One in five Britons suffer from general anxiety ailments or specific phobias. We examine why our worries are spiralling out of control, and four novelists reveal how their fears rule their lives
Anxiety plagues our time. In the UK, 19% of people suffer from depression and anxiety, according to the Office for National Statistics. Forty million Americans have an anxiety disorder; the average age of onset is 11. The disorders range from the generalised( GAD) to the unsettlingly specific: the pulling out of hair, compulsive skin-picking and, among the Inuit people of west Greenland, kayak angst. There is an anxiety for everyone.
Anxiety, says Scott Stossel, the author of My Age of Anxiety, has become part of the culture furniture. This helps to explain why Karl Ove Knausgaard sells so well, why so many characters in TV dramas and popular fiction have OCD( find Hannah in Girls, JK Rowlings The Casual Vacancy, Monk) and why, eight years after the motto was first popularised, people still drink out of Keep Calm and Carry On mugs. From Daniel Smiths Monkey Mind to Eleanor Morgans Anxiety For Beginners, the anxiety memoir is the new misery memoir. Talent is no defense against this ailment. Stossel edits the Atlantic. Panic unites those as varied as the director Michael Bay and the vlogger Zoella.
Are you feeling worried yet? And if you are, can you distinguish worry from nervousnes, and regular, bearable nervousnes from a disorder?
According to Laura Whitehead, the partnerships manager of Anxiety UK, nervousnes becomes a problem when it is disproportionate to the risk or obstacle that causes it. She advises observing when fret begins to interfere with daily life. If you start to lose interest in what you would usually be doing, if youre noticing physical pain or rapid heartbeat, if youre discovering excuses not to go places because youre worried about certain things passing The physical manifestations include trembling, headache, pins and needles, sweating, stomach ache, muscular ache, excessive tiredness or awakeness and a change in appetite.
These symptoms seem common enough for most people to assert a few. But begin to look for them and you might spur a hyper-vigilance which itself induces anxiety, causing more symptoms to present. You can see how anxiety spiralings. Why are these such anxious periods?
Obvious social, cultural and economic factors include the financial crisis of 2008 the year when the word nervousnes reaches its highest frequency since 1860, according to Google Ngram and the subsequent austerity, overwork, unemployment and unaffordable housing. Ruth Whippman, the author of The Pursuit of Happiness and why its Stimulating us Anxious, adds the search for happiness to the listing because the expectations of how happy you should be are so high, you always feel you are falling short. From global terrorism to loneliness, there is a fret to suit us all. And anti-retroviral drugs, too: perhaps the pharmacological companies are the big winners of rampant anxiety.
Cynics may think those who report anxiety overstate their fret because they have nothing better to fret about.( This view is complicated by the fact that cynicism is sometimes a coping mechanism for anxiety .) Even Stossel, despite having been diagnosed as having several nervousnes ailments including specific phobias, doesnt regulation it out. He thinks that the critics who say this is invented are wrong, but not completely wrong If you lived in the middle ages, you were born what you were born and you did what you did. It may be that some increase in the quantum of overall anxiety is the cost we pay for more economic liberty, more choice.
As a clinical condition, nervousnes is reasonably young even 30 years ago, it did not exist in the US. But while the terminology has changed, the experience itself is ancient. Witness the work of writers through Auden, Freud, Kierkegaard and Darwin to Hippocrates in the fourth century BC. Which suggests to me, Stossel says, that even though it can get filtered through culture, its a condition that has been with us since humans emerged.
Maybe the difference is that people are now more attuned to anxiety. They may be more willing to recognise it as a problem, says Nick Grey, the joint clinical director of the Centre For Anxiety Disorders and Trauma at Kings College London. After all, it is less of a taboo to be stressed than depressed. To be busy is to be valued. And nervousnes are likely to be stimulating, especially if reframed as excitement.
In the UK, general practitioners wait six months before diagnosing nervousnes. For some sufferers, the most effective recourse is pharmacological. For others, simple changes make a huge difference. Address sleep inadequacy. Workout. Seek help. Eat a proper snack, even when busy. Start yoga. And, in the moment when anxiety strengthens its grip, when you cant find air for fret, Stossel advises: As much as possible, be in the present the feel of your limb on the chair, your feet on the floor. Dont opposed anxiety, but allow it to crash over you, knowing it will pass. There is one last recommendation that might help everyone. Avoid telling people not to fret, or they will add being misunderstood to their listing of anxieties.
Read more: www.theguardian.com