Eric Stevens

Fitness Speaker, Author & Personality

Eric Stevens is a health and fitness coach, trainer and practitioner. Eric has broadened that body focused fitness with writing, presenting and acting in order to reach people, change lives, and create dialogue.

Filtering by Tag: Mental Health

The Fear of Living

According to the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, a corrupt government is now the number one fear for people in our country. Other top worrisome concerns for Americans include pollution, those close to them dying/getting sick and not having enough money.

In our modern turbulent world, it’s curious but perhaps not surprising that these new fears have replaced the more ‘traditional’ fears of dying and public speaking. We now fear the environment around us (both literally and figuratively) more than our own internal fears. We fear the economic environment, the ecological environment the political environment. In a telling sign of the times, five of the top ten fears are also now related to ecological issues like pollution and global warming.

For many years, the most common fears were “phobias” such as: social phobias (public speaking or going to parties), arachnophobia (spiders) arcophobia (heights), pteromerhanophobia (flying), claustrophobia (small confined spaces), ophidiophobia (snakes), trypanophobia (needles) and so on. And, of course, the grand daddy of all primal fears (death, or those closest to us dying).

While we still fear dying and losing those nearest to us, what we really seem to fear more than ever is living. It seems almost counter-intuitive, but many now fear living even more than dying. Considering the nature of things these days, this actually makes some sense.

Life in the year 2018 seems vastly uncertain, utterly confusing, and most of all, completely vulnerable. Attack of every sort seems imminent - cyber attack, data breaches, terrorism, civil unrest, environmental collapse, financial meltdown, pollution, identity theft, drought, fires, mass shootings, devastating floods and storms.

One could contend that our modern existence boils down to an obsessive state of worry and constant rumination about these disheartening dilemmas: How will we make a living? How will we pay our medical bills, how will we find clean water, how will our corrupt government protect us? Is it safe to go to church or the mall?

Moreover, the nature of our habitually plugged in lives perpetuates this never-ending cycle of doom and gloom. We seem to be in a hopeless and powerless state marked by environmental collapse, the erosion of jobs to machines, futile political polarization and gridlock, the decline of civil discourse and the epidemic of loneliness – Why should we fear flying and snakes, when life is this scary!?!

It’s enough to drive one to drink or look the other direction at something bright, shiny and pleasant. So, that is exactly what many of us do – we numb. We incessantly surf, scroll, browse, and shop. We text, Snapchat, and Tweet. We dull our pain and anxiety with booze and opiates. We watch TV, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime. We travel or participate in ‘experience driven’ vacations to escape the busyness, boredom and fear of our ordinary lives. We brood over sports, scandal, and celebrity gossip. In short, we do anything to flee from reality because it’s just too damn scary and uncertain.

It’s a daunting task in this day and age to ponder the nature of the immense problems of living (let alone come up with possible solutions). It’s no wonder we’re driven to so much distraction. Regardless of whether our fear is living or dying, many react with the same mantra – “run like hell.”

Sometimes when I stop and think about the really good parts of being alive in this era, I can only come up with one thing - food. The food is really good. Craft food, farm to table restaurants, the organic movement, specialty food stores, authentic food trucks, what’s not to like? I can only imagine future conversations in Heaven or the next dimension with former relatives or those from other times:

Q: “So, what was life like back in the 2000’s?”

A: “Well, it was terrifying, but the food was excellent!”

Yeah, and at least the music was good on the Titanic, right? Indeed, it’s hard not to be a flippant skeptic in this day and age, and yet there is a way out of the despair and subsequent numbing. The recipe for curing hopelessness is love. Specifically, the love of one self.

Gandhi famously said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

In the book of Luke, Christ commanded: “The kingdom of God is within you.”

The Dalai Lama said that peace: “Starts within each one of us.”

The foundational element for a true peace of mind is love. Whether your peace means justice, bringing about the end of conflict, environmental harmony, freedom from worry over financial concerns, or the trials of health and happiness - Solving all these dilemmas starts within the confines of our own self-love. Whatever your belief construct is or whomever you pray to, the path to a fulfillment of peace is clear - The only way to calm the tumultuous waters that we are currently navigating collectively is for us to each seek inner peace and grace individually.

Like many these days, I too am worried about the future as I am worried about the now. But I have begun to see that my biggest personal task and contribution is to seek and forge my own path for peace. We must begin to see that the acute dilemmas of our time are exacerbated by the biggest trial of the day – distraction from our internal conflicts.

The real fear of living isn’t about external phobias, societal collapse or the threat of our own demise. Rather, the root of this fear is about the willingness to confront our own shadows of shame, trauma and guilt. The journey starts with the willingness to embrace both the sharpness of pain and dullness of stillness. As overwhelming as our current obstacles may seem, each one of us has a crystal clear path in solving the crisis of communal fear – facing our own.

The Safety Dance

As a toddler in the 70’s, one thing that was noticeably absent whenever I was riding around in the car with my parents was a car seat. In fact, I didn’t even wear a seatbelt. Instead, I used to sit on the center armrest in the front seat. Apparently, I liked the view up there and the closer proximity to Mom and Dad made for more robust conversation. 

Just imagine the uproar these days of seeing a toddler riding in a car down the street just inches from the windshield without so much as a car seat or even a seat belt providing protection. The ordeal would be national news and the parents would surely be sent to prison! But back in my formative years, no one seemed to give a damn. And it wasn’t just the seat belt either. The 70’s and 80’s were like the Wild West for kids growing up in that era. No seat belts, no scrutiny and no supervision.

Not to throw my parents under the bus, mind you. Loose parenting was without a doubt the norm in my day. Like most kids back then, I learned to ride a bike without a bike helmet. I learned to ski without a helmet as well. Every kid I knew ate peanuts (and gluten, lactose and everything else we could inhale). Most kids were a bit hyper and yet, as far as I knew, none were regularly medicated.

As grade-schoolers, my friends and I walked to the bus stop unaccompanied by parents. We rode our bikes around the neighborhood and all over town. As pre driving teenagers, we regularly took the bus downtown to hangout. All activities were unsupervised and there were no cell phones or other means of direct communication with actual adults. We were simply told to be home by dinner.

Not that there weren’t legitimate dangers to be concerned with. The violent crime rate in the 1980’s was significantly higher than it is now. I knew two kids that died from ski accidents. A family friend lost their son to drunk driving. One kid in my high school was hit by a train and killed. Several kids from a local school were killed in a tragic mountaineering accident. 

Indeed there were good reasons to be at least somewhat fearful back then and yet we were seemingly oblivious to danger. It’s a wonder I survived! All joking aside, society back in the day needed to get its act together where it came to safety, supervision and street smarts. Fortunately, we did.

In the past 30 years, seat belts have saved countless lives. Helmets have prevented many deaths and serious life altering injuries. Prominent media campaigns like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) helped bring about positive changes in attitudes and legislation to combat impaired driving. Social attitudes have vastly improved as well. For instance, gay kids and other marginalized groups didn’t enjoy the freedom and respect back then that they do now. Thanks to an evolution in thought and action, life has become safer and in many ways, better. 

However, while the 70’s and 80’s were a bit too reckless and nonchalant, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Fear now permeates almost every facet of our culture. Parents don’t let their kids outside unaccompanied because of fearing kidnappers and rapists. We fear immigrants as dangerous criminals and opportunists looking to steal our jobs. We fear terrorism. We fear people using the wrong bathrooms. We even fear peanuts and gluten. Many, if not most of these topical fears have almost no reasonable basis or factual substantiation. We’re obsessed with danger and paralyzed by fear, but the reality is we have never been safer. Consider the following statistics:

We don’t connect the dots of our media-driven, fear-based culture and how it’s making us inept, impotent and frankly, soft. We’re weak where we need to toughen up and we’re distracted or ignorant where it comes to the actual legitimate fears we should be concerned with.

  • Despite a tragic and pronounced epidemic of addiction, no one seems to notice the correlation that many kids (and adults) are more heavily medicated than ever. Furthermore, no one seems to mind the constant bombardment of aggressive advertising touting highly addictive substances from processed sugar to alcohol to prescription drugs.

  • Despite the alarming trend of growing suicide rates, we pay little attention to the compulsive nature of screen time and social media, which are correlated with depression and anxiety.

  • Despite guns killing almost 1300 kids each year and the appalling epidemic of mass shootings and school shootings, we’re too self absorbed and politically polarized to actually get anything done about it.

  • Despite a massive looming threat from the critical state of the environment, many are unwilling to adjust their lifestyle and consumption habits. 

The obvious question we should be asking related to issues of safety is the query “Is It working?” Seat belts undoubtedly work. Without question, bike and ski helmets work. But ‘safe’ zones and ‘helicopter' parenting do nothing but perpetuate a culture of fear and ineptitude. Prescription drug ads do nothing but create a frenzy of drug use and abuse.

False ideologies on both sides of the political spectrum are to blame for our coddled and contemptuous society. Many shamefully fear monger by demonizing those that look, pray and love differently. Others left lack courage in standing up to political correctness run amok. We are now a nation of wimps and whiners thanks in large part to the unintended consequences of overparenting and the ridiculous notion of “safetyism.” 

The fact is we are much safer than we think from the issues that garner the most attention like crime and terrorism. Yet paradoxically, we’re also in much more danger than we’re aware from the issues that lurk beneath the surface of popular thought. While we’re busy fretting over immigrants, terrorists and peanuts, threats of our own psyche (addiction, mental health and suicide) are literally killing us. Because of these threats, for the second year in a row, as a nation we are facing a declining life expectancy.

If we are to succeed personally, culturally and environmentally, we need a balanced approach to fear and safety. I’m not advocating for a return to the careless attitudes of my free-swinging childhood. But it’s time to bring that pendulum back to the center if just a bit. It’s time for us to face the music and stand up to fear instead of promoting and succumbing to it.

Mental Slavery – The American Nightmare

I am proud to call myself an American. I’m honored to live in a country that stands for freedom, not to mention the great human spirits of innovation, opportunity and creativity. From the Declaration of Independence to cultural contributions that have benefitted all of mankind, we Americans have a lot to be proud of.

The “American Dream” serves as an example that many across the globe look to emulate. My ancestors emigrated to the United States from Germany and Scandinavia to establish and demonstrate that dream in all of its glory. In addition to providing opportunity and freedom for its citizenry, America has also upheld these values for much of humanity. Many Americans, including some of my relatives, have fought against the evils of tyranny and fascism, putting their lives on the line in the name of justice and liberty.  

But the greatness of the most successful republic in history is also contrasted and tainted by an ugly ball and chain of oppression. For all of America’s countless moral victories, paradoxically we have also enslaved millions. From the genocide of American Indians, to the enslavement of African Americans to Japanese American internment in WWII, you cannot talk American history without acknowledging the ‘American nightmare’ of slavery.

Thankfully, the concept of literal bondage and ‘physical’ slavery is largely a thing of the past in our country. However, an arguably worse and dubious carnage lurks in the shadows of modern America – ‘mental’ slavery. One cannot observe a news headline these days without running into the concept of subjugation of thought. Addiction, obesity, suicide, mass shootings and even the compulsive nature of social media are all examples of mental enslavement.

Throughout the course of history, popular thought accepted that certain races and cultures were subhuman, genetically different and inferior (and therefore worthy of mistreatment and enslavement). As humanity has evolved, most have come to see the thinking that brought about mass enslavement as a fabricated myth and a devious lie. We can largely agree that all human beings are truly equal and share an unlimited capacity for love and goodness regardless of color or creed.

However, while we as a civilization and society have made tremendous strides in the concept of physical slavery, we’ve yet to fully acknowledge the nefarious underlying suggestions that bring about mental captivity. The crux of mental slavery is less malicious and harder to spot. Instead of overt hatred and judgment, the conditions that bring about the confinement of thought are more subliminal in nature.

Notably, the pervasive and constant dopamine loops that permeate our constantly connected world can promote an obsessive sense of tribalism. That is, labeling one another as genetically unique, different or damaged. While commonplace, this type of thinking also carries the risk of addiction and misery, as many become slaves to their own labels.

Says best selling author and professor of ethical leadership at NYU Jonathan Haidt, “Applying labels to people can create what is called a looping effect. It can change the behavior of the person being labeled and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is part of why labeling is such a powerful cognitive distortion.” Psychology tells us that repetition can breed familiarity, but redundancy can also breed mesmerism and addiction. It only takes so many times of being told you’re sick, different or depressed before you start to believe it.

‘Something is wrong with everyone’ is the generally and commonly held belief. Beyond the construct of individual responsibility inherent in accepting this belief, the media and many corporations also perpetuate the notion that you are a slave to your body and your genes. Case in point, prescription drug advertisements that target anyone and everyone - surely, there must be at least one affliction that requires you taking a drug for the rest of your life! According to the British Medical Journal, for every dollar spent on research and development, pharmaceutical companies spend $19 on advertising! With our media inspired, drug-infused culture, is there any we wonder we have such a tragic and pronounced opioid epidemic?  

But this isn’t just the case with drugs. Heavy people are told to get their act together and shape up, yet they’re also fed a heavy dose of direct to consumer advertising promoting sugary beverages, fast food and outright junk. Children are told they deserve trophies and can be anything they want to be, all the while being held to models of unattainable physical and intellectual perfection.

We mass market toxins to our populace and wonder why we’re sick. At the same time, we market drugs, pills and potions that supposedly combat these ailments yet never quite heal or cure our afflictions. We accept our mental shackles (labels as addicts, sick or having the wrong genes) like sheep being led to the slaughter. The way out is to refute and stand up to such aggressive and misguided suggestions. You are your genes and your circumstances only up to a point.

Sick people need comprehensive care and fully functional medicine, not just the promise of quick fixes and pills. We should demand our doctors ask us about our lives, rather than demanding medications from them as we’re instructed to do on television. Heavy people need empathy and education, not the burden of shame or misguided allure of temporary ‘solutions.’ The poor and downtrodden need compassion, not contempt. Societal tragedies such as mass shootings and homelessness need to be treated as urgent mental health issues, not just chalked up as the new normalcy and the plight of someone else’s problem.

Being completely absorbed with our own self image, passions and desires leads to bondage. Breaking the chains of mental slavery means standing up for something greater than the self and feeding one’s own ego (there is a reason that the tenets of addiction treatment calls for the recognition of and reliance on a higher power). To heal and find wholeness, we must instead serve others and God first. As it says in Second Corinthians, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

We all bear some responsibility for standing up to the evils of slavery, be it mental or physical. The answers don’t come in convenient packages or pills. The answers don’t come in labeling and pointing fingers at each other. Real freedom comes when the hypnotic influence of false thinking is unmasked. Freedom is truth.