Why is depression on the rise?

To find out why are we getting depressed more…

For a long time I have been thinking to write about this topic. 2020 has been a very unfortunate year. Not only due to Covid-19, but also due to large number of suicides in bollywood, and other parts of the world. Most of these deaths are due to either anxiety about uncertainity of future, or relationship issues which also leads to stress. Also, the pandemic has certainly exacerbated the stress levels in most of us. I have been in Art of Living for a while, and one of the main initiatives of the organization is working towards reducing the stress and anxiety amongst the people, as stress often leads to depression. As per WHO, more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression. And even more disturbing fact is that every 40 sec, one person in the world commits suicide. Most of us are either not aware of this, or very often we overlook these facts, assuming it will never happen in our life. Only, when this hits in our life like a brick in the head, that’s when we realize how serious this problem is.

Stress, anxiety, and thereby depression is not something of a recent change in our life. Even our forefathers, and ancestors have had some element of stress in life. It could be due to poverty, wars, epidemic, or even oppression from colonial masters ( like British did back in India and other parts of the world). I could not imagine how much stress the jews in the concentration camp might have underwent with the constant threat of getting gased, alive! So, I do not say that stress is a modern age issue, or I am not being a luddite to blame technology for this as well.

But what we all are seeing ( especially the medical professionals, mental health experts and even spiritual advisors) is the significant rise in stress and anxiety levels in the last few years. So, I am wondering why would this be, when today, if for a moment we keep aside the dangers of nuclear holocaust, or even avoid getting into the politics of poverty, war or pandemic, we see that human life has reached quite an advanced level when we no longer have to worry about food shortage, staying warm in winter, or cold in summer, communicating with our dear ones over long distance, or fast and reliable transportation etc. Our life has never been so better, simpler, fast and comfortable in the history of human civilization.

Then, the question still lingers is why are we suffering from depression inspite of all the modern technologies and gadgets at our service? This seems like it has to do something with human nature itself. I do not say this is an endemic human trait. Rather, it is more so linked to our habits ( which could be technologically influenced, like for example, getting depressed after seeing goody-goody posts from a friend on facebook or instagram.) or even forgetting about our purpose in life ( which happens when we are too much involved in the joy ride which life offers).

One of the peculiar expectation which we often have is we should never have problems in life. This expectation itself is flawed. We wish all we had is only good times, and bad times should never occur in our life. No one wants to struggle, or witness failure. Though there is nothing wrong to be hopeful of good times, but expecting that we should never see problems is one of the reasons for being anxious, which leads to depression. When we become rich, or successful, we all wish it never goes away. But this leads to consistent fear of losing what we have achieved, and then we do not even enjoy what we have. Rather, we just keep working or worrying to not lose this. If we keep doing this everyday, then I won’t be surprised to see depression knocking at our door!

Similar thing happens when we compare with others. As I mentioned about the facebook effect before, comparison with others is an excellent way to get depressed. And this explains the rise in depression in the last few years. Because we have developed all the perfect tools to compare and thereby get depressed on a large scale. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube are some of the best mediums to express our ideas and thoughts, but at the same time there are also perfect destination to harness the vices of jealousy, envy, comparison and narcissism. Yes, because we just do not look at our posts on the wall, or see our uploaded content. We see others, and we start comparing. Though this can also be looked from the prism of learning, and making us better. But more often, we take it in a negative way, which leads to consistent thinking, worrying, and being obsessed about others. Getting more likes, comments, views, shares, emoticons, followers becomes our obsession and sooner or later, we find our mind occupied with only becoming more famous or good looking than others. Isn’t this a perfect receipe for making stress in our mind?

Gurudev Sri Sri RaviShankar, the founder of Art of Living says, that one of the main causes of depression is thinking ‘Just me, what will happen to me, me, me?’ When we overthink about me, it is the easiest way to become stressed and depressed. And I agree that this has increased enormously in modern age. Why? Because the very fact that we no longer have any urgent problems which will affect our life on a daily basis. Few centuries before, people died from starvation, disease, epidemics, adverse weather conditions, exertion due to physical work etc. Then, We, the Intelligent Sapien developed technology to solve these problems. Today, we do not die from malnutrition as we have produced enough food on the planet ( still people are dying from malnutrition in poorer countries has to do with bad distribution, poverty and politics, but atleast there is no dearth of supply). We no longer suffer from cold in winter, or die from polio. Currently people are dying from covid-19, but then we are rapidly developing the vaccine as well. Hence, we can say that we have solved all the problems atleast for a comfortable living such food, clothing, shelter, education, communication and transportation.

So, what has happened is we do not have any incentive to work for betterment of others. Rather, all we do is just work to get more rich, and famous. The companies and factories which used to produce innovative solutions to make life better, are now either involved in just earning profits, buying back shares, or giving hefty bonuses to shareholders. Ofcourse there are exceptions like Elon Musk, but the bigger pie is simply occupied in looking after themselves. Few decades before, when all the above problems were not solved, the scientists, doctors and engineers used to work day and night to find a solution. Even common people used to find solutions to make things better and help others to uplift them as well. After all, the scientists and innovators did not come from any royal family, or rich business background. They were simple, poor people who just had a passion to solve a problem which bothered humanity, be it darkness, which was eradicated by invention of electric bulb, or a vaccine for polio.

But today, we see most of us have all the basic facilities needed to live life comfortably, and so we are slowly forgetting to help others, and solve problems. We have forgotten that the real purpose of humans is to be in service of humanity. Be it inventing something, or even as basic as volunteering for the weak and old, service keeps us busy and makes our life purposeful. That’s why those who are involved in serving humanity, never get depressed. Iconic personaliities like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, Nikola Tesla, Henry Ford, Charles Goodyear, Robert Goddard, and many more worked and served for making human life better. They never got depressed ( atleast not due to self obsession). So, lack of service and increase of narcissism has been one of the key factors in the rise of depression.

More to be continued….

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Don’t be a football of other people’s opinions

We often tend to sway away by other people’s opinions like a pendulum. But does it really help us? This article highlights wisdom of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, J K Rowling, Steve Jobs and Robert Frost about this.

This is one of the 5 Sutras taught in the Art of Living Happiness program founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I find this principle or sutra to be so relevant in our life. We tend to sway away with people’s opinions, just like a pendulum does. Our life goals, our priorities, our career, our interest, even our food, life partner or clothing is enormously influenced by what people will say or think. Say in a party, or event, if 10 people praise us, and only 1 criticizes us, then we will surely remember only 1 person in our entire life. So much is our personal life dependent on public perceptions.

But if we take a step back, become calm and contemplate on this fact, that does it really matter what people think about us? Does people’s opinions really matter in our life? Should we allow others comments or thinking to affect our thinking and opinions? I think most of us will answer a big “NO”.

This is because everyone changes in life. And so does our opinions and views. Nothing is permanent in life, neither is human life itself eternal. We never know what’s going to happen in the next moment. Similarly, people’s opinions about others are also influenced by their own experiences they have had before. For someone who struggled with poverty during childhood, will most probably become a money saver, or passionate for getting rich in later life. But on the other side, someone who has lived an affluent life, might not care for the comforts he/she have had received, without any efforts. They might not even realize it, how fortunate they are. But we see many of them getting depressed or even obsessed in life due to comments from some friend in a party, or even jealous for not having the desired health, or beauty, or even skin color. Our wishes, our opinions, our views are all a product of the experiences we have had in our life.

One thing I find funny is how much delight the society has in giving their free opinions and comments to others, even when they aren’t asked for. As J K Rowling said in her famous Harvard commencement speech “..but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it”. It is true indeed that the world is more than happy to opine or interfere in other people’s affairs. And we often see that the society never stops in this pursuit. If someone hasn’t achieved a goal like for ex: good job or education degree, then people will keep asking or reminding him/her. Later, when the goal is achieved, the society immediately moves on to assign a new goal which might be job, or getting married. Then after marriage, the next goal is having kids, and so on and on and on. Its simply never stops!

What really happens in this process, is we get entangled due to other people’s expectations, or opinions. We lose our peace of mind. We lose our confidence in our own ability, and we start living a life based on what other want us to live. As Steve Jobs rightly said in his Stanford commencement address Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. “ We get trapped by dogma and which at the end, makes us regret our lost time to work on what we truly loved to do. We regret for the lost opportunities which might have altered the life track differently. Due to other people’s opinions, we take the crowded or easy path, and not the path which is less traveled, which Robert Frost beautifully expressed. We ultimately feel consequences of “The Road Not Taken…”

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

Hence, lets just allow other people to express what ever they want. But let not allow them to enter our mind, or cloud our conscience. We somehow know deep somewhere down in our heart, what we like, what we want in life. Our gut instincts, our mind, our heart is more powerful to face all the external bombardments which occur in the form of people’s unwanted opinions. Lets just put a filter on our mind which will allow only the good, relevant and positive ideas to enter the mind, and flush out all the negative thoughts, fake news, gossips, people’s expectations etc.

Just like hand washing is necessary to stay safe from Coronavirus, we need a mind washing in the form of meditation, wisdom, reading good books, listening good music to keep the mind away from the virus of other people’s opinions, judgements and expectations.

Need for mindfulness!

History will assess the present as chaotic times. This is because of the ever complex world we are living in. Humans have achieved the highest pinnacle of technological progress in human history, and hence, we are ever surrounded by complex, high-tech machines. On one side it might seem that we are relieved of all the hardwork and sweat, as all the tasks from cooking, transport, calculations, communications, and even intelligence are managed by intelligent machines. We have the best technology at work today.

But on the other side, there has been increase in depression, mental issues, anxiety, unemployment and lack of stable relationships as well. As per WHO, more than 264 million people suffer from depression globally. It is indeed a topic of debate as why are we suffering from high levels of mental and health issues when most of our problems have been solved with the invention of technology. We see that facebook and other social media sites have bridged the gap between the world to easily communicate and share information. But on the other side, we are getting more and more addicted to social media, and even depressed as per Journal of Applied Biobehavioural research.

Adding to this are the incessant bombarding of news reports from mainstream media, news channels, radio, podcasts, youtube channels etc. We live in the information age and its quite in excess. Most of us are unable to get the best relevant data from this ocean of information, and hence, it usually ends up creating confusion and loss of interest. The unceasing tweets from followers, viral videos, and debates have ushered in chaos everywhere.

Adding to this mayhem, is the Covid virus infections. Covid could not have come at a better time when the world is already getting polarized on the grounds of right wing, ultra nationalism vs liberal, pro-globalization order. We see massive BLM rally all over USA due to hightened racial tensions against the Trump supporters rally. Then, we have the Indian-China conflict slowly and steadily rising which might escalate to trigger a full-scale war. The world economy except China has tumbled down, and the fear of long term recession, unemployment and social issues are looming everywhere. I find no perfect word other than “chaotic” to name this!

Hence, when I see this chaos howering everywhere, I find mindfulness or meditation to be a perfect solution to keep our mind calm amidst this pandemonium. Nothing better can make me feel good than meditation nowadays. It is jokingly said during pandemic that if we cannot go outside, then better to go inside ( within us). Yes, indeed. We need to contemplate about our life, our goals, our needs and our future after all this chaos settles down. This pandemic is once in a lifetime event, and hence, it seems that destiny has given an opportunity for us to reflect our life inwards and know the self. The pandemic has already made us aware that our needs are much much less than we usually purchase. As Gandhi used to say, “The world has enough to fulfill everyone’s needs, but not anyone’s greed”. I do agree that this pandemic has proved this right.

When there is no sign of covid vaccine coming in near future, the only way to keep ourselves safe and healthy is by increasing immunity and ofcourse, staying inside and taking all the precautions. Meditation is known to make us strong mentally, and thereby we get the strength to fight against this pandemic. More than health, this pandemic is a test of our mind’s strength. We are more prone to succumb to fear, anxiety, depression, or worst suicide, due to the fear of Covid infections in our family, economic recession and social unrest. So, to keep our mind strong and stress free, we need to spend sometime in mindfulness. We need to meditate everyday for few minutes at least.

I practice Art of Living taught “Sudarshan Kriya Yoga” and it has helped me immensely to keep me mentally strong. Infact, the day I do not do the kriya, I feel nervous, and get angry quickly. Hence, I am glad that I learnt this technique before, and now I can practice it everyday at my home. I will write a separate post about my experience with meditation, and how it works like magic!

I hope this all chaos calms down soon, and let peace delve back into the world.