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The Dirt

The Anxious Generation

By: Emma Shandy Anway for The Dirt

The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt is a book that seems to be making the rounds in many parenting circles this spring, and for good reason.

Haidt brings to light just how severe the rates of mental illness amongst American youth are, noting that, “rates of depression and anxiety in the United States—(which were) fairly stable in the 2000s—rose by more than 50 percent in many studies from 2010 to 2019.”

Most of his data focuses on the multifaceted impact the iPhone and social media have on the young mind and how the incorporation of these into daily life have created an environment for kids that is, “hostile to human development”.

The sobering reality is that it’s not just teens who are suffering, rates of anxiety amongst adults is also skyrocketing, with a study by the World Health Organization noting a 25 percent global increase since 2020.

As shocking as these numbers can be at first read, in lots of ways it makes sense. With burnout being a common experience in our workplaces, and fewer and fewer close friendships reported, we are falling into norms of overworking and under connecting. Throw in only recently going through a traumatic, worldwide pandemic—you have the perfect conditions for anxiety to thrive.

Because feeling anxious has become such a norm, it can almost feel hard to identify at times. For example, high-functioning anxiety often gets masked as overachieving or working hard, but while this person may appear put together on the outside, on the inside feel like they are falling apart.

Other experiences of anxiety include: difficulty controlling worrying thoughts, a chronic sense of inadequacy, feeling unhappy without knowing why, physical pain such as headaches or stomach aches, sleep disturbances, and panic attacks.

The good news is that once anxiety is acknowledged, it is entirely treatable. In his book, Haidt discusses how kids’ symptoms will start to decrease with the implementation of boundaries around phone usage and an increase in unstructured play—things that arguably would benefit adults too.

Other ways to address anxiety include implementing a daily mindfulness practice, cutting back on caffeine consumption, moving your body, and finding a therapist to work with. If symptoms are feeling so severe that daily functioning starts to become impaired, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about medication that can help.

“Don’t get so carried away that you lose perspective and let the world control your mood,” Haidt writes. Remember to take things one step at a time, and treat yourself gently.

Treating Anxiety
  • Practice 4-7-8 breathing. Inhale for four seconds, hold for seven, exhale for eight.
  • Try a meditation app like Calm or Insight Timer.
  • Break the thought cycle with a cold shower.
  • Any sort of exercise that increases your heart rate.
  • Talk with someone you trust about how you’re feeling.

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