Anxiety 101

The DSM – 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition) defines anxiety as:

Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occuring more than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performances)

The DSM – 5 is accepted in most countries, including India, as the holy grail of mental disorders.

But reading the definition, I can’t help but think that it’s too much and not enough at the same time. How am I supposed to know if I’m excessively worried? I can’t even remember what I had for lunch last week. How am I supposed to remember my emotions over a 6 month period? At the same time, even though the definition only talks of excessive worrying, I’ve found quite a few other habits and traits that I believe to be caused by anxiety. This includes but is not limited to:

Checking my phone constantly
Having trouble falling asleep
Sleeping excessively
Avoiding eye contact with people
Not replying to messages for days, or even weeks

I’m sure that there are a lot more things I’ve missed out on.

And I’m not surprised. Gen Z (those born between mid – 1990s to early – 2000s) is considered to be the most stressed and depressed generation, even surpassing millenials.

So what is to blame? Technology? Maybe. I don’t doubt that social media has quite a negative impact on mental health. But is it to be blamed entirely? I don’t think so. The internet also has tremendous resources and cannot be blamed alone for a decline in mental health.

So what is responsible for it then? There are so many contributing factors that I probably won’t be able to list all of them out. But here’s what I think is responsible:

  • Pressure to succeed – to do better at academics and jobs and life than siblings and parents
  • Peer pressure and comparison – we see people juggling college and internships and foreign language classes and relationships and it seems impossible that we could do it. Sometimes, we don’t even want to do it. We’re happy where we are. But there is this insane compulsion to be like everyone else, to be better than everyone else.
  • Social media – while it is a wonderful community, looking at other people’s seemingly perfect lives is sure to make us feel anxious and insecure about ours.
  • Being overly protected – our parents love us and want to protect us – from others and from our own mistakes. But it just leaves us feeling as if we’re incapable of making the right choice or as if we’re not allowed to fail.
  • And lastly, the whole world! It seems idiotic to include the world as a reason for the chaos in our heads. But with global warming and terrorism and corruption and unemployment and violence all around us, how are we expected to stay calm?

So then, what to do? What helps? First, it’s important to understand thst it’s not your fault for feeling this way. Also, there are so many forms and types of anxiety. Some people have panic attacks and some get irritated and angry for no reason and some find it difficult to speak in a social setup and still others have weird habits they turn to – like biting nails or counting sheep.

It’s all valid. All of it.

Do I have anxiety? Maybe. Am I excessively worried? Yes. But then, I think most of us are.

So what is the official recommendation? Talk to your friends and family. Go to a professional. A healthy diet. Regular sleep and exercise.

But let’s be honest. These things sometimes feel impossible. So here’s what I think – acknowledge it. Accept it. And then, do what you think will help you. Maybe you’ll feel better if you have a cup of tea. Or listen to a favourite song. Or text a friend. Or watch a TV show. Or take a nap.

And maybe you won’t. And then, consider talking about it. To your mom. To your friend. To a stranger on the internet. Maybe that’ll help. And hey, if it doesn’t, something else will.

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