Date of Award

Summer 8-11-2017

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis



Degree Name

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)




Owen Smith

Second Committee Member

Susan Smith

Third Committee Member

Laurie Hicks


Would you believe me if I suffered from anxiety? It’s true, for my whole life I have been afflicted with anxiety, a fear of doing new things. Imagine living scared of moving out your personal comfort zone. Imagine being so scared of trying new things that you refused to try anything new at all? That is what it’s like to live with anxiety.

Starting new opportunities and doing new things have always made me deathly afraid. Every time I would think about what I was about to do, I would get really nervous, my stomach would tighten up into a knot and grow butterflies and I would start sweating. The same thoughts would ring throughout my head every time I went somewhere for the first time: What happens when I go? What happens if I don’t go? What am I going to do when I get there? All these questions made me very nervous and my palms clammy. For approximately the first ten years the anxiety paralyzed me to the point where I was terrified to try anything new and different.

QP, age 19 years old, written for a college English class in 2017

Society is becoming more stressed and anxious and the cultural conditions for trigger events hover like an invisible presence waiting to strike the unwary. Through my creative practice I have been exploring themes of stress and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) in my personal and professional life to help me understand the cultural impact of stress and SAD on human behavior. This investigation was prompted by my challenge to help adolescents in my personal and professional life who experienced related symptoms. SAD is the fear of negative evaluation by others, which links to cultural dependent roles, social standards and peer pressure. Perceived failures, dread and worry over upcoming events, self-consciousness and center of attention play a role in this disorder, which can lead to depression and social alienation, (Dove, 2015).

Good stress is about hope when the biological purpose of stress was to save mammals from predators. Perceived threats of danger would trigger the amygdala, the brain’s watchdog to release ‘fight or flight’ stress responders and the body’s self-protection mechanism would fight or run for survival. The ‘fight or flight’ response is about survival, and the struggle to live. We activate it because we believe there's a chance we can outrun or outfight our attackers. After the threat passes the responders turn off.

However, in our culture, the human predator is the perceptions we have of ourselves, and how we respond to our culture. Perceptions are fueled by the Internet and social media, which have the potential to increase SAD and stress symptoms. The problem arises when the stress responders are not turned off, and often humans do not know when or how to turn off the stress responders, resulting in compromised physical, emotional and social health.

Anxiety is a product of stress and it continues long after the stress responders have been triggered. Stress and anxiety are an invisible danger lurking in the corners of our perceptions. Although most humans have had good and bad stress in their lives, very few understand the relationships and its impact. Chronic bad stress can shrink our brains and kill. The hormones released can change the way nerves fire, and send circuits into a dangerous feedback loop, (Heminway, Sapolsky, 2008) (Mercola, 2014).

Today anxiousness has been described as a sociological condition embedded in our culture, and linked to a deep-seated unease associated with perceptions of risk and the unknown. The fear of risk and the unknown is increased by an online digital presence that produces an unconscious repetitive behavior of watching and checking-in with cell phones and emails. Humans underestimate the impact of stress and it is common to think that stress and anxieties can be handled. It is naive to assume one can plan for unknown risk factors. Personal perceptions of stress and anxiety are invisible threads of emotions that hover like a dark cloud waiting for a trigger event to attack body and mind. Although the triggers seem obscure the experience is real.

Files over 10MB may be slow to open. For best results, right-click and select "save as..."