Even if you don't have anxiety yourself, it's likely you know someone who does — anxiety disorder is the most common mental health disorder in the United States, affecting an estimated 40 million adults, or 18 percent of America's adult population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Women are twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder than men, too. With anxiety being such a widespread mental health concern, you'd think that people would be well-versed in what anxiety is and what it is not, but unfortunately, there are still lots of misconceptions about it.
Misinformation and stigma about anxiety can act as barriers to folks who are considering getting help for their mental health issues, so it's important to undo myths wherever possible. And that's why it's so crucial to know what anxiety is, and what it isn't. Anxiety is a mental health disorder. Period. Anxiety isn't "all in your head," it isn't being occasionally worried or stressed, and it's not unmanageable. The misconceptions about anxiety have a wide range of impacts on people who have anxiety, and it's so necessary to be able to counter those misconceptions with facts.
Ahead are eight reminders of what anxiety isn't, because it isn't quite as clear as it should be.
1. Anxiety Isn't Rational
Anxiety isn't rational, so it can't be "cured" with logic. Folks with anxiety know that their fears are irrational, but that doesn't make them any less real. Saying "it's irrational" to someone with anxiety isn't helpful — it's redundant and insensitive.
2. Anxiety Isn't "All In Your Head"
While anxiety is a mental health disorder, some folks with anxiety also have physical symptoms, especially if they experience panic attacks. The physical pain can be so intense that they're sometimes confused with a heart attack. Other physical symptoms someone with anxiety may experience include sweating, numbness, shortness of breath, and nausea.
3. Anxiety Isn't Being Occasionally Worried
Almost everyone feels anxious or worried from time to time, but being anxious on occasion doesn't mean you have an anxiety disorder. People with General Anxiety Disorder have consistent symptoms for months — not feelings of nervousness that come from a particular event like giving a presentation or take a test.
4. Anxiety Isn't All The Same
Everyone is different, so everyone's anxiety will have different triggers and underlying causes. There are many types of anxiety, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder, and it's possible for one person to have more than one type of anxiety disorder. A medical professional can help provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
5. Anxiety Isn't Depression
Anxiety and depression are different disorders, although they commonly occur together. Anxiety is associated with the belief that things can go wrong and make life worse, while depressive thoughts usually focus on how things are already bad and can't get better. The two disorders shouldn't be conflated.
6. Anxiety Isn't Being "Nitpicky"
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety that is commonly associated with cleanliness and rituals around order, but one common myth about OCD is that people with the disorder are "nitpicky." People who live with OCD don't necessarily obsess over rituals; OCD is also characterized by compulsions and intrusive thoughts, though people with OCD can experience this differently. People with anxiety disorders, including OCD, may feel the need to have things a certain way — and that's very, very different from being "nitpicky."
7. Anxiety Isn't Unmanageable
Some wonder whether anxiety disorders can be cured. There are treatments for anxiety disorder that have helped millions of Americans. There's no shame in seeking treatment, whether that means talking to a therapist or taking medication. You can work with a doctor to figure out the best way to manage your anxiety.
8. Anxiety Isn't Something To Be Ashamed Of
Thankfully, there's less of a stigma surrounding mental health disorders. Reaching out for help when you need is an important way to make sure you prioritize your health. If you don't know where to find a therapist in your area, check out this directory.
Knowing what anxiety isn't is just as important of knowing what anxiety is. Being informed can help you or other people who are living with anxiety.