Re-conceptualising Stress & Anxiety: Is language, the voice of Self-Control and Chronic Distraction all contributing to a Stress & Anxiety Epidemic?

April 4, 2019

I didn’t actually realise that April was Stress Awareness month. Until one of my clients mentioned it and then proceeded to ask if l was going to write a blog for it. Funnily enough as soon as she mentioned it l felt STRESSED! Stressed that l missed the memo that it was Stress Awareness month. (As l’m also part of the switched on culture, a work in process to become unplugged from the matrix of digital dependency and distraction).


So why are we living in culture that seems to be experiencing an ever increasing epidemic of Stress & Anxiety?


Could how we frame stress by the language we use also be a determining factor in how we allow ourselves to become distracted and effected by it. For example how many times a day do you hear the word Stress or hear someone say ‘God l’m so stressed’? It seems that everyone is Stressed these days even our furry friends and the trees. But why is it so present in all of our life’s? Well, technology and the rise of social media are all definitely contributing factors in the rise of Stress and Anxiety with Digital Distraction and Dependency creating new Mental Health disorders within the Millennial generation 18-34 year olds.


A study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that heavy social media users were twice as likely to report experiencing social isolation. With Almost half of 18-34 year olds saying their social media feeds made them feel unattractive. FOMO (fear of missing out) a ‘Technoference Syndrome’ both feeds, and is fed by, a speeding up of life that is being driven by digital technology (Digital distraction). Waiting and fearing not seeing an email or news story (or not seeing it promptly enough), and missing out (even briefly) on some bit of latest information. Which compels an increased tendency of checking of digital devices in the process triggering low self-esteem, addiction, obsession, anxiety, obsessive comparison disorder.


Distraction is a function of the mind in the moment and not a reflection of what is going on in the physical world. So we can see how Social Media and the effects of Technology contribute. If you’re distractible it effects your productivity, creativity how well you do, problem solve, how you handle people and how you respond. When your distracted you can do everything badly personally and professionally. 


What are and how do we define Stress, Anxiety, Mental Health and Well-Being?


Generation stress: 4 in 5 Brits could be suffering burnout as a result of stress, AXA research reveals (November 13th 2017, Health).


All four are related but should be considered as 4 different concepts why? Because otherwise it becomes confusing in determining what you’re suffering or dealing with and what course action you need to take. For example in a recent Corporate presentation l was giving l had asked the group to define these very differences. Interestingly they all struggled in their responses. Mental Health is on the Global radar. With Employers, Big brands, Universities and even Yoga Studios all being effected from clients to consumers to employees. Whilst with some companies there are processes in place to address these concerns. There still appears to be some bias, confusion and questionable boundaries around when to and how to implement a workable, relatable and consistent framework and process. One that recognises the early markers and then embodies a process which allows the individual to get the right help whilst at the same time being monitored and supported without judgement so they don’t get lost in the system.


Stress can have both positive and negative outcomes. Whilst continuous exposures to certain kinds of stress can often result in exhaustion leaving one vulnerable to an array of mental and physical problems. Which can lead later on down the line to Anxiety and include diminishing cognition (effecting thinking and memory) and physiologically (particularly affecting heart and vision).


From a positive perspective it can be useful in motivation and creativity. Mild Stress therefore can be relatable to Well-Being. Which represents still having a sense of self and the ability to be adaptable to live our lives as closely as possible to the way we want to. How we talk about anything can have the just two outcomes positive or negative. This is reflected in the frameworks in Positive Psychology which can be helpful to reflect the various elements of Well-Being.


For example one of the key differences between someone who has mild Stress to that of someone suffering with Anxiety. Is that they are aware that their thoughts are not their reality referred to in Action and Commitment Therapy as Defusion. Meaning they remain adaptable in their responses to the circumstances they are experiencing and in turn by doing so can change their relationship to it.


Anxiety on the other hand causes severe disruption to living the life we want causing mental and emotional distress. It is when we allow our thoughts to become reality (Fusion) and not in a good way. In this state people often feel in the state of overwhelm and fill like there is no way out . As a result isolation, disassociation, distraction and despair may be experienced. Which is why Anxiety fits into the category of Mental Health. Mental Health represents persistent and specific markers for certain symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, psychosis and eating disorders.


A simple way to start to change our relationship to Stress. Is to watch how we define, manage and talk about it. Meaning if Stress has become our go to story or coping mechanism to explain our behaviour out of habit or if it’s actually true. And if it’s true what can we do to make ourselves more Psychologically flexible to lessen the grip of being ruled by it. Practices such as Mindfulness and/or seeking out a Professional Coach, Therapist, Psychologist or Hypnotherapist could also be beneficial. Other frameworks which can be helpful for Stress and Anxiety are Action and Commitment and Therapy and Related Frame Theory which looks at how the science of language effects behaviour. Both are two highly effective forms of Third Wave CBT.



Other holistic steps on the road to balance are:


- Keep a gratitude journal. In a recent study by Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Gillett, R., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008). They determined that overall gratitude seems to directly foster social support, and to protect people from stress and depression, which has implications for clinical interventions. More importantly Dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward is often lower in those suffering with depression and anxiety. The practice of gratitude has been shown to increase these levels.

  • -  Regular Exercise

  • -  Regular Sleep

Some further reading:


Liu, J. J., Vickers, K., Reed, M., & Hadad, M. (2017). Re- Conceptualizing stress: Shifting views on the consequences of stress and its effects on stress reactivity. PloS one, 12(3), e0173188.


Tullett AM, & Inzlicht M (2010). The voice of self-control: Blocking the inner voice increases impulsive responding. Acta psychologica, 135 (2), 252-6 PMID: 20692639


Wood, A. M., Maltby, J., Gillett, R., Linley, P. A., & Joseph, S. (2008). The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies. Journal of Research in Personality, 42(4), 854-871.

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