How Modern Life Causes Anxiety (and What to do About It)

People on their phones at the train station

While there’s plenty about modern life that makes our day-to-day easier, there’s also a lot of aspects that can cause and perpetuate anxiety. Sure, we’ve got a world of information and thousands of apps at our fingertips, but is that really a good thing? Did people in the olden days, in a way, have it easier than we do? I mean, anxiety was a thing in 400 BC, just ask Hippocrates. But did the ancient Greeks have to deal with Instagram or deciphering cryptic text messages (or lack thereof) from a someone he went on a date with last night? Nope.

Here are some common modern life stressors — and more importantly, what you can do to cope with them.

Trigger 1: Open Office Plans

Cubicles aren’t super fun, but neither are open office plans. The concept is relatively new and was meant to make employees feel better at work. Studies show, however, this isn’t necessarily the case.

On my first day (and…many days after that) working at a magazine with an open office plan, I found myself hyperventilating and suffering in silence at my desk. My boss was a foot away from me at our shared table, and I was in the direct eye line of the editor-in-chief at all times. It’s not that I was slacking off, it was just that I always felt like I was being watched!

Open plans add to the pressure we feel at the office. Don’t see anyone else taking a lunch break? Well, guess you shouldn’t either! Don’t see anyone showing any signs of leaving at 6 PM? Well, if you leave at 6 on the dot, you must be a slacker, right?

What to do about it:

For better or worse, sometimes the only way out is through. You might be stuck sitting at that same desk in the same office for a while. Hopefully as time goes on, you’ll become more accustomed to the situation.

A big help for me was finding a buddy in the office who I could be totally open and honest with about my anxiety. She completely understood, and just having her there was always comforting. Also when one employee left who had a desk that was less in the center of the room, I sprung and immediately claimed it. It made a difference! As for the guilt about lunch or leaving on time, if it really starts to affect your well-being, you may have to bring it up to your boss or HR.

Trigger 2: Comparing Ourselves to People in Media

I was never self conscious about my “small” lips until i saw the influx of celebrities getting their lips done (cough cough, Kylie Jenner). Suddenly, I felt inadequate and less sexy because I lacked puffy, pillowy lips. My heart aches for all my beautiful friends who feel like they aren’t good enough the way they are, sending photos in group chats saying, “I need Selena Gomez’s nose” or “I need Victoria’s Secret model abs!” When we’re bombarded by advertisements and so much TV (or Netflix) we’re constantly exposed to unrealistic beauty standards.

What to do about it:

Remember almost everything you see in magazines and advertising is edited! Even campaigns that feature no photoshopping aren’t “natural.” There’s a whole team of makeup artists, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists, and lighting pros. What average person has a whole team devoted to making them look perfect? Comparing ourselves to others gets us nowhere. The less we compare ourselves to others and the more we focus on the things we love about ourselves, the better.

Trigger 3: Being Addicted to Social Media

One word: FOMO! Seeing photos of our friends hanging out without us isn’t fun and can send us into a downward spiral. FOMO isn’t just about our friends, though. It can make us feel like our lives are inadequate compared to those who are always posting travel photos, or bragging about their huge engagement ring.

Even though our friends probably aren’t celebrities, average people edit their faces in pictures they post, too! Enter, Facetune. Apps make it easier than ever to edit our appearance with just a few taps and swipes. It’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not.

What to do about it:

Remember social media is an illusion. Oftentimes peoples’ social media feeds are a very curated selection of images and videos. We only post pictures of days when we look the best, and of the days we’re at the most “Instagrammable” places. I deleted Snapchat a few years ago after some particularly upsetting stories (SO much FOMO) and never looked back. Now, I’m a big advocate of deleting a social media platform if it’s making you upset.

If it’s not serving you, let it go. Are you getting super heated over Facebook fights? Do you find yourself compulsively stalking your ex on every social platform that exists? It’s probably time to take a break. Delete the problematic app for at least a few days and see how you feel.

Trigger 4: Interpreting Online Communication

The number of “WHAT DOES THIS TEXT MESSAGE MEAN?!” text messages I’ve sent and received is saddening. When communicating in-person, it’s usually much simpler to interpret what someone really means when they speak to us, thanks to tone of voice and social cues.

These are non existent when we’re communicating electronically — whether with friends on our phones or with our bosses via email — and it can be hard and stressful to figure out how they said what they said. Often, we jump to the worst case scenario. Plus, we also have to deal with interpreting a lack of communication. The stress an unanswered text alone can warrant is unprecedented.

What to do about it:

Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Point out the obvious — it’s an awkward thing to ask! Sometimes this can help you feel a little less uncomfortable and confrontational straight off the bat. You can say, “Hey, I know this is kind of awkward to ask, but I feel like that message kind of came across as [insert adjective describing the vibe you got here]. Sometimes it’s really hard to decipher these things over text.”

Also, remember that jumping to worst-case-scenario thoughts isn’t going to help you out at all. Take a step back and breathe. In the grand scheme of things, it’s only one little message.

Trigger 5: Feeling Like You Always Have to be “On” for Work

With modern technology and email apps on our phones, we can feel pressured to work more than we need to. We feel like we need to be accessible 24/7. Coworkers and supervisors have our personal cell numbers and in a lot of cases, aren’t afraid to use them.

No matter your profession, many of us are feeling like we need to check email outside of work hours to prove we’re dedicated hard workers. On top of being electronically “on,” we get sucked into working longer days and skipping out on lunch breaks (the open office plan effect!). It’s not uncommon to feel like one “wrong move” can cost you your career in today’s job climate.

What to do about it:

Trust me, I know it can be hard to find a work-life balance and to compartmentalize and keep thoughts of work at work. My number one piece of advice: don’t check your email when you first wake up! There’s truly no point, and the chances of something being sooo urgent that it can’t wait until you get to work are slim to none.

If you really feel like this problem is affecting you at work and outside of work, have an open and honest talk with your boss. Again, this isn’t easy and can be totally awkward, but you’ll be glad you did it. Oh, and for the love of god, turn off your email notifications.

Take Action!

We can’t change which year we were born, so we’ve just gotta work with it. We do have a choice in our lifestyle. Try out some of these tips and see how you feel! Tiny changes can make a big difference.

 

Published by

Ashley Laderer

Contributor