Anxiety: the modern faces of an ancient challenge

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According to recent studies, anxiety is on the rise and comes second after depression in a top of mental health problems worldwide. America has the largest number of people diagnosed with anxiety, 8 in 100 suffering because of it. In fact, millions of people on all continents face a recurrent feeling of fear, worry or even panic that interferes with their life, interrupting their daily tasks and negatively impacting their level of wellbeing. The western world lives in an era of comfort and affluence, but this doesn’t seem to stop us from feeling unable to enjoy what we have.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is one of the oldest emotions known to man. In low doses, it is helpful and can act as a motivator. It is also the emotion responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response that many living beings have. Thanks to their anxiousness, our ancestors could recognize dangerous situations and respond accordingly, by facing the threat or running away from it. Today, most of us have no major physical, life-threatening challenges to face, but anxiety is still with us. People with anxiety tend to worry excessively, sometimes without an obvious reason. There are many degrees of anxiety, that range from mild forms to generalized anxiety disorders and phobias.

Anxiety in the era of ‘you can have it all’. Why?

One of the big questions that seem to preoccupy mental health researchers is ‘why is anxiety spreading so fast today in the western world?’. Although major physical threats aren’t part of our daily routine, there are new forms of perceived threats that can keep us awake at night, such as…

  1. Unpredictable political and economic climate. With an economy that seems to jump from one crisis to another, our long-term finances and job security often feels impossible to achieve. This means worrying about tomorrow – would we have a job paid well enough to buy a house, have a family or afford health insurance? On the other hand, political change can fuel the economic unease and birth new worries, like war, immigration, terrorism etc.

  2. More technology, less contact. Being digitally connected it doesn’t always mean authentically engaging with others. We might have hundreds or even thousands of people in our friends lists, but nobody to talk to. On the other hand, technology is pushing us to be more efficient and try multi-task. However, studies show that, on one hand, multitasking doesn’t mean being more efficient and, on the other hand, it correlates with higher levels of anxiety in people who do it.

  3. Lifestyle choices and trends. In a world where we live the way food, fashion, music, jobs, and lifestyle trends dictate, keeping up with the perceived “norm” can be difficult. In order to be like our cool social media “friends”, we push ourselves to the limit, forgetting that trying to run the extra-mile all the time can be burnout and anxiety inducing. On the other hand, we sometimes become the victims of our lifestyle choices. Leading a sedentary life, eating junk food or smoking affects our health in the long run and we are aware of it. However, worrying too much about what will happen to us tomorrow because of the lifestyle decisions we make today isn’t always a good motivator to change our behavior and they can even act as new anxiety-provoking factors.

  4. Lack of meaning. According to existential analysis, an efficient way to deal with anxiety is by living a meaningful life, but how to focus on creating something meaningful in a world that tells us to ‘consume, consume, consume’? Instead of taking the challenge to face the fear within us and to engage in meaningful activities, we might prefer to compulsively shop, eat, drink, travel etc. In the end, it seems easier and faster to bury that fear under layers of beautiful possessions than to create something that gives meaning to the life of us and others.

How to deal with anxiety?

People can live with anxiety for all their lives and not even be aware that they can get better. If you feel that fear impacts your life, you don’t need to wait until it gets the best of you – better take some simple measures that can considerable change your quality of life. For example, start with giving yourself more time to relax; try mindfulness techniques to connect yourself to here and now; let yourself be imperfect and take a break from looking at the life your social media friends appear to live; exercise daily and eat more vegetables and fruit; talk to genuine people about the things you care for; discover or rediscover what you really enjoy doing. Finally, join a group of people who face similar feelings or see a therapist. They can help you understand where your anxiety originates, what type of anxiety you are facing and even support you in discovering the best ways to deal with it.

It’s worth knowing that anxiety can also be a gift – it can be a sign that it’s time you reconsidered your priorities and found your real path, a sign that you need a change and you’re ready for it. Should you need support in your dealing with anxious feelings, contact us. We’re here to help you start the journey to a better life and a more authentic self.