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Is Anxiety Taking Over Society? Or You?

anxiety waveHave you been hijacked by anxiety? Or someone you care about?

An unwelcome terrorist comes and goes playing with your peace?

For those who know anxiety, “playing” is a gross understatement.

Is it just me or is anxiety and worry on the rise? I think so.

We see it more and more.

Psychologists are seeing something call “school refusal” in high-achieving kids, bringing some to paralysis because of fears about achievement.

Plus, there are the rising effects of technology in all ages: A swing toward more technology-based relationships replacing actual human connection. Dr. Gregory Jantz and Michael Gurian write about “disconnect anxiety”—that is, “feelings of disorientation and nervousness when we are deprived of Internet or wireless access for a period of time.”

There’s also the discovery of the “worry-warrior gene,” apparently found in about 25% of Americans.

In North America, 40 million people are diagnosed with GAD: Generalized Anxiety Disorder—when someone has chronic worry or anxiety for at least half a year, experiences frequent worry about future events (disproportionate to the likelihood of those things happening), and several symptoms.

In a recent MacLeans article, Toronto psychologist Alex Russell says anxiety “is like fear, only anticipatory—of something down the line that could be truly fearful. It’s fear plus planning.”

Our modern times have not helped.

A fast-paced environment heightens fear. Watch the news? Sure, it’s good to be informed (maybe), but fears are heightened. Every day. Every hour.

Surf Facebook and Twitter? Each 10-second interval has the potential to shove more fear-mongering, negativity and threat right into the worry section of your brain. (For my blog about your brain’s mirror neurons and reducing negative input click here.)

News cycles, books, television/commercials and the internet are often driven by the novelty and morbid-fascination with fear-driven content. We take the bait.

And our brains pay for it.

Maybe some anxiety comes from thinking about a looming world war, or environmental concern. Maybe it’s a family issue or problem at work. Or an exam, bills or people-pleasing. Maybe a looming question about existence or purpose, or a deep longing that we are unliked or unloved.

And then there’s parenting. In today’s age when parenting has become an active (and much-disputed) verb we feel pressure to re-invent the parenting wheel, churn out a certain kind of kid, or face social scorn for our failure.

In his expansive wisdom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer warns about the false security that can come from the “thraldom of material things.” (He’s so smart he gets to make up words.) And what are we promised daily from our screens and subconcious but the unfading “happiness” that comes from the “thraldom of material things.” Often our obsession with finding security in the wrong things perpetuates the problem. It’s hard to get refreshment from a tall glass of… sand.

Our daily routines have also changed. The mind and body are wired for healthy efficiency when we’re exercising, sleeping properly and eating well. What if our lifestyles have slid to a place where driving everywhere, always rushing, not sleeping enough, and over-indulging are creating a petri-dish bacteria zone for anxiety.

Whatever the case, anxiety is a big deal for a lot of people. And I don’t think there are simple answers.

And yes, there are actually some good things about anxiety, stress and worry. In an article called The New Worry Epidemic Anne Kingston highlights research that some stress in childhood and even a brief daily separation from mommy can make one “more resilient later in life.”

Plus, for some adults, a certain amount of anxiety can benefit them in the workplace, forcing them to anticipate problems and manage issues.

But that’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the paralyzing dread, or even the I-don’t-even-know-what’s-wrong-but-it’s-crushing-me-downward anxiety.

No single blog can respond to the anxiety epidemic. But I just want to suggest some food for thought:

1. Cultivate silence

Silence is the lost art. Every day we are bombarded by fear-mongering messages. True, when people suffer from anxiety it is often rooted not in these messages but in an experience they have had or something in the personality, or both. But the continual crushing (negative) noise of our culture doesn’t help.

So gag it.

By intentionally cultivating silence we bring ourselves back to the present moment, we centre our beings in the simplicity of a quiet space of peace. Earphones, radios, TV’s, gadgets, internet… off.

When was the last time you heard yourself breathe?

2. Seek help

For some reason we humans have a problem seeking help. We isolate ourselves and pretend all is “okay.” Maybe we’re afraid that being honest will disqualify us from being elected Do-It-Yourselfer of the year. We are too self-reliant. That’s right.

A lot of anxiety is complex and can benefit from the wisdom and direction of someone else—maybe a therapist or pastor or close friend. The only thing worse than suffering from anxiety is suffering alone.

Finding the right kind of help might be your indispensable step to a better life.

3. Care for yourself

Seriously. How are you eating? Are you exercising? Or is fast food, caffeine and TV-watching dominating your down time? I also think that modern addiction to technology is one of the biggest factors in anxiety. This and other factors draw us away from the world of self-care and meaningful human relationships and interaction. We are so easily drawn downward to a lesser life, and away from the daily habits that give us wings.

Be proactive.

4. Rely on God

I’m writing this from a Christian perspective, but it’s wisdom for everyone.

As a follower of Jesus (who sometimes gets it right but often messes it up!) I think his advice is the most weighty. In a famous teaching he talks about anxiety. Implicit in what he says is that anxiety is often rooted in an over-dependence on ourselves to provide for our needs. But when we “seek first God’s kingdom” (Matt 6:23) the other things we need to live will fall into place. Do you think this sounds simplistic? Uh, no. Just try it. “Seek first God’s kingdom”… before anything else. Get ready for a soul-revolution.

As pastor Rodney Anderson says, “There’s a monumental difference in believing in God and believing God.” (You may want to read that again.) You may “believe in God.” But that’s not “believing God.” Making that jump may make all the difference in your life. His promises are for you. And his way is your way.

So be well. Anxiety is huge. It’s on the rise. And certain patterns of behaviour and habits make it worse. So get on it.

But you don’t have to suffer at the hands of an invisible terrorist alone.

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