Mental Health

It’s no coincidence that the Western way of life goes hand in hand with a rise in mental health conditions. Certainly, in the old days some people covered up mental illness, but statistics show a sharp increase in cases of post-partum depression, general depression, anxiety disorders, OCD, addiction, eating disorders, and personality disorders (bipolar, schizophrenia, and others).

Is it possible these conditions are related to modern living? Some are genetic and only medicine and counseling will bring them under control. Many cases of depression and anxiety, however, could be mitigated by personal choice.

The Modern Way of Life

What characterizes the modern lifestyle in First-World cultures?

You see few extended families living together but, instead, elderly members separated from their children and grandchildren; families of three or four occupying big homes but only to sleep and, occasionally, to eat. Both parents are expected to work and generally have to work in order to manage mortgage or rent payments plus fees for the numerous sports and other activities their children are expected to participate in.

There is less a sense of community and more one of competition as kids take part in sports or recitals. People spend less time with each other, extended family, neighbors, or members of a church/synagogue/temple.

They don’t enjoy support from one another: there is no one around because everyone is on his or her own hamster wheel, separated from every other hamster wheel by the bars of a cage. This is a lonely way of living with no margin remaining in the event of a crisis.

This modern way of life makes it difficult to eat healthy food. Many families are slaves to the drive-thru, forced to catch a meal on the road in any form possible. Usually this means consuming fast food full of grease, low in nutrition, and high in calories.

Even if there is time for a meal from the grocery store, households constantly turn to freezer meals, foods out of a can, or snack-foods they can access in a hurry or take in the car to eat while enduring long hours in traffic or waiting for a child’s soccer practice to finish.

As they become fatter, Westerners also consume fewer vitamins and minerals. Weight gain leads to lack of energy, illness, a sense of self-loathing, and to hormonal imbalance contributing to poor mental health, especially depression. One might choose not to eat enough in order to prevent this cycle; a matter of self-control which exacerbates anxiety about getting everything done and not forgetting anything.

Finally, lifestyles like these don’t allow time for mental rest. If constant physical activity characterizes your day, you need physical rest. A sedentary job should be balanced by periods of exercise. Everyone requires an opportunity for reflection and peace; otherwise, stress builds up and causes depression, anxiety, and heart problems.

Families are also less resilient when there is no time to catch up with one another. Individuals struggle to find their identity within this cycle and often wonder what it’s all for. This kind of thinking is dangerous and frequently a precursor to depression.

Modern Lifestyle Makeover

How can you change this way of life if you can’t get off the hamster wheel?

Actually, one might be victim of a self-imposed imprisonment. Perhaps you could cut back on your commitments to volunteerism, job responsibilities, and kids’ activities. Put your foot down and establish a new routine: if the kids want to carry on they have to make their own way to the skating ring, soccer pitch, or piano teacher’s house.

Encourage them to seek employment in order to pay for fees: they might agree or let certain things slide. Maybe two parents can trade off: one working full-time, the other part-time, if there are fewer activities to pay for.

Eating well is also cheaper: prepare home-cooked meals for the freezer each weekend and take one out in the morning before work. Eat whole foods full of nutrition which support healthy metabolism, moods, brain function, and gut health. You will have more physical and mental energy for your day.

Institute time for family, friends, and self. Incorporate exercise anywhere in here that feels natural, such as partaking in sports together or going for long walks alone, perhaps with the family dog. Don’t give up on goals and on people but make sure there are opportunities for doing absolutely nothing and learning to enjoy life again. When you make friends and strengthen family ties, you are certain to experience less stress and have more support to call on when times are hard, potentially avoiding mental crisis in the bargain.

Mental Health
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Jana Evans

Janet Evans is our resident Health Nut and aspiring chef. She can shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's with her eyes closed.