Anxiety & The World Wide Web
By Kerri Sackville
Columnist, Blogger & Author of "When My Husband Does the Dishes" and "The Little Book Of Anxiety"
The last month has been scary for me. Two weeks ago I released my second memoir, The Little Book of Anxiety – Confessions from a Worried Life, which opens the door on my fears and neuroses and lets the whole world in to see.
How would people react? Would they think I was crazy? Would they still laugh at my Facebook posts when they learned about my endless catastrophising? And would they still read my blog and follow me on Twitter when they knew that I bit my nails compulsively and had panic attacks in the middle of the night?
Well, I needn’t have been scared. Not only have readers expressed tremendous empathy for my challenges, but they have come out of the woodwork in droves, sharing their own experiences of anxiety online and privately in emails, blog posts and messages.
In doing the round of interviews these past couple of weeks, I’ve frequently been asked if anxiety is a modern phenomenon; after all, no-one talked about being stressed or anxious a couple of generations ago. But of course anxiety is not new, or modern. Anxiety has been around forever, it was just shoved in a cupboard and locked away like so many other emotional and psychological woes.
Growing up in the seventies, I don’t recall anyone ever referring to my paternal grandmother as ‘anxious’. Still, I certainly remember her ‘getting the vapours’ and taking to her bed when agitated, as did so many other women of her era. As for my mum, well, she is not an anxious person (I inherited the worry genes from my dad), but women of her generation were routinely prescribed Valium, in bottles labelled with instructions to ‘take in times of stress’. Mother’s Little Helper, anyone?
And both men and women of every generation have self-medicated with alcohol, cracking open a beer or a wine in the evening to blur the stresses of the day, instead of talking through their problems.
So anxiety is not new. However, modern pressures can create even more challenges for those of us predisposed to anxiety, and I’m referring specifically to technology and the world wide web.
When I was a kid, the news was available twice a day. You would read the papers in the morning, and watch the TV news at night, and apart from five minute news bulletins hourly on the radio, that, my friends, was it.
Now the world is different. Now the world is smaller. And we are bombarded with information, on the internet, on TV, on the radio, in the newspapers, and in our interpersonal communication. The news is there, not just morning and night, but around the clock, on dedicated Pay TV news channels, on hundreds of different websites, and coming to us live via Twitter. We can see a story unfolding from every single angle in real time, via words, images, videos and sound. If a child gets abducted on the other side of the world, it might as well be happening in our back garden, because the event is coming to us in our lounge room, right as it happens.
There is no sense of separation any more between us and the news story. There is no sense of safety, or of boundaries. The world feels much more chaotic than it used to be, because every single newsworthy item, and many, many non-newsworthy items, are broadcast into our homes twenty four hours a day. For someone like me, who is prone to anxiety – who hears ‘global financial crisis’ and visualises my family broke and living on the street, or reads ‘child held captive in dungeon’ and imagines it happening my daughter - this is problematic.
And yet there is a flipside to this technological age. Because, despite its potentially anxiety provoking content, the internet has created a virtual support system for people like me. Simply by writing about my issues, and pressing the ‘send’ button, I can help to break down the sense of isolation that other people feel, as well as garner support for myself.
Or I can just go and Google the latest news on the Real Housewives. For an anxious person like me, that is sometimes the best cure of all.