Tell Me About It: I spend a lot of time thinking about climate change and dangerous leaders
PROBLEM: I am extremely worried about the future. I am a final year student in college in a course that I was very lucky to get into. When I was in secondary school, I was often anxious about how I would perform in the Junior Cert and then the Leaving Cert.
The strange thing is that I am no longer worried about my academic achievements. I now know that I will perform well in my exams and that I will be in a good position to continue into a postgraduate course or get a decent job. I did some counselling when I started university and find that I am reasonably self-assured.
I spend a lot of my spare time online reading about world events that scare me a lot. I have also joined a couple of social justice campaign groups and have attended several marches. While I feel that this might be of some minor benefit, I am worried that there are so many dangerous leaders in the world with their own agendas that it is possible that catastrophe will unfold. I know there have always been difficulties in the world and around the same time that I was born the Good Friday agreement brought some resolve to the issues in Northern Ireland. In my life I have never thought that climate change, or the economic uncertainties that come with Brexit, or the actions of despots could impact on us here in Ireland.
I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about these concerns, I am finding that people are beginning to avoid me. I really can’t understand why people aren’t more worried about these grave possibilities or taking more assertive action.
My parents think that I need to return to counselling, I know that in the past my anxieties were not well founded, but what I worry about now is based in reality.
ADVICE: What you are expressing is the cause of underlying anxiety and concern for many people but it might be that you have reached a point of excess with your worry and perhaps you could do with finding a way to balance this with some optimism about our world.
Of course, you cannot do this in a fake way, but it may be that you have become so preoccupied with the pessimism of the news that you are unable to see the delightful parts of living. You say that you have had a period of worry when you were at school and at the time it hooked on academic achievement but that now the hook is world catastrophe, but the result is the same: high anxiety and worry for you. It seems that you feel helpless with the fate of the world resting in such impossible odds and the effect of this is that you feel that you should not waste a minute of your time outside of concentrating on these big issues. However, this is leading to an obsessive focus and those that care for you are signalling that you need help to stand back from this.
If you want to create change, be the kind of person others like to be around – this probably means being happy being who you are
Taking action usually helps with anxiety but it might be that you are becoming so immersed in the wrongs of the world that you are losing yourself in the process. We now live in a world where the message of everyone making their one change has landed and many changes are under way, simply look at the numbers of people with keep-cups who now baulk at using throw-away coffee cups or water bottles. Perhaps focus on what changes you are implementing and trust that your influence is enough on those around you. If we try to impose our views on others, we generally find resistance. If you want to create change, be the kind of person others like to be around – this probably means being happy being who you are.
Going to counselling could help you to untangle much of what has happened and help you to find a pathway to more balance and happiness in your life. You might begin to recognise that your anxiety likes to hook on something and if you sort the current one out, it might simply find another more demanding issue. You already experience the relief of not worrying about academic results and this has not stopped you from progressing through college or seeing the future open up in front of you. Similarly, you might find that letting go the anxiety around climate change, Brexit and despots does not mean you have to give up your work or commitment to these issues, but it instead allows you to participate fully without the burden of intense anxiety.
Use this experience to engage with and understand how your mind gets hooked and your future will be much freer and brighter as a result. (You might like to read: Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, et al.)