Oh, where to begin on this topic…
Entire careers can be made on exploring this material, and we have a trillion-dollar pharmaceuticals industry that is taking advantage of our population’s growing reliance on quick-fix solutions to anxiety and depression brought on by our increasingly unbalanced, self-absorbed, and stress-filled modernity.
I won’t even try to pretend that what we’re going to cover today is an exhaustive list of reasons – I don’t think I have enough hard-drive space to cover even half of them. I will however try to highlight a few that I believe are some of the worst offenders in our modern culture and to try to offer some counter actions that can help put them in a more healthy perspective.
We are constantly bombarded with images and narratives that only shows the ideal image of an individual or situation. Even a short trip through your Facebook or Instagram feed will present a highly idealized (and completely false) portrayal of reality.
Why aren’t my vacations this amazing? Why don’t I have this many friends? Why isn’t my skin this angelically flawless?
All good inquiries – but these are the wrong questions.
Social media is a cultural cancer that promotes unrealistic expectations and its use demands that we strive towards unattainable standards.
Solution: It’s alright to look at parts of your life and want to improve them, but it’s not alright to think that you are lesser for not yet having achieved everything that you want – and it is even worse to compare yourself to others based on those unrealistic standards. Accept your current place in life, and start developing small and sustainable habits to move yourself closer to where you want to be.
Modern society has filled our heads with the idea that there is one special person out there for each of us – and we must find them to be whole and balanced. Once we find them, we will live a life of perfection and bliss and we can finally fill our Instagram walls with sunset yoga poses and 4ct. diamond rings.
Without this other perfect person, we will never find happiness.
As a result of this highly distorted belief, we develop unrealistic expectations from our romantic partners and unknowingly sabotage nurturing and healthy relationships in pursuit of a mythical unicorn. The other damaging consequence when buying into this mindset is that we give control of our self-esteem and self-worth to another person instead of taking control of them for ourselves.
Solution: Realize that there is no such thing as the perfect relationship. Everyone has flaws, and we should look at all of our friendships in a holistic and forgiving way rather than expecting others to meet impossible standards that we can’t even attain ourselves – nor should we try (see ‘perfectionism’ above).
We can never control others, and therefore we should never place our self-worth in someone else’s hands. Our self-esteem is ours to nurture, and ours alone.
Next to social media, I believe that mainstream entertainment and the news media are the biggest offenders and cause of mental illness in society. News outlets sensationalize and hyper-focus our attention towards issues that scare, intimidate, and anger us. We become inundated with a one-sided point of view that is coming from a source that many people find to be trustworthy.
The result of constantly focusing on the least admirable traits of humanity is a highly distorted and incomplete understanding of our surroundings. At best, this leads to arguments with friends and family based on biases and the need to defend our world view. At worst, it leads the more emotionally susceptible among us to pursue violent acts in the name of justice.
Solution: Unplug. You don’t need to be involved in every single nuance of the news cycle. You don’t need to update yourself every hour on the latest COVID-19 count. You don’t need to memorize someone else’s opinion so that you have enough ammo to win the next argument with a friend or relative who may have a differing opinion.
You just don’t.
While it’s important to keep up to date on big issues, you also don’t need to wallow in the dirt and mud with the rest of the muck-dwellers. Step back and begin to take a more active role in your immediate environment and life. Appreciate the things you have, and the goals that you are working towards. You have control over your life and your ambitions – make these your primary focus of attention.