By Andrea E. Parsons, MSW, LCSW
The reality of being on social media means being bombarded by images and articles about how to be ever calm and happy, how to become a financial success, how to look younger, more attractive, etc. and so on. Add to the mix news outlets manipulating fear knowing that we are much more apt to click on a headline about tragedy over some good news. I believe that this toxic combination is a major contributor to our nation's rise in mental health symptoms because each create a disconnect within ourselves and to our environment.
So, what's the answer? GO ALL IN. That's the answer. Let's start with perfectionism.
A lot of us don't even realize that we're striving for perfectionism because the concept of being perfect seems so outside of our realm of reality that we don't relate to the term. So, is this you? The answer lies in your answer to one question: Do you believe that you are enough as is in all areas of your life right now? If your answer is 'no,' you're denying to recognize your inherent worth in this moment (Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection).
Read More: Take Care of Yourself, Seriously
Understand that it's healthy to set goals beyond your current capacity. But you can do this while believing that in the present, you are enough. If you believe that your worth increases when you accomplish a goal, your mood will fluctuate considerably with deep lows that can linger.
In addition to your mood taking a hit, you'll likely become a bit avoidant because you feel embarrassed for being “not enough.”
This avoidance takes many forms. It might show up in your refusal to wear a bathing suit without a coverup or you choose not to apply for a job because you've convinced yourself that your resume isn't impressive enough, or you don't share your opinions at a dinner party. The examples are endless. The result is being less than fully engaged in your life; you become more of a passive observer from a distance. The more passive you feel in your life the more disempowered you will feel. This can lead to often feeling sad and stressed.
Now let's turn to manipulating our fears. Activating the brain's fight, flight or freeze system is not difficult to do because sensing danger is essential for the survival of any species. The earliest humans had the same defense system to sense danger as we do today. They did not, however, have the development of logic and reason (cavepeople were not splitting the atom!). What this means is that their fear response was activated only by the true threat of danger. Now, our anxieties are activated by our imagining fearful situations (the part of our brain where fear sits has no capacity for logic or reason-it cannot discern the difference between real and perceived danger). The media absolutely knows this.
The result of this is disengagement from what's going on in the moment. It looks like this: It's the end of a long, busy day and you're excited for some downtime before bed. You decide to scroll through the news feed on your phone. Headline after headline is terrible. You tell yourself that you're not going to click anymore because it's the same sensationalized story recycled. But then, one headline grabs you and you click. Tragedy has struck a family that could be any family. You start imagining if this happened to your family. You start researching the story more.
The next morning you're eating breakfast with your family, but your mind is imagining if that story you read happened to your family. You're not present. You're somewhere else. You don't enjoy the conversation as much as you would if you weren't creating a story of future tragedy. You are disengaged because anxiety's preoccupation with future calamity robs us of being present. For these reasons, we must live our life ALL IN THE PRESENT.
ALL IN means we're fully engaged. It means we use our voice, we listen to others, we show up as us. It means that when we have an anxious thought about something that hasn't even happened, we counter it by returning to the present moment while telling ourselves that we are choosing to live life ALL IN. We refuse to succumb to entertaining future loss or to the belief that we're not enough right now.
When you get rattled, just say ALL IN. In this moment, I choose to be all in. When you live in the present, you will be better able to remain calm and focused. That inner peace allows you to set goals and to problem solve for the future rather than worry about it. Give it a try; live your life all in this moment.
Andrea E. Parsons, MSW, LCSW is a therapist, wife and mom trying her best to balance work and life so she can enjoy all the beauty that life in Northern California has to offer her.