Thursday, April 11

“The pandemic has filled psychology consultations like never before”

Psychologist Rafael Santandreu will visit Badajoz next Wednesday to present his book ‘Fearless’ at an event that will take place at half past seven in the Palacio de Congresos, organized by the Aula de Cultura HOY and the Fundación Vocento, and sponsored by Cajalmendralejo. After the presentation, Santandreu will sign copies of his book.

–You published your book ‘Fearless’ at a time of great uncertainty. The health crisis has made us isolate ourselves. Do you think it has made us more fearful?

-The pandemic has discovered who was emotionally strong and who was not. For the former, no problem. For the others, it has been a very hard blow. And that has filled psychology consultations like never before. The bottom line is that you should train yourself to achieve emotional strength before adversity strikes.

-The therapy you propose in your book to overcome fears is based on 4 steps: face, accept, float and let time pass. What is the most expensive?

-To overcome acute fears such as anxiety attack disorder, you have to expose yourself to it, every day, openly. It’s like going down to hell on purpose, over and over again. It is something counter-intuitive and very hard. But it is the only way to overcome that kind of fear, which is sharp and overwhelming.

–What are the main fears that paralyze your patients?

–Panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and hypochondria. Panic disorder consists of frequently feeling overwhelming symptoms such as wild dizziness, a pounding heart, chest pain… The person usually thinks they are having a heart attack, but it is nothing. It’s just fear of fear. For example, just before he was fired, Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman had an anxiety attack and rushed to the emergency room. There they did all the tests and concluded that it was nothing. Many people have attacks like this every day.

-You say that fear is smoke and that, like all negative emotions, they are creations of our mind that disappear if we stop fearing them, but how do you stop being afraid?

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–Fear is always a creation of our mind; it is more like an optical effect than a reality. And, as such, you can eradicate it. To achieve this, you have to expose yourself to it systematically and intensely. It’s a very hard work. The logical thing is to carry out that mega effort only if your fear is really a problem. Otherwise, it is more logical to leave it be. For example, I am afraid of cockroaches and I stop exposing myself to them because it is not a fear that disturbs my day to day life.

“Mental health is the second most important health problem in industrialized society”

–Are Spaniards still reluctant to go to a psychologist or psychiatrist to help them overcome their mental problems?

–That prejudice has decreased a lot in recent years and after the pandemic, even more so. It is clear that most intelligent and educated people know that learning emotional intelligence provides some very remarkable advantages. Great executives, athletes, artists… they don’t hesitate to cultivate their mind with a psychologist or coach.

–Are we ashamed to admit and tell our fears because we think it makes us weaker?

-Yes. There are people who believe that healthy people do not fall into depression or anxiety. And the truth is that anyone can fall into a mental trap. I have treated decorated police officers, experienced firefighters, high-level politicians and executives, famous athletes, etc. for panic attacks. All super strong and battle-hardened until they fall into a mental mess. But if you are smart, you will use it to learn and make yourself stronger and wiser.

–How can family and friends try to help the person in need to overcome their fears?

–Doing the most difficult: not protecting them. You have to support them to conquer their fears. It is something that only they can do. You can encourage them, love them… but never take the chestnuts out of the fire. That may calm them down at first, but it will soon put them even more in fear.

–12% of Spaniards take anxiolytics. You are not a big fan of this type of medication. How does the consumption of drugs influence the quality of life of the population?

–I am not in favor of people taking anxiolytics for anxiety disorders indiscriminately. On other uses of anxiolytics, I do not pronounce. Why do I think it is a bad idea to take them as drugs of first choice for anxiety disorders? Because, from a mental point of view, they are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they calm. But on the other, they convey to the patient’s mind that there is something to fear. They are a form of avoidance that, in the medium term, increases fear. For this reason, there are countless cases of people who take huge amounts of tranquilizers and have more and more anxiety attacks.

“Self-demanding is the first source of anxiety. It is much better to learn never to demand anything from yourself»

-Tell me about a case.

-In my book I explain the testimony of María José. She came to see me because she had had daily anxiety attacks for 30 years. And that she took 7 to 8 anxiolytics every day. Since she finished therapy about 7 years ago, she has not had any more attacks. But first she had to give up all those pills. She took a year to get it with the follow-up of her doctor and our psychological assistance. Her addiction to anti-anxiety medications had become as big a problem as her seizures.

–In your book you refer to the importance of emotional education to help deal with problems, should we further develop our emotional intelligence?

–Learning emotional intelligence is urgent because modern life is like a Ferrari: it can go full throttle! Now we have thousands of life options. But that Ferrari needs just as powerful brakes and a steering wheel. And that gives you emotional intelligence or values. Without it, you can easily crash: that is, overwhelm yourself with self-demands and the rhythm of life.

– Do we demand too much of ourselves and that leads us to feel anxiety?

-Self-demanding is the first source of anxiety. It is much better to learn never to demand anything of yourself. I, for example, no longer demand of myself to be a good psychologist, nor to have the approval of others, nor to be efficient, nor intelligent… I have goals, but if I don’t achieve them, I stay pretty much the same. I have learned (it has cost me mine) that the important thing is to make honest, fun or exciting efforts: the result of that effort, however, is something anecdotal and not very important. But if you want to get rid of the stress, you will have to believe this deeply. Superficial beliefs are worthless.

–Does the health system pay enough attention to mental health?

Mental health is the second most important health problem in industrialized society. In about 20 or 30 years, it will be the first. The economic cost will be gigantic. And at the level of personal suffering, worse. If we’re smart, we’ll get our hands on that. We will do it? I doubt it. But, attention, at an individual level you can do it.

Have you felt fear at some point in your life? How have you overcome it?

-I have felt great fears of all kinds: irrational, acute, childish, overwhelming, terrifying, embarrassing, pathetic, overwhelming, gigantic, paralyzing, violent… If I had not experienced them, I would not be able to guide anyone on the path of overcoming them. And, of course, I have overcome them with the 4-step method that I explain in ‘Without fear’. But it is a method that I did not invent: the method is thousands of years old and the Buddhists already talked about it. I am just one more who continues to pass the flame on to others.

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