Fact: Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder in the US, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. However, they’re highly treatable with therapy.
Despite the prevalence, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the symptoms and treatment of anxiety disorders. This misinformation can make it hard to get the help you need. Let’s dig into what’s fact and fiction about anxiety.
1. Anxiety disorders aren’t real because everyone has anxiety
Given how common feeling stress and anxiety is, some may believe that anxiety disorders aren’t a real thing. However, there is a clinical distinction between normal day-to-day worry and anxiety disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Health, fifth edition, characterizes generalized anxiety disorder as excessive anxiety that occurs most days for at least six months. The person must also find it difficult to control their worrying to the point that it causes significant stress and impairs their ability to function. A simple way to think about it is that anxiety is how you react to stress.
Anxiety disorders are relatively common, with over 40 million adults living with an anxiety disorder in the US. That’s 19.1% of the adult population. Some people’s anxiety disorder presents outwardly and is easy to spot with physical symptoms of panic, while others may not be noticeable to people around them.
2. Social anxiety is just being shy
Some of the social anxiety behaviors can look similar to being shy. However, they are very different.
Being shy is a personality trait. Social anxiety is an anxiety disorder marked by fear of social situations paired with extreme worry about how to act or perform. Those with social anxiety worry that they will embarrass themselves, and the people around them will dissect everything they do, looking for errors. Social anxiety can impede your ability to function socially.
Those who are shy are more likely to have social anxiety, but you can be shy or reserved without feeling the excess worry and build-up of panic in social situations.
3. You can get rid of anxiety
There are a lot of myths floating around about the duration and treatment of anxiety. Some view anxiety as a phase. Or that a healthy life full of exercise and vegetables will eliminate anxiety. These myths are likely born from normal fluctuations in day-to-day worry or times when someone with an anxiety disorder sees a reduction in symptoms.
However, clinical anxiety disorders don’t disappear. Symptoms are persistent until treatment. If you don’t get treatment, symptoms will likely worsen over time. You learn how to manage, decrease and even eliminate symptoms with therapy and coping techniques.
Lifestyle changes can improve overall health and reduce anxiety. However, these changes don’t work for everyone and should not be generalized to everyone with anxiety.
Read more: Best Teas for Anxiety and Stress
4. Anxiety is just a part of life
Feeling stressed and worried is common. It’s how our brain warns us of threats or dangers so we can act appropriately. Persistent feelings of worry or panic are not just a part of life. They are symptoms of an anxiety disorder. And while many people live with anxiety disorders, if left untreated, it can significantly impact your ability to function. Anxiety has also been linked to a higher risk of developing a chronic illness.
Read more: Best Fidget Toys for Anxiety
5. Only adults have anxiety
What do kids have to be worried about? It’s a common myth that anxiety is limited to adults, who have financial, interpersonal and professional problems to worry about. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 9.4% of children between the ages of 3 and 17 have anxiety.
When a child doesn’t outgrow the expected fears of being a child — being separated from parents or home — and it impedes their ability to function at school or when playing with other children, it may be an anxiety disorder.
Signs of anxiety in children and teens:
- Irritability or getting angry easily
- Extreme fear or phobia of things or situations — like dogs or dentist visits
- Fear of social places like school or birthday parties
- Constant worry and having negative thoughts about the future
- Not sleeping or eating properly
- Acting clingy or fidgety
- Complaining of stomach aches or feeling bad
6. You can solve anxiety by avoiding stressful situations
While removing yourself from a stressful situation is a way to decrease symptoms in the moment, it won’t solve anxiety or its triggers.
Common situational triggers for anxiety can include:
- Social situations or large groups
- Conflict in personal and work situations
- Public speaking
- Enclosed spaces
Avoiding situations isn’t a long-term tactic for regulating anxiety — there’s no avoiding stressful situations forever. Withdrawing from these situations can impact your ability to participate and function in daily life.
Anxiety treatments like therapy or medications can help you better navigate stressful situations and manage anxiety symptoms. Therapy for anxiety will help you identify which factors contribute to your anxiety. You’ll also learn how your thoughts about these factors or triggers contribute to symptoms. In therapy, you’ll be encouraged to approach anxiety-provoking situations so you can learn that the feared outcome is unlikely to happen.
7. Medications for anxiety are addictive
The common types of medications prescribed for anxiety are SSRIs and SNRIs, neither of which are addictive. Benzodiazepines are also prescribed for moderate to severe anxiety or panic attacks. They are typically viewed as safe for short-term use; however, there is the potential for abuse and addiction if taken long-term.
Even medications that aren’t addictive can result in adaptation to the medication, which happens when your body gets used to taking them. With adaptation, when you stop taking them abruptly, also known as discontinuation, it can result in discomfort. If you want to stop taking your anxiety medication, you must talk to your doctor before you stop taking them altogether.
For some people, medication is essential for living with anxiety. However, that’s not the case for everyone. You can manage anxiety without taking medication. Studies show that cognitive behavioral therapy is just as or more effective as medication for many people.
8. I don’t have insurance, so I can’t get help for my anxiety
Therapy can be expensive; that’s a fact. It can cost between $100 to $200 per session without insurance. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get help.
Online therapy services like Talkspace or BetterHelp can lower the price to around $60 to $90 for each session. But that’s still out of reach for some. Thankfully, affordable therapy options will improve your mental health without breaking the bank.
Options that can ease anxiety symptoms:
- Use mental health apps to learn about anxiety and relieve symptoms.
- Ask for sliding-scale payments so you only pay for what you can afford, based on your income.
- Seek help from community health centers or local support groups.
- Colleges or universities may offer low-cost therapy sessions for those willing to meet with grad students training to be therapists.
- The employer will generally pay for a specified number of therapy sessions with employee assistance programs. Generally, EAPs are short-term solutions since only a certain amount is covered.
Read more: How to Find the Best Therapist Near You
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.