Remaining Mindful in an Age of Anxiety


By Susan Kavanaugh

Anxiety is real. According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it affects 18.1% of the US population every year.

Regardless of your political leanings, the first year and a half of the current federal administration has been both exasperating and sometimes entertaining due to a revolving door of staff members. The recent inundation of political developments may be hard for many of us to take on. Illegal immigrants and their families are being torn apart; people are worried about the likelihood of a nuclear war; and, there’s increasing anger about sexual harassment. People are not at rest; and, when they wake up in the middle of the night to check their Facebook feeds, there’s typically something distressing popping up on an AP Alert. We can’t predict what’s going to happen in the next moment. Indeed, it takes true courage to be mindful in this age of anxiety.

The initial shock experienced we experienced when the current president expanded the criteriaunder which illegal immigrants who entered the US can be deported has quickly given way to chronic anxiety.  Immigrant parents are too scared to leave houses; children are experiencing difficulty concentrating in school; and, people at risk of deportation are being asked to create family preparedness plans.

The MeToo Movement has shed light, again, on the issue of sexual harassment in the society. Sexual harassment isn’t only uncomfortable and embarrassing for the victims, it can be devastating too. It can steeply lead to shame, depression and anxiety.

These nerve-rattling issues are the bane of the present age.

Finding ways to handle the anxiety of this age may seem to require the energy of a full time job, but the rewards are fulfilling in the long run. Without doubt, you do not have to struggle with anxiety. No one should.

Here are seven simple ways to be mindful in an age of anxiety.

  1. Manage your data:

It is important that you manage how you receive and access news. Turn off all notifications from your social media apps as well as news apps. This will help you to ensure that your phone or computer isn’t affecting your train of consciousness or conversation. Once in a while, put your phone on Airplane mode and be unreachable for a few hours. Anxiety kicks in when we feel we have lost control. Therefore, by having control over a few hours of our time (away from the boss, societal influence and the disturbing news), you can address anxiety head on.

  1. Don’t forget to breathe:

I know this has become a cliché, but the benefits of mindful breathing are effective in overcoming anxiety. Although, there are a lot of resources on how to engage in mindful breathing, the simplest way is to focus on your breath as you inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. You can do this while standing; but ideally, you will be doing this in a comfortable position while lying or resting on a comfortable couch.  You may close your eyes or leave them opened; but ideally, you will be more focused having your eyes closed.  There are apps for phones and watches that can be set to nudge you with a haptic to slow down and breathe.

  1. Mindful exposure to that which we fear:

According to Dr. Jerry Duvinsky PhD, “… suffering and many symptoms arise from our attempts to avoid or otherwise control unpleasant emotional experiences such as fear, anger and shame.” When we approach the objects of our anxiety without a sense of judgment, the anxiety reduces and disappears. This helps in developing increasing tolerance towards repugnant situations and feelings. Therefore, through mindfulness, we can deliberately practice being present in an age where the political air is tense.

  1. Accept the reality:

If you are an illegal immigrant parent, instead of being worried about the next governmental policy, you can start taking action steps to deal with the reality you’re dealt with. For instance, you should create family preparedness plans.  If you are simply anxious about the sometimes mean-spirited language our politicians use at times, accept that most of these people have been this way most of their lives. You can’t change them, but you can raise your awareness about inclusion of all people.

  1. Identify your specific thought distortions:

In the field of cognitive therapy, anxiety is seen as the result of irrational and generalized thinking:

  • Mind-reading ── “People believe I am from a shithole country”
  • Fortune-telling ── ”The economy will turn bad…”
  • Personalizing ── “They are making these policies because I am a female…”
  • Catastrophic thinking ── “That would be the end if… “

These biases in thought are often born out of the need to control things.

  1. Challenge your thought process

The thoughts you have, where do they come? You need to challenge negative programming that might have come from the situation in which you have found yourself, but your situation should not determine your disposition towards life. Challenge your negative thoughts by:

  1. Reading positive books
  2. Listening to good music
  3. Studying well-researched materials
  1. Be active in your community

When things go awry, it is easy to go into isolation. However, solitude is not a constructive choice when embarking on the journey to fulfill your dreams. Be an active voice in your camp── there have been men and women who have helped shaped the course of history because they stood their ground, and demanded justice or new approaches. Finding your voice, and using it will be a good start for positive change.

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