Searching for essence
Updated: Apr 29, 2021
Today I want to speak on balance. Sometimes life forces us to put ourselves out of balance for a while to reach certain objectives. It's hard to achieve extreme success living completely balanced life. But can balanced life help to reach sustainable success and happiness?
When clients refer to me asking for guidance in relational difficulties, problems with mood, depression, lack of motivation or others symptoms of psychological nature I always try to introduce a holistic approach to the problem. Surprisingly, the process of looking into a problem and analyzing it might itself reveal solution to it.
The person’s mind does not exist in vacuum and I do have to disappoint ones who expect to better their psychological states only by discussing philosophical concepts and states of their inner world. Human mind is located in the body and the body lives in social environment. We can’t look at these variables independently. That is called biopsychosocial perspective.
For healthy mind, stable mood, focused thinking the healthy and rested body is necessary prerequisite. Although I am not a physiotherapist, nutritionist or personal trainer to give advice on these variables modern psychology is investigating more and more mind-body variables and this puts responsibility for well-trained psychologist to educate clients on importance on healthy living principles. For example, as crazy as it sounds, but a great amount of studies show how a well-balance nutrition (suplementation with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids) can reduce or completely cure such a difficult mental health conditions as depression (Milaneschi et al., 2019). A healthy mind in a healthy body.
And what about social interactions? Humans are social creatures and for healthy state need healthy social interactions including friendships and other close people to satisfy their relational needs. These kind of actualities have become increasingly preoccupying during recent lock down periods, where social distancing, social isolation (loneliness) have made people missing social interactions. Lonely elderly, children lacking key socializing opportunities, interactions polluted with fear and uncertainty are adding up to increasing numbers of people seeking mental health support.
And as a famous psychologist Albert Ellis would say “Making a fuss about problems makes them worse’, it remains useful to mention that it is important to search for alternative ways for nourishing social interactions or, when necessary, seek support as on-line psychological counseling (Magai and Haviland-Jones, 2002).
Finding the healthy balance and taking good care of each variable of mind-body-social interaction model can help to reach the balanced and satisfying life.
But what about if the person is stuck in one particular sphere of his/her life, putting all his energy and mental resources in it?
For example, the overly strict concentration on one’s body, its flaws provokes body dysmorphic disorder (preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance that are not observable or appear slight to others (APA, 2013)) or eating disorders. Epidemic of plastic surgery reveals deep dissatisfaction with oneself which paradoxically, after “fixing” oneself with time only worsens by deepening the overlying psychological problems and symptoms.
Human mind tends to jump into extremes: on one pole neglecting one’s body, its needs, health and fitness. Sometimes it manifests as disregarding appropriate grooming which often helps facilitate social interactions and simply elevates mood.
On the other side of extreme we can see overly obsessed individuals (body dysmorphic disorder is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder) demonstrating worries about their body deficits, health or weight. The person’s anxieties and suffering expressed in various modes as 'counting spoons of food', spending endless hours in gym, investing money attending to change their perceived “defects”.
It is important to notice that we are talking about serious mental health conditions with unclear origins. One theory suggests that there are problems with certain neurotransmitters (chemicals that help nerve cells in the brain send messages to each other). Body dysmorphic disorder and other connected conditions often occurs in people with other mental health disorders, such as major depression and anxiety, which helps support biological etiology. Despite biological support for these conditions intuitive approach suggests role of society standards and pressures adding up to excessive preoccupation with one’s body. Low self-esteem in vulnerable individuals might turn peer and society pressure to obsessions and dissatisfaction with one’s body.
The solution is Cognitive Behavioural therapy which can help improve symptoms by reframing person’s dysfunctional thinking by discussing healthy and realistic attitudes about body image. The person’s reality depends on his perspective. For example, in real life we can see that that despite very particular and in society regarded as not perfect facial features, many of Oscar winning actors (think of Adrien Brody, Nicolas Cage, Forest Whitaker, Gerard Depardieu) are not man made flawless creatures, but most relatable human beings who firstly accepted themselves as authentic individuals which, in its turn, generated massive success showing that when one likes and accepts itself fully the others tend to feel about him the same way.
We were talking a lot about the body but the same principles count for mind or social environment domains. For example, excessively taking care of others’ needs and lack of boundaries trying to be Mother Teresa or Padre Pio disregarding one’s needs eventually depletes ones resources, can cause depression or irritability with others as perceived as ungrateful which eventually will lead to social isolation. On the other side, self-focused attention, egocentricity may lead to destructive relationships and social isolation almost the same way.
Disregarding mind, mindful decisions can lead to chaos and poor decisions and on the other side, being stuck in the mind, overthinking can completely paralyse it …
To sum up, all three personality domains are equally important for person’s well-being. The problems of various nature may occur in person’s life when he consciously or unconsciously neglects one or more of these areas particularly fixating on others which in turn, create unwanted symptoms. Starting to see oneself as an empowered, multi faced but well integrated individual helps person to develop equilibrium giving fruits in all facets of his life: mindful thinking, balanced body’s biology, healthy boundaries during social interactions.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association Pub; 2013
Magai C. and Haviland-Jones, J. (2002). The Hidden Genius of Emotion: LifespanTransformations of Personality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Milaneschi, Y. ( 1 ), Peyrot, W. J. ( 1 ), W.J.H. Penninx, B. ( 1 ), Nivard, M. G. ( 2 ), Mbarek, H. ( 2,3 ), & Boomsma, D. I. ( 2 ). (n.d.). A role for vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in major depression? An exploration using genomics. Translational Psychiatry, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-019-0554-y.