BrainCraft

S4 E26 | FULL EPISODE

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.

AIRED: September 19, 2018 | 0:04:41
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TRANSCRIPT

[music playing]

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

mental state.

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

of anxiety.

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

gene.

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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