Anxiety: Why is it on the Rise?

What is Anxiety?

Ever feel uneasy, consumed by thoughts of worry, tense, like an elephant is sitting on your chest? Some of these feelings capture what it is like to feel anxious. Anxiety can be characterized by feeling uneasiness, fear, tension, thoughts of worry, and physical changes such as increased blood pressure, and increased heart rate. The difference between anxiety and fear is that anxiety is a future-orientated, long-acting response, broadly meant to be used to signal and focus on diffusing threats. Fear is an appropriate present-oriented, short-lived response, to a clearly identifiable specific threat.

Occasional anxiety is a normal response to stressful events such as, before a test, money, family, or health. However, when the reaction is out of proportion to the event, there is no identifiable reason or cause for feeling anxious, or worry and fear is constant and prolonged, it can negatively interfere with your life, job performance, school, and relationships.

There are many different types of anxiety disorders. For example, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), involves persistent fear and dread, experienced for months or years. 

Symptoms include feeling restless, wound-up, on edge, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, headaches muscle aches, difficulty controlling worry and sleep problems. Panic disorder involves frequent and unexpected panic attacks. They can be described as sudden intense periods of intense fear, discomfort, sense of losing control when there is no clear danger or trigger. Panic attacks can be experienced as heart racing, sweating, trembling, or tingling, chest pain, feelings of doom, and feelings of being out of control. Not everyone who has panic attacks will develop panic disorder. Social anxiety is described as an intense persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. This results in a fear of social situations.

Why the Rise Globally?

In the past few years, the rise of mental health concerns has been directly attributed to the unprecedented times during the COVID-19 pandemic. One piece of evidence comes from the higher levels of anxiety reported in the general population among countries that were most affected. The stress caused by multiple factors such as social isolation, constraints on people’s ability to work, ability to seek support from others and loved ones, restrictions on community engagement, feelings of loneliness, fear of infection, fear of losing loved ones, bereavement, and job loss all contributed to the increase in anxiety during this time. Factors such as the stigma that persists around mental illness and seeking professional help are still prevalent. Many people don’t seek help even if there is availability due to stigma or cultural factors. Additionally, many people don’t have access to the care that they need. These barriers include the cost of services, lack of insurance coverage, or living in rural areas where services are not as accessible. Furthermore, COVID-19 impacted people’s maintenance of mental health.

Self-care slowed due to businesses being closed, it became hard to fill prescriptions, people did not want to go to stores due to fear of getting sick, lack of support systems, major transitions in mental health care as services became unavailable, and the rapid switch to telehealth.

Reasons Young Adult Cohort Are Most Affected

Social Isolation and Increased Social Media Use

It has been reported those aged 18-30 were most affected by social isolation. In general, increased social isolation is linked to increased anxiety. During this time young adults turned to connect on social media. This was a time when lifestyle apps such as TikTok became popular which allowed individuals to scroll through endless content for hours. 

The increase in social media use resulted in many individuals feeling more socially isolated due to the constant exposure to unrealistic beauty and life standards.

Academic stress and disruptions

During this time, many young adults are students in college or university. Academic stress is a significant factor that contributes to high rates of anxiety amongst this cohort. The heavy workload, peer pressure, figuring out a career path and pressure to succeed, are all reported factors that contribute to anxiety. Additionally, the school disruptions during COVID-19 added to the stress, uncertainty, and isolation experienced during this time.

Economic Factors

During COVID this cohort was reported as more likely to lose their job. Additionally finding a job right out of school can be difficult resulting in stress. There is also increased stress as individuals at this age are generally just starting a career and often struggle to make enough money to get by.

Reasons Women Report Higher Rates of Anxiety vs. Men

In general, women tend to take on greater household responsibilities. During COVID the responsibilities increased with schools closing, and family members getting sick. 

There was a rise in domestic violence during COVID-19 where women are disproportionately affected. The pandemic took an increasing toll on Canadian’s mental health. The demand for health care increased to a point where front-line workers, and even psychologists were feeling burnout and had to take a step back to recover. The effects of the pandemic still linger, the restrictions, social isolation, loss of loved ones, job loss and the overall state of living during that time have left Canadians feeling burnt out, frustrated, and now having to deal with the heavy impact of inflation. The current cost of living is being attributed to the maintenance of high rates of reported anxiety. People are experiencing extreme worry and stress regarding how they will be able to afford the necessities of food and living.

Are you feeling anxious and want to speak to someone? Click HERE to book a complimentary consultation with Mattea Rivers therapist who specializes in anxiety.

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