After recently spending time with a generation Z teen (ages 4-24) watching two hours of meme videos—memes mock some element, aspect or circumstance of life through use of video, photo, with words, music, and or images, that is meant to be shared and passed along to others—on the potential threat of WWIII and a potential military draft due to recent world events, I realized that this medium is their way of communicating their collective anxieties of how they perceive possible outcomes of events. These memes, in particular, were meant to use humor, but also provoke thoughts on recent dynamic occurrences. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, does recommend using humor as a strategy to help cope with anxiety (2020, ADAA). Secondary students nearing the age of 18, young adults in college, and those young adults already serving in the military have chimed in and expressed their concerns, fears, and anxieties over the events. Research on Generalized Anxiety Disorder, demonstrated that the perception of lacking control, can yield increased anxiety (Mineka, S. and Zinbarg, R., January 2006). It is often believed that each generation displays more and more anxious characteristics.
How should we as a culture prepare our youth to deal with similar events while the world watches things progress? As a mental health professional, I avoid watching the news, intentionally, for the primary purpose of lessoning exposure to negative information. After serving victims of trauma regularly for several years, I stopped watching daily news. The premise behind recognizing triggers, is to decrease exposure to things that provoke your anxiety, or if not, at least prepare an appropriate response. There may come a time when watching the news is necessary, but until that time appears, there’s no need to expose ourselves to unnecessary negativity and damaging messages.
Dr. Pennebaker (1990) recommended sharing one’s thoughts and feelings, particularly when there has been a death. Many times a loss leaves an individual with the same feelings and emotions of a death. Perhaps the memes display their collective anxiety over perceived consequences to a set of events. Nonetheless, it is important for us to share our thoughts and concerns in a pro social manner. Generation Z is so closely connected, yet so disconnected in that technology brings instant gratification and information, but draws away from traditional means of socialization. Communicating their concerns to a trusted family member or mentor may prove impactful in keeping them mentally healthy.
In addition to reducing exposure to possible triggers and sharing one’s thoughts and concerns, but not addressing too deeply a discussion of types of losses, such as ambiguous loss, disenfranchised, or complicated grief, developing resiliency, is helpful in addressing grief from associated loss. In a study of 14 cases of children in a group home who had experienced trauma and abuse at home in the Philippines, the researcher concluded that the children preferred to share their challenges with their peers over health care professionals (Espina, N.D.). The researcher postulated that the children’s resiliency was best demonstrated in their laughter and socialization with their friends (Espina, N.D.).
Last, although it is perfectly normal to prepare for the future, limit the time that you spend pondering future events. Often times we spend time worrying about potential negative events or circumstances that many times never occur, but our anxiety increases as a result of our worrying. Likewise, don’t spend time reflecting on past negative events unless you are using those occurrences to help you cope in a ‘positive’ way in the ‘present’. Otherwise, countless thoughts about negative past events may result in feeling depressed. Being in the present, both mentally and physically, is the psychologically safest place to be, unless of course, you are presently experiencing some form of abuse or crisis.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2020). Coping strategies. https://adaa.org/tips
Espina, M. (N.D.). Keystone of adolescents coping silks capabilities. University of Southern Philippines Foundation. Retrieved 9 Jan 2020 from https://www.academia.edu/41009316/Keystone_of_Adolescents_Coping_Skills_Capabilities_KEYSTONE_OF_ADOLESCENTS_COPING_SKILLS_CAPABILITIES
Mineka, S. and Zinbarg, R. (January 2006). A contemporary learning theory perspective on etiology of anxiety disorders: It’s not what you thought is was. The American Psychologist. https://www.academia.edu/12984203/A_contemporary_learning_theory_perspective_on_the_etiology_of_anxiety_disorders_Its_not_what_you_thought_it_was
Pennebaker, J. (1990). Opening up: The healing power of confiding in others. New York: Morrow, 1990.
Lakawthra Cox, MA, MAPC, Licensed Public Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and Certified Canadian Counsellor has earned four degrees ranging from an associate, two master degrees, and she’s completed doctoral coursework. Her studies include areas of psychology, political science, communications, professional counseling, and education. She grew up in Europe from preschool to her second year in college and has lived in Germany (Schweinfurt, Nurnberg, and Augsburg), Belgium (SHAPE), and Italy. She is also a third generation American Army veteran. Last, she’s previously taught, as faculty, with the University of Phoenix for five years, while co-authoring a children’s book, Aerola’s Big Trip (published), Aerola’s Book of Safety (unpublished), and Aerola’s Trip to Canada (unpublished) with her children. Lakawthra plans to publish a series of self-help works.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA