Stress, nerves, and butterflies are all sugar-coated, and common descriptions of the true culprit, anxiety. Although typically a clinically diagnosed mental illness, anxiety-like symptoms are much more common than meets the eye. Not only that, but it seems to be growing more common as the years fly by.
Whether it be seconds before your first artistic performance, anticipating test scores, or going on your first date, most everyone has experienced those gut-wrenching nerves that take over your body at the pinnacle times of your life.
What is Anxiety?
According to Mayo Clinic professionals, anxiety disorder is a “mental health disorder characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities.” There are seemingly countless symptoms when it comes to this complex mental illness; restlessness, consistent “pits” in the stomach or worried thoughts, panic attacks, and the list goes on and on. Most importantly, these symptoms can vary greatly from individual to individual.
Many are unaware that, aside from generalized disorder, “anxiety” is an umbrella-like term for other mental illnesses. To name a few, Obsessive-Compulsive disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder, and social anxiety all fall under the anxiety umbrella. Even though each case is unique in quality, this mental illness is considered “extremely” common in the United States, with over 3 million newly confirmed cases every year.
Treatments and Help
When concerns regarding anxiety come into question, many decide to meet with their physician to find ways to ease their symptoms. Many medical professionals recommend medication and if symptoms worsen, seek out a therapist or a support group. Medical Professionals from Mayo Clinic recommend at-home treatments one can do themselves in pursuit of soothing their symptoms. “Maintaining a healthy diet, physical exercise, and a regular sleep schedule” are a few ways to start this journey towards mental health.
Some have even recommended participating in activities they enjoy. Whether it be pursuing a creative outlet, enjoying your favorite comfort movie, or even going outside may help detract your mind from oncoming anxiety or panic episodes.
Receiving Official Recognition
Although this disorder is considered normalized in present-day, for decades this was not the case. Commonly dismissed as “nerves” or “stress,” many medical professionals had little to no experience with the occurrence of anxiety at that time. This has led to patients unknowingly receiving ineffective treatment for years to come.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that the American Psychiatric Association deemed it an official occurrence in individuals. The disorder was then commonly defined as “a disorder of uncontrollable and diffuse anxiety or worry that is excessive or unrealistic and lasts 1 month or longer.” (Hodge, M.D, 2004.) Since its recognition, the disorder’s definition has been updated and strengthened with considerable research over the years.
Development In Acceptance
In spite of the fact that anxiety is so common in existence, it wasn’t always accepted amongst the worldwide population. Looking back on the 19th century and after, many seemingly natural phenomena occurring in the
human nervous system could earn you a one-way ticket to a troubling place.
In countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, “asylums for the insane” were founded to house individuals of many kinds. Ranging from “interests to learn” in women, to same-sex interests, to religious/political disagreements between spouses, there were many strange events deemed by medical officials to be reason enough for lockdown. However, there was one common “illness” in most patients: “consistent worrying, panicking thoughts,” sound familiar?
Anxiety-based symptoms were one of the main green lights to send individuals away to “hospitals for the insane.” The idea that having symptoms of anxiety could send individuals away by their own family and friends is a disturbing event to witness when looking back on our history. Although asylums and wards exist to this day, it’s truly eye-opening to realize where most individuals would be if it weren’t for the dedication of medical researchers and advocates over the last century.
A World of Panic
Since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, mental illnesses have seen an exponential rise in prevalence. This statement holds no shock factor, however, as many would agree the world has experienced a viral state of fear and discomfort since the start of 2020. It was reported by the World Health Organization that disorders such as anxiety and depression have increased by 25% worldwide in the pandemic’s first year alone. But what has caused this?
Simply speaking, the reality of a death-causing disease can be extremely stress-inducing. Many have found that the worry about others and your own well-being can take quite a toll, both mentally and physically. Especially when most of that time is spent indoors unable to distract from those thoughts. Many educators and young individuals found themselves home from school for months, resorting to gaining their education via a computer screen.
This results in a common, isolating feeling felt by those who spend large sums of time stuck indoors. Although the lockdown has ended, for now, this hasn’t diminished the anxiety-like symptoms felt by those worldwide. The virus is still prevalent, people are still losing their lives, and some have found that after a lack of social interaction, reintroduction of it has created social anxiety. Funnily enough, many individuals have found stress in their own decisions made during the lockdown. Many who adopted furry friends have found that leaving them behind when returning to their careers has induced severe panic and anxiety.
Since that scientific study in 2021, anxiety and depression symptoms found in individuals have been driven upwards to between 36% and 42%.
A Familiar Feeling
The last pandemic experience that struck occurred over a decade ago with the introduction of Influenza A ((H1N1)pdm09) in 2009. Considered to be a more complex version of H2N2 in 1958, and H3N2 a decade later, this flu-laced virus took hold of around 151,700-575,400 million lives in just a year. Affecting young children and young adults, many with previous exposure to flu-like illnesses were thankfully immune. It was in August of 2010 that a cure was founded and the pandemic was deemed finished.
Although the total of deaths worldwide is considerably bleaker in contrast to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the hold it has on individuals is extremely persistent. Regardless of the various developments in vaccinations a year later, there still came a scary realization: no one is safe.
When the viral illness first arrived in the United States and made its way around the globe, no human being had been exposed to this type of sickness in our history. This meant that no matter what flu, cold, cough, or “stomach bug” you’ve had before, there was no decision in regards to the immunity factor. This created an uproar, store shelves were emptied and shutters were drawn.
A Lot Is Happening
In spite of the fact that there’s an ongoing pandemic worldwide, there seems to be an overload of negative events, occurrences, incidents, etc. One of the prevalent added stressors in the United States was that of the 2020 election. Millions of individuals, worldwide, watched in anticipation. After four long years of negative consequences, many bit their nails in fear of what may happen.
Following the election, however, there were a multitude of riots caused by those who disagreed with the results. One of the most damaging occurred in the capital in January of 2021, causing trauma for many officials involved. It seemed as though there were many more anxieties to come.
Since the start of the pandemic, and years before then, there have been many anxiety-causing occurrences that, believe it or not, have had an effect on individuals who listen. Detriments to the globe from climate change, deforestation, devastating fires, and animal endangerment (to name a few,) have caused many to feel underlying anxiety because of the havoc humans have caused on our planet. Not to mention the multiple mass shootings that have taken place over the years, as after the heartbreaking deaths that occurred in Uvalde, Texas, young survivors as young as ten years old have expressed extreme fear and anxiety when it comes to attending school in the future.
A Lot Is Happening (In Our Heads)
Although many of these occurrences are huge and have collectively affected individuals all over the globe, some anxieties can occur internally. Some with naturally occurring anxiety have experienced it since birth, with no large causes to put it into effect. When medical professionals call it “irrational worry,” in most cases, that’s what it truly is. Unfortunately, many who are afflicted can suffer from feeling isolated, and they don’t want to worry anyone with thoughts that seemingly appear out of absolutely nowhere.
Many have argued that anxiety is one of the most “aggravating” illnesses to have, as many causes are unknown and not completely irreversible. Many individuals, especially from a young age, have felt “suffocated” due to feeling dismissed by friends, family, and loved ones. Many with anxiety have become a target for bullying in school. Accused of “faking it,” or perhaps “looking for attention.” This has caused a feeling in most to push away their issues, no matter how excruciatingly valid they may feel.
Even medical physicians have refused to diagnose individuals. Many individuals, including myself, have received ill-fitting diagnoses, with medical professionals keeping to the same old terms such as “nerves” and “stress.” This can be extremely frustrating for those who don’t display the most common forms of anxiety. Receiving advice like “you should get more sleep,” and “remember to take deep breaths” doesn’t help at all in some situations.
Normalization In The Media
For many decades, naturally occurring mental states such as depression, eating disorders, various mood disorders, and anxiety have been hushed by the media. Many in the spotlight wanted to keep these traits on the down low in order to gain a reputation of perfection, and generally gain a wider audience. However, as time went on, many spectators began to notice when famous individuals would drop this perfect facade. Soon enough, the sleazy paparazzi headlines became more realistic.
Over the last five years or so, with everything happening around us, many individuals in the spotlight have become more open about their lives at home. Since the founding of YouTube, Vine, Instagram, and Tik Tok, many of these people aren’t celebrities you may find on stage or on the big screen, but everyday individuals like you and me.
Another key factor is that many individuals gaining fame are significantly younger. Speaking out about creative burnout, depression, thoughts of suicide, and anxiety, these figures have begun taking steps towards normalizing mental illness. Using their platforms to speak out about not only mental disorders but issues that can lead in this direction. Bullying, hateful speech, discrimination against race and the LGBTQIA+ community, body image, etc.
With the rise of mental health talk in the media, there is a rise of awareness regarding it through several demographics. The concept that only young people are in tune with this topic is becoming a false statement. Talk shows, news organizations, and sports channels have shown that even individuals like Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles have mental health issues in spite of their successes. With awareness spreading to an extreme variety of individuals, many are beginning to find comfort with their ability to openly discuss their issues at the dinner table.
From an outside perspective, it does sound a little silly that it takes a famous, or well-known, individual to speak out about these issues in order to spread awareness about them. Nevertheless, it may be what it takes to reach an individual discovering themselves, ones who may not be able to find solace at the dinner table with their loved ones. To help that person, whether they be in their teens or late eighties, feel heard by someone they idolize or look up to can start a ripple in the harsh waves of life. To help someone, anyone, feel less isolated can be a wonderful thing.
When faced with the information and observations regarding anxiety, clearly the increase in awareness has done a lot of positive things for affected individuals. Although in spite of these great leaps and bounds made to bring this awareness, there are still going to be hardships for those who endure this mental illness. However, the change in normalcy has made a large impact on how people feel in regard to anxiety disorders and has made efforts to educate those who are unaware of them.
In light of the dark things we may have to encounter in the future, it is comforting to know communities can have a more open discussion about difficult topics. To find solace and comfort in the fact that no one is ever as lonely as they seem. In short, to feel validated and understood, even just a little, is a truly beautiful thing.