It’s a funny word. Weirdly exciting to say out loud. Kind of daring as the consonantal start cuts off in your throat. Puzzling as the middle, when spoken, is nothing like what it seems on paper. And ending on a high, like a false smile, with that pretty little ‘tee’ sound more commonly associated with small and lovely things.
It’s a less funny condition.
Apparently more and more people – of all ages though especially mine – seem to experience it every year. Because whilst stress is something everyone goes through from time to time – the millstone of tension, uncertainty, worry and fear can sometimes hang heavier than usual and last what seems like forever.
Anxiety malingers around you, clasps like a vice around your skull, squeezes your insides like someone vacuum-sucked your abdomen. It feels like you’re stuck perpetually living in that ‘oh shit’ moment – the one when your car is skidding on ice, you’re no longer in control, but you don’t know if you’re going to crash and die or if you’re going land safely in the hard shoulder.
This isn’t helped by pop culture painting anxiety as the ‘new depression’, and us millennials as ‘Generation Stress’. As if somewhere between hitting our teens and overtaking the Boomers in the work place, being anxious also became ‘trendy’. The ‘it’ mental health condition.
Not only is this ridiculous and slightly patronising, anxiety is also far from a new thing.
In the 4th century BC, Hippocrates wrote that anxiousness is “a difficult disease. The patient thinks he has something like a thorn, something pricking him in his viscera, and nausea torments him.”
This makes it a mental health issue so ancient that we seem to have forgotten that it’s ancient. Knowing this doesn’t make it any less difficult for people suffering from its symptoms. Just like the fact that large groups of people having it, doesn’t make it some kind of fad or trend.
Now, I would say I’m pretty lucky.
Throughout my life, I experienced no more than the average stress and pressures of exams and music and boys. To be fair, most of that pressure was of my own creation too. ENTP that I am, I never saw the point in aiming for less than the top grade or settling for second in anything. Sure, in that time I would have ‘high stress’ days and I’m fairly certain a few of my friends and family have been witness to that maelstrom. But until this past year, living and working in London, I can’t say I’d ever dashed out of a store suffering from a panic both sudden and inexplicable in its origin.
Saying all this: I’m doing fine. I’m low down on the anxiety spectrum. When it comes, it may cloud every faculty of reason that I’ve come to cherish and leave me feeling overexposed and exhausted. But it’s manageable and writing always helps.
On the other hand, many people I know struggle to manage it.
I have friends who have had to take days off work because of their fear or who call to cancel plans because the idea of leaving the house makes them want to curl up in the corner and cry. One of my oldest friends told me she’s developed a form of obsessive compulsiveness. When she leaves the house she’s so worried she’s forgotten to lock up or has left something turned on that she has to double back at least twice to appease her panic.
It’s not just girls either before you start thinking it’s ‘just a woman issue’. Even though female brains are more sensitive to stress neuropeptide Corticotropin Releasing Factor, or CRF, men experience anxiety too. Several of my guy mates have, albeit more grudgingly, discussed times when the only thing in their mind was a sense of impending doom and Matt Haig and Professor Green have both openly talked about male mental health.
So I can point you to stats. I could talk about 24 hour news cycles and cite research on the effect of social media attachment. I could list the number of changes that people between the ages of 18 and 35 go through – from leaving home, to passing exams, to getting that precious J.O.B we always thought we wanted and now are realising we’re potentially going to have to have for the next forty years because unlike Made In Chelsea, life doesn’t have cut scenes and we’re really going to have to start thinking about saving for when we’re old and grey and wrinkly.
I could talk about triggers and trigger warnings. I could discuss the pressures of constant social performance. I could delve into detail about why something seemingly banal like a work appraisal can cause the same panic as something life-changing like being diagnosed with an illness or loss of a loved one.
— Stylist Magazine (@StylistMagazine) November 29, 2015
In truth, we already know all that stuff.
We’ve heard the stats before and read the stories with trigger warnings attached. We’ve got that t-shirt. And probably a matching mug and pen set.
None of it will explain, fully, what is going on with every single person who goes through anxiety. It’s different for everyone, even though the symptoms might align.
This blog, however, isn’t about saying something trite like ‘you’re not alone’ – although of course you’re not alone. We’re all in this together it seems. And I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m an expert and give advice to those who go through extreme anxiety by saying something inane like ‘stop overthinking’ or ‘it’s all in your head’ or ‘have you tried this Mindfulness app’.
I’m not going to tell anyone that everything will work out or that things will be ok either. When that ripple of horror pulses through me, people saying these kind of things, does not help. They mean well, but hearing doesn’t reassure me at all. If anything, it might make me feel worse. Because then I’m reminded it’s my own silly brain with its silly quirks and that slide is a spiral I never enjoy going down. However, there’s help out there and it’s a darn sight better than any I could give you I’m sure.
No. I just want to say this: to all my fellow anxious twenty-something friends, to those younger, and older (because otherwise my dad will call me ageist again): we are not ‘generation wuss’, we are not ‘generation me’, or ‘generation stress’, or any other nomenclature we’ve been given by the media. We’re just people going through a turbulent time in our lives.
What makes our anxiety stand out is that we like to broadcast.
We’re vocal. We believe in speaking out and speaking up. What we experience is more public because we’re sharing it through social media and such.
So let’s try to remember that researchers weren’t even that serious about collecting mental health data until recent decades. As Maanvi Singh said: there’s no real generational comparison. Not even to our parents – the Boomers. Which is why I’m inclined to believe what we’re experiencing is not that unique. After all, they talk about how paranoia dominated hearts and minds during the Cold War, and for evidence, what else would you call The Red Scare?
Let’s also remember this – we might be stressing now, we might feel like the world is closing in and nothing will ever change. But for all that, research also shows that we are the most confident generation. The most aware of our mental health and the most open to discussing it. The most positive and open to change.
Our anxiety – the condition that has been around for literally aeons – is just a part of our being human.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM ANXIETY?
If you need or want support, then check out MIND charity’s page. It comes with some great PDFs and advice and also a handy phone number that you can call if you really need someone to talk to. You can find their details here.
If you want more information, you can also watch Zoella’s YouTube video which gives a really in depth and personal look at anxiety and panic attacks. She’s also an ambassador for MIND.