Anxiety disorders have been a part of the human experience for as long as we can remember. But 2023 has seen an unsettling surge in anxiety cases. According to a report published for Mental Health Awareness Week, anxiety has become one of the most discussed mental health issues this year. This isn’t just a statistical anomaly; it’s a societal issue that demands our immediate attention. But what’s driving this surge? Is it the aftermath of the pandemic, or are there other factors at play?
Social media is a marvel and a menace. A study published in the journal of Depression and Anxiety found that high usage of social media correlates with increased levels of anxiety and depression, especially among young adults. The constant bombardment of filtered realities can distort our self-image, fuel anxiety, and even lead to social isolation.
Money woes and mental health
Financial instability is a significant stressor for many. A report by the American Psychological Association found that 72% of Americans reported feeling stressed about money at least some of the time. In an era of economic uncertainty, the constant worry about job security, bills, and future financial stability can be overwhelming. This financial stress is contributing to the rise in anxiety cases, making it a public health concern that can’t be ignored.
The lingering shadow of the pandemic
The Covid pandemic has left an indelible mark on our collective psyche. A 2021 study in The Lancet Psychiatry journal highlighted that 1 in 5 Covid survivors was diagnosed with anxiety within six months of recovering from the virus. The pandemic’s long shadow continues to loom large, affecting our mental well-being in ways we’re still trying to understand. The constant cycle of news about new variants and outbreaks keeps the public on edge, adding another layer of anxiety to an already stressed population.
Healthcare and its shortcomings
It’s worth noting that the healthcare system itself can sometimes contribute to anxiety. The stigma associated with mental health, long waiting times for treatment, and the cost of healthcare can exacerbate feelings of helplessness and anxiety. A 2022 study highlighted the need for more accessible and affordable mental health services to combat the rising tide of anxiety disorders.
Coping strategies that work
So, what can we do about this surge in anxiety? Here are some evidence-based strategies:
- Mindfulness. A meta-analysis in the journal Clinical Psychology Review found that mindfulness-based therapy can be as effective as antidepressant medication in preventing relapse in recurrent depression, which often coexists with anxiety disorders.
- Therapeutic intervention. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) remains the gold standard for treating anxiety disorders, according to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
- Physical exercise. Exercise isn’t just good for the body; it’s good for the mind too. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that exercise could effectively reduce symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder.
The power of community
Let’s also talk about the human factor. A strong support network can be a powerful antidote to anxiety. Whether it’s a shoulder to lean on or a professional to talk to, never underestimate the healing power of human connection. Online forums, support groups, and community events focused on mental health can offer invaluable support.
The rise in anxiety cases in 2023 is a complex issue with multiple contributing factors. While it’s crucial to understand these factors, it’s equally vital to focus on evidence-based coping mechanisms. As we navigate these turbulent times, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and help is available.
Eva Whitman, PhD is a clinical psychologist specialising in anxiety disorders and a frequent contributor to mental health journals.