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How Anxiety Became Popular

In an article in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson explores “How Anxiety Became Content.” He reveals that this new “genre” on social media is surging. The TikTok hashtag #Trauma has more than six billion views and over 5,500 podcasts have the word “trauma” in their title. Thompson suggests that our consumption of such material may be backfiring. He writes:

Darby Saxbe, a clinical psychologist at the University of Southern California, said that for many young people, claiming an anxiety crisis or post-traumatic stress disorder has become like a status symbol. Saxbe said, “I worry that for some people, it’s become an identity marker that makes people feel special and unique. That’s a big problem because this modern idea that anxiety is an identity gives people a fixed mindset, telling them this is who they are and will be in the future.”

On the contrary, she said, therapy works best when patients come into sessions believing that they can get better. That means believing that anxiety is treatable, modifiable, and malleable—all the things a fixed identity is not.

She went on to say, “I’m very pro-therapy. ... But we may have overcorrected from an era when mental health was shameful to talk about to an era when some vulnerable people surround themselves with conversations and media about anxiety and depression. This makes them more vigilant about symptoms and problems, which makes them more likely to problematize normal daily stress. In turn this makes them move toward a (mindset) where they think there is always something wrong with them that needs their attention, which causes them to pull back from social engagement, which causes even more distress and anxiety.”


David Zahl, “Anxiety Content,” Mockingbird Week in Review (12-15-23); Derek Thompson, “How Anxiety Became Content,” the Atlantic (12-13-23)

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