One of the things that I enjoy the most about working with children and teens as a professional counselor is that I stay hip to the current trends.
I found out what “Among Us” is only because one of my clients started talking about it. (It’s a game you can play on your phone that’s very popular right now.) And I stay up on the latest YouTubers and musical groups — I didn’t know about K-pop at all — because of the kids I meet with.
One thing that has struck me in meeting with so many kids is how often I have to explain what anxiety is to them, which is something that I never have to do with depression. It seems that our children gain an early understanding of what it means to be depressed, and they are acquainted enough with the term to use it. But I often get asked what it means to feel anxious. So, in the spirit of working through different mental health issues, let’s look at the best ways to describe anxiety.
The first thing to address when talking about anxiety is how common it is. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that nearly 20% of U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder. When looking at adolescent mental health, the NIHM estimates that 31.9% of adolescents have a diagnosable anxiety disorder. That’s nearly one out of every three kids between the ages of 13 and 18.
One of the most common anxiety disorders is called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People suffering from GAD have excessive anxiety and worry most days and find it difficult to control their worry. They often feel restless and have difficulty concentrating. They can be easily fatigued or have muscle tension. Many people who experience GAD can have issues sleeping and can be irritable. Women are twice as likely to have GAD, but of the nearly 7 million U.S. adults with GAD, less than half are currently receiving any type of treatment.
Perhaps the most frequently talked about anxiety disorder is panic disorder, which is more well-known by its primary symptom: panic attacks.
People with panic disorder experience recurrent, unexpected panic attacks. When I talk to someone who has experienced a panic attack, they often tell me that they thought they were having a heart attack or dying. While there are many different symptoms that can be associated with panic attacks, the most common ones are a racing heart, difficultly breathing, chest pains, sweating, shaking, feeling light-headed, numbness or tingling, and feeling like you are having an out-of-body experience.
One of the hardest things about panic disorder is that once you’ve had one panic attack, the main reason for future panic attacks is fear of having one. It can become a vicious cycle in which the fear of having a panic attack induces more panic attacks.
The most common anxiety disorder is social anxiety disorder (SAD). People suffering from SAD experience high levels of anxiety in social situations out of a fear of being judged. People with SAD often fear that they will do something embarrassing or humiliating that will result in others judging them, and they frequently end up avoiding social situations altogether.
In my experience, SAD is a subtler form of anxiety. People with GAD or panic disorder have intense anxiety that can culminate in a lot of easily visible symptoms, but those with SAD are often masters at avoiding situations that provoke anxiety. They figure out ways to say no to almost anything that is outside of their comfort zone, allowing them to keep their anxiety (seemingly) at a minimum. The cost, however, is often a limited amount of friendships and social interactions.
Whenever I start working with a new client who has some sort of anxiety disorder, I inevitably tell them that anxiety is the most successfully treated mental health issue.
So, my encouragement to you would be that if you are suffering from anxiety that sounds like one of these three categories, look for treatment options. While it may initially cause more anxiety due to the fear of doing something new or different, it’s an issue that can be successfully treated.
• Mischa McCray is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist. Send questions or topics you’d like him to discuss to email@example.com.