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STRESS
MANAGEMENT
&
ECONOMIC
UNCONSCIOUS

For Mount Kenya University (Nairobi), March 28, 2024

As you all know, stress can be defined as the body's physiological and psychological response to perceived threats or challenges, whether real or imagined. It encompasses a complex interplay of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physiological reactions aimed at adapting to, coping with, or overcoming stressful stimuli. Stress can manifest in various forms, ranging from acute, short-term responses to chronic, long-term states of tension, and can impact individuals' physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life.

As you all know, stress management techniques can be employed proactively to build resilience and minimize the impact of stressors, or reactively to alleviate stress symptoms once they arise. Management techniques may include meditation, mindfulness, physical activities, relaxation techniques, healthy lifestyle choices (such as adequate diet, sleep, avoiding excessive caffeine, alcohol, tobacco or drugs), time management (as prioritizing tasks, organizing one's schedule to help reduce feelings of overwhelm), social support, and if the level of suffering becomes disabling in terms of social and professional skills, seek professional help. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, such as cognitive restructuring and problem-solving skills training, can help individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Also, psychodynamic-oriented therapies allow for the elaboration of past traumas that may risk projecting onto the interpretation of present stressors.

One of the issues I am concerned with in my research is that the field of clinical psychology and psychopathology, akin to psychiatry, systematically fails to interrogate the paradoxical effects of the dominant culture of productivity, consumerism, and well-being. This is what I have studied under the name of Economic Unconscious. The mechanisms and dynamics of the economic unconscious, by definition unconscious, elude pathological theorization and therapeutic practices. But just because they are unconscious doesn't mean we lack a wide array of evidence demonstrating the mechanisms and dynamics at play.

In this perspective, articulated to the increasingly invasive digital world to which we are exposed and which constantly injects into our minds and bodies new codes of consumption and production that are so many sources of stress programmed by artificial intelligence, several obvious facts stand out:

  1. Jean Twenge alerts that girls aged 12 to 14 committed suicide three times more in 2015 compared to 2007; she emphasizes a digital environment that becomes increasingly lethal. These data are confirmed by the correlation of numerous studies and revelations transmitted by whistleblowers.

  2. Recent epidemiological studies report more than worrying figures concerning the mental health of young people, while largely overlooking the perverse manipulations operated through social media and artificial intelligence.

  3. The ordinary addiction to technologies and digital content deliberately programmed by Internet giants seems to activate mechanisms in the realm of micro-traumas responsible for compulsive repetition and anxiety.

  4. Sensory agglomerations inoculated into the psyche by digital practices are potentially responsible for the formation of a toxic psychic screen and self-mutilating behaviors.

  5. Scopic or visual programming and excitement through the colonization of the visual cortex seem to lead, as revealed by Instagram (Meta) research and not only, to a deterioration of self-image leading to a significant increase in psychiatric disorders.

  6. The marketing of contemporary neuroculture is based on the postulate that unconscious processes can be detected, predicted, and modified through various techniques and methods that influence cognitions and mainly consumer decision-making. These techniques raise numerous ethical and public health issues.

  7. The priming paradigm (previous exposure to certain stimuli) and its emotional dimension, at the heart of neuro-nanomarketing, are probably the most exploited in the production of the EU through exposure to excessive stimuli and the modification of the conditioned stimulus-response relationship.

  8. The systematic use of fear, stress, risk, or threat (coupled with the rewards-punishments-addictions series) not only ensures increased online engagement time in an attempt to alleviate unpleasant states but also sensitizes to certain artificial-virtual stimuli selected by the industry to avoid cognitive disinterest. Let us not forget the most important: fear and stress strengthen synaptic connections and increase the likelihood of confrontation with certain stimuli!

  9. The latent codes injected through exposure to various digital content contribute to shaping neuro-cognitive-behavioral, producing new subjectivities, and reducing original mental envelopes in favor of economic-political action.

  10. Emotional polarization, while repressed in consumer society, constitutes the foundation of the neuro-cognitive-behavioral complex, meaning that emotions represent the primary gold mine of exploitation and cognitive manipulation by economic actors' networks.

  11. Emotional, social, and viral contagion – much faster than the circulation of ideas or biological pathogens – has also become lucrative evidence for social networks, industry, the military, and the extreme right dominating the global media ecosystem.

  12. According to the unique and pivotal testimony of Christopher Wylie, the agenda crafted by Internet giants and social networks aims at the progressive destabilization of our environment, understanding our intimate life and deep state better than ourselves or our loved ones, accentuating internal demons, stimulating fragile segments of our personality, parasitizing the defense mechanisms of our brain, substituting our self, manipulating perceptions, emotions, and behaviors, creating communities of anger and paranoia, and exciting racism and conspiratorial thoughts using psychologically abusive experiences, etc.

  13. Stress induced by economic uncertainty or the "economic unconscious" can be particularly challenging to manage due to its pervasive and often unpredictable nature.

  14. Information saturation, abundant exploitation of each individual's neuro-cognitive-behavioral complex, social influence and normativity, propaganda, increasing demands for productivity and subjective adaptation to the contexts of innovation and progress, fear of exclusion and programmed subjective obsolescence, 24/7 digital labor, represent sources of exponential stress.

  15. Psychosocial stress leads to modifications at the level of cognition, affect, and behavior, while a growing body of research demonstrates its influence on the immune system as well as its inflammatory and pathogenic effects.

  16. Data suggest the existence of genetic and epigenetic transmission of stress and anxiety, which also seem to alter epigenetics or the way genes are expressed. Childhood stress would produce sensitivity to stress in adulthood, potentially transmissible to subsequent generations, through its effect on DNA methylation of glucocorticoid receptors. These profound and reproducible alterations are highly profitable for the economy, which has made stress one of its main engines.

 

These are just a few of the problems encountered in cybercapitalism, which are still rarely studied from a clinical perspective because they are still too profitable for the economy. However, as honest scientists and clinicians, we have to explore these effects and address them in clinical settings as long as the stress factors related to the economy are very damaging to health: job insecurity, financial instability, housing insecurity, unemployment, and especially social comparison.

Comparing one's financial situation or socioeconomic status to others, particularly in the age of social media where curated images of success and wealth are prevalent, can exacerbate feelings of inadequacy, envy, and stress. Stress factors related to the economic unconscious stem from the complex interplay of economic conditions, individual experiences, societal norms, and cultural beliefs about wealth, success, and social status. Recognizing and addressing these stress factors is essential for promoting individual well-being and fostering a more equitable and resilient society.

A therapist can play a crucial role in helping individuals recognize and address stress factors related to the economic unconscious through various therapeutic approaches and interventions as such: assessment (a field that has yet to be developed as we have no valid assessment tools), psychoeducation, exploration of beliefs and values, cognitive restructuring, exploration of trauma related to economic status of families (such as marginalization, exclusion, abuses, violence), support and validation of everyone's differences as an essential part of society, rather than a source of stigmatization and self-stigmatization through the internalization of dominant social norms.

In my opinion, the psycho-educational aspect plays the most important role in this objective. Therapists can provide psychoeducation by increasing awareness about all the factors mentioned before, understanding the normalization at play, identifying triggers (such as specific economic stress factors that trigger their emotional responses), exploring coping strategies, challenging beliefs (such as negative beliefs and attitudes about money, success, and self-worth that may be contributing to their stress), promoting resilience (elaborating his own adaptability) and encouraging advocacy (in other words, inspiring patients to advocate for systemic change and social justice initiatives aimed at addressing economic pressure and inequality).

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