Finding Serenity in a High Tech, Picture Perfect, Hustle Culture:
Updated: Jan 1
As published in Valour Magazine Winter 2022 Edition
I will never forget Rachel. Designer bag in one hand, iced coffee in the other, she walked into my office looking like she had it all together.
“I’m fine,” she blurted out. “I mean, I have anxiety — that’s why I’m here — but I’m really fine.”
As we talked more, Rachel opened up. A mother of five who was also running a business, she was witty and charming, and clearly very talented. Yet she felt like she was drowning. Between carpooling, shopping, kids, and clients — and keeping up with the high standards she put on herself — life was exhausting.
I can’t forget Rachel because some version of Rachel walks into my office nearly every single day.
We live in a world with so much abundance, yet we often feel like we’re lacking. You can buy anything you want online with a swipe or a click. You want a massage? Dinner at your door step? There’s an app for that. You can talk to your mother or your best friend across the world, even see their face, without leaving your house — yet we feel alone and disconnected. With so many resources and comforts at our fingertips, why do we feel so overwhelmed?
Anxiety, depression, addiction, and chronic illness are all on the rise. About 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their life. In the US, 1 in 5 Americans experience a mental illness in a given year — the most common of which are anxiety disorders. Over 40 million adults in the US have an anxiety disorder. Every year, doctors prescribe about 50 million prescriptions of Xanax (and roughly 16 million Americans abuse Xanax and similar medications yearly as well).
What is it about today’s society that is making people struggle so much emotionally?
Traditional anxiety triggers exist now as they always have — unemployment, illness, divorce, trauma, work stress, family conflict. But on top of those, we have new age anxieties, many that are a result of everything that’s supposed to make our lives easier.
Take technology for example. It’s made our lives more convenient, but also virtually extended our work hours. Texts and emails come in around the clock; the first thing we do in the morning and the last thing we do at night is check our phones. The hours we should be unplugged we find ourselves working and responding to the outside world.
In fact, we may be suffering from choice overload. We are forced to make 100’s of decisions daily, from among the plethora of options: should I take the Waze route or Google Maps? Should I listen to music or a podcast? Which of these dozens of exactly alike Amazon products has the best reviews? Which of the thousands of “expert” opinions — many conflicting — should I follow? Decision fatigue is overwhelming and exhausting.
And then there’s social media. Research shows that access to social media increases anxiety, depression, low self esteem, self harm, and suicide — because everything looks perfect. In a 60-second scan of Instagram, you’re exposed to hundreds of curated (often filtered) pictures of high-end lifestyles, luxury vacations, and gorgeous outfits and tablescapes. You don’t see the backstory: the sweat, tears, and failures that happened along the way to being successful. You just see the fruits of labor (if the images are even real). This spurs feelings that range from entitlement and desire for perfection to “I’m not good enough” and unrealistic expectations.
People are struggling to keep up with those expectations, spending money they don’t have, which exacerbates their stress. They post and then fanatically check the number of followers, comments, and likes, treating these as an objective measure of their self-worth. This is especially rampant among teens. Yet with all the time spent acquiring audiences and connections online, few have real-life friends they can truly count on in a time of need. That’s a key reason social media is associated with loneliness and social anxiety.
We’re also less resilient than ever. We’re obsessed with control and minimizing uncertainty, predicting this Friday’s weather and traffic. We helicopter our children, jumping to save them before they experience uncomfortable emotions; so they never learn to tolerate the distress and uncomfortable emotions of normal ups and downs of life. Instead the message both children and adults are getting is: Be joyful at all times.
This is clearly not working. How can we find comfort and live meaningful, less anxious lives in this high tech, picture perfect, hustle culture?
Identify — and hone in on — your values
The things that make you most anxious are clues: they’re likely the things that are most important to you. So when you find yourself feeling anxious, don’t judge it or get upset. Instead, get curious.
Why do I think I’m feeling anxious about this?
Why is this important to me? What are my values?
What is my greatest fear?
The things that are most important to you make up your values. When you keep those in mind, you can be intentional about your life and more easily block out the distractions and outside pressures.
Remind yourself of the big picture
This isn’t real; this is just part of the picture.
That should become your mantra. Remind yourself of this truth when you find your heart rate (and feelings of inadequacy) rising as you stare at your friend’s most recent Insta-accomplishment. “I am exactly where I need to be right now,” tell yourself. Success doesn't happen without mistakes and failures; it’s simply not possible.
Explore the fear
Don’t be afraid of your fear.
One client of mine was excessively worried about her college GPA. Our exploration together uncovered the deep fear behind that: becoming homeless. If she did poorly in college, she reasoned, she’d never get a good job and wouldn’t be able to afford rent. With a light shining on that fear, she realized how improbable it was — and her GPA anxiety dissipated.
Exploring the evidence and probability of our anxieties can ground us into reality. But if you can’t stop ruminating, get out of your head and into your body. How? Allow yourself to feel the sensations in your body or get up and do something physical. Avoidance of sensations of emotions results in generalized anxiety disorder.
Take care of your body
Your physical health is directly related to your mental health and mood. Make time for regular meals, adequate water, plentiful sleep (7 to 9 hours a night), and physical activity 3 to 4 times a week. Tune into your body and listen to how you physically feel. Many of us were brought up in environments where feelings were suppressed, so we’re not used to listening to how we feel. But your body is quite good at telling you when it's time to take a break.
Build balance with boundaries
Set limits on social media usage. Turn off your ringer or notifications at night. You’ll find yourself living a more peaceful life. If you see that you’re spending too much time on a purchase, set a time limit or even toss a coin if the item is insignificant (e.g., which brand of toothpaste to buy). You don’t need to read 30 Amazon reviews before buying a mop. Tell yourself: After 10 minutes, I am choosing one.
Mindfulness is the balance between being and doing; it’s living in the present and doing one thing at a time. When you’re mindful, you’re not stuck in the past or worrying about the future. You’re living right now with intention. With mindfulness, you heighten your awareness of your surroundings. You become aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment.
Some people are hyper-focused on accomplishments and achievements: How productive was I today? Others go to the opposite extreme and become so focused on being that all they do is relax — and never accomplish anything. The end goal is a mix, a way to enjoy the moment and enjoy the process of working towards a goal.
Ultimately, mindfulness is our prescription to finding comfort in our frenzied, overstimulated culture. Start by practicing this for a few minutes a day while doing a task, drinking your coffee or just by observing your thoughts.
When you immerse yourself in mindfulness practice and start living with more awareness, it will bring you more joy and serenity. Every time you practice mindfulness, you’re literally changing your brain. Research has shown improvements in depression, anxiety, and chronic illness in those who practiced mindfulness.
If we do this we are not only changing ourselves, but also modeling for our families what intentional living looks like. We’re helping them understand and start to live mindfully on their own. In doing so, we’re ensuring stronger, more resilient — and happier — generations to come.