As the most pervasive mental health disorder in the United States, anxiety affects about one in five American adults and nearly one in three adolescents at any given time.
Despite their widespread prevalence, anxiety disorders are still plagued by a multitude of myths and misconceptions that foster stigma and make timely diagnosis, individualized treatment, and complete recovery less likely.
At EXIS Recovery in West Los Angeles, we know that for as debilitating as anxiety can be, it’s also highly treatable. For adults and adolescents who are living with anxiety, separating fact from fiction is often the first step toward resolving symptoms and regaining control.
Let’s explore (and debunk) some of the most common misconceptions about persistent anxiety.
Fact: It’s true that anxiety, worry, and nervousness are normal emotional responses to stressful or unpredictable situations that take you out of your comfort zone. But when feelings of anxiety pervade and control your daily life, they’re probably symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
Although anxiety disorders can manifest in a variety of different ways, all forms of persistent anxiety have one thing in common: They engender chronic feelings of apprehension, excessive worry, or undue fear about normal things or everyday situations.
Fact: The terms “worrywart” and “neurotic” are sometimes used to describe people who are affected by anxiety, but an anxiety disorder isn’t a characteristic of an individual’s personality. It’s also not a personality flaw.
Instead, anxiety is a diagnosable medical condition that affects nearly one-third of Americans at some point in their lives. Although anyone can develop anxiety, the disorder affects women more often than men.
Factors that may contribute to the emergence of an anxiety disorder include family history, chronic stress or trauma, brain chemistry imbalances, hormonal changes, and environmental circumstances.
Fact: Anxiety disorders may range in severity, but all cases of anxiety cause some degree of impairment that affects daily life in a negative and sometimes profound way. Untreated anxiety can also impact your long-term health.
People with mild anxiety may lose hours of productivity to their daily symptoms, while people with moderate anxiety might avoid putting themselves in any situation that could trigger their symptoms. People with severe anxiety may isolate themselves to keep their symptoms at bay.
Without treatment, anxiety often leads to co-occurring mental health problems like depression, substance abuse, and insomnia. Anxiety is also linked to an increased risk of physical illness, as people with persistent anxiety are more likely to develop gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory problems, and heart disease.
Fact: For many people who live with an anxiety disorder, avoiding the stressors that cause their symptoms is a primary coping mechanism. For some, this may mean avoiding anything relating to their personal heath. For others, it may mean avoiding social interaction, a specific phobia, or a feared situation that makes them feel panicked.
Avoiding situations that make you feel “stressed” can provide momentary respite, but it won’t cure your anxiety. On the contrary, trying to avoid anxiety at all costs tends to reinforce it in the long run. To truly conquer anxiety, you need to learn how to deal with it.
To put it another way — anxiety disorders may be sensitive to stress, but they aren’t a product of stress. In fact, anxiety is just as likely to flare in the absence of personal stressors.
Fact: Anxiety is a serious and often debilitating mental health disorder that usually gets worse without treatment. Anxiety won’t disappear on its own, and people who ignore their problem are more likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
Anxiety can improve with exercise and a healthy diet, but lifestyle changes aren’t enough to make it disappear. To truly defeat anxiety, you need to tackle it head on with professional help.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for addressing anxiety, most treatment plans embrace some form of psychotherapy. One of the most successful “talk therapy” strategies is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT teaches you how your feelings, thoughts, and actions are interconnected. It also gives you adaptive skills you need to face your stressors and adjust your response. Medication, massage therapy, and treatment of co-occurring disorders are other possible components of care.
If you’re tired of living with anxiety, we can help. Call our West Los Angeles office today, or click the “request an appointment” button to schedule a visit with one of our experienced mental health specialists any time.