3 Myths about Anxiety

Distinguish anxiety fact from fiction.

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To distinguish anxiety fact from fiction, let's bust a few of the biggest myths out there about anxiety:

1. Myth: Anxiety is bad for me. Fact: Anxiety is not inherently dangerous and it exists to help you steer clear of real danger.

Anxiety is associated with a variety of uncomfortable physical symptoms, ranging from increased heart rate to digestive problems, which can be intense, especially for people with persistent anxiety.

  However, there is actually nothing inherently dangerous about these symptoms. Rather, they signal that your body is perceiving a threat and getting ready to act. In this sense, anxiety is in fact good for you; it protects and prepares you.

One reason that this anxiety myth persists is that people sometimes judge themselves for experiencing an emotion like anxiety. But we are hardwired, feeling creatures and our emotions do a lot for us, even beyond signaling an inner alarm. Anxiety, for example, can motivate action; for example, worrying about a work presentation can encourage preparation and practice for it.  

Anxiety really only becomes bad for us when we worry a lot, even when there’s nothing wrong, or when we are more fearful of things than is warranted (i.e., disproportionate to actual risk).  With generalized anxiety disorder, the target of anxiety is typically moving. For example, the worry could be about finances, school performance, making the “right” decision.

It usually involves asking a lot of unanswerable “what if” questions. In contrast, with social anxiety disorder, the worry related primarily to how others are evaluating you or your performance. 

Sometimes it’s hard to know when the line from helpful to harmful anxiety has been crossed. Though this can be hard to evaluate from inside the emotion, there are several questions to ask yourself which might help.

2. Myth: Once I feel anxious, there is nothing that can be done to change it. Fact: If left alone, the acute state of anxiety will resolve on its own over time. There are also a number of ways to reduce anxiety in the (relatively) short-term.

If you notice yourself getting anxious, you have many options.

To change persistent, intense anxiety over the long term, there are additional options to consider including formal treatment with a mental health provider in the form of psychotherapy, medication management or a combination of the two.

3. Myth: Everybody is aware that I am feeling anxious. Fact: Most of the time, most people will not know how anxious you are. 

While there are certainly some physical markers of anxiety that might be visible in their most extreme version – such as sweating, trembling or dizziness – anxiety is largely an internal experience. Onlookers can neither detect increased blood pressure nor a knot in the pit of your stomach.  They cannot know what you are thinking with certainty (You cannot read minds either, despite what your anxiety might be telling you.), and most of the time, most people are more preoccupied with their own circumstances than yours! 

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