Anxiety: death by a thousand paper cuts.


Anxiety sucks: It’s like the feeling of every mistake you’ve ever made having turned into a scarab beetle which is now crawling around under your skin, eating away at your insides, while depression is the feeling of having already been eaten. There is a massive overlap (“Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.“) between the two.

When you lose a loved one, get fired from a job, go through a divorce, etc, you assume that the anxiety you feel is because of the immediate changes in circumstance, and that once you have sorted that thing, you will get some reprieve, but after this struggle is the next one, and then the next one after that, which is why people tend to develop coping mechanisms.

If you look at the coping mechanisms/self medication that people take on: drinking, drugs, etc and assume that smoking is part of those same coping rituals, anxiety is by far the leading cause of death in the world today.

Suicide rates are at a 30 year high, except in those above 75 years old, and that’s just a symptom. Death by drug overdose, liver disease and alcohol poisoning are super high too and the bottom line is this:

If you can’t figure out a way to manage your anxiety, you will die from it.

If you don’t see the biggest problem with the above: we are dying from all the stuff we use to keep our anxiety at bay.

Over the last 70 years, depression among further education students has risen, with estimates putting it at as much as 800 percent, while antidepressant prescriptions in 2011 were up 400 percent from 1988.

But the problem with that rise in antidepressants? Anti depression treatments across the board are becoming less effective with time. This includes therapies, SSRIs, everything. We have somehow created a strain of treatment resistant anxiety.

Now, some may say that it’s because the world is awful right now, but go back just 100 years, and the jobs were worse (e.g, child labour), marriages were unhappy and health issues (like black lung from coal mining) were awful. Women couldn’t vote, the LGBTQ crowd was shunned, people of colour still didn’t have rights, etc.

So with the world being an objectively and quantifiably better place, why are we seeing so much more mental health issuers? Well for one:

It’s profitable.

Much like jealousy; anxiety and depression are things which have evolved for a reason: they are there to motivate you to act. Anxiety is the triggering of your fight or flight response and keeping it at a low level all the time. The problem with that is that much like addiction, over time your brain becomes accustomed to the low level hum and de-sensitised.

When our brains were having the finishing touches put on them, 200,000 years ago (and for context, we have only been writing things down for about 7,000 years), our anxiety would start up when we were running low on food, or water, or when we saw a threat that meant that we could soon lose everything. If you saw a danger, you were in the presence of that danger and it was absolutely imperative for you to feel that anxiety because it would spur you to remove yourself from danger.

We would act and we would go sort the issue; get more food, find more water, flee from the threat and have our brain reward us with a lack of anxiety. We would store it and learn from it.

The mass media in turn has found ways to use this instinct to get you to read their articles, buy their stuff, or just generally follow the lead that they want you to.

I’m not (completely) crazy, I swear, let me give you some examples:

‘Guilt free snacks’ (for example the M&S range) induce guilt: by saying that you shouldn’t feel guilt for eating *their* products, the implication is that you *should* feel guilty for eating other companies’ products.

Look around for other examples: shock headlines on newspapers to keep you at just the right level of fear and xenophobia, tv and movies which shame you for being poor (you should work more/have a more glamorous job/be paid more) while also shaming you for not having a fuller social life (you work too much).

You are shamed for your weight while the best characters will put away twenty flavours of cheesecake per episode.

Your clothes are wrong and you’re too obsessed with your appearance. 

And all this so that in the back of your mind, there is that little niggle of ‘I don’t fit in. I’m not good enough, I need product X to make me a better person.’

Not enough for that voice to really get loud: loud anxiety leads to fear. Fear leads to anger. Angers leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

And suffering leads to rebelling. If you rebel, the people doing all of this lose you.

You see, these people need you, or rather they need us. They need enough people to buy their product, to watch their show, to be led to the belief that they aren’t complete yet, so that they can earn more money, which they can spend buying products, watching shows and feeling incomplete and what’s the cost of a little human life?

So when people find the thing which stops the scarabs from eating away at them: alcohol, caffeine, drugs, whatever, they cling onto it like their lives depend on it- because it does.

So what?

So… I don’t know. There is no bottom line to this one. The closest I can give to good advice would be ‘stop giving a fuck about what you are told.’ or maybe ‘care less’, I guess, but then we come back to my previous point about anxiety being there to try and induce action.

There are a certain number of fucks which we have to give to stay alive. For every carefree LaRasa, there is a support network of Mothers, viperas, kittens and so on who have to bail us out when TSHTF.

So instead of that 1-step plan, I present you this alternate 2-step plan:

1) Realise that your ability to give fucks is a limited resource.

This isn’t just homeopathic thinking, your brain literally burns about 1/4 of your calories just through thought of a day. If you have an average intake of 2000 calories, that is a 500 KCal diet for your brain so you need to learn to budget.

There is a theory put out for personal energy budgeting called ‘spoon theory’, wherein spoons are used as a metaphor for your units of energy.

The basics of spoon theory (as I understand it) are:

  • Spoons are an intensive unit of measurement used to track how much attention you can devote to things throughout the day.
  • Every activity requires a certain number of spoons, which can only be regained through rest.
  • A person who runs out of spoons has no choice but to rest until their spoons are replenished.
  • Spoons can be ‘borrowed’ from future tasks, but resting will take exponentially longer.

So the more energy you spend on tasks, the more strain it puts on your body, which eventually will kill you.

2) A lot of the things requiring you to give fucks are meaningless.

This is the big trick: being able to filter out the things which will actually affect you and getting rid of the crap from other people which is there to trick you into feeling anxious because it will benefit them in some way: either directly through monetary gain or indirectly, through making them feel better by comparison.

So if anxiety is a call to action, then you must only devote your spoons to things which can be affected by action.

If you are made to feel ashamed about things you have no control over (baldness, race, gender, sexuality and so on), or if someone doesn’t like you for whatever reason, or you feel a visceral reaction when something triggering shows up in your Facebook feed, you need to learn to breathe deep and let that shit go.

You also need to let things go if you can affect them with action, but it is someone else’s problem.

If you are a larger individual who is happy with themselves and someone else tries to shame you? Not your problem.

When watching TV and a yogurt advert comes up showing two twenty somethings with their kid, living in a million pound house, you are subtly shamed for not having that: fuck the advert off and continue on with your life.

If your idea of a holiday is sitting and watching Netflix for a weekend without outside stress, and someone shames you for that, ignore them and go stick Netflix on.

The other thing to remember is that in these scenarios, these people have presented you with something to fixate on.

They have actually stolen some of that time and energy which you had budgeted for other things.

It is hard when you are ‘in the moment’ to critically analyse, but learning to stop, take a step back from the emotion and say ‘Should I be feeling this strongly about this thing?’ Is the best thing you can do.

And if the answer is ‘no.’, then you have to give no fucks.

It’s a skill set that you will be practicing for the rest of your life, but identifying the need for you to have this skill is the first step.

Going from nothing to something is the biggest step, and everything else is just a matter of fidelity.

The technique requires you to realise that your mental energy is a resource which is under constant attack, both overt (unexpected bills) and subtle (work extending your hours by ten minutes every so often). Your goal is to train yourself to reflexively defend against all these pressures looking to steal your energy.

The biggest problem that you face is that those who want to take your energy the most have been tweaking the process of doing so for a lot longer than you: ‘gurus’ have been taught and teaching these tricks for a very long time. The subtle martial art of getting you to doubt yourself and your skills is spread through webinars, books, courses and pop psychology shows. The only thing we can do is be vigilant and train ourselves to not give a fuck.

-LaRasa, ‘the lazy slut’

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