Perspectives: Life in the United States of Anxiety

People in front of an American flag, undated | People photo by Digital Vision, Getty Images; American flag image courtesy of Pixabay, CC0 creative commons, St. George News

OPINION — Gas prices don’t seem to be the only thing that’s going up these days. Across all levels of society, anxiety appears to be on its way to becoming the new normal.

Nowhere am I seeing this more than in young people. It’s more than just the standard sense of nervousness or worry. Young people are feeling overwhelmed to the point where anxiety has surpassed depression as the primary reason that college students seek out counseling.

For the past several years, there has been increasing alarm and attempts to raise awareness about the growing number of suicidal teenagers. This is particularly true around back-to-school time.

My wife Becky, who is a middle school math teacher, tells me that she is seeing a similar dynamic at work among her students. It’s not just the kids from broken homes or challenging circumstances. Even those students who seem to have everything lined up in their favor are struggling.

People grumble about how hard it is to get a drink or to have legal access to medicinal cannabis in the state of Utah, yet our state has the reputation of taking so many anti-depressants that we rattle when we walk.

What has changed in our lives that is feeding this growing sense of fragility?

It’s not simply the everything-makes-me-a-victim mentality that some use to try to gain a perceived ideological advantage over others. Kids who are crying to their parents because they’re stressed out over taking SAGE tests at school aren’t playing politics.

What should we think when even preteens agonize over a test because they’re worried that substandard performance will mean that they won’t get into the college of their choice and won’t get a good job and will end up a failure in life? I personally knew a straight-A high school student who attempted suicide after receiving his first B grade.

I can’t help but wonder if, at some level, our rising anxiety levels aren’t tied to a distorted need for social approval in order to maintain a misguided sense of status.

In this respect, status can best be understood as a compulsion to compare ourselves to others. This is deeply destructive in that it keeps us looking for ways to feel superior to someone else or, even worse, it keeps us focused on our own shortcomings.

For instance, consider how much time we spend each week on social media versus how much time we spend in contemplation, worship or engaging in personal acts of service.

Social media has some positive aspects in how it allows us to connect with others. Unfortunately, it also serves to arouse some of our most unhealthy inclinations to seek status.

We can become so consumed with how our life is being portrayed online that we forget to step away from our electronic screens and focus upon the real deal. A multibillion-dollar advertising industry teaches us that how we measure up is determined by brand names that will win us the approval of others.

The answer isn’t to renounce technology and to become Luddites. However, there is growing evidence that smartphones and teen depression and anxiety go hand in hand. A little awareness could go a long way toward helping susceptible teens and adults maintain needed perspective.

One of the most liberating things we can do in easing anxiety is to begin to wean ourselves from the need for approval from others.

This seems harder than it actually is.

It starts with the recognition that we don’t have to be or think like everyone else. Social approval can be a nice thing but when it becomes the basis upon which we make our decisions, we’re no longer charting our own course.

As Paul Rosenberg has sagely warned, anyone who refuses to conform to what everyone else is doing can expect to be criticized for not sticking to the popular script. Just know that none of our lives must be subject to the approval of others.

Aristotle explained why this matters:

We should as far as possible immortalize ourselves and do all we can to live according to the best element within us – for if it is small in bulk, it is far greater than anything else in power and worth.

Staying within the herd seems like the best way to minimize fear or risk but it keeps us from being able to live life on our own terms.

The day that we accept the fact that what others think of us is none of our business is the day that we step out of our self-forged chains. We are free to, as Einstein put it, “see with [our] own eyes and to feel with [own] hearts.”

Self-ownership is an antidote to anxiety. The earlier in life we learn this, the sooner we can stop chasing empty promises of status.

Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events and liberty viewed through what he calls the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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12 Comments

  • NotSoFast April 30, 2018 at 5:06 pm

    A lot of good points in the article Hyde. But how would my peers react if they knew that I like watching old ‘Hee Haw’ reruns on my smart phone and laughing outload?

  • commonsense April 30, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    I have noticed the compulsion to compare ourselves to others is prevalent amongst liberals. I’m always looking for a common thread which distinguishes liberals from conservatives and maybe this is it. Liberals long for support from news services and entertainment in general. They tremble at being out on a limb without reinforcement and gobble up every word from Colbert, Whoopi and Oprah, CNN, MSNBC and The NY Times.

    Conservatives want less news, government, social media, celebrity, just let them operate on their own social compass regardless of public opinion or government backup.

    Kids would do well to ignore social media and peer pressure. Just do their own thing and follow their conscience. Educators and parents should let kids figure our what works and allow them to fail in some things. Anxiety was never an issue in my generation, nor was depression. We worked
    through bullying, substance abuse, peer pressure, disappointments and still figured it all out without psychotherapy, antidepressants or anti anxiety drugs.

    • AnnieMated May 1, 2018 at 7:45 am

      Well said.

    • No Filter May 1, 2018 at 8:44 am

      What planet are you living on? You notice the compulsion to compare ourselves to others as a liberal thing. Have you seen how much these Mormon moms dress themselves up just to go to the park. Your comment about liberals “gobbling up words from the likes of Oprah and MSNBC” has nothing to do with this article, it is just a jab at the “mainstream media” and the non conservatives, very poor attempt to spread your hate of the left, liberals, democrats, whatever you call the people who don’t agree with you. “Conservatives want less news”, yet Fox news is suppose to be the most watched network 20 years running or some BS. I agree with you on one thing and that is that social media should be ignored, but peer pressure? Are we suppose to live like a recluse and never go out because peer pressure is not something easy to ignore, it wasn’t easy in the 70’s and 80’s and it isn’t now. The last part of your comment is a rather big mess as well. Just because you didn’t suffer from anxiety or depression doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening to others. And substance abuse?, what kind of childhood did you have? You say you figured it all out without psychotherapy, but it sounds like you should have had some therapy yourself. The world we live in is not the same one we grew up in. Today’s kids face different problems then their parents, the same way we faced totally different problems as our parents did growing up. Sounds to me like you are one of those late baby boomer generation people who are still stuck in the past and refuse to change. Progress stops for no one, not for liberals not for progressives, the world will change with each generation and there is nothing we can do to stop it. You need to change you name because you obviously have no commonsense.

    • bikeandfish May 1, 2018 at 9:59 am

      I want to understand your idea but its riddled with gross stereotypes and rose colored glasses about the past. Yes, anxiety and depression are more common not but that does not mean thet didn’t exist as a social phenomena in the past. And what is with the constant ridicule of antidepressants and the like? Do we make light of people on statins to control cholesterol levels or triptans to mitigate migrains? SSRIs (etc) may not have around decades ago but that doesn’t mean the health problem didn’t exist or that we didn’t use drugs and procedures with worse side effects (Lithium, electroshock, etc).

      Per theory in liberals…blah. I know more independent liberals than I do conservatives, yet that doesn’t mean the inverse of your theory is true. Maybe if we stopped relying on caricatures of “others” we might actually begin to understand each other?

    • AnnieMated May 1, 2018 at 12:47 pm

      Now that ive had a moment to consider what you wrote, I would like to make an addition.
      I completely disagree with your first statement: Liberals may gobble up words from Colbert, Whoopi, Oprah, CNN, MSNBC , The NY Times, tec but conservatives take their words from Breitbart, Jones, Fox news, Limbaugh, Dice, etc. The point is that both liberals and conservatives gobble up words from sources they agree with. This, in my humble opinion, is a bad approach.

      “Conservatives want less news, government, social media, celebrity, just let them operate on their own social compass regardless of public opinion or government backup.” In my experience EVERYONE wanst less of those things until they NEED those things or having those things works out in their favor.

      “Kids would do well to ignore social media and peer pressure. Just do their own thing and follow their conscience. Educators and parents should let kids figure our what works and allow them to fail in some things. ” I agree. Well said.

      “Anxiety was never an issue in my generation, nor was depression. We worked
      through bullying, substance abuse, peer pressure, disappointments and still figured it all out without psychotherapy, antidepressants or anti anxiety drugs.”
      Oh believe me, it was present and common. The only difference was that people who suffered from it did everything they could to hide it, even among their own family.

  • utahdiablo April 30, 2018 at 9:31 pm

    Too bad the greed machine kicks into making many here in southern Utah ( as well as all across America ) feel the need of achievement is living in a McMansion you cannot afford, or multi SUV’s you cannot afford, or Adult Toys you cannot afford… in general, a lifestyle you cannot afford, or trying to be famous like a Kardashian low life….and then the stock market, or housing market does a turndown / meltdown and reality, Real Deal reality sinks in….live within your means, love and respect your family and fellow man, Have real faith in your Faith, and maybe then you’ll find real happiness

    • AnnieMated May 1, 2018 at 7:41 am

      Well said.

    • No Filter May 1, 2018 at 8:48 am

      I for one would love to know how so many people can afford those $20,000 adult toys that seem to be everywhere. They must have a 10 year payment plan.

    • asianspa May 1, 2018 at 11:03 am

      Well said! Just because your banker greets you with a nice big smile and warm handshake and says you are “approved” doesn’t mean you can afford it. People seem to fail to understand that. Don’t buy into the NAR propaganda and the Bankster frauds pushing cheap funny money.

  • bikeandfish May 1, 2018 at 10:16 am

    I applaud Hyde for being curious about mental health issues affecting our country, especially youth. If that is founded on true compassion than I would suggest getting out of your political bubble (ie sourcing right wing pundits who rely on gross stereotypes) and start reading peer review literature from professionals in the field. It might also help to drop the misinformed fascinations, like your constant antagonism with “victim culture”, and truly listen to people. Maybe if we dropped the stereotypes we’d see that they are often based on exaggerated anecdotes. For every spoiled millennial there are dozens working two jobs to barely hold onto the lower middle class (on average anyone going to college after the early aughts is approximately a decade behind on classic financial milestones like home purchases, etc).

    Instead of truly investigating a complex and important issue that will have widespread affects on our country Hyde engages in another ideological lecture. Its not that “self-ownership”, independence and accountability aren’t important. They are. Its more that they honestly exist alongside a myriad of other issues and often ones Hyde falsely attacks. When we start to accept most people are doing their best then we see how false the stereotypes pundits like Hyde use truly are. We need to abandon that and so many of their other tools like: false dichotomies, scapegoats, etc.

  • ladybugavenger May 1, 2018 at 11:33 am

    Im a recovering anxious person. Anxiety because of the unknown or things weren’t working out my way. Let go Let God. I have zero anxiety and zero depression.

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