Anxiety is on my mind this week. Professionally I consider it the common cold of mental health- shows up a lot and responds well to treatment. Lately I have been considering the bigger picture of the huge increase in anxiety we are seeing in both parents and in our kids.
Some facts- research shows as much as five to eight times as many high school and college students who meet the criteria for major depression and/or an anxiety disorder diagnosis, as 50 years ago.
Everyone worries – the average is 55 minutes a day worrying but those diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder report an average of over 300 minutes a day! 18% of our population has an anxiety disorder. Link #1 Link#2
Life is safer today (don’t get me started… it is… life is safer today than it was 50 years ago.) Our experience of life is that we live in constant peril. It is our sense of perceived threats that is making life harder. And this sense of the dangerousness of life is being handed down to our kids.
The 24 hour news cycle floods our brain with endless alerts about weather and war and health risks and violence. We hear studies reporting potential causes of cancer and the cures for illness have an endless list of risks and side effects.
The study of psychology has fed a sense that parent’s are screwing up their kids or letting them down or somehow miraculously doing it potentially perfect so their kids are geniuses. Way too much pressure.
Professionally we are afraid of getting fired, or getting sued or losing the contract or not staying competitive and we fear being stuck or not being passionate or not feeling fulfilled.
Social media leads us to feel left out or different or less than or boring while pushing us to be unique and noteworthy and famous and endlessly interesting while looking poised and polished…and thin, always thin.
I am a pretty average worrier, I think. I had some issues with anxiety in my early 20s and am a reformed worried, committed to meditation and mindfulness. But I feel the pressure. I feel the pressure and resist it every day. I won’t be seduced back into the darkness of my fears.
I try to hold onto the wonder and delight of a unpredictable, unexpected world around me.
While worrying about what could go wrong I never imagined what could go right. 20 years ago I could never have imagined a black president, or the national legalization of gay marriage. 20 years ago I didn’t know about Joey or Zach, I didn’t know about Marriage Geek and my practice and my book. 20 years ago I didn’t know many of the people I turn to for love and support today. There are friendships and interests and commitments and lessons that were not on my to do list. Consider the future. 20 years from now, 2037 sounds like a sci-fi movie. Who can imagine what will be?
Embrace wonder and delight and turn the volume down on the worries. My advice is simple and countercultural and hard and worth it.
Walk among trees.
Say thank you.
Look for the helpers.
What can you add to my list?