For a huge number of us, anxiety is a daily reality. Stress, nervousness, unease, and muscle tension more common than not. I read an article last weekend in the New York Times–Prozac Nation is Now Xanax Nation– about how it has become a defining psychological state for our era. Too much technology, too many live updates on terrifying world events. Too much political and environmental instability. Huge pressure to perform and achieve in a world that make no promises to anyone. For me, anxiety has been a part of my life since early high school. It has been so ubiquitous for me, that periods where I am not anxious stand out. I know serious exercise makes a huge difference and that has thus become a way of life for me. I also know that focus, and a regiment that helps me stay very focused in my day-to-day life is also hugely helpful.
But in my later years, around the time I started my business, I began seeing my anxiety from a new angle. Yes I could sweat, schedule and focus much of it out of me, but was there something there worth paying attention to, I wondered? I had taken the view that anxiety was just too much energy. A growing pool of stress trapped in the body, exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle. So when I had to undertake some major personal growth to start my business, I began a meditation practice and was encouraged through some therapy to actually listen to the anxiety. She said that I might learn something. And when I started to listen to the anxious voices I realized that something important was going on. A lot of inner turmoil. Obviously. But basically the conflict is this: I was raised to believe certain things about myself and the world: that creativity is not valuable, that blind science, numbers and competition will solve every problem, that the assets women bring to the table–intuition, emotional intelligence, an understanding of collective well-being–are not valuable, and this conflicts with what my experience and intuition tell me is needed to urgently address the problems we have before us.
So basically, there is a chorus of voices that make up all the things I’ve absorbed about what is and what is not valuable, “You are not an artist. Art is not valuable. Emotion is weakness. Intuition and woman strength is not valuable. YOU can’t change things. Very few people can. Those people are male and start tech companies.” But then there is a conflict, because what I am is an artist, an innovator, a woman, someone who sees the future and builds in that direction, someone who knows that it is a different route, not the same one, which will lead to a different future. And so, it is precisely because of this that I must actually start paying attention to the voices, systematically dismiss most of them, and move past them to a new future.
If I take stock of this cacophony of beliefs and thoughts that rattle around in my head, there is actually a hell of a lot to be anxious of. I read the news. The environment is in a critical state. Our government is headed in the wrong direction. There is real fear. Fear of the instability. Fear that we won’t have jobs. Fear that we won’t make it. And the voices are parroting the same old crap that got us into this mess: “Your passion isn’t valuable. Go get a real job. You are not enough. You are not perfect. Carrying about the environment isn’t going to feed you, isn’t going to contribute to your savings.” And those voices get in the way of the knowledge that exists alongside these voices that WE MUST ACT NOW and the sense of calm that allows us to see clearly HOW to act, WHAT to do. And that makes me understandably anxious, because clearly sensing how to forge a new path is the only way forward that will lead to a better future for me and everybody else. Yikes.
So, stop the beat a minute. Take a deep breath. If you are one of the 20 some percent* of adults or 38 percent of girls and 26 percent of boys 13-17 who struggle with anxiety (1 & 2), maybe it is time to stop trying to run from this beast and instead turn around and face it and figure out how to get to the treasures it is guarding. If this were your last chance to do beautiful work to make this world a better place, what would you do? What unique gifts do you have, the compilation of which are genuinely true for only you, gifts that urgently need to be expressed? I believe that this is an explanation for my anxiety and with so many others afflicted, perhaps it is something many of us can relate on. Can we reject this limited view of ourselves and our work internally and externally and get to work on the transformation we so desperately need?
Go, fight, win!
1) Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults, National Institute of Health, 2005(!) * Seriously - not data shared since BEFORE the Recession.
2) NIHMH Data shared w NY Times