Anxiety seems to be haunting all of us in varying degrees. Because it’s such a common phenomenon, I believe, there must be some cultural variables at play. To try and understand this I’ve engaged in a small, very subjective, research project, with the aim of trying to identify what are the contributing factors to our current anxiety epidemic.
The first that comes to my attention is systems that don’t work. Often, when using the internet to try and manage something, especially when it’s an important something, there always seems to be a glitch, and when something goes wrong trying to track down a helpful human can take an amazing amount of time! The outcome of this often repeated event, albeit with different companies or bureaucracies, is anxiety. Just knowing that I have to do something important via the internet can cause me anxiety.
This week’s challenge was connecting WiFi. I felt very anxious about my ability to achieve this task so tried to locate a human who I could pay to come and do it. This was not to be, so off I went to Harvey Norman where I was
assured by an enthusiastic sales assistant that all I needed to do was take this new modem home, plug it in and I would have WiFi. Needless to say it didn’t quite work out this way. After 3 hours along with recruiting help from family, I was very anxious, but I did have WiFi.
Embedded in this relatively trivial anxiety producing experience are many variables that I think feed generalised anxiety.
Firstly: systems that don’t work the way manufacturers/ sales assistants/ bureaucrats say they will. This leads to the second anxiety trigger; everything takes longer than anticipated. Whether it’s paying a bill, driving somewhere, or a trying to install a new system of some sort, there always seems to be a disconnect between the time allocated and the time actually needed. Then there is the actual cost. Many of our now deemed essential household expenses eat into the family budget, and then annoyingly become out of date before they actually break or wear out. If you’ve got a household full of adolescent children this can become a relentless, expensive battle ground.
The mismatch between available finances and time is definitely an anxiety feeder.
There are many daily annoyances that trigger anxiety. Add to these numerous other significant contributing factors. I believe, ironically, the absence of real life and death struggle. For most of us in an affluent country like Australia, many of the things that make us anxious don’t really matter in the grand scheme of having a satisfying life. I think that especially for our children this absence of overcoming significant challenges has created a situation that is eroding their confidence. They are so protected and as parents our fear for them is so great, they have limited opportunity to gain the satisfaction of surviving, problem solving, or overcoming adversity. Whether an adult or child, when we achieve a sense of overcoming, it builds our resilience and confidence in our life management skills. This, of course, also includes our ability to survive a tragedy.
Unfortunately, no matter what is happening we are quick to consult an expert, whilst this can be helpful and soothing, often it undermines our intuitive knowing. I believe anxiety is created when we ignore our own intuition and enact someone else’s opinion over our own sense of what is right. It’s much more helpful if we can consider the opinions of others, but not override our ‘knowing’. We have all, no doubt, experienced times when our loved ones take ignoring their advice as a sign of a lack of love. This definitely creates anxiety, and this anxiety could be labelled as a indicator of ‘control confused as love’.
The absence of community support to enact a solution that feels right is not encouraged. Everything is ‘evidence based’ and even though this evidence is not always sound, it’s given priority over ones own personal knowledge. Over time, this undermines confidence, breeding uncertainty and in turn anxiety. When times are tough our history of overcoming adversity is what soothes us, providing the confidence and courage to do what ever needs to be done. When our ‘pool of competence’ has been undermined by either experts or loved ones we can end up with immobilising anxiety.
When criticism is ongoing and not coherently attached to relevant events, the sense of being under siege can take hold. Because the criticism is completely detached from our own actions it can result in a chronic state of hyper alertness – keeping recipients relentless on the lookout for possible personal attacks. This is especially problematic, if our childhood experiences are of parents who constantly criticise, or blame regardless of whether it’s warranted and can mean the difference between anxiety that is annoying but manageable, to anxiety that cripples.
Our mental health is fragile; and even if we’ve had very supportive, attuned parents, anxiety can be easily triggered. Say for example if we end up with a very critical boss, friend or partner, it won’t be long before anxiety becomes the dominant emotion.
In my work I like to think about anxiety as a signal, the challenge is to try and find out what it’s signalling. Rather than pushing anxiety away, bring it in and try to work out what it’s saying. Usually, it’s a variation on a theme, a common one is – the undermining of ones right to own their perceptions. This is generally done by someone who believes they have the right to impose their perceptions on another.
Relationships with people like this are dangerous for our mental health. People who always need to have things their way, have low thresholds for difference and so when difference and disagreement appear they will try to annihilate the source. The person on the receiving end of this ends up confused and anxious, chronically so, if this dynamic happens within the relationship of a significant other.
Anxiety and confusion can become signals calling to attention when this dynamic is occurring. Just the recognition of this, whilst often hard to hold onto, can be an important step in changing the meaning of anxiety and hence the anxiety about anxiety!
As I reread this I feel anxious that what I’ve written is not very clear so I think I will come back to Anxiety for my May blog.
I’v also had a tussle with the word press media system so consequently haven’t been able to upload the photos I wanted – not only have I spent a lot of time on this – it’s given me low grade anxiety…