This month I didn’t quite achieve my own self imposed goal of getting up one blog a month. As the month of May drew to a close I was aware of an emotional shift from looking forward to a creative writing moment to, being anxious about finding time to indulge myself with time to write.
I discovered many years ago that there was a link for me between time, or more accurately the lack of it, and anxiety. The question needed to soothe this anxiety is what can I let go? Answering this question seems to be becoming harder to answer.
The Anxiety plague seems to be touching all of us in some way or other. Whether directly, in terms of our own anxiety levels, or being affected by the anxiety of a loved one.
To some degree I think maybe anxiety has always been very present in our lives but what it means to ‘struggle’ has shifted. Struggling to get to a meeting on time pales into insignificance when compared with struggling to stay alive. One important antidote to anxiety is thinking about whether the comparisons being used increase or decrease a sense of appreciation for ones life. Do the comparisons cause envy or appreciation.
I also wonder if the multiple levels of struggle have become merged and achieving something that, in the end, is of little consequence carries the same anxiety weight as something essential to survival. Having a hierarchy of importance is one of the answers to the question what can I let go?
In a country like Australia, it’s easy to confuse and believe that something of little consequence is actually something of critical importance. And because most of us don’t have a daily fight to survive, we can indulge ourselves in tuning into our fluctuations of moods and various angsts. Which, in the absence of real struggle, easily gets out of proportion.
Nonetheless there are some factors that I believe definitely help escalate our day-to-day anxieties. The pressure to be happy and the best you can possibly be – this translate into being active, constantly looking for opportunities to grow whether emotionally, or economically – the whole upwardly mobile – push, push, push. This is the voice of economic rationalism our current political belief system that profit and economic growth is the absolutely the most important thing – beyond question, almost like a religious belief.
And yet we all yearn simplicity – time just to be… Time to indulge in our own ‘self regulation’ pursuits. Time to day dream… How come the ‘must be achieving’ overrides this yearning. Especially as we all know, that indulging this yearning does reduce anxiety? How come this knowing is so easy to forget?
Back to Systems Theory and differentiation. What connects us to our world and what defines us as individuals? When our daily practises or personal rituals fall away – anxiety will escalate. I’m talking about simple routines and rituals that define who we are, they give us our belonging and define the sense of who we are as individuals.
The photo above is of a beach which is part of my belonging. The minute I drive down towards it I feel myself shift emotionally. Walking along this beach regardless of the weather, fulfil both a sense of belonging and a personal ritual.
Back to economic rationalism, since profit has become the number one priority there has been a gradual erosion of the importance of ‘service’. This has made even simple tasks like going to the bank quite stressful. The devaluing of ‘service’, I believe, may directly correlate with our national increase in anxiety. This operates on a number of levels: the most obvious is the amount of time small jobs now take. I’m always underestimating and so always under time pressure and anxiously never feeling quite on top of things. But the most important factor is that ‘service’ is a relational process, that connects people, whereas profit is isolating and hierarchical.
Going to a local coffee shop where you are treated with kindness and warmth is a very different experience to that of going to a large pressured but profitable franchise. This erosion of connectedness through the lack of economic value on ‘service’, has been a gradual process over many years. I believe the increase in anxiety particularly in our children is the outcome. They don’t feel safe and belonged because they aren’t connected to themselves let alone anyone else.
There isn’t time to feel simultaneously connected and separate. The time to feel safe pottering around in their own space discovering their own creative, abstract pursuits. Of course fear underpins this. We all know the experience of good ‘service’ dilutes fear and value on profit – escalates fear. Anyone who has worked for a company where they only thing that matters is ‘the bottom line’ will always feel vulnerable.
We’re all slowly cooking. Anxiety is trying to warn us. But in todays world of ‘happy, happy happy’ sadness and anxiety are pathologized and medicated. Greatly assisting the profits of drug companies.
Listen to the voice of anxiety and what counters it. When I have clients talking about things they love to do, they are usually simple things that may involve that lovely little word no. A no that frees up time, enabling time for that run, or walk, or sitting in the garden with a cup of coffee or tea, reading a hard copy of the weekend papers, the list is endless and inexpensive. There are so many small things that we can do, if we take time to focus, we will find the solution to our anxiety. This is simple in theory but hard to put into and sustain in practice. Because it does take time and strength to stand against the dominant cultural voice of do, do, do – buy, buy buy.