Are things really worse than ever? How can I cope?
August 8, 2011 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Are things really worse than ever? How can I cope?

I am American. I am a white, college-educated, 25-year-old female. I have a job making an okay salary. I have health insurance. I live in an urban area.

I am immobilized by anxiety about the potential loss of my job (not helped by spending so much time worrying), about the fate of my fellow countrymen in this economy, about how bad things can get.

Are things really worse than ever? I work in a helping profession against poverty but my helping depends on external funding that could evaporate as things get worse. I can't stand the thought of not being able to help people, but I am also so concerned about my contemporaries and the US. The comments on the blue have led me to believe that we are starting the slow slide of a decade into incredible poverty and depression. Is this an "all this has happened before" scenario? Or are we all really and truly fucked? How can I be less fucked? I save what I can, but only have about $1,000 in savings. I do not have any debt. Should I start trying to pursue a skilled immigration to Canada or the UK or just move to Ghana and live in a rural community as a sort of peace corps person?

If this is really the best things are going to be, shouldn't I just enjoy the good things in my life? But I can't because I am too freaking terrified all the time and I just stay in and read the news.

Also, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder many years ago. I am not on medicine to treat it but am wondering if that is clouding my judgement.

Okay so my question is: are we all going to slide into a horrible third world poverty situation? if so, what can I do about making sure people I love are okay? if kind of so, or if not really, what can I do to manage my anxiety about this?

Bad things have happened in my life (deaths, stress, etc) but I am really scared about this.

Please do not respond with "canned goods and ammo" type things. I am not interested in a survival strategy that involves hiding and shooting my neighbors.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (63 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Stop reading the news.
posted by goethean at 1:15 PM on August 8, 2011 [50 favorites]

I am immobilized by anxiety about the potential loss of my job (not helped by spending so much time worrying), about the fate of my fellow countrymen in this economy, about how bad things can get.

A few years ago, I severely cut back on my consumption of mass media. Elements of the media profit from maintaining the public at an artificially high level of anxiety, in order to drive repeat business. I am a much happier and content person for having done so.

Focus on your own happiness. Spend more quality time with loved ones. There's no way to know what the future holds, exactly, and it is out of most people's power to influence to any significant degree, anyway. Focus on the things you can control, like your own environment.

Just my advice.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:17 PM on August 8, 2011 [47 favorites]

Live life. Do what makes you happy and fulfilled. Spend as much time as possible with people you care about. Turn off the TV news. Be good at your job. Volunteer. Smile.
posted by lewedswiver at 1:20 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Also, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder many years ago. I am not on medicine to treat it but am wondering if that is clouding my judgement.

Yes, it is, and you may find some form of treatment (not necessarily medication) to be useful.

Your reactions, as you describe them above, are out of scale and not rational: consider, for example, that you appear to be terrified of sliding into a "third-world poverty situation" and are simultaneously talking about escaping to Ghana. In other words, you are terrified of a potential situation, and in order to avoid it are considering fleeing directly into that exact situation?

That is not the product of an ordered mind; that's what someone in the grips of directionless panic does.
posted by aramaic at 1:20 PM on August 8, 2011 [7 favorites]

nthing Blazecock Pileon times 100.

I quit watching the news a few years ago, and except for my friends who occsionally feed me the-sky-is-falling-comments, i've gotten much better at handling stress and anxiety over worrying about things I can't change.

Although knowing I can't change it has lead to some saddness and feelings of helplessness.
posted by royalsong at 1:22 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Save money as you're able to, do what you can to help others, watch less news. What's helpful to me is also to read lots of non-fiction historical accounts of different time periods -- it really helps you put things into perspective.
posted by bizzyb at 1:23 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

In addition to the above-mentioned "stop watching so much news," I'll add, start reading more history. I can't say if we in the US are well and truly fucked, but I can say that many, many people have been fretting about this and pronouncing the US as well and truly fucked since about the second the ink dried on the treaty confirming there was a US. That helps me, anyway. I still worry about things, but perspective is good.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:27 PM on August 8, 2011 [14 favorites]

Are things bad? Maybe. I think you can go back in 10-15 year increments, though, you'll find every generation thinks they're at the end.

There's just more media from which to consume it all, and nonstop if you like. I found myself on the same sort of road a few years ago and basically quit mass media (internet usage notwithstanding). I read some magazines, the local town newspaper, and try to balance out news/opinion websites across the political spectrum. I haven't watched TV news in years, but consider myself no less informed than anyone else. Unplug.
posted by jquinby at 1:28 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder many years ago. I am not on medicine to treat it but am wondering if that is clouding my judgement.

Probably. And if it is, then it'll find something to latch onto even if you quit watching the news and reading the blue, although that's a good step for now.

Other things to consider: therapy, anxiety meds, calming practices like mindfulness meditation (e.g. Thich Nhat Hanh books) or yoga, lots of hot baths or showers, and forms of exercise that allow you to "zone out" like running.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:29 PM on August 8, 2011

Are things really worse than ever?

Not really. For example, the unemployment rate during the Depression was greater than 20%.
posted by mattbucher at 1:31 PM on August 8, 2011

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."
posted by holgate at 1:32 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Things are not worse than ever. As tumultuous as things are, America's breadbasket is not currently a dust bowl. Welfare, unemployment, social security, TANF, food stamps and WIC mean the average household, unlike 80years ago, is not facing starvation. Unemployment is under 10% in the US; during the Great Depression it hit 25%.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:32 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Are things really worse than ever? I work in a helping profession against poverty but my helping depends on external funding that could evaporate as things get worse.

Your anxiety is probably clouding your judgment. Kudos for getting it diagnosed. It will help if you treat it.

Nthing the suggestion you read history. Things have been a lot worse (talk to your grandparents). People in other European countries have had it a lot worse not too long ago (Communism, the Balkan wars, Albania).

That said, your profession and its dependence on meager external funding which could evaporate at any time and is dependent on some diligent grant writer and the generosity of a funding agency is in trouble in times like these. That's probably also clouding your judgment.
posted by deanc at 1:33 PM on August 8, 2011

Things are not worse than ever. In many ways, they're getting better. Living standards have risen so dramatically that people who are considered "poor" today would have been considered rich 100 years ago, let alone 1,000 years ago. We just keep redefining "poor" in order to be able to keep including people in that arbitrary category. As Steven Pinker has explained, violence has been going down for centuries. With all due respect to people who've been suffering because of the undeniably grave problems in the world (the economic downturn, war, terrorism, the list goes on and on), still, on the whole, we should be ecstatic that we're so amazingly lucky to have been born human beings in the year 2011. (We're not in the Middle Ages; we're not pigs in factory farms, etc.)

Of course, the fact that you are not only a human being in the year 2011, but you have an "okay" salary and health insurance in the United States (which means you're wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most people who have ever lived) is all the more reason for you not to feel despair over your personal situation.

There will always be enough catastrophes going on in the world to allow the news media (which itself is an industry with desperately bleak prospects!) to give you the impression that everything is going to hell. I'm not trying to trivialize the importance of those stories, but you're asking a relative question about whether things are worse than ever. Sad to say, catastrophes have always been the way of the world. The news is put out there by corporations trying to make a profit. They know they're not going to sell papers (or get internet traffic or whatever) by telling people that things are actually not so bad on the whole. They make money by finding whatever is happening in the world that is going to be most alarming to readers, and shoving that in your face. If this is depressing you, I seriously recommend not reading/watching the news so much.

I realize that none of this helps you with your specific financial situation, but if you're looking for that kind of help then I recommend posting something more focused and detailed next week.

Here's a book for you: The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse.
posted by John Cohen at 1:34 PM on August 8, 2011 [14 favorites]

Get help with your anxiety. Stop reading the news at least for awhile. Work and save money. Concentrate on yourself and your own happiness.
posted by dgeiser13 at 1:35 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'll add, start reading more history.


Thanks to this post on the blue, I've started re-reading The Road to Wigan Pier, which I haven't read in at least 20 years, and it's calming in its perspective. Go read some Steinbeck for a specifically American take on things as they were/are.

And get (back into) treatment for your anxiety. You can help yourself, and you deserve it, so do it!
posted by rtha at 1:35 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm Canadian and watching American news for more than ten minutes starts giving me an anxiety attack. I don't have anxiety problems in the normal course of my life. Stop watching the news.
posted by lizbunny at 1:35 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

^^^ all of those. It history passed, in Germany I think it was, there was a time when paper money was ABSOLUTELY worthless. People even refused to *accept* paper money even, and you know what? They survived. The entire populas began bartering. Societies adapt-and not always for the worst (slavery used to be acceptable for example)

I'm not going to blow sunshine-things may change as we know it and change can be painful while it is happening but it is usually for the better. We will not become a 3rd world because we do not have 3rd world mentality. There is a terrible cycle going on in those places which is way too involved and complicated to write out here, but its true.

Watch less news!!! OMG the news is scewed. Volunteer- it will really help you to see people helping people with a smile, and others getting back on their feet. Watch success stories, watch the human spirit overcome. Its what we are made to do, and we will continue to do so long after this (and the next and the next) crisis is solved

Good luck
posted by Frosted Cactus at 1:37 PM on August 8, 2011

Things were pretty bad in Russia when I was growing up. For one thing, we were Jews and open anti-Semitism was the status quo. My dad died, so my mom had two jobs. In order to not wait on bread lines, we'd drive by the bakery late and night and her friend would give her fresh loaves of bread out the back door. My friend's parents had an even harder time: they were smugglers.

Now, that's not a "it could be worse" example. That's the objective result of shit going from bad to worse for seventy years, starting with a violent civil war and revolution. If we are headed that far downhill, you'll either see it coming from a mile away and bail or you'll be long gone by the time that happens and if you have (grand)children, they'll probably be smart enough to see it from a mile away and bail. I suggest you stop thinking about this until riots start. In the plural.

(Also, being young, white and college-educated pretty much puts you in the best possible position you can be to take it on the chin from the economy.)
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

nthing stopping watching the news. Sweet jesus that helps SO much.

Something that helped me, find things to take care of. Walking my dog to the park and watching him roll around like a goon with other dogs is a huge de-stressor. My dog is the exact opposite from me: he doesn't give a shit about anything and is incredibly happy ALL the time. EVERYTHING is the MOST awesome EVER for this guy. It's pretty great.

If any of my friends wanted to take my dog for a walk every other day, You'd also be certain i'd let them...especially for this cited reason.
posted by furnace.heart at 1:55 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

* Avoid or get out of debt
* Find a job you love
* Save enough money to cover 6 months of living expenses
* Simplify your life, reduce your expenses, spend your time on things (and people) that make you truly happy
* Exercise more. Eat properly
* Cultivate friendships

Things are better AND worse than they've ever been. As an educated westerner you have more choice and more options than most people that have ever lived on the earth. Use it for good.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:02 PM on August 8, 2011 [8 favorites]

My dog is the exact opposite from me: he doesn't give a shit about anything and is incredibly happy ALL the time. EVERYTHING is the MOST awesome EVER for this guy. It's pretty great.

The opposite end of this (if you're not a dog person) is that a cat just couldn't care any less. Unless it's that red dot again, or we hit The Crazy Period of early evening. Outside of that, though...
posted by jquinby at 2:02 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

The 1890s sucked pretty badly in the US, and people mostly survived that.

Nthing stop watching the news and consider whether you need to get your anxiety treated. And then have some faith in your resiliency. You are stronger than you think. Whatever happens (and I don't expect anything especially dire to happen), you will figure out how to deal with it, because most people really do rise to the occasion when crappy things happen.
posted by craichead at 2:03 PM on August 8, 2011

Things are not getting worse. "Things are more like they are now than they ever were before." Words to live by.

(And quit watching the news!)
posted by CCBC at 2:04 PM on August 8, 2011

It feels really bad now, but gay couples can now marry in New York and a few other states. We have a black president. People in the Middle East and North Africa are fighting their governments for democracy after decades of repression.

We're still moving ahead in some really big, really important ways.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:06 PM on August 8, 2011 [10 favorites]

I found the book The Fourth Turning comforting (as well as fascinating) in this regard. The authors would suggest (I think) that your anxiety and sense of doom come from having a linear view of time, while they contend (with lots of historical citations to support their argument) that a cyclical view is more accurate. It's also less depressing — if your orientation is linear, things are either getting better or they're getting worse, plus we expect that they'll continue in the direction they're going. If your orientation is more cyclical, it's more possible to look at things in terms of cycles and repetition; the fact that winter tends to be cold and wet doesn't mean there's anything "wrong" with winter, and it doesn't mean it's going to keep getting colder and wetter — it just means it's winter and spring hasn't arrived yet, but it will in its time.
posted by Lexica at 2:06 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

Watch different news.

Here, for example, is Jimmy Carter's "Crisis of Confidence" speech where he describes the US economy as in a malaise. Economists described the late 1970s - with double digit inflation and double digit interest rates - as a period "stagflation."

Caution: Whilst it may comfort you to know that it is not the worst ever, it will also show you how bad it can get.
posted by three blind mice at 2:09 PM on August 8, 2011

Remember: NOTHING sells like bad news. Tell me Congress is doing their job in XYZ areas (YYYYYAAWN). Britney put out another album, without shaving her head & going to rehab? (sound of me channel surfing on by). Most media outlets make their money by generating enough concern to keep you coming back. So stop feeding the beast: Disconnect your cable & cut back on print news. Lots of people have said the same thing, but there's the reason in a nutshell: They are making their money by making you worry about your face, your clothes, your job, your future, your life, your mind, your EVERYTHING. And since you are anxiety-prone, you buy it.
posted by Ys at 2:09 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not only should you stop watching the news, you should ABSOLUTELY STOP READING news/economics posts on Metafilter.

People love to act like the sky is falling. Look at the debt ceiling thread. How many people were talking about how life as we know it was going to collapse on August 2nd or whatever. Well, they were all completely and massively wrong. When people came in to say "hey, maybe it's not a big deal" they were treated to more senseless panic.

Don't read it.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:11 PM on August 8, 2011

I am not interested in a survival strategy that involves hiding and shooting my neighbors.

You may then be interested in seeking out a local chapter of this organization.
posted by ambrosia at 2:17 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

* Avoid or get out of debt
* Find a job you love
* Save enough money to cover 6 months of living expenses
* Simplify your life, reduce your expenses, spend your time on things (and people) that make you truly happy
* Exercise more. Eat properly
* Cultivate friendships

I totally agree with this. But like you, I worry about losing my job. However, I was on vacation over the past 10 days, came back, and 5 people from my division are leaving for better jobs. We pay a pretty darn good salary + awesome benefits. It's hard to give up so I'm guessing they got lateral or better.

This gives me hope that it's NOT that bad. Probably pretty typical unless you're a finance person, then you're stress level is up the wazoo.
posted by stormpooper at 2:25 PM on August 8, 2011

What everyone else has said.

If that doesn't help, look at this comparative chart between now and the Great Depression. Just because it's the worst it has been in your lifetime does not mean it is anywhere near it as bad as it has been even recently.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:26 PM on August 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

The constant, real threat of nuclear annihilation.
The Great Depression.
The Black Plague.

I could go on. I don't want to sound glib; I actually have had these same kind of feelings lately. On the one hand, yes, things are not as good now as they were in the Clinton era. On the other hand, things in the 90s, for people in the first world, were about as good as it's ever gotten in human history. Our life on this planet has always been fraught with violence and horror and war and inequality and all that stuff.

The way I try to think of it when I look at the news is this: "Is this going to affect my life in a real sense, today or this week?" If not, I give myself permission to not feel down about it, or ignore it if I want. I do like to be aware of the world around me, but I'm not going to do myself or anyone else any good by getting so depressed I just want to give up.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:32 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes, it's bad. But my parents grew up during the Cold War, the Cuban missile crisis and stagflation. My grandparents watch Hitler try to take over Europe. However bad things are now, I don't believe that we are facing any existential threats. Earlier generations genuinely wondered if this was "it". How my parents managed to raise two children without going insane with worry is beyond me.

I'm not saying that a Bachmann presidency won't be bad. It will be bad. It will be a disaster. But it won't be the end of the world.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 2:37 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was watching "From Hell" which is admittedly a pretty bad film. During the course of the investigation they found some grape stems, this led them to think a rich person had been involved in the crime. Nobody in Whitechappel could afford grapes. Think of that, thousands or hundreds of thousands of people in London, an entire area of the greatest city in the world at that time, could not afford grapes.

We have it pretty good.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:48 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is more about day-to-day stuff, but you might find some good ideas in this thread I started.

When you're already in perpetual coping mode and something else threatens to topple that careful arrangement, it can really make you want to scratch the walls. I hear ya; things really are crazy. But it helps to realize that some things really ARE out of our control (and thus TOTALLY NOT OUR FAULT), just as it helps to realize that the people and things closest to us could make the best use of our limited time and attention.
posted by Madamina at 2:48 PM on August 8, 2011

I think it's condescending to tell you not to watch the news. In any case, if you're on the internet and reading Metafilter you will be exposed to news. You can't not know the main currents of the news.

But don't watch shows that make you feel envious, bitter or downtrodden, shows about the upper middle class and above, and their unachievable lifestyles. Those you can and should avoid, because at a time when things look tough it doesn't help to focus on the things you realistically may not be able to get in your lifetime.

And read history. Every generation has its struggles. If it's not economic depression, it's famine, it's war, it's plague, it's physical catastrophe. This hasn't stopped the human race from growing to 7 billion and counting. Yes, some of us fall by the wayside. Somehow, most of us manage. The current situation is not unique. It will pass, and history will show you that.
posted by zadcat at 2:56 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you should not read or watch the news, because I think it's intended to make you feel exactly as you do and keep you in line.

When I was a teenager I used to read Pravda, and believe me the commercial press is not a whole lot different.
posted by tel3path at 3:04 PM on August 8, 2011

If you are deeply involved in the stock market, either as your job or for some weird reason a substantial amount of your personal money, things are currently - but pretty temporarily - sucky. That's a technical term.

For everyone else, though, this is not the catastrophe you would think from the news coverage (and if you're in the US, that news coverage is almost completely ignoring the social upheaval in the UK, where they are probably getting very little coverage about our crappy credit. Perspective.), but news coverage exists largely to sell advertising. So sip gently from that well.

I don't think anybody's saying to stick your head in the sand, but honestly you can find out everything you really need to know in two 90-second web-news-perusals a day.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:06 PM on August 8, 2011

Two things that help me are to help others and filter my news. The news provided by groups that do help others is amazing and is my primary filter. Amy Goodman's wonderful daily news show Democracy Now is really a radio show with pictures, so download it as a podcast and get your news while you wash the dishes.

Amy reports on and interviews people that do try to help, in a great variety of ways, and one of them may inspire a path for you.

Fighting back aligns so, so many different types of people. In the movement in Glasgow to help asylum seekers, there are Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, cross political party alliance, and collaboration and friendship among an astonishingly diverse group of people. It is heartbreaking and uplifting all at once.

You can find a community like that wherever you are, I promise. Even volunteering to help for a few hours is a great medicine.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:12 PM on August 8, 2011

The news in general - and metafilter in particular - teems with chicken little hysteria on every subject under the sun but the lack of historical perspective and common sense they display shouldn't blind you to the fact that you have an infinitely better life than 99% of humans who've ever existed on this planet. You're a twenty five year old American, you're in good health, you have a college education and have a decent job. You've won the lottery of life. Count your blessings and make the most of them.
posted by joannemullen at 3:13 PM on August 8, 2011

You and I live in an absolutely unparalleled Golden Age, believe it. A lot of the trappings of this Golden Age -- for instance the near instantaneous transport of fishes from oceans across the planet to land on your plate as perfectly prepared delicious sushi -- are pretty great, though they may not actually lead to the kind of happiness and calm contentment that you seem to find lacking. Indeed, there has been considerable research in economics and related fields to suggest that happiness and wealth are correlated only up to a point -- the point where you are never worrying about adequate nutrition, comfortable shelter and a relatively open work week. Real happiness and contentment stem from other things: engagement in the community, connections with friends or family, a feeling of contributing. You hint at that yourself, and in your question lies a possible idea:

Should I start trying to pursue a skilled immigration to Canada or the UK or just move to Ghana and live in a rural community as a sort of peace corps person?

Why don't you take a leave of absence or quit your job and work a long-ish stint in Ghana or somewhere similar working for a well managed NGO or micro-credit like org? There are lots of opportunities for this, especially if you just want your costs covered, and aren't looking to make money. You're young, and you can afford to take this time out of your life. Your c.v. wouldn't suffer for it. You'd feel like you were making a contribution and you would never, ever take your comfort and affluence for granted again. Its an idea, anyways.

Finally, I'm a little put out by all the 'don't pay attention to the news' comments. By all means, avoid sensationalist, 'if it bleeds, it leads' kind of tv coverage, but ignorance isn't a strategy. Read thoughtful print media, read history.
posted by bumpkin at 3:20 PM on August 8, 2011 [8 favorites]

Try to change your perspective. For example, if unemployment is 10%, that means 90% of the people have jobs and are successfully paying their bills and going out to dinner and movie occasionally.

Try to think of the worst that could happen TO YOU: if you lose your job, how long would your savings last? How hard would it be for you to get another job? There are things you can do now to improve those answers:
*cut back on some little things to save more;
*keep up your friendships because those are people who would give you a meal or a place to stay if you lost your domicile (you would do it for them, right?)
*make a list of alternate jobs you could do and get some training so it will be easier to transition if you have to.

Keep focused on the things you CAN change, and just let go of the rest.
posted by CathyG at 3:26 PM on August 8, 2011

Some things I really feared in my life -- a job loss, a huge loss of income and a divorce, just to name a few -- actually did come to pass, and the reality was much more easy to handle than my imagination. In fact, I count these things as among the best things that ever happened to me! I don't know if we're going to slide into a third-world poverty situation, but this is what I know: I can't predict how I will react or how my life will be, even if it happens. I don't even know for certain that I will be less happy than I am now. Who knows? Maybe your gifts and talents will be the ones that your community truly needs, should the political situation get worse. Maybe this will be your chance to truly shine. In some ways I think the political and economic uncertainty we are going through is a gift, because the truth that external things are impermanent is impossible to ignore. Life has always been unpredictable. Anything can happen. You can either let that crush you or you can embrace it.
posted by Wordwoman at 3:30 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think anyone is saying to ignore current events. But watching TV news in the US will make anyone a bit nuts. It's all "is the sky going to fall???? Tune in at 10:00 to find out!" And then at 10:00, it's all "special report: is the sky falling?!? Tune in after the commercial break to find out!" And then after the commercial break, it's all "is the sky falling?!? Some experts think that it could be!" And then the expert is like "well, we don't have any conclusive evidence that the sky is not falling, but due to the laws of physics, it's really unlikely," which prompts the newsperson to say "there you have it! The sky could be falling!!! Tune in tomorrow to hear about what you should do in the event of a sky-falling emergency!!!"

Yeah. Read a reputable, non-sensationalistic newspaper once a day. (Part of me wants to go back to subscribing to a daily newspaper, so I'm not tempted to check back constantly.) If the reputable newspaper is not your local paper, read the local news section of that once a day, too. But the 24-7 news cycle is not good for anyone's mental health.
posted by craichead at 3:32 PM on August 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't even read newspapers. People get offended or upset at the idea of someone not being "informed" as though that were irresponsible, but it's not.

Your mental health is much more important than whether or not you are informed about things that are completely out of your control. And the world is full of things that you can't control, and so are newspapers.

If you're worried that you're abdicating some greater responsibility, sit down and really think about it--what are you contributing to the world by keeping informed of the news? Seriously write a list of what proactive steps you have actually taken in the last, oh, say, 3 months as a result of consuming news. I'm going to guess that it's really short, because you're completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information coming in and realistically cannot have an impact on much of what is reported.

Now make a list of three things you can do that will directly benefit your community, your friend who is sick, your neighbor who looks lonely...anything where you can actually make a difference. Do those things, and you will be much closer to making a difference in the world than you would be if you read every newspaper ever published.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:44 PM on August 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

If you're so terrified all the time that you don't feel like you can go anywhere, then the problem isn't that you read too much news. It's that you've got an anxiety disorder that you're not treating properly. You've got health insurance. Make an appointment with your GP. Tell them that you were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder years ago, and that right now you're so anxious all the time that you barely leave your house. They'll help send you to the right people to get help and medication.

Until you cowboy up and start actively taking care of your mental health, everything else is just a band-aid on a gaping wound. For instance, although a lot of people here are telling you to stop reading the news because news inevitably makes you horribly anxious, I don't believe that is necessarily true. Anecdotes are not data, etc, but I read an awful lot of news because it interests me, and it doesn't usually make me horribly anxious. I don't think this is because I'm an unfeeling sociopath; I think it's because I read a lot of history, which keeps things in perspective, and I try to read everything I come across critically. I'm not saying that the people who don't like the news don't or can't do that: everyone has their own reasons and ways of operating. I'm just saying that news doesn't have to make you anxious.

I guess all I'm saying that it isn't as simple as the news being Public Enemy No. 1. So I think you'll have better luck if you start by getting your own mental house in order rather than going on the intellectual equivalent of an elimination diet without treating the underlying problem.
posted by colfax at 4:15 PM on August 8, 2011

QFT from the thinkprogress page linked above: What we have right now is the worst recession since the Great Depression. And it’s the worst by a large margin. It’s a very bad situation. But this is genuinely a walk in the park compared to that situation.

Things are difficult. Many people lost homes, many more people lost equity in their homes. People lost money in the stock market, people have lost jobs and are unable to find new jobs. The politicians are being genuinely uncooperative with one another.

But most people are mostly unscathed; their pension plan will rebound, the equity they lost in their home had reached a false high, and it will rebound to a more normal level. Stock portfolios and others were artificially high due to some banking nuttiness, and will rebound to a more normal level, and then climb again, in the way the market does. Jobs will come back, though they may not pay quite as much. Young people seem to be political in a personal way that I find hopeful. With any luck, health care reform will stick. We are on our way out of Iraq, and have a plan, at least, for getting out of Afghanistan.

Some areas where I am discouraged: Higher education looks like it will stay expensive, without insufficient government help. Some areas of the housing market will be oversupplied, therefore under-priced, for quite a while. We're in 2 wars, and that means that people get killed, and that the government spends a lot of money, without seeing the kind of economic benefit we'd see if we spent that money here at home. I think our political system is at the mercy of big corporations who can manipulate the media, and the politicians, to promote corporate profit. It will take some time for the economy to make back what it pissed away in the years of excess. Everybody pays that cost, but we are a wealthy nation, and it's something we can do. I think there will be cuts in pensions and People will not get to retire as early with Social Security.

I like NPR; they take a more rounded view, and with more depth, s it's not just a sound bite with a scary question. I like the Economist because it covers the whole world and tries to tell the whole story. I would absolutely avoid the left(some MSNBC)- and right(all of Fox)- based news, because it's all scare-mongering and yelling and makes people nuttier.

Pick an issue that you care about, and try to change the world a little. You might not be able to change everything, but you can probably change some things.

Things are not great, but they're not dire. Your job is probably reasonably secure, but building transfer-able skills is a great way to make it more secure, while also becoming prepared for your next job. Have a good network of friends, so that if you lost your job, you could swap favors - you do Fran's taxes, Fran changes your oil. Be a bit more frugal than you have to be so that you could be okay if your agency tanked. Be financially responsible; have a financial backup plan, give to charity. And then find some things to be happy about, like the amazing fact that we live in a world of amazing abundance and beauty, even in what are comparatively tough times.
posted by theora55 at 4:27 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like what bumpkin said: read thoughtful print media for news, and read history.
posted by henry scobie at 5:04 PM on August 8, 2011

It's always something. I grew up in the sixties and life seemed pretty screwed up then too. This too shall pass ......
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:36 PM on August 8, 2011

I recommend that you take a look at a book called, 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds' by Charles Mackay. It's instructive to learn that people have gotten foolish in the past, and mostly survived. The sauntering 19th century sentences are good for making you slow down and think.

(Funny story: One of my friends was hung over in class on the day the professor introduced this book. He mis-heard the title as 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Krauts', and expected it to be a very rude book about Germans.)
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:42 PM on August 8, 2011

If you run anxious, work on that first. I used to think it'd be great to run away to the Peace Corps, but I realize now that that was just the anxiety talking. In reality it would've been completely overwhelming for me to be that out of my element.

And nthing that you should lean on thoughtful news (The Economist and Christian Science Monitor tend to be good at that) and ignore the sky is falling headlines. Truly, access to clean water and healthcare and food have all improved so much in the last 20 years, let alone 100.
posted by ldthomps at 5:43 PM on August 8, 2011

The only reason things seem so bad now is because, due to the news and the internet and video cameras, we are able to know every moment exactly what is going on at any given time at nearly any location in the world. This is a very recent phenomenon for humanity to experience, and it really is hard for a lot of people to handle. I have had to shut myself off from a good amount of it too, and it really does help me get through the day without feeling terrified, helpless, or angry at things I can't change.

The people saying to stop reading the news are right. I don't mean completely stop, don't be completely ignorant, but examine where you're getting your news from. If you're reading the news and getting terrified and not doing anything else because of that, that is exactly when you should shut it off, and maybe seek out less inflammatory sources of information. I really like The New Yorker for generally calm but interesting articles about current events that don't make me feel like it's time to go jump off a bridge.

Aside from reading history, classic novels also help to put things in perspective. Steinbeck is good, and also books like Down and Out in Paris and London, Crime and Punishment, and I can't think of anymore off the top of my head that would fit in this category, but start going through that section of the library. Vonnegut was complaining about all this stuff decades ago. The way it is right now really isn't any worse than it's been before, we're just able to see a lot more of it all the time.
posted by wondermouse at 5:44 PM on August 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Throughout my life the thing that's been most anxiety producing for me is money. What if I lose my job? What if some gigantic expense comes up? That kind of thing. I have found that it helps me keep my anxiety down to do things to make that sort of event less difficult if it were to happen, namely saving money now and thinking about what I could cut down on or do without later if I had to. I still have anxiety about this stuff, but at least I feel more like even if it happens, I will survive because I've prepared. Is there anything you could do along similar lines to help ease your anxiety? I should also point out that I don't think I have an anxiety disorder, so you should talk to your doctor about getting that under better control while also taking practical steps.

Good luck. I feel for you!
posted by Maisie at 5:54 PM on August 8, 2011

Should I start trying to pursue a skilled immigration to Canada

This requires proof of C$11,115 (roughly US$11,200 at today's exchange rate) in the bank. Also, Canada's economy is really closely intertwined with that of the U.S.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:03 PM on August 8, 2011

I just remembered something else that might be more on point. In the olden days of 1990, my car was stolen. I was in the car at the time, parked about a block away from where I lived, talking to my companion who I had just dropped off after a shopping trip. A masked man came up to us with a gun, asked for our purses and jewelry and then made off with my car. I was completely terrified of being a victim of a violent crime for like 10 years after that. I was convinced that there was no way I wouldn't be raped and murdered. In an ongoing series of bad decisions, I read all the true crime books I could, in hopes of fleshing how I might survive such an ordeal when it inevitably happened, I guess. You will not be surprised to read that consuming true crime books about, say, the hillside stranglers didn't actually help ease my anxiety about being raped and murdered.

I think when people are telling you to take it easy on the news, that's what they're getting at. At this point, all of the dire economic news of the last few years is feeding into the thing you are anxious about. Just as some people are, sadly, raped and murdered but most are not, some people are losing their jobs or having to make significant cutbacks to their standard of living, but it certainly isn't every single person. After 21 years of not being murdered, I don't worry about it so much anymore -- or, at least, not to the exclusion of worrying about things I can do something about like driving safely and trying to stay healthy generally. So like I said in my earlier comment, focus on the things you can do something about (say, saving money if that's your thing), get to the doctor about your anxiety disorder and limit your consumption of the types of news stories that feed your anxiety.
posted by Maisie at 6:17 PM on August 8, 2011

I relate to this a lot, except that I no longer indulge in much worry about it, because I am exhausted. But I completely understand what it's like to live your life in a constant state of vigilance for things to fall apart. But you can't let that happen to you. It's so bad.

Here is my story, which is somewhat analogous: I lived in NYC on the original September 11th. I was 19 and a sophomore at NYU. It was scary. I felt out of control of my life and environment, and I felt that the smartest thing to do was to remain constantly aware of every tiny thing that might happen, just so I would know and be "prepared." I know. It sounds stupid. So what this amounted to was constantly watching TV news and reading news online. It's all I did. You may recall that there was a thing with anthrax around this time. All the coverage of it made me completely petrified of bioterrorism and chemical terrorism and I convinced myself that it would be so very easy for anyone at all to release anthrax or sarin gas or what have you in any subway car or in any public place at any time. What this resulted in was a refusal to take the subway anywhere and a refusal to be in crowds. This story takes place in New York City. I stayed in my dorm room and ate beef jerky for every meal while watching the news.

So after awhile of this, my parents made me go to therapy because I was nuts. It turned out I wasn't nuts. The therapist, after hearing all my anxiety, didn't prescribe any medication or diagnose me with anything. She said "You have to stop watching the news. Do not watch the news or read the news until we meet again, and then we'll see how you feel." And I got really scared and wondered what would befall me if something did indeed happen. But then I realized that my knowing about an event as it happens has no effect on what happens next. And this is the point of the story--you have to accept that you worrying about the economy and the country has no bearing on what actually happens. If the world is going to descend into an epoch-long depression, it is going to do so no matter how upset you make yourself about it. There is nothing you can do. This is hard for us worrying types to accept. It is still hard for me to accept. But back in 2001, after a week of news diet, I was a lot saner.

News is terrible. It's the job of every network to make each story as exciting and sensational as possible, to keep people interested so they keep watching through the commercial break. News is not in the business of level-headed delivery of information. This goes for print news too. The goal is to keep you interested. I'm not saying that newspapers are printing lies, but headlines that say "eh, it's not really that bad" don't sell papers.
posted by millipede at 6:19 PM on August 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm a little concerned about all the responses that simply say "turn off the news."

It's good to be informed about what's happening in the world, isn't it? Especially in a democracy where you'll be participating in the process when elections come around?

My advice (I am trying to follow it myself.. trying..!) is to worry about the things you can control and figure out what you can do about those. You can't control the global economy or the stock market or the Congress. But if budget cuts mean your program might get cut, which means you might lose your job, that's a perfectly rational thing to be concerned about! That means you need to do what you can to be prepared for this, should it happen. Update your resume, save money, do what you can to connect with people who might have job leads if you should need them. That seems reasonable, better than burying your head in the sand and finding one day that the cutbacks are happening and you're not ready. I find that gradually just doing the best I can to prepare (I worry about layoffs as well) is helpful and means I have less anxiety, but procrastinating on stuff like working on my resume/skills/debt and reading the news instead causes more anxiety. DOING something = less anxiety, always. Get your news from NPR, it's always calming in its delivery!

I try to be a critical consumer of the news now, after years of frequenting online sites where you could easily come to believe the sky is falling and get horribly wrapped up in it to an unhealthy degree. Even though right around me the sky is fine. I like to know what is going on in the world but I don't get emotionally wrapped up any more. I mean, Bush got reelected and the sky didn't fall (or, from the other side, Obama got elected and the sky didn't fall). I am following the Wisconsin recall elections but there's no point in my getting horribly anxious over state-level issues in a state where I don't even live, just because it's a national story on TV news. I might as well be worrying about Casey Anthony for all the good it does.

Finally I think you should feel good about working to help alleviate poverty because that is real work and your effort makes a difference in people's lives. All the thousands of people swarming comment threads to freak out about today's headlines are not really doing much of anything to make positive change in the world.
posted by citron at 7:01 PM on August 8, 2011

There are a number of media sources out attempt a level of balance - personally I like Ode magazine, Yes magazine, and the Christian Science Monitor. For that matter, so do the economist, and certain NPR, PRI and BBC programs. It isn't about what the news is - which admittedly, sometimes is devastating and heartbreaking, but also how it is presented.

Those outlets at least avoid the overly dramatic, breathless language of our supposed impending doom, which apparently is totally different from the forgotten breathless language around our previous supposed impending doom (Y2K anyone) and our possible next impending doom, assuming we someone manage to avoid these exceptionally large number of crises. What is absent is the balance of Mr. Johnson's 4th grade class who enjoyably made it to and from the zoo, and learned about pandas, or the successful effort to start a food program, etc.

If someone keeps trying to scare you, you're probably going to be scared. To become a more critical consumer of the media you let into your mind is as important as being thoughtful about what food you put into your body, and not just sucking things down because someone put it in front of your line of vision.
posted by anitanita at 7:44 PM on August 8, 2011

When people keep telling you the sky is falling, it's always a good idea to stop for a moment and look upwards.

I am American. I am a white, college-educated, 25-year-old female. I have a job making an okay salary. I have health insurance.

The sky is not falling.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:00 AM on August 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Louis CK's routine, "Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy" immediately springs to mind.

I'm in my mid twenties, and am constantly in awe of how much better a place the world is today. Yeah, we've lost a bit of our steam in the past few years, but I wouldn't consider for a second that we're worse off.

I have a telephone that works anywhere, and is significantly smaller than a pack of cigarettes. I haven't been tangled in a telephone cord in a decade.

The Internet! Holy crap! Information is everywhere!

I've never seriously worried about nuclear annihilation. Or a conventional war of any kind.

We elected a black guy as president. By overwhelming numbers. The runner-up in the primary was a woman.

Sadly, my friend who is HIV+ just missed the cutoff for the Olympic team. Oh, wait. My friend with HIV lives a normal life, won't die from the disease, and almost made it to the Olympics. Rock on.

Otherwise, the wonders of modern medicine are vast. "Infant Mortality" almost seems like an archaic term. MRI machines are amazing. People survive cancer all the time. We even have a vaccine for one kind of cancer.

I can unlock my car without using keys. My "pitifully unreliable by modern standards" car has 200,000 miles on it, and requires almost no regular maintenance. Tires these days last f--ing forever.

Cars and trucks no longer belch black smoke into the air. Cities are now considered some of the cleanest places to live.

I have a tiny screen that tells me where to drive. I can carry it around with me anywhere.

In many places, having a car is no longer necessary, which is massively economically liberating for those who choose to adopt that lifestyle.

On that note, my bicycle is nothing fancy, but has indexed shifters, doesn't weigh a lot, and is made out of materials that don't rust. Also, bikesharing is just simply awesome.

We may have cut social services (ugh), but Americans collectively pay fewer taxes than any first-world nation, and currently have one of the lowest tax burdens since the depression.

I can marry the person I love in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and the District of Columbia. I don't worry about hiding my identity in the other 44 states, and can openly serve in the military.

If I want it, I can buy organic produce just about anywhere at reasonable prices. Food is exceptionally safe. Farmers markets and local produce are back in vogue, and we have an incredible supply chain for moving regional ingredients across the globe. There has literally never been a better time to be a cook.

Have you used Oxy-Clean? That shit's amazing.

Thanks to the internet, music and the arts have flourished. Although the days of the bazillionaire rock star are drawing to a close, we have an unbelievable diversity of music at our fingertips, and it's even sustainable for artists in obscure genres to make a career out of their hobby. Ditto for film.

We've even been having a mini-golden-age of television. If you ignore the reality shows, there are some incredibly well-written shows on the air.

Photographers lament the death of film. I don't. I love being able to take a huge, crisp photo, look at it, throw it away, and take another shot without being any poorer for that decision. Also, I can beam that shot across the globe seconds later.

Wikipedia. The Khan Academy.

I can get on a plane and be anywhere within a few hours, and although air travel is hardly glamorous, this gets cheaper and cheaper every year.

The microbrew revolution. Mmmm, beer.

Crime is current at the lowest level in my lifetime, and has been dropping precipitously for about half of it.

wait, wait...... we've still got NPR!

We found evidence of water on mars. Despite the loss of the manned space program, NASA continues to produce groundbreaking science every year. 21 years later, the Hubble Space Telescope continues to produce breathtaking images.

Bullshit. We live in a fucking golden age. There's work to be done, but things are pretty darn good as they are.
posted by schmod at 9:26 AM on August 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Mod note: few comments removed - please answer the question being asked.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 4:06 PM on August 11, 2011

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