Anxiety is a word that's often tossed around too casually, used to refer to everyday worries or minor stress. In reality, anxiety disorders can be intense and debilitating—people who suffer from anxiety describe it as a constant, gripping fear or a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach. Studies reveal that at least 40 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, and this number increases each year. (1)
What could be responsible for the growing number of anxiety diagnoses in this country? In this article, we'll look at some of the societal pressures that contribute to anxiety.
In a society that places an enormous emphasis on perfection, it can be difficult to feel like you're "enough." There's a push to achieve unrealistic standards in both performance and appearance, and this pressure leads to rising stress levels. Over time, a drive to meet near-impossible ideals can cause anxiety to develop; if you're already dealing with anxiety, this pressure can make the problem worse.
Facebook, Instagram and other social networks can provide wonderful opportunities to stay connected to friends and family, but social media can also be a potent source of anxiety. Mental health experts call it the "compare-and-despair" effect: looking at the picture-perfect lives that people present on social media can make you feel like your own life just doesn't measure up. (2)
Those feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness can quickly turn into obsessive thoughts and anxiety. Worrying about the number of followers you have or the number of comments you get on your photos can also contribute to an anxiety problem.
The modern advent of the 24-hour news cycle has made it nearly impossible to go online or turn on your television without being bombarded with negative news. Stories about terrorism, shootings and disasters seem to dominate news media, and this endless stream of negativity has the potential to fuel anxiety.
Ongoing exposure to negative news can amplify a person's normal worries and make it difficult to control them; if a person already suffers from anxiety, this effect may be magnified. A study that followed journalists working in a newsroom found that those who were repeatedly exposed to graphic, violent images experienced increased anxiety, depression and symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. (3)
Just being aware of the societal factors that fuel anxiety may help you get a handle on your own anxious feelings. If simple lifestyle changes don't make a difference after a month or so, you may benefit from treatment. Effective help is available—there's no need to suffer in silence. With the right treatment, you can control your anxiety symptoms and take charge of your future.