Agita. Do you feel it too? It’s the relentless pounding on our senses that leaves us feeling uncertain and uneasy

May 22, 2023, 10:18 AM UTC
The incessant onslaught of news and promotional messages could be undermining trust and causing anxiety.
Leonardo Munoz—VIEWpress/Getty Images

What’s causing all this agita? It’s as if a storm is brewing, threatening to uproot everything we hold dear. Has the world profoundly changed so much, has our perception been altered? Or is it something else?

These turbulent times have penetrated every aspect of our lives, including our personal and professional aspirations. It’s as if the very fabric of our society is unraveling before us.

Struggling to keep up with the constant onslaught of news and sales messages is like playing an eternal game of Pac-Man

News and sales pitches are the ghosts, and we’re the little yellow guy trying to gobble up all the information before it devours us. It’s a high-stakes game of survival, and the ghosts never seem to tire.

I’m a business, economics, and political news junkie. It’s not just for kicks or due to the constant turmoil hitting us. As the leader of a crisis communications business, I need to be on top of the news and understand all sides–and how it all might affect my clients, business, family, friends, and myself.

My instinct is to immediately pursue what’s happening, why it’s happening, and who’s involved. Almost all news today is problematic. So, what are leaders and others thinking and doing–or not doing? Ultimately, is there action to take?

Let’s look broadly at top news stories to see what’s causing all this agita: U.S. politics, wars, immigration, national security, and economic crises, nuclear concerns, protests, China trade and growth, social issues, terrorism, and the prospect of significant climate damage.

It’s the greatest hits album of misery!

Surprisingly, these concerns were also at the top of the news a decade ago, in 2013.

It’s almost as if Mark Twain was a time traveler because his words still ring true, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

A friend told me, “something is beating at us, causing anxiety and worry about our lives, our workplaces, and our future… putting us on edge.”

Frankly, I was determined to find out what was causing all this agita

So, I sought insights and spoke with dozens of the sharpest minds I could muster: CEOs, economists, futurists, scientists, professors, religious leaders, military generals and entrepreneurs, lawyers and judges, and even a well-known comedian, as they are good observers and commentators on our culture.

Most pointed to news stories of conflicts and instability as the contributing factors–but that was also the case a decade ago.

Others said it was the winding down of COVID juxtaposing our schedules as we are seeking more human contact and normal lives. However, generally, this is fun and does not cause stress.

Two religious leaders talked about challenges to family and religious values. Almost everyone in this astute group noted the lack of leadership all around us. Although these issues are prominent, like other issues, we faced them a decade ago.

It seems like we’re all sailing on stormy seas. We’ve lost trust in the foundations of our democracy– media, politicians, religion, business, finance, the courts, and even sport. Many of these leaders should be walking the plank.

Simply Pause

Before we go all CSI to hunt down the gremlins and villains that are wreaking havoc in our lives, let’s pause, cool our jets, and think about self-care by taking breaks and prioritizing your own well-being.

It could be yoga, meditation, a walk, the gym, or the boxing ring. Me? I prefer a cappuccino in the a.m. and another at 4 p.m., with a freshly baked giant chocolate chip cookie. But hey, you do you. Find what relaxes you and makes you feel better and do it every damn day.

Breadth, magnitude, and speed of new technology

Our agita is not event-driven. It is caused by epic disruptions to the way we receive and consume information.

Every day, there’s a new gadget, app, platform, or buzzword that we’re supposed to know. Keep up or be labeled a digital dinosaur.

From A.I. to V.R., blockchain, and CRISPR, the rise at warp speed of new technologies creates incredible innovation and progress, but also alarming consequences and uneasiness over job displacement, privacy concerns, and even the existential threat of superintelligence.

We cannot turn back the clock as we do with daylight savings. However, we must think critically about the potential impact and how we manage the velocity of innovative technologies.

Let’s blame the media

The media today is like a psycho ex who bombards us with emails, social postings, and texts. They are in intense competition, trying to outdo one another.

Time means nothing in this infinite universe–and the line between traditional and digital media has vanished. And to top it off, most media outlets have their own agenda. Some will even happily bend the truth to fit their narrative.

Like drama queens, some media outlets thrive on injecting tension in stories, focusing on fear-inducing narratives, and manipulating emotions to captivate attention. This increases views–and allows higher ad rates.

We cannot escape this. Take everything you read or watch with a grain of salt–and capture news from multiple sources.

‘We have met the enemy and he is us,’ said Commodore Perry during the War of 1812

People rarely seek or like change. It’s the dreaded disruptor in our comfort zones.

Change is an unexpected houseguest who shows up unannounced and throws everything into chaos. And in the office? Forget about it. The mere mention of a change agent can send people into full-on sword-drawing mode.

Without change, we become stagnant, complacent, and oh-so-boring. We need to shake things up every once in a while, try new things, and explore innovative ideas. It’s how we grow, learn, and progress.

Winston Churchill, a man known for his steadfastness, also believed in change. He famously said, “Never, never, never give up,” but he also said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Did Churchill have agita? You bet.

Richard Torrenzano the CEO of The Torrenzano Group, helps organizations take control of how they are perceived. For nearly a decade, he was a member of the New York Stock Exchange Management (policy) and (executive) Committees. Richard is a sought-after expert and a leading commentator on financial markets, brands, crisis media, and reputation.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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