Isolating Anxiety, Self-Care And Gen-Z: A Pakistani View

Isolating Anxiety, Self-Care And Gen-Z: A Pakistani View
Feet stuck to the ground outside my 10 AM lecture, staring at the shiny but solid brown of the door, the cold and heavy silver handle is like a heavy lump settling at the bottom of my stomach. Sometimes, the rush is too mindless, and I don’t even notice the weight of the door as it opens. Either way, the movement continues. Walking, running, sitting, slouching, filling pages, or just sliding down the seat to stare at nothing. Exhaustion as a constant state of being has become a natural at its game and I have wholeheartedly accepted it. Motion, not just in terms of physicality but also the mind’s pace, has only gained momentum despite technology’s promises of making the functionality of life easier. Our minds are constantly occupied by what’s to be done at any given moment, almost on autopilot, letting the mind take precedence over the body’s actions. We are tired, uncertain, and stressed about the future and its reliability.

The annual ‘Stress in America’ survey conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) concluded in 2018 that generation Z was the most likely to experience declining mental health. The survey also recognised that levels of stress within generation Z were considerably higher than all of the remaining generations’ stress. I understand that the APA survey is talking solely about the American experience, which is why we will also take a look at the Deloitte survey conducted in 2022.

The Deloitte survey covered 23,000 people in over 46 countries. Half of the members of generation Z from the survey reported feeling stressed or anxious for long periods of time. The survey also disclosed that for every 2 out of 5 Generation Z people, their own personal mental health was considered a leading factor by them. In fact, 1 in 5 consider their mental health to be a source of stress among other external societal factors such as climate change and the rising cost of living. It is important to note here that generation Z conceive their mental health to be a separate phenomenon from external stress-inducing factors. In this isolation, mental health is almost a situation lessened or worsened due to our own mind’s processing. This very idea gives us a sense of control over the problem as we consider it a personal failure that we could make better by working on.

The separation of mental health as a standalone concern takes us into the modern industry of medication and psychiatry. Modern neuroscience has seen a push to make mental health seem like an individual’s own personal matter induced by their own specific symptoms. The ethos of self-improvement has been dug deep into our understanding of mental health in the modern age. The reasons for mental health problems are varied but they can be made better if we make some positive changes in our personal life. We are a work in progress that can only be furthered through our own individual effort. “Self-help” and “self-care” are two widely used phrases that categorise this idea of self-improvement. Our stress, then, can be related to our own chemical imbalance and once we have acknowledged this, we can make an effort towards reducing the imbalance, almost controlling our brain and its functions.

I have encountered many people my age and older who have talked about feeling tired, dispassionate and oftentimes depressed. But the conversation has somehow always revolved around us discussing the ways in which we can improve the situation: the suggestions include eating healthy, taking walks, meditating et cetera until the conversation dies or moves on. But whenever we meet again, the same issues still persist, in fact, we often feel more drained than before. The idea of improving your own mental health also makes one feel guilty for not having worked out the solution yet. In prioritizing these various personal solutions which should help our mental health, we divorce ourselves from the larger phenomenon of declining mental health. We don’t view the issue on a communal level at all since so much of our issue is sold to us as a consequence of our own chemical imbalances. This process of mental health becoming a publicised matter has opened up an industry of goods and services around it itself. Self-improvement now has a whole market pushing it up. The field of medicine, psychiatry and the commercial industry has further shaped how we deal with our mental health.

However, I’d like to argue that in the midst of this, we have forgotten the association of poor mental health with social factors. I am not entirely alone in my worry and stress. Many of my peers are going through a similar experience, there is a dreadful feeling of being pushed into, quite literally, a dying world where basic survival is becoming more and more of a conundrum with the unstable economic situation, wealth disparity, and increasing cost of living. “Eco-anxiety” has become a common phrase over recent years. In an article for Yale Climate Connections, Samantha Harrington categorised eco-anxiety as either a direct response to a natural disaster or an indirect one through exposure to climate change news. The article further notes various research deducing that rising temperature is a cause for the increase in anxiety and irritability.
The separation of mental health as a standalone concern takes us into the modern industry of medication and psychiatry. Modern neuroscience has seen a push to make mental health seem like an individual’s own personal matter induced by their own specific symptoms

Being a witness to disaster can cause insomnia, lack of interest in everyday activities, and irritation among other reactions. In a 2022 article “The Impact of Climate Change on Mental Health,” researchers found that news regarding climate change makes people feel “distress and a sense of helplessness.” There is also a “doubt regarding the survival of humans and other species along with a sense of passivity”. We feel the implications of climate change yet see ourselves as helpless against it. A case in point is the impact of recent floods in Pakistan. The immediate damage to human life and property is significant but along with this PTSD, survivor’s guilt, distress over being misplaced, and a lack of resources are the latter consequences.

Another important social factor is the increasing cost of living along with uncertainty about the future. Personally, in Pakistan, the cost of food essentials along with petroleum prices and electricity bills have burdened the common person desperately trying to make ends meet. Picturing a secure future in such a context seems almost fantastical. Studying under such circumstances feels like a gimmick then, the hopelessness of the future looming over. I would like to state here that some of us have the advantage of grasping better opportunities due to our formal education. In a country with 22.9 million children out of school, valuable education is a privilege in itself. Pakistan has a soaring youth population with no formidable opportunities to look forward to. Moreover, the wealth disparity makes it impossible for the lower classes to lead comfortable lives. In compliance with constant political instability, the economic system has made mere survival the only instinct. Finding joy in living has escaped all our minds. The state seems occupied with taxing the poor further and further while protecting the private property of the wealthy. This dire state of things further isolates us into only pushing forward for ourselves, hoping to make it out of a slow catastrophe. Only the future is uncertain. Satisfaction and enjoyment seem farfetched in a future of seeking paychecks that’ll never seem to be enough.

It is also important to note here that in viewing mental health as separate from broader factors operating on a larger scale, we shift focus from a look into the causes of such factors to our own individualistic choices. The true sense of imposter syndrome comes in this personalisation of one’s own depression and misery. Ronald Purser in “The Mindfulness Conspiracy”, an article for The Guardian, notes that the recent trend in mindfulness makes acquiring happiness a personal matter. That we should try and live in the moment only even if the world and circumstances around us are sourcing unhappiness. Being mindful then doesn’t let us unite towards the broader factors causing us severe anxiety and tension.

Purser regards the technique of mindfulness as a tool to keep moving forward toward success in a capitalist system. Mindfulness, then, is just a coping mechanism for people, a short-term fix. Some of us have the option, due to available resources, to feign ignorance and source all our happiness individually but it is bound to fail us when the world around us seems to be falling apart. The system and practices causing us such anxiety lay untouched while we work towards making more peace with the world as it is. Surely we are weighed down by our work with no hope for a better future but at least we can practice self-care from time to time in order to keep showing up for that work. Individualistic practices of mindfulness and self-care have no relation to the outside world, we are in the cycle of developing a “we don’t owe anyone anything” attitude in order to de-stress ourselves. Mindfulness is then a capitalist industry in itself. Purser deems “reduction in stress and increase in personal happiness” easier to sell than “questions about injustice, inequity and environmental devastation”.

We fail to recognise our anxiety, depression, and hopelessness as an aspect of the collective rather than a strictly internalised phenomenon. Only after an acknowledgment of its broader social causes can we undergo a drastic change. Moreover, this acknowledgment would also help us perform acts of kindness and care when it comes to the people around us. We do owe each other, and this admission is necessary for our struggle against the system whose ethos rides on individualism.


Works Cited

Cianconi, Paolo, Sophia Betrò, and Luigi Janiri. "The impact of climate change on mental health: a systematic descriptive review." Frontiers in Psychiatry 11 (2020): 74.

Purser, Ronald. The Mindfulness Conspiracy”. The Guardian, 14 June. 2019, Accessed 10 January 2023.

Deloitte Survey

APA Survey