Despite it being the most common mental health condition in
the world, anxiety is often misunderstood, with many of us still holding
damaging attitudes towards it.
Your body works hard to keep you safe. One way it does this
is through anxiety – by stopping you going too near the cliff edge, or getting
you to see a doctor if you’re feeling unwell.
But as psychiatrist Mark Cross, author of the book Anxiety,
explains: “When anxiety is intense, enduring and causing the kind of panic that
interferes with a person’s life so they can’t function well, then it may be
that they are suffering from an anxiety disorder and need professional help.”
Unfortunately, anxiety remains a misunderstood condition,
which can lead to stigma and discrimination for people who experience it.
“A quarter of us will experience anxiety at some point, so
it is concerning that roughly half of us still have either misconceptions or
are unaware of the condition, its symptoms and available treatment,” says
Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman.
Here are three common misconceptions about anxiety:
1. It’s not a
real medical condition
We all get anxious, but for most of us it’s fleeting, and
the feelings pass once the stressor disappears.
Part of the problem, is that because most people have
experienced anxiety at some level, we tend to minimise it. As described in the
book Anxiety: “If I try to explain the debilitating anxiety that I
experience, I feel sure that people will roll their eyes and think, ‘We all get
anxious sometimes, get over it.’” But anxiety is a real medical condition. On
top of the distressing psychological symptoms, anxiety can cause stomach
problems, dizziness, chills, increased heartbeat, chest pain, trouble
breathing, headaches, muscles tension, and insomnia.
with anxiety bring it on themselves, or can ‘snap out of it’
There isn’t an on and off button for anxiety, says Beyond
Blue. Many people still believe that people dealing with anxiety should be able
to just switch it off, or ‘calm down’.
Mark Cross, who suffers from anxiety himself, has
experienced this attitude firsthand: “The person [with anxiety] may seem so
calm that others doubt the veracity of their distress,” he says. “Because there
are often no tangible symptoms, there’s a common perception that people somehow
bring anxiety on themselves, that perhaps they have maladjusted temperaments,
or lack willpower.
“These views ignore the evidence that people suffering
anxiety don’t choose to be in that situation,” he explains, “and that it takes
a massive personal effort to maintain clear thinking and acting.”
3. Anxiety is
a sign of personal weakness
Having anxiety does not mean you are weak or inferior.
Anxiety, like other mental health conditions, affects people of all ages and
all walks of life. Any perception that it is a weakness must change, says
Beyond Blue, as this stigma means people dealing with anxiety are less likely
to seek support.