Ask artist Gemma Correll, and she’ll tell you living with anxiety is like living in a real-life horror movie. Actually, don’t ask her — simply click on her recent comic book-style illustrations and you’ll see an anxiety attack can begin when someone decides to call you instead of text. The illustrations are based on Correll’s own “anxieties and neuroticisms,” she told Mashable; she herself has been diagnosed with clinical anxiety and depression. Not only does finding the humor in her situation help her cope, but it doubles as education for other people who have no experience with these disorders.
Consider the list here an extension of that — education. Who does anxiety typically affect? When does it present itself? What treatment is available? Is there still stigma? Ultimately, a deeper understanding of anxiety disorders will make it easier for people like Correll to open up about their struggles, and show others their anxieties are nothing to be ashamed of. Greater visibility leads to greater social support.
1. EVERYBODY’S ANXIOUS
Anxiety disorders are the most common class of mental disorders in the general population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC cites most disorders are more prevalent in women than in men, with an estimated lifetime prevalence of 15 percent for any anxiety disorder.
2. DIFFERENT TYPES
There are six main types of the disorder: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports most people develop symptoms of anxiety disorders before age 21, each of which will vary with the specific type of anxiety. Generally speaking, you may have a disorder if you constantly feel on edge, experience insomnia, shortness of breath, a pounding heart, and sweat.
The prevalence of anxiety is greater in developed countries than in developing countries, with the United States considered to be the most anxious nation on Earth — at least that’s how Orion Jones put it in his article for Big Think. Jones considers the two main contributing factors: one being how conflated Americans’ identities have become with material goods, followed by the myth of meritocracy — a society governed by people selected on the basis of their ability.
Scientists believe the two underlying causes of anxiety disorders are genetics and stress, according to NAMI. Studies have shown some families have a higher-than-average number of members with anxiety-related issues, which would suggest disorders possibly run in the family. Anxiety disorders can also be the result of stressful or traumatic events, such as abuse and the death of a loved one.
6. BRAIN GAME
Anxiety disorders are associated with low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter researchers believe is responsible for maintaining mood balance; an otherwise deficit is associated with the development of depression. But a 2015 study published in the Journal of Pharmacology found the anxiety disorder may cause lower levels of serotonin, not the other way around. Further research needs to be done, but if confirmed, this could recategorize the disorders, and possibly lead to new treatments.
7. TREATMENT PLANS
For now, NAMI lists three main treatments for anxiety: psychotherapy, prescription medication, and “complementary health approaches,” including stress and relaxation techniques. The type of treatment, as we mentioned with symptoms, will vary depending on a person’s specific disorder. For more ways to manage anxiety, click here.
8. EFFECTIVE THERAPY
In in order for therapy to be effective, the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) at the National Institutes of Health recommends therapy be tailored to a person’s individual anxieties, adding “a typical ‘side effect’ is temporary discomfort involved with thinking about confronting feared situations.”
Anti-anxiety medication is prescribed to help reduce the symptoms of anxiety, which can include panic attacks, extreme worry, and/or fear, NIMH reported. The most commonly prescribed medications are called benzodiazepines, followed by beta-blockers and antidepressants, namely selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Many fear medications will put them in a daze or make them feel like a zombie, but this can be avoided when the right type and dose is worked out with a health care provider.
10. GETTING DIAGNOSED
NAMI reports anxiety symptoms can be easily confused with medical conditions, such as heart disease and hyperthyroidism. “Therefore, a doctor will likely perform a careful evaluation involving a physical examination, an interview, and order lab tests.”
11. WHAT NOT TO SAY
Here’s what not to do if someone has anxiety: don’t make assumptions or recommendations because if you’re not their doctor, medically speaking, you don’t know what’s right for them. Also don’t recommend things, like yoga or meditation — these may be helpful on a daily basis, but less so during an anxiety attack.
12. WHEN ANXIETY HURTS MOST
In a trends report from the Crisis Text Line, a subsidiary of the non-profit organization Do Something, data revealed teens were most affected by anxiety at 9 p.m. at night; there’s a spike around 8 a.m., where teens go on to maintain pretty even levels throughout the day before experiencing another spike at 8 p.m., which lasts through midnight.
13. COLLEGE ANXIETY
NAMI’s “College Students Speak: A Survey Report on Mental Health” found 11 percent of college students struggled with anxiety. Of the students who reported experiencing a mental health crisis while in college, 73 percent listed reasons like extreme feelings of anxiety, panic, and depression about school and life.
Mental illness remains stigmatized around the globe. In 2000, a study published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice found “people with genuine anxiety disorders can be misdiagnosed and mismanaged, because of negative public and professional attitudes.” And while it may be to a lesser extent today, this is still a reality. Psychology Today reported stigma can result in exclusion, poor social support, poor quality of life, and low self-esteem among those with anxiety disorders.
15. YOU’RE NOT BROKEN
Like we said, gaining a deeper understanding of what anxiety disorders are and aren’t is the first step toward reduced stigma, followed by inviting those who struggle in silence to come forward and get help. Improving attitudes toward people with mental health problems, as well as increasing future willingness to disclose problems and promise anti-stigma behavior could very well make this a reality.