Saturday, April 13, 2019

Despair - the Stressed Society

Yesterday I saw the new HBO documentary “One Nation Under Stress" from Dr Sanjay Gupta.  He was talking about the alarmingly growing number of deaths caused by opioid overdose,  hepatic cirrhosis and suicide and how all had a common theme: despair. Incredibly, because of this alarming statistic, US life expectancy has decreased over the last three years, for the first time since the great wars or the time of pandemics.  In this documentary they mentioned that high levels of stress impair the part of the brain responsible for feelings of empathy. Stress blocks your ability to think, and paralyses you. This really hit me: that we live in a stressed society full of despair leading some of us to hide in drugs and alcohol, which many times leads to suicide.

I grew up in an under-developed country and I can’t understand how the richest society in the world can be so depressed, what are we missing? How is it that Americans can’t find hope to overcome difficulties?

In general you would think that the wealthy are always better than the poor, but in the United States the wealthiest are not the healthiest, why? Two groups stand out, people preoccupied with status and money will have high levels of continuous stress and so will lonely individuals. Both are more likely to die faster.

The documentary talks about The Rosetto Study (Italian American immigrants in Rosetto, Pennsylvania) with their health advantages, and about other studies of Hispanic communities that tend to live longer. In both groups they saw much lower levels of stress and attributed it to having these two magic ingredients: good strong social support and close relationships with their families. These people were not only happier, but healthier.

To have healthier lives we have to care for each other, talk to each other.  If you have good healthy social relationships, these will help you live longer, cope easier with loss and difficulties. Instead of taking medication for everything, you cope and overcome difficulties and come out stronger. We all need help, we need to care and be compassionate with each other.

How are we raising our new generation to overcome despair? I grew up in what I perceived as a  happy society not because we had all our problems solved or that we didn’t have problems at all, but I think that we grew from a parenting that taught us about struggle and preparedness to overcome difficulties, as a family, as a community. My dad was an example of living a joyful life, the kind of person that will tell you a joke everyday, he would make sure that we laugh, play outside, and enjoy little things like listening to good music while cleaning the dishes, or washing the car on Sundays while having fun, not as a task to fulfill. He would make sure we enjoy work and have fun while doing it.

We were taught fortitude, courage, temperance, tolerance, humbleness, forgiveness, compassion, gratitude, confidence, cooperation, acceptance, humor, love, generosity; mostly by example.

I think that when you try to fix everything on your own, or medicate all your problems away, or attempt to live without God in your life,  you will eventually find out that you are lonely, that you have so many limitations, that the job seems so big that you tend to give up and fall into despair. When you live a materialistic life, your desire to have more and more things, can never be completely fulfilled, you will then feel that emptiness, and sadness to see yourself as a failure; again falling into despair.

Life doesn’t have to be like that, shouldn’t be like that. It is our job as parents to create that sense of security among our children having open conversations and giving them the tools so this does not happen to them. We have to teach them that we are social beings, that we should be altruistic, help others, build strong loyal relationships with friends and family, with social support, family support; making the effort of knowing God and letting him get involved in our daily life. God is all about hope, happiness and freedom.

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