Excuse the Buzzfeed-style title.
Over the past two years, there seems to have been an increase in anxiety, globally speaking. Some might argue that this is due to mental illness making its way to the mainstream, which is true, but these days you can’t even scroll through Instagram without coming across some convoluted attempt at a meme that contains every kind of stereotype around anxiety, and somebody (see: everybody) has commented saying “Literally me”.
We are all prone to anxiety, and it’s the point of a meme to have some sort of relatability to it. However, I want to talk more about anxiety in its most natural form, and why 2016 should have been the year anxiety ended.
2016 has been recorded as one of the worst years in recent history. I don’t need to go over the events involved, we were all there. If you weren’t, welcome to 2017, where we are implementing precisely none of the lessons 2016 should have taught us. The year even got its own horror movie trailer.
(Not kidding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z04M6NhkIKk. Also, if you’re one of the people who somehow managed to remove themselves from the passage of time, give that a watch, it sums it all up quite nicely.)
Here’s the thing, though – 2016 was just a number given to a year on a calendar created solely by the human race. While this is possibly the most obvious point I’ve made thus far, it’s also very true, but never fear – this will *probably* not become a blog of facts that you can find on any mindfulness and spiritual awareness page on Facebook.
At least, I hope not. Anyway, back to the matter at hand.
We’ve dealt with an ever-increasing number of doomsday prophecies and warnings of the end times, none of which have happened, so it’s probably safe to assume the rapture won’t occur. The Mayan calendar was just a stone calendar made by normal, regular human folk. That Seth Rogen movie “This is the End” also didn’t come true. Basically, it’s probably safe to assume that all the good people and all the bad people are here to stay, and that no cataclysmic event will occur, ultimately ending in the destruction of the human species.
I won’t go into details about the aforementioned cataclysmic events. Luckily, we have scientists and some pretty amazing technology that is designed to warn us well in advance of anything that could mean that we are about to die. I will, however, begin to talk now about why anxiety should have stayed in 2016.
The year humbled us. We lost our grounding, we woke up every day wondering who else was going to be taken from us. It was a year of mental exhaustion and unrest, but it was also just that – a year. We placed all blame on it – “2016 has been hard on us.” If anything, it should have reinforced an idea that I have only really been exposed to in the last few months; humans have absolutely no control over the way in which the universe unfolds. We like to think of ourselves as “other” to the world a lot of the time, and I could go on ad nauseam about how we belong to the earth, not the other way around, but I think I’ll save that for another post.
As humans, we have evolved from humble beginnings. Our place on this planet and in this universe is purely by chance – everything was “just right” for the propagation of life. We even called the area in which the earth exists the Goldilocks Zone. Our existence is so magically unplanned and unexpected that for most of us, we cannot even comprehend our reason for being here. But humans also seem to have an undying need to believe that there is something so special about us that our existence needs a reason, and I believe this might be our largest mistake. We cannot seem to get past the idea that maybe we were not planned, that maybe we just evolved into this incredible arrangement of matter. What makes our existence special and unique is that we exist. Of all the beings on this planet, we have a conscious mind that allows us to make choices based on information from our surroundings. That is what makes us special – not that a deity of some kind thought, you know what this planet needs? Humans. Definitely humans.
The human brain is incredible, but the majority of people seem to be trapped by it. The mind is something that belongs to you – “I haven’t made up my mind” means that you clearly possess the capacity for rational thinking, yet we choose to think that we are not as attractive as our friend, as worthy as that celebrity. “But I can’t control those anxious thoughts!” you might be shouting at your laptop right now.
Except – you can.
That mind is not something separate and all-powerful to you. That mind is the thing that allows you to experience and perceive the world around you. And so thought patterns begin, and inevitably we attach ourselves to a thought and get carried away with it – what is my purpose in this world? How do I fit in? What if I don’t become rich? What if I fail? What if, what if, what if?
“What if” creates an expectation, right? What if the world ends tomorrow? What if JK Rowling dies in a car crash? What if Kim Kardashian gets cancer?
There is nothing to be done. We cannot do anything that will change the unfolding of life and the universe. To sum up – we have no control. Life will happen.
Anxiety, therefore, comes from the fear of an outcome – what if I miss this deadline? If I miss this deadline, my boss will call me into her office, I’ll lose my job. All of that time spent thinking about how bad everything could go, instead of just surrendering to what needs to be done, and getting on with it.
How does this relate to 2016? A lot of bad things happened, and instead of thinking, “Okay. I accept this, I accept that life is going to throw bad things at all of us. I accept that, I surrender to it, and I am ready for whatever comes next.” we thought, “Maybe next year will be better.” Placing expectation on something that has still yet to pass, and inevitably being upset and anxious because things didn’t necessarily go as planned.
To bring all of this to a close, I will say this. Those anxious thoughts are just thoughts. The same kind of thought as one saying that you do look amazing in that dress. The same kind of thought saying you are good enough to get that job. The same kind of thought that says maybe I do like green more than red. Even something as simple as “Wow, it’s really hot today”. They are just thoughts. You are designed to think, and so, thinking is what you will do. You choose what you want to ascribe power to, but unfortunately, it takes a lot of work to rewire the brain to not attach itself to negativity. It is definitely possible, and every effort should be made to acknowledge that the brain is going to think things, and that we should maybe take 10 minutes a day to look at the things we’re thinking, and evaluate them, without attaching to a specific thought.
That, by the way, is called meditation.
Oh, and one more thing – if you have felt offended at all, or perhaps felt that maybe I was insensitive to people suffering from anxiety, bring me your medication and I will compare it to mine. I still suffer anxiety attacks, even though I have been – by my own choosing – off my meds for almost a year. I still wake up and think that I cannot get out of bed because I actually just suck so fucking much that any contribution I maybe could make would be seen as inferior.
The difference is now I know where those thoughts come from, and I have learned (mostly) not to listen to them.