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An Antidote to Seattle's Anxiety

The bluest skies you'll ever see are in Seattle. According to researchers, it is also a city full of acute anxiety. We're living in a neurotic age.

Rattling around the part of the brain that controls equilibrium is a growing sense of an imbalance in our lives today. People appear tilted with anxiety, uncertainty, and fear. Sometimes it manifests itself as anger on airplanes, on social media, in our media, and on our streets (death from murders and auto accidents in 2021 are up significantly). So a headline from the Seattle Times comes as little surprise. 'Seattle is the Most Anxious Major Metro in the US.'

Of course, the article came with various opinions as to why- Seattleites must endure many inches of rain and more clouds than sun, giving plausibility to a collective prognosis of anxiety. But every generation of Seattleites has had to live with endless showers and gray days to eventually be rewarded with the magnificent emerald beauty of the Puget Sound, the majesty of the Cascade mountain range, and the bluest skies you've ever seen ('The Bluest Skies You've Ever See are in Seattle' was a hit song recorded by Perry Como in 1992. You may enjoy it here.)

Given its beauty, history, and significance, it is challenging to understand Seattle's anxiety. But then again, Seattle is a different city than what it was forty or fifty years ago when it quietly went about designing and building jetliners. Seattle's biggest fears then were tied to Boeing's fate and living in an active earthquake fault zone. Political debate was vibrant and healthy with both parties at the table. To a visitor, Seattle was a delightful, memorable, and safe stay.

Today, the fault zone is still active and will occasionally shake. Much looks the same but for the blue tarps with homeless Seattle residents living beneath.

Having moved its headquarters to Chicago, Boeing is less important than Amazon or Microsoft. Political power is primarily a single-party affair with elections between the left and the further left. The few who tilt conservative and dare snorkel to the surface to run for office have little chance. Many Seattlites proudly consider themselves 'progressive.' Ideas like 'defund police' and 'critical race theory' have found a warm welcome in Seattle. It even experimented briefly with a little utopian compound called 'Chaz' until some settling of scores ended the lives of two individuals.

I think it safe to say we have all experienced a bit of anxiety. Nerves before an anticipated activity can become anxiety- we grow anxious when about to perform or speak in public or take a driving test. It is also related to fear- the fear that makes blood pressure rise and shortens our tempers. Or the fear of growing ill from a severe virus. Anxiety can also be the outcome of excessive worry.

Since anxiety appears not to bother the wild kingdom (except for neurotic house cats), we should consider the differences within the human psyche, which encourages us to consider all life's possible scenarios and settle on the one that produces anxiety. Evolutionary psychologists will push a biological explanation suggesting some Darwinian benefit. They'll have to dust off a time in ancient history when humanity was not burdened with anxiety. If queried, I'll contribute best I can to tell of my grandmother's incessant worrying. I might even suggest a genetic link as my mother was quite capable of fretting when I missed my teenage curfew.

But I think there may be another understanding. We humans possess complex brains capable of complex reasoning. Paradoxically, we're able to rationally consider all possibilities yet come to irrational conclusions. Most fear when imagining the worse possible outcome is almost always irrational- our individual history consists of many such examples. You not only survived that speech in Speech class, but you scored an 'A.' The 'F' and classmate ridicule, the outcome you feared making for a sleepless night, never happened.

Capable of complex thinking well beyond that found in the natural world, we possibly think too much. We're able to take nearly every possible risk, run threads to nearly every possible eventuality, and grow anxious. And if our multi-threaded thinking leads to a sense of fear and trepidation, we abandon the risk and stay on the safe side. And that is the message we give our children, if so blessed.

But overthinking every circumstance is not our only source of anxiety. At the risk of some irony, let's consider others.

A characteristic of heavy social media use is the pleasure we get from our interactions. They come quickly and, in many cases, from many. The pleasure comes from the sense that it satisfies one of our basic human needs- significance. We all yearn to matter, and the nearly instant feedback loop from our social media interactions feeds it. We'll check in many times a day to find out who has noticed us and who, conversely, is noteworthy. As interactions grow, our dopamine and endorphins tickle us into wanting more. In this regard, the continuous mining of social media attention has 'addictive' qualities.

This attachment (or addiction) to our social sphere comes with some consequences. Immersed nearly continually into some form of digital engagement, we soon measure our value, our sense of self, by the metrics of how we are impacting others- perhaps even influencing others. For some, it becomes their cause, their reason for being. Ultimately thin, superficial, and often futile, we simply add to our anxiety.

Today, we have what are known as 'influencers.' Influencers influence others, or so the marketers think, when thousands 'follow' their every picture or utterance. It, too, can be very lucrative. Unfortunately, too many young 'influencers' are ending their influence by choosing suicide instead. Suicide, and the severe personal turmoil it suggests, perhaps began with deep-seated anxiety—thousands of 'fans,' but no one to talk to.

Those who study these human characteristics in-depth believe that ongoing anxiety often begets neuroticism- particularly in young people.

"You can see them coming from a mile away," wrote Jennifer Tzeses at regarding the neurotic. "Angsty energy radiating like a nuclear bomb. That friend, neighbor, or coworker who obsessively analyzes every thought, feeling, and action, and then analyzes their analysis. And if there isn't an audible narration going along with daily life, mapping out the possible negative consequences of every future action, you can be sure a permanent proverbial thought bubble hangs overhead."

Neuroticism, often defined by negative reactions and feelings, leads to despair. We have overanalyzed ourselves into a state of little hope and, for some, depression. With little hope, there is but a bleak future, and perhaps therein lies the source of our misery.

As a young boy, I remember well being told to take cover underneath our school desk if we were to see the bright flash of an atomic explosion. From beneath that desk, I encountered my first sense of mortality- what would it be like to be vaporized? With that newfound but morbid notion, other concepts and ideas I was being introduced to began to sink in. I was to consider the possibility of dimensions beyond just the physical. I was coming to understand that there also exists a spiritual realm that transcends the physical world, which allows for hope. With hope for tomorrow, I could regain a sense of equilibrium and place my anxiety where it belongs- on the bookshelf right next to ‘War and Peace.’

If left to our own neurotic impulses, then the threat of nuclear annihilation, or global climate warming, or economic calamity, or other of the many existential threats to humanity will leave us in despair and without hope. Just anxious. Fear appears to be the best the secular world offers.

For our overanalyzed and overly-socialized world, C.S. Lewis left us something simple but profound. "Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties."

Peace to you, Seattle. Have a great weekend!

The bluest skies you've ever seen in Seattle

And the hills the greenest green in Seattle

Like a beautiful child growing up free and wild

Full of hopes and full of fears

Full of laughter full of tears

Full of dreams to last the years in Seattle

In Seattle

When it's time to leave your home and your loved ones

It's the hardest thing a boy can ever do

And you pray that you will find

Someone warm and sweet and kind

But you're not sure what's waiting there for you

The bluest skies you've ever seen in Seattle

And the hills the greenest green in Seattle

Like a beautiful child growing up free and wild

Full of hopes and full of fears

Full of laughter full of tears

Full of dreams to last the years in Seattle

In Seattle

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