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Thriving in These Anxious Times

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Creative Commons License photo credit: tibbygirl

Every faculty and virtue I possess can be used as an instrument with which to worry myself.

— Mark Rutherford

Lately, fear has been a big topic of conversation.  It seems that there have been lots of crazy things going on in the world, even if we ignore the wars.  An oil rig blows up right before it goes into production (and, incidentally, right after President Obama endorses off-shore drilling).  Another person who hates the US tries to bomb us into submission – and then another person leaves a cooler with water bottles in the middle of Times Square.  (Weren’t they embarrassed?)  The market drops almost 1,000 points and then rallies back 650 points – all in less than a half an hour.  Lions and tigers and bears, OH MY!

Life has always been uncertain, yet now it seems even more uncertain than it was a couple of months ago.  (Oh, and the clergy in the Catholic Church in Ireland has been abusing minors – I’m not sure why this is a surprise, but it contributes to the general sense of anxiety.)  All of this gangs up on us and can leave us feeling anxious, not sure what we’re afraid of, but definitely feeling that we should be VERY afraid and maybe as if the world is going to he** in a handbasket.

Who’s in Charge?

I think that we feel anxious because it seems as if no one “in charge” can be trusted and we don’t feel as if we know enough to “be in charge” ourselves.

For those of you who are too young to remember, prior to the Vietnam war and Watergate, we trusted our leaders.  We trusted our bankers.  We trusted CEOs. We trusted our clergy. There were no muckraking journalists to dig up stuff on everybody and their brother.  And to be fair, Woodward and Bernstein (the journalists who broke the Watergate story) were responsible, respectable journalists (if that isn’t an oxymoron).

To add insult to injury, NOW we can’t trust our journalists either.  While some journalists work hard to verify information and present their best understanding of the truth, some of them have actually been fiction writers working for newspapers or magazines – we just didn’t know they were writing fiction.  But over time, enough stories have been written telling tales on clergy, political leaders, CEOs, and bankers that we’ve developed a culture of distrust.  We have developed a culture of guilty until proven innocent – from sad experience.

Does It Really Matter?

The reality is that we never really knew what was happening.  Journalists “conspired” to hide JFK’s playboy nature from us.  They liked him and it was considered poor taste to tell all about the president.  He was our leader and should be admired.  So, they “let” us admire him. (No doubt, there are some who admire him now because he was a playboy.)  In our own naïve way, we felt that leaders should be saints.  They’re not.  (The first qualification for sainthood is death.)

Accepting that our leaders are human beings with human temptations and human failings is part of growing up.  It’s like figuring out that our parents are real people too.  It takes some adjustment, but many of us eventually make the leap.

In the end, the real question we need to answer is “Does this affect the quality of my life?”  If it does, then by all means, work to improve it.  But, if in my life this is just noise, perhaps it should be let go.

Where to From Here?

Anxiety is what we feel when we “need” to fight or flee.  It is the result of adrenaline flooding our system so we can fight or flee.  If we’re not going to take off running, we need to reduce the amount of adrenaline in the system.  Proven techniques for calming ourselves include taking a brisk walk and/or taking a couple of deep breaths.

What we do from here depends on our view of what is important in our lives.  Once we are more calm, we can make decisions.  We can think about these problems in a constructive way.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • Is this important to me, or is it just that “they” say it is important?
  • If it is important, what can I do to improve the situation?
  • If I can’t personally make a difference, who or what organization can I support that is working to improve the situation?
  • How do I improve my little corner of the world?

Once we’ve answered these questions, our path forward is clearer.  As we establish clarity, our sense of control improves and with increased control comes decreased anxiety.

We live in anxious times.  There is much that is out of our control.  Make a difference.  Choose what matters and take action.  It’s all that any of us can do.

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Publius Syrus

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