Modern Age of Anxiety
First it was the virtually inescapable negativity of the presidential campaign, and now it seems that we wake up daily to shocking executive orders and headlines questioning our national security and the foundation of our democratic process. Our current environment, intensified by the 24-hour news and social media cycle, creates nervousness and resentment that has invaded people’s lives.
Since November 2016 I have been overwhelmed with anxiety and pessimistic thoughts about our current political environment. According to a study on America’s stress levels done by the American Psychological Association (APA), 57 percent of Americans say the current political climate is a significant source of stress in their lives. Social media and the 24-hour news cycle cause so much stress that one therapist coined the term: “headline stress disorder.” In this essay I will explore how the 2016 campaign, administration, and Brett Kavanaugh have caused anxiety in my life and ways I can relieve some of the pressure.
On the subject of anxiety surrounding the current administration New York Times Magazine wrote, “This is not a nation that has ever been shy about self-diagnosing its jitters.” My anxiety is not always rational, it fliterts from headline to headline making it hard to focus on any one detail. Many of my anxieties may not even affect me and makes it difficult to asses what I should really focus on. For example, I spend much more time worrying about The Russian interference with our election than on climate change. The reality is I can do much more about climate change than I can about Putin but my anxiety prevents me from understanding that in the moment. The lecture on optimism helped me better understand my stress and pessimism. One of the slides from the lecture defined Optimism as “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something”. Instead of viewing my sadness as something that sucks away from my life I should use it as momentum in fighting for a successful future. I am working on standing up for what I believe. By writing letters to local representatives and going to protests and demonstrations I finally feel effective. Instead of reacting to the negativity I read I am focusing on the change I can cause. I feel empowered rather than helpless by simply reframing my pessimism by making it into optimism and constructive work.
Within the past month the Supreme court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh dominated the news cycle. Kavanaugh’s confirmation was underway when allegations of sexual assault arose. Christine Blasey Ford accused Brett Kavanaugh of assaulting her at a party in high school which Kavanaugh denied. Other women came forward accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct and Dr. Ford testified in front of the Senate telling her story. Kavanaugh continued to deny the allegations. This meant my day to day life was full of sexual violence news stories, tweets, google alerts, and uncomfortable conversations with acquaintances. My stress levels were running high and I had no idea how to cope. When talking to my Mom about how upset I was she suggested I take a break from the news. This left me with choice to keep watching the hearings and reading articles or to put on the kettle and watch the British Baking show for awhile. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology section ‘Maximizing Versus Satisficing: Happiness Is a Matter of Choice’ it gives a very clear definition of what rational choice is supposed to be: “According to the rational choice framework, human beings have well-ordered preferences”preferences that are essentially impervious to variations in the way the alternatives they face are described or the way in which they are packaged or bundled.
The idea is that people go through life with all their options arrayed before them, as if on a buffet table. They have complete information about the costs and benefits associated with each option. They compare the options with one another on a single scale of preference, or value, or utility. And after making the comparisons, people choose so as to maximize their preferences, or values, or utilities.” Using this “framework” the rational choice might be for me to sit this news cycle out. I don’t really have an impact and if I am feeling negative emotions the benefits associated with watching are outweighed by the cons. However, as the economic idea of rational choice has proved, the human brain doesn’t process choices in that way. There are a multitude of things that help of make choices some of which are emotional and deeply irrational. In the reading Maximizing Versus Satisficing: Happiness Is a Matter of Choice it discusses the emotional reaction of “regret” and how that factors into the choices we make, “The fourth factor represents having high standards, both for oneself and for things in general…So, in a world of limited options, [one] might be more disappointed with the results of his or her decisions without taking personal responsibility for the disappointing results. But in a world of limitless options, there is simply no excuse for failure.” This suggests that the sense of control we feel making a choice can actually lead to anxiety of making a mistake. In the moment I chose to keep updated on the news and to refuse to give myself a break. I can’t tell you if this was the wrong choice but I was so overwhelmed with the feeling that I might regret missing history I did not take into account what my body needed. Understanding the rationale behind making choices has proved to be important in my life. By understanding the fear and emotional toll of choices I have become better and making them logically.
I am currently trying hard to appreciate the changes I have made to cope with our current times. In the past I think I have underestimated myself on what I can do and my problem solving skills. My anxiety actually caused me to grow and work harder which is, best case scenario, what anxiety should force one to do. By trying to stay positive, working towards a future I want, and evaluating why I make the choices I do I hope to curve some of the stress I have felt in the past few years. My happiness and instinct to stay caught up on the world are not mutually exclusive and the research I have done inside and outside of class proves this. As I, and I hope whoever is reads this, leave the voting booth this next week you will see a big happy smile across my face.