Anxiety is one of those states that for me starts with a twinge, and ends with a bang. Unfortunately, I am in the bang portion of my current anxiety cycle, and it is bordering on getting worse. Apparently, I am not alone. Vox recently reported the impacts of the presidential election on anxiety, and that a majority of Americans are feeling it. Now, the election is just one facet of my recent anxiety, but the article got me thinking, so I thought we could deconstruct anxiety and stress a bit.
Anxiety is the leading psychiatric illness among American adults and children. Approximately 40 million American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, so there is a large portion of the population that struggle with excessive dread of everyday situations. Pile on politics, world affairs, job security, finances, and health concerns, and the number of people with significant stress begins to tick up pretty quickly. I would go so far as to say that more Americans are experiencing significant stress and worry today than in the past.
What’s going on? In short, a lot, but I have a few ideas to share:
- To begin with, we face a daily barrage of bad news. 24 hour news outlets fill hours with violence, rhetoric, fear, and if we are lucky, the occasional human interest story with a positive note. Most of what I see and hear when I turn on the news leaves me feeling heavy and ineffectual. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate understanding the complexities of our world, and educating myself on current events, but there are limits to the amount of bad news I believe we can subject ourselves to before feeling the impact.
- Self care is not a top priority. How many times do you say to yourself that your needs can wait? After all, the kids need attention, dinner doesn’t cook itself, that presentation needs polishing, and on and on. We push ourselves to the brink, and notice the toll only when our mind and soul are screaming so loudly we wonder what the heck is happening. Most of us don’t suddenly feel overwhelmed. It is often a series of small steps and choices that in and of themselves are not too big, but when added up amount to a major stressor in our lives. This is often how overwhelm works. I can’t tell you the number of times I have said yes only to get down the road barely keeping my head above water because I said yes a few too many times.
- We have high expectations of ourselves and those around us. If you have not been introduced to the “should concept” let me give a quick primer. Are any of these familiar?
- “I should be able to balance all of this”
- “I should be better at parenting”
- “I should have known”
Are all examples of “shoulding” ourselves. Nothing says not good enough like using the word should. When we fail to meet our ever increasing expectations, our belief in ourselves plummets leaving us stressed and anxious about our performance as a spouse, parent, or employee.
- And lastly, comparison to others. After we are done inundating ourselves with bad news, putting ourselves last, and expecting too much, we top it all off with a healthy dose of comparison. I’m not anti-social media, but I cannot tell you the number of conversations I have had with friends who feel less than after they’ve read someone’s social media page or feed.
I am sure there are other reasons for the increase in stress and anxiety; individuals are impacted differently by the world around them.
I am curious. What external factors stress you out, and what do you do about them?