My Answers to 6 Common Anxiety Misconceptions
In the days before my anxiety became an issue, I was guilty of stigmatizing mental health, largely in part to the way anxiety has been portrayed online. It wasn’t that I was ignorant. I read about the struggle of anxiety and my mom even specializes in mental health. But until it happens to you, it’s nearly impossible to understand. While I wouldn’t wish the weight of my illness on anyone, I wish people would understand what it is actually like and so I can avoid the ignorant questions I am so often asked.
“Isn’t it just something you can think away?”
No. No even a little bit. A lot of the time, I have no idea where it comes from. Often, my anxiety is triggered by absolutely nothing, and I’m overwhelmed with panic about nothing in particular.
“So, you just worry about stuff a lot?”
I wish. When my anxiety comes on, it is a rush of physical symptoms I cannot control and they completely consume my attention. I’m overcome with panic. My heart races. I feel nauseous and shaky. My chest feels heavy and I’d rather be curled in a ball crying than face any part of the world.
“OK, so having someone who understands anxiety will fix it, right?”
While it’s helpful to have someone who gets it — no one can “fix” your anxiety. When I get anxious, I don’t like to have to explain what is happening to me, so having someone who can tell by looking at me exactly how I’m feeling is helpful, but won’t stop it. A friend who looks at you and recognizes your symptoms, and just asks, “What do you need?” may help lessen the effects, but can’t make it go away.
“Having anxiety is not a big deal.”
It’s a huge deal and completely life-changing. I don’t look at anything the same anymore. What I used to see as exciting opportunities or new adventures, I now see as potential new triggers. Anxiety also affected my appetite, sleep and has made me really sick. I was feeling so anxious (and therefore nauseous) that I wasn’t eating properly, and I was having a hard time falling asleep. It led to weight loss, migraines and affected my grades and my ability to go to work.
“You need to relax. Have a drink or smoke a joint.”
This one probably annoys me the most. While both have a reputation for taking the edge off, it doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. For a lot of people, myself included, it actually makes their condition worse. My peers don’t seem to accept this as a valid answer and suddenly think they are an expert on curing anxiety. Marijuana often causes me fear and paranoia. It can also actually trigger panic attacks.
“Anxiety looks the same on everyone.”
Anxiety is a completely different experience for everyone who experiences it. No one’s is worse or better. It just feels and looks different for each individual. So maybe you had one friend who had an experience with anxiety. Don’t paint the next person with the same brush, because it may be a lot different for them.
If you have a friend or loved one who struggles with anxiety, be empathic, listen and really try to understand how they are feeling. Do some reading. There are tons of articles online that offer suggestions of how you can help. Ask your friend if any of these suggestions would be helpful to them. They may not work for them, but the effort you made to learn a little bit will mean more than they can say. Learn their triggers and their coping mechanisms so you know what to look for. It may even be helpful to come up with a signal or code word for when they’re feeling anxious, so they can let you know without having to explain themselves.
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Thinkstock photo via mettus