What is it about living in the US right now that makes us so stressed? Do you think that we’re unable to act unhappy as Americans?
Part of the reason we are so much more anxious over time is because of a lot of different factors, like the fact that we work more or that the political situation gets increasingly more acrimonious. There’s all these things people think about, like health care, but there’s also the factors I talk about in the Slate piece and in the book, like the decline of social connections, plus the alarmist information we receive.
Especially with men there’s still a real stigma to admitting you have a problem or weakness. This is a problem I actually struggled with for a long time, I think if you told me I would openly be talking about these things four years ago I would be in disbelief. I would hide things from people because I would need to look like I had everything together. When people try to stifle their emotions they make them a lot worse. It’s good to see that things are changing a bit, and hopefully they’ll move in a good direction.
Why are antidepressant commercials so bad, and why are fire drills actually useful?
The one that cracks me up is that antidepressant that you take if you’re current antidepressant isn’t working. And some people do need this help, but this commercial is not for those people. This commercial is for people that just want things to be fixed by a pill. Of course you’re having these symptoms, you’re already taking the pills! (i.e., “You don’t need to feel any bad feelings, just take this pill.”)
You have to take a role in your own mental health and mental well being. It’s pretty clear with fear in particular, if you bury it it will just come back. There’s no such thing as a quick fix, you really do need to experience things. If you’re afraid of something and you expose yourself to it and over time your brain comes to see that you can handle it. That’s why we do fire drills, which seem completely pointless and yet if an actual fire happens you’ll be thankful. What this training does is lays the groundwork in your brain so when a disaster happens you can deal with it. Thinking takes time, so if the right answers are in your subconscious mind you can react right away.
Did writing this book cause you anxiety?
If you spend eight hours a day for two years [thinking about anxiety] when it’s already something you have trouble with, it’s not something that’s easy to do. A lot of the mistakes in the book that I point to — I’ve done all of those. But the reason the book has been a good experience despite being hard, is that I’ve kept at it. I kept trying to do the right thing in life, which is all that you can really do. Eventually you internalize that you can deal with things and that’s important. Even if it doesn’t feel great and you’re kind of miserable, you realize it won’t kill you and you can deal with it.