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Trauma Experts Weigh In

Why Is Anxiety So Common in America? Trauma Experts Weigh In

It's a Friday night, and your friends are excited about a big party in town. They're all set to paint the town red, but you? Well, you want to stay home. 


Sounds familiar? 


Imagine this on a much grander scale - not just a weekend decision but a nationwide phenomenon.  


Anxiety is rising in the United States, with 19.1% of Americans reporting suffering from this mental health condition. 


This phenomenon begs the question: Why does the US have the highest anxiety rate in the world? In this article, we delve into the various factors contributing to the prevalence of anxiety in America, including the adverse effects of social media, the role of mental trauma, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health.


The Dark Side of Social Media


The pervasive use of social media has become integral to modern life. However, the constant exposure to curated and often idealized lifestyles on social platforms can have a detrimental impact on mental health. Experts suggest that the influence of social media on mental well-being is predominantly negative. The "Fear of Missing Out" (FOMO) phenomenon can drive anxiety as individuals constantly compare their lives to those on social media.


Melanie Squire, a renowned trauma consultant, points out the paradoxical nature of social media. "Ironically, despite its goal to connect people, it can make individuals feel increasingly isolated and lonely," says Squire. This isolation can contribute to anxiety, as the need for social interaction and the connection is unmet.


Additionally, increased social media use has led to a surge in bad sleep habits. The constant connectivity to screens, late-night scrolling, and exposure to blue light all contribute to sleep disturbances. Sleep deprivation, in turn, is a known contributor to anxiety.


Understanding the Role of Mental Trauma in Anxiety


Mental trauma plays a significant role in the development of anxiety disorders. Trauma is not an illness but an event or experience that can profoundly impact an individual's mental health. Traumatic experiences can include natural disasters, war-related trauma (common among veterans and refugees), violence, and accidents.


Trauma triggers a stress response in the brain, known as the "fight or flight" response, involving the release of cortisol and norepinephrine. This response is adaptive in moments of real danger. Still, it can become problematic when individuals develop heightened stress responses to non-dangerous environmental cues. Such heightened stress responses are associated with various anxiety disorders.

Melanie Squire speaks to first respondersMelanie Squire discusses the "fight or flight" response.


Melanie Squire explains, "Trauma comes in different forms - it can be a major event like a natural disaster or a violent assault, but it can also be a series of smaller, chronic traumas like bullying or social isolation." Trauma can leave lasting scars on an individual's mental health, and treatment is crucial for recovery.


The Impact of COVID-19 on Anxiety Rates


The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on mental health, further exacerbating anxiety rates. The pandemic brought unprecedented challenges, including isolation, loss of community, and uncertainty. As a result, many individuals have acknowledged their need for help and sought mental health services.


Melanie Squire, who has experience in debriefing teams following critical incidents, comments on the pandemic's impact, saying, "COVID-19 prompted a significant number of people to realize they needed help. They were dealing with isolation, loss of community, and a loss of what they knew to be important in their lives. More people began to say, 'I need help; it seems like many others do too."



Types of Anxiety Disorders


Several common anxiety disorders plague the US population, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These disorders manifest in various ways, from chronic worry to panic attacks and avoidance of social situations.


Are We in an Anxiety Epidemic?


The rising rates of anxiety in the United States raise the question: Are we in the midst of an anxiety epidemic? 


The factors discussed in this article, including social media's influence and the consequences of trauma and the COVID-19 pandemic, indicate that the prevalence of anxiety in the US is a complex and multifaceted issue. Rather than a single cause, the confluence of these factors contributes to the high anxiety rates.


How to Beat Constant Anxiety


Overcoming constant anxiety is a complex process, but some strategies and techniques can be effective:


  1. Therapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are proven methods for managing and overcoming anxiety disorders.
  2. Medication: Sometimes, medication may be prescribed to manage severe anxiety symptoms. Working closely with a mental health professional is essential to determine the proper treatment approach.
  3. Lifestyle Changes: Incorporating regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep can significantly reduce anxiety. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing, can also help manage anxious thoughts and emotions.
  4. Social Support: Building and maintaining strong social connections can provide a crucial buffer against anxiety. Talking to friends and family and seeking support from a therapist or support groups can make a significant difference.




The high prevalence of anxiety in the United States is a complex issue with various contributing factors. The adverse effects of social media, the role of mental trauma, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health all play a role in the increasing rates of anxiety. While we may not be in an official "anxiety epidemic," it is clear that addressing this mental health challenge is more crucial than ever. 


Seeking help, professionally and through lifestyle changes, is essential for individuals to overcome constant anxiety and move towards a path of mental well-being.


*The content herein is for informational purposes and is not medical advice.


Natalie Nyugen

Natalie Nyugen / About Author

Research analyst and contributor on Company InFocus. B.A. in International Marketing from Rutgers Business School.