When it comes to managing the many complicated challenges of life, I find that it’s best to boil down my options to a simple binary: freak out or chill out.
There are times when freaking out can seem like the best choice. Let’s say a bear breaks into your house. You might be inclined to freak out! Run! Scream!
I find the best course of action, especially when dealing with people and events that are out of your control, is to inhale sharply, exhale slowly, and chill the #@%! out.
Remember the bear who broke into your house? If you freak and run and scream the bear may actually chase you. So you should chill out instead. Think quick, and act like a tree.
Believe me when I tell you that you never want to be chased by a bear, and I should know, because I’ve had that exact nightmare.
Here endeth the bear metaphors.
These are feverish days full of uncertainty and anxiety. It is your right to panic, but I recommend taking a hot bath. Chill out, gender non-specific humanoid. You’ll think better if your brain isn’t boiling.
I’d also like to disabuse anyone of the notion that “chilling out” is, somehow, a stoner’s doctrine.
It is not. “Chilling out” is a part of the Western philosophical tradition; after all, one cannot reason if one cannot take the time to cogitate, to consider, to ponder. This is not to say that smoking weed while contemplating the universe with a mouthful of bagel pizzas is a terrible way to try to understand your true purpose. But “chilling out” is so much more than that.
To “chill out” is to remind yourself that life can be cake and that it is wise to take tiny bites of that cake and go “mmm.” To “chill out” is to climb to the top of a very steep hill to take in the view and then, if it is a very nice view, go “awww.” To “chill out” properly, one must be able to astral-project themselves into the bodies of strangers, like a ghost; one must always be prepared to pet cats, because cats are visitors from another, more civilized dimension; one must name their couch as if that couch were an intelligence that needs, and wants to give, love.
The only way to solve a problem is to take a break from trying to solve it. So chill out, because constantly freaking out is bad for your mental and cardiovascular health. You have my personal permission to step back and take a minute to yourself whenever you want, for whatever reason.
I bring all this up because, in case you haven’t noticed, millions and millions and millions of people are losing their minds. We’re all on edge, you know? Just the other day I saw a man angrily kick a mailbox. When people are raging at inanimate objects, you just know things are tense.
An American Psychological Association survey from last November claimed that 63 percent — nearly two-thirds — of Americans are stressed out about the future of the nation. (According to this same survey, Americans are also chewing their fingernails about money and work.) And it doesn’t seem like much has changed since this survey was conducted just a few months ago. I mean, hate crimes are still on the rise. Random acts of heartbreaking and savage violence haven’t stopped. Cable news is mostly people who look like lawyers screaming at each other like they’re professional wrestlers.
And instead of calmly talking about our differences and grievances, and trying to resolve conflicts with neighbors in a patient and compassionate manner, we’re freaking out. Social media is basically trench warfare. Strangers give suspicious side-eye to other strangers. Our politicians smile with their lips closed, to hide the fangs.
I have two friends who don’t talk to each other because they disagreed on the last Star Wars movie. WTF is that about?
I am fairly certain no reputable studies have proven that people hate one another more or, I suppose, less than usual. But there seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence that Americans are very angry and very afraid.
I just wish that everyone would try to stop freaking out. It is an ineffective coping mechanism. Besides, hysteria causes wrinkles. It also forces the brain and soul to retreat. Walls, metaphorical or not, block nice views of trees and mountains and other people. I don’t think chilling out is the solution to the systemic issues we face. I don’t think doing a jigsaw puzzle will make our society more fair, equal, or respectful. The good fight is 12 long rounds, and then some. But taking time out to assess a situation, and then maybe have a snack and breathe a little, never hurt anyone.
Once upon a time, believe it or not, I was a real Pollyanna, which has come to refer to someone who is overly sunny and optimistic. It’s a reference to a precious 1960 Disney movie starring Haley Mills, the original star of Parent Trap, who played Pollyanna, a terminally upbeat orphan who turned a small town’s stone hearts into beating flesh and blood. I watched the movie on a beat-up VHS tape as a child and then grew up thinking that Pollyanna’s indestructible cheerfulness was just how one deals with the world: hoping for the best and preparing for the best.
I understood early on that if Pollyanna existed in real life, she’d become annoying, almost immediately. In the movie she was always playing “the glad game,” where she’d list off things she was glad about. Usually, when I played that game, I was glad for, like, my parents and tacos and cartoons, and that’s about it. The point is, though, I worked hard at seeming rosy. Faith is a lie with a pretty bow.
I’d offer friends and family advice to get through tough times. “Everything will work out for the best,” I’d say. “Look on the bright side,” I’d suggest. “Could be worse?” I’d shrug. Deep down, of course, I was a smoking volcano of self-loathing and pessimism. But I tried my level best to have a positive attitude even when I felt like a burbling geyser of doubt and self-loathing.
“Once upon a time” was a long time ago. I don’t have the energy to play the “glad game.” I mean, um, I’m glad you’re reading this? How are you? The best I can do right now is not freak out. And delete my social media apps and drink more tea and, most of all, listen. These are the sorts of dark times when words of comfort are most needed, and I got no words except these: Everybody needs to chill the #@%! out.