Something is taking shape in our communities today. Creeping from the shadows, emerging from the glen, is a cry for an existence much better than the one we’re living in. It is clear that drugs are becoming our crutch, an excuse to avoid experiencing the trials and tribulations as such. So below is an entreaty to return to simplicity, one in which much of what we need is available so readily.
Treat your body like the natural wonder it is: As we have become more enamored with the convenience and cheapness of processed foods, it is clear that nutrition (or lack thereof) is becoming one of the biggest enemies to our health and well-being. We are seeing this in the prohibitive rates of pediatric obesity, and in the ways that our daily consumption of sodas and junk food are increasingly being tied to all kinds of problems. Although fat and calories are often blamed for our issues, there is little doubt that one of the biggest culprits is that we have moved away from eating natural foods the way humans did for millennia before.
Create little narratives of your everyday life: Is there any wonder that some of the greatest, and most well-known writings, were created during the most horrific times human beings have ever known? Writing has long been an inlet of hope, of sorrow, of petition, and of making sense of life. It has created tolerable narratives from circumstances that were anything but tolerable. So, we shouldn’t be surprised that a huge body of research finds that expressive writing improves anything from anxiety to absenteeism to lung functioning to recovery from trauma.
Never stop moving: You want something that can reduce depression and anxiety without the marketing hype, and the side effect low? When it comes to exercise, it seems this is just the beginning. Whether a buffer against dementia or a prescription for almost every physical recovery plan, exercise remains as good of a stress reliever as we have ever had. The best part—it comes freely (with insertion of effort) and in an infinite number of forms, in all climates and all seasons. It appears that we really were born to run, or at least move, after all.
Doing for others as thy self: The research on helping others has consistently shown that the helper often receives as much as those who are helping, in the form of improved well-being, decrease risk taking, and greater social integration. When we realize that we matter to others, our focus begins to shift from a life of hedonics to one of eudaimonia. As Emerson once said, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no person can sincerely help another without helping himself.”
Time to head back to the woods: Seeping from the four walls of our children’s confine is an emerging truth. There was something more about the outdoors than just the branches and streams near where we once played. Evidence increasingly suggests that there is a life-giving presence that we cannot find indoors, one that requires us to return to a more primal existence with soil beneath our feet. Deep in the forest, a presence beckons us to consider that we were made from dust, and to dust we must return.
Free the bedroom and our sleep: There was a time not long ago when our sleep was controlled by the setting sun and our tired bones. But as this century has seen us cut our sleep by one-fifth, and turn our bedrooms (and that of our kids) into entertainment zones, the message we are sending is clear: sleep be gone. There is one problem. Our bodies are revolting and our minds are organizing a coup d’état, and it is only a matter of time before the great sleep recession will leave us in our wake unless we reclaim the value it once had.
Pursue the path of silence: In our silence, we perceive ourselves honestly, whether in sheer horror or unbridled jubilation or simple mundanity. As Khalil Gibran once said, “Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you sing.” Whether silence occurs in the promise of mindfulness or in the contemplation of daily Mass, or in the pitch black backyard at the end of an otherwise dreary week, we must harken to the message that silence sends, and not shy from its admonitions and its praise. In a world where media and technology cause us stress, there comes a time each day when the ear buds must be removed, the television is shut off, and the noise becomes a memory gone past.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.