Shine a light on ... Anxiety (part 1)

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Everyone I know has anxiety.

Not the kind of anxiety that you feel before you speak in public, or when you see a massive spider scuttling towards you. I mean, the kind of anxiety that hangs over your life, that is disproportionate to your circumstances and that prevents you from doing normal things.

Everyone I know has experienced a period of this debilitating anxiety at some point in their life. Perhaps I just have an overly-anxious friendship circle… I’ll worry about that another time…

But for now, it seems worth exploring the anxiety epidemic in our (or just my?) world.

Anxiety can be a medical condition. I’m not qualified to write anything about this, but a good GP will be able to offer appropriate support. (My GP, on the other hand, advised me to ‘Get over it, Mrs Read’. And although I could see the cold wisdom in his words, they didn’t much help at the time!)

I think the zeitgeist (the general vibe) of our culture provides the perfect hotbed for anxiety issues to thrive. Let’s look at just three elements of our culture to see how anxiety-inducing they are:

Choice
We, broadly speaking, have so much choice. And where there is choice there is anxiety, because the alternative might always have been better. This works on a grand scale, like choosing which college to study at, and on a small scale, like shopping (why are there so many types of shampoo?!) All these options mean we could always have made a better choice so we can never truly be content.

Luxury
We, broadly speaking, live fairly luxurious lives. The majority of us don’t know what real danger is. We have food and shelter. We don’t live in a war zone and our lifestyles aren’t at the mercy of natural disasters. We don’t have any imminent danger to worry about. So maybe we worry about other things instead? With my basic needs met, I’m free to over-worry about other things. (I have no evidence to back this up…I’m just pondering…)

Presence
We all, broadly speaking, have smart phones. I have a physical presence in my real life and a virtual presence on a handful of social media apps. I have to maintain them all adequately. And although this doesn’t directly cause me anxiety, it does contribute to the unfulfilling world of choices (Should I Instagram that? Which filter should I use?) And all the virtual presences prevent me from being truly present in my real life. It’s a 24hr distraction, it never relents. It means I can never fully switch off.

Life is stressful. Our families, exams, money situations and our health all provide us with legitimate reasons to feel anxious. So when these real-life stressors come our way, the background to our lives (all the choices and all the distractions) allows for the anxiety to flourish. Our culture doesn’t naturally provide us with opportunities to effectively deal with anxiety.

But there are ways to overcome this worry-inducing world…I’ll share the things that really helped me get over my anxiety in the next post.