How do you deal with the anxiety around the economic and global clusterfcuk?
November 26, 2007 2:07 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with the anxiety around the economic and global clusterfcuk? It's been keeping me awake for years, and increasingly so. I recycle, I write my representatives. I eat local, organic, take public transport.. I just can't not feel trapped and sometimes just completely terrified.

I have a history of panic attacks in my immediate family, was diagnosed with the ubiquitous Depression at 16 and fought it really hard until I learned some basic meditation techniques and got some good cognitive therapy. Now I still fight a light current of anxiety, but I can usually still fight it until somebody spooks me with something apocalyptic... Then it's all over.
posted by onanon to Science & Nature (34 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Remember that for hundreds and hundreds of people the apocalypse came today, a death of a child, a bombing in a busy market. That helps me, it kind of reminds me that I’ll actually damn lucky if I see some global apocalypse because I’m more than likely to pop my clogs before then.
I’m beginning to think that the west’s increasing problems with anxiety disorders are due to the removal of any need for the real use of our animal survival instinct.
If the economy goes and everything follows, you’ll probably be in your element – living life to the full in survival mode. You wouldn’t be worrying about a meteor hitting the earth.
So why not get anxious about there not being an apocalypse?
posted by razzman at 2:34 AM on November 26, 2007 [3 favorites]

I know people who have successfully dealt with anxiety through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). If it's any consolation I've never been diagnosed with depression or suffered from anxiety attacks and I think we're all utterly fucked as well.
posted by oh pollo! at 2:39 AM on November 26, 2007

Are you currently awake, thinking about this at 2:30am on a Sunday night?

Anxiety attacks are horrible. But they pass. The things that are scaring you right now are legitimate things to worry about, but nothing apocalyptic is going to happen tonight, or tomorrow, or even within your lifetime for that matter.
posted by kisch mokusch at 2:43 AM on November 26, 2007

You might want to try...

1. Stop reading Metafilter

2. Read up on the pessimistic bias fallacy: people generally think the economic situation is far worse than it is.

3. Eight reasons to be optimistic about today's economy. Has the dollar fallen enough? Contrarian indicators.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:48 AM on November 26, 2007 [6 favorites]

I would suggest diverting yourself with some of the many strange fruit born of late capitalism. Or get therapy. On balance the former is likely to be more fun.
posted by zemblamatic at 2:49 AM on November 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

How do *I* deal?

We're not exactly in the "Soylent Green"-level of dysfunction yet, and whether or not we actually ever find ourselves there, it's unproductive to create anxiety over things completely outside one's control.

Take each day as the wonderful gift that it is and live it to its full.

"My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate -- that's my philosophy."
-- Thornton Wilder

"Fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run."
-- Rudyard Kipling

"Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length."
-- Robert Frost

"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure."
-- Dan Quayle

"I don't have any solution, but I certainly admire the problem."
-- Ashleigh Brilliant

posted by panamax at 3:01 AM on November 26, 2007 [5 favorites]

How do you deal with the anxiety around the economic and global clusterfcuk?

By not putting every problem out there into the same clusterfcuk basket. Are there problems? Yes. Really huge, significant problems, that probably won't be solved anytime soon? Yes. And are these problems connected or linked at some level? Yes.

But I ask you to consider the fact that given your lifestyle, you might be exposed to a higher amount of pessimism about the world - which plays a part in driving those positive choices you've made - than someone living a different lifestyle. Because your politics and views about the wider world have become so intertwined with the way you do everything on a daily basis - from how you get to work to what you eat - of course it's challenging to keep the personal and the global separate.

I think it would be worth trying two things:

1. Taking a break from activism on a bigger-than-local level, at least until you feel less anxious.

2. Connecting with local groups where you can see, feel, and hear a difference being made. Recycling is rather abstract since you don't see your trash being melted down and turned into egg cartons or yogurt cups or something, but how about doing a beach cleanup, or teaching someone to read? These are still positive things, but give you a sense of satisfaction at having physically done something that writing letters to Congress or buying organic might not.
posted by mdonley at 3:14 AM on November 26, 2007

I've spent a lot of time in The Developing World. Mostly Africa but also good chunks of Asia and The Middle East. As large as our immediate and near term problems seem, in the grand scheme of things, they don't measure up to much.

If you haven't been outside the US I'd suggest a gentle introduction to problems the greater bulk of the worlds population wrestle with via a trip to a place like Cairo or Bombay, just to gain some perspective.

Once you seen - and hopefully talked to! - people who have difficulty just getting enough to eat or clean drinking water, then you'll understand what you and I worry about isn't really that big a deal.

Terrorist attack? Nuclear armagedon? Economic collapse? Yeh, from time to time I worry about this crap as well. But I can't directly do much to fend off any threat and neither can you.

Sounds like your heart is in the right place, your actions are sound and commendable. A little travel to far and distant lands and strange cultures will help align your mind.
posted by Mutant at 3:46 AM on November 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

"How do you deal with the anxiety around the economic and global clusterfcuk? ..."

12 to 18 year old single malt Scotch helps me.

I don't mean this flippantly. Every bottle of good Scotch is an optimistic vote for the future of mankind, and a testament to the wisdom of the people that made it, and kept it for us, against the day our cold bones and weakened hearts would most need it.

Nobody lays down good whisky for the future, unless they believe in tomorrow, and in those of us who'll need it, when it's golden ripe and ready. Those what make it often don't get to enjoy it, but probably enjoyed some layed down for them, when they didn't know enough to lay any down, themselves.

So, it comes round, and it goes round, and warms our hearts and loosens our tongues when most we need it. Courage in a bottle, and hope of better days, from those who've gone before.
posted by paulsc at 3:47 AM on November 26, 2007 [38 favorites]

Some suggestions:

1. Read more history to get over the seductive idea that this era is exceptional. Check out those old NYTimes archives which have just been flung open -- most issues cover whatever Serious Thing was on people's minds that week, so that's like 150 years of past-tense OH NO! right there. There is always something scary going on, yet somehow, here we all are.

Or, just find and read some discussions on the internet about Y2K and SARS (remember SARS?).

2. Look at your media critically and ask yourself what they might have to gain by increasing your fears past the point of realism. How would you feel about a person who tried to exploit a debilitating emotion like fear in you?

3. When I find myself getting freaked out about world events, I think of those stalwart and calm Londoners during the Blitz and what they would make of my abstract fears when I'm actually so safe.

4. Talking gloom and doom can get to be a habit, like picking at a scab. It's also all-but-useless (the small amount of use might not be so useful for someone prone to depression). You could make a plan to cut down, which might include choosing to read less about the impending apocalypse of the month, and thinking of some other topics you'd enjoy discussing with friends for the times when they go there.

5. Say "fuck worrying." A friend of mine was telling me about her parachuting training in the Army. She really liked it. She said "It felt great to jump and be in the sky, and if it went wrong, I'd be dead so it wouldn't be my problem." For her, living went on full-bore up to the moment of death, and then things were out of her hands, so she didn't care about that. She wasn't a nihilist, she just saw life as an on/off switch where the on state is something you experience and the off state isn't, so why stare at the switch?

6. Don't forget that doing your small part can be useful. Some "OH NO!" situations were averted because of pooled efforts. Y2K is a good example -- concerned geeks really got the lead out to patch things. It may have never been The End Of The World but things would have been a lot more chaotic if everyone had just stood there, knees knocking. Obviously global warming is one of those things as well.

7. Sometimes people fixate on messes that are impossible for them to clean up (the middle east, oil spills) as a way of ignoring messes that are possible for them to clean up (relationships, unmet goals, debt, etc). Ask yourself if there is something worrying you that the Big Worry is a stand-in for, and when you find yourself obsessing about things, take it as a reminder that you have some unfinished business.

Good luck! I know that anxiety can be hellish and I hope you find a method that works for you to short-circuit it.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 3:51 AM on November 26, 2007 [12 favorites]

Long ago, on All in the Family, this Alistair Cooke quote was read and it has stayed with me since then. (I've read that Norman Lear (creator of the show) kept this framed on his office wall.) This quote has always comforted me - all humans throughout all of history have suffered through horrible things or feared horrible things. That should not stop anyone from simply living. Most of the "collapses" predicted never come to pass and even if they do, they are never remotely as predicted by the prophets.

In the best of times, our days are numbered anyway, and so it would be a crime against nature for any generation to take the world crisis so solemnly that it put off enjoying those things for which we were presumably designed in the first place. . . I mean the opportunity to do good work, to fall in love, to enjoy friends, to sit under a tree, to hit a ball and bounce a baby.
posted by loosemouth at 3:52 AM on November 26, 2007 [6 favorites]

exercise daily. it will improve your mood and, as your body grows stronger, you will feel more confident.

talk to a therapist. maybe you're funneling your anxieties about your own life into these global worries.

write down what is worrying you, and figure out what steps you would need to take to survive if it affects you.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:13 AM on November 26, 2007

I would suggest reading London 1945 for a view of how people were forced to make massive changes and yet managed to carry on with normal lives even in extremely challenging circumstances.

I would also suggest reading Letter from America because it puts a lot of the threats, fear mongering, and cyclical events in prospective, as well as being a quite enlightened and often amusing read. Many, many of the things Alistair Cooke wrote in 1946 could be written, verbatim, by any newspaper or magazine editor today. The only thing that's really changed is the source of the threat (note that humanity did not all end in hail of V" rockets or a cold war nuclear apocalypse as was the fear for many years.)

So, I guess, in a word: gain some perspective. Not to downplay the state of affairs in which we currently find ourselves, but humans have a tremendous capacity to overcome.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:30 AM on November 26, 2007

To add to the quotes:

"Ain't no sense worrying about things you got no control over, 'cause if you got no control over them ain't no sense in worrying. And ain't no sense worrying about things you got control over, 'cause if you got control over them, ain't no sense worrying." -- Mickey Rivers

...and seconding Your Time Machine Sucks, whose advise is even greater than his account name.
posted by vanoakenfold at 5:29 AM on November 26, 2007

When I was having a lot of the same problems regarding our current War on Terror and the erosion of civil liberties, I read a book by Anna Funder called "Stasiland." It was a collection of short stories about East Germans living under the Stasi regime, where everyone was suspicious and everyone was a spy. It truly helped to put things into perspective for me.

At the same time, I think there are many people like you and me who are increasingly finding that our lives are really counterproductive to the modern understanding of progress - even despite eating organic, recycling, reusing, and taking public transit. That is especially highlighted at this consumerific time of the year. I would try taking matters into your own hands. Educate the people around you, spread your honest fear as a way to conquer your crippling anxiety. Turn trepidation into action.
posted by greekphilosophy at 5:44 AM on November 26, 2007

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
posted by arimathea at 6:12 AM on November 26, 2007

How do you deal with the anxiety around the economic and global clusterfcuk?

I try to smoke marijuana whenever possible, and I occupy my time with trivial and fun stuff like surfing the Internet and playing computer games.

I like the quote from Children of Men, when he's visiting his cousin at the Ark of the Arts:

Theo: You kill me. A hundred years from now there won't be one sad fuck to look at this. What keeps you going?
Nigel: What it is, Theo? I just don't think about it.

And then Nigel smiles, and sweeps his hand inviting Theo to take in the view - glorious Battersea, and the pig tethered above it.

Live in the moment, onanon, things right this minute can be as fun and excellent as any time in human history!
posted by Meatbomb at 6:50 AM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

when your born you're given a ticket to the freak show. Enjoy the show don't take it seriously - Carlin.

This coming from a man who has to be a close 2nd to Noam Chomsky for his unyielding criticism of modern American society. You need to do what you can but not allow it to suck you in too far that you lose hope. You should read some articles from doctors working in war-torn 3rd world countries. They have this seemingly heartless conveyor belt mentality but it's firmly based in the reality that you cannot save everyone and if you let one thing get to you others that you can help will suffer.
posted by any major dude at 7:16 AM on November 26, 2007

You could funnel some of that nervous energy into a hobby, such as building a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic car.

Or you could consider that throughout human history, people have been convinced that the world is coming to an end by some means or another. Hence religion.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:52 AM on November 26, 2007

Lots of decent advice already, but I would add 2 points:

1. The news has a conflict of interest with regard to ratings
2. Apocalypses are exceedingly rare

I don't know why you feel trapped. You seem to be exercising a lot of active freedom to take public transpo (time, infrastructure), money to buy organic, involvement in the political process, etc. You're doing great, though you perhaps are falling into a progressive trap that I've seen where class guilt causes good people to think they're never doing enough. It's obsessive and unrealistic and not fair to your own enjoyment of your life. Nobody can fix the world, they can only do their part.
posted by rhizome at 8:14 AM on November 26, 2007

i have a technique i call "looking through the wrong end of the telescope." when i do this, objects seem much further away; the bad people in washington, d.c. causing so much of the trouble seem no more substantial than tiny shadows in a martian crater.
posted by bruce at 8:44 AM on November 26, 2007

One day a farmer's horse ran away. that evening his neighbors gathered around to commiserate with the farmer over such bad luck.
The farmer said, "It could be bad, it could be good, who knows?"
The next day the horse returned, followed by six wild horses. the neighbors couldn't believe the farmer's sudden good luck.
The farmer said, "It could be good, it could be bad, who knows?"
The next day, while trying to ride one of the wild horses, the farmer's son was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors again commiserated over the farmer's bad luck.
But all he said was, "It could be bad, it could be good, who knows?"
The day after that, army officers came through the village conscripting the oldest sons, but the farmer's son was rejected because of his broken leg. When the neighbors came to say how fortunate everything turned out, the farmer said, "It could be good, it could be bad, who knows?"

Don't think you know. Accept that life is surprising and strange. Accept that it is out of your control. Accept that all you can do is get up and make the best of the day before you.

Don't believe economists and newspapers unless it's about money and news.
posted by ewkpates at 10:30 AM on November 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

Two things, you join the struggle for justice and freedom and you don't think of things in a cross class way. First, community is good for dealing with the alienation and panic. It really works wonders that I am just not articulate enough to describe.

And second, think of what and who is causing the clusterfuck you describe and why. People around the world have demanded a fair deal and they've been punished by the rulers. But the struggle isn't something to fear. The rulers fear it because it is bent on toppling them and they are marshaling every force, from the bombs of the military to the ideological nonsense of the media, to both make us fear this struggle and feel that it is against us. Now, it may be against us in the sense that we won't be able to buy as much plastic crap as fast as we can, but it'll also mean a lot less of watching the bombed out craters we leave around the rest of the world. That's an exchange a lot of us are willing to take and it requires struggle.

There's a great documentary series from the BBC I'd suggest for you called "The power of nightmares." It's about the use of fear on populations as a strategy of control. Next time, you're freaking out, check out part 3. It's on google video and I was flying and in an airport (something I don't really enjoy) and started watching it. Afterwards, I was surprised how calm I felt. Panic is the mind-killer, as they say, and a lucid clear mind helps deal with that panic. For me, anyway.
posted by history is a weapon at 10:34 AM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

The way I keep myself from worrying about the economy or the world tomorrow is by reminding myself that I can only take it one day at a time. I'll cross that bridge when I have to.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:17 AM on November 26, 2007

There is always something scary going on, yet somehow, here we all are.

Yeah, except for those millions who've died in war, of starvation, as refugees, of ethnic cleansing, etc., etc. It's the conceit of the living and the presently successful that everything has worked out fine.
posted by DarkForest at 11:20 AM on November 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

I used to have the same problem. For me it was just how the depression that I was going through at the time manifested itself. As the larger world issues that I worried about (war, global warming, etc) were things that I couldn't really do much about, I felt especially helpless. One thing that helped me, simplistic as it sounds, was banning myself from all news sources. At the time, I was subscribing to probably 11 political and news magazines (things like In These Times, Harper's etc) and watching all sorts of news programs. I had to stop cold turkey, because they were only making my anxiety worse.

I also found, as people have metioned above, that volunteering and finding some way to help others was beneficial.

I did also go on anti-depressants for a while and attended a CBT group, which helped to re-direct my thinking. After awhile, the depression and anxiety lifted.

Good luck to you. I know it's not easy.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:26 AM on November 26, 2007

Thirding Your Time Machine Sucks.
posted by Quietgal at 11:27 AM on November 26, 2007

DarkForest: if that is what you got from my statement, I must have been unclear.

But I have to ask: is that your answer to the OP's question about reducing anxiety?
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 11:46 AM on November 26, 2007

People have made some great points so far, especially Your Time Machine Sucks. Your mileage may vary but here are my main points of advice:

1. Focus on making sure YOU feel okay in YOUR everyday life.

There are many different ways of looking at the world and many different things you can do in your life, but its never helpful to spend your days and nights anxious and feeling bad. Try to separate your opinion about something and the way it physically makes you feel. For example, if the idea of your own death is making you lose sleep every night, the best way to deal with it is to become comfortable enough with the idea of death that you can physically feel okay about it. That doesn't mean that you think death is great or even have a neutral opinion about it, it just means you've gotten to the point that the idea of death isn't interfering with your physical and mental well-being.

2. Realize that the world isn't so bad.

There are a lot of things wrong with the world, but there are a lot of things right with it to. Lots of people, including you, are doing things to try to help make it a better place. There are problems that we should all be working to fix, but it would be naive to assume that we're all doomed.

3. Love life so much that it hurts.

A lot of times when people go through some sort of major life change or event, such as a brush with death, they re-examine their lives and realize that they were taking a lot of things for granted. Don't wait for the things in life that you love to be gone before you appreciate them. Its easy to get caught up in all of the problems in your life and in the world, so you should always set aside time to do something that you love, even if its something as simple as having a cup of coffee and reading a good book. If you fill your life with people and things that you love, you'll have a better perspective on all of the things that make you feel bad.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:57 AM on November 26, 2007

Response by poster: I'm overwhelmed.
I think I've read every answer six times already.

It's really hard to tell yourself not to feel an emotion. (i.e. "fear".) It really is invaluable to have all of the reasons not to be afraid spelled out sometimes.

Thank you to everybody who put so much compassion and empathy into your responses. I keep wanting to "best answer" the ones I love the most and then the whole page is grey and it feels hokey. :)

Thanks. Really. Wow. :)
posted by onanon at 12:51 PM on November 26, 2007

DarkForest: if that is what you got from my statement, I must have been unclear.

I'm not sure what else "here we all are" could mean. I'm pointing out that this isn't correct, and that bad things do happen in the world, on various scales. The way out of anxiety is not to just hide away from reality. I think razzman had the right answer right off the bat.

But I have to ask: is that your answer to the OP's question about reducing anxiety?

I think other answers here have addressed anxiety pretty well.
posted by DarkForest at 12:52 PM on November 26, 2007

onanon, check out the answers in this thread.

I had one friend who would get panic attacks about global warming, and what turned them off for her was to realize that worrying was not doing anything and was not taking care of herself, it was only weakening her. "Global warming may or may not happen, but I'm weakening myself right now!" Then she tried to replace her worrying with actions that strengthened herself or showed care for herself.

For me, a great first step was turning off the national news. For three months, I lived in a small town and read nothing but local news. It was great, and a critical step to sorting out which worries were worth continuing to care about and which were not. I kept up the no-national-news policy for about a year after that. It was cool to see how the world went on without my worrying about it (even if it was just Bush continuing to be an asshole). It suddenly wasn't my problem. That may sound irresponsible, but I was involved in a lot of local activism at the time, where I actually might have an impact. Plus I had a standing exception that I could catch up on national news any time it was clear how I could actually help (eg, precinct walking for McNerney). And that made me realize that for these international problems, I wasn't actually doing much in the first place. So my spending all that energy to keep abreast of all those developments was kind of irrelevant to events themselves. And I could feel free to direct my energy in more productive directions.

It also helped me to think about why I really felt that way. The apocalyptic panic really wasn't fear for my own survival at some future date, it was actually about fairly personal things, about my life not being set up the way I wanted it and resenting society because I felt like that setup was impossible. And my feeling mad about wasteful destruction was partially guilt about how I was participating in it. The more specific I got about what I was feeling, the more I could see what I really needed to do.

Doing things has helped the most. I'm only like 5% of where I want to be, but just moving in that direction gives me hope and helps redirect all my apocalyptic energy. This idea crystallized for me this past week, when I met a guy that ranted about how society was doomed and only people like himself were going to survive. He was a bit unstable, but I still felt like "hell yeah! I'm joining that tribe!" So, now rather than seeing my food gardening efforts as these piddly things doomed to failure, I can visualize them as just the start of amazingly successful efforts, and one step among many of how I'm moving toward living in a way that I really feel good about. It doesn't matter that those actual gardening efforts are not going to actually feed myself, it matters that I now affiliate myself with the non-doomed world by doing the things that people would do there, so by shifting where I sit in the world, it shifts my sense of the fate of the world. Picturing myself that way ("people like me know about what is important and how to survive") also helped me see the next few things I really feel I should do to be living the way I want to. So, yeah, it is all mind games, but it's a mind game that gets me to do more to live in a way that will feel right, clearly see my own next step, and be less freaked out.

So, my main advice is the opposite of "it's probably nothing." It's probably something. Not what you're panicking about, but something. (My recurring financial anxiety vanished once I actually established a (tiny) savings account.) So I wouldn't label it anxiety and try to make it go away. I'd try to figure out what it really is, and what you really want to do about it, and then picture yourself succeeding at that. Rather than try to suppress the panic and label the worries irrational, take yourself really seriously, then work to build a world for yourself to live in where you feel safe. And then blow off the rest in the ways that everyone else has suggested.

I don't mean to posit myself as some huge success story in this area or preach or anything. I've struggled with this a lot, and I'm just sharing the bits that have worked. :)
posted by salvia at 8:50 PM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Become a misanthrope. The planet itself will carry on just fine until the sun goes kablooey. The human species will die out and disappear, almost certainly, whether we do it to ourselves or not. It's the way of things, and railing against it is like shaking your fist at the sunrise.

You say you feel fear. I say it's important to think very carefully about what you're actually afraid of -- death, sickness, personal suffering, abstract suffering, bad weather, whatever -- and think about why you fear that. As you suggest, it's not really helpful trying to make yourself not feel something, but if you try and understand what you feel and why, you may just find that you don't feel it any more, or better, that you do, but that it's Just Fine.

Fear can be a good thing to feel; fear makes you quickwitted and cautious. Fear needn't disable you -- it can be harnessed and used to hone yourself to a fine, hard edge.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:30 PM on November 26, 2007

I was in a very similar situation a few years ago. I decided to isolate myself as much as possible from the news, as it is intended to breed fear, and it was surely working on me.

No newspapers, no current events blogs, no political blogs, and definitely no television (I watch series on DVD to avoid news snippets and commercials). It means I had no idea anything was happening in Burma until I drove past a protest. I have learned to let those things slide, because ignoring them has given me a sense of peace, and the ability to do good things in the world--the ability that a daily bombardment of despair had once cut off.
posted by frykitty at 2:47 PM on December 1, 2007

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