You’re running late. You’ve got a presentation at work that has been looming for weeks and your car won’t start. Your in-laws are in town, your son just got suspended in school and your daughter is dating a boy you don’t like. You’re stressed, and understandably so. Sometimes the pressures in our life add up, and it can be a lot to handle. Don’t worry, you’re not going crazy; everyone has moments when they feel overwhelmed. But what happens when our stress and anxiety levels rise above the norm?
More confusing, what does it mean when we’re anxious without any of the above stressors being present?
Anxiety disorders are the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in the United States, affecting 18% of the population. It’s an illness that costs the country $42 billion a year and only one third of those who need help actually receive treatment. Some have even gone so far to declare anxiety disorders the “Disease of the 21st Century.”
Understanding Anxiety Disorders
An anxiety disorder is a diagnosable, treatable mental illness. Those suffering from it can experience crippling worry and fear, and there are several varieties of the illness with different symptoms.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects approximately 3.1% of the American population. Women are more likely to be affected by it than men and it’s characterized by overarching and excessive worry, concern and tension even if there is nothing specific that triggers these feelings.
Panic disorder is diagnosed in approximately 2.7% of the country’s population and is twice as common in women than in men. Panic disorders are characterized by severe “attacks” of symptoms known as anxiety attacks or panic attacks. These feelings often strike without warning and might make the individual feel like they’re having a heart attack or “going crazy.”
Another type of anxiety disorder is social anxiety or social phobia, which is diagnosed in approximately 6.8% of Americans. Individuals with this diagnosis feel overwhelmed by social situations and live with a fear of being judged by others and feeling embarrassed.
Specific phobias occur when you have a significant, irrational fear attached to a specific object or situation. Approximately 8.7% of Americans experience this type of anxiety.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are also closely linked with anxiety disorders and are sometimes characterized as them. Individuals with OCD feel compelled to complete a certain behavior to counteract a fear or obsession. PTSD describes the severe stress and anxiety felt after living through a traumatic incident.
The varying types of anxiety disorder demonstrate the complexity of this condition, making each person’s encounter with it very unique.
Anxiety is the most prevalent mental illness in the United States, but it’s also the condition most commonly diagnosed in adolescents. Typically, adolescents living with anxiety developed poor coping mechanisms as a child and therefore tend to avoid issues happening in the world around them. If this avoidance isn’t addressed, they struggle to cope with overwhelming and stressful situations as they grow older, causing their anxiety to grow.
One study, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, examined anxiety across 12 countries. It showed that, while America’s statistics were relatively steady in comparison to other regions, anxiety is rising amongst youth around the world. Even Britain’s top universities have had a dramatic increase in students seeking help for anxiety over the past decade.
So how do we begin to address these statistics? How do we help our children develop positive coping skills at a young age?
The causes of anxiety are complex and occur as a result of both mental and environmental stresses. There’s no sure way to predict whether or not someone will develop an anxiety disorder. Instead, it’s important to help your children develop coping mechanisms at a young age and to ensure they get the professional support they need if they do in fact struggle with anxiety.
Establishing routines and encouraging low-sugar, high-nutrient diets help both you and your children to feel less stressed. Getting plenty of sleep and exercise also helps the body to feel energized and refreshed. Teach your children to express their concerns in a constructive way and teach them how to manage their time and set goals towards facing any difficulties. That being said, if stress and worry appears to be insurmountable for you or child, be sure to seek the help of a mental health professional as they can show you how to manage your anxiety in a healthy way.
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