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Anxiety Disorders on the Rise

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) estimates that anxiety rates have continued to rise steadily over the decades. Today, the ADAA estimates that more than 40 million people suffer from anxiety disorders in this country, based on prescription drug sales. And younger generations seem to be most affected. But if anxiety disorders really are on the rise, the question is...why? Even with major events like 9/11 causing widespread fears of terrorist attacks, and the economic collapse of 2008 causing deep financial insecurity, how could current times be more anxiety-producing than the Great Depression, or World War II?

One recent idea is that modern popular culture and the media have essentially inflated expectations of how much average people can achieve and how much pure happiness life offers. Living in the Great Depression was miserable, in other words, but the hardscrabble life of those times was in line with popular expectations, and therefore did not produce as much anxiety. This idea is related to the concept that the younger generations ("Gen X and Y") were raised by their boomer parents to hold starkly unrealistic expectations of their own competency and the degree of success and acclaim they are likely to achieve in life. These generations are, in a sense, sufferers of a cultural disease of narcissism. This idea is most fully explored in San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge's 2009 book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, as well as her 2006 book Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—And More Miserable Than Ever Before.

The question of why anxiety disorders are on the rise--especially for the younger generations--is a complex one that is likely answered by many factors. It does make intuitive sense, though, that expectations of achievement in life could play a pivotal role, and that those whose expectations have been unrealistically inflated have been set up to fall into an anxious downward spiral.

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