“Amplify” should be the word of the year.
Back in the old days – before social media and the Internet and all – the word “amplify” was most often used to speak of sound systems or radio broadcasts. In a church or theater or school auditorium, we would speak of electronic systems that amplified the voice of one speaking so that groups could hear equally well in large spaces.
Or perhaps you remember purchasing a separate component for your high-end stereo system that was called an amplifier. Or think about electric guitar players who carry around a small sound-producing box called an amplifier; that small box gives voice to the electronic sounds of the guitar, unlike an acoustic guitar that generates sound out of its strings and the sounding box inside the guitar.
Today, “amplify” has itself been amplified to a new level of meaning. Social media marketers promise to amplify your message through their services. By that, of course, they mean they will spread your message more widely, ramp it up, make it more obvious. And in urban slang, something that is amplified is jacked up, louder, bigger, stronger.
“All of us today are living with elevated baselines of stress caused by fear and grief and anxiousness about our health, our families, our work, our future.”
In these days of coronavirus fear, everything around us is amplified. Our attention to the news is greater. Our perceptions of threats all around us are greater. In fact, every emotion we experience seems to be amplified.
We’re all on edge, and our emotions run a hair trigger away from exploding. Most of us can go from calm to panic in 60 seconds flat. That is because our emotions are amplified. Everything we feel is amplified right now.
Often when counseling with people trying to cope with a hard patch of life, I try to help them see that their baseline of anxiety has been raised to a new level. Imagine a scale that runs from zero on the bottom to 10 on the top, with zero being no stress and 10 being stressed to the max.
When our daily existence hovers in the zero to one or two zone, we carry a lot of capacity to experience additional stress before we max out. But when we live every day with a baseline in the five or six or seven zone, it takes much less to push us up the scale to full blow-out 10.
All of us today are living with elevated baselines of stress caused by fear and grief and anxiousness about our health, our families, our work, our future. Everything we feel is amplified.
My colleague who has studied gerontology says that as we age, we become more of who we always have been. Think about this, and you’ll see the truth of it. Older adults become more vivid portraits of who they have been in younger years, whether more generous, more difficult, more stringent or more loving. We might say that age amplifies our personalities.
The stress of living in an age of COVID-19 is revealing all of us to be more of who we have been. It is amplifying our personalities – for good or for ill. Normally hidden emotions now surface like sunken tree branches exposed when lake waters recede. We are more easily laid bare.
What to do? Find ways to turn down the volume.
I’m not going to pretend this is easy to do. Nor will I pretend that turning down the volume means the same thing for everyone. For some of us, turning down the volume on anxiety might require turning up the volume on our favorite music. For others it may mean intentionally scheduling daily walks or quiet times or video chats with family and friends.
I do know this, however: Any attempt to impose on others our own version of finding peace is likely to backfire. Expecting me to reduce my stress the way you prefer will only amplify my stress.
Here’s the good news, though: In this time when most of us feel like we’ve been restricted to much less control of our own lives, there is still one important way we can exercise full autonomy. That is by choosing a way to turn down the volume.
That choice remains entirely yours.
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