- Mar 26, 2004
March 29, 2021
Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety and stress. Maybe you’re fighting with a friend or have a big test coming up. This is a natural part of life.
But unlike these everyday anxious feelings, anxiety disorders involve excessive worry, fear, and stress that get in the way of your day-to-day life and well-being. In severe cases, anxiety disorders can be debilitating. If you find that anxiety is affecting your life and how you function, it can help to remember that all types of people experience anxiety disorders. Knowing the facts might just help you feel less alone.
Facts about anxiety
How common is it?Just about everybody experiences anxiety in some form or another. But for some, it’s much more extreme than for others and can be all-encompassing. Anxiety disorders are common. In fact, they’re the most common mental health condition in the United States.
- More than 31% of U.S. people will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetimes.
- Anxiety disorders are more common in females than males.
- Social anxiety disorder is one of the most common anxiety disorders, affecting around 12% of U.S. adults at some point in their lives.
- Specific phobias are also common. Worldwide, anywhere from 3–15%Trusted Source of people live with specific phobias, most commonly involving phobias to animals and heights.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects almost 6% of U.S. adults at some point in their lives. While highly treatable, almost half of people experience symptoms of GAD for 2+ years before being diagnosed and treated.
Anxiety and genderWomen, gender-nonconforming, and transgender individuals experience anxiety disorders at higher rates:
- Women are nearly twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder compared with men.
- One studyTrusted Source found that anxiety disorders were more than 2 times as prevalent in gender-nonconforming and transgender individuals as in cisgender (gender-conforming) males.
Anxiety and ageAnxiety doesn’t discriminate by age. Anxiety disorders affect people of all ages:
- Around 8.5% of children ages 3–17 lived with an anxiety disorder, according to a 2018–2019 survey.
- GAD tends to develop later in life than other anxiety disorders, with an average age of onset of 35 years oldTrusted Source.
What causes anxiety?In many cases, anxiety is a learned coping mechanism. For instance, patterns of negative thoughts or catastrophic thinking — believing that something bad will happen to you — is related to anxiety. These thoughts are there to protect you from possible danger, but ultimately, they aren’t the most effective tool for making you feel better.
Another coping style is avoiding objects or situations that feel scary or harmful. This avoidance means that you don’t get exposed to that thing, so you aren’t able to learn that it’s actually harmless. This makes the cycle of anxiety difficult to break. Negative thoughts and avoidance often occur together. That’s why cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are two of the first line treatments for anxiety. Scientists suspect that there are many causes of anxiety disorders. These include:
- Genetics. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you’re more likely to develop an anxiety disorder if a family member has an anxiety disorder or other mental health condition.
- Environment. Traumatic events like abuse or exposure to violence, particularly in childhood, increase the possibility of developing an anxiety disorder.
- Preexisting conditions. Some illnesses and diseases, like hypothyroidism, raise your chanceTrusted Source of developing an anxiety disorder.
Social factorsSocial factors play a significant role in the development of anxiety disorders. For example, domestic and sexual violence, enforcement of traditional gender roles, workplace harassment, and other social inequities are associated with an increased prevalenceTrusted Source of anxiety disorders. Other factors can make individuals in some communities more vulnerable to anxiety disorders, including:
- loss of cultural heritage
- degradation relating to climate change
- other environmental risk factors
Co-occurring conditionsAnxiety disorders and other mental health conditions often coexist:
- Nearly half of people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
- Some research has reported that at least 17%Trusted Source of U.S. adults with a substance use disorder also had an anxiety disorder.
Does anxiety affect your physical health?Anxiety may increase the likelihood of physical health conditions, and vice versa:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic pain disorders, high blood pressure, asthma, and other physical health issues are associated with anxiety disorders.
- If you have both an anxiety disorder and a physical condition, it’s important to treat both to best manage your symptoms.
- excessive and consistent worrying
- muscle tension
- difficulty concentrating
- sleep problems
- heart palpitations
- upset stomach or nausea
Anxiety and COVID-19The stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic — lockdown, financial worries, and health concerns — have had an impact on many peoples’ mental health, which has led to increased reports of anxiety and depression. Recent reports have shown the effects of the pandemic on peoples’ anxiety levels:
- According to an American Psychiatric Association (APA) report, 78% of adults said that the coronavirus pandemic is a significant source of stress in their lives. And 67% said their stress levels have increased over the course of the pandemic.
- Based on data from the Mental Health America (MHA) screening tool, the number of people reporting signs of anxiety hit an all-time high in September 2020.
- The proportion of MHA screeners showing signs of moderate to severe anxiety was highest among Native Americans (84%).
- Those who identified as Asian or Pacific Islander and Other showed the biggest increase in people with anxiety between 2019 and 2020.
- Gen Z adults (ages 18–23) reported significantly higher stress levels than people ages 24 and up. Around 34% of Gen Z adults reported their mental health was worse in 2020 than in 2019.
- Loneliness and isolation ranked among the top 3 factors contributing to worsened mental health in 70% of people with moderate to severe anxiety symptoms.
- Decreased closeness in relationships, financial uncertainty, and the death of loved ones were also cited as reasons for increased anxiety this year.
- More than 44% of people of color reported discrimination as a significant source of stress in their life.
Is anxiety normal?Feelings of anxiety are perfectly natural. In fact, there are evolutionary reasons for why anxiety exists, both in animals and humans. The familiar discomfort of anxiety was an important tool to help our ancestors avoid danger. It helped us move away from harm, avoid behaviors that could be harmful, and mentally prepare for danger.
Nowadays, the sources of our fears and anxieties tend not to be the family of bears around the corner, or the prospect of crossing a raging river to find food. Rather, we stress about intangible and uncertain threats farther in the future. This creates a longer window of anxiety, which is often unproductive and harmful. So even though anxiety has evolutionary origins, modern society poses historically unfamiliar challenges to humans.
We worry about our kids’ futures, our personal relationships, and the well-being of our entire planet. With TV and social media, we’re constantly bombarded with bad news. While a measure of anxiety is normal, it can also lead some people to believe that anxiety is an effective tool for motivation, cueing us into action. However, it’s important to note that while anxiety can be a motivator, above-average levels of anxiety can ultimately cause problems by increasing your physical and mental stress levels and affecting how you function in your life and relationships.
In other words, yes, anxiety is normal. But when it becomes overwhelming enough to interfere with your daily activities and harm your overall well-being, you may benefit from treatment and coping methods.