Why Everyone is So Anxious?

You may be more aware of depression, but the truth is that anxiety disorders are the most common mental health conditions in the world. This group of disorders-  which includes social anxiety, general anxiety, panic disorder, and phobias – affects around 19% of adults and 7% of children1 in the United States according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Most anxiety disorders include a spectrum of both physical and emotional symptoms. These can include but are not limited to:

  • A feeling of dread
  • Hyper-alertness/vigilance
  • Feeling jittery or jumpy
  • Poor sleep
  • Chest tightness
  • Tremors
  • Nausea and diarrhea

People who suffer from an anxiety disorder may have these kinds of symptoms periodically or persistently – but they usually experience them often enough to decrease their quality of life.

The question of why anxiety disorders are so common is an important one. Genetics may play some role. Large population studies have determined that around 30% of diagnosed cases are likely inherited.2 In reality, the percent may be higher, but many cases of anxiety arise from an interaction of genes with environment.  For example, under conditions of significant childhood trauma, individuals with certain genetic markers will produce much higher cortisol levels which in turn triggers latent anxiety traits.

Environment alone may also be enough without predisposing genetics. The recent COVID-19 epidemic served as an unfortunate, spontaneous experiment in the effects of an acute stress on large population. During 2021 alone, hundreds of studies evaluated exacerbations of and new onset of mental health disorders. Anxiety disorders far and away topped the list across diverse populations, with levels being highest amongst health care workers, students, teachers, and parents.3

The most common first intervention in anxiety disorders is often a benzodiazepine such as alprazolam (Xanax®), diazepam (Valium®),or lorazepam (Ativan®). While these drugs can be helpful, - especially when coupled with appropriate therapy – the associated risk for addiction and self-harm are high. While opiate addiction may have received more press, prescription benzodiazepine deaths increased 22% during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the same period, deaths from Illicit benzodiazepine use increased 520%.1

The time to find new solutions to helping those with anxiety – safer and better solutions – is overdue.

 

References:

  1. Anxiety Disorders | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed March 30, 2022. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
  2. Gottschalk MG, Domschke K. Genetics of generalized anxiety disorder and related traits. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2017;19(2):159-168.
  3. Saeed H, Eslami A, Nassif NT, Simpson AM, Lal S. Anxiety Linked to COVID-19: A Systematic Review Comparing Anxiety Rates in Different Populations. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(4):2189. doi:10.3390/ijerph19042189