How to Minimize the Mean World Syndrome and Reduce Anxiety
The mean world syndrome describes a way we can learn to interpret the world around us. I introduced this phenomenon in the previous post. The mean world syndrome causes us to experience our world as mean, frightening, and negative. It can overtake our thoughts and emotions as well as cause significant, life-limiting anxiety. Sometimes, events in the world are harsh and seemingly unfair, and our mental health can suffer because of it. Other times, our perceptions are skewed due to our viewing of the media and participating in social media. Either way, you can do something about the mean world syndrome and reduce your anxiety.
A Real-World Example of the Mean World Syndrome
The research-based mean world syndrome (stemming from what’s known as cultivation theory) describes the problem. When we are bombarded by news reports and social media posts that blast negative information and fuel our fears, anxiety soars. We lose trust, faith, and hope in the world around us because we believe that the world is truly as bad as it seems.
What might not be readily obvious is that the mean world syndrome also holds the beginnings of a solution. This is what we know about how the mean world syndrome causes anxiety:
- What we watch is what we pay attention to
- The more we watch or go online, the more we receive these same fearful messages
- What we pay attention to influences how we perceive the world
- We can become hyper-focused on a negative theme or event
- We come to believe that this accurately represents the world
- Our anxiety grows, and we experience longer and more intense periods of fear
As an example that will help illustrate a solution to decrease fear and anxiety, think for a moment of school shootings. Without a doubt, they are horrific tragedies and even one is too many. Sit in front of the screen of your choice, and you'll likely encounter laments that no child is safe because of the availability of weapons (the issue is kept at the forefront by both sides of the gun control debate). Kids are becoming fearful and anxious at school, and many parents are experiencing high anxiety about sending their kids to an unsafe place.
The fear and the anxiety are real. The facts are not so real, at least not completely. An NPR report asserts that the number of school shootings per year is actually declining and that schools remain the safest place for kids to be (see Despite Heightened Fear of School Shootings, It's Not an Epidemic).
The idea here isn't gun violence or gun control. The point is that the mean world syndrome is at work in our daily lives. We don't hear all sides of every issue. What we hear is what we attend to and what we come to believe. No wonder anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental illnesses. Step back and just notice what messages you receive daily and how they impact your thoughts and emotions.
Tips for Handling the Mean World Syndrome, Reducing Anxiety
We can decrease the anxiety and fear created by the mean world syndrome. Here are a few tips to begin doing so.
- Step away from all screens several times a day, every day. If this feels hard, start small. Take a two-minute break for the first few days, and add a minute or two every day after that until you spend periods of at least 30 minutes away from your screens
- Question things instead of taking them at face value (just because "everyone" is saying something doesn't make it right or true)
- Reality check: Does the information online or in the constant news streams match what you experience in your real world? For example, what are the schools like in your community?
- Do something. Action is what ultimately conquers fear and anxiety (How to Turn Anxiety into Action). Using the school example, how can you be involved to increase safety in your neighborhood school?
The biggest thing that fuels the mean world syndrome and the accompanying anxiety and fear is remaining passive. Take charge of your anxiety, mental health, and quality of life by being active (not an activist; just actively living your real-world life). Turn off screens. Assess your real world. Work to make positive changes. You don’t have to sit back and let the mean world syndrome keep you trapped in a life of anxiety and fear.
Peterson, T. (2018, June 7). How to Minimize the Mean World Syndrome and Reduce Anxiety, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, April 6 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/anxiety-schmanxiety/2018/6/how-to-minimize-the-mean-world-syndrome-and-reduce-anxiety
Author: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC
A significant, timely topic and a well written article. Thank you.