Vivek Murthy: Former Surgeon General On Stress In U.S., Fear Prevents Americans From Reaching Full Potential

Vivek Murthy, the former surgeon general, is worried about stress in the United States. From what he is observing, Americans are living in a fear-driven society. He believes there are several consequences in addition to health issues, mental health problems, and a stagnant emotional well-being. In an interview with National Geographic, Murthy warns that it is preventing people from reaching their full potential.

Murthy, 40, served as the surgeon general of the U.S. from 2014 until spring 2017. During that time, his office focused on safe neighborhoods, reliable transportation, and affordable housing. These days, he is working hard to end the stigma of mental illness, promoting emotional well-being, and advocating the importance of healthy habits.

Vivek says in the interview that emotional well-being was not his intent when he began his tenure. However, after traveling across the country and listening to Americans, he sensed a high level of emotional pain. He became aware of this with residents of both big cities and small towns. This is rather concerning to him, as is the enormously high levels of stress.

“I think of emotional well-being as a resource within each of us that allows us to do more and to perform better. That doesn’t mean just the absence of mental illness. It’s the presence of positive emotions that allows us to be resilient in the face of adversity.”

It is no secret that Americans are under a lot of stress. Even young children are being diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorders, and other illnesses as a result of intense, long-term stress. A 2010 report from the American Psychological Association revealed that stress in children has increased over the years. Seven years later, the number continues to grow.

Vivek Murthy explains as a doctor, there are reasons he is so worried about stress in America. He believes that it prevents people from reaching their full potential. He also discusses how there are two main emotions that drive decisions: love and fear. From his perspective, many people in the United States are driven by fear.

“I think it’s preventing us from achieving our full potential. I have long believed that there are fundamentally two forces or emotions that drive our decisions— love and fear. Love has its many manifestations: compassion, gratitude, kindness, and joy. Fear often manifests in cynicism, anger, jealousy, and anxiety. I worry that many of our communities are being driven by fear. It’s partly because of the things we read about in the news that give us pause about the state of the world. And it’s also because we haven’t really prioritized cultivating positive emotions that emanate from love.”

When asked how people can change it, the former surgeon general suggests altering how one thinks about emotions. Science confirms that feelings are a source of tremendous power. However, many people view emotions as a weakness. The second suggestion he has is using simple tools to cultivate emotional well-being. These include sleep, physical activity, social connections, meditation, and gratitude.

What do you think of what Vivek Murthy said about stress in America?

[Featured Image by Alex Menendez/AP Images for Lake Nona Impact Forum]