Plastic bags, carbon emissions, joining in the conversation about Game of Thrones - our modern-day worries are a far cry from post-war stresses and anxiety during the global financial crisis. But, as Paul Little reports, they are just as valid.
Whether or not we are in the middle of an anxiety epidemic, the possibility certainly has a lot of people worried. Psychology journals are bursting at the staples with scholarly articles on the prevalence of anxiety, its causes and what, if anything, needs to be done about it.
Much of the fault rests, as it does for everything these days, with social media, which has generated a whole new range of things about which to be anxious. Did your tweet get enough retweets? Why did your old friend block you? Did that Instagram post get enough likes? Have you posted enough on Insta today? Too much? Why hasn't that person you reached out to accepted your Facebook friend request?
Social media itself seems to agree that there's a problem. Instagram has stopped showing the number of likes that posts get as part of a trial in six countries, including New Zealand.
A survey of Twitter #anxiety shows a high number of tweeters mutually supporting others in their anxiety. It's perfect fodder for the echo chamber that is social media because you are guaranteed to find someone to validate you after your family has tired of your refusal to address your problems and stopped listening.
And then there's the climate crisis. But before that we had the global financial crisis and before that the Great Depression, the arms race and the threat of a nuclear apocalypse.
Genuine anxiety, according to Jay Kumar, a counselling psychologist with Anxiety New Zealand, is no more widespread than it has ever been. But increased reporting and willingness to acknowledge the feeling are creating the impression of an "epidemic".
"Anxiety is the perceived threat of something, usually to the self. Fight or flight is linked to anxiety. The way we respond to it is similar to the way we respond to a physical threat."
We can be as anxious about making a presentation at work as we might be to finding ourselves in a room with a lion.
And yes, social media is playing a part, especially by creating status anxiety. Once this might have been caused by seeing glamorous pictures in glossy magazines that were easy to put down. Now we have a permanently open window on to Planet Kardashian through our phones, which we have with us all the time.
The best place to get help for anxiety, outside the counsellor's office, is possibly not on Twitter but could be as simple as sitting over a cup of coffee with a friend or family member who knows you.
"Anxiety tends to run under the radar," Kumar says.
"For some people, the first time they speak about it will relieve some stress."
There are also many helplines including Anxiety New Zealand's own, which has a real live person at the other end to provide practical advice and assistance. And one thing you won't have to worry about is the cost – the service is free.
Believers in the "just get over it" form of therapy are struggling to be heard. Newspapers and other media put warnings on stories and pointers at the end to indicate that readers might learn bad things happen.
Anxiety is everywhere you look and in a lot of places you don't. The new iPhone hadn't quite been launched when there were warnings that its design featuring three lenses could trigger trypophobia in some people. That's not a fear of three, or of attempting things, but the hitherto little known fear, according to Wikipedia, of "the sight of irregular patterns or clusters of small holes, or bumps". Cheese graters must be a living hell for sufferers.
The Donald Trump world has created a slew of new things to be anxious about: fake news, deep state conspiracies, social media manipulation, hacking, internet scams and many more.
So an obvious reason for a perceived increase in anxiety may be the increase in triggers – present fears and past traumas that we all carry with us. But if you believe the trigger-happy doesthedogdie.com, just about anything is a trigger these days. At the time of writing, this website listed 60 types of triggers and told you whether or not they appear in a particular book, movie or TV show. Are there clowns in Gone with the Wind? No. Does a parent die? Yes.
It's crowdsourced, so you can add a movie, TV show or book, or request a new category of trigger be added to the list. At the moment they range from the decidedly sombre – someone falls to their death, car crashes – to the somewhat more niche – a dragon dies, there is farting or spitting.
That the site exists at all demonstrates just how close to the surface anxiety is for many people. Especially those afraid of farting dragons.
Some people are more tolerant of other people's anxiety than others.
"Compassion for people who are suffering does not mean accepting emotional reactions as an indicator of objective reality," wrote US psychology professor Todd B Kashdan in Psychology Today. In other words, you can sympathise with people's anxieties and how badly they are feeling without agreeing that they actually have anything to worry about. Writing last year, he also concluded that despite overwhelming anecdotal and gut-feeling evidence to the contrary, a close examination of actual data showed no increase in levels of anxiety.
Some contributors to Psychology Today aren't quite so sympathetic.
"Anxiety is almost considered a status symbol that signals how busy and successful you are," writes University of Sussex professor of psychology Graham C.L. Davey. He also concludes that rates of anxiety have not been increasing.
One theory has it that worry is a natural default state of the resting brain. We're always worrying about something and if that worry is removed – we get the raise that we agonised over asking for – we just transfer our anxiety to the next item down on the worry list.
The closer you look at social media and what people perhaps unwittingly reveal about themselves, the more anxieties you discover. A rapidly changing world means a rapidly increasing number of innovations that can give us reason to be anxious.
These may all be real problems – or at best, dilemmas – but how deserving of your anxiety are they? Couldn't the psychic energy generated by worries over status symbols such as the right kitchen benchtop be better applied to fostering healthier intimate relationships with partners, parents or children?
Finally, perhaps none of these anxieties or their more serious equivalents will even register on the worry-meter if the worst, anxiety-provoking predictions of environmental apocalypse prove to be true.
A few contemporary afflictions, identified by an informal survey of confirmed worrywarts.
Is it fake news?
Knowing there is such a thing has made people worry more about the authenticity of mainstream media, leading to a vicious cycle of mistrust and misinformation.
Do I have enough shopping bags in the boot?
That feeling of dread when you pull into the supermarket parking space and can't remember whether you've brought enough reusable bags for your shopping. Or when you get to the checkout and realise you've left them in the car.
And what do I do with all those old plastic bags? Will my workmates judge me if I bring my lunch in one?
Am I missing something on Netflix that I would love?
Yes, the algorithm that makes recommendations for you is good, but does it really understand you? And how can you ever know what you're missing?
I didn't watch Game of Thrones
You may have felt like you were the only one who couldn't join in the conversation on Sansa becoming the Queen of the North; is it too late to start watching from the beginning? Can you really commit to eight seasons?
I can't hide from spoilers
With the growth of binge-watching, it gets harder not to overhear discussions about the outcome of a show, with everyone at work who stayed up late and got through the whole thing on the weekend wanting to talk about it on Monday.
Will I still be able to get my smoothie/oats/other healthy breakfast option at my planned vacation spot?
Same goes for being in range for a decent flat white.
How can I cater to all the 21st-century dietary requirements?
Does my dinner party menu cater for vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians, gluten-free, dairy-free and staunch red meat eaters all at once?
What charity to I donate to?
There are so many causes and so many ways to support them, so how do I know where to direct my money?
And will I get dirty looks from colleagues if I don't wear pink on Pink Shirt Day and gumboots on Gumboot Friday?
I'm scared to share my opinion
The wrath of the public is quickly raised if you post anything too far left or right (or even near the middle) on social media, especially if you are someone with a business or a public profile that could be tarnished.
Is my dog getting enough attention?
A 2018 study commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment on the pet food industry revealed an "increasing number of pet owners are treating their pets as part of the family" as trends in pet food mirrored trends in human food choices.
Gluten-free diets for our four-legged companions are also on the rise.
I have to produce an impeccable Insta-worthy birthday cake
That also goes for baby showers, engagement parties and Pinterest-style weddings. Even if it's just for the praise on social media.
I've forgotten my keep-cup
But I need that caffeine fix today. Do I accept the polystyrene option at the cafe?
Same goes for your drink bottle. What if it's plastic? Should you chuck it out and get a stainless steel one?
Were my jeans made ethically?
Can I spare hundreds of dollars to fork out for a label I know pays its factory workers a decent wage for clothing that may go out of fashion in a few months?
I've already worn that dress in public
If it's been seen on Instagram, it's done.
I've got FOMO
There is only so much fun one person can have. You're always going to have to miss out on something.
Will I get judged if I don't use public transport?
What about those carbon emissions my car is letting out?
But then if I do use public transport, who will sit next to me? Why doesn't the clock at the stop show the bus arriving at the time I want?
Will my electric car run out of juice in the middle of nowhere?
If you've made the carbon-friendly step to get an electric car, how can you be sure there is a charging stop near where you are travelling?
Is my flying hurting the environment?
What if you need to get somewhere fast and don't have the patience to travel by land on multiple public transport options in an attempt to save the planet?
Will I be able to see Taylor Swift from where I'm sitting?
Concert anxiety is real. Are embankment seats okay? Should I get six tickets at once in case they sell out? What if I can't find enough friends to buy them off me? How will I get to and from the concert? What will the lines at the Portaloos be like?
Am I a helicopter parent?
Although parental anxieties are nothing new, the 21st century brings a range of new types of worries.
Are they safe enough on that playground equipment? Are they going to be a snowflake? Are they spending too much time on their phones? Will they ever own a home of their own?
I can't remember my passwords
I have so many for so many different websites, email and work programmes and they all have at least one capital letter and a number. And they are changed so often for security reasons, but I can't write them down on a piece of paper or someone might see it.
Those poor people on The Block
The biggest takeaway from the show's financially disastrous finale was a tsunami of sympathy for the poor schmucks whose hard work over the run of the series came to nothing.
Am I pronouncing te reo Māori words correctly?
Am I not trying hard enough? I feel inadequate I'm not competent in the native tongue.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202