All posts by viapress

Icy Fairytale: Embracing the Long and Dark Finnish Winter

There is a pier near a beach in Herttoniemi, Helsinki, that appears ordinary to passersby. But this place is a sanctuary for those who have discovered the enchantment of cold exposure.

pierBefore I discovered winter swimming, I would dread the approaching winter every year. Just the thought of six months of dark, cold, windy, and icy weather conditions used to send shivers down my spine.

A few years ago, I decided not to take a break from my favorite sea swim after summer ended and simply continued swimming. I swam from the beach until the end of October nearly every day. In November, the sand became too cold for my bare feet, and I started to plunge from the pier. During winter, I realized that my hands and feet could get cold rather quickly, so to prevent it, I used neoprene socks and gloves. Wearing a woolen hat also added a nice touch.

Soon after joining the winter swimming club Herttoniemen Hylkeet, which provides a moderately warmed-up changing room, I have been practicing winter swimming for over 3 years. I’ve learned how to calibrate exposure to icy water by experimenting with duration and frequency. Some days I extended the time a bit too much, resulting in a mild cold. On other occasions, I took a dip daily, finding it too exhausting. My body couldn’t cope, and I felt like an exhausted balloon.

Now, I’ve reached a point where it feels just right. During the winter months when the temperature drops to 0.5 degree, I take a dip for up to 30 seconds, 2-3 times per week.

I still find myself marveling at the numerous benefits of cold exposure. Not only does your immune system strengthen, but the experience is also amazing for your mind. Exposure to icy water immediately brings you to the present moment as your mind is instantly tuned into the bodily sensations. You undergo a sudden reset of your mind—if you find yourself stuck in loops of thoughts, worries, and stress, it all suddenly disappears. Both emotional and physical pain become frozen and washed away.

As you become accustomed to the cold over time, it ceases to be unpleasant; instead, you embrace the experience. You relish the invigorating sensation of icy water, making you feel alive, alert, focused, clear-minded, and euphoric. The sudden release of brain chemicals, including hormones and neurotransmitters, elevates your mood.

As blood circulates through your body, it fosters a sense of vitality and rejuvenation. Exiting the water brings an instant wave of warmth and comfort. The feeling of accomplishment and resilience adds an extra layer to amplify the overall mood-enhancing effect.

Once the initial chill subsides, it provides the perfect opportunity for contemplation. You feel a deepened connection with yourself and the nature around, and a sense of gratitude. The cold becomes a medium through which you can enter the presence and explore mindfulness.pier2

In my view as a psychologist, cold exposure offers an incredibly effective treatment for seasonal depression, anxiety, insomnia, burnout, and various mental conditions. Life takes on a different flavor after immersing oneself in icy water—it becomes richer.

When starting this discovery, take it rather slowly and gradually. The best approach is to begin with a summer sea swim and continue through autumn and winter. Give it a try and discover the joy of the Finnish winter and, more importantly, your life’s inner joy. Let the cold sea become your sanctuary for mental clarity and calmness.


How I look after my mental hygiene

I have been studying watercolor monotype under the leadership of a Dutch artist living and working in Helsinki, Marie-José Dings. I have attended this course in the Adult Education Centre of the City of Helsinki (Työväenopisto, Silkkikutomo, Herttoniemi). The process of creating art has been a great form of psycho-hygiene. When I immerse into the world of colours and shapes, I start discovering my own creativity. I experience joyful surprises when work goes well, but also deal with feelings of disappointment and impatience, when things do not end up as expected. But during this whole creating process my mind can take a rest. And I feel that only with a well-rested mind I can give the space and support to clients often dealing with overwhelming emotions.

Let me please introduce you my graphic art.

Recovering from Insomnia by Guided Affective Imagery

The case study describes a crisis intervention with a 33 year old woman, we can call her Anna, who suffered from sleeping troubles after the birth of her first child. When Anna was a child and later an adolescent she slept well. She fell asleep easily and slept through the whole night. When she became an adult her sleeping changed. Anna is a bit of an anxious type and greater life changes have had a negative effect on her sleep. Fortunately her sleep adjusted again for the better within a short time.

IMG_0632Anna’s sleep cycle got disrupted after the birth of her first son. Her son had a very troublesome sleep from the time he was born. He would wake up regularly every 30 minutes and after waking up he would have difficulties to fall asleep again so much so that he would wake up again after half an hour. When she stopped breastfeeding him at fifteen months no significant change happened. Her own sleep was interrupted 10-15 times during the night but fortunately she managed to fall asleep again most of the time. Some mornings though she felt so exhausted that she would cry.

Her son’s sleep got spontaneously better when he was 2,5 years old but her own sleep on the contrary became worse. She was diagnosed with a uterus myoma and was recommended not to wait any longer for a second pregnancy. Her husband and she wished for a second child but she felt so tired that the thought of it scared her and she got caught in an inner conflict.

And it might have been the combination of broken sleep and the inner conflict that caused her to stop sleeping altogether. Despite her friends’ recommendations warm milk and honey, a banana, or two decilitres of beer before bedtime would not help to make her sleep. Common sleeping pills would not work either. She slept slightly better after heavy physical training but she could hardly fit 10 km long walks or 2 hours of swimming into her daily routine.

When Anna had not slept for a month and started to feel the first symptoms of depression she decided to see a physician and ask for a strong sleeping pills prescription. With those pills she finally slept deeply the whole night and had many colourful dreams in which she could fly. She just needed to slightly wave her arms and she lifted off into air like a bird. However, during the day she felt drugged and therefore she stopped taking the medicine after 2 weeks.

It was at that time she came for a daydreaming therapy. She had had a previous experience with this form of therapy, so the therapist asked her after a short relaxation if she could imagine a picture or a scene associated with her sleeplessness. Anna saw a wild sand storm. Grains of yellow sand flew fast through the air in complete chaos and would not stop.

At first she just watched and described the storm to the therapist. When she was asked to try to find a way to calm the storm she noticed a big sand ball floating high above the sand storm. The ball rotated counterclockwise and to her surprise as it turned continuously round and round it piled up the flying sand of the sand storm. The sand ball continued to grow and its motion along with its increasing weight slowed it down until it finally landed on the sand dunes where it first drew a circle, then a spiral, and when the ball got finally to the centre of the spiral its motion stopped completely and it stayed lying motionless in the sand.

The sand storm became quiet with the cessation of the ball’s motion and the ball piled up into itself all the flying sand. Anna said, that it was an impressive sight! A giant yellow sand ball lying peacefully on a sand plain! And nowhere a trace of storm. Just peace and stillness. And at that moment she also knew that they had managed to stop her huge inner restlessness.That night she fell asleep and slept well. And she slept the next night too. Although the anxious thought “what if I cannot sleep again” would return from time to time, an image of the sand ball slowing down and coming to a halt was enough to make her sleep. The long-term sleeplessness did not come back.

Later on Anna started regular meditation and her sleep deepened further. She says, that if her daily routine does not change much she falls asleep in 2 minutes after she lies down. She can still see the sand ball from time to time and even now after several years she sees its calm graceful landing, drawing a spiral and coming to a standstill. In her mind the ball’s serenity and stillness are sacred.

Psychosomatic Disorder – Acid Reflux – First Aid

Psychosomatic disorder is a physical disease that is believed to be caused or made worse by mental factors – often stress and anxiety. Digestive problems are common psychosomatic disorders.

If you often suffer from heartburn, chest pain, a sore throat and/or a raspy voice, have difficulty swallowing, feel a lump in your throat and/or have a dry cough you might be struggling with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or Acid Reflux, in short GERD.

10-20 % of the world’s western population suffer from GERD at sometime during their lifespan, so it is quite a common digestive disorder. The causes are often many: a stressful lifestyle, an improper diet and bad eating habits, obesity, but there are also psychological issues which can be entirely subconscious and in this way interfere with the functioning of your body. Anyone who has had his or her own experience with acid reflux knows how bothersome and life limiting it actually is. Not only can you not eat normally but the food is poorly digested and the hyper-acidic half-digested food returns back to the oesophagus where it causes damage. With each gulp you feel slightly like throwing up and after you have eaten you have to maintain an upright posture for several hours so much so that you are limited even in your motion activities. Functional changes will manifest themselves in the higher risk of ulceration and long-term inflammations which can lead to organic changes in the mucous membrane of the oesophagus causing narrowing, difficulty swallowing and worsening tooth decay.

And how to get out of it? It is recommended to consult your physician to exclude organic causes of the disorder. He or she may also prescribe you medicine, usually proton pump inhibitors that prevent acid production and speed up the release of food in the stomach and intestines. That might bring you partial relief but you might suffer from constant hunger. In case your troubles persist, your physician can send you for an examination to see whether you have the bacterium Helicobakter pylori which is widespread in the general population (statistics say, that prevalence of the infection is 30-40 % in the Western world and 70 % in developing countries), and which can cause similar symptoms to those which we have already described. If you have it you will receive a high dose of antibiotics  which will free you of Helicobakter but not necessarily of the symptoms and your already acid-suffering digestive system will acidify even more. You might also undergo an endoscopy to find “a cause” for your symptoms and afterwards a different medicine will be prescribed for you. But the real cause of your troubles could remain hidden. The physician can also recommend you to change your diet and see a psychologist.

Let´s have a look at what you can do for your health right now by yourself. Determine to try and overcome the disorder with the use of many other helping means and have faith that you will succeed and recover. This is crucial. Disease warns you that something in your life is not in order and that something needs to be changed.

Firstly I would mention the necessity to change your diet. Some foods strongly acidify the stomach, so it is best to avoid most of these. Foods to avoid: coffee, alcohol, black tea, sparkling beverages, sugar and sweets including chocolate, artificial sweeteners, sweet lemonades and fruit juices, honey, jam, high fat foods (particularly those containing trans fats, often in biscuits and bakery products), fried and ready-made meals, high fat cheese, whole milk, dairy foods, white flour, cocoa, yeast, high fat bakery products, dried fruit, peppermint, very spicy food, mustard, creamy salad dressings, ketchup, vinegar, pickles, soy sauce, pork and beef meat, high fat fish and smoked meat, yolk, mushrooms, mashed potatoes, raw onions, peppers, radishes, tomatoes, oranges, lemons, and cranberries.

On the contrary it is suitable to add to your diet food, with regard to reflux, as “safe”, (the “safe” food varies from person to person and it can be recognised only by one’s own experience). It is, in general, made up of different kinds of vegetable – carrot, lettuce, wild rocket, zucchini, eggplant, celery, parsley and parsley root, beetroot, potatoes, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, leek, corn, avocado, cucumber, spinach, peppers, legume, kale, sprouts, fruits – sweet apple and apple juice, pear, banana, melon, grapes, plum, peach, nectarine, rhubarb, figs and raisins, feta and goat cheese, low fat cheese, low fat dairy, goat and almond milk, egg white, corn, oat and rye bread, spelt, nuts and seeds, sprouts, cereals,low fat fish, skinless chicken breast, turkey meat, olive, avocado and coconut oils, cereal coffee, green and herb tea. And drink water mainly.

I would emphasize the beneficial effect of fresh vegetable juices, for instance juice from carrots, beetroot, cucumber, etc.. Even one deciliter of vegetable juice once or twice per day adjusts the pH of your stomach. Ginger made as a tea, added to meals or eaten candied has a positive effect on digestion. Pineapple contains digestive enzymes that help to breakdown proteins. Eating an apple after a meal can reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. Licorice or anise tea has a calming effect on reflux. No smoking and staying in a non-smoking environment is naturally important.

It is recommended to keep a diary of what you eat. That is the best way to detect what kind of experiences you have with certain foods. The list of “safe” foods can be very individual. Write down in your diary also any details about the situation after you have eaten. Sometimes a “safe” food eaten in a hurry can provoke the symptoms of reflux. You might be looking for “safe” food for several months but is is worth it. When you find it, add it to your diet and you will be able to eat without fear of any bad symptoms after the meal.

While you eat, it is good to eat. Just eat. Don’t read or surf on the net, don’t watch tv or stare at your phone. Take notice of what is on your plate. Stop, and consider. Do I really want to eat this meal? How will my body feel after I have eaten this meal? How does the meal look? What is the story behind the meal before it got to my plate? From which countries has it travelled to me? How does it smell? How does it taste? What kind of consistency has it? Take notice of how hungry you are. And then comes chewing. Be aware of each gulp, chew it and swallow it. It is a ritual. Now it is time to eat. I am here and I am eating. It seems as if there is nothing easier than just eating. But actually “just to eat” is very difficult and it requires discipline and regular training. Try and see how many times you succeed to “just eat”:).

It is recommended to eat 3 hours before bedtime and if you suffer from reflux symptoms during the night it is best to sleep on your left side and elevate your head.

And now a few words about relaxation. Calm eating is surely very beneficial. When you add to it several moments of rest during the day, your body will start to feel joy. Try to relax. Relax in a way that suits you best. One person does sports, another paints, another relaxes by playing an instrument. Relax by concentrating your attention in one direction, it doesn’t matter what you direct your attention to. You can focus on your breathing for 5-10 minutes. You can tidy your room up, but be there. Be aware of the contact with each thing, that you touch, listen, what kind of sounds you make, concentrate on the graceful movements of your cleaning, do not hurry. What was once rushed, hurried, fluttering around will transform into the elegant birth of order. And it feels good. There is only you, your breath, your hands, the touch of things. Things change their positions. Thoughts in your head stop attacking you. There is just you and your tidy room. You feel your being become filled with peace and joy.

Do not forget to include moments of non-activity into your life. You will restore your energy. And  breathe several times deeply in and out before bedtime, be aware of your body, go through it in your mind from head to toe. Notice how your body feels. How it is. You will have a good sleep.

The psychological issues have remained unmentioned. As each of us lives a life story which is unique and unrepeatable I cannot comment on it in general. You can reach me via  e-mail

List of food from

How to Cope with Life in a Foreign Country

life_in_a_foreign_country2Recently I read an article from a Finnish newspaper (Helsingin sanomat,2014) discussing Erasmus students and their love affairs during the study of their exchange programmes. The article mentions that since 1987 up to 3 million students and 350 thousand teachers have become involved in an Erasmus programme.

Leaving for several months on an external study visit is quite common nowadays. Just to draw a comparison, 150 students visited Finland in the year 1992 but seven thousand students study in Finland nowadays. Statistics shows that 27% of the students who left on a foreign study visit initiated a long term relationship during their time abroad. An EU committee estimates that up to a million babies have been born since 1987 to couples that have met thanks to an Erasmus programme.

Because a person during his or her studies at university may also be looking for a life partner it is not rare that he or she finds that partner during the study visit abroad. So many circumstances can contribute to it. He/she leaves for a foreign university alone and everything in the foreign country is new and dressed in a magic to be experienced and recognised. The climate, culture, language and local customs may be magical also. The activities on the foreign and unknown territory take his or her up-to-now solid life assurances away. He or she partially leaves the automatic way of functioning and becomes more attentive to his or her own feelings and to the surroundings. One spends more time alone and maybe for the first time in his or her life gets in deeper touch with oneself. At the same time he or she might suffer from feelings of isolation, loneliness and absence. The need of a deeper and closer relationship and the chance to share one’s own life story is especially intensive at this time and so the desire for new experiences with someone else grows.

Although one is fully involved in study he or she is torn away their previous way of life without one’s family and social contacts and therefore has plenty of time (and time flows here slower on the subjective level), to devote to many kind of hobbies and social gatherings. The chance to meet someone who enchants us grows with the frequency of social contacts. And many are enchanted by their future life partner. In no time a joyful and enthusiastic period of time arrives during which the couple get to know each other and they share their life experiences. This time is also enriched by the elements of the new culture and language.

Unless the relationship ends up as a momentary flirtation after the end of the study visit and develops despite the physical separation, at the beginning partners build a distance relationship, that has a magic of romantic love. Momentary meetings replace long term separations, emotionally stained by desire and missing of the partner, who is hundreds or thousands kilometres away and still virtually easily accessible. After successful handling of the long distance relationship, when partners look for the way to real life together, they often decide to enter into marriage.

And just like a prince takes his princess with him to his kingdom, one of the partners takes the other to his country. The fairy tales often end in this point. At best we get to know, that the prince and the princess lived together happily ever after. I have not come across a fairy tale that describes the life of the princess in a foreign kingdom. It should not probably be a fairy tale any more.

And now back to the initial statistics. A million children means approximately half a million couples (regarding 2 children per couple as an average). One person from a couple is brought by circumstance to a foreign country. Altogether half a million of people have engaged in the life of a foreign country thanks to Erasmus programme up to now.

The more economically advanced country or the country of a person who provides the finance for the family often wins the residence selection procedure. Although it is not a rule the model that a prince takes a princess away to his kingdom still predominates. The partners may also decide for a compromise and to alternate between the two countries, that brings other complications especially after children start school. Or if they choose to live in a third country which is fair to both sides it may be a burden for the couple.

And how are those people, who left their own familiar surroundings, back-round, their place in life, culture, language, family, social group and started to create their own life story in an entirely different place ? What kind of obstacles do they meet on their life journeys ? Have they succeeded to continue their up-to-now smooth functioning life or did they have to start more or less from the beginning ?

Those who left to go to a foreign country often live between two worlds. The world they are so familiar with and in which they feel like a fish in water and the other, new world to which they slowly must get used to. And the more sure they feel in the new world, the more distant the old good familiar world might seem to be as it also changes while they are away.

Binnie Kristal-Andersson (B.Kristal-Andersson,2000) summarized the changes, that life in a foreign country brings and to which a person needs to adapt, in her work about immigrants and refugees. They include: variables in climate, landscape, environment, culture, ethnic/racial differences, religion, language, employment, politics, society, socio-economic conditions, education and the way new country functions.

The adaptation cycle is often complicated and painful. A person compares experiences, especially the lifestyle and values of his own country that he attained during his childhood with the experiences from the new country on a conscious or subconscious level. During the comparison one is often in a highly emotional state of mind, it is difficult to avoid the idealization of one’s own country and criticism of the new country.

According to Kristal-Anderson (2000) during the adaptation cycle a person might have to deal with the following states of being: being a stranger, loneliness, missing, longing, feeling quilty, shame, separation and loss, sorrow, language and value degradation, inferiority, sense of non-identity, rootlessness, bitterness, suspicion, prejudice, and scapegoat syndrome.

How therefore to successfully continue my previous life story in the new country, where I know nobody, I do not belong anywhere, I do not basically have a profession, I could hold on the assumption that I have to learn the language from the entire beginning because a chance to find a job, lets say, in universal English is minimal? After the initial enthusiasm often comes disillusion, self-pity, daily dreaming  “how it would be if”, the feeling of being imprisoned, stuck, frozen, the impossibility of finding a solution, an absence of self-realization and fulfilment. It is not an easy path.

In my opinion, at first the conditions need to be accepted. If I am unable to change them I can try to accept them by myself or by the help of a psychologist. Fighting with the set of circumstances in front of me takes a huge amount of energy and does not bring any constructive ideas or solutions. When I am able to accept the conditions as they are, it is good to consider realistically and objectively the possibilities. The acceptance itself often gives rise to relief and new ideas start to come by themselves.

Familiarity with the local language opens many imaginary doors, doors to social contacts, feelings of autonomy and independence, a sense of belonging, literary and cultural production, and last but not least to fulfilling employment. It is good to define small goals on our path and to feel joy after their achievement.

While trying to learn the language I can for example at the beginning deal with making small purchases, ask for stamps at the post office, ask for directions in the street. It is good to find an intensive language course and add to it self-study, to read the titles of newspapers, to watch simple films with subtitles, to learn from children´s books, from adverts in the metro, to listen to foreign songs and to find out newly recognised words, in other words to involve every information channel. It is useful to speak with mistakes and without fear. On the other hand I would recommend to deal with offices in English where there does not come a feeling of insufficiency when I do not understand or cannot express myself and which easily leads to loss of motivation.

After managing to grasp the language on a conversational level, it is important to speak and listen. Provided that it is still not possible to find a work place I can consider additional education, retraining, or finding an internship programme or even charity help. Achieving mastery of the language will further develop by using it in everyday life. In the case that I am able to find only such a job which does not fulfil my expectations, I should take it as a temporary solution and not give up. I can engage in my hobbies during my free time and look for fulfilment through them. I can find friends with similar life circumstances as mine and we can share our life experiences together and support each other.

The adaptation to a new culture is an individual and unique process for everyone, since everyone comes with entirely different experiences from their own country and immigration may be taking place at a different time of their life. The optimal adaptation ends by integrating one’s native culture with the elements of the new culture. The person´s  original identity is preserved and it is enriched. The person is able to live a satisfying and fulfilling life in the foreign country. The person maintains the bonds to their original country, that he/she visits whenever it is possible. The person passes the culture of their own country in the form of language, cultural heritage – literal and film production, customs and habits to their own children.

Helsingin sanomat: Erasmus-rakkauden löytäneet:Romantiikka roihuaa opiskelijavaihdossa (28.9.2014)

Binnie Kristal-Andersson:Psychology of the refugee,the immigrant and their children, Department of Psychology, University of Lund, Sweden 2000

Thank You for That Moment, Unknown Violinist

tulipani2Several days ago on our way to the Ruohonjuuri shop in Itäkeskus to buy licorice tea we saw a middle aged man, a foreigner, playing the violin. My 6 year old son instantly asked me whether we could give him some money. I checked my bag and pockets, found some change, and my son went to put the coins in the man’s hat. The man smiled at us and said “kiitos” with a slight accent. We continued our way to the shop. My son asked me why some people are poor. “They probably cannot find work, there is not enough work for everyone”, I heard myself saying. ”Then he found his own work, the playing is his work”, concluded my son.

When we bought our licorice tea we stopped by the musician once more and listened. The little square was full of people but nobody seemed to be really listening. People rushed here and there lost in their thoughts. Some of them may not have even noticed the violinist at all, nor even have have heard his music.

When the song ended I applauded. It was a quiet applause as I was the only one applauding. But the man noticed, smiled and started to play again. This time he played for us. Ochi chornyje (Dark eyes). The music he played was incredibly beautiful, he played like a concert virtuoso. I was flooded with the full range of emotions. I immediately felt the sorrows of the whole world. Tears were coming to my eyes and I tried to push them back to avoid my son wondering why his mummy was crying. I also wondered about the musician’s own sorrows. What circumstances brought him to the street ? What is his life’s story ?

Behind each of our lives is a story. Different conditions brought us to where we are. If A did not happen, B would never come into existence. Instead of C,  our lives would turn in a different direction. How fragile are our assurances. How easily today’s happiness may be turned into tomorrow’s grief.

Next time you pass by a street musician, stop and listen for a while. You may find in the sound of music the most precious moment of your day.

Thank you for that moment, unknown violinist.