Anxiety

Who Can We Trust? The Roots of Our Chronic Anxiety

What can really help our escalating anxiety and lack of connection?

Posted Jan 19, 2020

 Katie Treadway/Wikimedia Commons
Source: Katie Treadway/Wikimedia Commons

Two articles in this Sunday’s New York Times shed new light on our national epidemic of anxiety and our need for trust. Laurence Scott’s op-ed pointed out how high tech companies are developing ingenious new products that they claim can help us feel more secure (Scott, 2020, January 19).

These products include nanny cams that enable busy parents to monitor their babysitters and nannies as well as “Doggy Logs” and “Tailster,” apps that enable working people to track their professional dog walkers on their smartphones.

John Herrman’s story in the Times (Herrman, 2020, January 19) describes the doorbell camera app, Ring, which now has millions of users, providing home video surveillance and changing the way many of us relate to security at home. Ring notifies users on their smartphones, enabling them to see packages delivered to their doors and answer doorbells electronically, unlocking the door from wherever they are. Amazon.com, which owns Ring, even has a video of a dog, owned by a man in Georgia, who learned to ring the doorbell so his owner could let him inside.

But, however novel and ingenious these apps may be, electronics can be hacked, undermining our illusions of security. And even when they work as intended, electronics cannot offer us the security we seek.

As Seattle psychologist Meg Van Deusen explains in her new book Stressed in the US (Van Deusen, 2019), our escalating anxiety is due in large part to an insecure attachment to our country. Stressed by economic instability, international threats, mass shootings, the breakdown of neighborhoods, political turmoil, 24/7 connectivity, and the hectic demands of daily life, we no longer feel safe.

Pointing out that secure attachment comes only from human contact, not manufactured devices, apps, and social media, Van Deusen explains how we begin developing secure attachment in infancy when our primary caregivers respond to us with loving, nurturing attention.

If we lacked this secure attachment in childhood—if our caregivers were unavailable, unreliable, or worse—we develop insecure attachment, becoming anxious and chronically stressed. Even if we had a secure attachment in childhood, the stresses of contemporary life can make us feel anxious and insecure. Drawing upon recent research, Van Deusen explains in her book how we can develop a more secure attachment to ourselves through mindfulness meditation. We can then begin reaching out to develop our own circle of support, a community of people we can trust.

As positive psychologist Martin Seligman reminds us, we need community. Positive relationships are an essential aspect of well-being, necessary for us to live a vital, flourishing life (Seligman, 2012).

A supportive community can be life-changing. Just yesterday, I went to the local drug store to pick up my prescriptions and the pharmacist filled my prescriptions before I even asked. He knew who I was and connected with me on a personal level. As I looked him in the eye, thanked him, and wished him well, I felt seen, acknowledged, and included in my local community—and this was just a brief interaction.

University of North Carolina psychologist Barbara Fredrickson calls such interactions “Love 2.0,” “micro-moments” of connectivity that can be incredibly healing and nurturing, building trust between people. Just a brief connection with another person can dramatically raise our mood, relieve stress, reduce inflammation, relieve anxiety, and build physical and emotional well-being (Fredrickson, 2013).

You can cultivate this kind of connection by practicing “Love 2.0” in your daily life, sharing such micro-moments of connection not only with close friends and family but the local pharmacist, the grocery clerk, the person next to you in line, a coworker, or anyone else you encounter during the day. A simple smile, eye contact, presence, perhaps a kind word—that’s all it takes.

Instead of buying more products, we can begin using our own personal resources, our mindful attention, to build greater trust and security in an insecure world.

This post is for informational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.

References

Fredrickson, B. (2013). Love 2.0: How our supreme emotion affects everything we feel, think, do, and become. New York, NY: Hudson Street Press. See her short video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxxIh8NtGfw

Herrman, J. (2020, January 19). The policing of America’s front porch. The New York Times, Sunday Styles, pages 1, 6-7.

Scott, L. (2020, January 19). Has trust become irrelevant? The New York Times, Sunday Review, p. 8.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2012). Flourish. New York, NY: Free Press.

Van Deusen, M. (2019). Stressed in the US: 12 tools to tackle anxiety, loneliness, tech addition, and more. Los Angeles, CA: Story Merchant Books.