It really seems quite insane some days. Millions of Americans are jolted out of a sound sleep by the alarm clock and spend a weary hour getting dressed and amping themselves up with caffeine. That stressful start to their day is then compounded by joining a rush of people competing for the same patch of asphalt on roads that end at dead jobs they hate at companies that don’t care about them.
For many unfortunate souls that’s only the beginning. After putting their best and most productive years of their life into jobs they don’t like, they face the same stressful commute in a car they don’t really own, going to a home they don’t really own only to start their second, unpaid job as lawn and home maintenance specialists. If they’re lucky they’ll get a couple hours of precious free time.
For too many people their life is the precious bit of free time they have between when they get home and the tyranny of the alarm clock signalling another start to the whole cycle. Their bodies, short on sleep, try to recoup as much of that sleep deficit as they can on weekends, the other precious slice of time where they’re free to actually live life. This is the lot for those trying to have all of the American dream and it’s, literally, killing us.
According to science the chronic stress of our lifestyle is shortening our lives and the earlier that stress occurs and longer it persists the shorter our lives. High stress has been associated with higher blood pressure, higher levels of cholesterol and lower levels of overall happiness.
Too many people are trying to have it all by borrowing to fund it all. Consumer debt currently stands at a staggering $11.4 trillion dollars, an astounding number nearly on par with the scale of the American economy. We borrow for homes, we borrow for cars and then have credit cards for everything else we can’t pay for. It’s that debt that fuels the nearly desperate need for that crummy job. As a nation we’ve gotten away from the concept of saving and paying for the things we want. Debt prompts people to work longer in life and robs them of the ability to ease into a longer retirement.
To help cope with the stress that stems from debt, Americans are turning to better living through chemistry. The use of antidepressant medications has skyrocketed in the last decade with nearly 1 in 10 Americans on some kind of antidepressant, among women in their 40s and 50s that figure is 1 in 4. Those drugs have side effects that are not always well understood and can vary from person to person.
People who are rushed rarely make the time to eat well and for many Americans that means meals that are quick and frequently rely heavily on meat and fat. The science is overwhelming and nearly 20 percent of deaths in America can be attributed to a combination of poor diet and physical inactivity. As a volunteer firefighter and EMS I was frequently shocked at how many times we were answering 911 heart attack calls for people in their 30s and 40s.
The evidence is clear and convincing and yet we continue on the hamster wheel of work, stress and debt in a vain effort to live in houses that are bigger than we really need, to drive cars we can’t afford and use credit cards to buy a lifetime worth of junk that fills up closets and gets packed away in attic boxes that never see the light of day until the neighborhood garage sale. Maybe it’s time we start rethinking the American dream and downsize our lives for a happier, healthier and lower stress life free from big pharma.