Anxiety is on the rise in North America. It often shows up in the oddest ways. Chest pains that feel like you’re having a heart attack. Loss of feeling in your hands and feet leaving you wonder if you have some neurological disorder. Many people complain about having so much trouble breathing it mimics an allergic reaction. It’s downright scary and often disappointing when we are told ‘It’s just anxiety.’
It’s “Just” Anxiety
That little word ‘just’ seems to negate the destruction it wreaks in your life. Waking you up. Making you feel like you’re going crazy. Fogging your brain. Putting strain on your relationships. Anxiety is the companion no one asked for.
Most often, first question we ask ourselves is why? Why? Why is this happening to me? Why am I so anxious? Why is my body freaking out like this? Why can’t I get control of my thoughts? Unfortunately, the secret of what is causing anxiety is often not discovered until we are able to get the symptoms under control.
It appears anxiety is in on the rise. Stats Canada reports that 1 in 4 of us will experience an anxiety disorder in our lifetime. You probably didn’t need to know that. It’s not a helpful stat. We are seeing younger and younger children wrestling with anxiety.
I believe there is a myriad of reasons for anxiety’s rise to power but I want to discuss one particular aspect that I believe could be the root cause for some of our children, and maybe even for us.
Anxiety seems to be rising at a similar rate as social media. Is there a correlation? Social media, in its many forms, is a relatively new introduction to our worlds and I believe our brains are not designed to deal with it. I, in middle age, am more than thankful that social media was not around to record my teenage missteps. I can’t even imagine how it would have compounded my stress and added to my overwhelm…not to mention embarrassment.
Anxiety: The Alarm Bell of Your Life
As social media grows by leaps and bounds in new ways, we have to be creative in how we manage it in our lives and families. I believe it has the ability to have a profound negative effect on the working systems in our brains as well as our family system. I’m making a case that social media encourages us to drop common protective boundaries that have been in place for centuries.
Gordon Neufeld, a Vancouver-based developmental psychologist, describes anxiety as an internal alarm system. It warns us that something is wrong in our world and that we need to be alert. When you think of anxiety being an alarm bell, it ceases being something we need to push down and eradicate and instead something that needs to be listened to.
Here is my case. See if you agree with me.
If you were to come to my house, I would meet you at the door. (Pictures shown do not adequately reflect my home. Nor is it me!) If I didn’t know you or if you were selling something I didn’t want, that is where you stayed. On the door step. There’s no way I’m letting you in. This is where the “foot in the door” phrase came from. Salesmen knew they needed to be invited in to increase the likelihood of a sale.
Strangers stay outside. Unless they have a specific purpose, such as wanting to repair my dishwasher, they stay outside and are never, ever invited inside. Salesmen don’t make it in because, at some level, we know they really don’t have our best interest at heart. No matter how many times you say my name to try to befriend me, keep yourself on my doormat. (Okay, I concede…perhaps if you have a great accent, I may let down my guard.)
If you are someone I recognize or if I really needed that Encyclopedia set, I might say, “Hey, step inside.” You would then be in my home. You’d be able to see some of my living area. You may quickly get a glimpse of our lifestyle. But that’s as far as you’re going, I’m not letting you past the doormat. There’s no way you’d be allowed to come in my kitchen. If you pushed your way past that entrance boundary, you wouldn’t be welcomed back again.
If you are family or friends, you’d be welcomed into my space with a hug. Of course, you can come in. I may even pull you in the kitchen and serve up a cup of peppermint tea. (Trust me, you don’t want me making you coffee.) You’d have access to our main bathroom. I may hand you a kitchen utensil and get your help with the salad. Not everyone that comes to my door would get that privilege. That is reserved for a special few.
Then there’s the bedroom. There would only be a couple people invited in there. The list is restricted to the very closest of friends and a few family members. Yes that right, even if you’re family, you might have limited access. As kids we conveniently had a “Girls’ Only” sign to keep out those with cooties.
You have to be super special to me to be allowed into my privatest of spaces. My friend that accepts me no matter what, is welcome. My sisters bearing gifts in the form of soup for the sick or clothes would be let in. My spouse. My safe people. Those who look after me and who I look after. And that’s all…even if you have a great accent.
We have invisible boundaries that don’t need signs posted because it’s something most people naturally know. No yellow tape necessary.
Invading Invisible Boundaries
With the invasion of social media, people I neither know nor have ever met suddenly are drawn into my privatest of spaces. I can’t point the finger at millennials because I have the exact same problem.
As social media and electronic devices became central to our lives, the walls of our houses started coming down. We carry our phones into our bedrooms and into our beds so even people that we wouldn’t allow inside our doors are now welcomed into our most private of places.
We’ve made it so there is no safe place.
No Safe Places
I believe we are seeing the repercussions of this by the widespread experience of extreme levels of anxiety. I’m not saying this is THE cause of anxiety, I’m saying it is A cause. I believe the alarm bells of anxiety are being triggered because there’s no longer any safe place to retreat, rejuvenate, reset, or refresh.
Growing up, if someone was rude to me, I left that person at the end of the school day. I smiled smuggly with relief as I walked away from them at the school or they had to catch the bus that automatically gave me a 17-hr reprieve. If I was ever the brunt of a hurtful jokes, these people were never allowed in my house, let alone in my bedroom. I had access to safe, beautiful spaces to recoup and recharge.
Now, though, we carry the voices of these rude classmates and coworkers into our homes. When we open up our computers, the people that used to be left in the school yard or at the office are there. They are at our dining room tables and in our bathrooms. When we go to bed, they are there. If left uncontrolled, the dings of friends in distress wake us up during the night. Their anxiety and depression becomes the stuff of our anxiety. We have given the world 24/7 access to us.
How anxious does that make you feel? I hope, at the very least, really concerned.
How can we begin to reestablish protective boundaries so the alarm bells of anxiety can begin to calm down?
We need to have some important conversations in our families about the effects of social media.
Safe Zones – Safe Times – Safe People
Safe Zones: Safe zones are places where the outside world no longer has access to you. Places where we are free from the distraction of buzzing and dinging that demands our attentions. It’s a place where you can begin to establish peace and recharge your own batteries. Whether it’s a spot (the dining room table) or a room (the bedroom), everyone needs a safe place. Have you established safe zones in your house?
Safe Times: Can you establish safe times when the phones, electronics and/or wifi are shut off? Did you know there is a sleep feature on your phone where all calls and notices can be silenced for certain hours? You can set your phone to automatically silence all calls, texts and messages between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am or whatever hours you choose. There is a setting that allows your closest people who rely on you in emergencies to always get through. Google it. This technology is built into your devices, take advantage of that. Establish hours where you are not accessible. In the words of Anne Lamont, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”
Safe People: Limit. Limit. Limit. Choose wisely who you allow access to your world. If they wouldn’t be invited into your inner spaces, they shouldn’t have access to those places virtually. You can block and limit those people that aren’t good for your mental health. Unfollow diligently. Unfriend fearlessly.
No one likes electronics more than I do but I believe we are falling behind in how we let them change and influence our lives. We are in a giant experiment of how they are improving and destroying the quality of our lives at the same time.
I believe social media is a significant factor in the rise in anxiety. Do you agree with me? Disagree with me? I’d love to hear from you.
“Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” Proverbs 25:28
Trish White is a counsellor in Saskatoon grateful to be able to witness the resilience of people as they forge new chapters.
#101 – 1132 College Dr. – 1-306-988-4880 – firstname.lastname@example.org