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02. Anxiety

"Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues, particularly in the United States, although the majority of individuals struggling with anxiety never receive formal treatment for it. Many end up in the emergency room with heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and other potentially life-threatening symptoms—only to be told their doctors cannot find anything wrong with them."

 

- Psychology Today

Note: The source for these myths is a list created by Psychology Today. I have attempted to address each myth myself, however, along with borrowing some information from the original list.

1. Anxious people can’t control their emotions

So, this is not exactly incorrect: What I mean is that anxious people CAN control their emotions. However, more than likely, even they don't realize that something is wrong (i.e., they are suffering from anxiety and need professional help) until they become overwhelmed with emotion. After all, the ability to control emotions is finite, and eventually the brain will get overwhelmed.

Granted, we all get overwhelmed sometimes, but for people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), this is a much more prominent issue.

 

A study out of the Staford University School of Medicine concluded that individuals "with generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, have abnormalities in the way their brain unconsciously controls emotions." And that "clinical data have suggested that adult GAD patients initially register negative stimuli in a largely normal way, but have deficits in how they then control negative emotions."

This is why professional counseling and treatment is important when anxiety becomes overwhelming and starts to cause issues in daily life activities. It's not that people with anxiety can't control their emotions, it's just that they often require a bit more help than neurotypical individuals.

Image by Tengyart

2. Anxious people want to be alone

Just because someone is anxious, does not mean that they are anti-social by default. However, for individual who suffers from anxiety, social situations can be paralyzing. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: "Loneliness can be self-reinforcing if it is associated with an experience of depression and anxiety, particularly around social interactions (Australian Psychological Society 2018)"

For the individual who has had traumatizing experiences in social settings, social interactions can also act as a sort-of trigger. It is an idea I refer to as "all eyes on me", in which the brain catastrophizes that everyone in any given social situation has eyes on the individual suffering from anxiety and passing judgment on every action, and every word, they utter: No matter how benign. This essentially causes a self-reinforcing cycle of anxiety, leading to the individual to avoid social interactions and situations with a lot of people.

Image by Noah Silliman

3. Anxious people like being worried

This line of thinking stems from the idea that everyone else perceives the world (i.e., reality) the same way we do. Therefore, if we are able to stop worrying/stressful thoughts about something with some effort, therefore, everyone else should be able to do the same provided they put in as much effort as we have!

Because the two individuals do not perceive the world in the same manner and cannot regulate their emotions in the same manner either: It leads to a lack of empathy from the individual who can regulate the flood of anxious emotions and their physiological effect on their body.

According to Psychology Today: "Anxiety sufferers, by and large, probably have one solid wish—to stop worrying. Worry is the thread that connects most anxiety symptoms and escalates over time, steering its victims toward an inevitable collision. Worry does not meet a need for anxious people—it consumes them and leaves behind ash and emptiness."

Image by Road Trip with Raj

4. Anxious people are selfish and needy

As with myth #3, I would argue that this, too, stems from an lack of being able to empathize with the (neurodivergent) anxious individual.

 

Because anxious people experience the world differently, they tend to be seen as more needy than their neurotypical counterparts. Anxious people often feel like their every word, and every action, is being judged by others. This fear does not only stay in the social arena, but also extends to personal relationships: Therefore, they seek reassurance that they haven’t done anything wrong, or said anything wrong, more than a neurotypical individual would in any given relationship.

 

Working with a therapist, and anti-anxiety medication, can help with the cycle of needing constant validation and feeling like the sky may come falling down any moment if validation isn’t provided.

Image by The HK Photo Company

5. Anxious people are easy to recognize

Given the fact that anxious people are often stereotyped as profusely sweating, nail biting, and hyperventilating (into a paper bag) it is no wonder that people believe that they can spot an anxious person in a crowd.

The truth is that a lot of anxious individuals mask their symptoms and panic very well (so as not to be judged for them) in social situations. If things get overwhelming, they would likely choose to remove themselves from the situation entirely.

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