Issues related to social anxiety and panic, specific phobias and post-traumatic stress disorders affect about 40 million Americans, according to data from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
And for a variety of reasons, less than half of those people are seeking help.
Care Pastor Dan Broyles of Valencia Hills Community Church wanted to see if the members of the congregation could provide resources and a way to help each other.
“I’ve just seen obviously an increase in anxiety in our culture,” Broyles said Monday during the Anxiety Summit hosted by the church on Avenue Standford. “I think people feel alone with anxiety and we want to provide a safe place to talk about it. And normalizing that it’s OK to get help.”
For weekend worship, the congregation usually numbers around 400, he said, so he was thrilled to see more than 250 show up to attend the weekday workshops, with titles like “Trauma and Anxiety,” “Tools for Dealing with Anxiety” and “The Impact of Social Media on Anxiety.”
The setting provided for spiritual discussion as well, with “What the Bible Says About Anxiety” and “How to Pray When You Feel Anxious” also presented as topics.
The discussion of social media and anxiety was attended by a nearly full room of parents who asked a number of questions to Aaron Kellogg, a local licensed marriage and family therapist, who was invited through members of the congregation who had previously worked with him.
Kellogg shared the pre-COVID numbers, which have risen since due to a number of challenges also identified through a number of pandemic-related mental and physical health concerns.
The data indicated young adults ages 18 to 25 reported anxiety disorder increases of 8% to nearly 15% over a 10-year span. The biggest change in behavior over that time has been social media, he said.
After talking about some of the dangers Kellogg has seen through his work at the Child & Family Center, including children becoming addicted to using apps and then exploited on those same platforms through information and even pictures they send of themselves — he shared tools for parents and answered a number of questions.
“Anxiety stems from not being able to communicate effectively with people and a lot of times, a lot of teens and a lot of adults who I talk to that are anxious, have a hard time specifically with social anxiety,” Kellogg said, “and that has only increased after COVID.”
Encouraging more in-person communication, and ultimately an occasional “social media fast,” were two big ways some of those challenges can be addressed, he said.
When offering rules and regulations, he added, it’s important to consider the degree and extent to which social media usage may be a problem, as well as providing a constructive alternative.
“If they are using (social media) too much, if they’re bored, right? Then I’d say, ‘OK, what hobbies, what interests, what other things can we fill that void?’ Because once you’ve taken away an addictive thing, there’s a big hole. There’s a hole now, and so you have to bring in something else there to fill that void.”
Lonna and Rob Gibson, who are members of the congregation, said they’ve known Kellogg, who also grew up locally, for years, and his familiarity and understanding of the area has been a huge help.
“I actually attend a lot of the classes that Dan teaches,” said Lonna Gibson, who added that she works with children through the nonprofit organization ZOE International.
“Thankfully, I married someone with a growth mindset,” Rob Gibson said, explaining why he likes to attend programs like the one the church put together Monday. “So for us it’s, ‘How do we take what we know and grow that into what we should know?’”
Broyles knows what an obstacle anxiety can be, particularly due to the stigma.
“I keep seeing it when I speak at community events. And I just feel like sometimes people are even drowning in their own anxiety, and it gets in the way of their career goals and relational goals,” he said. “I think even people have anxiety about even going to church sometimes.”