The Unhealthy Pressure of Society

by Steffen Messerschmidt, Naturopathic Doctor, Brisbane, Australia.

In the clinics where I practice, patients frequently report to me that they often only drink alcohol, take drugs or eat certain foods in order to be socially accepted and to fit in.

These days, in many circles, it is socially and culturally acceptable to drink alcohol, take drugs and eat in a way that is not supportive of our bodies and our health, and often makes us feel sluggish and bloated.

But for some, this way of living is recognised as no longer working and they are making different choices such as: not to drink, to quit smoking, go to bed early, to take better care of themselves, live a simple, joyful and loving life showing respect and love towards humanity and to respect others without judgement for their choices.

When they begin to make different lifestyle choices, they feel targeted, condemned or even bullied and find it hard to make the changes they would like to make simply because of the pressure that family, friends, work colleagues and society puts on them.

This does not make sense. Self-loving choices may seem out of the ordinary to some, but from what I witness on a daily basis in my clinics many people can now attest to the benefits they are feeling.

People feel so much pressure, some of which comes from and is perpetuated by the media, to continue to engage in unhealthy and loveless choices. You just have to look at all the advertising for alcohol, junk foods, soft drinks etc. and the daily emails advertising for alcohol specials and free junk food samples and unhealthy choices.

Under the pressure of society that encourages an unhealthy lifestyle, many accept this as a normal way of living without actually stopping and truly feeling if this suits them, if this is good for them and if this actually represents what they truly want to live.

Overall our bodies show lots of signs that the way we are living is not going well, but because of the pressure from all of the above we still give in and carry on with behaviours we know are unhealthy.

Many suffer from the consequences afterwards but can not say NO when it is just that one piece of birthday cake from your niece, the Christmas Dinner your family invited you to, just a glass of sparkling wine on New Year’s Eve, just that cookie or cake because the relative baked it herself, just that piece of chocolate because it is for a raffle for school, just that glass of alcohol because it is your friend’s wedding and so on …

Recently I also heard this one: ‘I know you do this healthy lifestyle thing now and do not drink alcohol but you can just have one glass with me and I will not tell anybody.’ Who needs enemies when you have friends like that!

And at the end of this list would certainly be the statement that it is Un-Australian not to drink alcohol on Australia Day! (1)

Again this list could go on and on and on, but I am sure you know what I mean.

Because of all this pressure we would rather suffer than dare to say ‘No’ to something we know does not feel right for us and is actually damaging our health, as in the end the body has to bear the consequences. How crazy is that?

World health statistics show that we are not getting healthier and we have epidemics in obesity, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness and many other chronic diseases.

It is time that we as humanity look at our choices, the consequences those choices bring and start to take responsibility for our own health. This begins by saying ‘No’.

Saying ‘No’ is definitely a more healthy choice than giving in to the pressure of peers to persist with an unhealthy lifestyle. Indeed, saying ‘No’ to unhealthy choices is saying ‘Yes’ to yourself, ‘Yes’ to lovingly looking after your health and your body.


520 thoughts on “The Unhealthy Pressure of Society

  1. When I first stop drinking alcohol, a friend verbally attacked me for giving it up! I realised that the way I had actually expressed this, had been a little timid and it opened up the opportunity for my friend to go into reaction in that moment. Although I felt rather wobbly from this, the opportunity was there to learn from it. From then on I chose to change the quality of expression and deliver the truth clearly from my body without any fuss or emotion – ‘No thank you, I don’t drink’ and no-one has ever made a murmur about it since.

    1. I love this example Stephanie Thank you. Although it does not guarantee that there will not be any reaction or pressure from people, I too have noticed that the way I express has a huge impact. If my expression contains doubt of myself or judgment of others it tends to be a recipe for a ferocious attack, yet when I am steady, loving and also accepting of others the whole interaction tends to be more open and honouring all round.

    2. I love this story and it is very similar to mine. When I was first giving up alcohol, it all felt a bit new and there was a doubt of, ‘Can I really go against what everyone else is doing’? While these cracks in my resolve were there, I would be asked if I would like a drink and some people would try to persuade me. This has never happened since it just became the way I live. There are no issues and no questions asked.

  2. We as a society have a pretty poor track record of looking after ourselves and each other. This is how we have come to fashion an ill way of living as ‘normal’ when in-truth to live in disregard to the human form we are in is in no way normal, although very common. Now that this status quo is in place, it becomes very difficult to choose otherwise because such a choice rocks the comfortable boat that everyone else is in, albeit ignoring the fact they are cast adrift in it. If we truly want to bring about change in the world and begin to address and then correct the loveless momentum we have incarcerated ourselves in for so long, then we need to say ‘no’ to the lovelessness that got us into the mess in the first place. A simple ‘no’ to what is not love is a simple ‘yes’ to what is.

  3. I recently worked at a company for two and a half years and every time there was a celebration, be it a birthday, promotion or a leaving party, alcohol and cake was offered and every time I would say ‘No thank you I don’t drink’ or something along those lines and I would be met with people feeling sorry for me, as though I was unlucky because I could not partake. Was it because they were refusing to listen or maybe this was because food and alcohol are so ingrained in our way of living that you would have to be ill or intolerant in order to say no.

    1. There are so many self-harming behaviours that are considered as necessary or a pleasure, consuming food and drink not suitable for our body is a great example, and cutting them out is seen as some form of depriving. The time will come for each person when this will change, because the reflections from life and from our own body will be louder than the self-perpetuating thoughts and beliefs in our head.

  4. Beautifully expressed Steffen. Your first statement is really eye-opening. The things we would rather do to ourselves so we are ‘accepted’ by our peers, even though we would rather not. What pressure is this that makes us go against our innate sense of what is truly good for us? Being accepted by others is surely a poor substitute for being loved or in fact loving ourselves. In my experience, whilst the acceptance of others is preferable to feeling rejected, it is never better than the reality of a loving relationship with ourselves and in fact could never come near the true sense of wellbeing and fulfilment it brings. As many a wise teacher has shared with humanity self-love is an essential first step to a life of love.

  5. I have found that the more confidently, matter-of-factly and naturally that I say ‘no’ to something offered to me that I feel is unhealthy for me then it is far more likely to be accepted without reaction or comment. To be able to do that I need to have truly embodied that understanding rather than having it just coming from knowledge.

  6. It’s interesting how we can get caught up into doing things to please others, rather than doing things that are true for us and more loving for us. I know I use to get caught up so much, sometimes I still do, but lesser and lesser as I have began to honour more of my truth.

  7. Learning to say no has been very beneficial for my health and a start to truly claim my way of living, to not put others first and to follow my feelings and speak my truth. I say yes to my body and the love that lives within.

  8. The no’s and yes’s of life, which is which though? We think by saying these two words out loud or making a decision with these words used in it, that that means we either have something or we don’t, but which is which? I mean I can see at times when I truly say no that it is also yes and it doesn’t mean I go without but I actually get more, confused? We only perceive on one level what is no and what is yes because when the veil is lifted we see that the two can be intertwined and on one level we say yes which on another is no. In other words don’t ‘shoot the messenger’ and have more of a look at why people are saying no and yes and what are they actually doing to themselves. If the person that is saying no is actually more vibrant, engaging and caring then possibly consider through the no they have said yes to something; and if the person that is saying yes is actually not doing that well, then keep looking at why. The awareness of what we are seeing at any moment supports it to come clearer. There is more to yes and no than just a nod or a shake of the head.

  9. Accepting the responsibility of saying No to what is not loving for me or my body has transformed my health and well being but it feels crazy that this is necessary because of the unhealthy pressures that are so prevalent in society. For me the steadier I am in the way I live the less pressure I feel when articulating my choice to e.g. not drink alcohol.

  10. Absolutely Steffen, people feel so much pressure – a lot of which comes from and is perpetuated by the media, to continue to engage in unhealthy and loveless choices; marketing products, food and drinks exactly aimed at tapping into people’s need to dull and numb out the other pressures and pain they feel in life. We are constantly bombarded, at our own demand I might add, which is a huge pressure in so many ways and from all directions, to not know or be the fullness of love we are.

  11. When we say ‘no’ to a loveless pattern or behaviour, we are not just saying no for ourselves, our little drop in the ocean is felt by the whole tide and makes it that much easier for the next person to make a stand for themselves.

  12. I remember talking to a head teacher once who said it was the job of parents to be the steady ones that say ‘no’. This has supported me as I have navigated parenting and even more so as I realise that it is my responsibility to apply the same attention, love and rigour in my ‘parenting’ of myself.

  13. It is a bit of a minefield when one decides to stop drinking alcohol or not eat gluten or dairy products, but well worth being firm in the decision that we have made. There will always be someone who will question “why” and that is OK.

  14. I work in health promotion and what is quite apparent when it comes to health is that people hate being told what to do, there is always a rally against anything considered “nanny state”. So how do we change perceptions of health when the idea of getting healthy seems to be rebelled against. As this blog states I guess change comes when we accept that those who are making healthy choices should be supported for that. At present it is too normal to make lifestyle choices that are damaging our wellbeing, we definitely need to try a new normal that puts our bodies first.

  15. When I first gave up alcohol, a friend of mine who I had known for many years stopped speaking to me for two years even though she would walk past me every day, and then one day she apologised and was very honest and told me that it had brought issues up within her regarding her own choices, and she has now become teetotal herself.

  16. By far the most tricky thing I faced when I stopped drinking alcohol about 10 years ago was the pressure from family and friends to have a drink. This was way more difficult then my actual craving for alcohol which did take me by surprise. It is such a socially acceptable thing to do that people seem to get very twitchy when you stop doing it. It is like some kind of unwritten law that we are expected to collude in. My take on this is that we all do know it is not good for our health and so when someone makes a stand and does something about it, it exposes the choices of everyone else and they are confronted by this.

  17. It is so beautifully refreshing to simply make a choice to not partake in anything that we know will make us feel dull, bloated, hungover or ill. When we make this decision for ourselves the choice is simple. If it is offered we simply say no. Let others deal with their reactions because I feel absolutely great!

  18. The fact that we find it difficult to say ‘no’ to loveless behaviour because of the pressure from outside, makes me consider more deeply the actual truth of my relationships. How open and transparent am I willing to be and how much do I let people know the true me, or am I much more interested in a veneer of being nice to one another and having a comfortable pretending game?

  19. We still have the concept that we can have more fun when we drink and life is more boring if you don’t but I know for myself that life is a million times more enjoyable knowing that I don’t need to drink to enjoy life. Once we can really feel the harm that alcohol, drugs and over eating do to our bodies then it becomes much easier to say no to these things even when society puts the pressure on.

  20. Before you give up the smoking or alcohol, you need to have something to fill its place, so their absence won’t even be missed. That something sounds very simple but as the blog describes, being self-caring and loving by getting to bed when you start to get tired, dressing warmly, taking a daily walk or just drinking enough water can all make a profound difference to how you feel. This is not just physically, as doing things just for you builds that feeling of love and care towards yourself. With this fullness there is no longer a need or desire to seek things that only harm you.

  21. Every day I can feel that there is a type of tension or pressure to choose a certain thing, to walk a certain way, to fit it. This tension is always there asking us to give in. Perhaps this explains why we find cravings and addictions to do with food (and more) so hard to ‘kick’, because to do so, we have to walk the other way, not just against the addiction itself but the past momentums we have built in choosing to say yes, on so many days. Your words here Steffen, help me bring much understanding to others and myself when it comes to shifting these energetic configurations in ourselves.

  22. I know that when I truly appreciate or recognise the value in a choice that I’ve made, e.g to not drink alcohol, because I know from my body that it doesn’t feel true for me then there is no persuasion from another that can override this.

  23. Exactly Steffen, it is my experience too that when I was far less healthy, eating and doing all sorts of things that did not support my health or wellbeing in any way, my family and friends left me alone, never questioning anything. Since changing my diet and my choices of lifestyle in ways that support me to be super healthy, vital and very joyful in life, I cop far more flak from family members, often in the form of a little comment here or there, a roll of the eyes or a statement of exasperation at ‘not being able to keep up with’ what I do or don’t eat… very interesting huh! Over time they have accepted more, particularly as other family members have needed to make more significant adjustments themselves… and felt the enormous benefits too.

    1. I was talking to a friend a couple of days ago who has taken on more work on a weekly basis than he wants to do and this was the same story as a year ago so I asked him why he did it to himself. His answer was that it is so hard to say no to people. I shared with him that he perhaps was not holding himself as equally important as others and if he could see himself as equally important he would find it easy to say no. So I completely agree Andrew, learning to say no is very self loving.

  24. Every time we choose to say ‘Yes’ to taking greater care of ourselves we are offering others the choice to join us so that gradually the tide will turn and ‘fitting in’ and the ‘norm’ will become to take care of how we treat ourselves and everyone else.

  25. It is very true, we can get attacked for speaking up against that which is regarded as normal. Recently I became aware of how we can get pressured into giving money to charity. I expressed how I felt but it wasn’t welcomed saying what they were doing was an achievement, even accusing me of being jealous! But how can I support another whose body is being neglected, rejected and abused? It doesn’t make sense.

  26. Yeah it’s crazy how presistent people are for you to enjoin them in what they are feeling guilty about participating in. And it’s under the guise of them wanting to share time with you. What a corrupt illusion we buy into. They mean no intentional harm, but it’s basically emotional blackmail, that we often give in to because we don’t want to feel or accept that we’re agreeing to be manipulated.

  27. Since I gave up alcohol 9 years ago I have experienced little to no peer group pressure to enjoin. This has surprised me as I am aware of the huge peer group pressure that there is around drinking, but I feel that because I explain to friends why I gave up alcohol, its effects on my mental and physical health and how I decided I didn’t ever want that poison rushing through my veins again, sharing with them my promise to myself that never another drop shall pass these lips. Because I share my reasons with them in return they respect my decision and don’t encourage me to just have one glass with them.

  28. Reading your words today Steffen, I am reminded that what you say applies not only to food and drink but also our behaviours and ways of being. There is a strong tendency ‘out there’ for people to be stressed, rude, angry, overwhelmed, tired and distracted. When we live and claim our vitality, our Love, our divinity, then we are bound to stand out. And so we should – and then get used to it.

  29. I know many people do feel that pressure but I personally have never felt it. If someone wants me to harm or poison me then they are not acting in my interest and are not behaving as a true friend. They are free to harm themselves if that is their choice but why would I feel any pressure to do likewise? I am very clear about this in certain things such as food and alcohol but as I write this I am aware that there are other behavioural areas where it can still get me!

  30. Saying ‘no’ to something that feels untrue in our bodies is a greatly loving act, one that as you say is saying ‘yes’ to you, to truth. We learn from a very young age how to override our truth, and that following the currently normalised culture is how we fit into and be a part of society, regardless of the truth we innately sense. Yet living a lie is not faring well with us as human beings, as we are witnessing our health and well-being, for starters, is suffering greatly. Through our willingness to be honest with ourselves and how we are truly feeling in our bodies, great change is not only possible but can be consistently lived with a vitality and well-being that is our natural and true way of being.

  31. I always used to get caught up by not wanting to offend anyone, and would have the piece of cake, or eat what someone cooked for me, even when I really didn’t want to eat it, I would somehow force it down me. Now I have far more respect for myself and my body, and I’ve found just being honest and saying no thanks, without any waver in my voice, totally claimed is enough for it to be accepted without it becoming a battle of wills.

  32. There is a seeming fear in those that drink that if they go out with someone who doesn’t drink it will take away what the alcohol provides, that is the relief of not feeling what they really feel in themselves. A drinker can argue for days why its okay to drink, its fun, it loosens you up, its good for you etc etc. Yet we all know the impacts of alcohol, we all know about the links to domestic violence, the deaths on roads, the harm to the body. So something bigger is going on and it is that alcohol seems to provide an escape, and that even though a glass or two might to some people seem no big deal, it clearly is a big deal otherwise they would not defend it so strongly. I say far better to deal with reality than attempt to escape. I say attempt because there actually is no escape.

  33. It seems crazy that we are all in league with each other to make unhealthy choices that are accepted and promoted, yet so much harm is being caused to ‘the bodies’ who consume the junk food, alcohol and nicotine. Yet, when someone is prepared to make healthy choices they are given a hard time and pressure is put on them to return to more disregarding ways.

  34. Saying no to unhealthy behaviours is a great step but I feel a lot of this can come from control, like it is hard and I have to be disciplined in saying no. Whereas when my focus is on saying yes to how I feel by not engaging in the behaviour rather than focusing on the behaviour I am trying to avoid/abstain from. The focus is less harsh, less driven and more appreciative of my loving choices. And rather than judging myself for going into the behaviours I know are unsupportive I find it much more loving to feel the choice, and feel what came before wanting to go there in the first place (recently it’s been in wanting to eat lots of bacon). Beating myself up for wanting the bacon doesn’t work, but stopping to feel the fact that I get stressed THEN want bacon is far more supportive. So my focus becomes on exploring why I feel stressed rather then saying no to bacon.

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