A recent article by Mental Health Ireland, stated that Anxiety disorders are now one of the more commonly seen Mental Health issues. Impacting people in their early to mid twenties, the figures are increasing year on year. While young men are effected, young women are more susceptible. A reported one in every six will experience Anxiety or Panic Attacks. Most will go undiagnosed and remain untreated.
Niamh Delmar, a counselling psychologist and mental health educator writes “What I observe as a recurring theme is screen dependence and over thinking. The majority of twentysomethings grew up alongside a plethora of technological advances and social media. Girls have grown up with aspirations to have it all: the toned body; being smart; making a lot of money; being positive and happy. A virtual glossy version of life was sold to them and, as a result, many are plagued by perfectionism, excessive expectations, a harsh inner critic and an obsessive need to achieve.”
While there are other external factors which may have an impact. These have always existed. World events, finances, relationship, employment, family, even factoring in issues of drug or alcohol misuse, these were common factors through all generations. Now we must also contend with a world where people are spending more and more of their time constantly connected. It is next to impossible for any young girl, or boy to achieve the perfection we see others post online. however, this added pressure exists along with a constant need for validation from others online.
Niamh Delmar continues, “This is an overstimulated generation. Excessive screen use boosts the release of stress hormones and increases central nervous system arousal. Sleep becomes disturbed which makes you even edgier. Switching off is happening less as young people remain “on” living in an adrenalised way.”
“Studies have shown that men and women's brains are wired differently which fosters different thinking styles. Men that attend with me for counselling tend to seek strategies and logical solutions to move on. Young women experiencing anxiety tend to obsess, ruminate and reflect. Better nutrition from birth has boosted brain function, IQ and abstract thinking. This “smart” generation are flooded with knowledge from the internet priming the tendency to over think and analyse too much. The more anxiety, the more that thinking is speeded up. With approximately 60,000-80,000 thoughts a day, within seconds each one has a physiological impact.”
So what can you do ?
Incredibly we have come full circle from “Turn on, Tune in Drop Out”, a very famous line associated with Timothy Leary, at the Human Be-In, a gathering of 30,000 hippies in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in 1966. A more fitting mantra for this generation would possibly be Turn off, Tune Out and Get Outside, take a break. In order to process all the events of the day, we need time that is free from distraction. A cooling off period, to permit you to relax. To allow the mind to settle down at the end of the day.
Being constantly alert, constantly engaging with a screen, constantly thinking and not letting yourself relax, can result in a person developing a mental health issue. Worse again, alcohol or drugs may become a form of self medication, needed to deal with the ever mounting real world stresses and compounded further by stresses produced by the online world.Time for ourselves is so important. Just living and thinking of the moment. Mindfulness teaches this, it is so successful in teaching people how to switch off we now see it being taught to children in schools.
Niamh Delmar asks “What can help this panic-stricken demography?
Developing a healthier relationship with thoughts can ease symptoms. Healthy ways to get out of the head and off screens calm the system down. Evidence-based therapies such as CBT, understanding anxiety and panic attacks, apps such as Headspace and a review of lifestyle all help. Exercise programmes that are not excessive, regular eating to maintain blood sugar levels, hydration and reduction in caffeine, sugar and alcohol and no recreational drugs are all part of an effective anxiety programme. Healthy face to face interactions and distractions soothe the mind.
Technology-free times and zones, especially at night-time, improves sleep which plays a vital role in alleviating anxiety. Screen dependence, like caffeine, can make an anxious person feel wired, so use in moderation is recommended. Thought processes speed up with high anxiety levels, so awareness and less reaction to them eases the fight, flight or freeze state.
It is essential that schools, peers, educators, GPs and other health professionals receive more training in mental health and psychological wellness. Early interventions, such as wellbeing sessions, need to be implemented from junior infants to foster resilience. Anxiety is often underestimated in children, but it does not usually go away unless treated. The Irish Primary Principles Network reported a “disturbing trend” relating to pupil's wellbeing with anxiety being one of the major issues.If we are seeing an epidemic of anxiety among our young women, what is the next generation going to be faced with? Let us help them cope.”
If you or someone you know is affected, please contact your GP, local HSE mental health service or Mental Health Ireland.