The New Age of Anxiety

No one needs to tell you that times feel anxious. Are you reading this on your phone? Swiping? The tone of the era is nervous, tense, preoccupied, and so many elements of our culture — our books, technology, TV shows, politics — reflect our internal state. At The New York Times, Alex Williams explores how this new age of anxiety is the unfortunate, natural progression of the original age of anxiety that poet W.H. Auden named 70 years ago. (Though every generation had reasons to be anxious.) What is our deal? How do we deal? Yoga, weed, removing the app.

Consider the fidget spinner: endlessly whirring between the fingertips of “Generation Alpha,” annoying teachers, baffling parents. Originally marketed as a therapeutic device to chill out children with anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or autism, these colorful daisy­-shaped gizmos have suddenly found an unlikely off­-label use as an explosively popular toy, perhaps this generation’s Rubik’s Cube.

But the Cube was fundamentally a cerebral, calm pursuit, perfect for the latchkey children of the 1980s to while away their lonely, Xbox­-free hours. The fidget spinner is nothing but nervous energy rendered in plastic and steel, a perfect metaphor for the overscheduled, over-stimulated children of today as they search for a way to unplug between jujitsu lessons, clarinet practice and Advanced Placement tutoring.

According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, some 38 percent of girls ages 13 through 17, and 26 percent of boys, have an anxiety disorder. On college campuses, anxiety is running well ahead of depression as the most common mental health concern, according to a 2016 national study of more than 150,000 students by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Pennsylvania State University. Meanwhile, the number of web searches involving the term has nearly doubled over the last five years, according to Google Trends. (The trendline for “depression” was relatively flat.)

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