What exactly is anxiety? Sure, everyone knows those familiar feelings. For some, it’s the swaths of butterflies fluttering around in one’s stomach when a big term paper is due or a test is next period. For others, it could very well be the ever present trickle of sweat and light headed feeling that comes with meeting new people or talking to a crush. Queasiness, panic, worry, fear, anguish, headaches, terror. These are all words, that for many, do not even begin to scratch the surface of the struggle that has affected the physical and emotional characteristics of millions worldwide.
However, society’s interpretation of anxiety, along with many other forms of mental illness, is quite astonishing. To the average, anxiety free person, not having such an enigmatic illness leaves an understandable gap in the level of relatability and empathy one has for its victims. For one, anxiety is considered an invisible disease. Lacking the noticeable physical effect of illnesses such as cancer, scoliosis, or Parkinson’s disease, anxiety victims can often be misinterpreted by others as simply socially awkward of reserved. Secondly, many sufferers of anxiety, due to the reserved nature in which their illness requires them to act, remain largely silent about their psychological struggles, earning them the label of “silent sufferers.”
For this reason, many psychologists and mental health organizations find it difficult to accurately estimate the amount of individuals suffering from anxiety in the United States and abroad. But through the dense forest of misconception, the true definition of anxiety, and its concerning statistics, lie relatively unknown.
Medical News Today defines anxiety as “a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension and worry.”
Rather than the singular, independent disease that many people think of, anxiety is instead a web of interconnected psychological disorders that pertain to specific mental deficiencies.
Even more disconcerting than the plethora of different mental disorders defined under anxiety is the number of Americans alone with which it effects. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (AADA) states that “40 million Americans over the age of 18 are affected by anxiety — roughly 18 percent of the nation’s population.” Although the sheer fact that 18 out of 100 Americans suffer from a mental disorder has reason to cause much discomfort, the AADA’s statistic does not even mention the anxiety epidemic taking place on the other side of 18.
The AADA goes on to state that “anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old.
Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.” The age range of 13-18 years old, where anxiety disorders are most prevalent, have also been found to foreshadow long term debilitating anxiety disorders in later life. The National Institute for Mental Health has recently found that 25.1% of 13-18 year olds also suffer from a lifetime prevalence of anxiety. Also among this age group, 5.9% will experience a lifetime prevalence of a severe anxiety disorder.
The NIMH states that “anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can actually be beneficial in some situations. For some people, however, anxiety can become excessive. While the person suffering may realize it is excessive they may also have difficulty controlling it and it may negatively affect their day-to-day living.” Almost everyone has experienced some degree of anxiety in their lives and the NIMH points out that today many are struggling to cope with the disease’s grips.
Students around Broughton have had their own definitions of anxiety and theories about why these mental disorders are so prevalent in their age group.
“Anxiety to me is constantly feeling anxious. It’s overthinking to the point of almost losing self control,” junior Matthias Pietrus said.
“[Anxiety is] basically just psyching yourself out and overthinking things a lot,” senior Abby Ralph said.
“Anxiety to me is when I have a big paper due the next day, and I am just starting it at ten o’clock that night. It’s a feeling of anxiousness,” junior Adam Stein said.
A Broughton student that has had a history of struggling with anxiety disorders also gave some insight into her interpretation of anxiety and its effects. This student has opted to not disclose her name for purposes of anonymity.
When asked how she defined anxiety, she said “The exaggeration of normal emotions. Feeling worry to the fullest extent. Thinking that something will go wrong no matter how hard you try.”
She said ways for coping with her anxiety disorder were best found through “speaking with friends, which always helps. Finding things that actually making me happy. Music or vines for instance. Anxiety isn’t necessarily curable.
It’s something that you have to constantly cope with.”
She also went on to say that the most common misconception about anxiety among those that are not affected is that “people think that anxiety is external. They think that it’s something you can simply overcome. But it’s way more different than that. It’s something you have to live with.”