Anxiety is weird. I won’t try to explain why thinking about deadlines makes my hands shake so much that I can barely type the due dates into my calendar, but it happens. I get overwhelmed in crowded social situations and get panicky when I can’t physically check out. Putting myself “out there” for potential embarrassment or, heaven forbid, failure is enough to make me stay in bed. That’s just how it has been recently. I am working on it, and my support systems are strong as ever.
This is, as usual, not a Hanna problem, specific to my own idiosyncrasies and genetics. This is an American problem – the entire nation is nervous. One in five American adults suffer from anxiety disorders, and one in ten from mood disorders such as depression. The Atlantic published an article last July called Trickle Down Distress: How America’s Broken Meritocracy Drives Our National Anxiety Epidemic:
“Surveys show that stress levels here have progressively increased over the past four decades,” says Paul J. Rosch, MD, Chairman of the Board of The American Institute of Stress. New research indicates that anxiety will continue to grow with modernity: Millennials and Generation Xers are more nervous than their elders and less capable of handling the pressure in their lives, much of which comes from worries related to money and work.
The New York Times’ Opinionator published an entire gallery of essays titled “Anxiety.” In Ruth Whippman’s piece America the Anxious, she claims that the States’ relentless pursuit of happiness leads them further and further away from it:
The American approach to happiness can spur a debilitating anxiety. The initial sense of promise and hope is seductive, but it soon gives way to a nagging slow-burn feeling of inadequacy. Am I happy? Happy enough? As happy as everyone else? Could I be doing more about it? Even basic contentment feels like failure when pitched against capital-H Happiness. The goal is so elusive and hard to define, it’s impossible to pinpoint when it’s even been achieved — a recipe for neurosis.
We claw and crawl toward success with everything we have. Our parents push us, our friends challenge us, our own souls yearn to climb ladders. But with a goal so elusive, it is impossible to not fail. A brave face only works for so long. Eventually, you will overstay your welcome on people’s nice lists. You can’t talk (or cry) your way out of everything. Things get bad.
Things also get better.
There is a quote I originally saw on a Julian Bialowas’ 2011 365Q project post that has always stuck with me:
“Incredibly, nothing is the end of the world.”
Think about that. No matter how bad things get, how hopeless the situation may seem, the world will spin on. The worst break-up. Failing a test. Having a difficult conversation with a person you respect and admire. Saying something silly in front of a cute boy. It’ll all be okay.
Fine. Maybe “okay” might not be the right word. But the world isn’t going to implode and swallow you where you stand. You won’t melt into a puddle on the floor. You (probably) won’t burst into flames. You will just alter your life path a little. Things will be different than what they were like before, and that’s okay.
I’ve found that imagining “what might have been” is more toxic than it is calming. It’s all fine and dandy that if thus-and-such had happened then this and this and this, except that it’s not fine and dandy. Thus-and-such didn’t happen. Dwelling on this alternate universe in which you were accepted into an exclusive club that would have opened up door after door after networking door for you isn’t healthy. That opportunity has passed you by, and you aren’t going to get it back.
The good thing: That isn’t the only wonderful opportunity you’ll ever come across in your life. When your path changes, you aren’t faced with a dead end. You are simply faced with a different path. And sometimes the path is rocky. Sometimes it is surprisingly and pleasantly well-maintained. Sometimes you have to go down it with a machete to cut all the vines away. But you’re on the path. There is always a path.
This doesn’t mean you rely on the Universe to take you down your path. You have to move your legs, fill out applications, talk yourself up. You have to push and break down and put yourself back together and push again. You are just as responsible for your own happiness and success as the Universe is.
No one ever promised life was easy. It should be, but it’s not. You are going to cry and smile and sing and dance and not be able to get out of bed and not be able to sit still and have a plan and have no idea what you are going to be doing. Life paths spiral out into a hundred different directions like capillaries or neurons. It is okay to feel everything at once. It’s okay to not feel okay.
After all, nothing is the end of the world. Even when it is the end of the world, it turns out that the Mayans just never finished their calendar. And if that doesn’t make you at least a little optimistic, I don’t know how to help you.