At no point in history have we spent more money and time on self-help, but what are the results?
Anxiety, addiction, and abandonment issues are at an all-time high. People display their lack of anger management skills on social media, and loneliness has become part of our shared consciousness.
Maybe these problems always existed, and generations before us simply ignored them. I am sure our grandparents also struggled with mental health problems, and most of them never got any help—they somehow muscled their way through life.
After 10 years of being a yoga teacher, I sometimes wonder if the wellness industry is always helping people. Don’t get me wrong—I am sure there are plenty of cases where yoga, meditation, and self-care reduced suffering and healed people. I am one of these folks; yoga has helped me to deal with PTSD, depression, and addiction problems. But without friends, family, and a qualified therapist, all the yoga wouldn’t have helped me much.
The painful talks about childhood traumas and the firm instructions from my therapists also played an essential role in this process. Not to forget all the conversations with friends and family, who shared their views on my healing journey with brutal honesty.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one way that works for everyone, and there are dangers that apply to all of us, regardless of the path we take.
There are three main ways to deal with mental health problems: ignoring them, trying to solve them on our own, and seeking external help. Most of us would agree that ignoring our issues is not beneficial for our well-being, but how about the other two?
When searching the internet for ways to deal with anxiety and depression, we will find an abundance of articles, videos, and courses that promote self-help. The idea of solving our struggles at home (and maybe not even paying anything for that) is tempting—I get that.
But relying solely on self-help can actually make things worse.
Here are the four main dangers of self-help:
1. Blind spots
In German, we have a saying that warns us about not seeing the forest for the trees, which describes a situation where we are so caught up in particular inconveniences that we are not able to see the bigger picture. Solely relying on self-help creates an echo chamber of our own thoughts. We know what happens on the internet when we only listen to our social bubble–why should that be any different when we only talk to ourselves within the healing process.
If we spend a lot of time on our own in hopes of healing ourselves in isolation, we lose the connection with other people around us. After focussing on everything that bothers us in the world all day long, we naturally have a hard time talking about anything besides ourselves.
Spending time on our own allows us to be in control of the situation. If we deal with control issues, spending too much time on our own might make it even more challenging to handle unexpected situations. A friend of mine, who is a yoga teacher, once told me, “I am doing fine, but only as long as I treat myself like a puppy dog and keep everything that could stress me out of my life.” As long as nothing unexpected happens, this might not be a problem, but being human does (unfortunately) not work like that—sh*t happens.
“Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s idealised self-image and attributes.” ~ Wikipedia
Without checks and balances, we run the danger of creating our own reality. We need friends, family, and maybe sometimes a therapist as a reference for our healing process. If we have the feeling that the world doesn’t hear or understand us, then it could be time to reflect on how reasonable our self-image actually is. Proudly telling everyone that we healed ourselves, while former friends worry about our mental health, could be an indicator that something is off.
Just to be clear, I am not saying that self-help is bad or that we should stop taking care of ourselves. But the solution to this problem is not to open a bag of potato chips accompanied by a six-pack of beer while watching some reality TV show.
As always in life, it is about balance.
We need to take time for ourselves; we need to trust our own perception, but also have to recognize the world around us. As human beings, we need social interaction to stay sane. Many of us are noticing this during the ongoing pandemic and lockdown situation in many countries.
Sometimes we have to get our head out of the sand and listen to others. We don’t have to agree with everything we hear, especially when it is harsh criticism, but we should try to understand where these well-intended suggestions are coming from.
Let’s continue taking our yoga classes, bubble baths, and timeouts from the world but all while keeping one thing in mind:
“If we start feeling annoyed by everyone around us, turning inward might make things worse.”
Yelling at someone because we didn’t get to meditate in the morning is not reasonable. Self-help can enable us to leave our comfort zone, but once we are ready, we have to give it a try. Otherwise, self-help becomes an addiction that only amplifies our loneliness and anxiety.