Age of Anxiety

Illustration by Pranita Kocharekar

Have you ever been unsettled about nothing and everything at the same time? Have you felt yourself slipping into the darker recesses of your mind where it feels like your brain is a television emitting white noise, crackling with static? What about the question of when's always in the head— when is the next paycheck coming?

Maybe then, you know a thing or two about anxiety. 

As children, we start to develop the habit of anxiety from a very early age, fortunately, the pre-programmed lives we live early on shields us from any serious spell of this crippling trait of existence. Alas, we throw caps in the air, smile for photos upon graduation. We transition into the ‘Real World’— of course, all living pre-graduation is a programmed simulation of hoping from one classroom to another. For some, feelings of anxiety start earlier than graduation; some live with it constantly without a labelled phase. In general, this feeling arises from being aware of uncertainties about the future. It is compounded by mortality continually reminding us that our time isn’t infinite.

We never get enough of the ‘Live in the Now’ gospel with every other Instagram quote and philosopher telling us how the present is the only time that is real. We, however, cannot escape the causative relationship between the present and the future. When tomorrow comes, it will be as real as today, and it is today's preparedness that will make or break our tomorrow. The notion of living only in the present, though very alluring, in reality often falls short of the promise of happiness because we are creatures of longing.  Over, our minds have evolved minutely to the demands of civilisation. 

Anxiety is like this century’s epidemic. We are adapting faster to the world’s demand for productivity than our mind’s clamour for presence.

Our mind clamours for presence, for a slow pace in time, which often disregards the worldly demands: a continual need to show a drastic hop in time; charades of productivity; or growth or future desires. This longing is propelled by consuming information and imagining an idea of a future self. Such projections are almost always anyone but the person we actually are. Our future self is in the perfect relationship, managing a dream career, existing in fantasy homes— a beach house, a penthouse, a country cottage; whichever you like. We tend to believe that if we can be this future-self, we would grow less anxious. Reality, however, shows in some form or shape that we mostly remain in a state of discontent.

Illustration by Nan Lawson

Anxiety hence, cannot be thought of as something detached from the human experience; rather, it is embedded in our state of being. Our only hope to be freer from its grasps is to understand it and accept it for what it is.  To live however with it, in the best-managed ways. In ways that isn't crippling or harrowing.

In modern network culture, we are constantly bombarded with images of alternate lives we could be living. In this age, our anxiety has never been higher. With passing time, we recognise our ideals might not be actualized, that we might not be everything we wished we were. This becomes more evident and leaves us depressed. We peer at our screens in envy of classmates/people that seem to be living what should have been our lives. No one puts out the less desirable parts of their lives, it is bad PR. We often assume the best like we did for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie before the news of their divorce hit our screens.

Growing up with the exceptions of the humans raised to godlike status and pushed in our faces, it is easy to fall prey of imagining that the exception is the norm. It permeates through every facet of our lives from our career to our relationships. Armed with this skewed vision of the world, we tend to develop an unfounded sense of entitlement that we deserve all things good and uncompromised happiness. Ironically, what we consider normal and boring today, would have been synonymous with the life of a king only a hundred years ago— not like King Henry VIII had a microwave or Netflix.

However, we remain caught in the tangle of our idea: not just that there is better, but that we too can have better. 
An understanding that the world was not made for us and that more often than not, we will not always get what we want is key to embracing the fragile nature of existence. Add to that, an acceptance that uncertainty is set in stone and anxiety is a part of being human.

Anxiety is no sign that our lives have gone wrong, merely that we are alive.

In a world riddled with constant anxiety, our best tactic is to live in pursuit of our dreams while being comfortable with the uncertainty. Knowing that we would not know all, that some questions will not find answers. We can learn to remain calm and once in a while, practice being truly present. In addition to making peace with the grim reality that is existence, a step further in appreciating people we encounter can go a long way in reshaping the world to a less anxious place. 
Do not forget to pause, smell the roses; feel the wind. Celebrate the small victories and perfect dinners. Worry not over short-lived relationships and disappointments. In the end, even the mirage of an oasis is another place. Our end paradoxically is thankfully inevitable. You can only do what you can, the rest, you will have to let go of.