Anxiety is a mysterious and insidious beast that can overwhelm you with no notice.
Suddenly it doesn't matter how well your day was going because you realize that everything sucks, you're going to fail and it's all your fault. The government is spying on you through your iPhone, your grades are mediocre at best, everyone knows you cried in the shower earlier, this weekend didn't yield any Instagram-worthy memories fit to grace your Facebook cover photo, and your boots aren't really snow boots, they're just boot-boots, so they can't handle another polar vortex.
The real problem with anxiety is that many people don't realize that it's happening. They think it's normal to be sitting at a cubicle in the library not getting homework done because they're having imaginary arguments with their roommate, planning great retorts for every mean thing they "might" say.
While I've already discussed the neuroscience behind meditation as a nepenthe for all things anxiety, there happens to be another factor in the mix.
You see, anxiety comes from the overstimulation of our wonderfully developed prefrontal cortices. These fleshy masses conveniently located just inside your forehead (wear a helmet when you bike), are responsible for a large majority of the upper-level processing that makes the homo sapien inherently "human-like." It makes us creative. It makes us able to think in advance. It also makes us really, really good at inventing anxiety-inducing scenarios to think about over and over again.
However, I'm of the opinion that there are other forces at play here, for the things we ponder are simply built upon the things we feed our brain. While we may be under-relaxed on some level, I believe that we are also quite overstimulated.
Now, this isn't to say that TV is melting our brains like fried eggs or that Grand Theft Auto V is making people mow down civilians while hallucinating point values for doing so.
However, the format of modern media is moving increasingly toward a style conducive to the shortest attention spans. Couple this with rampant sensationalism, and you're essentially left with horrifically intense headlines like "THREAT TO THE GRID? Attack on Calif. power station raises terror fears," "DHS warns airlines of explosives in toothpaste tubes ahead of Olympics," and "State of the Union 2014 – thin-skinned amateur Obama addresses Congress, our parliament of whores."
As the oversaturation of the news market has led to these bite-sized terror-burgers, we are now exposed to a breathtaking amount of useless media-intensive gesticulation daily. Even the internet has become this newsfeed-heavy, list-of-GIFs focused cesspool. The end result is that we become cluttered. Instead of worrying about real things that need to be worried about, we worry about "global terror alerts," and what a conservative duck-call designer's opinions on homosexual marriage are.
So, one way to help tame the adrenal loop of anxiety is to learn to quiet the mind, and that's still important. However, it's also important that we prioritize our thoughts. Why give our time and attention to things that don't matter? Why create mental chatter when there is no need for it? Why add to the mental list of infinitely complicated homework assignments, job applications and relationships?
If external stimuli are even remotely responsible for anxiety, then these stimuli should be limited. Get off Reddit for 10 minutes and realize that conversation is far less in your face; make up for the lack of sensationalism with real substance. Realize that 30 GIFs of Kristen Bell's responses to sloths are not making you a better person. Quit distracting yourself, and by the time you flip on your lamp to get some reading done, maybe your head will be a bit quieter.
Andrew Fleming is a junior in neuroscience. He can be reached at email@example.com.