[music playing] In the past few years, I've noticed people talking about anxiety a lot.
And this is a great thing.
There's a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness and a lack of education and awareness about what is and what is not a normal and healthy mental state.
But I'm also a little worried.
A recent poll came out from the American Psychiatric Association that found that 39% of American adults are more anxious now than they were this time was last year.
So what's going on?
Why are we more anxious now than ever before?
In any given year, about 20% of Americans experience mental illness, including major depression, bipolar disorder, or generalized anxiety disorder.
Mental illnesses are confusing and hard to treat.
And I just want to say up front, if you think that you might have an anxiety disorder, please speak about it with a medical professional.
To diagnose generalized anxiety disorder, medical professionals use criteria listed in the DSM-5.
Some of the criteria mention how a patient's worrying should be excessive and difficult to control and how the effects are bad enough to impact the rest of their life.
While these criteria are being used in clinical settings, researchers are trying to find out what causes anxiety.
If you've seen American pharmaceutical commercials, you've probably heard of the culprit "a chemical imbalance in the brain."
That's not a very informative phrase.
But it turns out it might not be that far from the truth.
With genetic testing becoming more and more affordable, scientists are identifying some of the genetic underpinnings of anxiety.
One gene, the COMT gene, has two common variants.
If you have one variant, you're able to clear dopamine from the brain faster than if you have the other.
People with this variant are better at handling adverse situations and are named "warriors."
People with other variant clear dopamine more slowly and may be better at memory or attention tasks.
But in high-stress situations, they don't do well.
They've been cold "worriers."
It's why COMT is sometimes called the worrier/warrior gene.
And it gives us some indication of why otherwise smart, ambitious, and hardworking people might fall apart under pressure, while others seem to do their best work in the worst situations, though genetics can't explain every case of anxiety.
No matter what your genes look like, there's still an environmental factor.
Groundbreaking study done by the CDC in the '90s looked at the impact of adverse childhood experiences on long-term health.
The study found that childhood trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or abandonment, was linked to mental, behavioral, and even physical health problems later in life.
For example, people with three or more adverse childhood experiences report more anxiety.
But even if you had the perfect childhood, stresses as an adult can trigger anxiety issues, too.
In the poll I mentioned, the one that found that 39% of American adults are more anxious today than they were a year ago, many factors contributed to the rise in anxiety.
The greatest increase was in anxiety about paying bills.
Following that, people were the most anxious about their health, particularly if they didn't have private health insurance.
And then they were anxious about their safety and politics.
What polls like this capture is how we feel about clearly defined things, like our bills, our health, or an increasingly polarized political climate.
So we can say, yes, people seem to be worrying more about these things in their life.
This might not be at a clinical level.
But it does contribute to higher levels of stress.
And if you're an anxious person already, you may be particularly sensitive to these stresses.
There are things that we do understand about anxiety, like some underlying genetic and environmental factors.
Beyond that, the brain and the world are insanely complicated, as is a clear picture of every factor that contributes to anxiety.
Though for now, outside of professional treatment, there are things we know can help.
Regular exercise, meditation, talking with friends, and limiting my caffeine consumption has helped me worry less.
So please take your mental health seriously.
And don't just do it for yourself.
Please do it for me, too, because I worry about you guys-- worry, worry, warrior, worrier.
I'm somewhere in between.