Contributors to anxiety economy

I had just written this piece for thrive global and wanted to share it with you.

A colleague asked me the other day if I believed that people today truly have more anxiety today or is it simply the next “it” diagnosis that has become part of the vernacular.  She wondered aloud, if this replaced the diagnosis the previous popular ADHD that was in fashion not too long ago.

            Although part of me feels we may be more comfortable and open in society with saying we are “anxious” and stressed, there does seem to be validity.  What are the top culprits?  

            #1 Busyness  

            When people ask us how we are doing, our quick response now is “busy.”  This perhaps shows others how important we are.  Our jobs, families, friends, hobbies, and travel fill our days.  It seems we exhibit to the world our worth in acts of busyness.  This is not only acceptable, but it has become the norm.  But when our days are so full of appointments, tasks, and to do’s, we are never fully present and appreciative of what’s in front of us.

            #2  Technology

            It is said that when we hear a notification on our phone or text, there is a slight dopamine rush.  It becomes a rush and drug to feed this addiction to get more likes on social media for the photos and posts that we put up.  We look at our phones repeatedly to see who has responded to us. 

We expect automatic responses from others, and it is expected from us in return.  

            When we arrive early for an appointment, waiting in line at the grocery store, or riding the subway we check our phones. It’s rare to wait without distractions.  We need to perpetually be entertained by videos, news updates, or social media streams. After an extended amount of time on my phone, I do feel a sense of unease and anxiety.  But the contributing factor was my finger and eager eyes to soak in more than is needed. 

            #3  Information Overload

            I have heard that we currently have over 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day.  Many of these are repetitive thoughts, and a majority of these are negative.  Our mind has become a computer, focusing on the next solution.  Trying to find things to worry about or problems to solve.  We have access to knowing what is going on throughout the world, and get frequent news updates reminders sent to us on our phones.  We are alerted on social media to what our friends have eaten for dinner, countries they have travelled to, or the latest political disaster.  Even when we are physically present with friends, but we find we do not know the answer to a particular question that comes up in the conversation, we search it up on our phones.  I notice I will go off on an endless search to nowhere seeking out mindless things, finding answers to any question that arises in my head.   But with all these facts, there is little I truly know.

            #4  Immediate Gratification

            I am not the first to say that this has become the time of immediate gratification.  We want something, we go online and purchase it on Amazon.  For those in the dating world, swipe right and left, and there’s a quick fix to your libidinal urges.  We have become a culture that does not see the value in patience, desire, and appreciation.   It’s too uncomfortable for us to sit in stillness with our longing.  The need must be filled now.

            These are just a few of the contributing factors. The only true solution to all of this is to simply slow down and be.  This is the essence of mindfulness and meditation.  The topic of mindfulness is everywhere today, in yoga studios, hospitals, schools, and our places of employment.  I have always favored Jon Kabat Zinn’s definition of mindfulness which is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” 

            We can do this with almost anything in our lives: walking, drinking a cup of coffee, driving, spending time with our pets, watching a sunset, putting on makeup, or eating a savory piece of chocolate. Start slow, vow to try this for at least one activity for five minutes a day.  Notice the impact. Your mind will drift, but bring it back to the activity at hand.  Begin to observe the impact in your life. 

  Many of us may not realize we are continually present when we are traveling. It’s easy to be in awe with the world during vacation. But we can bring these principles home. In my new book The Fragrance of Wanderlust: How to Capture the Essence of Travel in Our Everyday Lives, I offer tips and homework exercises on how to keep this mindful practice going while you are at home. You can try it as a staycation project, as I did. The solution to our anxious economy doesn’t have to be drugs, homeopathic remedies, or apps.  The solution can be in simply be-ing, and living your life through the eyes of a tourist.  

“In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still. You” 
― Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere

The Bell Doth Toll

This past week, I moved into a new home.  One thing I wish you could do is stay in the home one night (as an airbnb situation) before committing.  It’s at this point, you can discover all the problems or quirks that arise in the middle of the night.  You can decide if these will be things you can commit to.  But perhaps this is exactly why we don’t stay overnight in these homes.  We may not make the same choice. 

And hence there is the case that I write about the church bells.  They don’t only ring to note high noon and evening, nor every hour.  They seem to ring every 15 minutes.  Luckily, I can return to sleep with ease.  But part of me questions the move that was just made.  What have I done?  Would I have knowingly chosen to move somewhere where I can be disturbed by sounds of the church so frequently? 

Before and after my meditation this morning , the church bells rang.  I noticed my Tibetan singing bowl sitting in front of me.  Could I begin to reframe these numerous loud reverberations outside to something else? 

Perhaps these bells could be my call to prayer?  Or they could serve to remind myself to return to the present moment.   Our thoughts drift towards numerous directions, as we have up to 70,000 thoughts per day.  Could this help with breaking the pattern of my wandering mind and come back to now.  If I choose to make this shift, the bells will not longer be an annoyance but a gentle reminder to nudge my thoughts on a different trajectory. 

What brought about this shift is particular book I am reading about some of the Buddhist Lojung principles.  These are guiding forces in our lives.  One lojung I landed on yesterday was to allow the problem or crisis to become the path/way.  How can we let our issues become our teachers?  The bells are not problematic, but therefore enriching to my life. 

Spring: My Secret Heart

Post December 21st, it is reported we gain on average six minutes of sunlight per day. In the beginning, it’s minuscule to notice this (particularly in the depths of despair of January). It is now late February. Three weeks ago I began to witness the tiny budding of daffodils springing from the ground. I actually felt compelled to write poetry about these very same daffodils. They offered hope in the midst of darkness.

But here in England, not only are the daffodils budding, daylight slowly increasing, but the weather is warming. According to the papers, yesterday it was warmer here than Barcelona. I haven’t even needed a coat. Today my body worker mentioned “I love the spring,” as he came into our session. Internally, I felt a tug in my heart. It was as if we talked about it, it may actually jinx the magic that has been brewing. For a moment I thought this was sacrilegious. Spring still felt like a secret that we all are aware of but dare not speak about. We are still a month away from the official anointing of spring to begin on March 21st. It’s been happening slowly in our midst, and now it is at the point that people can’t help but want to share their love for this season.

If the sun’s rays touch us, how can we not turn our heads to inch closer to feel it’s embrace.

Hope has returned once more. Depression has lifted. Energy has increased. Excitement to be active in the world has arisen.

The reality is it can leave or switch at any moment.

But that doesn’t mean we should take in each opportunity to be warmed by the sun’s lure.

“It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved before.” Just as we may heed to this in love, we can take refuge in this with our relationship with the sun and spring. A colleague frequently reminds me of his weather predictions at work, “winter’s not over. We may get one more hit. “ But I am not going to live in fear of future horrible snow or rainstorm predictions. I am going to appreciate the sunshine right now as she is.

And it’s okay if we share our love for her, just like that fellow chap earlier today. To verbalize it, makes it’s real. Spring doesn’t have to be a secret crush that hides deep within. Expressing your love for her outwardly may just further warm your soul, and be the warm contagious elixir we all have been longing for rid ourselves of the winter blues.

Purging Past Stuff

Years ago, I had an entrepreneurial idea. A store in midtown Manhattan was going out of business. They had all these Afghani leg warmers for sale. I had the brilliant idea of buying 25 pairs, and choosing to make makeshift yoga bags out of them. It was my new idea of recycling, and incorporating my new found love for yoga and creativity. I spent hours creating these, gave numerous ones away to friends, fellow yoginis, and even sold a few. But the rest just lingered. I thought I had given them all away, until I came upon a box today and found 6. Initially i wondered who I can give them to now that would appreciate them. But now they appear horrid to me. Could I return them back to their original form as leg warmers? I tried, no luck. I cannot force myself to like them.

Seeing these creations somehow brought anxiety to me. It also brought embarrassment and shame. How could I have ever thought this would be a great idea? Negative self-talk reverberated in my brain regarding this failed business experiment. This then began led to other strong failed business ventures that were never explored. Before this got out of control I had to remind myself, to practice compassion. Speak words of loving kindness to myself. Also this is a great time to continue to practice letting go.

These yoga bags no longer serve me, as bags or leg warmers. I can thank them and let them go as Marie Kondo suggests. As I move from home to home, I am so used to keeping things that are boxed up. If it’s completely worn or used, it’s easy to throw away. But things that I had intentions for, I feel they will continue to be carried along with me. Despite the fact that I age, I had assumed these items would have grown with me. But they haven’t. It was who I was over a decade ago, and I don’t need to hold onto that. In the process of ridding items, I have rid almost 200 items in the past 40 days. This is quite a miracle for me.

I am hopeful it will continue to bring clarity of what I really want in my life at this time. Not what I wanted in the past or hope for in the future, but now.

Tube Meditation

Can you observe stillness in movement?

I believe you can. Generally on the tube, I am busy reading, writing, or listening to music. There are few moments where I simply observe. But today, for at least part of the journey I did. Of course there were the regulars who had their eyes gazing towards their phones, or some people were reading the paper. Two Polish workmen who seemed to be coming off a day at a job, dirt lined shoes and pants sat across from each other. They barely spoke to each other, but also seemed to be in zombie post-work tiredness.

One woman who wore a knitted scarf, and a knitted pin of a sheep, sat and knitted another scarf. When the train got quite crowded, a man standing was full teeth smiling. He wasn’t talking to anyone, I didn’t see a baby in sight. Who was he smiling at? Is it wrong to question someone smiling for no reason?

I see a woman who looks familiar, she resembles my great-grandmother who died many years ago. She has a tiny pamphlet in her hand. I can’t decode the language from my viewpoint. Is it Korean or Sanskrit ? She is looking down at this pamphlet ? Is she sleeping, or praying as she sits on the tube? She looks peaceful . The woman sitting next to her catches me glancing at my faux great grandma. I smile. She looks away. We can’t make eye contact and smile simultaneously.

The norm on the tube and most subways are to stay confined to your own world, with a solemn face, absorbed in your own activities, while still being alert enough to ward off any lewd mishaps that may occur. Although personal space is non-existent, arms and feet may be touching, but there are no words generally said or eyes that are looked at. Smiles are only reserved for children or amazing musical performers.

We are all being transported the same direction, people flowing in and out of the doors, our minds are chattering, but can we be still?

As I walked out of the tube to my connecting stop, at pure rush hour, I put on my headphones. Sometimes overly crowded spaces where people seem to push each other, I need additional relaxation. The song was “Walk A Little Faster,” by Fiona Apple. Someone strongly brushed past me. If I was irritable I may have yelled or pushed back, but I simply allowed it to happen. Perhaps she really needed to be in a rush.

I can make these one hour tube rides enjoyable, even after a day at work with a two hour commute. Adding an additional two hours to transportation midweek has the potential to be educational and even refreshing.

The joy gained can be during the journey. But if not l, I find it upon arriving at my favourite tube stop: Angel Station. Generally an inspirational or humorous quote is awaiting me at the top of the elevator . And so today it goes…

Extending the Tech Sabbatical

 

I am debating to increase my internet sabbatical to two days a week.  For the past 9 months, I have opted for Saturdays to be my Tech Sabbatical. Initially I didn’t think my life could go without technology with one day per week.  Surprisingly I look forward to it.  My friends and family now know not to expect me to check emails or social media.  When I am out with friends, I am not the one who is looked at to search directions or fetch an uber. Not only have I survived this, but I have relished in it. The next day when I do check the tech, I realize there is nothing I have missed.

 

The sad thing is the remaining 6 days of the week, I notice how much my free time gravitates to the phone.  I check emails incessantly, even though only ten minutes have passed since the last time I have checked.  If my day is not busy, I notice this habit becomes more prominent.  My body starts to warn me that it has not adjusted to the shift that had just occurred.  My eyes have become tired, my hand starts to hurt from holding the phone, my head is busy inputting and rearranging data for the next google search to begin.  I’m also overall exhausted.  This evening, I tried to listen to a guided meditation when I got home, and I fell asleep for several minutes.  But I was more rejuvenated with the recognition that additional space from technology is warranted.

 

Perhaps I may need to extend this tech break to more than one day a week.  Or check emails only twice a day.  I have learned to turn the ringer off my phone, I don’t want the sound to give me a serotonin boost. A friend has joked with me that we text too much, and I have become too dependent on responses. The solution: old fashioned letter writing with proper stationary.

 

And I have to admit this is refreshing.

 

I need to set these clear boundaries with texting and technology, because if the framework doesn’t exist, it’s easy to get swept away.

 

My dogs too are also begging for attention, when I get home from work.  Put away the phone and tv, and observe their smiles, snores, and hilarious ways to get my attention.

 

At a recent retreat, I brought up to one of the facilitators my weekly 24 hour tech sabbatical.  I was proud, I had added this into my life.  He noted, “You only take one day off from technology? Why not more?”  I gasped when he said this.  24 hours was plenty, and already absurd when I mentioned it to colleagues and family. Anything more would mean I am regressing back in time or joining a monastery.  But now I think back to that moment.  Perhaps twice a week isn’t so crazy.   Maybe what is more crazy making is to continue the path I am on.

 

 

How has technology impacted your world? Is it under control?  Do you notice how it interweaves into your daily life? Are weekly sabbaticals doable for you?

 

“Disconnecting from technology to reconnect with ourselves is absolutely essential.”-Arianna Huffington

Death of An American Poet

This past week, I learned about the death of Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver. I had just been introduced to her work via the infamous poem Wild Geese, which had been read at silent retreats and yoga sessions I’ve attended.  Poetry has re-entered my life in recent years, particularly with the assistance of the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett.  Krista interweaves conversations about our daily spiritual lives through talking with astrophysicists, monks, priests, psychologists, politicians, poets, and numerous other professions.

Listening to poets share their reflections in interviews is such a beautiful experience.  Their language is full of metaphors.  They have the ability to capture themes that seem unspeakable and relay the messages into bite size bits for us to chomp on.

In tribute to Mary Oliver, On Being replayed an interview with her from several years ago.  Throughout the interview, Mary was asked to read several of her poems. This poem below, I Happen To Be Standing, I couldn’t help but listen to again and again.   Witnessing the interview felt like prayer.  I was driving as I was listening, but if I was at home perhaps I would have knelt down to the ground as I took in the rest of the interview.  Perhaps the prayer vibe will arise in you as you take it all in from the link below:

https://onbeing.org/programs/mary-oliver-listening-to-the-world-jan2019/

“I don’t know where prayers go, / or what they do. / Do cats pray, while they sleep /      half-asleep in the sun? / Does the opossum pray as it / crosses the street? / The sunflowers? The old black oak / growing older every year? / I know I can walk through the world, / along the shore or under the trees, / with my mind filled with things / of little importance, in full / self-attendance. A condition I can’t really / call being alive. / Is a prayer a gift, or a petition, /         or does it matter? / The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way. / Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not. / While I was thinking this I happened to be standing / just outside my door, with my notebook open, / which is the way I begin every morning. / Then a wren in the privet began to sing. / He was positively drenched in enthusiasm, / I don’t know why. And yet, why not. / I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe / or whatever you don’t. That’s your business. / But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be / if it isn’t a prayer? / So I just listened, my pen in the air.”

 

 

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