The theories of anxiety

 anxietyFrom the New York Times Health Guide.

Anxiety, an ever-present stress, afflicts 40 million adults in the U.S., according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It also comes in several varieties, aside from Generalized Anxiety Disorder which lacks a specific cause. You have…

1. Social anxiety.

2. Panic attacks.

3. Specific phobias.

4. The only-Sheldon-Cooper-would-ever-self-inflict-it anxiety.

Anxiety is not solely for half-mad scientists, however: adolescents are more susceptible to anxiety than other age groups, according to psychiatrist and New York Times Op-Ed Contributer, Richard A. Friedman. In his work “Why Teenagers Act Crazy,” Friedman contrasts teens risk-taking behavior, driven by a fully developed “reward center,” with their increased anxiety.

Largely because of a quirk of brain development, adolescents, on average, experience more anxiety and fear and have a harder time learning how not to be afraid than either children or adults.

Different regions and circuits of the brain mature at very different rates. It turns out that the brain circuit for processing fear — the amygdala — is precocious and develops way ahead of the prefrontal cortex, the seat of reasoning and executive control. This means that adolescents have a brain that is wired with an enhanced capacity for fear and anxiety, but is relatively underdeveloped when it comes to calm reasoning.

The causes of anxiety, however, are more ambiguous. Many of Friedman’s patients couldn’t identify a trigger prompting their anxiety which began in adolescence. WebMD attributes it to stress, a trauma, a symptom of illness, or drug abuse. But I don’t think that’s sufficient. Too many teens, including in Mason, are unable to navigate social situations due to extreme anxiety. It goes beyond everyday stress and TV punchlines as one of the nation’s leading mental illnesses. We need less of a laugh and more of a lift–until anxiety is treated as the illness it is.


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