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.