Anxiety disorders are the world’s most common mental health issue
Anxiety disorders are the world’s most common mental health issue

Decreased appetite, trouble sleeping, stomach discomfort, sudden sweating, unrelenting fatigue: these are some of the symptoms that more than 300-million people face regularly. According to the World Health Organisation, anxiety disorders are the world’s most common mental health issue.

Over the past few decades, and certainly since the Covid-19 pandemic, these figures have steadily increased to their current unprecedented high. Factors behind the prevalence vary across different aspects such as geographic location, life stage, and time of year.

Common among the experiences, however, is the reality that modern life is stressful and uncertain. Previous generations faced many of the same conditions such as job insecurity, political unrest and relationship breakdowns, but a unique consideration now is the impact of social media and technology. Our individual lives aren’t short of worries, and then we often add to these through exposure to global news and events involving people we don’t know and probably never will.. Observing the troubled state of the world only adds to a sense of dismay and distress.

Often it’s not possible to be completely isolated from the world and its hardships, but we can choose what we want to juggle and what we can shut out. There are responsibilities, commitments and demands that will spark feelings of anxiety, and from these we often cannot escape. Being aware of your specific emotional load and what aggravates these feelings can be a helpful first step.

This shortlist of common triggers can help you identify which ones are resonant, and which ones you can manage better, eliminate or that may require professional medical guidance.

Inadequate nutrition. Whether it’s skipping meals altogether or subsisting on greasy takeaways, food choices affect our mental state. A study in the European journal Neuropsychopharmacology reveals that skipping meals can be an anxiety trigger, “because a drop in blood sugar puts our body into fight-or-flight mode, which is our body’s natural anxiety response”.

A poor diet on the other hand, can mean the brain and body don’t have the nutrients required to function properly which can heighten feelings of anxiety. The paper suggests that mental health can be improved by a healthy diet. “Increased consumption of a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables has been associated with increased reported happiness and higher levels of mental health and wellbeing.”

A messy home/office. Entering spaces that aren’t orderly or organised can lead to feeling overwhelmed and stressed. When our eyes land on a space that is cluttered it can indicate an additional item on the to-do list. It can also make it difficult to navigate a room without clear designated spots to look for something or to place items. This experience of uncertainty and chaos can spark an episode of anxiety.

Medication. While they may be healing one part of your body, some medications can have side-effects that feel similar to symptoms of anxiety. This can then make you feel anxious because you’re not sure of the reason behind a racing heart or shaking hands or extreme thirst. Common pharmaceuticals that can trigger anxiety include birth control pills, cough and congestion medication, corticosteroids, antihistamines, weight loss pills and thyroid medications.

Exposure to violence. If you’ve experienced trauma, certain environments, sounds or smells may take you back to that horrific moment. That can lead to a general anxiety disorder (GAD) or to unexpected flare-ups of anxiety when you’ve been triggered. Besides personal experiences, seeing other people in trauma can also affect your mental health. Whether it’s on the news, social media or video games, witnessing violence can lead to feeling frightened and anxious. A movie with brutal scenes may seem harmless while you’re watching it but track how you feel for 24 hours later, and note if it might have sparked some latent fear and/or anxiety. 

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