By Carrie Dorr
You’ve most likely read some or all of the following facts:
50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disease in their lifetime.
Mental illnesses are now the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for people ages 18-44.
Loneliness has reached epidemic levels with 50% of Americans report they sometimes or always feel the effects of loneliness. Despite an increase in technology that claims to connect us, we're more isolated than ever.
There is a 26% increased risk of early death for those suffering from loneliness.
Former Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, explains that loneliness places us in a stress state and when that happens chronically, it increases our risk for early mortality, similar to the risk rates for obesity and smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Also, the findings site adverse health risks such as higher systolic blood pressure, body mass index, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, depression and suicide.
Suicide was the 2nd leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the 4th leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
Despite our GDP’s growth, our life expectancy is declining and rates of depression and mental illness continue to rise.
For the first time in Barnes & Noble’s history, Mental Health books outsold Diet and Exercise books.
We are in a Public health crisis.
It's important to mention that mental illness is complex and exists on a broad spectrum ranging from thriving to coping or struggling to clinically-treated mental illness.
I am not a doctor or mental health professional, however I’ve been studying our declining mental health for a few years. As it pertains to this piece, I am discussing a more general definition of mental health which includes emotional and social well-being rather than a clinical diagnosis.
I wanted to know why we are experiencing a rise in anxiety, depression and existential angst and more importantly, what do to about it. I believe there are 3 contributing causes:
1. Too much isolation.
2. Too much noise, being constantly ON and available.
3. Too much comparison to a curate world.
Let’s dive deeper into these 3 causes and more importantly, provide some realistic and accessible tools to address each cause and consequently improve our well-being.
THE CAUSE: SELF ISOLATION
Although technology can be used to connect us, it is a tool that can also be self secluding. Many people have more Facebook friends than real life friends. We text and email to communicate instead of face-to-face or phone conversations. We Instacart our groceries and Amazon prime pretty much everything else. At restaurants, you'll likely find people scrolling their Instagram feeds rather than talking with the person sitting across from them.
Johann Hari states: People hunger to be known authentically and that comes through quality time together with real people rather than Facebook friends, texts and emails. We are the first humans to have disbanded our tribes.
Sebastian Junger reflects: Humans don’t survive alone in nature- not physically or mentally. The blessing and the tragedy of modern life is that it's so stable and safe, we don’t need our immediate community around us to survive. This is liberating but we lose the core sense of who we are- it disappears.
THINK ABOUT IT: SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IS A FORM OF TORTURE.
THE SOLUTION: SPEND TIME WITH REAL PEOPLE CREATING + CULTIVATING MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS
HOW: Take a walk or grab a coffee with a friend. If that isn't possible, pick up the phone
HOW: Join a spiritual congregation
HOW: Join a group or club around something you are interested in: Book Club, Cooking Club, Run Club
HOW: Leave your phone at home or turn it off whenever possible
THE CAUSE: CONSTANT NOISE, NEWS + AVAILABILITY
We can find the answer to most anything with a quick google. Never before have we had so much information at our fingertips. The benefits are obvious but the flip side is that it never stops and our brains and bodies aren't wired to receive this massive amount of inundation. In the same fashion, we are now available all of the time.
THE SOLUTION: DEVELOP A TOOLBOX WHICH ALLOWS YOU TO CREATE SPACE IN YOUR LIFE
HOW: Be intentional with your phone, computer settings + apps. Turn off as many sounds and notifications as possible.
HOW: Get out in nature
HOW: Practice breathwork
HOW: Listen to music. This can be any type of music you enjoy. Neuroscience says these songs are best for reducing anxiety.
HOW: Develop a super self-care regimen. This may include: aromatherapy (ideas below), healing treatments (acupuncture, massage, salt house, float tank), meditation studio
THE CAUSE: COMPARISON TO A CURATED WORLD
Instagram and Pinterest are highly curated. There are many non-photographable moments in life which you won't find in your feed. Thus, scrolling can leave us feeling inadequate about everything from our body image to our parenting skills. Only viewing sparkly clean images, leaves us with unhealthy ideals and expectations, even if we know logically that there is more behind the scenes.
THE SOLUTION: CONTROL WHAT HITS YOUR RADAR + DEVELOP TOOLS TO SHIFT YOUR PERSPECTIVE
HOW: Be intentional about social media
Do you need to be on it? If so, choose who you follow and how much time you spend on it.
SINCE WE CAN'T COMPLETELY CONTROL WHAT HITS OUR RADAR, DEVELOP TOOLS TO SHIFT
HOW: Practice mantra meditation
Some ideas: I am exactly where I need to be. I am grateful for x. Everything will be OK. Living in the past brings regret, the future brings fear, live in the now. I walk with faith at my front and fear at my back. It could be worse. I've survived x.
HOW: Volunteer- bring yourself out of your own world
HOW: Listen to an engaging or motivating podcast- shift out of your current mindset. Some suggestions: LS X CD of course!, Quote of the Day Show, Les Brown Radio Show
With any form of self-work, the first step is always awareness.
Once you are aware, the next step is creating new patterns of behavior.
95% of what we do is habit so you will need to go out of your way, be proactive, persistent and disciplined if you want to make a change. Why patterns of behavior are so challenging to change is a piece I'm working on writing but until then, know our Mental Health is worth the work.