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People who suffer from anxiety often become masters at hiding it. Even though anxiety disorders are extremely common, we may be unaware that people in our lives, including family members, friends and coworkers, are living silently with anxiety. We cannot have a healthy body and mind if we do not open up the dialogue about brain health, and because of the veil of secrecy, anxiety is often sitting on our shoulders like an oppressive, silent elephant, inhibiting the lives of those afflicted.
An estimated 4% of the world population is affected by anxiety disorders, which equates to around 275 million people. Many mental conditions are underreported or untreated, so this estimate may actually be low. Measuring the true impact of poor mental health is difficult, but researchers have attempted to estimate where anxiety is most prevalent.
Data for 2016 shows higher rates for some countries, including1:
When you hear the word ‘anxiety’, you might think of a nervous student or child biting their fingernails before a big test. However, anxiety disorders include a wide range of symptoms, and anxiety can also be paired with depression, with some clinical findings showing the two together 75% of the time.2
The most common types of anxiety include:
While anxiety can be suffocating, there are treatment options. Psychological treatments, which are also known as talking therapies, give people an opportunity to change their thinking patterns to reduce worrying and keep anxiety at bay. Pharmacological options are available as well, and these medications are much safer than they were even twenty or thirty years ago.
Cognitive behaviour therapy, or CBT, involves working with a therapist to identify patterns and thought processes which cause you to become anxious and instead focus on problem-solving. Learning relaxation and breathing techniques can help calm the physical effects of tension and anxiety. Therapists can also teach you how to decide if your worries are unproductive and how to let go of them.7
You should never feel like you have to live with anxiety, and talking with a professional can help you learn anxiety management strategies. Technology has given us even more treatment options, including using neurofeedback devices to retrain the brain and how we think about and process things which may trigger anxiety.
As a leader, it’s perfectly normal to feel anxious about work, your performance at work, or during social interactions. However, if you let these anxieties control how you live, your leadership will likely begin to suffer. Creativity, innovation and collaboration are difficult to maintain when concerns and worries crowd the brain.
Anxiety is a complex emotional response that’s similar to fear. Fear and anxiety differ, however, in that fear is typically associated with a clear, present and identifiable threat, whereas anxiety occurs in the absence of immediate peril.
Catherine M. Pittman8
Strategies your therapist might recommend include:9
Anxiety disorders are common, and they can be paired with other conditions such as depression. It’s important as a society to recognise the validity of anxiety disorders--especially for our leaders. The very qualities needed to be an entrepreneur also manifest with anxiety, such as an ability to think broadly across many subjects at once and to hyper-connect information and data.10
It’s important to use our voices to remind political leaders that brain health issues are real and that people’s lives are profoundly affected when treatment options are unavailable or limited. Mental disorders are nothing to be ashamed of, and so many of them, including anxiety, are treatable.
While some people are natural leaders, we can all increase our leadership potential by ensuring we have a healthy brain and body. Embracing the idea of overall health (and making this care available and affordable) is crucial as we develop the leaders of the future. Beginning the sometimes difficult conversation about brain health is the first step to becoming a healthier human being--and leader.
Stay tuned for my next article as we explore the positive benefits of nature on the brain.
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1. Ritchie H & Roser M. Mental Health. Our World in Data. 2018. Available online.
2. Amen Clinics. Anxiety and Depression. Amen Clinics. 2019. Available online.
3. Beyond Blue. GAD. Beyond Blue Ltd. 2019. Available online.
4. Richards TA. Social Anxiety Fact Sheet: What is Social Anxiety Disorder? Symptoms, Treatment, Prevalence, Medications, Insight, Prognosis. The Social Anxiety Association. 2019. Available online.
5. Mayo Clinic. Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). 2019. Available online.
6. Nordqvist C. Everything you need to know about phobias. Healthline Media UK Ltd. 2017. Available online.
7. Beyond Blue. Psychological treatments for anxiety. Beyond Blue Ltd. 2019. Available online.
8. Pittman CM & Karle EM. Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry. New Harbinger Publications. 2015.
9. Beyond Blue. Anxiety management strategies. Beyond Blue Ltd. 2019. Available online.
10. Buchanan L. All Leaders Have Anxiety. Here’s How the Best Ones Deal With It. Manuseto Ventures. 2018. Available online.
GM & Chief Creative Officer
About my Brain Institute
Relmi Damiano is the Co-Founder, GM & CCO of the About my Brain Institute. Founded in 2009 alongside leadership expert Silvia Damiano, the Institute’s vision is to democratise leadership & neuroscience by shaking up how we develop the human, the leader and the creative we all carry within.
In 2010, this dynamic mother and daughter team, produced the first “Brain Art Project” as a way to explore people's incipient interest in the brain. This was an international competition and exhibition that over the course of 2 years attracted over 1000 artists, scientists, designers, health practitioners and business leaders from all over the world who shared and expressed their different perspectives on neuroscience, creativity, mental health and wellbeing. The insights gained from this venture, highlighted the relevance of building a more holistic, design-driven and interdisciplinary approach to applying brain science to our daily lives.
With Relmi’s user-centered design, digital strategy and artistic expertise paired up with Silvia’s 20 years of experience in transforming leaders and cultures, they then released the i4 Neuroleader Model, Methodology & Assessment Suite, published the ‘Leadership Is Upside Down’ book and coined the term Brain-Friendly Cultures - all in 2013.
The purpose of their i4 Neuroleader Methodology is to transform current leadership practices and create the leaders of the future, leaders who are more conscious, ethical, compassionate, healthy, integrated, imaginative, intuitive and inspirational. Over the course of 4 years, as part of Vivid Sydney, Relmi & Silvia hosted the annual i4 Tales Conference & Design Exhibition, which attracted over 250 people each year to explore and discuss these topics in a community environment.
Since its inception, the About my Brain Institute has certified more than 800 practitioners globally in the i4 Neuroleader Methodology, ran numerous events and retreats as well as delivered brain-friendly programs in organisations globally.
One of their most remarkable projects was the ‘Make Me A Leader’ film, released in 2018. They self-funded and produced a multiple award-winning documentary that gathered highly regarded experts, professors and scientists who shared the secrets of how leaders can optimise brain and body performance to thrive in the 21st Century.
Relmi has also been a sessional Lecturer and Tutor at Sydney University and Billy Blue College of Design in design thinking, service design, human-centered design, user experience, entrepreneurship, business model generation, branding, communication design, innovation and strategy. She also mentored and created a wide range of student design briefs for live industry projects for film, exhibition design, data visualisation, 3D/2D animation, gaming, digital art and web based projects.