Observers watching from outer space would probably say we’ve never had it so good. In 2018, we are surrounded by every convenience, from centrally heated homes to reliable cars to TV on demand. We can keep in touch with friends and family 24/7, even if they are on the other side of the planet, and many of us can go to work without having to leave our homes or even change out of our pyjamas.
Describe that scenario to someone living 100, 50 or even 20 years ago, and they would say it sounds like some sort of Utopia. So it begs the question: Why are we more anxious and stressed in 2018 than we have ever been before?
40 million anxious Americans
Research carried out by the National Institute of Mental Health found that 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety. At one in every six, that sounds bad, but if this article from the Huffington Post is anything to go by, the situation in the UK is even worse. It suggests that one in four feel constantly close to breaking point and more than 40 percent suffer from long term stress. What’s the problem?
The TV and internet provide a window on the world, and show us everything that can be. It creates a heightened expectation, and we spend our lives striving to be as successful or talented or attractive as those who are held up as examples.
Just take Christmas as an example. A recent survey found that one in five describe Black Friday as the most stressful day of the year. From early November, we see TV ads that feature perfect families, with sparkly-eyed joyful children enjoying the festive magic. And then we look around ourselves at the broken toys, the children in floods of tears, the kitchen that looks like a crime scene and the inebriated spouse fast asleep on the sofa.
Modern life is complex
The modern age is one of specialism. Back in the 1800s, having specialist knowledge of something meant you might be a doctor or a physicist or a mathematician. And that really meant something – people would understand what you did, and respect your knowledge and skill.
Today, nobody could be truly expert in such a broad area. But suppose you are a specialist in designing web-based apps. Mention that at a party and someone might say: “Aah, a computer expert.” And when you tell them you don’t have the first idea how to fix their wireless router, they walk away disappointed, leaving you feeling inadequate and misunderstood.
Not all bad news
Modern life might bring more stress, but we are in a better position to do something about it thanks to all the knowledge and information at our disposal. From psychological research to natural supplements to tried and tested techniques like going for a walk or listening to music, we can use the gifts of the modern world to our advantage.
The key is to acknowledge those feelings of stress and anxiety, and to understand where they are coming from. That is the first step in the path to overcoming them, and enjoying the modern Utopia.