In part 1, I outlined my personal experience as a young adult who didn’t know how to constructively cope with stress and how it resulted in delaying my university graduation by 4 whole years. In that time frame, I was also lonely, depressed and completely dependent on my parents and government bursaries for financial support. I would frequently go to bed past 3 in the morning and wake up past 1 in the afternoon. It was just a completely awful time in my life. But through years of therapy and a vicious will for self-improvement, I have completely turned my life around. The key component in this transformation has been my ability to handle stress, which is what I’ll be talking about in great detail.
I’m beginning to realize that the way you cope with stress and anxiety is enormously influential in how you live your life. It is imperative that you come up with good habits to deal with stress or risk letting your life fall victim to avoidant behaviors.
I used to cope with stress by playing videogames all the time. When I came to terms with how addictive and all-consuming videogames were in my life, I forced them out. I sold all my consoles and games and never looked back. At least I wish that’s what happened. Instead, I always had this void that drew me back into the videogame world. Whereas I didn’t let myself play videogames anymore (a rule I even broke when I got into the habit of speedrunning, something I might talk about in the future), I still ended up finding myself watching others play on Twitch. My craving for this form of escapism was so strong that it led to this ridiculous behavior of watching others streaming themselves playing videogames. Now even when I cut out this behavior, I still found myself watching a lot of downloaded TV shows. I’m talking watching 2-3 whole seasons of The Wire in one day, literally the moment I woke up to the moment I passed out, with hour-long naps interspersed in between to cope with the massive lethargy this binge watching was causing.
Today was such a roller coaster of emotions. I can’t even understand how someone can undergo such a dramatic shift in well-being in a single day just by avoiding their phone & computer. But that’s what happened. When I woke up, I had a mild headache, and had a tickle in my throat that felt like the onset of a cold. When I ate breakfast, I became so tired that I had to go back to bed and lie around in lethargic frustration for a half hour before being able to get back up. I started eating emotionally to the point where I literally consumed 16-20 pieces peanut butter & jam sandwiches as well as an entire bag of cherries. Things got so bad that I ended up passing out on my couch at 5pm and waking up in an awful, groggy state at 630 or so.
And then I went for a bike ride, just aimlessly following the city’s bike path wherever it would take me until I got bored a couple hours later. And that’s where everything changed. I made myself a glass of mint tea and while drinking it, I had this amazing moment of serenity. It’s hard to describe, but it’s this feeling that you literally just enjoy being alive, where every breath feels good. The key component is that your mind is at peace.
I’m sick and tired of being addicted to instant gratification. In my last blog post I alluded to the idea that there doesn’t seem to be a central issue of our time to get behind. Perhaps this is it. The world is giving way to shorter and shorter attention spans bordering on the absurd. Like a frog that’s being boiled alive at a rate so gradually that it doesn’t even notice it, we’ve become so acclimated to this insanity of modern life that we don’t even question what’s going on.
Let me elaborate with a little anecdote about how pervasive technology has become in my life. I can’t go running without listening to music. I ride my bike while listening to music, despite the danger that obviously puts me in. I listen to music while on the bus, the metro, at the gym, hell, I’m even listening to music while writing this blog. When I’m waiting in a long line, I can’t resist reading articles on my phone. If I do resist this temptation, I get anxious. If I have to take a dump, 99% of the time I’m browsing cracked or reddit on my phone. I’ve even brought my laptop to the bathroom at times.
One of the unfortunate consequences of living in the internet age is that we are being overwhelmed by information and don’t know how to handle this phenomenon. We now live in a so-called attention economy. In the news world, this translates to a sort of race to the bottom of producing the most sensationalist, clickbait headlines possible. As a result, news now focuses on what triggers the most visceral emotions, particularly outrage.
For example if you check the top scoring links of all time on reddit’s technology subreddit, you will see headlines such as these dominating the feed:
Something that’s been on my mind lately is the topic of loneliness. Why is loneliness so pervasive in modern western civilization? More specifically, why does loneliness exist at all? If that sounds like a ridiculously naive thought, consider this. If we look back at hunter-gatherer societies, people actively depended on each other for survival. Friendships weren’t some nice thing to have in case you got bored playing videogames, they were a necessity. This essential sense of community provided all the essentials of a thriving social life, regardless of whether you were a bit shy or awkward or whatever the case may be. Keep in mind this is total speculation on my part, I am hardly an expert on evolutionary psychology, but I’d rather express this uninformed opinion now and refine my ideas over time than to never commit anything to writing in fear of being ridiculed as an idiot with baseless ideas. But assuming this idea of hunter-gatherers having their social lives secured by the necessity of friendships, it certainly follows that our 21st century environment has put a decisive end to such an environment. Nowadays you only depend on your employer for survival, and such a relationship is often antagonistic as both parties see each other as a means to an end. It’s not uncommon for say, an IT guy to leave his apartment (where he lives alone), head to a cubicle in an office, bury his face in code for 8 hours, and go home, with not a single meaningful interaction taking place in person. Perhaps a few fake pleasantries here, a simple hello there, but nothing substantive, nothing meaningful. The same goes for a cashier who greets every customer with the same fake smile, asks the same tired, lifeless questions. “Do you want a bag with that?” “Do you have your points card?” “Here’s your receipt”.