How to manage anxiety in a modern world
What’s on your mind? If you’re anything like the vast majority of us, you’re in the Worry Club. Worries and fears seem to be the norm at the moment, especially as we navigate this Covid-dominant world.
But Covid aside, what’s keeping you awake at night? How much you’ve eaten today? What size you are and how to drop a dress size or bulk up the upper arms a bit? Perhaps it’s money related? Or family rift related? Could it be your job, your relationship (or lack thereof of either) or your leaky roof?
Whatever it is, it’s causing you anxiety. And that’s just part of modern life, right? Probably. But what can we do about it? Do we put up and shut up, or can we make changes that will help us breathe, and sleep, more easily?
A normal state?
Anxiety is actually perfectly normal, to a point. That nervous worry you feel before a job interview or the excited but jittery butterflies before a hot date – it’s all a form of anxiety. The NHS describe anxiety as “a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe”.
But for some of us, and in fact, an increasing number of us, anxiety becomes part of everyday life. Our worries become difficult to control and they encroach on the way we live and the choices we make.
We might find ourselves avoiding certain social situations, travelling or putting ourselves forward for a promotion or a pay rise at work. Over time, our excuses become reality, and we leave home less and less, and interact with fewer people, our social anxiety becoming bigger and bigger and harder to deal with. We miss out on opportunities, but we tell ourselves, this doesn’t matter as we didn’t want them anyway. Eventually, we might become reclusive, and retract from the world and all that we used enjoy.
Or, we might become a highly functioning, yet anxious person when we resemble the proverbial duck appearing calm on the surface, but underneath we’re paddling furiously/experiencing a racing heart, sweating and trying to slow our breathing down.
Sometimes, anxiety can accompany other disorders, such as panic disorder, agoraphobia, claustrophobia or post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
And so, in my own words, “anxiety is actually perfectly normal” can have another meaning – it becomes so engrained in our lives, that without it, life would feel, well, abnormal. Like a faithful old friend, hanging about, reminding us that we’re worried and full of angst.
Modern life – cause or cure?
Perhaps to answer the question of how to manage anxiety in a modern world, we first need to address how modern life causes anxiety.
The first thing that springs to my mind, is social media. We all know, deep down, that those perfect lives we see where fitness is everything, green smoothies are a filling breakfast and children sit down for trouble-free homeschooling aren’t real. They’re snapshots of a perfectly curated life. What goes on when the cameras and filters are turned off isn’t broadcast and certainly isn’t anything like the picture of perfection proudly shown to the world.
When we’re taking our regular walks through our Instagram timeline though, we naturally feel compelled to compare ourselves to those that we follow. Instantly, we’re not thin, fit, attractive, successful, wealthy, active, happy, cool or vegan enough.
We feel less of a human being and we worry that in order to be liked, rich, beautiful enough we need to be like Influencer X or Celebrity Y. We get upset, we lose our self-esteem and we become anxious that we’re not achieving enough in life.
What we don’t see, is that these comparisons are harmful and only hold us back as we sit fearful and full of worry, trying to live someone else’s ‘perfect’ life.
Another anxiety-causing aspect of modern life is the smartphone. That ubiquitous little device that we have on us all day long. When we’re not with our phones for any reason, the separation anxiety and FOMO is real.
Whilst being permanently connected to the world is a good thing – we have whatever we want or need at our fingertips – it can also cause us stress and anxiety. Aside from the fear of missing out if we switch off, work-wise, we can become obsessed with staying connected to the office.
If we have clients, customers or colleagues overseas on a different time zone, we might feel the need to reply to emails and queries way past the traditional 5pm clocking off time. If we don’t, another colleague might, and we look lazy and like we can’t be bothered. That other person might then be in front of us in the queue when the bonuses and Employee of the Month awards are being handed out.
Work-wise, there’s also the ridiculous concept of the open plan office. With nowhere to hide from the chatter and boasting, Imposter Syndrome becomes a thing, where we feel like any minute, we’re going to get busted for simply being crap. The compelling need to keep up with co-workers, who might not even be working on the same projects as us, is another anxiety-riddled experience.
Too fast, too slow, too much, too little?
Back to our personal lives, and the innovation and speed at which new tech, fashion trends and culinary in-vogue crazes come and go is exhausting. We try to keep up, but we feel like we just don’t fit in. That old friend in our heads once again telling us that we’re not enough.
On the flip side, some of us can feel that we’re just too much. We share too much or we feel too much.
Which brings me on to gender stereotypes, which unbelievably in the 21st Century still exist. Females are told that they shouldn’t be too loud, aggressive, passionate or opinionated and males are expected to ‘man up’ and not show any emotions, and be big and strong and the ‘providers’. If we don’t fit, we feel cast aside as we search for our kindred spirits and all of this can leave us feeling anxiety that we simply don’t ‘conform’.
So, what can we do about it?
Tackling anxiety and modern life
In a world driven by most of the things that cause us anxiety (finances, careers, relationships, appearances) it’s impossible to just say, get rid of it all. As much as we’d love to say, “You know what? Sod it all”, it would be remiss of us to tell you to go live as a nomad when life depends on life.
But we can make small changes that can help us manage modern anxiety.
First up, unfollow anyone that doesn’t make you feel good. (On social media we mean, not in the streets. You shouldn’t really be following anyone in the streets unless you’re a cop.)
There’s more than 7 billion of us on this planet – but only one of you. Wanting to be like one of these other earthlings is only going to fuel your anxieties. So, click the unfollow button on people and accounts that make you feel bad, sad, inadequate or frustrated. If you don’t want to cause grief by unfollowing someone you know, you can mute them. That way, they won’t know you’re not seeing their BS on your news feed.
It’s your feed, so fill it with accounts that are uplifting, body positive and help you celebrate
your uniqueness. If something isn’t serving you, let it go. I promise that your social media experience will be a much more fulfilling and inspiring one.
Try also to limit how much time you spend scrolling. You could say that you’re only going to look in the morning and after work. That way, all day and all evening, you’re not being bombarded by the lives of people having sooo much more life than you. (They’re not though.)
Work life balance
At work, there probably isn’t much you can do about an open plan office. But you could have a chat with a manager to see if there could be a more sheltered office area for those who choose it. Or perhaps more days working from home (if you’re not already).
But what about those midnight email feasts?
This is all about good habits. Stepping away from work when it’s in the palm of your hand isn’t easy. But turning off the notifications is. Not having that little red dot telling you how many unopened emails you’ve got going on will help you avoid the temptation of looking. Try, as hard as you can, to tell yourself that whatever needs replying to, can be done during office time. You might even set a precedent that others will follow.
There are lifestyle elements to tackling anxiety too. Making healthy lifestyle choices will help you feel more in control, especially if body image is a major cause of your anxiety. Making healthy, informed food choices, taking regular exercise and avoiding crutches such as caffeine, alcohol, smoking, junk food and drugs can help you feel more in command of the triggers that spark anxiety.
Getting good quality sleep, in the right bedroom environment and using the right bedtime routine will also help to prevent the mind form racing tiredly from one thought to the next.
Practicing yoga and guided mindful meditations will also help to still the mind and make you feel more connected to the here and now.
a natural counter
Finally, taking a high quality CBD oil as we suggest here, can help with mindful balance, restorative sleep and healthy habits.
Anxiety doesn’t have to be your norm, despite the fact that Modern Life is Rubbish. Take a MELO Moment and breathe. You really have got this.