For the past decade, anxiety has been described as a mental-health issue, or associated with generation styles. College students are said to be more stressed than ever, which could be attributed with a bad job market, less cohesive communities, and the constant self-comparison, otherwise known as social media. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18% of people are actually experiencing anxiety disorders at any given year. That’s 1 in 5 Americans! As a country, we spend over $2 billion per year on anxiety medications. Why is this blowing up now more than ever? Recently in America, we have developed an obsession with becoming happy. While we are on this quest for happiness, we are experiencing more disappointment and anxiety.
In the late 19th century, neurologists described a condition called neurasthenia, which was a direct consequence of modern life. Symptoms included headaches, muscle pain, weight loss, irritability, anxiety, depression, a lack of ambition, and both insomnia and lethargy. The notion of Neurasthenia is that the nervous energy becomes depleted because our bodies were not built for modern life. It shaped so many things, including how people talk about health, happiness and lifestyles. Because it was such a broad disorder, it could be split into different diagnoses, like anxiety disorders, depression, OCD, eating disorders, and even chronic fatigue syndrome.
Today, we see “Americanitis” or the “the disease of living too fast”. When Americans are not happy, we try to blame it on something. We have become deeply entangled with cultural norms, developments, and technology. Many Americans are overworked, focusing on making money and a name for themselves. They begin to fall into a robotic pattern, affecting both their mental and physical health. We lose sleep over small things, like checking the President’s Twitter feed at 2am. Our relationships begin to suffer from being on-edge all the time. We become angry with ourselves when we do not look like the celebrities portrayed on Instagram. In college, we pull all-nighters to ace an exam. We tend to set the bar too high when it comes to goals and achievements. When these goals cannot be reached, we experience more stress, and in turn, more anxiety.
Anxiety is normal emotion– to a certain point. It is when anxiety becomes so forceful and frequent that it interferes with life is when you should seek help. Chronic stressors, such as anxiety, can lead to increases in blood pressure, decreases in immune system functioning, and digestive issues. It is important to seek happiness in the right ways.
How can we fix this?
We could blame our anxiety on cutthroat work environments, economic crisis, or even the new President, but if we are on this pursuit of happiness, should we really be seeking somewhere to place the blame?
It is important to establish healthy relationships in order to find the happiness you are looking for. If you have lost your family, friends, or lost a sense of community, you are going to have less people to lean on, thus creating more anxiety. Human contact and kinship helps alleviate anxiety. Stress expert Aila Accad says, “The basis for healthy relationships is respect, freedom and value of each unique person for the other’s equal freedom and right to think, feel, make personal choices and take responsibility for them”. You may feel like you want to close yourself off in times of stress and anxiety, but this is the time to reach out and share your concerns with people close to you. Establishing healthy relationships does not mean pleasing people. You should remain true to your thoughts and beliefs. Do not say “yes” to to a dinner party if you know you are going to put yourself in a situation that creates anxiety. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your own actions, which includes getting along with others.
We control our own happiness: Media, including television and social media, tends to consume our thoughts. We hear about horrific homicides, debilitating diseases and weather disasters. We live in a culture where fear motivates us. We spend our free time looking at doctored pictures of celebrities and friends on social media. Feelings of self-consciousness or a need for perfectionism tend to arise. We become obsessed with seeing how many “likes” or “comments” we get on our own posts. In order to be happy, it has to start within yourself. We shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to others. We need to realize that we are in control of our own happiness. We can change ourselves, but often cannot change what is going on around us.
Make time for yourself: Don’t let the stresses of daily life prevent you from being healthy. Step back from your problems and clear your head. It is helpful to learn what triggers these anxious thoughts. Daily exercise, combined with a healthy diet and adequate sleep can have mood boosting effects. Yoga and breathing exercises should also be incorporated into your daily routine. An idle mind leaves time for anxious behavior. It leaves time to obsess over things, and overthink. Set some sort of daily structure, which may even include a written down list of things that you should get done. When you have free time to let your mind wander into dark places, such as trying to figure out how to control life and brace for disasters, is when you experience both mental and physical stress. You have to believe in yourself, and that you have the ability to handle whatever life throws at you.
Anxiety does not need to be rational, it doesn’t need to be understood, and can contain multitudes. It is certainly possible to be anxious about things that will never affect you; it is possible for you to be anxious about things you can never prevent. The most important thing is learning how to control the triggers, and improve your overall quality of life. Taking steps to incorporate time to take care of your body, as well as your mind, will help maintain a positive attitude, and a less-stressed lifestyle.