I was an anxious kid, an even more anxious teen. So much so that the nuns at my Catholic school let me skip mass each morning because of how often I threw up or fainted. Even in college, I did so now and again. And while it’s been decades since, anxiety once again has become a near-constant companion, in large part due to COVID.
And I’m not the only one who is anxious.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that anxiety increased by 25% across the globe in the first year of the pandemic. And this fall, a panel of medical experts recommended for the first time that doctors screen all patients under the age of 65 for anxiety which, involves asking questions about symptoms: How often do you feel nervous, anxious or on edge? Do you have trouble concentrating? Does worry present you from falling or staying asleep?
I’m not sure why I and all the rest of us age 65 and older aren’t covered by the WHO’s recommendation, but I do believe we ought to be. After all, it’s not like anxiety goes away with age. In fact, I and many of my friends and colleagues who are 65+ report an increase in anxiety, in part because we no longer have the self-esteem and support system that came with our jobs. Health issues are also a factor.
Some of us also report an increase in hang-xiety, which is anxiety some people experience after drinking alcohol. I certainly did shortly after the start of the pandemic when I found myself indulging far too often in a second or even third cocktail, which research shows can decrease dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in keeping anxiety under control.
It’s one reason why I reluctantly gave up drinking this year. It’s also why I’m doing other things as well:
Setting reasonable goals
Striving for progress, not perfection
Asking for help and support
Trying eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
I’m also admitting that I’m struggling. Doing so has been tough for me but it’s getting easier thanks to the love and support of family, friends and my fellow writers/Word Sisters.