Anxiety Levels Peak In Middle-Aged People, Nationwide Study Reveals

02/02/2016 13:12 | Updated 02 February 2016

Anxiety levels peak among people aged 40-60, new statistics show, proving there might be more to the much-referenced 'midlife crisis' than meets the eye.

A new government study of wellbeing in the UK found that, generally speaking, people are experiencing relatively high levels of life satisfaction and happiness - with those aged 16-19 and 65-79 experiencing the highest ratings.

People aged between 45 and 54, however, reported low average ratings of life satisfaction and happiness, which coincided with a sharp rise in anxiety levels.

Mental health experts and doctors have since issued advice on how to battle anxiety during this time, when divorce, bereavement and money troubles often come into play.

woman 50 serious

The Office Of National Statistics looked at personal wellbeing ratings between 2012 and 2015, and created average scores for areas including life satisfaction, happiness, worthwhile and anxiety.

It showed that between the ages of 40 and 60 years old, anxiety levels peak with people aged 50-54 suffering the most.

These levels then drop after the age of 60, coinciding with an increase in life satisfaction and happiness.

Dr Helen Webberley is the dedicated GP for Oxford Online Pharmacy. She says that anxiety issues are something she comes across more and more with middle-aged patients.

"We tend to see more cases in women and I agree, it seems to peak in the forties and fifties," she explained.

"There may be various reasons for this but the typical scenario I see is patients with the burden of one or more jobs, the demands of children and running a home, and then the added worry and stress of caring for elderly relatives.

"In the past there may have been a nanny, cook, house-keeper and maid. Now the two adults in the home have to do it all. Expectations are high from employers, children and relatives - and life is hard.

"Add to this financial concerns and the pressure mounts leading to depression and anxiety."

Rachel Boyd, information manager for mental health charity Mind, said that dealing with bereavement or divorce can also add to this.

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Average personal wellbeing ratings between 2012 and 2015

So why do these feelings of anxiety then decrease after the age of 60?

Boyd said: "It is possible that from the age of 60 onwards people are more likely to retire, relieving them of the pressures of work.

"It is also likely that people may become more accepting of what they have and less demanding of themselves."

For those experiencing high and almost unbearable levels of anxiety, as opposed to feeling generally anxious about life, Boyd has some advice.

“While most people can relate to the idea of feeling tense in the lead up to a stressful event like a job interview or moving house, mental health problems like anxiety and depression, have a much bigger impact on your life and can even stop you being able to do things you used to do," she explained.

"Anxiety as a mental health problem is not the same as being ‘a bit shy’ and it’s important to seek help as soon as possible if you feel like your anxiety is interfering with your ability to do the things you normally would."

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She explained that anxiety doesn't just have an affect on the mind, but it can also affect your body too.

"Physical symptoms can include increased heart rate, muscle tension, dizziness, difficulty breathing, sweating, shaking and feeling sick," she said.

"Psychological symptoms include feeling nervous and tense, thinking about a worrying situation over and over again and feeling that other people are noticing your anxiety.

“You may experience severe or frequent panic attacks, for no apparent reason, or have a persistent, 'free-floating' sense of anxiety. You may find that you feel like running away or escape, or that you’re spending lots of time and energy working out how to avoid anxious situations.

"If you experience social anxiety you might also avoid situations that could trigger your anxiety, such as meeting up with friends, going out shopping or even answering the phone."

Boyd urges people experiencing these symptoms and feelings to speak to someone, such as a GP, or even a friend or family member.

For more information on anxiety visit mind.org.uk/anxiety or call the infoline on 0300 123 3393.

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