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CULTURE | 15-10-2019 18:02

Studying, meditation, therapy? Finding a way through Argentina's crisis

With presidential elections looming and an the economic downturn dragging on, many are finding their own ways of coping with mental stress.

Seeking inner peace with meditation, calming anxieties with therapy or psychoanalysis, studying to keep one’s mind busy, or simply praying – many Argentines are seeking alternatives to survive the new economic crisis.

“Many patients come through doctor referrals, especially this last year. Panic attacks, chest pains, and difficulty breathing have been on the rise, yet clinical studies have been inconclusive, so the doctors refer them to us,” says psychologist Valeria Farmentano. 

Despite an economic crisis that usually tends to distance patients from doctors offices, due to costs, many this year have made efforts above and beyond in order to not leave their existing treatment programmes.

“Patients have paid me in chocolates, or with flowers,” explains Farmentano, who sees patients in private practice, as well as at a community centre.

Mariana Correa, 39, is one of the patients who thought about leaving therapy.

“Not having enough money makes me anxious. I don’t know if I’ll be able to pay each session, but I don’t want to leave [therapy] because it is a space for me. I found a place of reflection in [my therapist’s] couch,” she told the AFP news agency.

She identifies as a “precarious” worker whose job may be under threat. She earns a monthly salary of just 15,000 pesos (around US$250), just above the minimum wage. “The social and economic crisis is worrying me, and even at some points [it is] creating desperation within my household,” she adds. 

Studying and exercising 

Some have taken different approaches to the crisis.

“The only thing i didn’t give up was going to the gym," María, a 55-year-old engineer, told the AFP. "I look for other alternatives to keep myself busy, but I quickly become very anxious. I don’t want people to see. It’s ugly to lose your independence, it puts me in an inferior condition.”

She is married and has two young daughters, one currently at the university and the other has recently graduated. Ten months ago, she decided to voluntarily retire from the state-run business she worked at for 25 years, in order to be able to buy a larger apartment without having to apply for a loan. 

She left behind stress, long work hours, and a one-hour commute. María thought she’d quickly find employment within the private sector, yet she has not received many responses on the CVs she’s sent out. Her age and gender, she stipulates, are playing against her favour in the midst of an economic crisis that shrunk the labour market in Argentina. Unemployment currently stands at around 10.6 percent this year. 

“I have hope. Every day I forget about yesterday and start again,” she tells herself.

She recently started a graduate degree with a business focus.

“It gives you the tools to become more marketable,” she adds.

Starting anew in the crisis

While psychological therapy can be considered a luxury in times of economic crisis, demand for the services has actually increased this year, according to Gabriela Grinbaum, an analyst at the Escuela de Orientación Lacania (EOL, “School of Lacanian Orientation”) and professors at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). 

“A therapy session offers people the opportunity to reinvent themselves, to go beyond the self – it’s a bet into the unknown. It is the attempt to believe in something in times of generalised disbelief,” argued Grinbaum. "In certain sectors, it pays off to to forms groups – to form coalitions to fight for a shared belief. It’s like what happened with women in the fight for the legalisation of abortion” in 2018.

Fundación El Arte de Vivir (“The Art of Living Foundation”) representative Beatriz Goyoaga invites everyone to find their own psychophysical balance, whether it be from anxiety or the economic crisis. There is nothing better than breathing and meditating, the Spanish representative of the NGO in Buenos Aires said.

“Breathing cleans the dirt off the front window, and meditation is your key to the car. Breathing is the cheapest medicine in the market, without any side effects. It’s all about practising mental hygiene,” she explains. 

In the elegant manor where her NGO is housed, a huge salon is transformed to host the ever more popular collective meditation.

“I teach people to be firefighters and not arsonists,” she says. 

Help from God

For the religiously inclined, frequent visits to local churches can pay off too. But they’re not the only ones seeking help from institutions; churches are frequented by those who seek religious guidance or food and nutrition support.

Many also look for solidarity in managing the reality of poverty, which has been exacerbated by high inflation (prices have increased 30 percent until August). The INDEC national statistics bureau says 35.4 percent of Argentines are now considered poor.

“Our role is grassroots, in the community. There are a lot of members in the Catholic Church who are in neighbourhoods working against reality,” says father Francisco Paco Oliveira. The Church opens public dining halls as part of its food aid programmes in the City.

Oliveira is part of the 'Grupo de Curas en la Opción por los Pobres'. The group seeks to act with “an ear on earth and the other in the Gospel," he explains.

"Working and dreaming for a new tomorrow, like that in which the people yearn for from their daily lives.”

by AFP, Liliana Samuel

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