Anxiety is one of the most prominent mental health conditions across the globe. In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that 40 million adults deal with some type of anxiety disorder.
And yet, anxiety is still incredibly misunderstood.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons it’s often misunderstood is because we have belittled it so much. Do you know people who say things like, “I almost had a panic attack when I couldn’t find my keys!” or “I like to keep things neat, I’m so OCD.” Chances are, that situation didn’t actually cause a panic attack and that person who likes to be organized does not actually have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
So, when someone with true anxiety comes forward, it’s easy for people to assume that it doesn’t mean much. Even people with anxiety can misunderstand it. Since it can be confusing, here are some ways you can better understand anxiety.
Understanding the Definition
Part of the difficulty in understanding what people mean when they say they have anxiety is that there is a difference between having anxiety and having an anxiety disorder. Dictionary.com defines anxiety as “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune.” According to this definition, it would make sense that everyone has experienced the feeling of anxiety at some point in their life. The difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder is that an anxiety disorder is something that is occurring for a substantial period of time and is causing significant impairment in a person’s functioning in different areas of their life.
So if someone were to say to you that they are struggling with anxiety, it can be important to get more information from them in order to fully understand how much the anxiety is impacting them. They could be worried about an upcoming test or a meeting with their boss, and their feelings of anxiety may decrease after that event. On the other hand, they could be having panic attacks everyday whenever they have to leave the house. These two situations are obviously very different, and would require different types of support.
Dealing With an Anxiety Disorder
Another reason some people misunderstand anxiety is because they don’t want to admit they may have a mental health condition. People may feel comfortable acknowledging that they are “stressed” or “worried,” but they often do not go into details about how debilitating the stress or worrying has become. Since stress is something everyone experiences, it is not stigmatized in the same way that an anxiety disorder might be.
However, it is so important to acknowledge what you are actually experiencing, at least to a mental health professional, so that you can get a proper diagnosis. Anxiety disorders are very treatable, but they rarely go away on their own.
If you feel you may have an anxiety disorder, feel free to contact me for more information or to set up a time to talk. This will help you understand more about what you are experiencing, and learn some steps to be able to manage it.