Mental Health Is the Superpower of the 21st Century


“A new trash can” - this was the last item on my Todo-list for the year 2020.

Driven by the desire to finish off this lousy year, I rushed to my notebook and typed “trash can” into the Amazon search bar:

One simple keyword - 248 search results.

My brain froze instantly; which trash can size is the right one? What color? Foot pedal, yes or no? Do I need stainless steel to avoid fingerprints?

After 2 hours of search, dozens of open browser tabs, and a solid degree of cursing, I found the trash can of my dreams.

While I was celebrating this glorious victory, an unpleasant question crossed the back of my mind:
How is it possible to stay mentally sane in a world where finding the right trash can takes longer than a boring game of soccer?

Wasn’t technology supposed to make this world a better place?

The Root Problem of the 21st Century

To answer this question, let’s dig a little deeper into the history of civilization.

In general, different epochs have faced unique challenges:

  • Stone age people fought against wild animals.
  • People of the Middle Ages tried to save themselves from the plague.
  • In the 19th century, citizens fought for democracy.

In this development, however, a broad trend can be identified: the further back we go in human history, the harder people had to work for primary needs like food, shelter, and security. Human beings were at the mercy of nature, and technology wasn’t well developed.

But as society became more civilized over time, daily life got more structured and human beings had to face new challenges. One of my favorite online writers, Zat Rana, describes this development perfectly:

“Suddenly, you didn’t have to worry about a lion coming for you right now, or ten minutes from now, but instead, you had to worry about maintaining your property for the next few months or years. You didn’t need to collect plants or hunt game tomorrow, but rather, you had to create an abundant supply of grains for, perhaps, a village. The uncertainty that was once tied to the present slowly started to become attached to the far future.” ~ Zat Rana

Mental Health - A Superpower

Graphic by the author

Mental Health Crisis

Human progress, driven by technology, science, and democracy has minimized the uncertainty of life in the present moment. Put simply, life has become far more comfortable.

The dangers of life, however, haven’t disappeared. If you look closely, you’ll find them, hidden in the back of our minds:

  • We’re no longer scared of stormy weather but worried about the effects of globalization.
  • The fear of wild animals has turned into constant anxiety.
  • We don’t fight for our kings, but for our career.
  • People don’t fear the arbitrary wrath of the Gods, but the slow takeover of artificial intelligence.

The dangers of daily life have become vague, less tangible, and as Zat Rana describes, have shifted towards the future. Therefore, the mental load on the human brain has increased dramatically.

This development has devastating effects on the human psyche. Mental health issues have skyrocketed. Two examples:

  • Since the rise of smartphones in 2009, suicide rates of girls between 10 and 14 years increased by 151%.
  • The number of people with depression has increased by 18.4% between 2005 and 2015.

The chaos in our lives is now happening mostly within - nihilistic thoughts, dulled emotions, a fragmented psyche.

Fear over history

Graphic by the author

How to Become Antifragile

Let’s face it, the world won’t get easier. On the contrary, there will be more change, more knowledge, and even more decisions to make. Therefore, info overload and decision paralysis will increase constantly.

To stay calm and collected in such a chaotic world, it’s your job to manage your mental health.

First of all, if you’re constantly living in a black hole of despair and hopelessness, please seek out help. There’s no need to fight this battle alone, please consult a therapist or psychiatrist.

From my personal perspective, mental health includes these three aspects:

  • The ability to bounce back quickly from failure and hardships.
  • The ability to function well in high-stress environments.
  • The ability to see the whole picture in your life without getting lost in the details.

My personal strategy for achieving this kind of mental health consists of two steps.

1. Step - Gain wisdom

The first step is about understanding the human psyche. Different ideas from psychology, philosophy, and spirituality enabled me to grasp what’s going on inside of me.

Buddhism taught me how to detach myself from my thoughts. Stoicism showed me how to focus on the things I can control, and to ignore everything else. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche helped me to understand the challenges of modern society. Psychologist Carl Jung handed me the tools to understand my inner demons.

I consider ideas and mental models from different fields as a great way to upgrade my brain. It helps me to understand myself and the world around me. Seeking wisdom is my protection mechanism against the challenges of modern society.

2. Step - Implement Habits & Tools

Without taking action, knowledge is worthless. That’s why I have implemented tools and habits to clear my thoughts and release my repressed emotions.

I tried a lot of techniques, including meditation, breathing techniques, cold showers, journaling, emotional freedom techniques, and trauma release exercises. Eventually, I stuck to breathing techniques and cold showers. I found that both methods helped me the most to snap out of the daily rat race - they make me feel alive.

But everyone is different. Maybe you want to feel peace, or you need more mental clarity. Just ask yourself which kind of feeling you need the most to thrive in your daily life. Then, keep on experimenting until you find your perfect fit.

Also, there’s no need to design the perfect technique to release your emotions. You’re already ahead of the crowd if you go for an extended walk in nature every once in a while. This routine already gives you enough room to retreat from the world and reflect on your actions, values, and your life.

Short Takeaway

Modern society has lost touch with the current moment and has become obsessed with the future. In that process, the human psyche is threatened by info overload, decision fatigue, and fragmentation.

But once you work on your mental health, the downsides of modern society won’t affect you that much. On the contrary, you’ll be using modern achievements like technology and science to your advantage.