Sunday 25 September 2016

Age of anxiety: We're living in a stress-inducing world

We're living in a stress-inducing world

Published 12/07/2016 | 02:30

Anxiety can be highly distressing.
Anxiety can be highly distressing.

Monday mornings are never easy. The dread of the week ahead, coupled with post-weekend fatigue, invariably leads to a low-level anxiety and a disconcerting feeling that you haven't done your homework.

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It's even worse for those whose anxiety is more pronounced. These poor souls will experience a lurching stomach and a tightened chest before they've even arrived at their desk.

Anxiety is a daily struggle for tens of thousands of people in Ireland. Yet I can't help but notice that a lot of sufferers don't make Monday mornings any easier for themselves.

On the contrary, they tend to compound their symptoms by partaking in habits that are proven to increase anxiety levels.

Sometimes they check their work emails before they've even left the house, or agonise over how many 'likes' a social media post received during the commute.

Later on, just to make sure their heart is well and truly in their throat, they grab a double-shot coffee that sends their cortisol levels shooting through the roof.

The relentless go-go-go of modern society breeds anxiety. The on screen/off screen double life that many people are leading only adds to it.

It's no surprise that we're living in the midst of an anxiety epidemic, or what writer Alvin Toffler prophetically described as 'future shock'.

What is surprising, however, is our tendency to search for ways to manage it rather than ask how our lifestyles may be contributing to it.

An entire industry has been born out of rising anxiety rates. Techniques and therapies, books and apps, lotions and potions… not to mention Big Pharma and the emergency diazepam that many anxiety sufferers keep in their wallets. Type 'anxiety' into Amazon and you'll be directed to almost 80,000 results...

In one sense, it's wonderful that there are so many options and outlets available to anxiety sufferers. In another sense, it's absurd that we don't question the daily routines and rituals that may be exacerbating - if not causing - the disorder.

A number of recent studies have linked heavy social media use with low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, especially among young people.

In one study, by the University of Salford, half of the 298 participants said social networks like Facebook and Twitter made their lives worse.

Anxiety sufferers often have a few self-help strategies that they rely on - belly breathing, positive self-talk and calming visualisations, to name just a few.

Yet despite evidence that irrefutably links social media usage and anxiety, very few sufferers regulate their social media use as part of their anxiety management programme.

If you suffer from anxiety, it's good to get into the practice of asking yourself the question: 'Will this make me more or less anxious?'

Or, at the very least, ask yourself what benefit you're deriving from checking your ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend's Facebook page; following hashtag braggadocios or downloading the Who Deleted Me app.

It's also helpful to engage in a weekly digital detox and schedule specific hours for checking social media instead of responding to every ping. Managing your privacy settings can also calm anxiety. Personally speaking, I've opted out of the ominous 'last seen' WhatsApp timestamp, which seems especially designed to promote anxiety. This also prevents you from seeing other users' 'last seen'. Win-win.

The endless news stories, invites and general infomania of social media can also cause distress. As author Richard Saul Wurman writes in Information Anxiety: "One of the most anxiety-inducing side effects of the information era is the feeling that you have to know it all."

Incidentally, Wurman is the founder of TED and I can't watch one of its 'ideas worth spreading' without becoming anxious about the thousands that I haven't watched...

Setting a designated time to digest new information is helpful in this regard. Instead of keeping multiple tabs open and scan-reading articles, compile all the information in a folder and refer to it when time is on your side.

Likewise, it's helpful to be realistic about your schedule. The enormous expectations we place on ourselves these days invariably lead to anxiety.

For instance, consider your past form the next time you pencil in five workouts in one week... if you haven't done it before, it's unlikely that you'll do it now.

Anxiety sufferers should also contemplate how their work may be contributing to their condition. Freelance and casual work lacks job security, which, of course, leads to anxiety. Then again, the long-term, pensionable job is dying out as a more dynamic and flexible way of working begins to emerge.

The challenge for those suffering from anxiety in this situation is to work out how they can find security in their current job.

You'll feel a great deal safer if you opt out of workplace politics and keep the lines of communication open with your manager instead of second-guessing their intentions...

There are all manner of coping tools and relaxation techniques available to anxiety sufferers, but what use are they if we don't consider the anxiety-inducing aspects of modern life?

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