The problem with collective anxiety...
For the first time in a while, I have noticed that I am suffering from a little bit more Anxiety than normal. I’ve been wondering what that is all about and, as seems to be typical with anxiety, I am not so sure I can put it down to one individual thing.
I believe that two phenomena have come together and almost conspire to affect me, and I suspect these things will be relevant to a much wider population.
1. The world has become a much smaller place
Whilst we remain divided by mountains, oceans and continents, our electronic connections mean we are perhaps closer than ever. Social media allows us to connect, share, debate, and fight in a way that we never have before.
So many of us spend such a lot of time connected to an electronic world, and bad news spreads, FAST. Social media can be a great force for good, but it can also be highly destabilising and, dare I say it, dangerous.
2. Collective Anxiety
Many things that have happened over the last few years have caused anxiety. For some, Brexit. For many, the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, we have war in Ukraine. Just like Coronavirus, fear and anxiety are contagious. My mum always used to say “you get with them, until you get like them.” Little did she know, she was talking in Freudian terms of ‘transference’. Unwittingly, we transfer our feelings and emotions into the field around us, and pass them to others who receive them just as unwittingly. This allows our worries to spread to others. I’m really aware that I have been picking this up from my teenage and adult clients in the therapy room for example.
Combine these two together and you have the potential for an anxiety epidemic.
Some have said there is an anxiety epidemic in the UK’s schools. I work in secondary schools and, anecdotally, I see a huge problem. A report on the BBC News website in September 2021 called this an “unprecedented crisis”. Of course, there are no figures for anxiety related school absence. Perhaps this is because if there were, the government would be forced to spend much more than the £17 million promised on mental health in schools. For maths fans out there, this equates to £1.91 per pupil – like that’s going to solve an unprecedented crisis!
It's not just in schools. A recent report from Mind suggested that around a third of adults and young people said their mental health has got much worse since March 2020. Waiting lists continue to grow in what the Guardian recently called a “second pandemic of mental health issues”.
Collective anxiety has no vaccine and there is no one-size fits all approach. But there are some things that may be useful.
1. Unplug – exercise some social distancing from social media and news. Perhaps limit your exposure to bad news. Be especially careful of distressing news. Remember to focus on the things you can control, rather than the things you can’t.
2. Connect with something, or someone, else. As human beings we are wired for connection. Whether that is connection to nature, or to other people. A long walk may be a place to gain new perspective. Talking over your fears with a friend may help you realise things aren’t as bad as you first imagined.
3. Routine and structure, for some, can create certainty over anxiety. Stay focused on the small tasks of the day and celebrate your achievements.
4. Consider the things that stabilise you. Does your mood improve with exercise, when you’re gardening, meditating, watching Netflix or taking a bath? If it works, build it into your routine daily. Do what works!
Remember, just as anxiety is collective, so is the solution. Take comfort in the fact you are not alone in this place of fear, but that you will come through it. Anxiety always passes. Just make you stay aware of the things that defuse it, and use those things to your advantage if the anxiety returns.
If you would like to seek some independent help with your anxiety, get in touch with me.
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