Anxious in America.

I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was about 9 years old. I remember crying before going to school in elementary and middle school due to being bullied and would need to hide in the bathroom during class, where I would escape into reading Harry Potter books. As I got older, I learned to mask my anxiety so that people couldn’t see how freaked out I actually was. I developed phobias around germs, certain animals like moles, flying, driving on highways, and most of all, disappointing people.

The first time I had a real panic attack, I was 23 years old. My partner and I were in between moving from Portland, OR to NYC, and were staying with my parents in a small town in North Carolina for a few weeks while we figured out our new living situation. It came on suddenly, violently, and shook up my whole world. One morning I woke up and felt as if I could barely breathe. My chest was so tight that I thought I was going to have a heart attack, which I found out later is extremely common for people with panic disorder. I could barely sleep, eat, or focus on anything at all. I was also now too anxious to even drive, so I was stuck at home. I felt silly, and I didn’t know how to express to my partner or parents what was going on. Was I supposed to get on medication again? Go to a psychiatric ward again? Seek therapy? All of that seemed impossible. Instead, I drank and turned to homeopathic treatments like kava.

After only a month and a half of living in NYC, I had been suffering from panic attacks daily and couldn’t handle living around so many people. My partner and I decided to move back to Portland, where I was finally able to see a doctor and get on some much needed medication, and I also started therapy. I was also able to come out as a transgender man, and have been doing hormone replacement therapy for about two years now, which has been incredibly liberating. Although I still struggle with anxiety, it is a million times better than it was before I started treatment.

Some ways to recognize anxiety.

It’s no secret that Americans are anxious. Why wouldn’t we be? We face existential threats from a multitude of angles, many of which we desperately try to distract ourselves from. Income inequality, poverty, climate change, and a disconnection from ourselves as a part of the natural world are all components of our collective neuroses. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America and affect around 18.1% of the population, or 40 million adults aged 18 and older. Although highly treatable, only around 36.9% of people afflicted seek treatment. People with anxiety disorders are disproportionately likely to visit doctors; about 3 to 5 times more likely than than their non-anxious counterparts, and are 6 times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association Of America.

There are different types of anxiety disorders, each coming with their own unique set of challenges and treatments.

-Animal phobias

-Blood-Injection-Injury Phobias

-Natural Environment Phobias

-Situational Phobias

-Other Phobias (e.g. choking, vomiting, or contracting an illness; in children, avoidance of loud sounds like balloons popping or costumed characters like clowns)

So, America has one of the highest rates of anxiety disorders in the world. Millenials and younger people are the groups mostly at risk. Constant consumption of social media is certainly a factor, as it can lead to FOMO (fear of missing out) and an unhealthy amount of comparing ourselves to one another. Social media usage also releases dopamine, making it addictive. Technology, as great as it can be, has isolated us from one another. Our sleep habits have become worse due to the blue lights from screens, and we work long hours for lower pay than our parents’ and grandparents’ generation did. Another factor is that people are more open about their anxiety due to a decrease in stigma, although we have a long way to go with that as well. Culturally, we need a paradigm shift so that we can begin to heal our anxious minds and bodies. Psychedelic therapy has been gaining popularity as of late as a potentially effective treatment, especially psilocybin.

Writer. BA in anthropology. Psychology grad student.