Get To Know Your Anxiety: 5 Myths That Desperately Need To Be Dispelled
By Andrea Gonzalez
With the recent suicides of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and the countless others who don’t get time or space in the media, it is more important than ever to talk about mental health. According to a report by the National Center for Injury Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death in people from 10 to 34 years of age, which is highly alarming to say in the least. We often hear the words “anxiety” and “depression” used lightly, maybe referencing feeling a bit “down” on a particular day or worrying over an upcoming deadline. While I normally don’t have an issue with extrapolation and/or exaggeration for the sake of getting a reaction, it can encourage disinformation in this case regarding crucial mental health issues.
I decided to focus on anxiety, as it often tends to be downplayed or misrepresented in the media. We’ve become accustomed to the media depiction of anxiety as the old, annoying friend we put up with who sometimes keeps us from being our best selves. This is an incredibly damaging and dangerous stereotype which negates the real-life implications of anxiety disorders. Anxiety and depression don't always occur together, but statistically speaking, often do. Anxiety can co-occur with other disorders, such as depression, anorexia and bulimia, and ADHD. Perpetuating the myth that anxiety is just a nuisance can have long term consequences, and invalidates the reality of many peoples' lives and struggles.
For the sake of getting the conversation going, here are some myths from the collective conversation that desperately need to be debunked.The following facts are taken from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
MYTH #1: Suffering from anxiety on a regular basis is normal.
It is only normal to experience occasional anxiety. An anxiety over everyday situations can be disabling, and is probable cause for an anxiety disorder diagnosis, especially if it interferes with everyday activities.
MYTH #2: Anxiety is not a “real disorder”.
“Everyone gets stressed”, “You are just exaggerating”, and “You just need to learn how to deal with it” are all phrases used by people who don’t believe anxiety is as serious an issue as any other physical disease, such as diabetes or a heart disease. Anxiety disorders are real. However, the term "anxiety" is an umbrella that includes several disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and panic attacks, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety, and specific phobias. The aforementioned comments only exacerbate the situation. Telling someone with anxiety that they are exaggerating or making up their symptoms to get attention is a disservice. It is minimizing and dismissing someone’s very real, very grueling struggle. What’s more, it could keep that person from seeking the treatment they need. A lack of proper mental health education promotes the idea that anxiety is a choice and that if you tell the person suffering from it that they are exaggerating, it’ll go away. Lack of proper education is also a huge impediment to those seeking treatment, because of the taboo that still surrounds vulnerability and admitting when you need help.
Believing anxiety is not a “real disorder” is a profoundly damaging stereotype. One that not only adds a sentiment of guilt to the person suffering from anxiety, but that also discourages them from seeking the help they may need.
MYTH #3: Anxiety leads to depression.
Anxiety typically co-occurs with depression but doesn’t have to. According to Psych Central, in one study, although 85% of the people diagnosed with major depressive disorder were also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, no one knows exactly why the two co-occur so frequently. While people with depression typically experience fear and, yes, anxiety, depression often causes hopelessness and despair. Anxiety is sometimes difficult to diagnose, as children and teenagers with depression generally exhibit high levels of anxiety. This is often one factor into misdiagnosis and the assumption that someone struggling with one issue is most likely struggling with the other. This may or may not be true, and is different for every individual. Even more shocking is the fact that anxiety and depression, though separate disorders with different sets of symptoms, are often treated the same way, which could be one of the reasons they are so commonly associated. Generally, anxiety is treated with antidepressant medication, but the co-occurrence is treated with behavioral therapy.
MYTH #4: Anxiety doesn’t keep you from living your life normally.
Everyone feels anxious from time to time, and minor fears and tensions alone don't have to keep you from living your life normally. When anxiety begins to develop into skipping out on social situations to avoid being judged, or because of irrational fears or recurring nightmares, it can have a detrimental impact on your health and quality of life. There is an incredibly damaging taboo that claims "if you're strong enough, you should be able to work through it", and that's absolutely not true. Everyone handles anxiety differently, and there are no right or wrong answers. But, if your anxiety is getting in the way of your ability to function, it might be time to consider seeking help in a way that you’re comfortable with.
MYTH #5: There is no treatment for anxiety.
There are, in fact, many known options for treating anxiety. It is generally treated with medication, short-term or long-term, and therapy, including CBT, psychotherapy, and various relaxation techniques. Not all medication works the same on everyone, which is why it may take some good ol’ trial and error until you find the one that works best for you. In the meantime, you can also learn how to reduce the stressors that lead to anxiety. While exercising, sleeping well, and getting good nutrition will not cure your anxiety, they can all help reduce it by lowering your overall stress levels.
Mental health should be attended to as thoroughly as we do any disease or physical condition. Often times, the myth that is broadcasted to people struggling with anxiety is that they should just “deal with it”, or that it’s not as valid as a physical ailment because other people cannot always see it. Your mental health is valid and important, and social stigmas should not get in the way of your decision to seek treatment.