Anxiety: the 21st century pandemic

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By 2017-08-20

Written By Aney Darling

Dear Dorothy,

There have been countless times in my life of 30 years where I have been anxious. One particular time, about six or seven years ago, I was overcome with anxiety after a series of bad decisions that I had made. My world crashed, everything was going wrong. I couldn't eat, sleep or do anything physically; but my mind was constantly working, on alert, analysing, worrying, terrified and not stopping for a moment. Palpitations and difficulty in breathing, accompanied by chills and the nervous twitching of my hands were a constant presence. It lasted for a few weeks and as my problems began healing, with time, so did my 'anxiety.'

I was, and still am, under the impression that I have always been an anxious person; more prone to panic than level-headedness. But of late, the word 'anxiety' keeps popping up on regular conversations with friends, family and even random blog posts and social media statuses, making me believe that it has become some sort of self-diagnosed epidemic far removed from the word 'anxious' altogether. It is also a condition that seems to be plaguing our younger generation. I say, 'younger generation' because I am yet to come across someone older making a claim to 'anxiety' as an illness. I have never heard someone from the previous generation say something or anything to the effect of "I suffer from a bad case of anxiety."

So what is going on? Is anxiety some youth-made trend bordering on hypochondria? Are we mistaking our flight and fight response fuelled by adrenaline in the face of difficult challenges? Is it an actual condition affecting millions in a world that is continuously battered by socio-economic, environmental and political issues, or is it simply the modern human's inability to handle and manage stress in the face of change and hardship?

A modern-day nightmare

The American Psychological Association classifies anxiety as an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure. "People with anxiety disorders usually have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns," their website apa.org claims. "They may avoid certain situations out of worry. They may also have physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat."

I am someone who believes that my anxiety is a part and parcel of life; a normal emotion that I experience once in a while. It is a human response to stress, change and trauma. I personally am not of the opinion that it requires a clinical solution; but rather a holistic and natural one. Others, I know, disagree. I think opinions vary based on the way in which each human responds to certain stimuli and the various degrees by which they experience 'anxiety.'

From what my friends say, for some, anxiety creates an imaginary abyss of terror far worse than the harsh reality they are faced with. They imagine exaggerated outcomes and fearful scenarios that play over and over in their minds, recurring often, and not as one singular incident; but as a continuous series of anxious reactions. One friend, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that she is convinced most times of losing her mind, and struggles to function normally in everyday life – leading to other conditions like substance abuse, social awkwardness and insomnia.

But how did anxiety become such a prominent advancement in the human psyche? Why has it become a fixture of modern life?

What causes it?

Many psychologists say that the rise in anxiety was first noticeable following World War II. It is an obvious response to such a long and trying ordeal that affected thousands upon thousands who faced death, unemployment, relocation, famine, political unrest and a declining economy.

But what has turned that anxiety into a disease of epidemic proportions in today's world is another question. Any observer of today's fast-paced lifestyle and the goals and functions of man cannot escape the constant rush and turmoil of life. In a money-driven world, under pressure to complete a multitude of short-term goals while running in a ruthless rat race, constantly aware of the passing (losing) of time, it's no wonder people feel like they themselves are ticking time bombs ready to explode any second. So the spike in anxiety can be directly associated with the times we live in.

It can also be related to the instability of global politics and the international threat of nuclear bombings, wars, terrorist attacks and the rise in racism and bigotry around the world. The most recent examples of which are the white supremacy march in Charlottesville, the series of ISIS attacks across Europe, the military attacks on Syria and various other terror attacks that have become features of regular news updates every day.

The majority of countries in the world, including Sri Lanka, are facing a financial crisis. From Brexit to the local bond scam economic unrest is also creating a very stressful environment that makes the general public uncertain of their financial future. The lack of trust in governing bodies also forces people to work harder, fall in debt faster and accumulate unrealistic financial responsibilities over time; all in an effort to better their quality of life, against a failing economy.

Natural disasters, global warming, pollution, extreme changes in weather and the rapidly changing atmosphere of the earth all point to an early doomsday theory, backed by science, nonetheless. It's hard to ignore and is an inevitable end to centuries of ignorant human development. But although the loss of the Arctic's summer ice cover from four to one quarter in the span of a decade is extremely worrisome, there is nothing to be done individually to change its course immediately. Not only is it frustrating, but a terrifying notion to many.

So, Dorothy, with all this going on, no wonder so many are having anxiety attacks! Our world and lifestyle today are creating a psychological endemic that keeps growing beyond control. And, with so many affected by this condition, tablets and pills seem like the most likely answer. But, it has been discovered that anxiety is also linked to genetically modified food, and a diet full of processed and chemically enhanced snacks and drinks. So why try to treat it with more chemicals and drugs? Doesn't a natural approach seem like a better option?

Firstly, I think, we must let go of what we cannot control; such as our death, our fate and global phenomena. And we must work on creating manageable and realistic goals for ourselves, including those that are not money-driven and time sensitive. Happiness is a choice. It is a choice that must be made by you. Practice meditation, try and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, disengage from technology and embrace nature when you can. Scientific studies and research have proved that this can help. It is also believed that sipping chamomile tea, consuming omega-3 fatty acids through natural foods, breathing lavender, bathing in Epsom salt, reducing caffeine and exercising regularly will also help combat anxiety.

Write to us at [email protected] and share your thoughts and comments about anxiety in the 21st century.

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