Anxiety…it’s the number one reason people and athletes arrive in my office. It grips emotions and life seems to be out of control. It affects the way people think, feel, behave and perform.
It’s even to the point now, in the name of emotional well-being and mental health, college students are demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.
(Yes, seriously—click on this Atlantic magazine article for more!)
Do we have an epidemic? How come the numbers of young people struggling with this are increasing? How come great leaders, CEO’s, and talented people are not immune? What is going on?
How did we get here as a nation?
THE ANSWER: multiple influences contribute to what we call anxiety
It’s not the great dark unknown. Here is what to consider in no particular order:
- Belief – There is an overall belief among people that when or if you experience the emotion of anxiety, then something is wrong such as a disorder or mental illness.
NO, THERE IS NOT! This is lie! Anxiety is a normal emotional response especially if you doubt your skills, knowledge, or ability. It is a normal response to a threat or potential harm. It’s a normal response to an irrational belief.
Think through these other influences and see if you’ve been influenced to believe this lie. (Please note, I am not talking about the 1% of people who truly have a biological issue generating anxiety).
- Culture – American culture has moved from a ‘development’ and ‘learning’ environment to a ‘perform now’, ‘do it now’, ‘respond to me now’, ‘post it now’, ‘be available 24-7’ culture.
Good God, no wonder we all have worry, stress, and anxiety about demands on us we can’t possibly fulfill.
Technology makes connections and requests more quick and efficient. But, with these advances, it also makes it easier to get distracted and off-task.
To keep up with my teenage kids, I jumped into the Snapchat world, then found myself spending hours watching people’s threads. Some are sharing fabulous information like Chalene Johnson, her husband Bret, and her son Brock. Every night, though, I spent too much time ‘following’ instead of doing my work.
- Social media – This is a vacuum creating a ‘narcissistic’, make it ‘all about me’ phenomenon nearly every single one of us is lured in to from our digital units.
You are not immune no matter your age. I admit at 51 there is truly something endorphin producing to find out which posts and pics get the most ‘likes’ or ‘loves’.
We’ve all seen it too, the family or couple at a restaurant who have their eyes in their phones and no one is talking to each other. Sad…so so sad!
And, believe it or not, but people have died while getting that selfie they believe is so important. Here is an account of 11 of those fatal choices.
- Media at Large – Now more than ever before (and I used to produce the news for an ABC affiliate), the media puts out real and fake stores to generate ratings, numbers of clicks, and dollars. It is no longer easy for the average American to tell which media outlet is telling the truth.
This shift started to solidify during my days with an ABC affiliate 25 years ago. Our newscasts gained sponsors. The content was driven in part by our advertisers. We began allowing time for opinion or editorial content not normally done during a local newscast.
A defining moment came for me one evening when I had a heated argument with my news director about our lead story. The news director decided to lead with the opening of Jurassic Park, the new Steven Spielberg movie at the time. I desperately tried to find anything ‘hard’ that would justify canning this ‘soft’ Entertainment Tonight desire of my boss.
I had one option. We got wind of a potential sexual harassment lawsuit against the local university involving a coach to athlete. Nevertheless, we couldn’t get comments or anything definitive enough to change the ND’s mind. And while that was correct to NOT create news until we had the facts, it just killed me we started a newscast with the opening of Jurassic Park.
“This was not what I signed up for”, I thought.
Even though I have media experience, I can shuffle through my yahoo.com home site or the msn.com homesite, and there are a lot of ads and ‘sponsored’ stories which are NOT NEWS. They are directly sandwiched between news content, making it difficult to discern real from sponsored.
- Lifestyle – There is reason why anxiety has increased over the past three decades at the same time as obesity. Typical American lifestyles consist of little physical activity, consumption of fast food and toxic processed foods, sugar & chemically laden drinks, a lack of sleep–ALL having disastrous impact on mental health.
For years, what many believe is depression and/or anxiety is NOT. It is simply the result of lifestyle. And, this is good news. These are simple changes to make to stop generating depression and/or anxiety.
But, hey, if you want to continue to feel like crap and produce anxiety and sadness, then keep eating a steady diet of high-fat fast food, sugary coffee drinks, alcohol, and other non-nutrient dense food & drink items. Get less than 7 hours of sleep, and definitely watch TV or Netflix for 2+ hours each day and you’ll experience anxiety. I guarantee it!
Wait, there is more! You’ll generate depression and anxiety in no time at all if you lay in bed at night looking at your phone and the posts of all your friends and their trips and accomplishments compared to yours. But, I wouldn’t know anything about that J.
- Pharmaceutical Companies – During the past 25 years, big pharma has taken over traditional medicine and trained doctors to look at anxiety symptoms as something wrong and to write a prescript for medicine rather than recommending non-medical ways to manage, cure, and cope.
Often, I find, taking a child to the psychiatrist is as common as going to soccer practice. As I’ve noted above, I strongly encourage you to take the time to rule out lifestyle and a lack of life skills before considering medication. Nearly all psychotropic medications were designed and created for adults. Kids can experience dangerous physical side effects on these meds.
Furthermore, I want to encourage all of us to stop with the label of ‘anxiety’ and put an end to the belief that anxiety is somehow biologically determined. If you really need to know what’s happening with your brain or your loved one’s brain, I highly suggest getting a spect scan done through the Amen Clinics. Dr. Daniel Amen is one of few psychiatrists who actually looks at the organ he is treating.
- Parenting – Parents also tend to believe kids ‘have anxiety’ as if something is wrong and in need of medicine rather than teaching how to reason through it, coping skills and healthy responses which don’t involve synthetic drugs (see Lifestyle).
Maybe it’s just me. And, I admit the probable bias I have from 20 years of dealing with dysfunction, but it appears to me there is a huge lack of teaching life skills to our kids. Many adults are just as riddled with anxiety as their kids. They struggle to be good role models for reasoning, coping, and constructively solving issues.
I’ve watched parents cry uncontrollably at minor adversity or small setbacks. I’ve seen grown men and women terrified of making mistakes and distraught when their children don’t measure up to their standards. Some lack emotional control and teach their children destructive methods to cope whether they realize it or not. Your children are watching you. What kind of legacy do you want to leave?
- Innate Mental Wiring – There are some Braincode’s more prone innately to struggle with anxiety than others. Their natural mental wiring lends itself to worry, judgement, and negativity, but it does not mean there is something wrong. And good news, it is also something that can change.
So, let’s go there. Is there a biological component to anxiety? Yes, there are people who more innately grapple with worry and fear. Folks who desire perfection, control, order, and prefer things to be known rather than unknown tend to struggle inherently with anxiety. And, those who can’t stand when someone does not like them, also can be more prone to anxiety.
Again, I want to caution against believing there is mental illness or a disorder when these people experience anxiety. Understanding and increasing self-awareness of beliefs and motives are important. Then, it requires working on coping skills to lower the intensity of this anxiety and/or eliminating it.
A few influences but not exhaustive
These are just a few of the influences I regularly see inducing anxiety. I’m sure you can add to the list given your life experiences.
Losses, for example, whether from death or divorce can generate anxiety
A #metoo experience or any kind of abuse also produces a struggle with anxiety.
Bottom line, recognize the influences that contribute to anxiety. And, then do the work necessary to generate what you DO want to feel!