Kia-Rai Prewitt, PhD is a psychologist with Cleveland Clinic Behavioral Health. For Mental Health Awareness month, we spoke to her about anxiety, what causes it, and how to build habits that can help manage it.

Read the Q&A with Dr. Kia-Rai Prewitt below.

WAM: The recent Cleveland Clinic/Parade poll shows almost 40% of Americans struggling with their mental health, 45% of them grappling with anxiety, rather than depression. What is anxiety and why is it the number one reported mental illness in this country? What’s going on?
Dr. Prewitt: Anxiety is a persistent worry about everyday situations which can interfere with participation in daily life due to the amount of distress it causes. People experiencing anxiety may worry about a number of things, constantly feel a sense of dread, have trouble relaxing, and may get easily irritated. I think it is the number one reported mental illness in this country due to a number of factors that can contribute to anxiety including stressful events, physical illness, food or financial insecurity, and concerns about safety. 

WAM: Women seem to be making up the largest number of people struggling with mental health. Only 57% of mothers rate theirs as high, compared to 74% of fathers. Is the pandemic playing into these numbers, and if so, how?
Dr. Prewitt: The pandemic impacted women much worse than men due to several factors, including overrepresentation in jobs considered essential, lack of access to childcare and other dependent care, and juggling multiple responsibilities at home in addition to other responsibilities.

WAM: It’s interesting to note that while working parents report higher levels of mental/emotional health than non-working parents (69% vs 55%,) they also report higher levels of exhaustion (65%) and anger (42%.) How can these statistics co-exist?
Dr. Prewitt: When people work they often feel a sense of security that they are able to provide for their families which may contribute to higher levels of emotional/mental health, however working parents are also juggling multiple responsibilities including the demands of their job and the demands of parenting which may lead to higher levels of exhaustion and anger.

WAM: What are some practical tips you give women who come to you complaining of depression or anxiety? Are there some techniques that help lessen feelings of depression and anxiety?
Dr. Prewitt: I would suggest taking multiple small breaks throughout the day and do something nice for yourself daily. Use the time you take a break to do something relaxing such as taking a short walk, changing your environment (i.e. going outside for some fresh air if you are indoors most of the day), engaging in deep breathing exercises, or reach out to a friend or family member to say hello. If you are noticing that you feel down or depressed most days or worried about multiple things daily and it’s impacting your ability to engage in daily activities, I would recommend seeking help from a mental health professional.

WAM: The poll revealed that men find sex a more effective way to feel rejuvenated at the end of a long day (54%) than women (36%) Why the discrepancy?
Dr. Prewitt: Women are often juggling multiple responsibilities and caring for others throughout the day and don’t have much free time. Women often find engaging in solitary activities such as reading a book or practicing yoga to be more relaxing, which then gives them the energy to engage in other activities, such as sex for example.