting in their relationship with their therapists.

And in combination with psychotherapy, it appears that MDMA heals trauma in about two-thirds of cases.

It wasn’t with veterans, but MAPS was finally able to conduct their first study in 2008. It was such a success that the FDA granted MDMA-assisted psychotherapy Breakthrough Therapy Designation in 2017, fast-tracking the research. 

In 2020, MAPS aggregated the follow-up data for six phase 2 trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy. All of the trials were conducted similarly, with participants undergoing eight psychotherapy sessions, two of which lasted eight hours and involved MDMA. 

At treatment exit, 56% of participants no longer met the criteria for PTSD. However in the one year follow-up this number had increased, and 67% of participants no longer met the criteria, while over 90% had a clinically significant reduction in symptoms. These are magical numbers. A follow up of an older study is even more promising, suggesting that the benefits of MDMA treatment for PTSD canlast at least 3.5 years.

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD is now in phase 3 trials, which are expected to be completed in 2022, and the therapy could be approved by the FDA as soon as 2023.

In case the government wasn’t sold on the benefits, MAPS produced a separate study estimating that making MDMA-assisted psychotherapy available to just 1,000 patients with PTSD would reduce general and mental health care costs by $103.2 million over 30 years. So for a million veterans, it would save $103.2 billion.

 

Positively changing our memories

MDMA & PTSD

MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is thought to treat PTSD through memory reconsolidation. It increases the connectivity between the hippocampus and amygdala, which may indicate a heightened capacity to emotionally process fear-related memories.

It turns out that when we recall memories, they become malleable. There’s a small window in which they “reconsolidate”, and we can modify and update them. The events themselves may not change, but the way we remember them, and especially the feelings we have associated with them, do.

We do this all the time. For example if you once looked back on a fun experience with a partner fondly, but then found out that partner cheated on you, you might remember that same experience differently – perhaps with sadness, anger, or a sense of betrayal.

When we recall trauma memories and our adrenal receptors in the amygdala are activated, those memories are reinforced from a place of fear. Continually recalling the same memories with the same emotions may be what underlies the long-term nature of PTSD.

MDMA therapy is like the opposite of that. The key is reconsolidating memories in a positive state. First you enter a safe, happy state of mind, and only then do you recall memories with your therapist, process them, and reconsolidate them.

MDMA allows us to visit the ghosts from our pasts from a place of empathy or compassion. Without fear, we can see through them and give them new meanings. We can make peace with them, and lay them to rest.

Can you use MDMA to treat yourself? You can try, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You’ll need the psychotherapy help you to integrate your experience and process your trauma, but to pick up the pieces of your life that trauma has left in its wake.

Doblin says the end goal of the MAPS project is “mass mental health”. If phase 3 trials are successful and MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is approved by the FDA, MAPS will focus on researching group therapy for PTSD, as well as other indications for MDMA.

Because MDMA is thought to stimulate prosocial behavior, MAPS is also studying MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for social anxiety in autistic adults. It’s also being investigated for couples therapy and addiction.

 

magnesium for depression, anxiety, and stress

 

How magnesium relieves anxiety, depression, and stress

Magnesium is fundamental to many processes in our bodies; it plays a role in over 300 biochemical reactions necessary for our physical homeostasis. It supports the cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and digestive system. It prevents the hyperexcitability of neurons that results in anxiety, stress, and cell death. For this reason it’s also being investigated as a preventative treatment for neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and stroke. Magnesium also reduces the risk of heart disease, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the frequency of migraines.

Magnesium deficiency is extremely common

magnesium for depression, anxiety, and stress

Most people aren’t getting enough magnesium – it’s estimated that about 68% of all adults in the US are deficient in this essential mineral.

Why? Most processed foods are stripped of their natural magnesium. For instance, refined flour contains only 16% of the magnesium found in whole wheat. So much pasta, so little Mg! 

Water treatment facilities also tend to filter magnesium out of our drinking water. Poor diet is strongly linked to magnesium deficiency, and other factors like excessive alcohol intake and stress can also deprive our bodies of much needed magnesium.

Magnesium deficiency can cause anxiety, depression, weight gain, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, muscle cramps, diabetes… the list goes on.

Several studies have established magnesium’s efficacy in treating depression and anxiety. In one recent study, daily use of magnesium significantly reduced symptoms of depression  and anxiety within just two weeks.

Magnesium deficiency, stress, and neural atrophy

So how does magnesium work? Because magnesium is so vital to so many processes, its role in relieving depression is multi-faceted. However one way is by regulating the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary adrenocortical) axis – our body’s main stress response system, which controls the secretion of our stress hormones. 

A second way magnesium may act to curb anxiety is by preventing glutamate from excessively binding to NMDA receptors. Glutamate is the main excitatory neuro-transmitter in our brains, and anxiety provokes an overactivation of NMDA receptors. Over time, these neural pathways become reinforced, and chronic overactivation of these receptors causes the death or atrophy of complementary neurons, resulting in neurological dysfunction. Long term, the cell death caused by NMDA overactivation causes a loss of neuroplasticity, and even  brain damage.

Don’t freak out – you can reverse this process and grow new brain cells. However, this neuronal death and atrophy causes key areas of the brain to shrink, a core physiological feature of depression. The hippocampus, which is responsible for learning and memory, is 10-20% smaller in patients with stress-related disorders like major depression and PTSD.

Have you ever heard it said that a depressed person has “stopped growing”? Well, this may be more than figurative – the hippocampus is also where all new neurons are born (perhaps thousands a day in healthy adults), so damage to neurons in the hippocampus may also limit our ability to form new neurons. If our ability to create new brain cells is stunted, it can affect our entire brain, literally limiting our ability to learn and grow. The prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for planning, cognition, creativity, self-expression, and social behavior, also tends to be smaller in people suffering from depression.

Magnesium may also support serotonin production, and increase the availability of GABA, the inhibitory neurotransmitter that relaxes us.

New neurons, neurogenesis and neuroplasticity

In short, magnesium deficiency can lead to excess anxiety and stress, which can in turn cause neurons and areas of the brain to atrophy, a central feature of depression. The good news is that you can reverse a lot of this damage by stimulating the growth of new neurons, which is called neurogenesis. Since all new neurons are born in the hippocampus, learning is a great way to stimulate neurogenesis. Exercise is also a classic way. Sex is said to help, too, by way of relieving stress.

Another experimental class of treatments, psychedelics, increases neuroplasticity and may even stimulate neurogenesis. Psychedelics reverse depression-related neuronal atrophy by stimulating the growth of dendritic spines and synapses in existing neurons. These are the very ends of neurons, where they communicate with other neurons. More and stronger synapses mean new connections and neural pathways, which translates to new ideas, thoughts, creativity, and growth.

Your brain will also need magnesium in order to create nucleic acids, which are essential parts of neurons and all living cells.

What type of magnesium should I take?

As with many supplements, absorption is a factor. Magnesium comes in many forms. Look for supplements with magnesium glycinate or magnesium chloride, which are thought to be among the most easily absorbed by the body.

Of course, mental health is complex; biological mechanisms interact with social,  environmental, and historical factors. However nourishing your mind and body by getting enough magnesium is an excellent place to start to feel better.