The anxiety levels reported by current school and university students are much higher than psychiatric patients in the same age group in the 1950s.
The top three reasons for the rapid change in anxiety levels include; lack of connectedness, the fact that more people are now living alone, and that our level of trust has decreased.
The irony with lack of connectedness is that we spend most of our time on social media. The yearning for individualism and autonomy pushes us to be independent and less tolerant of living with others. The feeling of belonging, trusting and having things to rely on reduce our anxiety level. There is constant fear of war, departure and being left alone because there's more divorce, war and betrayal.
Growing up we had a set time for family dinners, movie nights, days out at the park, and storytime before sleep. That time was mutually agreed upon by the kids and their parents. It wasn't a time that either side had to fight for. But if you speak to any parent today, one of their main concerns is that their kids are not spending enough time with them.
I'm not a parent but I wanted to understand the jump in anxiety levels from 10 to 20 years ago and how they correlate with social media. So I interviewed Dana Kendal, a therapist (MSW,RSW) with 18 years of experience working with youth and families.
Have you seen an increase in anxiety levels in the past 15 years ?
Anxiety has increased tremendously -- social anxiety, school anxiety, problems managing expectations... People are turning to medication more than ever and it's because it has become so accessible to them.
Why do you think we're so anxious?
Immediate gratification is one reason. The pressure to be always on -- texting back immediately, replying once you have seen someone's Snapchat. The expectations exist and we don't ever stop to question them.
Social media is another reason. Kids are exposed to it too early and they don't have the tools they need to understand social media. I have 13-year-old girls who are going to bed with makeup because they want to send their final Snapchat before sleeping. Eleven to 12-year-olds are receiving attention they don't understand because they look like 17-18.
Finally, the lack of communication and proper definition of values. As a parent when your kids come to you and you are on your phone, you're sending the message that you are not valued/more valued that this phone. They don't feel heard. Kids don't always want to talk but when they do, we need to put everything away and speak with them. Because we are feeding that feeling of "I'm on my own in this world and can't depend on other people."
It's not just with parents, we don't have as much time to communicate with our partners, family members and friends either.
We don't feel heard.
But how can we expect ourselves to have time to communicate like we used to? We live in a time where there is more information than there is time. In order to take in as much as we can, we're wiring ourselves to receive information in short concise videos. A few Snapchats will summarize our whole day travelling to a new city. A couple of short YouTube videos will teach us just enough about cash-flows that we can skip a few chapters from the econ textbook.
As Bob Dylan has been telling us all along, "the times they are a changin'." We need to learn to adapt without losing our sanity. Social media if used correctly can be a wonderful source of communication, but only if we are conscious users not passive.
So here are three things we should all start doing:
- No emails at the dinner table - even if you are having dinner by yourself.
- Spend time to understand and regulate our emotions. We all get anxious, angry, and stressed but it's how we cope with them that matters.
- Finally, do more things that make YOU happy. If you feel like having an ice cream on a winter day then GO DO IT.
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