My anxiety is silent. You wouldn’t even notice a change on the outside but I’m honestly so stressed I can’t even manage simple tasks. People call me lazy when, in reality, I’m just overwhelmed.Unknown
In this article, I will simply focus on the myths of anxiety. There is so much information about anxiety out there that sometimes even I find myself taken aback with someone of the content I come across. I find a lot of it extremely invalidating to be honest. Especially the content that implies that anxiety can be easily fixed and that people are simply not trying hard enough! So not cool.
Let’s look at some common myths of anxiety here. Try to contest them yourself before you read what I have to share.
Myth #1 Anxiety isn’t a real Illness
It is definitely a real illness! The reason why we often think that is is not, is because we sometimes experience symptoms similar to those who have anxiety. With anxiety, the severity, intensity is much more higher and impacts everything in your life. Things impacted could include, ability to go to work, socialize, do job interviews, manage relationships, among others. In Canada, we know that approximately 5% of the people will experience anxiety disorders at some time. If you don’t believe in mental health disorders to begin with, know that 1 out of 5 people will experience mental health difficulties at some point in their life.
Myth #2 People with anxiety should avoid things that make them anxious
The thing about avoiding anxiety is, the more you avoid it, the more your anxiety is reinforced to continue avoiding it. A better way is to deal with the situation. Now one way to go about it is directly facing anxious situations head-on or take small steps towards it. How one goes about it is really dependent on the client’s comfort levels. (So please don’t go about forcing your friend to do something that makes them anxious.) There is no one way to fix it. There are also biological influences that need to be taken into account, whether it is diet, medications, mood-altering substances, other existing medical conditions, etc. There are also often things out of control such as discrimination, financial status, which may contribute to anxiety. So each would need a different approach, and/or many professionals (physician, psychiatrist, social worker, policymakers, school counselors, psychotherapists, nutritionists, etc.) to support the management of anxiety.
Myth #3 Anxiety cannot be treated
This cannot further away from the truth. Anxiety can be treated. Therapies like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy could take anything from a single session to up to 10-12 sessions. Therapy requires a lot of work on the client’s part. It is all about getting the tools and strategies you need to improve your anxiety rather than simply showing up to a therapist with the hope that therapist will fix it. Additionally, there is no shame if it does take many years. Sometimes the wounds are deeper than meets the eyes and for someone with absolutely no support system in their lives and/or complex issues, more than few sessions may be needed.
Myth #4 Anxiety can go away by thinking positive thoughts
If we could all do away with anxiety by thinking positive thoughts if it were really that simple, would we not have a world full of confident, happy, anxiety-free people? Also, asking someone to think positive thoughts is straight-up toxic positivity. I personally think this is invalidating and one of the worst things to say to someone who is experiencing anxiety. I will do another piece on validation later on, but in the meantime, if you aren’t sure what you are saying or doing is helping or hurting, simply hold space for the person. Be honest and tell them you do not understand their experience but you choose to be with them. Really, that’s all you need to do.
Myth #5 It is either due to hereditary or life experiences
Really, it is a complex combination of both. The question now is no longer nature versus nurture, but more so nature + nurture = ??
Myth #6 People with anxiety can stop being anxious spontaneously
I mean, are you going to make me say this again. If people could stop being anxious spontaneously, they would. Just like one cannot spontaneously stop any physical ailment, you can’t do the same with mental health issues. Can you stop diarrhea at will? (If you can, please tell me how.) No one, trust me when I say this, absolutely no one derives any pleasure from being anxious. So, just as they are not choosing to be anxious, they cannot choose to stop being anxious spontaneously at your command.
Myth #7 Medication is the only treatment for anxiety
It is one of the treatments for anxiety. Research supports a combination of medication and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. There are many other therapies out there to choose too. I know there are tonnes of stigma around medication. But that conversation deserves another blog post. Also, I am not sure if I can do justice to it as I do not have any medical training. (Psychotherapists are different from Psychiatrists!)
Myth #8 Medications are addictive so they should only be taken if necessary
As said before, medications are one form of treatment. Just like any medication, consult with your physician/psychiatrist about the medication that you or they are considering and closely monitor your dosage, side effects, and how you are responding to it. Do not hesitate to ask questions as many times as you want!
Myth #9 The causes of anxiety are rooted in childhood
We do not really have an exact number/percentage with regard to it. Anxiety, like all other mental health disorders, is due to a combination of many factors. The statement above does not account for countless other factors. It would be more appropriate to say that childhood problems can be one of the many reasons that cause anxiety.
Myth #10 Anxiety Disorders are rare
Not true. 1 in 4 Canadian is likely to have at least one anxiety disorder in their life. As of 2017, about 284 million people experienced an anxiety disorder. See statistics here. This definitely gives me something to think about. Do we think anxiety disorders are rare because people are less likely to talk about it? What do you think?
Myth #11 Alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, marijuana, or self medication can help with anxiety
This does give a temporary relief and may seem helpful in the short term but there is always a concern about dependency issues in the long term.
Myth #12 Therapy will take years
This used to true when we had lesser options when it came to therapeutic approaches and people believed that it would take many years to heal in therapy. We now know that is not true. There is a lot of evidence for short term counseling and recent evidence even supports a single session therapy.
Myth #13 If you eliminate stress, you can eliminate anxiety
The thing about anxiety is, it will persist even after the threat has passed. Anxiety is also about the anticipation of future threats. I am not denying the impact of actual threats, let’s say, for example, the fear of losing your job amidst Covid19 is understandable. It is when your anxiety is unfounded, and your reaction is intense and out of proportion that is warranted.
Of course this is not an exhaustive list. I am sure there are many more.
I would love to know what you think about this blog. If there are more resources, ideas, or topics that you would like me to explore, comment below or write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that the purpose of this article is to simply share information and not replace therapy or other health interventions. If you are experiencing significant distress and it is an emergency, call 911. For community resources click here.
To book a free 30 minute consultation with me, click here.
-When Panic Attacks, The New, Drug Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life by David D. Burns, M.D.
-Anxiety Canada Website www.anxietycanada.com
-Anxiety and Depression Association of America www.adaa.org
-The Cognitive Behavioural Workbook for Anxiety, A Step by Step Approach by William J. Knaus
-Myths about Anxiety, Webinar on ADAA https://adaa.org/webinar/consumer/common-myths-about-anxiety-disorders
-Anxiety Versus Depression: Symptoms and Treatment https://www.verywellmind.com/am-i-anxious-4045683
-Anxiety and Panic Attacks https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/anxiety-symptoms/#.Xdr5UuhKjIU
-10 Anxiety Myths Debunked https://www.everydayhealth.com/anxiety/10-anxiety-myths-debunked.aspx
-Myths and Misconceptions about Anxiety https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/myth-conceptions