Modern life came with its comforts but not without its peculiar burdens. Stress, anxiety, and depression became some of the most common ailments modern humans face — troubles that were mostly alien to our primitive ancestors.
In this article, we will explore the reasons why stress, anxiety, and depression are common in modern society, why a lack of discipline exacerbates them, and how a disciplined lifestyle helps to fight them.
Discipline is a potent weapon against the inevitable stress, anxiety, and depression that modern living brought with it but unfortunately, modern humans are turned off by the idea of discipline, probably because discipline reminds them of the military.
If the idea of discipline repels you; if you perceive discipline to be boring, limiting, and unpleasant (as most modern humans do), bear with me.
Contrary to what most people believe and as we will cover in detail throughout the article, discipline is neither boring nor limiting, let alone unpleasant. Actually, it’s great.
Obligatory disclaimer before we proceed: I’m not a doctor and this article doesn’t provide medical advice. People with anxiety disorders and depression should seek professional help.
Why Humans Suck At Navigating Modern Life
Our lives today have almost nothing in common with the lives of our primitive ancestors — hunter-gatherers.
While our lives have almost completely changed, our nature is the same as it was during the times we lived in hunter-gatherer tribes. Human nature isn’t compatible with modern living which brings with it a slew of problems.
The problems modern human beings face today were mostly alien to our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
The primitive man didn’t need to worry about school, exams, debt, bills, mortgages, theft, retirement, jobs, bosses, servitude, tyrants, prisons, wars, economic crises, governments, politicians, terror attacks, taxes, traffic, marriage, obesity, heart attacks, cancer, diabetics, and many other problems that make the modern human stressed, anxious, and depressed.
Our ancestors had short-term problems (which our stress response mechanism is built for) while the modern human has long-term problems (which our stress response mechanism sucks at handling).
Since our nature remained almost exactly the same as it was in primitive times, neither your instincts nor your stress response mechanism suffice to navigate the complex terrain of modern life.
Our primitive stress response mechanism has evolved to cope with short-term problems or imminent danger. Stress is meant to be acute, not chronic as it is in modern life. It works flawlessly in dangerous situations that threaten our lives but it sucks at handling the long-term worries of modern living.
This is an important distinction that invites a lot of stress, anxiety, and depression-related troubles that make life a living hell for the modern human being.
Stress is no joke. Worrying over days, weeks, or even years on end wreaks havoc on our bodies. Your body’s stress response which is built to handle temporary emergencies can be more damaging than the problems that activate it in modern life.
For example, if your blood pressure temporarily increases in case of an emergency so that you can employ extra resources of your body to escape danger, you’ll be fine after your blood pressure returns to normal levels. But in the case of permanent stress (like worrying about your 30-year mortgage), you’ll get hypertension and set yourself up for cardiovascular disease.
A large body of evidence suggests that stress-related disease emerges, predominantly, out of the fact that we so often activate a physiological system that has evolved for responding to acute physical emergencies, but we turn it on for months on end, worrying about mortgages, relationships, and promotions.
― Robert Sapolsky
Note: If you are interested in further detail about your body’s stress response mechanism, I recommend professor Robert Sapolsky’s book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. It’s a great book to understand the hazards of stress due to modern living.
How Stress, Anxiety, And Depression Ruin Lives
Having established why our built-in stress response is incompatible with handling modern life’s problems, let’s first look at how exactly stress, anxiety, and depression operate before we dive into how discipline is massively helpful to protect yourself against them.
When we are exposed to stressful situations, all kinds of hormonal stuff happens behind the scenes.
Cortisol (stress hormone) increases, dopamine (pleasure hormone), and testosterone (primary male hormone) decreases. Serotonin (the hormone of well-being) is nowhere to be found.
The more and the longer our bodies are exposed to stress and anxiety, the higher the probability that we fall into depression.
Our worries about the future, financial anxieties (fear of losing our job, fear of not being able to pay our bills, economic crises), status anxiety, a lack of control over our destinies, learned helplessness, social anxiety, and health anxiety are the some of the most common anxieties among modern humans.
Subjecting our bodies to numerous stressors and anxieties over long periods of time invites all kinds of physical and psychological illnesses such as heart disease, erectile dysfunction, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, cerebrovascular disorders, and major depression.
We also become vulnerable to all kinds of addictions including alcohol and drug addiction because extended periods of stress and anxiety depletes our dopamine reserves and leaves us gasping for a semblance of pleasure.
How Discipline Fights Stress, Anxiety, And Depression
As much as modern life is replete with stress, anxiety, and depression, this is the life we were born into and have to live. We can’t go back to being hunter-gatherers so we must play the hand we’ve been dealt.
Unfortunately, most people are unaware that their natural defenses are insufficient to deal with the stressors of modern life. They delegate the task of dealing with stress to their natural defense mechanisms which are not built to handle modern life’s problems, never getting around to fight effectively against the debilitating stressors modern life brings with it.
When their defense mechanism falls short, and fall short it will, the first thing they do is to escape from their problems. But this is the wrong mentality to have. Escapism won’t work. Escaping from your problems won’t make them magically disappear. There’s a better strategy.
Armed with the knowledge of how stress, anxiety, and depression work in modern life, we can fight against it with the weapons we have in our arsenal. Humans are adaptable and resilient creatures. There’s a reason why we are at the top of the food chain.
While we can’t change our nature, we can organize our lives to minimize the negative influences of stress and anxiety and greatly reduce our probability of falling into depression.
Granted, there are no guarantees in life but what we can do is manipulate the probabilities in our favor. As you’ll see, there are a lot of things you can do. Here’s when discipline comes into the picture.
Discipline vs. Worry Of Future
Worry of future is one of the most debilitating types of anxiety.
What if a worse future is awaiting you? Are you going to be able to cope with the challenges of life?
Worry of future can paralyze us into inaction which is the opposite of what we need because we need to be taking action to build ourselves a better future.
Fortunately, what we need in order to avoid stress and anxiety isn’t a guarantee of a great future. All we need is to believe we are heading for a better future.
Happiness has more to do with where you’re heading than where you are. We tend to feel happy when things are moving in the right direction and unhappy when things are trending bad. If you can’t even imagine an improved future, you won’t be happy.
— Scott Adams
But how do we imagine an improved future?
By setting ourselves up for a better future, of course.
Can You Predict The Future?
Most people rationalize their worries of future by claiming that the future is unpredictable, but is this true?
While the future can’t be predicted with exact Nostradamus-like precision, we can actually predict a lot of things.
For example, it doesn’t take a Nostradamus to see that you’ll be fat in the future if you eat too much food in the present.
It’s not hard to predict that you’ll fail an exam if you played video games instead of studying.
We all instinctively know that we will pay a price in the future for our laziness of today. The opposite is also true. We all instinctively know that we are likely to be better of in the future if we are disciplined today.
As we’ve covered, you don’t even need to reach your goals before you can start to feel good about the future. If your disciplined efforts today inform you of a better future, you’ll feel happier and less stressed.
Moreover, discipline makes you stronger and more confident about your abilities to cope with the challenges of life.
How Discipline Improves Optimism
Optimism is believing the future will be better.
I’m not talking about a delusional optimism where one thinks problems will somehow sort themselves out. I’m talking about a rational optimism where one works in a disciplined fashion to engineer himself a better future. This kind of rational optimism is the fruit of cultivated effort.
Optimists are more likely to succeed in life compared to pessimists and for good reason.
Disciplined people tend to be more optimistic and they eventually become successful not necessarily because of their optimism but because of their work ethic.
It goes without saying that optimistic people are less anxious or stressed and they are less likely to succumb to depression.
Discipline vs. Financial Anxiety
Bills, mortgages, economic crises, inflation, taxes, jobs, pensions, failed businesses, etc.
There are a lot of financial anxieties the modern human has to cope with, which our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t have to worry about.
Unfortunately, while modern life is replete with financial worries, modern humans notoriously suck at financial discipline.
The most basic rule of financial discipline is to avoid spending more money than you make. It’s amazing how many people violate this basic yet vital principle.
A basic financial discipline of spending less money than you make can eradicate most of your financial anxieties.
Unemployment is another common cause of major depression. While you can’t control how the world economy functions, an excellent work ethic can make you less vulnerable to losing your job or set you up for finding better jobs, or prevent your business ventures from failing.
Improving your competitive skills has a lot to do with discipline as well. Skilled work pays more than unskilled work. The more marketable skills you build with the help of disciplined effort, the more job and business opportunities you will have, so the less financially anxious you will be.
Discipline vs. Health Anxiety
Thanks to modern medicine, we live a lot longer than our ancestors. However, while life expectancy has never been as high as it is in our times, that doesn’t mean we don’t have health problems to worry about.
Our ancestors didn’t have to worry about obesity because calories have never been as abundant as they are today. They surely didn’t have to worry about diseases of older age that we are stressed about today, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.
While we can’t prevent aging, there is a silver lining. We can age in a healthy fashion. Falling apart with age doesn’t have to be your destiny thanks to a rock-solid diet and exercise discipline.
Here are the ways how exercise and diet discipline can alleviate your health-related anxieties:
- Exercise and diet discipline will make you healthier. The healthier you are, the less anxious you’ll be about your health.
- Disciplined people who watch what they eat and exercise regularly don’t get fat which prevents obesity-related health problems. They also sleep better which helps further relieve anxiety because sleep deprivation is a major cause of various health problems.
- Regular exercise decreases the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases by strengthening your heart, increasing your lung capacity, and lowering your resting heart rate and blood pressure.
- Exercise decreases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol which in turn makes you less stressed. Sleeping sufficiently has a similar influence as well.
- Exercise improves mood by elevating the levels of feel-good hormones such as endorphins.
- Exercise increases testosterone (stress decreases it) which is the primary male hormone responsible for a lot of good stuff including an overall sense of well-being.
- The delayed gratification of exercise improves your self-confidence and pride which counteracts anxiety.
- Disciplined people are less likely to develop alcohol, tobacco, and drug addiction, which eliminates addiction-related health anxieties.
If your preferred type of exercise is strength training as I recommend it to be, you’ll also avoid age-related muscle loss which is responsible for a lot of diseases related to old age.
Discipline vs. Status Anxiety
Human societies subconsciously organize themselves in status hierarchies. It’s clinically shown that people who rank lower in socioeconomic status endure more stress, anxiety, and depression compared to people of higher socioeconomic status.
A lower socioeconomic status results in higher cortisol levels and lower testosterone and serotonin levels; a hormone combination that translates into a lower sense of well-being.
Humans instinctively recognize the biological need to rank higher in the status hierarchy and invest heavily in consumer products that demonstrate status. Keeping up with the Joneses is a thing for a reason.
If you haven’t inherited a high socioeconomic status from your parents, as most men don’t, you must put in a tremendous effort to improve your ranking in the status hierarchy or you’ll be negatively affected by the stress and anxiety of low status.
Keeping up with the Joneses is a short-cut attempt at feigning status. It even further increases stress and anxiety because people buy expensive things to demonstrate status but put themselves under a massive debt burden. There’s no other legit way to actually elevate your status in society than discipline.
By working in a disciplined fashion, you can educate yourself, make more money, level up to a highly-respected profession, etc. to improve your status and well-being and enjoy lower stress and anxiety levels.
Another way how elevating your status fights stress, anxiety, and depression is that men are biologically wired to need to feel needed. We are happier when we are useful and needed, and unhappy when we feel useless and avoided.
There is a direct positive correlation between a man’s status and how much he is needed and respected. The less a man is needed and respected, the more miserable he will be which is especially true in older age.
A life lived with discipline can make you a man who is needed by others even when you are older. You don’t want to age badly and be avoided by others, especially your loved ones.
Discipline vs. Learned Helplessness
Stress, anxiety, and depression have a lot to do with the degree of control you have over your life.
People who control their own destiny feel less stressed and anxious, and they’re less prone to fall into depression. The less control you have over your life, the more anxious and stressed you will be.
One can argue that it’s impossible to have complete control over your destiny for it’s impossible to control the entire world, and they would be right.
However, it’s disciplined people fending for themselves who come to terms with the fact that they can’t control everything in life and still feel in control of their own destiny. On the contrary, people who don’t fend for themselves are terrified that they can’t control everything in life and feel powerless over their own destiny.
Moreover, the reason why many people set out to change the world is that self-control seems to them a lot harder than changing the world.
It’s harder to rule yourself than to rule a city.
― Jordan Peterson
Self-control is a giant step towards taking control over your own destiny and in most cases, it’s more than enough.
The more self-control you have, the less stressed and anxious you will be. People who can delay gratification fare better in life than those who fall for instant gratification.
Unsurprisingly, scientists found that wild dogs are less likely to succumb to learned helplessness than domestic dogs. The reason is that wild dogs learn how to fend for themselves while domestic dogs are coddled by their owners.
They also found that it’s no different in the world of humans. People with an internal locus of control, in other words, people who feel they are the masters of their own destiny are less likely to suffer from learned helplessness compared to people with an external locus of control.
I’ve written an entire article on how to develop an internal locus of control so I’ll not discuss it in detail here but briefly stated, the way to develop an internal locus of control is to be a disciplined, sovereign man who fends for himself.
Stress and anxiety are emotions, after all. The more emotional control you have over yourself and the more control you have over your destiny, the less stressed and anxious you will be.
Being disciplined massively alleviates the burden of emotional control. When you’re financially disciplined you worry less about debt. When you’re physically disciplined you worry less about health. When you’re professionally disciplined you worry less about losing your job or finding a new one or building a successful business.
Another way how discipline fights stress, anxiety, and depression is the tremendous positive influence of repetition. The more you repeat the actions you fear, the less you fear them. Exposure to what you fear and mastering difficult and complicated tasks dramatically reduce stress and anxiety.
Discipline vs. Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is common in modern society because it’s one thing to live in a small tribe as our ancestors did and it’s whole another thing to live in a large society we all live in today.
Since we aren’t wired to live in large communities, social skills don’t come naturally. They have to be cultivated in a disciplined fashion.
Social anxiety operates in a similar fashion to other types of anxiety. Anxieties trigger a fight or flight response in mammals, including humans.
It’s easier to sit down in front of a screen enjoying pure pleasure than to go out and endure painful social interactions.
However, easy pleasure has dire consequences. These men are better off overcoming their social anxiety and interacting with people than wasting their lives away playing video games or watching porn.
The best way to develop social skills is to expose yourself to social interactions. Sure, the first few interactions will feel awkward and painful. You might face rejections but as it is with every other skill, you’ll get better with practice until you master it and start to enjoy social interactions. The more you enjoy social interactions, the less socially anxious you will be.
How Discipline Expands Freedom
Last but not least, I want to address the most commonly misunderstood aspect of discipline: Freedom.
We’ve talked about how modern humans tend to associate discipline with the military. Since people automatically associate discipline with military discipline and the army severely limits one’s freedoms, they subconsciously associate discipline with a lack of freedom. But this is an error of association.
Why the military needs discipline has nothing to do with freedom. Armies utilize discipline because it works.
Taken out of the context of the military, discipline not only doesn’t limit freedom but also expands it.
Here are some examples of how discipline expands freedom:
- Discipline improves health and mobility. If you’re an obese couch potato, you won’t be exactly thrilled about mountain climbing or playing soccer with your friends. If you are diabetic or you have hypertension, you won’t be allowed to eat many foods that you’d otherwise enjoy. Also, being fat or out-of-shape severely limits your mobility. When you are disciplined with your diet and exercise, you will be healthy and in great shape. If you are healthy and in great shape, you can participate in a larger range of activities and enjoy a larger range of food options.
- Discipline improves lifestyle choices. Can you hop on a plane on a cold winter day and have breakfast the next day in a warm, sunny tropical country? Healthy and well-off people can. Discipline can make you healthy and well-off. Work discipline accompanied by financial discipline will make you richer. If you are richer, you have a wider range of freedoms. You can travel the world, retire younger, be free from servitude, etc. Money buys you a lot of freedom.
- Discipline improves relationship options. When you develop social skills, a whole new world opens up to you. You can go anywhere in the world and build a social circle. If you are healthy and rich, you’ll have more romantic options. If your status is high, you’ll interact with higher-value people.
Countless other examples of how discipline expands your freedom can be given, but you get the point.
Make discipline a part of your life and you will be less anxious or stressed, and you’ll be less likely to fall into a major depression.
Life is about manipulating probabilities. Discipline manipulates the probabilities in your favor. Try it and you may like it.
Be sure to read:
- How to Be a Superior Man, 30-day intensive discipline program to take full control of your life and massively decrease your levels of stress and anxiety.
- Why Is Life So Hard? (And What You Can Do About It)
- Internal or External Locus of Control: Which Do You Have?
- 10 Reasons To Stop Watching Porn
- 10 Reasons To Quit Playing Video Games