Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Business of Anxiety

Have you ever used someone's fears to sell something? Have you ever bought something because someone emphasized the safety a product or service provided? I may be overreacting to this to some degree but I have noticed more advertisement and fear mongering from a variety of different influences in the past year. I would like to say that this is because it is occurring more frequently but my best attempts at recollection tell me that this has been going on for quite a while and I am merely beginning to notice it more and more. It appears to me that over an extended period of time business has begun to discover that they can drasticly improve the performance of their markets by promoting and inducing increased anxiety in their current and potential customers. It also appears to me that political performance has become so successful at inducing and selling anxiety that it is the primary reason that people today even notice politics. I've got this theory that perhaps we are becoming a society addicted to anxiety. If not addicted to anxiety itself perhaps so ingrained with fear that we accept almost any solution to decrease our fear. I know this is not an original thought as I have heard it fro multiple friends and family members who I greatly respect. I believe we understand what is going on and to some degree how it is occurring. Since this is the case I think we have enough information to begin working on some solution oriented thinking.

Name off the first five things you are afraid of. Just the first things that come to mind. For example:

Dirty Bathrooms

Crazy Drivers

Home Security

Personal Health

Career Progress

These things popped into my mind randomly and I can't help but notice that I have seen advertisements in the past month that questions my preparation or progress in each of the examples I gave. While consciously I am aware that these things really don't merit a lot of my attention they still cause me anxiety sometimes. When I feel this anxiety my first response tends to lean towards what do I need to do to make sure I'm safe. I never even stop to question the very reason I feel the anxiety in the first place. Let's take the first example I gave. Did you know that in some scientific studies they found that computer keyboards have much higher amounts of germs, bacteria, etc than toilet seats? If this is the case why would I have a tendency to care much more about the hair or drop of liquid on the toilet seat over the 5-10 keyboards I work on everyday? The reason is conditioning. Repeated emphasis since I was a baby has induced a natural anxiety response to any foreign matter on toilet seats. This is probably a good thing taken a little too far. Proper sanitation in bathrooms has drastically cut down disease from my incomplete knowledge of the subject. Now if this is the case in a very small example like this how often do I merely accept my anxiety to stimuli rather than questioning its cause and validity? This is the question I want each of you to ask yourselves when you face your anxiety. In fact I think we may even be able to make a process to deal with these situations. Let's try this for starters:

Step 1: I feel anxious about: ?????

Step 2: Is this anxiety important enough to question aka Is is worth thinking about?

Step 2: What evidence or history do I have that justifies or causes this anxiety?

Step 3: Is there any new evidence I should consider that should influence this anxiety?

Step 4: Based on previous and new evidence is it worth changing my response to this anxiety?

Step 5: Decide I will respond to ???? using a plan based on the steps I just took.

Step 6: Begin following plan developed in previous step.

Step 7: Return to previous steps as necessary.

In my experience most people go from Step 1 to Step 6 (sometimes step 5) most of the time because they have found something that keeps their anxiety at a level that they are comfortable with. If we skip the steps in between we are accepting that we are not learning anything from new information or previous history. Why would someone want to continually have the same response to the same stimuli without ever changing? Addiction, Complacency, Ignorance, Contentment?

My appeal to you is to start using a thinking process during your daily routine. Just try it for a few days. Ask yourself: Why am I taking this shower, brushing my teeth, driving this car to work, cleaning this toilet seat, etc... You will probably find that you have very good reasons for many of the things that you do. I have found that I am more secure because I do know the reasons for what I do. I also found that I had a tendency to do and feel a lot of things based primarily on what other people have said. When I begin to look for things like scientific studies or start testing my anxieties myself I find that I tend to be what my society tells me more easily than what I genuinely think based on real evidence I can reference.

A few examples of anxiety that family members have a tendency to emphasize. Please remember there are exceptions to every situation.

Wash your hands: From everything I've looked at it appears to me that this will probably be done many more times than is necessary by the majority of people I know.

The government sucks: I have heard this from everyone and have also done it myself. Vote, Revolt, Secede, etc... Just do what you think is most fitting based on your step by step assessment. Once you are doing as you have decided anxiety regarding politics should be greatly decreased.

Muslims are taking over: I question this hypothesis because I have yet to see convincing evidence from a source I trust. Much like the previous example, Plan something and do it.

Rapist, Serial Killers, Kidnappers: I actually have looked at some statistical data regarding this. It appears to me that people are waaaay to overcautious in these area's. We are probably safer from these people today than at any time in history IMO. I'm not saying don't be careful, I'm saying be careful and condition yourself to consider statistical data before experiencing anxiety.

The list could go one but the real point about all this is that fear and anxiety often cause us to not pursue activities and goals that may be very rewarding. Please keep this in mind next time you are thinking about spreading your anxieties or fears in your conversation and actions. Encourage people to consider evidence and pursue goals based on it. Question other people when they attempt to spread their anxieties. I sincerely believe this will really help you to feel and live more fully and help others to do the same.

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Blogger Jessica said...

:D This blog makes me very happy. :D I guess I'm in one of those professions that feeds on the anxiety and fear of people. It's interesting that we are so quick to want a quick fix for anxiety. It's uncomfortable and duh, who wants to feel discomfort? And I guess when anxiety reaches the ulcerative colitis level, it's probably not so good for you, but there are definite advantages to continuing to have anxiety in my life. I love what you're saying about looking at why I have the anxiety in the first place, and besides that I like looking at what function it is serving for me - good or bad, I think it's serving some kind of function. This blog is extremely timely for me anxiety-wise. One of the highest weeks of anxiety I've had in a few years. Now to process and apply what you've written. (And of course to - along with you - think about the validity of your theory!)

4:09 PM  
Blogger texasholls said...

Take that Glenn Beck!!!

8:21 PM  
Blogger Chrissy Cross said...

I am anti-anxiety. Except when it comes to my little brother in the ghetto.

10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. I definitely agree that too many of us allow ourselves to make decisions based on fear instead of rational thinking. I really like your suggested system for dealing with it also. I am not generally anxious about anything, but next time I am, I will try to remember to use your system.


12:52 PM  

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