What football fervour can tell us

You can’t really escape World Cup fever this month in England. The football fever has taken over the country and everyone has been following the exploits of the England football team, and tracking the highs and lows.

England’s victory over Sweden in the quarter-final game was greeted with jubilant scenes. Fans were expectant and thought that this might be the year that football was coming home, to quote the words from the song by David Baddiel. It took place on a hot sunny afternoon, at 3pm, and so when the final whistle blew, an alcohol-fuelled crowd celebrated the victory. There is footage of fans smashing taxis, trashing furniture in IKEA, and generally other forms of anti-social behaviour. To say that this is the work of a few is rather masking the issue. It was a handful that caused the damage, but they were egged on by others who took part in the festivities.

Why are we such a repressed nation? And why is it that celebration cannot take place without alcohol, or happy scenes cannot be celebrated without the need to let loose and trash things?

Unfortunately – and you may disagree – this lack of respect for society and shared social things is inbred in people nowadays. Despite the technology and number of followers on Twitter or Instagram that people have, technology has made us less sociable in real life. People seem to care less about the things that go on around us unless it affects us directly, we have a stake in it, and it has the possibility of affecting us adversely. Otherwise we just carry on, ignoring the stimulus of life around us. We can blame the overflow of information around us – overloaded by information stimulus of life, we just switch off the parts that don’t matter. And as life continue to overwhelm us with information – remember that many terrabytes of information are produced every single day – it is not conceivable to think that society will become more and more disconnected with each passing day.

One may argue that we are just showing different sides to ourselves. We all have many faces that different people see parts of. The music composer Mozart, for example, was privately melancholic, yet outwardly choleric and effusive. (You can read about this in the Muswell Hill Piano Lessons website.) But is it healthy to partake in that contradiction – a happy celebration that involves anti-social behaviour? It only promotes mind and body disconnect, and sets up human beings to be more deluded in the future.

Why outlets for stress help mental health

According to data scientist Seth Stephenson-Davidowitz, Google searches are a more accurate indicator of our innermost thoughts and emotions, because people believe they are anonymous on the internet. Well, in light of the recent developments of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, people are more aware of the issues of privacy, and if you haven’t, certainly you would have been bombarded by companies asking your data consent, to opt in voluntarily, instead of being opted in. But the latter concerns over privacy also are a breeding ground for spam. Wait to receive “opt out” messages from spammers who then ask you to fill in your account details on their site – beware!

Coming back to the issue of using data trends for insights, people are less inclined to tell the truth face to face or in a survey, because of how they feel it would reflect on them. They may worry about how their innermost thoughts are perceived and the effect it has on others around them. For example, did you know that many adults regret having children? The time and energy devoted into parenting detract from promising careers and pursuits. But yet admitting this would be akin to telling a child “I never wanted you”.

The problem with modern life is that we have to manage a lot of contradictions. For some, children are a source of happiness, but they detract from our own and cause us unhappiness. Ever seen an adult who wanted to do something but couldn’t because he or she had to stay home with the kids? In the 1980s, work was rebranded to look cool, to be able to do the thing you enjoyed most as a career, but for many the enjoyment of work is not as what it seems. We don’t necessarily do the things we enjoy, just the things that give us the financial freedom. Enjoyment is secondary.

The whole thing points towards a big, fat disconnect between the way our lives are going and the way we want them to.

And disconnect breeds mental stresses and health deterioration in the long term.

It is my opinion that society is walking towards a social and mental health timebomb.

As companies trim their workforce, and job security wanes, and the stresses of life impact on us and causes us a disconnect between the reality of life and our expectations, what can we do?

We can learn to manage our expectations of life.

There are many things that people around say which are not necessarily true. Things like “You should enjoy your job”, “no pain no gain” and other sayings or axioms that we take to heart but are actually not helpful. Try telling a homeless person “no pain no gain”, or talk about “trading it all in, to do the things you love” to someone who is struggling with job security, with a mortgage and children to bring up. Don’t listen and accept blindly the things around you, because as Seth says, everybody lies.

The second thing you can do is to find outlets for your mental triggers.

Seth’s research into Google data trends suggest that money and climate are high causes of depression. So what if you live in a cold place, and have no money to spend? Are you screwed?

Seek to establish some form of financial security. Spend less, save more. Work towards maximising income and minimising expenditure. Forget momentarily the trappings of modern appearance; we all want to look cool but life involves knuckling down and setting aside the need to look hip. This is how society encourages us to spend – it tells us we need the most modern gadgets and things, the best clothes – but we really need to live frugally, although it is easier said than done.

Find outlets for expression. Listening to music may be cool or great, but it is also receptive, not productive, so too much music can only cause you to feel more stressed. Instead, seek to do things such as learning to draw, or learning the piano, which uses a different part of your brain and allows you some temporary from of escape from life’s stresses and stressors. And learn to channe frustration into something creative, like many other Classical music composers in the past. And something like taking up piano exams could provide a target to aim for, in terms of self-fulfillment, and a diversion from daily life too. It is something meaningful you can do for yourself.

Modern life is about contradiction, and we have to learn to bridge the ever-widening gap. Learning to straddle the two is one of the most important skills we could teach the generations to come.

Triumph – but at what cost?

Guess who the most hated man in Egypt is right now?

Clue: It is one of their politicians.

It’s not even Donald Trump.

In fact, it’s got nothing to do with politics.

The man that is fanning the flames at the moment is footballer Sergio Ramos.

Ramos plays for the Spanish team Real Madrid as a centre-back. That is to say, he is one of two players in front of the goalkeeper, to stop opposing players from getting their strikes in.

Ramos has made a reputation for himself over the years as a hardman, using physical play to intimidate or put off opposing strikers from coming into his zone. This means that instead of shooting directly from the front of the goal, where the width gives a larger target, opposing players have to go from the side, where the angle is narrower. Ramos’ reputation as a hardman has meant he has been sent off many times in his career.

And as he has aged, and his physical skills have declined, Ramos has resorted more to guile and trickery, to get players sent off or carded, to influence the game. He writhes around at the slightest contact as if he has been hit by a train, and he is always playing mind games with the opposition.

So why is Ramos the most hated man in Egypt right now? Last night’s Champions League football final saw Real Madrid take on Liverpool. And in the game Ramos practically arm-barred talismanic Mo Salah into the ground, slamming his shoulder into it and dislocating it.

You can see that Ramos deliberately traps the arm before using his left leg to deliberately induce a fall.

The old wily fox realised that the only way to have an edge was to take out the opposing team’s most influential player.

Salah is out for the World Cup. Which is why many Egyptians will be fuming at was what not a deliberate attempt to play the ball at all. With Salah out, Egypt doubts.

The sad message is what it sends to kids and fans. Real Madrid is one of the most popular teams in the world, and Ramos is one of the more well-known players in it.

But subscribing and following a team means justifying such acts and condoning them. It breeds a “win at all costs” mentality that includes negative competition.

Drive is a good thing to have. The Baroque music composer J S Bach once walked two hundred miles to watch a concert by Dietrich Buxtehude. And Bartholomeo Cristofori went through many revisions before he produced the working version of the piano. But when the drive to win is tempered by ill practice, it sets up the wrong mindset, which, exacerbated over time, compounds a disconnect between perception and reality, which is where mental deterioration begins.

The problem is also because supporting bad practice demands we re-frame evidence. Is Sergio Ramos a dirty player? If you are an Egyptian, or a neutral, you might say “Yes”. If you are a Real Madrid fan, you would say “No”, despite his reputation over the years (look how the Real Madrid and Barcelona matches always end up with Madrid trying to roughhouse Leo Messi). But in saying “No”, you are forced to accept and even justify an incorrect act.

Remember how in the World Wars people claimed innocence for acts of atrocities because they said they were only following orders? The whole evidence of evil actions was reframed by the act of purporting to follow the company line – in this case the national line.

And in not admitting to wrong actions, but trying to justify them in order to avoid the humbling admissions, we only create distortions of truth.

The pursuit of success to obtain triumphs at all costs leaves much to be desired. It demands we be ruthless. And the fact that we could even consider ruthless to have some positive tinge to it goes to show how distorted our senses are.

Mental health time bomb.

Diverting negative energies into positive gains

You’ve heard of Twitter. You’ve heard of trolling. And if you haven’t heard of the latter, you must be of the social media landscape, which may be a good thing for you. Trolling is the process – some may call it art now, unfortunately – of sending someone offensive messages in a bid to get them to respond. Some might liken it to baiting. It was a way of provoking conversation by say something to unsettle someone. I personally call it needling. It is like one of the silly things children used to do, to poke each other with a finger until someone got fed up and reacted. Over the years it has evolved into and art form, of saying something objectionable until someone “flames”. Unfortunately the development of such social terms only conveys how acceptable a practice it has become.

Twitter was a good medium for trolling – some say it still is – because it offered anonymity. And it was instantly responsive to news. Back in the days of the Arab Spring, and the London riots, people were using Twitter to communicate instant messages alongside Blackberry IM. It was almost as if these events opened the eyes of the authorities to the power of social media and how they needed to police it. To this effect, many have social media accounts to “communicate” with the public. Twitter may have had its twitterstorm, and while Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are having their turn in the news, Twitter remains an important feature of the social landscape nonetheless.

The responsiveness of Twitter and its immediacy mean that people can send anonymous messages to others and watch the impact as it unfolds Imagine receiving a message from someone who purports to know you somewhat like “The guy at the next table is watching you”. Immediately you would react to the sense of danger, and then feel a sense of embarrassment if it turns out to be a hoax and that you have been pranked. That’s what one form of trolling is. A cheap, inconveniencing laugh at someone else. And when you’ve been hoaxed, there is the embarrassment too that your hoaxer is in the vinicity observing you. But sometimes others troll (trawl) the Twitter landscape just to be objectionable, to say things to others without being physically around to be accountable for their words.

It’s not nice being trolled. It is akin to be digital bullying. A BBC report investigated some teens who had been trolled. But when they dug deeper, they had a nasty surprise. The ones responsible for the trolling, the cyber-bullies were the teens themselves.

Welcome to digital self-harm.

Why do people leave nasty online messages for themselves. One of those teens said that it was a way of getting attention and sympathy. When we are bullied online, we get some words of sympathy from others and a bit of their time and attention. Julian – not his real name – received the message “Nobody cares what you think. Just deactivate your account. No one likes your posts, and you’re a waste of everyone’s time.” Later it was discovered the digital hate mail originated from himself.

As he says of those who have been trolled, “they were quite popular so their followers would really support them through it and send them nice messages. I didn’t have many followers at the time so I thought sending myself a hate message might be a good way to get attention.”

Another girl, Sophie, sent herself hurtful comments in order to open up a discussion with herself, she said. She said she suffered from anxiety and to bring it out to the open, she penned a 1000-word response to her online hater – herself.

It may be useful, especially if you were concerned about an issue such as, say, one’s sexuality and needed to bring it out to the open. And one can perhaps understand that. But when a trolling comment is used only for the sake of generating attention, it really calls to mind the state of one’s mental health.

What kind of state is the mental health of someone who abuses themselves online to draw attention? Most would say “not good”. To that effect there are attempts to track those who do so. One of these methods involves checking the IP addresses of user accounts, to see if two have the same address – meaning they were sent from the same computer and individual.

What can you do if you are feeling down and need an outlet for your mental frustration? Sometimes it is useful to learn a new skill or do something to deflect your mental situation away briefly. You may find it useful to learn a new skill like learning the piano. And try to channel your frustration into a creative activity, because it will keep you from dwelling on your circumstances and the drive, directed correctly, will propel you to greater heights. The composer Ludwig van Beethoven, by all accounts, had a difficult childhood, but as a Piano Teacher in Crouch End expounds, Beethoven managed to transcend the difficulties faced to become a skilled musician and composer.

Certainly it is better to do something self-fulfilling, rather than self-harming!

Balancing workplace success, aspiration and recognition

Research suggests that one of the greater signs of mental health is a poor sense of self-worth. The average individual, according to BBC news, is frequently evaluating himself or herself in comparison to others in order to gauge some sort of self-assessment on worth. The New York Times bestseller Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz claims that this is a kind of social data analysis, using a doppelganger or an imagined self, and we conduct a self evaluation to establish a perceived worth.

If we surround ourselves if an environment where everyone seems to be better than we are – for example, if they seem to be dressed in nicer clothes, drive nicer cars and we hence have a perceived impression that they are successful and what we would like to be – then if the gulf between them and us can be bridged, we are motivated to work hard and aspire towards that success, perhaps by aping the means and methods by which our models have achieved their success. If the gulf is too great, then we get discouraged and the continual trigger of this disparity causes us to feel slightly depressed and results in poor mental health.

In a workplace situation, envy and depression can develop when we evaluate our co-workers. Some of it can be subconscious, some of it can be deliberate. The proximity of the daily grind makes it inevitable. Imagine we are working on a team project. Various members contribute but one – perhaps the project manager, or someone on the same level as you that knows how to position themselves – takes the credit for the work and the accolades. We have all met someone like that, I’m sure. You can recognise these people by the way they talk; when there is work to be done, they say “We must … ” and assume the team mantle, but when there is a sniff of credit to be gotten, their talk turns too “I” and they start mentioning what they feel they have contributed to the project. I once worked with someone who mentioned “I” twenty-five times in a thirty-minute meeting, yet was careful to refer to “we” when the allocation of work section of the meeting approached.

We all work with these kinds of people. Perhaps we subtly realise too that this is how things are; if you want to be promoted to greater things it seems as if this is something we need to be doing from time to time. The problem with these kind of methods is that they make us uncomfortable; we experience the disconnect between having to use a social method of positioning we dislike, and detest when we see it in others, yet we have to resort to it, or else get left behind when everyone around us becomes more upwardly mobile.

What can you do if you find yourself in such a situation? While reading about the drifters from the
Piano Lessons N8 blog I realised that perhaps the success of the band and its interchanging personnel meant that not everyone was going to be credited accordingly. Sometimes true worth is only correctly evaluated years after the success is over. Perhaps the resolution in this matter is to accept that, like many parts of life, there are always going to be contradictory aspects. We may not like self promotion, but we may have to position ourselves from time to time to be seen to be doing something. Otherwise if we wait for our work to be recognised, it may take too long for our liking, and the unease it may cause us in the meantime might just be a little too much for us to accept.

Does exposure to violent scenes create violent teens?

Over the recent decades, film technology has increased significantly that we are able to recreate more exciting and fast-paced action scenes using better special effects. One only needs to look back to the 1970s to see the difference. Take for example, the film Battlestar Galactica. Spaceships were warring it out amongst themselves, but you could tell the laser beams of enemy ships and the good guys were merely light being reflected onto strings of model ships. Nowadays we have stunt doubles and pyrotechnics, and the improvements in CGI have meant that it is possible to create a scene without it actually having physically taken place.

Action movies and action scenes draw crowds and revenue. After all, we go to to the movies for some form of escapism – we wouldn’t if the film showed something we were already experincing in real life. In the last few decades, action movies have risen in number. They have always faced criticism about the level of violence inherent, and are often blamed for inciting anti-social behaviour, but is this accusation valid?

In the book Everybody Lies, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a data scientist and writer, makes the point that during the run of a violent movie at local theatres, especially on opening night, crime actually goes down. The evidence is that young men, who have a propensity for violence, are actually at the movies. And late night movies actually see a proportionate decrease in violence and crime. Why is this so? The book again suggests that movies are an outlet, a form of distraction, and the fact that a lot of crime is alcohol-fuelled – and cinemas and theatres don’t serve alcohol – means that there is a form of aggression release that substitutes for crime.

But one should not get too eager about showing all the KilL Bill movies at the local cinema. There are many examples of life imitating art, with men hypnotised with what they had just seen on screen. A showing of the gang movie Colours was followed by violent shooting. The movie New Jack City incited riots. And four days after the film The Money Train was shown, men used lighter fluid to ignite a subway toll booth, as if to see if it would really work. In the movie, the operator escaped. The real life operator burned to death.

There is evidence from experiements that subjects exposed to a violent film show more anger and hostility, even if they do not imitate what they have seen.

We could say the same of alcohol. Alcohol may be a substitute for an anti-social evening. That is to say that men and women who might otherwise go out for a night of crime may be prevented so by staying in on a night of catching up over a glass of wine. But the same could be used to say that alcohol instead fuels crime outside of the immediate time frame.

Another useful area to examine is in the effect of music in the film. Does watching a film with “violent” music influence how we act in the aftermath? We know about the effects of music in a film, but it would be useful to see how music – especially since it is such a fabric of society – influences individuals.

Going to bed with your smartphone is not a good idea

Okay, let’s be clear. When I say going to bed with your smartphone, what I really mean is you have your smartphone on a table by your bedside.

Research has shown that thee quality of sleep is affected for those who have smartphones nearby within arm’s reach.

Why should this research not surprise us? Firstly, those of us who have them nearby are more likely to be more responsive to emails, alerts and vibrations which all signify that more information for us to process has come in. Going to sleep with such a mindset, with work lingering in the mind, interferes with our restful periods when this happens for a long time.

Secondly, the backlight from your smartphone can cause you to waken up earlier than you intend to. While is good news for those of us who have problems waking up and keep having to hit the snooze button, perhaps we should consider that the reason we keep hitting the snooze button is we have not sleep well.

Imagine it is summer and gets light earlier. Even if you sleep in a dark room, the light from your phone will hit your visual sensors and trick you into thinking that it is already later than it is. Even if you glance at the phone and realise it is only 5am (I say only because most people are still asleep then, but maybe you are one of the early risers) you have difficulty going back to sleep now because your restful period has been disturbed and this affect your body clocks.

Do you notice how unseasonal temperatures affect wildlife? If you get a week of warmer weather in the winter, flowers and insects start to think that winter has passed and spring is here, and then emerge, only for the cold to hit again, leaving them vulnerable.

The smartphone provides unwanted stimulus in terms of light and sound. Even if it is fully muted and the screen is completely dark, its presence by the side of the bed means you can never fully switch off.

The solution, even is to go low-tech. Get an alarm clock, or a watch if you need to set an alarm as a wakeup call. Leave your phone in a different room like the living room. Try to keep your bedroom sacrosanct, as a place where work does not intrude. You will find it makes a difference to your restful periods.