Anxiety is a complex and difficult affliction for those who have not experienced it or known someone close who suffers from it to really understand. It is too often dismissed as “it’s all in your mind” by those who cannot rationally understand it. And that is the single thing that most people do not understand. Many times feelings of anxiety are not rational.
With mental health getting a bigger and bigger focus in our society, more people are trying to understand anxiety better. Economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has reported that searches in Google for anxiety have doubled in the past eight years.
Of interest to note in his reporting is that heavily reported events such as major terrorism attacks do not increase searches. Google, of course, Is just one source. Not everyone who experiences feelings of anxiousness or know someone who needs help is seeking help online (or in just Google when they do go online for that matter). However, there is some interesting insight that we can pull from Google.
First, panic attack searches are found to occur most often in “less educated, poorer parts of the country.” As one example, the “epicenter of anxiety” occurs in a small industrial city in Maine in which only 20 percent of the population has a college degree. The region has been dubbed the “home of potatoes and panic attacks” by one local newspaper.
Finances seem to be a driver of anxiety.
States that were more deeply affected by the Great Recession saw bigger increases in anxiety during and after the recession. I estimate that each percentage point increase in unemployment is associated with a 1.4 percent increase in anxiety.
A second driving factor seems to be withdrawal from drug use. Searches for terms relating to addiction and withdrawal are also on the rise, notes Stephens-Davidowitz. Both addiction and anxiety are influenced by memory. In the case of addiction, a positive reinforcement creates an insatiable urge to do it again. This can later shift to negative reinforcement where an addict’s behavior is focused not on pleasure. It is focused on a fear of experiencing withdrawal.
Because of this, panic attacks are often a symptom of withdrawal. If the compulsion to use is not satisfied, a feeling of dread can overcome the addict.
This cycle is not found only in drug use. You can see similar behavior as it relates to things like food, sex, and even gambling.
Of course, addiction goes beyond just being influenced by our brain’s memory system. There are many other factors involved.
The fear of not having enough money setting off a panic attack, in a society where so much depends on money, is not surprising.