When the world is making us ill

We all feel a certain level of anxiety, sadness and loneliness in our lives, even when everything seems to be going relatively well. It might feel like these emotions are individual and have very particular reasons, although, they can also be caused by the environment and social context in which we live. As much as it is important to take care of ourselves, exercise, meditate, and eat well, it’s also crucial to be aware of society’s impact on us. In addition to our individual stories, we should reflect upon the social causes and conditions that might be contributing to our feelings of depression, anxiety and inadequacy.

Feelings of loneliness are common to us all. We all feel or have felt like that at some point in our lives, and, in today’s world, many of us end up turning to social media to try and fill this void. It’s becoming much more natural to simply look at ours screens instead of going out and meeting our friends in person to talk, laugh and be silly together.

The World Today

We are living in a very different world than 10 or 15 years ago. Like never before, information is abundant and widely available. From our phones and tablets, to computers and in-house virtual assistants, it can be quite challenging for us to unplug. We follow politics and know about disasters, epidemics, and economic crises happening in places on the other side of the world. We’re flooded with conspiracy theories and commentary from people with no research-based knowledge, who aim to defy centuries of scientific evidence. On top of that, the tools that we use to inform ourselves contain algorithms designed specifically to keep us glued to the screen and feed us with content that reinforces our already-set opinions. Almost everything we see on these devices and on the news is designed to spark outrage and anger, because those human feelings generate many more views and ratings than happiness and reassurance.

The New York Times recently published an article explaining how the use of YouTube, combined with WhatsApp, had a crucial impact on the Brazilian elections, spreading all sorts of inaccurate news and disinformation. They also explained how it became nearly impossible for doctors to treat and prevent the spreading of the Zika virus, due to the widespread distribution of false reports and inaccurate information about vaccinations. People believed, from messages through Whatsapp and excerpts from Youtube videos, that the virus came from the vaccines that were supposed to protect them, as well as the medicine used to kill the virus.

A documentary called “The Great Hack” also explained how Cambridge Analytica used people’s Facebook data to influence the EU and US elections among others. The studies and evidence on how social media is influencing the way people think is growing, but already it’s evident that the disinformation we’re constantly exposed to is having a negative impact on people. Studies show that social media has begun to negatively influence the way people think, and it continues to do so as we’re exposed to even more disinformation . This is especially relevant for those of us who have less years of formal education and, therefore,  have not been trained to reflect on issues or seek out different sources of information.

Regardless of educational background, though, in the end we are all susceptible to false news and influence.

Feeding anxiety with outrage.

It does not come as a surprise, then, that people are feeling increasingly anxious and depressed. How can we be calm and relaxed when we’re seeing history being rewritten, science being challenged, and people believing in false news? Most of us have experienced the challenge of trying to have a reasonable conversation with someone whose opinions opposed our own. Now, more often than not, instead of having a civil exchange of ideas, both parties leave the conversation out of frustration, anger, or hopelessness.

How can people fight against these types of things, when even the government is delivering an abundance of bad news as well? All over the world we see refugees not being rescued, presidents challenging the veracity of global warming, and commercial wars, for example. It can feel oppressive and increase feelings of hopelessness and impotence before the magnitude of events, which are also amplified by the traditional media and social media.

We cannot forget that we, ourselves, have a hard time letting go and allowing ourselves to unplug. Many of us have, unknowingly, developed an unhealthy need to keep ourselves outraged and we find ourselves looking for more and more. The cycle feeds itself, and we’re helping it.The world we see through our screens is, indeed, very overwhelming at times. It’s not surprising that our collective anxiety in increasing  by the minute.

What can we do

I’m not sure that an article like this can give an exact recipe that solves the problem. It’s much bigger than each of us.  More important than having a step-by-step plan, though, is to become aware. In this way, we can come together and try to find something to mitigate the collective madness.

In the beginning of this article, I talked about our feelings of loneliness, and I believe this is very important in understanding the issue. It might be an important clue in finding a solution. The internet is not going anywhere, but we, as individuals, can try to live more as a collectiveness.

Since we’re not alone in our loneliness. what we can do, to try to remediate this, is to come together. A feeling of collective unity might play an important role in finding a solution. We can look for family, friends, or groups to talk about the issues that interest us, rather than seek answers online. Being a part of something bigger than ourselves can help, not only with the loneliness, but also to solve some of the problems that we couldn’t alone.. Even if it’s something small, like fixing the light in our streets, or participating in school/university activities.

So, this time, instead of giving tips about what we can do, we’ll invite all of you to start a conversation with us. Have you ever thought about any of this? Do you feel this loneliness and impotence towards the world? Do you have any suggestions on how we could go about changing it? As always we’d love to hear from you.

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