Over the past few decades, talk about anxiety has grown much more prevalent. This is true, not only among young people, but our communities as a whole. While it is possible that the rise of anxiety is real, it is also important to consider that we, as a society, are simply more comfortable discussing it.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is characterized by worry and nervousness. It is an uneasy feeling of uncertain outcome. Anxiety disorders are conditions in which someone experiences frequent, powerful bouts of anxiety that interfere with their life. When we talk about being anxious, we are usually trying to convey that we are very concerned or worried, though it can also refer to being quite interested in something.

Anxiety disorders carry a variety of symptoms, the most common being excessive and intrusive worrying that disrupts daily functioning. Other common signs of anxiety include agitation, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, tense muscles and trouble sleeping. Anxiety attacks can happen abruptly, and usually reach a peak within 10 minutes of occuring.  Many attacks last from 20 to 30 minutes and can happen anywhere and at any time.

Anxiety Disorders

There are numerous specific anxiety disorders affecting our society. Some of the most common are listed below.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – persistent and excessive worrying about numerous things, especially life issues. Individuals with GAD tend to have frequent episodes of nervousness, tension and worry. GAD affects about 6.8 million American adults a year. They tend to have feelings of dread or impending doom, expecting the worst to happen.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – excessive thoughts that lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions). People with OCD are overcome with the desire to perform particular rituals over and over again. Common compulsions include habitual hand washing, counting or checking something repeatedly.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – anxiety stemming from a traumatic event. Episodes can be triggered without warning and include feelings of detachment and numbness. Nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive memories from traumatic experiences typically occur.

Social Anxiety – the fear of social interactions, more specifically, that of being negatively judged and evaluated by other people. About 15 million American adults live with social anxiety disorder, according to the ADAA. The typical age at onset is around 13 years-old. Thirty-six percent of patients wait a decade or more before actually pursuing help.

Phobias are also anxiety disorders. Common phobias include fear of tight spaces (claustrophobia) and fear of heights (acrophobia). Phobias create powerful urges to avoid the feared objects or situations.

Illness Anxiety Disorder – also known as hypochondriasis or health anxiety, is worrying excessively that one is or may become seriously ill, despite good health, in most cases.

Separation Anxiety – refers to excessive fear of being separated from someone or something, such as a parent or a beloved pet. Children with separation anxiety find it difficult to think about anything but their present fear of separation. It may manifest in the form of nightmares or bring about regular physical complaints, commonly making children reluctant to go to school or other places.

Panic Disorder causes panic attacks which are sudden episodes of intense fear and physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, trouble breathing, dizziness, sweating and trembling. The state of panic is rooted in perceived danger, instead actual threats.

Contributing Factors

There is much debate over what can and does cause anxiety disorders. Exact causes remain largely unknown. Common external factors that can induce a rise of anxiety include stress from personal relationships, school, work, finances and emotional trauma like being bullied, harassed or isolated. There are also a number of medical conditions and medications that cause anxiety.

Social Media and Anxiety

It has been shown that approximately 30 percent of users are plugged into social media for 15 or more hours per week. Researchers are finding that the use of social media, particularly in excess, can greatly impact our mental health. There is a sociological trend of people becoming less comfortable in social situations and more likely to avoid face-to-face conversations.

“With (social media), it’s all about self-image — who’s ‘liking’ them, who’s watching them, who clicked on their picture,” said Marco Grados, associate professor of psychiatry and clinical director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital. 

Let’s take into consideration the images that social media users compare themselves to. They are typically the poster’s favorites of many pictures taken. The photos on social media are frequently edited to showcase whatever qualities the poster likes about themselves, while concealing features they do not like. This is referred to as “showing their highlight reel.”

It is normal to want to succeed. However, putting unnecessary pressure on our bodies and minds adds to stress and anxiety. More often than not, comparison is the thief of joy. It’s worth mentioning, though, that social media can have positive effects on self esteem as well. Many online users find acceptance, friendship and a sense of belonging. Just remember to love the amazing person you are and all that you have to offer.

You are not Alone

If you suffer from an anxiety disorder, be assured that you are not alone. The number of celebrities who use their platforms to raise awareness of mental health issues, including anxiety disorders, is constantly growing.

Recently, Selena Gomez spoke publicly about her fight with anxiety and depression, transparently vocalizing, “I think it’s a battle I’m gonna have to face for the rest of my life, and I’m okay with that because I know that I’m choosing myself over anything else… I want to make sure I’m healthy. If that’s good, everything else will fall into place.” Gomez stated, “if you are broken, you do not have to stay broken.” She went on to stress the importance of seeking help. 

Another star who speaks openly about anxiety is actor Ryan Reynolds. “I’ll look for the jokes in things, so that I don’t look for the sadness and grief,” said Reynolds. He stresses how he has always dealt with anxiety and credits his wife, Blake Lively, for being a constant support system. 

Feeling Anxious… Now What?

Don’t give up your own life and interests. Engage yourself in hobbies and things you love for a break from the stresses of daily life.

“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” – Walter Anderson

Maintain a healthy support system. While anxiety is the forecenter, it may seem easier to recluse away from social interactions, family activities and employment. Having friends and family to confide is vital in remembering that you are loved and not alone.

Take care of yourself. Maintain a healthy diet, centered around nutritious foods. Exercise regularly – three to five times a week is plenty. Rest is incredibly important in any self-care routine. Prioritize getting the recommended amount of sleep each night, based on your age.

Many people find mindfulness practices very beneficial. Try taking a walk outside and pay attention to what you see, hear and smell – it’s a great way to stay present. Pay attention to your breath, too. Breathing techniques are a good way to lower your heart rate and calm down. Breathe slowly, deeply and deliberately, inhaling through your nose, exhaling from your mouth.

Remember that you are always stronger and more capable than you give yourself credit for. Below are a few more suggestions on coping with anxiety.

  • Keep a journal to notate your ups and downs throughout the day. You can use your notes to understand triggers and trends.
  • Take a social media break, either during a specific time of the day or for a number of days.
  • Listen to music that energizes you or makes you happy. 
  • Ask your doctor about treatment options. Many options available today don’t require medications, focusing instead, on talk therapy and lifestyle changes.

“Anxiety is like waves at a beach, you see it coming and it is massive and there’s nothing you can do about it. Ride the wave until it passes. Refocus your thoughts, energy and take deep breaths.” – Dr. Keita Joy

Getting involved in community is a profoundly powerful tool. Try to shift your focus from how bad you feel, to how you can help someone else. Our brains are wired to feel reward when we give or serve. Give sincere compliments. Help others feel welcome and accepted.

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