Generation Anxiety

Everything’s our fault, right? Whether it’s the fact we’re too lazy, too liberal, too promiscuous, or like one article I saw, not all of us youths have seen a cow, we’re constantly at fault it seems. I don’t like the idea of such distinct groups e.g. Millennials, Y, Z – so I’ll band us together for this one piece. Those between let’s say, 16 and 35, seem to bear the brunt of the bad news, and it’s no surprise that cases of mental health illnesses, including anxiety, are on the rise.

Is Anxiety new? Of course not. So why does it feel new? Why is it that anxiety is only now being recognised as a serious illness and divided into the subsets that it deserves? Like other mental health problems such as depression and eating disorders, anxiety is simply now more talked about, more open, and in times of such turmoil and stress, it’s arguably more severe. 21% of people rate their levels of anxiety at 6 or above, and the consensus is that anywhere between 10-30% of adults suffer, or are likely to suffer from anxiety at some point.

I’m not as open with anxiety in the same way as I am with my depression, and I suppose that’s because of the anxiety itself in a way. Many of us experience anxious feelings in some way, whether it’s simply difficulty concentrating or a full-blown panic attack, and it’s most definitely on the rise amongst young people. Rachael Dove highlights this, saying that 57% of female university students experienced episodes of overwhelming anxiety, and it reflects the issues many young people have in what is essentially the most important periods of their lives.

We know what older people will say, “Oh it’s technology, social media, they need to get off their phones”. Is it really that simple? There’s evidence for and against that statement. As highlighted here, four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young people’s mental health, with Instagram the most damaging. Of all the main social media websites, only YouTube was judged to have a positive effect on young people. Why is that?

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Amen to A.Ms

Today I got up very early, I always do on a Saturday. I’m a pretty early bird in general, I never could lie in. To me, 8am is considered as a lie in. I’ve always been that way; I remember when I was young, like 7 or 8, my parents put a ban on me getting out of bed and heading downstairs before 8am. Even in my teenage years, where we’re stereotypically known for being unable to prize ourselves away from our duvets, I’ve always been up and about early.

Whether it’s to go for a run, go do the weekly food shopping, or work on some projects, I need to be up and doing something at the weekend. Surprisingly, my mental health problems have only heightened this. Generally, depression and anxiety tend to make it harder to get out of bed, but even though I find it much more difficult to get out of the flat and out and about, I find it easier to get out of bed, particularly to distract myself. I guess it’s about keeping myself busy, always having something to do, and trying to push myself further. And yes, I am going to say it, mornings are great!

I guess it’s about keeping myself busy, always having something to do, and trying to push myself further. And yes, I am going to say it, mornings are great! Mornings, I believe, are when we can be most productive, and they must be utilised. Mornings are when the distractions around us are less common, our brains are most active, and more gets done! So, the important question is, how can we all get the most out of our mornings, especially at the weekend?

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Throwing Myself Out There

I’ve written before, many times, about my depression and anxiety, and how it affects all aspects of my day-to-day life. One of the biggest challenges for me is its effect on the simple tasks, the things most take for granted, like socialising. I’ve always typically found it hard to socialise and meet new people anyway, but my poor mental health over the past few years has made it even tougher.

Depression and anxiety hugely affect both relationships and friendships. Months pass by in a blur, and suddenly you find yourself having lived in a new city for almost a year and not really taken advantage of your new surroundings. Living alone is great, but it can be lonely at times, but it’s not easy to change that. There’s also the fear of rejection, of not being good enough, of things somehow just getting worse. People often think they have all the answers for you; the most frustrating being “you just need to put yourself out there”, but let’s face it if you have a job, family, and friends, you are already “out there”.

At University, the challenges were different. I was on a course with people who had similar interests, living with people in similar situations to myself, but this is a different story. I’m practically the youngest at work and those around are in different stages of their lives, I live alone (which I do love), and working full time leaves very little time for other activities anyway. I see so many people making it look so easy, both online and offline, balancing hectic lives with being able to socialise, meet new people, and put themselves out there. I can’t seem to do that.

Being an introvert means it takes up stacks of energy to put myself out there and to be social. But living with depression and anxiety zaps that all away. It’s hard to make plans not knowing how you’re going to feel that day, worried you’re going to let someone down by cancelling those plans. As I’ve written before, I do worry about the huge effect these problems have on my life, not only right now, but going forward too. I worry it might hinder my ability to progress up the ladder at work, to meet new people, stop me finding someone, stop me having the future I desperately want.

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Less Glamourisation, and Much More Awareness Please!

As someone who has suffered with my own mental health issues for many years now, I am all for, and always will fight for more awareness of mental health problems. It’s vital that people can open up and talk about their issues openly without facing a stigma, and it’s vital that people open their minds more to understand what those who suffer are going through. One of the best ways to raise such awareness is through the media, and in recent years mental health has become a more common issue explored within TV and movies.

Recently, ‘13 Reasons Why’, a show which focused on a teenager’s suicide, streamed on Netflix, and coming soon is ‘To the Bone’, a show focusing on eating disorders. Both shows have received very mixed reviews and extensive media coverage, leading to the question, when is it raising awareness of mental health? And when it is simply glorifying and glamourising it?

First, let’s focus on ‘To the Bone’, which focuses on a teenage girl who suffers with an ED, and eventually leaves home to receive treatment. At first glance, it looks to be a good effort to raise awareness and break the stigma, but there’s a lot of problems with the show. The biggest no-no for me is the unnecessary inclusion of a romantic storyline, fuelling the idea for many that eating disorders and mental health problems in general bring romance, and make you more desirable to others.

I can tell you from experience, depression is not romantic, worrying about your eating is not romantic, and struggling with your existence is not romantic. Another problem is that the big stereotype of eating disorders and anorexia is that the person suffering is underweight, small, and fragile. The truth is that anyone can suffer with it at any weight, and most of the time it’s overweight people that are struggling more often. To the Bone is about a young, white, underweight girl, which only leads to others that don’t fit ‘that role’ feeling they don’t matter.

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Finding My Way

Last November I moved to a new city, Southampton, for work, and moved into a new flat, living on my own for the first time. I love living in Southampton, and I absolutely love having my own place. No one to make messes, no one to be noisy, and no one to constantly annoy me. But it has brought about some whole new challenges for me to encounter.

Moving into a new city for University was extremely different. I was moving into a flat with people my age, and starting a new course with people my age, who also shared similar interests. This time the situation has changed. At work, I’m pretty much the youngest, and most people are 5, 10, 15 years older. So, socialising, already a tricky concept for me, has become more complex. Colleagues already have their own lives; marriages, kids etc, and a small percentage are in similar situations to me.

As I said, I enjoy living on my own, but the lack of company can sometimes become unsettling, lonely. Add to all that the other troubles I have to deal with in other areas of my life: the depression, the anxiety, and it’s quite common for it all to merge together into one whole mess.

I’ve always found it difficult to socialise, get out there, meet people, and my situation now has only amplified that. Living with depression and anxiety has only made all that tougher. When some days getting out of bed is the hardest thing to do, socialising isn’t high on the agenda. I’ve also never understood how people can make it look so damn easy. Everywhere I look, everywhere I turn, people seem to socialise and meet others with absolute ease, and I’ve never been able to do that.

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The Art of Distraction

Distraction itself has two meanings; one being a thing that prevents someone from concentrating on something else, and the other being an extreme agitation of the mind. There’s a certain irony between these contrasting definitions, given that they can very easily go hand in hand. Depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are ‘an extreme agitation of the mind’, and as I’ve wrote about many times before, plagues every day of people’s lives.

These past 5-6 years suffering with depression have taught me that distractions are key. That doesn’t mean to bury your head in the sand and hide away your illness, but find those hobbies, interests, and tasks that can distract you from the pain these illnesses bring. It takes time, and a lot of experimentation to find what can distract you, but it’s so worth it.

For me, my distractions have been politics, writing, cleaning, and throwing myself into various projects. In general, being productive. Not only do these elements help to distract me, but the art of being productive also makes me feel better within myself, and keeps the ill feeling at bay. It’s no coincidence that when I have less productive, what I call ‘wasted’ days, I feel worse. It’s those days that depression is worse, and I struggle to function.

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Depression and Me

Depression first snuck up on me roughly 5 years ago, and it’s something I’ve had to deal with every day since, and likely will for the rest of my life. It’s odd, I do struggle to remember myself and how I predominantly felt before it hit. But that’s what this illness does, it removes the positive feelings, and everything just becomes a blur.

For many, depression is a slow build. It slowly chips away at most, until one day it’s fully enveloped you, and you can’t see a way out. For me, it was instant. It was a high-speed crash into a brick wall. In the space of a few weeks I went from the old bubbly me, to an absolute mess. I couldn’t function properly, and I hadn’t yet learnt to hide it. My change was rather obvious at the beginning, the smiles had vanished, my head was often in my hands, and people picked up on this quickly. It wasn’t long before people were worrying about me.

I’ve often talked, in most cases ranted, about what depression is, and how it’s misunderstood. Too many times I’ve seen people use the term “depressed” when their favourite show isn’t on, or if they’re spending the evening indoors rather than out drinking, and it annoys me. It’s not depression, and it’s insulting to those who actually do suffer with it. When many think of depression, they subconsciously envision sadness and tears, and while that’s partly the case, it’s mostly a nothingness. It’s the feeling of days, weeks, months passing by in a blur, but not in a ‘wow that flew by’ way. It’s slow, it’s dreary, and it feels like I’ve been battling this illness for a lot longer than 5 years.

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