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Women, People Under 35 at Greatest Risk of Anxiety
People from all walks of life suffer from anxiety disorders. Now a new study sheds light on who is most affected by this oftentimes debilitating condition. The research, published in the journal Brain and Behavior, suggests that women are almost twice as likely to experience anxiety as men. Led by Olivia Remes, PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge, this study also found that people from Western Europe and North America are more likely to suffer from anxiety than people from other cultures.
“Anxiety is debilitating, disabling, and can increase the risk for suicide,” Remes said. “It can cause significant distress in many areas of someone’s life … [it] can make people less productive at work and can also increase the risk for other serious conditions such as depression and alcohol abuse.”
It is important, she notes, that people who think they might be suffering from the symptoms of anxiety — restlessness, muscle tension, an inability to focus, insomnia, constant worry and fear, among others — seek help. If left untreated, anxiety can become quite severe and lead to other mental health problems, which makes treatment of any of the disorders more difficult.
Finding Anxiety Where It Lurks
Knowing which populations within the general population are more prone to anxiety disorders — which include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, as well as panic attacks — helps doctors and other healthcare practitioners be proactive in making sure their screening and treatment efforts identify high-risk individuals.
Remes explains: “Our healthcare system is strained and healthcare resources are scarce. Knowing who needs to be screened for anxiety and who would benefit the most from treatment would help direct mental health prevention and intervention efforts. Treating anxiety early in these groups would prevent complications (such as depression, substance abuse and other serious mental disorders) from developing — and preventing complications from developing would mean less human suffering and lower rates of health service use (for example, fewer hospitalizations and lower costs to the healthcare system).”
Other Groups With High Levels of Anxiety
Compulsive Internet use, otherwise known as Internet addiction, has also been linked to the development of anxiety disorders, but especially so in people under the age of 35, according to Remes. “Approximately one in five people with Internet addiction have anxiety, which is especially important today when so many young people are online. The use of social media has increased drastically in the past decade … and being online so much affects our mental health.” (As of July 2016, 1.1 billion people were logging on to Facebook every day.)
“There are other specific groups with higher levels of anxiety,” Remes said, “including people with cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes, as well as people with multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.”
Another interesting finding this study uncovered is that OCD is most prevalent in pregnant women and women who have recently given birth.
“Pregnant women might be more prone to OCD because of hormone fluctuations,” Remes said. “Toward the end of pregnancy, there is a spike in progesterone and estrogen levels that influences mood. Some women are genetically predisposed to developing anxiety disorders, and these hormone fluctuations could be a trigger for OCD in those who are more vulnerable.”
According to Remes, who wrote recently on the website the conversation, “It could be because of differences in brain chemistry and hormone fluctuations.” She goes on to explain that women tend to be more prone to stress, which can increase their anxiety. “Also, when faced with stressful situations, women and men tend to use different coping strategies. Women faced with life stressors are more likely to ruminate about them, which can increase their anxiety,” she said.
The takeaway message, according to Remes, is that there are a variety of powerful tools that anyone experiencing anxiety can use to help themselves. Regular physical activity, mindfulness meditation, yoga, getting enough sleep, drinking enough water throughout the day, and eating a healthy, balanced diet go a long way in terms of improving mental health. Cognitive behavioral therapy has also been shown to be very effective for those suffering from anxiety disorders and other serious mental illnesses like depression. Medication is another option, especially for severe cases, though be sure to discuss possible side effects with your doctor.