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The natural tragedy – and how to deal with overwhelming stress


For myself, I’ve found something that appears to help when I get into the state where nothing feels meaningful. That is focusing on gratitude. In other words, I spend time looking for things in my life to be thankful about. When I first had the impulse to try that, due to reading an article about it, the result was immediate and for my inner experience, everything seemed to suddenly transform into something radiant. The “nothing feels meaningful” state just vanished entirely in moments. However, the next day I needed to spend half an hour doing that for the same effect.

That was … maybe a week ago? I haven’t needed to actively concentrate on gratitude since, so the effect appears to be reasonably long lived. Still, since it’s on my mind now that I’m writing about it, there’s a noticeable effect already.

Anyway, I realized that it’s been pretty rare for me to actually feel gratitude. I suspect an overload of fear tends to override feelings of gratitude, so it would make sense that I was doing too little of it. It’s difficult to feel gratitude when you’re feeling (imagined and unconscious) fear of death whenever you actually try to do something. It might be due to having been able to significantly reduce that that I’m now able to consciously activate the feeling of gratitude.

Try to find the source of that self loathing and eliminate it. It should be an unconscious belief of some sort that you really would be better off without. If I had to guess, something along the lines of not being good enough or being a failure because you haven’t “achieved anything” on some timescale.

A belief like that is emotionally very close to holding a gun to your own head and telling yourself it might shoot if …

The empty meaningless feeling is a way to turn the fear off, so you can recover. However, it turns off everything, both the fear and anything positive as well. I suspect it’s similar to the effect of some antidepressants. Some of them just turn your feelings off.

Learning to endure suffering while still trying to push yourself into action by creating suffering is not a healthy thing to do. You’ll just end up creating as much suffering as you can bear (because otherwise, it loses it’s effectiveness in motivating you). Especially when you rarely, if ever, give yourself a break from it.

Lately, I’ve been taking Solgar’s Vitamin K2 (Natto Extract, so not just K2), 50 micrograms of D3 and Terra Nova’s Living Multinutrient Complex that has pretty much everything (except K2 or large amounts of D3). I initially started taking this combination to see if it might make a difference for my teeth cavity. It didn’t. However, I’ve noticed that I start feeling gradually worse if I stop taking them and taking them again fixes it in a few hours. It’s a rather complete package, though, so I have no theories on which nutrients, exactly are responsible.

(Michael Hrenka) #62

That is fascinating. It’s interesting that you needed such different spans of time for achieving the same positive effect. What’s reassuring is that you were actually able to reproduce the initial effect. I really wonder what determines the effectiveness of such “mental” techniques. The strength of the belief in them seems to be a big factor, but I doubt that it’s the only one. I guess there’s simply a large variance in one’s ability to perform those techniques that depends on one’s current state.

When it comes to gratitude it seems that it’s a hack that lets you allow yourself to feel good about something without any change in your external situation. And simply feeling good might somehow restart one’s dopaminergic system, which probably makes stuff feel meaningful. This suggest that the technique might be modified to simply allowing yourself to feel good about stuff without starting out with gratitude. Or it’s actually the same thing and feeling good about something is what people mean when they say “gratitude”. Ok, I’m currently trying that and it’s amazingly effective (but perhaps it’s actually necessary to get dopamine synthesis right)!


I think the “nothing feels meaningful” state itself is just a long term result of a quick&dirty hack itself and this is a way to start fixing it. Basically, I think refraining from feeling gratitude can also be expressed as refraining from rewarding yourself. Without gratitude, it’s all whip and no apple. A miserable existence.

I suspect it’s got something to do with the mixture of motivations driving me at any moment. When I’m being driven with fear based motivation, I expect gratitude to be more difficult to accomplish. I probably needed to dissolve the fear based motivation I happened to be unconsciously using first.

It’s not a new feeling in that sense to me. I’ve often felt it on better days, but never quite linked it to the word gratitude before and didn’t realize it’s helpful in getting there to think of things to be thankful of. Anyway, it’s a feeling that doesn’t really require a target or a subject, so your intuition is correct. If you can go directly to the feeling, great, go right ahead. If not, thinking of things to be grateful of appears to be useful. I can sometimes go there directly, but not always.

I’m happy you found it useful :smile:

(Michael Hrenka) #64

I don’t feel that this would actually make a positive difference in my life. From my, maybe biased, personal experience, phases of self-loathing have had positive consequences in my life. They spurred me to do scary things that actually helped me in the end. Without this kind of emotional motivation I would have been much less likely to do them.

And perhaps I like disliking myself sometimes. :smiley: I’m a human beings and have my weaknesses and shortcomings. Never feeling bad about those would feel both unnatural and irrational.

So, what about inserting some breaks? It would be like suffering endurance interval training, then! :cold_sweat:

Oh, that Living Multinutrient Complex looks nice. I think that’s a very decent baseline supplement for a fair price! :slight_smile:

Hmm, having theories would be nice, but isn’t really necessary. Having such a comprehensive baseline supplement is pretty much always a good idea, simply to be on the safe side and prevent possible simple solvable deficiencies of any standard vitamin or mineral.


It’s difficult to say without knowing exactly what you mean by “self-loathing”. There are certain things that are definitely a part of a healthy mind. For example, it’s important to be mindful of your own flaws. Also important is that you want to improve yourself. These are important things that I think are quite vital.

However, equally important is to be able to forgive yourself your own flaws, so you’re able to work on understanding them and thereby become able alleviate them or even fix them. When I read “self-loathing”, I tend to interpret it as a state where this forgiveness is not given and thus there’s an additional obstacle in the way of self-improvement. This obstacle is what I think you should remove.

It’s important to take note of where you fall short of your own expectations, yes. That tends to take the form of feeling bad about it. Just don’t forget to forgive yourself those shortcomings so you can stand to look at them for long enough to fix them. Sometimes that takes minutes, sometimes days, sometimes even years.

It’s also important to not think less of yourself when you find a shortcoming. When you think less of yourself due to seeing a shortcoming, you’re training yourself to not see them, which will be in the way of fixing them.

I think I spent an hour looking at the options before I picked that one :wink:

The package says to take 3 per day but I’ve found one per day to be quite sufficient. It contains enough of most things to go over the recommended levels even then, except the ones that are dangerous to take too much of.


I must say, the gratitude thing is challenging in that when I most need it, it tends to take the most willpower (and time) to actually get there. Mostly because something in my mind seems to be actively telling me to stop, trying to convince me that the feeling isn’t true and that I should stop trying to find something to be grateful for right now. It’s interesting that something with so large of a positive effect is meeting with some serious resistance in my mind.

There’s a potential change in my life situation on the horizon and the stress of it is large enough that I find myself subconsciously looking for ways to alleviate it. All the unhealthy habits I’ve mostly left behind trying to activate again, like eating to alleviate stress. So, I decided to try the gratitude again and it’s proving exceptionally difficult to keep my focus on that. It does seem to help some though.

Although, now that I started writing about this, the resistance just vanished. That’s a curious effect. Perhaps the act of making contact is triggering the release of some oxytocin that was blocked due to feeling isolated earlier. Either way, it seems writing about what I’m going through with the intention of communicating that to someone is helpful. Perhaps that’s also what prompted you to start this thread.

Might also be that I’m so grateful for the existence of this forum that the resistance just evaporated, being proven false in itself. Well, a combination of both seems more likely. Anyway, I don’t think I’ve thanked you for starting and working to keep this forum going yet. Thank you for doing that.

(Michael Hrenka) #67

Very interesting! I had the same experience whenever I had come up with “imagined advisors” in my mind. When I had a problem I would consult them and sometimes the internal conversation between them and they would give me new ideas, or clarify what was the best way forward. Unfortunately, whenever I felt very bad, or stressed, or faced with a really difficult problem, those advisors would finally fall silent. Perhaps such techniques only work, if you have a good connection to your unconscious parts of your mind, and stress disrupts this connection.

It seems to me that you have a belief that feelings are only justified, if they are caused by some “real” change, and not simply by a change in perspective. This kind of belief seems to be rather natural, but it’s not correct. A change of perspective can be more important than a change in the “real world”.

There’s a really fascinating video about this topic that I absolutely recommend watching:

The Surprising Science of Happiness | Dan Gilbert | TED Talks

Yeah, it’s really puzzling, isn’t it? Everyone seems to be wondering what causes this kind of apparently irrational resistance to beneficial actions. I notice that kind of resistance most when considering talking a walk or jog in the forest. The positive effects of that have proven to be rather phenomenal, but my mind still doesn’t register that as something I “should” or “want to” do. It’s as if my mind rejects the idea that forests are good for me, although the evidence clearly points into that direction.

Similarly, my mind creates a lot of resistance to the idea of jogging, even though that’s very beneficial in general. In this case, it’s clearer why there is resistance: Jogging burns up lots of “valuable” calories that my body “doesn’t want to” get rid of.

The feelings of pressure and stress probably act as trigger for the old coping patterns that you have applied in the past. That’s quite natural. And this natural tendency needs to be countered either by willpower, or intelligent use of techniques. I found the following quick technique to be useful for dealing with negative emotions:

I wouldn’t expect oxytocin to be released simply by writing on a forum, but only if someone actually reacts to you in a positive way. Nevertheless the anticipation of someone reaction positively might be enough, so perhaps you are right after all. Writing is useful in any case, whether I write for myself, or on a public medium. Maybe that’s because it helps to clarify one’s thoughts and feelings by capturing, formalizing, and externalising some parts of cognition onto the writing medium.

Awesome! :grin: Thank you very much for your kind words! :slight_smile:


I do have a dislike for lying to myself and somehow that activated here. The logical side of my mind could see that there are things to be grateful for but the emotional side was stuck feeling like it’s a lie.

That really is an interesting video. I hadn’t seen that before. I discovered that I often sidestep the reversibility problem by just refusing to second guess my own decisions without something that strongly indicates the choice was bad. But at the same time, when there’s no pressure to make a fast choice, logic is useless for choosing and there are a lot of choices, I tend to paralyze myself looking at the alternatives and end up unable to choose. This explains why that happens.

I’m not entirely happy with the prospect of picking the first one that feels good enough, but so far haven’t figured out a better way to sidestep the issue. Perhaps it’ll come up if I let it simmer for a day or two. Past experience does indicate that it’s easier if I go with a filter approach and discard half of the options each day, but that’s a little slow.

The task? Well, picking from a list of pictures that are all one in a thousand cases that I love :stuck_out_tongue:

Energy conservation as the biological motive doesn’t sound plausible to me. Kids wouldn’t be so noisy and active if that was the case. It’s more plausible to me that you’ve convinced yourself at some point that you want to conserve energy and that belief is still there as an unconscious one. I have a similar issue myself, but it’s not about energy, it feels like wasting time. Feels like I’m sacrificing valuable time that would be better spent doing something more important.

It’s not always clear what this “more important” thing is but that doesn’t seem to affect the resistance, even when I consciously note this.

I developed a rather strong aversion to being in a forest when I was a child due to being forced to go there too often when I wanted to be somewhere else. So going to a forest ended up associated in my mind with being powerless and weak. The resistance is still present but not very strong anymore. The expectation of the enjoyment of being in a forest can override it these days.

Interesting, I find I’ve been using something much like this relaxation strategy for a few months already. It’s very effective for me. Just, I’ve found that I often need to take a much much longer period of relaxation to be able to continue. It works well, but it’s pretty slow going.

Yes, that’s true, putting thoughts to words tends to make the thoughts clearer as well. That could be part of it.

(Michael Hrenka) #69

It seems that I have come to an important realization: It is extremely hard for me to relax. Relaxation is a really unnatural state for me, because I usually strive for stimulating, exciting, interesting, fun activities, even if that’s simply thinking about a specific topic, or just letting my mind wander. Otherwise I feel understimulated, bored, and the longing to do something fun or productive, or at least something that distracts me from those and other negative feelings.

All of this makes me susceptible to addictive behaviour that makes me seek something that satisfies my desire for stimulation. Paradoxically, I have been most at peace when I had something really exciting and addictive that occupies my attention fully. It has become a kind of lifestyle for me to seek something that I can do fully and excessively, otherwise I wouldn’t even really feel alive.

The problem with that is that this way of living uses up lots of energy, and in the long run messes up neurochemistry (see Trying to understand neurotransmitter receptor regulation), because one is caught in a rapid endless loop of stimulation seeking behaviour, without any significant break. Heck, even my dreams often feel like just another way of generating extra stimulation while I’m asleep.

This is why it helps me to meditate, at least when I’m successful at meditating. Meditation disrupts the endless flow of thoughts and stimulation seeking behaviour. Similarly, when I’m in the forest :deciduous_tree: and simply observe the nature around me, I’m in a different mode of mind – some kind of passive observer mode, an appreciative state :eye:. Those are the moments when some healing can happen, when my body and mind can get a short break from the ceaseless strom of stimulation, and stimulation seeking.

Perhaps I could be fixed thoroughly, if I lived in a buddhist monastery for a year or so. :expressionless: Not that I think that would actually be necessary. The deeper insight into my core problem might be enough to guide me to a path of solid healing.


I wonder why it took me 16 days to notice this message. I’m pretty sure I looked at the forum less than 16 days ago to see if there’s anything new. Sometimes I just don’t receive an email about a new message. I wonder why.

We share this problem. Although, I get the impression you have it worse than I ever did.

I think this sounds like the very definition of an addiction. I’m not entirely free of this kind of behaviour either, but I suspect I have some kind of a safety valve left that I never managed (or dared to) to disable that forces me to stop that before it has immediate consequences for my health and well being.

This year, I’ve made quite some progress in learning to relax more. However, it’s not all roses. I’ve had some issues surface that I faintly remember dealing with previously as a kid. For example, I’ve had serious episodes of stress from food I’ve been eating tasting a little strange. When something like that happens, it tends to completely destroy my ability to concentrate for a while. I suspect I’ve pushed these aside with aggressive stimulation seeking behavior previously. There are also some other triggers that trigger similar episodes.

I guess the key is that, I’m not good at dealing with the fear of death. That seems to be the common theme here. I used to distract myself away from it previously, however, now I’m managing to let it be there without trying to drown it with something else. It’s still causing disturbances in my life but at least this way I get some much needed practice in dealing with it and perhaps learning to not generate it so strongly.

I’ve had similar experiences with being in nature helping me relax. However, about meditation, I’d like to point out that when it’s most difficult to “succeed” is when it’s most useful to meditate. Even if you don’t feel like you “succeed” at all in it. The point of meditation is to train yourself to be there with whatever is going on in your mind. To train yourself to keep returning to your mind, whatever the situation or the content of your mind. The greatest benefit is actually gained by persevering at trying to meditate during those times when you’re least at peace.

In other words, the goal is not the mental state of peace. The goal is to learn to be there observing your mind, whatever the situation or the content of your mind. The mental state of peace is a common side-effect of observing your mind and seeing it’s contents for what they are. However, it’s not the goal and becomes a hindrance if you consider it a goal.

In a way, the goal of meditation is to learn to observe your mind without goals. To dissolve all goals, so you can see if they still feel worthwhile enough to recreate afterwards. I feel like quantum waveform/particle duality along with the uncertainty principle would work as an analog here but I couldn’t figure out how to put that to words, so I’ll just mention that here and hope that you can fill in the blanks yourself.

(Michael Hrenka) #71

I’m not sure how the notification systems works exactly. But in your personal preferences for this forum you can set up how frequently you are notified about new activity. Perhaps changing those settings will help.

This sounds like you may have food intolerances. Those can be quite subtle and hard to find out. It helps taking note how you feel after eating certain foods.

I used to suffer from fear of death many years ago. Interestingly, it seems to depend on how you define your identity. Fear of death may be one of the few fears that can indeed be modified by philosophical reflection. For me, realizing that I am similar to other persons in so many respects helped me to overcome large parts of my fear of death. Even when I die, there will be many people who are similar to me (even if I don’t actually know most of them) who will live on. That’s a quite soothing thought.

Thanks for pointing that out. Perhaps the most important aspect of meditation in that context is getting into the non-judging “observer mode”, which creates a distance between stressful thoughts and feelings and your … self-model? It’s like in your default mode you are immersed very directly in those thoughts and feelings, while during meditation they seem more like something external that’s weakly attached to your mind, which makes them appear less serious and distressing.

That sounds wonderfully zen :smiley: Beautiful! :white_flower:

On a more physical level, today I’ve started a trial of the adaptogen rhodiola rosea (500 mg per day). It seems to be the best adaptogen for treating depression / burnout / fatigue. I suspect that this will create a positive expectation that will invite a relatively strong placebo response, but hey, if it works, that’s certainly good enough. :slight_smile:


That’s a good point. I’ll try recording what I was eating if this keeps happening. Although, I might have already mostly solved the food based triggering. It might just simply have been that I overreacted to a little extra gas production in my stomach, which then caused a stress response and affected the digestion causing even more gas production.

I thought I’d already realized that, but perhaps the realization didn’t go deep enough. I’ll try to keep that in mind for the next time. That thought also helps me feel connected with the world as a whole. Realizing that on a deep level, the differences between each person are really quite superficial in the end.

The main reason our thoughts and beliefs create stress is that we forget that we created them and consider them the reality rather than as something that we made up ourselves. Kind of like painting a picture and forgetting that it’s just a picture you painted and considering it reality. Meditation helps you remember that they’re your own creation and that reduces their impact on you.

Sounds great. I hope it works, whatever the reason it works :slight_smile:

(Lodewijk Andre de la Porte) #73

The verbosity of this thread is a sin. I cannot process it whole. Neither can you process it’s contents in parallel - obscuring answers.

We’ve been dealt a bad hand, not just with the laws of the universe, but with ourselves. Everyone suffers that knowingly or not.

You must accept that ethics are unrealistic to a point. You’re not build for following the perfect code. You’re build for proliferation. All trickery permitted. To say that makes us less perfect humans, well, that ignores your design parameters.

The universe is chaotic and so is society. IQ100 is barely adequate for performance within society, it is not adequate for understanding it. The laws of society are too verbose, and yet unspoken. Coping mechanisms (useful before 2016IQ100, and perhaps even after) apply and cause bizarre situations, many of which are undesirable, cruel, and oft abused. Imitation, groupthink, deification, overfitting (learning too fast/superstition) etc. Gut feel is malconnected to life.

In a way you’re overthinking it. Pick a random number, generate a life-system out of it. That’s you. It seems we face a limited lifespan, low intelligence and capabilities, group/herd mentalities, a distinct lack of magic and pleasure, and most fascinating, a less intellectually capable herd.

There is no God to judge the morality of your actions. There’s no point. When you’re rational you’ll always find yourself chasing the higher goal. There isn’t one. You may pick sci-fi’s default of “advancement of civilisation” (“advancement of the species” is misguided - race is really not important but for some kind of self-proliferation) to have a goal to reason from and live a respectable life. Or you can choose not to pick that. In truth it does not matter.

You seek the answer to existentialism until you stop seeking.

It’s best to learn to live without an answer. Of course, I don’t see why you would have to. But given a complete lack of evidence for the afterlife (in fact, quite the opposite) it seems to me that objectively, you were dealt a very bad hand with no option not to play.

It’s plenty reason to be depressed, but that won’t help you. GL HF.

(Michael Hrenka) #74

You are right. Philosophical considerations are mixed up with personal health issues. Although there is some linkage between those, it might be worthwhile to disentangle both.

While there’s some truth to this position, I wonder how it’s compatible with transhumanist ambitions to overcome human shortcomings. I see the focus on pure proliferation as shortcoming, too. Why focus on existence, rather than on the quality of our existence? Usually, people spend more time trying to increase their subjective quality of life, rather than worrying about how they can spread their genes or memes most effectively.

Interesting approach, but humans aren’t good at dealing with randomness, even if they have technological support. Humans want their lives to be (or at least feel) meaningful. Random generation of life-systems (how would that even work in reality) seems insufficient for that purpose.

Even if that’s the case, rational humans want to strive towards higher goals, even if they have to make them up on their own. Mere existence isn’t intellectually or emotionally satisfying. Learning more about the world, and pursuing challenges is what gives meaning to people, at least on a most abstract level. What one wants to learn about the world, and what challenges resonate with oneself is definitely a rather subjective matter (although there are many common intersubjective interests). A problematic side-effect of that is that the different pursuits of different people create conflict. But hey, without problems and conflict, we wouldn’t have interesting challenges to pursue. :slight_smile:

I disagree. You may view these matters too narrowly in the framework of morality. It’s not only about morality, or ethics, it’s about value systems in general. People need value systems that guide their actions, otherwise they would be reduced to minimal instinctive actions that wouldn’t even suffice to keep them alive. Without values (implicit or not, conscious or not), and motivation, there’s no reason to act at all. The crux of this thread is that humans aren’t very good at pursuing values, especially if they want to do that in a way that doesn’t cause collateral damage. We do cause a lot of collateral damage, even if we don’t want to, or even if we actively try to avoid that damage. We’d need to be way smarter and capable cookies in order to be really effective and benign. :bulb: :cookie: :heart:

Sometimes, depression may simply be an adaptation to uncomfortable truths. Once cognitive and emotional adaptation to those truths has been achieved, depression becomes unnecessary.

(Lodewijk Andre de la Porte) #75

“Subjective” has little meaning within this context. The subjective experience, and all that relates to it, are “genetically engineered” to the effect of causing reproduction. Perhaps more accurately: the subjective experience is the result of random mutations to it, with a mild filter for effective reproduction.

And meaningful? Meaningful to a human has apparently evolved from a need for the species to spread, and curiosity to compensate away from comfort.

Note that without a higher purpose, the idea of benign is nonexistent as every move is moot. The idea of “quality of existence” can only follow from an existence with values, emotions, and whatnot. The quality you describe is also moot to the universe - and moreso to whatever lies outside it.

Take a function F. The function outputs any possible life system (any possible experience). The input should be in R. What’s it matter how it works? You want more axis? Encode it into R - you can. Fact is we experience an output of F, and the input is not chosen for some specific reason. Our lives derive from chaos.

(Michael Hrenka) #76

Your outlook seems to be bleaker and more depressing than anything I have written in this forum. How can you live with that? Would you like to get replaced by a zombie robot with no subjective experience that’s fitter to reproduce its genes and memes, if that was possible? What would be the purpose of that? If there’s no point even in living, why are you even bothering to post in this thread? It really baffles me. Please explain that.

(Lodewijk Andre de la Porte) #77

You may have heard of “quality of life” arguments for contemplation of euthanasia. It implies there is a ratio of “fun” to “unfun” that is the minimum for life. In fact, life is about maximising “fun” and “unfun” is really not a part of the equation.

I’ve only found that too much “unfun” makes it hard to perform, therefore reducing “fun”.

Another way of putting it is “You’ve been dealt a bad hand, but there is no afterlife, so you’re stuck with it”.

I’m not really sure if I would turn off my emotions if I could. I suppose if it just does what it’s supposed to, rather than what it feels like, that would be much preferable.

And like I said, you look for the answer until you stop. I didn’t find an answer, perhaps closer to a proof of no answer, but then you just stop thinking about it and proceed because there’s no other option anyway.

(Michael Hrenka) #78

Thanks for your clarifying post.

But where would be the “fun” in that? Is fun merely a variable that determines one’s performance of certain activities? Don’t you want to “feel good”, instead of merely having a high “performance variable” that you don’t feel subjectively?


didnt read all, but i can say you, i feel pretty bad most of the time as well and i would say alot of what you say reminds me of myself.

maybe its just a capitalistic myth that you acutally can feel good most of the time. so they create hope so they can sell their fucking product.

good luck anyway :slight_smile:


Advertising definitely likes to make use of the common misconception that feeling good is something that’s created by external things. However, the reality is that if you want to feel good, all you need to do is to stop making yourself feel bad. The tragedy of modern society, however, is that most people are completely lost about how to do this. Many don’t even believe it possible. In fact, most of us are taught to make ourselves feel bad from a very early age.

That being said, there are certain biological needs that, if unfulfilled, will prevent one from feeling good. So, it’s worth making sure you eat healthy and keep yourself fit. Social surroundings also affect this to a degree, so it’s also worth paying some attention to how supportive your social environment is and looking for a better one if it’s lacking.