Why so anxious? The silent epidemic plaguing our young people
Have you ever woken up in the middle of night with the terrible feeling that something isn’t quite right?
You rack your memory for evidence, rifling through it like the contents of your handbag. Did I turn the hob off? Did I really say that? Did I get home last night in a trolley I nicked from ASDA? Much like poking a snarling bear with a stick, this over analysing behaviour is an incredibly dangerous and unwise past time.
Its official term is ‘rumination’ (the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences as opposed to its solutions). And it seems like more and more of us are falling prey.
A recent article in the Daily Mail suggested that not only are we becoming more and more anxious, but the age of those affected is getting younger. In fact, the article claimed that an ‘avalanche’ of children are seeking help for anxiety. It stated: ‘Figures show that girls and boys as young as eight are calling the NSPCC’s helpline to discuss their fears – which range from personal problems to world affairs. A shocking 11,706 youngsters contacted Childline for counselling in 2015-16 – a rate of nearly 250 a week. That was a rise of more than a third – 35 per cent – compared to 8,642 calls in the previous year.’
Most people – especially with all the stresses and strains of modern life – fret about something at some point. Sometimes these worries are warranted, but more often than not they are completely unnecessary, even fabricated. Most people can recognise these passing fancies as just that. A trick of the mind. A doubt after too much Merlot. A devil on your shoulder whispering nonsense in your ear while you try and get some shut eye.
When I tell people that I have an anxiety disorder, they don’t always believe me. But I do get ambushed by anxious thoughts. If you ask my friends they’ll tell you that I’m very social and I like to go out. I can work to deadlines and enjoy the fast pace. But it isn’t always smooth sailing. That’s just how anxiety works. You can’t see it. There is no stereotypical ‘anxious’ person. It’s not choosy where it lays its head.
It’s not really a new thing for me. The more I think about it, the more I realise that I have carried anxiety through my life like a security blanket. One of those grotty ones that seldom gets washed.
Although at times it can be really unsettling (a longish bout of illness has recently increased my anxiety), I now begin to recognise it for the imposter it is. Given time, I can manage the rolling stone gathering momentum in my skull. At 31, I (mostly) know how to ask for the tools to slay this bad boy when it rears its ugly head.
The terrifying thing is that I am not alone. Experts are warning of a new age of anxiety as NHS figures show that outpatient appointments for anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder and generalised anxiety disorder have increased fivefold since 2007 and hospital admissions increased by a third.
It’s evident from the host of social media posts regarding recent world changes – the post Brexit fallout and Trump’s catastrophic win over the pond (go home, 2016, you are clearly drunk) – that people are freaking out. We’re scared by the fallout. Scared about what this means for the future. Scared of rhetoric. Scared of news images. Newspaper headlines. We’re on social media constantly. Comparing. Posting. Worrying. Worrying. Worrying.
And while we like to think our younger generations are worry-free, these latest figures beg to differ. Just like us fretful adults, children need help to recognise and address these feelings, rather than simply be dismissed. They need to be reassured that, while distressing, the images on our TV screen during tea-time news shows cannot reach out and swallow them whole. That perfection isn’t a reality, it’s an Instagram filter. That life is more than exam results.
There’s a general feeling that something else is at play in the anxiety epidemic, or rather a pair of paradoxical factors: we are putting stress on our children while at the same time trying to protect them from the uncomfortable feelings that can be an appropriate response to stress.
In light of the increasing number of teenagers suffering from low self-esteem and unhappiness, the moral of this story seems to be that we are quick to label and frighten everyone, including younger generations, but slow to provide the one thing that can really help: listening with a sympathetic ear to the very real and valid concerns of young people and providing them with the right methods to cope.
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