I love language and play these little language games that nobody knows about but me (and now you.) I tune into a certain word, let’s say “worry” for a whole 24 hour period. This signals to me where the collective consciousness is focused. I listen to how many times I hear it from others, I see it on the news (if I’m bold enough to watch it), I read it in literature or magazines. Here’s what I’ll tell you. We are, no joke, a nation of worry warts.
It starts young. For the last 8 years, I have taught classes for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill which talk about all types of mental illnesses, but a key one that nearly everybody is affected by in one way or another is anxiety. I’m seeing it more and more with younger and younger people. Here’s how it goes.
A person can move up this chart and hover in the top few categories of stress and anxiety for over an extended period of time, dropping in and out of panic attacks when certain triggers push up the mercury. Six months of that will give you a General Anxiety Disorder diagnosis and may also spring out some OCD, hoarding, and other sub-categories. Just like any other mental illness, anxiety is a brain chemical issue, and if the brain continues to get hit with anxiety-causing neurotransmitters, medication can be a life saver. I’ve seen that make a crucial difference in the lives of many people I love.
So can environmental changes. The times in my life when I have found myself out of the relaxed section of the thermometer (which was much of my 20s and 30s) and up into the stressed categories, were when I just simply had too much going on and not the right kinds of things. I was in dysfunctional relationships. While I was making a high salary, I was working jobs I hated and jobs that were not anywhere near in sync with my life purpose. (In fact, if you would have talked to me about life purpose, my answer would have been “my only life purpose is to feed my baby” which I was doing on my own in a city without any family while working full time at those jobs I hated.)
I knew I needed a change the day I woke up and the room was spinning. I was in the middle of the only panic attack I’ve ever had and it was horrible. That day, I went in to my boss and quit with no idea how I was going to pay rent or feed my child. I just knew my health was being compromised and without my health, I couldn’t do those things anyway.
That was a turning point for me. I realized how much an environment can impact a person physically. I vowed to create, through intention, a more relaxed lifestyle that would keep my red down.
As a culture, though, we create this tension. We value it. We think it makes us grow. We get more, bigger, better toys if we work harder, longer, smarter. The message starts when we’re little with mommies in the Mommy and Me classes.
Mommy 1: Is Chad walking yet?
Mommy 2: Almost. The doctor said when he’s 3 months we can put him in a walking acceleration program. He’s been sleeping through the night since he was 6 hours old.
Mommy 1: Wow. You’re so lucky. Chad never sleeps. He’s too busy walking. He walked right out of the hospital, actually.
Mommy 2: Impressive.
So I’m prone to hyperbole, but variations on this conversation exist. I’ve heard them. I’ve been in them. You’re pregnant and you’re not on the waiting list? Which schools? When? Get them in early so they’re not behind. It goes on and on through the child’s life.
By the time they get to high school, they’re burnt out. I’ve seen it over and over. Now, it’s a race for college opportunities. Then, jobs. Then, better jobs–the ones that will help them accumulate the most stuff with the least amount of work. Then they’re the parents. Then, the cycle repeats.
And so many opportunities all along the way to worry.
A recent trend has intrigued me. It’s the “Keep Calm” trend. Why has it taken off?
Have you seen these shirts? Why are they so popular? Because everybody can identify with the cultural anx.
In a few weeks, I’ll be 50 years old. It’s taken me half a century to figure out how to keep the red down in the relaxed zone. For me, it takes a dedication to daily meditation (Ommmm), which means I really do it, not just talk about doing it. It also takes me using the filter of “does this thing that I’m doing right now line up with my life purpose” to consider EVERY decision. It’s a very conscious process. It takes trusting that I am a spiritual being living a human experience not just for myself, but to leave the world around me better than it was before I got here. This means, taking care of my body and my mind, which are the tools I need to complete said mission.
And, it takes knowing, really, that the only moment I have is the moment I’m in and that’s a gift.