“Tis not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”
It’s interesting to note that Darwin speaks here not of survival of the fittest, as is often quoted, but survival of those responsive to change. This distinction is of great importance to us in our modern age.
There is no doubt that the speed of change can create anxiety in many individuals. As early as the 1970s, social commentators such as Alvin Tofler, who wrote the groundbreaking book Future Shock, warned of the result of an ever changing world. Tofler defined the term “future shock” as a certain psychological state of individuals and entire societies. This shock can now be observed in the rise of mental health problems worldwide. In February 2017, The World Health Organisation stated that “Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.”
Whilst young people generally cope well with technological changes, I have seen many children and teenagers also struggle with the instability that modern life brings.
Our nervous systems, our psyches and our bodies seem to have a conservative leaning. The inbuilt desire for stability and balance can feel assaulted by the onslaught of the new. Our very neighbourhoods, in which we live, no longer give us a sense of foundation when shops change constantly and neighbours move away after a few years.
As Darwin also notes, it’s not our intelligence that can save us. Many highly intelligent people have also experienced anxiety and depression.
How we individually and collectively approach the shock of the new will determine our future health. The first signs are showing that we are no longer prepared to stigmatise those suffering with the hidden illnesses of anxiety, depression, panic disorders, eating disorders and addictions. From Lady Gaga to Prince Harry, people are speaking out and encouraging others to do the same.
Whilst many eventualities, such as physical illness, bereavement, trauma or unemployment cannot be avoided, how we respond and adapt to these and other difficulties can be strengthened by:
• improving our own physical health
• understanding the role of nutrition
• regular meditation or de-stressing
• creating positive supportive communities
• understanding our own psychological resources and areas in which we need to develop
Therapy, also, has taught me personally and professionally that adaption and gaining a new perspective on the past, present and future is possible and indeed necessary for regaining and maintaining health.
Rudyard Kipling’s advice to his son in his poem “If” suggests that one can build resilience:
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same”
This can be our challenge and ongoing goal – to be calm at the centre of the storm.