What “Tidying Up” reveals about America’s Culture of anxiety & achievement

What do you do when you feel out of control? How do you cope?

Me… well, I usually go shopping. I buy a new outfit or maybe makeup, which I pretend will magically transform me to an uber confident super model. It never does. It’s probably an attempt to control something when I feel in control of nothing. It doesn’t work.

Or I manically clean the house.

I assume this is an unhealthy example of me trying to find my value in tangible achievements or results. And trust me, a clean floor does not leave me feeling validated. But each time, I think it will.

I’m guessing I’m not alone when you consider the popularity of the Netflix show “Tidying Up”. The theme of the show is organizing and ordering the chaos of our homes by throwing out anything that doesn’t “spark joy”.

It addresses two sides of the same coin: more stuff or less stuff?

It’s like the entire premise is built on an anxiety continuum: buy stuff to feel more confident/happy/at ease/in control/, and then later throw out that same stuff to feel more order/in control/ peace/joy. I can relate to both desires.

What makes you feel out of control? What triggers anxiety for you?

I’ve got a hunch most of us have low-level anxiety running in the background all of the time.

There are the little tangible frustrations like traffic delays. They trigger us.
And there are big picture existential fears like global warming – very real but also intangible.

We (understandably) believe advancements and access mean more ease and comfort, but we’ve been victims of our own success. The same innovations have ultimately created more anxiety and stress.

For example, we have so many choices now.

There are shelves & shelves of gluten-free bread options at the grocery store. Who needs that much gluten-free bread? Most of them are not good, btw.

And we have so much information.

It’s no longer the library for encyclopedias and the doctor for what ails you. It’s the entire internet, including the dark web if you can find it. Which comes with so much advice. Oh my God, the entire internet has an opinion – most not very warm and fuzzy. It’s called “Trolling” for a reason.

Thanks to the Internet, we also have so much access and buying power (or perceived buying power. Credit cards make us feel like we can afford that Chanel handbag when we absolutely cannot).

Image result for amazon one clickTrue story: When my daughter was a new born, I had to turn off one-click buying on the Amazon app because packages kept showing up at my house that I didn’t remember ordering; they were all my purchases, but they’d been ordered in the middle of the night, after being sleep deprived and possibly a little insane, thanks to a crying baby who didn’t know day from night.

Probably the most complicated part of all this choice and access is how immediate & instantaneous it has become.

The internet gives us “current events” which are real time horror stories and atrocities from across the globe. News with commentary meant to incite.

We see children being put in cages 2000 miles away at our border – in real time – but feel powerless to right this wrong ourselves.

If it was a neighborhood kid being bullied on our street, we would have the ability to step in and stop it. (Hell, I can remember locking my little brother in a dog crate, and my mother having to let him out – and then scold me. Sorry, little bro!)

Image result for san bernardino shootingSometimes the tragedy IS closer to home, like a shooting in San Bernardino, California, but we’re still powerless. Automatic weapons ensure that the mass carnage happens in a nano second. There is time to capture the event on cell phones (which means we will all bear witness), but not enough time or access to step in and make a positive impact.

To right a wrong.

When problems were hyper-local and not unfolding at warp speed, we had self-agency to rely on, values to weigh the problem against, time to set an intention and opportunity to forge a path to solve it.

No wonder we all feel overwhelmed and anxious.
No wonder we feel out of control. Without the ability to do much about it.

The “DO more more more with less less less now now now” cycle is exacerbated by expectations in our personal lives – at work and at home.

We’re overworked, unappreciated, and often underpaid within the corporate structure (“what have you done for me lately?”) – especially in big cities where the new price of admission has become prohibitive for most normal people. I recently bought a $7 latte in Los Angeles. That is untoward. 🙂

And at home, we’re also worn thin by sky high expectations of modern day parenting. We’re supposed to give our children constant structure, simulation, & enrichment (all of which costs real money) or feel anxious that we’re most likely squandering their future opportunities.

Again, I muse — No wonder a show like “Tidying Up” Is so popular.

The premise is less, not more. And it deals with something that is super accessible and manageable – clutter at home. Which gives us hope. The feeling that maybe we can control one aspect of this frenetic world.

But what about the clutter in our lives?

The clutter that’s causing confusion and overwhelm. The convoluted story we’ve been sold: We can have it all. We can do it all. But we haven’t slowed down to ask ourselves the basic question behind “having it all”.

What is “all” to you?

It isn’t all the stuff, as “Tidying Up” can clearly attest.

In fact, the show illustrates that the stuff is precisely what’s causing people’s anxiety.

Have you stopped to ask the question “is striving and consuming the answer to joy/hope/meaning?”?

And if that’s not it, then what is the answer? It feels overwhelming to ponder.

But this digitally fueled world isn’t totally hopeless. And neither are you!

If you are feeling out of control, or regular levels of anxiety, here are some healthy ways to gain some control back. Or better yet, find serenity:

Physical movement – especially cardio exercise – Hooray for endorphins! These are chemicals that allow you to fight through the pain. It’s a subliminal message to your brain telling you: “you are strong. you sooooo got this”. And you do!

Meditation this is a chance to sit with uncomfortable feelings long enough for them to change into something else. Good news: the feelings get better, not worse. When we see feelings can’t kill us, their power recedes and dissipates. It’s also a chance to listen for guidance. There’s a quiet voice inside of you (call it intuition, call it gut) with all of the answers.

Community Humans are a tribe-based species and are hard-wired for connection. We crave a sense of belonging and need to establish roots within a community. Feeling like you have a true network of support alleviates the feeling of isolation & anxiety our superficial dependency on the internet creates (how many of our friends on Facebook are really our friends?).

A bonus: a real life network is a support system of qualified, verified information (vs. the trolls on the internet)

Values Studies show that people who reflect on & identify their personal values are more likely to overcome obstacles & achieve success. So, zero in on what matters to you.
Make decisions and take action based on your integrity vs. being attached to (i.e. controlling) the outcome. Even if the outcome doesn’t go your way, you’ll feel more in control because you stayed rooted in your values.

Spirituality Total control also equals total responsibility. Recognizing that the universe has some control over your journey is oddly freeing. If you trust a force bigger than you, you can also give up some of the heavy responsibility of relentlessly striving. And feel more supported. Elsa was on to something when she said, “Let It Go”.

See, there’s HOPE after all.

Brene Brown says HOPE is not an emotion, but rather a cognitive process, which includes three things:

  • A goal
  • A pathway
  • Self-agency

What might that look like in your life?


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