Generally speaking, the word ‘progress’ is usually identified as being positive, successful, a natural result of capitalism at its finest. The very fiber upon which our founding fathers created our great country rests upon the idea that we as a society will progress into the future, and that it will be good. Dramatic changes over the last 50 years have taken place within the landscape that is society, culture and humanity. However, this fast paced modern society may be causing anxiety and depression.
The modernization of our current world has been an amazing thing. Through it we have broken new ground in technology, science, communication, health and many more areas. But, is all this advancement always a good thing? A marked trend that has been identified is that as the pace of our daily lives quickens. We become more and more connected (or disconnected depending on perspective) from our peers and the world around us. We are becoming as a whole more anxious and depressed.
Various factors are at play when discussing a topic of this magnitude. So, in this article we will focus on a few major focal points that hopefully the average American reader can identify with. Our mental health is important. It is vital for all of us to stay informed on how our daily intake of media, news, technology and the like affects us. Sometimes we don’t even realize it.
How Media Dictates our Moods
Media is defined as “the main means of mass communication”. It includes things like news outlets, the Internet, publishing platforms such as newspapers and also the newest contender, social media. As we become an ever more technologically advanced society, access to all these forms of media has become much easier than it was in the past. Natural evolution has taken place to the point where journalists and authors have pinpointed exactly what their readers want. They then target how to grab their attention and keep it.
As you may have noticed, the majority of news we see on a daily basis involves major calamity. Whether it is a local gas station burglary, three-alarm fire or corporate scandal, media outlets are consistently flooded with negative stories highlighting humanity at its worst. As a result, we as the reader take this information in. We process it and allow it to transform the way we view the world and ourselves. Mainly, readers find positive and uplifting news stories to be boring. Or, just run of the mill, and actually prefer to be presented with stories that are a little more thrilling. As exciting as this practice may be, the effects are not very positive. We have seen them unfold right in front of our eyes.
Technology Twists Our Reality
We as humans have a tendency to believe that very shocking things, like plane crashes for example, happen much more frequently than they actually do. The reason for this is due to the fact that psychologically these types of events, like school shootings and natural disasters, stick out in our minds a little bit more than say, a record high rainfall. Increased media broadcasts of these events, as well as just generally more accessibility to the current news, also leads people to believe that we are on one big downward spiral. As time goes on things seem to be getting worse and worse.
I am not in a position to say whether or not we as a society are actually on any kind of downward spiral at all, but I can argue that we are able to watch it much more easily now. That can lead to us perceiving it that way. This perception is what breeds the anxiety and depression we see so commonly today.
Now, I’m not suggesting we grab torches and pitchforks and head out to the nearest channel 5 news station. They are providing a service that, fortunately or unfortunately, for what there is a demand for. What I am suggesting is that all this increased media coverage and ‘Negative News’ should be taken with a grain of salt. I have to remind myself frequently that nobody is perfect. Just because there are tragedies that happen in the world doesn’t mean we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Meaning, things aren’t all bad. Just as often as terrible things happen in the world, examples of someone helping their fellow man or woman shine through. As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression, these ways of thinking have been hugely beneficial for keeping my head above water when it seems the modern society is sinking.
Do Cellphones Foster Connection or Isolation?
Another marvel of the last generation has been the widespread adoption of cellular phones as a means of communication and information. We have taken a huge step in a very short period of time since the advent of cellphones. Now we are able to communicate with people at the drop of a hat, regardless of distance or location.
In theory, this technology seems to be wonderful. But in actuality, and I can speak from personal experience, what at some points is an amazing tool for connecting me to the big wide world can at other times feel like a shield that I am vulnerable without. The ease in which I notice myself pulling my phone out of my pocket whenever I feel uncomfortable in social situations is frightening. All those times alone in a restaurant or waiting in line are now filled with us awkwardly pulling out our phones, not really looking at anything in particular. It seems we are unable to interact with the outside world. It is a sad kind of purgatory. I am just as guilty as anyone else. This form of isolation is extremely conducive to creating depression and anxiety within our modern society.
Practicing Mindfulness with Technology
A tactic I have found to be effective at combating this is practicing mindfulness when it comes to cellphone use. I have seen wonderful effects as a result of a few simple things. By putting my phone away and allowing myself to feel uncomfortable just doing nothing, I become more comfortable over time. I also notice that opportunities to meet new people or engage in polite conversation arise more frequently when my eyes aren’t glued to a screen. This absolutely promotes feelings of self-worth and self-esteem and can combat those icky feelings of anxiety and depression.
Obviously this is not a comprehensive list of every cause of anxiety or depression we can find in our modern society. But, it’s a small snapshot into the major benefactors and some tips to getting ourselves out of our own way. Yes, times are changing and it can seem difficult to keep up. But, that’s no reason for us to get discouraged. As we adapt so do our coping mechanisms-as long as we continue to improve ourselves daily. Anxiety and depression are real issues that deserve respect. However, with proper care and treatment they do not have to be as disabling as they once were.
Practicing Mindfulness in General
Mindfulness is the simple practice of bringing awareness to experience, thought and sensation in the body. When one is able to recognize and build tolerance for the sensations that arise, they become less reactive to their emotions and able to cultivate presence, clarity and curiosity. Riding the waves of emotions allows for an organic resolve without attaching limiting beliefs or narratives. The practice of mindfulness and learning to bring awareness to the felt senses can help clients trust their natural wisdom. Also to build tolerance for negative emotions and discomfort and aid in communicating feelings.
Anxiety is a result of external triggers causing sensations in the body that are most often below consciousness. In other words, we aren’t aware that our heart is beating faster, there is tension in our belly’s or our hands have become hot. Through mindful awareness and connection to the body we are able to stay with the sensation. We can observe it and become curious about it. When one is aware of the felt sense in the body, he/she can slowly build tolerance for those feelings and create space between thoughts and reactivity.
Reactivity can come in the form of anger, irritability, avoidance or reaching for relief through impulsive behaviors. When unaware of sensation, it is common to layer in emotional labels such as stress, anxiety, anger and depression. They are then followed by narratives or stories. We buy into the beliefs and thoughts surrounding the feelings. Once we’ve identified with the stories we are no longer present. Our sensations and feelings are not causing us to suffer. Rather, what we are telling ourselves about WHY we are feeling a certain way activates the adrenaline response.
Learning the practice of Mindful Awareness can have a tremendous impact on emotional regulation. It also reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety. When sensation or feelings arise, one becomes less overwhelmed and fearful. Mindfulness allows us to lean into the experience without judgement or attachment to thoughts and facilitates healthy, prosocial communication. This is one positive step we can take to combat anxiety and depression in our modern society