In July 2022, Forbes published an article on a pressing question of the day. Is anger and anxiety in the post-COVID workplace “the new normal?” Back then, rates of anger, anxiety and aggression were found to be accelerating for the third consecutive year. According to Forbes contributor and leadership strategist Jan Bruce, the Gallup 2022 workforce poll found 44% of the world’s employees experienced anxiety and anger.
Commenting on the growing mental health crisis, Bruce wrote, “There is no stronger human reaction than the one you have when you feel threatened. … These accelerating trends are now the new normal in our lives and thus as business leaders we must recognize and reckon with the reality that effective mental health support — preventive and clinical — is now a core talent strategy and an essential for business success. The thing about anxiety and anger that grows to aggression is that it is no longer an individual challenge to manage, it is a collective challenge.”
If we were to ask a similar question today, a year later, it might be: Is the challenge being met?
According to an analysis posted on PsychCentral, anger and anxiety are “two sides of the same coin.” They are similar and closely intertwined as both constitute a state of “agitated unease.” A key point in which they differ is that “the anxiety response of fighting is defensive while the anger response is offensive,” says PsychCentral. Anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder today comprise some of the most diagnosed mental health conditions in the U.S., affecting 42.5 million adults, reports Forbes. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder.
As recently reported by The New York Times and others, to confront a growing public health crisis, a panel of influential medical experts known as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is now recommending for the first time that doctors screen all adult patients under 65 for symptoms of anxiety. They have made a similar recommendation for children ages 8 to 18.
Issues with anxiety are not only becoming more pervasive. For many- they can be overwhelming. When anxiety triggers anger, the situation can worsen and spill over to affect not only the person experiencing the episode but those around them. It can generate outbursts in which the way a person reacts is grossly out of proportion to the situation. It can also lead to reactions much more severe than temper tantrums. It can lead to road rage.
Says the Mayo Clinic, there is a term now used to describe sudden episodes of impulsive, aggressive, violent behavior: Intermittent explosive disorder. These “eruptions” occur suddenly, with little or no warning, says the Mayo Clinic.
Robert Enright is a licensed psychologist and a professor of educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In a November 2022 article in Psychology Today, he suggests that the anger diagnosis can sometimes be viewed as something even more severe. When agitation leads to reckless driving and is coupled with depression, it may be a sign of “suicidal tendencies,” he writes. He further suggests that, in the interest of public safety, it may be time for those exhibiting such behavior to be screened for agitation, depression, and suicidal ideation.
“How many of you reading this essay have seen, for instance, a motorcyclist speeding far beyond the legal limit, then going between lanes or outside of the legal lanes to pass others, with an apparent disregard for the life of others or for the self?”, he says. “I argue that some of these individuals who are driving particularly recklessly — cars as well as motorcycles — may very well have suicidal tendencies, or what I would label as subconscious suicidal ideation. Even sadder than this possible unconscious suicidal ideation is the disregard for the life of those who are hit by the one driving the vehicle. There seems to be a disregard for life in general — both one’s own and those who are victims of the crash.” (In my research, I found no evidence that such screenings are happening.)
“Perhaps it is time to flip this around and assess those who engage in reckless driving for depression and possible suicidal ideation, even the subconscious form, for the sake of these drivers — and for those unsuspecting ones driving near them,” he concludes.
It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to see anxiety-induced anger dangerously played out daily on America’s streets and highways. And I believe you don’t need to be a victim of such driving or even directly witness such behavior to be injured by it.
There is a long-established term for the fear or phobia of driving a vehicle: “driving anxiety.” While it is not considered an official clinical condition, it describes a person experiencing emotional distress while driving and having to avoid certain situations on the road, or it could be just the idea of driving in general.
“It can result in significant distress and impact someone’s everyday life,” says a Medical News Today report. “A person may remember past negative experiences they have had in a vehicle and worry that a similar scenario will play out again. … Fear may cause a person to consider worst-case scenarios and not trust their own or other drivers’ abilities. Even though someone may not have directly experienced a car accident, their imagination may make them feel anxious about the possibility of dying in an accident.”
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 12.5% of American adults experience a specific phobia at some point in their lives. I wonder what that number would look like related to “driving anxiety” if a poll were taken today?
We are experiencing an epidemic of anxiety in today’s world. And in my opinion, it is accelerated by, though not properly attributed to, folks driving out of their heads recklessly on the roadways of America. Just the idea of what is going on out there is enough to make one dread getting behind the wheel. It is time we make dealing with the situation the proper public health priority that it deserves to be.