Psychologist Ali Mattu categorically states that anxiety is the most common mental illness within the opening 17 seconds of The Mind, Explained.
According to Anxiety UK, 40% of mental health issues worldwide are due to depression and anxiety. And, in 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in Great Britain alone.
The five-part mini-series dropped to Netflix on September 12th and although episodes feel like micro-doses at 21 minutes per piece, they’re crammed with useful knowledge, interviews and study citation.
Tie in the soothing sounds of award-winning actress Emma Stone as the narrator and The Mind, Explained is a winning package, most notably because of its insight and simplicity.
Here are five key points to take home from the anxiety episode with useful knowledge to help you, your friends or family members understand what the mental illness is all about.
Anxiety evolved as a helpful emotion
For many, the idea that anxiety is a helpful and useful emotion sounds outrageously wrong. However, The Mind, Explained hits us with a useful warthog analogy to carefully explain that anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky explained that warthogs suffer from anxiety. The emotional centre of a warthogs brain is fired into anxiety mode when it sees a lion.
But this isn’t a bad thing.
The warthog becomes completely prepared to both fight or flee with an increase in vision, heart rate and blood flow to muscles while digestion and reproduction organs are shut off because they’re not needed.
“Anxiety evolved as a helpful emotion as he prepares you it escape danger. Humans are smart enough to mobilze the exact same physiology as a warthog seeing a lion at the end of a field.
The difference is that we do it worrying about the 30-year mortgage we just signed on for.”
Your brain in an association machine
Seeds of anxiety are constantly planted throughout your life, with no escaping them.
On one hand, that can be a good thing. A warthog that is attacked by lion from a bush will go on to associate bushes with fear and therefore treat them with more caution in the future.
The same applies for humans. But this means that for anyone who has been brought up with traumatic experiences, anxiety is ingrained into their personalities.
“If you’ve been brought up as a refugee with shelling all around you then you’re just another primate whose brain is being taught to live a lifetime of vigilance.”
Understand your anxiety – there are four types
The helpful documentary grouped anxiety disorder into four groups; catastrophic, evaluation, losing control and uncertainty.
Evaluation fears are related to social anxiety and are the most common. This refers to having a consistent feeling that you’re being watched or judged. A common theme in 2019 will be doubting what you’re wearing, adamant that everyone in the room is looking at you.
Losing control is the fear of falling into an anxiety or panic attack because of the lack of control that comes with it. You may avoid certain places or situations to ensure that anxiety doesn’t creep in. Not going out for dinner, for instance, because you don’t want to be in a situation with less control.
Uncertainty fears are a fear of not knowing what is going to happen and developing a fixation of impulse and thoughts. OCD falls into this category. It can be common for people to mentally run over exact and meticulous details of a plan before undertaking it, even if it is as small as popping out to shop to grab milk.
Catastrophic fears are the belief that something really bad is going to happen which includes the fear of being away from loved ones, such as family, as well as specific fears like arachnophobia etc.
Comedian Maria Bamford gave us the example that she developed a catastrophic fear that she may suddenly harm her family.
Social media and anxiety are connected
The biggest talking point of anxiety in the modern era is if and how anxiety is connected to social media, with studies showing that teenagers who are more exposed to social media have been more susceptible to anxiety.
However, there is a debate as to whether those with anxiety are more drawn to the isolation of social media in the first place, opposed to social media drawing in people with anxiety.
Psychologist Ali Mattu likened social media to the invention of the car. He said:
“I feel like we have invented the automobile. The automobile has gained complete penetration in society and everyone is driving around… but we haven’t invented the safety belt yet.”
The medication process is far from simple and never guaranteed
A huge take-away from the documentary is the fact that anxiety is extremely complicated and varies hugely between indviduals. This also makes it incredibly difficult to diagnose and treat.
Alcohol, marijuana, CBD and prescription drugs can all have both positive and negative effects based on the individual.
Case study on the anxiety episode, comedian Maria Bamford, said that it took her 15 years before she found the right medication.
“We used to think we might be able to cure anxiety but that doesn’t seem the case. Treating anxiety is much more about learning how to experience anxiety.”