Approximately one-third of all Americans, including young people and children, struggle with anxiety or suffer from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issues in the U.S. In the first year of the pandemic, the World Health Organization estimated a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide.
The familiar ways of coping with anxiety, like anti-anxiety medication, seem to be amplifying the problem. Over the last 15 years, prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications have quadrupled, particularly amongst those under 25.
Has the desire to control and avoid anxiety made the problem worse? Is avoidance or neutralizing anxiety making us more fragile? Is there a right way to be anxious?
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In her latest book “Future Tense: Why Anxiety Is Good for You (Even Though It Feels Bad),” Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, professor of psychology and neuroscience and director of the Emotion Regulation Lab at Hunter College, unpacks the evolutionary origins of anxiety, the right way to live with it, and why avoidance isn’t the solution.
“The problem with an anxiety disorder is not that you have too much anxiety,” says Dennis-Twiary, “it's that the way that we are coping with anxiety, which tends to involve avoidance and suppression, is getting in the way of us being able to live our lives.”
Jonathan Bastian talks with Dennis-Tiwary about the anxiety epidemic and her book “Future Tense.”
Dennis-Tiwary explains that a better understanding of anxiety would help us distinguish between ordinary anxiety and anxiety disorders. Feeling anxious is less problematic than understanding how to constructively respond to the emotion.
“Anxiety is a feature of being human,” Dennis-Tiwary says. “It’s not a bug, it's not a malfunction. We can learn and work through it.”