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5 Things People Get Wrong About Anxiety

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I was heading out to my 22nd birthday dinner when it hit me like a ton of bricks an anxiety attack. I’m 1 of 6.8 million adults, or 3.1 percent of the U.S. population, who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is characterized by excessive or disproportionate worry. Although it’s not something I experience often, anxiety attacks, also known as panic attacks, are still prevalent. My heart started pounding, my legs got weak and I began to feel like I was outside of my body. It’s like my body was going through the motions while my mind was going blank.

In the beginning I was in denial, but quickly came to sorts with what was going on. I sat down for a few minutes and took several breaks on my walk to dinner. What should have been a four-minute walk became almost 20. As my mind began sorting itself out and I was aware of my surroundings once again, my stomach starting doing somersaults. This was not going to be a quick attack; this one would be long and tough. As if blacking out completely sober wasn’t enough, then came the vomiting.

I couldn’t even count how many times I had to get up from the dinner table. Between running to the bathroom and outside to the curb (and even to a parking garage), this anxiety attack left my stomach empty. 

On a trip to the parking garage next to the restaurant, with my cousin squatting next to me as I nearly gagged next to a Mercedes Benz, a man walking by asked, “Are you guys OK?” At that point, I couldn’t help but giggle. “Nothing happening here, just some anxiety.”

If you’ve never experienced anxiety, it can be hard to understand why it might make me rush to the bathroom in the middle of dinner or gag next to a car. Here are five things people get wrong about anxiety:

1. Anxiety is all in a person’s head.

True, anxiety does stem from one’s mind, but it’s not always avoidable and can bring a lot of physical distress. Exhibit A: It gets to the point of tossing your cookies.

2. Having anxiety isn’t a big deal.

Take it from a pro, there are times when it is debilitating. There are good days and bad days, but nonetheless, anxiety is not something that happens unconsciously. We always know it’s there.

3. Anxious people are incapable of having intimate relationships.

False. Despite how stigma labels us, we’re not crazy. In fact, I think we make life exciting for the people we’re with. I cherish my relationships, and I’m actually really good at understanding other people’s emotions because I’ve experienced anxiety. 

4. There’s nothing you can say or do to make a person with anxiety feel better.

Of course there are! While there are things you should not say or do to a person with anxiety, there are definitely things you can do to help. Let them talk and respond in a normal manner. Sometimes all we need is a shoulder to cry on or someone to hold us in our worst moments. Talking to us in an exaggerated way will only make things worse.

5. People with anxiety are lazy and weak.

We might seem lazy when we get so anxious we fall into a state of depression, but it doesn’t mean we are lazy. Anxiety can be exhausting at times, forcing one to stay motionless in bed. But weakness is not in our vocabulary. Living with anxiety makes us work hard every day to get stronger and stronger to combat the devil on our back.


Originally published: July 13, 2015
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