Anxiety can affect us in many ways. We may find ourselves shaky or soaked in sweat before an important meeting or job interview. We may feel sickness in the pit of our stomach at the thought of meeting new people or panic when we think of all the pressures and responsibilities we face. It can make us constantly worry about what will happen in the future, what other people think of us and whether we have said or done the right things.
Anxiety is increasingly being spoken about and recognised as a common mental health problem. While more people than ever are identifying the signs of anxiety there can still be a lot of confusion about what exactly it is. Many misconceptions exist and there is still stigma surrounding those who have been diagnosed.
So what are some of the most common myths about anxiety?
1. Stress causes anxiety
Stress is a normal part of everyday life. It can actually help us to find the energy and motivation we need to accomplish the basic tasks necessary for survival. It’s not realistic to think we can live in a stress free environment. Normal levels of stress do not necessarily cause anxiety. Rather, it is the way we respond to the challenges we face that can lead to problems. If we experience high amounts of stress for an extended period of time, do not look after our physical well-being or don’t take enough time out for relaxation, this can certainly contribute to mental health difficulties. We can therefore see that a lack of self-care and strategies for managing during times of stress rather than the stress itself may be at the root of anxiety.
2. Medication is the only effective treatment
Many people find that taking medication helps to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. This can allow them to live more comfortably and to carry on their daily lives as normal. While medication can be helpful for some it is important to bear in mind is not necessarily the right path for everyone. Many people fear becoming dependent on medication while others find the side effects off-putting. Research has shown that psychotherapy and lifestyle changes can be highly effective at managing anxiety. They also come without the unpleasant side effects that can often go hand in hand with medication.
3. Some people are just naturally anxious
It is true that some people will seem to worry about every little thing while others can approach life with a much more relaxed attitude. While anxiety can sometimes be linked to genetic factors this doesn’t mean that it is inevitable for certain people. We all have different personalities and life experience and therefore we have different needs. The secret is to identify our own needs and take steps to care for ourselves. Whether or not anxiety appears to run in your family, with the right support and effective coping strategies you can still learn to manage the feelings you are experiencing and live a happy balanced life.
4. Anxious people must avoid stress
It seems to make sense that if you’re feeling anxious you should avoid stressful situations. However this is not only impractical in everyday life, it actually increases our anxiety. When we retreat from that things that challenge us we lessen our resilience and our ability to cope. We may reduce our anxious feelings in the short term, but over time it will reinforce our sense of having to withdraw and avoid. Many symptoms of anxiety are a physical response to the problems or dangers we see around us. The best way to combat these symptoms is to gradually build our tolerance to stress by first facing smaller challenges and gradually increasing this over time.
5. Anxious people are just not able to cope with life
People who experience anxiety are often dismissed as being weak or just not able to cope with normal life. This is not the case. Mental health issues are often stigmatised because they can be difficult to understand. Because we can’t physically see the illness it is common to dismiss it as being somehow “made up”. It is important to recognise that mental health problems are just as real as a physical illness. Would we accuse someone experiencing cancer or heart problems of being weak? Anxiety drains us mentally, emotionally and physically. This means that, when we are experiencing chronic anxiety, living everyday life can actually take even more strength and determination than it normally would.
6. Panic attacks can be dangerous for your health
Experiencing a panic attack can be terrifying. A thumping feeling in our chest, dizziness or difficulty catching our breath can make us think we are having a medical emergency. However, it should be stressed that panic attacks are not actually dangerous. The symptoms, although unpleasant, cannot actually do us physical harm. While many people fear they may pass out during an attack, this is extremely rare and generally linked to another issue such as low blood pressure. Once we understand this we can learn to ride out the sensations we experience until they begin to subside.
7. It is not normal to be anxious
One of the hardest thing about struggling with anxiety is the feeling that we are alone and somehow different. However, the truth is that nearly one in five of us will experience a difficulty with our mental health at some time in our lives. Anxiety is the most common mental health issue in Britain, Ireland and the U.S. Ireland has one of the highest rates of anxiety worldwide with 6.3 percent of Irish people being affected by an anxiety disorder.
Myths surrounding the nature of anxiety are common. It think is so important to provide correct information and reduce the misconceptions that sometimes surround this topic. I hope that debunking these myths can help people who are struggling with anxious feelings as well those who are providing support to them.
Have a great week, Jane.