Do you feel like the world is in chaos right now? I know that many of us feel like that. Spend a day on social media and easy to find all kinds of things wrong with the world. Is it that the world is truly more chaotic? Are things really falling apart more so than in the past? Today I want to talk about some of the reasons why so many of us feel like the world is in chaos.
The mind that is anxious about future events is miserable.
It's easy in this modern world to feel anxious. There is always something that we can worry about. But where does this anxiety come from? At a base level, much of our anxiety comes from worrying about the future. We worry about personal issues such as relationships, finances, and work. We worry about global issues such as the cost of food, the price of energy, climate change, political upheaval, and the list goes on. These are all things that can cause us stress and worry, mostly because there is very little, and in some cases, nothing that we can do about them. I think that that the world, the universe, is doing what it has always done and we have a hard time because we expect things to be otherwise.
The news allows you to dedicate massive amounts of energy and attention to things you probably cannot impact while the things you can impact go unaddressed.
—The Stoic Emperor
Another reason why it feels like the world is more chaotic now than in the past is that we’re simply exposed to more of the world. Because of the giant increase in the amount of available news, we don’t just hear about bad news in our local area or even just our country, we find out about bad news all over the world in ways that were not even possible 25 years ago.
Now, this is not to say that we don’t have real problems happening in the world. While there has always been war, famine, natural disasters, now we face so many issues with climate change, and dwindling resources. It can feel hopeless because there is so little that we can impact. This is also not to say that we shouldn't look to and prepare for the future. To put our heads in the sand and ignore the perils of the world is not prudent or wise.
I think that this hopelessness that people feel makes it easy to fall into outrage and self-righteousness when we watch or listen to the news. There's so much wrong in the world the moral superiority we feel feels so good! But when we stop and think about it, what does our moral outrage do? Does is prompt to make any changes? Do we take up a cause and do something about it? In most cases, we don't. We feel good because we're on the "right side" of an issue and forget about it as we move onto the next outrage or distraction.
It is important we recognize that much of the news is simply there to manipulate our emotions and to be sensational, shocking, or salacious. And why is this? Why would people want this? Mostly it comes down to money and power. Anger and outrage are easy to sell. People who are angry are far easier to manipulate than people who are calm, thoughtful, and relaxed. When we understand this, we can be aware of our reactions and choose to spend our emotional energy effectively.
What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.
What things have you anxious about the future? What can we do to lessen our distress and anxiety? How do we manage our minds so as not to get bogged down and feeling overwhelmed? I find that mostly ignoring the news is very helpful. And it’s not that I don’t want to be informed, it’s just that there is so much clammer and sensationalist garbage that has absolutely no impact on my life. I do my best to find news sources that work hard to bring factual reporting to the front, with open mindedness and supported the latest scientific developments. I try to find the signal of the truth amongst all the noise.
It's not to say that watching the news is bad per se, because it's good to know what is happening in the world. Keeping perspective on what is happening – that the world is always changing – and not fearing it, because much of it is out of our control, allows us to be more accepting of what happens. But just because we accept what is happening doesn’t mean that we should resign ourselves to passivity. It means that we should be cognizant of what we can have an effect on, and do our best to make a positive impact on the world.
We can also practice to do our best to prepare for whatever we can by paying attention to events and imagining the worst that can happen – not as an exercise to stress ourselves out, but so that we are not surprised if these things happen. And I’ve used this myself to help relieve anxiety, because once you’ve already experienced the worst case in your mind, in a sense, you’ve already experienced it. If the worst case does happen, you are much better prepared for it. Usually the worst case doesn’t happen, and in those cases you’re happily surprised with a better outcome.
Another thing we can do is to look around us and see where we really can have an impact on the world. Are there things you can do locally for your community? Can you find ways to volunteer? What action can you take to help make the world a little better rather than just flaming your “opponents” on social media?
When we take the time to focus on what we can control, and focus being in the moment, we can loosen the grip of those anxieties about the future. Keeping ourselves in the present helps us stop worrying about the uncertainty of the future, and focus on the things that we can control – those things in the present.
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