By Joanne Pallotta, Tufts Medical Center Correspondent
Who doesn’t feel a little stressed out these days? You’ve got too many places to be, too much work on your plate, and then, there’s the pressure of social media looming large! But, what’s going on when that stress interferes with your life - when you actually start experiencing overwhelming fear or apprehension about something or someone? It could be anxiety.
The good news is that you can curb it and the New Year is a good time to start.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the most common of all mental disorders and is thought to affect up to 20% of the world’s population, according to David Adler, MD, Senior Psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Tufts Medical Center. “We need to differentiate between anxiety as a normal emotion (along with sadness, anger, fear and joy) and anxiety as a disorder. Anxiety is an umbrella term for a collection of nebulous emotions characterized by a number of unpleasant emotions, particularly, worry.”
“There is no question that societal expectations and demands have contributed to the degree of anxiety felt by a person,” says Dr. Adler. But, other factors, such as genetics, medical issues, brain chemistry, or substance abuse/withdrawal can play into these feelings as well.
What about different seasons or the time of year? Dr. Adler says anxiety doesn’t go by a calendar. “Though, all emotional problems are felt more at significant marker events and holidays.”
Dr. Adler adds there is a debate about whether or why anxiety is greater these days than in the past eras. “Not only are we more educated [about mental disorders], but our ‘wired’ world has shifted cultural expectations.”
Who does anxiety affect?
Anyone is the short answer, since it is a normal emotion! While we use the term “anxiety” to try and define the disorder, there are various categories of anxiety symptoms: general anxiety disorder, separation anxiety, social anxiety, specific phobias, and panic disorder.
Dr. Adler says that anxiety is common at all ages but more so in those between the ages of 18 and 34. Anxiety tends to be twice as prevalent in women compared to men (except for social anxiety, where the prevalence is the same, regardless of gender). The average age for the beginning of all anxiety disorders is around 11.
Dr. Adler points to an interesting fact: “There is data that indicates that children are having increasing anxiety, again, likely as a result of societal expectation factors (including ‘screen time’).”
Tips for managing anxiety
There are a number simple ways to manage any anxiety in your life, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA). Healthy living, exercise, and social support are potential paths, as well as:
- Eating well-balanced meals
- Limiting caffeine and alcohol use
- Getting a good night’s sleep
- Taking deep breaths
- Laughing a little
Dr. Adler also suggests that people consider being less “wired” – taking time away from all of those devices. On a broader scale, he suggests employers try to strike a more balanced workplace to assist employees with their personal lives.
“When other approaches have failed and symptoms interfere with functioning, it may be time to consider therapy or medication under the supervision of a qualified health professional,” says Dr. Adler.
Don't ignore anxiety
If your anxiety is interfering with your functioning or causing you excessive emotional distress, see your primary care physician right away. There are plenty of free screenings that can quickly pinpoint the degree of anxiety that you may be feeling. “There are a number of successful short and longer term psychological treatments as well as pharmacologic approaches to treating anxiety,” says Dr. Adler. Diagnosing your anxiety can dictate your treatment and get you on to a more positive, worry-free life.
Published January 2020
The above content is provided for educational purposes by Tufts Medical Center. It is free for educational use. For information about your own health, contact your physician.