Ah, anxiety. This is a topic I could talk about forever mainly because I've seen so much of it in my practice and I witness anxiety becoming more preveleant in America by the day. Anxiety is a tricky issue because it's something that almost everyone can relate to on some level and often starts off as "that annoying feeling before a presentation". However that feeling can spiral and we are now looking at statistics that say that anxiety disorders "affect 18.1 percent of adults in the United States (approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 18 to 54)" - National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).Apr 25, 2017. For reference, just last year the population in the state of California reached 39.5 million. This means that the United States could pack almost all of it's anxiety into a very large state. I say "almost all" because many anxiety disorders often go unreported and untreated.
Why? Many clients go through life with "high functioning anxiety", which means that they can still go about their daily lives and do fairly well (they hold jobs, have families, relationships, have homes, etc.) The problem with this though is that they suffer. Many of my past clients have characterized high functioning anxiety as "unrelenting and paralyzing". Others will say that they've found a way to adapt and "just live with it", but often feel like they aren't living a life that is meaningful because they are held hostage by their anxiety. Clients will even tell me that living with their anxiety and tolerating it brings up feelings of depression and hopelessness because functioning in high level of anxiety 24/7 can be and is exhausting.
Culture plays a role: previous generations have given us the motto of "just deal with it, other people have it worse". Objectively we can see the truth in this, but when you suffer from anxiety this line of thinking isn't helpful because it doesn't take YOU and how you feel into account. It doesn't leave space to validate your experience and often creates feelings of shame and guilt on top of the anxiousness. We also have a culture that thrives off of smart phones and social media. Social media can be a powerful tool to foster connections or it can be a weapon that creates unrealistic standards that we then compare our lives to. We are bombarded on a daily basis and sometimes it feels like we can't catch a break. Cue the anxiety!
The other challenge that anxiety can present is that it can appear helpful. Sometimes a healthy amount of anxiety helps us to get things done. That nagging feeling can prompt you to start the presentation, make a phone call or finish those emails. After all, anxiety is biologically predetermined and helped us survive back in the good ole' caveman days. Think about it: you are back in time just doing your best to hunt and gather when out of nowhere you spot a mammoth charging straight for you. In this scenario if you don't have some degree of anxiety you die. However, if you do experience anxiety, this prompts you to run, hide or get to safety and you live. Clearly anxiety has served us (I mean, we're all here, right?), but the issue is that we don't live in a world with mammoths charging us anymore. Now our threatening situations are the "ping" of an email, the bill in the mail, a friend calling to set up plans, or heck, even just making every day decisions. What was once healthy, helpful anxiety has become a deep fear that we strive to avoid despite the costs to our wellbeing.
For millions of Americans anxiety can become overwhelming and difficult to manage on their own. If you find anxiety causing increased distress or impairing your ability to function in daily living it's time to find professional support. Anxiety may continue to be a presence in your life and you can have the tools to manage and respond to it differently.