The star was battling symptoms even before the Paris attack and robbery
On last night's Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kim opened up about her struggle with a problem that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, currently affects more than 18 percent of Americans: anxiety. In the episode (which was filmed before she was robbed in Paris), she explains that she feels anxious about very specific things, such as getting into a car accident while driving and even changing the way she would normally go somewhere in order to potentially prevent an accident. "I think about it all the time, it drives me crazy," she shared in the episode. "I just want to get past my anxiety and live life. I never had anxiety and I want to take back my life." For anyone who has struggled with anxiety before, these sentiments might sound all too familiar. (Feeling anxious? Try out these 15 easy ways to beat everyday anxiety.)
So how common is it to have anxiety about something super specific like this? We chatted with some experts in the field (none of whom has actually treated Kim) to find out. "Anxiety disorders are extremely common in the general population—up to 1 in 3 of us will have an anxiety disorder in our lifetimes," says Ash Nadkarni, M.D., an associate psychiatrist at Brigham and Women's Hospital. (Anxiety is so common that one woman decided to create a fake magazine to bring a lighthearted awareness to a very relatable issue.) "Included in the category of anxiety disorders are both generalized anxiety disorders, in which a person has excessive worry about multiple events, as well as specific phobias, in which a person has excessive anxiety or fear about a particular situation or object." But according to Nadkarni, the two are not mutually exclusive. So you could have general anxiety and also have a specific phobia, like the one Kim mentions on the show. These phobias are sometimes highly unlikely or irrational, and Nadkarni explains that "irrational thinking can become the cornerstone of an anxiety disorder because of the way in which fear can influence our thoughts." If you think about it, anxiety is really a product of being afraid of certain outcomes or situations, so this makes a lot of sense.
When Kim mentions changing her driving route to avoid getting into an accident, she's doing something that sounds a whole lot like a hallmark symptom of anxiety. "This is one of the foundations of anxiety—anxious avoidance," says Matthew Goldfine, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in New York and New Jersey. "When we fear that something bad will happen, it makes perfect sense that we would avoid doing it. After all, why would anyone knowingly put themselves in harm's way?" Yes, true that. "However, the reality almost always is that the actual chances of something bad happening (in Kim's case, getting into an accident) is far less than what our anxiety makes us think." Sometimes, people even drastically change their lives in order to avoid something that makes them anxious, like being in social situations or even leaving their home. While avoiding things occasionally isn't too harmful, it can build up over time and eventually result in a snowball effect. "Not only can that avoidance spread to more and more circumstances, but the individual would never be able to see how 'truly' dangerous a situation is. What I find is that the more we do the things that scare us, the less anxiety has a grip on our lives," he says.
Luckily, there are a lot of ways to cope with anxiety, especially when it stems from a specific fear. "The good news is that anxiety is treatable, through different types of psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of the two," says Marlynn Wei, M.D., a New York City–based psychiatrist and author of Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga, who specializes in treating anxiety. Specifically, Wei cites cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a type of psychotherapy that is particularly effective for anxiety. "You learn how to identify your triggers, track your thoughts, and help reshape your reaction and negative thinking in order to reduce anxiety," she explains. Another great option, according to Wei, is mindfulness therapy, which includes yoga (See: 7 Chill Yoga Poses to Ease Anxiety), meditation, and breathing techniques. Of course, medication is also an effective means of treatment.
If you're struggling with anxiety of any kind, including a specific fear that's making you feel panicked, all of our experts agree that once it starts to interfere with your daily life, you should check in with a doctor or therapist. "Some examples of signs that it might be worth seeing a doctor or therapist about your anxiety is if your anxiety is keeping you up at night, if you're avoiding people or events that you want to see, or if you're experiencing frequent panic attacks," says Wei. "In other words, if you feel like your anxiety is getting in the way of you living your life fully in the way that you want—whether at work, at school, in your personal life, or in your relationships—then it's worth seeing how a doctor or therapist can help."