Anxiety has gone through the roof in the last 10 years with our young ones. Many wonder why their child is struggling and come to my seminars with great concern as well as confusion. We want something to blame. I’ve noticed our favourite thing to blame it on is screens, but after observing, studying, and going through the hard road of anxiety with our own son, I have to say – I don’t think it’s only the screens. The problem is we are trying to peg anxiety on ONE THING, but the truth is that anxiety isn’t caused by one thing alone.
Our culture is sick and it’s making us anxious.
“I have anxiety.” It’s almost like we are defined by it these days. Youth who are diagnosed with anxiety seem to think that this will be their limitation for life. Other youth not diagnosed almost wonder if there’s something wrong with them if they’re NOT anxious. That’s a problem, my friends.
Anxiety, to the extent we experience it today, isn’t normal, yet anxiety is a completely normal human emotion. We have forgotten we are human having a perfectly human experience when we feel anxious. The problem is when anxiousness stays for the long term, hindering our potential, our relationships and our overall wellbeing.
Anxiety tells a story. My challenge for us is to not to settle for a diagnosis of anxiety only, but to find out what is driving it. When you can identify that, you can actually see anxiety lessen greatly like we have seen in our home.
Anxiety is shame in disguise
What we often think of anxiety is actually shame. Shame says, “I don’t have what it takes to:
- make it through my day
- pass my test
- deal with that hard relationship
Shame happens through traumatic experiences, feeling misunderstood, not being welcome, feeling misplaced. We receive these messages through our family, school and work environments. When we can address the shame we feel, we find anxiety lessens. Addressing anxiety alone doesn’t get to the root.
Anxiety is a result of an unhealthy environment
If a flower isn’t thriving, it’s not because of the flower. Change the soil and give it the proper care, the flower grows. It is no different with us. We thrive when our environment gives us what we need to flourish. This is where I call the adults back to the plate. We are the culture creators of our home, our classrooms, and our workplaces. If something isn’t right, we are the ones who are responsible to change the environment so it becomes a place where our families, students and employees thrive. No medication or counsellor can replace our responsibility in this. They can help, but the hard work is ours and ours alone.
How do we create a healthy environment? Through emotion. What is your personal emotional temperature? Your emotional resting place? That creates the environment around you. My personal emotional resting place is naturally worry and anger. And I wondered why my son struggled with anxiety! When I changed, my son changed. This is great news for us because all of us have the capacity for change on the inside. When we do this, our outside world becomes one where people flourish around us.
Anxiety is contagious
Anxiety is everywhere. Messages of economic slowdown, war, polarization, politics are making us all feel uneasy. Just go on facebook for a few minutes and you’ll leave feeling anxious for certain.
Students in schools feel odd if they don’t struggle with anxiety. It’s almost the new “cool” thing. Our anxious culture is a perfect example of social contagion.
The great news is that courage is also contagious. All we need are a couple of adults who say, “Enough is enough. I’m not naive to the struggles, but I know that hope is always an option.” Youth need unpolluted stories of hope that tell them there is always a way through struggle. They need to hear about people who have persevered through incredible odds and made it.
My work is driven by interpersonal neurobiology – the idea that our brains are rewired through connection. If we want to see our crisis with anxiety end, we need to get underneath what’s causing it and fix THAT. It’s time to stop talking bandaids and make the brave changes needed for anxiety to lose its power. We can do that through loving connection and empathy.
I would love to hear your thoughts. What else do you think is underneath anxiety?