The Anxiety Industry: At the Limits of Anxious Consumerism


From Public Seminar: “Anxiety — that chronic, widespread uncertainty proliferating out of the insecurities that exemplify modern life — has become the lodestone of 21st century consumer capitalism.

From fidget spinners, gravity blankets, CBD oils, air fresheners and skincare products to white noise machines, salt lamps, calming diffusers and the countless meditation apps inundating our smartphones, in recent years the promise of alleviating anxiety has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Yet by affirming an escape from anxiety through easily consumable do-it-yourself fixes, this ‘anxiety economy’ places the burden of treatment directly on the anxious.

Atomizing discourses of ‘self-care’ and ‘wellness’ persuade people that if they are feeling sick, depressed, or anxious, the issues are not social or economic, but individual. This serves to obscure the fact that social and economic life has become far less secure in recent years due to dramatic reductions in privacy, workplace rights, job security, regulatory oversight, pay levels, and social welfare, which has led to large increases in chronic stress across the populations of many countries.

When examined as a broader socio-economic epidemic, anxiety reveals itself not as a private emotional deficiency that can be mitigated by the false promises of anxious consumerism, but a commonly felt and identifiable ‘structure of feeling’ that cuts, unevenly, across racial and gendered lines. Following from this, the shared realization that ‘you are not alone in this dead-end job, this bottomless debt, this paralyzing depression’ can establish new propositions about the root causes of our anxieties, which can help stimulate people’s capacities for working together to build a more permanent and collective means of addressing this condition beyond the individuating and often highly inaccessible offerings of a burgeoning anxiety economy.”

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