When 22-year-old Katie needs help falling asleep, she pops in a DVD of a favorite Disney or “Harry Potter” movie, but not because there’s nothing on TV. Having suffered from anxiety since she was 5 years old, the recent college graduate finds that these familiar movies help to distract from the negative thoughts and feelings that cloud her mind at night.“It’s like the floodgates open and every anxious thought comes pouring into my mind when it’s imperative that I have a restful night’s sleep,” she said. . Though Katie found a method of coping with the late-night stress, she has sought help from a therapist, as well as her family and friends to deal with severe panic attacks and other symptoms of her anxiety
Katie’s anxiety is shared by many high school and college students who are experiencing higher levels of anxiety than students of the Great Depression, according to a 2010 study done by Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me,” at San Diego State University. Loss of breath, rapid heart rate, dizziness, blurred vision: for the many members of Generation Y who suffer from anxiety these aren’t the symptoms of a medical emergency, but daily occurrences
But anxiety doesn’t just strike at night. Though Katie found a method of coping with the late-night stress, she has sought help from a therapist, as well as her family and friends to deal with severe panic attacks and other symptoms of her anxiety. (Katie, and the other Gen Yers interviewed will only be identified by first name to protect their privacy.)
Lisa Schab, a psychotherapist and author of “The Anxiety Workbook for Teens,” has found that the best way to deal with anxiety and its symptoms varies from one person to another, but there are two basic methods she advises for anyone. “The main coping skills I teach to teens or adults are to work with your thoughts and your breath– two tools that fortunately, everyone already has,” she said. “It’s just a matter of learning how to use them to help you.”
However Schab has noticed some differences among how Gen Yers handle their anxiety compared to previous generations. “I see an overall greater intolerance for ‘normal’ feelings of discomfort or anxiety. These kids have been raised in a ‘quick-fix’ ‘drive-through’ society where there is a huge emphasis on immediate gratification,” she said. But rarely is there a “quick-fix” for anxiety.
Schab describes a uniquely negative outlook within Generation Y. “The world appears to be a scarier and less stable place than it did a generation or two ago. Kids don’t see the world as trusting and positive of a place as much as they used to,” she said.
This may partially explain why all three types of anxiety tend to begin during early adulthood. The most common is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, characterized by a near constant, non-specific worrying or fear. GAD has a median age of onset in the early twenties, according to a study conducted by the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.
Also common is Social Anxiety Disorder, which tends to begin in the mid to late teens, and differs from GAD in that the constant source of worry is being judged by others, embarrassed, or other social concerns. Another type is Panic Disorder, with a median age of onset of 23, it causes people to experience panic attacks. Much of GenY is currently within this age range, when the most common anxiety disorders often begin.
Nicole, a 19-year-old Towson University student, developed anxiety in mid-October after a breakup. Her anxiety peaks when she feels a loss of control and begins to imagine worst-case scenarios. She uses a few methods of avoiding such thoughts. “I try to keep busy and focus on positive thoughts, but sometimes it’s literally impossible to get rid of the anxiety and I just have to deal with it,” she said.
After her anxiety first started, Nicole met with a Towson University therapist, and has seen the same therapist a few times. She also copes by talking to close friends and her mother, who has suffered from anxiety herself, on the phone everyday. “It helps to talk to people and explain to them exactly what I’m feeling,” she said. Soon, however, Nicole plans to see a psychiatrist and get an official diagnosis, which may lead to prescribed medication.
In addition to anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants, recommended courses of treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps to change thought patterns and behaviors. Some millenials have, through trial and error, devised their own methods. Timothy, now a 22-year-old marketing director, found a different solution to the social anxieties he developed in middle school, when he was bullied for being overweight. His anxious feelings made him uncomfortable around others and caused him to avoid people and new situations, which he now regrets. “I feel like I missed out on some major experiences because of it,” he said.
Though he did go through counseling to cope with these feelings, the best outlet for Timothy came through participating in high school football and basketball teams. “Sports helped me out so much. It got me in shape and I was a good player, which boosted my self esteem,” he said, “It also helped me become more social in that I had something in common with my teammates.”
Looking to bring that social experience online, Salomon Ptasevich founded Anxiety Social Net earlier this year. A social network for people suffering from anxiety, ASN is intended to help people share their experiences and feel less lonely. There are already thousands of users on the site from diverse ages and backgrounds who can make profiles and add each other as friends, similar to Facebook.
Ptasevich decided to start Anxiety Social Net after searching for a website to help deal with his own GAD and social anxieties, and feeling dissatisfied with the results. “I looked for a site where I could learn from others’ experiences and talk one on one,” he said. “All I found was forums that were really impersonal for my taste.” On ASN, users can share their current state through an emotion chart and write diary posts to be seen by other members. One of the most popular features is a Q&A service where users can ask questions to be answered by others.
Soon Ptasevich will launch a new therapist program for the site. This will allow therapists to pay a monthly fee to belong to ASN so that users looking for one can see more about them, and choose a local therapist that they feel would be a good fit. “Peer-to-peer support is great but we want to give more value to our users, and give them the chance to choose a therapist socially,” Ptasevich said.
Therapy is one of the treatment options for anxiety, and though there is little research available on the success of specific treatments, fewer than one-third of GAD sufferers treated with psychotherapy relapsed within the first 6-12 months post-treatment. This is a much lower rate of relapse compared to other forms of treatment, according to the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.
Alexandra, a student at the University of Southern California, hasn’t sought professional help for her anxiety, but she is interested in trying it. Until then, she copes through frequent exercise including running, weight training, and yoga. “It keeps me in the present and promotes awareness of my body,” she said, “I’ve become a fitness junkie because of my anxiety.”
The theater and forensics major also speaks with her friends and family frequently about how she feels, and tries to control her own anxious thoughts. “Anxiety is an every day, every hour type of struggle. I practice internally talking myself down. It’s been helping a lot,” Alexandra said, “I still struggle with anxiety everyday, but it’s something I’m slowly learning to control.”