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Anxiety From the Outside In

Elements of daily life that cause anxiety and how to combat them.

Key points

  • The media, political and social polarization, and climate change cause or exacerbate anxiety.
  • An ex-Facebook executive exposed harmful Facebook practices that promote anxiety.
  • We can use strategies to reduce anxiety, like embracing spirituality and building bridges with people from different backgrounds.

Of course, you’re anxious! We’re all anxious as we are living in the Age of Anxiety.

Here are some of the things that constantly promote and intensify our anxiety.

  • Speed of communication. Computers have vastly increased the amount of data we receive daily. We can’t keep up. We feel anxious because we’re deluged. We have “informational indigestion.”
  • Polarization. Our country is more divided today than it has been since the Civil War. And our national divide is angry and inflamed. Who are our friends? We’re not quite sure anymore. We’re treading along a path of relational quicksand.
  • Climate change. The topic of climate change is no longer confined to the quiet drone of academic colloquia. It has burst into the real world like a savage Godzilla. Ocean levels are rising; much of the lush green of California farmland is shriveled in drought, and 2020 was the hottest year since we began recording weather data. Our environment is playing “musical chairs” with us. The only thing flourishing is our anxiety.

Here are some thoughts to help develop personal coping strategies to lessen anxiety.

  • Time. Expand your sense of time so that instead of relying exclusively on chronos time (clock time that is measured), you also embrace kairos time. Kairos time is the lived and experienced time framework expressed in nature and spirituality. Kairos time is expansive and contains the concept of unity. By contrast, there is inherent brokenness and fragmentary quality to chronos time. It can readily lead to anxiety. Expand your sense of time to include kairos time.
  • Spirituality. Embrace your spirituality. The essence of spirituality is wholeness, unity, and love. It is the very antithesis of anxiety.

One of my favorite spiritual thinkers is Howard Thurman, 1899-1981. He was Black and born into the Jim Crow South. He started as a Baptist minister, mentored Martin Luther King (on non-violence), and grew to become one of the great American mystics. His inspiring autobiography is With Head and Heart. It is a wonderful book about a powerful life.

  • Bridge-building. In this current time of rampant, metastasizing polarization, commit to becoming a bridge builder. (My website is Find somebody from a different belief system, race, ethnic group, culture, or persuasion, and make friends with them. It’s that simple! And the joy you receive from creating a new friendship can act as a powerful antidote to anxiety.
  • Addressing climate change. Since climate change is so omnipresent and all-encompassing, each of us can find a way to make a positive contribution. What are your talents, interests, and personal resources? No matter who you are, there is almost certainly something you can do to improve the environment. And with luck, it might be something you really enjoy doing. I am doing that by using one of my favorite hobbies: creating greeting cards.

When I graduated from college, my first job was a staff position writing funny greeting cards for American Greetings in Cleveland. I stayed with that job for two years and then moved to Los Angeles.

But just because I left American Greetings didn’t mean I left greeting cards. In fact, I’ve been creating greeting cards just for fun ever since. I estimate that I’ve probably written over 6,000 greeting cards by now! It’s one of my favorite hobbies. And my way of helping to combat climate change today is to create greeting cards with a pro-environment message.

We can all find something helpful we can do!

Toxic Social Media and Anxiety

Frances Haugen, the former Facebook product manager, turned whistleblower, made it abundantly clear when she testified recently before Congress: Facebook is not our friend. Extensive research shows that people usually share information when it alarms them or makes them angry.

So, using proprietary algorithms, Facebook guides its users to more and more sites that will alarm them or make them angry. There is more user clicks on Facebook, resulting in more advertising dollars and more money for Facebook.

A more profound result is that Facebook users also become ever more angry and anxious, and our country becomes steadily more divided.

These four contemporary problems of speed, polarization, climate change, and toxic social media will not go away. They’re only going to get worse. So we need to develop personal strategies to counter them.

  • Combatting Toxic Social Media. There are two ways we can neutralize the toxicity of social media in our personal lives. The first is to monitor our behavior on social media constantly. A tremendous amount of research demonstrates that the items we’re most likely to click on in social media make us angry, agitated, or upset. Don’t click on them! If you click on things that make you angry, agitated, or upset, it will lead to anxiety and depression. Monitor your behavior at all times when you are on social media.

The second way to neutralize the toxicity of social media is to exercise critical thinking rigorously. Critical thinking consists of asking three questions whenever you are confronted with any piece of data or information.

  1. Who said it? Is that person reputable or reliable? Or are they sleazy and fly-by-night?
  2. Is that person’s route to the information they are sharing honest, reputable, solid, accurate, and transparent?
  3. Does that person have a personal incentive to promote the idea or information? Do they gain something by sharing the information?

Critical thinking is one of the most valuable skills anyone can practice. Use it everywhere.

So anxiety can weigh down a person’s spirit and effectiveness. It can come at any time. Luckily it is a temporary state and can be banished by the techniques offered above.

Use them and be encouraged!

© David Evans