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American Anxiety

America's voice speaks in anxious tones.

The true voice of America – the spirit of the age – speaks from its lowest register; the bottom, where anxiety dwells.

Everyone reading this is familiar with anxiety; it is part of the human condition. We are fragile, we are mortal, and we know it. Loss is inevitable. But occasional existential anxiety does not compare with today’s galloping epidemic of anxiety.

Anxiety disorder affects some 40 million adult Americans. And for every person with a diagnosed disorder, there are so many more who struggle with some of anxiety’s symptoms – sleep problems, worries that won’t cease, fear and uneasiness, or shortness of breath.

As bad as the rate of anxiety disorders is among adults, its prevalence among children is even more worrisome: 38% of girls between the ages of 13 and 17, and 26% of boys have an anxiety disorder, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health. Anxiety is the most common mental health concern on college campuses today. With anxiety so widespread, is it any wonder that we’re seeing college students who demand “safe spaces," and trigger warnings?

The epidemic of anxiety is not just a mental health issue, but it is also cultural pathology. Our way of life promotes anxiety and its consequences. Anxiety makes us fearful. It makes us irritable and therefore easily – and excessively – prone to anger. Fear and anger are powerful antagonists to reason and reflection. They grab us by our primitive brain and urge us to “fight, flee or freeze."

News media, social media and political leaders command our attention with outrage and alarm. The media’s daily reminders to be very afraid and politicians’ apocalyptic rhetoric reverberate throughout the Internet, keeping our anxiety at a constant high level. Today’s drumbeat of anxiety is so effective that 76% of Americans say they fear political violence, according to the latest Rasmussen survey.

The nation’s epidemic of opioid addiction is part of the picture, as well. Facilitated by oversupply and other factors, opioid abuse is also linked to anxiety disorders.

In healthy societies, people maintain their emotional balance within supportive and reliable institutions. Strong families and neighborhoods, religious communities, stable occupations, reliable government safety nets…all these help keep anxiety at bay. They keep us grounded.

Today, all these institutions are weakened. Families are smaller, the divorce rate is higher, mainstream church attendance is down, more people identify religiously as “none." Young people are challenged with a hookup culture in a world of fluid gender identities and roles.

Our work lives are increasingly less reliable as a source of stability. They are characterized by change and disruption which, although they might offer opportunity, do not provide stability. Working people and their families live with the knowledge that if they get sick or injured severely enough to be unable to work, the result can be homelessness for those without a safety net.

The true voice of America – the spirit of the age – must find a way to expand beyond its lowest register where anxiety dwells.

But individuals with anxiety disorders don’t have to wait. You don’t have to struggle alone. Let someone know what you’re dealing with. Confide in a trusted friend or relative. Turn off your screens and walk in the park. Smile at the people you pass.

Consult a psychotherapist for effective treatment.