The anxiety of 2021 definitely affected me. On top of all the natural and man-made disasters, there were/are the usual personal and family issues and struggles as well. People say how glad they were to see 2021 go. However, I am not so cavalier with a whole year of my life. I enjoyed living in 2021.
It's been a difficult five years. Ugly, violent, sad, murderous disasters - both natural and man-made - are on the news every day. Americans found out that even though we have alot, yes, everything - as DiCaprio in Don't Look Up says - we are vulnerable to a modern plague. We also found out that modern technology, which can positively connect us, has been intentionally weaponized against us; insidiously invading our privacy and infiltrating and inciting the collective emotional brain, with passion, lies, foul language and lack of civility.
As I reflect on this past year, I look back at what I learned and what helped me.
1. I chose to get my cerebral cortex back online and keep my friends
I found that I was very angry at alot of the political events in America. There's so much divisiveness online and it's easy to get caught up in the emotional response to every vitriol. I found myself and the people I know creating a large political identity as a coating over their personal identity. This quite interfered with my personal relationships. Further, this type of active emotional manipulation interferes with a functioning, peaceful democracy.
On a personal level, over the course of the past year, I realized I didn't like what was happening to me. I realized I was being emotionally manipulated by the underlying forces that fund our media. I made a conscious decision to step back from the emotional hijacking and get my cerebral cortex back in charge. I actually got off of social media for a while to help my brain detox from the foul language and negativity. This gave clarity to my cognitive functioning. I was once again able to reconnect with people on a positive, personal level. I feel happier, my personal relationships have improved and I am more productive.
2. I found that Social media anxiety disorder is real. I turned off social media consumption
Social media is both good and bad. Studies show that judicious use of social media and connecting with like-minded, positive communities positively impacts mental health (Sensha et al, 2018). But the same studies have show that over-use of social media causes anxiety and depression and withdrawal from real relationships and experiences.
Social media usage impacts the brain in multiple ways. To be healthy, our brains need flow, a state of increased concentration. Just the act of distracted jumping around on social media causes mental unrest.
And social media content is a significant cause of anxiety and depression and increases feel gin of loneliness. Social media is also used to create violent and racist groups, and to bully individuals and to foster radicalization and the splintering and dissolution of a civil society.
What do you consume? Be mindful of how you spend your time, as it affects your emotional well being.
I took time away from social media to reconnect with my creativity, to participate in hobbies, to connect with friends in a healthy way, hiking and walking... Also, I decided to participate in a IRL positive community activity of collecting for a food bank. I found that creativity generates flow. Flow generates creativity. Flow is a healthy state of mind and essential to my emotional well-being. Distracted lack of concentration causes anxiety and depression.
After I navigated away from the foggy clouds of media-and-active-measures-generated political anger, I realized that there were also personal issues to address. It's healthy to re-assess personal issues and put those personal issues in their place.
3. I practiced Self Care & Processed What I Needed to Process
In 2021, I felt anxious. I did what most people do. I just ignored my feelings and figured they were insignificant and would just go away. I guess it's creeps up on you like a hammertoe..some pain and then you find you can't walk without significant pain! When the anxiety was happening alot, I realized I needed to practice self-care and use the tools available to me. I've used therapy as self-care for emotional healing several times in my lifetime. In my twenties, I was going through a young adult developmental life phase: moving out of the house, becoming independent, developing a career, all while coping with a severe, undiagnosed food allergy. I became significantly depressed and processed my feelings in therapy. In my thirties, I suffered from postpartum depression (PPD). A woman has a 30% higher chance of developing PPD if she has suffered from a previous episode of depression in her lifetime. I didn't know that then. I didn't have sufficient information about mental health back then. Mental heath should be taught in schools (for another discussion!). Anyway, this time in my sixties, I reached out to the therapist who had helped me in the past, 25 years ago! Luckily, she was still in business and was doing online work! Hooray! No driving!
The pandemic wasn't the only thing that was causing anxiety. I needed to revisit the task of my own identity development. My son was branching out, starting a new business and is doing well. My mother had passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimer's. These two relationships had changed significantly. In addition, I went through a professional change. I completed all of the coursework for Somatic Experiencing® (three years of it) for treating PTSD/trauma. Somatic Experiencing® has significantly changed the way I practice psychotherapy and opened doors for me professionally. I am treating persons with more severe disorders. It's a big change in responsibility.
All of my roles..as mother, daughter, wife, extended family member, professional psychotherapist...how I defined myself...were all changing. They were shifting by themselves...beneath my conscious thought....I had to catch up! My identity was shifting. I felt like I was in quick sand! I needed to look into the bundle of anxiety I was carrying around and pull apart the myriad of thoughts and feelings underneath. It felt great to do so.
Having someone to deeply listen, who is compassionate, experienced, steeped in research, and who knows you well is deeply healing.
The research defines middle age (designed as 45 - 65) as an adult developmental phase of vital personal growth and change. Self- examination is an important part of this lifespan phase. Generativity concerns, defined by parenting, mentoring, teaching, and helping the community, rise in midlife. Familial roles are fluid as children become adults and move out and perhaps move back in. Grandparenting is an important role as well. Professional roles may re-emerge in importance.
What I learned was to practice self-care and not to neglect my own mental health!
Denworth, L. (2020). Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Degges-White, S., and Stoltz, K. (in press). Archetypal identity development, meaning in life, and life satisfaction: Differences among clinical mental health counselors, school counselors, and counselor educators. Adultpsan.
Dunbar, R. (2021). Friendship-ology. New Scientist, 249(3324), 36–40. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0262-4079(21)00379-1
Kelley, T.M., Pransky, J., and Lambert, E.G. (2016): Realizing Improved Mindfulness/Flow/Mental Health Through Understanding Three Spiritual Principles, Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, DOI: 10.1080/19349637.2016.1215855
Shensa, A., Sidani, J. E., Dew, M. A., Escobar-Viera, C. G., & Primack, B. A. (2018). Social Media Use and Depression and Anxiety Symptoms: A Cluster Analysis. American journal of health behavior, 42(2), 116–128. https://doi.org/10.5993/AJHB.42.2.11
Vannuccia, A., Flannery, K. M., McCauley-Ohannessianac, C. (2016) Social media use and anxiety in emerging adults. Journal of Affective Disorders. 1 January 2017, Vol(7), pp. 163-166