Modern Times- Modern Anxiety

Modern anxiety is the anxiety produced by modern times.

One of the features of our modern existence is our ability to control the dangers that we face. Rules and regulations have improved our chances of having fewer accidents. Our health service has many ways of preventing disease. Our legal system heaps huge penalties on those who fail to protect the customer from faulty or dangerous products. Modern times dictate protection of the customer- the main driver of a consumerist society.

The catch in this otherwise happy state of affairs is that with increased control (or at least perceived control) comes increased anxiety. The more we try to organise and manipulate our environment the more we fear that control will be lost. This is because there is a subtle suggestion that accompanies the quest for certainty that has the effect of diminishing our confidence in dealing with the unknown. A part of us thinks- I must control events- thus undermining our belief that we can deal with the unexpected or unplanned. Known in the therapy world as ” The dreaded What if”.

This is how the apparent contradiction about health and safety has arisen. The more we try to protect, the more we fear the unknown.

A line of school children walking to the swimming pool now wear Hi-Viz jackets, previously only warn by those working on oil rigs in the North Sea. Yes, they are safer in those jackets but what does it teach them about their ability to confront the dangers of the outside world? Is the bogey man waiting round the corner, are the streets not safe to walk down?

Bacteria lurks in the food in our fridge and on our hands. Excessive cleaning and throwing away of day-old food diminishes our confidence in our body’s ability to protect itself from attack. The search for safety has the effect of reducing our belief in ourselves. OCD is on the rise in the quest for certainty.

If I had the choice of Health and Safety or Illness and Danger I would definitely choose the former ,of course. But you can have too much of a good thing. Just saying.

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Andrew Cunningham

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