Apathy can devastate your health and your mental health
I used to exercise more, but lately doughnuts and dessert have become my new normal. Nothing has changed really, it’s just that I don’t care. Or at least, I care less than I used to.
Nothing has changed in my life, except that I have become apathetic. And apathy is something that is akin to cancer to our health and well-being. Apathy, it turns out, is something that you should care about. In fact, apathy has been called one of the most dangerous things in the world:
The most dangerous thing in the world is apathy. We think of weapons, violence, warfare, disease as terrible dangers, and indeed they are, but we can take measures to avoid them. But once our apathy takes hold of us, we can no longer avoid it. His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa
Apathy is not laziness, and it is not reserved to people who are diagnosed with depression. It is broader than the lackluster feeling that you get on Friday after work or on a Sunday afternoon. Apathy is defined as reduced emotion (positive and negative), a lack of concern, a lack of motivation and emotional emptiness. Alternatively, depression is marked by feeling sad, tearful or guilty, a sense of hopelessness about the future, variations in mood and so-called negative cognitive bias — in other words, seeing the worst side of everything.
Apathy seems to get into your core and you don’t feel engaged with life in the same way that you used to be.
The many dangers of apathy
Apathy won’t grab the headlines and it won’t gather thousands in protest. Even if you tried to protest, no one would show up. Apathy is more harmful than the effects of guns and drugs. Apathy kills more of us than cancer, drunk driving or Fentanyl. It is, in the wise words of His holiness Gyalwang Karmapa, “The most dangerous thing in the world.” It is the only drug that is legal, freely taken, publicly approved and even encouraged by most of society. It is often a byproduct of success and prosperity, and can take off like wildfire in an atmosphere of information-obesity.
You may or may not care about apathy, but it has it’s sights on you. Apathy is both common and crippling. Apathy is linked with a number of illnesses and a variety of impacts to your well-being:
- Mental illnesses like schizophrenia and depression. Apathy is a core experience of many mental illnesses and may be both a cause of, and symptom of, the illness.
- It can point to as many as 33 underlying illnesses that include Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline, PTSD and depression. In addition, it is linked with heart disease, Lyme disease and Parkinson’s.
- Inaction and lack of motivation for even the most important aspects of your health and the upkeep of your home, your relationships and your career.
- A lack of gratitude and decrease in our sense of happiness.
- A lack of love and compassion for our neighbors and those in need. It may appear as a slow increase in our isolation from friends and loved ones.
- Voter apathy and low turn out to community events.
- Poor sleep quality and duration.
- Weight gain.
- A preoccupation with information, technology and entertainment.
Most concerning, apathy can get at the heart of how you think about your relationships and how you care for the people in your life.
Interestingly, a Google search of the word Apathy garners over 15 Million hits. If apathy is so popular, and if it can impact our health, our mental health, our relationships and the upkeep of our homes and our careers, why aren’t we talking about it? Perhaps we have a nation-wide case of apathy?
How do you avoid apathy without becoming anxious?
One of the risks about an article like this is that you begin to think of every Monday morning, every low mood, every tired day as evidence of apathy. As said earlier, apathy is more of a pervasive, lasting mood or outlook. It is not something that your doctor may ask about and is easily confused with depression. It cannot truly be avoided, but you and I can inoculate ourselves against it.
Listen to it. Apathy may point to more existential concerns or other health concerns. You may have lost interest in your job and this may point to the need to re-engage other strengths in your current job, find another job or return to school and greater vitality.
Re-engage your strengths. Return to an old, underutilized hobby and do it for the fun of it. Also, look for other ways to just have fun.
Follow your mother’s advice. Get a good nights sleep, a healthy meal and get outside. Sleep will change your mood, as will healthy eating. If you have put on a few pounds, the weight gain itself can change your mood because of your body image and decrease in overall energy level. You may not feel like it, but going for a walk can expose you to sunlight which will improve your Dopamine and vitamin D levels, both associated with mood levels.
Simplify. Your energy may be tapped because you are spread too thin. Consider your commitments and projects. Too much is just too much. It may feel like a mark of success to be crazy-busy… but if you don’t care about it, nothing matters anyway. You will accomplish more by doing less.
Consider prayer. Yes, prayer. Reconnecting with your own spirituality can re-engage you with life. You may choose to meditate, to spend time in nature, to practice a creative art or volunteer. Or perhaps just drink your coffee more mindfully and with gratitude. Begin with a few minutes each day of intentional thankfulness.
Engage a therapist. Apathy may point to a need to address deeper needs that impact your emotional, relational and vocational health.
See your doctor for a check up and review of your moods if your apathy is pervasive and lasting.
Apathy is not a joke. If you experience a pervasive apathetic mood or mindset, that should be a red flag. There is no one solution or a pill that you can take. Re-engaging with life giving activities, relationships and a sense of purpose is the best approach to dealing with apathy.
The Good Men Project is promoting a conversation for modern men who want to engage life with energy and vitality. Modern manhood is not defined by sexism, homophobia, misogyny, judgment, or other negative stereotypes. The modern man is engaged, caring, passionate, competitive but accepting, spiritual, and welcoming. Join us and become part of the conversation.
I hope that you cared about this article and that it has given you a few ideas about the risks of apathy and how to re-engage with your own vitality. This has been a journey for me to understand my own mood and mindset. I am re-engaging my health and well being as a result of what I have learned about myself.
I would love to hear from you about how you are resisting the effects of apathy in your life. Please join me in the comments section below.
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Keep it Real
Previously published in the Good Men Project.
Photo by Rachel