Contagious anxiety

You may have seen the I Am Anxiety advertisements from beyondblue on television or in print. Watch with caution as it induces anxiety very effectively:

Stills from this video were on posters at bus stops near my university last year. Every time I saw one – “I am the tightening of your chest” – I felt anxious.

At the time, I was surrounded by anxious people. Colleagues and I were in midst of a “change management” process and stress was rampant and contagious (I alluded to this in a previous post). My daughter was participating in the fantastic Cool Kids program – I can’t recommend this highly enough if you have a child struggling with anxiety. A colleague shared her challenges with anxiety as a doctoral candidate in a book chapter we co-authored:

I experienced anxiety while writing my dissertation … It was a very new and scary experience how debilitating the condition can be. I found that former fears like my fear of heights were exacerbated to a point where I felt that I could no longer catch a flight, drive up or down steep hills, take lifts in tall buildings and stay in apartments that were a few floors above ground level.

Mid last year, my colleague Cathy Rytmeister and I presented a paper at Academic Life in the Measured University on the transmission of academic anxiety from institutions to individuals. We published an excerpt from the paper in Uni Casual and have plans to develop it into a journal article. In the relative quiet of the academic year here in Australia, I wanted to revisit some of these ideas. We start with the anxious conversations of early career academics:

I’m so flat out coordinating three courses – teaching, admin, marking, online stuff… I really don’t even have time to have this coffee…

We’re so vulnerable as casuals, so much of the work is unpaid but you can’t make a fuss – they’ll just say they don’t need you anymore. I’m just sick with anxiety over the uncertainty of it all.

I’m really swamped right now, by the weekend I feel shattered but then I need to write. I don’t know whether this is all worth it. 

We argue that early career academics’ lives are fraught with  anxiety and stress, pressure to perform, income insecurity and uncertainty about the future because of the transmission of institutional anxieties about essentially the same concerns. Our universities are anxious about income and performance and an uncertain future.

You can read the short piece here. We also offer suggestions for those struggling with precarious employment. And this article from The Conversation has some useful strategies for managing uncertainty. These ideas are similar to those I have mentioned before: find like-minded souls, have a voice in your institution(s) and nourish yourself.

Right now, having rewatched the I am Anxiety video, I am going to clear my head with a short walk across campus. What are you going to do?

6 thoughts on “Contagious anxiety

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