Many young men today are running the race of life, and not all of them are wearing the right shoes. They’re not doing it for the exercise; they’re doing it because they’re afraid.
People don’t use the word “fear” very often these days, but we’re all familiar with fear’s evil twin: anxiety. Anxiety is a specific kind of fear: It’s the fear of the unknown, the fear of uncertainty, the fear of making mistakes. And it’s skyrocketing.
From obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and its effects are everywhere. Some people use their perfectionistic traits to cope with anxiety and stress, but those who realize they can’t meet their own unrealistic expectations are often more prone to depression.
For many of us, anxiety starts with worry, morphs into dread, and finally reaches depression. Before we know it, we’re spending days in bed binging on Netflix, hitting refresh on Facebook, or staring at the ceiling. Even worse, we could be doing nothing at all.
Why Are We So Anxious?
These cycles are hard to break. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in America, and men who struggle with these disorders are unlikely to seek treatment: Though nearly one in 10 American men struggles with anxiety and depression, only about 40 percent of them seek treatment.
There are many causes of anxiety, but for many of us, these problems stem from a combination of two fears.
The Two Fears
The first is the fear of not achieving perfection. Whether it’s mastering a 100 pushups training regime, landing the perfect kickflip, or writing the greatest song of all time, we all want to be perfect. But the unrelenting pursuit of perfection feeds the monster. It breeds anxiety and causes us to put impossible demands on ourselves.
Our second great worry is a fear of the unknown. We’re inundated daily with depictions of violence, corruption, drought, disease, and racism. Atrocities in the news weigh on our psyche, worsening our panic.
Addressing the Fear
Combine these two problems, and it’s no wonder that so many of us are anxious about the future. Yet, particularly for Millennials, the fear itself isn’t the problem — it’s how we as a society address it.
One of the coping mechanisms we use is distraction. Distraction can be convenient and isn’t necessarily bad if kept in check, but when we let it get out of hand, matters get worse. Unfortunately, technology has only made it easier for the obsession with distraction to take hold.
Netflix is a perfect example. In just one month, Netflix subscribers watched more than 1 billion hours of TV. The streaming service’s appeal stems from escapism. Netflix offers entertainment that can last forever: Someone could stream programming for an eternity if he wanted. And when we’re watching the latest season of “Homeland” or recapping “Breaking Bad,” we feel like we don’t need to think about our problems.
The more lonely and depressed we are, the more likely we are to binge on TV. But instead of flying to planets Netflix, YouTube, or Xbox, we should explore these options:
An active lifestyle may have been the norm 30 years ago, but not so much today. We spend more time indoors and less engaged in activities that produce the feel-good chemicals that better our health.
Regular physical activity not only improves our physical well-being, but it also improves our self-esteem. Exercise releases endorphins, which reduce our perception of pain, and burns cortisol, a chemical brought on by stress that inflames and damages our organs.
Whether we’re running, swimming, or hitting the gym, regular exercise is essential to beating anxiety. Its effects are long-lasting and can do just as well as medication in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
2. Seizing Control of Our Surroundings
We’ve all felt out of control before, but we have to get back in the driver’s seat. It might sound like a cliché, but I don’t know anybody who hasn’t felt nervous sitting in the passenger seat of a car, no matter who is driving.
Our moms could be the safest drivers in the world, but every one of us has had that sudden jolt of fear as she drives onto a busy interstate with us in the passenger seat. Why is that? It’s the loss of control. Would we feel as anxious if we were in the driver’s seat merging onto that interstate — or would we feel better, more confident, and more assured?
If we want to let go of the anxiety, then we need to take back control. This can’t come from controlling other people — only by controlling ourselves. Life is a two-way street: If we want someone else to drive, then we can’t complain about how slow they’re going or whether we arrive at our destinations.
Each of us is responsible for driving ourselves while accepting that accidents happen, we sometimes make mistakes, and none of us is a perfect driver.
How Shaking the Fear Will Better Our Lives
Beating fear is about having the right frame of mind. You probably don’t remember Johnny Mercer, but he was one of the most prolific American songwriters of all time.
Mercer produced more than 1,500 songs, including six for Broadway shows and 90 for motion pictures. He was nominated for 19 Academy Awards, and he won four. That’s more than Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, or Meryl Streep.
His success stemmed from a simple philosophy: He would “write for the wastebasket.”
Mercer wasn’t afraid to make a mistake. He didn’t focus on writing the perfect song because he knew that perfection was unattainable. But if he kept writing songs and kept making mistakes, he knew that he would eventually write a great tune.
He enjoyed writing songs. He didn’t overwhelm himself with one single piece; instead, he kept on going and working, knowing that a focus on perfection was the fastest way to destroy his love.
It’s time we followed Mercer’s philosophical lead. If we write a bad song, then we should just throw it in the wastebasket, take out a new piece of paper, and start writing another.
We shouldn’t give up — we never know when we’re going to hit the mark. It’s time to let go of our fears, take control, and enjoy life.