Serenity in an Age of Anxiety

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Always remember you are absolutely unique.  Just like everyone else.  Margaret Mead


Did you know that anxiety is now the most common mental condition in the U.S. affecting 40 million adults? The clinical categories including social anxiety, panic, obsessive compulsive, post-traumatic stress and generalized anxiety disorders are only the tip of the worry iceberg. Studies suggest kids are also 5 to 7 times more likely to meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder diagnosis than their counterparts 50 years ago. And a review of studies covering 12 countries suggests this trend of increased nervousness among adolescents is a worldwide phenomenon.


Experts blame our anxiousness on everything from a consumer culture and the internet to poor diet and reduced free play time. We get it. Life is hard and getting more complicated to navigate. An hour on the phone with Comcast could give the most advanced lama the shakes. So why are people with the highest anxiety levels often those who seem to have the most comfortable lives? And why can’t these people pinpoint what is causing all their angst? Something is not quite right but we don’t seem to be able to articulate exactly what that is.


An anxiety epidemic is not a call for more Ativan or Xanax. It is also not an issue that will be solved with more mental health professionals, an end to racial and sexual discrimination or a kinder president. There will be always be problems and brutes to disrupt our peace of mind. And if we stay healthy despite the 60,000 diagnosable conditions medical science has discovered, live in a safe, gated community with armed guards and have an adoring family, there is still our troublesome minds to feed us a diet of worries, guilt and unworthiness.


If the real cause of anxiety is the ontological feeling that something is missing or not quite right, a sense we all come in with, then increasing anxiety levels will further pressure us as a society to discover what is missing or not right. A louder spiritual wake-up call, if you will. An intensified plea to understand who we are and why we are here.


The response we want from the world or those around us is confirmation that we are loved, are doing the right thing or a divine sign all is as it should be.  What we get instead when the mind is in charge is a version of Captain Underpants, i.e. chaos and confusion. It tries to “help” and solve our discontent by perseverating on the perceived problem, no matter how much we yell, ‘stop’, pointing out our deficiencies and finding others to blame. A dual strategy of spinning our wheels and blame.


When anxiety goes up, the quickest way to feel better is to find and blame the person or group who is behaving badly. The mind happily, but ineffectively jumps to the task. The problem is the  job, where we live or our unsympathetic partner, the mind concludes. It then leads us away from happiness with the lure, if only something outside ourselves was different then the unsettled feeling would go away. This is the untrained mind’s playbook.


When we realize, the problem is not outside ourselves, the mind sticks to the blame agenda but now we are in the hot seat. If we would only try harder, be better or more deserving we would be happier. And when self-improvement schemes falter and there are no people to blame, there is always God. God does not love us. If God exists, he/she/it is mean. Otherwise there would not be so much suffering, especially on our end. The blame trap can keep the misery flowing for a lifetime.


Anxiety and its cousins, fear and rage happen when a misguided, out of control mind tries to solve the wrong problem.  The uncomfortable feelings are the symptoms. The disease is the ever-present nagging sense that something is not right or missing. The bad news is we all have the same disease and it is highly contagious.  The good news is the illness is completely curable.


The first step is recognizing anxiety and its relatives are the symptoms. This blog is about what to do next.



Statistics from The Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Gray, P. (2015). “The Decline of Play and Rise in Children’s Mental Disorders: Children are more anxious and depressed than ever before. Why?” Psychology Today. Aug 2015

Ricci, C. (2015). “Anxiety and Depression in Pre-Teen Girls Rising.” The Sydney Morning Herald.


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