I’ve heard that a lot lately, this refrain that everyone in my generation has anxiety. And while it’s evidence of some progress regarding mental health, I’ve got to say, I’m not a fan of the overall sentiment.
On the one hand, it does seem like anxiety of varying types (especially social anxiety) is more prevalent among “millennials” today. This may be true – but it’s hard to compare numbers and statistics to previous eras due to under reporting. The stigma around mental health is – very slowly – lifting, and so more people today feel comfortable enough to share their experiences, and are equipped with the language to do so.
My issue with the phrase “everyone has anxiety these days” is this: it is frequently used to flippantly dismiss and invalidate something that a lot of people struggle with every day. The current stereotype of anxiety that I’ve seen most often is a spoiled millennial who uses the label “introvert” and doesn’t like talking on the phone. This image is painted as silly, and just a young person’s way of copping out of work. But what about the person, millennial or not, who starts to feel suffocated and panicky when they’re around too many people? Or the person whose heart races, whose hands tingle, and who becomes drenched in sweat when they have to make a phone call?
I don’t know when we started characterizing anxiety as a mere aversion to certain things and forgot about the uncomfortable and sometimes debilitating physical symptoms that accompany it. As if racing thoughts and feeling trapped weren’t enough, someone with anxiety can also experience lightheadedness, nausea, numbness and tingling, sweating, elevated heart rate, and difficulty breathing, all of which exacerbate the panic and trap them in a vicious cycle.
Maybe more people really do have anxiety “these days,” or maybe more people are simply reporting it. Either way, that doesn’t make their experiences any less valid.