May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And with the psychedelic medicine space being, at its core, about improving people’s lives and mental well-being, Microdose is doing its part to support mental health education with a series of informative articles and resources.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety, a natural and usually short-lived reaction to stress, is familiar to everyone. It’s a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. But when feelings of intense fear and distress become overwhelming and prevent us from doing everyday activities, an anxiety disorder may be the cause.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of emotional disorder and can affect anyone at any age. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a chronic condition characterized by excessive, long-lasting anxiety and worry about nonspecific life events, objects, and situations. GAD sufferers often feel afraid and worry about health, money, family, work, or school, but they have trouble both identifying the specific fear and controlling the worries. Their fear is usually unrealistic or out of proportion with what may be expected in their situation.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several types of anxiety disorders:
Several types of anxiety disorders exist:
- Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and often avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.
- Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition includes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are directly caused by a physical health problem.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) includes persistent and excessive anxiety and worry about activities or events — even ordinary, routine issues. The worry is out of proportion to the actual circumstance, is difficult to control and affects how you feel physically. It often occurs along with other anxiety disorders or depression.
- Panic disorder involves repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). You may have feelings of impending doom, shortness of breath, chest pain, or a rapid, fluttering or pounding heart (heart palpitations).
- Separation anxiety disorder is a childhood disorder characterized by anxiety that’s excessive for the child’s developmental level and related to separation from parents or others who have parental roles.
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) involves high levels of anxiety, fear and avoidance of social situations due to feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness and concern about being judged or viewed negatively by others.
- Specific phobias are characterized by major anxiety when you’re exposed to a specific object or situation and a desire to avoid it. Phobias provoke panic attacks in some people.
- Substance-induced anxiety disorder is characterized by symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are a direct result of misusing drugs, taking medications, being exposed to a toxic substance or withdrawal from drugs.
How Anxiety Works on the Brain
Anxiety impacts the brain in a complex way and researchers are still unraveling the intricate workings of this relationship. To begin with, anxiety affects various parts of the brain including the amygdala and the hippocampus.
The amygdala is involved in processing our emotions and is closely linked to fear responses. When we encounter something that our brain perceives as threatening, the amygdala triggers a fear response which can be manifested as anxiety.
The hippocampus, on the other hand, plays a crucial role in processing our memories. In the case of anxiety, especially disorders like PTSD, this part of the brain may replay disturbing events, causing an individual to experience fear and anxiety.
Anxiety disorders are also related to the imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, are responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells. If these neurotransmitters are out of balance, messages may not reach the brain correctly, leading to symptoms of anxiety.
Anxiety: Stats and Numbers
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
The Mental Health Foundation in the UK also reports a similar trend that between 2013 and 2020, there was an increase in people reporting high levels of anxiety. The current global health crisis also seems to have exacerbated this trend, with an increasing number of people reporting feeling anxious due to the uncertainty of the situation. It’s also reported that more women report experience high levels of anxiety compared to men
Treatment for anxiety disorders can be effective, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive it. This highlights the crucial need for increased awareness about anxiety disorders, their impact, and the availability of treatment options.
Anxiety and Psychedelic Medicine
While traditional treatments for anxiety can help, they can have relatively low rates of effectiveness for some patients and can come with side effects. The ineffectiveness of current treatments has led in part the search for alternative treatments for anxiety like psychedelic medicine.
At the moment, Ketamine treatments and esketamine nasal spray are the only legal psychedelics being used, and they’ve shown positive results in treating anxiety.
On-going clinical trials using psychedelics for anxiety are also showing very positive results, led by MindMed’s ongoing trial using LSD for General Anxiety Disorder. The trial is the most advanced of its kind, currently in Phase 2b and with positive results from Phase 2a.
For more psychedelics for mental health, check out our review of Depression.
If you’re suffering from anxiety or other mental health conditions, please reach out for help. In addition to family and friends, resources and helplines can be found here: https://findahelpline.com
Editor’s Note: Some passages of this text were produced using ChatGPT
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