So… what are the reasons for so much stress and anxiety for our creatives, entrepreneurs, and professionals? In this article we’ll dig into the three root causes unique to today’s living and working environment – Addiction, Inputs, and Fear.
There are many different causes of anxiety. They could be medical (diabetes, heart disease or issues that stem from drug abuse), psychological (genetically predisposed to it, or you may have a personality type that is prone to anxiety) or emotional (losing a loved one, or being in an accident). Left unchecked, these cause a stress buildup that eventually creates a new homeostasis of your hormonal make up. From chronic stress to anxiety, and from anxiety to a panic attack.
I uncovered three common causes when looking specifically at the leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs of today. People like you and me.
The technological, societal, and business environment we are in today is quite unique. Unlike anything we have experienced before – which is why some of the solutions that used to work, seem to be less effective.
Almost everything we are surrounded by today is engineered to avert and keep your attention. There’s even a name for it – “share of attention”. It’s what people like me will use as a metric when designing advertising and marketing campaigns.
“I want YOU to pay attention to MY stuff. I want you to believe you NEED this thing I’m promoting. I want you to NOT pay attention to your spouse or kids at the dinner table, your credit card debt, or that half-finished painting you started a couple of weeks ago, and instead keep watching TV, or incessantly thumbing through your phone.”
For decades, marketers have been harvesting psychological and behavioural research in order to find a way to capture your attention, and influence your behaviour. Going so far as putting focus group participants into an fMRI machine to measure and map their brain activation when shown certain images, or exposed to certain smells or tastes.
Over the years, this has crept into product and service design, and into our every day existence.
Smartphones, Tablets, Smart TVs, Wearables like FitBit, Apps, Games, Social Media, Netflix, Websites like Buzzfeed, Ask.com or PornHub (don’t kid yourself by the way, that is an industry that makes billions, and is often on the vanguard of technology and innovation).
How addiction is created
Most North Americans average 2.8 hours of mobile use per day. For most of us, it’s actually more. Let’s take the conservative average of 2.5 hours per day. Over the course of year, that comes out to 912 hours per year. Which is actually 38 DAYS PER YEAR where we have our noses buried in a smartphone.
It’s such an addicting platform, that we now have new names for related anxieties. Anxiety of being without your phone is called Nomophobia.
It’s resulting in a rise of obsessive compulsive behaviour in teens and adults. In fact, HALF OF ALL smartphone owners say that they couldn’t imagine living without it.
Let me illustrate this with Candy Crush.
You may have played it, you might still play it, and if not – you probably heard about it. Same goes for FarmVille, and Pokemon Go. Pick any of them.
As you play, you get small wins. Maybe you unlock a new level. When that happens your brain sends out a burst of neurotransmitters – dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. this is what makes you feel happy. It’s what drives your motivation.
As new content or levels get opened, you get these little bursts of happy chemicals. Which make you want to do it more. Going so far as paying for additional content or options.
These little bursts of happy chemicals are the exact same ones that get released, in the exact same way – with people who get a hit of nicotine, or cocaine.
They create a compulsion loop, and the behaviour reinforces itself.
This knowledge guides some of the product and service developers of today, and it is why most apps have notifications – you are trained and looped into watching for the little red circle to pop up with a number in it. It is designed to reinforce that compulsion loop. And it’s also the reason why almost half of smart phone owners will compulsively “check their phone” even through there were no auditory and physical notifications.
In a study by UC Irvine, researchers attached heart rate monitors to office workers. They found that people who checked e-mail frequently were consistently in a “high alert” state. They were less productive and experienced more stress, while those whose e-mail was disabled for 5 days had natural, variable heart rates and got more done.
That’s just e-mail…
On top of that, we are exposed to a shit-ton of new stimuli that we never experienced before. From the ability to binge watch House of Cards on Netflix, to searching for home-reno ideas on Pinterest, to always being available by phone or e-mail. You don’t even get a break when you’re buying groceries, because now you can listen to a podcast (like this one), or thumb through your Instagram feed while waiting in line.
To put things into perspective, if you only had three apps on your phone – let’s say Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook. The average user (don’t you love being called and classified as a user) – follows 822 people on Instagram, has 338 friends on Facebook, and 393 connections on LinkedIn – for a combined total of 1553 of your FRIENDS vying for your attention, on these three apps alone.
That excludes brands, advertising, and a million other apps and things like TV, billboards, websites, or email (of which the average person has at least two accounts).
We have never been exposed to this wide of a variety of stimuli – and it’s an ever expanding universe of options available at our fingertips.
There is an overwhelming amount of information coming at you – from all angles and devices. And it is impossible to keep up – and yet, if you do not – it may make you feel like a less competitive professional. In my opinion, anxiety grows in that gap. The need to keep up with all mental, digital and analog inputs – and the physical inability to do so.
Root Cause: Fear
This brings us to the final and root cause of it all. Fear.
Fear is the sole activating mechanism that causes our brain to spill out the hormones that make us impulsive, irritable, angry, sad, resentful, unfocused, uncreative, and unwilling to take necessary personal and professional risks. Fear causes our limbic system to flood our brains and f**k up the day.
It all stems from the way our brain and bodies evolved over thousands of years of self-preservation. Physical danger, like a pack of hungry hyenas running at you. However, in modern-day living we don’t often have to run away from wild animals, but the basic function of fear never received a forced OS update from Microsoft. And just like US Nuclear Program, we’re still running off 5 1/4 inch floppy disks.
There are many different types and causes of fear which can trigger stress, anxiety, and possibly a panic attack. For us as entrepreneurs, creatives and professionals, there are two main categories:
We are not taking about phobias like Asymmetriphobia here. We are talking about the fear of losing your WiFi connection at a coffee shop while you’re trying to send an important e-mail to a client.
We are talking about not calling a client after they didn’t pay their bill for the fear of losing them as a source of income. In reality, maybe an e-mail may have gotten lost. Maybe they just forgot. It’s irrational to be afraid to talk to someone, especially if they’re a client. Just because it is irrational, and just because you may be smart and logical, it doesn’t mean you are free from the stress and anxiety this kind of fear can create.
Public Speaking is an irrational fear. It’s one of the highest rated fears in the western world. When you speak in front of a group of people – they’re not going to burn you at the stake if you do poorly. You won’t be stripped, tarred, and feathered for not making the most amazing presentation anyone has ever seen. Your career won’t go down in flames even if you deliver a bad presentation. This fear is not a rational fear, and yet it still affects most professionals. Myself included. I’ve spoken at hundreds of conferences and workshops in front of anywhere from a dozen to a thousand people. And I still get anxious before stepping on stage.
The What Ifs
These are more common to chronic or general anxiety sufferers, but these are often the causes of all sorts of stress in creative and entrepreneurial types.
Just before you sit down to write an article, a thought creeps into your mind. “What if nobody likes this article? What if a potential client reads it, and they don’t hire me because they don’t agree with what I wrote? What if nobody ever hires me again? What if I end up living in a van down by the river – all because of this terrible article” … that I didn’t even start writing yet?
Your mind seeks out and evaluates all possible future threats – things that might happen, things that have a logical possibility of happening, and things that may be completely unlikely to happen. But… like we said earlier, our limbic system doesn’t discern between what IS a threat, and what WE PERCEIVE to be a threat. Even if it’s something we completely made up in our mind – an eventuality that may or may not exist sometime in the future.
The issue with the What Ifs is that we’ll often focus on the negative possible outcomes. Most of the time the What Ifs are all bad. This is a natural thing. They way we are wired – for self-preservation. If something bad may happen – I better not do that thing.
If you let the What If scenarios spin, it will stop you from taking action. This is why there are so many people that would love to start a business, or a side project – but don’t. Because what if it doesn’t work? What if you lose all your money? What if you end up homeless and unable to provide food for your family? What if you end up a massive failure and all your friends abandon you?
Fear is a mechanism for behaviour control. It makes you act out of a place of self-preservation, where you’re willing and likely to do anything so that you don’t get hurt, or die.
Those are, in my opinion, the three major drivers of stress and anxiety in professional. Tech Addiction, Inputs, and Fear. Now would be a good time to ask yourself:
- Am I dependent on technology? Do I control it, or does it control me?
- How many inputs am I willing to let into my life? How many social media platforms can I keep up with? And does it bother me if I can not?
- What irrational fears are influencing my behaviour? Do I ever run “what if” scenarios? And do they stop me from taking action?
In Part 3 of the series, we’ll go over some of the research, studies, findings, books and resources that I’ve come across since starting this journey. And I can tell you right now – there are a lot of half-truths, empty arguments, and money-making schemes aimed specifically at anxiety sufferers.
I’ll share with you the the most effective and easiest-to-implement solutions that have helped thousands of people get rid of anxiety and take back control of their lives.
Thanks for reading – I sincerely hope it helps!