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With the staggering rise in anxiety rates among Canadians, it’s a wonder any of us can get out of bed in the morning. A recent poll of 1,500 Canadians found that roughly 40 percent of participants believes they struggle with anxiety. One-third of these participants had already received a formal anxiety diagnosis from a physician and a similar proportion had already been prescribed antidepressants.

The question must be asked: have anxiety rates really changed that drastically in the past decade? Are we living in an unusually anxiety-inducing era or have we just become intolerant to normal bouts of misery?

Dr. David Rosmarin of Harvard Medical School believes there are several cultural factors that are setting us up for “emotional decline.” Facing challenges is a part of life, but according to Dr. Rosmarin, people are exceptionally averse to pain. “People want to be comfortable and they want to be happy,” says Dr. Rosmarin. “But if you chase happiness by trying to push aside anything that’s unpleasant and upsetting in your life, the irony is that it actually comes back with a vengeance.”

In a recent survey conducted by Yahoo Canada, 34 percent of adult men and 47 percent of adult women considered themselves someone who struggles with anxiety. Among those aged 30 and under, roughly 70 percent of women reported anxiousness while approximately 50 percent of men reported the same.

Anxiety disorders can include obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder. When combined, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental disorders, experts say. In severe cases, people can become seriously functionally impaired.

It’s difficult to find reliable evidence citing an increase in prevalence rates for anxiety over the last 50 years, but a report conducted in 2018 states more people are seeking treatment for anxiety-related issues which may explain why it seems to have become more commonplace. This study reported that 30 to 50 percent of anxiety disorders are heritable, meaning that the clinical picture of anxiety disorders really would not have changed substantially over the past decades.

Still, the perception that we as a society are coming seriously undone has sparked a burgeoning anxiety economy with “calming” products being advertised from anti-anxiety smartphone apps to magnetic bracelets.

Dr. Rosmarin expressed particular concern about high self-reported rates of anxiety among youth. On social media, we size ourselves up against everyone else, wondering why they get to enjoy happiness while we experience misery. According to Dr. Rosmarin, we don’t have to deal with the level of adversity that society used to.

We live in an unusually privileged moment in time and place. We don’t live in a period of stress anywhere near where people have lived in historically, or that people are suffering from around the world. There’s a lot in this world that’s worth being anxious about. That’s not pathological, that’s part of life.


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