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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

Anxiety is toxic and contagious — chill out!

In aging, behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, life, urban life, US, work on May 5, 2014 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

 

You have no excuse to bully others. None.

You have no excuse to bully others. None.

 

Last week brought two unprecedented experiences in my 30 years as a freelance journalist.

Two editors each apologized to me by email. One had driven me nuts with micro-managing while the other snapped my head off verbally and hung up on me for daring to (politely) argue my point.

Yes,  I could have shrugged it off. But I didn’t.

Being repeatedly subjected to others’ anxiety and unmoderated rage leaves me shaking head to toe.

When I told a third editor — also a veteran of our industry — her reaction shocked me a little, because such incivility is something we’re all just supposed to ignore and shrug off.

“You’re lucky,” she said. “Many people would not have apologized.”

Why is it our job to absorb, ignore or deflect your toxic anxiety?

People in my industry, and in many others, are running so scared that many are behaving like terrified toddlers lost in a sea of unfamiliar knees at Disneyworld.

The sexy new word for this latest debacle of American employment-at-will — (i.e. they can fire you anytime, anywhere for any reason at all. No reason, even! And the law makes it impossible for you to sue or claim redress. Yay capitalism!)precariat.

From The New York Times:

Thirty years ago, a vast majority of Americans identified as members of the middle class. But since 1988, the percentage of Americans who call themselves members of the “have-nots” has doubled. Today’s young people are more likely to believe success is a matter of luck, not effort, than earlier generations.

These pessimistic views bring to mind a concept that’s been floating around Europe: the Precariat. According to the British academic Guy Standing, the Precariat is the growing class of people living with short-term and part-time work with precarious living standards and “without a narrative of occupational development.” They live with multiple forms of insecurity and are liable to join protest movements across the political spectrum.

The American Precariat seems more hunkered down, insecure, risk averse, relying on friends and family but without faith in American possibilities.

Here’s a link to Standing’s 2011 book, which I want to read.

In my industry one-third have lost our jobs since 2008, most of which are not coming back. So those left employed are clutching their staff positions like a drowning man with a life-vest. They’re freaked out by anything or anyone that threatens their hold — literally — on the upper middle class.

I get it! A midlife, mid-career drop in income is deeply unpleasant.

But this widespread free-floating work-related anxiety feels toxic, whether coming from other freelancers — some of whom seem to tremble in the corner most of the time, persuaded they have zero bargaining power, too terrified to negotiate better rates or contracts — or bad-tempered staff editors.

My recent eight-day working trip to Nicaragua, even working long days in 95 degree heat, was totally different. We were treated with kindness, respect and welcome.

It made me viscerally understand that many journalists (many workers!) are becoming accustomed to being treated rudely and roughly.

That’s crazy. And I came home with a much clearer sense of this.

So people, it’s time to get a grip on your anxiety:

Meditate. Move to a cheaper place. Do whatever it takes to lower your living expenses. Work three jobs if necessary, and bulk up your savings so if you get canned or face a dry spell, you’re able to manage.

It’s time to stop flinging your anxiety (aka shit) at those around you, in some desperate attempt to offload it onto those in even more precarious situations — like unpaid interns and your army of freelancers, none of whom can even collect sick pay or unemployment benefits.

We’re already stressed, too!

images-1

 

We are not monkeys in the monkey house.

Why struggle? Drop that crocodile!

In aging, behavior, business, life, women, work on May 9, 2012 at 12:31 am
American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). This p...

American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). This photograph was taken at La Manzanilla, Jalisco State in Mexico, on the Pacific Coast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the umpteenth time, my life felt like I was wrestling a large, wet, thrashing and dangerous creature — a crocodile, as it were — that was the drama du jour. It might have been the crappy relationship with my mother, half-brother, stepmother, an editor (or three).

It might have been a fight with my sweetie, now my husband. It might have been my own insecurity or fear over my weight or my work or my income.

The more I wrestled with it, the more it thrashed, its scaly and powerful tail smacking me in the head, metaphorically speaking.

Hold it tighter! Make it submit! Then I had an epiphany, one that’s shaped my life ever since.

Drop the damn crocodile!

Just drop that slimy scaly sucker and walk the hell away.

Oooooh, that feels so much better.

It’s counter-intuitive for some of us to let something drop, to allow it to simply not matter anymore. We’re taught never to give up. To try our best. To work at things.

But, you know, sometimes that damn crocodile will kill you if you keep hanging onto it, its ferocious strength draining all of yours as you keep wrestling it.

Here are just a few of the crocodiles I’ve dropped in the past few years:

— obsessing about my income. And, funny thing, it’s rising, up 40 percent in 2011 over 2010. I expect 2012 to rise even further. Neurosis is rarely appealing to anyone, especially clients.

– whining about my weight. I need to lose 40+ pounds. I could go nuts or just try to do it in my own way. I’m working on it. It will take months. Whatever.

– worrying about whether or not I’ll be able to sell my  next book. Probably will.  If not, something else will come along.

– caring what my Dad thinks. Yes, I still do. But not nearly as much as I used to.

– keeping a spotless home. I used to waste a whole ton of productive work-time on house-cleaning. Now we have a maid coming twice a month, for a total cost of $110, which is less than my lowest hourly rate. I have more time to make more money.

— fretting over the normal costs of running my business, like my web designer and hiring paying assistants and lawyers and others for their help and expertise. Outsource! It’s all a tax deduction next year anyway.

– managing some of my business associates. Too difficult. Time to move on.

– trying to please my mother. Impossible. We no longer have any relationship at all. Sad to say, I have never been happier.

– keeping up friendships that actually left me feeling miserable. Just because someone was once a dear friend doesn’t mean they’re going to remain one. You change, they change and habits that might once have seemed normal can become unworkable. If you’ve tried to resolve them and it’s just not going to happen, time to drop that croc.

– getting my hip replaced.  Two years of increasing pain, exhaustion, depression and frustration are gone since I had a new hip implanted in February 2012. I was terrified of the surgery and a poor result. I have my life back! I’m happy and strong once more.

What crocs are wearing you out these days?

Can you drop a few of them?

Does Boarding School Screw You Up For Life?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, life, women on February 2, 2012 at 12:03 am
English: Students at the Old Fort Lewis Indian...

Image via Wikipedia

I went off to boarding school at eight, the youngest girl there. I went off to summer camp, eight weeks at a stretch, at the same age. I saw my mother on weekends, my father (from whom she was divorced) whenever he was around, which was intermittent as he was a film-maker who often traveled far away for months for his work.

So, there you are, surrounded by a sea of strangers, whose rules and regulations — and kindness, compassion and goodwill — will make or break the rest of your childhood and/or adolescence.

Weird? Yes.

Formative? Definitely.

Here’s a recent editorial from The Guardian on sending young kids off to boarding school — considered perfectly normal behavior by some Britons:

So I want to try once more to begin a discussion about an issue we still refuse to examine: early boarding. It is as British as warm beer, green suburbs and pointless foreign wars. Despite or because of that we won’t talk about it. Those on the right will not defend these children as they will not criticise private schools. Those on the left won’t defend them, as they see them as privileged and therefore undeserving of concern. But children’s needs are universal; they know no such distinctions.

The UK Boarding Schools website lists 18 schools which take boarders from the age of eight, and 38 which take them from the age of seven. I expect such places have improved over the past 40 years; they could scarcely have got worse. Children are likely to have more contact with home; though one school I phoned last week told me that some of its pupils still see their parents only in the holidays. But the nature of boarding is only one of the forces that can harm these children. The other is the fact of boarding.

In a paper published last year in the British Journal of Psychotherapy, Dr Joy Schaverien identifies a set of symptoms common among early boarders that she calls boarding school syndrome. Her research suggests that the act of separation, regardless of what might follow it, “can cause profound developmental damage”, as “early rupture with home has a lasting influence on attachment patterns”.

When a child is brought up at home, the family adapts to accommodate it: growing up involves a constant negotiation between parents and children. But an institution cannot rebuild itself around one child. Instead, the child must adapt to the system. Combined with the sudden and repeated loss of parents, siblings, pets and toys, this causes the child to shut itself off from the need for intimacy. This can cause major problems in adulthood: depression, an inability to talk about or understand emotions, the urge to escape from or to destroy intimate relationships. These symptoms mostly affect early boarders: those who start when they are older are less likely to be harmed.

So true.

It sure ain’t Hogwarts, kids!

The very notion of daily, familial emotional intimacy — whaddya mean I’m supposed to share my feelings? Feelings?! — is as alien to me, even now, as Jupiter. It’s no accident I married a man who is very affectionate, grew up in a normal family with two sisters at home and easily says “I love you” a lot.

I have only one friend who also had this experience, a man a bit older, who has some very similar emotional patterns. At best, we can tough out almost anything without sniveling or whining. At worst, we come across as (and may well be!) cold, bossy, disconnected.

Some of what you learn:

You rarely cry. There’s no one to cry to. Bluntly stated, no one cares. There’s no one offering a comforting hug or a hand to hold if you’re anxious, ill, homesick or scared. You share a room with four to six other girls, some just as miserable, whose distant parents live even further away than yours, in Nassau or Caracas or North Bay.

You rarely share your feelings. No one in authority has the time or interest to sit with you. No one asks. “So, how was your day, sweetie?” They check your name on a list to make sure you are present. i.e. not missing, not a problem, not a liability. Your assigned room-mates? They might hate you, or use personal information against you. Best not to offer them any ammo.

A vicious tongue. Because you cannot fight physically and cannot leave and cannot find privacy from those who are making you crazy, you learn to wound verbally. Not pretty.

Television and radio are impossibly exotic treats. This was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I got to watch television at school maybe once a week, with a bunch of other girls in the common room. I laughed really loudly — probably at a sitcom — and was admonished for not being ladylike. (You should hear how loudly I laugh today!)

Food and drink take on additional importance. Every meal, including snacks, is served on a schedule, in a pre-determined location. We were told each week at school what table to sit at. Between-meal hunger? Deal with it: sneak food out, keep some in your room. Tip: trying to carry oranges, apples or grapefruit in your baggy, saggy bloomers is not an effective strategy.

Privacy is the greatest luxury imaginable. Every waking hour, you’re surrounded by other people, some of whom you loathe and vice versa: in your bed, in the bathroom, in the dining hall, in the classroom, in classes and sports.

Your self-image is shaped by people who make judgments about you with incomplete information. I was asked to leave my boarding school after Grade 9 for being, (as I was that year), disobedient, rude and disruptive. But no one ever bothered, kindly and with genuine concern for me, to ask why. In high school, my nickname was the Ice Queen, so little emotion did I show. Go figure.

The upsides:

Self-reliance. Independence. A stiff upper lip. I know to make a bed, iron wool, tie a tie. (Part of our uniform.) Whistle with two fingers. Swear like a sailor. An excellent education with ferociously high standards. Tons of homework, as early as fourth grade. No boys to distract us. The automatic assumption that smart girls rule, that men are not to be deferred to simply because they expect it and the expectation that every girl is capable of, and will produce, excellence and leadership.

All good things!

Did you leave your family at an early age?

How did it affect you?

Weeping In Seat 6D

In behavior, life, travel on November 19, 2011 at 1:16 am
you are an airplane II

Image by sternenrauschen via Flickr

Oh, my. I am so not fond of turbulence. Is anyone?

Came home this week to New York after a fantastic five days exploring Chicago, flying on small regional jet over the Great Lakes, a 90 minute journey. My flight there was easy and comfortable.

Not the return.

We were warned before takeoff it would be a rough flight, not just for some of it, but all of it. Gulp. When it’s that rough, whatever alcoholic consolation I might have chosen would have probably bathed me at some point. So I desisted and did a lot of deep breathing. I read every single word of the New York Times Book Review (even the kids’ books) to keep myself distracted.

Then I just lost it and started weeping, feeling like the biggest damn baby in the world. Some guy was snoring through it. The poor man in front of me turned around to see what was happening and I apologized. The steward asked if there was anything he could do. I apologized to him but said, truthfully, no.

The plane bucked like a bronco. There’s nothing you can do, so a control freak like me is not happy at such moments. I also know, thanks to a friend who’s a commercial pilot, that they almost always — domestically — have two or more choices of altitude to move into to avoid or at least minimize the chaos. But we didn’t, as the pilot regretfully informed us when we landed.

I was the last off, trying to gather my wits and get my pulse rate down. It was the second-worst experience I’ve had in the air — the longest I’d felt such turbulence was a 10-hour flight from Taipei to San Francisco in 1994. At hour five, the lane shook like mad for about an hour. Flight attendants were told to stay in their seats and not move.

That left me really rattled, which is tough given how much I love to travel to places very far away. All I can do when the plane starts shimmying is try to stay calm and know that pilots really are doing their very best to keep us all safe.

How about you?

Are you a brave bunny in the face of turbulence?

Or (cringes in embarrassment) a blubbering one?

Define “Successful”

In behavior, books, business, domestic life, family, journalism, life, Money, women, work on June 15, 2011 at 12:39 pm
The New York Times

Image by Laughing Squid via Flickr

I found out this week that my new book won’t be getting a review from The New York Times. For ambitious writers, a review — even a crummy one — in the Times is a sure sign of success.

So, I’m disappointed.

But…maybe I dodged a bullet. Some of “Malled’s” reviews have been so vicious they’ve left me gasping.

And yet almost every day since it came out I’ve also been getting private emails from fellow workers in retail, like the one that arrived this morning asking: “Have you spent 23 years sitting on my shoulder?”

To know I’ve been able to tell a complex story well and to connect emotionally with readers is success for me.

I’ve been struggling for a while to write a guest post about “the writer’s life”. There are many!

The reason I can’t figure out what to say is that we all define success so differently.

I received an email this week from a young woman who described me as very successful. In many ways, on paper, that’s true; I’ve punched most of the standard tickets.

But how do I feel internally?

Hah!

Because “Malled” has gotten a ton of press attention, many people consider this success. But for a writer trying to find thousands of paying readers, it’s only one crucial piece of it…success is actually selling books.

Success, for me, is the ability to wake up in the morning and not worry about where the next set of bill payments is going to come from, and freelancing without any steady income means almost constant anxiety.

Getting a job doesn’t feel like it would solve the problem; my last staff job, from 2005-2006 at the New York Daily News, was a terrible fit and an extremely stressful experience. No job can be better than the wrong job. And at my age, in this hard-hit field, getting a staff job feels next to impossible.

Success to me, then, would mean freedom from financial anxiety.

For others, it’s another day simply being alive and/or healthy, or their child’s achievements or finding and keeping a partner or a home…

How about you?

How do you define it?

Have you achieved it?

Or is it…I suspect!…a constantly moving target?


Studies Find Exercise Calms You Down By Remodeling Your Brain

In Health, sports on December 6, 2009 at 8:12 pm
A woman on a treadmill (Original caption: &quo...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s probably no surprise to those of us who have been using exercise as our drug of choice since childhood, but recent studies, described in The New York Times Magazine, find that exercising consistently actually remodels the brain — and creates one, writes Gretchen Reynolds, that is “biochemically, molecularly calm.”

I’ve recently been unable to work out the ways I usually do — walking, playing softball, the treadmill and bike — due to a stress fracture in my left foot. So, for the first time in years, I went swimming instead. It’s been a really stressful time recently, with my partner wondering if he’d lose his newspaper job, so not exercising has been hell. I feel cooped up in the box of my own body. The water was blood-warm, the pool at mid-day uncrowded and, thanks to a glass wall and door, flooded with light. I felt redeemed.

Once more, thanks to moving and using my muscles and my skills, sweating and panting, I felt like me, because “me” is someone strong, active and flexible. Yup, I will be a lousy, grouchy old lady if I lose these gifts. Which is why I want to keep enjoying them every minute I now can.

The Times’ piece points out — if you’re new to the world of exercise/sports — it takes time for the brain to change, at least a month. Well worth it.

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