Millennials and Gen Z are depressed, anxious – and medicated.
There’s a massive number of young people today dealing with poor mental health. Unfortunately, our culture steers us toward long-term psychiatric medication instead of encouraging us to undertake an honest examination of our lives in order to feel better. The “chemical imbalance” narrative pushed by Big Pharma buries the fact that numerous other factors may be contributing to our mental health struggles – factors that are actually entirely within our control.
The truth is anxiety is often valuable information about our lives that we shouldn’t just medicate away. It can often indicate an underlying problem we need to address – something we need to alter about our beliefs, behavior, or direction in life.
Dispelling Myths about Anxiety: It Isn’t a Sign You’re a Victim
There are two common narratives about what anxiety means today. Neither of them are true.
“If only we weren’t so oppressed, we wouldn’t feel so crappy.”
The first narrative is the idea that your anxiety is trying to tell you the world is fundamentally unjust – that society needs to change, not you. You’re just a victim of circumstances and broader societal structures.
In this worldview, the problem is always outside of yourself. It’s the idea that the key to quelling our anxiety is to fundamentally transform the world by smashing the patriarchy, creating a socialist society, or asking the government for more assistance. If only we weren’t so oppressed, we wouldn’t feel so crappy, the thinking goes.
Chronic anxiety is often the result of avoiding personal responsibility.
But it’s not true. At least in the United States, a radical political upheaval is not the answer to ill feelings that many young people imagine it is.
While it’s true that external factors can sometimes make us anxious, for those of us in the modern U.S. who live materially comfortable lives, chronic anxiety is often the result of things in our lives for which we’re refusing to take personal responsibility. Once we realize the answer isn’t going to come from outside of ourselves – from the government or society – we can step into a much more empowering view.
“If society would stop making us feel bad for having anxiety, we could just accept ourselves as okay.”
The other false narrative about anxiety is that it’s something to normalize, embrace, and wear as a badge of honor. Anxiety is normal, the thinking goes, and if only society would stop making us feel bad for having it, we could just accept ourselves as okay. This self-acceptance narrative is also not true.
Yes, there are plenty of normal, day-to-day, external factors that naturally make us nervous – you’re not sure if you’ll get that job you interviewed for, or you have to be at the airport in an hour and you’re running late – but that’s not what we’re discussing here. Chronic, debilitating anxiety that’s taking over your body and brain all day is not something to normalize, nor to accept for your life. What we really need to normalize are healthy lifestyles and the cultivation of examined lives that contribute to increased well-being – not anxiety itself. Often, the answer to anxiety is changing something about ourselves, not accepting how we already are.
Often, the answer to anxiety is changing something about ourselves, not accepting how we already are.
It’s good news that both of these beliefs are false narratives, because it means the solutions to our bad feelings are often largely within our control. By accepting the way the world is, facing reality, and taking responsibility for our part in it, we can begin to make the necessary changes to navigate life with a grace and a discernment that brings peace.
The True Meaning of Anxiety
Rather than being an indication that we should start popping a daily pill, the real meaning of anxiety is that it’s a message from your body signaling that something in your life or within your consciousness is off and needs to be addressed. It’s essentially your body telling you, “Hey, there’s something you need to pay attention to!”
Once we dispel the narratives that anxiety is a signal of external oppression or something to just accept and normalize, we can begin to honestly examine our lives and to make improvements that will make the anxious feelings go away.
Anxiety is often a call to self-reflect, not to panic. When we feel anxious, we should pause to honestly examine ourselves and our lives in order to see if something we’re doing or believing contradicts our own consciousness and well-being.
To Quell Anxiety, Examine Your Life and Adjust Your Path
In life, you’re either spiraling up or spiraling down. Life requires maintenance and proper care of our minds, bodies, and spirits in order to feel fully happy and at peace. Sometimes, anxiety is telling us that we’re on a path to destruction, and we need to re-orient ourselves.
Anxiety is often a call to self-reflect, not to panic.
There are numerous factors in life that you can examine in order to determine the culprit of your anxiety. Here are just a few:
Your Diet: Psychologist Jordan Peterson emphasizes the importance of eating a protein and fat-heavy breakfast (instead of sugary cereal or carbs). He says this reduces his clients’ anxiety by 50%. If you’re feeling anxious, look carefully at what you eat. You don’t have to obsess, but note the places where you could improve. Are you consuming too much sugar? Too many processed foods? Once you’ve identified issues, put boundaries or substitutes in place.
Your Beliefs: A lot of young women experience anxiety today simply because they drank the feminist Kool-Aid. Do you believe that men are mostly cruel, predatory oppressors, rather than a complementary and protective force for women? Do you think women should be able to do whatever they want without consequence, or that casual sex is empowering, so you don’t hold firm boundaries around your body? Many of these beliefs are actually toxic to the female psyche. Examine your worldview around gender relations, and see if it’s really serving your best interests.
Exercise: Anxiety is like energy moving in the wrong direction. Sometimes, it’s simply energy that needs to be dispelled via physical activity – otherwise, without anywhere else to go, it will all go to your head and manifest as ruminating thoughts or fears. So, are you moving your body enough? Did you take a 10-minute walk one time this week and tell yourself that that was enough? Physical activity can absolutely be a cure for anxiety.
Sometimes, anxiety is simply energy that needs to be dispelled via physical activity.
Your Relationships: Are your relationships healthy or toxic? Do you have friends who shove alcohol in your face every time you’re down? Is your boyfriend pressuring you to try an open relationship when you don’t want to be in one? Think carefully about the people in your life, the direction they’re moving in, their lifestyles, and how they handle problems. Don’t be afraid to distance yourself from people who encourage the worst.
Your Community: Human beings are built for communion with one another. Do you have a community of people you see regularly? Are you part of any local organizations and groups, or are your coworkers the only people you see regularly before you plunk down in front of Netflix every night? When’s the last time you invited a friend over for dinner, went to a local festival, or volunteered? Take up an honest examination of how your community life looks, and start participating socially if you’re not.
Your Conscience: We were given one of these for a reason – so use it. Are you acting in a way that’s contradictory to your deeply-held beliefs? Are you engaging in behavior that other people endorse, but deep down, you know is wrong? From drugs to sex to a workaholic lifestyle, your anxiety may be the result of your consciousness telling you that you’re acting contrary to what you know to be true and good.
Your anxiety may be your consciousness telling you that you’re acting contrary to what you know is true.
Your Spirituality: Decades of studies show that people who pray are healthier and less anxious than those who don’t. Do you go to church or participate in any spiritual rituals that make you feel closer to God and to other people? Having a relationship with the divine is a major, overlooked way to curb feelings of anxiety. There are always going to be things we can’t control in life, and leaving them to God can offer major relief.
Anxiety is often your body signaling that it’s time to examine something in your life and redirect your path – not to pop pills. Knowing that much of anxiety can disappear when we take responsibility for our own lives is a superpower that’s available to all of us.
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