Anxiety disorders are often a source of confusion and false information, just like many other things that have to do with mental health. Unless you have dealt with an anxiety disorder yourself, it can be hard to fully understand what is going on in a loved one’s mind as they try to deal with their anxious feelings.
There is quite a bit of misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding what it means to have an anxiety disorder. Knowing some of the most common myths about anxiety disorders can make it easier to tell what’s true and what’s not.
Common Myth 1: “Anxiety isn’t a real illness because it’s really just an emotion.”
The feeling of anxiety is one that everyone occasionally experiences. It’s normal to feel uneasy before some things, like going on a first date or speaking in front of a group of people. But anxiety is also a serious illness that needs to be treated.
When anxiety stretches far beyond the parameters of temporary discomfort, it’s more than just a temporary feeling of normal anxiety. When people have feelings of anxiety that last for a long time and hurt their health, they have a real anxiety disorder. This kind of long-term anxiety causes serious problems that affect the person’s life and make it hard for them to do normal things.
Common Myth 2: “An anxiety disorder will eventually go away on its own.”
People experiencing anxiety disorders may feel their symptoms ebb and flow, depending on what’s happening in their lives. For example, a person with an anxiety disorder might go through a time when their symptoms aren’t as bad or noticeable as they usually are.
However, these fluctuations don’t mean the person is completely “cured” or that the anxiety is gone forever. While anxiety disorders can calm down over time, it’s important to remember that anxiety can flare up and create issues for people at any given time in their lives. It’s important to remember that triggers, major life changes, and other circumstances can cause anxiety to return. In the same way, anxiety can go away when other things in your life change in ways that make you feel less anxious.
Common Myth 3: “If you have anxiety, you should just avoid whatever it is that makes your anxiety feel triggered or heightened.”
If you could completely avoid any of your particular anxiety-inducing triggers, life would be quite simple. But trying to completely avoid your triggers (or anything else that might make you anxious) is a waste of time.
The fact of the matter is that anxiety is unavoidable. People face all types of anxiety-causing situations every day; feeling some stress and anxiety is a normal human experience. Similarly, if a person puts themselves in a situation where they never have to worry about experiencing something potentially stressful, they isolate themselves from living a truly exciting and fulfilling life.
For example, someone who feels frightened amid crowds may resolve to never be in such a setting again. If people followed this logic, they’d forego concerts, shopping, movies, theme parks, and more. People may feel less anxious when they limit themselves to less crowded places, but they miss out on great experiences and chances to live happily.
Common Myth #4: “Anxiety disorders are weird because they aren’t very common.”
This is one of the most easily debunked myths about experiencing an anxiety disorder! The most common type of mental illness in the United States, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health, is an anxiety disorder.
Nearly 40 million American adults have anxiety. That’s 20% of American adults. This figure only includes people with a formal diagnosis; there are certainly many more with anxiety disorders who haven’t been diagnosed or may never be.
These numbers are incredibly staggering. If you ever feel alone or weird for having an anxiety disorder, it’s important to remember that many people understand what you’re experiencing because they are going through the same experience, too. While you might feel weird, you are certainly not strange at all—there is a large group of folks who can directly relate to your experiences.
Common Myth 5: “Social anxiety isn’t a real thing.” “That’s just when someone is being shy.”
Shyness happens. Much like anxiety, it’s a normal feeling people experience on occasion, particularly when they don’t feel like being social or find themselves in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable social setting.
Shyness tends to be more of a personality trait. A shy person may be more likely to get a social anxiety disorder, but shyness itself doesn’t cause panic, extreme anxiety, or any of the other symptoms that usually come with an anxiety disorder. A person may be incredibly shy, but once they’ve had the opportunity to get more comfortable in a new social setting, they’re able to break through that initial feeling of shyness and be more sociable.
The number of people who have social anxiety disorder is much higher than the number of people who are shy. A person with social anxiety disorder is extremely consumed with the possibility that they could embarrass themselves or make themselves look foolish in front of a group of people. This fear starts to build up into anxiety that is hard to get rid of. It may even make them want to avoid social situations or anything where they might have to talk to other people.
Unlike simple shyness, social anxiety is a life-affecting condition. When put in a situation where they have to interact with other people, people with social anxiety feel a lot of mental pain. This anxiety can even push itself into reactions such as an anxiety attack.