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Relationships - June 2017

Anxiety


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com 
for her to respond in the column.



Anxiety

I am travelling up the Californian coast with my husband from San Diego to the Redwood National Park, via Yosemite National Park. We have seen huge trees, monumental and awesome mountains, crashing, thundering waterfalls and river rapids in full spate. But we have also met plenty of wonderfully friendly and frank people and watched plenty of TV in the evenings. 

What has surprised me during these travels is the level of anxiety expressed by all those folk we have spoken to and, I feel, encouraged by the relentless television and radio advertisements every ten minutes. 

One that shocked me begins with a worried looking woman drooping at her desk and a young man finding it hard to stay awake during a movie, with a voice-over asking "Do you find it hard to stay focussed on your work? Are you tired all the time? Do you want to fall asleep at any time of day?". It is an advertisement for a narcolepsy drug. Narcolepsy is a fairly rare condition, affecting one in every 2,500 people, yet this ad. is played nightly, along with others urging viewers to ask for a new wonder drug for their particular illness, allergy or condition, or to seek help if they have been prescribed this, that or the other medication because it might have terrible side-effects so that they can then sue the drug company responsible. 

Clearly, many, indeed every person we have spoken to on our wanderings, is anxious about their country's current political situation. But the level of anxiety through advertising that is fed to them daily in the background of their home life and while driving is not just unpleasant but is insidiously augmenting any other stressors they might be feeling. 

We in Britain are fortunate in that we are protected from the pressure of publicly competing drug companies claiming the superiority of their own medications, and from the clamour of law companies touting for clients who think they might sue their doctor. But here in America there are no restrictions on pharmaceutical companies, surgeons, dentists or lawyers advertising their services.

Television advertisements focus particularly on drugs to treat any ailment, serious or trivial, pain relief, digestive upsets, and on medical interventions to help make you more beautiful or handsome. That, by the way, is when there is a break from the siren calls to apply for a loan for your next car or home.

Health, money and looks - no wonder that this fantastic country has so many people who feel they are permanently on edge, a fear of morbidity weighing them down as they chomp on their over-sized meals. But in the UK too, more and more people are suffering from increasing anxiety. 

On the long drives from place to place I have had plenty of time to think about why that might be happening. Could it be that as a retired person I view the world from a less pressured place? Is the perceived anxiety in others my misunderstanding of the way life is lived now? Perhaps those things could colour my view a little, but even in older people there is a sense of needing to push personal boundaries. We need to stay fitter in old age in order to live longer in our own homes and stave off the time when we need family or social care. Those who want to travel create wish lists and get on with the bigger and more challenging trips while they still have the means and the energy. It certainly takes more of that precious energy to travel!

But as some of my own extended family and circle of friends would agree, general stress has increased over the last 10-15 years. Young parents worry about the dangers of their children's use of ever more apps on their phones which open them to abuse from total strangers, exams pile stress on teenagers being urged to do well or they will lose many opportunities in life.
Those who do succeed in their education and go on to university face leaving with a degree that is no guarantee of a good job and massive debt. For working adults a job is seldom for life any more so the need to stay 'on top' and to keep the CV up-to-date is essential. For one young middle aged person we know (50 is young from where I stand!), the pressure to perform efficiently under more and more work...because he performed so efficiently...proved so great that for the first time in his life he lost all confidence and began to experience panic attacks. Medication and rest look like the only way to get out of this vicious cycle.
And health, money and looks are the things which, though less explicit, are, along with job worries, the very things that are gnawing away at so many people's confidence in most of the developed world, not just here in the US. 

We can have a job as long as we have the right qualifications and piece of paper to prove that. We can travel, as long as we work very hard to earn the money to afford it. We can find the ideal partner, as long as we conform to the right idea of beauty or fashion, social and print media tell us. We can rent that house or flat as long as we have no debt and a regular salary. The list is endless and depressing, but the pressures are huge. 

I know it's fine for me to point these things out from my great-ish age. House, job and looks are not things for me to strive for any longer. I have what I have. It is enough. But I see those changes all around me, and I feel the coming challenges of older age creeping up on me. So my aim, and self imposed stress, is to be as light a burden upon, and as great a support to, those who are younger for as long as I can manage, and to remain as involved in all my interests as my mind and body will allow.

Now, where is that nice glass of Californian wine?...



You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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