People have a lot of inaccurate ideas about anxiety disorders. These misconceptions can lead to counterproductive ways of coping, increased stigma, and reluctance to get help. The following are some common misconceptions about anxiety disorders and why they’re wrong.
Anxiety disorders aren’t common.
Anxiety disorders are actually extremely common. Nearly 20 percent of American adults experience an anxiety disorder every year. Anxiety disorders typically begin during one’s teen years but it may take 10 years to get diagnosed. Anxiety disorders comprise a wide variety of conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD, social anxiety disorder, and phobias. Since anxiety disorders may be highly specific or make people avoid going out into public, it’s easy to underestimate the number of people with anxiety disorders.
A panic attack can make you pass out.
People having a panic attack are often afraid they will pass out or lose control of themselves. When you have a panic attack, you feel like you can’t breathe and you become light-headed, but your blood pressure also increases. Fainting is typically caused by a drop in blood pressure, so fainting as a result of a panic attack is extremely unlikely. However, a panic attack is extremely distressing, so if you’re driving it’s usually a good idea to pull over and stop until it passes.
Anxiety is best treated with Xanax.
Xanax is one of the most prescribed medications in the world and it’s typically prescribed for insomnia or anxiety. However, it’s only a temporary solution to an anxiety attack. When taken regularly, it’s extremely addictive. What’s more, when you develop a tolerance, there is often a rebound effect that makes your anxiety worse. Non-addictive SSRIs are typically much more effective for treating anxiety disorders in the long run.
It’s best to avoid stressful situations.
If you have an anxiety disorder, it’s natural to think you should avoid stressful situations that might impact your anxiety. However, that’s often the last thing you should do. Avoiding any situation that might affect your anxiety only makes you more afraid, whereas habituating yourself to situations that cause anxiety reduces your fear. Sometimes this is best done in a therapeutic context. Exposure therapy gradually exposes you to increasingly stressful situations at a rate you can handle.
Some people are just neurotic and can’t be treated.
There’s a stereotype of a neurotic person who is perhaps a hypochondriac, perhaps suffers from OCD, or is just acutely aware of the danger inherent in every situation. It seems like such a person can’t really be helped. In fact, neuroticism is one of the Big Five personality traits, which are widely believed to be slow and difficult to change. However, most people with anxiety disorders can be treated effectively and see improvements very quickly. Medication may play a part, but learning new cognitive strategies for dealing with anxiety and being willing to push the limits of your comfort zone through exposure therapy are the most important tools.
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