The mind under lockdown

We're lifting the lid on the mind under lockdown.....
26 May 2020
Presented by Katie Haylor
Production by Katie Haylor.

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This month, we're lifting the lid on the mind under lockdown. What's going on in the brain when you're having a virtual conversation, compared to one face to face? Could teenagers' mental wellbeing relate to whether they adhere to social distancing? And how to look after your mental health, whatever your situation...

In this episode

Brain schematic

01:13 - A sniff test to determine consciousness

Could a simple ‘sniff test’ predict recovery of severely brain-injured patients?

A sniff test to determine consciousness
Duncan Astle, Cambridge University; Helen Keyes, Anglia Ruskin University

This month, local experts Duncan Astle and Helen Keyes have been delving into a few neuroscience news stories for us. This month, Duncan’s been looking at a paper about sniffing. Specifically, using sniffing in a clinical context, to assess how consciously aware someone is. Severe brain injuries can render someone in various states of conscious awareness, from a full coma at one end, towards the more conscious end of the scale. Duncan explained that it can be really difficult to determine someone’s level of consciousness, and the paper he’s been looking at sets out to use the sniff response to try and figure this out.

Duncan - Well the idea is that your sniff response might be very closely related to relatively automatic brain processes. When you sniff something really unpleasant, like some sweaty shoes or something, without perhaps even realising it, your body adjusts your breathing pattern to accommodate the fact that there's a really foul odour. Sometimes you're aware of that, but sometimes you're not aware of that at all. Your brain is doing it in the background. And so they're trying to rely upon this relatively automatic brain response as a way of getting a reliable reading out of essentially how consciously aware the person is.

Katie - Is it then that if you smell something awful, you breathe, what, less or more shallowly so you're not taking as much in?

Duncan - Yeah, exactly.

Katie - What specifically do they do to try and test this idea?

Duncan - They had 43 patients, and for every patient they would do the sniff test, so they would present different smells that were either neutral, pleasant smells like shampoo or unpleasant smells like rotten fish. And after each presentation they would look at people's breathing pattern - so the flow of air through the nose as they intake breath. Within each session they would have multiple smells that they would present. After every session, they would administer a clinical assessment that tries to evaluate how conscious someone is. So whether they are, say, in a minimally conscious state or at the other end of the scale, whether they are essentially in a coma, what's sometimes called unresponsive wakefulness syndrome. Or what used to be called vegetative state.

And what they're able to show is that if you are more at the severe end, those subjects did not differentiate the different smells. The air flowing through their nose wouldn't change depending upon whether there was a pleasant smell, an unpleasant smell, or a neutral smell. However, at the other end of the scale, the closest to being conscious, those patients would very reliably distinguish those different types of smells, so there'd be different intakes of breath depending upon the type of smell.

And actually there were 10 patients more at the severe end, who did show a differentiation of smell. And that might seem surprising, but when they tracked those 10 individuals, all of them later transitioned to the much milder, minimally conscious state. So it actually seemed to be that the sniff test was a better way of predicting their future prognosis than the standard clinical assessment.

Katie - Why is it that the sniff test might outperform other checks?

Duncan - The whole point of someone being minimally conscious at best or in a coma at worst is that it's incredibly hard to get any information from the individuals and so that's the kind of ultimate challenge. And I think the reason the sniff test works so well is that in a way it's quite a crude response. And is thus seemingly very reliable. The physiological response to some disgusting smell, which seems to be so automatic that it can actually tell you about some underlying awareness and potential prognosis, so potential for improvement, seems to be really robust.

Katie - Can we be confident that 43 people are enough to say something meaningful about this study?

Duncan - Yeah. So how many people do you need in order to know is a really good question. Ultimately, the more people you have, the better. The fact that the effect is so robust and so clear in only 43 patients suggests to me that we should have some confidence about it. Now ultimately the real acid test is going to be when you scale this up. So imagine that the sniff test became incorporated with standard clinical guidelines for assessing patients who are in this condition. Then you can start to collect data on a scale, on a kind of national scale, to see whether this really, really works in front line clinical practice, and that's ultimately going to be the kind of acid test of whether this has real value in practice.

Katie - How would you view how significant this test is?

Duncan - Really good question. So I guess there's two ways of thinking about it. One is about clinical utility. The more aware or more conscious the participant is, the better their chances of recovery and that might drive certain types of clinical decision. So that's one side of the coin. The other side is about what's it like for relatives and loved ones of these individuals? You can imagine it's very, very difficult when you are unsure how aware the person is. And so I think that potentially there are two benefits. One is to the clinical care or the clinical team and I think the other is providing more information for the relatives of these patients.

Katie - It seems like a relatively easy test to implement.

Duncan - With these assessments, they have to be standardised, right? You have to know that if you're down in Addenbrookes (hospital) and you are in a minimally conscious state or you're unresponsive, you're going to be given the same kind of tests as you'd be given anywhere else in the country, or in the world for that matter. And so the only challenge I can think of is standardising.

 

 

The paper Helen’s been looking at this month deals with the rather disconcerting theory of cognitive dissonance - the mental difficulty that arises when one’s behaviour conflicts with one’s beliefs. In order to resolve this conflict, you could change your behaviour, or your beliefs. But Helen points out that this paper is suggesting a third option. Change your memory!

Helen - So here in a series of experiments that involved quite a lot of people, over 3000 people in total, participants were made to make a series of five decisions where they got to choose how much of a pot of money they would give to an anonymous fellow participant. So they chose how much money they would keep and how much to give to the anonymous partner. And later on, unbeknownst to them, they were then asked to recall how much on average they gave to their partner. And to avoid inflation effect, so to avoid an effect where the participant was trying to just look good, the participants were financially incentivised to remember correctly. So they were told that if they remembered correctly how much on average they gave, they would receive a financial bonus. So there really was a reason to remember correctly here.

Across all of the studies that they did, they found that stingy participants remembered giving more than they actually did. So they were misremembering. And this wasn't the case for generous participants. So it wasn't a general inflation effect that everybody just remembered giving more money. If you were generous initially in what you actually gave, you remembered pretty accurately. You maintained that positive self image by actually having the good behaviour in the first place. But if you were stingy in your behaviour, you misremembered, even when you were financially incentivised to remember correctly, you remember giving more money than you did. And this was particularly true for participants who had a high standard of behaviour for themselves. So participants who really said that they believed in fairness, these participants in particular had that misremembering effect if they were stingy.

So it looks like when people think their own actions are selfish or unfair, they misremember having acted more fairly, which preserves their image of themselves as a good person.

And I think the take home here is really that the brain is rather efficient, as we know. So it adds to our evidence that the brain always uses its resources very wisely. Why bother changing your behaviour or even your attitudes when you can simply change your memory of an event. Well-played brain! And it might explain why we often remember events so differently from one another. If everyone has a tendency to remember themselves in the best light, this might explain why we really can have two different versions of events. Finally, it might prompt us to examine our actual behaviour with more scrutiny before we feel comfortable with our idea of ourselves as a good person.

Katie - It makes me feel quite disconcerted. How do we know this is motivated behaviour? Are they able to control for genuinely just misremembering something?

Helen - So we know that it wasn't a general misremembering effect because people in different groups behave so differently. So people were really accurate in remembering how much they gave if they were generous givers. And indeed the more that you saw yourself as different from your own ideal - so if you really did believe that in a certain fair distribution across society - those people had a stronger misremembering effect on people who didn't really care about fairness in the first place. There's no reason to think that those people would have worse memories. It's very likely a motivated effect in order to protect our own self image.

Katie - Do we think this is a, I don't really want to put a value judgment on it, I was going to say "good" thing, but is it a self preservation thing, or are we just deluding ourselves? It's really disconcerting to think that our memories perhaps aren't as objective as we think they are.

Helen - From a cognitive psychologist point of view, we're less interested in morals and what is good and what is bad. We're more interested in what the brain does that's efficient and that's clever. And this is really a very clever thing for the brain to do. If we do have a drive as humans to see ourselves as good, generous, fair, honest people, if that's something that we value, it's really nifty from a cognitive psychology point of view that your brain can get there, can do that really efficiently without having to do much work with regards to actually changing.

Katie - But do you think there's perhaps a wider implication to this? I'm just thinking about situations where you do rely on your memory to be objective. Like, I don't know, say if you're being interviewed by the police or something. Objectivity must be pretty important there, right?

Helen - Absolutely. I mean there's just a huge body of evidence to show that our memory is absolutely not an objective thing and that we shouldn't be relying on it. Famously eye witness testimony is terribly inaccurate. We misremember things for all sorts of reasons. I think what this paper is adding is that we don't just misremember things because we have a particular interest or focus on one aspect of what's happening. We might actually misremember things just to make ourselves feel better.

Duncan - One of the challenges is that people are not very good with nuance, right? We like to have this notion of people as good people, or bad people. We're not very comfortable with the idea that even people who are, who are good and they're not monsters, it might do some bad stuff. We've kind of straight into this realm where people are either good people or bad people and this study kind of goes with that, right? If your own actions are not sort of in keeping with the view that you have for yourself, then we just adjust the memory slightly so that it's less inconvenient. We're not so comfortable with the idea of, "well, maybe it was a bit stingy back there, but it doesn't make me think that I'm not a good person". It's all part and parcel I think of this slight dichotomy that we've developed.

Katie - It just really freaks me out. It makes me feel like maybe I am in the matrix after all.

Helen - [giggles]

 

A person on a video call.

15:22 - Virtual conversations

Why are virtual conversations so much more tiring than face to face ones?

Virtual conversations
Antonia Hamilton, UCL

For so many of us, day-to-day communication has changed. Conversations have gone virtual to a greater extent, possibly, than ever before - work, school, socialising with friends and family. So how much do we actually know about having a virtual chat, compared to having one face to face? Katie Haylor spoke to social neuroscientist Antonia Hamilton from University College London...

Antonia - If you're on a live video call one-to-one, it's pretty similar to a real face to face conversation, how your eye movements, physiological responses behave; but then there's other aspects where it's much, much harder being on a video call. If I'm looking at an object or a piece of paper in front of me, to then share that with the person on the other screen is much trickier and I've got to start sort of thinking about camera angles and turning things around. Having video calls with multiple people is much harder, because you don't know who's going to speak next and you're losing track of who's where.

Katie - And does the quality of the communication differ?

Antonia - It probably does, but it's hard to pin down the exact ways in which it does. And I think it depends on the kind of conversation you're trying to have. "When's our next meeting" and "what's happening on this particular event" or something - that's probably going to be just as effective in either context. Whereas if it's a difficult conversation, it's a highly personal conversation, it's probably going to have a much bigger impact on the quality.

Katie - When we last spoke you mentioned you were just about to start a study on virtual conversations...

Antonia - We create a virtual person who'll have a conversation with you. We can have two different virtual people. One of them nods in the way that we think is natural; and then another virtual person, they just do some sort of head movement behaviour that isn't related to conversation. They're pretty preliminary results, but certainly our data suggests that you like the character more if that character shows natural head movement behaviour - they're nodding in time with you, they're nodding in response to the things that you're saying.

Katie - I've just noticed I've been nodding along to you despite the fact that we've turned the webcam off, so you can't see that I'm nodding along! But there we go.

Antonia - Yes! I was talking to somebody - I'm not sure if it was you - but somebody in radio who said that radio people do a lot of nodding when they're doing an interview behind glass and they want the other person to keep talking.

Katie - I definitely find virtual communication more taxing than face to face. Why is it so tiring?

Antonia - You're not getting these cues automatically, and so you're having to make a bit more effort to remember that there's another person there, that they can see you. Often you're seeing yourself on the camera, which is really distracting, and so you're sort of having to work a bit harder with all of these aspects of engagement.

Katie - Can I ask you about differences in social behaviour? Because I think some people, they move quite a bit more in conversations; and indeed some people find it quite difficult to communicate socially. Do you think that has implications for the pretty intense time we're in now?

Antonia - I think it probably does. There isn't new data yet on how people are coping with everything, having to switch to virtual conversations. I know of a group working with children with autism, interacting with them over webcam interfaces, and some of the autistic children seem to engage quite well with that because they have less anxiety when there isn't a physical person in the room, but they'll still engage with the person at the other end of the camera. But other people find that they really want much more physical social interaction; they're not getting that from the webcam. A Skype conversation doesn't leave you at the end with that same feeling of friendship maybe that you would have from actually having a pint in a pub with a real friend.

Katie - Do you have any communication tips during this time when virtual communication is just so much more frequent?

Antonia - I guess the main thing is to have a bit more patience with other people with the technology. Certainly if it's a group call, it's very worthwhile establishing rules at the beginning of 'this is how we're going to organise things'. Some of these bits of software have things where you can click a button to send a clap, or a heart, or a smile, or a thumbs up, or something like that. And we can see, in the context of things like texts and messages, how emojis have now become this enormous world of different things, because people want ways to communicate without having to put everything in words. We encourage people to use the option to chat, the option to put some emojis, because all of these types of backchanneling are really, really useful in conversations. And that's again one of the things that we often lose when we go virtual. So we can do it, but it does take more effort, it takes more patience, and it's important to take breaks and get away from the laptop as well sometimes.

*And as Antonia mentioned, her own study results are preliminary - they haven’t yet been published or undergone peer review.

TEENAGERS

21:37 - Teens and social distancing

Could teenagers' mental wellbeing impact how well they adhere to social distancing guidelines?

Teens and social distancing
Liat Levita, Sheffield University

The social isolation of lockdown can feel tough at times. And adhering to the guidelines is important in order to protect ourselves and society. So how well are we sticking to these measures? Sheffield and Ulster University have recently announced a survey of just over 2000 teenagers, asking them exactly this, along with questions about their wellbeing and resilience, their support networks and how much they understood why the measures were implemented. Katie Haylor spoke to author Liat Levita about the preliminary findings...

Liat - About 40 to 50% of the people that filled in our surveys felt more anxious and worried since the lockdown. And we also found a really interesting association between how people feel and how they actually engage and are able to follow these guidelines. The more anxious people were, actually the better they were in material to the social distancing guidelines. And the more depressed they felt, the less compliant they were. Where it goes into clinical levels of anxiety and depression, that's something else, but I'm talking about the normal range of anxiety and depression and changes in mood that we all feel.

All these behaviours that we now need to engage with are actually often quite new to us and they require effort. So if you're in a low mood, it's very unlikely that you will be motivated to actually perform them. With anxiety, remember the main point of anxiety is to protect us from harm, so it's actually a motivating force to do something that can prevent a negative outcome.

What we found with young males is that they didn't think it was worthwhile to the same extent as other respondents in our survey to actually follow the guidelines. So if you don't really feel that there's a point for you to do something, you're not going to do it. And that's exactly what we saw. Male individuals, especially older young adults, age 19 to 24, were the least likely to adhere and comply with the lockdown and social distancing guidelines.

Katie - Before we split the gender, how are teens doing in general, according to your survey, in terms of following the social distancing guidelines?

Liat - I would say that about 40% are actually doing really well. The younger you are, the better you are, so you should absolutely be applauding and patting yourself on the back. But that means that 60% are not doing such a great job overall. Something as simple as washing your hands every time you come home from the outside, 60% of our respondents didn't actually do that every time. And likewise other types of behaviours in terms of keeping a distance, washing their hands more regularly than often, again, similar types of numbers were not actually following the guidelines in a consistent fashion.

Katie - Why is that?

Liat - It requires effort and thought. All of us as a society are now having to adapt. Young people actually are thinking and processing information in a different way and that could affect the degree by which they're able to engage with this and maybe the speed where some of these behaviours are becoming habitual. And we also need to think about the environment you find yourself in.

Katie - And why the gender difference?

Liat - Many studies have shown that males tend to take more risks than females. And remember I'm talking about averages here and of course there are huge individual differences within that. But overall males tend to take more risks and are highly influenced by their peers in terms of the type of risk taking behaviours that they do. So their risk taking behavior during the time of the pandemic and the fact that they're engaging in more risk type behaviour in terms of exposing themselves to the virus and exposing others, makes sense. They are not really thinking about the consequences as much as females their own age. And there's also another interesting difference in terms of developmental trajectories between males and females.

Katie - I guess peer pressure must play quite a significant role in this?

Liat - Yeah, it's huge. We asked participants "of the five people your age that you know really well, how many of them are actually following the guidelines?" The male, young people that we surveyed were the ones that actually reported less number of people that they know well are actually following the guidelines compared to females. "Your friends kind of called you up and said, we're meeting in the park. What are you going to do? Are you going to go, are you going to go and sit two meters away from them? Are you going to actually tell them? Sorry, I'm following the guidelines. Can we just talk on the phone?" And again, many more young male participants actually said, "you know, we're going to go to the park". So if they are not thinking it's a worthwhile endeavour as I mentioned, they're not going to follow the guidelines. And it's interesting that there's a gender divide in how the original message has been perceived by young people. So we need to change the message. And we also need to change the messengers.

Peer influence, both positive and negative during the teen years and young adulthood is huge. So if we want people to adhere and comply to the social distancing guidelines, and also what happens in the next few months in terms of things that are changing very quickly and will require us to adapt, we need those 40% that are actually doing really well in terms of getting the message to be able to transmit that to others.

Katie - How diverse was the sample of teenagers that you spoke to? Becuase, I’m just wondering if the people who are more likely to take part in a scientific study might be a bit more likely to engage with the science behind these lockdown guidelines.

Liat - Definitely, I completely agree with you. So people taking this survey obviously had access to a computer and time to do this. There is a bias there. And what I’’m hoping to do in future studies is to make sure that the sample is more representative.

However, the strength of the study and the results are such that I’m not as worried by that as I can control that in my analyses. What is coming through really consistently, even if the sample is not as representative as it could be, I am still seeing 60% of these individuals, that might actually be more privileged than young people in society as a whole, are not following the guidelines.

Katie - Longer term, I'm curious to know what you think about whether the isolation of lockdown is likely to change the way we behave socially. Do you think we might be maybe a little bit fearful of interacting with others post lockdown? Do you think it might change the way we behave?

Liat - I'm really interested in this and I'm glad you kind of brought it up because in this grant application I'm putting together, I'm very much going to look at that. So what happens when things change? How are we going to interact with others? Is our feeling of personal space changed forever? Are we going to be a bit more distant with each other? I think just intuitively, initially yes, but very quickly that will erode. I think, again, it's about habits and how you used we are to being close to other people and we see cultural differences. So where I come from, we stand very close to each other and be very affectionate and physical. When I came to the UK actually was really interesting, being close to someone else was actually uncomfortable for them and you quickly get that! So you would move away a little bit until you actually figured out, "Oh, this is the correct social distance for social interaction". And you see this variation in terms of culture and countries and that's really interesting. So, I'm really hoping that we can run some studies that look at this and see how long those types of changes actually last. My prediction, they won't last very long, unless this pandemic kind of carries on for a few years. If there is no vaccine, etc, and we need to keep the social distancing for a very prolonged period of time.

*Please note these are early days in the research - it hasn’t yet been published or gone through peer review.

cartoon image of person holding a stay at home sign

30:13 - Lockdown and the digital divide

Do we know how digitally excluded people are coping with the stress of lockdown?

Lockdown and the digital divide
Liat Levita, Sheffield University; Olivia Remes, Cambridge University

With many of us feeling the strain of lockdown, the advice I’ve seen around quite a bit is to try and keep socially connected - albeit virtually - with friends and family. Indeed, we heard all about virtual conversations earlier in the show. This is all very well, but it’s not such a realistic prospect if you don’t have regular, reliable internet access. Katie Haylor asked Sheffield University's Liat Levita, do we know much about how digitally excluded members of society are coping with psychological stress of lockdown? 

Liat - No, and that's a huge issue because it's very difficult to make contact with them. I'm talking now to representatives of the NHS who are working with children and adolescents here in Yorkshire and specifically in Sheffield, to see if we can actually get in touch with young people that are in more vulnerable situations like that, where they don't have access to technology and social networking sites and understanding how they're coping and how we can help them to cope in this kind of situation.

Of course, the digitally excluded in society aren’t just youngsters. A lack of internet-enabled equipment, meeting the cost of being online, insufficient bandwidth, coverage or low IT literacy can affect ppl at any age. Katie spoke to Cambridge University mental health researcher Olivia Remes.

Olivia - Surveys show that 22% of people in the UK don't have the digital skills for everyday life. This survey was undertaken last year. It is one of the largest studies ever done on this topic. It's the UK Consumer Digital Index Survey and it shows that almost 12 million people in the UK can't manage their money online, they're not able to find a job online. And there are 4.1 million adults in the UK that are still yet to go online. Now, some other interesting facts, 6 million people in the UK cannot turn on a device and 7.1 million cannot open an app. Now, you would think that it's usually elderly people that are offline, but actually almost half of those who are offline are under the age of 60. And also a lot of people that have low incomes are more likely to be digitally excluded.

Now, if we're looking at some of the reasons, you know, "why are there so many people that are not online? Why do we have so much digital exclusion?" Number one, it's motivation and perceived competence. Some people are not motivated to go online or they don't think that they have the confidence, they don't have what it takes to be able to navigate this online world. So sometimes it's about perception, what you think you can do. And it's very easy to change that, to change perceptions and to increase confidence. Now there are also fears around cybersecurity and fraud.

Katie - I guess there you're talking specifically about digital skills, rather than access to digital technology, which is another significant reason why some people are excluded from the digital world?

Olivia - Yeah, absolutely. So going back to the stats, there are 4.1 million people in the UK that are still yet to go online. And there are mental health implications when it comes to this.

Katie - Such as?

Olivia - Right now education has moved online. And if you're disadvantaged, you often can't access online learning. It's either "pay for the wifi or pay for the food". You know, this is what some families have been describing it as. Now education is so important for our mental health. If you are well educated, then you're less likely to get depression, to develop anxiety. And not only that, but it develops your brain and equips you with skills and it offers you opportunities. So you know, there are clear implications like that during the pandemic.

Now, other things, if you're digitally excluded, you're not able to go online to check your emails. You're not able to order groceries online, to apply for jobs or even accessing essential health guidance online, and not being able to do basic life things then this can make you very anxious. It can stress you out and it can make you depressed. It can make it hard to fall asleep at night. So you know, there are serious mental health consequences when it comes to not being able to access and to use technology.

And also for looking at accessing mental health services, the numbers show that the number of young people accessing child and adolescent mental health services has fallen by 30 to 40% since the pandemic began. Now this is because before the pandemic, a lot of these referrals for young people were made through schools and schools are closed down right now. And so a lot of children and adolescents who would need these referrals, they don't get them anymore. And sometimes these young people are stuck in very difficult situations at the moment, you know, they're living in unstable households, exposed to trauma, you know, all sorts of difficult things going on in their lives and they're not able to get the mental health help that they need. So there are several mental health implications that are tied to this.

Katie - You’re hoping to look into this topic of digital exclusion and lockdown-related mental health in a bit more detail, aren’t you? What are your plans?

Olivia - Absolutely. Our plans are to use the power of the media - especially radio, and TV would be a great add on to this as well - because, for those people who don’t go online, don’t have a computer or mobile phone, a lot of those people access traditional media. So it’s important to use those to disseminate information to educate the public about things like “how can you improve your mental health during lockdown? How can you overcome challenges?

There are some things that, as a society, we can do to target this problem of digital exclusion. Number one - public education campaigns. Raising awareness about this and about how going online is so helpful can motivate and inspire people to boost their digital skills. And better understand what steps to take to avoid things like fraud or other threats online. And the survey I was talking about, it says “people who are earlier on in their digital journey may find it more difficult to improve at first. But as capability improves, momentum increases”. So motivation follows action, and I think that’s a really hopeful message to get out there.

 

 picture of a smiling baby

37:23 - Olivia's tips for mental wellbeing

Mental health researcher Olivia Remes shares her tips for keeping mentally well during lockdown...

Olivia's tips for mental wellbeing
Olivia Remes, Cambridge University

Cambridge University mental health researcher Olivia Remes shares her tips for looking after ourselves during lockdown...

Olivia - There are some things that we can do to help ourselves during this time and to improve our mental health during the time of the pandemic.

#1: One of the things is knowing that knowledge is power. So right now, all sorts of worries are going through our mind, worrying about if we're going to get sick, or if somebody in our family is going to get sick. And oftentimes, we think that worrying can help us arrive at a better solution, or we're being proactive about a situation. But worrying, for even a short amount of time, predisposes to even more worrying. And before you know it, you're stuck in a vicious cycle out of what you can't get out. It really is a myth that worrying helps you arrive at a better solution. If anything, it only makes you feel worse. It makes you feel more anxious and stressed and that's especially the case if the worrying becomes excessive and uncontrollable.

Knowing this is really helpful because it can help you take steps forward. If you cut the worrying, then you won't fare worse for doing so. In fact, you will fare better, your mental health will improve and the anxiety will subside.

#2: Now something else that can really help during this difficult time is to develop mastery, to take charge of your life. Now what do I mean by that? Well, the world around us is changing and we're living in chaotic times. A good way to maintain our mental health and to take charge of our lives is to schedule and monitor positive activities. This is really important. Positive activities like going for short walks, trying that new spicy curry recipe or anything else that you might enjoy! And it's not only important to just schedule them, but also to monitor them, to make sure that you're doing them on a consistent basis.

When we take time to engage in pleasant activities, research shows that we not only begin to feel pleasure but also mastery. When you have mastery, you start to feel satisfied with your life and your sense of control comes back. And if you suffer from depression, which a lot of people during this pandemic are suffering from, this technique is particularly useful. It's basically like a crane that can help lift you out of a low state.

#3: Another thing that is really important for anybody really, you know, for people that are really sick, for those who are taking care of sick people during this pandemic, or if you're at home, you know and you're wondering what you can do for your mental health? Well get rid of defensive pessimism. If you do this, it means that you're on the road to building a more positive mood state. Now to some people trying to become happy or trying to do things to make them feel better can be scary or even aversive. Scheduling things into your life that make you feel happy can be frightening or a totally new experience, especially if depression has been a part of your for a long time. The rollercoaster of emotions that we've been experiencing throughout this pandemic might make us cautious of being too happy too quickly, because what if it doesn't last? What if it doesn't work out and we get hurt? Isn't it better to not expect anything? Not get too excited and maintain a position of defensive pessimism? But the answer is no, because when we do this, our lives become a flat line. And isn't it better to experience a life with ups and downs like a wave with crests and troughs?

#4: And the very last thing, which is important for anybody really, and especially for people that still have to stay inside for the vulnerable, for those who are sick for elderly people, you know when you're inside your house and you don't have people surrounding you, you are tempted to start daydreaming, thinking of better times or thinking about how your situation is so bad. In other words, your mind starts wandering. But according to research, mind wandering is tied to depression. And what's interesting is that even thinking about positive things, daydreaming, is also not very good. It's best to focus on the present moment. And again, if we're going back to the science, there's this whole research field on savouring techniques. So basically you're doing something in the moment, focusing on a task, and thinking about the positive aspects of that task that can really help lift your mood. 

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