America Is Experiencing a Brutal Mental Breakdown
We need to talk openly about the pandemic behind the pandemic
America’s mental health crisis is far from over.
In fact, it’s probably just beginning.
After all, we’re dealing with:
Nearly two years of social isolation.
Skyrocketing food and fuel prices.
Unaffordable shelter costs in every state in the nation.
Crushing student debt, medical debt, consumer debt, mortgage debt, and government debt.
The specter of financialization and automation taking tens of millions of jobs.
Climate change and extreme weather events including heat domes, floods, and fires.
Deep declines in democracy and freedom around the globe.
Huge amounts of uncertainty about the future.
No end in sight.
Tens of millions of Americans lost a loved one to Covid in the past two years.
It’s a horrible way to die —over 860,000 Americans have died of Covid, gasping for air, with lungs that feel full of mud, or on fire, or filled with a thousand stinging bees.
These are huge numbers, so it’s important to make them personal:
Take a moment to seriously imagine losing your own mother.
Or your favorite aunt or uncle.
Or your husband or wife.
Or your sister or brother.
Or your son or daughter.
Some of us don’t have to.
Thanks to all this trauma, American minds are suffering greatly.
The stats are staggering:
Americans suffer from more mental disorders than anywhere else on earth.
47% of Americans have at least one addiction.
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans now live with a mental illness.
Nearly 1 in 4 women sought mental health treatment.
51.5 million American adults now have a mental illness.
Suicide took over 44,000 lives last year.
Drug overdose deaths cracked 100,000 for the first time ever.
There were more than 4,000 unruly passenger incidents on planes last year.
Big Pharma is now a $1.27 trillion annual business, with 49% of all global drug sales coming from Americans.
What happened to life, liberty, and happiness?
In the grand scheme of human history (or even American history), Covid will be over very soon. Likely three years or less.
But the pandemic behind the pandemic — mental illness — shows zero signs of abating until we radically change the way we do life in America.
It’s really that simple.
Keep living the way we’re living and America will inevitably collapse.
Insanity, as they say, is doing the same thing and expecting different results.
We have to change.
So what can we do to innoculate ourselves against the highly-transmissible emotional “viruses” of worry, anxiety, stress, rage, and fear?
America is a nation addicted to speed.
Everything is always rushed and schedules are packed from sunup to sundown — with toxic hustle culture saying to start far earlier and end long after dark.
It’s time to break up with fast-paced busyness.
Don’t let others pile expectations on you, and more importantly, don’t overburden yourself with unrealistic and unnecessary expectations for yourself.
Take a real inventory of your current speed.
Why the rush?
What are you gaining from hurrying?
And what are you losing by living life at full-tilt?
For highly-driven A-type achievers, remember this saying from the Marines:
“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
Before Edison’s electric bulb, Americans averaged ten hours of sleep per night.
Depending on your body, you likely need 9–12 hours per night.
And when you get those hours is almost as important as their duration.
We just had our first baby twelve weeks ago, but because we made sleep our #1 priority, we still feel fully rested, unlike every other couple we know.
It’s really simple: Engineer your waking life around sleep, not the other way around.
Get your 9–12 hours at the right time for your body type and you’ll produce better work, think far more clearly, be healthier, and most importantly, you’ll be a kinder, gentler, more loving partner, parent, and friend.
Homo sapiens simply aren’t wired to spend their lives staring at a superstimulus box of light.
Just accept it: We’re natural, offline, earthy, spiritual apes.
Phones implant us with a digital nervous system, causing 24/7 ambient anxiety as addiction algorithms stir us into a tizzy through a mix of stressful news, and straight-up false information.
It will seem obvious to future generations that it is an imperative for humans to live the majority of their lives offline.
So turn off your phone as much as possible. Live a totally present and embodied life. I ditched my phone ten years ago and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Human happiness requires human togetherness.
Not mitigated by screens.
When we’re face to face, our brains can sense the other person’s pupils dilate. We smell subtle scents and pheromones. Our heart rates tend to regulate as we get in sync.
So create community everywhere you go.
You can do so by thinking like a mangrove.
A mangrove is a mangy little shrub that can grow in terrible soil and salty water. They’re built to handle harsh conditions, low-oxygen mud, and the constant battering of waves.
And do you know what? These beauties know how to create community! They sink deep roots, filter out all sorts of crap, sequester carbon, and plant seeds. Soon, one mangrove shrub turns into a whole forest teeming with marine ecosystems, creating veritable islands out of nothing. Some of these mangrove “communities” grow so large that they actually slow down hurricanes and protect shorelines from tsunamis.
start art spaces
grow community gardens
host fitness classes
gather food lovers
bring musicians together
introduce friends, neighbors, and colleagues constantly
Mangrove people knit the fabric of society together and send roots deep into the ground, giving everyone and everything in their ecosystem a buffer against the inevitable storms of life.
When it comes to friendship and community, be like a mangrove everywhere you go.
Instead of sitting in our car, at our desk, and on our couch, we need to get back to walking for hours and hours every day — at least morning, noon, and night.
Morning walks are amazing for setting your circadian rhythm, which starts the sleep pressure that will allow you to get to sleep quickly that night.
While the West loaded up on Prozac, the Japanese invented forest bathing.
The health benefits of saunters in the woods are so compelling that companies now encourage their employees to go tree trekking on their lunch breaks.
Night walks are also great for your sanity; a good way to rinse off the day and all its bad news. Earlier this evening, I loaded up baby Concord in his stroller and went for our evening star saunter. Nothing clears the mind like fresh air, starry skies, and softly slumbering babies.
(Or meditation if you prefer, but prayer is much better because it’s relational.)
I’m so obsessed with prayer that I did a 37,000-mile journey around the planet to learn about different prayer traditions.
Prayer connects you to the transcendent.
It reminds you that you’re part of a bigger story.
It welcomes you into a beautiful mystery.
It helps you remember that you aren’t actually in control.
It allows you to surrender.
It allows you to trust.
As I’ve now mentioned seventy-six times, my wife and I had our first baby twelve weeks ago.
It’s been the happiest twelve weeks of my life.
Kids are the spring of freshwater that keeps the human pond from turning into a toxic swamp.
Kids don’t care about finances. Or politics. Or global warming. They just want you to see the dead toad they found on the road.
Teens can be the same way. They’re still filled with hopes and dreams and ambitions and innocent ideas and awe. Because the global economy hasn’t enslaved and broken them yet, teens help you re-ignite your creativity, challenge your assumptions, and remember your earlier vision and values.
So pack your life with kids and teens. For me, this means mentoring a group of teenagers on a weekly basis and regularly inviting over families with little kids. While the adults talk about adult things, you’ll find me wrestling on the floor, lighting things on fire in the backyard, or teaching kids how to cut vegetables with gigantic kitchen knives.
The best thing you can do for your soul is to help someone in a far worse position than your own.
Never forget that over 1,000,000,000 of our brothers and sisters live in slums and that number is rising by one million per day. Never forget that over 24,000,000 members of our global family are bound in slavery at this very moment. Never forget that 690,000,000 men, women, and children go to bed hungry every night and that over one million children are raped for cash every day.
Two weeks ago, I had some business near London Heathrow, so I stayed at a hotel beside Windsor Castle. I went for a late-night star saunter and took ten minutes to chat with two homeless women and one homeless man. I showed them pictures of baby Concord, encouraged them, and paid for their suppers. Why? Because these precious people are our brothers and sisters — they are worthy of our love and adoration, and we have failed them horribly.
Service is the best way to destroy your worries, anxieties, anger, and fear.
Right now, my wife and I are helping an old friend from Africa build a language training school so they can finally become economically self-sustainable and escape the crushing financial burden imposed by extractive land-lorders.
If we all build a better world, we simply don’t have to worry about tomorrow.
The truth is that for you and I, our worst challenge or setback pales in comparison to the everyday reality of others. This, of course, doesn’t make our troubles any less real or painful, nor should it; it just helps us gain a huge sense of proportion that obliterates anxiety.
Life is hard for Americans right now, and because the anti-human multinational corporations that run the nation simply do not care about widest-spread wellbeing, it’s only going to get worse for the foreseeable future.
Will worry help?
Will anxiety help?
Will anger help?
Will fear help?
But if we slow down, sleep, get offline and move in nature, build friendships and community, pray, play, and serve, we can at least survive tomorrow.
We were made for each other.
Now get out there and hug someone.
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