Obsessing about anxiety: Recent trends leave public searching for answers

Chances are, as a college student in the year 2017, many if not all have met someone with some form of anxiety.

This is not just the anxiety you get before a test or when you get “OCD” about cleaning your room, this is the anxiety that interferes with basic everyday life.

With a recent trend in young adults diagnosed with anxiety, it is important to spread awareness about what anxiety really is.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), what most people shorten to merely anxiety, is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as “experiencing excessive anxiety and worry, often expecting the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.” This can only be diagnosed as an actual disorder when the anxiety interferes with daily life.

GAD is only one branch of the deep-rooted anxiety tree.

Along with GAD, there is also social anxiety, specific phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder. Each one has its own specificities and levels of severity, leaving only stress to tie them all together.

Many are familiar with some of these types, with two of the most infamous disorders being OCD and PTSD.

Some may be quick to point to political strife being the primary causing factor of anxiety in America. While there is definitely some connection, there is more to the story.

Isabel Seiter, a senior at Bishop LeBlond High School, was diagnosed with GAD during April of 2014. Seiter has lived and breathed the disorder through most of high school and is familiar with all of its ups and downs.

Seiter knows what causes her anxiety and what does not. Based on these observations, she feels some of today’s technological advances may be partially to blame.

“I think a big factor in anxiety of young adults is the pressure from social media,” Seiter said. “We constantly see both sides of the spectrum: shaming, insulting, judgment of strangers as well as the stories of people who are not affected by the negativity at all. I think it is not hard for someone as an individual to find where they fit into this scale.”

Seiter goes on to talk about how she feels many may have anxiety without even knowing it. For her, she not only sees others being potentially diagnosable with the disorder, but in general, sees the word ‘anxiety’ being used more.

“It is a very common word people seem to use when they are really just nervous or stressed,” Seiter said. “People do not seem to realize there is a difference between other emotions and actual anxiety. However, as I’ve become more aware of my own anxiety, I have realized there are a lot more people struggling with it than you would think.”

Interestingly, many of Seiter’s suspicions and experiences with the disorder are echoed by professors at Northwest.

Assistant Professor of Psychology Jackie Kibler strongly suggests that a link between social media and teens may be causing a rise in anxiety. Her points are eerily similar to Seiter’s suspicions, though the two have never spoken to one another.

“Both kids and adults use distractors to cope with some of the different problems in life,” Kibler said. “A lot of these things include watching TV, playing video games, using social media, taking naps or eating.”

Kibler said these are temporary distractions; they do not solve the problem.

“Then people start to think there is something wrong with them because the anxiety doesn’t go away,” Kibler said. “With kids specifically, the more time they spend on their phones and social media, the less likely they are to pick up on social cues.”

Kibler said studies find that this inability to notice social cues triggers paranoia in the minds of those affected, starting a trend in that person’s behavior if the media use continues.

Along with social media, Kibler also spoke on the over use of the word itself. Both experts believe understanding anxiety is key.

“There are clinical levels, and then there is everybody else,” Kibler said. “Anxiety is beneficial too, though. If we don’t have some anxiety then we’re not going put any effort forth when it comes to something like a test.”

Anxiety becomes a problem when it begins taking over a person’s life and thoughts.

Sophomore Faith Casel is a psychology major at Northwest. Casel was diagnosed with GAD her freshman year of college. Casel originally noticed symptoms of anxiety after entering her freshman year of high school, but it was not until moving two and a half hours to Maryville that she noticed more of the anxiety.

“It’s the first time you get a chance to be independent, and I think that adds a lot to it,” Casel said. “I didn’t have my dad waking me up if I overslept, I didn’t have somebody making breakfast for me if I was running late and I think that really freaked me out. It’s when you start gaining those responsibilities that the anxiety starts to pile up.”

From personal experience, Casel noted going to the Wellness Center once every other week was one of the biggest forms of release when it comes to her anxiety. Though she is grateful for this help, Casel says some of the best help can come from those around you.

“If you are a friend and someone is struggling, just listen. Sometimes that is all it takes,” Casel said. “You are not alone, even though you might feel like it. I found out three of my professors have anxiety disorders last semester.”

Instructor of Psychology Elizabeth Dimmitt said a “go go go” mindset in our society may be partially to blame for the exponential increase in diagnosed cases of anxiety in recent years. Not only does she see a correlation between the inner workings of our society and what this does to our mental health, but she says it may harm our ability to cope with stress as well.

“We are multitasking and we are always on the go,” Dimmitt said. “I think this leads to higher levels of stress, which can lead to ineffective coping mechanisms. There is just so much going on in our society and the trend in anxiety could be linked to that change as well.”

Although seeking professional help is a good option, Dimmit notes there are several things people can do to reduce anxiety without seeing a doctor.

“Good things to keep in mind are eating right, exercising and deep breathing,” Dimmit said. “There are several ways to reduce every day anxiety that might come up.”

Between the professionals and those diagnosed with anxiety, it is hard to tell the difference between who is more familiar with the subject.

Seiter speaks with a tone of confidence when discussing her anxiety, but it is only because she has lived with it for so long. Dealing with anxiety is a daily task, and one thing everyone diagnosed can agree on is a need for understanding the disorder.

Seiter made a very clear point to address the need to feel like staying quiet about anxiety or any disorder.

“I am not saying you should tell everyone you know, but the people you are close to, love and trust deserve to know what is going on and it will actually benefit you as well,” Seiter said. “As much as our friends and family want to help us during these struggles, it can be very difficult for them to step in if they don’t really know what’s going on.”