1 peter 5:7 encourages us to ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? So why are we in an epidemic of people struggling with anxiety in all walks of life and especially in the younger generations. We are all aware that the COVID season has developed widespread mental health issues among the whole population but perhaps there’s more to it.
It has been suggested that Millennials and Gen Z are more anxious than previous generations and that the generation as a whole is among the most educated it has ever been, but the path to success is also less clear. Some say getting ahead for them is harder than in previous generations. In many countries the opportunity of buying a house and entering a life modelled after their parents is beyond them. They see less hope for their own life and the life of the world. With so much information at their fingertips, they see the mess older generations have made with the world we live in and feel a sense of hopelessness for the future.
- In a survey by Harvard Business Review, half of millennials, those between 24 and 39, said they’d left a job at least partly for mental health reasons.
- For Gen Z – those between 18 and 23 – the percentage spikes to 75, compared with just 20 per cent among the general population.
- At the University of Alberta, its website states that 35 per cent of students will experience a panic attack due to stress at some point, and mental health advisers on campus say requests for help with anxiety and depression are sharply rising.
- In the 2016
Canadian National College Health Assessment, 65 per cent of post-secondary
students reported experiencing “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous
year, and 13 per cent had considered suicide. I am sure these figures will be
much more 6 years on.
Another popular explanation is the “snowflake” thesis stating that today’s youth have been coddled by helicopter parents and allowed to avoid the responsibility and independence that foster mental resilience. However, sociologist Lisa Strohschein says that view sells young people short, and they really do have it tougher than previous generations, especially when it comes to employment prospects.
On a positive note, the younger generations are more aware emotionally and open to talk about their emotions, which is far healthier than sweeping them under the carpet and hope they go away. Many among the older generation don’t give their emotions the time of day and are very weak in emotional intelligence which makes it even harder for them to understand the young generation.
So, before we talk about some coping mechanisms and strategies to help those troubled with anxiety, first let’s clarify our terms.
- Stress – forms with any demand placed on your brain or physical body. Any event or scenario that makes you feel frustrated or nervous can trigger it. There is of course, good stress which motivates us to get stuff done, but too much and our body suffers.
- Anxiety – mainly involves overwhelming feelings of worry, nervousness, unease and fear. These produce all kinds of anxiety disorders.
- Depression – The main symptom of depression is typically a lingering persistent low, sad, or hopeless mood and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities.
We all experience stress on a hard day in the office or with the team but if the stress persists for days and weeks it can turn into anxiety. Our bodies aren’t wired for this kind of ongoing stress. If you move into anxiety and depression, I encourage you to seek some coaching or counselling. But before that let’s talk about some rhythms and strategies that can be helpful.
Psalm 139:23-24 God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me. Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares. See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on, and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways—the path that brings me back to you.
- Journal. There are different kinds of journaling but first off, it’s good to get those worries on paper. Rather than live with a cloud of worry, identify what really is worrying you. Once you know the source, we can do something about it. Each day or every few days, whatever works for you, take a short time to write down your feelings of fear and worry. Be totally honest and get to the bottom of the issue, perhaps identifying triggers too.
- Establish a time to focus on the issue. Once you have got to the real issue, then put a specific time aside to think it through. Ask yourself, where and when did this issue start? What can I practically do to address it? Are there certain people to talk to, a time to pray it through, actions to take that will help resolve the worry, etc? Once you have a plan – stick to it.
- Meditate. Find a quiet spot to relax. Take some deep breaths for counts of 4. Breathe out your anxiety and breathe in the peace of Jesus. Recognise the presence of Jesus with you. As Philippians 4:6 says, think of things you can thank God for and speak them out. Now pray and give those worries and fears to Jesus. You may have to do this several times each day. As you close your eyes imagine your worries as sail boats, floating down the river and as you let each one go, see it disappearing into the distance. Then receive the peace of Jesus in the place of those worries. You can also try the 4-7-8 technique. Close your mouth and quietly inhale through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale through your mouth, making a whoosh sound for a count of eight. Repeat the process three more times for a total of four breath cycles.
- Peers. If you have a good friend or two close by, you may want to suggest getting together to chat about lives and the areas of growth you are all working on. This is a great opportunity to share your joys and sorrows and struggles. Sometimes just bringing things out into the open is half the battle.
- Distraction. If you find you just can’t stop thinking and worrying, it’s a good practice to focus on something totally different. Play some music, read, work on a project, …. And whenever those thoughts try to come to the surface, take a deep breath and put the thought to one side again. Worry is not rational. We know worry does nothing to help the situation. We know it can affect us negatively, but we somehow keep allowing it to come to the surface. Refocusing is not ignoring it but recognising that there is a specific time to think about the issues and now is not that time!
- Understanding your triggers. Here are a few common ones: social anxiety with an invite to a party or a gathering of some sort, starting a new job, dealing with a conflict in the family that doesn’t go away, reading about sicknesses and wondering if you are susceptible, something happening to your family, receiving negative feedback from someone, …. The list goes on. I have spoken to people with a fear of flying and statistically there is more of a chance of them being killed on the road outside their house than getting into a plane! But the fear is there and needs dealing with. It’s not rational.
- Go for a walk. Sometimes, the best way to stop anxious thoughts is to walk away from the situation. Taking some time to focus on your body and not your mind may help relieve your anxiety. Quote from Soren Kierkegaard: ‘Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.’
Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Many people worry about things such as health, money, or family problems. And simple techniques are able to deal with this kind of anxiety. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For people with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, schoolwork, and relationships. So, if this is the case for you, I would encourage you to seek out a counsellor to help with the strategies and approaches you need to come to a place of peace.
Philippians 4:6 says: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’
Trusting for peace,