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The Age of Anxiety

I am seeing so many clients these days suffering from overwhelming anxiety. This is especially happening to the kids that I see in my high schools where I work as a school social worker. They are over-programmed, overworked, sleeping much less than 8 hours per night. They seem to be totally overstimulated.

Much of the research and my own anecdotal research points to the heavy use of smart phones. The cell phone has become an extension of the teenager. They literally have trouble going for any extended time at all without checking their phones. And it isn't just teenagers. Our whole society seems to be addicted to the cell phone and its immediate access to "everything."

I look at my own behavior and I can see that I am certainly a part of this phenomenon. When I am bored, I can look at a Ted talk. When I want something, I go to Amazon Prime and buy it. When I am curious, I start googling the information that I seek. The smart phone is a great tool, but it's so damn easy to get hooked on it. There is never any down time. One has to really work at just stopping and taking a number of deep breaths in order to be in the present moment.

Another huge issue, particulary for teenagers, is social media. In addition to this constant stimulation of the internet, one can communicate with others at every waking moment. So, teens will go on Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and let others know what they are up to. And their peers are also letting them know what is happening in their own lives. One can easily fall in the trap of comparing themselves to others and find that they are lacking, less than. It's very easy to begin to feel bad about yourself, thinking and feeling that you are not as smart, good looking, attractive, as others. Somehow, you can begin to feel that others are much happier than you are. This dynamic is happening all of the time to many teens. It leads to feelings of anxiety and depression. You can never feel relaxed that you are good enough.

How can you protect yourself from this onslaught. I think that one way would be to force yourself to take a sabbatical from the phone/internet. For however long you can do it, do not look at your devices. Cultivate a way to be in the present moment, even if it's for a few minutes at a time. Take some slow, deep breaths. Talk to a friend without looking at something else. Be in the moment. And once you get into the habit of doing this, you can extend the sabbatical time of your devices. In this way, you will develop those muscles of relaxation, presence, and emotional well being.

I would love to hear your thoughts and feelings on the subject. Please write to me to tell me how you deal with our age of anxiety.


Mike Hessdorf, LCSW is a social worker. He has a private practice in Maplewood, NJ and he works for the NYC Dept of Education as a school social worker.

He can be reached at 973 378-5804

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