Why Are We More Anxious Than Ever Before?
Let's take a look at some of the genetic and environmental factors that can lead to increased anxiety. Beyond that, it's SO complex and a variety of other factors lead to us experiencing different levels of anxiety. Do you feel more anxious? Why? Still, there are ways we can practice self care (meditating, exercising, limiting caffeine intake) to help be more of a warrior and less of a worrier.
In the past few years, I've noticed people
talking about anxiety a lot.
And this is a great thing.
There's a lot of stigma surrounding
mental illness and a lackof education and awareness
about what is and what is not a normal and healthy
But I'm also a little worried.
A recent poll came out from the American Psychiatric
Association that foundthat 39% of American adults
are more anxious now than theywere this time was last year.
So what's going on?
Why are we more anxious now than ever before?
In any given year, about 20% of Americans
experience mental illness, including
major depression, bipolar disorder,
or generalized anxiety disorder.
Mental illnesses areconfusing and hard to treat.
And I just want to say up front, if you
think that you mighthave an anxiety disorder,
please speak about it with a medical professional.
To diagnose generalized anxiety disorder,
medical professionals usecriteria listed in the DSM-5.
Some of the criteria mentionhow a patient's worrying should
be excessive and difficult to control
and how the effects are bad enough
to impact the rest of their life.
While these criteria are beingused in clinical settings,
researchers are trying tofind out what causes anxiety.
If you've seen Americanpharmaceutical commercials,
you've probably heard of theculprit "a chemical imbalance
in the brain."
That's not a very informative phrase.
But it turns out it might notbe that far from the truth.
With genetic testing becomingmore and more affordable,
scientists are identifying someof the genetic underpinnings
One gene, the COMT gene, has two common variants.
If you have one variant, you're able to clear
dopamine from the brain fasterthan if you have the other.
People with this variant are better
at handling adverse situationsand are named "warriors."
People with other variantclear dopamine more slowly
and may be better atmemory or attention tasks.
But in high-stress situations, they don't do well.
They've been cold "worriers."
It's why COMT is sometimescalled the worrier/warrior
And it gives us some indication of why
otherwise smart, ambitious, and hardworking people
might fall apart under pressure, while others
seem to do their best work in the worst situations,
though genetics can't explain every case of anxiety.
No matter what your genes look like,
there's still an environmental factor.
Groundbreaking study done by the CDC in the '90s
looked at the impact ofadverse childhood experiences
on long-term health.
The study found that childhoodtrauma, such as abuse, neglect,
or abandonment, was linked to mental, behavioral,
and even physical health problems later in life.
For example, people with threeor more adverse childhood
experiences report more anxiety.
But even if you had the perfect childhood,
stresses as an adult cantrigger anxiety issues, too.
In the poll I mentioned, the one that
found that 39% of American adults
are more anxious todaythan they were a year ago,
many factors contributed to the rise in anxiety.
The greatest increase was inanxiety about paying bills.
Following that, people were the most
anxious about their health,particularly if they didn't
have private health insurance.
And then they were anxiousabout their safety and politics.
What polls like this captureis how we feel about clearly
defined things, like our bills,our health, or an increasingly
polarized political climate.
So we can say, yes, people seem to be worrying more
about these things in their life.
This might not be at a clinical level.
But it does contribute to higher levels of stress.
And if you're an anxious person already,
you may be particularlysensitive to these stresses.
There are things that we dounderstand about anxiety,
like some underlying geneticand environmental factors.
Beyond that, the brain and the world
are insanely complicated, as isa clear picture of every factor
that contributes to anxiety.
Though for now, outsideof professional treatment,
there are things we know can help.
Regular exercise, meditation, talking with friends,
and limiting my caffeine consumption
has helped me worry less.
So please take your mental health seriously.
And don't just do it for yourself.
Please do it for me, too, because I
worry about you guys--
worry, worry, warrior, worrier.
I'm somewhere in between.
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