No, we can’t just “stop worrying” – the common misconceptions about anxiety disorders
What springs to mind when someone mentions anxiety? Let me guess: panic attacks, people breathing into paper bags, sweaty palms, and people who avoid normal social events like parties or public speaking. This is how media has portrayed anxiety for such a long time, so it’s understandable that there are so many misunderstandings surrounding the disorder. Here are 5 of the most commonly heard misconceptions surrounding anxiety.
Having anxiety and feeling anxious are the same thing
Anxiety can be, and is, a normal human emotion sometimes. For example, someone might feel a little anxious before giving an important presentation or during exam time. But this is just a fleeting and reasonable feeling – the root cause of the anxiousness is easy to pinpoint. Everyone experiences anxiousness at one time or another. But HAVING an anxiety disorder is very, very different. It is no different from having any other illness, disability or disorder, and it doesn’t just disappear once the anxiety-causing event is over.
All anxiety disorders are the same
Anxiety disorders come in many forms and the effect they have differs wildly. Nobody is really simply diagnosed with ‘anxiety’ – it’s a blanket and generalising term. There are five main types of anxiety disorder. These are: generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder.
Anxiety = panic attacks
Although most anxiety disorders can cause panic attacks, many people don’t experience this as a symptom. In fact, not everyone even experiences PHYSICAL symptoms with anxiety – it may purely be psychological symptoms (and if this is the case, it does not mean the severity of the illness is any less).
People with anxiety are weak
Some people might be inclined to think: “If I can get up and go to Uni or work every day, why can’t they?!”. They might question why people with anxiety disorders can’t just ‘tough it out’, and assume they’re just weak-minded. But having a mental illness like anxiety is no different from having a physical disability. This mentality is so damaging to anxiety-sufferers, as it means being made to feel guilty and ashamed of an already difficult-to-manage condition.
You should just snap out of it – there’s nothing to worry about!
One of the main characteristics of anxiety, particularly generalised anxiety disorder, is that there is no ‘reasonable’ or justifiable cause of anxiety. But that doesn’t mean the sufferer can just ‘snap out of it’ or be told not to worry. No, in fact, this is one of the most difficult things for anxiety-sufferers to deal with. Even if they are aware that there is no ‘reason’ for the anxiety, it doesn’t make it go away. There is often a cycle of exaggerated worry, panic and tension for no pin-pointable reason, which just makes it all the more frustrating.
Seeking help means the problem is solved
Many people don’t understand why those with anxiety, or any mental health disorder, don’t just see a GP or ask for help and ‘fix’ the problem. But doing these things does not necessarily mean that the problem is solved. Seeing a professional about mental health is a long process, and often life-long help is needed to learn to manage the disorder – a lot of the time, you cannot simply take a few tablets or have a few therapy sessions and the problem is ‘cured’.
If you feel affected by anxiety or suffer from any of the above-listed disorders, it’s okay to reach out. These charities are really handy to chat to: