Insights & Expertise

Is ‘Anxiety Culture’ a Societal New Norm?

by Courtney M. Fowler

female student looking at a laptop

For years, there has been research attempting to understand the impact of anxiety on our daily actions. The disorder, which refers to feelings of unease or nervousness, is often viewed as an individual issue with highly personalized solutions to treat its effects.

However, Michael Schapira, Ph.D., believes that the key to understanding anxiety is to instead view it as a prevalent force of contemporary society and examine it holistically. 

“Individualizing the experience of anxiety misses the ways in which it can produce a set of important concepts that describe broad areas of contemporary life,” says Schapira, adjunct professor of philosophy at Saint Joseph’s. 

In collaboration with researchers from Columbia University and Christian-Albrechts University in Kiel, Germany, Schapira co-authored a paper published in Europe Now entitled, “Anxiety Culture: The New Global State of Human Affairs?” The article appeared as part of a special issue examining different aspects of the Anxiety Culture research project, currently co-sponsored by the Council for European Studies and Alliance program at Columbia University, and the Eucor university alliance in Europe.

Within the article, Schapira and his co-authors explain that as the developed world increases their general knowledge and technological capability, they’re more likely to react to this higher level of awareness with anxiety, thus making it a cultural norm.“Anxiety culture is much more than fear about threatening developments and potentially dangerous incidents,” the paper explains. “It has become characteristic of our dealing with the increasing problems and undefined solutions of a rapidly changing world.” 

The sentiment seems to hold true since, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting around 40 million adults nationally. Despite the disorder’s wide reach, only an estimated 36.9% of those affected actively seek treatment. 

Therefore, thorough research around the normalization of anxiety as a collective issue and seeking more generalized ways to treat it has become more pressing than ever.

“We want our research [on understanding anxiety as a widespread condition] to be agent-empowering as opposed to agent-disempowering,” Schapira says. “Our goal with this work is to generate a set of useful concepts that will benefit all of those affected.”