If you had to describe the world around you using one word, what would you say? Fast? Interconnected? Advanced? Chaotic, maybe? Anxious even? Well, anxiety has become widespread in today’s world. And it is even more visible as the awareness about mental health is increasing. Although we don’t talk about it as much, mental health disorders are responsible for a large number of deaths worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation, China is the most depressed country in the world, followed by India.
Anxiety is much more than the nervousness one feels before an exam, public speaking, or even going on a date; it is ‘living’ with this constant feeling of nervousness, with anxiety. And owing to the speed with which the world is changing, constant advancements in technology, increased competition, and loss of faith in humanity, one feels insecure and powerless irrespective of how many years they’ve spent on earth. An eighteen-year-old can feel anxious about their future; and an eighty-year-old can feel anxious because of their disconnect from this fast world, fueling interest in nostalgia.
It can be difficult to explain the extent of anxiety in general; but in particular, to someone who equates it with nervousness felt once in a while on a normal day. This is where metaphors come to the rescue and are the best bet for expressing anxious feelings. One of the most famous one used is the ‘coffee cup’ metaphor. Imagine your brain is a cup that contains coffee, aka anxiety. Now, it is much easier to handle the cup when there are just a few drops of coffee leftover; even if you knock it over, it’s easy to mop it up.
But, what if the ‘hot’ coffee cup was full to the brim. Any small jerk and it all comes dripping down, spilling all over the carpet, leaving a permanent stain, and burning you in the process. For someone suffering from anxiety, the cup is always full and they live in the constant fear of spilling the coffee all over, creating a mess. They feel overwhelmed about not being able to get rid of the permanent stain on their brand-new carpet. It may not be like this on all the days, which is why one might react differently, depending on how full the cup is, aka how heavy their brain feels.
The most familiar reason for witnessing a spike in anxiety, especially in the prime years of one’s life, is the advent of technology. We assume that we must be making progress as we advance. But with our days being spent staring at our screens, “progress” might have lost its meaning.
Imagine having a conversation with your friend and your phone is lying beside you, facing down. Suddenly, you hear a chime, a notification! Now, you can pretend that you have strong willpower and can live in the moment without acknowledging the ‘ping’. And you might even be one of those rare people who can ignore the flashing signal. But if you’re anything like me, then your first instinct would be to sneak a peek; even if you do not intend to respond, you have that gnawing urge to know. We are so accustomed to being fed with information at all times, important or useless, that not knowing what went down in the last ten minutes kills us, and anxiety sets in.
Another common cause is comparing ourselves to the seven billion other people in the world. How often do you hear, “Don’t compare yourselves to others”, “You are unique and have your special abilities”? But with the level of competition rising, it is difficult to isolate one’s performance from how others are faring in their lives. The line between healthy competition (one where you take inspiration from the success of others to push yourself) and envious competition (one that makes you doubt your capabilities and ends up giving you anxiety) is quite blurry.
We are stuck in this game of life that is advancing at such a fast pace, that our skills can become irrelevant at any second. The more specialized the world becomes, the more difficult it becomes to land a job, and thus, the more anxious the mind becomes owing to the uncertainty. An explanation that has been given to back this, is that we live in a postmodern society. “It is characterized by an attitude of skepticism, subjectivism, and relativism.” This means that we are no longer bound by preconceptions of the society. Although this is often viewed as a good thing, having the freedom to choose our ideals and our beliefs can also lead to a feeling of being lost.
There’s nothing new in anything I’ve said up till now, we were all aware of it. We see it happening within our family and relatives, our friends’ circle, we experience it ourselves. Yet, we fail to give it the attention it so clearly needs, partly because of how normal it has become; much like how we treat the common cold by ourselves at home. However, the fact that we’re feeling anxious is a sign, a message our body is sending us to pay attention.
Some of the general ways of dealing with anxiety are taking breaks from screens, indulging in hobbies, taking care of the body through exercising, eating healthy or catching up on missed sleep, talking to family or close friends, connecting with them. And if the feeling of anxiety persists, it is better to consult a professional, much like one calls a professional cleaner to get the coffee stain out of the carpet. The world is changing, it’s getting more complicated, and we are heading towards an uncertain future. So, talk it out; drink the coffee before it spills over.
- 5 Sources of Stress and Anxiety in the Modern World, Psychology Today, March 20, 2017
- Why do we feel so anxious in today’s overheated world? Forbes, December 3, 2020
- 4 Metaphors for Anxiety, Happiful, July 29, 2020