How to Cure Post-Traumatic Societal Stress Syndrome

We all have a disfiguring, gross, disease that oozes emotional pus, destroys our sex drive, and cripples us in life. It started in 2000 with the dot-com bust. There was this infinitely glorious future promised us: of robots and networks and infinite productivity, even ever- increasing salaries and wealth, and the promise of infinite love from any part of the world that we sought it.

(robots from “The Jetsons” to Battlestar Galactica)

Then it went bust.

Then the World Trade Center blew up. Then Enron was corrupt. And Worldcom, and Tyco, and countless other companies. I can tell you that the three mentioned above were only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the corrupt companies (about 90% of the Fortune 500) got away with it and minted countless millionaires and billionaires.

Then we had a glimmer of hope again. Forget the stock market. It’s’ about owning a house! Hooray! Thank god I bought that house. It’s up 300%. And I can get my credit card attached to my equity line which is attached to…nothing! Holy cow!

And then it went bust. It went bust as early as 2007. But then something worse happened.

All the banks had been hiding the fact that it went bust. But in 2008 the tide finally came in. Every single bank was naked and we all saw it. Ewww! Gross! Because all the banks were old men. You ever go in a locker room with all old men? One day I’ll be one of them and I can tell you this: I am not going to hang around naked in locker rooms.

So we were in shock. I  literally thought, correctly, that the ATM machines would stop working.

And then, it got worse!

Housing prices went down probably another 20%. Unemployment doubled. Under-employment (where you get a new job but it’s a 50% or more paycut) probably tripled. Unhappy employment is probably up to 90%: Where the stress of the job, the politics, the depression, the anxiety, is more than your ability to handle it without health or relationships breaking down.


And when things even feel like they might get better for a tiny bit we have Post-Traumatic Societal Stress Syndrome (PTSSD) hit us:

A)     An overwhelming feeling that everytime it was good, it was a myth, a product of mass hypnosis. “It’s never going to get better”, we think.

B)      A fear that even if it gets better, it will be two steps forward, three steps back. Maybe our house will go up in value, but then we will lose our job, or our business, or our marriage. It can’t get better because it’s been bad for so long.

C)      And if our internal voices don’t slow us down with their webs of anxiety, then we always have the external voices to contend with.

What external voices. Hold on a second. I’m going to fire up my Internet Web Browser and look at the headlines on

So don’t worry, even if you think things are good, the headlines will always convince you things are bad.

Let’s say today you woke up feeling depressed, anxious about your job, your money, how will you pay for retirement, or kid’s college education, or maybe how will you have a tiny bit of freedom to do the things you always wanted to do. But then you get this crushing sense that you will never get there. That things will always be like this, a slow draining of all hope out of society as money goes to zero, innovation dries up, and all the things that people once enjoyed just become reminders of how they are no longer there, a huge absence eating up our souls.

In other words, you woke up today like how I woke up. Like how most people in our society woke up today.

The good news is: THERE IS A CURE

A)     Understand that it’s a disease. It’s not catalogued by any manual of disorders. It’s not acknowledged by your physician (although they will happily prescribe various SSRIs that, statistically, are no better than doing 30 pushups every day). It’s a disease. It’s not quite post-traumatic stress. It’s worse, because it’s all over the country. It’s post-traumatic SOCIETAL stress.

B)      Understand that it’s not just you. EVERYONE is experiencing this disease. Tell yourself, everyone I see today is experiencing this, not just me. The fear, the loss of hope. The anxiety. Anxiety is very debilitating. Sometimes just telling yourself things won’t get rid of it. But at least knowing that you are  not alone in it will help.

C)      Forget the past. Since the “PAST” is a symptom of this society-wide disease, we can be comforted that our brain has outstretched the importance of just about every event in the past. Those synapses grew stronger, weakening the parts of the brain that provide hope. Anxiety because I went broke in 2000 won’t stop me now. So forget it. It doesn’t mean the anxiety will go away. I feel the anxiety in my body right now. But I don’t have to name it or associate it with some past event. I don’t have to talk with it or “deal with it”. Just acknowledge something is there and it’s annoying.

And eventually that past event slithers away when it realizes it’s being ignored. And eventually also, the anxiety will start to dissipate.

D)     We all want change right now. Every single one of us. But the big changes often elude us. You can’t just quit your job if you have a bill to pay tomorrow. Maybe you can or maybe you can’t. I don’t know. But you can practice. We all know the negative things we are going to do today. They might include: watching too much TV, gossiping, snacking on crap, not sleeping enough, watching or reading the news, being angry at someone who will be dead within 100 years, playing too much computer solitaire, and on and on. Practice one change. Pick one negative thing and don’t do it today. And congratulate yourself at night. You did the change! You can change! Practice a little bit each day. Use to track it if you want.

Little changes add up. They add up to the cure. And since nobody else is getting cured, you catapult ahead.

E)      Plan your future. Post-Traumatic Societal Stress Syndrome is caused by events in the past. They are not predictive of the future. They aren’t even predictive of how you can be feeling right now if you want. This is where it’s important to exercise the idea muscle. When I can’t take it anymore I start thinking of other things I can do. I’ve written this before but if you don’t exercise the idea muscle, it atrophies quickly. When it atrophies, all of your ideas are bad. Or 95% of them are. You want to get to the point where you are at least 50-50. That means you have to write ideas every day. Particularly if you want change in your life.

It takes six months, from my view, to build up the idea muscle again. Start today. In six months your life will be different.

Today my ideas included: potential clients for various businesses I’m invested in, ideas for articles, ideas for a novel with potential outline, ideas for talks, ideas for a 3 day course I’m giving in January. Later I will throw out the list. Who cares what it said. The point is making the list. The good ideas will stick with me and I’ll expand them into future lists. At some point an idea will be good enough I’ll make the jump and do it.

F)      Right now. My daughter woke me up at 4 in the morning. She had a nightmare. It’s the first day of two weeks she’s going to spend with me. She had a nightmare that the house was being burglarized. She wasn’t feeling safe. I went downstairs and slept on the couch right next to her room but a few minutes later she came out and said she still couldn’t sleep. I told her she can close her eyes and count the number of things she’s grateful for. She went back in her room and fell asleep for the next three hours. Right now you can remove the past, forget the future, and, with every breath in, think of someone or something you are grateful for. With every breath out, imagine saying a “thank you” for that person, event, or thing.

G)     MY NEWSLETTER. I started a newsletter a few months ago. Ramit Sethi, who wrote a bestselling book, “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” suggested I do it so I did (I’m easily suggestable). I offered my last three books for free for anyone who signed up. One blogger friend of mine wrote, “I can’t figure out James Altucher’s business model.” That’s because I have none. I have no idea what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. With the newsletter, the content hasn’t been that much different from the blog. Sometimes I try stuff out on the newsletter and later rewrite for the blog. Sometimes I just write random stuff.

But I have an idea now. Every day, or every other day, I will write whatever exercise I’m going to do that day to help ME with the post-traumatic societal stress syndrome. If you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll get that exercise also and you can elect to try it or not. Maybe it will be an eventual cure for all of us.

What good is all this? Since I’m pretty sure 99%+ of the world is going through this horrific disease, the few of us who work to overcome it will have an advantage. You know the saying, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” We’ll have an advantage in health. In entrepreneurship. In productivity. And ultimately in happiness.

I want miracles. The first miracle is to shed the cocoon of the caterpillar and fly like the butterfly. We’ve had a long hibernation. Now is the time to be free.

[Click here to sign up for my free newsletter. No costs, and you get my last three books for free and I won’t use your email address for anything else.]


30 Responses to “How to Cure Post-Traumatic Societal Stress Syndrome”

  1. BedwetterAbigail58 Says:

  2. James L. Carey Says:

    Great post as always. I tell my friends and family to stop watching the news unless you want to believe society is a week from falling apart.

    • Freeman LaFleur Says:

      I do the same. Ever since I killed my TV two years ago I’ve been a happier and more optimistic person. Mainstream media is literally turning us into a fear driven society. The world is a beautiful and awe inspiring place and my Google Reader feed is proof of that. Another great post Mr. Altucher!

    • Freeman LaFleur Says:

      I do the same. Ever since I killed my TV two years ago I’ve been a happier and more optimistic person. The mainstream media is literally transforming us into a fear driven society. The world is a beautiful and awe inspiring place, my Google Reader feed is proof of that. Thanks for another great post Mr. Altucher!

      • TheMessengerIsTheMessage Says:

        @Freeman, I applaud your efforts to change your life for the better. Everyone has their own path. Personally, I cut my social media time by 90% and I don’t miss it.

        However, you and I diverge when it comes to TV. TV is just a delivery mechanism for content. You can watch a symphony orchestra on TV. You can experience the beauty of ballet and the emotion of opera on TV. I watched several hours of late-night TV with the recent Mars landing on NASA TV. Riveting stuff. Don’t blame the messenger (Television) if he is forced to carry a lot of crap along with the gems in his parcel. You can certainly stay away from “Jersey Shore” and enjoy the finer offerings.

        Beside the fine arts, live and on TV, I have learned a great deal about people and humanity in general through many shows on TV. Shows like The Wire, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Big Bang Theory, Lost, The Shield, Breaking Bad, Seinfeld, and others have taught me about storytelling and how that art is practiced. I watch more movies on TV than in the theaters. I timeshift my watching by either reserving a complete season on DVD/Bluray from my local library, or watching these shows online rather than on a broadcast schedule. Zero commercials is awesome, and efficient.

        I am an eternal optimist. Probably the most optimistic person in my family and my social circles.

        Learning about life is not all about reading Shakespeare or attending live opera or meditating. Great art is great art, even if it is a delivered via a TV show, or a movie, or a book, or a blog (hat tip to James).

  3. Dawn Casey-Rowe Says:

    I like “B.” And I also really like your business model. You can adjunct at Harvard Business School. “I’d like you not to write a business model” What a great group project, where the kid who invariably does nothing in the group actually could do zilch, for an A.

  4. Brahmana Says:

    This is probably the second best post, for me, next only to the post on Daily Practice. Like the Daily Practice post this has concrete actionable items which will help pretty much anyone out there. Not that your other posts wont, but many of them are targeted towards a smaller set of people who are suffering or have some sort of problem. And then there are several others which are more abstract, more along the lines of spiritual thoughts. I enjoy those too.

    But this one, it seems pretty universal and also very practical.

    Thanks for this one.

  5. kevin faul Says:

    how do you always pick the right thing to write just when I need it? thanks James, and here’s a question: when you have an idea that you think is good, how do you know when it’s bad? how do you test it or trial it?

  6. Kat Loterzo Says:

    Thank you for mentioning you throw out your ideas lists. I have ideas-list anxiety, where I’ve been keeping a file with all the ideas in it and I worry about missing out on something if I don’t go back and try to implement everything.

  7. Efrain Says:

    You know, I wonder if people in tribes have this “disease.” Do they ever worry about tomorrow at night while they sleep? I’ve always wondered how my life would be if I would have been born in a tribe in the middle of a forest. I mean, what do they do for fun? Do they all have dreams they aspire to achieve someday? They work all day to keep their tribe alive.

    And yet, they seem so happy.

    • mikeyhell Says:

      Efrain, Unfortunately you won’t find escape from social disorder by living with some wild Amazonian tribe. Rates of death by violence, usually inter-tribe warfare, were (and continue to be where there are still tribes) higher in hunter-gatherer societies than in “civilized” societies during even periods of total war (e.g., WWI and WWII). Hard to believe but it’s true. Look it up.

    • Ryan Says:

      Actually. I lived with a remote tribe in the forest of Thailand as a kid (My parents did charity work with a Hmong tribe). They were dirt poor, living in bamboo huts with dirt floors. They were happy! no crime or real problems, people still had a positive outlook. I think in their little society just taught their kids to be happy for what they had, and to just be good people. (One of my friends in the village went on to moving away and becoming a software engineer. Quite a step from riding around on water buffalos)

  8. arzvi Says:

    The news in India is worse than the news in States, too much red tapism, racism, regionalism, corruption and if all those demons slept for a day it would be a worse devil called accidents. I read an article that described how we are in one of the best civilizations man has ever been, statistically showing the rate of corruption and monarchy has decreased and how the freedom of speech and individual respect has increased although some parts of west Asia had paused in mideval times.
    I moved over to the States a month ago and never bought a tv, so naturally stopped watching news. I am more positive in everyday approach and calm and I love myself now.

  9. Yuri Says:

    James, I’m a regular reader of yours from Bulgaria. I think you’re right, but it is easier to express it in your writings than to do it. I want my freedom to do what I like as well (btw, I’m a senior Java programmer, which starts to be very boring for me), but it seems hard to achieve for me personally. At least I try to watch less TV.

  10. Andris Lagsdin Says:

    I am grateful everyday James, thank you! While I love your business model, what advice would you give someone to create a business model? Similar content..

  11. socrates Says:

    Awesome post James. I am in the process of trying to change. There is tons of fear. But, I have already started eating better and exercising more, so I am on the right path.
    Thanks again, man.

  12. 736hundred Says:

    Have not watch TV for months. I have little idea of what is going on, and when I “check-in” it’s the same as it ever was. Additionally may I add, that most written “news” is incomplete, lacking critical details, and poorly written. Therefore making reading it a waste of valuable time.

    I am not going to panic today about all the things that need to be done – seriously who am I kidding? I’m already stressed but at least it’s not Monday. 🙂

  13. Marc Kashinsky Says:

    I’m already ahead of you James. Two months ago I suspended my Facebook account, which is no doubt a big reason for the drop in price of Facebook’s stock, and last month I gave up my smartphone. I didn’t want to become one of the myriad of people [seemingly] addicted to their cell phones, even to the extent of ignoring their surroundings and the people they are with.

  14. nofuntown Says:

    I’m getting the sense that western society is going through an awakening after generations of chasing false gods and James Althucher is in the vanguard of that.

  15. Priscilla P. Wood Says:

    I don’t own a T.V, yay!

  16. BrigitteBardotte Says:

    All I have to say is WOW. This is so timely. These are my thoughts every single day.
    I’m so grateful for you and relieved to know I’m not alone.

    I’ve been struggling with this for a while now.. and I wonder to myself… will this feeling of constant worry, anxiety, hopelessness, fear ever go away? Why do I continue to have no money in the bank? I don’t have health insurance? Is this next project of mine actually going to work out or am I going to be totally embarrassed? If this project doesn’t work out, what the hell am I going to do next?
    I don’t enjoy my life at all and often wish I wouldn’t wake up in the morning… it’s sad to say.. and if I wasn’t anonymous here, I definitely wouldn’t admit that. I continue to focus all of my energies on worry. Even when I’m having a moment of being grateful, the worry seeps in eventually.
    I don’t want to live like this anymore…
    I grew up with a single mom, on welfare.. I promised myself I would do all the right things to not end up like that… I dreamed big dreams… got straight A’s in school, worked full time and put myself through college, worked in television as a news journalist because at that time I didn’t care how much I made, I wanted the experience (I made nothing, absolutely nothing… but when I was 20 10 years ago… why would I care?), I then got a title and a position in the middle east.. I was finally commanding a decent salary… and then in the summer of 2008… while living in Dubai… I could see the house of cards about to collapse… the day of reckoning was upon this desert paradise… I could see it clear as day… but really… who knew it was the whole world? At the time I honestly thought it was just the UAE.
    During that summer, I decided to start my life as an entrepreneur.. and also to give myself options… just in case things didn’t work out… it seemed graduate school was a good option.
    After picking up some amazing clients with amazing retainers in early 2009 while in Davos… and getting accepted to grad school in Boston… I figured… well… I can afford grad school now because i’m riding high as an entrepreneur… a few months later… in the summer of 2009.. my clients stopped paying.. there were excuses… and then… many of them had their day of reckoning too… they dried up… and were gone in an instant…. and I couldn’t finish grad school. That was one of my saddest moments because I didn’t get to finish up and graduate with my classmates. I still owe them about $75,000.00. You get to a point where it’s almost laughable when the school calls me and asks me to write them a check for $75,000.00. The last time they contacted me I said to them.. “Would love to, but I honestly don’t even know if I have enough change in my pocket to ride the subway today.”
    Fast forward to today. I’ve had incredible opportunities because of my business network. But guess what? 99.9% have never worked out…. I’ve worked for almost nothing but free for the past few years… … which when I started out in my business… seemed the right thing to do… but at some point… when you don’t have enough money for food or the subway… you start to live everyday with extreme depression.
    Oh and I’m sure people wonder… well why don’t you get a job? Well, to answer that.. trust me I’ve tried… and tried and tried… and what I’ve found is that one of the most common excuses people give to me is that I’ve got too much experience, too much education and I’m above the level of person they’re looking for (AKA too old)… the last VC I spoke with in SV told me I was perfect, but…… they were looking for a young person who could come in and develop the job and make it in to something.
    So here’s where I’m at… I’m too old at 30, too educated with my almost graduate degree that I couldn’t afford to finish, and have too much experience.
    And clients? Who wants to pay for anything anymore.
    I’m scared I’m going to get sick, and without health insurance I will be dead if it’s serious, I’m scared I’m eventually going to be homeless – people keep saying things are going to get better… they’ve been saying it for the past four years and it hasn’t – and my personal life? What personal life? My confidence is shot… I don’t want to leave my bedroom… and more than anything, I’m scared that maybe I’ll just end this hopeless journey myself..
    To conclude this way too long synopsis of the Post Traumatic Societal Stress discussion, here’s why I’m sad:
    I did all the things I was supposed to do and guess what? It means absolutely nothing anymore. Is this our new reality? Is this forever or will it get better?
    I’m grateful to know I’m not alone James. I’m grateful it’s not just me who suffers with these feelings, and I’m grateful that you’re so brave to share your inner journey and feelings about the challenges we face in this world today.
    Much gratitude my friend.

    • anonymous female Says:

      good synopsis of the symptoms of the disease..The stuff what society dictates when followed by me made me physically, spiritually and emotionally sick. I had to begin giving it up because I taxed my body so hard striving it had a complete breakdown. Full time work became too much and it was very hard to maintain a job and a relationship. I visited a few doctors to obtain a diagnosis for disability but they did not grant me a strong one and there is no one to speak for me but myself so SS chose not believe me. That taught me to not depend on Dr’s. and learn to diagnose and take care of myself. (or SS for that matter) I decided to take part time work to pay bills and changed jobs to get a raise. I am stuck now with same pay for years because society deems me older and has no jobs to offer. A trusted friend former financial advisor wrote this on a piece of paper for me, 35 years to live $460,320.00 which summed up my life in terms of money. Where is that supposed to come from?

      Living in the present and healthy, I see through it all, I am becoming immune to Post-Traumatic Societal Stress Syndrome thanks initially to a wise man who took the time all the questions one would ask if they met a truly wise man, no pay, no agenda, well maybe one but he is forgiven. In order to continue after he moved on, I read books and blogs written by others in the know such as James. They remind me to take good care of myself physically, emotionally, spiritually. To overcome the propaganda and keep on expressing the joy of being human being on this planet free from forces that insist on control.

      The painting that I did sporadically throughout my life will replace my part time to become my full time and my muse…in time and I await it.

    • Robin Heinen Says:

      I recognize the story. I’m having the same troubles finding a job. bsc in biology. overeducated for a lot of things. undereducated for positions thousands of msc’s apply to. what does a degree get me? nothing! I have been working on ideas lists for a few months now. ideas are starting to flow really. the only thing that keeps me from doing them… is fear. fear of the unknown. the unknown is harmless, deep inside we all know that. still, it scares the shit out of me. you are not alon

  17. The Fat Boy Says:

    James – recommend a book called “the Tools” by a couple of Jungian trickcyclists in LA LA Land. Very similar to what you describe as your solutions but with some psychoanalysis backing it up. They simply describe 5 tools you can use anywhere to ground yourself. Well worth the time.

  18. Lynn Hasselberger Says:

    Awesome, James! Shared on facebook and will tweet it up, too. Signed up for your newsletter so I remember to keep up with your phenom writing. Cheers!

  19. floral park Says:

    Very helpful, thank you

  20. David Jameson Says:

    It’s all a matter of perspective. Is the glass half empty or half full? Undervalued stocks offer an unprecedented buying opportunity. Low interest rates and house prices make it easier to buy a home. I agree it’s shitty to lose your job, but there are alway other opportunities.

  21. mikeyhell Says:

    I’m beginning to wonder if forgetting the past gets harder as we age and accumulate more total negative experiences. For instance, I observe in my aging parents (both in their 70s, one with incurable cancer) that they often just get plain sick and tired of the bullshit that life throws at them and shoveling their way through it all is just too much to bear at times. Sometimes I feel that way myself and when I do it scares the hell out of me. With feelings like this the daily practice is up against some stiff opposition.

  22. Anon Says:

    Thanks, James. I’m so grateful for this post.

    I woke up desperately wishing I were dead, but thought, “There will be hope and instructions on James’ blog.

    I was right. Because there always are.

    James, I’m not sure where you came from but I’m glad you’re here.

  23. jane Says:

    I really want to thank Dr Aluta for saving my marriage. My husband really treat me bad and left the home for almost 1 month i was sick because of this, then i contacted traditionalspellcaster for help, they told me that my husband is under a great spell of another woman. They cast a spell of return back of love on him. And he came back home for forgiveness and today we are happy again, i want you all who are having relationship, ex and even husband problem to contact Wich you all success.

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