”Helping others makes us feel better”

”Yes, helping others makes us feel better”. Renew Magazine talks to Anna Kåver who is a successful writer about psychology.

In spite of unemployment and financial instability, we all probably can agree that life is good in Sweden. Our standard of living is high. We have long been spared from war and most people can feel safe. But despite this, many Swedes do not feel well psychologically. Quiet a few people need to seek professional help and some of them must be on sick leave.  What are Swedes suffering from today? What are we struggling with?

Renew Magazine went to Uppsala to talk to  Anna Kåver who is a successful writer. Her books on acceptance, mindfulness, and feelings are  best sellers. In addition to her writing , Anna Kåver is a licensed psychologist. licensed psychotherapist, supervisor and researcher.

Stress, high standards and pursuit of happiness

We are sitting comfortably in Anna Kåver´s consulting room, which is situated in an old venerable building in Uppsala, just a block from from University Hall and other famous buildings – the Cathedral and Carolina Rediva, to name a few. It was, by the way, in the surroundings of  Övre Slottsgatan and Åsgränd, that the story about the cat Pelle, by Gosta Knutsson, took place. Despite the heavy traffic on the cobbledstone streets outside the window, the room is peaceful and calm, as Anna Kåver herself. She tells us that the property , a long time ago, served as a sanatorium for lepers. Maybe that´s  why the walls are so thick.

Well, what kind of psychological problems do the Swedes struggle with today? Anna Kåver, who has over 30 years experience in psychiatry and psychotherapy, perceives that there are problems at various levels. First, an existential level that concerns the meaning of life, and a more casual level, where many are experiencing too much stress and are overwhelmed by demands.

Regarding the existential level – the meaning of life for instance- we possess a greater awareness today than before. There is a lot of media attention to mindfulness and we talk a lot about happiness, how to feel happy. The branch of positive psychology is growing. A lot of research about happiness is going on.  But this also has a downside.

– If you don´t find meaning of life, but think that everyone else has, then it becomes a kind of stressor. You may also feel frustration and grief … I don´t know if we are more unhappy  now, than we were ten, fifteen or twenty years ago. But one thing is clear, since we are more and more aware of these issues, our  demands and expectations on life have increased , we do not content ourselves with living in the small.

Stress- the downside of digital technology

The overload of stress, Anna Kåver believes, is partly due to the new technology and all the information it makes available. We find it difficult to sift and sort all the opportunities available. The excessive requirements
appear to be almost epidemic:

– The majority of the patients we meet in General Psychiatry  are talking about overwhelming demands. Feelings of inadequacy is a basic condition of their suffering. It is brought on by the demands on our time and attention that have exploded over the past decades . The pace is high. But there is also a counter-movement going on. Mindfulness,for example,  which is about learning to sort out, to be right here, right now, take one thing at a time.

Anna Kåver is worried about the  downside of the digital world, especially where young people, who suffer from mental problems, are vulnerable. Bullying, harassments and abuse occur with the help of social media. On the web you can find sites with suicide tips and how to starve yourself. Anna Kåver stresses that it’s not about being anti-technology. It’s about an obvious need to discuss how to deal with the negative sides of the Internet
Right now, we are quite at a loss to them, she says.

Seeking therapy is more common
Is it more common to go into therapy nowadays?

– Yes, people are more likely to seek therapy and it is more acceptable to talk about our fears, our anguish for not being good enough and so forth.  It is not considered shameful to seek psychiatric help. You are not regarded a lunatic.
The media have done a great job normalizing help-seeking. But even here there is a downside, according to Anna Kåver. There´s a tendency towards over reporting diagnosis, and normal human reactions are too often pathologized. Due to that, people more often seek help for reactions that are normal parts of life, such as sadness and despair after, for instance, a relationship  break up.

Advice for stressed

What advice does Anna Kåver give to those who suffer from stress and are overwhelmed by demands?

– Start by cutting in the calendar. Radically skip activities in favor of the constructive just being, doing nothing, she replies without hesitation in her voice. This may involve taking a walk, listening to music or anything else. The key is that ”the being” is non- striving, not goal-directed. In other words, it should be free of performance. But how do you handle the bad conscience, the idea that we should do something more important?

– Don´t take them seriously, just allow them to be. Surf on them.

If, for example, you are at  a museum and your mind is going: This is not good, I should be doing something else, exercise, or work. Observe your thoughts, accept their presence even though you dislike them. Don´t criticize yourself for having them, and then redirect your attention back to the paintings. Again and again. It is all about changing the perception of one’s own thoughts, seeing them as a kind of inner chatter, not the truth about how things are. Keep focus on the present.

Anna admits that this approach – to be mindful- is easier said than done. Some need to go into therapy to learn it. But for many it is enough to read books on the topic. There are also good courses available.

Teaching children not to stress

If you have children and want to teach them not to get caught by stress, how do you act as a parent?

– Cut out activities from their calendars. Downsize, don´t book up every spare moment. Let the children be.  Let them play by themselves, teach them that it´s s ok to do nothing. And that it is not dangerous to be bored sometimes.

How you as an adult are acting is also very important, your own handling of time and stress. As parents we are role models to our children. If we talk a lot about achievements, grades and winning, we convey values of high demands. Children don´t do as parents say, but as parents do

Own actions

If you´re not feeling well and want to help yourself, what can you do on your own?


Anna Kåver suggests that you start in the world of books and see how far you get through them. She also strongly advocates talking and opening up to a good listener. It may be a close friend, a relative or a mentor.

– Talk to someone you trust,  someone who is willing to listen empathically and to give constructive feedback.

It may also be helpful to join non-profit user associations. There are, for example, support organizations for those with panic disorders and compulsive disorders. Internet Psychiatry is also a good option for many, she says. Especially for those who do not want to talk to anyone else about their problems. Or for those who have no one to talk to.

When should one seek professional help?

– If your life becomes curtailed, if you are getting so scared, so depressed, that your life isn´t even close to the life you want to live. Maybe you isolate yourself, maybe fatigue takes over. If you find it difficult to manage daily life, cleaning, washing, eating, and so on … You don´t recognize yourself … Some may feel this chemically in the body. You feel very tense. Your muscles or your whole body hurt.

Common mistakes in our efforts to feel better

When we try to deal with negative thoughts and feelings we often make the mistake of fighting to get rid of them, but it really is not possible. We also often too fast, too impatient simply. If a method/technique does not provide immediate dividends, we skip it. We also set high standards, ”requests for large mouthfuls.” If we work up the courage to speak before a group and sets the target does not feel or show any nervousness at all, we set the bar too high.

Two additional errors, which are difficult to come terms with, are the attitude that it is not possible, that you yourself is impossible. This is a solid, negative attitude about himself. And so contrary that there is always someone else’s fault that you feel bad.

How to talk about himself is also very important, says Anna Kåver. It is important to stop negative self-talk. If you repeatedly say,”Oh I’m so bad at talking to the group”, it becomes in the end to an inner truth.
Behavior modification is key.

What is Anna’s thoughts on the advice contained in both some self-help books and magazines, to ”boost” with positive thoughts, writing on slips of paper that you are good at, etc.?

– For some it may work, Anna says with hesitation in her voice. But for me, as an old behavior therapist, behavior is the gateway to change himself. Mantras may be useful as a supplement, but for me, action is better to create confidence and self respect.

Concluding advice – helping others makes us feel better

Finally, if she gave advice to the common man struggling with himself, what would it be?

– We are talking about ordinary people, not those struggling with severe anxiety or depression. Well then I would give the Councel to see with open eyes and regognize that you are sad. Being sad and worried is not dangerous. There are documents which spring from those who can lead us wrong … Pat yourself on the shoulder , physically,  you will do as you are. Take your worries and sadness in his arms and walk out. Get involved with others. Generally we feel better when we put ourselves in supporting roles.

Doing good for others is something that Anna Kåver returns to. Happiness research shows that we do well by doing good for others. It may seem impossible, yes, maybe even insulting to hear for those who feel bad, but the fact is that we usually feel better if we focus away from ourselves sometimes. Doing good for others creates feelings of meaningfulness and joy.