Teens (and the rest of us): Anxiety is not in your head…
It’s in the world. Severe anxiety is rampant, along with its teammate, depression. Mainstream psychology, with its interventions that focus on fixing the individual, is behind the times. Perhaps we need collective creativity as a response to our anxiety. Like when my teen group decided to come up with a collective list of what they’re ungrateful for as a response to being told to focus on what they are grateful for in order to be happy. This activity turned out to be quite fun and funny. We collectively created something new.
The New York Times recently published, Why are more American Teenagers than ever suffering from Severe Anxiety? . The piece looked at new interventions for individual teens suffering from debilitating anxiety related to oppressive school systems, parents who bubble their kids so they don’t have to face adversity or discomfort, and the dehumanizing social media culture in which kids are immersed. What grabbed me was not the article itself, but the comments section by ordinary folks: parents, kids, therapists, who one by one pointed to anxiety as a social, cultural, political issue. Our political social and cultural systems are breaking down. We do not know what this break down will transform into. And teens know very well that they will have to become leaders, as we approach this abyss.
We live in an unstable, scary world. Why wouldn't teens be overwhelmed with anxiety? We are all struggling with anxiety, and that is why it’s not a private or individual issue, even though we experience it as such. I agree with some of the new and creative interventions, like helping kids purposely move into situations that will increase their anxiety to build their capacity to deal with it. However, we still miss the mark even if the interventions are out of the box, because we are still holding onto the myth that our problems are private. Our anxiety cannot be fixed individually, whether it be by the latest neuroscience discovery, medications, or changing beliefs (Cognitive Behavioral therapy).
What about seeing anxiety as owned by our culture, not by us? We can start by performing together, playing together as kinder, more humane, and openly curious. These qualities set the groundwork for new ways of living, new institutions, new culture. What is required to help Jane's anxiety attacks and Joaquin’s depression is a performance revolution to redesign how school, family, community, work, and ‘success’ are constructed. Teens can help to lead that effort, as they are already railing against adult systems and able to freshly ask why does it have to be this way? Yes indeed, and perhaps we can create something new, together.