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Why Has Anxiety Increased?

You may know the symptoms of anxiety. But what are the causes of anxiety?

Having worked with students and professionals for many years, I have seen an increase in anxiety.

An outgoing and motivated student who grew up in Lake Oswego turned into an isolated and fearful young adult lacking resilience.

A parent in Tualatin who used to feel more freedom in life has become more frustrated over time. There is a feeling of being locked into responsibilities, or even an overwhelming sense of things being “out of control.”

And while CoVid-19 has made life more uncertain for many people over the past year, the truth is that many of the cause for anxiety were already present. The experience of CoVid-19 has only made it more difficult to escape or distract ourselves from the causes.

Knowing the reasons for maladies can help you make changes to correct a situation. And you want to make those changes. You want to live with more freedom.

With this in mind, here are some of the reasons that there has been an increase in anxiety in our society. And maybe in your life, too.

Reason for Increased Anxiety #1 — Increased Reporting of Anxiety:

As people have become more aware of anxiety, there is more acceptance of it. And with that awareness and acceptance, more people are able and willing to report their experiences of anxiety.

And more people are willing to seek out help for their anxiety.

Reason for Increased Anxiety #2: The World Feels Threatening:

The upcoming generation has had a different kind of experience than those before them. They have lived in a world where school shootings are normal. One where 9/11 happened. Issues of social justice are constantly at the front of their minds. And one of the greatest sources of anxiety for young people happens to be climate change.

That was all before CoVid-19 was introduced into the world. Or the events that took place on January 6th in Washington, D.C.

Young people are feeling more threatened in our world. Some of it is sensationalized by news outlets.

But young people also feel like the issues they care about are being taken seriously. And that drives anxiety.

Reason for Increased Anxiety #3 — The Food We Eat:

You may think that alcohol helps to limit your anxiety or to take the edge off. But as the alcohol is processed in your body, the level of serotonin in your brain is impacted. This can lead to increased anxiety.

Coffee would be another stimulant that can increase anxiety. Processed foods also affect the body’s physical and chemical response during digestion. And you guessed it! That can increase anxiety.

Reason for Increased Anxiety #4 — Poor Sleep Habits:

This has been especially true during this time of CoVid-19. People are often losing track of time and not getting enough quality sleep in their lives.

Whether it is out of boredom or a genuine fear of missing out, people are staying up late. The technologies we now possess make it easier now than ever to take our media with us into our bedrooms.

Too many people are lying in bed at night watching YouTube or binging on Netflix on their cellphones, tablets, or laptops.

And I get it. You’ve been working all day. The nighttime is the only change you get for some “you time.”

But if you’re mind and body are worn out during the day, you’re not going to be able to manage a meaningful response to your anxiety.

Reason for Increased Anxiety #5 — Social Isolation:

This is another one that has increased due to CoVid-19. But social isolation was escalating among young people prior to February 2020. It’s not that young people do not socialize. It’s that they have learned to do it through screens.

And young people do not always feel comfortable when it comes to a face-to-face situation. So young people worry about being awkward or looking foolish in front of others. They face a form of social anxiety when going out.

Reason for Increased Anxiety #6 — Increased Expectations:

Young people are busier than ever.

I knew a middle school student that went to basketball practice at 6:30am. School started at 8am and got out at 3:30pm. Then a second basketball practice took place from 4:30pm-7pm. The kid got home around 7:30pm and had dinner. Then did homework until around 11:30pm. Or until they fell asleep on top of their schoolwork.

Then did it again the next day.

Kids are busier. Young adults are busier. Parents are busier. And people need help knowing how to manage their stress.

There is an increased expectation to take part in a variety of activities. But not just take part. There is an expectation to excel in those things that we participate in.

The world is moving faster in the name of production. And people are moving faster in order to meet that expectation to produce. And that is causing an increase of anxiety.

Reason for Increased Anxiety #7 — Less Adult Presence:

“But I’m always with my kids!”

That may be true for most parents during this time of CoVid-19. But being in the same vicinity is the not the same as being present. So many adults are distracted by their own technology while in the presence of others. Especially young people and kids.

And it also puts strain on our marriages.

It is possible to be close in proximity to another person and still not offer them your presence. So young people may be surrounded by others, and still not have a lot of people present.

One of my professors had a saying. "Every young person needs at least one adult who is absolutely crazy about them," he would say. Whether that is a parent, teacher, coach, pastor, or someone else.

The point is, as adults become busier and more distracted, young people have less people willing to be present. And less adults who pay attention to them without a need or desire to perform.

Reason for Increased Anxiety #8 — Getting Bailed Out:

Young adults are dealing with greater amounts of anxiety in part due to a fear to fail. In fact, many have never experienced failure or disappointment.

Parents have been quick to jump in and save their children from experiencing pain. Whether it is completing their kid’s homework to avoid bad grades. Or on their sports teams. Or in any other number of ways.

If young people have never experienced the pain of failure, then they have not had the opportunity to grow in resilience. And resilience can be so helpful in managing one’s anxiety.

Reason for Increased Anxiety #9 — Social Media:

Here’s the one that you’ve probably been waiting for. The advent of social media has increased anxiety through the unconscious play of “the comparison game.” The number of “followers” and “likes” matters for social status.

And the “feel good” hormones released by the brain when others respond to a post can make social media addicting. And this can cause young people to stay up late and — you guessed it — not get enough sleep.

There is also a phenomenon known as the “fear of missing out. It’s also known as FOMO. When young people see all the posts of people having fun and going on trips, they feel that they are missing out. The comparison game starts kicking in again.

And the anxiety or fear of not being good enough or not comparing to others starts to kick in.


There are many reasons for the increase of anxiety that we have witnessed over the last ten years or so. Unfortunately, many of these reasons aren’t going away anytime soon.

But there is good news. Once you know what some of the reasons are for your anxiety, you are able to take steps to lessen those anxiety experiences.

For example, you can delete the social media apps from your phone and only access them from a desktop.

Or you can introduce more fruits and nuts into your diet to help you manage the body chemistry.

Or introduce more practices to help you with work/life balance and manage stress.

And finding a professional mental health therapist can help reach the goals of mental and emotional wellness you desire.


Jason Wilkinson is passionate about helping individuals and professionals find freedom from anxiety and stress. He founded Wellspace Counseling to assist people living in Tualatin, Lake Oswego, Portland, and throughout Oregon, to rediscover the strength and self-confidence that already resides in them.


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