Revisiting this post from last year at this time. Still a very relevant topic!
Last week I had the privilege of being with a group of 10 twenty-somethings for a retreat. At the end of their time we were talking about what they had to go back to, and I was surprised to learn how many of them live with debilitating anxiety. One fellow said that sometimes at night, as he lies in bed, he has to remind himself to breathe. That hurt my heart.
This week I was in a similar group of thirty-somethings. At the end of the discussion, a question was asked about “What is holding you back in life.” Every single person in the room said, “fear,” except me. I said cynicism, but Boomer Cynicism is a different blog topic. Again, I was shocked to see how many beautiful, intelligent people live in fear.
These two experiences made me wonder about anxiety and fear. Is this epidemic cause by something in our culture? Is it something in this generation specifically, or is it a combination of factors? I started asking friends for their opinions as I in try to sort this out and I’d love to hear yours.
1. I went to a neuropsychology conference once on the explosion of childhood behavior disorders and it was postulated that children are now being incubated in an environment of low grade stress, which is compromising their immune systems and lowering their resistance to disorders like ADHD. Could this same logic could be applied to anxiety?
2. At a similar conference, these disorders were linked to environmental toxins, again causing a compromised immune system and the easier triggering of latent issues like anxiety disorders.
3. My husband’s theory was that we now have too many choices. Formerly, people grew up in well-defined cultures with their own rules, norms, taboos and expectations. Nowadays, kids are members of national and international cultures defined by media and the internet. Choice is often equated with power, but perhaps too much choice can cause increased fear and anxiety.
4. My daughter’s theory is that because we are constantly bombarded with stimulation that is anxiety producing, like horror movies, violent video games, the nightly news, and even the Discovery Channel, we learn about all the things that can go wrong — which creates this stressful soup we live in.
5. One could make a similar argument about our inability to unplug. We are wired at the hip to our phones and electronic devices; we can stream movies, TV shows and music at any time from any device and we have forgotten how to be quiet. Ten years ago, after having left the college world to work as a therapist, I returned to the university. I noticed lots of fantastic changes about this student generation, but one thing mystified me. It was their inability to be alone. They told me they were afraid to be alone, and always texted or talked to friends if they were forced to be alone. What had caused that change in the last ten years? Could the neuropathways for peaceful existence that we’ve neglected by being constantly wired in have died off? Are they re-growable?
6. Could it be we are left shaking after the loss of the protective factors that used to be part of our culture? In the place of community structures like churches and guilds that gave us a sense of belonging, we now have broken families, latch key kids, rampant drug use, pornography, and child abuse. Has the world just become an unsafe place to live?
7. I lead a week long seminar over spring break with our students. On one day they are required to be silent for twelve hours. It is the day of the week they fear the most. At the end of the week, it is the one thing most highly talked about and valued. But being alone means facing yourself. Perhaps part of our anxiety comes from not being at peace with who we are.
In my next blog, I’ll talk about some things we can to overcome fear and anxiety. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your opinion about what is causing this epidemic.