Despite Our Anxiety, the World Isn’t Ending Yet
Every generation has their anxiety dues to pay.
Posted July 20, 2022 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
- Despite the "end of times" media motif, we've been here before.
- Exposure techniques are a common and effective method of treating anxiety related to the state of the world.
- Strategies to help shift your perspective include regular breaks from the news and social media, doing something creative, and staying active.
Our ancestors endured many tough times, such as the Spanish Flu, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, slavery, and all those missing dinosaurs–from which no one has heard a word since the Cretaceous Period.
So it seems afoul to rob our angst-ridden predecessors by crowning our own epoch the “Age of Anxiety” or the “End of Times.”
Today’s Anxiety Threat: “High”
We live in a culture of alarmism in which the glut of bad news yields fear, aggression, and anxiety. It’s not that the world has gotten worse, but that prolific media is relentlessly reporting it in HD pessimism and push notifications to your phone. The only winners in this unhealthy arrangement are the advertisers who regularly interrupt the 24-hour news to scare us into buying more life insurance and anti-depressants.
The world is vast and rife, with many positive things continually taking place. Did you know Border Collies have been fitted with seed-spreading satchels and trained to run through miles of charred lands to restore burnt forests? Or that new coral reefs are being made with terra cotta clay via 3D printers?
Mainstream Media Does Not Portray an Accurate Picture of Reality
Research on the connection between media consumption and stress found that the news can make us feel helpless while creating cognitive shortcuts that cause us to see the world less optimistically and as a darker place.1 It is this unrelenting consciousness of every flaw of humanity that creates the feeling of a chaotic and insecure world that doesn’t exist as portrayed. Take solace knowing that the world is not getting worse; rather, we are inundated and over-informed like never before.
Follow the trendlines, not the headlines. Trends are far more encouraging and contrary to the daily news. Your brain is simply more heightened and sensitive to unpleasant news because it leads to faster learning that is more resistant to extinction in both humans and animals.2 This negativity bias is so instinctive that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain's information processing—even before your ability to solve the mystery in a Scooby-Doo episode prior to the unveiling.
Try Some Cognitive Exposure
Exposure techniques are a common and effective method of treating anxiety related to the state of the world. Exposure changes your fear by first activating it and then nullifying unrealistic fears. DIY exposure therapy is gladiator-level self-improvement.
Something like climate change triggers worry and anxiety while eliciting “What if…” questions. Worrying about the climate is a thought process centered on the future where there is uncertainty about the outcome. Will we dehydrate into human raisins? Will we be forced to colonize a lesser planet? Is God upset that we trashed one of his cosmic marbles?
In the case of perceiving the world as far more dangerous than it is, a fitting exposure tactic can include facing the world and seeing it for what it actually is: unpredictable but not as deathtrap-centric as you think. Challenge the thoughts that overrate the risks to lessen catastrophic thinking.
Anxious people on other planets probably think their worlds are ending too. Maybe that’s why they keep visiting. Yet we’ve all survived countless predictions of end times scenarios, with the present being the most recent. Even Mad Max took place in 2021. Surely future apocalyptic forecasts will similarly fall away.
6 More Helpful Things You Can Try
- Take regular breaks from the news and social media. Actively seek out good news or watch cute, funny, inspirational videos or TV shows instead. (Hint: cat videos.)
- Each day cite three things for which you’re grateful or things that are going well in your life. Maybe you dodged a tax audit or a friend’s multi-level marketing scheme this year, for example.
- Do something artistic or creative to express yourself. Even if it’s something you don’t feel skilled at or ever share with anyone else. That’s how bloggers start out.
- Develop a healthy and consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed at a reasonable hour and at the same time every night. And no doom-scrolling your phone.
- Seek help from your doctor or a mental health professional if your anxiety feels especially bad. If you’re uncertain if you should seek help, then you should.
- Stay active and exercise. Most of us dress in activewear regularly. We might as well live the attire.
Remember: We once thought we’d all die if we mixed Pop Rocks® and cola in our mouths, and that turned out to be fun.
McNaughton-cassill, M. E. (2001). The news media and psychological distress. Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 14(2), 193–211.
Thorndike, E. L. (1898). Animal Intelligence: An Experimental Study of the Associative Processes in Animals. Psychological Review, 5(5), 551–553.