The Metaverse

The metaverse - white man wearing Oculus headset

Mental Health and Virtual Reality – Do they Mix?

The metaverse is a virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users. People will be able to wear a device or log onto a platform on their computer or television and enter the metaverse. What you will be able to do in VR is endless. Imagine being able to play table tennis, hang out with friends at virtual bars or go hiking on your favorite Appalachian trail. Everything you’ve always wanted to do in real life, you will be able to do so in the metaverse. While it sounds good, you can also imagine all the downsides that VR will bring to society.

So how is the metaverse going to affect mental health? Well for starters, people might become more disconnected in real life. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic not going away, they will be more tempted to stay indoors and hop into their VR niche. It’s going to be much easier to come home from work and put on a headset than make an effort to meet up with friends. People will rely even more on technology to socialize and lose more of those in-person benefits such as touch, physical closeness and empathy.

The Metaverse and Psychological Addiction

Everything you’ve always wanted to do, you will be able to on the metaverse. Ever wondered how heroin feels? You obviously don’t want to try it in real life, but what if the metaverse will offer “heroin bars?” You will be able to consume the drug and feel as intoxicated as in real life! This might lead to higher addiction rates, despite being virtual experiences! Also imagine all the people who are struggling with their love life. What if the metaverse can offer prostitution, perhaps even for free? All you will have to do is hop into VR and experience a “virtual sex session.”

Everyone is excited about all the positives of the metaverse, but we cannot ignore the negatives. Look how hooked we are to our iPhones, internet and Netflix. Now imagine taking these experiences and intensifying them by 100x, literally transporting our consciousness into an alternate reality. Your brain is going to release great amounts of the “feel good” neurotransmitter called dopamine. My concern is when you’ll tap out of VR and come back down to reality. What will happen to your dopamine levels? For all the people who complain that “reality sucks,” they will likely be tempted to spend more time virtually. Repeat this process enough times and we can likely see society developing a “virtual reality” addiction.

The metaverse - white man wearing cyber glasses

The Positives of The Metaverse

Okay, not everything will be bleak. Perhaps many people who are lonely, avoidant, anxious or depressed will find relief in the metaverse. They will be able to socialize with others without the fear of feeling rejected as in real life. They will be able to conquer their phobias and anxieties by titrating experiences at their own pace and comfort level. People with depression might be able to enjoy any activity they desire, which they could not otherwise in a depressed state of mind at home. Those who are shy and avoidant will be able to interact with others at their own pace. People who are autistic will more easily connect with others who are also autistic and enjoy similar activities. Perhaps some people will also meet their partners in the metaverse and fall in love!

Let’s be realistic; you’re never going to be able to experience all the activities you’ve ever dreamed of. In reality, work, relationships, stress and other factors always tend to get in the way. But in VR, you will be able to go skiing, skydiving or visit Paris for the first time within the comforts of your home. Technology is going to become so advanced that skydiving will likely feel as if you are actually falling in the sky. Maybe you won’t even have to leave home to go to work. Your employer will provide you with a number or code that you will be able to use to clock in virtually and work from home. Sitting at home and working virtually rather than sitting in traffic for an hour will likely result in reduced stress!

For people who have always struggled to exercise and get in shape, the metaverse might become an easier outlet to get started. Don’t have enough money to afford a Peloton or motivation to head to your local gym? No worries! Just hop onto VR and start cycling away. Building confidence while exercising virtually might prove to have a beneficial effect on your mental health.

The Future is Virtual

In conclusion, it’s too early to predict all the positive and negative aspects of the metaverse. I’ve touched upon a few of them above just to get our minds to anticipate what the future might have in store for us. But as with any new technology, there will always be some downfalls that we need to prepare ourselves for. Everyone will be susceptible to different pitfalls and we will have to manage them when the time comes. But if we can at least anticipate them before the metaverse goes mainstream, we can mentally prepare ourselves beforehand so we don’t experience any major surprises.

What are your thoughts on the metaverse? Do you think that society is doomed and this is just another form of control by the elite? Or do you believe that VR will bring more benefits than risks? I’m tempted to believe that it will be an equal mix of positive and negative aspects. I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual reality might make us more distant in person. This will cause us to rely more on technology as a form of communication. I also believe that we are going to become even more disconnected from nature than we already are. Think about it, who wants to go spend time in a forest when you can just hop onto VR and do it from your couch? My main concern is that humanity will consciously transition from reality into VR and experience great difficulty transitioning back.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

The metaverse - smiley GIF

How to Prevent Social Media Toxicity

Hand holding phone with Instagram open near two flat computer monitors

Everyone talks about what they love about social media, but the negative aspects are often left out. Social media can be toxic and detrimental to your mental health when you are exposed to negative comments. These negative comments can be very powerful and make you feel sad at times. Social media is also toxic if you are constantly comparing yourself with people on Instagram who post exotic and wealthy pictures. This can make you feel sad by comparing your life which lacks those elements of materialism. When using social media, keep your mental health in mind and learn to spot and eliminate the negative aspects of them. How to prevent social media toxicity is not difficult, but are you willing to make the changes?

Blue woman thinking about social media applications

How to Prevent Social Media Toxicity Depends on Your Mindset

You have to stop approaching social media with an expectation of change. What do I mean by that? Stop wishing for more likes, follows, impressions, retweets, etc. Deep down, we all desire these features because they make us feel important and popular. Whenever they happen, believe it or not, our brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is part of the reward system of our brain and is released to make us feel good. So that’s why when you get that famous follow or a bunch of likes, you feel really excited in that moment; that’s dopamine. The problem is that like with any drug that induces a release of dopamine, a similar experience can be observed with social media.

Instead, approach social media with the intention of just having fun and naturally interacting with others, but without any expectations. If you’re naturally good at attracting attention on these platforms, then it’s even more important that you maintain a healthy life balance. Try to avoid habitually checking your social media pages at the same time; mix it up. Learn to incorporate other activities into your life such as exercising, meditating, stretching and in-person socializing. Don’t fall into the trap of checking your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day. This is when you risk becoming psychologically hooked on the platforms.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Why Do People Use Drugs?

Green marijuana buds in clear plastic bag

Drug Use

Why do people use drugs? Because it turns their world into a 3D-enhanced virtual reality setting. This allows them to play with the controls as they wish, regardless of the consequences. Users lose interest in normality and may forget that they have responsibilities that cannot always be sacrificed for pleasure. Drugs swallow up some people like a black hole, while others casually float about in the surrounding space, without any problems returning back to reality.

No one intends on getting addicted to a substance. Some people start experimenting due to peer pressure, wanting to fit in, trauma or simple curiosity. We are not here to judge why someone experiments with a drug. Everyone comes from a different background and walk of life and had their specific reason for trying drugs. As mental health professionals, we can analyze with the patient why they started using them, but we’re not in the business of judging them. What’s the point of judgment? It’s not going to help them in the present moment.

Why do people use drugs - Papaver Somniferum orange flowers

So Why Do People Use Drugs? I Still Don’t Get It

Because they want to have fun! Regardless of why they started using drugs, it ultimately comes down to altering their perception of reality. When one alters their perception, they gain newfound knowledge or experiences that are euphoric, enticing and entertaining. Even if it’s for a few hours, it sometimes feels like eternity due to the slowing down of time. When in that euphoric spot, the world is perfect and no one can mess with it; they become one with their mind and surroundings. Music is enhanced, Netflix shows are more entertaining, and empathy for others increases with certain drugs such as MDMA and alcohol. This is why people use drugs.

But why do some people get addicted and others don’t? Because everyone’s brain chemistry and personality are different. Some people have better judgment, more motivation or more realistic expectations; this allows them to completely stop or take breaks that prevents an addiction from manifesting. Other people are not as good at holding themselves back from drug use. For these people, drugs overtake their life while attempting to remain functional. The problem is that drugs and functionality are not a good mix; imagine drinking alcohol and water at the same time. You’re either going to give up the booze or the water. The same goes with people who are prone to becoming addicted to drugs. They end up slowly sacrificing their functionality for more drug use, due to tolerance, dependence and withdrawal.

What is your take on drug use and is society headed towards full-blown legalization of all drugs within the next 25 years?

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Smoking Cigarettes

Smoking cigarettes - white man with gold chain on neck smoking cigarette

Positive Affirmation – Quitting Cigarettes

“I am free of cigarettes because I have experienced the joy of lighting up during many different activities and now I realize that it’s not for me. Smoking cigarettes kill my lungs and I prefer to breath peacefully instead. Cigarettes increase my chances of developing lung, bladder and pancreatic cancer and also make me cough like a mule. Cigarettes make me reek like an old chimney and make my fingers look disgusting. They enslave me by causing me to smoke whenever I get a break or experience an unpleasant emotion. Cigarettes are the most addicting substance known to mankind and I refuse to further engage with this evil drug. I cherish my mind, body and soul and cigarettes are no longer a part of my life. I am free of cigarettes and proud of it!

People start smoking cigarettes to look cool and fit in, but I am cool without them. I don’t need cigarettes to make friends. I make friends without cigarettes through my personality alone. Who needs cigarettes to enhance their personality? It’s only a facade. My personality shines without cigarettes and people appreciate me for who I am. While it may be fun to smoke with others, I am destroying my health and creating a monster of an addiction. Why become addicted to something for the sake of fitting in? Even if I fit in, I may never talk to these kids ever again.

Smoking cigarettes - white woman smoking cigarette

Smoking Cigarettes is a Waste of Life

I cherish my life and don’t want to erase precious minutes by inhaling poison. This poison makes me feel better in the moment, but it will make me feel worse in the future. Cigarettes do not bring me happiness. I prefer to not smoke anything and just be natural, finding happiness through exercise, learning and spending time with friends and family. What do I gain from smoking? I want to live a long and prosperous life and feel healthy in the present and future. I can’t even exercise properly when I smoke; becoming out of breath like an exhausted dog is a terrible feeling. No, that’s not for me. Smoking cigarettes is a waste of life.”

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Smoking Marijuana

Smoking marijuana - marijuana leaf symbol with chromatic colors

Positive Affirmation – Free from Cannabis

“I am free of marijuana because I realize that it’s not necessary for me to use it to be happy and find joy in life. Even though marijuana is fun, I find pleasure in socializing in a sober state of mind. I enjoy my senses without having the munchies or watching movies and listening to music in an altered state of reality. I also enjoy not coughing up a lung or experiencing panic attacks when I am getting high. I prefer to have a clear conscience and not feel guilty when I am high. Smoking marijuana is an act of my past.

Cannabis helps me think outside the box but I can also do that without using it. I enjoy meditating and thinking which help me harness new creative ideas. Cannabis intoxicates my mind and makes me want to use more. The high gets my dopamine to act funny, making me psychologically crave more of it. I’ve tried stopping cannabis in the past; the worst part are the first few weeks after stopping. I end up craving more and have to struggle to stop myself from using. Why put myself through this mental obstacle? I rather just be free and at peace, regardless of its legality.

Smoking marijuana - burning joint on ashtray

Smoking Marijuana – The Gateway Act

Everyone says it’s not a gateway drug but they are wrong. Marijuana convinces the mind that there is more next door. This leads to either consuming more of it or seeking other substances never previously experienced. Classically, the next class of substances to make an appearance are the hallucinogens; can you say shrooms without thinking of its magical effects? And after that comes cocaine and what not. This does not apply to everyone but certainly applies to enough. Why do I need more drugs in my life? I can find mental satisfaction without consuming mind-altering chemicals.

How do I prevent myself from consuming? I stop smoking marijuana and put away the substance without seeking it. Sometimes it helps to completely discard it. I stop seeking the munchies, fun experiences and thought-provoking moments; I can find those naturally. I am not here to judge others on their partaking. In this case, I don’t want to use marijuana anymore. I find happiness by being sober and enjoying what life has to offer me. While smoking marijuana may be fun, I create my life circumstances and breath fun into existence without the THC binding to my cannabinoid receptors.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Don’t Be A Slave To Technology

iMac computer on white desk in bright lit room

Hooked On Apps

With modern-day technology right at our fingertips, it can become very easy to fall trap to an addiction. Whether it’s dating apps, gaming or binge watching Netflix all day, everyone has a tendency to surf the border between a normal experience vs. a pathological one. This is because technology does a great job at targeting our reward center in the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. This is where the neurotransmitter dopamine is released, making us feel good!

It’s very difficult for us to step away from technology because it’s so prevalent in our lives. Unless you decide to go live in the great outdoors somewhere in Colorado or Montana, you’re going to be surrounded by technology whether you like it or not. Unless you decide to live without cable, internet or even a cell phone, then you’re going to be surrounded by technology. It’s scary to say but there’s almost no escaping it!

So what can we do so that we don’t feel enslaved to it? We have to harness the willpower within us to balance our lives. Consciously, we know that we need to make a change but we often lack the strength to do so. It’s easier to succumb to our habits of relying on technology because it provides instant gratification, on a conscious level and all the way down on a neurochemical level. Minute amounts of dopamine release is enough to keep us engrained in our daily technological habits.

The willpower that I am talking about involves putting aside your technological habit and replacing it with something else, whether it’s for 5 minutes or a couple of hours. The replacement obviously should be something not related to technology, such as reading, exercising, socializing, etc. Most people fail at this point because they realize that they should be doing something else, but end up just doing what is easier; in this case, technology.

It’s quite a challenge these days to get involved with activities that don’t incorporate technology, especially as it continues to rapidly evolve. Honestly speaking, it sometimes feels like a virus that surrounds us 24/7. This virus might be more deadlier than COVID-19; it might not kill you, but it certainly has the potential of psychologically harming you over many years to come. How about the young man who committed suicide after he found out that he owed $750,000 dollars on Robinhood after an unsuccessful investment? But let’s not view technology as a virus because it seems too gloomy to do so, but it is food for thought!

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Psychotically Sheltered

Psychotic Indian man wearing glasses sticking tongue out

Three Blunts Later

Many psychotic patients have lost everything or never had much to begin with. Their home is the shelter or a psychiatric supportive house where they spend their days doing whatever they want. Many don’t have any requirements; they can sleep all day, create music, go to work . . . it’s up to them. Many continue to abuse drugs on the streets: popular ones in New York City are crack, cocaine and heroin; don’t count out marijuana.

But this is the problem with these shelters: they don’t drug test and even if they did, would they just kick out psychotic residents? They would all just turn homeless and nothing productive would be accomplished. So they continue to abuse drugs and take advantage of the free room and board. The problem with psychotic patients is that drugs impair their judgment and insight.

In the moment while they’re getting high, they’ll report to you that they feel better and that their symptoms have calmed down, depending on which drug they are using. If it’s crack or meth, their symptoms tend to get worse: they become paranoid, start hearing voices commanding them to commit violent acts and may even start experiencing visual hallucinations.

If it’s marijuana, many psychotic patients will report that the weed relaxes them and clears their mind. It may very well do that, but marijuana is prone to cause and worsen psychosis, especially the highly potent strains going around these days. Three blunts later and many of these patients start hallucinating, experiencing disorganized thoughts and behavior and freaking out.

Keep in mind that many psychotic patients are noncompliant with medications because they believe that they don’t have a mental illness. Add three blunts a day on top of poor insight and it turns into a recipe for a mental health disaster. It’s not usually the patient that brings himself into the hospital; it’s the residents or staff at the shelter that escalate the process due to their disruptive and dysregulated behavior.

There is no psychotic patient or mental health patient who I have met that benefited from drug use, including marijuana. They may tell me that they like weed and it calms them down, but then why are they in the hospital in the first place? What’s surprising is that many schizophrenic patients inform me that they’ll probably go back to using marijuana despite being hospitalized.

This is how powerful drugs are and we must continue to spread awareness for drug addiction and advocate for more resources devoted to the treatment and healing of drug addicts. But first we must continue to call on all the drug addicts to come out of the shadows and provide them with a safe and supportive environment and this platform is known as The DSM Ready Community.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Why The Human Brain Loves Drugs

Asian man laying on steps outside with eyes closed listening to music

Drugs Were Created To Entertain The Human Brain

For anyone who has ever used a drug, you know very well why the pleasure is reinforcing on many levels. You don’t have to be a drug addict to appreciate the pleasure that a drug provides and you don’t have to use something as strong as heroin to understand the nature of drugs. Something as simple as drinking coffee can help you understand why substances in general are addicting.

Substances or drugs, whatever you’d like to call them are very reinforcing because the human brain lacks them endogenously; in other words, it doesn’t naturally create them. Sure, we have endorphins which are released when we experience physical pain or great physical exertion, but that doesn’t count because it’s released only when the brain wants it too; the brain is not programmed to release these chemicals as a way of kicking back and getting high.

So when the brain is introduced to an exogenous substance, it tells itself, “Hey! This is interesting . . . I kinda like it! Let’s get some more!” This reaction is most likely universal, whether it’s in relation to food, drugs, sex, coffee, chocolate or anything that is external and excites the brain. Usually, the greater the pleasure that is associated with an external substance or act, the more the brain becomes susceptible to seeking and craving it.

The brain is not as powerful as we like to believe; if it were, there wouldn’t be drug addicts, sex addicts or gamblers in society. The brain is actually quite weak when it comes to pleasure. Let’s consider an example as simple as having sex: when someone hasn’t had sex in over a year and are suddenly presented with a natural occasion of good sex, they will immediately seek it again the following day or a few days later.

This is because after not having sex for over a year, the act of having it yesterday has reawakened your part of the brain that was missing the physical sensational pleasure; in this case, sex. So your brain tells you, “Get some more of it! Do what you have to do to bring her back! Let’s go, what are you waiting for?” You see how child-like the brain is? It’s the soul within you that has to tame your brain and tell it, “Hold your horsepower! It might take some time before sex can be achieved again.”

And your brain either listens or not, causing you to make a mistake in your human interactions or playing it cool and attracting your mate for another joy ride. The human brain is not as mature as we’d like to believe it is. It goes through a lot of trial and errors in life, including drug experimentation for some. But for those who don’t tame their brain, they become victim to an addiction.

Drugs were created to entertain the human brain but they’re not a good form of entertainment for all humans. There are some people who are strong enough to control their use, while many fall victim to an addiction. It’s very multifactorial on who is prone to developing an addiction; it’s based on environmental triggers, personality, experience, perception, socioeconomic status, genes, etc.

At the end of the day, the human brain needs to be tamed but the question remains, “Are you the one in charge of your mind?”

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Getting High During Social Distancing

Person holding unrolled cannabis joint with grinders on table

Is Your Brain The Real Enemy?

With so much time on your hands, your brain begins to beg you, “Please give me some candy so I can feel bomb!” The problem with listening to your brain’s demands is the same problem when you listen to a child’s continuous requests: you give up power as they gain more control. Getting high during social distancing is certainly very tempting but you have to resist your brain’s desires.

The coronavirus pandemic is a perfect time to develop a drug addiction; hence, why you have to redirect your mind away from substances. With so much free time on your hands and mixed feelings regarding the current social situation, substances become an avenue of escape; a destination that is often hard to return back from.

Getting high helps you to enhance your isolation at home. It makes activities such as cruising the web, watching YouTube videos, having sex, eating and putting on a Netflix show much more enjoyable. That’s because substances hijack your reward center in the brain and release great amounts of dopamine; much more than naturally released when having sex with an attractive partner!

That’s why half the world is addicted to a substance; it’s like candy for adults. Just as children love sugar highs, adults love a state of intoxication. Since we are little, we have been programed by society to enjoy getting high. The difference between those who do and don’t comes down to many factors, including the current COVID-19 pandemic!

Getting high may truly make your social distancing experience more enjoyable; no one is denying that. But are the consequences worth it? When all of the smoke clears up and the coronavirus dies down, will you want to be in a position of stepping out in public with an addiction on your hands? If you do end up in that position, the real enemy was your brain who convinced you all along to get high and you fell for it!

So don’t allow your brain to become your enemy. It does not always look out for what’s best for you; the brain is quite selfish! The human brain is so smart that it comes up with ways of tricking you into giving it what it desires. And once you give it a glimpse into the world of getting high, it will take full advantage of the dopamine rushes by keeping you hooked on drugs as much as it possibly can.

Control your mind and you will be in a good position to carry forward.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

Domestic Violence While High On Crack

Low-angle photo of hanged shoes on wire next to buildings during daytime

The Crack Shack

The impact of drugs on the human mind is so powerful, that an addict will often remain in an abusive relationship despite the adverse consequences. It’s very sad to hear about such stories, but they are quite common. Imagine a female crack addict who presents to the emergency room because her husband beat her with a broom. Domestic violence while high on crack is not a joke.

Many women who remain in abusive relationships continue to use drugs and return to their husbands despite being severely beaten. Usually their partners abuse drugs as well. In this case, crack is cheap, alters the mind and gives users more energy and confidence. When a crack husband beats on a crack wife, this is to show a force of authority.

Both of their self-esteems are already low from poverty, disease and addiction. For the husband, by demonstrating a dominating role, he starts to feel a little better about himself. The wife on the other hand has no place to go, so she comes back crawling to the husband, who is situated in the crack shack higher than a kite.

When the wife comes back, the husband looks at her like a cockroach invading his territory. But rather than stomping on it, he accepts her back for company and pleasure. But as soon as his mood goes berserk again, he reverts back to stroking his ego by beating her. This pattern can literally happen dozens of times with no end in sight.

The sad part of this situation is the wife who shows up to the psychiatric emergency room depressed and suicidal; even psychotic at times from her excessive drug use. What usually happens is that she’ll get admitted, become consistently medicated for a week or two at most and then discharged back into the community. She may be referred to a rehab but she probably won’t follow up.

Guess where she’ll end up? That’s how powerful drug addiction is. The crack shack stays open 24/7.

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

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