Anxiety disorders are all too common, but research offers hope

Is anxiety a frequent visitor in your mental world?

If so, you are far from alone.

While depression gets the lion’s share of media attention, anxiety disorders are the most common psychological malady in our society.

Up to 25% of us will experience one of them at some point in our lives. If you are part of this statistic, you can relate to your brethren similarly afflicted.

But if you’ve never had an anxiety disorder, it may be tough to grasp just how distinctly vexing a form of suffering it is.

It may help to recall a time when you were genuinely afraid.

Now, imagine having some variation of that feeling a more or less constant part of your life, affecting virtually everything you decide and do. That’s chronic anxiety.

There are a number of forms of this malady, including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and others.

But there is one common characteristic — those who suffer from them live in fear, which is an awful state of mind.

The drug treatments for anxiety are less effective than for depression, while psychotherapy is about equally helpful for both conditions.

Exercise, an anti-inflammatory diet and daily meditation reduce anxiety significantly for many.

There are clear risk factors that, if present, substantially increase one’s odds of acquiring this unhappy state of being. One is gender.

Aside from OCD, women are twice as likely as men to have an anxiety disorder, and more willing to seek treatment.

In terms of age, phobias, separation anxiety and OCD can appear early in life. Up to 5% of adolescents suffer an anxiety disorder, and that puts them at greater risk of being anxious or depressed as an adult.

Those who pass off this condition as “just nerves” don’t recognize chronic anxiety for what it is — an illness with deleterious effects on both physical and mental health.

Long-term anxiety contributes to cardiovascular disease, a weakened immune system, digestive disorders, unhealthy metabolic changes, a hyperactive nervous system and sleep dysfunction.

Mentally, chronic anxiousness can lead to depression, obsessions, excessive worrying, compulsive behaviors (hoarding, for instance), hyper-vigilance and a greatly diminished quality of life.

The economic damage is substantial, but one cannot place a monetary value on human suffering.

In other words, anxiety disorders are a scourge.

But there’s hope.

While still in research and development, a number of new treatments are on the horizon.

Neuroscience is unlocking how anxiety manifests in the brain, opening the way for new approaches tailored to the unique neurochemistry of the individual.

And, finally, after decades of moronic hysteria about psychedelic drugs, research suggests that the highly controlled use of hallucinogens, administered under the guidance of a trained therapist, may greatly diminish anxiety disorders.

Finally, within a few years, behavioral games using virtual reality technology will become widely available for treating phobias.

For sufferers, these blessings cannot arrive soon enough.

Philip Chard is a psychotherapist, author and trainer. Email Chard at or visit