No, that wasn’t a typo. SAXy moms are more abundant than ever before. We subject ourselves to the pressures of a highly competitive culture that entrenches ourselves in perfectionism and materialism. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a SAXy mom, dad, woman, or man for that matter.
That’s because the prevalence of SAX, or, Social AnXiety is on the rise in wealthy countries. But no one is absolutely sure why. Theories offer many explanations, all of which stand in a strong foundation. But, the most prevalent theories among leading scientists attributes the rise in social anxiety to the shift in our value system. We have shifted from an emphasis on intrinsic desires, to extrinsic ones.
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Reward
We are moving away from seeking satisfaction intrinsically through our relationships with others and a sense of community. Instead, we seek extrinsic ideas of happiness. These ideas include wealth, property, and luxury. According to a report by MedicalNewsToday:
One study published in the 1990s found that people who pursued money, looks, and status were more likely to feel anxious and depressed.
A study looking at changes in freshman attitudes over a 40-year period found that the number of students who place importance on financial gains has almost doubled since the 1960s, whereas “developing a meaningful philosophy for life” has dropped in importance dramatically.
A meta-analysis that investigated increased psychopathology in U.S. youths over time concluded that “[t]he results best fit a model citing cultural shifts toward extrinsic goals, such as materialism and status and away from intrinsic goals, such as community, meaning in life, and affiliation.”
Motivations are drifting away from the community and onto the individual. Materialism is paramount in modern society. It’s impossible to draw a straight line between these shifts in culture and anxiety, but some are tempted to do so.
That doesn’t mean that everyone who exhibits socially anxious attributes are materialistic. But, in a materialistic society such as ours, certain traits are given more value than others. Competitiveness, success, physical beauty, strength, and individualism, are just some of the traits that so many of us feel pressure to live up to.
Of course, at the other end of the spectrum is a biologically based theory that suggests something a bit different. It explains that although the prevalence of social anxiety is on the rise, it has always existed as a physiological disorder stemming from our instinct for flight vs. fight. The changes in our culture combined with education about mental illness has led to an increase in the number of social anxiety diagnoses.
Regardless of why social anxiety appears to be on the rise, there is good news. As more people diagnoses reach more people, the willingness among all of us to discuss this painful condition, and similar hardships increases as well. With dialogue and truth, we can slowly whittle away at the stigma encapsulating social anxiety and other mental illness.
So, don’t be afraid to be a SAX-y mom, dad, woman, or man. The prevalence of social anxiety in our culture means you are surrounded by similar company. And, even though it’s very difficult for each and everyone of us — maybe the more we talk about it, the more progress we can make towards helping ourselves.