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Unraveling Myths About Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most openly talked about subjects in mental health.

Fifteen years ago, it was rare to hear someone openly share their experience of anxiety, however, now;

You just need to go to lunch with friends or join a conversation at your local gym or yoga studio, to hear someone share their experience of anxiety.

In fact, talk about anxiety has become a natural subject matter in conversation and formed part of our dialogue. This is particularly true for young people, where lines like “I had the worst anxiety” has formed part of colloquialism.

Without doubt anxiety is far more widely acknowledged as a real mental health condition that requires treatment and support.

However, despite significant increase in awareness of the realness of anxiety, there still exists some MASSIVE misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding anxiety.

In fact, according to a recent survey with 1200 Aussie’s, half the participants did not understand the basic facts about anxiety¹.

This is very surprising, since anxiety is the most common mental health issue in Australia.

As a psychologist myself, I witness first hand some of the common misconceptions surrounding anxiety. Therefore, a big part of therapy for clients experiencing anxiety is often centred around anxiety education and debunking some of the many misconceptions.

Five Common Anxiety Misconceptions

1. Anxiety is a bad feeling. It’s commonplace to believe anxiety is a feeling that you “shouldn’t” have. Unfortunately viewing anxiety as a “bad” feeling can compound anxiety itself. That is, you may feel anxious in response to feeling anxiety. However, contrary to belief that anxiety is “bad”, anxiety is actually a normal emotion that we all experience. It’s an emotion, as humans, we expect to experience, especially in situations that may be threatening or it’s important to perform well. When anxiety comes up in these situations it’s designed to help us react optimally.

2. Anxiety will make me go crazy. If you suffer from anxiety, you may relate to fearing your anxiety will make you crazy or you will lose control. While the actual feeling of anxiety can feel “out of control” at times, anxiety itself cannot make you go crazy. So-called “crazy” behaviour would perhaps equate to disinhibited behaviour, zero regard for social norms and risk-taking behaviours. Anxiety does not, and cannot, rule over decision-making, behaviours or actions; all of which would need to drastically change to fit the definition of being “crazy” (read more in blog post – Anxiety, Help I’m Drowning).

3. Anxiety is harmful. A very common fear surrounding anxiety is that it will cause harm, such as a heart attack or death. This fear is probably made worse by the fact that anxiety causes a racing heart, tightness in the chest and sometimes pain in the chest. Fortunately, anxiety is harmless, and cannot cause a heart attack. At most, anxiety may cause dizziness, in which case you should sit down to avoid fainting.

4. Anxiety is a sign of weakness. Perhaps one of the most old-aged misconceptions about anxiety is that anxiety is a sign of weakness. The biggest problem with this popular belief is that it’s estimated that about a quarter of our population will at some point experience an anxiety condition¹. To state the obvious, it doesn’t seem viable to say a quarter of our population is “weak”. Second to this, anxiety has nothing to do with an individuals courage or strength. Anxiety is merely a physiological and emotional response to perceived threat, mutually exclusive from personality traits or values related to being fearless, a “go-getter”, tolerant of adversity, adventurous, gutsy and courageous.

5. I can’t control my anxiety. Often people fear they cannot control their anxiety. For example, they may experience anxiety as “coming out of the blue” or “spiralling into panic quickly”. However, anxiety is something you can reduce and manage in real time via various anxiety coping strategies. You can also identify your anxiety “triggers” with a therapist and reduce underlying fears driving your anxiety.

How can Peaceful Mind Psychology Help with Your Anxiety?

We are a team of warm and empathic psychologists based in Melbourne, who are experienced and trained in anxiety treatment including use of CBT therapies among other types of evidence-based therapies. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.