Age of Anxiety

Before the switch to the new translation of the Roman Missal in 2011, one of the prayers in the Mass went like this: “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

I remember that my dad used to like that prayer a lot because he suffered from anxiety and depression. When I was a kid, I thought I understood what anxiety was like because my dad had it, and it affected the family. There were other times when I’d get angry at my dad because he couldn’t “get over” what I perceived to be a simple emotion.

The often-paired afflictions of anxiety and depression seem to be much more prevalent than before, especially among American teenagers, according to this New York Times article. Anxiety can be caused by a variety of factors, including the college admissions process, social media, bullying, peer pressure, pressure from parents, a genetic predisposition to anxiety disorders, and so on.

No joke; getting into college can be incredibly stressful. As soon as you enter high school as a freshman, you are indirectly told that if you aren’t successful in the conventional sense (i.e., going to college, getting a degree, working in the corporate world), you’re not going to make it in life. So everyone gets it in their head that they must get to college at all costs. This leads to a frenetic rat race to get the best SAT scores, participate in every extracurricular activity there is, take all the AP classes you possibly can until your brain turns to mush, and generally give yourself stomach ulcers before you even turn 18. Community college is the cheaper option, and it no longer has the stigma it once did. Go for 2 years and transfer to a 4-year school. You will be glad you did.

As for social media, I am grateful that when I was in high school, social media was in its infancy. Even then, it was anxiety inducing because you read things about people that you took to be true simply because the words were printed online. You wondered if you’d get written about next, and there was no way to control who said what if it was on someone else’s page. It’s even worse now because of all the perfect images on Instagram. I don’t think I need to repeat that it sucks to feel as if you’re constantly being compared with perfection.

Bullying sometimes goes along with social media nowadays. I don’t think teenagers and kids are always taught to feel secure within themselves. They are indirectly taught to look outward or constantly be doing things to boost their self-esteem, and self-esteem built on outward things and constantly being busy is like a house built on sand. To me, if your sense of self is built on your own intrinsic worth and not on what you can do or who you hang out with or what kinds of gadgets you have, you will be more inoculated against bullying.

Nothing can really be done about the genetic predisposition to anxiety, except to alleviate sources of anxiety so they don’t make what is already there worse. Medication is always an option; there is no shame in it. However, the most important thing about medication is to make sure it is absolutely necessary and to take it when and how it is prescribed.

Overall, I believe undue anxiety in teenagers is caused by pressure, and that pressure could come from peers, parents, or both. I hear parents all the time bragging about how their kids are involved in a million activities, making straight A’s in school, and somehow managing to also be superheros in their spare time. I find myself thinking… either I was one hell of a slacker in high school, these parents are exaggerating, or their kids really are actual superheroes. I don’t remember my parents putting that much pressure on me. Maybe kids these days do all those things of their own accord or because their friends are also doing it, and they feel they need to compete. It could have very little to do with the parents, but I find that hard to believe.

To alleviate anxiety, it is important to keep things in perspective. Getting into college may seem like the most important thing in the world, and it certainly seems that way, but your health is more important in the long run.

3 thoughts on “Age of Anxiety

  1. If we’d had social media when I was in high school, I have to conclude that my classmates would’ve simply ignored me there too. 🙂 We were one of the first high schools to teach programming, which suited me so well that it became the first of my many careers.

    Mom drove my little brother not to accept Ds because she knew he was smarter than that. He wound up a B student. I drove myself to an unhealthy level, but Mom knew there was nothing for it but to let me get it out of my system. If she’d driven me that hard it’d probably be called child abuse.

    If you’re reading this and you’re in high school now, if you drive yourself too hard now, you’ll pay later. And maybe you don’t care. But you will… later. Be kind to your future self. Go walk in the woods every now and then. Or play a musical instrument that you really stink at, just for fun. Something to let your little gray cells rest and recharge for a few minutes.

    (Oh wow. I sound like your granddad. Why not? I’m old enough.)

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  2. This current culture of evaluating anything by how many likes or followers are acquired seems designed to create anxiety (and maybe not much else).’

    “As for social media, I am grateful that when I was in high school, social media was in its infancy.”

    I’m glad it hadn’t been invented at all when I was in school. 🙂

    And, yes, I agree completely about medication. I take multiple medications every day for physical conditions (as prescribed), and it would never occur to me to be embarrassed about it (and nobody would try to shame me for it). The same should be true of people who take necessary medications for anxiety or depression.

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