Anxiety is a common problem that affects people all over the world. It has an enormous impact on daily life and well-being and can affect one’s ability to work, relax, or even maintain healthy relationships.
With the stressful lives so many people lead these days, it’s not surprising that anxiety has become a big topic of discussion lately. Yet, even with so many people suffering from temporary stress or ongoing anxiety, there are still so many misconceptions surrounding the issue.
Whether you suffer from anxiety yourself or you’re trying to help a loved one, it’s important to know fact from fiction. Here’s what you need to know about what is and isn’t the truth when it comes to anxiety.
Common Symptoms of Anxiety
Before we jump into the biggest myths surrounding anxiety, it’s important to have a solid understanding of the most common anxiety symptoms. If you’re wondering if you suffer from anxiety, start to look out for these common symptoms:
- Feelings of panic or dread
- Problems concentrating or focusing
- Difficulty sleeping
People with anxiety also often experience physical symptoms, such as:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heart rate
For many people, anxiety is more of a physical experience than it is for others. Everyone is different and has different struggles! Obviously, all of these symptoms can point to a problem other than anxiety as well, which is why it’s so important to get diagnosed and to work with a mental health professional.
Common Myths and Misconceptions About Anxiety
There’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness, including anxiety. Others dismiss the condition, justifying their opinion by using one or more common myths and misconceptions surrounding anxiety. Here are some myths to be aware of.
Myth: Stress and anxiety are the same thing
Although stress can trigger anxiety, they are NOT the same thing.
Jennifer Henry, LPC, CCATP, and Director of the Counseling Center at Maryville University explains “Anxiety is often described as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” The easiest way to think about the difference is that stress is when you’re responding to something external and typically temporary. If you’re working on a big work project that is causing you stress, it will eventually end. Anxiety, on the other hand, is internal. Instead of responding to something that poses a legitimate threat, the feelings of apprehension may pop up and continue even when everything is fine.
Myth: Anxiety isn’t a real illness
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issues in the United States. They appear in many different forms, including generalized anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. “People with anxiety disorders are sometimes described in terms such as ‘worry warts’, which downplays the severity and suffering experienced by many with anxiety disorders.” adds Henry.
Anxiety disorders can be debilitating for people and affect almost every aspect of everyday lives. They go beyond simply worrying and pose a daily problem for people who suffer from them. If you’ve been experiencing symptoms like worry and fear for over six months, you may be dealing with an anxiety disorder.
Myth: Anxiety will go away on its own
Because anxiety is a real mental health issue, not simply a stress response, it won’t go away on its own. People who struggle with anxiety often suffer for years without getting help because they don’t think the problem is bad enough, or they hope it will go away on its own.
Unfortunately, that’s not how anxiety works—it’s an internal response! Anxiety may ebb and flow, but it’s a disorder that is chronic and requires ongoing treatment.
Myth: People with anxiety come from a bad home environment
Remember, stress does not equal anxiety. Although a stressful home life and factors like poor access to quality food or a poor physical environment can take their toll on overall health, the truth is that anyone can suffer from anxiety. “Many things can contribute to anxiety disorders including genetic predispositions, personality, family dynamics, and traumatic or stressful life events.” says Henry. Regardless of your income level or relationships, you can suffer from mental health disorders!
Why Misconceptions About Anxiety Are Harmful & How You Can Help
Historically, mental illness has been surrounded by severe stigma. Although that narrative is finally starting to shift, it’s a problem that hasn’t gone away entirely, especially in some areas of the world.
Misconceptions surrounding anxiety are harmful for a number of reasons, including stigma. People who have symptoms of anxiety may be unwilling to seek treatment because they’re afraid of how friends and family might respond.
Other people may avoid getting help because they’ve been told that anxiety isn’t an illness, or that it will go away on its own. This causes lots of preventable suffering and can hold people back from reaching their full potential.
Shame should not be an additional burden for people with anxiety to carry—it’s nothing to be ashamed of! But until we break down the stigma surrounding mental illness, it’s important for people with anxiety to have access to support and education. NAMI is just one of the many great resources out there that can help people with anxiety and their loved ones to get involved!
No one should have to suffer in silence. If you or someone you love has been struggling with anxiety, then getting help could be the answer to a better life!