According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 300 million people worldwide have an anxiety disorder, making it the most prevalent mental health condition. This represents approximately 3.6% of the global population. But, it’s important to note that this figure only includes individuals with a diagnosable disorder — so the percentage of people who experience anxiety to some extent is likely much higher. Everyone gets anxious at some point, but the question remains: does everyone have anxiety, or is it limited to a specific group of individuals?
Everyday anxiety VS. a disorder
Anxiety is a normal and natural human emotion that can manifest in many different ways. It’s an adaptive response to stress or danger, which can help us prepare for potential threats and keep ourselves safe. But when symptoms becomes excessive and uncontrollable, it can interfere with daily life and lead to significant distress, characterized as an anxiety disorder.
Many people experience anxiety at some point in their lives. It’s a universal human experience, and research suggests it’s a natural response to the stresses and uncertainties of life. However, the manifestation of anxiety can vary between individuals depending on their personality, upbringing, and other factors. And, the severity and frequency of symptoms can vastly differ between individuals.
A range of situations, such as public speaking, social situations, financial difficulties, or health concerns, can trigger anxiety. It can also appear as physical symptoms, such as sweating, trembling, increased heart rate, or difficulty breathing. Cognitive symptoms are also common such as excessive worry, negative self-talk, or catastrophic thinking. While these symptoms can be distressing, they are a normal part of the human experience and don’t necessarily indicate a mental health disorder.
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health conditions worldwide. They include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. These conditions can be debilitating and require treatment to manage symptoms effectively.
Despite the prevalence of anxiety disorders, not everyone who experiences anxiety has a diagnosable mental health condition. It can be a temporary emotion that arises in response to specific situations or events. These feelings are typically short-lived and subside once the stressor has passed. In contrast, anxiety disorders involve persistent and excessive worry and fear that can significantly impair daily functioning. People with anxiety disorders may experience intrusive thoughts or images that are difficult to control, leading to avoidance behaviours and impaired functioning.
One key factor determining whether someone develops a disorder is their genetic predisposition. Environmental factors, such as childhood trauma, chronic stress, or substance abuse, can increase the risk of developing a disorder. Cultural and societal factors also play a role in the experience of anxiety.
The rise of anxiety in societal culture
You may have recently noticed an increased presence of anxiety in our society over the last decade or so. Why does it seem like everyone has anxiety? Several factors may contribute to the increased prevalence in newer generations, including social media, economic insecurity, academic pressure, family and societal expectations, and increased awareness and diagnosis. Not to mention, the COVID-19 pandemic brought stress and trauma to many people worldwide. Additionally, mental health stigma has decreased, making people more likely to seek help and speak openly about their mental health experiences. This openness increases awareness and transparency, creating the impression that more people are experiencing anxiety than in the past. These factors are why it may feel like everyone has anxiety.
Anxiety VS. Worry
Anxiety and worry are often spoken about interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. While both anxiety and worry can be distressing, they are different experiences requiring different approaches.
Worry is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. It’s a thought pattern that involves a negative prediction or expectation about the future. Worrying can be helpful in some cases, as it can motivate people to take action to prevent adverse outcomes. For example, worrying about a deadline might inspire someone to start working on a project earlier to avoid last-minute stress. However, excessive worry can become problematic when it interferes with daily life. People who struggle with chronic worry may find themselves unable to relax, preoccupied with their concerns, and experiencing physical symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, and insomnia.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is a broader term that refers to a group of related conditions involving excessive fear or worry and can take many forms. The critical difference between anxiety and worry is that anxiety involves a physiological response. In contrast, worry is primarily a cognitive process. When people experience anxiety, their bodies go into a state of high arousal, activating the fight-or-flight response. This can cause physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, and shortness of breath. Specific events or situations can trigger anxiety or a more general sense of unease or dread.
Tools for managing symptoms
Both anxiety and worry can be distressing experiences that interfere with daily life. However, identifying key differences between the two can help guide treatment and management strategies. For example, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is an effective therapy for treating excessive worry by helping people learn to identify and challenge negative thought patterns. On the other hand, exposure therapy effectively treats disorders by gradually assisting people in confronting their fears in a safe and controlled environment. In some cases, medication may also help manage symptoms. Those dealing with anxiety can use antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to reduce the symptoms of the disorder. At the same time, sleep aids or beta-blockers may be used to manage the physical symptoms of worry.
If you have been feeling more anxious lately, here are some ways you can manage your symptoms:
- Deep Breathing: Practice deep breathing exercises as they can help reduce stress and symptoms. Slowly inhale through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth.
- Exercise: Exercise can help reduce symptoms and improve your overall well-being. Regular physical activity can also release endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals. Research suggests that yoga can be a great and accessible way to manage discomfort.
- Mindfulness Meditations: Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you manage symptoms by focusing on the present moment and increasing your awareness of your thoughts and feelings.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute.
- Sleep: Getting enough sleep is essential for managing symptoms. Lack of sleep can lead to increased stress and anxiety.
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake: Both caffeine and alcohol can exacerbate symptoms, so it’s best to limit or avoid them altogether.
- Talk to a professional: If you’re struggling, talking to a mental health professional can help you identify and manage your symptoms effectively. They can offer personalized treatment plans and support.
Feeling better long-term
Although anxiety is a shared experience, not everyone deals with it similarly. Some people may utilize coping mechanisms, such as meditation, exercise, or therapy, which help them manage their symptoms and prevent it from becoming debilitating. Others may have a more resilient mindset, allowing them to bounce back from stressful situations more easily. Some individuals may struggle with more severely and require professional intervention to overcome it. Seeking therapy or medication can benefit those who find that their mental health disorder impacts their quality of life and ability to function. Experiencing anxiety? You’re not alone. Online counselling can help. Connect with a counsellor.