Whether you have an anxiety disorder, know someone who has an anxiety disorder, or just want to be able to offer an informed opinion, knowing about anxiety disorders is important. That means knowing the misconceptions about them as well.
Some common misconceptions occur because of changing beliefs or practices in the medical community, while others come from people not understanding anxiety disorders well enough. In either case, knowing the truth can help to make the world a better place for people suffering from these conditions.
Anxiety Disorders Aren’t Real
The myth that anxiety disorders aren’t real largely comes from the fact that they haven’t been in the medical vocabulary for very long and the fact that more and more people are seeking help for anxiety disorders. Of course, these two things are related in that few seek help for problems that nobody recognizes. As anxiety disorders become better understood and more recognizable, more people are able to get help for them. That doesn’t mean that people are making up their symptoms or that anxiety disorders aren’t real. They aren’t growing in popularity, they’re growing in terms of awareness.
When the healthcare community told us that epilepsy wasn’t because of demons and polio wasn’t the wrath of God, we believed them. So, why should anxiety disorders be any different?
Feeling Anxiety Means That You Have An Anxiety Disorder
On that note, there’s something a misconception that each of us can address in order to make the previous misconception rarer. We need to start talking about anxiety disorders like the serious conditions that they are.
Everyone experiences feelings of stress and even feelings of anxiety, but feelings of anxiety and even experiencing a panic attack don’t necessarily mean that you have an anxiety disorder. Too many of us talk about our feelings of stress as “anxiety” and every time a healthy person claims to have an anxiety disorder it removes credibility from someone who really does.
People with anxiety disorders may have feelings of anxiety virtually all the time. Alternatively, they may have feelings of anxiety when anyone else would, but their feelings of anxiety are so severe as to be debilitating. They may also have sudden feelings of anxiety when nothing is happening to cause it. In short, there is a very real and significant difference between experiencing anxiety and living with an anxiety disorder.
If you think you have an anxiety disorder, don’t self-diagnose and don’t use it as an excuse to self-medicate. Talk to your healthcare provider and trust their diagnosis and prescription.
Anxiety Disorders Are just Chemical Imbalances
On the topic of prescription, another common misconception about anxiety disorders are that they are entirely because of chemical imbalances in the brain and that this is why medication helps.
Anxiety disorders are primarily caused by the mental processes of the person who experiences it. This means that anxiety disorders are not just chemical imbalances, but it does not mean that anxiety disorders aren’t real.
Medications can make people with anxiety disorders feel better but more importantly they make people with anxiety disorders more receptive to therapy, which is the only real way to permanently solve their problems. In fact, many people with anxiety disorders opt to see a therapist but not to take medication.
If you are on a medication for anxiety but are not attending therapy, talk to your healthcare provider and ask for a referral. This referral will make it easier for you to find a therapist that is right for you, and it may help your insurance to cover the cost of your therapist, depending on your insurance provider.
Medication Changes Who You Are As A Person
A similar misconception about anxiety is one that is experienced by people with anxiety disorders. This is the misconception that medications will change who you are as a person or otherwise alter your personality.
The medications prescribed for anxiety do work on the brain, but they work in very specific pathways, usually to help to control the stress response while doing little else. People who are on most anxiety medications do not notice other emotions being altered and they are still able to experience healthy stress in normally stressful situations, though medication does keep them from experiencing anxiety all the time or in non-stressful situations.
For people without anxiety disorders, avoiding these misconceptions can help to be more supportive to the members of the community that do have anxiety disorders. For those who are suffering from anxiety disorders, understanding these misconceptions can help to foster healthy communication with the larger community and to get the best possible care.
At Citizen Counselling and Coaching a number of our counsellors and coaches can provide support around anxiety. This can include identifying the obstacles to being less anxious, creating practical plans and advice through sharing techniques and models that have worked for others.
Our ‘My Anxiety Coach’ online programme and Coaching was designed for time poor busy people looking to increase their confidence and make a positive change in their lives.
Our Overcoming Anxiety page can explain more