Is “anxiety” a real thing? I feel like the only one with anxiety. I guess I was just born this way.
As a longtime anxiety sufferer I have seen and heard it all! Anxiety is a real condition and is not so easily sloughed-off as many think. To start, let’s define anxiety and stick to the facts so we can advance the understanding of this mental disorder. Let’s start with the first myth:
Myth #1: Anxiety Isn’t a Real Thing
By definition, anxiety is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” If you are reading this, you can likely relate even if you have not been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is a biological response to a stressor that has kept us safe from the time we were living in caves! Since it serves to keep us safe anxiety is in fact a good thing!
Moving anxiety from a natural condition to the diagnosis of a disorder gets a bit tricky as any one of the symptoms have been experienced by most at some point in time. Take the Generalized Anxiety Diagnosis as cited in the DSM V:
Generalized anxiety disorder involves persistent and excessive worry that interferes with daily activities. This ongoing worry and tension may be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as restlessness, feeling on edge or easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension or problems sleeping.
Who hasn’t experienced those symptoms before? Anxiety disorders are real and have a finite medical classification – why wouldn’t we treat this medical condition like any other, say with diabetics that need insulin? We wouldn’t judge them as being “weak” because their body needs more insulin and we should treat those with anxiety disorders as having a real, definable diagnosis that needs attention like any other. Unfortunately since anxiety is based in the mind it is perceived as being more mysterious and harder to explain so it is often discharged with ridicule and a simple, “just relax.”
Myth #2: I Feel Like I’m the Only One
People with anxiety challenges may feel like they’re the only ones with this disorder since it is not readily discussed or revealed by fellow sufferers. The fact is that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. with over 40 million adults diagnosed, which equates to over 18% of the population. In reality this number is much higher when you account for minors and those that unfortunately have not been diagnosed and are not getting the care they need. You’re not alone!
Myth #3: I Was Born This Way
Genes and even biology are a small part of the picture as contributors to anxiety according to research with current estimates placing the genetic contribution to anxiety disorders between 30-40%. The balance of the remaining contributors are related to how someone relates with fear anxiety and what they that do about it. So take stock in the fact that you’re genetics have not doomed you to a life of ruinous anxiety! After all, inheriting an anxious predisposition is not the same as inheriting an anxiety disorder.
If you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety know that living a happy and fulfilling life is possible! We will discuss HOW in future blogs so stay tuned.