Anxiety

Feeling Anxious? Tips for Fighting Fear-Mongering

May 24, 2024

Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

No doubt the world can be a scary place. There are legitimate dangers out there, threats to life, health, and sanity.

But.

Every day I see headlines that use fear in order to get me to read on. Even perfectly innocuous information gets presented as if Something Very Bad is going to happen if I don’t read and heed. Nuance is lost. This barrage of fear-mongering produces in me a near-constant, low-level anxiety. I’ve noticed that I often feel physical symptoms of anxiety, like the clenching of my stomach muscles, a feeling of heaviness, even a tingly adrenaline reaction. I also often have a mental feeling of dread.

What I’m talking about here is not the very real and serious actual news regarding human beings who are living through war, natural disasters, or other terrible circumstances. What I’m talking about is the use of fear to attract attention to everyday matters. We are being made to be afraid of things we don’t need to be afraid of.

Why so much fear-mongering?

There’s a saying in journalism, “If it bleeds, it leads.” In other words, the more sensational (and scary) a story, the more prominent its place. Today we also have “click bait”—outrageous headlines intended to collect as many mouse clicks as possible. Add to that the algorithms of social media and other websites that continually offer up similar content to what we’ve already clicked on, distorting the reality of a situation or topic.

You could be excused for believing the world is simply horrible in every way.

One reason fear-mongering is so common is the sheer amount of content we see every day. Without fear, a topic/brand/story could get lost in the noise. Scary headlines say, “Hey, look at me!”  or, more commonly, “Hey, buy my products!”

We can fall for this tactic because we want to be in the know. We want to do what’s “right,” or we want to be “better safe than sorry.”

Antidotes to anxiety

I don’t know about you, but I am so tired of feeling anxious all the time. Here are some things I do to protect my mental state. (This is what I do; I’m not saying it’s right, or even right for anyone else.)

My first step is to reduce and curate my consumption of content, news, and headlines. This includes my phone’s news feed and my Instagram account. I read one local newspaper, subscribe to a news aggregator email (which gives me the option to skim headlines or dig deeper), and avoid news on TV. I also try to avoid the most sensational headlines and stories, and choose a few trusted sources of information to check in with.

Get offline and be with real people. Talk to them about their lives and activities. I am an introvert, so too much “people-ing” stresses me out, but I’ve found that having a conversation with a friend, or even just chatting with a random stranger often soothes my fears about how awful everything is. People are interesting, and at least 99 percent of the people I interact with are decent, not jerks.

Reframe a seemingly bad situation in a positive way. This is my super power and something I naturally do. I always try to focus on the best parts of a bad situation.

Stay in the present moment, rather than worry about what might happen. Truly pay attention, using all my senses.

Think over and record things that happen or things I notice, whether through journaling, or my Daily Delight Project. This helps remind me of the variety of human experience. A bonus is looking back over past journal entries—I’ve survived all the ups and downs of my life so far! 

Allow feelings to come and go without attaching to them. Rather than try to avoid fear and anxiety altogether, if I start to feel these feelings, I allow them in, notice them, and allow them to dissipate.

(Try to) freely admit that I don’t always fully understand something. I feel like this is true about more and more subjects all the time, and that concerns me. Until I remember that I don’t have to understand everything to behave according to two of my core values: kindness and curiosity. This relieves the pressure and anxiety of having to be “right.”

(Click here for additional ways to reduce anxiety and worry.) 

One of the challenges of 21st century living is sifting through the huge amount of information thrust at us every day, much of it screaming in our faces. I hope these suggestions help you take control of the noise. Let me know in the comments what strategies you use to reduce fear and anxiety in your life.

Edith Wharton

How to Remain Alive

May 17, 2024



“In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”

—Edith Wharton

Books

Happiness Reads: Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier

May 10, 2024


It’s been a while since I read a new book about happiness. When I saw the title of this one, I had to pick it up since my word of the year is build: Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier, by Arthur C. Brooks and Oprah Winfrey (2023, Portfolio/Penguin, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC). I’m always drawn to the idea that we can do something to create a happier life.

An overview of Build the Life You Want

I think this is a good basic book about happiness, and it’s a pleasant, easy read. While there’s nothing especially new and ground-breaking, it contains some great reminders about ways we can influence our own levels of happiness.

Build the Life You Want is broken into three parts:

1. Understanding happiness and unhappiness.

2. Managing your positive and negative emotions.

3. Building a happier life by focusing on four pillars: family, friends, work, faith.

The book concludes by encouraging readers to “become the [happiness] teacher,” since “The best happiness teachers are the ones who have had to work to gain the knowledge they offer, not the lucky ones who fall out of bed every day in a great mood.” (This one sentence sums up my mission and motivation for creating Catching Happiness!)

A few takeaways that resonated with me

You can have high happiness and high unhappiness at the same time. The two can coexist. You don’t have to wait until all unhappy feelings are gone before you start to get happier.

The “macronutrients” of happiness are: enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose. Enjoyment goes beyond pleasure by combining it with communion and consciousness—sharing a pleasurable activity with someone else and making a memory together. Satisfaction is the thrill of accomplishing a goal or something you have to work for. And purpose, or meaning, helps us face our struggles with hope and inner peace.

Regarding emotions: “Your emotions are signals to our conscious brain that something is going on that requires your attention and action—that’s all they are. Your conscious brain, if you choose to use it, gets to decide how you will respond to them.”

I loved the suggestion to “choose a better emotion.” You don’t have to accept the emotion you feel first. You can substitute a better one that you want. Use gratitude, humor, hope, and compassion to find and feel more positive emotions.

I’d recommend Build the Life You Want if you want a refresher course in becoming happier.

What are your favorite books about happiness?

Daily Delight Project

Welcome to the Daily Delight Project

May 03, 2024

A delight
Photo by caleb weiner on Unsplash

You might have noticed that over the last year+ I’ve been struggling with a lot of challenging, sorrowful events and taking you all right along with me into the emotional depths. Even though this blog is intended to be a be a bright spot on the internet, a place you can go to read about more positive aspects of life, I also want to be honest and real about how my life plays out. I don’t want to just give you the highlight reel, or indulge in toxic positivity. I’ve tried to honestly share my feelings and experiences, to normalize the fact that life does hold sorrow and that it’s completely fine to feel that pain and grief.

But while I continue to feel all the feelings, I think it’s also time to consciously and more frequently focus on something besides dealing with my heavy and confused emotions. (And aren’t you glad to hear that?!)

Enter the Daily Delight Project (DDP).

How the Daily Delight Project came about

A few years ago, I read poet Ross Gay’s The Book of Delights, full of his beautiful little essays about things which delighted him. Since then, I’ve wanted to do something similar, but you know, Life Happened. And kept happening.

But now I feel ready to give it a try. I’m starting with just jotting a few lines in my journal or planner, and I also plan to snap photos with my phone and post them on Instagram/Facebook. I’m shooting for every day in May, but I’m not going to beat myself up if I don’t manage that. (Check out my first few posts here.)

One thing I’ve found already is that first, I have to deliberately look for a possible delight. This makes me pay more attention to my surroundings and what’s happening around me, instead of retreating into myself and ruminating. Once I’ve noticed something, I have to allow it to delight me—in other words, I have to do more than just notice, I have to look deeper and think about what I’m seeing.

For example, when I’m outside, I might glance up and notice the white puffy clouds against the deep blue sky. If I really pay attention, I do feel delight at their beauty—I really love those puffy clouds! But I don’t always take the time to enjoy them.

At first, this has felt awkward and kind of weird. But I’m hopeful that the more I do it, the more delight I’ll feel. As Ross Gay wrote, “It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline or practice of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study.” 

How you can be a part of the DDP

Would you like to join me in the Daily Delight Project?

Start by simply noticing what delights you. You may want to jot your daily delight in a notebook or on your calendar. You don’t need to do anything else to benefit, but if you want to share your delights with others, you might:

Text a friend.

Share a post on Facebook.

Post on Instagram—use the hashtag #dailydelight2024 and tag me (@kathyjohn335) so I can see your posts.

Share a few of your daily delights in the comments section below.

Email me with your daily delights at kathyjohn335[at]gmail[dot]com. I would absolutely love to hear about them!

I hope you’ll join me and share what you find delightful!

good life

Link Love: Tips for a Good Life

April 26, 2024


Good morning and happy Friday! Today I’ll be working on a new writing project (yay for freelance work), practicing some yoga (yay for gentle exercise), and cleaning my house (yay for…having a house to clean). I have lots of fun links for you to check out today—hope you enjoy them.

It’s easy to think you have to make big changes to boost happiness, but “22 Small Things That People Say Made Them Drastically Happier” shows that sometimes the little things can be just as effective.  

More tiny habits to help you feel happier. 

In “5 Lessons from a Conversation with a World-Renowned Happiness Expert,” Sahil Bloom shares what he learned from a recent conversation with Dr. Robert Waldinger, the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest-running study on adult life, health, and happiness in the world. Spoiler alert: These five lessons all have to do with the importance of relationships for good health and happiness. (See below for link to Dr. Waldinger’s TED Talk about what makes a good life.)

Since relationships are so important, how can we strengthen ours? Check out “50 Ways to Show You Care Without Spending a Dime” for tips! Number 50 just might be my favorite.

I absolutely love this young man’s passion for libraries and books as well as his openness about mental health issues. His Instagram posts are a delight. 

While writing “For Your Listening Pleasure,” I stumbled on this website, where you can listen to the sounds of forests from around the world. 

In “On really, truly enjoying things” the Frugal Girl reflects on the fact that, “If you go through life only halfway observing what you experience, it stands to reason that you would not extract 100% of the joy that life has to offer. So, then you’d need twice as many joyful experiences in order to reach the joy level of someone who is more observant.” 

If you’d like to become more observant, click here to join writer and teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn on May 8 (via Zoom) to learn how to “befriend your mind” and live your life with more mindful awareness. Dr. Kabat-Zinn is the father of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a modern, secular form of meditation, and the author of several books, including Wherever You Go, There You Are. This free event is hosted by Action for Happiness.

And finally, here is Dr. Waldinger’s TED Talk about what makes a good life: