In a 2019 video produced for the Child Mind Institute that went viral, actor and comedian Bill Hader discussed his lifelong struggles with anxiety. Hader said that anxiety “doesn’t really go away; you manage it. Instead of pushing away your anxiety—and I always imagined my anxiety as this little monster that would attack my face or pull at my ears—instead of pushing that thing away and trying to fight it, I would just go, ‘Hey, buddy,’ like it was a little monkey, and I’d [say], ‘Okay, sit on my shoulder. Let’s hang out.’”
The debate over how to cope with anxiety disorders is the issue of the moment. Potential cures fuel social media feeds, news reports and water-cooler conversations. Everyone, it seems, has tips: CBD (cannabidiol) oil, meditation, yoga, cognitive behavioural therapy, Xanax, visualisation.
It’s with good reason: Anxiety is now the most common form of mental illness in the US. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that anxiety disorders affect more than 19 percent of the adult population each year. And a 2018 American Psychiatric Association public opinion poll found that 39 percent of those surveyed reported increased anxiety over the previous year.
While we throw around the word “anxiety”, this collection of disorders is often improperly self-diagnosed. According to NIMH, generalised anxiety disorder is not just fretting, embarrassment, nerves or situational stress, but rather, the experience of excessive anxiety or worry about everyday life events that can prove debilitating. Some performance anxiety before a test or sleeplessness after a traumatic event is not anxiety; ongoing distress that gets in the way of enjoying life is.
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