I was thinking the other day about just how normalized stress has become in society. Humanity has, in a sense, imprisoned itself. We exhibit similar behaviors to animals in captivity. Yet we have designed our own cage. It’s strange to me that there doesn’t seem to be any type of movement to address or change this. No one is working to restructure society so that we can live better lives. I don’t think anyone even knows how we’d do that or is searching for those answers.
If a zookeeper notices a macaw pulling out feathers, it is a huge concern. The bird is obviously highly stressed, to the point that it’s exhibiting unhealthy self-harming behaviors. Biting, picking, rubbing, pulling, these are all signs of distress that we easily recognize and try to correct in animals.
However, how many people do you know that bite their nails? Probably quite a lot. You may even bite your own nails. But this isn’t seen as a major concern, a symptom of living in constant stress. It is just a “bad habit.” A common behavior that no one thinks much of. Skin picking and hair pulling are a bit more recognized when it comes to mental health. But ultimately, despite being extremely common, they are still seen as a problem with the individual, and addressed as such.
At what point do we start to look at the bigger picture? At what point does the sheer number of people showing these symptoms begin to tip the scale from personal to societal? And what needs to happen for people to start addressing it?
These symptoms are somewhat inevitable for animals in captivity. Because animals were not meant to live in captivity. In the same way, I’ve come to view my stress behaviors as not necessarily a personal failing or imbalance in my brain chemistry. My brain and body are working just fine. They are responding how they were designed to respond. The problem isn’t with the individual, the problem is with the systems we have built ourselves into. We are simply not meant to live this way.
In the end, I don’t believe that any amount of medication or therapy will ever be able to address the ever increasing number of people with mental health problems. While valuable and worthwhile, these measures are only a band-aid on the gushing wound of our modern lifestyles. I desperately hope that someday we can work together to change our society rather than trying to force an impossible change within ourselves.
I don’t know what the answer is. I wish that I did. But I still think it helps to know that you are not alone. You are not broken. Your body isn’t betraying you. Your brain is not inherently ill. Your feelings are not wrong. You are doing the best you can in a strange new world that millions of years of evolution has not prepared us for. Forgive yourself. Be grateful to yourself for fairing as well as you have.