Spoilt for Choice: The new pressure of finding your future

What do you want to be when you grow up?  

  

From an early age, I grew up watching the popular 90’s American comedy Frasier almost every morning before school as my mum would usually have it on in the background. Immediately I was fascinated by the profession of the main character Frasier Crane, a radio talk show psychologist. Even though it is probably not the best source of Psychology facts or information, I was instantly hooked, and I knew I too wanted to study Psychology. I bought second-hand text books from Car boot sales (or Flea markets for any Americans reading this) and immersed myself in the fascinating topic. At the age of 15 I chose to study it at college (Late high school for you Americans again, 16-18 years) where I obtained top marks and later took it at University and graduated with the highest possible grade.   

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After all of this, you would assume that my career path lacked any ambiguity regarding “What do I want to do in life?”. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I undeniably love the subject but currently have no real ambitions of pursuing it as a career for many reasons. Mainly because this career path requires an overwhelming plethora of qualifications, which will take a lot of time while simultaneously accumulating a lot of student debt. Moreover, it hinders my ability to do the one thing I love more than anything, travel! As a result, at 24 my idea about what career path I want to take changes daily, constantly zigzagging between ideas.   

  

The pressure of choosing a career  

  

There can be an incredible amount of pressure for teenagers and young adults when it comes to making decisions like what to study and whether pursuing further education is the right choice. Parents, friends and teachers can be a source of help or added pressure, and these influences are only the tip of the iceberg. It can be hard processing all the factors, what do I enjoy doing, is there a demand for this, how much money will I earn and what if I want to do something else in the future? Many years ago, the necessity to make these decisions weren’t as common because social mobility hardly existed. If you were born into a working-class family, it’s likely that you were going to stay there. If your father was a miner, there is a good chance you will be too. Therefore, due to these new options in our modern world, it can be a stressful time for young people. 

  

Making the right choice

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Arriving at the right decision may be a long and stressful process, but it can also be very rewarding if you discover something you love or successful choose to pursue your passion. Even though I have no intentions of pursuing a career in Psychology at this current time, I thoroughly enjoyed the subject and I honestly believe I can attribute most of my success to the fact that I am passionate about it. Here are some tips on how to make the right choices when faced with this mammoth task.   

  

Talents, Abilities and Skills  

  

When making these decisions it’s advantageous to consider what you are naturally good at. If you happen to have a natural talent for Maths it may be worth considering some careers which require this type of methodical thinking such as Maths, Computing or Science. The same can be said for all other subjects. If you are naturally good at something, it may give you an advantage when applying for universities or when competing in the modern workplace. The same can be said for any previous work or subject experience you have. Although, what your naturally good at may not be something you enjoy, and if you don’t enjoy your work I can almost guarantee it will affect your productivity and job fulfilment. In other words, don’t consider this the only factor.   

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Social and economic factors  

  

This has less to do with who you are and more to do with the environment you will be entering. Today’s modern technology is forever moving forward with rapid pace and so is it’s ability to replace humans with machines. For example, it is highly likely that we will see many jobs like lorry drivers  out with the use of  self-driving vehicles. So when it comes to making your choice of what to study it is important to consider the demand for workers in this field in the foreseeable future.   

  

It’s never too late to change career paths  

  

Even though all these choices may seem stressful, it is important to understand that this freedom to choose last for a lot more than just your teens. When I graduated University, I accepted a job working in Sales for an IT technology company. I know nothing about IT, and even after working there for a year and a half I still know nothing about IT. What I did learn is that IT really doesn’t interest me (despite my efforts to change this) and now I know. I may not know what I want to do in life, however, because of this experience I have now narrowed down my options and ruled out IT.  

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Relax! This is supposed to be enjoyable.   

  

Being told to relaxed when faced with daunting decisions may seem difficult but the truth is you are on a mission to find something that every day makes you want to get out of bed and go do what you love. Even though it might seem like a difficult mission at times, you can explore so many options and try so many things. This is a path to discovering your passions, your skills and essentially a route to discovering more about yourself and what makes you tick.   

  

One of the most influential moments during my degree was when I was introduced to Alan Watts. If you are not familiar with the work of Alan Watts, I would highly recommend checking him out. More importantly, my lecturer showed us this video shortly before we were all due to graduate and it really did have a lasting influence. If I can leave you with one piece of advice, it is to have no fear. Try new things, study new topics, find jobs you like, quit jobs you don’t and always, always pursue your passion because that will keep you going through the best of times and the worst of times. I may not know what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I have found a great passion for writing and working as a freelance writer. Tomorrow I may want to be a chief, or perhaps a tightrope walker in a travelling circus. But whatever, you decide to do pursue your dream and make sure you are happy.   

 

“If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing thing you don’t like doing, which is stupid.” – Alan Watts 

 

Till divorce do us part? The implications of marriage in today’s modern life

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With 50 percent of all marriages now ending in divorce it begs the question is the tradition relative in our modern society, or better still why can so few of us no longer making it work. As a 24-year-old nomadic traveller, marriage is not currently the highest item on my to do list. With that being, I often ponder if this tradition is for me considering my parents are separated as well as both of their parents. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in love, but it appears to be so rare to find and so much harder to maintain in our modern world that I wonder if a happily ever after ending is a lottery that only a few of us are lucky enough to win. 

There are clearly many reasons people choose to divorce. Money worries, infidelity or lack of communication can all be key issues. None of these are particularly new problems that we face, yet in recent years we have consistently seen a rise in divorce rates, but why is this? Are we just becoming less and less patient due to modern expectations, or is it just because society now allows us to show our true colours regarding commitment? The answer is complicated as research appears to suggest a combination of both.

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Many studies indicated that we now have a higher expectation of what marriage should provide. For many of us, when we find that special one, we now expect them to provide so much more than previous generations. We rarely have the luxury of only one person needing to work to hold down a household, as a result this has become a shared responsibility also adds to financial concerns. Along with household responsibilities we also expect our partner to be a source of unconditional trust, adventurous love, a constant source of support, and above all to fulfil our need for a close companion. In previous years, these roles are likely to have been spread out among multiple people. In addition to this, modern married individuals spend less time with friends and family members compared with their single counterparts. 

Our society has also encouraged a dangerous attitude of immediate gratification and expectation. With amazon prime giving us whatever we desire the very next day and Netflix releasing whole a series at once we never need to wait. This expectation can infectiously spread to other areas of our lives leading us to believe that all our problems can be easily fixed. As a result, many couples are not willing to give marriage the same effort that many generations before us had too. Furthermore, ease of divorce has increased while the taboo surrounding divorce has notably decreased, increasing the appeal of taking the easy way out. 

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One final factor to consider is the amount of quality time partners spend with each other. This is a great indicator of a marriage’s success rate, and over previous year we have seen the amount of quality time partners spend with each other decrease. Without this essential element marriages can often end up disappointing and unsatisfied. 

The good news is that marriage isn’t dead. Despite the decline in its success at least half of all couples that make a go at it still manage to make it work. In our modern society, it is important to understand that we must give our relationships more time, and above all more quality time for them to succeed. It is easy to get caught up in the modern rush with an overwhelming list of expectations from a partner.

The pursuit of happiness: misconceptions of obtaining happiness in our modern world

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Many people think they know what will bring them happiness, and even more worryingly you will probably meet many people who think they know what it takes to make you happy and what you should do with your life to be happy. The truth is that nobody knows exactly what it takes. It can be a variety of things, both physical and psychology which varies from person to person. In many ways Dictionary.com’s definition of happiness sums it up perfectly. Happiness is “The quality or state of being happy”, which is completely accurate yet sheds very little light on what this entails or how it occurs. Despite its elusive nature, recent research indicates links between what does and doesn’t make us happy.

Before we discuss what might leave us with a lasting smile on our face, it’s important to consider modern misconceptions of obtaining happiness. Have you ever seen a new game, sparkly dress or gigantic flat screen TV and thought “I want that in my life”, followed by fantasies of how amazing it would be to own such a thing? I think it is fair to assume the answer is yes. Don’t worry, you’re only human and there is a good reason for this, it dates back much further than the invention of these modern luxuries. According to Loretta Breuning, author of Meet your happy chemicals, “your brain spurts happy chemicals which reward you with good feelings when you do something it perceives as good for your survival”. Therefore, it is only natural to feel a temporary rush of happiness when we obtain something new and shiny, and if operant conditioning has taught us anything, it’s that the rewarded behavior is likely to be repeated. However, this excitement of owning something new fades overtime because we adapt and our desire to buy something new emerges again

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It probably comes as no surprise that new possessions may not be the key to a happy and fulfilling life. But what about life events such as; a promotion, getting married or moving to a new house? These experiences are likely to provide a marvelous sensation, there is no doubt about it. But is a relationship really going to provide you with a happy ever after ending? The difficult reality is that we are adaptable beings and as we adapt to our life circumstances, so does are level of happiness. A meta study by Luhmann et al (2012) found that life satisfaction rises asanindividual approaches their wedding day and is momentarily higher afterwards compared to immediately before. It then decreases in the following months and after 4 years completely resets to its baseline level. This is known as Adaption and is the greatest difficulty we face when obtaining happiness and striving to hold onto it. 

I know this sounds depressing, and is probably the last thing you want to hear while reading an article on happiness. However, upon acknowledging this fact it makes it easier to understand how we can be happy in our everyday lives. The truth is we can spend hours discussing what is likely to make you happy or unhappy but it will always be based upon your own perception. In a recent interview Mo Gawdat, a Chief Business Officer at Google, explains the algorithm he believes is essential for happiness. He sums it up perfectly and in many ways, I can relate. Before leaving the UK to travel the world as a nomadicfreelance writer, I worked in a high-pressure sales job. The pay was good, I was free of all money issues and my company frequently spoilt us with trips to expensive restaurants and open bars. But the truth is none of it made me as happy as I am now. Today, I live off very little money but I spend my days doing what I love. I don’t have a perfect life, but I look at it with glee and I am grateful for each day andcount my blessings. It is important to recognize that lasting happiness will not be achieved by buying something new, finding your “perfect partner” or when you lose a few pounds. Instead it is important to look at what you have and strive to shape your perception of your life into a more positive outlook.

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Sweet Dreams: Sleep in our modern lives

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For as long as I can remember I have almost always had a nightly battle switching my brain off to get a good night of rest. From Progressive Muscle Tension Relaxation to drinking many types of herbal teas, I have tried it all and I can honestly say very little has proven to be affective. With that in mind, my situation is not particularly life crippling. I almost always fall asleep after a while, even if it is after a few hours of my brain running through every imaginable scenario. Whilst dabbling in many possible sleep aids I also found multiple examples of what not to do for a good night sleep. And as our attachment and love for technology grows, so does this list. 

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According to the National Sleep Foundation, adolescence who have a TV in their bedroom have later bedtimes, greater difficulty initiating sleep and shorter sleep time in total. It is probably no surprise that

using technology before bed is going to have a negative effect on your sleep. However, why it affects your sleep and just how bad it is for you may come as a surprise. Many screens of smartphones, laptops and TV’s emit blue light which is proven to reduce the level of melatonin that your body produces. Melatonin is a chemical that is naturally produced by the body to control your sleep / wake cycle known as your circadian rhythm. A lack of this chemical can make it harder to fall asleep and remain asleep. 

This next point may seem abundantly clear, however it is a painful truth that many of us don’t consider or perhaps we hope it won’t affect us. Without a doubt, the more active you are on technology the more active your brain is, which only leads to a greater challenge when it comes to putting it to rest. Whether you are messaging with friends or catching up on the latest episode of Game of Thrones,you are keeping your mind stimulated and tricking it into thinking it needs to stay awake. One Hundred years ago this may have not been such an issue, although in our modern world of Netflix and WhatsApp we can keep our minds occupied throughout the night until the break of dawn. Moreover, the mental impact of reading a negative message or seeing a wave of likes on your Instagram picture may make turning your brain off that much harder. Unfortunately, we can’t switch off our thoughts and emotions as simply as a press of a button. 

After all this you may decide to get an early night, set your alarm and place your phone on your bedside table and gingerly avoid engaging with it any further. Problem solved, right? Well, unfortunately it may not be as simple as that. Even a buzz, ring or whistle from your device can be enough to trigger your conditioned response ready to check your latest notification. The fact is we are addicts, almost all of us, myself included and the only way to remedy yourself is to turn it off or leave it out the bedroom. 

The good news is that even though technology may be the reason for many of these problems, it can also provide solutions to help reduce these effects. I am naturally a little bit of a night owl and I find most of my best work is produced in the evening. Therefore, cutting out electronics before bed would also cut out some of my most productive hours. To combat the troublesome blue light emitted by my computer screen I use a programme called f.lux. This removes this harmful light and replaces it with softer colours to help you wind down. It is set to your time zone so it knows exactly when the sun is setting and times it perfectly with your surrounds. I also listen to music when I sleep and choose to switch off my Wi-Fi connection to stop any notifications. 

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We are obsessed with our gadgets, there is no doubt about that. However, just because we can’t live without them does not mean we must choose between our technology and a good night’s rest. With the right schedule, discipline and tools it is possible to enjoy a healthy balance of both. 

Man up: The impact of media on being a “modern man”

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Since the conception of advertising, we have been exposed to a prodigious number of adverts on daily basis with the primary goal being to influence our thoughts, behaviours and above all our purchasing decisions. Naturally with this type of intention many adverts have attracted a large amount of controversy whilst attempting to grab our intention. Potentially one of the key concerns within modern advertising and media in general it’s influence on young women and how women are represented.

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We watch films, TV shows, music videos and adverts often with a consistent theme of young, thin and beautiful women. Indisputably this can have a very negative impact on young women’s self-confidence, body image and behaviour. However, in comparison, very little has been done to consider the influence of the media’s portrayal of “the perfect man” and how it is effecting our modern generation of young boys.  With so much concern for how women are portrayed in modern media it is easy to forget that many magazines such as GQ, Fortune and Men’s Health often portray a very extreme and unrealistic image of rich, thin and muscular men. It is possible there is less concern for men in this industry due to the stereotype that men are less emotional than and therefore are less likely to be negatively influenced by these images. However, research indicates this is simply not true. Rather actually being less sensitive or emotional, studies suggest that men may have stronger emotional reactions to a stimulus but do a better job of hiding it than women. With this considered it is no wonder than men are just as likely to be influenced media stereotypes as women, or potentially more. 

One study found that over 80% of men spoke in ways that promote anxiety about their body image referring to perceived flaws and imperfections which was higher than the percentage found for women (75%). Moreover, 38% of men would go as far as losing a year of their life in exchange for the perfect body image. This indicates that men are just as likely as women to feel the effects of modern media if not more.

This becomes even more worrying when we consider the implications for young men. Using a national sample of adolescent boys, a recent study found that almost one in five boys were highly concerned about their weight and physical appearance. This perception also leads to a higher chance of depression and were more likely to exhibit high risk behaviours such as binge drinking and drug abuse. From this we can see there is are concerns within young men regarding their self-image. Another important factor to consider in this area is the development of the ideal man within our culture over the past few years.

According to scholars there has been a dramatic shift in body image of young boy’s action figures since the 80s. Figures such has Batman, G.I. Joe and Superman have all developed to encompass a more muscular and “ideal” male physic. Understandably, this has proven to have a very negative impact on young men’s self-esteem.

Body image aside, it can be argued that young men are faced with a daunting number of pressures from our modern society, not only on how to look but also on how to behave. Modern music also can have a dramatic impact on young men regard what is normal and socially acceptable behaviour, specifically regarding misogyny and drug abuse. One study by Barongan and Hall conducted in the 90’s found that increased exposure misogynistic messages has led to desensitization of intimate partner violence and fosters greater tolerance of male aggression. Furthermore, a positive correlation has been found between misogynistic thinking and Rap / hip hop consumption.

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With all this considered, it is important to understand that men also suffer from similar pressures as women in modern media. Despite experiencing different stereotypes, it can still be just as damaging and influential. If you are a parent of a young boy it may be worth consider opening up a line of communication regarding these issue to ensure they are not alone when facing these modern pressures.

Plugged In: The impact of constant stimulation in our modern lives

I live and work in a hostel, and environment full of young and active individuals. In many ways hostels are a fantastic location to witness people from all backgrounds socializing and mingling. However, it is also a common occurrence to see the exact opposite. Large groups of people all hunched over their computers and phones silently focused in their own personal bubble. Because of my work as a writer I am frequently a member of this quiet and anti-social crowd. There are always exception and sometimes people just need to get their head down and work. However, in our day and age this introverted group is worryingly common. I see a frightening amount of people prioritizing their attention towards their phone the moment it buzzes. In our modern society, we have eliminated any possibility of boredom assuming we have our phone (which we usually do) and a good internet connection.

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This constant access to mental stimulation can have a damaging side. For generations before us, their only option of entertainment while waiting for the bus may be a book or making conversation with others. Now we have the option to put our headphones in, load up YouTube or Spotify and disconnect completely from boredom and the world around us. Research indicates that our brain craves stimulation to feed our need for dopamine, which explains why some people resort to addictive activities such as drug abuse to kill boredom and to satisfy these urges. Even though Youtube may not be as dangerous as a syringe full of heroin, this behavior can have its downsides.According to Dr Dimitri Christakis, a professor of Paediatrics at The University of Washington, in 2011 the average age at which a child starts watching television was at four months. In the 1970’s the average age was four years old. Since 2011 we have also seen a dramatic rise in Apps and electronic devices increasing a child’s level of engagement and stimulation with technology. 

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Over the past few decades we have also seen a dramatic rise in anxiety among teens. There is also strong evidence to suggest that our constant stream of electronic stimulation may be contributing to this increase. Checking emails, Facebook and other social media sites can be considered a neural addiction. Psychologist Dr Andrew Campbell at the University of Sydney believes this generation’s inability to switch off is likely to lead to increased levels of anxiety, stress and depression along with relationship problems. Even the simplistic of tasks while multitasking such as watching television while texting or playing a game on your phone can lead to higher levels of stress. 

While constantly being plugged in may have a damaging effect on our youth’s psyche, it may be having quite the opposite effect on our elderly population. Many studies have shown that certain applications can help to prevent Alzheimer’s. High levels of intellectual activity such as learning a new language or puzzles on our phones have shown to decrease the chances of Alzheimer’s like symptoms. 

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Overall, modern technology can be a wonderful tool to conquer boredom while in a dentist’s waiting room or on the bus. However, it is important to recognize the difference between filling time and over filling time. If you feel that you are spending too much time on your laptop or phone, take a moment to switch off your Wifi connection and observe your surrounds. There are many great books which focus on helping you to disconnect from constant stimulation and encourage you to become more present. My personal favorite is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Just remember that unplugging yourself may seem difficult at first, but if you give it time it is honestly as simple as doing absolutely nothing. 

 

Some Days Are Good, Some Are Bad – Coping With Anxiety Disorder

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Anxiety is an emotion characterized by an unpleasant inner turmoil, accompanied by nervous behaviour; a feeling of uneasiness and worry. Almost everyone experienced anxiety. It is a normal reaction to stress. But when you’re experiencing intense anxiety and heightened fear along with other unpleasant physical symptoms on an extended period, it could be that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder.  

 

If you’re reading this article, it could only mean that you are seeking ways to alleviate the symptoms of your condition. Below are some ways that help cope with anxiety disorder.  It’s not foolproof, but every tip is worth the try.

 

Learn to Relax

 

Yes, I have an anxiety disorder and in my years of dealing with it, I found out that when I’m having an episode, I tend to hold my breath and tense up my shoulders.  When I know I’m in this state, I start to breathe slowly and I make sure that my stomach rises when I inhale. I release the tension on my shoulders and right away, it makes the symptoms “feel” less excruciating.  Others do meditation, yoga and learn other calming techniques. Try your best to find a calming activity that will work for you.

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Sleep Well

 

I have experienced a couple of relapses in my younger years and I could honestly say that lack of sleep is a major contributory factor on those unfortunate events.  Lack of sleep triggers many physical symptoms that can cause anxiety attacks.  When I lack sleep, my heart tends to beat faster and experience breathing difficulty. These two symptoms alone can set a major episode enough to cause a major setback in your road to recovery. 

 

If you’re the type who gets anxious before going to sleep, engage yourself in calming activities before going to bed like taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music.  You can even write down your anxieties, if you like since it’s soothing. Most of the time, writing and reading your worries motivate you to deal with the issue and not just let it hang in your mind like a sword that dangles above your head every time you try to sleep.

 

Stay Connected to the World

 

Sometimes, it is easier to just give in to your fears, stay indoors and lock yourself from the world. But in reality, you are just making your condition worst. Do not lose touch with friends. Join support groups that can relate to your condition. Take daily walks even when you’re on your own. It helps calm the mind while staying in-touch with your outdoor environment.

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Do Something You Enjoy

 

Engage yourself in activities that you enjoy doing.  Start a hobby. Learn to cook or bake. Do gardening in the morning. Attend art lessons or clean your backyard!  It actually doesn’t matter what you do as long as you like doing it and you keep yourself busy.  I had several instances when, in the middle of an anxiety attack, I went to the kitchen to wash the dishes.  Tremors and light-headedness did not stop me from doing it. It kept me busy and it helped me pass the time until the episode ended.  

 

I know it’s not always easy to do these things when you’re dealing with a debilitating case of anxiety. But, the world will not stop and wait for us to be better.  We need to try to walk a step ahead of this condition. Instead of constantly living in fear, embrace the condition and work your way around it until things get better for you.