Rumours Are Anxiety out in the World

Two puffins talking to each other

Medium, the other platform I write on, announced recently that they were changing how they calculate earnings.

They made the announcement a couple of weeks before implementing the changes, to give us all time to get used to the idea.

And then I had to step away for a while because the rumours of doom were so plentiful. Nobody had any idea how the new system would play out. We just knew that change was coming and so we started speculating on what it would mean for us, without anything to back up our guesses.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to writers.

Last year, one of the Saturday markets our bakery sells bread in decided to expand to Sundays as well. They might as well have announced the apocalypse.

It wasn’t fair; it wasn’t right. It was only going to split our earnings over two days. How dare they change the rules? How are we going to cope????

Alan’s a really calm guy. “Let’s just wait and see,” he responded to every fear-based conversation he had about it. And so we did. A year in, and we haven’t split our earnings. We’re gaining a new Sunday customer base. Things are moving along as things move along.

The same will happen on Medium. We’ll figure out the new system. We’ll adjust. Some writers will move on to something else, and things will move along as they do.

As I was reading through some of the posts and comments about the new system, I started thinking, “This sounds strangely familiar….” Like, deeply, personally familiar.

And then I realized: the nervous conversations, the scenarios based on guesses were exactly what runs through my head when I’m letting the anxiety take over. What if? What if? What if? Oh, it’s going to be terrible!

And Alan always says, “Let’s just wait and see…” which is usually comforting, but sometimes makes me want to throw things at his head.

When I was doing my Cognitive Therapy, my counselor gave me some solid steps to dealing with the anxious or depressive chatter in my brain. One tool is the Thought Record.

You write down a thought, like “I’m a total failure.” And then you look for the evidence to support or refute that statement.

There may be an example or two of the times you failed. But not nearly enough to call yourself a total failure. And you list the times you’ve succeeded and by the time you get to the end of the exercise, you’re able to breathe again and have an idea of a step or two you can take to make your life a little better, including not calling yourself a total failure every single time you make a mistake.

It can be a little harder to implement a Thought Record when dealing with the anxiety outside of your head – when dealing with rumours and speculation. Other people don’t always want you to talk them down. There’s an adrenaline rush that comes with getting all worked up about something, and some people enjoy that.

But you don’t have to get sucked into it. Online, you can click away without commenting. In real life, Alan’s “Let’s wait and see…” can work. Nodding and smiling without adding to the speculation might help.

But when it goes on and on, when that’s the only conversation to be had, you have to step away.

Many years ago, before I got sick, I sold our bread at the Saturday market here in town. I’d get up way too early to walk the dog and get everything loaded up and out there to be set up and ready at seven. In the morning. On a Saturday!!!

I’m never at my best that early in the morning. I feel tender and fragile. Some of the other vendors were quite chatty. And super negative. They would go on and on and on about some slight handed down by the folks running the market and what do you think that’s going to do for sales and why can’t they fix things and….

One morning, one of the vendors greeted me with a big grimace and a shout of, “Do you believe this bullshit?”

I have no idea what particular bullshit he was referring to, but I knew I didn’t want to be part of the conversation. I was there to sell a lot of bread and make money, not complain.

So I smiled, shrugged, and pulled out my phone, murmuring, “Sorry, I’ve just gotta do a few things…”

The complaining vendors didn’t want to know how I managed to sell out every week. They didn’t want to improve anything. They wanted to complain. They wanted to speculate about how much worse it was going to get. And to protect my mental health, I needed to put a wall between their complaints and their rumours and speculation and myself. So I did.

We don’t have to be part of every conversation about how the world is bad, and it’s only getting worse. Even when the conversation is about something we know to be important, we’re allowed to step away from the rumours, the societal anxiety that accompanies discussions of the environment or human rights. We don’t have to listen to the bleating when management changes the rules.

You can be part of productive discussions. You can educate yourself. You can look for solutions.

But anxiety, whether it’s inside your head, or out in the wider world, is not in your best interests.

Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

barb xo

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2 Responses to Rumours Are Anxiety out in the World

  1. Heidi Ruttinger says:

    That is the best argument I’ve ever heard for me getting a cell phone! Learning to say ‘no’ to the stuff we don’t want to be involved in is tricky for many of us. At 58, I’m still learning it…and I’m thinking that bending toward being a cell phone owner might have its merits!

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