Anxiety and Contemporary Society
In 2010, a report revealed that 52 per cent of people who had lost their jobs to the recession manifested symptoms of anxiety, and 71 per cent reported being depressed. The most affected were those in the age group eighteen to thirty. In Britain, the NHS estimates that one in twenty adults is affected by anxiety.
In the United States, every year about 18 per cent of the population suffers from an anxiety disorder. In 2009 the UK government offered psychological help to the millions of people who were confronted with unemployment and debt by increasing the number of therapists and counsellors across a wide network of services that included psychotherapy centres and help hotlines.
Anxiety is also a burden for the wider economy. Currently, the annual cost of anxiety disorders in Europe amounts to €77.4 billion, a figure big enough to trigger anxiety itself, and prompting many to consider taking immediate action to fix the crisis and attend to this enormous public health challenge.
Anxiety Rising in the West
I am among those who do not believe that “the percentage of people who have anxiety has always held pretty constant; rather, it’s just that today we’re more open to speaking about it.” No, I am convinced that the anxiety (and depression) rate is higher today than it has ever been. Why?
Because the conditions present today in American culture—e.g., the rapid pace at which we live, the bombardment we receive from all kinds of readily available technology, the isolation we experience in a hyperindividualistic society—are so extreme that we are living with stress, stress, and more stress.
Indeed, we are so used to being under stress that we hardly recognize it much of the time. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, causes of serious anxiety is stress. Despite all this, there is good news: statistics also show there is reasonable hope to significantly minimize or even get rid of disabling anxiety if you do the right things.
The Correlation Between Privilege and Pressure
According to a December 2014 article in The Economist, there is a “distinct correlation between privilege and pressure.”1 We may earn more money, but we can never earn more time. And because we’re working jobs that are less physically taxing, we actually enjoy and find more fulfillment in our work today.
This leads us to finding our identity in our work and allowing it to bleed out inordinately into other parts of our life. Time, then—our least renewable resource—feels all the more valuable (and elusive). What we are really feeling is pressure. We aren’t actually busier. We want to maximize everything, milk it for efficiencies. Opportunity cost rises the more you have access to. To choose nothing feels ungrateful and unwise. Our privilege causes us to have anxiety over the seemingly endless ways we can mess up.
Haole’s in Hawaii
Have you ever heard the term “Haole” before? I first heard about it while picking up surfing in High School. I knew it wasn’t exactly a positive label, but until recently I never knew what it meant. Max Lucado shares his own discovery of the word in his recent book “Anxious for Nothing.”
Statistics have recently shown that Americans are the most anxious/stressed out people in the world, so preaching on the topic has some obvious import today. As human beings, we are prone to compare ourselves to others. But what if our entire culture itself is sick? If we are ever going to be displaced as the most anxious country in the world, we are going to need to find outside resources to help us. Recognizing we have a propensity for perfectionist, workaholism is the first step in the process. I hope you enjoy this short story by Max Lucado, which ought to illustrate our own predispositions to be busy-body, stressed-out people:
A native Hawaiian once told me the origin of the name that islanders use for us non-Hawaiians—haole. Haole is a Hawaiian word for “no breath.” The name became associated with the European immigrants of the 1820s. While there are varying explanations for this term, I like the one he gave me: “Our forefathers thought the settlers were always in a hurry to build plantations, harbors, and ranches. To the native Hawaiians they seemed short of breath.”
I am Baptized
If you’ve read or watched any of the biographies of Martin Luther, the great Protestant Reformer, you will already know that he struggled at times with bouts of anxiety, self-loathing, and perhaps even depression. Shortly after his unwillingness to renounce his views in front of an imperial meeting (the famous Diet of Worms), Luther was spirited away to a remote castle, where he would eventually translate the Bible into German.
It had to have been an extremely harrowing time. The Catholic Church had condemned him, labeling him a heretic. Alone for much of the days, Luther fought against his demons, perhaps literal and figurative. At one point he was said to have thrown an inkpot across the room at the devil.
But his response to these attacks was just as interesting. Luther would shout out loud Baptizatus sum, “I am baptized.” As Tim Chester writes, “His circumstances looked bleak. But his baptism was a fact, and it embodied the promise of God.”
When times were most tough, Luther leaned on the sacraments as a promise that Luther was saved, no matter what his demons might whisper in his ear.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
The Land of What-Ifs
The Land of What-Ifs is a tempting place to dwell. It is also a dangerous place to be. And chances are, if you flipped to this page, you’re stepping foot into its territory. Before you even pull the covers back, your mind is racing with questions. What if I choke up during the meeting tomorrow? What if my child is diagnosed with learning disabilities? What if the test result comes back positive? What if I don’t get the job? There are countless “what-if” scenarios, both big and small. But they have one thing in common: they don’t help. While you’re lying in bed, trying to gear down for the day, your mind is whirring, spinning every possible negative scenario into a sticky, all-consuming web.
You get trapped in it, and spend hours burrowing deeper and deeper—with nothing positive to show for it. In fact, you are so imprisoned in this web that you’re paralyzed with fear, anxiety, and panic, all because of two simple words: what if. The Land of What-Ifs is tempting—but it is also trouble. It’s living out anxiety in our minds, hyping ourselves up to frightening, stressful scenarios that may never come true.
It places ourselves in the role of God—and relegates the Lord elsewhere. In short, it’s a place that Christians need to fight against.
The Most Anxious Nation in the World
The United States is now the most anxious nation in the world.” (Congratulations to us!) The land of the Stars and Stripes has become the country of stress and strife. This is a costly achievement. “Stress-related ailments cost the nation $300 billion every year in medical bills and lost productivity, while our usage of sedative drugs keeps skyrocketing; just between 1997 and 2004,
Americans more than doubled their spending on anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Valium, from $900 million to $2.1 billion.” The Journal of the American Medical Association cited a study that indicates an exponential increase in depression. People of each generation in the twentieth century “were three times more likely to experience depression” than people of the preceding generation.
The Most Confused, Anxious, & Stuck Among Us
In a surprisingly honest confession, the millennial writer Veronica Rae Saron shared this interesting fact in her 2016 article for Medium:
Conversation after conversation, it has become more and more clear: those among us with flashy Instagram accounts, perfectly manufactured LinkedIn profiles, and confident exteriors (yours truly) are probably those who are feeling the most confused, anxious, and stuck when it comes to the future. The millennial 20-something stuck-ness sensation is everywhere, and there is a direct correlation between those who feel it and those who put off a vibe of feeling extremely secure.
Veronica Rae Saron, “Your Unshakable Stuck-ness as a 20-something Millennial,” Medium, December 20, 2016.
The Root of Anxiety
What causes anxiety? I offer this list so you can engage in an exercise…
- genetic predispositions
- parenting (overprotective, overcontrollers, inconsistent responders)
- early childhood experiences that fostered shame or insecurity
- current lifestyle (especially stress, stress, stress; but also unanticipated threats, escalating demands, confidence killers, terrorizing trauma, significant change)
- the inability to predict or control the future as much as you would like
Anxiety is a surface feeling that masks the deeper feelings that are most likely the real issue you are dealing with—embarrassment, fear, grief, helplessness, hurt, loneliness, or sadness. Do one or more of these factors apply to you? Most likely, the answer is yes. Then you can try to get to the root of these factors.
In addition to defining anxiety, listing its different forms, and noting many of its causes, there is another aspect of anxiety I found important to know: anxiety is a surface feeling that masks the deeper feelings that are most likely the real issue you are dealing with—embarrassment, fear, grief, helplessness, hurt, loneliness, or sadness. Feelings are like bubbles—we need to let them rise to the surface (not stuff them or fight them) and be open to what surfaces.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Anxiety. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!