Why is Everyone So Anxious?

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 24 Jan 2020

Have you noticed how anxious, worried and edgy most people are lately? Have you experienced these feelings yourself? If so, you can relax: you’re “normal” (that’s not a word I often use, but sometimes it’s useful). 

These are difficult times: I am 66 years old and have never lived in a world where there are so many legitimate reasons to be anxious. Many – if not most – of us are very worried. Last week, I saw an editorial: “What will we do if Trump wins again?” and my blood ran cold. The starkness of that possibility just threw me for a loop, and my anxiety went way up.

And we can’t blame it all on Trump. As tempting as that may be, most of us have plenty of other reasons to be anxious. For simplicity’s sake, I’d like to break them down into two categories:

Personal anxiety: problems with friends, people at work, money, landlords, family members giving you a hard time, problems in your intimate/romantic relationship, physical illness, difficult clients, traffic, feeling lonely and unloved, being afraid of getting older…

Big picture anxiety: Global climate change, Trump trying to turn back progress on just about everything Obama accomplished, worldwide greed and short-sightedness, separating migrant parents from their children, institutional/societal racism, homophobia, misogyny, ageism…

As a psychotherapist, there is an “official” mental health diagnosis called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (aka “GAD”). Here are some of the symptoms: persistent worrying, perceiving situations and events as threatening, inability to relax, feeling restless, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, trouble sleeping, nervousness, irritability, lacking confidence in yourself and the world around you.

Sound like anyone you know?

When the world is relatively calm and we don’t fear destruction of the planet by fire/flood/hurricanes/ deadly viruses and mentally ill presidents, it isn’t “normal” to be anxious all the time. But, times have changed and, in the current socio/political climate, I believe that most sane and aware people meet some of the criteria for GAD. After reading the above list of symptoms, doesn’t this sound like a normal reaction to life these days?

I think so.  

What can we do about it? How can we handle it constructively and not let it drive us down into worry and depression? We can be proactive. 

The basis of all anxiety is fear. To lower our anxiety, it helps us to identify: What am I afraid of? I’d like to share with you an exercise I use with my clients when they feel flooded by anxiety or worry:

Make a list with two columns. In Column One write: “What am I afraid of?” (be specific) and in Column Two write: “What can I do about it?” (describe how you can take constructive action).

Here are two examples: 

 

Column One: I’m afraid of getting fired at work. 

Column Two: What I can do about it is to talk with my boss about how I’m doing, consider looking for a new job if I hate my current job, talk to HR if I feel I’m being treated unfairly; if I love my job, I could learn new skills and become even better at my work.

 

Column One: I’m afraid of Trump being re-elected. 

Column Two: What I can do about it is to actively campaign for someone I believe in; I can donate money to candidates and causes that promote values I support, I can encourage everyone I know to register to vote.

 

It helps reduce anxiety to clarify our fears and take action to change the external circumstances as much as we can.

Also, please consider these long-proven anxiety-reducing strategies:

·       Get some kind of exercise every day

·       Whenever possible, focus on what’s going well in your life

·       Set your life up so that you usually get enough sleep

·       Eat as healthily as you can

·       Do something calming like yoga or some kind of meditation

·       Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake

We can’t change the world overnight, but we can take the action(s) available to us and change how we respond to the world’s insanity. Try these ideas and – regardless of the results of the upcoming elections – let’s all feel calmer, more grounded and less anxious.