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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.
About my Brain Institute
In 2009, Relmi Damiano co-founded the About my Brain Institute alongside scientist and leadership expert Silvia Damiano. Their vision is to democratise leadership & neuroscience by shaking up how we develop the human, the leader and the creative we all carry within.