I’ve just finished the fourth season of Peaky Blinders and what a brilliant series.
I am biased because I’m from Birmingham and Peaky Blinders is based in the heartlands.
Since watching the series I find myself slipping back into the brummie slang and even dreaming with a brummie accent.
As the series moved through the years following the first world war, 1918 – 1925 we watched spellbound over the change in dress, the introduction of cars and I couldn’t help marvel at how far technology has progressed.
Look at us now, smartphone in tow with more power than my first and second laptop ever had.
We believe that progress and time are the same thing, if it is newer it has to be better, right?
Which means that time must equal progress but does that mean it is better for us?
In the future there will be a cure for cancer, energy will be cleaner and free no one will ever need to work because machines will take over and money won’t exist only in the form of cryptocurrencies.
Has technology resulted in the betterment of the human race?
In many respects I believe it has.
Think about how the car can transport us with GPS to navigate how we get there’ from floppy discs to cloud based solutions, we’ve migrated from laptops/PC’s to smartphones and tablets.
The exponential growth of the internet meant that search engines were developed to sift through the information we take for granted; life support machines designed for premature babies, and medication for the common cold.
The list is endless.
Newer technology is not necessarily a sign of progress
Smart cars, smart phones and smart homes; technology styles our lives and we have become dependent on it, fusing the physical with the virtual world.
Progress has resulted in a dramatic increase in life expectancy.
Our world is overpopulated because of the progress being made in the medical sciences and the eradication of diseases has served only to deplete our world of the resources which are becoming scarce.
By 2020 Gartner estimates that there will be 26 billion connected devices, from your smartphone to your washing machine, to turning on your central heating in your home when you are fifteen miles away to being diagnosed by a virtual doctor.
There’s an app for that
Technology is born out of necessity; a need to develop newer and better things, moving us forward.
If it hasn’t been thought of yet you can guarantee that someone somewhere will be working on an app.
We are no longer autonomous from technology, with A.I. and machines now capable of making decisions we have become enmeshed in technology and we don’t even think about how much it pervades our everyday lives.
New inventions, newer technologies designed to make life easier, to give us more time.
Yet in spite of progress, what is the one thing we now have much less of, more so, than at any other time in history?
New technology needs to be relevant, how can it help us?
Can it add value to our lives?
How can it best serve our needs rather than subvert our survival as humans.
Self service tills designed to speed the payment process will ultimately make humans redundant when technology is improved.
There will be less need for humans so where does that leave us in another decade or so let alone our children?
Technology in principle, should also mean social progress not wealth but well being and satisfaction and yet the way we live now is unsatisfying, depression and anxiety are at epidemic levels and mental health problems are the largest contributor to sick days in the workplace.
The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) reported in 2016/17 over 526,000 workers were suffering from work related stress, anxiety and depression, equivalent to 12.5 million days lost due to the above mental health issues.
The temerity that being able to work long hours with lack of sleep to demonstrate commitment and loyalty is ingrained in organisational psychology.
The rise of social media has also seen a meteoric rise in mental health problems but technology can’t be solely blamed for all of the above can it?
After all, there is an OFF button!
We know more about mental health because we have access to acres of information than we ever did twenty years ago when depression was something you talked about in a low whisper because to admit you were depressed was not the done thing.
Technology has given us access to communication 24/7, your best friend who lives in Japan is accessible from whatsapp to facetime to skype.
We spend on average 8.4 hours a day in front of some form of electronic communications device.
During our waking hours we spend more time in a relationship with a device than we do actually thinking, talking and reading?
What have we really gained from technological progress aside of futile distraction and social narcissism?
What did we do twenty years ago?
Chat with a neighbour, mum collected you from school, making dinner rather than microwaving a ready made meal, read a good book, children playing outside after school rather than sitting in front of an XBox.
Wherever technology leads we need humans in the chain, to make the right decisions for the good of the whole.
Like Peaky Blinders, a little bit of the past isn’t a bad thing as long as we don’t blunder into the future with our eyes closed.
Following Brexit I was shocked that families were falling out over how they voted.
In my extended family my brother-in-law refuses to talk to his own father over the way he voted.
Brexit was a justification for the anger that we feel over a whole host of other issues.
A month on and the FTSE has returned to normal the calamities that were dramatically posted across the media didn’t materialise.
I had my own view on Brexit and to those who whined and moaned about the outcome, get over it, it’s done, move on there is more to life.
If you voted for Labour last year did you start whining because the conservatives got in? No, you accepted that that was the majority and moved on.
Stop moaning and get on with living
Were you angry when England got knocked out of the Euro 2016 and angrily request that England have a replay, no, you accepted the fact that England didn’t make the cut and went home.
There is a lot to be angry about in our often unfair and unjust world and I admit that I too am angry.
I am not the explosive dramatic type that is likely to launch a desk in your direction I’m the one that huffs behind someone in the queue who cant decide what to order I huff and puff when I’m trying to get around on foot quickly only to be stuck behind someone who has all day.
We spend most of our family holidays in Spain, the Spanish appear to be very passive and non aggressive, the English appear to have gone the other way.
I can share two recent personal examples of anger directed at me.
On the way home from school a car pulled out in front of me forcing me to brake heavily.
The driver was a young black man in his 20’s and he felt I should have let him out of the junction even though it was my right of way.
The anger and venom of abuse that streamed out of his mouth and yes, I’m pretty good at lip reading and he did have his window open so it wasn’t difficult for us to hear.
What was he objecting too? Did he object to the fact I was a woman or, was it because I was driving a larger vehicle?
Clearly he felt he ‘owned’ the road and even my children commented ‘what’s his problem?’
Why waste time and energy getting angry over stuff you can’t always control?
Two days later and this time it was a white woman who felt compelled to unleash the same venom on me whilst I accidentally bumped into her walking down the high street, sorry I said genuinely, it was an accident, as I was exposed to her tirade of abuse.
Contrast this to the Alrumbo music festival in Cadiz, Spain where my husband, two boys and I spent most of the early hours of Friday morning and Saturday evening dancing to Martin Garrix and The Prodigy.
There was no aggression or fighting even though alcohol and drugs filled the air.
The Prodigy concert which was completely mental and brilliant all at the same time resulted in us being squashed and pushed around, I got so annoyed at one point with the Spanish moving to the front and then deciding to go in different directions, that I literally had to push people out of my way.
Was I met with hostility? The complete opposite, in fact only apologies were offered for stepping on my feet and they quickly moved out of the way.
When they saw my youngest boy dancing with me they gave me the thumbs up telling me it was fantastic that we were together as a family, no anger or aggression just laughter and fun.
If that had been England I probably would have been punched for being assertive enough to stand my own ground.
Being angry is causing increased anxiety and high blood pressure with reportedly high levels of stress, palpitations, reducing the effectiveness of our immune systems.
I recognise the signs of stress myself – eczema, insomnia, palpitations, irritability, irrationality all of which in the long term can lead to serious illnesses including cancer and I don’t need a medical degree to know that stress can kill.
Since the 2008 financial crash and recession we have had a lot to worry about, reduced income for many of us and yet the cost of living keeps on going up so there is a lot to be angry and worried about.
Anger causes stress, anxiety and common illnesses.
We are angry over ‘everything’, the incumbent government, who doesn’t blame them for all that is bad in life, austerity measures, women who can afford Louis Vuitton handbags those who can’t.
People who drive luxury cars, cyclists who think they own the roads, motorists who think cyclists are moving targets and should be run down for good.
People who go five rounds of verbal abuse because you inadvertently jumped a queue in Costa to someone who beat you into the car parking space that you had spotted first.
Miserable retail assistants who couldn’t even tell you what they sell in their store.
People who start bonfires on Sunday afternoon’s whilst the family are trying to have a BBQ, the national debt, no pay increases, low interest rates.
You only have to read the comments on blogs, on news sites, social media and the vitriolic words written with such hatred because they know they can get away with it and we live in a democracy.
Whilst I don’t believe we can change the status quo, by accepting it and moving on leads for a less stressful and a more favourable outlook on everyday life.
My attempt to banish negative thoughts is slowly taking effect.
Negative thoughts creep into my head on a frequent basis, I’m the proverbial glass is half empty but I am also a realist and pragmatist.
It is like touretts, it doesn’t come out of my mouth but it does reverberate in my head.
I find myself walking down the street looking at things, objects and people and my brain making comments like I wouldn’t wear those shoes with that outfit or why does he want to look like that, to what’s with the hair!
The woman with the huge nose in the school car park who never smiles, the daily frustrations with business, my children not doing as they are told, my husband who seems to have developed a hearing impediment whenever I ask him to do something.
Since I’ve banished negative and angry thoughts from my head I feel better in myself, as soon as I experience a negative thought I vanquish it immediately, like a vampire slayer and focus only on positive nice things.
Whenever you feel anger enveloping you breathe in deeply for 7 seconds and exhale for 11 seconds, it is difficult to change a lifetime’s habit but definitely worth trying.
Anger is bourn out of an emotional reaction to something or someone you don’t agree with not because someone decides to use a zebra crossing to cross the road.
Wikipeida describes anger as a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems—problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life.
We have zero tolerance to anger in the workplace, airports, planes, pubs, hospitals almost every public service area exhibits a notice that says verbal and physical abuse will not be tolerated by staff.
My 17 year old’s response to why are we a nation of angry people is “because it’s a crap country, the weather is always miserable and the average person works very hard for very little.”
Prophetic words from someone who has yet to live and experience the real world.
We are a nation of givers and carers, there is no spite or hatred when Children In Need or Sports Relief takes to our screens, every year we give vast amounts of money to help children, if we didn’t care we wouldn’t give.
Those carers who give up so much time to care for people with little or no recognition, which should really be the sole responsibility of the state, but like good citizens step up because they care.
Are we really an angry nation of people ready to explode?
Have our tolerance levels finally been pushed to breaking point?
Is the tide turning, are we are no longer wanting or agreeing to accept the status quo as it is?
Sandi Mann, a psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in Manage Your Anger: Teach Yourself suggests that as a nation we are getting angrier.
“Our expectations have risen steadily and so have our stress levels. We have higher expectations of our world; we believe we have the right to expect things to go well or to be perfect.
We have become more demanding as a nation, we are also living a more frenetic and frantic pace of life, which means our stress levels are raised. This raised stress means that our tolerance for things going wrong is dramatically reduced.”
Sometimes it is the smallest things that can send us off the deep end.
I have discovered a new app called Headspace a meditative app that helps you relax, unwind and be more reflective there is also a headspace for kids to help them relax and be mindful.
I’m on the first step and am determined to do this during the day or prior to bedtime to see if by listening to an app on my phone helps to make me less worried, anxious and less angry and able to manage situations better rather than losing it at the first opportunity then I am all for trying something new, how about you?
People who have social anxiety disorder have an irrational fear of being in the company of people, being watched, judged and are fearful of embarrassing and humiliating themselves by doing or saying something which causes acute anxiety and fear.
It is the third most common psychiatric disorder after depression and alcohol abuse and yet very little is known about the disorder and its negative affect on a person’s social well-being.
The anxiety and discomfort associated with SAD become so acute that people simply can’t perform the daily functions we take for granted like buying a newspaper, shopping in a supermarket or going to a restaurant with friends.
Social anxiety disorder or SAD is the subset of anthropophobia a generalised term used to cover a wide range of anxiety related issues such as a person who is paranoiac of being harmed or of being judged for the way they look. (Body dysmorphic disorder)
Sufferers with the disorder are worried about what will happen when they interact with people socially and their concerns are centred around how people view and judge them.
In fact the anxiety can be so extreme it can affect a person mentally and physiologically.
Jo, 52 years of age has struggled with the condition from childhood: “I knew these feelings I was experiencing weren’t normal. If I was invited to a children’s party to their house after school straightaway I had an automatic reaction of panic I was very anxious and frightened. I was terrified in case they noticed how nervous I was. I was frightened to death that I would stand out for all the wrong reasons”.
SAD is actually more common than you might think.
Surveys conducted in the U.S found that in a 12 month period 7% of people had SAD.
Over a lifetime it’s more like 12% of people who will experience the symptoms associated with SAD.
Professor Clark Founder of the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma at Kings College London and University of Oxford says “that SAD in the general community tends to be more common in women, yet in the clinics he oversees, the prevalence of SAD is similar in men and women.”
What are the symptoms of SAD and how do they differ to shyness?
There are some marked differences between shyness and SAD and this relates to the severity and longevity of the symptoms that are experienced by the individual.
Shy people tend to be uneasy in social situations and Princess Diana was a classic example of a shy and reserved person. People with SAD are extremely anxious in social situations.
Emotional symptoms include:-
an irrational, intense fear of a particular situation even before the event may have taken place
fear of an up and coming event weeks in advance
fear of being judged by others
worry of being embarrassed or humiliated
fear that people will notice your anxiety
Physical symptoms include:-
profuse sweating and blushing
rapid heart beat
In Jo’s case her symptoms range from stomach turning, heart palpitations, hot and sweaty, fear and panic.
“Until recently I couldn’t even answer the front door bell without experiencing all of the above symptoms, by the time I had calmed down and answered the door the person had long gone.”
Catriona, 47 years has recently been diagnosed with SAD. For her it was the relief of finally giving her illness a label.
“I hate labels but in this case having experienced the complete and utter terror of being in social situations even with family and friends, it was a relief to find out that I wasn’t the only one with SAD.”
For so many years I couldn’t understand why I dreaded friends or family visiting the home, why I would shake when I knew we were going out.
When friends and family visited I was obsessed with making sure the meal was perfect, the home clean and tidy, at the same time I felt sick and anxious and I would physically shake. It was like I was being judged in a competition. The relief I use to feel when people left the house was huge.
It didn’t stop there if I go shopping and I see someone I know, I run and hide behind the veg counter or disappear down an aisle so I can’t be spotted or have to engage in any conversation, often they are people I know. As for any social invitation my heart rate increases and I am anxious and sweaty.”
How extreme can SAD become?
Jo tried to take her own life, “I was suicidal in fact I took an overdose and ended up being hospitalised. At the time I was working as a receptionist in a Dr’s surgery. The whole environment pushed me to the limit of coping. It was a small working area and I felt trapped.”
Jo and Catriona know that their anxiety is out of proportion with the situation they are experiencing but for SAD sufferers its the norm and they are unable to take control of the anxiety and feelings of fear.
For Catriona, “Its frustrating because you look at the situation and you tell yourself that wasn’t so bad but the fear and anxiety is overwhelming. Afterwards I am physically exhausted.”
What causes SAD?
Professor Clark’s observations of adults being treated with the disorder concludes that it starts in childhood or adolescence. About half of the people who come forward for treatment say it started before the age of 13.
He points out, “In adulthood its quite a long time before its recognised and in the clinic the average age of adults coming forward for treatment is 33 years. It’s almost 2o years before people seek treatment and a very long time for people to be living with the problem.”
The evidence would seem to confirm this.
Jo recalls: “I was very clingy as a child and was terrified of being separated from my mum. But it wasn’t until I was 17 when I visited the Dr to talk about my anxiety. I was referred to a local psychiatric hospital but I couldn’t relate to the psychologist. It was a good ten years before I was referred again.”
Can a traumatic event trigger SAD or are we just born with this condition?
Research lead by Professor Clark at the University of Oxford Department for Experimental Psychology suggests that there isn’t a single cause but a combination of social experiences that a person has that could makes them pre-disposed to SAD.
The loss of Jo’s mother when she was a teenager made her anxiety worse but it wasn’t the main trigger.
Jo explains “my father had anxiety attacks so we rarely had people around the house because dad didn’t like it. I possibly think its genetic as I inherited the same characteristics.”
A contributory factor that affected Catriona was a specific event in her teenage years, ‘”I was only 14 years old and a good athlete, a coach at the athletics club I trained at happened to remark one day that I was chunky and strong and I interpreted that as big and fat.
Far from being fat or big, it seemed to trigger a vicious cycle of making me conscious of my weight and how I behaved in the company of people.
Even now I am so very self conscious being in social situations and of people looking at me it feels like I’m being judged, its a horrible feeling.”
Professor Clark suggests that parental modelling such as an overbearing or critical parent who is controlling and over protective, a child being bullied or teased at school, parent relocation resulting in a child losing friends and changing school, finding it difficult to fit in and being shy and withdrawn as a child are some of the other factors that increase the likelihood of SAD in a person.
There is also a genetic vulnerability that puts a person at a higher risk to depression, anxiety and SAD.
Although there are no distinct personality types that pre-dispose someone to being affected by SAD, the characteristics of the disorder include avoidant personality types and people who are fearful of finding themselves in socially challenging situations that might cause humiliation.
SAD sufferers tend to set the bar very high for themselves because it’s an issue of performance and how they are judged by others around them. They believe they should have many interests so they aren’t perceived as boring, they want to be socially ept, clever and fluent in conversation.
This makes it even harder for someone with SAD because the fear of humiliation and failure is greater whereas for most of us if we are inept in a social situation or aren’t as fluent or confident we don’t necessarily feel a failure.
How is S.A.D diagnosed and treated?
One of the reasons SAD is not diagnosed or recognised by general practitioners is because the sufferer may be reluctant to talk about it with their GP and are unaware that treatment is available.
In the last decade more research on the disorder and available treatments has proven fruitful.
SAD was first recognised as a medical condition in the 1960’s yet there is still much about the disorder we don’t know and Dr Clark says “we still think it is seriously under recognised by primary care and there are several reasons for that.”
Many people have lived with the condition for as as long as they can remember they’ve always been shy since childhood they assume that it’s a characteristic of their personality rather than a treatable condition and therefore are less likely to bring it up with the GP.
Diagnosis of the condition becomes more complex as many people who have SAD are likely to have depression or generalised anxiety not attributed to a specific disorder.
GP’s may not recognise the symptoms of SAD because a person feeling hopeless, frustrated, anxious is more likely to be treated for depression rather than examining the underlying causes.
The treatment of SAD is by a combination of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and medication.
Psychological treatments like CBT focus on SAD in the individual. For a long time it was widely believed that treatment in a group setting was more productive allowing the individual to share personal experiences and participate in practical exercises.
Medication can be prescribed in the form of SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and benefit people in the short term but CBT is highly effective in the long term and the preferred choice for SAD sufferers.
At the University of Oxford’s department of experimental psychology, Professor Clark and his team are developing on line virtual therapy treatments for SAD and other related disorders. It is an internet version of face to face therapy where the recipient manages the process of getting better in their own time.
SAD is a life long disorder and many people who receive treatment whether CBT, medication or a combination of both do recover but it depends on the person. In Professor Clark’s experience treatment is a great help but for some sufferers they are able to manage their condition much better but the fear is still present.
Other sufferers report that life has changed, they can do their job and they are accepting of their limitations.
In Jo’s case, “I would like to get a job, travel, meet people and do normal things. I’ve not really had a life up until now. This is not a life choice, not something I’ve chosen to be, I think I’ve paid a big price for it.”
As Professor Clark’s explains, ‘we are aiming to help people discover that they can be accepted for who they are and not what they are’.
For more information, help and advice you can visit Anxiety.co.uk