In a wide-ranging presentation, psychologist Berk Seymour — who works for the Prince Albert Grand Council as well as at his own private practice — offered a multi-pronged approach that incorporated three different disciplines.
“I wanted to do … a community wellness forum where we could take a look at some of the current issues that people are facing and look at it from a neuroscience point of view, as well as a faith perspective and as well as a psychological perspective, so people can have a holistic view of understanding what it’s like to live in the stressful 21st century,” Seymour said.
Providing context to contemporary anxiety, Seymour noted the uncertainty that pervades western society in a post-9/11 world and the role played by a sensationalistic mass media that often inflates the prevalence of issues such as crime.
He also discussed the role of technology in aggravating stress.
“Some people are now acquiring what we call an ‘i addiction,’” Seymour said.
“They are so used to being on their Internet, in terms of gaming or in terms of iPhones or whatever, that there’s a sense of dependence on that and it’s creating an overstate of anxiety” that can undermine one’s physical well-being.
Major life events can also create anxiety, with Seymour noting that according to a “stress index,” the stress of changing jobs and moving to a new location can take as much of a toll on a person as the death of a close family member.
Discussing forms of anxiety such as post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, Seymour pointed to the physical effects prolonged stress can have on the body.
The tendency is for people to turn to escape routes or bad habits, which further exacerbates or makes the problem worse.
“When you get stressed out and that anxiety triggers adrenaline, it triggers what’s called cortisol,” he said.
“It builds up in your body and you’re pumped. What anxiety feeds on is adrenaline, and adrenaline actually is a soothing hormone temporarily. It actually gives you a sense of excitement. But we’re not designed and created to live on high states of that particular hormone … After a while … That adrenaline starts to take its toll on you.”
Seymour indicated that there are both healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with anxiety, which often co-exists with depression.
“The tendency is for people to turn to escape routes or bad habits, which further exacerbates or makes the problem worse,” he said.
“So how can we help people make better choices? That’s what it’s about.”
A key element in dealing with anxiety, Seymour said, was a therapeutic relationship with another person who can show empathy.
Drawing a connection between counselling methods and the positive role played by faith, he added, “The therapeutic relationship — the art of being close to someone, just caring for them unconditionally — is what we call love. It’s what God is.”
Other methods of reducing stress include relaxation techniques such as meditation or paying attention to one’s body, and taking a “digital break” by reducing one’s use of technology — such as not immediately checking the Internet or one’s social media account upon waking up if this has become a habit.