Worry is on the rise
Social scientists are able to measure interest in a particular subject by examining google search rates. And, in the last 8 years, according to a Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, an economist, the rate of google searches for anxiety has doubled. Interestingly, Mr. Stephens-Davidowitz did not find that search rates for anxiety related topics increased after terrorist events. But unsurprisingly, economic downturn and unemployment was strongly correlated with google queries on anxiety. Hard economic times increases our apprehension. It can push them over the edge.
Anxiety disorders cover a wide range of problems, including individuals who experience panic, phobias, social anxiety, excessive worry, and nervousness that persists throughout the day. In order for worry to be diagnosed as a mental health problem, it has to significantly interfere with our day-to-day functioning. Some anxiety and worry is totally normal!
These conditions impact a large number of adults. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 18% of US adults will suffer from an anxiety disorder, with 4.1% have severe symptoms in a 12-month period. Women are 60% more likely to experience one of these conditions. The incidence is highest in 30-44-year-olds and lowest among those adults who are over 60. But, of the millions of Americans who suffer from anxiety, only 37% are receiving some kind of help.
Risk factors include having biological relatives who suffer from anxiety disorders, shyness in childhood, having few economic resources, being divorced or widowed, exposure to stressful life events in childhood or adulthood, or parental history of mental disorders. There is significant genetic loading for these conditions.
In my family, my father suffered from anxiety, and so did my brother and I. In college, I experienced panic attacks, which are episodes of severe anxiety that can come out of nowhere. Fortunately, at the time, I did seek out counseling and medication, which when combined can be especially helpful. I recognized then, that my over active nervous system required regular exercise, meditation, and relaxation in order to be in a healthy state. Over the last 30 years, I continued to practice meditation, and later, Aikido (a mind-body martial art), Yoga, and Tai Chi on a regular basis. Most people today would be surprised to know that I used to be so anxious! These practices have made an enormous difference in my life. And if you suffer from anxiety, they can help you too.
That’s the good news.
Today, we have evidence-based effective treatments for anxiety conditions including cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation skill training, and effective, safe medications. But sadly, the majority of adults either don’t seek help or don’t realize that help is available.
Common medications include anti-depressants which are particularly effective for anxiety. They reduce the tendency for an adult’s nervous system to go into overdrive in response to minor concerns. These medications can work quickly or take several weeks to kick in.
Cognitive-Behavioral therapy helps adults re-work the mind/body connection which results in our flight or fight response. Individuals learn skills and techniques for changing the way they interpret their body’s signals. They also develop greater awareness of how their thoughts affect their body. It takes a little time to learn—but it works.
Relaxation training, mindfulness meditation, and mind-body practices such as Aikido, Tai Chi Chuan, and Yoga teach adults how to calm their bodies. It takes time and practice to learn these skills (it also takes time and practice to become a good tennis player!) but they are very helpful in learning how to reduce the discomfort of anxiety.
If you have a problem with anxiety or worry, talk to your primary care provider who can steer you in the direction that is best for you.