3 Tips for Reducing Feelings of Worry and Fear

It’s surprising how many hours we spend in a day worrying about concerns trivial in nature. These concerns range from getting to work on time when the roads are under construction, to failing to choose between soup and salad, to dying cold and alone, with no one around to hold your hand as you depart from this earth. If you’re anyone like me, your worries are of existential proportions: what if I’m still living with my parents when I’m forty years old? What if I never find true love? What if I’m diagnosed with a terminal disease tomorrow, and how will I cope with it? While such worries may or may not come true, ruminating on them certainly doesn’t help. Therefore, I have devised three tips in order of their importance that I believe are instrumental in reducing feelings of worry and fear, especially for those of us who are constantly apprehensive about an uncertain future.

Tip #1: Refrain from thinking in the subjunctive too much.

The subjunctive is a mood tense we use in language to describe doubts, demands, wishes, uncertainties, and desires. Two examples of subjunctive thoughts are “I don’t think I will ever be happy” and “I doubt that I will do well on this exam“. The first tip I would offer for reducing worry is to omit these types of thoughts from your mind by a considerable degree, as they are neither an accurate depiction nor reflection of reality and, like the fears and worries they precipitate, can be quite insidious if left unchecked. If you happen to notice a subjunctive thought passing through your mind, try to convert it into something more objective and less emotional. For example, you might be tempted to convert the thought, “I don’t think I will ever be happy” into “Everyone is equally capable of achieving happiness, and I am by no means an exception to this rule.”

Tip #2: Convince yourself that you have nothing to lose.

A couple of months ago, I conducted a little thought experiment by applying to Disc Replay and seeing if I would get called in for an interview. I had no intention of leaving my current job to work at a place where I would get paid $4 fewer, but I wanted to see if my 5+ years of experience in working retail and one-year-long experience of running a personal blog would increase my chances of landing a job interview, regardless of the institution I applied to. Not surprisingly, Disc Replay called and asked if I could come in to answer a few questions. There were nine candidates up for a position—only one would get the job.

Once there, I was instructed to fill out a form while waiting my turn to be interviewed. On the form was a series of questions testing my proficiency in alphabetization and solving basic math problems. One question in particular asked me to calculate the difference left over from a transaction with a customer and add to it a 20 percent sales tax. Under normal circumstances, this question would have thrown me completely off guard, but in that moment I couldn’t care less about getting the answer right because I wasn’t going to accept the job anyway. I therefore guessed incorrectly on the question, turned in the form, and stepped up to the interview with total confidence. By virtue of that, it went smoothly.

The point I’m trying to make here is that you can function a lot more effectively in life when the stakes in the game aren’t just lowered, but nonexistent. If I had any semblance of emotional investment in landing the job, I would have worried about answering that math question incorrectly so much that I compromised the interview process, and projected auroras of inadequacy and ineptitude to the manager and guaranteed that he wouldn’t hire me. Think of this tip along the lines of approaching an attractive girl at a bar with hopes of getting rejected by her to win a bet that you made with your best friend: if she says no, you just won $100. If she says yes, you walk away with a phone number. It’s a win-win.

It turns out that faking it until you make it works.

Tip #3: Live by the mantra, “You are not your thoughts. Only your actions.”

Part of why people see suicide as a viable option is because they’ve listened to that little voice inside their heads that constantly tells them they’re no good, and heeded its criticisms. Understand that all that voice consists of is transient and relatively insignificant thoughts—some conducive to survival and others not so much—and that the only way those thoughts will ever have any basis in reality is by acting upon them. Of course, you can tell yourself that you’re no good all you want, but so long as you strive to be any good, those thoughts of worthlessness, dejection, and self-hate will remain but a fictional story you tell yourself congruent with negative past experiences and attuned to your biases.

And there you have it—three tips for reducing fear and worry. Do you think any of them will prove useful in cleaning up the anxious mess that you are?

Why Microtransactions Are a Cancer to Gaming

“All we know is fake fodder and buying shit. That’s how we speak to each other, how we express ourselves, is buying shit. What, I have a dream? The peak of our dreams is a new app for our Dopple, it doesn’t exist! It’s not even there! We buy shit that isn’t there!”

– Bing, Black Mirror

Microtransactions, or exchanges of real-life currency for in-game assets such as cosmetic items, weapons, or gear pieces, are a cancer to gaming, and they’re spreading faster than we can get rid of them. This is demonstrated by the ongoing “Reddit versus EA” debacle, which began on November 12, 2017 when a Reddit user complained that despite purchasing the Deluxe Edition of Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) for US $80, they still could not play as Darth Vader. One would expect to play as this hallmark Star Wars character in their Star Wars video game, yet you need to spend a substantial amount of time (approximately 40 hours) grinding just to unlock even the most basic characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, or Rey.

A PR representative of EA wrote a comment on the Reddit user’s post that essentially defended the overinflated time spent to unlock characters by asserting that it promotes a “sense of pride and accomplishment.” This response was an obvious sugarcoat over the fact that the progression system in Star Wars Battlefront II, including its design and design philosophy, is solely intended to incentivize players to spend money on microtransactions so that they will not have to spend as much time grinding for their preferred characters. The comment was therefore downvoted over 670,000 times—the most downvotes in Reddit’s history—and snowballed into an unprecedented amount of community backlash that in effect prompted EA to lower the cost of credits to unlock a character by 75%.

UPDATE: As of November 16, which is conspicuously right before the game releases, EA has suspended Battlefront 2’s star cards until further notice.

Even if Battlefront II was completely devoid of its exploitative microtransactions (which it never will be), I still wouldn’t purchase the game because I am not a fan of the Star Wars universe. Nonetheless, I felt I had to speak up on the matter because microtransactions are ruining much of what I love about video games, from that sense of “pride and accomplishment” I feel upon completing a difficult challenge to working towards a goal that I would otherwise be unable to reach if I lazily spent my money just to cut a few corners.

Take, for instance, the Vidmaster achievements in Halo 3: ODST (2009), which, if unlocked, would grant players access to a highly-coveted gear set—Recon—that was previously exclusive to Bungie employees. The Vidmaster challenges were no easy feat and, might I add, a living nightmare if you and your teammates kept screwing up. Three challenges that stood out to me the most were Annual, Endure, and Deja Vu.

For Annual, you and three other players needed to complete the last mission in Halo 3 with the Iron skull active, which made it so that if one player died, the whole team needed to restart the entire mission! In addition, Annual required that everyone must finish the mission in Ghosts, and not in Warthogs. For Endure (the widely regarded most frustrating of the three), four players needed to pass the 4th set, or the 60th wave, in Heroic Firefight on any mission of their choosing. This could take up to four hours depending on if you were careful. At a minimum, the achievement would take ninety minutes depending on if you were feeling risky. Finally, for Deja vu, four players needed to complete the Halo 3: ODST mission “Coastal Highway,” again with the Iron skull active and without using Warthogs or Scorpion Tanks.

To that end, to attempt to unlock a Vidmaster achievement was to set yourself up for unfathomably soul-crushing disappointment, disillusionment, and frustration. Can you imagine how you would feel after playing through Coastal Highway for two hours with your good buddies and successfully reaching the end of the mission only to die from something stupid like a plasma grenade to the face, screwing it up for everyone else? On the contrary, can you imagine the level of pride, satisfaction, and bliss you would feel if you actually managed to complete all seven of these daunting achievements that the average Joe would give up on because he doesn’t have any faith in himself?

The pain and anguish you felt from failing a Vidmaster challenge versus the extreme ecstasy you felt from overcoming it means that you knew exactly what someone in a multiplayer lobby had to go through to acquire a full set of Recon armor. If you, too, were lucky enough to acquire Recon, you had every excuse in the book to say, “I sweat, I bled, and I cried, but in the end, I did it.” That’s something you cannot say when you circumvent all of that hard work by simply purchasing a piece of gear via a microtransaction, because saying “I did it” is not the same thing as saying “I paid for it.”

But it appears that circumventing hard work by purchasing a microtransaction is about the only option you have if you want to deck out your video game character in 2017. In cases that affect gameplay, you’re forced to either arduously grind for hundreds of hours or spend hard-earned cash just to gain a modicum of an advantage over your opponents. Halo 5: Guardians (2015) is a perfect example of this: all progression is based on “requisition packs” that are purchasable via in-game credits or real-life currency, and net you pieces of gear, weapons, emblems, stances, and assassination animations of varying rarities. The catch is that premium REQ packs aren’t guaranteed to net you that weapon you’ve always wanted, as it’s all based on a random number generator (unlike Halo 3 or Reach). You could therefore spend hundreds of dollars on gold-tier REQ packs, and even then, you won’t have unlocked everything the game has to offer.  Sure, Guardians isn’t by definition “pay to win,” but it doesn’t have to be to ruin the multiplayer experience.

Overall, microtransactions akin to Battlefront’s star cards or Halo 5’s REQ packs make publishers oodles of money, so they won’t magically disappear all because of a few hundred thousand downvotes on Reddit—we have to discipline ourselves into not purchasing them, too. Until sales numbers reflect our frustrations, this greedy and insidious business model will become so prevalent that one day, a $60 game will cost you $500.

What Spongebob Can Teach Us about Binge Culture

“Yep, this is great. I might as well rename this town ‘Squidward’s Paradise,’ or perhaps, too much paradise.”

– Squidward Tentacles, Spongebob Squarepants

Have you ever discovered a song that sounded so catchy, you repeated it over and over until it became dull, boring, and perhaps annoying? If so, then you’re not alone.

The first time a catchy song is played on the radio, it sounds deep and rich, and you might convince yourself that it could never become boring. Listen to the same song one hundred more times, however, and I guarantee that it will no longer sound the same as when you first listened to it. Why does this always happen?

You know what they say, you can’t have too much of a good thing. This adage reflects both the physiological and practical limitations of prolonged indulgence in pleasurable activities, such as listening to music, playing video games, viewing Internet pornography, and eating fast food.

Physiologically, at some point the brain becomes less sensitive to previously arousing stimuli, operating under a “pleasure-adaptation” principle. This phenomenon is likely due to neural adaptation in the mesolimbic dopamine system and other key brain areas involved in generating feelings of reward. I’ll use the example of the inability of chronic drug users to re-achieve the same highs as before (“Wow, an article about Spongebob, and he brings up drugs.”). Unfortunately for them, their tolerance levels raise to the point where near-lethal doses are needed for them to induce a slight buzz, and as a result progress to harder substances, get sick from withdrawal, or even die. It’s the course that addiction runs.

More practically, it wouldn’t make sense for us to wipe our memories clean so that we could, for instance, listen to that catchy song forever without it becoming dull or boring. This is not only because it would waste a great deal of time, but because the mind was built for novelty. If anything, evolution wanted us to experience as many new things as possible to maximize the chances of discovery and survival, and by extension, sexual reproduction. Haven’t you ever wondered why over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce? The answer is that over half of once-happy and fulfilling marriages inevitably fail because couples stop being physically attracted to each other, causing them to cheat, argue, and eventually file for divorce. Simply put, the modern institution of marriage is counterproductive to spreading our genes as far as possible, so naturally we become bored after we’ve had sex with the same person for the past 20 years (note: this is not meant to be taken as an attack on marriage, however; I understand that it is a crucial component of adequate child rearing).

The human brain’s constant “scrapping the old” and “embracing the new” also conflicts with modern binge culture. Perhaps the best illustration of the conflict between the adaptation to pleasure and binging is the episode of Spongebob Squarepants where Squidward moves into the town of Tentacle Acres to get away from Spongebob and Patrick (see Season 2, Episode 6).

The basic premise of the episode “Squidville” is that Spongebob and Patrick draw the final straw with Squidward when they accidentally blow up his house. Thus, he moves away to the affluent town of Tentacle Acres that is exclusive to his kind.

At first, Squidward’s new residence seems like a dream come true. He takes up bike riding, shopping for canned bread, interpretive dancing, and playing the clarinet in a trio. However, he engages in these activities so much and so often that eventually he loses complete interest in them, and resorts to harassing the other residents with a reef blower to keep himself occupied.

I love this episode because it teaches kids that when things are taken in excess, they become repetitive and lose meaning. No other episode in a children’s television show can quite depict the consequences of empty binge behavior as accurately as Spongebob did. Furthermore, it poses an important question that we should all ask ourselves: how much “paradise” is considered “too much”? How long does it take before our finest indulgences become stale?

Most of the time, the reason we become bored or disinterested in previously interesting activities is because we chase nonexistent extremes, and thus manufacture ways to be miserable because we’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel good. It’s the same reason why the ecstasy of winning the lottery eventually evaporates, and you revert back to your original level of life satisfaction. Assuming you win $1,000,000, you’ll need to win $2,000,000 next time to feel profoundly ecstatic again. But even then, it won’t necessarily feel the same as that initial jackpot.

It all comes back to this idea of neural adaptation in that when you indulge in any activity that gives you pleasure, you set a new standard by which all other subsequent pleasurable activities are measured up to. In other words, when you find something that brings you joy, that becomes the new norm, and from there you’ll constantly attempt to emulate or even outmatch the joy that you once felt—to “one-up” it, so to speak.

Here are a couple of examples from my life: I am a huge fan of open-world RPGs. I’ve played Destiny (2013), Skyrim (2011), and Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015) for hundreds of hours, but nowadays, whenever I revisit these games, they just don’t feel the same as when I first played them. I hate to say it, but they’ve become boring. On the other hand, when I take long-term breaks and play other games (or maybe read a book), they feel fresh again and I can at least derive some enjoyment from them. Obviously not as much enjoyment as when I played them for the first time, but just enough to keep me reasonably entertained. In addition, I enjoy drinking whiskey. I love its taste and aroma, and how it only takes me a few sips to get a nice buzz going. However, I’m aware that if I drank it every single night, day by day, not only would I suffer severe health consequences, but the quality of that “buzzed” feeling would drop exponentially. One drink would become two, two drinks would become four, and four drinks would become eight just so I could re-achieve or outmatch that buzz.

Just like “Squidville,” my takeaway message for you is to always moderate your leisure activities. Because binging, while indeed fun, can only get you so far before you start feeling a little empty inside.

Has Gaming Become Socially Acceptable?

“Video games are ingrained in our culture. Driven by some of the most innovative minds in the tech sector, our industry’s unprecedented leaps in software and hardware engages and inspires our diverse global audience. Our artists and creators continue to push the entertainment envelope, ensuring that our industry will maintain its upward trajectory for years to come.”

– Michael D. Gallagher

In my lifetime, gamers have always been stereotyped into these sweaty, neck-bearded, Mountain Dew-drinking, Doritos-eating, fedora-wearing losers who dwelled in their moms’ basements at the age of 40 and never left the house because they were so glued to the computer screen all day. They were overweight men who experienced difficulty in finding romantic partners, and possessed no reputable skills other than playing video games. But has this stereotype more or less dissipated?

A study found in 2015 that as many as 155 million Americans play video games, and four out of five American households own a console (“Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry”, 2015). These numbers are unprecedented compared to thirty years ago, when gaming was first making it into the public eye. Thirty years ago, fairly rudimentary video games such as Pong and Pac Man were only accessible through arcades, and even then you had to wait your turn before you could play them. Today, video games are accessible everywhere and to everyone, and have evolved to a point where you can literally explore entire worlds from the comfort of your own living room. The current trajectory could lead to full blown virtual reality that engages all of your senses, including, God forbid, pain.

Technological advances have obviously accounted for the recent explosion in video game popularity, but what about cultural advances? As I’ve stated, it used to be that if you played video games, you simply didn’t have a life. It didn’t matter how much or how often you played them—you were always defaulted to this basement dweller who was “below” everyone else on the social hierarchy. But we know that the hierarchy has become more accommodating in recent years. If you play video games, you’re now seen as no different from somebody who watches movies or reads books.

The increased social-cultural acceptance of gamers could be reflected in mediums such as television shows and YouTube videos.

Take the widely beloved sitcom The Big Bang Theory for example, which will be going into its twelfth season in 2018. This show follows the antics of four socially awkward close friends, Leonard, Sheldon, Rajesh, and Howard, as well as Leonard’s way-out-of-his-league neighbor, Penny. The cast has expanded to include more female characters.

The Big Bang Theory has received critical appraise for its humorous depiction of nerd dynamics. Typically, characters will have conversations about how Indiana Jones has no effect on the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or in what order the Star Wars movies should be watched.

However, The Big Bang Theory’s greatest strength is equally its greatest weakness. A common qualm with the show is that while it promotes social acceptance of nerds, it perpetuates false perceptions of who nerds really are. I define a nerd as anyone who exemplifies extreme enthusiasm for his or her hobby of choice, but in The Big Bang Theory, nerds are presented as socially compromised. In the beginning of the series, for instance, Leonard is a chronic loner, Raj is unable to speak to women, Howard is a creep, Stuart is cripplingly depressed and routinely embarrasses himself in public, and Sheldon cannot connect with anyone on a human level. But hey! At least they all love to play Dungeons & Dragons and go to the movies together, right? Nonetheless, The Big Bang Theory has turned out to be one of the highest-rated, longest-running, and most profitable American sitcoms of all time.

Take PewDiePie, the most subscribed user on YouTube, as another example. In 2011, Felix Kjellberg attended college for a degree in industrial economics and technology management, but dropped out to instead pursue a passion in making videos. What began as a hobby would then evolve into an enterprise in its own right, with Felix rapidly rising to prominence by taking advantage of the YouTube algorithms, uploading consistently, and maintaining but refining the fundamental format of his content. As of November 2017, PewDiePie has amassed up to 57.7 million subscribers, and in effect defined the gaming genre on YouTube and inspired countless others to create their own gaming content.

What about my opinion? I am by no means a fan of PewDiePie. I’ve got nothing against the guy personally, but I don’t find any of his videos funny. I don’t see where the appeal comes from—is it just immature children who find amusement in watching a Swedish man incessantly shout into a microphone while playing a horror game?

PewDiePie’s gargantuan fan base cannot solely consist of immature children. He appeals to a wide audience unbound by age, race, or sex—an audience that derives entertainment value from watching their preferred personality play games as opposed to playing games themselves. And, it’s this new entertainment value that has contributed to the popularization of alternatives to PewDiePie like VanossGaming, Markiplier, and RoosterTeeth. Even Smosh, one of the top channels on the website that previously did not produce gaming content, has branched out to appeal to a more gaming-centric audience.

Overall, through clever exposure to their way-of-life, shows like The Big Bang Theory and content creators like PewDiePie have incrementally lifted the stigma off gamers, and proved that they are not just basement dwellers who can’t find girlfriends. They’re people, too.