Anxious? Depressed? You might be suffering from capitalism
Note: This blog was written by Sophe a while back, before ‘coronavirus’ was a word we all knew. This moment we find ourselves in provides a lens for reflection. How can we embrace lockdown and the different forms of impact it is having on our lives, as an opportunity to connect with ourselves, and observe the experiences of our body, our mind, and our heart and at the same time be curious to meet and navigate the bigger forces at work? How can we understand the interactions between our individual lives and the structures, both enabling and oppressive?
The title of this blog is also the title of recently published research from the journal of Sociology, Health and Illness. It suggests that society’s mental health crisis is strongly related to the capitalist system. We are living in a time where politics is often framed by polarising narratives that simplify and divide, where vital services such as hospitals and schools are being battered by austerity, where tech and social media tend towards sideline human-to-human connection, lengthening our working day and providing us with round-the-clock stressful media updates – all set to the backdrop of looming climate breakdown. (It is important to note that tech is also a huge enabler for many of us affording vital and empowering possibilities for meaningful connection, creation and organising for people of all walks of life.) It’s a lot to take in, to say the least, and we would be remiss to not name the system that pulls the strings in which all of this takes place: capitalism.
Feelings of anxiety and helplessness in society are on the rise and it is no wonder. Anxiety can be felt in the body as much as in the mind and can be described by feelings of restlessness or panic, and difficulty making decisions, taking criticism, or taking risks. In our target-driven culture, where more value is put on our ability to produce than on our wellbeing, there can be little space left to notice and untangle our feelings, let alone, make steps to understand where they’re coming from or address them.
The options available to tackle anxiety are wide-ranging. But pharmaceutical options bring side effects, while the suggestion of a “mindful minute” from your boss at the start of an 8 hour working day can feel tokenistic and a cynical attempt to improve economic performance. The wellbeing movement is soaring, with gong baths, yoga retreats and cacao ceremonies being an increasingly mainstream go-to for people feeling the need to duck out of their day-to-day. Meanwhile, more and more people are reconnecting with the power of plants to help them feel well.
Ancient folk wisdom teaches us the benefits of integrating cannabidiol (CBD) into our lives, as a way to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. CBD, extracted from the flower of the hemp plant, works in a way very similar to the psychiatric option of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. CBD impacts the brain receptors responsible for our body’s response to anxiety, bringing your serotonin to a normal level. At Hempen, we’re constantly moved by our customers’ accounts of the impact that CBD has had on their wellbeing.
But despite the many options we, as individuals, have at our disposal to treat our malaise, it is so important to remember that mental illness is not a personal failure. We all live in the world. We all have to cope with all the things that happen in it. And we are all less in control of our lives than ever before. The psychiatrist Peadar O’Grady explains: “The term ‘anxiety’ is used particularly when the threat is not immediate or is unclear but it is fear by another name”. Our wellbeing cannot be solved simply by us working to change ourselves. Beware of the many ways that wellness solutions can distract us from honest conversations about the system we live in and the anxiety that stems from its toxic roots. Capitalism is making us sick. A small example: how easy is it to find a place outside of your home to sit down and catch up with a friend without having to buy a coffee or fork out for a venue? The monetisation of everything, including just being, is an inhibiting vice.
If you’re feeling low, struck by a sense of isolation or lack of meaning, it is ok. You’re not on your own. CBD can offer you effective relief. But it is not necessarily the elixir to solve all. We need to directly challenge the systems that pedal our problems – though being an important part of wellbeing practice for many of us, no amount of pills, pipettes, gongs or yoga mats will get at what is really going on. There is a stark gap between what we need as human beings and the conditions that we live in, under capitalism. It’s important to keep in mind that so many of us are raised to understand our value as being attached to how hard we work. And that this notion is convenient to productivity and profit.
Human beings need connection, they need safety and they need meaning. Luckily for us, this trio is highly compatible, if not fundamental, in what is needed to counteract the forces underpinning our unwell society. Stop to reflect on what actually brings you feelings of connection with others, a sense of security, a sense of meaning. Is it really ticking off a long to do list? In her podcast, Krista Tippett explores “how settling inside ourselves right now, and kindness towards ourselves, are gifts to the world we want to make.”
Also think about how your actions could feed into a bigger picture. What struggles can you offer your energy to? What resources can you give? What perspectives could you bring to what gathering? You and your wellbeing are important. And so is the wellbeing of the people around you. A good balance is there for all of us, and for all us the balance is going to be different. Let’s stick together, look after ourselves and each other and join in the struggle for a better world. Collective organising and mutual aid is more powerful than the highest-strength CBD.